Updated: Aug 16, 2022
The Queen's not the only one celebrating a jubilee this year. Survival Skills Rider Training was launched in the 1997 so this is actually my 25th year of operation. And it's ten years since I started using Facebook for the occasional post. So here's a bit of history about why I set up Survival Skills in the first place.
SURVIVAL SKILLS ARE INSIGHT SKILLS
The goal of any ride is to arrive at the end of it in one piece. In fact, as a courier, it was the only way I was going to earn any money, so it soon focused my mind. And it's definitely a bonus when we also enjoy the ride and don't scare ourselves every time we head out on two wheels.
Post science degree, I spent 16 years as a courier. And that background taught me almost immediately that things go wrong very fast when we're on two wheels, and that expecting other road users to see me and to do the 'right thing' was highly risky. I learned that the only reliable way to cope was to expect things to go wrong, and to be ready to deal with emergencies. That gave me a pretty intense grounding in a style of riding which was all about 'disaster management'.
Once I got involved in rider training at CBT, then DAS level (I was one of the first DAS instructors in the country) it didn't take more than some quick research to confirm what I'd learned during my courier days:
most crashes involving motorcyclists happen in the same few places - junctions, corners, overtakes
whilst junction collisions caused by other drivers are very common, riders fail to take evasive action. And most of the serious and fatal crashes are rural and rider error
Since I learned to ride, basic training courses has got ever more complex and intense yet thanks to the limitations of conventional training, each new generation of riders is still forced to discover the hard way that humans make mistakes - we either have to make them ourselves, or fall victim to someone else who's made one in front of us.
And that drove me to look at an alternative approach, one that delivered improved skills, but at the same time offered riders INSIGHT:
a thorough understanding of just WHO makes mistakes - riders included
WHERE, WHEN and WHY things would go wrong
WHAT proactive collision avoidance measures can help us STAY out of trouble if possible, but what collision evasion measures can help us get out of trouble when we find ourselves in it. Avoidance when possible, evasion when it isn't
All Survival Skills courses are based on the need to correctly identify hazards, assess the risk they pose, then employ PRO-ACTIVE risk mitigation strategies that deal with the WORST CASE SCENARIO.
We ask not just "What if...?" but attempt to assign a "Then this...!" solution. That way we can not only reduce the threat level but we'll do far more to enhance our overall safety than simply learning ever-higher levels of technical ability.
SURVIVAL SKILLS DO NOT FOCUS ON 'PROGRESS'
Back in the early to mid-90s I dabbled with the IAM for several years. Unfortunately I was continually encouraged to overtake when I saw no need and to 'make progress' to levels where I genuinely felt uncomfortable - and I say that as a former courier who didn't hang around unnecessarily! The rationale was that being able to move faster than other traffic was the "mark of an advanced rider".
I disagreed then and subsequent experience - both mine via further advanced riding assessments and as reported by trainees who come to me - has confirmed me in my opinion that there is a place for advanced training that does NOT focus on 'making progress'. Advanced riding is a state of mind, and a rider can be 'advanced' without having to prove their ability to be quicker than almost everyone else on the roads at every moment.
And if a rider IS quick, then what matters most is knowing when to SLOW DOWN! Think about it.
UPSKILL THE BRAIN TOO, NOT JUST RIDING TECHNIQUE
The best piece of protective riding kit any of us own is THE BRAIN. We can have all the technical riding skills in the world, and they are useless if we don't know what to do with them to reduce the risks we face on two wheels.
Here in the UK, the emphasis on 'correct performance' and 'progress' to pass the advanced tests often leads us to forget that riding is far more of a mental game than most of us ever realise. There's far too little "what made you think that way when you made that decision" analysis of our riding.
And so we struggle to develop the necessary insight to needed to predict the commonest of crashes.
Developing a better awareness of what constitutes a threat, backing off the 'gung-ho meter' and understanding how to use proactive techniques to manage those threats not only helps us stay out of trouble - it's a much more ENJOYABLE way to ride.
Simply put, predicting threats before they develop in order to manage them effectively means we'll have far more fun on a bike than when lurching from near-miss to near-miss.
SURVIVAL SKILLS GENUINELY ARE CLIENT-CENTRED
During my time with the IAM, I never felt at home on observed rides and assessments, as I felt the push from the observers was less about improving my skills and awareness, and more about changing my style to fit their image of what a rider should be. I wasn't consulted on what I wanted from the training, just told what kind of rider I'd be if I passed the test.
So when I first got involved in rider training at the basic level, I rapidly saw a need for a post-test training school that offered two things:
a flexible 'client-centred' course which delivered what the trainee wanted where the trainee wanted it, rather than being constrained by an 'in-house technique' to pass a standard test
a course that did not require trainees to make progress
a style of coaching which approached advanced riding from the perspective of risk assessment and risk management
I wanted to offer training to riders who'd realised it was more important to understand "where, when and why we should slow down" and avoid crashing than focus on demonstrating an ability to 'make progress' or ride like the police.
Thus the Survival: SKILLS two-day advanced course was born in 1997.
And since then I've added a range of other courses from the 'Confidence: BUILDER' sessions for new or returning riders, or those with a specific issue that needs fixing, 'Ride4Fun' courses for those who want to build their cornering skills, 'Ride2Work' courses for commuters, 'Adventure Training' for those who fancy a challenge away from home, short courses to tackle specific issues as well as a straightforward 'Riding Assessment'.
SURVIVAL SKILLS AREN'T 'ROADCRAFT RE-HASHED'
Whilst there can be good reasons to have consistent standards and training, it can also lead to closing off fresh thinking or input from other sources. My own experience with national organisations in the UK plus my own broader-than-usual riding experience led me to question whether UK riders were actually being served a 'good product'.
My own background as an instructor isn't the standard ex-police rider-turned-trainer or someone who has gone through the IAM / RoSPA systems then trained up inside their own organisation to become an observer or instructor.
And my science background also encouraged me to ask "why?" and not to consider "because we've always done it this way!" an acceptable answer. I want to see justification for that view and just because it's been written down in a book written for the police doesn't make it right for civilian riders.
In particular, I found no hard evidence that conventional Roadcraft-based post-test training actually reduces the risks for the riders who take it, and recent internal studies by the IAM tend to confirm this.
That science background also helped me know where to go to look for evidence to back up my own theories about how a training course should be put together. I've looked at scientific research into training, I've worked hard to look outside the UK to see how training schemes run in other countries and I've gained a BTEC in post-test training too. There's a LOT more to Survival Skills than Roadcraft-based training.
And quite honestly, looking at how rider training hasn't really changed motorcycle crashes in the last quarter of a century, I fully believe my thinking behind the original course remains just as valid. Twenty five years ago my tag line was:
...because it's a jungle out there
Guess what? It still is. That graphic is the very first I ever produced for Survival Skills. I still like it!
AND SURVIVAL SKILLS ONLINE TOO
Using the latest in technology and the ability to have face-to-face chats with trainees over Zoom and other video-calling systems, I've branched out into online coaching. The feedback has been excellent.
WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT THE SURVIVAL SKILLS APPROACH?
If you're looking for a course that will genuinely improve your riding, and push your threat awareness and response to new levels, then why not FILL IN THE FORM TODAY...