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Somerset Road Safety Partnership ‘Rider Performance’ Day

Last Wednesday (May 13) I gave a presentation on behalf of Somerset Road Safety Partnership at their ‘Rider Performance’ Day at Castle Combe race circuit.

For me personally, it was a very interesting day; a chance to meet fellow professionals in the field of riding skills and to interact in a classroom format with a large group of mixed abilities, a rather different day from my normal 1:1 training out on the road!

The 40-odd attendees were split into two groups, based on their riding experience, so as to make better use of the facilities and to allow for the Avon tyre guy to do his two sessions back to back in his lunch break! That meant I got to do the first session of the day at around 9:30 after the initial briefing, and then the final “graveyard shift” at around 4pm!

The basic brief I’d been given was to run a “workshop” about defensive riding and try to show that many motorcycle accidents are avoidable by the rider; in other words to approach riding with a defensive mindset.

It’s not the easiest topic to approach, not least because biking is about having fun and defensive riding doesn’t sound fun, but also because many riders firmly believe that they had nothing to do with an accident involving another vehicle, because it “wasn’t their fault”. Legally that might be the case but it takes two to tangle – do they have to drive into the accident that someone else is about to cause?

The answer is “no” of course – with the right knowledge of where accidents happen, and a basic understanding of why they happen, it’s possible to put in place relatively simple strategies to avoid dangerous situations.

Slowing down in hazardous places is the most obvious – with more time, you can look around and spot the issues more easily, as well as having a better chance of dealing with them. The key point to get over here is that “slowing down” doesn’t mean slowing your whole ride – it means being more selective about where you add your speed.

Seeing and being seen is another key strategy. It should be obvious that if you can’t see something, you don’t know it’s there. A good rider will consider what they can see, and from that work out the areas they can’t see and take a long hard think about what might be hidden out of sight. But for many road users if you can’t be seen, you’re likely to be out of mind. So positioning is as much about allowing others to know you are there as gathering your own information.

Some instructors hate the expression “expecting the unexpected”; they suggest that if you expect it, it’s not unexpected any more, and they have a point. Thus perhaps a better way of thinking is to look at any situation and ask “what can go wrong here?” Planning for disaster rather than for everything to pan out exactly as you hoped means you’re far less likely to be surprised when you DO have to take evasive action. I firmly believe a pragmatic approach to understanding why other road users and ourselves get entangled with each other is a far better solution to improving rider safety than teaching them the “Holy Grail” of the zero error Perfect Ride!

Now, I could have approached all this in a 1960’s “chalk and talk” classroom session or worse still “Death by Powerpoint”, a style of presentation for which I personally have an attention span very slightly longer than an extremely bored goldfish.

On the other hand, I didn’t want to go the equally dire “team building” approach to my session!

So I used a mixture of approaches, based around the rather excellent “Perfect Day” video. It’s a short two minute video showing a rider avoiding a number of hazards along the way, and as such it’s an excellent teaching tool for illustrating that common accidents that have potentially nasty consequences.

What the video demonstrates nicely is that not only are the potential problems the result of easily avoidable errors, but the rider also has plenty of clues that the things are about to go pear shaped, and has simple solutions to staying out of trouble.

I took out three of the scenarios the video painted for further study. I split the group up into teams and then asked each team to look at various aspects of each situation – what the problem was, what the clues were, where the rider could expect to find the potential hazard and what they could do about it. Each scenario asked the same questions but gave them a different way to approach it.

Final conclusion? If I’m not scaring myself witless as I ride, I have more fun! Defensive riding works!

With only 50-odd minutes for the entire session, it was quickfire stuff, but watching the body language of some of the attendees I’m confident I got the point over to some that didn’t show much interest initially, and I got some good feedback from some of the people sitting in, particularly after the first session when people had a moment to talk to me over a much-needed cuppa!

Certainly, there were some teething problems. Jim the organiser had brought along a projector but it took a while to find the screen to show the movie, and I was expecting a whiteboard or flip chart, neither of which materialised, but on the whole I think it went well for a first run of a new format presentation.

In between times of course, I was free to wander round and see what else was going on.

Martin Hopp and his team of instructors from Hopp Rider Training were out on the track doing a subset of their normal training from up at Cadwell Park, with a “machine preparation” session, a frank talk about crashing and the consequences, slow riding and braking exercises, and plenty of track time.

I was interested to see that Martin got the trainees to actually lock the front brake in a straight line.

This “lock and slide the front” thing is something I’ve been demo’ing for years on the “urban” section of my Survival Skills 2 day course and the City Riding / Collision Avoidance courses but perhaps I need to do it on the Bends course too. For the time being I’ll stick to demos rather than getting trainees to do it but hard braking is clearly an area that many riders with cornering problems are weak on, not least because many riders never practice emergency stops.

Martin’s instructors also worked on the exact same approach I suggest for smooth stops – modulate the front off as the speed drops down to walking pace, and finish with just the rear, stopping left foot down, something an IAM rider commented was the way he used to do it before he joined the IAM!

I have to say the ability to do braking exercises on a track is useful, but I do have slight concerns about the difference in grip between a wet track and a wet road; the only surface on the road that is equivalent to a wet track is the ‘Shellgrip’ anti-skid surfaces. You need to go away and practice on the surfaces you normally ride on, not rely on what you think you have learned on a track!

To my mind possibly the most interesting presentation of the day was by a chap from Avon (tyres, not beauty products!).

He was obviously extremely knowledgable about tyres – I got a chance to chat over tea and he was off to talk to a government committee on bike safety about bike tyres the following day, so clearly knew his rubber.

The most thought provoking observation he made was that in the conditions (13c, and wet) the tyres that would work best on the track would be the high silica sports touring tyres, NOT the supersports tyres.

Yes, I said on the TRACK, not just the road.

He said the sports touring tyres would offer just as much outright grip as the softer tyres under the wet conditions, and furthermore wouldn’t need warming up but would work from cold. The supersports tyres would need to be worked hard to get them up to temperature, and worked hard to keep them there!

The obvious conclusion is that for anything but dry, warm roads on a sunny mid-summer day, you’re better off on a sports touring tyre! Go back to this “Don’t crash on the gas” post just a few days ago and see the relevance of this expert opinion, and the danger of running too sporty tyres in the wrong weather conditions.

There’s another one scheduled for September. Contact:

Jim Newman – Road Safety Coordinator (motorcycles) Somerset Road Safety Partnership, Somerset County Council, County Hall, The Crescent, Taunton, TA1 4DY Tel: 0844 980 00 28 Fax: 01823 423439 e-mail

Personally, I’m available for available for talks to clubs and groups throughout the year! Drop me a mail.

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