As we move into the summer, I’m going to be putting together a regular series of tips for riders on Tuesdays. Some will be aimed at specific kinds of riding or particular issues, others will be more general.
Today’s tip is what to do if you’re a newly qualified rider and you realise you have a problem jumping from the steed you learned on, onto your new bike.
Finding the new machine post-test is a pretty common problem, and given that more and more riders are bypassing DAS to save some cash, it’s going to get more common as the 125 is poor preparation for a full size machine, even in 33hp guise.
The kind of things riders struggle with are throttle control (particularly turning right out of side turnings and exiting bends), gear selection (often going up the gearbox too soon but also struggling with slow control), clutch control and tight turns (not really an issue on a 125 but important on a bigger machine) and brake use (which to use, where and how hard compared to a smaller machine).
Basic training is notoriously weak in dealing with cornering in general – many trainees never get any instruction on countersteering or how to deal with the open road. Overtaking on single carriageways is rarely addressed either.
It’s nothing to be ashamed of – just because some riders will tough it out doesn’t mean they’re doing the right thing. It’s important to treat these kind of issues seriously as they are the kind of problems that can cause a loss of control or even a collision.
My first bit of advice would be not to put off extra training whilst you “pick up some experience”. I’ve heard this advice many times, and the answer is still the same. You may come up with the right solution if you’re the kind of person who’s introspective and able to sit down and think through a problem but not even the best riders can always do that.
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Nor does “practice make perfect”, it makes what you’re doing permanent. If you’re using the wrong technique, all practice does it make it bloody difficult to unlearn it and start using the right approach when you’re finally shown it.
Nor will you get more out of training “when you’re used to your bike”. The best time to absorb new skills is when you’re still open to learning, and that’s not when you’ve learnt bad habits and workarounds for your riding problems. And of course, if you delay training when you’ve got serious issues, there’s no guarantee you or the bike will actually still be in one piece after a month or two.
So, if you think you have a problem with your riding, think carefully. The cheap option (at least until you decide biking’s not for you or you end up crashing the bike!) is to struggle on with your problems. But will that make for the enjoyable two wheeled experience you hoped for? Nope, it’s far more likely to be a tense and stressful time and riding will be far from fun.
An alternative often suggested by experienced riders to newly qualified riders is to head off to the IAM, because they don’t charge for training. Well, that’s not strictly true, the ‘Skills for Life’ programme comes with a fairly hefty bill attached to it, and ultimately the goal of the IAM is to get you to pass the advanced test. Whilst they are undoubtedly good at that, what IAM observers are not so good at is fixing basic riding faults because they simply don’t get trained to do that.
At the risk of hearing a loud chorus of “he would say that”, you could solve the problem with a properly qualified and experienced instructor, who can carry out an accurate assessment of your issues then deliver the individual and appropriate training that addresses your needs. With no assessment or test at the end of a course, the training is totally personalised.
OK, it’s true the right riding tuition costs but given many riders are spending 10 times the cost of their training on their bike, their riding kit and their insurance, a couple of hundred pounds spent on another day’s training could, particularly if it saves a spill, turn out to be the cheaper option too!
When you know what you’re doing, THEN you practice, and with practice will come the confidence and finally the enjoyment of doing something well.