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Want to get advanced? Go back to basics!

As we move into mid-April with the promise of summer just around the corner, many riders who’ve passed their test in the last few years (and some more long-time riders too) start thinking about learning advanced riding skills.

I’m not exactly a fan of the terms ‘basic’ and ‘advanced’ training as the usage makes it sound as if there is some discontinuity between the two.

In fact, riding skills are a continuum, and what we call ‘advanced’ skills are in fact built on a foundation you’ll already have learned on ‘basic’ training to pass your test.

In fact, if you think about it objectively, the vast majority of what you do on a bike IS what you would have been taught on basic training!

Advanced skills really aren’t anything totally new (with the possible exception of overtaking on single carriageways, which is something that doesn’t get covered on basic training).

Take bends. I run two levels of cornering courses, a ‘Bends’ course and a further day which I amusingly call the ‘Double Bends’ course. But when trainees arrive with me to take these courses, they already know how to ride bends. If they didn’t, they’d struggle to make it up to my place once they got to the end of the motorway!

Of course, once you start either of these courses, you learn new wrinkles. Better positioning, better lines, better awareness of danger, better machine control. But little of this is totally new! It’s about adding knowledge, awareness and finesse as much as new information.

Take a look at the new IAM book ‘How to be a Better Rider’. Much of it actually reads like the DSA’s own (and rather less snappily titled) ‘The Official DSA Guide to Riding – The Essential Skills Book’. Despite the opening paragraphs which rather patronisingly suggest otherwise, ‘How to be a Better Rider’ is not a quantum leap forward, rather part of a smooth progression in terms of skills.

The problem is that the further from our basic training we get (and of course, older riders may not ever have taken ANY basic training), the less we remember and in many cases the rustier it gets.

I watched a couple of otherwise competent riders with ‘advanced’ qualifications making a complete pigs-ear of a tight hairpin just a few days ago.

The reason they struggled so badly was quite simple. They’d not bothered to practice basic slow control. They confessed the last time they’d actually set aside any time for U turn practice was the morning of their bike tests!

Now, I’m not the only one to say this. Jerry ‘Motorman’ Palladino, a well-respected US-based bike coach quotes another instructor as saying he meets:

“…a lot of people who think they are good riders because they’ve been riding 20 or 30 years. The instructor said what they really have is one years experience 20 or 30 times.”

That’s actually a very good point. As Jerry comments:

“In other words, a rider gets to a certain level and then, never improves any further, but instead, keeps repeating the same mistakes over and over again.”

Another well-respected authority on better riding technique is Andy Ibbott of Keith Code’s ‘Superbike School’ in the UK. In his latest magazine article, Andy says the same; that to learn the techniques taught on the higher levels of the CSS training, it’s important to do the lower levels first.

He says he has racers who want to skip the lower levels and go straight in but he makes the same point – that the basics are the key to progressing to the more advanced techniques.

A cynical view would be that this is just an attempt to screw money out of people as they progress up through the levels, but though I’ve not seen eye-to-eye with Andy on issues in the past, this is one thing I believe he is 100% right on.

And I structure my courses the same way using a building block technique that starts with the basics and moves steadily upward. Think of it like a pyramid – built with a broad base, the pyramid is stable. Ignore the base, and the more you build on top of it, the less stable the pyramid becomes.

However, there’s one advantage of doing 1:1 training over the kind of courses the Superbike School operates with lots of different riders.

If it turns out that a particular student DOES know and apply the basics to a high standard, I can move rapidly through those foundation stages and onto the more advanced stuff.

But as I’m personally fond of saying: “practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes permanent; therefore you need to practice the perfect.”

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