BMW have their fingers in many pies and fortunately for the motorcycle world one of their special Motorrad pies is the rather tasty Rider Training offering.
Actually this pie can be divided into different pieces because the World of BMW’s ‘Rider Training School’ based in Royston, Hertfordshire caters for CBT’s, Direct Access, inexperienced riders, vastly experienced riders and everyone in between via a range of bespoke courses.
Should you pass your full bike test you could theoretically ride any bike, anytime, anywhere but with the average annual miles covered by a motorcyclist in the UK at around the 3,000 mark compared with a car drivers’ at almost four times that, there could be concern that riding competence levels decrease at a quicker rate simnply because of the lack of time spent actually on the bike?
Practise i.e. riding a lot, doesn’t necessarily make perfect but the more riding you do, the more comfortable you become with certain conditions and situations. It could be argued that bad habits are all that are being refined, equally, how do you know that you have habits and if they are in fact bad?
I’ve ridden on the UK’s roads for more than ten years, several of those were spent commuting in London so when BMW asked, I opted for their one-to-one course known as IPT (Individual Premium Training). This is a bespoke and adaptive course with a RoSPA Advanced Motorcycle Instructor or Examiner over as many days as you require given your needs and objectives, priced at £295 per day. You can use your own bike or hire one from the available BMW fleet at £95 per day. There is also a range of BMW branded kit available to use FOC.
I was to spend two days riding a BMW motorcycle of my choice in an attempt to identify and fix any of my own bad habits and to hone any skills that had gone missing over the years. BMW’s Chief Instructor is Ian Biederman was my guide and I was ready to soak up as much guidance as I could. After all, Ian has been teaching for 24 of the 26 years that he’s been riding, covering over 600,000 miles during that time with no accidents! We’d spend a minimal amount of time in the classroom and thankfully much more time on the open roads, doing some actual practical learning.
The key thing with most motorcyclists is the lack of miles so competence levels degrade quite quickly. So it’s important to keep the skill set high and to remain happy to get on your bike in all conditions and ride safely.
Ian Biederman, BMW's Chief Instructor
So I turned up at 9am on day 1, drenched, but a line-up of 2014 BMW's awaited which at least made me feel brighter on the inside; a G650GS, R1200RT, R1200GS Adventure, R1200GS and an F800GS stood before me. Like a child on Christmas morning, I was already excited just at the prospect of choosing my favourite, but which one? A quick Twitter shout-out lead to the RT coming in as a clear winner thanks to its radio and heated grip combo!
The Rider Training Centre shares its facilities with Globebusters, run by Kevin and Julia Sanders. They were preparing for an 83-day ride to Bangkok with 10 others so I wished them well before getting settled in the classroom with a BMW mug of tea and BMW biscuits.
Ian ran through the structure of the two days which included covering many road miles, mainly with me leading. I’d be wearing an earpiece while Ian would also be equipped with a microphone allowing him to feed me information, advice and directions – it took me back to my test all those years ago. Similar weather conditions too as I remember.
At first we spent some time understanding what I needed to get out of the course and how that would be translated into Ian’s teaching methods. Like I said, how did I know if any of my habits were bad. I knew that I lacked confidence on blind righ-handers for example but I was more than happy to learn that Ian would follow me and pick out areas of improvement. We started in the classroom by reviewing one of the key overall components when learning to ride; IPSGA.
Information – what can you see and hear? What can’t you see? What information are you offering other road users?
Position – where are you best situated within, or even out of your lane to take in all of the information required?
Speed – Do you need to decelerate? Even a slight pull of the brake lever can offer information to those behind, even though you’re not actually slowing down.
Gear – Do you need to click down?
Acceleration sense – when is it the right time to open the throttle? Do you need to maintain or decelerate?
Obviously this is a brief overview and not a comprehensive lesson but using these elements when preparing for any situation on the road be it a corner, a hazard or overtaking for example, and you’d be ideally prepared. OK, sometimes it’s not that easy but by being alert, aware and in charge you can feel good about accelerating away from a situation that you may not have seen coming. It happened to us on day two; riding along a single carriage A-road at the legal speed limit I spotted a car at a junction on the right looking like it was about to pull out, it can’t have been more than 350 yards away but I assumed that because the driver was looking straight at me (in hi-vis I hasten to add), they were going to stay put. I was wrong to assume. They came straight out but I was already covering the brake having been aware of Mr Numpty so was able to negotiate the situation which translates to 'overtaking at the first opportunity without displaying any sign of anger'!
Before we set off for the first of our approximately 160 miles over the two days, Ian set me a challenge – to hold an R1200GS Adventure and then the R1200RT using my thumb and first finger. What? Was he kidding?! The height and weight (GSA: 260kg, RT:274kg) of these particular examples are detrimental to their balance but after a bit of practice you can move around each the bike using just your pinch grip to hold it finding its balance point and judging how the weight is distributed. The key is not to look down. Essentially any fear of handling a large and heavy bike is overcome by being able to hold it in such a way.
The second challenge is known as the Box Trick. Simple really, ride clockwise in a circle made up of four cones. Except that the cones are placed so close together that attempting to manoeuvre a bike of the statue of the RT wasn't easy. The challenge was set to teach bike control at low speed in a confined space and the solution was to always look at the cone ahead so your chin is almost over your right shoulder. Not easy but euphoric when mastered!
Once on the road I lead the way for 20-30 miles listening to directions and advice from Ian as he pointed out markers allowing me to plan the road ahead and look for potential hazards; tall vehicles, junctions, telegraph lines, hedge rows and road signs to name but a few. By giving yourself an opportunity to pick out what you can and can’t see, you’re allowing yourself time to react – it might sound obvious but we’re all guilty of being caught up in the moment and staring at the immediate 50 yards in front of us.
Ian then took over at the front and began commentating. He described everything that he was looking at from the road conditions including any wet patches, road kill or loose surface which could prove costly. He was looking at which way the line of trees went ½ mile in the distance which could indicate which way the road ahead would turn. He’d be looking over the hedges at vehicles ahead to ascertain any danger ahead. I knew which gear he was in, how his bike felt, where his eye line was on the country roads and in the towns. It was like he had four sets of eyes, he had it all covered but by being prepared allowed us time to react. What I did notice is the lack of brake lights, not because the GS Adventure was faulty but because Ian was prepared, like a good Boy Scout.
A lot of what we covered sounds obvious but one of the most helpful points I took away was the commentary. As I rode home after Day 1 and on my return the following day I deliberately talked to myself about what I was seeing and how I was preparing. Ok, I felt like a bit of a divvy but it's a good practise to get into.
As a bonus, because of continuous rain for 1 ½ of the 2 days, I ended up feeling much more confident in wet conditions too so the clouds really did have a silver lining. There were extra pointers which were interesting such as getting into a habit of using the kickstand to cut the engine while leaving the bike in gear when you come to dismount. Then, if you wanted to move the bike backwards do so by putting your right hand on the rear grab handle and the other on the left handlebar while pulling the clutch in. Because the bike is in gear if you get into trouble or want to stop it rolling just release the clutch.
During the debrief, circa 4pm back at the Training Centre, I raised a concern that I’d not indicated when going for an overtake but Ian reassured me that on that particular occasion the road ahead was clear, there was nobody behind and frankly by the time the driver I was overtaking had seen me, I was ahead of him anyway! The course isn’t designed to be a strict tutor-to-pupil lesson where every road regulation must be adhered too but instead I found the teaching methods and discussions a much more sensible way of improving your riding using common sense.
We worked on several areas of improvement and I can honestly say that despite the weather, it was two of the most fascinating and absorbing days I’ve spent on a motorcycle. Clearly they work miracles there too; Ian told me that I had a “fantastic, progressive riding style which is effortless and brilliant to follow”. Scout badge for Michael.
Every day that you ride is a day when you learn something extra has always been my viewpoint but next time you ride, give commentating a go!
Introducing BMW’s secret weapon
Meet Naomi, she's the one on the right! She’s 21 and is training to become a Qualifying Instructor. Naomi joined Ian last year having been riding since she was 17 with a goal of becoming what is quite unique in the motorcycle industry – a young, female instructor. So Naomi spends her days sitting in on as many training sessions as possible to develop her knowledge and understanding.
With a fresh mind and no pre-determined viewpoint relating to gender stereotype within motorcycling to alter, Naomi’s verdict on why only 8% of motorcyclists in the UK are female is, "I think they feel intimidated, some men are quite bigoted and less than friendly. A lot of women seem happy to get on their partners’ bike but there seems to be a block for them when it comes to riding on their own"
One in four of BMW’s Rider Training Centre customers are female with Ian and Naomi both putting this down to a combination of brand quality and the way in which the courses can be structured to adapt to each customer.
BMW are concentrating on bringing the average age of motorcyclists down and to introduce more females too
Naomi, trainee Qualifying Instructor
“Females tend to have a different mentality”, says Naomi. “BMW are concentrating on bringing the average age of motorcyclists down and to introduce more females too which is why the whole range offer a height-reduction options on each model straight from the factory,” she added.
During my two days, Naomi followed Ian on an F800GT, that she named ‘Eduardo’, assessing our every move. She was wired up and was able to talk and listen to Ian on a separate channel. I had a chat with our two-day stalker and her passion for motorcycling and being a positive female role model in a heavily male dominated industry shined through. Bike Social certainly backs Naomi's ambitions and BMW's belief, forward thinking and investment.
Chief Instructor Ian Biederman’s Top Five Tips
If you’ve never ridden before, are coming back to biking, are looking to develop your skills or brush the cobwebs off then I can certainly recommend Ian, Naomi and co. at BMW’s Rider Training. They even make good tea.
Visit World of BMW Rider Training's website by clicking here.
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