This review is of a training day offered by BikeSocial’s parent company Bennetts through its Rewards platform, which offers exclusive discounts and experiences for its members. We asked one of our trusted reviewers to attend the first day available and give us her honest feedback on the event. As you’ll see from her other reviews on BikeSocial, Patricia won’t hold back, and the team behind the training sessions agreed that the review would be published regardless of Patricia’s opinion…
As a now firmly-established two-wheeled commuter, I’d say I’m pretty confident on the roads out there. I know where to position myself on bends, have a good overview of developing hazards and have learned to ignore the occasional abuse I get from car and truck drivers as I leave them sitting in traffic jams. According to the observers from my advanced motorcycling group I was ready for my RoSPA test last year already. So, what can I possibly gain from another ‘basic’ riding course?
It’s simple really. No matter how confident or competent, we all still have the heart-stopping moments of over-cooking a corner, being in the wrong position, being nervous about wet roads or just losing focus here and there when we can ill-afford to do so. Basically, we still get it wrong sometimes and that, in itself, can nibble away at our confidence. Also, as so many biking enthusiasts have pointed out, one should never stop learning.
I attended the Bennetts Rider Confidence event at Donington Park, a half-day course run by Shires Motorcycle Training in collaboration with Bennetts, though sessions are also booked for Bedford Autodrome, Brands Hatch and Oulton Park.
There’s a choice of morning (8:45 – 12:30) or afternoon (13:15 – 17:00) sessions and the course consists of short interactive classroom lectures and practical exercises in a safe riding environment. Despite being held at a race circuit, this may be the time to point out that it is an off-track course.
The learning objectives consist of:
At Donnington, the cornering circuit was set up on the ‘Tarmac Lake’, which has a very grippy surface and is therefore a perfect controlled environment to try out lean and positioning that would not be possible – or advisable – on many UK roads. Also, the coaching is very focused as just two riders are assigned to one instructor.
Instead of cones, Shires uses big white and orange flat discs to mark the boundaries. Personally, I found it less confusing than staring at a sea of cones and there are no scuff marks on the bike or flying, rolling objects if you run wide in a bend or are just hopeless at the slow slalom like me.
I think I can safely say the course is aimed at anyone who wants to get some feedback on their slow riding and cornering and have the opportunity to put that advice into practice with the aim of improving ability. There are plenty of riders out there who got their licences before the introduction of the modern test modules and may well benefit from brushing up on some of these manoeuvres.
As for the cornering training, apart from the ardent track-day enthusiast, pretty much any rider can benefit from this targeted practice to review their skill, safely push the limit of their ability, experiment with different techniques and receive a comprehensive analysis from the instructors.
Riders on L-plates who are preparing for their tests may be sick to the teeth of practicing what are basically Mod 1 exercises, but for those that’ve been riding on a CBT for a while and are still waiting, for whatever reason, to do their full licence test, this is a good review and feedback opportunity of those skills.
What I got out of this course was exactly what it promised; more confidence. However, it wouldn’t be much of a review if I left it at that, so it may be more useful to separate out the different parts of the course.
We started the day with a short briefing covering safety aspects and flags used on the small circuit and an introduction to the instructors. Shires Motorcycle Training has been established for over 20 years and all the instructors I engaged with were helpful, attentive and offered useful advice and support throughout the day.
We were 14 on the course, divided into two groups. My group started off on the slow manoeuvres section, which consisted of practicing emergency stops on dry and wet tarmac. Despite every good intention to take myself off to a deserted parking lot to keep up the habit, it just doesn’t seem to happen, so I was grateful for this opportunity to brush up on techniques and get some feedback.
After a good few runs we were released into the care of senior instructor Chris for the first of a series of short classroom sessions. His enthusiasm and love of biking shone through all his lectures and made these interactive sessions quite enjoyable, covering the physics of steering, braking and acceleration, suspension and cornering. Each little lecture contained information that I knew fairly well but was cleverly demonstrated with various props to help us appreciate just how stable a bike in motion actually is – regardless of lean angle – how much influence we have on that stability and how braking and suspension influences tyre grip.
There was a short break and then it was gear on for the first of three sessions on the cornering circuit where we were introduced to our instructor and fitted with a walkie-talkie radio on our vests. Despite the roar of seven motorcycles, the voice from the instructor came through loud and clear and having instructions and feedback while riding the circuit was very helpful.
In the previous version of this course, which I attended a couple of years back, you often felt the need to keep an eye on your observer in case you were called out of the circuit for further instructions or advice, so the clip-on radio was a definite improvement and kept my mind purely on the corners.
The course is designed to refine your skills in every type of corner
We were allowed to find our own speed and gear for the different bends and I held mine in second at roughly 20 to 25 mph most of the time, although I didn’t monitor my speed through the very twisty bits as I needed all my focus on flipping the bike about. The first session got me used to the layout and had me navigating the course while riding in my accustomed, rather cautious style. By session two, thanks to the classroom demonstration of the grippy surface of Tarmac Lake, I decided to relax and see just how much lean I could get away with while not panicking or tensing up. It turned out that I was a mere cigarette paper’s width away from scraping the pegs (not my words) and I had frequent encouragement helping me along.
By the last session I was entering the first turn after the ‘acceleration’ straight and keeping third gear responsive all the way to the hairpin. I was flicking the bike from one side to the other with a newfound ease, my whole body working with the bike rather than letting my inner balance insecurities interfere with what my Honda was designed to do by some much cleverer people than me. It felt really good and I’m confident that I can now trust my bike to carry me around a bend and be able to adjust lean in case of any unforeseen circumstances, knowing that, as long as there is some drive at the back wheel propelling the bike forwards, I will have tightened the bend without losing stability.
I’ve put this to the test on quite a few occasions after waving goodbye to Donnington and this was what made this course most worthwhile for me and has undoubtably made a lasting, positive change to my cornering ability.
There were two more slow manoeuvres sessions, the second one being practicing the swerve for hazard avoidance, where relaxation and moving your body with the bike was emphasised, which enhanced what I had already done on the circuit.
The last session focused on U-turns and a bit of slalom. I did manage a couple of fairly tight turns but I had to find my own approach to clutch, throttle and back brake actions as the revving at 2,000 rpm just didn’t work for me.
And I’m not surprised to report that I’m still terrible at slalom. There was not much feedback given on this last bit as the focus of the instructors was on the U-turn.
On the whole, this was a fast-paced course with almost no downtime. I consider this a good feature as we had, after all, only half a day and there was a lot of content. Also, not many people enjoy long classroom lectures and the slow riding sessions were a good opportunity to relax a bit from the intensive cornering circuit. I found myself feeling a bit exhausted by the last circuit session and overall, I think just about the right amount of time for each was allocated to each session of the course.
To be honest, I really didn’t think I was going to take away any vast improvement to my riding before going on this course. I looked upon it as an opportunity to refresh some skills and have a chance to compare this course to the very first Cornering Confidence Course back in 2018. I can safely say that the agenda and execution has very much improved and I did gain more confidence in my bike, which, in turn, has given me more confidence to trust my abilities as a rider as long as I’m working in harmony with my two-wheeled companion.
The one criticism I have is that there was no coffee and no opportunity to get any, apparently due to covid restrictions. “You should have had some before you arrived,” I hear you say, but in our defence, some of us are not morning people and have difficulty just remembering to take off a disc-lock before setting off, and many will be travelling a fair distance.
This course is all about road riding. Every element is designed to help you trust yourself and your bike’s abilities if the worst happens, or just to enhance the fun-factor on your next ride out; emergency stops are something everyone is encouraged to practice daily anyway. However, picking it apart in the classroom and showing exactly how the front tyre compresses and where the grip and braking power is strongest is very helpful in visualising the emergency stop while you’re doing it instead of just grabbing a handful in panic.
Chris, our classroom instructor, gave us an inspired incentive to practice the swerve when coming up to manhole covers and other deformities in the road. It’s a challenge to break up a straight line and is just good fun to practice. Obviously, all of these exercises should preferably not be done when you’re in dense traffic or in close vicinity to tractors and lorries!
My big hate is U-turns and unfortunately, they are a necessary evil sometimes. It therefore gave me great joy on the way back to be able to do one without a) walking the bike around and b) putting my foot down during the turn. As someone who’s excellent at missing turn-offs, I really do need this skill to be better. I feel I made a good start.
Cornering is of course the one element that defines biking more than any other. It’s a part of the road that some dread and others constantly seek. Transferring the experience from Tarmac Lake – with its grippy surface – to the road obviously has some limitations but taking both that practice and the classroom knowledge of physics on board really will put you more at ease when approaching a bend. Also, the mantras of ‘slow in, fast out’ and ‘look where you want to go’, are probably part of every classroom repertoire. This doesn’t make it any less relevant though.
From what I noticed, it was also a revelation to some in our group that in order to take as much weight off the handlebar and let the bike do what it does best, you should grip with your knees and use your core body muscles to keep yourself positioned properly. To be honest, I can’t remember where I’ve heard this before, but this was only the second time that, in my experience, an instructor has brought this up in the classroom.
My partner in crime, Kent, decided to attend the course with me and if there was ever an honest and forthright person when it comes to reviews and critique, it would be him. He’s on the other end of the spectrum from me in terms of road and riding experience: he doesn’t have a driver’s licence, is from Sweden and until two years ago, had not experienced left-hand traffic. He’s been riding occasionally on his CBT since 2018 and has bit the bullet and been commuting on his 125 since November 2020.
His overall verdict on the course was that he was glad to have attended and it was definitely good value for the money. The slow manoeuvres sessions were more a repetition of Mod 1 so there was not much that was new for him but the cornering circuit was extremely useful. He has seen what the bike can do and how much lean he can have. He also learned the concept of counter-leaning at low speeds in bends such as roundabouts – where there may be a slippery surface – in order to save the bike should it start to slide.
He found the instructors on the circuit to be very encouraging (thereby boosting his confidence) and they gave him a lot of useful input both during and after the cornering sessions. While he would admit that theoretically this has given him more confidence on the road (and I did see an improvement on our ride home), in his typically cautious manner he also admits that traffic changes everything. If I was on a 125, I would have to agree with that, however, the confidence to trust the bike and do a move that he may not have considered before for fun – or for saving himself – is there.
As he had done this course in its previous incarnation with California Superbike School back in 2018, he definitely noted the improvement in receiving feedback via the clip-on radios and post session reviews, as well the increased length of the circuit sessions and shorter classroom time. While he already knew a lot of the information conveyed in the classroom, I did notice that some of the information was a real eye-opener for one or two of the other participants in our group.
On the whole, the overall mood of the group was quite positive at the end and we even had a rider from the British GP2 Championship there, who thought it was great fun and was also glad he’d attended.
Bennetts BikeSocial member, Tracey Latham is a Safety, Health and Environment Regional Coordinator for a national packaging company, and attended the Bennetts Rider Confidence day at Bedford Autodrome.
So, a little background first. I first started riding (and I put that in the loosest of terms) at 17 and rode a BSA Bantam (Dad had 3 bikes although Mum only thought he had 1; that’s another story). Dad showed me what started and stopped the bike so there are no surprises that I got to know all the corners in East Sussex personally and was a frequent visitor to A&E.
After getting a car at 19 I took a break from biking but underwent a fast-track CBT and test in a week around 10 years ago. After failing (putting my foot down on the U-turn) I was disheartened and sold the Honda 400/4 that I had bought from a lady in the village. My instructor suggested I buy a 125 and build my confidence but I decided it wasn’t the right time. After contracting Covid earlier this year which involved a hospital stay and a month off recovering from pneumonia I realised that I still wanted to ride again (but avoiding kissing the tarmac on corners).
I completed my CBT at the end of April this year and was delighted to see details of the Bennetts course on Facebook so didn’t hesitate to get myself booked in.
Training was held at Bedford Aerodrome which is a great venue. I have nothing but praise for this training and tutors; it was well-balanced with track and some theory/classroom work. Being the only learner 125 there I was a little apprehensive but, after being welcomed warmly, soon felt part of the family. We were told we would concentrate on slow-speed manoeuvres including the dreaded (well for me anyway) U-turns but there would be 'treat' added in. Being a self-confessed ‘foodie’, when they said they had a treat in store for us I automatically assumed it was an ice-cream; well it was a sunny day! The treat was carrying out a controlled stop in the wet!
Although disappointed at the lack of a Magnum (my stomach takes longer to forgive) it was really good to practise this. Counter-steering was another skill I took away with me and it improved my confidence no end. The tutors were really friendly, professional and supportive and everyone in the group was great. A shout-out to Marisa from Bennetts who was on the course too.
So, what did I get out of it? Improved confidence, improved safety & understanding (I do love a bit of Science), enjoyment and I’ve beaten my U-turn monster.
Whether you are new to biking, a returner, please get yourself booked on one of these courses; you won’t regret it! I’ll be booking myself in again and again."
I believe this course has developed from its first incarnation back in 2018 to a well thought-out skills course with a bit more flesh on the bones, while the price has stayed the same. If you’re looking for a good, short course, putting yourself and your skills under scrutiny with an aim to improve and boost your confidence, then this a good place to start. Compared to other rider training sessions I’ve attended, it’s good value for money, though what you get out of it will always depend on how open you are to learn more and challenge yourself.
For details of the next training events, visit rewards.bennetts.co.uk