Penelopegrange Bennetts Commercial Manager, ruddy loves a sports bike and is steadily mastering the art of being able to rip around the track like a ninja on one, as well as fitting in lots of pootles around her native Norfolk coast. Surprisingly social and relatively normal despite working in insurance.
Developed by Kent Fire and Rescue, in partnership with MotorSport Vision and the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM), Ride Skills combines skills training, a biker-specific first aid course, road riding and track time, all in a day at Brands Hatch.
The aim is to reduce the number of motorcycle casualties and fatalities on the roads. Headed up by the Kent Fire Bike Team, these guys have too often seen first-hand what happens when things go wrong.
Forget stifling yawns and sitting through laboured points about road positioning and negotiating gravel… don’t get me wrong, these are valid observations to be aware of, but the team knows that to get a biker’s attention, you need to understand that they want to have fun as well as improve their skills.
The day starts at 8.30 with complimentary drinks and snacks while signing on. It’s suitable for all riders of all abilities, whether track experienced or not, the group split by ability into ‘syndicates’ of around eight to ten, though if you attend in a group, you can be kept together. The syndicates rotate between the four individual sessions, which are Biker Down, Slow Riding Skills, Roadcraft and Road Skills, with everyone meeting for breaks and track briefings in between…
This is a taster session for the full Biker Down course run by First Aid Instructors from Kent Fire and Rescue, which trains motorcyclists in how to deal with a crashed rider.
The session starts with how to remove a fallen rider’s crash helmet. Many people think this is a no-no, even putting ‘do not remove helmet’ stickers on their lids. But a clear airway is the first priority, so where a rider has stopped breathing, understanding how to safely remove the lid without causing or exacerbating any neck damage is vital. The technique we’re shown has had zero cases of worsened damage.
After practicing it ourselves, we move onto chest compressions – 60 compressions can crucially keep oxygen circulating for two and a half minutes on a non-breathing casualty, which can literally be a matter of life or death. The session was a real eye opener, but was also presented in a very enjoyable way, making the hour all the more memorable.
Slow Riding Skills
Run by half a dozen IAM observers/instructors, there are two activities – emergency stops and slow riding.
I tackled the emergency stop first, riding at the instructor who puts his hand up when you need to brake. I stopped, and I thought I’d done well, until the IAM guy pointed out a foot-long skid mark behind my rear wheel. I need to use the front brake more, and the rear less.
I hung my helmet in shame and rode around to the start to go again. The instructors are incredibly helpful and – as it turns out – patient. The feedback is spot on, and progress is noticeable with every piece of advice taken. After a decent amount of practice, without it ever becoming tedious, we moved onto slow-speed riding.
After a demonstration, we were riding around a gauntlet of cones, then negotiating a tight figure-of-eight. It’s fair to say this isn’t my best skill, but as with the rest of the day, there’s plenty of advice and support on hand.
The session is a taster for the IAM course, but is presented well enough that even the more experienced riders are able to get enough value out of it, without feeling like they’re being taught how to suck eggs.
After a quick lunch the whole group was back together for a briefing on how best to negotiate Brands’ Indy course – how to approach the various straights and apexes, overtaking courtesy, flags, lights, mirrors, tyre pressures and what to do if you do experience an, erm, unexpected dismount.
We were taken out in two groups – experienced and novice – with an instructor leading a couple of sighting laps for each, demonstrating the best riding line, where to position our bikes, and where to position ourselves on the machines. Once the sighting laps are completed, riders can do as they please until the chequered flag comes out after around twenty minutes.
I joined the novice group, and there was a real buzz of excitement, encouraged by the observers, instructors and staff, who before we went out checked our kit and insisted to the more nervous that we’d love it. Turns out they’re right.
If you’ve never been on track, you’ll be amazed how every lap makes you more confident and faster. If you’re a track pro, then it’s still a fun session to have play, confirmed by some guys I spoke to who rode in the experienced group. They know it’s not a track day of the usual type, but attend it as there are always new techniques to learn, and it’s a different set-up to take part in. They’ve been before and say that as well as the riding info, there are always lots of friendly people, which makes it a good day out too.
Kevin Williams presents this session. Kevin is the owner of the advanced riding Survival Skills training school. He worked as a courier in London for 15 years, trained as a CBT instructor in 1995, going on to become a Direct Access instructor. His Survival Skills courses are completed by all manner of people and disciplines, including police, IAM and RoSPA riders. He has also written for the motorcycle media, national newspapers, and written books on motorcycle skills. In short, he knows his stuff.
He had some interestingly accurate breakdowns of instinctive reactions, including target fixation, freezing and panic braking, as well involving the group in a road-reading activity, which highlights how potential hazard indicators pass us all by. If you can learn what to look out for, there are fewer surprises, and therefore less risk of an accident.
Again, this session is a taster of the full training on offer. We all know you can never have too much awareness as a rider, and Kevin helps you realise just how many clues the road gives us.
This hour is spent one-on-one with an IAM observer, and includes riding the roads around Brands Hatch. The observers are fantastic, giving plenty of banter and making it enjoyable. They’ll follow you, but will signal where to go if you keep an eye on them in your mirrors.
The route is a combination of main and country roads, and we were out for around half an hour before returning for the debrief, where an assessment summary is given.
More track time
By 4pm everyone was back together again for a track re-brief, followed by a choice of session on body positioning or cornering, before it’s back in the pit lane at 5pm, when everyone is out on the track together for 40 minutes.
The day is busy, the people are lovely, and the price is an absolute bargain at £55 (subsidised by Kent Fire & Rescue). And that’s before you consider just how much information and feedback you get. You’ll come away tired, but really well informed and feeling like you’ve done something incredible. All Kent Fire & Rescue, IAM staff and helpers volunteer to run the course with the sole purpose of rider improvement.
At Bennetts (BikeSocial’s owners) we have a particular focus on supporting rider safety, whether that be through campaigning for changes, promoting effective equipment or raising awareness of training available, so this great value day comes highly recommended.