Back on the bike: Brush up on safe riding with these great tips
With filthy roads, nasty weather and a distinct shortage of daylight, it’s not surprising that so many of us choose to put our hard-earned pride and joy to bed for winter.
But while we’re saving our machines from the ravages of grime and salt in readiness for another season of riding, the skills we polished to perfection over the past year will no doubt be losing their lustre.
To find out how we should prepare for an incident-free return to riding, we spent the day with Ryan Decarteret from Rapid Training, who have been providing advanced motorcycle tuition since 1997. Ryan cut his riding teeth on sportsbikes before joining the Serious Organised Crime Agency (later the National Crime Agency), where he was trained by Thames Valley Police to their advanced standard.
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He then passed through an undercover motorcycle surveillance course to become one of the few police riders who have never ridden a marked police bike. In his nine years as a surveillance rider he averaged around 50,000 miles a year covering every type of road and riding situation the UK can offer.
He’s been a coach with Rapid for two years and is instrumental in their product and service development. Rapid’s mission is to inspire riders to ride - and ride well.
Step 1: Where's your head at?
Before you even wheel your bike out of the garage you need to be confident that you're in the right frame of mind. Self-awareness is very important, so consider how long it’s actually been since you've last ridden. Be realistic and acknowledge that gap.
Make sure time is on your side and that you’re not rushing to get anywhere – diving into rush hour traffic for a Monday morning commute may not be the best idea after a three-month layoff. Get into the zone by focusing on what you’re aiming to achieve – the first ride needs to be all about that ride, with no other distractions.
Step 2: Think about skill fade
There's no way that you’ll be as good as you were when you mothballed your bike for winter. Even a couple of days away makes a difference, so it’s guaranteed that you'll have lost some of your edge.
One of the biggest factors to recalibrate to will be acceleration, especially after a few months in car mode. A 2.0 turbo diesel is positively steam-powered in comparison to most modern motorcycles.
The number one issue is approaching hazards such as bends too quickly. Stiffening up and target fixation can make a tricky situation worse. We don’t want to make it round on luck rather than skill.
Step 3: Get back in tune with the bike
Don’t try to get straight back out at full speed. The very act of donning your helmet and viewing the world through the visor aperture can be enough to increase bravado – especially if the last thing you did was a trackday.
Take your time and focus on drilling the skills back in. Consciously consider basic machine controls to remind yourself how the bike reacts, such as the bite of the brakes, responsiveness to steering inputs and throttle control.
It’s all about getting back in tune with your bike and as you get your feel back, your speed will naturally improve.
Step 4: Changing road conditions
It could be a dry, bright, sunny morning as you head out, but beneath the tree cover of a long right hander you may well find a microclimate where everything’s still slimy and wet.
Given the option, it may be prudent to take the dry line rather than the 'correct' line in order to maximise grip.
If the dry line reduces visibility, then back off and adjust your speed. Mud and gravel are typical examples of winter fallout – not to mention potholes, likely to have been worsened by winter weather.
Step 5: Be self-critical
It can be difficult to be self-critical until you’ve done something that you acknowledge wasn’t up to scratch, such as a sketchy overtake or dodgy line through a bend.
It may not have been wrong per se, but find somewhere to pull up while it’s still fresh in your mind and consider what you could have done differently.
Was it as a result of not looking far enough ahead? Or, a failure to assess road conditions? Be honest with yourself, learn from it and move on.
Step 6: Get back to the books
There’s so much that we can do for ourselves to improve our riding. Refer back to the books and give yourself a revision session. Whether it be the Highway Code, Roadcraft Book or something more technical such as Keith Code’s 'A Twist of The Wrist', there will always be a benefit in refreshing your memory.
Set yourself goals, such as being better at bends or overtakes. We all have development needs, so make improving yourself part of the fun of riding.
Step 7: Who are you riding with?
The best way to set your yardstick in terms of skill is to make that first ride a solo one. That way you’ll be able to give yourself the time and space to rediscover your bike and identify areas that may be rusty.
Yes, it’s great when you get together with your mates for a group ride, but it’s not so easy to maintain a critical mentality with the excitement of being back on the road after a long break. When you do go out in a group don’t be tempted to play catch up. Always ride your own ride.
Step 8: Consider more training
There are so many avenues open to you for further training, such as IAM Roadsmart and RoSPA providing the opportunity to gain advanced qualifications.
Rapid offer a completely bespoke service that can be tailored to suit anyone from a new rider, to someone with hundreds of thousands of miles under their belt.
Courses range from one-off coaching sessions to an eight-day masterclass, all with the aim of producing more accurate, smoother and safer riders.
Step 9: Get out in all weathers
Riding in the rain is a great way to develop your finesse, so there’s no need to wait until the sun comes out to get rolling again. We often say: 'If it ain’t raining, it ain’t training' and there’s no quicker way to get smoother on your brakes and throttle than riding in conditions that may not be considered ideal.
The enjoyment level and achievement, although different, certainly won’t be less and knowing that you can do it in the wet will pay dividends when you do it in the dry.