Like most bikers, and indeed, like the vast majority of car drivers, too, I took the training that I needed to get through the test and to qualify myself to ride unsupervised. After this, I had nothing further to do with training; not through any feeling of knowing it all, I was glad to get out and use my first Harley, the Sportster. One of my earliest posts on this blog was about the green machine and can be found here.
Even before I had passed my test (at the third attempt!), I was aware of Bike Plus, the post-test training scheme supported by Derbyshire County Council. However, I do not live in Derbyshire and so didn’t read the leaflet properly.
After riding the Sportster for more than two years and moving on to the even bigger Heritage Softail, I decided that it was time for some more training. It was fortunate that Bike Plus must have come back into my consciousness at about this time because I soon discovered that Derbyshire County Council (bless them) are prepared to subsidise riders who live outside the county, but who ride in Derbyshire. Since I very certainly fit the bill, I filled in the Bike Plus form and sent it off. It didn’t take long before a reply arrived offering me a 50% discount on the £180 cost of a day’s advanced training.
I was also very pleased that the training company that got me through my test, Shires Motorcycle Training, of Derby, were Bike Plus providers. I got on the phone, booked my training with them and settled back to wait for the appointed day.
The Saturday in question, a few weeks ago now, dawned dry , but overcast with a forecast of some rain later. I made sure that my waterproofs were in the pannier, along with the Bike Plus letter, along with my tax and MOT certificate and driving licence. I rode across from Nottingham to Derby in the dry and booked myself in, grabbed a coffee and was introduced to Colin, who was one of the instructors who taught on my Direct Access course almost three years ago. Even more surprisingly, he remembered me. Our group for this course was completed by Darren, who was a very experienced motorbike racer, but who had only just passed his test to ride on the road.
After making our introductions, checking the paperwork and finishing our coffee, we donned our waterproofs and set out just as the rain started. Although I kept hoping it would brighten up, it didn’t and we spent the whole day riding in the rain. I remember saying to Colin at one point that I guessed that my Harley would be only on the road for a hundred miles. Generally, us Harley owners don’t tend to ride in the rain if we can help it because that chrome takes such a long time to clean.
Of course, we saw two other Harleys on the road within a couple a minutes, but there really weren’t very many other bikes out on such a wet day.
The training and the riding itself was pitched at a more advanced level than I had expected. We were patched into the ubiquitous training radios with Colin giving us riding tips as well as directions as we navigated a wide range of roads, including those winding bends that Derbyshire offers in abundance. I was concentrating very much on getting my line around bends right. At the start of the day, Colin had talked about riding around the outside line of a bend and about seeing my lane on the road as three strips: the third nearest the kerb, used for right-hand bends; the middle third, to be generally avoided for normal riding and the outside third for straight roads and left hand bends.
Colin got us to think ahead and to position ourselves so that one bend flowed into another and as I gained confidence in my lines and in the grip offered by the bike’s tyres, especially in the wet, my speed started to increase in the bends. I don’t think I exceeded the speed limit at any time all day, but prior to this day, I had tackled most bends quite tentatively, slowing down a lot. At one point we were riding on the A610 towards Ambergate and I took some bends at 40mph for which I would previously have slowed down to 30 or less.
Despite the rain, I was really enjoying my riding and I am sure that I am both a faster and a safer rider for having taken advantage of Bike Plus. After our next ride together, Sue commented that I seemed more confident in my riding.
That comment alone made the £90 cost of the day worth every penny. If we had lived in Derbyshire, the subsidy could have been even bigger – with the “locals” paying just £50.
Sherwood Chapter’s committee has discussed offering rider skills training to its members and I firmly believe that they could do far worse that book a series of Bike Plus days.