20-Apr-2008 : Gloucestershire Police “Better Biking” course

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I’ve just completed Gloucestershire Police’s “Better Biking” course which took place over two consecutive Sundays recently. It was very good: the lecturer, PC Martyn Hillier, has 30+ years traffic experience and an amusing delivery style with no concessions to the sole lady in the group, i.e. the occasional bit of Anglo-Saxon slipped out now and again; we got complimentary copies of “The Official Highway Code”, “The Police Rider’s Handbook to Better Motorcycling” and “Not The Blue Book”; there were nice buffet lunches (burp!) and loads of tea and coffee. The cost was £48.

Sunday 20th April

Arrive 8.40am for a 9.00am start. I clock the other bikes on the way in: mostly mid-range sports bikes and one Harley Davidson. Ten blokes – average age about 40-45 – and one lady in one-piece leathers riding an SV650. The instructor arrives on an R1200RT with full hard luggage.

The day is taken up with Powerpoint presentations interspersed with various anecdotes from the instructor, PC Martin Hillier, and several from the students. Most of us have been riding since the early 1970’s but a few have passed their tests in the last 5-10 years. Three are returning to biking after a long lay-off.

I was fairly surprised to learn that most of the things we’re supposed to do are things I’ve always done, especially since in my day we just slapped a pair of L-plates on a 250 and rode off into the sunset, often sans casque (not me of course). We pack up at about 4.00pm with a warning to return the following week with full tanks as we have a 3-4 hour observed ride ahead of us, during which time we’ll be encouraged to make reasonable progress whilst not exceeding the speed limit, or at least by not very much.

Sunday 27th April

Arrive 8.45am for a 9.00am start. Weather forecast for Gloucester: heavy rain. One student fails to show so we split up into five groups of three, two students an an instructor in each group. The instructors are police riders and advanced riders with local IAM/RoSPA groups who give up two Sundays a month to help keep numpties out of hospital. I’m with the secretary of the local RoSPA group, Geoff Brown (BMW F800GS) and student Adrian (Yamaha Fazer 1000), and I lead the ride out of Gloucester, up Crickley Hill and out to Severn Springs. We stop to change leader and Adrian takes us out to Stow on the Wold where we stop for a debrief: I’m staying in the middle of the lane too much – I should be moving around much more to get an early view round bends – and I could be a bit quicker around the bends. The instructor points to the shoulders of my rear tyre which don’t appear to have spent very much time in contact with the tarmac. We stop for a cuppa in Stow and then I lead the way to Cirencester.

We stop in Cirencester and swap positions so that Adrian can lead us to Stroud. He’s a lot quicker than me but not excessively so. I’m at the back now and I can see how much the instructor moves from one side of the lane to the other in the normal course of riding when compared to Adrian. We come through Cirencester and Stroud then stop for another debrief: no real problems. Geoff and Adrian agree that I was a bit quicker when I lead the second time. I lead back to Gloucester paying particular attention to my road positioning and we get back to the classroom for lunch and a final debrief. The weather has been excellent – I’m glad I removed the quilted lining from my jacket. The group who disappeared off in the opposite direction towards the Forest of Dean have obviously not been so lucky!

Overall impressions of the course? Excellent advice from a massively experienced motorcycle instructor, some useful booklets, a chance to meet loads of like-minded people and talk about big bikes, nice lunches, a 90-mile tour of some of the nicest roads in the Cotswolds and an opportunity to improve our chances of surviving on today’s crowded roads. We were introduced to our local IAM and RoSPA groups and we learned about the work of the Freewheelers Emergency Voluntary Service. (Separate links for the Glos/Severn and Somerset/Bristol/Bath/Wilts areas.)

“Better Biking” courses will be taking place on the following dates in 2008: 11th/18th May, 2nd/29th June, 7th/14th September and 5th/12th October. Contact Stephen Lamburn, Road Safety Officer, Gloucestershire County Council, for details: 01452-425557 or via email at stephen.lamburn@gloucestershire.gov.uk.