So I passed my Advanced Motorcycling Test. Just what does that really mean? Not a lot, really — I’d regard the IAM test as the minimum starting point for being able to demonstrate control of a motor vehicle in good conditions with a favourable wind. Where then do I go from here?
In my earlier biking incarnation, I’d been an instructor with the old RAC/ACU training scheme in Edinburgh and later with Cambridge’s CAMrider Rider training scheme. That was around the time that compulsory basic training (CBT) came along and moved the whole teaching thing onto a professional basis, thereby rather taking the fun out of it for us enthusiastic amateurs.
What we have now of course is organisations like the WVAM, where enthusiasts give their time to help train people up to and beyond the Advanced Test standard. I like the idea of doing that — of keeping the cycle of learning going and having a good time with people whose riding you can trust — that and going ballistic down a wide assortment of twisty country roads.
So I put myself down for assessment as a candidate for Group Observer training with WVAM. Which is how I came to be standing in Box Hill car park at some ungodly hour last Saturday morning, stuffing coffee and a Ryka’s bacon butty into my face while our little company of five assembled — three potential trainees and two of the groups most experienced Observers. This was a 3-4 hour assessment ride, to work out if each of us was up to the required standard to go into Observer training. Rather than a prescriptive ride to arbitrary road rules,it was to be all about how we did (or didn’t) demonstrate the hallowed combination of Progress with Restraint — making the first while demonstrating the second.
We’d an assortment of tolerably well matched bikes — 2 CBR600s, a Yamaha Fazer and the Duke. We also had a BMW 650 single, which must have spent the entire 120 miles of the ride having its neck wrung to keep up — those Rotax engines must be indestructible.
The format was a follow-my-leader, with the two observers riding at numbers 2 and 5 and indicating when the lead was to be swapped. Most of the time was on fast sweeping A roads or twisty back roads, with just a little highway work thrown in.
We went outbound from Box Hill to Goodwood race circuit in West Sussex, where we paused for a break and were entertained by a mix of cars out on an open track day and most particularly by the resident Spitfire pulling high-G, low altitude stunts right over our heads. Makes me wonder if the Battle of Britain was won on style points — nothing, but nothing, compares to the wonderful elliptical elegance of that silhouette or the sound of a Rolls-Royce Merlin under load.
After several hours of stotting around the wilds of Surrey and Sussex, we ended up back at Box Hill for a coffee and the dreaded debrief. To cut a long chat very short, one of our number went straight through the Observer training — quite rightly as she was by far the smoothest of all of us, while it was decided that the remaining two of us needed to do the ride one more time, after working on a few borderline issues.
In my case that was a combination of a bad habit of tending to close off my cornering lines a little too early, thusly reducing my sightline on the exit from bends, and a need to show just a tad more restraint on some overtakes. Entirely fair comments, although I will point out in mitigation that it wasn’t me (or either of the other observees) who got flashed by oncoming traffic.
So, not quite there — while my first reaction was to be pretty irritated with myself at not getting it quite right, it was pointed out to me that I’d done just 3000 miles in the 8 months I’d been back on a bike after a 14 year layoff, so wasn’t perhaps doing as badly as I thought. Still, next time will be different. Oh yes.