BikeSafe - A Different Sort of Ride Out

22nd May 2009

Simon Howers

120 miles, inside the M25? Check.

On great, twisty roads? Check.

In glorious spring sunshine? Check.

Tailed constantly by a traffic-cop? That’s a stretch, even for me.

And not another Harley in sight? Hang on. This doesn’t sound quite right.

But let me explain.

It’s impossible to talk about motorbikes, especially with the non-riding majority - loved ones etc - without the expected comments about safety and danger.

Unfortunately, there is something to it - check the quotes:

“Powered Two Wheelers (That’s motorbikes, scooters etc) make up less than 2% of vehicular traffic in London, but account for 24% of all fatalities and 18% of killed and seriously injured combined.”

Stats provided by the Met Police.

This is more than a little scary, especially when you consider the term serious injury refers to something life-changing, much more than merely (!) a broken limb.

Enter BikeSafe.

A partnership between the Metropolitan Police and Transport for London, the Rider Skills day offers an informal assessment of your riding, with an emphasis on improving your skills and safety. It sounds a little dry on paper and the idea of spending a day with the traffic police may not appeal to everyone.

And so I arrived at The Warren Metropolitan Police Sports Club in South East London at 9am on a sunny Friday in May, not entirely sure what I was getting myself into.

I think the word is “trepidation”.

After brief introductions, a brief document check - driving licence and insurance - I had a quick look at the other bikes. My black 883R was already drawing a few admiring glances - proof that a style created in the mid 1950s is still utterly relevant - and the other bikes ranged from a Honda CBR 125 to the expected Suzuki GSXRs and Honda Fireblades.

Tea and biscuits and some obligatory form filling were followed by a couple of short and sweet presentations by members of the BikeSafe team.

These covered road positioning, filtering and cornering.

Then, after a brief reminder to stick to speed limits, it was time for the first ride.

This focused on town riding then onto the A21 and lunch. There was one traffic cop for each two riders. I was paired up with Tim on his white BMW and PC Adrian Alsop on his fully liveried Police BMW.

Oh, and yes the Sportster was much louder than either of them.

Tim led first, followed by Adrian, and I brought up the rear.

It was an interesting opportunity to observe the riding habits of others, especially the Police rider, and after twenty minutes following behind, I came to this conclusion - the Police riders are very, very good!

Next it was my turn to lead, and taking directional cues from Adrian’s indicators, we headed off through “brown-fields” on the outskirts of Bromley. Adrian’s riding was totally unobtrusive, and I soon forgot he was actually a Police officer and just got on with enjoying myself through 30/40 mph roads, with the occasional high street with traffic to play with.

All too soon it was lunch, and apart from some brief comments about road positioning, Adrian was happy with our riding.

Lunch - included in the price - was pretty much anything off the menu of the local Frankie and Bennies Bar and Grill. I had a BLT sandwich, chips and a coke, and it was very nice. Adrian has been riding motorbikes for 37 years, and does over 30,000 miles a year on his bikes and so was full of interesting stories.

After lunch the focus was on safe, higher speed cornering. I led first, and Adrian advised me to start slow and speed up.

Following behind, he quickly identified that I was using too high a gear. Approaching a 50mph corner in 4th at around 60mph, I had to brake and change down to 3rd before setting the bike up for the corner. This made the bike less stable, and meant I was doing a lot in a short distance before the corner. This in turn meant I wasn’t taking the most efficient line through the corner.

I digested all of this.

Stay in 3rd, he advised. The bike will rev a little higher, but it can take it.

OK, I said.

Thing is, he was right.

Leaving the bike in 3rd meant that all I had to do on the approach to the corner was get my road positioning right (left side of the road for a right hander, opposite for a left hander) and I could use the engine braking to slow the bike if I was going in too hot.

After a couple of corners getting my eye in, I was easily doing between 5 and 10 mph more around the bends, and the bike felt much more settled.

I have honestly never ridden around corners so fast.

All because of the helpful advice of a Police Officer.

We stopped for petrol (well, I do only have a 12.5 litre tank) and then Tim led the final effort back to the Warren.

Once there, we had a quick group photo and then a couple of presentations where the BikeSafe team showed us a few case studies of accidents, identifying cause and effect. It was a sobering end to a great day out riding and I rode home through London’s hectic rush hour with perhaps even more care than usual.

My advice to anyone reading this - get yourself on a BikeSafe course. At 30 for a full day’s training with lunch thrown in for free, it’s an inexpensive way to get valuable training which will make you a safer and more confident rider.

Riding a motorbike is exhilarating, exciting and fulfilling.

It doesn’t have to be dangerous.

Visit www.bikesafe-london.co.uk for more information.

And as Harley say, wherever the road takes you, enjoy the ride.

Have a great summer.

Simon Howers
Son of a certain Road Captain, a C&F Chapter member and a Police Officer in Hammersmith and Fulham