LAM member David Long explains his journey with LAM and the IAM Roadmart advanced riding course, from his first Pot Luck session through to his test pass
In 2012 I was back in the saddle on a 1980 Kawasaki Z650 (my dream bike back in the day!), having last ridden a Z250A2 in circa 1987. Yes, I was very probably a very real danger to myself and to all other road users!
My brother-in–law, having seen me ride a couple of times, strongly suggested that I sign up for an IAM course (SUBTLE, not!), and as I’d once ridden in France with Ashley Cole (LAM/IAM National Observer) I duly joined LAM instead of a more local group to me in the Brighton area, paid the £149 for the ‘Skills for Life’ course, and dragged my brother and a mate along too.
On a very cold and slightly wet Saturday morning in March 2015 we all rolled up for a ‘pot-luck’ session at Tatsfield, and after our mug shots were taken and we’d had a quick ‘get to know you’ chat my brother Steve and I were allocated to Observer Peter Hase for our assessment ride. In the car park Peter went through IMSAFE and IPSGA, referenced the green book (HTBABR), and then did a demo POWDER check on my brothers 2week old Speed Triple. Sadly Steve couldn’t tell Peter where the oil went(!), and I then promptly dropped my Arai lid whilst fumbling with my gloves. Not exactly the most auspicious of starts, but off we went off down a route of mostly rural B roads.
At the end of my first ride my main problems were identified as poor road positioning, failing to keep my vision up, over use of brakes and indicators and, more worryingly, speeding! Peter then took us through IPSGA again, explaining a bit more of the reasoning behind the system, and after that we both produced much smoother 2nd rides and came away with initial assessment scores of 60. Peter said that we could both fully expect to be test ready after maybe 6 or 7 OR’s, and really encouraged us to mentally sign up to seeing the course through to the end.
We then did two more group OR’s together (12th April and 30th May) before I decided I’d probably be better off asking for one-on-one OR’s with Ashley, who I always thought made a lot of sense, explained things well and could encourage but at the same time not pull any punches. After the initial pot-luck assessment ride and 3 OR’s, my were 60, 72, 80 & 83, which may look pretty good but still masked an awful lot of faults; the worst of which was my continued and seemingly complete inability to ride within the speed limits!
Ashley always started OR’s by saying that he really wanted to see me ride my own ride, and that we’d deal with my faults afterwards in the de-brief sessions. I was also always reminded that it was my licence to lose – Ashley’s way of reminding me to try a bit harder to stick to the speed limits?! On one run I did manage to really focus on reigning it right in, and was then immediately taken to task for producing a very ‘dull’ ride! My second ride was better, smoother and more progressive, but still not exactly within the law!
On twisty, single track roads I was also struggling with my positioning on bends – dangerously so on one ride; having completely misinterpreted one of Ashley’s earlier demo rides!
Then disaster struck. My back gave out, and for 6 or 7 months I was unable to walk properly let alone ride a bike and, by the time I’d recovered from the 9th October surgery, I didn’t get on my FZ6 (I loved that old Z650, but it had no brakes and had to go!) until March 2016.
On 8th May 2016 I met up Ashley again, with both of us fully expecting things to have gone completely backwards. Surprisingly however my OR ride was graded an 85; so clearly something had gone in last year, and stuck! Ashley said the basics were all there, and I just needed to polish off the rough edges. For example, he started to pick me up for leaving my legs dangling when pulling away etc. He said this not only looked very messy, but it suggested that I might have a problem with slow riding…and would probably end up with the test examiner getting me to do circles and figures of eight in a car park somewhere!
21st August was my next OR, when we went out for a 90mins ‘check test’. This involved our first bit of motorway work (where I wasn’t commanding the lane sufficiently but otherwise did a half decent job!), and for once I was able to stay within ALL the speed limits (glory be!) for the duration of the OR, whilst still being able to make progress. As I was STILL dragging my leg however, Ashley took me into a car park to test my slow riding. As expected I was rubbish, and went home determined to practice the art.
Ashley said I was now very close to being test ready, and so I put in for what I thought might be a late September test date. A surprisingly early test date came through however, and this stopped us from getting in one last OR beforehand… and I arranged to meet the examiner in a Haywards Heath car park at 10am, Sat 3rd September. As suggested by Ashley I pitched up early and rode out on a few of the various directions that I thought we might take, before pulling into a garage 200m up the road to get topped up with fuel. And then FZ refused to start!! It ended up with me getting a bump start across the petrol station forecourt by the examiner (!) and being waved off until another day!
A new reg/rec, new battery and £200 later I put in for the test again only for Nick to then hit a busy patch at work and not be able to offer me anything until the 8th/9th of October. I picked the 9th and met up with Ashley the day before for a 90min and rather wet OR that included a 10mile stretch of the M25. Given the wet conditions I was surprised to have my ride scored as an 88, but Ashley was still on at me for dragging/dangling my legs on take-off/landing, so off to the car park we went again…but this time I did ok.
I’ve not taken any sort of test since getting my drivers licence over 35 years ago, but I felt strangely calm both before and during the 90min duration Advanced test. In my head I thought I was probably good enough to pass, and that if I did fail it would probably be because I did something really stupid on the day, like miss a 30mph sign coming out of a National(!). It helped of course that the examiner, Nick Illingworth, was a REALLY nice guy. Before we set off he talked to me about what he was looking for, and his expectations were all very similar to what I had been hearing all along from Ashley – i.e. a lot of perfectly common sense stuff! Nick said that he appreciated nerves would be an factor, and that he therefore wasn’t expecting perfection…. but if something did go a bit wrong for me I was to try to just put it out of my mind and carry on.
During the test there were a couple of occasions where I thought my positioning was a bit off and I did very nearly miss one of Nick’s signals, but I didn’t think that anything had gone badly wrong. My overtakes all felt good (though Nick said afterwards that maybe I was a bit too keen to demonstrate them!), I thought that my speed had been ok (‘spot on’ he said!!), AND I even managed to kept my feet up and put into practice what Ashley had said about taking EVERY chance to demonstrate competent slow riding in town and on the approach to junctions etc.
We were back in the Haywards Heath car park before I knew it, and Nick wasted no time in telling me that I’d passed (PHEW!). My Test Report was mainly all 1’s and 2’s and I was awarded a ‘First’, which Nick said he hardly ever gave to anyone! All in all, a really great result…and whilst I clearly did it all myself on the day, the reason I was able to do so was all down to Ashley’s fantastic training. Thanks mate!
If you’re an Associate and feel that it just isn’t coming together for you after 3 or 4 OR’s….then I’d really encourage you, just as Peter Hase encouraged me back in March 2015, to stick with the programme. Try to get everything you can out of your Observers (I went to my last three OR’s armed with long lists of questions!), and then practice, practice, practice what you’ve been taught. Despite the 60, 72, 80, 83, 85, 85 & 88 progression through my OR’s I often thought that I would never be able to put it all together well enough to pass the test, but I did… and I’m sure that you can too. GOOD LUCK!