6 min read

My PTR ride with Paul Watson

I passed my IAM Advanced Rider test 7 years ago now on my Ducati Monster 1200 and have done around 30,000 biking miles since, including several trips to the Alps and Pyrenees and tours around Wales, Scotland, The Peak District, Devon and Cornwall among others. I think I ride pretty well and usually notice that I make more progress than the “untrained” riders I go out with, in fact several of them have joined LAM on my recommendation and one recently passed his Advanced Test.

I have not been very active with LAM over the past couple of years and wanted to re-connect a bit, so when I saw that Post Test Rides were available that seemed a good place to start. A way to get my head back onto the IAM/LAM approach to riding and also get some feedback on any bad habits or weak areas that may have crept into my riding.I met up with Paul Watson on Friday 4 November 2022 near Lingfield and, as it was a nice sunny day and we both had some time, we agreed to do an extended ride over most of the day. Paul had a route around Kent and down to the South Coast, passing the Custom Café for a bit of lunch. We ended up riding for 5 hours with a few breaks and I covered 130 miles in the day.

I was riding my one-year-old Ducati Multistrada V4S Sport 1200 and Paul was on his BMW RT. I was feeling pretty excited about a nice day out riding, though with some trepidation to have someone as experienced as Paul watching everything I was doing.

I pulled in to the petrol station where we met and drew up beside Paul facing towards the wall. He pointed out that it would have been better to reverse in and face outwards as it would then make leaving that bit easier and quicker. Always making things as simple as possible and managing the bike smoothly and with minimum effort was a recurring theme throughout the day. Planning ahead not just for riding but for everything.

The riding conditions weren’t ideal as it had been raining heavily over the past couple of days and there were a lot of very wet areas and plenty of slippery leaves once off the main roads. In fact, on one of the first roads we followed it was heavily flooded over long stretches (conditions Paul later described in his ride report as “moist” – is there a LAM prize for understatement of the year?!).

The water was maybe 6 inches deep at the centre of the road and a lot more at the edges and covered the road for quite a way, maybe 80 yards or so. I hung back and watched a car go through ahead to see what the actual depth was like and noticed that as the car passed along it parted the waters like Moses crossing the Red Sea. So, I thought I would be clever and follow the next car through, not too close but enough to get the benefit of an almost dry centre line. It all worked out well but Paul pointed out later that I may have had a problem if the car in front stalled or stopped for whatever reason. I didn’t really have an escape route that didn’t involve putting my feet down and getting very wet boots, or veering off towards the unknown deeps at the edge of the road and maybe drowning! Having a safe “escape route” included in my riding plan at all times was another good reminder.

After getting through the biblical floods, we did a long stretch on fairly narrow and very wet-leafy roads and I managed to keep up a good speed while riding well withing what I thought were the safety margins and visibility. Paul was riding fairly close behind me and seemingly having no trouble keeping up, which is certainly not the case with all of the people I ride with.

Paul commented later that I have given a steady, safe, test-pass ride in the challenging conditions, so I must have got most of right!

There were a couple of occasions on 2-lane sections where there was an overtake “on” but I left it because the conditions were so slippery (or I was just too lazy and sitting back a bit having a rest!). Paul made the point by pulling right out on the road so I could see him in my mirrors! We spoke about this later and Paul said that in his view, as an Advanced Rider, you should be on your top game at all times and always hunting for opportunities to progress, being “poised ready to strike” in case an overtake presented itself. Sitting back for a while and “resting” means you are not taking in information, analysing and planning as well as you could and that is the time when silly mistakes can be made.

This was again all about planning further ahead and having overtaking options in mind and being ready to take them. We spoke about corner exit opportunities, knowing that the car in front will probably slow down below the speed limit, but a biker doesn’t have to. If in a 40 limit, the car may slow down to 30 and if you plan ahead and time it right, the bike could stay at 40 and just catch the car at the corner exit then go past without having to change speed.

This may involve being off of the normal preferred road position, e.g., rather than being in P1 coming to the end of a right-hand bend, move out to P3 early (assuming vision is good and the exit overtake could be on) so that you are better placed to move quickly for the overtake. Paul referred to this as a “Masters level skill”.

Later on we switched places and Paul rode ahead for a while. I stayed close to observe and get a feel for what he was doing. He was certainly quick and very smooth through the corners and I found myself having to blip the throttle a bit on some of the straights to catch up the bit of ground I had lost in some corners – definitely a demonstration that I could do a bit better.

On the way back, we had a fast run up the A22 with lots of roundabouts and a steady stream of cars, but a bit of sunshine and fairly dry roads. I managed to show my planning and executions skills with a lot of late braking in the outside lane slowing for roundabouts and then a good entrance and fast exit, getting past 5-10 cars each time. Paul is not easy to impress, but I think he liked that.

We had also spoken earlier on about the opportunity to “cut the corner” when turning right into a minor road. Paul’s view was that if there is good visibility and there is definitely no danger or any chance of misleading another road user, you can take off as much of the corner as you like and it is, in fact, the safest and most progressive way to take the corner.

On the way home, an opportunity arose where I could have done this and also overtaken a car at the same time. See the diagram for the layout. I didn’t take it (in fact I didn’t really even think about it), and waited for the car to turn right and then overtook it later, but Paul hung right out on the right and cut the corner to show it could have been done. With hindsight, I definitely could have taken that opportunity safely if I had been looking and planning further ahead.

We had some interesting correspondence about this later once I saw Paul’s report and he said “The cutting the corner and carrying out the overtake is way up there at the top of riding with sparkle but you must not get it wrong. I would hope masters riders would consider it but not necessarily carry it out.” Once again, it is about being at the very top of your riding game at all times, planning way ahead and actively hunting opportunities. Definitely something I will think about in future.

Note – the move also has to be legal and we considered a situation where there was a solid white centre line extending right to the junction. In that situation, cutting any of the corner would put you on the wrong side of the line and definitely cannot be done (except maybe if you are using the move to pass a horse entering the minor road?).

Certainly an interesting discussion and all part of being a thinking rider at all times, not just riding by rote.

Overall, I had a really good day’s riding and Paul was able to point me to a few areas where I could improve my ride and has definitely inspired me to “up my game” and also to try to stay at my very best all of the time. Many thanks again to Paul for giving up his time and sharing his experience and expertise, it was a pleasure to ride with someone who can make advanced riding look so easy!

By Keith Milsom

 


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