Monday, 24 May 2010

I spent all day with the Police today....

As some of my readers will know, I came back to biking about 4 years ago. I am your typical “born again biker”. As a result of being away from biking for so long, this means that I have not had any formal rider training or any type of riding skills assessment for about 36 years. Gulp.

In preparation for my forthcoming tour of the USA I thought it might be a good idea to put this right in some way and today I did exactly that.

Throughout much of the UK, groups of motorcycle Police run what are called “Bikesafe” days. This is an initiative to help to lower the number of motorcycle rider incidents and casualties. By passing on their knowledge, skills and experience, police motorcyclists can help riders become safer and more competent.

So this morning I rode to a Metropolitan Police centre on the north side of London that was the base for a days assessment of my riding skills. There were 5 of us riders being assessed, ranging from a young student who was new to biking, to a couple of people that had been riding for many years. The ratio of Police motorcyclists to riders was incredible – it was one to one. We were allocated one Police motorcyclist each, for the whole day! I found it somewhat amusing that the name of the Police motorcyclist assessing me was Colin Paris. Paris for France.













The day essentially comprised 3 parts. The first part was a few talks about general motorcycle safety, observation skills, road positioning and awareness skills. The second part was a one hour city ride followed by a two and a half hour rural ride on country roads where the Police motorcyclist rides behind you watching every move you make. It is a little nerve-wracking at first, but the guys work at creating a relaxed environment and after a while, it just feels like a couple of people out riding their bikes. You don’t forget that it is a Police motorcyclist behind you for a good part of a day, but you soon get used to it. The third part is the feedback session at the end of the day when you are told about what is good and not so good about your riding.

My overall impression of the day was excellent. Having a professional motorcyclist assessing you is rewarding and Colin spotted things that I didn’t realise about how I ride my bike. Additionally, you are put into an environment that really makes you think about your riding. I found myself noticing more road signs, thinking about what could happen in “what if” situations and putting myself in a position where I felt more confident about riding. I left the day with a new vision about riding a bike. It is the overall feeling of being more aware of what was happening around and ahead of me that felt good.

The day was very good value indeed. At just £45 (about 65 USD) it is a bargain. This of course is subsidised, so thanks go to Transport for London for re-investing some of our congestion charge money back into something we benefit from.

Overall, a top day.

Here is a link to the Bikesafe days website

24 comments:

Canajun said...

That sounds like a terrific program. And kudos to the London Police for supporting it.

chris-sorbi said...

That's a great intro to your blog post----
caught my eye!

bobskoot said...

Gary:

Well ? . . . what was the verdict ? Did they take your licence away ? Are you a hazard on the road ? What a tease, a riding critique with no posted results. At least you made it home safely.

I think all of us get nervous when being followed by the police and make mistakes by being extra cautious. You probably had your eyes on the mirrors more than on the road ahead

bob
bobskoot: wet coast scootin

Gary France said...

Canajun – I think the Police force originally set up the course and do everything to encourage it. The 6 officers from the North London Bikesafe unit specifically asked to be on this program and they spend about 50% of their time doing these assessments and 50% what they jokingly called “proper policing”. They are all bikers and the first slide of their presentation was the bikes they personally ride.

Chris – My plan worked then….

Bob – I still have my licence! They assess you as (A) Constantly High Standard, (B) Good Standard, (C) Reasonable Standard and (D) Inadequate Standard in 13 different skills such as braking, signalling, observation etc. I got 10 A’s and 3 B’s, so I believe I did quite well. My assessor said I was riding in the left lane too much (the equivalent of the right lane for my North American readers) and that I needed to use my horn more. We had a good debate about the benefits of using your horn as a warning to other road users versus the chance that you might piss people off by using it. Colin was very much in favour of the “staying alive by using it more” choice rather than the “well he was very polite, but shame he is dead” option. I now agree with him.

I was going to write something in my posting about being nervous when seeing the Police right behind you and I guess that is something that happens on both sides of the Atlantic. You are correct that I had eyes in my mirrors quite a lot initially, but the feeling of being over-cautious soon goes away. This was especially the case for the ride we did through the countryside. The roads in the UK are generally much narrower and much more twisty than roads in North America (having never been to Canada so I am guessing a bit about there). I would therefore judge that riding over here demands a lot of concentration as on most of the roads we rode on yesterday, you cannot see very far ahead, lined with threes and hedges, they are sometimes high speed with just one lane in either direction, there are lots of circumstances where you need to be observing many potential hazards and they are very twisty. I guess that is why the Police choose the route they did. Under those circumstances, on a three and a half hour ride, you need to concentrate a lot and looking in your mirrors worrying about the policemen behind you goes away quite quickly.

Plus, over lunch and the breaks we took they make you feel very relaxed. Sorry Bob, I didn’t write anything about your second favourite subject – food! We stopped for a great lunch which was all included in the price of the day!

cpa3485 said...

Sounds like a very valuable program. Wish ours were as inexpensive (about $250 here). You apparently did very well, and still you say you learned a lot. That's really great.

mq01 said...

fabulous, thats a great program! that could be beneficial for riders in all countries. it sounds like fun and more importantly life saving info/techniques were shared. very cool gary!

biker baby said...

I like the sound of that. I have a friend who used to be a motorcycle cop, (he is detective now) and I have rode with him as a friend. He never offered feedback on my riding skills. We don't have a program like that here in IL. We do have safety training courses, beginner and experienced, I took one and it was only %20. Three days, The first in class, second 1/2 day class/half day on bikes. The third all day on bikes. I will be seeing my friend this Friday and I will bring it up. Maybe I can get him to spend a day following me around.

bobskoot said...

Gary:

very glad you still have your licence, it would be difficult to ride the USA tour without one. I'm not sure about using the HORN though. I find that people who use horns are selfish, bullies pushing their way through by honking. While I do not have first hand knowledge of the fact, but I would refrain from horn use by gun toting American drivers. Many also "carry" while riding.
We have a lot of mountainous terrain here in British Columbia, most of our roads are not straight also being two lane highways (one lane each direction).
I think you have more hazards in the UK with hedges and rock walls

bob
Wet Coast Scootin

Gary France said...

cpa3485 – I had read some months ago that the UK Bikesafe Program was being introduced to the USA and that a few States had started similar courses. I looked on the web just now and I see that North Carolina is running these courses for FREE. See http://www.bikesafenc.com Maybe other States have websites too….

mq01- I know that some of the Police Motorcyclists from the UK Bikesafe team have travelled to the USA to communicate what they do, so who knows, more States and maybe more countries will roll this out.

BB – I might have some good news for you. Go to http://www.bikesafenc.com and click on the FAQ section, then look at the answer to question 8. It seems that Illinois is introducing Bikesafe. How good is that?

Gary France said...

Bob – Good point about using a horn in the USA. I will save it for emergencies only!

Now, by mentioning mountainous terrain and roads that are not straight, you are just trying to tempt me to come and ride in BC. Keep going – you nearly have me convinced already! Maybe next spring…. I might just come knocking on your door and say, come on Bob, let’s go for a long ride!!

biker baby said...

Just a thought since we are talking safety...if you find yourself riding any of our country roads, look out for gravel at intersections and wet mud from tractors. Occasionally some of the misguided city kids come to the country thinking that since they are on country roads, there is little traffic and few cops, so they think they can speed and run the occasional stop sign.

Mike said...

Gary,
Very nice post. I agree with the others - wish we had something like that in the states and at that price. That's a nice group shot of all of you.

Ben's Wisdom and Health Emporium said...

New follower here. I'm looking forward to reading more of your interesting blog as time permits.

Gary France said...

BB – Thanks for the tips. I am like a sponge at the moment, soaking up any ideas and suggestions about riding in the US. I will try to keep scanning for all of those.

Mike – Thank you. It seems that the Bikesafe course is being introduced in the states, but slowly and sporadically. You might want to write to your local authorities and suggest it is introduced, quoting the 25% reduction in accidents in London. If you want, I could put you in contact with the Police who run the scheme in London and then you cold suggest an information exchange between the different Police Forces.

Ben – Welcome to my blog and I hope you enjoy reading some of my posts.

Axel said...

A very good initiative from the police, more people should take up the offer.
And finally also a picture of your Road King. Is this the one you will take to the US? You still did not show us the special paintwork done :)

Gary France said...

Axel - Great timing! I was going to take some pictures of my Road King and its new paintwork either today or tomorrow, depending on the weather. However, right now it is raining!

irondad said...

That is a most excellent way to get tuned up. Good on you!

Interestingly, on Tuesday the 1st, I am spending the day training motor officers. They get nervous when I follow them for evaluation purposes, too.

bobskoot said...

Gary:

I don't blame you. We all know that rain washes the paint away. actually a few water droplets on the paint make for a more interesting photo.

I hope it doesn't rain for the whole 15K miles of your USA tour or you will get behind schedule

bob
Wet Coast Scootin

Gary France said...

irondad - That is very funny. A bit like getting a small slice of friendly revenge!

Gary France said...

Bob - I will bring my snorkel and flippers....

bobskoot said...

Gary:

28 more sleeps. I keep looking at your map and wonder if you could make your line move a little closer to Vancouver. When are you going to adjust/post your itinerary with actual estimated dates of where you will be. Did you realize that it is only a 2 long day ride from Yellowstone NP to get here. (just trying to put the bug in your ear) I have a video of Old Faithfull spouting on my Youtube Channel. You know it's fake and they have to "HELP" the water spout.

bob
Wet Coast Scootin

Gary France said...

Bob - It is 900 miles each way! It isn't really a Sunday afternoon "I am out for a ride, I will come round for coffee" type ride! Yes, I know it only looks about 3 inches on the map....

Do you think I should post my itinerary? I could do that.... I suppose I could say roughly when I will be in which States I guess.

Gary France said...

Bob - see the right hand panel, which now contains an outline itinerary....

lonelyhighway said...

Gary...hope one day in India, such a program will exist...we always can live with hope...after 7,05,952 kms of travel in India and its adjacent countries I am still learning a lot. helmets off to the London Police.