One of my IAM Trainee Observers (instructors), Rob Van Proemeren passed his Advanced Roadcraft test last year and has been undertaking practical Observer training since his theory course last July. Practical training consists of a series of modules covering both technical and interpersonal aspects of advanced riding. Rob has passed all his modules with flying colours and is waiting for his formal Observer Test which will take a fair chunk of a full day under the watchful eye of an Examiner or a fellow Senior Observer. Until then, it's a question of keeping Rob fresh. A few days ago, we took out Auckland-based Associate Terry who is close to taking his Advanced Test. Terry has an exquisite BMW HP4 for trackdays and recently sold his road-going BMW 1200 GS and replaced it with a KTM 1290 GT.
Lots of colour - Rob with his Hayabusa and Terry with his 1290 GT
Rob about to start the ride debrief and it's good news for Terry!
Both riders in their respective roles were at the top of their game and it was a privilege as a mentor to see such a professional display of riding on a range of challenging roads for a couple of hours. We never stop learning though and there are always more tweaks to further raise our standards. The KTM is a really impressive beast with around 170 bhp on tap and massive torque. As well as the electronic aids such as ABS and traction control, it has active suspension which is constantly sampling road conditions and adjusting the suspension accordingly. On one particularly bumpy and twisty country road where the pace could be described as brisk, it looked like it was on rails whilst both Suzukis needed a lot more rider input. Multi-purpose bikes can sometimes suffer a bit in some aspects of performance compared with more dedicated bikes but the KTM isn't one of them. Whether it's used for the occasional trackday or on tour down country lanes, it would be right up there with the best specialised machines.
I did have a moment of reflection though with respect to all the goodies packed into modern bikes. There's absolutely no doubt that they're much safer with all the electronic aids currently available. However, I wonder whether it's getting away from the purity and core reasons why motorcycling is so attractive to many of us? I don't think there is a single answer to that. It's for reasons along these lines why I would never consider a Goldwing or a trike - would prefer a sports car. Each to their own though in the motorcycling fraternity!
It was an odd sort of day weather-wise. Quite hot and humid with a few showers passing through. My 12 year old Arlen Ness waterproof jacket has progressively moved to the "barely showerproof" category over time and when the rain is a bit more serious, a plastic over-jacket goes over the top. On the 160 km journey home after the mentored ride, I set off in dry conditions and hadn't been going for more than a few minutes when the heavens opened. By the time I decided it wasn't just a shower, the top half of me was soaked through. Even with temperatures in the mid-20's C, I got chilled pretty quickly and even after stopping to put on my over-jacket, it was an unpleasant ride home.
It was serendipitous that I hadn't had a present from Jennie at Christmas because I couldn't think of anything I wanted at the time. Coupled with this, Rob had mentioned a post-Christmas accessories sale at our favourite dealer in Hamilton. A quick browse of their website revealed $100 off the price of an Oxford Montreal 2 jacket and internet reviews were pretty favourable. Order placed, couriered to home the next day - thanks for the pressie honey!
Although it's not an expensive jacket, the level of detailing is really impressive with a heap of features which I won't list here. Far too early to assess performance in wet and cold conditions but wearing it on a ride yesterday, it was both comfortable and warm, even with the liner removed and the vents open. To get a jacket and pants which are totally waterproof for a long while, you're mostly talking about stratospheric prices like Rukka gear. For the type of riding I do, I can't justify the cost and an oversuit for more taxing conditions is just fine. Looking forward to trying it out in some sustained rain though.
Oxford Montreal 2 jacket
The inner workings of the jacket. Nice detailing
Yesterday was taken up with another IAM observed ride, partially to keep Rob up to scratch before his Observer Test but also to take out an Associate from the Central North Island region of NZ, which I'm currently responsible for developing. Tony joined IAM last year after taking a number of one day courses by commercial providers and wanted a further challenge. Up to now, he's had 5 outings on his fully-faired Suzuki SV650. This time, it was on his brand new Yamaha Tracer and both Rob and I were very keen to see how it went.
Tony arriving at our meeting place en route to Auckland
Meeting up with Rob in Auckland
We were seriously impressed with the Tracer. It's a really nice looking bike in the flesh. Tony remarked that it actually looked better with the OEM hard cases attached to the bike as the tailpiece and number plate mount is very slim and looks a little odd on its own. We could certainly see what he was driving at as the purpose-designed cases are extremely elegant and look like an integral part of the bike. Its wet weight at 210 kg is pretty light and with a relatively low centre of gravity and an adjustable seat makes it pretty good for the vertically challenged (like me!). The standard stubby exhaust can gave a nice rasp without being too noisy and attracting unwanted attention. There's something visceral about the sound of a 3 cylinder bike - similar to the pleasure of listening to a hot V8! Overall, a great bike and motorcyclists really are currently spoiled for choice.
Mid-ride animated debrief and smiles all round!
The ride was in warm, dry conditions with a bit of overcast - perfect for riding. With the summer vacations in full swing, Auckland was noticeably less busy than it normally is although traffic on the Southern Motorway was pretty busy as people headed to their favourite destinations - a good test of making safe progress through the traffic.
A really enjoyable day made even better by observing Rob and Tony setting high standards. Rob has a relaxed but totally professional nature delivered with a strong sense of humour. No sign of the "sergeant major drill instructor" approach which is frowned on by IAM NZ. This makes him a perfect mentor as it relaxes the rider being observed who can then ride their normal ride without feeling intimidated. Proof of this was the banter going on over the comms which I had a quiet snigger about. Tony also had a cracker of a ride and isn't too far away from taking his Advanced Roadcraft Test. Tony also made an interesting observation that the better ergonomics (more upright riding position in this instance) of the Tracer compared with his SV650 has significantly improved his situational awareness by having an improved all-round view. Now that's got to be a good thing!
It's such a pleasure to see riders undertaking a demanding upskilling programme which can take many months or even years, both from a rider safety viewpoint and enjoying their riding more. With the number of motorcycle fatalities highlighted in recently released motorcycle accident statistics, both in NZ and Australia; anything we can do to make a dent in them has got to be worthwhile as government-led initiatives seem to be generally punitive rather than genuinely addressing root causes.