Wheel alignment

Saturday 19 November 2011

Pain and extreme pride

I sent an email last evening to my friend in the UK, Dylan Rogers; who is an Institute of Advanced Motorists Observer (Instructor/Examiner).  Dylan has offered much encouragement and advice, for which I'm eternally grateful.  The first sentence contained an uncharacteristic profanity which was really an emotional outpouring of how I felt at that very moment.  It said, "F**k me, I am sooo tired....."!

Earlier this week, the date for my IAM Full Membership advanced riding test was confirmed - the final step after 8 months of one of the most demanding things I've ever undertaken.  The IAM Chief Examiner told me that my Examiner would be Simon, a serving motorcycle officer who qualified on both bikes and cars with the police in the UK.  The UK police riding standards are used as the basis for IAM training so it's unquestionably tough with no concessions if you're just a little off your game.  Anyone can have a bad day but having completed the Bay and Banjos Tour last weekend with my mates, I felt reasonably sharp, but not by any means over-confident.  The arrangement was to meet Simon in central Auckland at Deus Ex Machina, the extraordinary motorcycle cafe which I've previously mentioned (more on Deus shortly). 

We live in a reasonably remote part of NZ and it's 180 km from central Auckland before I even start the test.  A real full-on day even before returning home!  Leaving home just before 0700 gave me time to ride to Auckland, have breakfast at Deus and a relaxing quick look at some of their new bikes before Simon arrived.  Over a coffee, Simon explained that we'd be doing dense traffic city work first, followed by urban work in the outer city, followed by both narrow, twisty back roads riding and open sweeping country roads where a whole range of different techniques are used.  If that wasn't enough, we would then finish off with a spell of motorway riding - Auckland motorways on a Friday afternoon...... shudder!  I'd not previously travelled on much of the planned route so that was a cause for additional stress.  I just had to put all my faith in the IAM techniques and a good riding plan to see me through.

As our village has a population of 1500 on a good day, I'm not that used to riding in the centre of a city populated by close to a million lunatics and it didn't start well.  The comms system which Simon kitted me out with was playing up and I was slowly becoming more paranoid in case I hadn't heard his directions properly.  We had to stop twice to fiddle with it before the problem was solved - very unsettling!!!  Oh yeah, then one side of my visor popped out of it's pivot - not a good sign! It only takes some minor incidents like this in a pressure situation to really stuff up your concentration!  The 1.5  hours of town and urban work felt fairly comfortable and my past training enabled the processing of more information than I'd previously thought possible.

Moving out onto the narrow, twisty back roads of Scenic Drive to the north west of Auckland was hard work.  Totally lined by trees and dense bush, most of the corners were blind and varied between 15 km/hr hairpins to 70 km/hr sweepers. To avoid the unnecessary use of brakes, good positioning, the right gear and reading the vanishing point was essential to avoid some real stuff-ups.   Adding to the pressure were variations in the posted speed limit all the way along the Drive.

Simon's civilian V-Strom 1000 and my Street Triple

Over a quick lunch snack near the town of Kumeu, Simon said I'd done well and that the only things he'd noticed was that I could have set up position for 2 right hand corners a little earlier, but that they were still fine and that I could have made a little more progress at one stage (a euphemism for stepping the pace up, haha)!  With no black marks, it was hugely encouraging to relax and have fun on the afternoon session.

We continued north on SH16 which is largely continuous open sweepers with some blind crests.  Pretty much like last weekend's ride with the lads so that was fine and I felt perfectly at home, despite a very strong side-wind which was kicking the bike around.  There were a couple of poor overtaking manoeuvres by a motorcycle and a 4x4 on the outskirts of a village on this route which must have made Simon wish that he was on official duty! 

The trip east to the town of Warkworth  was a mixture of tight bends, sweepers and a long stretch of fresh gravel which caused some consternation.  It wasn't the gravel itself, but the posted 30 km/hr speed limit.  There didn't appear to be a speed limit cancellation at the far end of the works and I was paranoid that I'd sped up whilst still in the restricted zone.  However, Simon was pretty certain that there wasn't a sign either - what a relief!  Only one other minor panic on this stretch - there was a one way bridge on a tight corner.  My approach was a little too fast (my arse was certainly twitching a bit!) so rather than hitting the brakes and demonstrating an error of judgement, I block-changed down 2 gears to get increased engine braking and got away with it - phew!  Shortly afterwards, Simon came on the radio and was complimentary about how I'd ridden that section which was wonderful to hear.

From Warkworth, it was back south down SH1 via Orewa and the Northern Motorway and demonstrating safe overtaking at speed in dense traffic - no worries at all and about 10 minutes riding time short of the Auckland Harbour Bridge, Simon called it quits and pulled me over.  I'd passed first time with a pretty much clean sheet which was way, way beyond my wildest dreams and tangled my words of thanks, I was so overcome!  The test lasted for a little over 4 hours and we covered close to 220 km which was a whole lot more than expected.  I'd been away from home for 11.5 hours and covered just under 600 km - no wonder I was stressed, hurting and dog tired!

Simon and his victim

Earlier in this post, I said that this was the end of 8 months of hard work.  Except it isn't of course.  Those fantastically skilled  IAM Observer/Examiners like Simon, Wayne, Duncan and Philip who volunteer their time at no cost for something which they're passionate about and deliver real results in terms of riding safely deserve every accolade known.  The ideal means I can see of repaying them is to help as best I can, so my Observer training will start as soon as they're ready for me.  Can't feel any elation at present as it's been such a hard road - just feel relief and more than a little quiet pride.

I'd also like to sincerely thank fellow blogger Raftnn (Roger) and my mate Andy who are following the same IAM path.  Their unconditional support and leg-pulling has made the whole process so much more enjoyable for all of us through being able to share our experiences.  Although I've never met him, thanks also to Nigel Bowers who's Advanced Biker videos on YouTube have been so good in reinforcing my training on wet days and dark nights!

In the next day or two, I'll be posting a few reflections on the whole concept of advanced motorcycle training as there have been some benefits which aren't immediately obvious and if it encourages anyone else to have a go, that would be simply wonderful.

As a light finale to the post, I thought I'd share photos of some of the bikes which took my fancy at Deus Ex Machina this time round.

The first was an old-school Triumph drag bike - a wonderful sight for this ex-drag racer.  No supercharger though - note the big bottle of Nitrous Oxide on the side of the bike!

Brute horsepower - wonderful!

Legendary Honda CBX 6
They sound better with 6 pipes!

1920's Triumph - what a cool sidecar!

Gorgeous Indian

1938 Velocette MAC

Suzuki 500 2 stroke GP racebike

The paintwork on this scooter looks like a hologram in real life - unbelievably detailed paintwork

And I'm saving my personal favourite for last!  It's an early Innocenti (Lambretta) scooter which I initially thought was due to be restored.  However, looking at the string work on the carrier and the tyres which are in excellent condition, I'm more inclined to think that the important bits are in perfect working order and the bodywork etc has deliberately been left unrestored to create a sort of Mad Max or Steam Punk image.  If this is the intent, it's brilliant and I'd love to shake the owner's hand!  Hope that you like it too.

This is just so cool!

Deliberately unrestored?  You figure!


  1. Congratulations on your success!

  2. Geoff:

    congratulations on your great achievement. OF course this means that if we every get the opportunity to ride together, you have to go first.

    Riding the Wet Coast

  3. Stacy:
    Thanks for dropping by and for the kind thoughts. It'll take a few days to sink in!

    Thank you but no way - I'll be out back, sharing the discomfort around :-).

  4. Congratulations! And, if you come my way I guarantee I'll want you behind me. I doubt I could keep up with you if you were in front. Thanks for sharing your process and achievement.

  5. Thanks very much Keith!
    I was uncomfortable with an observer behind me in the early stages, but soon got used to it. After all, they are there voluntarily to help raise skills!

  6. I never doubted that you would make it! Congrats, well done! Now I only wish I could ride with you...

  7. Sonja:
    Cheers hon - I had my earlier doubts as you no doubt read. Riding together would be nice, maybe one day...

    Thought of you and Roland when I took the scooter photos!

  8. Woohoo. Congrats Geoff. We all knew you could do it. What a long day though. I bet you were knackered by the time you got home. Thanks for the awesome pictures of the bikes too.

  9. Thanks so much Trobairitz! You knew more than me then, until not all that long ago. Getting it first time was a real surprise though. Must have looked like a complete clown gibbering and stammering away to Simon at the end of the ride! Boy, did I sleep well.

    I might have been tempted to stick that rusty old scooter in at No 7 if I'd known about it then!!!!

  10. That's so awesome - Congratulations!!
    Good job holding up for such a long day! That had to be exhausting.

    Have to confess I rather like that little green scooter, but then I'm partial to green :)

  11. Cheers Kari!
    When I woke up this morning after the sleep of the dead, I had (and still have)a sore foot which I didn't have when I went to bed - weird!!!

    Almost Kawasaki green, wasn't it???

  12. Geoff

    Well done! Your test sounds far more demanding than mine that was over in 2 hours.

    It's funny how everyone wants to ride with you now that you have the green badge - you weren't that bad before were you??

    All the best from unseasonally warm England and I have no excuse not to do the Cat and Fiddle N

  13. Well Done Geoff,
    Let me know how you get on if you progress towards Observer status. You know where I am if you need me.

  14. Hi Nikos:
    I think Simon wanted a decent ride without being on his police BMW!

    No extra people want to ride with me - perhaps my mates will reject me now.

    Enjoy the Cat and Fiddle. I've just had a single malt before turning in.

  15. Well done Geoff !!!!!! and well deserved.

    Andrew X11

  16. Thanks Andrew
    Still feels like it's happened to someone else!!!

  17. Nigel - thanks so much for your help in the whole process, your videos are outstanding. Hope to start Observer training quite soon as there's a current shortage.

  18. Mark [Marcus Argentus of MV]20 November 2011 at 12:07

    Congratulations and "Well done, Old Chap!"

    BTW, last time Ken and I popped into Deus I was given the impression that they were closing and moving to Newmarket, so is good to see they are still there - for the moment. I wonder if they will retain the strong following they have at the Wellesley Street site once they move to Newmarket where parking can be problematic.

  19. Morning Mark and thanks very much!

    Thanks for that piece of news as I saw that the workshop had gone but didn't have the opportunity to ask what was going on. Look forward to hearing more about their move in due course. Really hope that parking isn't an issue.

    End of term approaching then you can relax and get some decent riding in. We do a great lunch chez Coromandel if you and Ken fancy a run!

  20. Thanks so much Tom, it's good for us to face a few challenges, that's how we know we're still alive - especially an old fart like me!

    Thank you for dropping by!

  21. Very proud of you Geoff, 4 hours would be a real teast for any one....bloody four hours ...hell!

    It has been an awesome privilage to be a part of your journey. It has been an exciting year for us both. Excellent stuff.

  22. Cheers Rog,
    Bloody Simon enjoying a ride in nice weather!!!

    As indeed it is with your journey. Looking forward to a chinwag and your test soon! I'm planning to be at the Sunday ride.

  23. Well done Geoff, that was a mammoth ride. You deserve a medal, never mind a certificate. Welcome to the club!

  24. Hi Jo!!
    Thanks very much indeed. When the Chief Examiner rang me that evening to say well done, he was staggered at the length of the test but assumed Simon was simply enjoying a day of riding and not being on police duty! Wasn't good for my stress levels though, haha!

    Very much looking forward to meeting you guys in person in the not too distant future.

  25. Congratulations!!! Indeed that is great and exciting news and such a huge sense of accomplishment!

  26. Thanks so much Lori! An even more overpowering sense of relief!!!

  27. Yeah. I'm sure you think that now. But I think that soon you will miss the learning and challenge. ;)

  28. Lori:
    Very perceptive, but training to be an Observer should keep me out of mischief for a while :-)

  29. Congratulations. You have tackled and conquered a massive undertaking that will reap huge rewards for you and who knows how many others!

    As one who trains motor officers I kind of consider myself an advanced trainer and rider. You have only taken the first steps, as giant as they were. A wonderful world of discovery awaits you. Now you are looking at riding and training from the thirty thousand foot view instead of at 8,000 feet and climbing.

    Also remember that you will forever be known differently now. It is a tremendous responsibility to always reflect the proper ideals.

    Once again, I'm awesomely impressed!!

  30. Thanks Dan, it means a lot to hear it from you.

    Yes indeed, I now consider that I've got my foot on the first rung with the rest of the ladder to climb but having got to that first rung, going further is now a possibility as opposed to a pipedream.

    Funny that you should mention about being known differently - not something which had even occurred to me until it was mentioned by a non-IAM riding partner recently and also by a couple of blog-writing buddies from America and Canada.

  31. A long overdue congratulations on this, Geoff!

  32. Many thanks indeed Richard - we'll be going through Observer training together now!

    Many Xmas and catch you in the New Year.

  33. Congratulations!

  34. Thanks Wade - it's been hard, great fun and a life-saver. It will continue to be too!


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