Wheel alignment

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Going Full Circle

Voluntary community work seems to be particularly strong in NZ, almost to the point where it's part of the national psyche and long may it continue! Jennie helps at the local historic gold mining museum and as regular readers know, I volunteer with the Institute of Advanced Motorists.  IAM started in the UK and is based on the UK Police Roadcraft training system which is taught for both bikes and cars in several countries.  Passing the Advanced Roadcraft Test is arguably the highest civilian riding/driving qualification in the countries where it is taught.

The Police Roadcraft "bible"

The journey to raise my mediocre riding standard by joining IAM has been documented earlier in the blog.  Firstly by passing the Advanced Test after 8 months of blood, sweat and tears, then going on to train as an Observer (Instructor) which took a further year and enables me to "pay it forward" by helping others.  I'm currently Senior Observer for my region of NZ and spent last weekend in Auckland helping to start a number of riders who have passed their Advanced Test on their journey to becoming Observers themselves.  Hence the reference in the post title as going full circle!

It really is one of those rare occasions in life where there is no downside whatsoever.  I get to ride my bike in the company of people who care about their riding and want to continually upskill.  It also forces me to maintain my personal standards as I get retested every two years!  When I first became an Observer, it was Dan Bateman from Team Oregon rider training in the US who said to me, "Remember that you will forever be known differently now. It is a tremendous responsibility to always reflect the proper ideals” .  He was absolutely on the money, but the benefits have been enormous, not the least being my own enjoyment of riding having increased immeasurably.

Anyway, back to the weekend.....

Chief Examiner Philip opening proceedings

The two days consisted of presentations by experienced Observers on the technicalities of how to observe both good riding and improvement opportunities in a rider's skill set and how to succinctly incorporate them into debriefing the rider and giving them a  detailed written report focussing on both the things they do well and improvement areas to practice.

Some of the attentive participants, sweating on what was to come!

Interpersonal skills are also an essential element of being a good Observer in order to positively engage with the people they are mentoring - humility, patience, being constructive and so forth.  Absolutely no place for egos in IAM NZ and that quality is reinforced and treasured by everyone.

Observer Richard covering some of the interpersonal skills

Theory is interspersed with practice rides, where Observers become the "new" riders being assessed and build in subtle errors into their riding.  The Trainee Observers practice observing what riders do well and areas for improvement whilst giving directions over comms.  Having to remember key items in the ride to discuss later whilst maintaining their own standards is far from easy!

Nervous grin from Trainee Observer Hayden as he prepares to observe my riding!

This is my favourite part of the course where Trainee Observers are filled with panic, trying to remember all the positives and improvement areas ready to complete a coherent report on return. Every one of them makes the same comment - so much information to process in addition to maintaining their own riding.   Most of the immediate feedback at ride end is actually rather colourful and involves words that won't bear repeating on these pages. Being called a complete bastard was one of the milder things I've been labelled on previous courses - all in fun of course.  Takes me back to when I was in the same position and what I thought of my mentor!

Trainee Observer Tessa debriefing Steve

At the end of the 2 day course, each Trainee is allocated a permanent Observer mentor who is responsible for coaching the T/O through a series of training modules in real life training situations. The modules are only signed off when the T/O demonstrates repeated mastery of that particular module.  In practical terms, it takes up to a year before reaching the standard required to sit the full Observer Test.  The Test itself  takes the best part of the day.  A written test to check knowledge of the NZ road rules and the Police Roadcraft system - 80% in both sections required to pass.  Next is a one hour assessed ride in motorway, city and country environments to ensure that the Trainee Observer has maintained his or her personal skills.  They are required to give a commentary of their situational awareness and how that is impacting on their riding.  Finally, they are observed conducting an assessment on another rider for around 1 1/2 hours in a range of environments, demonstrating advanced techniques to the trainee if required then conducting a debrief and writing the formal report.

Riders from Auckland and Wellington in deep discussion

If it was easy, it wouldn't have the reputation that it does and riders wouldn't have the level of quiet pride that they do in both achieving a huge personal milestone and having a real impact on road safety.  It also has a spin-off into life away from motorcycling in terms of personal conduct and interaction with other people.  As mentioned earlier, there has been no downside whatsoever to becoming a member of IAM and hopefully, will allow me to enjoy motorcycling well into my 70's.  Not too bad for someone who could be described as a bit of a hooligan until a few years ago!

Finally, one of the riders who joined IAM a year ago has written a blog about his experiences, warts 'n all.  Rob rides a Suzuki Hayabusa and was already what might be described as an experienced rider. Very well written with refreshing honesty and a lot of humour. The first blog post is HERE .  Newer posts can be accessed by clicking on Newer Posts at the bottom of each page or through the archive.  Rob passed his Advanced Test at the start of this month and has now started on the road to becoming an Observer.  Another turn of the wheel!


  1. Great write-up Geoff.

    "Amateurs practice until they get it right, professionals practice until they can't get it wrong."

  2. Thanks Brandy! I've always liked that phrase too. Just to put some context on it, when we were simulating mistakes on the courses for the Trainee Observers to pick up on, all the Observers say how hard it is and how wrong it feels! That's "muscle memory" for you!

  3. I somehow get the impression that the IAM system is implemented far more professionally in NZ than where I come from!

    1. Hi Nikos,
      Thanks for the kind words and I'd like to think that it's extremely professional in its delivery. Before the Advanced Test, we also expect our Associates to be able to deliver a professional commentary over comms to their Observer. Our Chief Examiner is ex-Thames Valley IAM. The very essence of professionalism AND humility and it rubs off on everyone.

    2. Ah yes, Thames Valley section are renowned to be one of the best!

    3. Our Wellington Examiner is ex-TVAM too and is a great guy. The guy who took me for my Advanced Test was an ex-UK Class 1 car and bike cop, the best of the best. Hard bastard though. I hold the record for the longest Advanced Test at 4 hours and 220 km! His reason was that it was a lovely day and he was enjoying himself. I was completely knackered!

    4. ...you were going a little too slowly by the sounds of it???

    5. Haha - Captain Slow - that's me!

    6. ... says the one who very likely broke his own record on Whangapoua Road (repeatedly)... ;-)

      Seriously, Geoff, I have the highest respect for you people dedicating their time and effort to enhance the skills and safety of motorcyclists.

    7. Choke.... splutter, followed by innocent look!

      Thanks for the kind words Sonja but it's an absolute pleasure to pay it forward after all the time they invested in me. It also makes me keep my own skills up too.

  4. Hooligan eh, well now your an advanced trained hooligan. That should keep you in good stead when us aussie hooligan visit your little back water for some shall we say hooligan activities next year. Heh heh, looking forward to meeting you young Geoffrey!

    1. An incompetent hooligan in those days Steve. I suspect from your posts that you were and are a competent hooligan!


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