Wheel alignment

Thursday, 26 October 2017

That ain't workin', that's the way you do it.........

They say that if you love your work, you never have to work another day.  I'd say that's pretty true, even if it is voluntary in my case.  Over the winter, we've had quite a number of riders pass their advanced roadcraft tests and choose to continue on to become Observers (mentors) and pass on their skills to others.  The Central North Island and Auckland regions of the Institute of Advanced Motorists combine resources to periodically run 2 day theory courses with some practical work thrown in as a prelude to practical training modules run over a number of months.

It so happened that the current training course was held over a recent holiday weekend and the main roads from my home on the Coromandel Peninsula to the venue in Auckland were choked with idiot holidaymakers displaying a whole raft of poor driving habits including failing to stay in their lane on bends, ill-considered overtakes, following too closely - the whole 9 yards and really depressing.  I took to the back roads as soon as I was able and predictably, they were almost totally free of traffic!

The well-loaded Gixxer at Kaiaua, Firth of Thames

The training was held for the first time at a great venue in south Auckland which had easy access to motorways, busy urban environments and wicked country roads.  The course is based on the world-renowned UK Police Roadcraft manual and training system.  It consists of a series of theory modules interspersed with practical ride training and that dear reader, is where the fun starts - more on that shortly!

A great mix of sport tourers, sport and adventure bikes

Some of the early arrivals

It's a pretty intensive course with a 1:1 ratio of Observer tutors and Trainee Observers but with the no-ego ethos of IAM, everyone gets on famously with lots of laughs along the way.  That's exactly how it should be for a great learning environment.

Socialising with coffee and chocolate biscuits - mmmmm...
Mike, Tony, Richard and Goose (obscured)

Observers from Auckland and the Central North Island present various topics about becoming an Observer.  Many are about the technical aspects of advanced riding but it's always a surprise to the participants on just how much emphasis is placed on psychological and interpersonal skills.  We all know from our own working experience that the technical content is relatively straightforward.  However, if anything is going to derail smooth sailing, it's the people stuff almost every time!  It's understanding how to recognise and deal with human factors which is an essential skill for a successful Observer.

Rob of wicked yellow Suzuki Hayabusa fame discussing some interpersonal aspects

One of the Trainee Observers runs a commercial training organisation but also wants to give something back to the motorcycling community by volunteering with IAM.  He's an outstanding rider and coach in his own right and when living in the UK, taught Angelina Jolie and Matt Damon plus many other A-listers to ride for movies as well as working on the sets himself!  Have a look  HERE . He also has a well-developed wit and continually cracked everyone up with what might be termed a rather direct approach to interpersonal issues!  Bet he didn't talk like that to Angelina.....

Laughter is the best medicine - everyone cracking up

There are two practical rides during the course and these are what the Observers really love!  Each Trainee Observer has to take out an Associate, role-played by an experienced Observer.  The trainee is expected to follow and guide the "Associate" over a route by helmet to helmet comms, whilst maintaining good, safe positioning to observe specific good and improvement aspects of the "Associate's" ride.  These have to be remembered for later discussion!  The Observers of course, go out of their way to make life a tad difficult by all manner of devious actions.  Pulling out of an intersection into traffic when it's only safe for one bike to do so is just one simple trick to throw the composure of the Trainee Observer if he or she is poorly positioned.  Other tricks in the "dark arts" arsenal won't be mentioned.  One thing worth mentioning though....... on the ride, we display a few poor riding practices for the Trainee Observer to hopefully identify.  When you've been riding to the Police Roadcraft standard for a while and have it locked in muscle memory, it's unbelievably hard to make deliberate errors - it feels sooooo wrong!  That's by no means implying that we don't make mistakes because we do.  However, it does go to show how well the system works in practice.

Needless to say, most Trainee Observers return from the ride in various states of confusion, steam coming out of their ears and using quite a few words that would make their mothers blush!  It's an excellent exercise in demonstrating just how busy an IAM Observer is on a ride.  After a few more theory sessions, most trainees find the second ride a lot easier although it's a further 8-12 months of practical training before they're ready to take their Observer theory and practical exams.

On the second day, Mark, the police sergeant in charge of road traffic policing in the south Auckland region dropped in to say hi and lend support, along with Tim; one of his motorcycle officers.  Mark and a number of other officers are IAM members and it's a valued relationship.  Working with the police on charity rides, using their training facilities on occasion are just part of that relationship.

Officer Tim and his company BMW

Mark, Tim and Richard shooting the breeze

The course is intensive and tiring but everyone is really happy with the outcomes and future impact on riding standards in NZ.  No-one ever stops learning and it's a great opportunity for the Observers to refresh themselves, learn new presenting skills and pick up other new stuff.  A real win-win, so what's not to like?  On a personal note, I turned 70 a few days before the course and would have almost certainly stopped riding long ago had it not been for IAM.  And that can't be bad, can it?


  1. Nice one Geoff, keep up the good work!

    Taking things a little off topic: I had to smile reading of your taking to the back roads and enjoying a better ride as a result. I guess I don't need to tell you that I'm a believer in taking the back roads wherever possible. It probably started with wanting a better ride and has carried on with some of the endurance stuff and definitely the Adv riding. I happen to belong to a certain Facebook group where a lot of the riders do not appear to be aware of back roads at all or go out of their way to avoid them - no points for guessing what they are riding...

  2. Thanks Andrew, it's a lot of fun and keeps me going :-).

    Hahaha - very much on topic and totally agree with you! Unfortunately, the only roads to and from the Coro Peninsula are chokka at holiday time and I don't have much choice until the bottom of the Peninsula. I get onto the back roads as soon as I can after leaving it. I was amazed that the traffic was crawling on SH25 yet the back roads to Auckland were virtually devoid of traffic. Do we care if city folk are oblivious to alternative routes? Not bloody likely :-) .

  3. Good onya Geoff. I wish I had more time to learn this stuff. I've got the books so I guess the time will come (eventually).

  4. Thanks Dave! The books are only part of it. However, if you ever get time, you have ex-IAM Examiner and all round great guy Simon Pamplin living in your fair city.

  5. Great stuff Geoff, There is always room to learn something new and for us motorcyclists thats a good thing because it's likely to keep you alive.

    Good to see you riding at 70, you are an inspiration to me.

  6. Absolutely right Steve! And what a pleasure it is to learn new stuff.

    Thanks for the kind thoughts. If we don't have a passion to keep reminding us what life is about, it would be a real shame:-)

  7. A great way to spend the weekend Geoff. Learning and riding!

    1. Hi Brandy,
      Yes,it really doesn't get any better than that, especially with people you trust implicitly.

  8. Excellent read, Geoff. It's a pity you can't get this blog out to more 'riders'! Route back from Napier took in the back roads. There was a lot of traffic on SH29 so I went back roads to Clevedon, Kaiaua, Twighlight Road, Whitford and onto SH1 at Ellerslie-Panmure. I have the IAM to thank for knowing those roads! Back roads without traffic are so much safer than a busy road with many morons supposedly driving (at least they think they are driving!).

  9. Thanks Barry! I basically do the blog for my own fun to try and polish my writing skills. I stopped for a year but gradually started again. Hahaha - funny you should mention that route as it's exactly the one I took on Friday. I was staying with our son in Mt Wellington whilst the course was on.

    Understand your comments. As an Observer, you can't stop judging the motoring public but I guess that's what keeps us safe!

  10. Back roads - where would we be without them.
    Sounds like the whole IAM thing has taken of in NZ - over here it's still "do some track days mate", which, whilst interesting in finding limits, are about as relevant to general road riding as MotoGP vs Trials ridng, and as ultimately interesting as bird poo. It seems to breed a set of riders who are totally out of their depth riding busy back country roads of a weekend.

    On a local note, I've finally been delving into some of the "alternative routes" around my neck of the woods, and there are some very pleasant and challenging roads around - some of them are dirt, but, and the missus refuses point blank to ride on dirt, but, some would do credit to any seeker of twisties. We have lots of hills around our way - only about 5-600 feet (old school) vertical changes, but there are a couple that must have been laid down after a hard night on the turps - one is like a snake wrestled with a crocodile in a pile of ink on the plans, and they went ahead and built it anyway......and some pleasant flowing roads along the local river/stream/rockbed - nearly all of which are ignored, by the streams of bikers who traverse through our area every weekend....
    Geoff, that burnt out pub you posted a photo of in Perth is now open again - externally complete, but retaining large sections of the burnt out interior - suitably strengthened. Most interesting.

  11. Hi Jon, great to hear from you!
    Yep,IAM is going great guns - only limited by the speed at which we can train Observers. Yeah, we come across plenty of riders who are out of their depth on country roads. Not necessarily slow but have no idea about positioning or what gear to use.

    I'm not all that keen on dirt roads myself on sport tyres but it would be a different kettle of fish with an adventure bike or similar with dual purpose tyres. Mind you, when we did that Perth trip, we found some nice roads just east of York. Pity we weren't on a bike!

    Good to hear that the pub is open again, it was quite a landmark I understand. Took long enough, didn't it? Guess that was largely because of the legal shenanigans!

    Take care...