i2imca comes to Scotland

One benefit of being involved with a road safety charity concerned with motorcyclists is that venues and other service providers are willing to “go that extra mile” when it comes to trying something new or helping with charitable aims.

As you may understand from previous postings, I have undergone regular training to do with riding my motorcycle and following a successful advanced motorcycle test as administered by the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM), I went on to volunteer with the local group affiliated to the IAM and serve on their committee and qualified last year as an “Observer” – someone who assists others towards their advanced test.

Much of what the club does is supported by volunteers who provide their time free of charge to the group, but a lot of it is also supported by full members – those who have reached the required standard of riding through an advanced test, have been recommended for membership of the IAM and also chose to pay a subscription to the local group. This goes a long way to support advanced motorcycling in the area. As you may have guessed, someone preparing for the test is quite engaged with the group through regular motorcycle riding with their observer so they can develop the skills necessary. Once they have proved themselves with the test however, it can be a challenge thinking what to do.

This year has been quite good in terms of events for full members with our group, towards the end of last year we managed to get a day’s first aid course tailored to the needs of bikers and two of these days ended up being run. We also ran a day (which was repeated later) on skills for slow manoeuvring – something that some bikers fear because a motorcycle only has two wheels and can fall over when stationary. We run each event quite lightly in terms of resource – we run them at cost, at cheap venues and generally with volunteers. If we need a particular skill – e.g. first aid or something special, then it may cost attendees more but generally it works out cheaper.

Last weekend we organised something pretty unique – we gathered around 20 members together for a motorcycle control course run by a rather unique team from Yorkshire. The company is one of a handful ( I can only think of 2/3 in the UK) that train in the various aspects of Motorcycle control. In the UK much of advanced driver training is based on police techniques, but the book that is published about this primarily covers “Roadcraft” i.e. the thought processes involved in driving safely. The one thing that police drivers (car or motorcycle) get to go with this is several weeks of machine control instruction. This stuff isn’t in their book because it is a practical skill, and although video and photography go a long way they cannot beat hands-on instruction. You tell me whether you would be happy with someone driving a car or riding a motorcycle if all they had done is read a book and watch a DVD! i2i fill this gap with courses that draw on racing and offroad to help supply a rider with the skills to be able to apply what they want to from Advanced Observations.

i2i Motorcycle Academy (i2imca) do this by bringing together the physics of how a motorcycle works, with the psychology of how a rider works. Sometimes these things work together, but other times they don’t. The reason they don’t work together is mostly (i2imca actually maintain that it is completely) down to a belief or “story” that is based on experience or understanding of the rider, rather than the motorcycle having an issue. Getting down to these factors helps with a long list of situations, e.g. tank slappers, riding over debris, braking in the wet or on bends, and other situations where a rider may be disconcerted by a combination of events.

The two day course is made up of two of the i2imca Motorcycle control days, of which there are four in total. So-called “MC1” i.e. Machine Control 1 and “MC3” Machine Control 3 are conducted away from the public road on your own motorcycle. Throughout the two days various aspects of controlling a motorcycle are considered, a principle is illustrated, discussed and then tried and tested. Lots of these stack up over the two days so that by the end you have hopefully reconsidered some of the preconceptions you had and either challenged these a bit or actually proved stuff you thought was true. The beginning of day 1 starts with introductions between everyone there – including instructor Tom Killeen and his assistant on the day Martin Bevan, and the safety briefing. Then the context is looked at, and discussion gets on to tricky subjects like gyroscopes and stability and basically that a motorcycle is fundamentally stable whether it is a kicked back cruiser like a fat boy or a sports motorcycle like an R1. So then a demonstration by Martin on the stability of a bike, and then exercises.

Throughout MC1 and MC3 various preconceptions about what Motorcycles do in certain circumstances are called out and challenged, and then exercises tried to see if the tenet that Motorcycles are fundamentally stable is true, and what can be done with the controls to work with this to make it do what you want. What can be done with the controls to work against this is also covered, for instance there is an exercise to show how little force is needed through the handlebars in order for a motorcycle to follow a straight line. And also, how little force is needed to turn a motorcycle if you push in the right place – with your little finger! We also looked at how to work the motorcycle to stop quickly – this was a combination of finesse with the brake lever, understanding of tyre contact patch and understanding of weight transfer. These and other “basics” are presented and analysed in MC1 and then expanded on in MC3 to introduce some more surprises as to what a motorcycle can do if you deal with it properly. This included things like braking in a corner, moving your weight around when cornering, and how to keep a bike stable through a series of bends.

I’ve deliberately not mentioned what goes on in some of the exercises as they might sound a bit dangerous, the truth is that everything is done gradually and safely and the emphasis throughout the day is fun and staying in your comfort zone. The point is that you don’t learn unless you are happy, but also that you have to listen to the stuff that is explained and asked. This is so much easier when you aren’t scared witless by what you have just been asked to do.

I’ll own up now and say that this is the second time I’ve gone through MC1 and MC3 – I travelled down in April 2008 to go through the course with Tom in Wetherby. I’ll admit that I picked up a load more this time – I’m a year older as a rider, have a few more 1000 miles and other things have gone on that have an impact on confidence and how I think. And some things were just so surprising last year that I think my brain went – “aye right” and put the ideas away. A little but big thing this year was carrying out the stability exercises in a really strong gusting cross wind – this really opened my eyes. What would be great would be a really wet day – this would really put paid to those “stories” in my head about wet riding.

To be honest, some of the stuff you will encounter on an i2imca course will contradict what you have heard from others. This can be tough if you have been riding for a while – I’ll admit that I have only got back to riding a large motorcycle in 2005 and wouldn’t consider myself the most confident of riders and therefore I am perhaps a bit more open to the idea that I don’t have all of the answers. Tom has some good anecdotes that he pops in throughout the course to massage egos – i2imca have worked with Police Class1 and Class1 instructors in Yorkshire and work with local IAM groups, and described interesting experiences with both sets of riders when dealing with exercises such as tyre grip trade-off and braking in corners. The course is at pains not to criticise the ideas we have – it just presents a series of facts, with an idea and then asks you to try it out.

I’ve found it to be really helpful and it was quite interesting to see what techniques have become part of my day to day riding that I must have picked up from the previous course and not realised how it had stayed with me. What is quite exciting is how different my old (1995) BMW R1100RS feels depending on what technique I apply or forget to apply. To me it either feels slow and lardy or quick and agile – so I’d guess (or actually, know) that it is me rather than the bike that changes. Time to get out there and have some fun.