Off Road Skills Level One–April 14th and 15th 2013–Day 1 (Sunday) Stuff on trails

So having pottered about on the flat area we headed off in to the forest for some riding on trails and getting used to standing up. The position to adopt was described as “standing at a bar” which we all seemed to understand. The trails involved a number of different surfaces, though with the rain mud was a common feature. We went from graded roads of a mixture of gravel and mud, to quite muddy trails up to gravel roads. Understanding peg weighting made a big difference and to this day I’ve still to reconcile that with the California Superbike “no body steering” thing.

But another point came up – being 6’5” tall and standing on the pegs means I have to (as Kevin directed) pivot at the waist. This is fine to reach but makes it very hard not to lean heavily on the bars and thus cause an issue with off road riding. This happens on-road to an extent, but off road the steering on a bike is continually correcting itself for the terrain and odd slips that happen. For this reason I understand the idea is to anchor yourself to the bike with your feet and lower legs – as explained to me that is why the insides of motocross boots (and sometimes trousers) have grippy material. The only thing is that with my inside leg of 38” the top of seat of the new R1200GS in low position came to about the top of my boot, and it felt like I had little purchase on the bike. Certainly it didn’t feel like I could pivot at the waist without leaning on the bars. I use the word feel deliberately – later in the day it wasn’t a problem and I just got on with enjoying the riding and even spinning up the rear a little. The next day was a different story – I went backwards a bit in confidence.

One of the exercises I think we did on this day was descents. I had a rough idea of what we might hear but when you are there on a muddy and flinty hill at the gradient we practiced on it is something else! The idea (and I believe four wheel drive cars are similar) is to let the machine do the work, and not to use the brakes or accelerator. The hill we were on was just at the limit of what you could walk up and down, and yet as expected the machines had no problems.

Then on the same hill a few twists were added. These included starting the machine on a slope – back in the day when I did my road test we had a hill start which was a a little real world test of all the things we had learned in coordination of hands and feet with the machine, with a nice dose of gravity thrown in. We would move on to momentum work later (more on that in a latter blog) and part of this is that you don’t (can’t) start upwards on the slopes that these machines will cope with. So it was a downhill start for this, but it still had a sequence to it – which of course I’ve forgotten already but it was logical. That said as with the previous descents it seemed to involve plummeting down a hill without any brakes on and a 90 degree turn at the bottom. Again it was just a feeling but I felt like I was hanging over the back wheel to stay upright. The turn at the bottom was a great illustration of looking where you want to go – I forgot this temporarily the next day.

Then to twist it up Kevin suggested trying second gear and some braking effort – brakes sounded fine to me (gently) but I’m not sure about second gear.

I think the other stuff we did was the next day. We rode around a few more trails – up high to where the wind turbines lived (they sound quite strange close up) and down. Some of the wider trails were third gear – all good stuff and I was happy with how I was getting on on the GS.

So we headed back to regroup near the entrance, which was a nice descent through the forest and gave an idea of how hilly the area was – we seemed to be descending all the way down for a few miles. Then a road section back to the industrial estate and we piled in to the van to get a shower back at the B&B. I’d had a good time, learned stuff, and not fallen off! Back at the B&B we got our wet and muddy stuff off in the drying room – the Old Tredegar conversion to a B&B showing a bit of thought.

Part of the course is an evening meal at the Abercrave Inn, when Simon Pavey and the other instructors join the participants. All well documented in various articles I’ve read over the years in magazines and we had a good time talking to one of the other instructors called Glynn Barraclough. He had looked after David & the rest of the Motorrad Central group the previous October and tried to get us to sign up to the ORS Portugal trip.

Then it was back to the Old Tredegar for more chat into the wee small hours – that said I baled out early on them to try and get some rest for the next day.

Off Road Skills Level One–April 14th and 15th 2013–Day 1 (Sunday) Stuff

This is where it gets tricky – as things progressed there was more and more learning and as such the timing blurred and there is going to be stuff I forgot, and will no doubt mention in the wrong order. As far as groups are organised all of the folks from the Motorrad Central group were put together rather than streaming on experience, and we got Kevin Hammond as our instructor. As David was along from Motorrad and had already shown himself as a confident off road rider – he was to be the tail end. As far as I could see the other groups had two instructors.

As with any good training course it is progressive. What I mean by progressive is that it builds on what you have just learned, and when presented with something you have not done yet you have the tools to deal with what might happen.

The first few (or it might have just been a couple) of hours were spent on a large flat area on top of a hill. When I say flat I mean you could see for several hundred yards and it was flatter than the rest of the places we went. But it had puddles and ruts and lots of mud from the extensive rain that had fallen for the previous days and continued to fall on the day.

So with an off road motorcycling course we started with how to pick a bike up. Kevin illustrated by lowering his Adventure on to its side and showing the technique. There are a few different ways (YouTube is your friend) but as far as I can tell all rely on using your legs as the main lifting muscle. The great thing about the boxers is that they end up resting on the cylinder head – poor Ross on the F800 had further to pick his bike up but at least his was lighter. This is where I’m not 100% confident whether I am remembering correctly that I had a shot with Kevin’s bike but he claimed it had a full fuel tank and the technique using the bars as the lever was straightforward.

Then we looked at how the bike feels balanced on its wheels and keeping it upright while moving around the bike, walking (well shuffling) round it in both directions to get the confidence that it wouldn’t leap to the floor at the first opportunity.

Then we got to ride the things again – unlike my off-road riding in Yorkshire with i2i we spent all of our time standing on the pegs – no sitting down and sticking a leg out which must be a motocross or supermoto thing. Another directive which I’ve still to get the hang of was no clutch slipping – off road is all about preserving the machinery. I didn’t get the hang of this (and later on I could see others slipping their clutches) but will put this on my list of “I would like to be able to and will try until I can”.

Then there were riding exercises with the usual slaloms and circles etc. – stuff I hate but know how great it is when it works. I say that, but it has been years since I did full lock U-turns on the R1100RS without hyperventilating and my arms going to jelly. Early on in the process it was evident how much peg weighting makes a difference, but also counterbalancing. It’s an area I need to work on but made progress – steering had been harder than it needed to be. I must admit I ran through the exercises but need lots of work and practice in the area. As usual stuff was rushing through my head (stories in i2i parlance) and these were around being able to steer tightly when the surface was rough and muddy and trying to find something to balance on during the process.

Then we had some more fun stuff – deliberate skids. This was the only time we were told to turn off the traction control and abs, something you have to do every time the GS is switched on. Thankfully I’d done this before but it still takes a bit to be told to get up to a decent speed and then deliberately lock the front wheel. It was that that stuck in my mind, we may have done rear lock up too but that tends to be pretty uneventful.

Then it was off to the trails to try stuff.

Off Road Skills Level One–April 14th and 15th 2013–Day 1 (Sunday) Intro

So if you’ve read my previous post you will know that we are staying at the Old Tredegar, there is a group of 8 of us, and we are all travelling around in a VW Transporter Shuttle in Silver (did I mention the colour?).

Nicky did a sterling job of looking after us all for breakfast on Sunday morning and then we all headed back to our rooms to kit up for the journey to the industrial estate where ORS are based. Longest bit for me (as expected and in order of duration) was 1. Removing the visor from the Enduro (was going to use goggles) 2. Putting in the contact lenses. 3. Putting on the Tech 3s.

Actually the Alpinestars Tech 3s are quite easy to put on but the long part is getting the adjustment of the closures correct. There is a large Velcro flap which folds over and can get a little crossed up if you do it wrong. The buckles have some rotational movement but it is better to get everything straight so that the buckles go in. The buckles close reasonably easily apart from the inevitable one or two which don’t play ball – experience over the weekend led me to believe that the buckles have to be flat to click in properly. If they are slightly indented then they don’t line up properly and won’t click shut.

Then a double check to make sure I had everything I would need – gloves and helmet kit wise, driving license for signing in. And then stomped off on the nice new and clean carpet to get in the van. The route to the industrial estate is reasonably short but twisty – Ystradgynlais is pretty flat in the middle but go a mile in any direction and it basically follows a series of steep river valleys with inevitable changes in elevation and twist and turns. In fact at the back door of the Old Tredegar is a river, not something you appreciate properly on Google Street View.

As we turned the sweeping corner in the Industrial estate all the bikes where there waiting. In a long row out on to the road, grouped according to type and all nice and clean after the wash they had had the previous day. And nearest to their unit was the row of R1200GS bikes – the brand new model, so new in fact that it had been the previous model that David had had a shot on on the first Level One Motorrad group the previous October. One of those was going to be my ride for the next two days.

First stage was signing on – usual disclaimer forms etc., it was good to see some familiar faces from Knockhill – Simon Pavey was kicking around, as was Kevin Hammond who was helping check forms etc. Linley Pavey was also around – my wife got to know Linley a little at Knockhill as she sat with the ORS team while I was down a muddy hill falling off a few times.

I got handed a key to one of the new R1200GS bikes – this was to be the first time I would ride the new bike ever, and it would be on semi-knobblies and mainly off road. Some introduction! I hunted around for my bike but couldn’t find it. All of the bikes are numbered at ORS with the numbers in big letters on their screens but there were a couple of R1200 bikes missing screens – so David rightly did the sensible thing –try the key in the bike to see if it switches on. Right enough, I was on the screen less bike.

So we were gathered together got a wee speech and a quick explanation that filming was not allowed due to the site owners rules (and concerns) – follow to the petrol station and then form and fill up. And then up to the famous Walters Arena – ok famous to someone who scours magazines, YouTube and watched Long Way Round a few times. So it was goggles on, and ride along on the bike with the low seat. As usual I had no feel for the gear change in my motocross boots, but the space was decent on the big GS and I could hook my foot under the lever – rather than sweeping the side like I have had to do on smaller bikes like the G650 or the KTMs I had ridden a few years previously. As the roads were damp we took it pretty easy – on the way at least.

It was an interesting experience already – there must have been about 10 of each type of bike, so with R1200GS, F800GS, G650GS (or was it F700 ?) and enduro Husqvarna bikes, plus instructors on their R1200GS Adventures there was a lot of bikes at the petrol station. All good stuff. Then it was a fair ride up and out of town to get to the entrance we would use to the Arena. A bit of Google map work after the visit shows how big the area is and how many entrances lead in, thankfully with a big group I didn’t need to wait on the big gate getting opened.

Then it was on to an old road with potholes – and already some of the other participants were up on the pegs. It had been a couple of years since I had ridden off road and on an unfamiliar bike I stuck to sitting down – this would change quite quickly, all of the riding we would end up doing would be standing up.

Off Road Skills Level One–April 14th and 15th 2013–the trip to Wales

I recently had a great time with a group from Motorrad Central at the BMW Off Road Skills School in Wales. We spent two days riding new BMW motorcycles round trails and up and down hills etc.

As you will know from reading my blog over the years I like motorcycle training – so I am “better” at the thing, so I can do anything possible to improve my survivability but also because it tends to be fun. The Off Road Skills school in Wales has a national reputation, no doubt established through their many years of existence, the relatively high profile of their main instructor Simon Pavey and the regular coverage in the bike press that this brings for both him and his school.

But being based in Scotland, even East Central Scotland means a reasonable travel distance to their base in Wales. That allied with a reasonable cost meant it has been an aspiration for many years but no more than that.

I got back in to biking about 8 years ago when I saved up a bit of money, sold some shares and got some money from my gran. I went and bought a 10 year old (at the time) BMW R1100RS. Then I immediately started looking in to training. At the time BMW only offered their off road school in Wales. Having spent only £1,995 on my bike I wasn’t about to fork out a quarter of my bikes value on a course when I had a reasonably mature bike to keep on the road.

Focussing on off road riding I attended MC2 with i2imca which was rather good although it illustrated my total lack of fitness and the complications of wearing armour that was too small – I sat out mid way through the afternoon because I was too tired, the helmet was too small as were the boots. When I later attended MC4 I did this with my own boots (size 14) and helmet (64 / XXXL) which was a lot more comfortable.

A few years later Motorrad Central arranged a big bash at Knockhill, one part of which was Simon Pavey and team coming up to run a mini off road skills school aka “GS Challenge”. Although I had volunteered to help out with marshalling road rides, this was an opportunity not to miss. But having learned a bit from my last off roading experience I made a concerted effort to lose some weight. I did not bad, 5 stone off. A slight bit of overconfidence had me book to the intermediate group but I sorted that and went out with the beginners on Saturday morning. Got really muddy, benefitted greatly from the brief instruction from ORS guy Kevin Hammond (and Jon Pearson – JP) and convinced myself that I would one day do the whole thing in Wales.

Wind forward to this year and in the process of paying money out having bought a new bike I paid out a little more and booked on to the trip that Motorrad Central were planning to one of the off road skills level one courses. It wasn’t a difficult persuade as I had figured that the package of the course, transport and accommodation was the best way to attend.

Since Knockhill I had acquired a BMW Enduro helmet at a great price meaning my “off road kit” consisted of a pair of Alpinestars Tech 3 ATs (size 50), a pair of Fox Bomber Gloves (3xl) and my “old” Bullson (Hein Gericke budget) jacket and trousers. I gathered the textile kit, base layers and a couple of pairs of BMW long socks and chucked these in a duffle bag and took them with the boots and helmet to Motorrad Central. These were dumped behind David Brown’s desk – he being slightly disturbed at the size of my Alpinestars boots.

We travelled down to Wales on the Saturday so I put a change of clothes in three Tesco reusable bags (Textile stuff – great recommendation from Rennie Ritchie) which fit well in to the aluminium panniers of the GS Adventure and went for a haircut. Well I couldn’t miss my four weekly appointment at the barbers. Then I headed to Dalkeith with a slightly itchy system 6.

Having unpacked the GS Adventure I changed out of my road gear and strategically stashed these on and around the accountant’s seat at Motorrad Central. We planned to be back in the early hours of Tuesday so I would hopefully get away with it.

And then I chucked my stuff in to the quickly filling back of the Volkswagen Transporter Shuttle which had been hired for our trip to Wales and would be our ferry between venues. Most of us met at Dalkeith – Callum and David from Motorrad Central, and from a customer perspective we had Me, Ross, Jonathan, Graeme and Brian. We would be picking up Simon later in Lockerbie – on the way to Wales.

The trip to Wales was typical fare, a trundle across country to pick up the Motorway South, a brief detour to pick up Simon and then a run down the various motorways to Wales. Weather was typical varied fare in the UK in April, but as we got farther South the rain got more consistent and the cloud came down. Wales was just wet – though despite this we spotted a couple of Welsh Hell’s Angels out on their bikes.

David did a sterling job of driving duties and got us to Ystradgynlais in good time, in fact we had to go and have a look at the industrial estate where we would be starting the next day. Managing to avoid the charms of Touratech (just) across the road, we piled out of the van to stretch our legs and have a look at the 30 odd bikes getting washed at Off Road Skills. Simon Pavey said hi once he realised the van full of Scottish folks was friendly, and apologised for not being able to join us that evening at his B&B as he and the other instructors were planning to wet the head of JP’s latest arrival.

Then it was to the Old Tredegar, recently refurbished and reopened by Simon Pavey as a B&B – we all got our room allocation and got our stuff out of the van. Next stop was a chinwag in the lounge (and the first raid of the fridge – by the other guys I might add) and photos by Simon’s Rally Bikes (there are two at the side of the lounge) before heading off to the George up the road.

The George has a deserved reputation, although I had checked the menu online beforehand when it came to the day and on David and Simon’s recommendation (they had been before) I went for the Ribs. To say it was a struggle is an understatement – next time I’ll not even order Ribs +, you get enough on their own. Joining the group for the meal was Clive Rumbold – another customer of Motorrad but staying elsewhere as the Old Tredegar was full and he was also doing the Enduro course rather than level one. Over food Clive explained a little about his new business – after a long period of negotiation he had managed to get access to some trails in Scotland and was setting up an off road school in Scotland.

Then as we finished the food and it got late we scampered back down the road to the Old Tredegar for another chinwag in the lounge and a final raid of the fridge.

Motorcycle Racing Interviews

After a little encouragement I’ve been thinking about resurrecting this blog and posting more. While I consider content for longer posts I had to post links to a couple of interviews of Motorcycle Racers that I enjoyed.

First of these is a three parter with Valentino Rossi, an Italian Motorcycle racer in the MotoGP prototype series, by Motorcycle News (MCN) on YouTube:

The second is with an Australian called Simon Pavey who has been based in the UK for a long time and runs the BMW Off Road Skills school in South Wales. I’m off to do Level 1 of the ORS School this weekend but it is an interview about his Dakar exploits on MotoPod which is really interesting. Simon’s chat starts part way through this podcast:

Riding new BMW Motorcycles

With it being summer in the UK, and the two BMW Motorcycle dealers in central Scotland being under new ownership is the wonderful idea called the “open day” when they set out a whole pile of things including food etc, but even better they arrange “demo rides” where you can come along and have shots on a whole number of new BMW motorcycles just by providing details of your (full motorcycle) driving license.

As a result of open days at Motorrad Central East and West, or as their websites call them now Motorrad Central Edinburgh and Glasgow, I’ve had a great opportunity to try out a whole load of different new BMWs this year. The thing about trying out motorcycles is it throws out all of your preconceptions about how you think a bike will ride when you look at it compared to out on the road.

I was at both weekends at both dealers a couple of months apart in Edinburgh first and Glasgow second and this it how it went:


The Edinburgh weekend was first and I popped down on the Saturday – lovely warm dry weather was a great opportunity:

  1. BMW F 800 GS – I hadn’t ridden anything other than my R1100RS for about a year, in fact other than that I had only been on a 250 and 400 KTM Supermoto in recent history, and that was on a track. The F 800 felt very light, although the seat was a bit low for me. The engine was great, albeit a bit buzzier than I expected at higher revs. It had more suspension travel and felt a lot like a supermoto, in fact I stuck my foot out on the last roundabout – couldn’t help myself!
  2. BMW R 1200 GS – This was the bike I was here to try, but I had tried the smaller bike to get my confidence up to spec. This was a revelation – the off road styling led me to expect a big bouncy thing, but all i felt was a machine like my RS with more room and easier to steer. The handling felt just the same, the telelever feel was identical and the controls just fell in to place. I found that I had really bad turbulence off the screen though – my head was bashed about at motorway speeds.
  3. BMW R 1200 GS – I had another shot, but this time with the seat in the higher position and the screen lower. This gave me a bit more room, but talking later I discovered it was still the low seat, albeit in the high position. This felt really really good, no problem with fast or slow manoeuvring and very flickable.
  4. BMW R 1200 GSA – The last run of the day, and as I was about to go they put the standard seat on the normal position. This was a bit strange as I am used to my feet hitting the ground quicker – I could put my feet down flat, but the RS is so much lower. It took a bit of getting used to the extra weight, it was quite scary turning in and felt top heavy, was a bit bouncy in the country and I was still getting some turbulence from the screen. The seat felt really comfortable – the most comfortable bike I have ever ridden. I had big problems with the rear brake lever though – didn’t seem to be in the right place.

In summary, the standard GS was a revelation but the Adventure was a bit scary and big. Although the F 800 GS was nice, the R 1200 GS just felt like a more roomy flickable version of the RS – excellent.

I subsequently had a long discussion about the handling of the ESA equipped GSs and came to the conclusion that with my weight it would be better to adjust the preload to a higher setting – I hadn’t appreciated that this was set before going. I also discussed the brake and it might have been that I had the pedal on the off road setting i.e. folded down instead of up.


The weather wasn’t as nice but stayed dry on the Saturday. The bikes I tried were:

  1. BMW R 1200 GS Anniversary Edition – this was a quick run round the demo route on a brand new bike – fully kitted out with tank bag etc. It was a bit strange with the tank bag (my belly is too big) but looks lovely in the colours. I went for a setting with 1+ Luggage on Normal. Handling was excellent as before.
  2. BMW R 1200 GS Adventure – With the seat on full height I set preload to 1+Luggage and normal and went out for a run. This was a revelation – none of the bounciness and I didn’t notice the top heavy feel as last time. I wondered if this was due to the tank level but the bike was showing 300 miles for range – a full tank. I don’t know what the difference was but this was excellent – same comfort and weather protection, brilliant handling – a lot better than it should be on a bike of this type. I was quite besotted.
  3. BMW R 1200 GS – With a low seat I found it a bit cramped, but with less weather protection it was a bit nicer on a warm day.
  4. BMW R 1200 RT – As the police and ambulance motorcyclists run these I expected a lot from this. Unfortunately I found it was far too low even with what I thought was the seat in the high position, and my feet kept getting caught on the lower fairing. The handling is excellent though – no real impression of extra weight that the fairing would suggest, and the electric screen is hilarious.

So the Adventure is the bike for me, after a lot of miles on it over the weekend I don’t know what the issue was with the first run – whether I wasn’t used to it, or the suspension was on an offroad setting I don’t know, but the handling was excellent with a full load of petrol. I even had opportunity to put it on and off the centre stand and it wasn’t a problem at all.

Now to spend a few years saving up!

Create custom movie settings for Windows Movie Maker

I’ve got a bullet camera and solid state video recorder that I use on my motorcycle from time to time, and I use Windows Movie Maker to edit them a little and then upload to YouTube. The unit I have is the so-called MiniDVR1 from dogcamsport – which creates videos at 640×480 resolution at 25 fps.

The only thing is since I upgraded to Vista Ultimate, it offers all sorts of excellent HD based resolutions in Windows which are way over the top for the budget recording kit I have. I found this guide on on how to create a custom output profile which is nearer to the quality level I record at.

Be careful to follow the instructions on the settings – i found that missing a step meant that the profile wasn’t read by Windows Movie Maker.

The guys at dogcam pointed out they have a new version of the MiniDVR – superb 🙂

Motorcycle Maintenance Evening Classes

I’ve missed the start of this course, but worth keeping an eye out for if you live South of Edinburgh. Scottish Borders College continue to run their Motorcycle Maintenance evening class “Know Your Motorcycle”. I did an introductory version of this a couple of years back and it is good to get along and fiddle with someone else’s bikes!

The evening class details are on their website , unfortunately I am a bit late in flagging it up as it started a couple of weeks ago, but it looks like they are running a 10 week course from Newton.

Now to see if there are evening classes nearer to home.

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.