Tips for New Riders
This is a great read full of valuable tips for those just starting out on their journey as well as those that would like a quick refresher!
- Don't listen to more experienced riders who say "forget all that L plate stuff - it's just to pass the test". I spent over a decade working as a basic training and not only is it a hugely insulting thing to say about the instructors who put hours of hard graft in, getting new riders up to a standard where they can pass the DVSA test, it's just plain wrong.
In fact, the 'basic' skills are actually the skills you're going to use every single day, every single hour, every single minute of your riding life.
What is taught on a basic training course would be better described as 'core' skills, because they form the centre of everything else that we learn, whether that learning is via our own experience, from a post-test course or from simply reading about biking.
- Don't buy more bike than you can handle. One of the lines I hear oh so often is "don't buy xxx, it's too small and slow and you'll get bored". My response to that is "how fast can you ride around a 60 mph corner?". The answer is, of course, at no more than 60 mph. There's loads of fun to be had on a modestly powered machine. A theoretical top speed of 140 mph or more is just that - theoretical. You can't use it. Less powerful machines do need more 'stirring' of the gearbox, it's true but unless you're the kind of rider who wants an automatic to take care of that, getting the right gear for a particular situation is all part of the fun.
- Take time to learn your own bike. Just finished a training course and walked away with a shiny new pass certificate in your hand? Then you'll be riding your own bike next. And unless you have bought the very same model of machine that you learned on (not very likely - hardly anyone does these days) then it's going to be different to ride. The riding position will be different, the balance and weight distribution will be different, the clutch will bite differently, the throttle response will be different and the brakes will be different. And that catches riders out - it's not just being a new rider that skews the risk of a crash upwards, it's also riding a new machine. So, a new rider on a new machine has double trouble.
- Learn to slow before you learn to go. What'll it do, Mister? It's hugely tempting to twist the throttle on a new bike to feel the fun - I've done it myself. And I've also arrived hugely too fast at the next bend. Fortunately, I'd actually tested out the brakes first, so I knew already exactly how rapidly the machine lost speed when they were used in anger. It's not difficult to learn - if you've just passed your test, you've still got all that e-stop practice fresh in your head. No matter that the bike test e-stop was off-road, you can and should head out and practice on-road. Find a bit of road that's free of traffic, parked cars and pedestrians, and aim to stay well clear of any other obstacles. Then test out the brakes. Remember how your instructor taught you at the training school. Start at low speed, and aim for a gentle, but controlled, stop. Gradually build up the pressure on the brakes till you're bringing the bike to a rapid stop, THEN and only then add some extra speed. And if you find yourself out on the road heading towards a problem and you're realise you're a bit too quick, you'll have a good idea of just how to slow down before it turns into an emergency.
5. Learn to turn. If there's one area where basic training tends to leave new riders a bit weak, it's steering and cornering. Although it's the same technique you MUST have used to complete the swerve exercise on Module One, if you've never heard of counter-steering, then it's time to find out. All you really need to know is that you push the left bar AWAY from you to turn left, and the right bar AWAY from you to turn right. It sounds mad to most new riders, which is why I've written quite a few articles on the topic. If you want to find out more, there's a primer you can find on my website at survivalskills.co.uk in the FREE TIPS section. But if you really want to get to grips with counter-steering then I'd seriously say, "get some top-up training". And to help you use counter-steering effectively on a twisty road, doing a cornering course is also well-worth the time.
6. Don't follow someone who says "just follow me and copy my lines". Firstly, you won't learn anything - how do you know WHY the rider ahead did something? For all you know, you're copying someone with bad technique. And it won't help your confidence either if you follow someone right up to the point where you CAN'T copy what they do. And guess what often happens next? Yep, it's a crash - and it's usually the less-experienced rider. This issue is a particular problem with partners. When one has just passed the test, the less-experience rider is usually only too happy to have someone to follow. But then the more experienced rider leads the following rider into situations that the following rider struggles to cope with, often at speeds the new rider can't cope with. The best way to gain confidence is to lead, so you can make your own decisions in your own time.
7. Fools rush in, so don't be a fool. Some new riders take the test and plan to commute. Fair enough, although I would say that taking a test in the summer is a lovely introduction to riding, whilst commuting through the winter can be enough to put anyone off. But don't pass a test on a Friday, pick up the new bike on Saturday and try to ride it into Canary Wharf on Monday morning. Take your time, and don't bite off more than you can chew in the first few days.
8. Learn the basics of looking after your machine. True story - a rider turned up on a course with no brake light. So at the first stop, I told him and suggested a detour via a local auto store to pick up a new bulb. After he hadn't come out after several minutes, I went in to find him looking confused in front of the bulbs section. "I don't know which bulb I want". So I picked the bulb for him and sent him off to pay. Back outside, he looked lost again. "I don't know how to change the bulb". So I explained that usually it is from under the back of the seat unless the lens unscrews. "I don't know how to take the seat off." Hmm. To save wasting any more time, I swapped the bulb out for him and suggested he find - and read - the manual for the bike. "Oh, I get my dealer to look after all that." Even if you don't need to replace a bulb, you do need to check the oil, clean, lubricate and adjust the chain, keep an eye on tyres and brake pads, and so on. Nothing complicated, but these routine checks DO need doing, not just at the service intervals.
9. Get more training. As I said, what's taught on basic rider training are the core skills that we'll use every day, but that doesn't mean that there aren't new skills that you can learn, and new ways of thinking about riding out there. There are the usual routes, via the Enhanced Rider Scheme, the IAM or RoSPA, or you can take a look at more left-field options such as my very own Survival Skills courses. Make sure whoever you choose is happy to deliver the training YOU WANT, not what THEY THINK you should be getting. This is where an independent training can come out on top. OK, it costs, but a focused training course is the quickest way to top up your skills. Costs vary, as does the level of training and the standard of instructor. Check instructor credentials and experience.
10. You never stop learning. The day any of us think "there's nothing left to learn" is the day we're setting ourselves up for a big crash. You don't need to take more training to carry on learning - though it certainly helps - because you can treat each ride as a learning opportunity. Just think about all the moments when things went perfectly to plan. Excellent, that's probably something that was well done. But more importantly, think about the incidents that caught you by surprise or didn't go as you expected. What could you do differently next time? Learning by experience can be painful. So, use the near misses to find a solution to the problem and be ready to use it next time the same situation arises.
© Survivial Skills Rider Training, 2020