When I wrote the article 13 experts on what makes an advanced motorcycle rider, I hadn’t received any responses for a few days, and I thought I would receive no more answers. Well, I was wrong. Since then I received two more answers, and one of them referred me to Geoff James. Geoff is a volunteer Senior Observer (instructor) at the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) in New Zealand.
In this article, I’ll first discuss the two latest answers I received, after which I will compare the official stance of the IAM on what makes an advanced rider with all the 15 expert opinions mentioned before. Lastly, I asked Geoff about his experiences with the IAM, and what helped him most to improve personally.
Two more answers
Note: I received a third (short) answer while writing the article, which I included at the very bottom.
Both Jules and Stephanie mention experience, and most of the other factors mentioned in the earlier article. Everything they state is in line with the earlier 13 experts, so no big surprises there. Although thanks to their answers, I did notice a factor that I had overlooked before:
Different riding conditions do matter
Interestingly, both of their answers also refer heavily to different riding conditions requiring different skills. For example, Jules Pearce says:
For example, an experienced rider may not be intimidated riding in appalling weather conditions on a slippery mountain pass with near zero visibility due to prior experience and confidence in their own abilities. However, that same rider may not necessarily have advanced skills in other contexts.
I re-read all the earlier answers and found that different riding conditions were mentioned three times in the earlier responses as well. Combined with the newest two, that makes a total of 5 out of 15 experts mentioning the importance of understanding the difference between riding conditions.
The main takeaway is that just because you are good at one style of riding, even if it is something very difficult such as slippery mountain passes with near zero visibility, don’t just assume you will do great in other circumstances as well. Not all experience is equal, and not all experience carries over to other situations.
You can be an advanced rider on racetracks, but that doesn’t mean you will be one of the best bikers in heavy traffic.
The Institute of Advanced Motorists
Thanks to Geoff I found out that the Institute of Advanced Motorists has, in fact, an official stance on the subject as well. In the Roadcraft manual and on their website you can find the following quote:
What is advanced motorcycling?
“Advanced” motorcycling is the ability to control the position and speed of the machine safely, systematically and smoothly, using road and traffic conditions to make reasonable progress unobtrusively, with skill and responsibility.
This skill requires a positive but courteous attitude and a high standard of riding competence based on concentration, effective all round observation, anticipation, and planning.
All this must be co-coordinated with good handling skills. The motorcycle will always be at the right place on the road at the right time, traveling at the right speed with the correct gear engaged and can always be stopped safely in the distance that can be seen to be clear.
Now this isn’t even the full answer. Because if you read through the requirements passing the IAM’s Advanced Roadcraft test, of which you can read more in this pdf, you will see that a lot more factors are mentioned. In fact, all of the factors mentioned by the experts are explicitly mentioned, except for confidence and being learning oriented. When I asked Geoff what was meant by “Mental Approach” by IAM, he mentioned both the importance of (at least some) confidence and being learning oriented.
Observed Ride Report
Aside from the short bit of text above, the IAM also created the “Observed Ride Report”, which is a summary of the key elements described in the Police Rider’s Handbook. It is used to score someone taking an observed ride and gives a good impression of what IAM finds important when it comes to being a good rider.
When comparing the factors listed on the Observed Ride Report from IAM to the expert opinions from before, it turns out that the IAM and the interviewed experts all mostly agree on what makes an advanced rider. Everything that is mentioned by the experts is mentioned by IAM, and almost everything that IAM mentions is mentioned by the experts. There is one factor that is named by the IAM that isn’t mentioned too often by the experts, which is speed. Speed limits were mentioned explicitly by IAM, but none of the experts mentioned them. This could be because they are considered beyond obvious of course.
The Observed Ride Report lists many of the expert mentioned details as well. Take for example smooth corner lines and road awareness. Both are listed on the Observed Ride Report checklist.
What I personally found interesting is that wearing good safety gear isn’t listed anywhere on the report. So I figured to ask Geoff about it, among a bunch of other questions. Read on for the full interview!
Interview with Geoff about his IAM experiences
What helped you most personally when it came to IAM? Biggest takeaway? Biggest surprise?
Two things. Firstly, the Police Roadcraft system has measurable criteria so you know exactly what things you do well and what you need to improve on. The Advanced Test itself, which is comprised of both advanced theory and riding ability is an absolute measure and is internationally recognized in a number of countries. This also has a direct impact on benefits such as insurance rates. The second thing is that IAM training is not a one-off course. It’s on-going which prevents a slide in standards. Also, the realization that no-one ever stops learning.
For me, the biggest surprise was the massive increase in my situational awareness, leading to better decision-making. As I approached Advanced Test standard, it became apparent how much more information I was processing compared with when I first started. The other surprise was the ego-free nature of IAM NZ. Right from the very top mentors all the way through the organization, the humility of the individuals creates the perfect environment to learn in.
Do you have any tips for beginners that live in areas where there is no IAM? What should you do if you live in an area without any official riding courses?
I think that the most important tip is actually committing yourself to start training. Far easier to simply procrastinate and stay in your comfort zone and do nothing. Unfortunately, that does nothing to reduce the risk of coming to serious harm so just bite the bullet and get started. Most developed countries have good motorcycle training programs within relatively easy reach. You just have to research what’s available and ask questions about their quality through bike forums or other sources. If there are genuinely no courses available within (say) 2-4 hours travel, there are good books and commercial videos. Whilst they’re not as good as the real thing, it’s the next best alternative.
What is the IAM’s stance on safety gear? I didn’t see it on the Observed Rider Report card, which surprised me a bit.
The ride report is focused on the riding itself. Before a rider turns up for an initial assessment, they are reminded of the appropriate riding gear. Similarly, their motorcycle has to comply with legal requirements – currently registered, a current fitness certificate, legal tires, and so on. If there are any non-compliances, they don’t ride. We have had several instances where riders have been turned away.
And lastly, anything else you would want to say about either my first article or advanced riding in general?
I think you’ve done motorcyclists a real service by promoting discussion and thought about training – thank you! I would also like to point out that there is a big difference between an experienced rider and an advanced rider. I’m a good example. Before I joined IAM, I had over 4 decades of riding behind me. You could call that experienced, but not advanced as I also had a lot of extremely bad habits, some of which I knew about and some which I didn’t. It wasn’t until I was evaluated by an independent 3rd party against measurable criteria that I realized just how poor I was.
If you want to read more about Geoff’s experienced with the IAM, I strongly recommend checking out his blog here and here. Geoff has written in depth about his experiences with IAM, and what he learned from becoming a senior observer.
Lastly, Geoff asked me to stress that IAM Roadcraft is just one approach to advanced riding among other advanced training programs available in the world. If IAM isn’t available in your country, that is no excuse at all to not go out and look for another decent training program.
And if you do live in the UK or New Zealand, click here for the UK IAM, and here for the New Zealand IAM. It’s a charity / volunteer organization, and a pretty good place to have a good time and make some new riding friends at almost no cost. And that’s aside from potentially saving your life.
Jules from tarsnakes.com.au
What is the difference between beginner and advanced riders?
Unfortunately, an experienced and an advanced rider are not necessarily the same thing. Let me explain. In my view, an experienced rider has a vast catalog of experiences to draw upon in any given situation. For example, an experienced rider may not be intimidated riding in appalling weather conditions on a slippery mountain pass with near zero visibility due to prior experience and confidence in their own abilities. However, that same rider may not necessarily have advanced skills in other contexts, as they may have consolidated some bad riding habits or techniques and continue to put themselves at risk because of some weakness that they have not ever recognized or corrected.
An advanced rider in my view is someone who has undertaken some advanced riding course or training process, whereby their skills are critiqued by someone else, they are given feedback and advice re-corrective actions. In the UK and New Zealand, they have an excellent volunteer organization called the Institute of Advanced Motoring (IAM) with a motorcycle division where riders are mentored by approved, advanced skills riders. They train to the standards of the UK Police motorcyclists. It is every day, on road, real world training rather than track oriented. We don’t have IAM in Australia unfortunately.
How can you see that on the roads?
Stephanie from 250superhero.blogspot.com
What is the difference between beginner and advanced riders?
An ‘expert’ rider would be someone with experience and ability. Experience includes riding in all sorts of weather (not just the nice days), various road conditions, urban and rural settings, experience in traffic… basically, riding through everything for many miles. Ability would be doing so safely, with confidence and comfort. A good rider knows the abilities of him or herself as well as the machine and has a trained awareness of the road and other drivers on it.
How can you see that on the roads?
A beginner hesitates around corners and at traffic intersections, maybe wobbles through a turn. Acceleration and deceleration are sudden and unpredictable. Eyes fixate on obstacles instead of looking ‘through’ to the line of travel. Maybe overconfidence.
An advanced rider has a sixth sense to predict traffic, and makes navigating obstacles look easy and natural!
Last but not least
I ended up receiving one more answer to the original email when I had this article 70% written, by Doug Cooper from coopdwaycorner.blogspot.com. Doug had already read my article when responding, and wrote:
What I would have said, would have probably been most in line with “Awareness” and “Practice”, and my single word would have been Anticipation. Watching for the little things, planning for a way out, not overriding your ability to escape/react/stop. I honestly don’t think about it very much but when I do, it is those few times when I’m lucky enough to mutter to myself, “that could have been a problem”. The reason that it wasn’t a problem for me was that I could sense that there was a potential pinch point coming.