Should born-again bikers go back to school?

Antique bike
Brian's bike had seen better days but his IAM training had filled him with confidence (Image: GSofV via Flickr)
“Post-test training isn't about getting discounts, it's about keeping you alive" Clive Leech
  • | by Derri Dunn

I’ll admit it, I’m a wuss on two wheels in winter. Cold, rain and ice all conspire to keep me off the bike until spring.

This spring is going to be more challenging than ever though, because after selling my beloved Triumph Bonneville in autumn 2013, it’s been over a year since I roared off into a sunset. Getting back on the bike isn’t quite feeling like second nature.

To find out how to get my biker head straight, I asked two experts for help.

Simon Walsh of Cardiff bike school Celtic Riders and Clive Leech from Weston-Super-Mare’s Road to Freedom have between them clocked up decades of experience coaching nervous, inept returner-riders like me.

If they can’t help, there’s no hope for me…

Confidence tricks

 Celtic Riders tuition

I suspect a large part of getting myself back on the bike is going to come down to mind over matter. I’ve a dark fear of hopping onto my potential next bike for a test ride, opening the throttle, accelerating into a wall and landing in a weeping mess of shattered fairing, twisted chrome and bitter humiliation.

Clive reckons my biking hiatus won’t have set me back too far. “If you’ve only been off the bike for a year or two, it’s more of a confidence thing,” he says. “You won’t have lost the ability to ride and nothing’s really changed on the road.”

That should be reassuring – but perhaps I should have mentioned that my ‘ability to ride’ may have been slightly sub-standard to start with…

Simon likewise reassures me that it’ll all come flooding back. “In reality you won’t have forgotten,” he says, “but it can be intimidating.”

He prescribes professional help. “Most of us trainers offer a one-hour lesson or a free assessment. I’d recommend all returning bikers try that, make sure it’s definitely something they want to do.”

Training choices

But what about more advanced training? If I’m going to fork out for lessons, my head has been turned by the Enhanced Rider Scheme and the discount it’d bag me on my bike insurance. It’s the equivalent of Pass Plus on two wheels.

“ERS is mostly pushed to students who’ve just passed their test,” Simon tells me. Instead, he points me towards the Institute of Advanced Motorists, due to my ‘experience’ (flattered!). The scheme immediately piques my interest – once you’ve passed a test and become a member, you’re encouraged to participate in the training of other riders, passing on your skills. There’s potentially still a discount to be had on insurance policies, too.

“Post-test training isn’t about getting discounts,” Clive sternly reminds me. “It’s about keeping you alive – that’s what’s important to me as an instructor.”

It’s a fair point – and nothing makes your bike insurance quote rocket quite like a careless and costly crash.

It’s always worth checking local schemes as well as paid-for options – Simon points out there’s a Vale of Glamorgan Commuter Safe course aimed at post-CBT bikers that’s free for local riders.

Professional advice

I took the opportunity to pick the professionals’ brains about one particular bad I habit I’ve picked up in my riding: stiffening up on roundabouts and sharp bends.

“How often do you check your tyre pressure?” Simon immediately asks and, like many riders, my response is ‘probably not often enough’. But, as you’d expect, a lot of the problem is likely to be my head, as is the solution. “Quite often if you’re tightening up it’s because you have a preconception of crashing. Slow down and look at your approach,” advises Simon.

Clive reminds me not to be lazy with my gear changes as well. “Training could help,” he says. “Having an instructor there to talk you through it, reminding you to stay relaxed.”

Never too old

Apparently, refresher courses are more in demand for those who’ve been off the bike a bit longer than me – Clive tells me about a recent customer who, in his sixties, wanted to buy a Harley. He hadn’t been on a bike since his twenties and needed a full reminder – from off-road training on a 125cc bike to 150 road miles aboard something more substantial.

I asked both trainers if women are more likely to accept that they’d like post-test training than men – and both answer with a resounding yes – but that’s not to say the blokes wouldn’t benefit from swallowing their pride and topping up their skills.

“For people who’ve been away for many years, we always think they should come back for a bit of training,” says Clive. “Bikes have so much more performance than they had 20-30 years ago and the roads have changed too. Middle-aged men are the most reluctant to admit they need a reminder.”

As for me, I think I’ve decided the IAM route is the way to go to bring my biking back up to scratch – now all I need to do is choose my next bike and get that dastardly test ride out the way…