Report on attending the IPT course and taking the RoSPA Advanced Rider Test.
Background: I received an email from Steve Moxey, our Oxford Section Chairman. He had been offered the chance to take part in this course and the test, which was to follow the training. Steve was unable to attend due to work commitments, and he was seeking a club member who had completed the IAM course and was available at short notice. I fitted the requirements and agreed to go. Dave Cooper the Club Secretary, whom I had not met previously, would also be attending the course.
We met in Ystradgynlais, Wales, on the edge of the spectacular Brecon Beacons National Park, which is approximately 21 Miles SW of Brecon, and 15 Miles NE of Swansea. Unit 15, Woodlands Business Park, is the home of World of BMW Rider Training, which is managed by Double Guinness World record holders and global motorcycle travellers Kevin and Julia Sanders. From their premises they also operate GlobeBusters Motorcycle Expeditions, a company holding the World record for operating the longest organised motorcycle tour. They offer riders the chance to join them on adventure tours in various parts of the World ranging from 5 weeks to 5 months.
Kevin and Julia are also now in charge of the World of BMW Tours, which also operates from the Rider Training premises. The World of BMW Tour programme has a varied selection of trips around Europe and a few that take riders beyond to destinations such as Turkey, Morocco, South America and the USA, some with hire bikes. Their friendly and experienced instructors can take students through the stages required for them to get their licence – from Compulsory Basic Training (CBT) through to Direct Access test. So from the one premises you can literally go from getting your license to riding around the World and a lot in between.
They are supported by a small group of professionals who run the back office and all of their instructors are either current serving Police Class One riders or RoSPA Diploma holders, as well as being DSA qualified. Their enthusiasm for biking and wanting all their students to gain as much knowledge as is possible, is evident from when we first arrived.
Arrival: Dave and I pitched up just prior to 9am. Paul Jones, who was to be our instructor for the duration of the training, met us and made the introductions to other staff. We were, what I can only describe as ‘processed’, through a typically BMW efficient system. As we sat down to go through the paperwork Paul slipped out to check over our own bikes (Dave’s K1300S and my RT1200SE) making sure they were taxed, roadworthy, had enough rubber on the tyres for the duration etc! Paul also checked our Insurance, Licence and if we were due an MOT before we were shown around the modern purpose-built training school facility. The Centre also boasts their own skills training area, which is to one side of their building and to the other side the home of the BMW Off Road Skills, headed up by Simon Pavey, legendary seven-time Dakar racer. This was where I completed the level one off road course myself a few years back, which was also excellent. If you’re interested, see my report under the ‘Articles’ section of our own BMW Oxford section website. I should also point out that for both on and off road courses you have the option (at a price) to hire their machines, which all looked to be quite new and fully serviced ready to go. Clothing is also available upon request.
Course outline: Dave and I sat with Paul and he took us through the Training Programme for our course, which was to follow over the next two and a half days. Two days of Road Rider Training intermixed with Classroom lectures, this would be followed by the RoSPA Advanced Rider Test on the third day. The normal ‘Full’ course includes an extra days instruction and practice, so we knew that we would be under some pressure to reach a good standard in order to prepare us for the test.
Assessment Ride: Paul, and all of the other instructors, are some of the highest qualified in the UK and all employed full time, unlike many other schools who only use part time instructors.
An ex-Army Senior NCO in driver training and vehicle instruction, Paul decided to work towards achieving the RoSPA Diploma and DSA qualification. On completing this and not wanting an office bound job, he found World of BMW Biking to be a good fit. It was evident right from the start that Paul had many years of excellent instructional technique under his belt, and the ability to get the best from his students. Paul took us through the procedures for using the bike radios so that he could give Dave and I directional instructions whilst on the road, this completed we set off on our first observed ride out. To start with we went out on an approximately 60 mile ride, covering built up areas and countryside, on minor ‘A’ roads and Duel carriageway keeping strictly to the appropriate speed limits. At one point riding into a quiet trading estate to go through the ‘U’ turn procedure. This ride duration was 1-1.5 hours long and mid way through we swapped over with myself in front of Paul. This ride was probably the worst part of the course as we really did not know what to expect, Dave and I a little like ‘Rabbits in the Headlights’. On return to the Unit we had a well earned Coffee whilst Paul took us through a very detailed debrief, and his quite amazing recall, being able to almost talk us over the complete ride ‘Turn by turn’, missing none of our minor errors that we made en-route. With Dave being more ‘IAM Current’ than myself, as he is actively out observing other students within the IAM, He was making less errors, than myself, so I had some catching up to do. Paul’s ability to inform us of both good and bad riding was excellently balanced, and good use was made of the white board for explaining points and every suggestion and observation was directly related back to either the HWC or Police Roadcraft book as appropriate.
The Police rider’s handbook to better motorcycling ‘Motorcycle Roadcraft’, was the ‘Bible’ as far as we were to be concerned, and along with a current Highway Code, which we had been asked to re-read prior to coming on the course. Over the two days we systematically covered ‘The system of motorcycle control’, Observation, Acceleration, using the gears and braking, Cornering, balance and avoiding skids, Signals, Positioning, Overtaking, Motorway and Duel Carriageway riding and of course speed and safety. Quite a lot to get through in such a short time!
From my earlier IAM training, I understood and was hopefully using ‘The System’, employing IPSGA (Information, Speed, Position, Gear and Acceleration), and TUG (Taking information, using information and giving information etc) But what I found was that this course was going into more depth so giving me a fuller understanding. Of course it could be that this course was not just a refresher, but adding to my skills already learnt. It was indeed interesting that we did discuss a few differences in the ways the IAM and RoSPA interpret the Roadcraft handbook and the Highway Code.
The Second Ride: After a break for lunch and a walk around the Touratech Motorcycle parts supplier, whose UK outlet is based directly across the road. This time the running order was slightly different with both Dave and I riding in front of Paul. This ride took us again through a mix of urban and countryside areas. We found some stunning road travelling north towards Brecon and some 50-60 miles later, pulled in for afternoon Tea and another debrief. Again Paul recounting the route and making note of any riding errors and where he had seen that we were responding to what we were being taught. I think that by now we were starting to feel a little more at ease, and the recognition that we were learning and being able to put into practice what we been debriefed with earlier, coupled with the classroom work was gratifying, and we were actually starting to enjoy it! After this stop off and a change in order again, a final ride back to base, again along some stunning roads through an area of national park, watching out for the hazards, notably (Sheep) and returned back for late afternoon. Another debrief, and a run through of the days events, our individual thoughts, errors and progress made. Some hints from Paul as to some ‘homework’ that we should go over to help cement the learning process and then we made our way back to our accommodation.
Evening Entertainment: There isn’t much of this in Ystradgynlais! Previously when taking part in the Off Road Course, I had stayed at the Abercrave Inn, which I had used recently, and I can still recommend. For this course, and thinking that it may be good to be closer to the training centre, Dave and I stayed at the ‘New Swan Inn’, where the staff were excellent, beer good, and breakfast excellent. It was quite ‘lively’ on the Sunday night with the live band playing, and more comfortable than luxurious. Other options are also suggested on the World of BMW website, but you may need to travel some distance if you wish to be selective about where you stay over. Choice for dinner in the evening in the town was somewhat limited, but we found a good quality Indian Restaurant (Tiffin) just a short walk away. A final nightcap of The Highway Code, was all that was required to ensure a good nights sleep.
Day Two: So back to base for a similar day. Longer rides, Paul going into more ‘detail’ and trying to push home the vital information that we would need to know ‘inside out’, if we were to achieve a good test result on the following day. Lots of recapping on these rides, and then some practice time spend on the co-located hard surface training area, riding around the cones, doing slalom, figure of 8’s and ‘U’ Turns. Again remembering some of the techniques, which had been learnt some time ago, and very useful to go ‘back to basis’ again, and see and feel your own improvement. The final ride in the afternoon taking us up into the Mountains towards Brecon then east towards Sennybridge, Llandovery, Llagadod and back over the top of the Black Mountains again along the stunning A4069 to Brynamman and back to base for a final briefing.
En-route back to the Swan Inn, I stopped off at a garage to wash down the bike ready for the test the following morning. All part of the 5 P’s (prior planning prevents poor performance etc!), wanting to be as prepared as possible, both myself and the RT. Paul and I had joked about this, a little earlier in one of our rare (Army v RAF) moments of rivalry, us both having ‘served’.
Test Day: I had opted to do a short (30 min) ‘warm up’ ride, curtsy of Paul. Out we went at about 08:30Hrs, having turned up nervously early! This ride I really enjoyed, thought I was really starting to put into practice the training of the previous two days. I felt happy and at ease. Paul led from behind giving me directions over the radio, taking me on a mixture of different roads, and into areas, that we hadn’t covered over the previous two days. On our return our examiner P.Tillman (Tilly), had arrived and was going through the pre-test paperwork. We had a brief chat and he told me a little of his vast biking career, covering both undercover Police Biking and the traditional ‘Traffic’ duties. I forget the actual number of years quoted in Police Motorcycle Service, but I was suitably impressed and knew I was going to be fairly and correctly appraised.
Tilly, told me that He would be a ‘Ghost rider’, and that other than hearing his direction commands, that He ‘wasn’t there’. I wish I had been able to actually do this, but I was very aware that I was on ‘test’, and that my every move was being scrutinised. The Test didn’t start off too well, as although we had done an RT check before leaving, the radio reception wasn’t good. So I pulled over and Tilly changed over the radio kit. This did mean that I got to do my U turn, ‘live’ in a main street in Town, which was probably my best manoeuvre of the day. Just after this I missed a change in Zone, I think staying at 30 instead of increasing to 40mph. The test continued on the road for the next 90 minutes, which is a very long time, when you just know you’re not performing at your best, and to be honest, you just want to get it over and done with. Totally different to my first ride of the day!
On returning to the Centre, Tilly took me through a few test questions relating to my bike, and then onto some Roadcraft / HWC questions, which thankfully I got through fine. It did take me a minute to remember all five types of Pedestrian crossings: Zebra, Pelican, Toucan, Puffin and Equestrian, (for those still reading!) so, I still need to look through the HWC from time to time!
The debrief: Paul sat in, which was my optional choice, but I guess its all a learning curve for everyone, and he would already have a good understanding of what I would be good at, and what I still needed to work on. So, just like Paul, a very detailed ‘road by road’ debrief, and as my ‘errors’, were chalked up, I was starting to feel the worst, and would I in-fact have failed! Then Tilly summed up my ride, praising my good abilities and giving me pointers for the future, ending with my ‘well done’ for achieving the Silver award. To be honest, I’m not sure if I deserved this grade, but I can only take the professionals view, and very happy to achieve this and reflect on what I had learnt over a very busy three days. I’ve done a variety of courses, both in my ex-RAF days, and later within the Print Industry, but this was one of the hardest!
Dave’s Test: My test followed on from Ken’s, so he had warmed the examiner up nicely by the time I went out! Doing a fair amount of riding behind others as an IAM observer, I always try to make the rider feel relaxed and encourage them to ignore my presence and suggest they do the same on their test. This experience reminded me just how easy it is to give the advice and how difficult it is to follow it. Every gear change and change of position on the road is being scrutinised, along with speed, signals and all the rest of what goes into producing a safe smooth and brisk ride. I did find the examiner to be very fair in his assessment and like Ken, I was tested over roads I had never previously used, which is fairly daunting. Although an advanced rider should be able to make safe and smooth progress over any road, there’s no doubt in my mind that a little familiarity with your surroundings would be an advantage.
No matter how skilled a rider might be, I’m positive there are many techniques and training taught that he or she would learn from attending this course, and I thought the instructor coped well with the idea of tailoring the course to our perceived needs. The course is hard work, mentally, especially if you haven’t received any training for some time.
All people accept training differently, and so different methods must be employed to get the message across in the best ways possible. I think that largely, the ‘World of BMW’, methods work well. Dave and I agreed, that we didn’t feel as ‘at ease’ for some time into the course. We both approached this course, with a good, positive attitude, having done some work towards it.
I was pleased with my own personal test result that “Tilly”, our ex Police Class One trained and RoSPA Examiner, with 30 years plus Police Service in the Saddle, bestowed on me. I felt that I could have done so much better, but I physically didn’t respond to the test conditions on the day.
Location and training in an area that you know, has I believe benefits and pitfalls. On the plus side you get to ride over some fantastic countryside, and it’s a bit like being on holiday. Plus, you have the time to concentrate on swatting up on the HWC and Roadcraft in the evenings, which if you were closer to home, you may not. I think, and in relating this to my test result, had I trained in my own geographical area, which wasn’t quite as new to me, I may have been able to employ my skills to a higher level. I recognise the importance of being able to ride in any conditions, and in new areas and that by using ‘Roadcraft’ techniques properly, this should help you to achieve this.
Before attending, I was interested to see the differences between the IAM training that I had already received, albeit a few years ago, and that of RoSPA, the preference for ‘World of BMW’, but using ‘Roadcraft’ as the same basis for a training programme.
I’m also not sure if the ways in which the Various Police Forces train their Motorcyclists, differs from one another? How the likes of RoSPA and the IAM, as organisations are then able to recognise differences, that there must be but allow for a unified interpretation of procedures and skills required, so that the Rider receiving training from either body can be confident that he is getting the best for Him or Her.
Having learnt some new skills, which were completely new to me then I have much to thank Paul and Co for at World of BMW. Would I want to put myself through the same again, in three years, when I’m due to re-take a follow-up test? Who knows? Perhaps if the RoSPA Silver does something to reduce my insurance premiums, or I get to meet other like minded Bikers, then perhaps yes.
I understand the cost for training at this level to be approx. £260 per day. This is a lot of money when it’s possible to get the IAM Skill for Life course for about £200 all in. I would think therefore that Club members would want to consider some sort of group arrangement to cut the cost, unless of course they are intent on gaining a high level ROSPA test pass. Further discussion with World of BMW would need to take place, but when asked the question of bespoke courses, they were open to this. If I were to recommend the provision to friends, I think I would go for the idea of a tailored programme to brush up skills and ride some good roads plus perhaps a social trip away. I think it worth making the point that the provider can cope with all levels of training so that it would be possible to arrange a social event incorporating training for whoever might attend.