By Carl Flint. A short while ago, given I was a ‘born again biker’, not an expression I like, I thought it would be a good idea to assess my safe riding skills and to enhance them further. After all, anything that can keep me safely on the bike for longer has got to be a good initiative.
A long tour to Spain and back in May/June 2018, where I was following other more experienced riders and listening to conversations on other parts of the table over supper, about the Royal Society for the Protection of Accidents (ROSPA) or the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM), made me reflect on joining an organisation that could steer me towards gaining a recognised award in safer riding skills.
Why I ended up going for the IAM Advanced Motorcycle test rather than ROSPA is not clear. It was probably to do with my mate Jim, who mentioned he was a member of the Thames Vale Advanced Motorcyclists (TVAM current membership of 1029, a registered charity affiliated to the IAM), meeting every third Sunday of the week at St Crispin’s School in Wokingham. I live in Reading so it was a practical choice.
You can turn up to a TVAM meeting to try it out and see how things work. I got there for 09:00 where for non-members there was a meet and greet team that described at a simple level, how TVAM works and how much the first year’s subscription would be, namely £140, which included the cost of the examination.
Along with about 10 other new prospective members, we were taken upstairs to a room where we had an induction by one of the senior observers about TVAM and how it operates and what it is trying to achieve. I was then paired up with an observer to go out on my first TVAM ride for about an hour around Wokingham on mainly B roads.
We were about half way though the observed ride when we stopped and I got my first comments about the way I was riding. What struck me most was his comment that he saw my brake light coming on too often approaching corners (it was not always because I was going too fast). According to him I should be using more engine braking, modern engines are meant to be revved hard and by doing so I was not going to be using any more fuel or have any other negative effects (I assumed he was not referring to the environment)! I found this most odd but thought to myself, OK, I will go along with it for now and during the second half of the ride, I used the gears more to engine brake.
We got back to St Crispin’s School and we had the full debrief and my first set of forms giving written confirmation of what the observer thought of my ride and scores in the various sections. I kept a copy and asked him what happened to his copy and he said it gets filed away in the TVAM office. So, in spite of one or two warning signs, I said goodbye to my observer and felt that the early stages of the introduction were organised well enough, so I decided to get on with it, joined and coughed up £140.
About three weeks later I received in the post my new associate membership pack that contained a recent copy of Slipstream, the TVAM A5 size club magazine and a copy of the IAM RoadSmart Advanced Rider Course logbook taking in much from the police foundation Motorcycle Roadcraft.
Four Sundays later at my second TVAM meeting, as I was now an associate member, I went straight into the main assembly hall and joined the red zone where the associate members gather (those with a red badge that have not passed the IAM test yet). After various announcements from the club secretary and chairman, we had the presentation of awards for TVAM members that had recently passed their IAM test or had gone on to be local or national observers. Then the associate members went on stage and were joined by a large group of TVAM observers and then paired up.
My second observed ride went OK. I defaulted to my normal conservative riding style, which meant braking if necessary, approaching a corner. About half way round the ride we stopped and my observer made no mention of excessive use of brakes but he thought I was not making sufficient progress and I could have used more throttle. So I wondered if this was going to be the normal situation of having significant differences or inconsistency between observers on the feedback I would get for each observed ride, leaving me confused.
The next major event was the appointment of an experiened TVAM member to be my mentor/observer until I was put forward for the IAM examination. As my mentor was volunteering to help me, the weekday rides were at a time to suit his work commitments. We had many observed rides together and in the main he was ok with my riding style and he made a number of helpful observations about road positioning, line though corners, approaching junctions or roundabouts in a different manner. We used the Advanced Rider Course logbook a lot to help reinforce the exercises we were covering. So this was all good and from him I had consistency in observation at each debriefing but when I did an observed ride with other TVAM observers at a Sunday meet or an organised monthly ride, insufficient progress was a consistent observation. Maybe this was to be expected.
I was put forward for a cross check (a mock examination) with a senior national observer who I got on with very well and because he felt my riding was good enough, he put me forward for the IAM examination with a retired police motorcyclist. About two weeks later I had the big day. I passed but was not commended for a F1RST class award. That is the correct spelling of first, it is the IAM way!
About two weeks after the test I was asked by IAM to complete an online questionnaire review of the process. In the further comments section, I mentioned that I did not like the initial questioning of the examiner to find out how long I had been riding with TVAM, my mentor and his name. This I thought allowed the possibility of a level of subliminal bias to be created in the mind of the examiner. All he should know is that I am there to be examined because I have been riding well enough to get through my TVAM cross check.
Then there was the significant inconsistency between observers and the obvious fact that TVAM is not reviewing the quality of their observers, (who is ‘policing the policemen?’) from the forms that are completed and filed away, to ensure there is greater consistency in the training and feedback they are giving as an organisation to associate members. Also, TVAM did not ask me for any feedback on observers.
Finally, there was progression, whatever it is supposed to mean. My examiner put in the notes he posted to me in his report after our debriefing, that he wanted to see more sparkle in the ride. My son read his report and suggested that I should have worn a Tutu during the examination! I do not expect to be examined on how much sparkle I show during an examination. I expect the criteria to be whether my ride was legal, safe, systematic and smooth.
The examiner wrote in his report that with more practice I could easily obtain a F1RST. Why would I pay a further test fee to submit myself needlessly to another IAM examiner, where progression was going to be a big factor in deciding the award given? While I will continue with TVAM and maybe go down the trainee observer route, I have also decided to enhance my safe riding skills with ROSPA. I can easily relate to their website values, such as riding more efficiently for better fuel consumption and less wear and tear on drive train and tyres. Perhaps I should end this piece by recognising we all have different riding styles, ‘different strokes for different folks’ as John Hillier would say!
So given my reservations above, would I commend other members to join TVAM and take the IAM Roadsmart Test? Most definitely.
Originally posted 2019-08-03 15:43:21.