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Advanced motorcycling - what's it all about? - 2 September 2015

*Issued on behalf of Derek Baker, National Observer, Kidderminster Advanced Bikers.*

Derek-Baker-260x300
 
I have been riding bikes on the road since the age of 16 and quite frankly when I look back to my early days I am surprised I have lived to tell the tale. Back in the day there wasn't the bike gear to wear like these days, sure there were leathers but to a young rider it was too expensive to consider. The alternative was wax cotton Belstaff jackets and this was hardly going to save your skin in "an off" but it did offer some degree of protection. It wasn't a ridiculous price either in those days, unlike today where a vintage jacket can cost in excess of £500. My chosen garment was black wax cotton Belstaff jacket and trousers that I wore in the rain, Belstaff jacket and denim jeans in the dry. Being coated in a waterproof wax didn't exactly go down well in the office I worked in at the time as when wet the wax cotton gave off a fragrance akin to engineering oil which you either loved or hated and most non-motorcycle enthusiasts hated it! I did however push the boat out and bought a pair of black leather motorcycle boots, as favoured by Police riders of the time. These I wore originally under the legs of my jeans until I discovered the tops of the boots wore away my leg hair, leaving a circumference of baldness around both legs! After this I wore them on the outside of my jeans with a pair of white seaman's socks folded over the top, like the café racers used to wear; quite fetching I used to think on my first bike a Suzuki AP50 which I used to ride like a road racer everywhere up to the giddy speed of 60-mph!

By the time I was seventeen I had saved enough money for the deposit on a white Suzuki 250-X7; this was the bike of the time and it was fast; at last 100-mph was on the cards which I did at every given opportunity.

Living in the Black Country my stomping ground in my teens was Cradley, Dudley and Netherton; these areas are riddled with canals where the road transported you via bridges over "the cut" which became the launch pad to get my front wheel airborne and with a little more speed the back wheel too. I was prone to jumping these bridges without any regard to other vehicles that were often stationery on the other side of the bridge where the traffic lights were stuck on red or indeed the safety of me or others. I never thought of myself as invincible it's just that I never thought of the consequences, all I was interested in was the speed and the adrenalin rush. At the time I lived and breathed motorcycling, everything I did revolved around them and eventually so did my job. A friend of mine had discovered a bike course in Birmingham run by the RAC so off we went. The next six Sundays were taken up with road riding, followed by an Instructor using signals to guide us, slow riding around cones in the grounds of an industrial estate off Broad Street, classroom sessions on the highway code and the theory of bike riding and practical bike maintenance; I was in heaven. Having passed the course I went on to pass my DOT bike test when I was seventeen; for those that remember the procedure at the time it was pretty basic. My examiner instructed me to pull away from the test centre in Quinton and turn right onto the Hagley road, then take the second cut out in the central reservation and come back down the Hagley road then take a left toward the test centre then a right then another right etc. The Examiner lay in wait somewhere down a side road where he leapt out in front of me, hand stretched out in front of him, his palm facing toward me, his fingers firmly pushed together forming an almost salute type position with a grimace on his face I'm sure; in his attempt to make me do an emergency stop. I squeezed the front brake lever so hard my fingers tensed in pain and I felt the back end go light.... but I stopped, only just and in a sort of controlled manner, just a few inches from his feet. I swear his outstretched hand was touching the visor of my helmet as I stopped firmly! After a few other basic manoeuvres and even fewer questions based on the Highway Code, he informed me I had passed, wrote out my pass certificate and he left. I felt ecstatic and proud and in a matter of seconds I quickly whipped off the "L" plates and roared away, riding "like I`d stolen it" all in the view of the test centre. What must he have been thinking? Now I could get on a bigger bike and I did a Kawasaki Z650B1.

I continued to ride like an idiot, dreaming of becoming a road racer. It was during my time in the motorcycle trade that I came across Police motorcycle riders, one of whom gave me advice on ways to improve my riding and it was around this time I read about advanced motorcycle training but still a teenager I thought I knew how to ride well and after all weren't advanced riders a bunch of old blokes, the "pipe and slipper brigade?" I did eventually take up short circuit racing around the well-known tracks of Mallory, Donnington, Brands Hatch and the like, all of which I thoroughly enjoyed and in a strange way I found it calmed me down a little when on the road.

I later bought a Kawasaki ZX600 and it was around then I discovered "Bike Safe" run by West Midlands Police in Birmingham, it was here I first met Marcus, a class1 Police bike rider and instructor. Being followed by a Police rider is unnerving to say the least but I soon settled in to the rhythm, listening intently to the advice being given and following their lines as they demonstrated the points I so eagerly soaked up. Day one was mainly city centre riding around the busy streets of Birmingham, it was a Saturday so plenty of hazards to negotiate. I couldn't wait for day two; out in the rural areas of Worcestershire and Shropshire, I loved it and it seemed a natural progression from then on to join the IAM. So in 2008 I passed my advanced bike test from where I went on to become an Observer. I discovered a way of riding that not only allowed me to ride safer but also not to impede the excitement I enjoyed from riding my bike which is often the thoughts of younger riders I'm sure. Learning advanced riding techniques has not only opened up new avenues for me but the group that I joined introduced me to a new circle of friends; close friends where we share experiences and laugh like we are teenagers again. I can honestly say it's one of the best things I have ever done. Looking at my career in the motorcycle industry I had lots of opportunities to learn from the best which unfortunately I didn't take up at the time, I should have but the reason I didn't was my misconception of advanced bike riders. So advanced bike riding, what is it? It's simply; if you love riding your bike, if you are serious about bike riding then learn how to use your bikes performance correctly. Join your local IAM motorcycle group and learn to ride your bike safely without it impacting on the fun element of bikes. It will open up your eyes to a different world, one where you learn to think about your riding, plan ahead and make good progress, avoiding the dangers you put yourself in as I did all those years ago. Click on to http://www.iam.org.uk/ and sign up for a "Skill-for-Life" package you won't be disappointed.