Ride Forever Silver: can an older rider be taught new tricks?
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One of my riding buddies was pretty sceptical when I told him that I was about to undertake the “Silver” course of the Motorcycle Safety Levy (MSL)-funded Ride Forever motorcycle programme.
Ride Forever divides its courses into three Olympic-like levels—Bronze, Silver and Gold—with the intention of showing riders ways they can improve their riding experience and enjoyment throughout a lifetime of motorcycling. My mate asked why was I about to participate in the programme when I’d been riding continuously for 52 years.
“Perhaps it’s appropriate that the course is called Ride Forever, because you’ve already been riding forever.”
Touche mon ami. There have been a lot of painful lessons learned during that half-century on the road, some of which I called upon when writing my own riding manual Ride to Live, Live to Ride (Phantom House). But I was curious to find out how my riding measured up to the more informative training standards of today. Perhaps an old hack like me could still be taught some new tricks.
So, one week later, I found myself rendezvousing with instructor Mark Jones and two far younger aspirants to a full motorcycle licence, Petr Baev and Jared Honore.
Mark is one of 13 providers of Ride Forever training located around the country. For Petr and Jared, signing up for the course was a no-brainer, as completing the programme to Silver level set them up to pass a CBTA licence test, which enables their time spent riding on a restricted licence to be reduced from 18 to 12 months. With an MSL subsidy of $249 for every course, they are relatively affordable at $50 for the rider to pay for each of Gold and Silver; and $20 for Bronze. Each provides a full eight hours of training and course costs can be recouped via a discount that many motorcycle insurance companies give to their clients who have done Ride Forever courses.
The Gold tier is intended to also be a refresher course for full licence-holders and is perhaps the one more in tune with my intentions, but you can’t complete Gold training without receiving a Silver certificate first, hence my return to the basics of riding with Mark. Thankfully, the “classroom” sessions would be brief. The majority of the training would occur with Mark observing our riding, and giving instructions and feedback (via the one-way radios he provided) while following us.
The day started with an impromptu session in the least used carpark of Massey University, with Mark evaluating our emergency braking and low-speed motorcycle handling skills. From there, it was out on to the mean streets of Auckland, with Mark checking how quickly we could recognise hazards and helping us develop strategies to avoid them.
With the afternoon about to focus on our open-road skills, Mark used a lunch stop in a little village north of the city to introduce us to the great dynamic mystery of riding a motorcycle: counter-steering.
“We all steer by pushing the left side of the handlebar forward to turn the bike left but many of us do it unconsciously. Your riding will be more precise if you deliberately counter-steer the bike to initiate turning into a corner,” he says.
There followed a highly enjoyable afternoon riding some of my favourite back-roads north of Auckland, routes thankfully free of the tyranny of traffic, but still full of riding challenges such as surface hazards and decreasing-radius bends. It was inspiring to see the two restricted licence-holders gain confidence and become more decisive
throughout the afternoon.
As for me, Mark said: “I can’t fault your riding” in his final sumup of each of our skillsets. I could improve, however, in the way I rely on my mirrors too much when performing turns at intersections and changing lanes. Going for Silver has made me perform “head-checks” to monitor the mirror blind-spots better before changes of direction, something that could save me a lot of pain and money in the future.
Bring on the Gold.