Saturday 8 December 2018

CNI progress picks up pace

The year has rather flown by! Rather nice to see the rate of progress in the CNI region accelerating. Of course there's no one single reason for this progress, the teamwork aspect definitely comes to the fore. Earlier in the year, a number of Associates were closing in on their Advanced Test, so working in rotation in order to get their Test done in order of priority has helped there. Overall it's a pretty neat feeling to have been part of the growth this far, and it really has been a team effort, with our highly regarded Geoff James steering us in the right direction.

It's humbling to see riders coming thru the ranks, having partaken in their coaching in Associate guise, then seeing them progress to Trainee Observer and gaining their wings to carry on under their own steam. The two Trainee Observers that I've worked with this year, one has already passed his Observer Test and the other is due to take his when a suitable time slot pops up. Fair to say they both bring an interesting, as in quite different, background to the table. What they share however, is that passion for seeing others improve.

Yes the word passion is perhaps a weird one, I use it freely, for I get a buzz out of watching someone mastering a skill that initially seemed daunting. My task as Observer is to break the learning curve into manageable chunks, and that's perhaps part art and part skill, for each Associate is different. So from an Initial Assessment we then customize the learning curve for the Associate, keeping them learning as quickly as practicable, yet not drag them too far from their comfort zone each time we venture out. The variations on this are obviously endless, on the surface at least. Now in my work environment I've done this for a while, so I'll readily admit that "reading" the responses from an individual becomes easier with time on the task. The first one or two outings a new Associate may show some nerves, so it's part of the strategy to "chill out" the rider to allow them to get the most from a ride, quite apart from keeping it safe for all involved.

What we've been seeing recently, with more riders coming thru the RideForever scheme then following up with IAM, is the starting point of these riders is quite high. This is a huge benefit in taking someone to the Advanced Test in a relatively small number of rides, the downside being the rider needs to master some key skills in a fairly short time as well. One example can be commentary, with a less prepared rider needing 8/10/12 outings to reach cross-check, we're now seeing riders getting to this point in 6 rides or less. Mastering commentary requires a bit of time and practice, so a suitable approach will come to the fore in due course. To be fair, as per suggestion by Geoff James, for CNI we use commentary in demo rides from the outset, which works, we just need to be mindful of the safety aspect. Overloading a new Associate mentally is never a good idea.

Having just partaken in another Observer training weekend, it once again sets the scene for growth, along the lines of many hands making light work. From my point of view the level of enthusiasm and skill is right on the money, we all bring something unique to the table when you look at the group overall, so as long as we can keep that team spirit alive and kicking we'll keep on growing. If anything, we're now temporarily in the situation of having more trainee Observers than we can effectively take thru practical training.

Trainee Observers on December 2018 course.

Another challenging aspect remains, how to recruit more younger riders into the IAM fold. On the one hand it may be as simple as riders not wanting to up skill and become safer until they reach a certain age, on the other hand it's likely we're not (yet) ringing the bell in the right place? The flow of riders from the RideForever system is picking up, so that's very encouraging. Yet the bike shows/expos that I've been to where IAM has had a stand, the number of riders interested in post license skills training seems rather small. I suppose the notion to up skill just isn't cool enough for a good number of riders? Do we need an incentive of sorts to get riders to come thru the system? I don't have the answer, for each approach I've thought of seems to have as many downsides as upsides. The first few years of the RideForever system certainly seems to be saving ACC a chunk of money, so now to take the next step and crank it up a notch? Or is the RideForever system an experiment that's about to come to an end? Certainly hope not!

My year has been more hectic than ideal, to say the least. Full noise at work for several months, which I chose to precede by doing the course to gain my I endorsement, then thru NZTA for the formalities, so now have a pretty licence with an I for all 6 licence classes. Initially this was driven by my job description, now the option of doing some days as bike instructor has materialized, and let's just say it's got me thinking. If there's a difference between trucking and biking for me, trucking has been my profession to date, whereas biking has been my hobby (or passion if you like). Do I want to risk losing the passion for biking by letting the coaching/instructing aspect move from the passion to profession part? Decision coming in near future I suppose. The positive angle is that I've got options, so no need to rush into anything.

As an aside, a fun distraction in the middle of the year has been the removal of all four wisdom teeth, so as my wife helpfully pointed out, I now have no wisdom left. A broken wisdom tooth kicked it all off, with the dentist being professional and efficient in removing the broken tooth, which unfortunately needed slicing the gum and then stitching up. This fun procedure was then repeated on the other side about 6 weeks later, slice the lower gum to remove the tooth and stitch back together, with the upper wisdom teeth being yanked on same day as the respective lower one. To say it's been painful covers it, but more to the point it's been a huge inconvenience for the duration of the healing process, which has at times left me grumpy (or grumpier than usual) and mildly sleep deprived. Glad it's done though and basically back to normal now.

Friday 9 February 2018

Making progress in the CNI region.

In an effort to keep my blog a bit more up to date, I've kicked off the next instalment a bit earlier.

Looking back at the past year or so, we've arrived at a place where a number of Associates are close to their Advanced Test. A collective effort that has been put in by our small group, to enable our Associates to progress without delay, was looking like a perfect storm in the making. By this I mean a number of riders bunching up to go thru their Advanced Test.

What I've admired here is the way we've been able to work together, doing a bit of switching around as it suited, just to keep our Associates moving forward. With both Lloyd (fellow Observer) and myself on rotating shifts, this often clashes with Associates only available easily at weekends. Let's not forget we all need to fit a job and family life around the Observer task. In fairness there's also been a certain amount of shuffling done by various Associates to make their way thru the learning stages. The Associates that I've spent time with, all guys from different walks of life, there's one thing they've all had in common. An open minded eagerness to improve their biking skills.

It's only fair that I pay tribute to Geoff James, the ever enthusiastic chap I first conversed with on the Kiwibiker website, then subsequently he's seen me thru to the current stage I'm at. Only fitting that in recent days Geoff was offered the position of Examiner for our CNI region, certainly a just reward for the effort he's put into revitalising IAM in his patch.

Geoff certainly won't be short of Associates to practise his new title on! This will shortly kick up another gear, or at least that's how I'm seeing it. We have a number of trainee Observers in the wings, which will be signed off in months to come, and the cycle will start all over again. The main difference now though, we can handle a few more Associates coming thru. Or put it another way, we now have capacity to take on more Associates to keep the group growing. Our waiting list is relatively short, so it won't be long before we're open to taking in fresh Associates.

On that note I'm thrilled to share what trainee Observer Tony Knight got up to. In an issue of Bikerider mag, he'd spotted an article on Roadcraft, which he reckoned was written somewhat poorly. So Tony got in touch with Sean Willmot, assistant editor for Bikerider mag. As per below, Sean took his Initial Assessment with Tony and Geoff just recently. The article below can be found in March 2018 issue of Bikerider:

Have to admit the article is well written, it certainly embodies the relaxed but thorough approach IAM takes. Now for the responses to what Tony kicked off with Sean aye?

For me the topic of post license training, especially for motorcycles, is a no brainer. Talking to some of the providers who run the Rideforever courses, the reluctance against further training shown by the motorcycling population overall seems to be waning slowly. In practical terms the Rideforever series, and to a much greater degree what AIM does, is merely a stopgap measure to improved licensing standards. Until the powers that be get around to that though, well let's just say I wasn't going to wait for an official directive to improve my skills. Fortunately bikers seem to be getting the message that improving their skills is worthwhile, whether it be avoiding a coffin or hospital food.

On a more personal note, I've found the IAM lads overall very much devoid of ego, so it makes for a genuine non threatening learning environment. As we grow, this will require some guarding so as to not get off track on that topic. A recent social outing for CNI was well received by all who managed to take part. Now we just have to try and have more of these.

On a rather wet Saturday, have just been out with a new Associate in our region. He's done a number of Rideforever courses, asked what next of the trainer, and he's ended up talking to IAM. The really neat thing for me, is how a rider who has taken on board all the Rideforever coaching, comes to IAM with all the basics for Roadcraft already instilled into him. No surprise there, for Roadcraft is the basis for Rideforever. The difference is in the detail of course. Not for everyone I'll admit, but then biking safely and smoothly need not be a boring activity at all. This misconception that IAM and Roadcraft is boring and slow, is fading away gradually. Heck, some of us even partake in track days.

All we need now is some settled weather to keep making progress...

Sunday 21 January 2018

The first year as Observer

This month marks the first anniversary of gaining the Observer tag for IAM, so an opportune time to cast my mind over the past 12 months.

It's been an interesting experience to date, many positives and the odd negative as well. Seeing riders improve with suitable guidance is always a buzz, that's a given for me and it explains my passion for helping others. The downsides are few and far between, although I'll admit that seeing and hearing some narrow minded folks running down post licence training...well it grinds my gears a bit.

In my work environment we have a similar division between those who want to keep improving, and a small number who view any initiative to "be the best you can be" with not just suspicion but even derision. Not always the older chaps either, maybe it's just not cool to be compliant, safe and sensible aye? Fortunately, the tide seems to be turning as it appears resistance to post licence training is waning in some quarters. Same as at work, once the results start to show through, more are willing to have a closer look.

Take the ACC sponsored Rideforever series as an example. At the outset, only those who craved improvement went along. I can admit to being a participant in post licence training as soon as it became readily available. The funny thing that has stood out is how resistance to this type of training seems to have waned. As an Observer for IAM, my view is that we can take over from where the Gold course signs off. The basis for Rideforever is Roadcraft, so anyone following R4E on with IAM, will quickly see the basics are the same. Where IAM differs is we have the luxury to finesse more details, firstly as it's done one on one, and secondly the coaching is ongoing. Well, ongoing until an Associate reaches the standard required for the Advanced Test or until they give up I suppose.

So if you've done R4E you may have noticed the tendency for a day course to be driven largely from the lowest common denominator? Now I've partaken in a few R4E courses, and I'm not knocking the series or providers at all, but it's inevitable that the least able in the group ends up deciding how much is learnt on a day. You can do the same course several times over a number of years and still only get most of the content or intent. That's certainly the thing I found, which is ultimately why I made the move to join IAM.

For me passing the Advanced Test was a stepping stone, then qualifying as Observer was the next one. Mentoring Associates has been fun so far, but now the past few months have been the most challenging so far though, as I'm now partaking in training the next batch of Observers. My two assigned trainee Observers are both trainers/tutors in their day jobs, so lots of similarity to my own background. Now both of these chaps can identify faults, getting to the root cause of these faults is another step, then working on corrective action is another skill. I suppose it gets easier with time, and we have multiple rides to work thru. Take for example when an Associate tends to brake often for easy bends, is this a gear selection issue? Poor forward observation? Just a habit? For me personally it was a combination of all three when I was an Associate.

Then progressing to Observer gave me a new appreciation how tricky the task of the Observer can be, now mentoring trainee Observers is cranking it up some more. But hey, we get to have fun as well. I'll share how me playing the role of fast rider, then having my trainee Observer following can quickly show to a trainee Observer how a mental overload can come about. The fast rider may have an Observer riding near or at their limit, which then leaves little or nothing in reserve to actually observe. So apart from giving a trainee Observer a real taste of this situation, we can swiftly follow it up with techniques for dealing with this, taking charge of the situation, keeping it safe and turning it around to maintain a positive learning environment. Building blocks or even light bulb moments.

The next element to keep in mind is that the IAM journey is one of multiple rides. So you might have been on a Rideforever course, the instructor gave you plenty of helpful advice during the day, but at the end you left without homework? Well, as an Observer we're expected to not just identify fault (root cause of fault really) but we have to correct it. At the end of a ride we have to send an Associate away with an action plan, so as to make a lasting change in their behaviour. This often entails homework of sorts, reading up a specific topic, then next outing we get to see how well this was absorbed. Now picture a trainee Observer learning the above steps. If one can picture an objective and break down the incremental steps needed to walk an Associate in the required direction, this is easy aye? Well, the Advanced Test is the objective and all that remains is for the Observer to keep measuring and guiding the Associate.

We all take a slightly different approach to achieving the objective, so we'll have differences between Observers. In some ways it's a problem, yet in other ways it can actually help an Associate. When I was an Associate it was certainly a bit of both. For trainee Observers, having a simple way to deal with what at the outset is one of the more challenging aspects, can help tremendously. What I'm referring to here is a trick to remember enough of the positives and negatives observed during a ride. This came from my day job some years back. Think of two pyramids, one for good, another for bad points. By nature we tend to remember the negatives easily, the positive stuff not so much. Keep the pyramids balanced is the trick, but we now need to add a priority element to both. The Wellington lads from IAM shared their 3 L approach when I did the Observer course. This sounded similar to a method from work, but 3 Ls made more sense, so I've adopted it and freely share this with my trainee Observers. The 3 Ls stand for Life / Licence / Learnings. So to use an example, if an Associate does nothing to endanger life during a ride, only one item to endanger licence, the rest is just learnings. It's now up to us to remember enough positive elements from the ride to "package" these negatives in between positives, so as to elicit an improvement from the Associate going forward. The term applied to this technique is the "shit sandwich" and it makes me chuckle, for it actually works quite well, so I've taken this into my work place. It sure as heck works better at eliciting improvements over time than the hard line encouraged in the olden days by trainers.

The variations between Observers could be deemed a problem, right? Yes and no. Before the Advanced Test there's this lovely element called the Cross Check. So whilst we can see variations in coaching approach, and even how one Observer scores/rates an Associate, by the time the cross check is done we end up a level playing field. I suppose on some level I struggle with this aspect, for to me the riding standard is fairly black & white and I'm used to working with SOPs and accepted standards in my work place. But oh well, human nature...

Those two words, human nature, are a very important part of whether the IAM approach works for you or not. An Observer needs to be able to relax an Associate, for this is essential to see the true nature or ability of the Associate. There are several high stress times for an Associate as they progress towards their Advanced Test. The initial assessment can have some prospective Associates buzzing with nerves. The cross check can similarly freak some riders out, to the point where their nerves skew the performance drastically. The advanced test itself, on unfamiliar turf, can once again unsettle a capable rider, to the point where an examiner may be wondering whether it's nerves or lack of ability.

Our methods continue to be refined as IAM in NZ grows of course. As an example, I favour putting an Associate thru a mock cross check prior to sending them off for the real deal. The objective is to help an Associate see for themselves they've got the topic under control, in effect quelling the self doubt they may have. Human nature again aye? Taking a rider away from their home turf is another aid we can use, again it instills self confidence if they can perform to a high standard on unfamiliar roads. We're never going to turn a back country resident into a city slicker, with the tendency to lane split at the slightest provocation, but we can at least give them the tools to safely negotiate city traffic. The chap who only commutes in suburban settings can similarly feel lost on roads where the centre line ends, at least initially.

Makes the task of the Observer quite a tall order, or at least appear like it at first. As perverse as this may sound, enjoying it more than ever though, and learning all the while myself.

Sunday 12 November 2017

Rider experience of Michelin Pilot Power 3

This is my experience of the Michelin Pilot Power 3, no I'm not being sponsored by Mr Michelin, although one could be forgiven for jumping to that conclusion as I've used a fair few Michelins over recent years.

Now I bought 2 sets of these, one in the standard size for my Busa, the obligatory 120/70-17 front and 190/50-17 rear. The second set I got with a 55 section rear. The set with the 55 section rear lasted around 8,500 km, which surprised me somewhat. One track day in late summer saw them respond nicely to a drop in pressure, but as this was a track based training day, we never got to stress the tyre to its true limits. In fairness this is not really the best choice from Michelin for track work anyway, and combined with a hefty powerful bike, it's fairly easy to find the traction limits of this tyre coming out of the tighter turns on track.

Being a Dutchie there was obviously some maths involved in the purchase of tyres haha. Had run two sets of Michelin Pilot Road 4 before the Pilot Power 3, following the same 50 and 55 section rear tyre trial. The 50 section Pilot Road 4 made the bike a bit sluggish to respond to direction changes, the 55 section Pilot Road 4 improved that a fair bit. Changing to the Pilot Power 3 was obviously going to be a serious change, especially as I started with the 55 section rear. Given the PR4 set cost a touch over $600 and got me about 12,000 km and the PP3 set was just on $400 and got me 8,500 km there was nothing in it looking at cost.

The difference is in how the bike feels, obviously! A sporty bike feels more lively with a sporty tyre which the PP3 certainly is. Having run PR4 on the same bike it will come as no surprise that I prefer the PP3 as it lets the bike use its performance more freely, without unduly hurting my squeaky wallet. In the wet the PP3 felt safe and secure, if anything it was a straight match for the PR4, at least in my experience. Now I'm not a fan of riding in the rain as such, but it doesn't phase me either. It's obviously not a scientific approach, but the seat of the pants impression of PP3 was the same as for PR4.

Now to add the impression of a Bridgestone S20 set that I ran on the Busa, straight after the OE Bridgestones were done, these S20s didn't like cold wet conditions at all. Given that the S20 and PP3 were developed at about the same time, one could reasonably make a direct comparison. On the basis of my experience, for my usage I'd not run another S20 or even the newer S21. Add in the fact that the S20s were toast after a mere 5,000 km, the value equation obviously favours the PP3. Yes it's that Dutchie coming out in me haha.

One aspect that may disturb Michelin users, is the slight step in the tread that shows where the centre (firm) tread compound meets the edge (softer) compound. The pic below shows rear tyre on current set of PP3s which is down to 2.5 mm in centre. This will likely see rear down to legal 1.5 mm by the time 8,000 km comes around. Front won't be far behind by this stage, so that will see this set come off.

Not just a visual thing, a distinct lip can be felt.

Mildly alarming from a visual perspective, no worries in practical sense, the ridge where centre and edge compounds meet.

Nice and shiny when new...

Seeing it's been a year or two since I've tried another manufacturers' offerings, have got a set of Metzeler M7RRs sitting ready to take over from the PP3s when they reach the limit. 

The Metzeler M7RR has a fairly narrow centre (firm) compound, along with some fancy varying belt tech to give life on the straights and grip on the bends. Be interesting to see how this plays out in real life. Yes I'm a bit of a nerd, fussing over tyre pressures and suspension settings from one tyre set to the next.

Will report back once I've got a handle on how the Metzelers are progressing. In due course I'll end up on a sport touring type tyre again, just couldn't resist sampling the latest sporty tyre offering. All for purely scientific comparison purposes, honestly!!

Let me sign off with a blanket statement. There's no such thing as a bad tyre nowadays. Buy a tyre from one of the major manufacturers, look after the pressures, and you can't go wrong. The variation that counts is rider skill/ability. So when I hear a rider blame the tyres for every single loss of traction event they've had, I just try my level best not to giggle at their unwitting admission of poor skills...

The passion is rewarded...

So yeah the word passion evokes different responses, depending on the context. For those with filthy minds, take a moment if you need one haha.

For me, and I'm upfront about it, passing on knowledge and watching others grow is best summed up as a passion. Still, it's very rewarding to get the occasional reminder when a trainee puts all the elements we've worked on together. That eureka moment when a chap reaches a point where he suddenly puts all the pieces together, and that old cliche about the end result being more than the sum of the parts comes to mind.

Let's not get into names in this instance, for the rider I'm referring to started off at a modest level. In reality he's not that far removed from what is in some ways an average rider, predominantly commuting, not afraid of wet roads perse, yet take him onto the open road in the wet and the confidence level plummets.

To explain this, let me go backwards. In order to approach any riding situation, the IAM uses Roadcraft of course, if you don't have a structured plan for dealing with what's coming at you there's a tendency to rely on luck. We all know this runs out eventually.

Over a period of months I'd gradually worked on putting the structure in place for this chap, then came the opportunity to put these newly gained skills to use. A damp road with a variation in surface quality, in other words the ideal place to use SSV. It helped that I knew the route well, and that other traffic could scoot past if need be. As it turns out, my trainee surprised not just himself but also me! I'll be fair in that I used plenty of demo running to placate any residual fear in my trainee, so when it was his turn to take the lead, he seemed quite relaxed at simply using SSV to pick a sensible path thru the surface variations. Moderating the pace according to the situation was simply IPSGA at play.

This particular ride was intended to be around 1.5 to 2 hours maximum. As my trainee was relishing his own accelerated learning curve, we took the opportunity to keep at it for a bit longer. The grin factor was there and watching him become smoother and faster, all in perfect control, was where that word passion comes to mind again. It's just cool to see someone take your coaching on board and thus make a quantum leap.

The next outing with the above trainee, I began by building on the learnings from our previous run. This quickly led to a mid ride chat, and the finer points of throttle control. It was partly prompted by a remark made by my trainee about tyres. He was looking at his front tyre and remarked how the front had a lightly feathered feel to it, whereas his rear was smoother in comparison. Yes I'd noted this before. Then he looked at my tyres and found the reverse. This led to a chat about chasing the vanishing point along with throttle sense. In earlier rides I'd gotten him used to using lower gears to achieve good engine braking, then using this lower gear to negotiate a twisty section on the throttle and how this was much smoother as it kept the bike nice and stable. Time to dial it up a bit.

The topic of neutral or positive throttle to enter the bend, then transitioning to a progressive throttle as we go past the tip-in point, which is depending on how quickly the vanishing point is moving away from us...was covered in chat, then by demo and finally letting trainee try this at his pace. Basically a repeat of the previous outing, the leap in confidence as the progressive throttle approach now made the bike feel more stable under more positive acceleration. Yes I'd covered this approach previously, but without getting stuck on it, for there were quite a few basics to sort out before spending some serious time on this.

This then reminds us to simply follow the building blocks approach, for to use a building analogy, do we really want the roofing crew to turn up before the walls are up? Now I'll be honest, for at the initial assessment with the chap I've talked about above, I didn't expect him to reach this level of riding this quickly. But hey, as Geoff James pointed out at the time, just tailor the observed rides according to the ability of the associate and build on it from there. Surprise surprise, it worked. Some folks are just a sponge for knowledge I guess. Yes I should have drawn a parallel with work, for some guys start off at a basic level yet grow quickly.

On a different note, recently had the pleasure of taking out a chap for his initial assessment, along with one of my trainee observers. We'll refrain from using names, suffice to say it was a bit of an eyeopener. Now my trainee observer in question is a very capable rider, so we may well have presented as an intimidating pair. Did our level best to chill the guy out, then go for a ride. The pre-ride chat item that stood out was the sheer number of Rideforever courses the guy had completed in recent times. So we could expect a reasonable performance one would think...

The reality was a little different though, and this was another reminder of what we, as IAM observers, consider an average rider. One of the items that stood out was the rigidity of the potential associates' positioning, so this had us transitioning to a demo ride earlier than intended, for it's about safety after all. Now it's too early to give a verdict on how this potential associate will turn out, but hopefully we'll have left him with a new found appreciation for the flexibility of the Roadcraft approach.

To follow on from the average rider theme, as part of my roaming the countryside for IAM purposes and various other social outings, I can't help but note the standard of riding overall is quite varied. Now let me be fair and admit that I'm not perfect myself. Right now I've got that covered, how would you feel if you've been following a guy riding a fancy bike, wearing all the right gear, but struggling to get around bends in a consistent fashion? On the odd occasion I'll end up chatting with a rider such as this, for I'll usually scoot past and be gone from him once the next few bends appear. Further down the road, be it a fuel/food/photo stop, this rider may want to know a bit more. For fellow IAM observers, this will no doubt have happened to you as well.

So what's the right way to handle such a roadside question? Well, I can but suggest humility is the right approach. OK, I'll happily point someone to both Rideforever and IAM websites, but beyond that I try to refrain from it turning it into a "damn I'm good" session for that just turns people off aye?

The importance to partake in social rides, to keep a sense of what constitutes an average rider is thus important, lest one slip into a mode of only riding for IAM purposes in some form or other.

The pic below is from this years' 1000 km cruise, aka 1 KC, with 5 IAM members (including myself) starting off from Hamilton. The damp start, or first 300 odd km, was not ideal and slowed the pace considerably, but we nevertheless completed the day.

The above pic is Rex Stentiford being presented his IAM Advanced Test certificate. Yes I know it's perhaps a little odd, but I reckoned it was fun to give him his certificate at the old Rangitikei River bridge on the Gentle Annie, about halfway thru our distance on the 1 KC. The grins sum it up. I have subsequently been questioned on where I intend to present the next this might be the start of a tradition, and why not?

Sunday 22 October 2017

Next batch of Observers 22.10.17

Seeing as it's been around six months since my last edition on this blog, about time I do some catching up! Have been busy on the work front, as well as doing my share of Observer runs in CNI region, the Observer training course just run seems like a timely reminder to keep my dear diary entries somewhat up to date.

Over the Labour weekend there was a combined Auckland & Central North Island region training course for Observers. Now I've been an Observer for barely 9 months myself, here I'm partaking in the coaching of the next lot. Is this intimidating? Well, yes and no. Watching the new trainee Observers struggle with the learning curve, as in the first intro to observing, was now very understandable. Maybe 15 months or so prior, I'd been in the same situation myself, gaining a new appreciation for the role of the Observer. Up until doing the Observer course, never really gave a huge deal of thought to what the Observer was doing "back there" when behind me, nor when he was out front doing demo work.

Now the full members who'd passed their Advanced Test, were sitting here, then out on the bikes, doing what an Observer does. Yes OK, one can have a bit of fun with this of course. I can distinctly recall being caught off guard by my assigned dummy associate, in the form of a fully fledged Observer taking full advantage of the caught in the headlights kind of funk I was experiencing when I did my course. Would only be fair to repay some of that now, and it will carry on in due course I'm sure. Now let's not beat around the bush, as a member of IAM, riding with introduced errors (on purpose) to allow the trainee Observers to get used to actually listing riding errors, just feels weird! It serves as a taster that the multi tasking element required of an Observer is quite a skill to master. In reality I found it straightforward, but never easy. The building blocks approach we used to learn the Roadcraft system ends up being repeated for the Observer learning curve, with the path to Observer being a bit easier than to the Advanced Test, at least in my humble opinion.

Geoff James fronting the class of 6 trainee Observers at the Pukekohe venue.

There are of course some very basic black and white elements to observing. Road Code and Roadcraft are written in clear terms, which leave little to individual interpretation. The personal interaction between Observer and Associate is where most of us have a bit to learn. Here we can quickly see who has done any kind of coaching of others, albeit that this sometimes leads to a somewhat direct approach. As in obey rule #4, don't be a d*ck, which for some reason was repeated by someone in our class. Very amusing, but a bit outside the no egos ethos of IAM in general me thinks.

One thing which has always stood out for me, since joining IAM, is that the learning never stops. This of course is quite contrary to many road users in NZ, they get their license, and then never undertake any training to either maintain or improve their skills. The result is that if one is involved with a road safety charity such as IAM, we can't help but shake our heads at the folly of Joe Average. At times we can even see accidents develop, unfortunately, which would be utterly avoidable if basic observation skills and discipline were used by road users.

Tony having a laugh while the Police rider is engaged in conversation inside...

There's no need to take ourselves too seriously too often, so we try to keep things light hearted, even inventing new ways to wave goodbye as the following pic proves haha!!

If you know this chap, you'll know he's always up for a giggle!

As I've mentioned, the learning never ends. Now we've got a handful of new trainee Observers, to match up with Tutor Observers, to put Associates thru their paces...and we're all learning all the time. I'll be brave and use the word passion, for I get a real kick out of seeing folks grow in knowledge/confidence/skill and knowing I played a part in that is enough for me. I look at how my own riding continues to improve, by being challenged, so I'm winning all the time. Getting to ride with skilled riders is just a pleasure, but in turn it also ends up skewing our view of what can be considered a normal or average rider. We tend to avoid those riders now as a rule don't we? For me, a constructive way to keep my gauge on what a normal rider is, comes in the form of partaking in a Rideforever course. And yes I did so earlier in the year, taking part in a Gold course, finding that my own sense of bad/average/good had shifted significantly!

Now the fun part starts, working with my trainee Observers to get the desired results.

Sunday 9 April 2017

Settling into the Observer role 09.04.2017

So it's been around 12 weeks since passing my Observer Test, must be time to reflect on how this has changed my view on the IAM world? Well yeah, it hasn't really and I'm finding that growing into the Observer role is rather enjoyable actually. It's a weird sensation in a way, now being the poacher turned gamekeeper, to coin one of the expressions I've heard in relation to the Observer task.

The initial trepidation soon gives way to just getting on with it. Yes the style of delivery will evolve over time, but the material that we're working with should by now be well ingrained into my approach to riding, so passing on what I've learned from the various Observers that have lent me their time shouldn't present a huge hurdle. So reflecting back on the first few guys I've been out doing observed rides with, 9 outings so far including 1 initial assessment, the word passion comes to mind. I'm really enjoying the passing on of knowledge, eliciting ongoing riding style modifications to bring an Associate closer to Advanced Test level.

The approach taken has evolved over time, with Geoff James now favouring an early introduction to commentary with new Associates. Funnily enough it seems to be working so far, to use the words of one Associate, it brings focus to the riding task he wasn't used to beforehand and thus automatically brings hazard identification to the fore. Now it's early days to give a definitive answer whether this approach merits universal adoption, but no harm in trying it with a new Associate, and if it works...well that's a bonus.

The variety of Associates that I'm working with at present is broad, two very experienced riders who are not far off from Advanced Test standard, one who is quite modest in ability and on temporary hiatus, another who is also quite modest in ability yet very eager and able to learn. So I guess the spectrum is covered, and it hammers home the fact that each ride really needs to be tailored to the needs of the Associate at the stage where they're at right now. The objective being to elicit incremental improvements at each outing. Then adding in how this becomes increasingly difficult as an Associate is approaching Test standard, so turning the focus then on maintaining previously covered aspects, while fine tuning the remaining items to the required level. Almost to the point of nit picking I suppose, but it's ultimately what sets an Associate up for passing the Test.

Setting a suitable route for where an Associate is at, on the surface it's simple, yet it requires a bit of preparation still. Google Maps is what I use to verify rough time and distance estimates, as I don't want a route to be too long or short, and whilst I'm still getting used to the various backroads I'm picking I'll continue this way. The urban and motorway sections are a doddle by comparison, for I know my way around Auckland quite well, and in reality the observing task isn't an exercise in orienteering but seeing an Associate deal with varying traffic situations.

With the Central North Island group not having an Examiner as yet, we're relying on having this task performed by our Auckland colleagues. I like to think that we'll grow to the point where we can independently perform the cross-check and examiner tasks in due course, but for the time being this is how it is with limited numbers of Observers. Pretty cool to be part of this growth phase, and I reckon Geoff is quietly chuffed that the huge effort he's put into the region, and us as individual observers, is looking like paying off.

The cycle repeats when the guys we've been coaching to their Advanced Test now, and if they choose to go on to Observing training, then get coached to their Observer Test. That in itself is actually less daunting to me, for if one can make it thru the Observer course then the actual coaching to Observer is not that big a deal. The logistics of getting a Trainee Observer and Associate together on a ride with a Tutor Observer, that's the challenging part!

Early days for me, but I'm enjoying giving up a few hours every second or third week to a worthwhile cause. I'm sure that over time the preparation required for each ride will become more efficient, as I fully accept I'm still learning as I grow into the Observer role. Not that the learning curve will ever end as such, but the efficiency of delivering the Observer function will improve I'm sure.

All in all, if one can find the time and enthusiasm to perform the Observer role, well worth it for the warm fuzzies it brings when one sees an Associate improving!