Saturday, 27 February 2016

Half a day with Philip McDaid 23.02.16

Hard work!

Not in a negative sense though. Just watching Philip in action, then listening to the effortless delivery of commentary, is something to aspire to. Yes I fully realise it's his occupation, and he's likely done the same bit of road umpteen times, but still it's pretty to watch. At the outset of my IAM journey, I'd read about encounters with Philip, now I got to see it first hand.

Kicking off with Geoff James there were often references to how Philip would do something/view something, and it didn't take me long to ponder a session with Riderskills doing a Roadcraft course, just working out at which point it would be of most benefit to my improvement was the key. Left it to Geoff to suggest this, after floating the idea with him.

Having met Philip the first time at a social IAM ride in January 2016, the first impression was of a quiet and humble man. The title of Chief Examiner might conjure up an entirely different image...

So met up with Philip, and after a brief chat about what my intentions were for the day, proceeded to an assessment ride. Well my intent was simple, take a step towards the advanced test. So on to the assessment, only about 90 minutes or so, but it seemed like hard work. The ride itself was at a fairly relaxed pace, mixture of familiar and unfamiliar roads. Funny how when fatigue combines with unfamiliar roads, the performance loses a fair bit of fluency.

This last bit is what Philip commented on in an impartial manner. Now ok, I'm not sensitive to being assessed fairly and I certainly didn't disagree that towards the end of the assessment ride my fluency started to fade significantly.

Plenty of positive stuff in how Philip viewed my riding, so at least Geoff James can rest easy haha! So after a coffee and some more chat on what's next, we headed off once more, now with Philip in the lead and giving me bursts of commentary. Well not so much bursts, more like a near non-stop verbal version of what I was seeing. For me this was a master class display, not surprising of course, but a reminder for me of when someone is really good at something, they make it look supremely easy. Mmmm, so I could be either despondent about watching Philip in action or I could see it as a performance to aspire to. So exactly how many years will it take?

For the moment I'm still at a stage where I'm adapting to the IAM approach, as much as it makes sense to me, the variations of defensive driving methods I've been exposed to at work have had a similar focus overall with slightly different methods. In all fairness a good part of my challenge is to deliver a brief commentary in a swift enough fashion so I'm not getting too close to the point I'm commenting on. Another aspect is to touch on all actual and potential hazards and use observational links. Rubbish bins being out could mean a rubbish truck around the next bend. Proximity to a school at start or end time, maybe we drop the speed back a little?

Practice is the key obviously, just need more of it. Next month at work we'll be doing our next SAFED (Safe And Fuel Efficient Driving) refresher course, which has similarities to the IAM approach. Be interesting to see the fresh version of SAFED and do a thorough comparison.

Traipsing around the back of Waimauku, so near yet so far from roads I'm a regular on, was a revelation. Perfect for practising limit points though! Yes, an ST1300 and a Busa can get around backroads at a fair clip. We even managed to practice an overtake or two in these conditions, despite my bikes' lack of power haha... Now limit points or vanishing points aren't new to me, but commenting on limit point getting closer or further away, then using acceleration sense to traverse unfamiliar roads certainly cranks up the sweat glands, nothing to do with 30 degree ambient temps.

The good part was that cranking up the pace a little seemed to keep me crisper and the fluency seemed to improve. Along the way we had multiple stops for debriefs and/or reviews on the last half hour of riding, along with what's next. Good way to break up the half day into manageable chunks of learning.

So to cap off, I'm gonna have to work at elevating my standard and keeping it consistent. Simple in theory and achievable of course. Practice practice practice...

Anyone who gets the chance to ride with Philip will learn a few things!

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

4th observed ride 15.02.16

This ride was squeezed in at relatively short notice, what with a half day coming up with Philip McDaid the following week. We're all busy so it's about making the most of whatever opportunity presents itself.

The basic focus going into this ride, on the basis of run 3 assessment, was to maintain riding standard whilst giving commentary. Key comment was use observational links.

So this sounds simple of course, the multi tasking aspect of stuff that isn't second nature to me as yet...yikes this feels like hard work at times! But looking back at how I've made progress to date I'm not put off by this, just realistic about needing more practice.

Commentary overall seems easy, yet it's getting into the groove of providing the right amount of detail, whilst maintaining my riding standard...aarrgghh I'm needing to practice this lots more. The confusing aspect of how we were expected to do this in a work setting, combined with the faster pace of a bike, I'm finding myself running out of time. You know you're taking in the info in front of you, yet it's coming at you faster than you can provide an overview about it? Yes it's just about practice, and I just know I'll get better and more concise at it. I guess this is how frustration feels...

The irony is that in my work setting, by virtue of time on the job and extensive training, I feel in my element. Here on the bike, not so much. No this isn't a negative outlook, just a sense of not making sufficient improvement in my performance. Oh well, I've always been my own worst critic, and as long as it keeps me improving I can live with that.

By nature I've long been a chilled out rider, with my mantra being "nothing to prove" and this has to some degree come about by my work environment. The concept of "making good progress" in the IAM sense, at first anyway, seems at odds with that. On reflection though, it makes perfect sense. The sense of getting on with it, without undue risk taking, reflects the advanced riding/driving concept nicely.

Herein also lies a funny aspect I suppose. Riding a Busa one could never be accused of being short of power, yet it's perhaps my reluctance to let those horses loose whenever the opportunity to overtake comes up, that shows my learning curve still has a way to go? I'm not sure, but having covered a fair few miles on two/four/or more wheels has me quite relaxed about not rushing into an overtake. In the IAM sense, this long standing habit of mine needs to change, at least on two wheels.

Geoff also added a valuable insight, which should be obvious I guess. Whenever I'm doing (or not doing) something, it's worth sharing it verbally so the observer or examiner is aware of my thought process. An example being staying in the right hand lane whenever making progress is best there, or it suits an upcoming turn.

One final comment. I wonder if it'll resonate with others. My hobby of biking had become kind of stagnant, as in lacking purpose, other than to be an escape from day to day activity. To this end, a degree of law breaking had snuck in there, not all of it intentional. Looking at it now, even though I've only been part of the IAM realm for five minutes, the enjoyment of riding and more of a sense of back. Feels rather neat. Now to progress thru and make it to observer in due course!

Saturday, 13 February 2016

3rd observed ride 31.01.16

So on the last Sunday each month the Auckland IAM crew gather at Westgate. For the January month end social ride my observer Geoff James and myself joined this gathering of the troops. After the briefing, which served as a good opportunity to meet a few more members, Geoff and I trundled off for an observed ride. Commentary whilst maintaining the riding standard was the key element. Ridge Road was an interesting bit of road, short sightlines and constantly varying corner radii. Still, apply the system and all should be well huh? Almost, had to use a bit of brake at the beginning of Ridge Rd when I misjudged a corner...tut tut!

Down the hill into Albany the next small error, not getting enough engine braking going into the 50 km zone, so slightly over the limit. Missed a couple of head checks and while the ride overall got a good review, it's niggling to me that the multitasking elements take more practice than anticipated.

One very important thing Geoff pointed out early on this ride is to use shorter decisive phrases during commentary. My habit is to use "looks like" when approaching a corner, together with "tightening" or "opening" which suggests I'm guessing when it's merely a habit in how I talk or jabber to myself. Fair point though, and one I've been working on.

Another valid point Geoff brought up was to call out the speed zone changes well in advance, together with the requisite mirror check for aggro drivers as well as situational awareness all around. On main thoroughfare type routes, by nature of my trucking background, my familiarity with the roads and also speed zones I was being cautious with calling out speed zone changes coming up. Last thing I wanted to be doing was calling a speed change out before the sign is actually in sight... On the back roads this isn't an issue of course, but come onto the motorways etc and it's like my own sandbox.

The debrief took part in Clevedon, all very positive stuff, but as always aspects to work on. Joined Geoff for a trundle down past Kaiaua, before turning for home thru the Hunua Gorge. We both copped some rain but that's just part of being out on two wheels isn't it?

A couple of short practice runs in the meantime to build a rhythm or routine, but self assessment is not one of my specialties I'll admit.

Sunday 14.02 saw me join the Auckland IAM crew for a social ride. Quite a mixed bunch of bikes and ages of riders. Cool to see a few women riders amongst this bunch as well. What was most pleasing though was the general discipline of the riders, no squids or heroes here. For quite some years I've shied away from riding with groups, preferring to ride with a small number of guys whose riding is sensible. The system of ride leader, tail-end-Charlie and using the tagging system to guide riders in the pack in the right direction was new to me. Makes perfect sense doing it this way though.

Observing the variation of skill levels was an eye opener, seeing one of the newer associates have a moment and then let a bunch of us past, this showed maturity. Rather than exceeding his comfort zone, let the faster runners thru and it's no sweat. In some ways it also shows more experienced riders how far we've come over the years of riding we've done.

So todays' route took us from Westgate around the back roads to Woodcocks Rd, onto SH1 at Warkworth and gather at the Puhoi pub. For my liking this was merely a warm-up to a real ride, so I came home more or less this way as well. And avoiding the motorway as much as I can, why not turn off at Kumeu and head home across Scenic Drive? Yep, I prefer the back roads on my bike, especially seeing I cover plenty of clicks on main routes while trucking along...can you blame me?

Now Geoff has commented my riding standard has improved to the point where I should start thinking about a date for the advanced test. On the surface this is daunting as well as challenging. Off for another observed ride with Geoff come Monday 15.01 and the following week a day with Philip McDaid as part of my prep for the inevitable advanced test. We all go thru this in order to gain full membership of IAM of course, and whilst I want to do well, I keep telling myself to keep calm. No snipers on the ridges and no incoming mortar fire and all that...

In reality the testing of my habits/skills etc is part and parcel of my job, what with being assessed at least once every six months. The joys of driving fuel tankers I guess. But hey, I get days off during the week so I can trundle along my favourite back roads while they're deserted.