Thursday, 3 November 2016

Trainee Observer update 04.11.16

So despite the rather wet and miserable winter, progress has been made on the Trainee Observer front. I'm not going to get overly specific with names and dates this time, for it's the learning and growth process that I'm on that has a weird sense of satisfaction about it.

Digressing from the topic immediately, have used my learnings in some interesting discussions with both my dad and brother. Both riders with varying levels of experience, sharing the positioning concept was interesting. It led to some discussion on counter steering, touched briefly on the IPSGA approach, and whilst there was some initial scepticism on my brothers' part especially, both went away to review some suggested You Tube footage that showed correct techniques. Funnily enough, my dad quietly admitted that having the right fundamentals makes biking more enjoyable. Maybe I can convince him to partake in the Ride Forever scheme yet?

But back to the Trainee Observer path. There have been only a small number of training runs, mostly due to the weather not playing ball. The overall impression is that the initially daunting prospect of performing the Observer task, shrinks to a more manageable but still challenging one, with more exposure. Being located south of the Bombay hill places me on the boundary as it were between the Auckland crew and the newly formed Central North Island group for IAM, so there's been some crossover activity happening for me. This can be described as both beneficial but also adding to the challenge of the T Obs learning curve. For example, I've partaken in some Westgate month end rides, which has seen me paired up with Associates I've not known, and on occasion with Training Observers that are not familiar to me. Never mind the fact that developing a good route in that part of town adds another challenge. The upside of course is that if I can make a reasonable fist of this set of circumstances then doing the Observer task in my home territory will seem that much easier. Another positive is that I get to see various Training Observers in action, so I can pick the elements of their personal style that appeal or work for me. To make a connection to my work, my approach there is to show a new driver more than one way to perform a task (where applicable) and suggest he uses the one that gels with himself.

Some elements of the Observer training course have come to the fore. Personal style is one, it was mentioned that as you grow into the Observer task, you'll develop your own style. Of course one still needs to comply with the requirements, but this can be achieved by polar opposite approaches. Routing is one example, where one favours the GPS approach, another may just work on local knowledge. Both of these approaches can be deemed valid. The use of the prompt card for info gathering and laying the ground rules in the pre-ride brief has been another. One Training Observer will firmly suggest to use the prompt card until you know your stuff, yet another will prefer you more or less hide the card. Some of these preferences will have nuances down to the context on the day, hence I'm not hung up on the personality variances, it's the end result that matters.

The initial info gathering stage can become quite efficient with practise as well. The prompt card has some open ended questions on it, which could lead to long winded answers. One Training Observer is quite efficient in asking the same thing in a closed answer style which achieves the answer I want/need in a quick fire style. I like it! In cases where a new potential Associate is being taken for an initial assessment, one might favour the long answer version for the purpose of relaxing him/her . Then again an Associate who has done some rides already and I'm riding with him/her for the first time I'd favour the short version.

Matching the ride to where the Associate is at on the learning curve is a most interesting element. So I had the pleasure of riding with a fairly new Associate, he'd had quite some time between rides so we'd need to almost start afresh in a way. Assess current performance then tailor the learning component to allow him to grow. That was satisfying in a way, for the ride reports I'd read on him suggested a somewhat perfunctory way of riding when the reality was not as bad as the reports suggested. The benefit of time spent on the pre-ride brief certainly showed thru, and in some ways it's fair to say I'd had the benefit of calling on some years of work experience to tailor the ride on the day to achieve a win-win. So what if it's going to take a few more rides overall for us to get him to the Advanced Test level?

The benefit of spending some time on demo rides. So a comment was made by one the Associates I'd ridden with ex Westgate that he'd only ever had his Observer following him?! The day I went out with him, I'd explained the demo ride approach, and whilst I only used a brief demo to do commentary it was his comment about this being novel to him that threw me a bit. In the training course I remember the point being made repeatedly about doing enough demo riding out front, for various reasons. Geoff had me doing a brief demo ride to start a run with one of the CNI Associates who I'd not ridden with before, and to me this seems like a gentle way of easing an Associate into the rhythm of the ride. Let's face it, no matter how many miles we've clocked, when we were an Associate ourselves there was an element of nervous energy present at the start of the first few rides. So if this can be managed or minimised using an approach like this, why not? It's all about the end result.

One of the amusing and mildly frustrating topics of the Trainee Observer phase is the 3-way comms. Now I'll be the first to admit that I'm not a techno geek in any way, and whilst I can read and follow instructions, some manuals are obviously written for amusement to the writer rather than easy functionality for the reader! In due course we'll no doubt settle on one brand of comms, the Sena being most common amongst IAM members at present, and with more experience with them it'll all get easier of course...but some days are funny. On that note, with my T Obs role, have been contemplating whether to obtain another Sena 20s just like my current one, or whether to get a Sena 10C which has a camera, and then use my current Sena 20s for new Associates. Or dare I say it, install it in the wifes' helmet when she goes along as pillion? I can hear the comments rumbling in the background on that one already...

All in all, must just mention my admiration for those who have done the Observer role on an ongoing basis, it takes a fair bit of time yet it also yields nice rewards.


  1. Great post Rob!
    It's extremely insightful in that it introduces the complexities of tailoring a largely standardised system to the needs of individual riders in terms their experience, demeanour, the type of route you set and the specific focus for the ride. No wonder it takes a while to complete observer training but you're doing just fine!

  2. Cheers Geoff, In the interaction I've had with the various Observers I can but admire the variety of skills required to become adept at the task. As always, thank you for imparting your wisdom and guidance.