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!

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Observer Test 18.01.17

Shortly before the Observer Test we managed to sneak one last training run in. Geoff James brought along Tony Knight on Saturday 07.01.17 which served dual purpose once more in that I hadn't yet met Tony. Always good to catch up with members from IAM in my home territory so to speak, this being Central North Island. So it was fun to test my Observer (in waiting) skills once more, with Geoff calmly and kindly offering guidance. Always pleasing to see newer IAM members taking to the Roadcraft system with enthusiasm, then I found out Tony's path to IAM was very similar to mine. We'd both done the Rideforever courses and then asked ourselves what next?

Ready for takeoff post ride.

                                                            Midway chat in Drury.

Seeing Tony scooting around in a confident manner on his Yamaha Tracer was a delight. Pretty damn good effort all round from Tony on this outing, and finding him having the same challenges as myself on the learning process to master some elements was humbling. I'd had the same issues, so then being able to share my own journey and how I overcame the little hurdles along the way was rather neat. The process of helping others master a set of skills brings a weird sense of satisfaction. I've had this for years at work, so I know the word passion isn't misplaced in this context, for I thoroughly enjoy enabling others to do well.

But let's move on to the big day. Wednesday January 18th. After revision of Roadcraft manual and Road Code in the weeks leading up to the Observer Test, I felt ready for this event. It's an odd emotion leading up to this, not nervous as such, but rather keen to do well. If you've been thru it, you'll know what I mean. If you haven't as yet, don't let it unsettle you. In the back of my mind I figured I'd done the homework, showed my hand with my Tutor Observer on enough occasions and was found ready.

So Philip McDaid had brought in Keith Bishop to be my Associate for this event. Again, I'd not met Keith yet, so this was a dual purpose event once more. The info gathering stage with Keith was quite straightforward in that he's been in IAM for a while, so I didn't need to start from scratch so to speak. Devised a route that covered motorway, urban and some open road stuff, then off we went. The directive was to keep the run at around the 45 minute mark, and with a bit of help towards the end from Philip in terms of adding a bit of twisty stuff, this route covered the variety I'd intended. Now of course a 45 minute run doesn't allow for much in-depth stuff but that's not what it's all about anyway.

Got Keith to give us a couple of short bursts of commentary, which confirmed that his grasp of Roadcraft is sound. All the while Philip just quietly trailing in behind, which shouldn't be unsettling as such, but it's a different feeling to having Geoff bringing up the rear if that makes sense. The overall ride and then debrief was low key, and even got some nice feedback from Keith in the sense he liked my calm manner and timely directions. Always nice to get confirmation that my intentions come across correctly, after all we're just going for a bike ride, no need to amp up the stress level is there?

Thankfully the way Philip viewed my interaction was favourable as well, and seeing I'd managed to score 95% on both theory tests, things were looking up! Annoying how both the questions I got wrong, were simple things which I'll now probably never forget!!

So then I had to prove my own Roadcraft was still up to par by being followed by Philip on a brief run.  There was only one item on this outing that elicited a question from Philip, around the back of Taupaki we came across a car moving along a little under the limit in a mildly hesitant fashion. From where I was, this was an opportunity for an overtake and so I'd assessed the situation swiftly and snuck past the car without delay or hesitation. Then I looked in the mirror and found Philip sitting back and behind the car as its driver now kept a fairly steady pace. Momentarily I was worried, but then I'd not gone over the local posted limit even during the overtake, so figured the car driver just picked up the pace slightly after my overtake.

Back at Philip's Riderskills base we briefly talked about speedo accuracy, explained how my bike is equipped with a Speedohealer and how 101 indicated is 100 actual (as verified by GPS) and the overtake in itself was given the okay.

Quite cool to receive the big tick from Philip at the end of this test, not really sure how to best describe this emotion, for it's more one of feeling quietly chuffed rather than some weird fist pump kind of sensation. In no uncertain terms, this is why I joined IAM, to perform the observer task. I'll be rather humble and admit that I've learned more than I'd anticipated from the outset, lots of subtle stuff really and not just riding. The way we're taught to elicit an improvement in someone's riding is in some ways superior to the coaching methods we've been taught at work in the driver coach courses. I've even used the "shit sandwich" type of approach at work, and whether it makes you laugh or not, but it works.

So onwards and upwards, I still reckon we never stop learning and while now an Observer with my own wings, to coin a cheesy cliché, now being in the position that I aimed for from the outset of this journey...feels rather satisfying!

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Trainee Observer update 02.01.17

Today was most likely my last training run before the dreaded (anticipated?) observer test. Having spent some time revising Road Code and the NZ-IAM riding standard, the offer put forward by Geoff to try to organise another training run was much appreciated.

So Terence Gates, Geoff James, and myself gathered at BP Bombay for the first run of the New Year. Terry brought along his new toy, KTM 1290 GT, which is quite a neat looking bit of gear. There's just something about a purposeful bike that also manages to be aesthetically pleasing in an odd way. I can understand the appeal!! One way to describe it might be to suggest it's a Super Duke R for (almost) grown ups. Over the course of the ride Terry's new toy was exposed to pot holes, slippery shiny tar, some mud and even ventured mildly off-road by traversing a short stretch of grass. Almost run in by now then...

Had a wee chuckle when we set off, ducked down Harrisville Rd towards Tuakau and for a minute or two it seemed like I might get some "fast rider" practise. The smooth asphalt had Terry showing a nice smooth and swift line into the first few corners, and I couldn't help but think to myself that he'd been down this bit of road before. Next we got some damp surface and for a moment it looked like the nice outing would turn damp prematurely. Exit Tuakau and venture onto Ridge Rd, which much like its Albany counterpart has a nice selection of challenging aspects. No doubt I'll be using this bit of road from time to time. Rest of the route was just to suit the purpose of the day.

There is a degree of challenge in doing a trainee observer run with an ex UK IAM Observer (Terry) as his riding standard was of course very high to start with. Then consider how little there's actually to work on for improvement, so here's where I deviated from the initial plan of a mid-ride stop, for there was little to talk about so save it for the end. In hindsight it'd be better to stick to a routine of a halfway stop, even if it's merely a five minute stretch and a brief chat.

For me, with the benefit of hindsight, the above picture brought to light how some of my learning curve still needs tweaking. The example being how I took a seat across the table from Terry at the debrief, which goes against what we were taught at the observer training course. Try not to put a physical barrier between oneself and the associate. Mental note made. The other funny element, well funny to me, is how we talked about commentary at the pre-ride brief yet I never got around to asking Terry to practise commentary on the road. At the debrief we discussed briefly how to make progress on commentary, as in bullet points or words, versus trying to get whole sentences in. Geoff shared how I tried to do exactly that at my commentary learning stage, and we collectively had a laugh about this.

Route selection has been kicked up a notch as well. Given a brief rundown on what was expected for this run, I'd ventured out the day before to double check what I'd mentally put together, found no major hurdles so stored this away. Then seeing as it was a fine day, did a bit more traipsing around roads unknown, all with the intent of improving my local knowledge and for future use with associates. Without a doubt, it also renewed my respect for current observers, for spending too much time on navigating a route that one isn't entirely familiar with can detract from the observing task. Funnily enough, this was another aspect that came to the fore in the observer training course. So in a sense, being fairly firm about the route, then giving clear and timely instructions to the associate aids in freeing up time to do the actual observing task. Hindsight was working in full swing today...

Consider how on a 3 up run, associate, trainee observer with training observer trailing behind, there can at times be a fair amount of chat going on over the comms, which in itself can add to the challenge. Overall this doesn't worry me, for it is after all still a social outing of sorts as well, and in future when it's a one on one experience for a while it'll possibly be missed? All about keeping it at a level all parties are comfortable with I suppose, so just storing this one away for once I progress to being the training observer at some point down the track.

Start/mid-ride/end or debrief locations. Being creatures of habit there's a tendency to just carry on doing what we're used to, so I've found myself largely following on the routine Geoff put me through. Not a bad thing of course, but I'll have to put a bit more thought into finding me a few suitable localities to aid in me changing gears to the observing task. Especially more so now that my home location is 5 minutes from BP Bombay...

Some ongoing minor health niggles have provided an unwelcome distraction to the task at hand. Now I'm in no way unique in that regard, but it has served as an odd reminder of how little it takes for us to be distracted from full focus to the task at hand.

To end this "dear diary" entry, can't help but reflect on how the learning curve to observer is both challenging, but also rewarding in a very enjoyable sense.