Bluhofi parked up while I'm away

I’ve been in Canada for a couple of months, and Bluhofi’s been parked up while I was away. I had hoped to borrow or rent a motorbike and do some riding while in Canada, but it’s not happened. Been too busy having other fun.

Have been kayaking, whale-watching, cycling, and more.. Can you plame me for not finding time for a motorbike?

I do find myself applying the observations while cycling too – quite useful in a country where you’re riding on the other side of the road, all the signs are different, cars behave differently, etc – but on a bicycle you have so much more time to make all the decisions.

Hope to be back on Bluhofi in December, weather permitting – and pick up the IAM programme as soon as Alan and I are comfortable getting out on the roads again.

Learning off the Bike

I did read Roadcraft, the Police Motorcycle Manual, a few years ago. I picked up a few things, but it didn’t really gel for me. Likewise, I didn’t really find watching people’s YouTube videos on riding enormously helpful.

But now I’ve done some observed rides, now I’m trying to put these things into practice, I find the book, and the videos, enormously helpful. The book fills in gaps in what I know, the videos give me great examples of what really good riding looks like.

I find myself looking at different things. Not just looking at where the rider in a video is positioned, but looking ahead of him and imagining his planning process, so I can predict where he will move and when. Watching his head movement as much as possible, so I can see what observations he’s making.

Alan sent me a list of great videos by a local police rider. I particularly like this one, as its on roads we’ve been riding on, and it shows positioning for view and straight-lining bends really well. The rider is just so smooth and controlled.

I just find I’m watching other riders so differently now. Just for a bit of fun, here’s an American police low-speed control competition. The riding is really impressive – what was my brain saying? Where is he shifting his weight? Is he on the lock there? Where’s his eyeline?

My next observed ride is on Saturday (after a morning at GoApe! in Aberfoyle). It may be the last one for a while, as I’m going abroad for work until early December. I’m going to be continuing to practice till we go, and I’ll have to find out if there’s a way I can get some riding done in Vancouver as well.

Observed Ride #3

My third observed ride today, and another 8:30am start at the Steading. On the ride up to Hillend on the bypass, there were strong gusty crosswinds, and I was having trouble staying safely up to speed. I was a little frustrated with the weather, as I wanted to really focus on making good progress on this ride with Alan.

This run was a long one, nothing particularly challenging on it, but lots of opportunity to ride at speed, and get some feedback on how I’m using the system while making a good pace.

I like this diagram to explain the system:

The System (Information, Position, Speed, Gear, Acceleration) describes the approach to dealing with a hazard: gather information early (and continue doing so throughout), make use of the information to form a plan, and communicate to other road users; be in the right place on the road, at the right speed, in the right gear to keep the bike responsive, and finally accelerate back to a good place after you’re clear from the hazard.

I rode faster today, despite the crosswinds at times on the A68, and felt like I was more relaxed, that observing further ahead was more natural. But it’s still not flowing naturally at speed – I had to brake slightly a couple of times, when a little more planning would have had me at the right speed earlier.

We stopped in Musselburgh for coffee and a chat at the end. Some great feedback from Alan again – mostly just good reminders of things I know I need to practice, practice and practice again – but also a couple of things I didn’t know: tips on handling roundabouts when there is no traffic about, for example.

After the ride, I caught up with Veronica in Leith, to help out with the swan ringing. This is one of the cygnets we’re been observing on the shore since they were eggs. Nice to see someone I’ve been observing graduate :).


Cygnet, ready for weighing and ringing

Getting some practice!

I was taking some time off work this week, so managed to get out for a couple of rides. I suffered a bit from not planning routes and getting a bit lost, but was starting to feel the system flowing a bit more.

Planning a Ride

I’m finding my observations and planning quite natural in town, but taking more effort at speed on the open road. So much of my riding experience is urban, that’s perhaps no surprise. My biggest fault in town is still trying to unlearn my habit of stopping using only the front brake, and covering the front brake rather than the rear when moving off. Trying to hammer that through my head at the moment. Remembering a different approach to parking still needs thought to overcome old habits too.

Out on the open road my observations ahead, mirror checks, and rear observations are more natural, but I could do them a little earlier (particularly the rear observations on entering/leaving speed limits) – but finding the mental space to plan ahead, and also take in the information from scanning to the sides early, still proving tough.

Practice makes perfect!

Observed Ride #2

Up early this morning for an 8:30am start on my second observed ride. Getting going was complicated by a large van, blocking my way out. I peered inside the open door to see stacks and stacks of trays of live lobsters, but no-one around. It was a fair bet that he’d be at the kitchen of the local seafood restaurant, though – so I tracked him down and got him to move the van – then texted Alan that I’d be a little late.

We met in the car park of The Steading, at Hillend. There was another rider there with Alan when I arrived – he was another Associate waiting for his Observer. Alan and I went through a BETOPS check of my bike – I remembered most of it, but with only a few days to think about it, it wasn’t completely automatic yet. Must memorise what my tyre pressures should be!

Alan then showed me the rough route we’d be taking, and said he wanted to focus on observation and positioning, primarily. This was something I’d read about a lot: in the RoadCraft book, and the MCN series of articles on Better Riding (which I know now are pretty much taken from the IAM Better Riding book). But this was a good chance to put those ideas into practice, with someone watching me, and get some practice.

Our route was out on the A702, a road I’ve driven in a car a good few times – much less often by bike, and certainly not recently.

I made my first mistake as soon as we were leaving the car park. I saw a gap big enough to emerge into, moved into it smoothly, then realised it was too tight for Alan to get in as well. That wasn’t the mistake though, the mistake was slowing down so he could catch up, and in the process becoming a bit of a hazard to the traffic. Should have just realised I knew the route, and I could head off and let him catch up – or pull over.

Once under way, the system of riding started to make a little more sense on faster roads. Planning where you’ll be positioned on the road: left for visibility on right bends, almost on the white line for visibility on left bends, the safety position in the middle of the lane when there’s oncoming traffic, or the normal riding position 18 inches from the centreline if there’s no traffic. Being aware of hazards a long time before you get there, making sure of good rear observations in advance of hazards. Having a better awareness of what hazards are.

What I was finding hard, was getting all that right, and riding at 60 on the open road. Focussing on getting everything right slowed me down, and making good progress is important too. We stopped for a chat, and Alan encouraged me to keep my pace up, as long as it was safe, even if I missed some observations. We rode back and forth along the same section of road a few times – him leading so I could watch once, then me riding it twice. I was still finding it mentally demanding to remember everything – planning, positioning, scanning to both sides, rear observations, etc – and keep the pace up too. But it was starting to come together.

My biggest fault remains using the front brake to when stopping, so that I end up putting my right foot down – and forgetting to cover the back brake when moving off. I’m convinced that I might have avoided the few low speed spills I’ve had over the years if I had been using the back brake more – so I really want to change this habit.

Learning points from today:

  • Remember the back brake at low speed – when stopping, covering it when moving off
  • Practice BETOPS!
  • Get observations in early, make sure scanning 9 o’clock to 3 o’clock. (Think like a Cylon!)
  • Get some riding practice in, so I can pick the pace up, and still keep the system in mind while making good progress.

First Observed Ride

I don’t normally take Bluhofi to work, as I live only 10 minutes walk from the office. But today I had a dentists appointment before work, and then my first IAM Observed Ride in the evening.

So after work I headed to Ocean Terminal, grabbed a sandwich and ate it quickly, then headed out to meet Alan, my Observer, at the McDonald’s car park in South Queensferry.

It had been a wet day, but the rain was mostly gone by the time I got there – wet roads, but no need for waterproofs. I’d no idea what to expect from the ride, but was nervously looking forward to it.

Alan was easy to find, white helmet and yellow hi-viz jacket, parked at the back of the car park. I pulled up next to him, and parked my bike, aware he’d been watching me ride into the car park, pull up and park up the bike. Alan put me at my ease pretty quickly – I guess I’d expected someone who was a bit of a Highway Code anorak, but he came across as a solidly competent rider.

We started with a briefing on how the rides work. I’m responsible for my own safety, regardless of what he does, or asks me to do, I need to make sure I’m comfortable that I’m safe. He’d be riding behind me, possibly to the right or left so he can see what I’m doing, and possibly much closer than normal. I was just to ignore him, and ride as if he wasn’t there – except that he’d use his indicators to show me when to turn. I was to show I was making good progress, but not break any speed limits – so where safe, ride at 30 in a 30 limit, 40 in a 40 limit, and so on – but not accelerate until past the end of limit signs.

He then talked about how I’d ridden into the carpark and parked. I’d pulled up by the space, and then, with the engine still running, waddled the bike backwards into the space. I think I’ve always parked like that since I got a heavier bike – but as Alan pointed out, it’s not safe – I could slip and drop the bike, it could kick into gear. Instead, I should stop, put the side stand down, turn off the engine, and push the bike back into the space. It’s probably going to mean I need to change how I park the bike at home too – cars often leave me only minimal space to get the bike back out.

Then we went for a ride – along the A904 through the varying 30, 40 and 50 limits. There was a sportsbike behind us through the limits, and it zoomed past us just as we were passing the national limit sign – a good illustration of why you should do a shoulder check as you reach the end of a speed limit. We turned under the motorway on the B8046, and headed to Newbridge, stopping a couple of times for a chat about how I was doing.

At Newbridge, we did some slow speed manoeuvres in a carpark – Alan asked me to demonstrate circles and figure of eights under good control. Its been a good while since I’ve done those, and I think a bit of practice would improve my skills, but I did OK.

We ended up back where we started at McDonalds for a chat over the ride, and an assessment of where I was. Alan said I was doing really well for a first ride – safe, legal, and showing that I had an understanding of the IAM system of riding.

Learning points from today:

  • Starting and stopping drills, off the bike with side-stand down when parking, covering the back brake when stopping and moving off.
  • I use the front brake too much at low speed (perhaps those spills in the past were avoidable!), I should use the back brake at low speeds for stability.
  • Road positioning – need to be more precise, using the “middle of the lane” safety position in 30, 40 and most 50 limits, and when there’s oncoming traffic. I’ve got a habit that leads back to my original bike training of never riding in the middle of the lane that I need to break out of.
  • BETOPS – the Edinburgh group’s system for doing basic mechanical safety checks on a bike – need to learn this.
  • My observations in town are good, but need to be much more definite out of town.

Next ride is on Sunday, so not much time to practice in between. I’ll get out for at least one ride though.



I haven’t introduced my partner in this adventure. This is Bluhofi, an 2002 Yamaha TDM 900.

I first saw a TDM when on holiday down south with friends – one of the people we were sharing a cottage with brought a TDM 850, and when I sat on it, it felt like the first bike that had been the right shape for me. I was riding an XJ600 at the time, and at the first chance, I traded it for a blue Yamaha TDM 850. I think a bike becomes a bit more than a machine when you give it a name that fits.

Bluhofi as a name came about from the discussion that the word “Blu” in Old Norse didn’t describe exactly the same colours that we’d consider blue, covering almost black colours as well – and it reminded me of the hints of blue I see in tyre rubber.  So, Bluhofi – “blue/black hooves” – and hopefully a steady stride too.

When I traded the TDM850 in for the new (blue, of course) TDM900, it felt like more like a new body for the same spirit, so the name moved to the new bike. If I ever trade the 900 in, I imagine it’d have to be for another blue bike.

Why learn to ride better?

It’s a bit scary when I look at my driving licence and find I’ve been riding for 21 years. I’m not a fair weather rider, I’ve ridden in summer, winter, rain, even snow sometimes. Most of my riding has been functional – commuting, going from A to B. I’ve done longer rides, of course, when my father was in hospital I was riding from Edinburgh to Dundee a couple of evenings a week. I’ve always been told I’m a safe rider, but I feel slow sometimes – as if I can’t keep up the pace that others can and be safe.


I’ve come off the bike four times, but never at speed. Twice it was when riding on snowy/icy roads (perhaps I shouldn’t do that!), once was on diesel at a roundabout, and the last time was the fault of a police car! There’s a whole story in that last one, but there’s a pattern to all of them – slow speed, losing control of the front wheel and going down. No injuries beyond bruises, and scrapes to the bike – but clearly a lesson I haven’t learned.

So I want to learn to feel safe riding a bit faster on open roads, and be a bit more in control when things are going wrong at low speeds.

A few years ago I signed up for the Police BikeSafe scheme – and went along for the lecture. I learned a lot: to look for hazards from far to near, taking corners at constant speed on a constant radius… but they couldn’t manage to set me up on a ride, so I never did the practical part. They did suggest I just join the IAM (Institute of Advanced Motorists) as there was a great local group, but I didn’t get around to that till this year, when I was at the bike show, had a little spending money in my pocket, and the local IAM group were there. So, I signed up.

There was a little messing about with packs not arriving in the post, me being away, bouncing forms back and forth (I think the local group could streamline their process for new Associates a little, but they are very helpful) – so I was a bit slow getting started, but.. I’m now signed up.

A little nervous, no idea what to expect, but my first ride with an Observer is on Thursday.