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.



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.