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.

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