Speed is all too often mistaken for progress. In this article national observer Huw Pritchard explains how riding smoothly and to the system will get you there much more quickly and safely than inappropriate use of the throttle.
But my observer told me to go faster …
Every time I hear “But my observer told me to go faster …” it makes me think of the debate in the USA a few years ago about Creationism, Intelligent Design and Evolution. At the time a National Geographic magazine had the tagline “Was Darwin Wrong?” on the cover while the article itself started with a half page filled with the word “No”.
The fact is that the observers are NOT telling anyone to go faster at all; on the contrary, all observers tell associates not to ride more quickly than their confidence allows. However, there ARE times when the lack of progress is a symptom of what is wrong with the associate’s riding.
During wet weather I have often seen how some associates do not like riding in the rain one little bit. Of course, when the roads are wet there isn’t as much grip and, as advanced riders, we need to change our ride in accordance with the circumstances. The point is that the change needs to be appropriate.
A few years ago, I took out an associate on a very wet day who really didn’t like it at all. His body position on his bike was as stiff as a board with every muscle tensed; when he cornered, he barely leaned at all. It was obvious that his ride lacked confidence and it was this that caused him to slow down. In fact, because he was so tense and unrelaxed in the wet, his ride was not very safe. It was also very slow!
I explained how important it was to be relaxed when riding, even more so in the wet. I explained how modern tyres have almost as much grip in the wet as in the dry. I explained how it was important to avoid man-hole covers, but if the rear end does step out then by the time you realise it you will already have regained grip, so don’t panic but consider it as a warning and slow down a touch. I explained that one of the most important things was not to compromise grip by un-smooth riding. I also explained that as a CONSEQUENCE of smoother riding you will tend to make more progress, even in the wet.
And somehow this was taken to mean that I was somehow telling the associate to go faster. No. No. And just again to make sure the message is clear: NO!
Remember that the four S’s - Safety, System, Smoothness, Speed are not only in order of importance (with safety being the most important, obviously) but are also closely related. A systematic ride will certainly be a safer ride. A systematic ride will certainly be a smoother ride; indeed, smoothness itself is an indication that the ride is systematic. If the ride is both systematic and smooth then speed, or progress, will come naturally of its own accord.
It is very tempting for associates to focus on what they think the observer is saying rather than on what the observer is actually saying. This is one of the reasons why some associates will do almost anything not to show a brake light on the “twisties” because somehow, that’s what they think they should do. Once again, the answer is a very definite “No”. Remember it’s "brakes for slow, gears for go".
Just ask yourself, whether an advanced rider is more likely to use their brakes to scrub off some speed before going into a corner or whether they would prefer to make their gearbox wail like a banshee? Quite easy really, when you think about it. The reason why advanced riders tend to be able to go through the twisties quickly and without braking is because they’re using the System and so are riding in the right place, at the right speed, in the right gear at the right time.
Then there’s the question of overtaking. No observer ever tells an associate that they must overtake more – although sometimes it seems that this is the message taken on board, which results in overtakes which can only be described as “Hail Mary's”. At times in the past I have had my heart in my mouth as I readied myself for the seemingly inevitable explosion of metal, plastic and body parts resulting from a particularly inappropriate overtake. However, overtaking, in the right place and with the correct technique is an intrinsic part of advanced riding and you should be able to demonstrate it on any Observed Run or the Test itself.
The reason for overtaking is very simple: control. Part of advanced riding involves the acceptance of responsibility for doing other people’s thinking for them. This is why, for example, we will make allowances for idiotic car driving even when we have “right of way”, After all, in any accident, who is more likely to end up in hospital? However, when we follow cars and ignore overtaking opportunities, we are handing over control of our ride to the car driver in front. They control our speed, they affect our vision and ultimately dictate how we ride. As a result, the whole ride can become reactive: the car in front brakes and the associate riding behind, often too close, is forced to do likewise. So, who is controlling the road situation here? Clearly the car driver. The question then becomes who would you rather have in charge of your ride, the half-asleep car driver (possible chatting on their mobile phone or thinking about supper) or you, the highly trained advanced motorcyclist?
So, it is NOT about going faster. Typically, when we try to force the pace and focus on going faster, our ride becomes less smooth, less systematic and hence less safe. Our ride becomes ragged and red mist descends with the result that our evaluation of risk is impaired as well as our riding skills. It is always vital to look at the whole situation: if you’re following a van along a National Speed Limit lane which is only a car and half wide, even if the van is only doing 40 mph, a safe overtake is unlikely to be practical unless the road widens, so drop back, enjoy the scenery and read the road ahead so that you take advantage of safe overtaking opportunities when they arise.
If you are riding using the System properly then your ride will be systematic, it will be smooth and progress will tend to come of its own accord, including smooth and safe overtakes.
Use the System and don’t try too hard.
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