The Institute of Advanced Motorists – a bunch of gray haired fuddy duddies intent on killing all the joy in riding fast motorbikes?
What the IAM is, so far as motorbikes are concerned at least, is a bunch of seriously enthusiastic motorbike fans who LOVE to get out and ride, but use a system to help keep them from falling into the common traps that can lead to otherwise avoidable accidents – poor observations, poor planning & poor anticipation.
If you care to browse through YouTube and look for motorbike fails / motorbike accidents, you’ll generally see 3 or 4 main categories.
There’s the stunts that go wrong – if you will do wheelies and stoppies, frankly, what the hell did you expect??
There’s the ones where the rider gets it wrong – doesn’t make a corner (search for ‘idiots on a harley’) – or brakes too hard and goes down like a tonne of bricks
There’s the odd ‘first timer’ video of some poor soul revving the nuts off a machine and crashing almost instantly
And finally, there’s any number of car vs bike – usually the bike is whizzing up the outside, or the inside, of a line of traffic, and some car turns into its path – BAM!
IAM doesn’t teach learners, and it definitely doesn’t cover wheelies and stoppies.
That leaves cornering, braking, and anticipating the car about to pull into your path – and these are very well covered indeed.
What does an IAM course entail?
Well, I did the ‘Skills for life’ package which costs somewhere around £130 (a gift from my dear Mum, terrified I was going kill myself on my shiny new ZZR1100!).
The course gives you as many accompanied rides with an ‘Observer’ as you need to prepare you for your test. Your test fee is included, as is the book ‘How To Be A Better Rider’, and, best of all, you have a perfectly valid excuse to head out on your bike every weekend for ‘an IAM observed ride’ – telling your moaning wife/husband/partner to shut it, this is all about making you SAFE!
And it works!
I’ve already avoided 2 potentially nasty head on car vs bike accidents – anticipation and reading the road ahead are key!
The first time I met my Observer, a lovely gentleman called Lindsay we had a quick chat and went through a few formalities, like checking licence, insurance etc, he introduced me to the BETOPS system of checking over the bike before you set off – Brakes, Electrics (lights, horn), Tyres, Operations (e.g. steering lock check), Petrol, Security (loose fittings / any baggage securely attached), and then off we went.
The basics are this – You ride in front – you are responsible for your own safety and compliance with the rules of the road. IAM and your observer can’t be held responsible for you making a silly mistake! You follow the route described by the observer, but as there’s no radio contact (DVLA reckon this would constitute instruction, and IAM do feedback, not instruction apparently) you might well take a wrong turn – and that’s fine – so long as it was done safely!!
You stop at a pre-agreed place, and get a bit of feedback, maybe a few pointers to work on, get the route back explained, and off you go again.
The debrief is usually (well, ours were!) done over a coffee, and then there’s a big long feedback form for the observer to give detailed feedback on.
Subsequent rides pretty much follow the same pattern, and hopefully you pick up on the pointers given, and gradually your riding looks more and more precise, positioning and observations look better, and the whole thing looks more and more like ‘the IAM way’.
We did interesting things, like swapping over and having me follow my observer, to see what lines he took, and see if I could spot any mistakes.
Gradually all the little things you need to remember become second nature, leaving you to give maximum attention to any and all hazards. Spotting the hazards early gives you the best chance of being in the right place and doing the right speed to negotiate that hazard safely.
It helps of course if you are covering plenty of miles on your bike in between the IAM rides, so you can work on any aspects discussed.
You will cover a great many miles on your bike, in towns, on country roads, motorways – and the challenges vary depending on the situation. I found it a great excuse to get out and ENJOY the bike, instead of just using it as a commuting tool.
Before your test there will also be an ‘Associate Check’ – where another observer comes along, and might manage to pick up on something your own observer has missed, or might confirm all is ok and go ahead and book the test. My associate check was done by Rory Colville, the head Observer for our group (Forth Valley IAM Group), and it was very useful indeed.
So, having done the course and passed the test, would I recommend the IAM to anyone on a motorbike? YES!
Everyone can learn something, some probably more than others, but at the end of the day you will become a safer rider, with a wider range of tools and the understanding of how to put them into practice, and that must be a good thing, right? After all, the longer you stay safe on the roads, the more trips you can enjoy 🙂