“This will be easy,” I thought, way back then. “Spend a couple of days learning the controls and I’m all set. I’ve been driving on the roads for years…”
That’s what was going through my head when I went for my motorcycle learner course. Um, no.
I diligently undertook the two day learner course, soon realising road riding wasn’t quite as simple as I thought: there was so much to remember; new physical skills to learn; risks I hadn’t thought of; tactics for lane positioning. I passed and was issued my learner permit – but it wasn’t like I thought it was going to be.
Now for actually riding on the road…
I nervously opened the garage and warmed up my shiny Kawasaki GPX250. I felt very much on my own. Remembering my roadcraft, while continuing to improve my bike control, was going to be a whole new level of concentration. In just two days, my perception of road riding had been turned on its head!
Before long I came to my first round-a-bout. A car was slowly approaching from my left. I tentatively entered the intersection, making good eye contact with the driver to make sure they had seen me. As I rounded, the car started to enter, all the while keeping eye contact. I came to a nervous stop and so did the car. Barely a metre apart. The driver looked up as if in a daze, then startled. Even though their eyes had seen me, it hadn’t registered that I was a vehicle they needed to give way to. They waved “sorry”, I waved “it’s OK”, then continued on. Hmmm.
Barely five minutes into my first road ride, I had learned that riding a motorcycle on the road has a whole new set of risks to driving a car.
Fast forward to today…
In March 2016, VicRoads introduced the Motorcycle Graduated Licensing System. A major component of this is for novices to be coached and assessed in roadcraft, on the road.
As an instructor, I find that before the road ride, students range from highly nervous to over-confident. Some ask if they really need to go on the road. That’s actually a reasonable question!
When we head out for the first time, they are usually hesitant, riding slowly. At the first stop the relief on people’s faces is evident. Smiles permeate, nerves are reduced. We discuss the ride so far and what they have observed. They see the instructor moving away from traffic, leaving space, setting up their brakes, reducing the risks. They see why head checks are so important at intersections. A common response is that the classroom training now makes more sense.
After more practice the students return to the training centre. They now ride a little more confidently, keeping up with the speed limit, applying their new-found roadcraft skills. As an instructor this is very rewarding.
Students often claim it’s “the best part of the course”.
The VicRoads system involves subsequent on-road coaching during a Check Ride, and finally an on road license assessment. As an instructor, I see a night and day improvement in the roadcraft and risk reduction between riders who learnt under the old system with no on road training, and the new system.
20 years ago, riders first went onto the road with zero training, then were removed from the road until they had been trained on the range. Now we are in the middle, heading onto the road with training – a good place to be!