Course reviews from people in the know



Urrgh. My legs hurt. My knees won’t bend properly. My forearms feel like wood. And after 48 hours my brain is still stuck in an endless replay, running over corners and lines time and again. I’m buzzing and happy, in the way that you only can be when you’ve had an experience that’ll stay with you for years. And no, it wasn’t a club race. I’ve been on an advanced motorcycle course. Like most people reading this, I began my motorcycle career as a fully-rounded expert. There was nothing about riding I didn’t already know, so I didn’t need training – which was just as well, because I didn’t get any. But later (OK, 28 years later) there comes a moment when you look in the mirror and admit you are not Valentino Rossi after all. And that’s OK. And with that little hurdle overcome, the rest of your life opens up in front of you. And hey – maybe I could take the day off work and learn how to ride these tricky contraptions we call motorcycles. In truth, the idea had been stewing for a while.

Back in the early 1990s I’d met a Nürburgring instructor called Jon Taylor. Not only was he staggeringly fast and safe around that most lethal of circuits; his whole approach to riding bikes seemed admirable – the same kind of humility, simplicity and discipline I’d once witnessed in a fifth dan Karate master. Jon had won a couple of club championships, and he was also a police rider, though he didn’t fit my idea of one. Up to that point, I’d never met a copper who was faster than me. We stayed in touch over the years, and eventually I plucked up the courage to book a day’s training with the outfit he works for, rapidtraining.co.uk. It couldn’t have come at a better time.

Two months into living with a barking mad GSX-R1000, I was beginning to wonder if I’d lost all my reference points. It wasn’t the bike that bothered me; just the mismatch it created with the rest of the world. My instructor turned out to be occasional Bike contributor Gary Baldwin. Like Jon, he combines a lifelong love of bikes with a respectable racing career and a Police Class One certificate. This mix of skills turns out to be more or less standard at Rapid Training, even if it is rare as hens’ teeth. The format’s simple: initial chat, rules of engagement, assessment ride, debrief, demo ride by Gary, debrief, then ride and review until the day is done.

To spot how sharp your hazard perception and road reading is, Gary stays immediately behind you. How he can ride so close safely all day I can’t imagine, but he does – and the result is extraordinary. With Yoda on your tail there is literally nowhere to hide. Your riding – warts and all – is laid bare. ‘Ride exactly as you do,’ he told me before the first session. So I did, mullering the Suzuki in an authentic reproduction of my somewhat frantic riding style. Too bad his new 600 Hornet wasn’t even run in. And only a 600. After about 10 miles we stopped. Gary’s advice? Try smoothing out the peaks and troughs by just a few mph. Concentrate on flow. Wow. I’d spent so many years testing bikes I’d unconsciously developed a ‘road test’ style of riding. Sure, it’s smooth from a machine control point of view, but it forces the bike to do its stuff in an exaggerated way.

It had never occurred to me to work on my mental smoothness instead. Trying it out on the B-roads of Berkshire, Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire was like discovering a different rider. Helpful details? Those too – among them: drivers look at your distance, not speed, when judging if it’s safe to pull out of a side road. Forget indicating to pass cars: it leaves more brain spare for other stuff. Point the whole bike right before turning right out of junctions – it’s smoother. And I can now hit 30 and 40mph limits without checking the speedo. I came away massively impressed, and brimming with confidence. (Gary’s mastery of giving constructive feedback to the fragile male ego is, if anything, even more astounding than his riding.) And I can’t remember when I last had so much fun on a bike.



It is 30 years since I first ventured out on two wheels. Although I had a lovely Honda CB125 T in the shed, waiting for me to hit 17, this acne and angst-ridden teenager had to make do with a Honda SS50 supplied by the local RAC/ACU training scheme, as I learned to read the road, signal, turn, accelerate and stop. My training progressed apace, finally allowing me to take to the road on my own Honda. The little CB went, other bikes followed. I passed my full test and then came the matter of what to do next.

I was invited to train as an instructor for the Star Rider organisation and, bronze instruction licence duly achieved, I progressed to silver. I was now qualified to train pupils for the then new two-part test. But still I yearned for further development and it came in the form of the Star Rider gold award. That was 1984.

Fast-forward to a Saturday, 25 years later, and I was still enjoying my riding but looking to reacquaint myself with the concept of training. This time it was not a formally recognised body but Rapid Training, a nationwide group of ex-police motorcycle instructors who teach the art of "making progress". It's police-speak for going quickly, safely. I should point out, however, that progress comes at a pace with which you feel comfortable; they will try to take you beyond your comfort zone, but not too far. My instructor for the day was 53-year-old Dave Burton, who has been riding motorcycles since he was 17. He became a motorcyclist with Humberside Police at 24, later turning to car and motorcycle instruction. He has been training on and off ever since. He rides a BMW R1200 GS, but today he's using his wife's Honda Fireblade. Like 90 per cent of his students, I suspect, I say I want to improve my cornering ability (ie go faster). That's the beauty of Rapid Training. There's no manual and there are no boxes to be ticked – the day is tailored to suit the individual. And as it wore on, it became apparent that I needed more help on left-hand bends than right, but more of this anon.

The session started gently with Dave following me on various types of road to get a feel for my abilities. A debrief followed and it turned out that I do things too much by the book. Reassuringly, I'm apparently capable and confident, so the past 30 years haven't totally been wasted. After the debrief we try walking through a corner, which – implausibly – turns out to be a huge help. Apex, vanishing point and other key details are all brought into perspective. Another tip Dave offers is to talk to myself while riding: "Right bend ahead, vanishing point moving away as I approach." That translates as a chance to accelerate safely where, previously, I would not have done so. I can't begin to describe how significantly this improves my riding. The day then hots up. We're on to national speed limit roads and I'm encouraged to ride at a ''reasonable'' pace, with the priority being safety first. In built-up areas I must strictly observe the limits, but on open roads I can straighten bends at will, although it seems strange to be "making progress" with an ex copper on your tail. And unless your surname is Rossi, you won't be able to outrun one of these guys. The theme continues throughout the session, Dave taking turns leading to show me the right (ie faster) way. It looks effortless yet I'm using every bit of what limited skill I have to keep up and I know he's not even breaking sweat. This continues until we end with a refreshing cold drink and a final debrief. I chose the one-on-one option, which is more expensive than two pupils doubling up with one instructor. I was warned that this would be extremely tiring – and correctly so. My reasoning, however, was that I didn't want to be paired with somebody who can ride like Rossi on the road. Gary assures me that mixed abilities are not a problem and can offer significant benefits, because two riders might profit from witnessing each other's learning experiences.

The only time I've ridden consistently faster than this was at the Ron Haslam Race School last year, another day I'd recommend. On the road I've ridden longer, I've ridden farther and I've even ridden faster, albeit generally in a straight line. I have never, though, ridden this fast for so long and so far. I've never wanted to and still don't, really. And this is testament to what Rapid can do for you – it takes you beyond your comfort zone. Where I previously thought I was riding at eight tenths, I am now – thanks to Dave – achieving the same results while riding at five. That means I have a much greater margin of safety. The next time I ride this fast for this long will be the next time I do a Rapid Training day, which is already pencilled in for next year, and more than likely the year after that, too. Would I recommend this? Wholeheartedly, whether you've been riding for years or have just passed your test, this is bike training for life. And those left-hand corners? It turns out I'm holding my line past the apex, thereby keeping myself close to the centre of the road for too long and putting myself at increased risk from oncoming vehicles. Motorcycling is like life. You're never too old to learn.



Long ago in 2004 Mark went out with our instructor Phil Curtis. Tragically Phil died in 2005 of a heart problem. He was one of the nicest blokes you could wish to meet and a truly valued member of the team. He taught many of us the finer points of riding and instructing. The most talented of instructors he had a practical and realistic approach to riding which we have tried to stay true to ever since. We still miss him.

PHIL CURTIS job today is showing me the finer points of how to ride more safely and smoothly on the road - which should hopefully translate into getting from A to B quicker.My main problem is hammering up to bends, then bottling it and grabbing the front brake. So Phil says he'll concentrate on cornering.

While I thought I was setting myself up properly for a corner, it turns out I was sticking pretty much to the centre of the lane, give or take a few inches. And as for overtakes, I was barrelling up behind cars and then getting stuck behind them. He gets me to concentrate on setting myself up properly for a bend (to the nearside for rights and the centre of the road for lefts), well before you get there. It's obvious stuff, but makes a difference when you make sure you're doing it right. The "Thirds Rule" is next up, where you break down sections of the road into bite-sized chunks. You treat your exit from a bend as the first third; the straight as the second, where you start setting yourself up for the next corner; and the final third is the corner entry itself. This lets tiny brains like mine process the information from the road ahead without getting overheated. This advice has an immediate effect on my riding. By using more of the road, you get a much better view round a bend, so you can go round it quicker.

The next step was making sure you get as good a view round vehicles in front as possible, which again has a lot to do with road positioning. Generally, out to the centre of the road and not right up the chuff of the bloke in front. Again, fairly common sense, but the new bit for me was on left-handers. If you're sitting in the middle of the lane you can't see a lot past the vehicle, so the trick is to fall back and into the nearside, and look through the inside. "Sometimes all this shows you is that you can't overtake, but at least now you know why," says Phil. And this is where the planning bit comes in, always trying to maximise the view you get round a car or truck in front, so you go past traffic as early as possible without having to slow down. The System, as the cops call it, is about using simple stuff like this to maintain a decent speed for a sustained period.

The idea is to get into a flow, rather than stopping and starting all the time, and getting stuck behind traffic without being able to see past it, or going for risky overtakes.There are other ways of getting from A to B quicker on the road, but only by eating into your safety margin, which means that sooner or later you're gonna get hit by something. So even if you're already a fast road rider, you'll benefit from this course, ~ 'cos it'll almost certainly make you safer and smoother on the road - it certainly worked for me and has transformed my road riding. Good points: made me safer, smoother and faster.Bad points: avoid if you've any outstanding warrants.Overall: tailored for you, so even fast road riders will get something out of the day.



ADVANCED TRAINING? YAWN. Surely there must be some kind of mistake? I mean, what on earth would a subject so seemingly dull be doing nestled within the pages of Britain’s rootingest, tootingest sports bike mag? Well, simple fact is that done right advanced training ain’t dull and is the quickest way of becoming a faster rider this side of, well, anything really. And at the same time, it’ll reduce your chances of crashing and could even save you money on insurance.

The course I did was with Rapid Training, They are a top bunch of boys I first met a few years back when they transformed me from a fast and very dangerous road rider into a faster and slightly less dangerous one. Thanks to their easy-going teaching methods (you ride around a load of top roads and stop for a chat every now and again), I've been back a few times since for general brush-ups on my road riding and to make sure I'm not slipping into bad habits. Just having someone who knows their stuff analyse your riding is a useful thing in itself.

In the last year, I've done a stack more track riding than I used to but living in London my open road riding has slipped somewhat, so I reckoned a trip back to Rapid could be what I needed. Sure enough, instructor Mark picked me up on being too aggressive with traffic (essential in London, but pointless in the sticks), and peeling into corners too early (perfect on the track where the apex is all-important, but too extreme on the road where your view around the bend should take priority), otherwise I was bad habit free.

All in all, a good day out thrashing about the Buckinghamshire countryside with like minded bods. Instructive into the bargain too. Warren Pole


Simon Weir | RIDE

A spill can damage more than your bike, as I found out in June. Rebuilding the Ducati ST3 after my first crash for years took a month. Rebuilding my riding took longer. I was hesitant, my positioning was not particularly precise and I was backing off more than was necessary. Steps had to be taken. Enter Andy Morrison of Rapid Training, a former police Class One instructor, racer and current training guru who spent a day giving my riding a set-up. After an initial assessment ride, Andy showed some lines with his FireBlade, then coached me over the following 150 high speed miles. The result? I'm back to my old riding self - if not better. Invaluable.

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