IAM Skills Day & A Top Tip

All packed up and ready to go. First stop, Edinburgh for the Ingliston Skills Day. Off Ruby & I went on surprisingly dry roads. A deluge of rain had been forecast, however my timing was spot on. As I got closer to the East, I could see the road was damp. I’d missed the rain by a baw hair.

It was a great ride down. Right until you take that sweeping left hand bend on the connecting spur to take you to the bypass, where the speed limit changes to 70. I love that bend. It’s a lovely camber. No fun today. The traffic was backed up. That’s fine, I’m on a motorcycle.

Luckily I love filtering. I’ve not really had to much on Ruby with her panniers on though. On the overhead gantry, ‘3 miles of queues’. All the way round to the Dreghorn junction, I only had to put my foot down once at the traffic lights at Hermiston.

Go Ruby. She burbled, farted and burped her way through the traffic. It was a parting of traffic all the way. I don’t really hear what noise Ruby makes, with earplugs and riding her, you don’t appreciate it. I do now. She’s a noisy wee girl. I highly recommend filtering on a Ducati; not only do car drivers hear you coming, in urban mode, at slow speed, the wee Monster is a joy to ride. An amazing gearbox and clutch. So, if a Ducati passed you on the bypass, rider wearing the most impractically coloured gear, sporting a huge grin; it was me.

So, my job on the Saturday at Ingliston was to present a Highway Code Quiz. I had done some homework, emailed some pals for sneaky questions and pulled the whole thing together on Thursday. Yep, last minute works for me. For me, if I over think it or worry, it’s a disaster.

Know your stopping distances

Know your stopping distances

My biggest worry was the quiz being too easy. I shouldn’t have been concerned. Two groups done, a mix of car and motorcycle members, I think I was the most unpopular person there! Well, what was the point of it being easy. There were some healthy debates, Angus generally settled any arguments, Eric stepped in at one point just at the right moment to give a brief explanation on the difference between a Puffin & Pelican crossing. A few times, I found myself saying, “What does it say in the Highway Code?” Sorts out most arguments it seems!

“Pelican crossings. These are signal-controlled crossings operated by pedestrians. Push the control button to activate the traffic signals. When the red figure shows, do not cross. When a steady green figure shows, check the traffic has stopped then cross with care. When the green figure begins to flash you should not start to cross. If you have already started you should have time to finish crossing safely.

Then there’s Puffin crossings which differ from pelican crossings as the red and green figures are above the control box on your side of the road and there is no flashing green figure phase. Press the button and wait for the green figure to show.”

There you have it. Stolen from the Highway Code. There’s a Kindle version you know!

All in all, the day was excellent, catching up with folk, having a blether, breathing a sigh of relief that I didn’t have to do slo-mo on Ruby there wouldn’t be a strip of road wide enough! EDAM, FVGAM and Gill did a great job pulling it all together & I hope there’s another next year.

A chilled evening in the flat. Sunday afternoon I head off on Ruby down to Croft (again) this time with a heap of Scottish members for a fun filled day of learning, with ace Mentors on a fun track. Can’t wait.

I met up with Richard and John at Dreghorn, topped Ruby with fuel and had a short trip down to the Flat Cat Gallery Coffee Shop in Lauder. It’s lovely there. Eating great cake and being surrounded by interesting art work. John introduced me to it on our last trip. It’s lovely. Well worth the stop. After a wee bite to eat, we mounted our Ducatis and headed off. A wee sup of fuel in Jedburgh to see us all the way to Darlington. My, what a wee thirsty tank Ruby has.

It was a good run. John led the way, Richard tail-end-charlie. There weren’t too many nutters on the road only one Skoda that pulled in front of us just before Keilder Forest. Idiot. Just north of Darlington, we went our separate ways, Richard to a friends house and John and I heading to our hotel. It was good. Richard gave me some honest feedback, along the lines of, “You have 145bhp on Ruby….. ” That’ll be the overtakes that I decided not to take!

A lovely dinner with the group from Scotland; the hotel did a great job finding us a room where we could all eat together. It was Gavin’s birthday, so Angela had organised a cake and balloons.

I hit the hay early. The morning was glorious; blue sky no less. Early breakfast and off we went to Croft Racing Circuit. Registration and allocation of our Mentors for the day. My Mentor this time was Phil, a National Observer and a jolly chap. He had two clear rules #1 Don’t fall off and #2 Enjoy yourself. After every session, he made sure that we had done both.

This was the third time I had been to Croft in the last year. It’s a great way to gain confidence in your riding and to get to know your machine better. The learning curve on Ruby has been interesting, and it’s taken an long time to become at ease on the bike. It’s a wee monster after all and totally different to Smoggy. This time however, I seemed to get the gearing in the corners better in a sweeter rev-range and generally feeling more comfortable. I was also aware that I wasn’t being overtaken quite so much. My main feedback from Phil was to use more of Ruby’s power. I know that will come in time, however, I was comfortable with the speed I was going at. I had also chosen my group well. I didn’t want to go towards the upper (faster) groups as I had done on my last visit. My choice was easy; there were a shed-load of vans in the car park when we arrived. That for me indicated track bikes. Too hot for me to handle. It was all about learning and mastering the dark art of cornering. I didn’t want to feel intimidated – that’s easy to do! As for mastering the dark art; I’m getting there.

Then I got the ‘top-tip’. Kevin was Mentoring in the top group. Brave man. Kevin’s one of those mentors that very quietly and simply gives you advice that works. If you listen! My previous visits, I have been very lucky and been able to follow Kevin round the track. It was just before the last session of the day and he invited me to join his group for the last 20 minute session. I politely declined, though felt honoured that I’d been invited. I wanted to enjoy my last time on track; going up with the faster naughty boys wasn’t appealing. So, respecting my decision, I got one-on-one advice. I sat on Ruby and Kevin and I discussed ‘Positive Steering’. Now, I get it. I totally understand the principles of cornering. Basically, in idiot speak, you canny get round a bend without steering input. Most natural riders just do it. As an Observer, you need to be able to explain it. Right hand bend? Steering input on right bar, just a wee nudge. Simple. Sort of.

Anyway, as any good coach would do, Kevin checked my understanding of positive steering. He then asked if I push or pull on the bars, to generate the correct cornering forces. I am aware when I ride Smoggy I do both on occasions, however, hadn’t consciously thought about what I do on Ruby. So, his top tip, before I went out for my last 20 minute session was equal amounts of ‘pushing and pulling’ on the bars. Wow. Boy, did that work. All of a sudden, Ruby was as light as a feather, even more responsive and with an improved body position and being more relaxed, I loved the last laps. Thank you Kevin. You star.

Kevin & Steve

Kevin & Steve

Something like this you have to practice. So, I have. On the way home from Darlington, the weather for once was really good on the approach to home. No rain!! I was aware I had been given a very simple tip that makes the world of difference. On my way up along the sides of Loch Lubnaig, practising ‘balanced positive steering’ I was ‘feeling the force’ and did give myself a row for maybe riding a bit quickly. You see, the subtle difference did that. Again, on Saturday morning, I headed off round my favourite 90 mile loop and practised some more. Oh boy. Massive grin.

It’s great when people you trust give you advice. It’s even better when you can put it into practice. It’s an even better feeling when you can take on board improvements and then be able to pass them on to your Associates. That for me makes it so worthwhile. Every day should be a school day.

It’s not always about going quickly though, sometimes it’s just great to go out and work on precision. Even when it’s on roads you know, every time you venture out, the conditions and the traffic are different and you need to think. Sadly, there are riders out there that can’t think or don’t think of the consequences of riding too fast. They tend to end up in a mess. Fine, go out and ride the hell out of your bike on track, but try not to use our roads as a racetrack, because you know what? It spoils it for everyone when you run out of road.

So, I’m back down to Darlington next month again. Another IAM Skills Day. Can’t wait to play join-the-dots again.

Joining the Dots at Croft

Joining the Dots at Croft

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