Miles of Smiles

It was a few years ago when I did my IAM Skill for Life in my car. At the time it was great, an excellent learning experience. Combined with two Honda Mac courses and track days at Knockhill, it rooted my love of driving. As long as it has wheels, I’ll drive it. I was extra impressed when two of my best buddies in Aberdeen did their course too. Well done Mike & Ronnie! Already on the IAM Advanced Rider map are friends Shiona Rothon and Andrew Brougham. Andrew was the first person ever to take me on track at Knockhill. Blimey, Andrew you were brave, I was so nervous that morning I could only eat a morsel of toast. I will never forget your words: “Right, you’re driving like a granny, get on with it” (*note, that was intentionally a ‘G’ used there)…. now an Observer for EDAM.

Since then, I have become a bit, erm…. ‘hooked’ on my motorbike. I don’t know when it all started. I think I have to blame Ed for the surprise birthday present in 2009. Enter stage left: Smoggy, my F650GS to replace my first bike which was a SV650. I did have quite a few adventures on that wee SV. Two ‘not so comfortable’ ones were: dropping the bike in a car park BEFORE we got to the ferry in Newcastle and the other, the following year, hammering a pole with my panniers on the way back to the ferry in Holland. That resulted in my bike clattering to the ground, pannier ripped off. Ed panicked, and I stepped off it surprisingly calmly, and cut the engine. I had to learn very quickly how to change gear without a gear lever having broken it off when the bike fell over! When he asked what had happened, I said, “I hit a pole.” He quickly came back with, “Are you sure it wasn’t a Slovak?” My humour at that point was non-existent, so you can imagine it wasn’t until later I saw the funny side, boosted by one or two bottles of Magners on the Ferry!

Smoggy, far from Boring.

Smoggy however is a different bike entirely. He’s red for one (important) and is altogether much more comfortable, easier to ride and great for touring. We have covered lots of fun miles together up to this year.
The crew from the IAM have however, been encouraging me to do my Skill for Life course for my motorbike. Angus Maciver and Gordon Webster in particular just wouldn’t let it go! Thank you gents. Gordon handing me the IAM text book did it. No time like the present. I sent the form away.

I was nervous. As much as I had covered about 9,000 miles in 3 years on my wee GS, I still regarded myself as a novice, even having covered France, Germany, Switzerland, & Austria last summer. Ed had over the years taught me heaps, however, I wanted to be better, safer and more confident. If Ed tried to teach me any more there would have been a bit of a falling out! In fairness though, Ed has done a really good job of teaching me and developing my confidence. He has ridden bikes all his life, and to this day has never owned a car. He has however positively encouraged me to do my Advanced Motorcycle course.

My Observer was allocated from Forth Valley Group of Advanced Motorists – I know, it’s difficult to grasp that Tyndrum is in the Forth Valley. My driving Skill for Life in 2005, was done through them too, so it seemed logical to do my motorcycle course with them. Rory Colville appeared on my doorstep one morning in June for my initial assessment run (It was ‘planned’ he didn’t just pop up from nowhere!). There started an adventure. I had no idea just how much fun I would have learning, and how many miles I would do practising. In actual fact, I am still astounded how many miles I have covered. My two cars have been parked up, even in crappy weather!

Rory - Nurburgring 2012

No ‘Chicken Strips’ on me….

Rory’s ‘day job’ is working as a vet in Stirling. Really, how on earth he has time to work with all the ‘stuff’ he does for IAM is beyond me. His ‘other’ hobby is taking his Ducati (red, best colour) on track whenever he can. No chicken strips on you, sir.

The whole process is superb: regular runs with detailed feedback which included a ‘report card’ of your progress from your initial ‘assessment ride’; to being sent to a Senior Observer (or as it transpires, another Senior Observer) for a pre-test assessment check. To this day, I still have the first email from Rory, open in a tab on my computer. So much wisdom packed into an email and I re-read it regularly not only to remind myself of the journey I have been on, but also to remind me how much I learned. There was so much packed into that first email and every other that followed.

Don’t get me wrong, one of the runs that I had, I think it was the second one, my scoring went a bit ‘backwards’. It only made me more determined to go out and practice. I did however, after a couple of observed runs have a holiday planned: down to the south of France via the Millau Bridgewith Ed on our trusty BMWs (I put a ban on the Harley going with us for long-haul Alpine trips). From the south, we headed back up through the Alps, making sure we got a ‘foot down’ in Italy and in Switzerland on the way back! That will have to be my next blog. You, my reader will be here all bloody night if I popped in that detail, which after all covered 3,421 miles in two weeks.

Smoggy enjoying the view in France.

Smoggy enjoying the view in France.

Back home, and as soon as possible I was back out with Rory. It’s important keeping the continuity going so that if you HAVE been practising, then it will show, but also if you are struggling with something, your observer will notice and help you work through it. There’s a wee hairpin, down from the Wallace Monument as you approach the Causewayhead roundabout, at our mid-run de-brief he said words to the effect of “That was some of the best machine control that I have seen from you yet.” It was a nano-second later, he grinned having remembered what I had done on my holidays. Good to have noticed a difference though!

My biggest ‘eureka moment’ was slow-mo. I did my test about 18 years ago and slow-mo wasn’t really well taught then. In actual fact, it was scary just how inadequate the teaching was when I did my test. Yes, there was a CBT (compulsory basic training), however, it was exactly that, basic. My town work and my bike manoeuvring skills were pants it seems. (Not that Rory would have said that, he has more tact than me! I was pretty damn good at confessing to my weaknesses. Rory’s only weakness apparently is cake.) But hey, I live in the middle of a field. The nearest town is about 35 miles away! Rural driving is apparently my ‘strength’. Ed and I did both agree, even after another 3,400+ miles in Europe this summer that I was still pants at slow-mo, there was still room for improvement, memories of ‘must try harder’ on school reports came flooding back.

The first email that was sent to me included this statement about how to ride your bike slowly and most importantly, in control: “Secret is steady fixed throttle, slip the clutch and feather the rear brake to control your speed.”Really? Double Dutch. The penny dropped when Rory did a demo in a car park. Oh boy, there must have been a huge light bulb above my head and the sound of lots of pennies dropping that day as I stood with my chin hitting the ground watching Rory driving his KTM in a way I could never have imagined. I made a point of going back to that car park and doing lots of practice. Underpinning that was a Machine Control Day at East Fortune with EDAM – Edinburgh District Advanced Motorists. That was a blast. Didn’t think I could do such a tight figure of 8.

EDAM Machine Control Day

EDAM Machine Control Day

I am now on a mission to challenge Ed to a slow race. He is after all the ‘king’ of slow races. My slow riding has gone from ‘pants’ to being verging on ‘nae bad’. Seriously, there has been a huge improvement, cheers Rory and Roddy Benzies, (my instructor on the machine control day).

You know, once upon a time, some looked upon the IAM as being ‘flat-capped-fuddy-duddies’ really, you couldn’t be more wrong.  I have met some amazing people on this journey.  The experience in the car was great, don’t get me wrong, however, the dramatic difference made doing my Advanced Motorcycling makes me ride my bike with an ever bigger grin than I wore before.  If you were to ask Mr Colville what his hobby was, he would probably answer ‘Saving Lives’. He does too.. One of the key areas when you are taught is where to position your bike for safety, ensuring you get a greater view of what’s in front of you (never forgetting what’s behind you) so you can carry out all those required mini ‘risk assessments’ before negotiating a bend or a hazard. In advanced driving, this is known as IPSGA: Information, Position, Speed, Gear and Acceleration. Luckily,  having gone through the system before, I knew what was expected.  Life long bikers, like my hubby probably do this in their sleep, however, the system of advanced driving / riding,  takes you to a different level.  It’s that shift of learning from ‘conscious incompetence’; not understanding the principles of IPSGA, to being taught it to a ‘conscious competence’  level. It’s then up to you to practice, practice and practice until it becomes part of your driving  life. That’s when you  reach automatic pilot, the ‘unconscious competence’ level…. Get it? Got it? Good. That’s enough of that stuff. (That being said, it’s the bit Annie Lindsay will totally ‘get’.

There’s other stuff you need to do too, for one, there’s revisiting the highway code. This is a must, so if you have even the slightest inclination to pursue advanced driving or riding, then start reading now. I think I was a bit obsessed about it, however, was refreshing revisiting it. No problems with braking distances now, actually, I can throw in the ‘thinking distances’ too for good measure and with a bit of paper thrown in, I can fill in the gaps. Saddo. Imagine how I felt when I was asked in my test, “If you are in a queue of traffic in a tunnel, how much distance do you leave between you and the vehicle in front.” That got me. I was disappointed that I had ‘missed’ swotting that one as I had virtually aced all the highway code questions up to that point for my test! Pffft.

Other ‘dipping in’ reading is Motorcycle Roadcraft. Now it won’t be just dipped into, it will be read thoroughly from cover to cover. Apart from page 79, the second last paragraph starting ‘if the machine is banked….’. Ignore that bit, or even better, discuss that section with your Observer!


So, 5 fun filled runs with Rory and an pre-test assessment from Gordon Webster saw me test ready *gulp*. In the meantime, Rory buggered off to play on the Nurburgring (jealous!) so I had to suck up my nerves, go to the slow-mo day and the following week sat my test.

I can’t go into test details here. Boy, if you have read this far, give yourself a pat on the head! It was an ‘experience’ to say the least, however, the outcome was a pass.

IAM Advanced Rider

IAM Advanced Rider

(woohoo… jumps up and down with excitement!) The long and the short of it, if you love driving and you want to ‘save a life’ don’t hesitate, it could be yours that you save. I did have a ‘thanks, Rory’ moment on my way to meet up for a run, where I went round a bend to find two Audis racing coming at me on my side of the road. Had I not been doing my training with Rory, I would be mince meat. I was in the correct position, the right speed, the correct gear for said corner. I thank the riding god.

As for ‘miles of smiles’, my odometer on my first run was at 9,600 miles. I have covered a few more since the middle of June. It seems that until recently, I had covered more miles in the time span than Ed had. We are both on a challenge to see who gets to their next service first. I can see some winter riding coming on!

I loved it, and want to keep learning more from the IAM and I will be making sure I promote a Skill for Life. There is other news, however, that will be public knowledge soon. Perhaps if any of the Forth Valley Group of Advanced Motorists read this, they might comment on that.

So, a hectic summer. It’s been a ball and I don’t want it to stop. Everyone should be willing to learn and improve their driving as I did, because guaranteed you will have lots of huge, massive grins in the process.

7,016 miles of smiles

7,016 miles of smiles

14 comments on “Miles of Smiles”

  1. Craig says:

    Miles of Smiles indeed, well done that lass…
    And well done on the ‘not-public knowledge’…. ;o)

  2. Fiona says:

    Thanks Craig, it has been a blast, that’s for sure, in case you hadn’t spotted that! 😉

  3. Liz Stevens says:

    well done Fiona, I really did enjoy reading the blog. I wish I hadnt given up on my wee bike all those years ago – still got a licence, and I remember spending hours on Cannock Chase doing the slo-mo round and round from one lock to the other!
    Lets hope you get many many more miles of smiles 🙂

  4. Fiona says:

    Liz, Thank you …. it’s never too late to do it again! 🙂 You would love it!

  5. Gordon Webster says:

    Enjoyed the blog. Great stuff Fiona. Sheila and I are just back from a run this afternoon – absolutely brilliant.

  6. Rory Colville says:

    Well, it appears I’m lost for words…very strange sensation.

    I did 10% of the work Fiona, you did 90%, honest 🙂
    I wish all IAM Associates were as receptive, honest, humble and fun as you were. You’re proof that the Skills for Life programme does make motorcycling more enjoyable.

  7. Fiona says:

    Rory, lost for words?

    I’m lost for words! 😉

  8. Denise Veitch says:

    Great blog Fiona, and I did read to the end……! It’s great to have you on board!

  9. Fiona says:

    Thank you Denise!
    There was another IAM learning blog brewing in my head today when I was out on a run!!

  10. Angus Maciver says:

    I am lost for words. You have certainly made the news. Reach for the skies FI.

  11. Fiona says:

    Thank you Angus. Very touched! 🙂

  12. Husband says:

    Congratulations; I ‘m proud for you 🙂

    Seeing you’r confidence grow has been very special and I must pass on my thanks to Rory as he has probably saved us from many domestic disputes now that I’m not the trainer!

    Welcome to the ‘Miles of Smiles Club’ xxx

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