Friday, 17 September 2010

How Many ‘S’s in Motorcycling?

A while back I posted about the expanding numbers of ‘E’s in road safety, starting from the original education, engineering and enforcement, and moving on to encompass (see what I did there? : ) ) Evidence, Engagement, Evaluation and Encouragement.

I promised that I’d re-visit this theme, and look at the number of ‘S’s in motorcycle safety. I also introduced that with a clip from Monty Python’s Spanish Inquisition (“Our chief weapon is surprise, surprise and fear” etc.). But being in a hurry I selected the wrong clip.

So on the basis that this post won’t have too many laughs, have a compilation of the the SI’s appearances on Python:

So, ‘S’s.

When I started my involvement in rider training (although, in those days we used to train the bike, because it was ‘motorcycle training’ :) ), there was a well-known, derived from police ‘Roadcraft’-based training, Four ‘S’ list:


‘Safety’ was the priority, then ‘System’ - riding to the Police System of Motorcycle Control:

Next, ‘Smooth’, all actions should be carried out smoothly. Finally, if all three ‘S’s could be achieved, then add ‘Speed’.

Sometimes, there was a fifth ‘S’ added: Gloss :) , or ‘Sparkle’, often defined as “That indefinable gloss” . . . very helpful.

After a few years of repeating that, it struck me that – in my opinion, anyway – there was a significant problem with the existing 4xS list: it encouraged systematic riding ahead of smooth riding.

In my opinion this could be unsafe. Why? Let’s use ‘braking’ as an example: you’re slowing for a hazard, you need to lose a fair bit of speed (more than can be achieved by just closing the throttle), so you brake – but rather than applying them smoothly you ‘grab’, with the potential for wheels to lock etc.

Reverse the order, and take a similar scenario slightly further on through the ‘old’ system: having slowed using the brakes a gear change is needed, but although you survived and stayed upright despite the harsh braking, now you’re ham-fisted with the clutch and don’t match the revs.

Compare this to where’ smooth’ is more important than system: before braking you change gear [‘System’ rider now having a fit, “No No No NO!”] – but match the revs perfectly and use the clutch smoothly . . . then close the throttle and start to brake, again applying the brakes smoothly and weighting for the balance to shift to the front tyre before braking more firmly . . .

So my ‘improved’ prompt became:
Safety Smooth System Speed

Safety Smooth System Speed Sparkle
If you wanted real ‘high standard’ riding.

This kept me happy me many years, provoking a few discussions along the way.

But more recently I’ve been thinking about this, particularly in light of my gradual move away from ‘advanced’ training.

A few years ago I took the decision to end my involvement with the BMF Rider Training Scheme, under which I trained riders for the Blue Riband Advanced Riders Award. This was a wrench, as I was the person who managed its introduction across the UK at 15 centres, launched at the 1989 BMF Show, and subsequently took it to 45 centres across the UK from the Orkneys to Northern Ireland and down to Cornwall.

Instead of training riders to towards an ‘advanced’ test, I’ve been working more on sorting problems, really helping riders to enjoy their riding, and overcoming hurdles they had.

As part of that I developed the three-level Whole Rider assessment format – I really must make that available some day – which is a single assessment format which can be used for all riders from novice through to advanced.

For riders who simply want to enjoy their riding, without the ‘progress’ imperative often felt by those taking advanced training, the ‘speed’ and ‘sparkle’ elements may be irrelevant.

Also, those riders may not want to ride like a police officer on his best behaviour, they may prefer to move around like a motocross rider, or hang off like a grand prix star. That’s up to them to chose!

So I’ve shortened the 5xS back to three. Keeping ‘Safety’ and ‘Smooth’, I’ve removed the final three and, instead, added ‘Style’.

As I was moving away from ‘advanced’ training, I simplified my basic assessment of someone’s riding (although I’d use the Whole Rider Assessment and an advanced test format as necessary), asking just a few simple questions:

“Is their riding safe?”
“Is the riding in control?”
“Does the rider know what they’re doing and why?”

Which ties reasonably well with Safety Smooth Style.

Now, Q‘3’ isn’t just about ‘style’, it also encompasses far more about the rider’s awareness and the decisions they make. But from decisions come style, even self-expression. Hence the picture at the head of the post :)

So now you know, there are three ‘S’s in modern motorcycling.

Or are there . . . ?


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