Sunday, 21 August 2016

Observer course 23-24.07.16 (plus first training run 21.08.16)

Fortuitous timing is what springs to mind. Having been fortunate enough to work thru to an Advanced Test pass at the beginning of July, barely 3 weeks later into the classroom to begin the next part of the IAM journey. Many thanks to Geoff James for his time and effort to help me get to this point in swift order!

Having adopted the riding standard has brought new enjoyment to my riding, most of you who have gone down this route will no doubt have similar experiences. What the Observer course is now doing for me personally, is making that step which was for me the motivation for joining IAM in the first place; helping others improve their riding. Quite an eye opener for me how much "fine-tuning" my own riding needed first though (insert face palm emoticon here).

As I'm finishing off this dear diary entry a few weeks after the classroom work, I'll admit I've been pondering how to encompass the past few weeks. The transition from being merely a pupil of the IAM approach to now being both pupil and proponent of same seems daunting. As I do some coaching of truck drivers in my line of work, lots of similarities come to the fore, yet initially I found myself getting hung up on the differences between mentoring in my work life and the IAM. This was after the first day in the classroom, when I thought about it some more that night, loads of similarities in reality. If anything, the IAM approach to mentoring can be applied to my work environment with ease, and would likely be received better than some of our present training methods.

So what is the role of an Observer within the IAM? This was one of the questions posed by Philip McDaid, our esteemed Chief Examiner. The simple answer is to take an Associate to Advanced Test level of course. The long version, well known to those of us who have passed our Advanced Test, is not always that simple. It varies from person to person naturally, yet I can see how applying the riding standard to an individual, then building him/her up in steps by improving the areas that need it...and before long an Associate should be heading in the right direction.

Plenty of amusing ways to recall the basic process of getting to know a new Associate and gathering the requisite info to form a plan, or as Barry Holland put it, a casual interrogation while putting him/her at ease. On paper this can seem daunting, but it doesn't have to be. Start with a common interest, motorcycles we've owned for example, ask some questions and let the Associate do most of the talking.

Accentuate and praise the good stuff and view the negative stuff as improvement opportunities. Sounds fluffy at first doesn't it? This was the teaching element on the course that had me grinning the most, for it just once again reminded me of the flow of positivity that I'd received from my Observer along the way. Yes there were things I could do better, but that drill sergeant style that some of us may be accustomed to from our boy scout days, it just wasn't there. Does it matter though? Well that would vary from person to person, and I'd agree with the sentiment expressed by Richard Turnbull (Akld Observer) in that I'd just want the stuff I need to do better on. Others will obviously need a more delicate approach, but I can't argue that as a starting point leaving a very positive focus on the good stuff and putting a positive spin on the improvement opportunities, can only serve to build up an Associate.

The observed ride report. Well it seems daunting at first. Looking at it in the classroom I was more or less slapped in the face with the realisation that I'd been focused on the stuff I needed to do better on. So when doing the dummy exercise with Sheldon (aka Alan Denness) after a brief ride, offering praise and criticism, trying to fill in the ride report and keeping a positive approach to it all...guess what? Oh so hard!! The prank Alan pulled on me both amused and unsettled me briefly. The joys of being a newbie I suppose. So looking at the ride report and trying to touch on every single aspect during a debrief, not gonna happen. At least not while trying to stay positive. An approach for remembering the main positives and negatives for a debrief was shared by Peter Hookham (Wgtn Observer) in the 3 L approach (Life/Licence/Learning) and that gels with me. Can be applied in many different ways as well, during a pre-departure brief as well as mid or post ride chat. In reality, if an Associate did nothing to harm life or licence the whole outing just got a lot easier I reckon.

So while the Trainee Observer learning process can seem daunting at first, and reading then re-reading the manual put together, doesn't always help with quelling the do I feel after my first run as Trainee Observer? Take into account this was a nice easy entry, with Geoff James doing the baby sitting and taking the lead still, with me doing some parts with an Associate (Paul Quilter) who in all fairness is an accomplished rider already. Much more settled and relaxed about the process sums it up.

Chatting with Paul Quilter at Ardmore Airport Café

One glaringly obvious aspect is my own positioning, the mildly overwhelming multi tasking aspect is back, new stuff going on and now staying close enough to observe yet back enough to stay safe...staggered formation at times and single file elsewhere. Remembering how we only really need to be up close a few times during a ride, settling into this routine of staggered formation in urban/motorway sections, mostly single file in country riding...practice is the key obviously. The role reversal aspect was mentioned in the course, having now experienced it first hand in an observed ride, this is the first thing I feel like I need to firm up into a nice easy routine.

In wrapping up this entry, let me just share a renewed admiration for Geoff and the many other Observers who have mastered this set of skills and make observing look easy.

Monday, 25 July 2016

Speedohealer v4 review/comments

So most of you bikers will have heard about Speedohealer? Well in case you haven't, it's one of several useful gadgets made by Healtech Electronics. The item I fitted to my bike is Speedohealer v4, which is a true plug and play item, with the v4 denoting it's version 4 I believe.

With most bikes having optimistic speedos, and with my ongoing IAM involvement, I was looking for a simple way to alleviate trundling around too slow. To give an example, my 2013 Busa in stock trim would achieve a true 100 km/h (GPS verified) with a speedo reading of 109/110. The previous bike, Suzuki GSX750F was even worse, a true 100 km/h would show 114/115 on the speedo although this was partly due to a change in rear tyre size.

So for a number of years I was using a GPS speedo, which worked quite nicely. Yes I know in some ways GPS will only give you a true reading when travelling straight and level, but if you use it to give you an indication of speedo error, the guessing is removed. What does remain a downside, and here my Dutch blood shows through, speedo error directly translates to odometer error, so an optimistic speedo will also mean an optimistic odometer. Shock horror! So the odometer would reach 100,000 when in fact I may have only done a little over 90,000 in the case of my Busa?!? Can't have that sort of thing eating into the resale value of my bike huh?

But serious for just a minute or two. So the Speedohealer allows me to correct both speedo and odo readings to bring them as close to true as possible, sounds like a win/win in my book.

Ordered the Speedohealer from the nearest distributor I could easily find, in my case which is in Australia.

The Speedohealer v4 is a standard item, you just have to order the bike specific wiring loom to go with it. So how does it work? Well, on your front sprocket cover is a speed sensor, this sends the number of rotations your front sprocket is doing, to the speedo. The Speedohealer allows you to manipulate the signal to correct the speedo error, with the online calculator on the Healtech website making this a breeze. A speedo error is typically linear, as in if it's 4% optimistic this shows across the range, ie 50 reads as 52, and 100 reads as 104.

In my case, using the GPS speedo I worked out that actual 100 showed on the speedo as 104. Different than stock trim due to a rear tyre change, stock is 50 section, now running a 55 section. Plugged these numbers into the online calculator and it gives a calibration value of -3.8% which I reduced by 1% to leave me with a true 100 being indicated as 101. My reason for this is to allow for a half worn rear tyre, and knowing a tyre will "grow" a little when hot.

The fitting itself is straightforward, follow the wire from the front sprocket cover speed sensor to find the connector into the wiring loom. Unplug, plug in the wiring loom supplied for your bike, connect to Speedohealer, tuck the unit in an easily accessible place, such as under rear seat. Program and job is done. On a faired bike, the hardest part is removing panels to get access.

In all fairness I followed up by several trial runs, comparing the speedo readings after setting the Speedohealer, with my GPS unit. Having gone thru this process now, felt like kicking myself for not going down this path earlier...

No wires need to be cut on your bike, so you can easily remove the unit when you sell/trade-in and use it on your next one. Just have to get the right wiring loom to suit the next bike.

Top bag is unit, bottom bag the bike specific wiring loom. Pen is to give idea of scale/size.

Pointing out the location of speed sensor on front sprocket cover.

Location under pillion seat, accessible for programming.

The temporary suction cup fitting of my GPS speedo.

The website link for your own research/reading:

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Advanced Test 05.07.16

On a bleak and damp Tuesday it was my turn for the advanced test...

Yeah ok, I'll keep it serious. Met up with Philip at his Westgate base for my big day. It's weird how one can look forward to something like this with anticipation, and yet also want it to be over with already?!

Having had the benefit of spending a few hours riding with Philip thru his Riderskills school, I already knew his relaxed approach. Theory part first, 1 out of 20 questions incorrect. Room for improvement in other words!

The ride in itself had similarities to the cross-check, bit of dry stuff but damp conditions for the most part. The variety of roads Philip took me on covered the spectrum obviously, and with a good mixture of unfamiliar and somewhat familiar at least this reduced the pressure a little. The silence over the comms, apart from giving directions, was a little odd at first. With Geoff we'd near constantly be delving into how to improve here, another angle on that, consider this etc. Now it was like show time, you've done the homework so just lay it on.

Accepting the fact the IAM experience is an ongoing learning curve, I'm almost ok with my performance on this day, for in reality it represented my best under the circumstances. Will I be better in another year of exposure to the IAM system? I'm sure I will, for more practice and mentoring will bring more accurate and consistent results.

So yes I passed, but let me be fair and focus on the important aspects for me, the areas that could do with improvement. Funnily enough Philip laid out three areas, the number seeming curious as it's been this way all thru the observed rides, three areas to focus on...a hint of things to come?

Observational links were commented on, as in there should have been more. Yes, no argument at all. More practice and focus will improve this I reckon.

Overtaking position held for too long. Absolutely. On the run from Helensville back towards Waimauku, the opportunity to overtake arose. Two cars were dawdling (to my way of thinking at least) at around the 80-85 mark, far too ginger (to use Richard T terminology) for the conditions in my book so in short order snuck around them in a decisive fashion. Further along though, caught up to a car that was for a good spell hovering around the legal limit, so sitting back seemed like the done thing. Then this car for no apparent reason slowed down a bit, so I got myself into an overtaking position, yet with the overtake not being on in short order...I failed to then drop back to a safe following distance in a timely fashion. Funny how indecision creeps in, wanting to "make progress" without getting carried away with speed, all because one is in a test situation. With the benefit of hindsight, a beautiful thing, the decisive thing would have been to overtake at first opportunity with a bit of gusto or just drop back. Had I been on my own, the likely approach for me would have been to sit back. By nature and profession I tend to be risk averse, a funny thing for a Busa rider to admit to perhaps? Just a case of finding the right balance.

Smoothing out the setup for right handers. A valid point of course, and this will lead me into expanding a little on another topic shortly. I found myself on occasion setting up for a right hander by leaving the getting into position a little late, thus almost swerving left to then crank into a right hander. Not intentionally, but it was fair for Philip to comment on it of course. Part of this action I put down to some nerves creeping in, and part to my observation skills needing further honing. One could thus ask when I'm late getting into position, is it due to me not looking far enough ahead or going too swift for the conditions? Again using the benefit of hindsight, bit of both. So again, not stressed about it, but practice and focus will iron this out in due course.

This got me into sharing with Philip something which has come to the fore in both my work environment and also when travelling privately. I found myself having to work quite hard when traversing unfamiliar roads, something that perhaps sounds obvious, but as a career trucker I cover loads of kilometres. The downside is that by the time one has travelled to a certain destination often enough, the road in itself brings few surprises, so we're left with just the variations in traffic or surface conditions on any given day. Take me onto unfamiliar roads though, and all of a sudden it's like hard work, and it shows up how "blunt" the observation skills can become. Partaking in IAM training and the most recent SAFED course we did at work, all made me think about this topic. So I'll be working on venturing onto unfamiliar roads on purpose to hone my skills.

Now I'm just looking forward to taking the observer course to take the next step as trainee observer.

Cross-check 26.06.16

So with Geoff James having deemed me ready for the cross-check, had another (weekday) outing with both Geoff and Mike Watson, who is trainee observer at this point. For me this was a first, a three way comms outing. Nothing untoward to report really, the main point of note being the obvious difference between an experienced observer in Geoff and a trainee observer as in Mike. Seeing as I'm embarking on the same path, trainee observer, this was actually a relaxing point to note. So much to learn, yet if it's done in building blocks it's not as daunting a task.

In a way this ride with Mike and Geoff served a dual purpose, in that both Mike and myself got the benefit of each other for the stage of IAM learning we're both at. Some of the route was familiar to me, and some wasn't. When he turned off onto the Coatesville/Riverhead Hway the guess was Ridge Rd...and Mike sounded almost disappointed when I asked the obvious. We also came back via Ridge Rd, and it just highlighted to me how technical this bit of road is, with a multitude of challenges all jammed together in a fairly short stretch.

This ride was treated as a warmup for the cross-check that was on the horizon, and as such it worked quite well. No big changes needed, and a nice validation that Geoff had imparted sufficient knowledge to bring me up to par.

Then on to the actual cross-check with Richard Turnbull. This took place on the Sunday social ride day, for which we meet at Westgate. With the weather looking bleak, we set off on a circuitous route, with lots of variety to cover the spectrum obviously.

At our tea/coffee stop in Helensville Richard explained how I could make improvements.

1. In the damp conditions I was tending to be a little cautious in cranking into corners with gusto, the word Richard used for this was a typical English expression in "ginger" which bemused me slightly. He was spot on though, for in hindsight I was backing off a little more than I probably needed to, then making up for that with a bit too much throttle once I'd had the limit point moving away from me again. In a sense, going out with different observers is helpful in this regard, for it points out the varying nuances that one can improve on. Thinking of it another way, ride properly and don't simply use the grunt of the big bike to "mask" what in effect develops into an incorrect technique.

2. Speed and speed creep was another topic we briefly discussed. I won't make any excuses here, but I found myself at times running 5-10 clicks over the limit. This was partly complicated by the variation in speedo error we each thought we had. In the end, I just treated my speedo reading as absolute. As the conditions went from damp to ever heavier rain this became irrelevant anyway.

The departure from the Helensville stop was delayed slightly by torrential rain, after which Richard led me on a route that was at first unfamiliar to me. So here I am on unfamiliar roads, with the weather getting worse, being cross checked for my test and it was putting me a little on edge. In the end I fared ok once I got a rhythm going and the various elements that I'd practiced repeatedly flowed nicely.

But you know how this goes though huh? Get into the swing of it and then you have a wake-up call. On the approach to Scenic Drive around the back of the Waitakere township there was this one gnarly corner that I misread. Focusing on the limit point, taking in the shiny tar and the rain, the fact it was far more off camber than I'd initially assessed had me heading for the centreline like a bit of a novice. I must remember how to get to this corner for it's a great leveller for learners like me.

Once we joined Scenic Drive and made our way to the Titirangi debrief point, the rain went from drizzle to solid rain, at times near torrential. This in itself, apart from being uncomfortable, doesn't worry me so it was pleasing to hear Richard being complimentary about me still making good progress in the deteriorating conditions.

The end result of the cross-check was positive thankfully, ready for the test!

I do however really appreciate the pointers Richard gave me to continue to "tidy-up" my riding. The speed and speed creep, the cornering approach mentioned above and even seemingly minor stuff such as being decisive in stopping short of instead of on or just beyond stop lines, or give way lines in cases where a full stop is required. Far from being annoyed by this, it's the fact this stuff is pointed out in a neutral manner, that I see as being part of the ongoing improvement in skills.

As for speed, I used to have a GPS speedo fitted to my Busa, but when making some changes I removed it to have a more or less "gadget free" work space so to speak. Following on from the cross-check I pondered how to deal with the speed problem, so ordered a Speedohealer, which Stephen McCormick mentioned in one of the IAM Facebook topics. Now I've been aware of Speedohealer, but since I'd used GPS speedos for a number of years never looked closely at the Healtech solution. Yes the error will still be there once the rear tyre wears, but at least I'm going to be much closer to the mark than in OEM trim.

Monday, 6 June 2016

8th observed ride 07.06.16 - ready for the cross check, yippee!!

So yeah, I'm outwardly quite relaxed, but inwardly quite chuffed to have reached the point where Geoff has deemed me ready for cross check. Hopefully onto the advanced test in short order...

Between the weather in recent weeks, work and family commitments, only snuck in two brief rides to practice my skill set. One of these rides ended up in rather wet conditions, unintended I might add, but all in all no drama. Using the Roadcraft system under trying conditions underlines the value of participating in IAM training. As much as we might want to give a thumbs up to Mr Michelin for his Pilot Road 4s, the bikes we ride do much better when ridden correctly with suitable restraint and training.

The run today was a little different to the norm, starting from a different meeting point, traversing some country roads Geoff hadn't ventured on before. All in all no big deal, variety of conditions, some overtakes, some commentary and still some room to improve on my part. In fairness though, Geoff found it hard to be critical about much overall. Given the score for today also being an A+ (as was run 7) it feels pleasing to have reached a consistency in how I perform.

We talked a bit about how riding according to the system makes one look not just smooth, but quite fast, compared to a rider with no roadcraft training. In fairness, I find it difficult to assess my own progress in isolation, for it's only really apparent when riding with others who haven't chosen to work on improving their own skill set. For those who've been thru the Roadcraft system, this will sound familiar I'd guess.

Also made me think some more about the vexing question that's been on my mind recently: "What's the best way to encourage someone to partake in training?" At the risk of rambling, I will admit that I had some reservations about partaking in IAM training, for it would lay bare the inadequacies of my two wheeled skill set... Let that sink in, and then picture the variety of two wheeled near misses that we've either had ourselves or those that we've witnessed over the years? I'd venture that the vast majority of these near misses were preventable, in the sense that neither the road nor the bike itself could be to blame. Mostly down to rider skill/training/attitude...

So I looked at my own hesitation at joining IAM, then imagined if I was blessed (or cursed?) with an ego that couldn't take constructive criticism, then joining IAM would likely seem more daunting than it should be? Let's face it, go for a ride with Philip McDaid and you can't help but feel like a novice, at first anyway.

The way Geoff James has observed/mentored me has been to never shy away from pointing out my failings (opportunities to do better) whilst also being complimentary about the things I'm either doing right, or have improved on since the last outing. So overall it's a very positive experience! Any nervousness or hesitation I may have had prior to my first outing soon evaporated. I'm certainly pleased I pressed ahead with kicking off my IAM journey, and would happily encourage others to take the plunge as well.

The next part of that is to pass the Advanced Test of course, and then in order to give back, on to Observer training. Which brings me full circle, back to the start if you wish, for my original outlook some years back was to be weighed and measured on my two wheeled skill set prior to imparting my experience onto others. Also a connection to my work in there, for coaching drivers new to my industry and turning them into confident and competent operators has a very pleasing aspect about it. The word passion comes to the fore, and anyone involved in teaching/coaching will no doubt understand what I mean.

7th observed ride 11.05.16

The rendezvous at the BP on top of the Bombay is now almost routine, and now I'm living mere minutes away from this location there's no doubt Geoff is doing the hard yards in enabling me to improve my two wheeled habits. Yes I know it's all about the right roads and riding environments.

Making progress, as in improving ones' own set of skills, is an enlightening experience. Yes this is obvious, but it was this thought that was at the forefront when I returned from this ride.

The overall ride in itself was unremarkable, covering mostly semi-familiar territory. What was telling for me was how much more at ease I felt when "performing" to a higher standard than what was the norm for me 6-12 months ago.

Our route on this occasion was the usual variety of motorway, urban and rural routes. Had a wee giggle at the sharp left hander on Great South Rd when dropping off the Bombay. No brake application needed here for I knew this corner, Geoff commented positively, but I freely admitted this section of road is routine for me. One thing which stood out on this run was how little traffic we're encountering, near free flow on the motorway from Drury to Mt Wellington is damn near unheard of mid morning on a Wednesday.

Out thru Botany to Whitford, on to Maraetai to end up in Clevedon at the café opposite the monument. The variety of roads was not a problem, but it certainly allowed Geoff to observe how I dealt with them all in a timely fashion. White van driver texting while driving? Road works with stop/go crew? Loose chip with no signs out? Restraint whilst on open road section with short sightlines and multiple driveways? Holding back to make sure rural postie has spotted us? Check on all counts.

It felt like a good, relaxed ride. The A+ rating Geoff gave this was a nice result. Did it feel like hard work? Not as such. My challenge is still with delivering commentary in a concise manner, the tendency to slip into a monologue is still there. In itself not an issue, but like Geoff points out rightfully, when the workload goes up in a more challenging situation this will create an issue.

Part of my ongoing revision includes poring over various videos, must make mention of JK's blog here once more, as the phrase "observational links" keeps popping back into my head. On the whole it still doesn't feel like my performance has the right polish to it, but I accept it's not a finished product as such. This whole IAM experience to me is one of evolving, and thus continuing to improve.

A couple of short practice runs, one in rather damp conditions (unintended) brought home the value of continuing to polish my skill set on two wheels.

We had an interesting discussion about reasons why folks look at IAM and then choose not to participate. More on this next chapter.

Monday, 2 May 2016

6th observed ride - 06.04.16

Absolute cracker of a day for a run around the top end of the Coromandel Loop! Met up with Geoff at Kopu, had a catch up about recent events. I'd spent a night in hospital and a week off work with a bout of orchitis, won't go into full details here, suffice to say it left me rather tender...

To start off with we ducked over to Tairua, and I just felt rusty, bit slow as well which is just my normal response to not being in the groove. A stop at Tairua, with a café treat by Geoff saw us getting back into it with a much better flow. In all fairness, with the benefit of being able to look back from a few weeks later, that bout of orchitis knocked me about much more than I'd realised at the time of this ride.

The benefit of being on the Coro loop on a Wednesday is traffic of course. A couple of other groups of riders, but no sense of that weekend crowd that is common during the summer months. The open road is always a good tonic, and along with my own sense of improvement, I really enjoyed this outing. The commentary had a better flow to it, still needs a lot of work I'll admit, but it felt much less of a chore than previous outings. The way Geoff commented at some point, my riding standard was high whilst delivering commentary, so in a sense the commentary was now less of a distraction on my riding.

We did encounter some slower traffic, so this became an opportunity for restrained overtaking. The trundle thru Whitianga in this respect seemed oh so tedious, albeit providing a brief urban environment, so just allowing for that on-going polishing of skills. Talking about on-going, that's very much how I've seen this IAM journey from the start, not as a singular target but as a continual improvement challenge/opportunity.

The journey to date has been taken in small steps. It's obvious Geoff takes great delight in riding as well as coaching/mentoring guys like myself. For me to see the improvement in my riding is bewildering, the mental approach has been polished and the physical action of extreme positioning makes bend swinging more fun than ever, just to touch on one aspect.

Anyway, Geoff led the way over the last half hour or so, taking us over the saddle before Coromandel itself. Needless to say, the obligatory stop at the lookout over the town itself resulted in a photo opportunity.

How we managed not to rib the IAM fraternity with yet another weekday ride posts just shows our restraint huh?

The hospitality shown by Geoff and Jenny to invite this rogue biker to lunch at their abode was delightful. Awesome retirement spot they've got, with an outlook that would cost a fortune in many European countries. I get the sense that Geoff and I could talk for hours about many different topics, but get us going on bikes and anything engineering related...hope I left before my welcome wore out!

My run home along the coast reminded me yet again of the effort Geoff puts into his role with IAM, that run along the coast is not exactly easy. I've done it plenty of times with a fuel truck in the early 2000's to fill the BP (now a GAS) servo at Coromandel, but on a bike it's obviously a lot more fun.

Encountered one of the groups of riders we'd seen at the Tairua café stop, and here I'll share an interesting observation. Now bear in mind I've not been along that particular bit of road for years on a bike, and here this group of riders used power/speed on the straights to catch up, only for me to walk away from them whenever we had more than one corner. I wasn't doing anything different to normal, just riding my own ride, and the fact I was cornering using correct positioning made my pace seem high. They didn't like obeying 50-70 speed limits though, so I kept left to allow them to scoot past at ticket inducing speeds. Their progress did seem to slow around bends further up ahead though... I remember thinking to myself something along the lines of: "That's how I used to ride as well."
Make of this what you wish. I see it as IAM exposure being a positive influence.

Now I've got some homework to do following this ride, some test examples to complete before the next ride and to practice my list of things to improve on.

PS. One thing I'll add, work related as well as IAM related, is at my last assessment drive had a wee chat with our driver trainer about my IAM activities. This kind of came about at a comment he made about me seeming more fluent and relaxed than normal, bearing in mind I thought of myself as fluent and relaxed behind the wheel of a truck anyway. The word "situational awareness" and how it looked to him that mine had improved, led to us having a chat about what IAM is all about. Have followed up and provided him with some links to have a closer look at IAM, he's an English fella anyway so the advanced driving approach is not foreign to him. Be interesting to see what comes of this...