An Instructor's Take

I had the opportunity to interview our very own motorcycle instructor - Roy Dawson! If you had the chance to read our last blog article you know that I recently completed my CBT (compulsory basic training) with Roy. As an instructor rather than a learner, Roy has a different perspective on the training courses here at Ride, so we though it would be interesting to get to know more about him and his views. Enjoy!

So Roy, how long have you been riding?

Well, 19 was when I first owned my own bike. Back in the day there wasn’t a CBT so if you had the right paperwork, you could just legally ride a bike on the road with no training at all. I carried on riding on L plates until I was 24, when I passed my test. You could actually do the test on a little bike and as soon as you passed you could ride a big bike. Which was exactly what I did. After passing my test on a 125cc I switched to a 750cc. It was all a bit different then.

That’s quite a step up from a 125cc to a 750cc.

It is, it’s quite a big jump. It was also quite a difference because the 750ccs where a lot heavier than the 125ccs so it felt a whole lot different.

Why did you decide to become an instructor?

There’s a few bits to that really. I was a police officer, and I did that for 30 years before retiring from that. I still wanted to earn a bit of money, seeing as my boys were in university at the time and I needed to be supporting them. I had a few friends who were working as motorcycle instructors, and I knew I enjoyed instructing in other areas. So that along with my own enjoyment of motorcycling was what made me go for it when the opportunity came around. I actually have a history of instructing other stuff – there were various bits I taught professionally in the police force and previously one of my hobbies was white water kayaking and I had been instructing that for a number of years. My main hobby though was motorcycling, so it made sense to join the two up really.

It’s always good to do something you love.

Exactly. It’s like they say, if you find a job that you love, you never work a day in your life.

So how many years have you been an instructor?

I’ve instructed motorcycling for 6 years.

And what’s your favourite thing about being an instructor?

Well there’s a few strands to this, One being that I really do enjoy my motorbiking and I just enjoy sharing that to be honest.

(Roy walking us through the CBT)

I also like the feeling that at the end of the day I’ve given people a good day, I like knowing that they’ve learned something and are going to be safer as a result. It’s just a culmination of all of those really.

That’s really great and you know it really comes across in your teaching that you’re quite passionate about motorcycles. I think that’s what made it really engaging on the day.

Good, I know when I’m talking about something I enjoy I can get quite animated and it comes across that I’m really keen about it because I am. I do enjoy it, it’s good fun and there’s a lot of fun and a lot of freedom to be had on two wheels.

Yeah, you know I think there is. What would you say is the most common mistake that learner riders make?

Well, you could go on about this but there are two things really that I’ve picked up on. Whether these are mistakes or just things they need to work on, when they’re doing the pad work (training in the area by RIDEMT Office), the most common issue I have is people looking down at the bikes or just in front of the front wheel. It’s very unhelpful for them and once they actually get their vision up it’s going to make things much easier for them. That’s the most common thing I need to address during training. When it gets to the road, my most common nag is getting people to cancel their indicators. In terms of their safety it probably isn’t the biggest risk factor but it’s certainly the thing I have to mention the most over the radio. I find it happens more often with people who have driven a car before they’ve ridden a bike.

Funnily enough, those are both things I did on my CBT, weren’t they?

Well yeah, there we go. I don’t mean to say you’re typical but like I said they are quite common things I have to mention. They’re not the only things I have to mention by far, you know, if people are riding a gear bike a big thing is getting used to being smooth with the clutch. If they’re rough with it then it can be unsettling for the rider because the bike won’t move very smoothly. Once they’ve got the hang of it then it’s much kinder on the bike and much kinder on the rider. It makes the ride much calmer.

(Roy explaining a traffic light drill)

So, do you think there’s anything a learner rider can do to prepare for the CBT?

I think there’s lots that they can do for example, if I hadn’t been on a pedal cycle for a while I would find it very helpful to get back out on one and get used to balancing on a pedal cycle again. Reading the highway code would also be really good, particularly if they’re not a car driver. If they know anyone who rides a motorcycle then getting a look at the controls would be helpful. One of the things that can be really difficult for some people with no experience is that when they show up they want the throttle to twist the other way. So rather than twisting it back to bring up the revs they want to twist it forward, but that means when they want to decelerate their first instinct is to twist backwards which won’t help. So, knowing a bit of the basics about motorcycle controls would be extremely useful for learner riders.

And another thing is that learners need to remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day. Preparing their mindset like this will help, particularly if they’ve never ridden or driven before. And it could be really good for them to maybe learn to ride an automatic scooter before working their way up to a geared bike.

That’s some really great advice. Is the CBT your favourite course to teach?

It’s definitely one of them. I have two favourite courses really and one of them is the CBT because that can be really rewarding, seeing people starting out their motorcycle journey. But one that I particularly enjoy teaching is for the Module 1 test. The Module 1 test is part of the test for your licence. It’s conducted in a sterile area and the examiner sets out cones on the tarmac. The rider will go through a series of exercises at low speed and some at a faster speed. I like this one because it is a well defined challenge, it’s very clear what the rider needs to learn and what they will need to do in front of the examiner in order to pass. I actually think some of the exercises are really worth-while and there’s a load of tactics that you can give people to help bring them up to that standard. The way I would always like to teach that (particularly if someone is new to riding a bigger bike) is to spend the first part of the day just getting them really familiar with the bike and then the second half of the day is dedicated to working on those exercises. Honestly, I just enjoy it. I think it’s quite a fun day, it’s a straight-forward syllabus that you can just take people through.

I also like doing an ‘improver day’ which is something we sometimes do after someone has taken their CBT where we get them out on a 125cc just to make sure they’ve not forgotten the bits they’ve done on the 125cc. It’s a day that mainly consists of road riding and it just helps get their confidence up. Sometimes you have people who have done their CBT, either with us or a different school, and haven’t ridden anything for a few months and they just want to have an encouraging day to get them more in the flow of things again. If they’re doing well throughout the day we’ll even get them on a bigger bike so that hopefully by the end of the day they can be on a bike that they’re looking to take their test on. So those are fun to do and they’re entirely client-led in terms of what they want to work on.

It’s always really rewarding as an instructor when someone walks away happy. Especially if they’ve come in at the beginning and, for one reason or another, they’re nervous or uncertain. Helping a client reach their goal, whether that is getting comfortable with a bigger bike or passing their CBT, is the best thing as an instructor at the end of the day.

Though I will contrast that with what I like least. The Module 2 training for the test. Now I only dislike this course because it is quite hard for both myself and the learner. I essentially have to pick holes in every bit of the learners riding so that we can fix any issues before an examiner spots them. So you really need people to be prepared (Reading the number plates before starting) to receive constructive criticism. It makes for quite a long day but it is necessary.

I can see how that would be hard, trying to iron out every fault.

Yeah, and you want people to go in confident, so you say to them ‘my job today is to pick apart your riding’ and then spend the day going over every detail.

Of course. So, are there any specific makes or models of bikes that you would recommend for someone who has just passed their CBT?

Well obviously they’re restricted to a 125cc so there are a few things I would say really. I would go for something quite mainstream and I’ve actually encouraged people to not get a brand new bike for their first bike. I’ve told them to get something second-hand, ideally with a known history because the chances are, sooner or later you’re likely to drop it or mark it where if it was absolutely blemish free you’re going to be upset. But if it’s second hand, it won’t bother you as much and as long as it’s got a good service history and is known to be reliable it’s going to be less of an issue. It may be something you keep for a while but it also might not be, so blowing your budget on your first bike probably isn’t the best idea.

I give the same advice for riders who have just gotten their licence. With your first big bike I still recommend something mainstream and second-hand and then your bike can grow with you and maybe 6-12 months down the line you might look at something more exotic and more expensive.

For your own bike, do you have a favourite make or model?

I do actually. I’m a bit of a Triumph fanboy and I own two Triumph bikes. I’ve always liked their bikes and, while I know they’re more British design than British built these days, I do like that you can buy a bike with at least some British heritage. They’re well manufactured, some would even say they are over-engineered and for me, I’ve got a bit of brand loyalty, so Triumph bikes are definitely my go to.

What would you say is your most useful or just your favourite bike accessory?

That’s hard to say actually. I’m going to say my Sat Nav but that’s largely for touring. When I do use it for touring though, I’ve generally pre-planned some routes on the computer that I want to do rather than just saying ‘take me to my destination’.

(Explaining the controls)

Do you use a phone-mount for that or is it built in?

I use a bike-specific Sat Nav – a Garmin Zumo. I listen to it through the Bluetooth comms in my helmet but the Sat Nav also interacts with my phone and picks up real-time traffic information.

That sounds like a really cool piece of tech. Do you any good tips for maintaining your bike?

I would say that it just starts with cleaning it. If you properly clean it and get into all the nooks and cranny’s and doing simple things like bolt checks, just like we did on the CBT, will really help. It is definitely worth-while to read the owner’s manual and seeing if there’s anything in there that you didn’t know about the bike. But yeah, just cleaning it will help you learn a lot about your bike and will help you maintain it in the long run.

What is your favourite place to ride?

In the UK? Well, I live in the Yorkshire Dales so that is a stunning place to ride but equally there are bits of Scotland and bits of Wales that I really enjoy riding in. However, for me, I really like to ride in the mountains so I try and get to the Alps at least once a year. I love to ride the Alps, the Dolomites even the Picos in Spain and the Austrian Tyrol. Mountains are just something I really enjoy.

Those views must be amazing.

They are. I can remember a few years ago I took a really good mate of mine who had never been before and we went up a mountain pass about 2500 metres high and we stopped there to have a look around and he was blown away by the scale of the scenery visible from the top.

Hopefully one day I’ll be able to see something like that. So, bringing us to an end now, what’s the most useful advice you have for learner riders?

I think, the most useful advice I can give is to remember that we’re all still learning, including myself. No matter how many years you’ve been riding there’s always something you can learn, it’s a continuous journey.

That's some really great advice and definitely something to keep in mind. Thanks Roy!

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