What does it take to turn non-riders into able motorcyclists? CARtoday.com correspondent Neil Harrison recently attended a Novice Rider Training course at BMW’s Rider Academy to find out.

What does it take to turn non-riders into able motorcyclists? CARtoday.com correspondent Neil Harrison recently attended a Novice Rider Training course at BMW’s Rider Academy to find out…


Your mates disappear every other weekend. When you do see them, they talk bikes and biking. By comparison, you’re having as much fun as an Iraqi insurance underwriter. So, on the way home one afternoon, you stop off at a bike dealership. Just for a casual look around. An hour later, you’ve bought your first motorcycle.


Thing is, you’ve never ridden a bike before. You are a man (or woman) without a clue. In years gone by, you’d have persuaded a mate to teach you. In the process you’d have dropped his bike three times (he’s still tight-lipped about that), adopted all his bad habits and then taken to the road convinced you were the next Valentino Rossi.


The authorities will merely encourage you to get a licence. It’s easy to pass a learners test - many do. And the dreaded K53 driver’s licence isn’t much more taxing once you’ve mastered its routines. So, does gaining that licence really mean you know how to ride?


“Obtaining your K53 licence gives you the privilege to ride on the road. Only proper training will make you a respected and competent road user,” BMW Motorrad’s Marketing Manager, Rob Barnes, said.


Since Novice Rider Training began in early 2000, over 600 people have been through the BMW course; of these trainees, 60 per cent have been women.


“Research told us that one reason people don’t ride bikes is because they consider them dangerous. This is true because most riders don’t do any formal training. A properly trained rider is both confident and safer. Our aim is to make motorcycling as safe as it can be,” Barnes added.


To put BMW’s Novice Rider Training to the test, I pretended I knew absolutely nothing about riding bikes, and enrolled. And yes, I’ve already heard the comment about not having to pretend very hard.


The course is run over two successive mornings and was presented by James McClelland and Matthew Barnes, himself a Novice Rider Training graduate. It’s currently held at Swartkops Raceway near Pretoria, where BMW plan to provide dedicated Rider Academy facilities, and costs R870.


Both motorcycle and helmet are supplied. All you need is a jacket, long pants or jeans and sturdy shoes. The only other requirement is that you’re able to ride a bicycle.


The first day’s lectures cover the basics. Some are common sense: see and be seen; when in doubt, slow down. But a few rules are less intuitive: keep your head up and look there - go there. Layer by layer, James strips away the complacency born of driving cars with crumple zones and multiple airbags.


A lesson on what to wear is deftly brought home by the close inspection of a set of riding gear that saved somebody’s bacon, or - to be more accurate - saved their head, shoulder, chest, knee and ankles. Many of James’ tips are aimed at making motorcycling easier and more comfortable; the things you only learn after countless kilometres in the saddle. I didn’t know a bandana could be so useful, I stopped counting after seven uses. Hell, maybe those Harley guys know something after all…


The lesson on bike controls concluded, we leave the classroom for our first practical. The three shiny black Yamaha 125 SRs waiting on the warm tarmac are the perfect learner bikes; small, light, highly manageable and - most importantly - owned and insured by someone else.


As the man who doesn’t have a clue, I attempt the first pull away of the day and produce an involuntary but completely authentic stall. James patiently repeats the lesson on feeling for the clutch’s friction zone. I get the impression he’s word perfect on many of these lectures. My next attempt is less embarrassing. Suppressing the urge to pop a victory wheelie I zip through the cones and loop back to repeat the exercise.


After much weaving, pull-aways and gear changes we finish the first day with an outride. Under strict instructions not to exceed second gear, we burble around the perimeter roads. Two wheels, a warm Highveld sun, it’s heaven at 30 km/h.


The next day opens with a quick refresher outride to make sure we didn’t forget everything overnight, then we begin lectures on stopping, cornering and road craft. With an overhead transparency depicting a typical intersection, we discover the best way to avoid becoming a Pajero hood ornament. We also learn how to keep our safety zones intact. A great deal of road craft seems to consist of the constant anticipation of other people’s stupidity, of always being able to implement “Plan Save-Your-Biking-Ass.”


An Australian video dealing with the synergy of bike, mental and self-control skills also covers the reasons riders occasionally risk all. You’re a normal bloke or blokette, you want your mates to admire you. You wanna get there first. But is a fleeting moment of coolness worth the consequences? The Aussies on the video seem such sensible folk, not a bit like the crazy buggers I’ve met. I resolve to ride like a sensible Antipodean and avoid the manifold temptations of the throttle. For the rest of the course, anyway.


Finally, we climb back into the saddle to tackle the intricacies of stopping, swerving and cornering. To successfully complete the Novice Rider Training you must demonstrate proficiency in all three.


Deconstructing the dynamics of cornering is a delight. Slow down. Look up and through the corner. Lean into the corner. Close to exit gently roll on the throttle.


The seemingly contradictory principles of counter-steering are carefully explained and demonstrated. Push that way to go this way. It presents me with a dilemma; if I think about it I can’t do it. But give me reason to swerve and I counter-steer intuitively. James’ predictable solution is practice; break the steps down until I can do each deliberately. Only then can I hope to perfect the technique.


And then, by lunchtime, it’s over. Never stop practising the basics, they say, and when you think you know it all, “come back to us, we’ve got lots more to teach you.”


Driving home, I mull over how things might have turned out if I’d done a course like this in 1984. For starters, I wouldn’t have downshifted my mate’s shiny new 50 into first at 80km/h thus rendering his gearbox permanently iffy. No doubt, there wouldn’t be tar etched into my elbows and knees.


And on one painful day in 1988, I might well have been able to swerve around a carelessly-driven Colt Galant instead of trying to burrow under it. I can think of friends who might still be around if they’d received proper training. I reckon there would have been less pain and a lot more fun in the saddle.


If you want more information on the Novice Rider Training and BMW Rider Academy courses, phone (011) 690 2600.

Original article from Car