Valuable lesson in stability control such fun for bikers
- Credit: Andy Micklethwaite
Motoring editor Andy Russell, having just returned to biking, had a lot of fun and overcame some fear on one of the i2i Motorcycle Academy's behaviour-changing training courses.
The back of Tom Killeen's jacket says it all – 'Outrageous fun & impressive new skills'.
His i2i Motorcycle Academy, launched 10 years ago and now running up to 90 courses a year at different venues, specialises in changing behaviour and reactions and putting the fun into riding by making bikes feel safer and more confident.
Having returned to riding after a 12-year break, I was more filled with fear than fun, ahead of joining the first level of four machine control events being held at the former RAF Coltishall base, but Tom's enthusiasm, knowledge and ability to make complex laws of physics easy to understand are infectious.
The courses aim to dispel bikers' beliefs, often the result of other riders' stories, and build confidence through learned behaviour, demonstrations and riders practising new skills in a safe environment.
'What we are doing is giving people conscious control of the bike so they can concentrate on the hazards out there. By making it fun, they remember it, they are more enthusiastic about it and it is changing their behaviour which sends them out a different rider,' he said.
'It is about breaking down things and giving it to people in bits so they can grasp it and build on it.'
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He explains that motorcycles are naturally stable – the wheels act like gyros moving the bike forward and keeping it upright – and it is riders who upset the balance.
To prove it, he gets his bike rolling along the runway, taking his hands off the bars, bounces on the pillion seat and stands up on the footrests, arms outstretched while the bike keeps upright and going straight ahead.
With visions of my new bike sliding down the runway, I gingerly let go of the bars for a couple of seconds at first but am soon happily coasting along, arms out, sitting back on the pillion, even altering the bike's course by moving slightly left or right on the seat.
Inspired by what is possible, the group, including seasoned riders, went on to learn a series of new skills.
Over the day, Tom talked us through, demonstrated and encouraged us to put it into practice at a level we felt happy with.
Advanced braking covered avoiding panic braking and confidently stopping quicker than you thought possible by building pressure on the front brake lever, to compress the suspension forks, whipping in the clutch and applying maximum braking pressure for maximum grip. It took a few runs to get the hang of it but when it all comes together it's so satisfying.
Then Tom explains the principle of counter-steering, the most efficient way of changing direction. Spinning a bicycle wheel on its axle, he explains how pulling the wheel is one direction makes it turn the opposite way. Then, back on his bike, he shows how you can steer by just pressing each end of the handlebars with your thumb, also emphasising how gripping the bars for dear life and wrestling with the bike is detrimental to being in control,
Growing in confidence about our bikes' stability and stopping ability, we moved to hazard avoidance and, drawing on our new braking and counter-steering skills, we were soon approaching Tom at 40mph, braking and, fully in control, steering round him as he indicated which side he wanted us to pass.
But some hazards you can't avoid, with no time to alter course or brake, so he showed us how to open the throttle, extending the front forks to reduce the force of the impact, and hop the front wheel over a piece of wood. On the road it could be a pothole.
Slowing the pace down, we also learned now to control our bike, manoeuvring at tickover speed. He even demonstrated his advanced techniques with a pillion passenger – very impressive.
'It is self-discovery of what the bike can do and gives you confidence. We explain techniques in ways that make sense and that is different for every single person.
'Then you have got to help riders understand why things have happened to them in the past. We are replacing the chances of that with different riding behaviour.
'The concept is that, while there are four machine control days, they are all connected because bikers have different concerns around fears.
'The machine control days change your behaviour because if you change the way people feel, it a changes the way they ride. The more relaxed you are, the more you can get away with.'
To find out more visit www.i2imca.com