JohnRNew for 2013 is a second ‘stooge’ ride. It’s the last stage in our Pre-TOb training. I met up with Senior Observer Nigel Taylor, who’d be playing the part of my Associate, at Oxford Services. Service stations are a good meeting place, because they’re a safe and neutral location, with petrol, cafe, loos etc.

This is the last opportunity for me to practice my skills in a fairly controlled environment before I’m released into the wild. After today, any mistakes I make will be made in front of a real Associate, and I could look daft – or worse. There’s a lot at stake now and I will be taking on considerable responsibilities in the months ahead.

The information gathering before the ride starts felt a little easier than my last attempt, as I asked Nigel about his riding history, and chatted about what he wanted to get out of our ride together that morning. I remembered the all-important ground rules, and got Nigel to confirm that his bike was taxed, MOT’d and insured before we headed off towards Thame. A Pre-TOb has to arrange their own route, and I’d tried to build a mixture of roads into my plan for today’s ride.

Finding fault was hard. Nigel was very much in control of his bike, and apart from a couple of ‘safety bubble’ moments I didn’t really spot too much wrong. But then, as he explained to me later, ‘You’ll get all sorts’. He wasn’t wrong, as I was to discover, but more of that soon.

It was all going a bit too well. Having taken Nigel through a mid-run de-brief and demo ride, I suggested we try a junction or two on the M40. I headed us towards junction 7, where I’d planned to join the motorway and head north. Some of you will already know what I’m going to say next. There is no slip road onto the M40 northbound at junction 7! I won’t forget that one in a hurry. We turned around in the nearest lay-by while I hastily re-planned our route.

Nigel took it really well. We abandoned the idea of a motorway section and headed back to the services for the debrief. The run report form went pretty well. My ‘associate’ went home with a very well deserved ‘A’, and I went home with a red face.

TOb Rides

Having completed both ‘Stooge’ rides, I moved on to the next stage. My training card is gradually filling up with ticks, dates and signatures showing my progress towards becoming an IAM Local Observer. I’ve got my yellow TVAM membership card and am known as a TOb. The Trainee Observer itinerary comprises eleven stages. Each TOb is encouraged to work their way through the process at their own pace. ‘It’s not a race’, as Louise Dickinson told us all those months ago.

The 11 stages each have to be signed off by a different Observer on a separate coaching run. The only exception is slow riding skills, which can be signed off on the same ride as any other observer training ride. The stages are:

  • Introduction and Information Gathering
  • Observing Skills
  • Demo Ride
  • Coaching Skills
  • De-brief and Run Report Form
  • Coaching a Progressive Associate
  • Coaching a Cautious Associate
  • Coaching 2 Associates
  • 1 Run at St Crispin’s all at A Standard
  • 1 Run elsewhere all at A Standard
  • Pre-Validation
  • Validation
  • Slow Riding Coaching

These are live runs, managing a real observed ride with an equally real Associate – a lot like trying to pat your head and rub your stomach whilst attempting a hand-stand.

At St. Crispin’s we’re all there and ready for a ride out. There are dozens of Observers and usually more than enough Associates to go round. Getting all the elements together for a TOb ride between our Wokingham meetings can be hard. Observers have their own coaching agenda with their Associates, and most of us have work commitments, so getting three people together for a three or four hour session is a challenge.

Safety is my first priority. These rides are all about polishing the key skills expected of us, whilst an Observer follows on, watching for points to be discussed at the de-brief. The TOb writes up a run report on the Associate, and the Observer writes up a separate TOb training run report form on me.

My first TOb ride was from St Crispin’s on 12th December, the same day we were to receive our yellow badges. I’d ridden down to Wokingham early to try out my planned route. Dave Worker was my shadowing Observer and I was taking Chris Handy out on my first observed ride. Chris works as a dispatch rider and was very close to achieving his Green Badge, so I didn’t have too much to worry about.

Dave’s feedback was simple and clear – a good start but I’d need to extend my route and maybe have an alternative loop or two depending on the coaching needs of individual associate. Dave signed off my first task, the Debrief and Run Report Form.

But then came the coldest winter since the last ice age, and I was working abroad for three months. TObbing was put on hold until spring.

John Rodda – July 2013 (first published in Slipstream August 2013)