Having passed through all those theory tests, quizzes and questionnaires, it was now time to get back out on the road. My group of six hopefuls from the October intake had become PTObs (Pre-Trainee Observers).
Next on our journey towards becoming a full TOb (Trainee Observer), and being issued with the yellow membership cards you may have seen round necks at St Crispin’s, we’ll have to successfully complete an assessed, extended ride with a Senior Observer. We have to demonstrate our ability to ride at or above IAM pass standard for over three hours, on a wide variety of roads. If we fail this check, we’ll have to take a six month break before we can re-apply.
Richard Tickner was assigned as my Observer for the Riding Skills Check. We arranged to meet at a Reading McDonald’s, just off the M4, for pre-ride introductions, briefing and document checks. The weather forecast was pretty poor for the morning, but it looked like conditions were improving out to the west, so that’s where we headed.
The first section of the trip was a town ride, with all the hazards you might expect of a busy, damp Monday morning. Things seemed to go pretty well. Through the urban scene we rode, negotiating junctions, thirty and forty mile-an-hour limits, traffic lights, mini-roundabouts and pedestrian crossings – all there to make sure you maintain your concentration. Richard and I were using his bike-to-bike radio, which helped enormously in taking the pressure off that “missed turn signal” anxiety.
As we left Reading behind us, we headed up along the bank of the Thames towards Pangbourne, and on out into open countryside. Stopping briefly, Richard asked why I hadn’t taken a particular overtake. I explained about the car I’d been following, the driver’s level of concentration and why I’d chosen to hang back along the narrowing roads until a better opportunity to pass came up or they turned off our route.
Richard said he thought things were going pretty well and that I should relax a little and enjoy the open roads ahead of us – “as if I was out for a spin with a friend”.
There then followed about fifteen miles riding through some of the most challenging roads I’ve ever ridden, as we threaded our way out on the ‘B’ roads of Berkshire, Oxfordshire and Wiltshire towards Newbury, Wantage and Lambourn. It was tough but very rewarding riding. Richard told me later these roads are often used by police drivers to hone their skills.
I’m not surprised either – twists, turns and gravel strewn junctions by the bucket load posed tricky combinations of IPSGA decisions throughout. I was expected to demonstrate an ability to make good progress while maintaining a high standard of safe riding. All the while, Richard tootled along behind me, apparently without very much effort at all!
The autumn weather had improved by now, and the tarmac was drying very nicely as we found ourselves barreling progressively along the clear, straight stretches that lay ahead of us. My big, heavy BMW R1200RT had risen to the challenge, responding well to the sheer pleasure of it. “This is why we ride bikes”, I thought.
A final stretch of motorway followed, and when we pulled into Reading services, we grabbed coffee and snacks, and I waited for the de-brief and run report. If you know Richard, you’ll know he has a relaxed and friendly style. Yes, I could think of plenty I could have done better, but that’s what keeps us interested in what we do and on the path of continuous development.
The de-brief started at the beginning our ride, and Richard took me through the preceding three hours, explaining the strengths and weaknesses he’d spotted. Boxes were ticked and a few comments written, and with his big beaming smile he congratulated me with a welcome to Observer Training.