I was happy to be back from my job abroad, with the prospect of improving weather and at least the next six months working in the UK, so it was time to get back in to my Observer training. So far, I’d completed all the key stages and progressed onwards to my first Observed ride with a real (as opposed to stooge) Associate. Previously, the role had been played by a Senior Observer.
Part of every TOb’s mission, as we take on increased responsibilities, involves organising our own training rides. This is no mean feat, as I’ve said before. So, at the risk of making a right nuisance of myself, I started to email all and any of the Observers I knew and many I didn’t in the hope of finding rides with Observers and their more intrepid Associates who were prepared to brave the cold, wet and wind of last spring. They say that the squeakiest wheel gets the most oil, so what had I got to lose?
My first TOb outing of the New Year was with Paul Wassall and his Associate, Stuart Russell. Off we went down to Littlehampton for an Observed ride and a fish and chip lunch. It was a very enjoyable run with such nice people and a great coaching opportunity. I hope Stuart took some useful observations away with him. A couple of weeks later, Di Woodcock, who is also acting as my mentor during Observer training, kindly emailed to suggest an outing with her Associate, Rita Alexander, who needed coaching on her cornering. That sounded like a great opportunity for TOb training, and I hope our run was one of those which helped boost her confidence for her recent IAM test pass. Well done Rita. Bob Harrison’s Associate, Jeremy Weaver, was already a full IAM car member and a trained VIP chauffeur with evasion skills. Thankfully, I’d remembered to ask him about his previous experience during our pre-ride briefing, so it was no surprise when we set off for his Observed ride. That was my ‘Coaching a Progressive Associate’ box ticked then!
With each successive ride, I gained a little more experience and confidence. Meeting new people, observing different riding styles, trying to tailor feedback to suit an Associate’s needs during the run and at the run report form stage, is what it’s all about, and I’m starting to relax a little and enjoy it more.
Every Observer has a slightly different perspective, and their feedback to the TOb is, without exception, invaluable. Taking all the advice on board and finding a happy medium is definitely the way forward. Each TOb Training Report Form (the feedback on how we’ve done) is a snapshot of what we did well and what needs to be improved upon. They build up into a very useful reminder of just how we’re progressing. Just like the Observed rides we’ve all been on, every Observer spots different details in our riding, coaching skills and report form completion that need polish.
Other very handy tips come out in the de-brief conversations. The root cause will always boil down to IPSGA. An Associate could be having difficulty spotting the Information early enough and, as a result, be in the wrong Position, at the wrong Speed, or in the wrong Gear, or not be using appropriate Acceleration. That’s been drummed into us from the very start, but thanks to Andy Smith for the timely reminder.
It seems like it’s been a long and winding road, but finally, with all those rides ridden and all those boxes ticked, I find myself asking for a Senior Observer to be assigned to my Pre-Validation. It’s the last stage before my final validation as a Local Observer for TVAM. I’m back to the ‘stooge’ ride format again and John James had kindly offered to take me out. We met at a very civilised garden centre cafe on the A4 near Wargrave. John’s stooge character was that of an occasional rider who would like to be able to keep up when out riding with his more progressive mates.
The forecast wasn’t too promising and of course it started to rain almost as soon as we set off, but the ride went well, even though we had a thorough soaking on our way round. We de-briefed near Benson and John was kind enough to let me know I’d reached the required standard for validation almost as soon as I’d finished the Associate Run Report Form. So, one last hurdle to overcome.
Louise Dickinson emailed to say that I should now get in touch with David Jacobi, who was Andy Wedge’s predecessor as Chief Observer and one of just a handful of Validation Observers, to arrange my final validation. I was due to leave for France on a family holiday, so the validation ride was arranged for the end of July. We got home from our travels on the Sunday afternoon before Monday’s ride, and I thought I’d take the bike out for a quick spin to get a bit of practice in for the following morning. As I tried to wheel the bike backwards out of the garage it quickly became clear that all was not well. I had a flat tyre, with the offending self-tapping screw right in the middle of the tread – good job I checked!
I got it fixed (I thought), and made it to my meeting with David the following morning. Just to be sure, I bought another can of sealant and went through my notes one last time while I waited for him to arrive.
We started with an informal chat, talked about TVAM and TObbing, and then moved on to the validation proper. David’s stooge character was a born-again biker who spends his working life driving a car all over the country visiting clients. He says he’s had his bike for around a year and ridden about 800 miles. Working my way through the briefing, I remember all the key questions. As we headed out I could see that the tyre was well on its way down again, so it was time for a full can of sealant!
The ride went well. It poured with rain, but I made mental notes of the key points I wanted to bring up when we stopped. I was keen to let David know what I’d spotted, but found out at the de-brief that I’d laboured the points a bit too much here and there – we want our Associates to come back! Just at the point where I’d convinced myself I had failed and the suspense was getting too much, David held his hand out and said ‘Congratulations, you’ve passed’. I’m in no doubt at all that it was by the skin of my teeth and that I will always have a huge amount to learn, but a pass is a pass!
Why did I do it? Because I’m proud to be a TVAM member and try to offer what I can in return for the support and friendship of the many great people I feel lucky to have met and ridden with. Thank you to everyone – Observers and Associates who let me out with them. You all make our club what it is.
John Rodda (Observer) – August 2013 (first published in Slipstream September 2013)