Paolo Volpara notes from Mike Wheeler MC training lessons. Edited from OMM Bulletin April 2000 and  September 2008

Mick Wheeler, excellent trainer and founder of A.R.T. (Advanced Riding Techniques UK) conducted several training courses combining classroom theory and on the road practices. With the first visit in 1999, Mick started to share in Turkey knowledge and experience, training Onemoremile group for more than two years: a set of workshops that introduced to the Turkish bikers the principles and the system as presented in the “Motorcycle Roadcraft: Police Rider’s Handbook”  

Training and Motorcycling are not always companions: many bikers consider the training “time that spoils the pleasure of riding” an activity that “… I do not need since I have been on the bike for years”.

In sport, as in other human activities and pleasures, training (when done by good teachers) increases the pleasure and the joy of motorcycling, proving the Epicurean motto “the more you know, the more you enjoy it”.

The initial step toward competent riding is a learning attitude: this humble virtue makes the difference between “using the bike” and “biking”. And these notes taken and edited from several sessions aim to animate the desire of learning and raise further interest toward the “System”.

Biking is receiving, processing, evaluating information as the base for action” was the opening point of M. Wheeler.  “You have to put yourself in conditions, mentally and physically, to receive the maximum amount of information remembering that even partial information is better than no information at all”.

For searching and acquiring  information two elements (besides a good sight and a clean visor) are essential:

•       Continuous scanning at 360 degrees

•       Safe position on the road offering the best vision ahead

Move the head! Keep scanning! Raise the vision! – Mick repeated-  Obtain cross-view when approaching bends, corners and junctions.  It will give an early opportunity to position for the next bend. It gives warning of impending problems, approaching vehicles, incoming hazards

Once obtained, information has to be evaluated and, on this subject, Mick wrote on the classroom board a dramatic phrase “How can I get hurt, here?

Evaluating the information in your possession must be done keeping Safety first.

Which is the nearest hazard and How fast is moving toward me? Where the danger will come from? How serious is the menace? What is involved in the threat? What kind of development can I expect from the acquired information? How can I get hurt, here and now?”

This process is not so difficult when done in the comfort of an armchair but it becomes tricky when information’s analysis takes place in a vehicle moving at sustained speed.

Formula One drivers, the legend goes, are able to divide a second into many parts and use each of them to take decisions at the differed time. 

We, common mortals, we have to learn how to rapidly and effectively process the constant flow of information.

If the past is the best predictor of the future, the personal accumulated experience combined with the experience of fellow riders is the sure base for evaluating a potentially dangerous situation.

Many clues are available as predictors (not always sure) of hazards ahead: from the ball followed by the kid to the direction of lines on the electric poles, from the shadows and change of colours on the road surface to the smell of diesel, to empty taxi looking for clients, to the seasonal presence of tractors… signs are there and we have to learn to read them in time and significance.

A sign properly and timely acquired gives the rider more time to react but the best way to gain time for evaluation is reducing speed well in advance of the event.

On Mick’s words “You want to be a spectator of an event not part of it. If the information acquired ring an alarm bell it is always appropriate to slow down in order to gain time for evaluation.  New riders should do this well in advance: their attention is still focusing mainly on machine controls and they need more time to process the incoming information

Keep the question “How-Can-I-Be-Hurt-Here” ringing in your mind as a permanent alarm and each ride will turn into a positive experience of knowledge acquisition, safe defence and enjoyable riding.

Acquisition, evaluation and then action; once the situation has been assessed and the danger identified, it is time to take the appropriate action by assessing position speed and gear (The Roadcraft system is often presented with the acronym IPSGA: Information, Speed, Gear and Acceleration as phases of a continuous process of riding)

The position of the bike on the road – Mick said – should take into consideration three factors, in order of importance. First Safety, second Traction, third Vision. If, to gain traction or visibility, you place yourself in a risky position, chances are that an incoming driver will impart a hard lesson on body and machine… if, to gain visibility, the bike is ridden to an area of low traction we cannot exercise control and any action (steering or braking) will see the bike skidding over the ocean like a stone. In conclusion, searching for the position of best vision ahead cannot be done at the expenses of Safety and Traction

By constant acquisition of information, correct and timely evaluation of the hazard ahead and by assuming the right position at the right speed , in the right gear, by accelerating when the hazard is gone… by doing all this in a repetitive form, every time a potentially risky change appears, we transform each ride into a fluid, smooth dance acquiring what Mr Wheeler calls the “Whhooshss Style”.

This is the style that transforms an ant-rider into a fish-rider: smooth, fluent, progressing without hesitation or jolts.

Superiority of the “Whhooshs style” can be tested when overtaking: “Too close, too quickly behind vehicles is not the right action. It makes us poke our nose out and have to dive back in again; it gives trouble , if the vehicle in front brakes or slows down. Be a fish… don’t rush. Keep it easy by positioning yourself further back for view and safety. When the overtaking opportunity comes, glide past the vehicle like a fish: do not zoom in and out, just flow around the boxes

Mick left us with precious advices on safety remembering the say “better late in this world than early in the next”

The first one addresses one of the most common mistakes

  • The indicators are too left on for too long, too often, by too many. Why use indicators if nobody behind? Constantly check if the indicators are left on…make it a habit. One day one accident may happen because we gave the wrong indication from a left-on signal.”

Secondly, highways and motorways are not places for relaxing the riding attention and too often the bikers zoom between cars and lanes trusting an imaginary availability of space.

  • “Changing lane at high speed in motorway while filtering is a death sentence. The car drivers will not always see you. As you swoop into a gap a car may be entering on the other side. If traffic is moving at good speed why not flow with it? How much time we really safe by zooming close between those vehicles?”

For many of us “Be like a fish not like an ant” has become, since, a regular mantra. It calls us to constant attention, permanent awareness of the situation and it builds a smooth, gentle, safe but effective way of making progress with a motorcycle.

By Paolo Volpara

"Si sta come d'autunno sugli alberi le foglie"