Advice to Andrew upon obtaining his Motorcycle Licence

This post was written for my young nephew Andrew in 2017 immediately after he rejected my advice to wait a few years before obtaining his motorcycle licence. He went ahead and got his licence and bought a motorbike. He is currently riding a BMW R1200GS (his third motorbike). His commercial flying career, which is alluded to in a number of places below, has progressed significantly since 2017.

This article was published in January 2017 in an earlier private blog of mine which I wrote for family and a few friends. I thought it might be of interest and possibly of some use to any reader of this blog who is new to motorcycling, or who is contemplating becoming a recreational motorbike rider. Apart from these two introductory paragraphs, I have republished the article without alteration. I have included readers’ comments from 2017.

ABSTRACT: Take it easy, learn the craft, live long.

Motorbike cornering
The mighty GS on the GOR

“Flying colours.”  Andrew, this was your brief text response to my question about the outcome of your motorbike licence test. So, well done. For the moment I will ignore that you were given a licence without any training, without having ridden at all during the period you held a learner’s permit, without ever having ridden a motorbike at 100kph until during your licence test, and that you turned up for your test in denim jeans and runners and no comment was made by the tester. I will also ignore that your experience level was such that when you got on to the Tulla freeway with the licence tester riding behind, you were initially mystified by how windy and uncomfortable the wind was on your face at highway speed, until it eventually occurred to you that shutting the visor on your helmet might assist (after you realised you wouldn’t have to take your hand off the throttle to do so).

This post is written in the hope that when your motorbike licence is finally taken away from you at the age of 100 because you have been spotted trying to start your motorbike by turning your ignition key in the tank cap while wearing your swimming goggles and shouting “Clear Prop!”,  you (or those of your peers still of sound mind) will be able to fairly say of your riding career, that up to that point you passed all tests thrown at you along the way ‘with flying colours.’ That would be an achievement at least equal to a long and safe aviation career, on which you have made a very good start.

This blog is also written to give you the opportunity to learn from the very best class of mistakes available for that purpose – other people’s mistakes (in the case of this post, my mistakes).

You probably recall running the motorbike idea past me a year or two ago, perhaps anticipating my unqualified support, but receiving the response that you should wait a few years before tackling the roads on a motorbike. Whatever.  I remember the look on your face when I said that, which basically communicated, albeit politely, ‘Noted.’

I suppose Noel and I must accept that we contributed to you deciding to get your motorbike licence. Arguably that carries with it the responsibility to offer you a few words of advice on the issue of staying alive and healthy on a motorbike.

Noel and I bring very different backgrounds to motorbike riding. He is vastly more experienced. If there is any discrepancy between what I say and what Noel says, go with Noel.

Noel has ridden since he was a boy, never signed up seriously for a course or lesson, and didn’t think much of the one course he did a few years ago as an adult. He has ridden countless miles.  His skill is and always has been way above average – I would venture the description ‘exceptional’. I know of others who should know who share this assessment. You and I are very fortunate in having Noel as our motorbike riding mentor.

Yamaha FJ1200 in the Kiewa Valley
Your father on his beloved FJ1200 in the Kiewa Valley, north eastern Victoria.

In contrast, I didn’t ride until a little over 10 years ago. I first bought a scooter which in 5,000kms taught me nothing more than that I had no riding skills and needed to upgrade to a motorbike. A new Honda VTR250 followed on which I clocked up 25,000kms in a year or so and learned a lot, then came the BMW R1200GS on which I am still learning. On and after the VTR 250 I took beginner courses with the Honda Australia Rider Training Centre, then did the four levels of the California Superbike School cornering training at Phillip Island. I also did a four day off-road course run by BMW. I read a lot about riding. I asked a lot about riding. I learned (and continue to learn) a lot from Noel. I pretty much approached riding the motorbike as a pilot approaches learning to fly and gaining experience. Do the study, do the practical training, gain experience, and collect the licence and endorsements when you’re ready. But I remain a beginner by comparison with Noel. As you know, late last year I clocked up my 200,000th km on the BMW.  By deliberate decision, these kms have all been done on country roads. Noel has lost count of his kms ridden.

Noel has ridden as a boy, a young man and a mature adult. I have only ridden relatively recently. Noel’s list of spectacular incidents is accordingly longer than mine, and may it stay that way. Perhaps a reason I didn’t ride as a young man, is that Noel did, and did it so well. Also, aeroplanes and other things that fly pretty much consumed me as a young man in terms of machines that move.

Noel will give you his own views and advice, if asked. I’m giving you my thoughts even though you haven’t asked. In no particular order, here are a few suggestions. Because we both speak ‘flying’, I will draw on aviation a bit in what follows.

  • Don’t confuse the number of years you have held your licence with the extent of your riding experience. Riding experience is measured in kms. It often consists of many many years and kms of riding locking in dangerous habits. Quality riding experience is measured in quality kms, practicing the right thing. The authorities will allow you to advance from your LAMS approved motorbike to something more powerful after a certain amount of time (the intention being that this will equate to a certain amount of riding experience). But if you ride very little or not at all during the period intended to facilitate gaining experience subject to progressively relaxed restrictions, you’d be a mug to make a powerful bike your first bike. You don’t have to love your first bike, you just have to love learning how to ride it. Then eventually you can buy the bike that, as your father eloquently put it, makes you look back over your shoulder admiringly every time you park it and start to walk away.
BMW R1200GS motorbike
My second motorbike.
  • You have completely avoided riding any motorbike at all during your L-plate training period and the benefit of the many lessons it could have taught you. So you will start your motorbike riding as P-plater with zero experience as a learner. In doing so you are already subverting the intention of the graduated experience system.  Don’t compound these omissions by waiting (without riding) until you can afford a bigger bike, then commencing your riding career on it. To do so would be to run the considerable risk of a spectacular but very short motorcycling career. Whenever you do start riding, you will have to impose on yourself the discipline of a low powered bike for a period in which you do lots of kms, then only move to a bigger bike after some further training and upon advice from the likes of Noel that you are ready for it.
    • In motorbike circles, the unit of experience is very often years, because motorbike riders don’t log time and trips like pilots do. “I’ve been riding for [X] years”, is usually shorthand for, “I’ve had a licence for [X] years”, which without more is meaningless.
    • Jumping on a big bike with no experience is the equivalent of starting learning to fly in a Baron or a C402 with fake hours in your log book to conceal that you don’t have the relevant experience to fly such an aircraft. The consequences in both cases are similar.
  • Do an advanced cornering course as soon as possible. Getting up experience before any formal training is simply locking in bad habits. As you gain experience, you may as well be practising the right thing. At the very least do level 1 of the California Superbike School cornering course (they run them at Phillip Island and at Eastern Creek in Sydney). You can do the cornering course or part of it on a LAMS approved motorbike. I did level 1 on the Honda VTR250 and learned a lot. When working as a flying instructor, I encountered commercial pilot licence trainees who had 1000+ hours, had owned aircraft, and who didn’t use rudder in climb or descent, and used it incorrectly in all turns. 1000 hours means nothing if it has been spent consolidating incorrect techniques.  I have encountered many pilots with a CPL who were unaware that an aircraft which stalls in a climbing turn can drop the outside wing as it stalls. Upon being apprised of this fact, they still had no idea why it does that, or how to avoid it doing that. Pilots and motorcyclists both need theory training, practical instruction and as much practice as mastering each skill takes. Prior to doing level 1 of the cornering course, I ran wide on turns on country roads (after going into turns a bit fast) on the scooter and on the VTR250 more than once. I didn’t understand why it was happening or how to fix it. I now do. In the 200,000kms since the cornering course, I have not run wide on a corner once. I learned at least 4 things to do to tighten up a turn and hold the required line. You need to know what they are and how and when to do them. (This blog post contains general advice and is not a primer on cornering or any other technique).
  • There is no theory course available in motorbike riding that comes anywhere close to the comprehensive theory training and testing you have had to undertake to get your commercial pilot licence. So you will have to find out what you need to know in terms of theory from books, magazines, the internet, short courses, and the likes of Noel.
    • There is more to the theory of riding a motorbike than meets the eye at first glance. Precisely how a motorbike turns is counter-intuitive and something of a black art which is not easily explained. Understanding all the  variables involved in a turn (of which gyroscopic precession is just the start), and being able to understand and explain why it is that a turn to the left at anything above very slow speeds requires that you push the left handlebar forward, will have you scratching your head for a while. Most riders don’t bother with this, but most pilots who are riders do.
    • Read about braking, understand the limits of ABS, understand braking without ABS, know how long it takes your tyres to warm up, understand the effect on turning of tightly gripping the handlebars. You need to know how long it takes to scrub in new tyres, in what conditions dropping back a gear and accelerating will see your back tyre spin up, how fast can you corner in the wet, how much longer do you need to brake to a stop in the wet etc.
  • As with flying, my advice to you would be to cautiously gain experience in all types of weather right from the outset. Don’t become a fair weather rider. Otherwise you may ride for years without actually riding in driving rain with the wind howling and water flowing across the road. Learn to ride in the weather on your terms, not on the weather’s terms. I have ridden in all sorts of weather from day 1 and I believe that has been of great benefit to me. Of course, a wet ride is a slow ride. But for most weather conditions, there is a speed at which it can be done safely (even if that speed, as Noel and I once discovered when we found ourselves on snow and ice 2kms above the snow line in mid winter on Mt Buller, is less than walking speed). If you avoid bad weather, odds on you will first encounter it at night, somewhere unfamiliar to you, on dirt roads, with the bike heavily packed, your tyres perhaps having done one trip more than they should have before being replaced, you being exhausted etc. Also, it took me about 5 years to work out how to actually stay dry on a motorbike for the whole ride in really wet weather. You may as well start on the warm and waterproof clothing project early.
  • Whether or not you intend to ever ride-off road, do an off-road course of some type sooner rather than later. Believe me, even if you don’t go looking for dirt, at some point it will find you (extensive road works, extensive detours, taking a wrong turn, an impulse decision to take the turn off to the national park which is only 150kms there and back, getting lost). There are specific techniques needed and used only by dirt bike riders, and you at least need to know what they are. I unwisely did a few epic trips (by my modest standards) on the GS well off the beaten track before I knew anything about off-road riding, and I made mistakes which could have had serious consequences. I don’t recommend this course. Riding solo up the Barry Way on the GS from Gippsland to Jindabyne in winter with virtually no experience on narrow winding and wet clay and boggy sandy roads comes to mind. So does being deep in the Flinders Ranges, again solo, riding 15kms or so down a minor dirt road to nowhere late afternoon, without anybody knowing I was there, finding a mesa-like formation in the middle of a valley, and electing to ride up it to get a photo of the desert palette on the valley wall illuminated by the late afternoon sun.  The mesa thing was steep and its sides were severely water eroded with large gullies dissecting what may once have been a track. I just pointed the bike uphill on the best candidate for a track and gunned it. I wasn’t even standing on the pegs or leaning forward. I quickly had my front wheel diverted by deep gullies off the chosen path, and ended up stalled on boulders of around a foot diameter on the side of the track, with the bike leaning well to the left as my left toe balanced on a rock. The angle of lean was microns away from the tipping point. For a time I couldn’t get traction or strength through my boot to get the bike upright, and I certainly didn’t want to drop it where I knew I was unlikely to be able to get it upright again without help. With my left leg beginning to shake and weaken, I held the leaning bike just a bit longer, started the engine, and with a bit of rocking backwards and forwards using the engine and gravity I gained better purchase and got the bike upright and balanced again. But I was now astride 230kgs of motorbike, both wheels wedged on, in and around rocks, and only half way up the hill. The ‘track’ was now 3-4 paces to my right. I thought for a while, which proved fruitless.  The best I could come up with was that rather than crawl up the hill rock at a time, I would try standing on the pegs, give it a bit of throttle and go for broke. I did this fully expecting to end up on the ground, but to my immense surprise to this day, the bike bucked and bounced and growled and groaned and I somehow ended up back on the eroded track. I stopped and switched the engine off to consider my luck and regain composure. Then I rode to the top and got the photo. The trip down was nearly but not quite as breathtakingly stupid. Knowing what I now know about riding up and down hills safely, I could do the same trip repeatedly and safely. Don’t do what I did Andrew – having a go without the required knowledge or skills has its limits. I exceeded them on this occasion, and got lucky.
Flinders Ranges scenery
This was the photo of the Flinders Ranges taken from the top of the mesa thing. I recall contemplating that my next photo was likely to be of the bike lying down somewhere extremely inconvenient. It’s anOK photo, but what was I thinking?!?
  • All pilots at some point go low flying – some train and manage the risk as well as possible, others do it as a spontaneous and unplanned act which seemed a good idea at the time and often ends badly.  Fatalities occur in both categories. As you know Andrew, there are ways to manage the low flying risk very well, and you have had specialist training in this regard. It’s not that low flying should be avoided permanently, but rather that its inherent risks should be very carefully and competently assessed, and managed. The motorcyclist’s equivalent is high speed cornering; high speed for the particular corner that is – which could be 60kph on a hairpin bend, or 250kph on a sweeper. Cornering on a motorbike is great joy when done well. We have all seen Valentino and Casey with their knee slider pressed into the bitumen, their elbow almost touching the tarmac as they hang off the bike by the crook of one knee at an angle of 60 degrees or so – heady stuff. But, don’t ever corner anything like this on a public road.
    • My advice is that after doing a cornering course or two at the likes of Phillip Island, if the training day has not been enough fun for you as you try to channel Casey on turn 4 at Phillip Island, then book in for a track day there. Personally I found the courses gave me plenty of practice at turning at my limits, and I am not attracted to track days where the inexperienced all try to ride like the champions they are not, with only a fraction of the skill they imagine they have, often passing each other with margins and skill levels that are utterly dangerous.  When you ride at Phillip Island or Eastern Creek, the track is perfectly formed, it’s in perfect condition, it is swept before you ride, marshals are positioned with flags to give warning of incidents or other hazards, all traffic is going the same way, there are no active side roads, there is no wildlife, there are no rock falls, there is no surprise water on the track, you are sharing the track with like minded riders with nothing on their mind but cornering well and accommodating other rides safely. Further, if you come off (which in my experience usually happens to at least one rider at most track days) there is nothing to hit. You can slide to a good result. Do all your cornering to your limits on racetracks only. I once had the back wheel on the GS ‘step out’ as they say, on dry bitumen at about 160kph on turn 12 at Phillip Island. It got my complete attention. I learned from it. I still remember it vividly. But I have never been close to that happening on roads. As an instructor at Phillip Island said in one of the courses I did, anybody hanging off the bike and trying to corner like Rossi or Stoner on the highway, is a wanker. This species of rider can be seen regularly on the Great Ocean Road unfortunately. But the Darwin principle is keeping their numbers down.
    • At Phillip Island, the principal track factors in going around a corner fast are the radius of the turn, the nature of the track surface and the camber of the road. To ride the GOR as though the same proposition applies could well be a fatal error. The first limiting factor you will encounter on a ride on the GOR is always one or more of gravel, rocks, water, wildlife, idiot cyclists, leaf litter, erosion runoff, potholes, wind gusts, large vehicles, stopped vehicles, U-turning vehicles, vehicles on the wrong side of the road, reversing vehicles, pedestrians on the road, pedestrians beside the road – I could go on, but you get my drift.  These hazards are generally encountered long before the Phillip Island pure cornering considerations come into play. Anticipating hazards is a richly rewarding pastime on the GOR (and on the track too of course).
Kangaroos grazing near Wilpena Pound in the Flinders Ranges.
A paddock full of trainee motorbike hazards not yet deployed into active service.        (Flinders Ranges, S.A.)
  • Country roads or city commuting? I only ride on country roads, putting up with the 25kms of city riding either end of a trip through the suburbs to home. I believe the risks of riding in the city substantially outweigh the benefits. I believe the risks of riding on country roads can be more successfully managed than the city risks. This is a personal view, upon which reasonable people could differ. But obviously, my advice to you would be not to ride in cities any more than absolutely necessary. You are so exposed on a motorbike that very minor errors can result in death or very major injury. The reward/risk ratio is all wrong. A topic for another day but worth flagging here is that in Victoria at least, for every major highway there exists a parallel world of excellent secondary sealed roads with virtually no traffic on them. The GPS is your friend in finding them.
Photo of the open road from a motorbike
The start of the last 50kms of a long day of riding in the high country of south eastern New South Wales. This road, discovered by the GPS, was undulating, curving, in perfect condition and empty. It took us to Cooma. I have fond memories of this ride.
  • Whose fault is it if you have an accident?  The best answer I can give to this question is not a factual answer, nor an answer based on legal liability, nor an intuitively obvious answer, but an answer which if adopted creates a specific mindset which may save your skin. My answer is, any accident you have on a motorbike is your fault. Taken literally, this proposition is of course not true. But hear me out. In a car, especially around town, we sometimes see people drive as if their sole aim is to avoid being at fault, as distinct from driving with the dominant aim of not having an accident of any sort at all. Take for example pulling up at a red light in a car. How many drivers instantly check their rear view mirror for the following vehicle in their lane which may not be slowing down at all? In my observation, very few. Car drivers seem to often take comfort in low speed commuting in the proposition that if they get hit from behind the driver behind will be liable, and they won’t get hurt. On a motorbike, if struck from behind, that driver will also be liable. But the motorcyclist will be dead or gravely injured. On a motorbike, monitoring the threat from behind is a critical safety step, combined with leaving the bike in first gear when stopped at an intersection (and other places on the road) to keep alive some chance of successful defence against the threat from behind.  Any accident on a motorbike can see you dead or catastrophically injured. So if you have the mindset that you will ride in a manner which avoids all situations where you might cause an accident, as well as all situations where another driver might cause an accident (regardless of whose fault it is), you are better prepared for survival on the motorbike.
    • As a further example of putting this idea into practice,  consider the situation where you are riding down the main road and the driver of a vehicle on your left is stopped at a T intersection and looks at you (as you perceive it) without the car moving forward, waiting until just before you pass him to suddenly accelerate out and crash into you, not having seen you at all as it turns out. This accident is your fault. Drivers at T intersections do that. You have a small visual profile and are often afflicted with invisibility in traffic. Slow down as you approach, don’t rely on any perception/wishful thinking that you have established eye contact and reached tacit agreement that he will yield right of way to you; go to the right of your carriageway if possible to give you a bit more time to react – you get the idea. Do not maintain 60, 70 or 80kph feeling secure in the knowledge that the law requires that he stays put and in the firm belief he will therefore not come out and collide with you. That is merely his legal obligation, not a forecast of what is likely to happen.
  • Risk management check listCCH
    • CONFIDENCE
      • As a pilot you understand very well that overconfidence or under-confidence can kill you in an aeroplane. It can do the same on a motorbike.  I view my confidence level as a pilot and as a motorcyclist as being a bit like a sine wave with a few irregularities, which is always moving up and down between two parallel lines being the threshold of overconfidence and the threshold of under-confidence. You and I can both identify the sorts of events that allow overconfidence to rise, and the sort that can see it plummet to low levels. The amount of elapsed time since the last fright is one obvious factor. This variation in confidence level is normal. Recognising the variation and riding accordingly is less common. Most recreational riders do not monitor their confidence level on a given day or on a particular part of a ride, which means of course they do not ride in a manner which takes changing confidence levels into account. You must also recognise that overconfidence and under-confidence both reduce your capacity to ride safely. My capacity to ride from say Lorne to Apollo Bay which entails a glorious collection of curves, and a remarkable collection of hazards, varies from time to time according to my confidence level, and I vary the way I ride accordingly.
    • CONDITIONS
      • External hazards which will affect the whole ride, or the whole of the next sector.
      • Is the road wet, dry, dirt, busy, familiar, unfamiliar, is it wildlife hour, windy, dark, into the sun? You get the idea. Make your own list for each particular ride or for different parts of a ride.
    • HAZARDS
      • Apart from conditions certain to affect the risk level on the whole ride, are there other specific hazards I must allow for? Here I consider factors such as: the probability of drivers appearing on the wrong side of the road on the GOR, cyclists riding three abreast and slowly, rockfalls on the road, spring water flowing over an otherwise dry road, dodgy road repairs, riding a distance over which fatigue becomes a factor, the extent of my recent riding experience, am I feeling fully fit, am I hydrated, am I hungry, are my thoughts distracted by something? There is some overlap here with factors a pilot must consider before flying.
    • You would appreciate that only pilots who ride motorbikes would ever even consider creating such a check list, or remember to use it. Probably best you don’t mention it to non-pilots. I find it useful though and I use it and commend it (or your version of it) to you. I use it at the start of a ride, and at times such as at the start of a series of curves, or when it starts to rain, or as the sun sets, or after having a coffee stop. Less frequently than I would do a CLEAR check in a light aircraft, but more frequently than only at the commencement of a ride.
  • Wear the right gear. No excuse for not doing this at all times. I recall Noel kindly offering to ferry my motor scooter from Melbourne to Apollo Bay one summer years ago. He didn’t own a motorbike at the time, and I knew he only had really old riding gear. So foolishly, I was reassured when he told me he had protective gear. He turned up at Cawood St on a very hot day with his bare and thonged feet planted on the rubber mats either side of the scooter, a loose pair of gray trackie daks flapping in the breeze, and wearing a worn out off-white Pelaco men’s shirt with the sleeves rolled down. His helmet was the gutted fibreglass shell of what had once been a helmet – zero foam and padding inside. Must have echoed a bit, not to mention being mighty uncomfortable. I asked on arrival where the protection was, and Noel said that the shirt with sleeves rolled down provided great sun protection.
    • If it’s too hot for the good gear, it’s too hot to ride.
    • On my lap around the country in 2010 I had a little lie down with the GS on a deep sea of coarse gravel on a bend in the Gulf Country. I was wearing my Dainese (top of the range) pants, and a DriRider (bottom of the range) mesh jacket with protective pieces in the shoulders, elbows and back. As I cruised to a complete halt on my side in the thick red gravel, the pants worked perfectly. In fact the zip on the pocket over my left hip upon which I slid, works perfectly to this day. No bruises, no blood. I did bang up a rib a bit which modified my breathing and sleeping habits for a week or two, but nothing serious. The cheap jacket was less useful – the protective piece in the left elbow turned out to be workshy when the call came, and rotated out of the way to protect itself, leaving my elbow to the mercy of the mesh and the gravel. It dug a bit of a hole and it bled a bit. You get what you pay for in protective gear.
Damaged motorbike jacket after fall
These snaps and the comment are from the blog I kept in 2010 when I rode around Australia. When it comes to protective gear, you get what you pay for!
  • Don’t wear an open face helmet. Colonel Klink was amusing, having no facial features below your nose is not.
  • Don’t wear fingerless gloves unless you have a penchant for fingerless hands.
  • Take the risk of hypothermia seriously. There’s cold and then there’s cold. You can ride out the drive under-dressed, and immediately feel cold. Easily fixed.  Alternatively, you can head off on a trip dressed in a manner you think appropriate for the conditions, and for a while it seems you were right. But 4-5 hours later you are starting to feel cold. This is when hypothermia becomes a key. It may have actually got colder, or you may not have dressed adequately. It doesn’t matter which. You should stop and take steps to get warm. If your body is shivering uncontrollably, you must stop and take steps to get warm. I find that a series of layers works better than one or two thick undergarments. If the ambient air temp is in single digits, just have a guess at the windchill-adjusted temp your body is exposed to at highway cruise speed into a head wind. Equally, dress sensibly and safely in the heat.
  • Think about the CG when loading your bike. Keep the weight forward. I once loaded the new GS up with a pillion and so much luggage that when I accelerated away slowly, it was obvious that I was at risk of doing the entire trip with the front wheel in the air.  I repacked so I would have steering available for the whole trip.
  • Group or solo riding? My preference is for solo riding, with one exception, which is riding with Noel (and occasional very carefully selected guest riders such as you or Hamish). I know of a rider who did a Victorian high country ride with a bunch of old blokes without much experience. He was rammed from behind on the road between Falls Creek and Anglers’ Rest, which sent him over the edge and into the scrub, destroying his bike but fortunately not injuring him much. I have ridden on the odd occasion with a friend riding behind, who had no idea of an appropriate distance. Noel and I have intercoms as you know, with a line of sight range of around 1000m. When riding together we are generally on the edge of intercom range. But when you find someone whose conversation and company you enjoy and whose riding you respect, riding in such company is a joy.
Motorbikes on dirt road near Arkaroola in the Flinders Ranges
Mid-winter in the Flinders Ranger, South Australia. Air temp 0 degrees C. Noel and I had just ridden out of an even colder valley in the pre-dawn shadows, and stopped to enjoy a bit of sunshine when we finally found some. If I had to come up with a caption for this photo, it would be that we are brothers and we ride together. This image brings back great memories for both of us.
  • Final thoughts. 
    • As a pilot, you have training and experience in making your own decisions as to all sorts of safety related matters. Many of these are life and death decisions. Exercise the same principles on the motorbike. Don’t get involved in races. Don’t feel the need to perform for those riding with you. If they bolt past and head off at the speed of light – let them go. Ride at your own speed, according to conditions as you read them, and don’t ride if you don’t want to. What’s safe for one rider on a given day in a given set of circumstances may be lethal for another. Never take your ego riding with you. Make your own decisions.
    • There is no car you ever need to pass to make a point. On a motorbike you are way faster than virtually all of them. You have nothing to prove.
    • Don’t formally or informally measure point to point times (e.g Apollo Bay to Lorne). It will only tempt you to do better when the conditions are right. To this day, I have no idea what my fastest trip from AB to Lorne was. This is the result of a deliberate choice to avoid even inadvertently gaining any idea of what that time might be. Attempting fast A to B times leads to accidents. Going fast down a clear straight, or linking a series of suitable turns at speed, and otherwise going at around the speed limit with no thought of the A to B time, is great fun and a lot safer.
    • Don’t engage in retributive or abusive finger gestures, horn blowing or light flashing. If a car is driving dangerously in your vicinity, on a motorbike you need both hands and all controls available to you to minimise or eliminate the risk. Direct all your energy into survival, and none into anger or unhelpful interaction with the driver.
    • One way of eliminating the risk posed by a tail-gater, that never really occurred to me as a car driver, is to either let him past (risk gone!) or change lanes or speed ahead if possible to remove him from your proximity. In a world where merely minimising a risk is so often all that can be done, every chance to eliminate a risk totally should be seized. Yes, the tailgater is in the wrong, he does not deserve to be ‘rewarded’ by letting him past and yes you could punish him by keeping him behind you. But by putting such notions out of your mind and leaving your ego out of the response, you can let him past and totally eliminate a real risk. Seems like a no-brainer to me.
    • On multi-lane roads, never sit in a driver’s blindspot. Either pull back of pass. Your are vulnerable for as long as he can’t see you.
    • Regardless of the speed you are doing, don’t assume you are the fastest thing on the road. The great acceleration and speed of a modern motorbike can make you lazy as to head checks. You may  come up behind a car at twice his speed, and be tempted to assume there will be nobody about to overtake you, and just pull out to pass. But I have been passed by motorbikes doing well over 200kph on public roads.
    • Leave a big gap from the car in front in heavy traffic and on the highway.
    • At traffic lights, as you come to a stop, always leave the bike in gear and immediately check your rear vision mirror, as the next threat to your safety could well be coming from directly behind.
    • Never compromise on tyre quality or condition.
    • Wash your bike regularly, if only to check regularly that nothing is coming loose or wearing out.
    • Don’t list to music or podcasts while riding. While it may seem that when cruising on a straight road the distraction factor may not pose a risk, remember that at all times on a motorbike you have to be prepared to be once-in-a-lifetime-brilliant to save your life. Singing harmonies to your favourite artist necessarily erodes the quality of your state of readiness. You will hear different views on this topic. But this is what I practice on a motorbike, and in an aircraft. When I was PIC, I never had the ADF tuned to the ABC (nothing else on offer in remote areas in which I flew). I offer this personal view for your consideration.
    • Ask experienced motorcyclists you respect what their top tips are for staying upright on a motorbike. I did and it produced an interesting, helpful and thought provoking list.
    • Taking all of the above into account is no guarantee you won’t get hurt on a motorbike. But if heeded and applied, suggestions such as I have offered will help you to manage the risks inherent in motorbike riding such that the risk is reduced to an entirely acceptable level. A bit like flying eh?
    • This little list and indeed this entire blog post is far from exhaustive.
    • Finally, buy a good quality robust camera. You will see things on most rides that you will want to photograph.
BMW R1200GS on the Great Ocean Road near Port Campbell
I have a small number of favourite vistas around the countryside, most of which I can’t resist photographing on every visit. This is one of them – the  GOR near Port Campbell, looking east towards Gibson Steps. My camera goes with me on most trips.
Motorbike cornering on the Great Ocean Road
I’ve never had a motorbike ride I didn’t enjoy. This was taken with a GoPro mounted on the crash bar. It’s one of the final curves heading west out of the Glenaire Valley. Castle Cove is just one corner away.

In flying terms Andrew, you’ve got your student pilot licence, passed your medical, and have yet to learn how to do a daily inspection on an aircraft before strapping in and starting the engine. You’ve got a licence to learn. Proceed cautiously, on an informed basis, with risk management in the forefront of your mind at all times while riding.

I am looking forward to riding with you and Noel some time. As discussed recently, the first series of rides together will see you in your excellent protective gear on your underpowered VTR250 between Noel and me. Looking forward to your company on the road. One day Andrew, I might even get off your back about motorbike risk management and safety. But I’ve checked my diary, and there is no entry for this event any time soon.

14 thoughts on “Advice to Andrew upon obtaining his Motorcycle Licence

  1. Thank you for writing such a comprehensive piece for me to start my learning with, John. I read the lot this morning and look forward to beginning my motorbike education once I have a machine to learn on – tossing up between a VTR250 or a VTR250.

    On Sunday afternoon Hamish (may recall having) committed to joining me for the Level 1 course at the California Superbike School, so we’ll tee that up for the first opportunity after I get back from work.

    I specifically asked Dad for any contributions he may wish to add once he’s finishing reading your blog post. I intend to make full use of my available mentors.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re welcome. Very pleased to hear about Hamish committing to level 1 of the California Superbike School. Should nicely complement his training at the Strathmerton paddock.

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  2. Nice one Andrew. Remember I’m here to help out with any tips and advice also. I grew up on a farm in Strathmerton and we grew up with dirt-bikes!
    PS please make sure you mention this comment to John 🙂

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  3. Great post John – Andrew is lucky to have you as a mentor. I’m sure he will get to our level of riding very quickly with your excellent tips, and also through me imparting some of my knowledge from the dirt bike days growing up in Strathmerton.

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    1. Ah yes, the Strathmerton Superbike School. I’m sure Andrew will get to your standard pretty quickly Hambo. In fact he just got his licence and has one ride under his belt. Sounds as though he’s there already.

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      1. Its a little long but I endorsed the sentiments particularly doing the Advanced Cornering Course. Andrew go for the VTR 250
        Alan

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  4. Your Andrew may be a generation behind us John but some times things just don’t change. Like Andrew I didn’t have any lessons, though the difference was that ‘nobody’ had lessons in those days, but furthermore unlike Andrew I didn’t receive any wise counsel. Just ‘get out there, you’ll pick it up as you go’. But my incentive to have a motor bike was that you could get your bike licence at 17 yrs, 9 months which for me was the last day of first year uni and the celebrations were about to start. So licence in the morning, off to Mt Martha to a friends house, wet road and the inevitable – bike slips out, slides along the wet road. Fortunately it was a big, heavy, slow Honda 300 unlike your nippy, light 250 you had first and so just got back on and off to celebrate! The first of many “I wasn’t expecting that”, “Nobody ever told me that could happen” etc. But I was fortunate and though I sold my last bike in my mid 20’s and hadn’t ridden a bike since the driver’s licence was still endorsed so I could legally ride over 40 years late! They’re a little more vigilant in the aviation world thank goodness.
    All the best. Stay safe. Richard

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    1. I enjoyed reading your reflections on your youthful and temporary dalliance with motorbikes Richard. No mentors, no advice, no instruction, just youthful exuberance and a robust ‘have a go’ attitude. I must confess to smiling at you making it only to the afternoon of the day you got your motorbike licence before your first lesson (traction or lack thereof in the wet) was delivered. ‘I wasn’t expecting that’ must surely be a common utterance made by all students learning to ride in the school of hard knocks. Well done on surviving suburban CBD motorbike riding without any training until your mid 20s; and, good decision not to buy another one given your disinclination to receive any training in the science and art of motorbike riding.
      Cheers,
      John

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  5. Great post John.
    I’m relieved both my boys grew up with dirt bikes and we often rode together and did the odd course. I’d love Jimmy to do California Superbike School as he has the same model bike that I had when I did it.
    I’m surprised that I survived my early bike years without any special clothing, just helmet and gloves. But it was mainly city commuting in Melbourne and London.
    Even dirt riding later didn’t require more than enduro pants and jersey with no padding!
    Hope to see you again soon.
    Gil

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  6. Thanks John, I think I will keep this post just in case I have a grand kid that may want to ride! Certainly not for me but a good read!

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