When you’re in your 40s going back to school can be a little daunting, especially when you have to learn material you think you already know.

My challenge is to obtain a motorcycle licence, which you need to be legal when riding a bike or scooter bigger than a 50cc on the road.

I can already ride a motorcycle. Countless hours spent hooning about gorse-covered and rabbit-infested sand dunes at Piripai, over the river from Whakatane, on an old Yamaha DT125 ensured I have more than just basic handling abilities. However, the skills you need to make sure you don’t come a cropper flying down narrow stock tracks while trying to avoid getting the foot pegs caught in wireweed fall a little short of what’s required on the road.

First up, I need a learner licence. To get one, I need to prove I can operate a bike by passing a ‘basic handling skills assessment’.

When you get a learner licence to drive a car, one of the requirements is supervision. During the learner period, you must have an experienced driver in the passenger seat.

For learner motorcyclists, the supervision element doesn’t work because there is no passenger seat. Instead, you have to demonstrate to an assessor that you’re able to start and stop confidently, use indicators and complete ‘head checks’: the habit of checking traffic around you.

So I head to the AA Driving School, which now offers motorcycle training – currently only in parts of the Bay of Plenty and Waikato, although more are in the pipeline.

With a keen colleague, who has never been on a motorbike before, I drive two hours from Auckland to Cambridge to catch up with AA Driving School instructor and motorcycle trainer Mark Revill-Johnson, a former police officer in both New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

Mark’s job is to check our bike handling skills, although his first job is to train my colleague to operate the machine from scratch. In a closed-off car park, we negotiate four courses marked out with cones. We both pass; each of us only having a couple of points taken off.

The marks against me relate to head checks – Mark calls them life savers – which are vital if you are to ensure you're not pulling out into the path of a vehicle that your mirrors aren’t revealing. It reminds me that moving from the comparative enclosed safety of a car to the exposed seat of a motorcycle is quite a shift. Those checks become even more critical.

When you’ve been a motorist for nearly 30 years, as I have, there are a few habits and rules that need addressing and possibly refreshing. I’ll have to hone up on the road code too, as getting through a theory test is my next challenge.

Then, I’ll find a starter bike that can handle my middle-aged bones, venture onto quiet suburban streets and build my confidence. I’ll sign up for a few AA Driving School practice tests before going for my restricted licence and I’ll also get some expert training in before my full licence assessment. Plus, I’ll do at least one of ACC’s Ride Forever courses.

Size issues

Learner and restricted motorcycle riders need to pick up plenty of skills before they’re permitted to ride powerful machines. The Learner Approved Motorcycle Scheme (LAMS) was put into place in 2012. It identifies motorcycles that newbies are allowed, based on their performance capability. Essentially, if you’re a learner, you’ve got to take it easy. It used to be that learners couldn’t ride motorcycles bigger than 250cc.

The rules have changed and bigger engines are allowed, depending on their performance. A handful of 250cc motorcycles are actually prohibited because they have too much power. 

A full list of LAMS approved and prohibited motorcycles is on the Transport Agency’s website: nzta.govt.nz  Motorbike INP

Along for the ride

AA Driving School Motorcycle Training is designed to take riders through the licensing process while improving skill levels and encouraging safety and confidence at every stage.

For learners, alongside the basic handling skills assessment, rider training is offered for those who have never experienced a motorcycle with manual gears. For those with a little more experience, novice rider training is available.

Before attempting the restricted licence stage and undergoing the one-and-a-half-hour assessment, it is recommended riders enrol in the AA Driving School's urban, highway and rural training. Training is also offered ahead of the full licence one-hour assessment.

AA Driving School General Manager Roger Venn, a motorcycle rider himself, says concern for motorcycle safety is behind the introduction of these courses.

“All aspects of driver safety are very important to the AA. We felt more needed to be done to reduce crashes involving riders – that’s one of the reasons why the AA Driving School has introduced motorcycle training.

“We also have training available for returning riders who might have had a break from two wheels for a while and want to refresh their skills. And we provide advanced riding techniques, centred on riding safely and efficiently. When you participate in a programme, even if you’re experienced, you find out pretty quickly that there’s always something new to learn that can improve your competence.”

Roger says even minute changes to riding style or tweaking the approach to different scenarios can, and often do, improve ability and confidence on the road. See aadrivingschool.co.nz 

All the gear, all the time

Quality gear protects riders from weather and, in case of an accident, diminishes the damage done to your body. Plus, if you’re not wearing good gear and are cold and wet as a result, your ability to control and operate your bike is compromised.

• Helmets are a legal requirement and full-face, well-fitting helmets are highly recommended.  As helmets degrade with time, they should be replaced every five years. If a helmet is involved in an accident or dropped heavily, it may be weakened and is no longer reliable. Replace it.

• Gloves should be specifically designed for motorbike riding. Choose tough, armoured gloves that are wind-proof, water-proof and strap tightly at the wrist.

• Boots should be rugged with strong soles, good grip and ankle support. 

• Jackets, either heavy leather or tough, high-tech modern fabric, should include pads on the shoulders and back. Consider wearing extra armour for back and chest, and a high-vis vest. 

• Pants should be designed for riding, with armour padding on knees and lower spine. They’re far warmer, more waterproof and more protective than standard jeans.

• One-piece, zip-together suits are the safest option.

You get what you pay for. Investing in good quality protective gear can make the difference between walking away from a spill, or not.

Along for the ride

AA Driving School Motorcycle Training is designed to take riders through the licensing process while improving skill levels and encouraging safety and confidence at every stage.

For learners, alongside the basic handling skills assessment, rider training is offered for those who have never experienced a motorcycle with manual gears. For those with a little more experience, novice rider training is available.

Before attemping the restricted licence stage and undergoing the one-and-a-half-hour assessment, it is recommended riders enrol in the AA Driving School's urban, highway and rural training. Training is also offered ahead of the full licence one-hour assessment.

AA Driving School General Manager Roger Venn, a motorcycle rider himself, says concern for motorcycle safety is behind the introduction of these courses.
“All aspects of driver safety are very important to the AA. We felt more needed to be done to reduce crashes involving riders – that’s one of the reasons why the AA Driving School has introduced motorcycle training.
“We also have training available for returning riders who might have had a break from two wheels for a while and want to refresh their skills. And we provide advanced riding techniques, centred on riding safely and efficiently. When you participate in a programme, even if you’re experienced, you find out pretty quickly that there’s always something new to learn that can improve your competence.”
Roger says even minute changes to riding style or tweaking the approach to different scenarios can, and often do, improve ability and confidence on the road. 
See AA Driving School - Motorcycle Training 

On course

ACC’s subsidised Ride Forever programme is all about reducing bike-related accidents. Motorcycles and scooters make up just three per cent of vehicles on New Zealand roads but are involved in 20% of the cost of vehicle-related claims paid by ACC.

Ride Forever is a coaching programme created to improve motorcycle rider safety in all conditions, on different surfaces and in various environments. ACC Motorcycle Programme Manager David Keilty says the programme, which kicked off a few years ago is providing “very positive returns”. It doubled in size during 2015 and 2016 and is expected to keep growing.

Most of the courses run for a full day and are available for beginner riders, experienced riders and those who are returning to bikes after a pause and need to sharpen their skills. ACC covers the $249 cost of the course; participants are required to pay a $20-$50 administration fee depending on the level of the programme selected.

“Regardless of your current skills, ability or experience, there’s always something you can learn to help you handle your bike better and cope more confidently with whatever the road throws at you.” 

Reported by Liam Baldwin for our AA Directions Summer 2017 issue

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