For those that might be interested, some details from my Performance Plus training course at cadwell last week.



The 29th September, the day of my performance Plus course at Cadwell dawned chilly, dull, and pouring with rain. It was to remain like that, apart from a short spell without rain in the afternoon, for the rest of the day.

For the first time in a couple of years I put my waterproof suit over my leathers. In my rucksack I packed spare socks, spare gloves and plenty of visor cleaner and cloths for cleaning and drying visor and helmet, visor anti-fog spray and micro-fibre cloth for cleaning and drying my glasses.

At the track it was straight into the noise testing bay (105dB limit) where the bike was noise tested and given a quick once over by the scrutineers. Into the office to sign on and have paperwork, disclaimers and driving licence checked.

The formalities over we all went into the clubhouse for the initial briefing, track conditions, marshal's flags, overtaking rules, medical coverage and the importance of not stopping to 'help' in the event of an incident.
The course was divided into two elements the first being on track activities and the second being a fairly informal series of lectures. We were divided into two groups, Group A (my group) being on track in the morning and in the classroom in the afternoon. Group B being in the classroom in the morning and on track in the afternoon.

Group A assembled, nervously, in the pouring rain. The first series of exercises came under the heading of Vehicle Handling. We were taught how to use slipping clutch, fixed throttle opening (about 3000 rpm for touring bikes and around 4500 rpm for sports bikes.) and the rear brake for speed control. We started off riding at low speed in a fairly confined area concentrating on low speed U-turns then leading into full circles on full lock. I have always had a problem on a sports bike with very tight, low speed turns. One of the instructors was watching me, stopped me and asked me to turn my head as far as I could in either direction. My neck movement is somewhat restricted by arthritis and this, he said, was my problem. Once I reached the point where I could no longer see the point to which I was attempting to turn my control went haywire. So long as I could turn my head far enough to see the point I was aiming at I had no problem - lesson learned, try some exercises to try and gain more neck movement. One of the instructors then gave a demonstration of low speed, full lock turns, stopping and balancing the bike anywhere he chose, even starting off with the bars on full lock from a standing start and not reaching walking pace at any point - masterly.

Then it was maximising the use of the brakes, first rear brake, then front brake, then both together. 'How many of you have deliberately locked up your front wheel in the dry?' we were asked. No hands went up, 'In a minute or so you are going to do it in the wet.' he said - there were one or two anxious looks. Out on the rack we lined up about a couple of hundred yards from the instructor. All we had to do was accelerate up through the gears then deliberately lock the rear wheel, control the resultant skid and stop by the instructor. This was repeated until everyone was able to lock, skid, control and stop confidently. Then it was the same exercise with the front brake, squeeze the front brake lever smoothly and increasingly firmly as the weight transferred to the front squashing the tire into the track and increasing the pressure until the front wheel locked. Again and again the exercise was repeated until we were all able to do it at will - I even managed to get the rear wheel well off the ground in the end, my first real 'stoppie' and in the wet. A lot of people were very surprised at just how hard one could brake, safely, in very wet conditions. This was probably the first time that many of us had, deliberately, fully explored the efficiency of our brakes. For most of us it was an eye opener and a great confidence booster.

We were given further insight into the use of the rear brake on the road. How to use it to stabilise the bike going into turns, killing wheelies and the added braking efficiency of using both brakes rather than the front brake only as favoured by most sportsbike riders. A lot of riders were surprised by the reduction in braking distance when using both brakes correctly. The rear brake effort needs to be reduced slowly as the front braking efficiency is increased as the weight transfers to the front of the bike.

Then it was out on the track, at relatively modest speed to put into practice what we had been learning. For this element of the course the track was treated as a road, not a raceway. Concentration, Observation, Positioning and Speed were the key elements of defensive riding brought out in this track session as the instructors gradually increased the pace. I had an advantage as I have ridden Cadwell quite a few times and knew my way round fairly well. It was interesting to see the way the 'newbies' speed and confidence increased lap by lap as they put into use the lessons we had been practising earlier.

The next track session was at an increased pace treating the track as a raceway and learning the perfect lines round each of the bends. Then, after a few laps it was into the paddock for a quick debrief and question and answer session before going out onto the track again. This time the instructors upped the pace for a couple of laps to make sure everyone's tires were nice and warm and then we were waved on to ride at our own pace. It took me about a lap to get to the front of my group and I thought I was doing well, there was no doubt I was certainly smoother and faster, even in the pouring rain, than on previous track-days. Then two instructors came past me, on BMW s, riding side by side - it looked as though they were chatting to each other - and probably going a good ten miles an hour faster than I was. The adrenaline kicked in, if they could do it, in such a relaxed fashion, there was no reason why I couldn't. I knew my bike could go a lot faster, therefore I was the limiting factor. I pushed the limits of my comfort zone a bit, not too much, and managed to keep within a couple of hundred yards of them for the rest of the session.
After a break for lunch my group were in the classroom where the instructors covered Attitudinal Issues, Collision Causation, the importance of Concentration, Observation, Positioning and Speed, Hazard Perception, Cornering, Overtaking, Braking and Use of Gears.

Most of the points were covered by a short videos followed by Q&A sessions. Attitudinal Issues was interesting. We were shown a quick selection of accident pictures and asked to give our interpretation of what had actually happened. In each case a biker had been either injured or killed. One after the other we all started 'The car driver….' 'The lorry driver…… 'The van driver……' . Subsequent discussion showed that in many cases we were wrong and our initial judgements favoured the biker, because we were all bikers. The more we looked at the scene and the more information we were given the more our initial assessments changed. I asked the lecturer a question I have posed before on this forum 'Is there really such a thing as an accident?' He agreed accepting my hypothesis that a so-called accident is usually an accumulation of errors by one or more people and is, in most cases, avoidable. He said that his title, within the police force was originally 'Accident Investigator' but that it had recently been changed, because of the reasons I had given, to 'Collision Investigator.'

Collision Causation was well covered, initially in the above discussions and by further video coverage of hazard situations. The vexed question of 'filtering' led to some lively discussion. It was finally generally accepted that filtering would be considered 'safe' when the filtering biker was travelling at a speed differential of no more than ten to fifteen miles per hour. Filtering to the near-side of traffic in the near-side lane was, we accepted, a risky manoeuvre in that a passenger in a line of stationary traffic would, very likely, open his/her door without even considering that a rider might be filtering.

Positioning on the road is a vital element of rider safety. We all understood that it is important to take up a commanding position when riding on the road. This position will need to be altered according to any perceived hazards ahead. Approaching a crossroad, when on the major road, one should position near to the center of the road to maximise clearance from any vehicle failing to stop, or overlapping, at the junction. If there is a single junction on the right move to the left and vice versa. On bends one should position to the outside of the bend in order to maximise vision round the bend. The extra vision gained gave more time to move towards the inside of the bend if oncoming traffic is seen. At one time the Police were taught, and taught others, to use the full width of the road, where clear, to smooth out bends into a straight line. Subsequently, collision investigations showed that this could be a potentially dangerous manoeuver and the wisdom now is to only use the full width of one's own side of the road. Many pictures of varying road configurations and complexes of bends were used to reinforce the importance of good positioning.

Hazard Perception showed how differently people perceive hazards. I still stick by my own golden rule, anything in front of me, to the side of me or coming up behind me is a potential hazard. I have always used such indicators as the bonnet of a car approaching an open junction, if it doesn't dip then it is not braking. Looking underneath vehicles can show the feet of a pedestrian about to step out. Reflections in shop windows can reveal unseen hazards as can shadows cast on the road. Watch the wheels of a car at a junction, if they start to turn left or right then the car is likely to move out. If waiting at a junction and a car is coming towards you with its left turn indicator flashing what does it mean? It could mean one of several things 'I am about to turn left at your junction.' 'I am about to turn left further down the road.' 'I haven't noticed that my indicator didn't cancel at my last left turn.' 'I always hang my handbag on that little lever.' The permutations are endless - indications are not valid until backed up by further action.

The final workshop was a brief introduction to motorcycle maintenance looking at the tasks that an average owner can manage such as fitting new chain and sprockets or adjusting the chain. Suspension adjustments were covered emphasising the point that the base settings should be recorded before making any adjustments. Adjustments should be made and tested one at a time and records need to be kept of each adjustment in order to be able to return to the base setting at any time. The point was well made that, if you are not confident that you fully understand what you are doing and how to do it, leave it to the experts.

We left Cadwell Park, tired, much wiser than when we arrived in the morning, more confident in the capability of the machines we were riding and,, hopefully, as better riders all round. The Performance Plus course is highly recommended by the author.