I have been riding for about 6 years now. In the first 4 years I didn’t own a car and I rode every day, rain, hail or shine. Clocking up hundreds of kilometres per week. I commuted every day and then rode on weekends for fun. At one point I rode the coromandel loop twice in a week, 4 times in a month. I eventually began to think I was invincible and lost my respect for the dangers of motorcycling. I ended up crashing twice within 3 months – once on the road and then on the track. I walked away from both, but the second crash on the track could have left me dead or a cripple had the stars not aligned. After that, I dialled back my riding. I commuted occasionally but I mainly kept my motorcycles to ride on weekends. I began to appreciate the time I spent riding and there was a healthy amount of respect once again for what can happen if things go wrong on a motorcycle. Nonetheless, I realised it was important for me to keep up with roadcraft and make sure I wasn’t allowing bad habits to be ingrained in my riding. So, I made a commitment to attend a Ride Forever course every year. This is the first time I’ve decided to write about it. I believe every rider can benefit from these courses. Your riding career can go one of two ways –
These are the riders who jump straight on a powerful bike, have no appreciation for roadcraft, or both. They will often have a big crash and stop riding shortly after. Most likely because they never had insurance and can’t afford another bike, or they got injured and spooked. Almost always never wear the right gear and never appreciated the inherent dangers of motorcycling.
These are the riders who have been riding for decades. Not just held a licence but actually rode consistently. They can be quick but above all they are safe. They know how to read the road, read the signs and predict other factors that will affect their situation – such as drivers, wildlife and roadworks. Most of these guys I’ve met seem to eventually end up on adventure bikes or nakeds. Go figure.
I want to end up as a veteran. So Ride Forever is the way to go. There is no other way in New Zealand to keep your skills up to par.
Morning – Start of the course
The course I chose started out in Albany. On a wet day. Ride forever courses clearly state the course will take place regardless of the weather. Which is perfectly fair as you never know what type of conditions you’ll encounter in a day of riding, especially in New Zealand. We met the instructor at a Columbus Coffee Cafe. After brief introductions, we discussed the plan for the day and went over some basic roadcraft such as a reminder to stay out wide prior to corner entry and beginning your lean in and exit as the corner opens up – looking for the vanishing point. Counter-steering was also discussed, a classic conversation piece for any rider. Thankfully, no one argued that counter-steering only needs to happen sometimes when cornering – good, our group has their heads screwed on.
It was a good selection of riders and bikes. 3 were about to move from their restricted to their full licence whilst the rest were on their full licences and there to brush up on their skills. I was on my Mighty DRZ400, there was a Hyosung 250, LAMS 660 Street Triple, BMW adventure bike, MT-03 and a Hayabusa. Our instructor, Ben, rode a Suzuki V-Strom. We travelled through Albany to Riverhead. The group warmed up over the course of the ride as each student was given an intercom so the instructor and students could communicate between each other. Ben was very friendly and easy-going so everyone felt comfortable right away. From Riverhead to Kaukapakapa, the instructor would get each rider to ride ahead of him to assess them. The intercoms were useful in providing immediate feedback. After a brief stop at Kaukapakapa to regroup, we continued to the lookout at the top of State Highway 16.
The instructor had already given me some feedback – I was told to move over into the outside line a bit sooner prior to entering corners and also give a bit more room as I passed roads to my left. Both things are subtle habits which I would have never noticed and corrected myself but were picked up straight away by an instructor and could be the difference between a close call or even a crash and making it home in one piece.
Second Leg- Downhill in Neutral
The group continued on to Wellsford where we had lunch at a cafe in Wellsford. Time was spent getting to know each other and discuss mostly non-motorcycling related things. We then headed off to Matakana via Whangaripo Valley Rd. Somewhere around halfway up Whangaripo Valley Rd, you will reach the peak of the mountain side. We stopped here and Ben told us the next exercise will involve riding the upcoming downhill section in neutral with our engines running while using the brakes as required to control our speed. This exercise is useful to teach us to brake on straight sections prior to corner entry so as not to overload the front wheel and risk a potential slip. The exercise also teach us to be smooth through corners, the characteristics of the bike in neutral going downhill are akin to riding with the throttle cracked slightly open so there is no engine braking and excessive weight transfer to the front wheel as is otherwise the case in downhill sections.
I volunteered as tribute first and made my way down. Although I have ridden down plenty of hills, especially around the Coromandel and I’ve also ridden this particular road many times, I had never done it in neutral! The absence of engine braking was unnerving to begin with. My brakes were suddenly much louder and I could feel the suspension and tyres working through the handlebars much more as the vibrations and harmonics of the DRZ engine were almost non-existent. I struggled to take the first corner due to these strange sensations but eventually got the hang of it and it felt like riding a bicycle rather than a motorbike. I was a lot smoother through the corners as I didn’t have to contend with the throttle and instead relied on momentum to carry me through, even overtaking a 4WD on the way down!
Home Stretch – The notorious Woodcocks road
From Matakana we rode to Warkworth. I was in the lead once again and this time the instructor gave me another hot tip – Following distances! I was following the car in front too closely. I never considered my following distances as needing attention prior to this day. I simply never noticed. But the instructor did. I made a conscious effort for the rest of the day to maintain a 2-3 second gap.
Woodcocks road is infamous for its tight corners, mossy and poorly maintained surfaces, one lane bridges and many a motorcyclist has fallen victim to its hazards. Our ride through Woodcocks went without any issues, although the roads were damp at some points. Once we all regrouped at the end, we headed back to Kaukapakapa and back towards Albany. Throughout all this, the instructor was assessing us and providing useful feedback. He gave particular attention to our fellow rider on the Hayabusa who was given some useful advice on how better to push his bike through the twisty Woodcocks road corners. The rider definitely seemed more confident after that. Once again driving home my belief even 10 minutes of a qualified instructor riding behind you and giving advice is probably worth hours and hours of riding alone trying to hone skills yourself!
Braking drills and home time
Once back in Albany, we went to an empty carpark at Massey University to practice braking drills. The instructor spoke about the difference between braking using the rear only, front only and both together. The stopping power of a motorcycle is much greater using the front brake compared to the rear brake but using both together is always advisable, especially when emergency braking. We were also told to pull the clutch only at the last second as we come to a complete stop, to allow for engine braking to aid emergency braking to its full extent. During practice, my uncoordinated brain shone through. I kept grabbing the clutch when I braked hard! This was instinctual and very hard to break in the short session we did. I also couldn’t stop myself from using the rear brake each time, even when I tried to only use the front brake! Hard to break habits… But it doesn’t matter, as I mentioned previously, using both brakes is better than just one and at least I could do that.
Once the emergency braking session was done, we had a quick debrief. Summarised what we had learnt and were given our certificates. We were told to present these to our insurance company as we may get a rebate on our premiums or lower the excess. Those who held a full licence for more than 5 years also get a rebate on their ACC levy of their motorcycle registration. We were also given some freebies such as neck warmers and pens. Clearly, every dollar spent on the silver course ($50) pays for itself many times over.
I personally think the Ride Forever courses, such as the one run by Passmasters are priceless. These courses save lives and are a proactive solution to motorcycle safety and education rather than reactive. The skills we learnt on the day are new and invaluable for riders and a much-needed refresher for more experienced riders to help break bad habits. There’s only so much you can learn by watching Youtube or reading Twist of the Wrist! If you’re on the fence about doing a course, don’t hesitate at all, sign up and do it!
About Ride Forever
“Ride Forever is an ACC initiative, aimed at giving riders sound information and access to training, so they can make better choices.”
“Ride Forever was established in 2009 after we’ve identified two looming issues. The first was that, after a period through the 1990s when motorcycles shrank in popularity, motorcycling was booming again. With more people riding, many of them ‘born again’ and lacking recent experience–crashes, injuries and fatalities were rising fast. The second was the realisation that conventional safety messaging and programmes just would not resonate with the majority of riders. Motorcyclists knew their passion involved risk and accepted it. What was needed was a way to engage with riders and find solutions they would take up and endorse.”
“Passmasters Rider training NZ was born in 2010 and aims to provide New Zealand with world class level of riding tuition.”
“Passmasters was originally founded by Chris Smith, First qualifying as a motorcycle instructor in London 15 years ago. With decades of riding and adventures that took him to 19 different countries, Chris has been bestowed with a wealth of knowledge that he was more than happy to pass on to the team at Passmasters along with ‘have fun with it’ ethos. He arrived in Aotearoa in 2008 and happily spent his time teaching people to ride as well as enjoying the fantastic NZ roads for himself.”