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Motorcycling: IAM's Skills For Life put to the test

'What is the speed limit on a dual carriageway?'

'What is the speed limit on a dual carriageway?'

I smile, and almost rub my hands. I know this one.

'It's 60mph,' I reply.

'Sure?'

'Yup, definitely 60.'

'WRONG!'

'It's 70mph.'

And so began my first IAM lesson for the advanced riding qualification. I'd signed up with the Glasgow South branch after doing the Bikesafe course a couple of years previously. Sadly, Police Scotland have axed that to concentrate on a more aggressive approach, with extra enforcement patrols across Scotland.

The most recent figures show 21 people were killed in motorcycle accidents in Scotland in 2012, with a number of well publicised fatalties this year already so taking extra training was a no-brainer, especially as it can get you discounts on bike insurance.

Still, pre-conceived ideas of wall-to-wall pipe-smoking BMW riders meant that I rolled up not quite sure to expect, and hoping that my aftermarket exhaust - a Remus Grand Prix, since you ask - wouldn't see me thrown out before I got going.

But, no, as long as the bike is road legal, and you've the documents to prove it, you'll be fine. There is plenty of Beemers but a good few sports bikes and commuter machines, too.

You don't need the latest gear but if you turn up in flip flops and a leather vest you'll probably be sent home quicker than you can say road rash.

After that, it's a quick chat about your riding, anything you wish to get out of the training, ie better cornerning technique, more confidence in city riding, not getting squish on your way to work, and you're off.

Generally, there will be one observer to each trainee, though occassionally there may be two trainees. The script is the same each time. We meet at a top seret location (OK, Morrison's car park in Shawlands after work.) You'll be given a route and follow it for, say, five miles, when you'll pull over and discuss how you got on. Then repeat until it gets dark, on a variety of roads.

A word about the observers. They are all volunteers, giving up their spare time to help dolts like me and I'd like to take my hat, or helmet, off to them. They are obsevers, not trainers, and although they will make suggestions and point things out, they make it quite clear that it is entirely up to you to follow their advice, or not.

If you are the sort of person who thinks they know it all, or who goes on about 'saving it with my knee' on the five times they take their bike out the garage each summer, it's probably not for you. Basically, you get what you put in.

Ocassionally, the observers will make a demonstration ride, especially, if like me, you are loathed to take the correct position on the left for right handers. One of the big things that was drummed into me was positioning, postioning, positioning. I'm not claiming to be the fastest road rider - because I'm not - but by moving to the left for right handers, and the right for left handers, I'm now getting a far better view around the corners, making for greater progress and making me more visible to myopic drivers.

It surprises me how many experienced motorcyclists I see taking corners with bad lines. If you saw the recent video of a numpty in the north of England plunging 40ft off the Cat and Fiddle in Cheshire you'll know what I mean. If not search for 'Cat and Fiddle motorcycle crash' on Youtube. Maybe instead of appearing on the BBC warning us all to be careful, this gentleman would be better of doing an IAM course.

The Glasgow South group make a point of heading for the gnarliest, twistiest roads they can find...and they don't hang around. Any fool can hit 90mph on a straight but it takes a lot more skill to take the corners at the speed limit.

There are groups across Scotland but I found the Glasgow South group to be very friendly and welcoming. It's mostly men, both riding and observing, but there is often a female rider with the group.

The observed runs started this month and run until September. When you reach a level where the observers are happy with your progress, they'll advise you to put yourself forward for the IAM advanced motorcycle test, which is carried by an IAM-appointed examiner holding a police advanced motorcycle certificate.

I'm afraid to report that I've not reached that stage yet depsite the best efforts of the observers but, believe me, when I do, you'll hear about.

The Skill for Life package costs £139. See iam.org.uk for your local group.

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