The most challenging road based motorcycle course!
Without doubt the most challenging road based motorcycle course you can undertake is a police riding course. This article discusses the normal syllabus of police rider training – which may not be what you had expected.
My force was West Midlands and we had a policy where your initial entry requirement was to merely have held a full motorcycle licence for twelve months – and ideally to be riding a medium to large capacity motorcycle on a regular basis during that time. An Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) or Royal Society for the Protection of Accidents (RoSPA) qualification would do no harm. In later years and in line with more stringent selection, such courses required a pre-course assessment day.
Transferring skills to a motorcycle is not an easy process
There used to be three levels of police motorcycle course – standard, intermediate and advanced. Nowadays, there are only two – standard and advanced. The difference being that with standard police motorcycle training, on qualification, you would only be allowed to ride a ‘patrol bike’ on a part time basis and you would not be allowed to do any escorts such as ambulance, VIP and royal escort riding.
Participants would also need to be a qualified police car driver (any level). The main reason being that on motorcycles you get a debrief about once an hour, whereas in a car you would be required to implement ‘commentary drives’, with ‘real time’ input from a police instructor. As a qualified police driver, you would therefore already have a full understanding of ‘the system’ – albeit, transferring those skills to a motorcycle is not an easy process.
Officer and public safety have to be the number one priority
All police motorcycle courses start with three students and one instructor. If you see such a group, the lead rider will be a student, number two is the instructor (you can usually identify him by all the head shaking!). Riders three and four are also likely to be students, awaiting their turn to lead, after a debrief. Courses follow the same basic format of a ride element, an obstacle course element and written police rider examinations. Standards are extremely high and every part of a police motorcycle riding course has an 80% minimum pass mark!
There are two ride tests, a midpoint (progress test) and a final test. Attrition tends to be high, with students leaving the course when standards are not met – always at the complete discretion of the police instructor. With such high demands being placed on qualified police riders, officer and public safety have to be the number one priority.
Standard police motorcycle training
Duration: three weeks
An introduction to ‘system riding’ with intensive classroom sessions on hazard awareness and ‘system’ approaches to managing them. This police motorcycle course was on smaller, lower powered machines – with speed limit compliance and mostly taking place on urban roads. The focus was on disciplined riding and executing plans for dealing with hazards, with high level machine control and excellent communication with other road users. A slow ride element, not dissimilar to a modern CBT and written exams were also critical parts of the course. A pass at this level would authorise police riding of lower powered machines only and a 100% compliance with speed limits at all times.
Intermediate police motorcycle training
Duration: three weeks
This police rider training involved larger machines and after assessing and confirming adequate town riding skills, the course would progress to open roads. The focus this time was on total safety, plus reading bends and accuracy at slightly higher speeds. The speed limit at this police intermediate level was 80 mph. A common problem was that as the speeds started to increase, so rider errors would creep in – such as missing hazards, gear problems, leaving indicators on or neglecting rear observations. Speed was then immediately checked, until the fault was rectified or failing that, a student would be instructed to leave the course. Sub-standard safety ‘critical points’ would not be tolerated. Don’t forget that there are also still more stringent cone courses, staged riding tests and written exams to pass! You also need a high enough pass, to be recommended for advanced police rider training – as without this, you would not be allowed to even apply.
Advanced police motorcycle training
Duration: three weeks
You have to be a proven high quality police rider to even start this course and this is where the pressure really ramps up. You now ride the most powerful machines in the force and are immediately out on high speed roads. You may have had a considerable break between your intermediate police riding course and the advanced – but you needed to be back up to the standard where you finished your intermediate course within two days or you would be invited to leave the course.
The course focus is still on total safety, but with the added pressure of very high speed overtaking skills – a skill that many ‘advanced’ riders have yet to fully master.
Again, there are obstacle courses (more demanding than the previous ones), along with written exams and stage/final ride tests. The difference with the road tests now being that if you don’t go as fast as the road and conditions would allow, you would fail, but if you went too fast you would also fail (no upper speed limit).
Riders passing this test would be allowed to ride any force motorcycle (except off roaders) and be eligible to attend an escort course for loads and VIP riding. All courses are re-tested, with a one week refresher course every five years.
Amongst the most skilled riders in the world
Having enjoyed a long career, involved with police rider training and having ridden amongst the most skilled police graded riders in the UK, it is my firm and qualified opinion that advanced police graded riders are amongst the most skilled, safety focused and hazard aware riders in the world.
The quality, intensity and demands of police motorcycle training are simply in a different league and when you see advanced police riders out on the roads, know that they have absolutely earned their ‘stripes’. Stay safe on the roads.
About the author
Marcus McCormick recently retired from 30 years of police service – 24 years of which as a traffic motorcyclist and 10 years as a motorcycle instructor at the police driving school.
Currently, Marcus is an examiner for both RoSPA and IAM, along with national BikeSafe responsibilities and continues to teach advanced riding skills as one of the UK’s most sought after freelance motorcycle instructors. [more]