By: Dave Abrahams

Think of it, as you will, as a graduate school for bikers. All the riders who took part in the recent Wheels Motorcycle Club Skills Campaign were invited to attend an advanced riding course at Cape Town’s Killarney circuit at the weekend – and more than 30 of them did.

But it wasn’t about speed: it was about staying alive. Right from the start chief instructor Wayne Arendse - a racer of more than 10 years’ experience - made clear that the Wheels Skills Day was not about turning hot laps or riding flat out, just because there were no cops around.

As a purely physical skill, riding a motorcycle is not in the same class as tenpin bowling or playing the cello – as long as everything keeps going right. It’s when things go pear-shaped that you need lightning reflexes and practiced skills to keep the shiny side up – and some of those skills are violently counter-intuitive, such as turning the handlebars to the left to initiate a quick move to the right.


Or learning just how hard modern bikes on modern tyres can brake - and that ABS on motorcycles is not infallible. The most important lesson learned on the day by the forty-something rider of a BMW F800S (which is not available in South Africa without ABS) was imparted not by words but by the sharp squeal from the front tyre of his bike as it locked up under braking at 80km/h.

The point being of course that, on the main straight at Killarney there is nothing to hit except defenceless orange cones; the rider was able to let the brakes off, ride around through the pits and try again, and again, and again – until not his brain but his fingertips had learned exactly how hard he could brake and get away with it.


The participants also tried braking to a stop using only one brake; most riders – and a disconcerting number of motorcycle designers! – will not believe how ineffective the rear brake of a motorcycle is, due to weight transfer under braking, because they’ve never actually quantified it.

Or just how hard an adventure tourer can be thrown through a giant slalom, even at 80km/h, although it must be said that on this exercise the sports bikes had a distinct advantage – they’re designed to be able to change direction quickly.

And that’s really what the course was about: enabling mainstream riders on mainstream bikes to practice, under controlled conditions, the real-world moves that could save their lives when somebody else does something bone-headed, and to practice them at real-world speeds.


As in riding at a steady 60km/h, straight at the instructor (James Arendse, who has been doing this for 10 years and has developed nerves of steel) and having him indicate when you are less than 10 metres away from him, which side to pass him on.

There is no more effective way to teach even an experienced rider how to initiate an emergency lane change – and the necessity of being aware of the possible need for one.

Later in the day, when the riders began turning complete laps, their new-found confidence in – and respect for – what their machines could do, was clear even to spectators, but more importantly, so was their ability to use those capabilities to keep them alive in the real world.