Cape Town - Sixteen years ago the senior members of Wheels Motorcycle Club, appalled by the number of riders, particularly younger riders, who were being killed and injured on Cape roads, decided that the time for talking was done and that it was up to them to do something about it.
They were aware, as are all riders, that slightly more than half of all motorcycle crashes are knockdowns, and that while the friend or relative who taught you to ride could show you how the controls work, and how to make a motorcycle stop and go, they couldn’t teach you roadcraft.
So they borrowed a K53 manual and some traffic cones from friends in official places and got together one Sunday morning with a bunch of riders, of various ages and levels of experience and from a number of clubs (it was decided from the beginning that this would not be a Wheels event but would welcome all riders) to teach basic avoidance techniques.
Rather grandly, they named it the Wheels Motorcycle Club Skills and Safety Campaign, little dreaming that 16 years down the line it would be one of Cape Town’s most effective public/private partnerships, with the support of traffic services, paramedics, the motorcycle trade and the provincial Directorate of Road Safety.
It has evolved into a multifaceted initiative, focusing not only on real-world riding skills, but also coaching aspiring riders in the requirements - theoretical and practical - of the K53 riding test, not from the point of view of rote learning (which is how we all did it, and forgot about it as soon as we got our license) but by relating the questions to actual traffic situations.
It’s an input-intensive, daylong programme, starting with theory sessions covering bikewear, basic safety maintenance, what to do (and more importantly, what not to do) if one of your riding buddies goes down, and road discipline when riding in groups.
Then it’s out onto the training ground for a series of exercises that have evolved far beyond K53 to encompass precision steering (as in lane-splitting between cars), accurate lines around corners, sudden unexpected lane changes and emergency braking, among a host of roadcraft skills aimed at getting out of harm’s way.
Honing their skills
The 16th edition of what is now the Wheels Skills Day hosted 68 riders, of which no fewer than 17 were beginners, there for the K53 sessions. Twelve clubs or groups were represented, including the despatch riders of Pathcare Transport, which had made the day a work requirement, and who were in fact the largest group with seven representatives.
Initially treating the programme as a chore to be gotten out of the way, they soon became as enthusiastic about honing their skills as the sports riders, egging each other on through each exercise.
At the end of the programme the riders were invited to compete on a complex gymkhana course that would test the skills they’d been practicing all day. Nineteen riders took up the challenge, and it was Ashley Fennel of Pathcare Transport who put up the best time of the day, to raucous applause from his colleagues and the rest of the riders.
But at the end of the day the applause was for Pathcare, for its efforts to make its riders safer on the roads, and for Wheels Motorcycle Club, for making it all happen 16 years ago.