Leicester Phoenix RAC/ACU Training Scheme
For many years there has been an RAC/ACU motorcycle training scheme in the city, run by our fellow club, the Fosse Riders. Even in the depressing years between the fifties and the new upsurge following the petrol crisis, the influx of pupils for their scheme always kept the Fosse working full tilt. During those time the Leicester Phoenix never seriously considered running an RAC/ACU scheme. The results hardly seemed worth the effort as at the time the main public image that motorcyclists had to contend with was one of the noisy-dirty rockers in mass affrays on some holiday beach. While the Fosse tackled publicity in a positive manner the Leicester Phoenix preferred the 'low profile' advocated by the BMF - better to not present a target for the abuse of the demented anti-motorcycle lobby. Anyway, the Club always had enough club runs, rallies and social events going to keep all the members fully occupied.
When the tide turned after petrol prices leapt to alarming levels most of the good publicity, notably be Honda, had changed the opinion most people have of motorcyclists from one of scruffy low wage workers and Hells Angels to city gent commuters and independently wealthy tourists. The anti-motorcycle group changed their criticism to one of safety. While Mods'n'Rockers or exWD oil slicks never really presented a threat of serious reaction, within the space of a few years anti-motorcycling legislation on the grounds of road safety set back the movement further than at any time since the red flag speed limit.
Recognising that the former restrictions are discriminatory and seeing further restrictions on the horizon - compulsory conspicuity, upper capacity limits, compulsory training, even gas bags and crash bars - many motorcyclists could see a need to either remove the cause of the criticism or take control of training before its administration was placed in the strangling hands of the bureaucrats. Therefore, within the space of two years, the Leicester Phoenix, the Hinckley and District and the Corby and Kettering MCC have all begun RAC/ACU schemes.
Although the historical background of the new RAC/ACU scheme is partly political, on a working level the aims of the scheme are simple and praiseworthy - to help as many motorcyclists as possible to achieve a standard of safety on the road sufficient for them to survive. The RAC/ACU scheme sets such a standard by its test at the end of the 24 hour course and, although this is a higher standard compared with the government D.O.E. test, it is achieved in a substantial majority of cases as it is well within the capabilities of an experienced motorcyclist to instruct and an average trainee to absorb. Consistent tests and the maintenance of the same criteria have ensured this standard as a reference to work to.
But in spite of more clubs than ever taking on the running of schemes and - certainly in Leicestershire - enormous encouragement by the local road safety department, the RAC/ACU training scheme is only scratching the surface of training. The industry backed schemes such as STEP, 2 Wheel Teach In and Saferider have the potential to swamp the 'amateurs' in quantity although no-one argues that the RAC/ACU quality can be challenged.
If the industry backed schemes overcome manning problems and the government sponsored publicity brings in the number of recruits that are potentially possible, the industry (STEP Management Services - a part of the Institute of Motor Cycling) makes no secret that they will ask the government to make training compulsory. This will only be possible when there is the capacity to cover all new riders - like there had to be enough helmets before helmets could be made compulsory.
If the industry scheme is to remain in private enterprise there will also need to be a competitor otherwise there could be trouble from the Monopolies Commission, although now we are in the E.E.C. it may only be necessary to have alternative services available somewhere within Europe.
Whatever the results of the next three year building campaign by STEP (starting 1 April 1978) it is important that motorcyclists continue to control as large a proportion of training as possible.
The RAC/ACU is run on a shoestring at the top and, while this laudably cuts out the bureaucrats, it also unfortunately means that authority rests in the hands of a very small number of people who are far too busy to devote any time to democracy. Because each scheme is almost totally autonomous with only the Proficiency Test as a reference (apart from a hopelessly outdated manual) the result is not so much a kindly despotism from Pall Mall, more an organisation on the brink of anarchy with enemies beating at the gates!
Each RAC/ACU Scheme must ensure that it is in as strong a position as possible with a core of dedicated instructors, a supply of keen trainees and a financially viable organisation. Even with all these ingredients there still remains the chance that fractionalisation of training schemes could cause them to be taken over by bodies intent on profits, power or just putting bikes off the road. Within the county there is an increasing call for co-ordination and mutual support among the existing seven schemes, and enormous potential for co-operation on this scale. The threat of compulsory training presents the greatest challenge ever to motorcycling and we cannot afford to fight it with one hand tied behind our back.
There has been a fear that the training scheme would absorb the keenest members and leave the club unsupported in its organisation and activities. Although the original instructors were sought from non committee members it has proved the case that the most responsible members have gravitated to the scheme. It is totally untrue to say that this is reducing support for the club as the instructors remain the keenest members. However, it is early days yet and as enthusiasm wanes the club will suffer before the training scheme.
Although the training scheme will not suffer as soon as the club, it will be damaged to a much greater extent by the drop in membership and support - the only agreed way to increase the effectiveness of the training scheme is to increase the number of instructors.
The possibility of recruiting club members from trainees and graduates was rejected at an early stage in the formation of the training scheme and the present policy of contrived indifference may well be due for review, particularly with the training scheme's need to remain in contact with potential instructors. Bu whatever is said one way or the other about the effect the training scheme has upon the club, there can be no doubt that the scheme would be unlikely to survive without the club.
It is therefore appropriate that the question be asked "How can the training scheme legitimately support the club?"
There must be much closer ties between the two apart from duplication of members. It may be necessary to consider he Club as the subordinate and social wing of the Training Scheme.
R.S.O. (Ben Crossley)