The dreaded swerve test - What do you think?

I don’t know how many of you have heard about the swerve test or ‘hazard avoidance’ as they like to call it, but it’s a manoeuvre that was introduced last year into Module 1 of the motorcycle test over here in the UK.

The manoeuvre involves riding at a speed of 50kph (31mph) and then purposely swerving around some cones approximately 10 metres after the speed check. The idea of this is to simulate dodging around an obstacle/hazard in the road.

However, you have only two attempts to complete this successfully and given that your speed is electronically measured as the rider enters the first set of cones, it is quite possible to fail the test simply by not quite achieving the required speed. Consequently, a significant amount of practice is required beforehand (on both wet and dry roads since the test remains the same regardless of the weather) which presents many opportunities for mishap.

31mph doesn’t really seem that fast when you first consider it – so how bad can this swerve test be?
The manoeuvre was originally brought in to comply with European Union legislation, and it was designed with a view to improving road safety and making motorcyclists more prepared for a similar situation on the road.

When I researched into the swerve test on the Internet, I came across many news articles and accounts of learners’ experiences; there are very little positive comments about it.

It was even reported last year by the BBC that after less than one month of the manoeuvre being introduced, the UK Government was already under pressure to reconsider it after many crashes.

As I am soon to take my motorcycle test, I decided to have a go at this swerve test myself because it seems very daunting. I recently attended a training day with one of my local training organisations with the intention of practicing all of the manoeuvres presented in Module 1 of the test.

However, when we were being briefed on the swerve test, the instructor seemed very hesitant to have to students practice the manoeuvre at the full speed of 31mph and our speed was not monitored.

I decided to first have a go at the swerve manoeuvre at a speed of around 20mph. Even at this speed it took me a couple of attempts before I swerved smoothly without almost knocking over the cone. On each attempt I was trying to build my speed up a little and by 25mph I began feeling very unsafe.

It took me a lot of attempts to build up the confidence to reach 31mph, although I still felt it was very unsteady and unsafe. I felt as if on each attempt I was taking a huge risk of crashing my pride-and-joy motorcycle.

Furthermore, given that most speedometers read slow, I suspect that I will still be required to ride a little faster still to achieve the minimum speed required.

I honestly consider this part of the motorcycle test to be very dangerous. I think that no matter what speed you are travelling at, it is never safe to swerve on two wheels because there is simply not enough stability there. After experiencing this for myself, I really think it’s no wonder that so many learners have been crashing on this part of the test.

After my experience on my training day I am ever so grateful that I have had the opportunity to practice the swerve, because without practice I don’t think I will be able to swerve successfully in my test with only two attempts.

My question is this: If this is deemed an ‘essential’ manoeuvre for motorcycles, then why is it not essential for cars too?

Both cars and motorcycles are equally as likely to experience a situation on the road where they may need to swerve, yet motorcyclists are the only ones expected to do this during the test.

Thankfully, the UK Government came to their senses and recently decided to remove the swerve manoeuvre from the test completely. However, this is only happening at the end of 2011.

I did consider whether to wait until then to take my test, although I would like to have my full motorcycle licence sooner rather than later.

Time will tell as to whether I have made the right decision or not!

Image source: www.telegraph.co.uk/motoring/motorbikes/7817034/Motorcycle-test-under-review.html

34 comments:

Raftnn said...

Being in New Zealand, I had never heard of the "swearve test' before, it does not sound like some thing I would be keen to try, even though I have full license.

Mind you here in NZ, they practically give away bike licenses!!! Great blog keep em coming.

bobskoot said...

Pepper:

this just doesn't sound like a safe thing to do. And if they are removing it, then why keep it for the rest of this year.

good luck with whatever you decide to do. I know you can do it with practice.

bob
Riding the Wet Coast

Richard said...

Well, I have never seen the swerve test carried out, but from what I have heard it doesn't sound much fun. I will admit that I would be nervous about doing it, even after 38 years of (almost) accident-free riding. The thing is, on a bike you hardly ever swerve to avoid something. Usually, hard braking is the only safe way of avoiding something that comes into your path, as by swerving you are making the bike unstable and more likely to crash (moral: look further ahead and you won't need to swerve). Cars can swerve because they are stable on four wheels, which makes me think that the test was invented by a car driver who thought that motorcyclists needed a skill that would get them out of trouble on four wheels. How many accidents are caused by an inability to swerve out of the way (compared, say, to failing to negotiate a corner), and how many have been caused by an inability to do the swerve test? My answer would be not many, and lots. It's bonkers.

Geoff James said...

Pepper,

I agree with the guys that it's probably not something to be taught at that level and might not be supported by experienced riders if it's as you describe. Far better to teach progressive braking techniques and collision avoidance by looking where you want to go. (And situational awareness in general).

Must see if I can research the background to this. I have a friend who is an IAM Observer (advanced instructor) in the UK and I'll direct him to your blog.

RichardM said...

If I remember correctly, when I took the MSF BRC we had to do a swerve but at nowhere near 31 mph. I believe we had to be in at least second gear and rode towards a rider-coach. When we were about 20 ft in front of him, he would signal us to swerve right or left before continuing straight, downshift and brake to a stop.

At this time of year, our roads are full of potholes from the previous winter so I'm afraid that swerving around them is pretty common especially since they are difficult to spot. But 31 mph seems really fast.

I just found you blog from the ABCD contest, congratulations!

Nikos said...

Go for it!

The most difficult thing is getting the entry speed right.

We practiced swerving at the Hopp Rider advanced machine handling course and its certainly a good skill to have, although I tend to agree with Geoff that there are other tactics to employ to avoid hazards!

P.S. I'm glad that I took my test in the "good old days" when one had to merely ride around - I passed with absolutely no specific training (other than advice from a friend NOT to use the mirrors but to look behind constantly!).

Richard said...

And don't forget - "visibly apply trhe front brake before the rear in the emergency stop".

Like you, I passed first time with no training whatever, other than a quick read of the HC. Whatever we say about the modern testing regime, it has to be better than that.

Nikos said...

Not only did I have no instruction, I actually got lost too and returned back to the test centre 20 minutes after the end of the test! (where the examiner said "take the next left" was a no entry sign so I continued straight on and ended up seeing parts of the Kent countryside unknown to me...I still loathe Sidcup).

Nikos said...

Oh, I forgot, the best practice for swerving is to avoid manhole covers..

Richard said...

Yeah, my remarks were made in a state of ignorance of the test requirements. We swerve every day for thing like manhole covers and potholes. But that's usually a few inches either way. I understood the swerve test to be a bit more radical than that - plotting a path between out-of-line cones at 31 mph. That's the bit I would feel unsure about. It sounds very artificial to me - a situation that a good rider wouldn't be in in the first place.

Nico'Thom said...

Richard M is right, we had to practice the swerve in the basic rider course here in Michigan, but it was not part of the testing. I do swerve often on my daily riding because of potholes, usually while traveling around 50 mph. It doesn't feel as unstable as it would be to hit that hole while leaning. Good luck with the test!

Young Dai said...

I did the old CBT , way before the swerve test, but looking at this clip http://www.youtube.com/user/smartridertraining#p/a/u/0/AhmEeg_5QjE

It doesn't seem too different from anything that you would face on the road, to miss manhole covers in the wet and pot holes generally.

It looks to be a double push countersteer, once to miss the obstruction then once passed, again on the other side of the handle bar to bring the bike back on line again. If you have missed a pot hole in the road, you may well have already done the swerve test in real life without knowing it

It would seem very easy to get 'target fixation' in the cones rather than looking through them which could have led to some of the accidents reported. (look on the ground, hit the ground) Also some of the smaller bikes might have difficulties actually getting to speed in the distance availible, so that is also nagging away on the riders mind.

Perhaps you should look for a school,where in instructors do not seem scared of the sylabus they have to teach

bazza said...

The swerve test is something that has become stuff of legend. I agree it can be daunting for someone where the controls of a motorcycle are not yet second nature - but I do not think it is an unreasonable requirement.

Like one of the posters above states, it teaches the principle of counter steering. A firm push on the bars makes the bike turn quickly. You counter steer anyway above a certain speed - probably without realising it. A bike does not turn by leaning, only by counter steering. By consciously counter steering you'd be surprised just what a bike is capable off.

Like anything, practice will pay off.

I heartily agree observation skills are and always will be your first defence - but it is a handy skill to have.

VStar Lady said...

Good luck Pepper - In Canada if you take rider training, at the end you can, should you pass, receive an M1 license(M1 being the first of a three phase graduated licensing system). I know that in rider training they do require you to ride toward an unpredictable target (instructor, who enjoys taking his own life in his hands) and who, at the last moment signals left or right and you must complete an avoidance manuever (swerve). In Canada, however, rider training is not mandatory and is relatively($460. Canadian) expensive, but well worth it. I don't know what the test involes here if it is not taken through the Canada Safety Council - so many years ago, when I got my license it was drive down the street, take a left, take a right and come back (if you had taken rider training back then - you were a shoe in).

Tess said...

I had my mod 1 trainig day yesterday (7/5/11)and the swerve test was awful for me. I was on a 125 twist n go style scooter,and I came off attempting the swerve manouvre, totally battered the bike and rolled along the tarmac right through all of the cones Ive hurt my elbows, my knee was bleeding, scratched and ruined my crah helmet my neck is hurting. I had no problem with any of the other parts of the training whatsoever- My test is on Tuesday and I really feel that there is no way i can pass the swerve. Its ridiculous to put riders into this dangerous position.

Richard said...

Tess, I am so sorry to hear about that. It's ridiculous to make inexperienced riders do something that is clearly not appropriate. I'd repeat what I said above - sharp swerves are possible with countersteering, but it makes the bike unstable and it's something I would expect experienced riders to know, not novices. If it's something that is practised over and over and built up to, then maybe that's OK, but if you are crashing then you clearly aren't ready for it, and I think your instructors should have known that. Your confidence must have taken a bad knock, and that's not good training for you. In summary, a sharp swerve is a last-resort measure when the only alternative is to hit something. I feel it is foolish to teach it to learners, when there are so many other constructive things to teach. And the proof is that it is being removed from the test - just not yet. Madness.

Lizzie 'Pepper' Lane said...

I'm sorry to hear about your crash Tess! Don't let it knock your confidence though.

If you feel that you're not ready for the test, I'm sure you can change the date of it - I recently decided that I'm not ready for my theory test this week and the DSA website let me push the date forward without charging me!

I think the best thing to do is to find somewhere to set up some cones and practice the swerving starting at a lower speed. I have been doing that this week since I certainly cant afford to pay for another training session (ridiculously expensive). Practice makes perfect!

Tess said...

Thanks for the encouragement, I have been out for 2 hours today just practising counterseering, round potholes and drains etc. Somehow it seems a lot easier when Im out on the Road compared to the training ground..which wasn't a full circuit anyway... Im hoping the full 'loop' to build up speed gradually will help me on tuesday.

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Crumpets and Marmalade:

You are creating an obstacle in your mind where none should exist. The swerve was part of my MSF training in the US and I thought it was an absolute pisser! I enjoyed putting the motorcycle (a Buell 400cc) through its paces and it felt no less stable in the swerve than it would in a curve. The temperature on our range (riding) days was 38ยบ(F), and it poured rain on all of them.

The instructor, a Pennsylvania State Trooper Motorcycle Cop, said, "You will be amazed at how you can control one of these bikes on a wet surface." Then her swerved about ten times on a wet pavement, in the rain, without sliding.

Three years later, on a day that was hotter than hell, I was riding back to Pennsylvania from Tenneesee on an interstate, at a smoking hot rate of speed (highly illegal) when a truck in the next lane threw the remains of a trailer tire out in front of me.

I swerved without hesitation... The follow-through by the bike was so steady and solid, it felt like it was on rails. I broke out in a cold sweat afterwards, but I'd take training over reflexes any day of the week. If you can turn your bike on a two lance road at 50 miles per hour, you can easily handle the swerve.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad
Twisted Roads

Brady said...

It's not necessary in cars because cars kill pedestrians and motorcyclists, but the drivers remain safe. If the driver was in real danger, then it might be on the test... as it stands, they are permitted to drive, even with meager skills while totally distracted. (US) Sorry, just thinking about the person who pulled up behind me yesterday while in full text messaging fury.

I think it's good to have as many skills as possible before getting on the road. You never know what you'll encounter.

Brady
Behind Bars - Motorcycles and Life

Nico'Thom said...

Lizzie, wanted to let you know I gave you a shout-out on my blog today when I wrote about potholes. Michigan Supreme Court is looking at a case where motorcyclists were injured hitting a pothole in Northern Michigan. It's at: http://www.lady-ryder.com/2011/05/case-of-pernicious-pothole.html. Cheers!

Tess said...

Hello again...

I took the mod 1 test on tuesday and unfortunately failed.

:0(
I had a completely clear circuit with no faults (yay!) but was too slow on the swerve test.. by 1kph! (I got 49kph)- really frustrating- esp as they are changing the rules on the 16th and I would have passed a week later (you can be up to 2kph under and receive a minor fault)... have booked to try again... fingers crossed!

Anonymous said...

Practice! Find an empty parking lot and keep practicing until it becomes easy and fun. Whatever it is you don't like to do is what needs the work, whether it is physical, mental or both. Imagine taking the test with a grin... "I can't wait to do this!"

Anonymous said...

Hi Tess..you did well on your last swerve, it is an horrendous part of the Mod 1 (I failed 1st time last October, only got up to 49 same as you) but!! what I did this time was wait until after the 16th May when they reduced it like you say down to 48..I just went for it and mamnged to get 52km on my yamaha custom 125..I am pretty hefty lady! lol I went wide at the swerve and went off course and thought oh **** ive blown it ...but some thing told me to just carry on into the blue cone area (I was going to come to a stop just before after coming off clourse slightly) anyway I carried on and park in the blue cones and!!!!! passed..but the examiner said he thought I was going to stop! and he would have prob failed me for not stopping in the blue cones..so what ever you do just carry on and end up in or very near the blue cones...I still cant believe I have passed and am now trying to pluck up courage for Mod2..which I am a bit more confident about but then again if its a fail its £75/80 down the plug hole... good luck to all who are contamplating Mod 1..and to be honest I think they should scrap the swerve bit!

Tess said...

Hello again-
Many thanks for all of the encouragement and advice- I practised the swerve manouvre in an empty carpark (as suggested here) in the evenings leading up to my mod 1. This really helped and I have now passed (last wednesday) the mod 1- hooray! its such a relief. Just the mod 2 to go now.
My advice to anyone about to do the mod 01 is to try and practise off road. I have found that I had no problem swerving in 'real life' situations as your reactions take over. It was the problem with knowing the swerve was coming up and not being tempted to ease off the throttle.
Thanks again.

Lizzie 'Pepper' Lane said...

I'm so glad you passed in the end! I'm still dreading mine..

I found a really useful website that lists everything people fail on in both Mod 1 and Mod 2:

http://www.lightningpass.com/jkcm/COURSE+INFORMATION/HOW+TO+FAIL+YOUR+TEST

There's some really interesting stuff on there, and even though a lot of it is common sense, it's good to know specifically what the examiners will be looking out for.

Tess said...

Hello again,

I just thought i'd post to let you know that I have now passed my Mod 2 also!! I took it 2 weeks ago and passed 1st time wth only 2 minors!... so happy to be a fully fledged biker at last and thanks for all of the help and advice to getting me there! It was all worth it in the end!

Lizzie 'Pepper' Lane said...

Hi Tess

So glad you've passed!!

I actually passed both Module 1 and Module 2 last week.
I'm so relieved that it's all over now, and that I can finally get a bigger motorcycle!

I'm sure I'll be doing a new blog post on it soon if I ever find the time!

Richard said...

Well done both of you! Now get out there and get some miles in :)

Enjoy your freedom.

anita said...

i broke my arm and dislocated my shoulder on the mock of this test passed 2 days later didnt no i had a broken arm to the xray spotted it 2 weeks later after passing mod 2 ........horrid now got to have it pinned

Anonymous said...

I rode a 125 for years on a car license and recently passed my mod 1 after getting back into biking.
I'd class myself as a decent rider and i like to ride fast at times but i feel the swerve is a bit dangerous.
You have to go round the bend too fast really or go slow and then open it up.You shouldn't have to cane a bike to achieve a test objective.
I struggled to get my bike up to speed first run and second i had to hit 40 on the speedo to make sure.
Felt way too fast for the conditions.
Suppose i passed and it proved its point but i think its a bit of a stupid exercise

Arthur Yarwood said...

The swerve test is not easy for a learner. However I do think it is a valuable skill to have.

I was lucky the riding school I attended practised it hard. We had a smaller area than the official layout, so had to work hard to achieve it. Like yourself speed wasn't monitored, just told to glance at our speedo at a given point. We were pushed to do it up to 35 mph.

Initially I kept taking out the cones with my foot. It was only when I got into looking where I want to go (the gap) and not at the cone I was avoiding, did I crack it.

Anonymous said...

its not even a swerve at 31mph loads of room dont worry about it, a gentle twitch of the handlebars, if you carnt do it then your not ready thats all its your trainers fault and not enough experience...a swerve is a car pulling out on you when your doing 60 or 70...thats a swerve, you will do it without even thinking.

Put some stones out on an unused road and weave in and out slowly like the cones, do it every day and increase your speed gradually to around 35 its just practice

just leave your bike in second gear and screw it through the speed trap....go and watch others for a few days taking there test then go home and practice over and over it works...

John said...

After 30 yrs in cars I have tried 3 times to pass my mod 1 failing each time on the swerve I do not believe this test gives a realistic exercise.
you would not thrash your bike out of a corner with a junction such a short distance away nor would you ride so close to a kerb.
I am trying for DAS so I am limited to 125cc unless I pay a small fortune for instructor and bike hire so this again gives wrong prep.