Life on a bike

Andy Stroulger is the Road Traffic Collision Reduction Manager for Essex County Fire and Rescue Service and, as part of that role, manages the FireBike team. He explains what the team do, their top tips to help you stay safe on the road and talks about his best biking memories.

Using FireBikes to promote motorcycle safety

What is a FireBike?

Well, our FireBikes don’t have blue lights and don’t attend fires! We use them to promote motorcycle safety throughout Essex and reduce the number of riders who are killed or seriously injured on our roads.

Motorcyclists account for 1% of the traffic on our roads, but are sadly involved in 26% of all road traffic collisions resulting in death or serious injury in Essex [2012 figures]. They remain the highest risk group of all road users. However, in the majority of cases, death and injury can be prevented through better education, awareness and responsibility amongst all road users.

FireBike is therefore used to educate and engage with Essex’s motorcyclists on a range of safety issues. We attend events and also run FireBike 'Better Biking Courses (our FireBike version of Bikesafe) and a series of Advanced Machine Skills days to enhance the skill level of riders.

Fire bikes

What bikes are used as FireBikes?

FireBike began in Essex in 2009. At that time it was a pilot project and involved just one FireBike and two riders. Since then FireBike has gone from strength to strength!

In 2014 we have 11 team members and three FireBikes - a BMW HP4 superbike, a new water-cooled BMW R1200GS and a Ducati Monster 1200. These will soon be joined by a Ducati 1199 Panigale. The bikes are provided to us courtesy of Cannon Motorcycles in Braintree and Parkinson Motorcycles in Colchester.

All our team members are passionate about motorcycling in all its forms. We are equally passionate about rider safety and undertake our FireBike duties on a voluntary basis, either in our own time or, when circumstances allow, on a detachment from our normal operational duties.

Andy Stroulger

What qualifications do you need in order to ride a FireBike?

All our FireBike riders have to be qualified to RoSPA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents) Gold advanced motorcyclist standard – regarded as the highest civilian motorcycle riding qualification. They will not be allowed on the FireBikes in any way unless they hold this qualification and must be re-tested every three years. I also insist that every team member undertakes an annual voluntary assessment to RoSPA test standards.

Furthermore, all team members are trained to RoSPA’s National Diploma in Advanced Riding Instruction. This qualifies team members as advanced motorcycle instructors and enables them to undertake on-road observed riding assessments, as part of our ‘Better Biking’ courses and the Essex Police Bikesafe scheme.

Being RoSPA qualified means that our team are as safe, skilled and experienced as they possibly can be. It provides credibility for the team when engaging with bikers and demonstrates that we know what we’re talking about when it comes to safe, skilled riding.

What are your top tips for riders to help them stay safe on the roads?

We want to see more riders undertaking further rider training to enhance their skills. One of our key messages is “Train as if your life depends on it” – because it really does!

Bikers spend enormous sums of money on their machines, adorning them with all the accessories and go faster goodies they can afford. However, very few of them will consider investing such resources in themselves – in improving their riding skills, which will result in them being more competent, smoother and safer riders.

Too often we hear comments like “I’ve been riding for donkey’s years, there’s nothing I don’t know about biking” or “I’m very experienced, I don’t think there is anything I need to learn”. But no matter who you are, what you ride and regardless of how long you’ve been riding, there is ALWAYS something new to learn, skills to master, road craft to practice and hone.

Valentino Rossi didn’t just learn to ride a bike and naturally become a nine times World Champion. He is on a continual learning curve, week in week out, year after year. He has been able to stay at the top of his game through ongoing training, development, practice and hard work to perfect his skills. It is exactly the same for us as riders on the road.

My key riding tips would be:

  • Maximise your observation through good road positioning to maintain your ‘safety bubble’ - nobody but YOU can keep you safe whilst out riding on the road!
  • Share the road with others – be acutely aware of the potential hazards from other road users and ride accordingly; equally be conscious of how your riding may affect them
  • Ride at a speed that is appropriate for the conditions; don’t ride at a speed or in a manner which you are not entirely comfortable with and puts you at unnecessary risk
  • Wear good quality protective kit
  • Keep your machine well maintained: undertake ‘POWDERS’ checks (Petrol, Oil, Water, Drive (chain, shaft or belt), Electrics, Rubber and Suspension) of your machine every time you ride

What bike do you ride? What is your dream bike?

I’ve been riding motorcycles for well over 30 years and am very passionate about all things ‘biking’.

I've ridden everything in my time, starting on a little Honda SS50 progressing to a whole series of supersports bikes (with a particular fondness for Honda FireBlades). Today, I ride a 1200cc Ducati Multistrada (in red of course!), which is an incredible machine. I’d love to have a go on Valentino Rossi’s Yamaha M1 MotoGP bike but that dream, sadly, is unlikely to be realised!

My best biking memory is my first ride abroad to the Bol D'or 24 hour race at Circuit Paul Ricard in the South of France in 1982. Amazing ride, incredible roads, fantastic weather and a superb event! This whole experience made me fall in love with riding in Europe for ever more!

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