Thursday, 27 May 2010

Life on two wheels

It would be incorrect to say that I have always been interested in motorbikes. Cars were and probably always will be my first love (after personal relationships, of course) but over the years my interest in ‘bikes has grown. Initially my curiosity was purely abstract – appreciating cycles as engineering exercises. But that approach can only take you so far.

Getting to the point of taking lessons and applying for the crucial licence has taken some time. It was always too dangerous, too time consuming, too confusing or too expensive. Despite the potential objections and obstacles - sometimes it seems that the process has been made deliberately difficult – I was bound to give in sooner or later.

The catalyst was an initiative called “get on” ( which allows novices to take an hour’s free riding instruction without obligation. My hour was spent with Midland School of Motorcycling ( picking up the basics of riding.

Some of those basics are quite alien to car drivers; in particular the art of low speed control by slipping the clutch and using plenty of revs. Then there is remembering that your right foot controls the back brake while the fingers on your right hand should gently squeeze the lever for the front brake.

Picking up those essentials stood me in good stead a few weeks later when I completed my Compulsory Basic Training (CBT). For those unfamiliar with the process, this is a day’s instruction which starts off away from the road, revisiting the basics and practicing moving, stopping, steering and changing gear. The bit which filled me with dread was the prospect of the on-road part of the training.

In the end it seemed silly to have come so far and not see the thing through. So, on one of the first really warm days of the year, I took to the roads of South Warwickshire under the watchful eye of my instructor, Paul. You couldn’t ask for a better introduction, riding through beautiful scenery on quiet roads. True you feel more exposed on a ‘bike but you also feel more involved, enjoying a connection with the environment that simply isn’t possible in a car. Tackling town traffic was less fun, there is an awful lot going on around you in a tourist-packed Stratford-upon-Avon and the last thing anyone else cares about is a tyro biker. Even that was, in retrospect, enjoyable but the best part of the ride was the return to base. Given some liberty to open the throttle as wide as I dared (which doesn’t do much on a learner’s 125cc ‘bike) on a flowing A-road was sheer joy. Braking for bends, changing gear as much for the sake of it as the need of it, leaning around corners it was enough to affirm that I need motorcycling in my life.

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