Author: Bike Social Sports Reporter Posted: 22 Aug 2014
When you spend your life writing about motorcycle racing, the most frequently asked question when meeting new people within the industry is ‘Do you ride?” or even ‘What do you ride?’ with the assumption you ride because you work in the industry.
My excuse? I’ve always wanted to ride but I just never ended up getting round to it and as the years went on I had more and more other things to put money into like mortgage payments, bills and the like. When I got the chance to take my CBT, I jumped at it!
I was slightly apprehensive as I drove to the test centre, it’d been booked in the dead centre of Manchester and I was thinking ‘What? They expect us to ride a motorcycle on the road for the first time HERE?’ The answer to that question was essentially yes but we’d get a few hours playing around on an empty car park opposite the Ethiad Stadium first. Game on.
I had ridden before, I did an event at Silverstone earlier in the year where we got to play around on scooters (and later minimotos, but we don’t talk about that) and I’ve ridden paddock scooters before although if you’ve seen how paddock scooters are ridden you’ll probably agree it’s not the best experience for a CBT. Anyway, I turned down the opportunity to do my CBT on a twist and go and went for the all out, geared 125cc.
Most test centres these days have switched to the slightly newer Yamaha YBR125 models but this place in Manchester was using old Honda CG125s with about 40,000 miles on the clock. They’d definitely seen better days but they still ran OK(ish) and the bonus was I wouldn’t have felt as bad if I’d binned it.
After all the safety briefings they took us to the car park and put us on the bikes. As any biker will probably know, if you’re given a motorcycle and an empty car park the temptation to whizz around as fast as you can is fairly high. This isn’t helped when you’ve got a sixteen year old British Champion motorcycle racer [Joe Francis] trying to challenge you as he’s bored out of his brain because he’s only old enough to ride a twist and go scooter…
It didn’t take long for me to get used to changing gear, I knew what I was doing it was just time to put it into practice. I slipped it into neutral accidentally a few times but that was about it in terms of mistakes, I felt comfortable almost immediately.
I’d already done the slow speed manoeuvres and weaving in and out of cones on the experience day at Silverstone so that stage was a little tedious. I wasn’t a fan of practicing how to take a junction either, I’ve got a pretty vivid imagination but I just wasn’t seeing the junction the instructors had laid out in cones and then at last, one of them said “It’s probably time to take you out on the road”.
I felt like a kid at Christmas. I was going to ride a motorcycle on the road for the first time! My earlier fear about riding in central Manchester was alleviated when we headed in the opposite direction to the city centre. I don’t know if you’ve ever ridden on the roads around central Manchester but the highest speed limit you’ll find is 30mph and most roads are limited to 20, yes… 20 flipping miles per hour. We went faster on the bloody car park!
It’s not all about speed though, is it? It’s about the instructors seeing whether you’re safe on a motorcycle and I’d guess if you jumped on and went hell for leather down a speed restricted road, you might just fail. We went through everything we’d learned on the car park on the road, U turns, emergency stops and took some pretty cool bends in which we’d learn the importance of counter-steering. Driving in a busy, built up area it didn’t take us long to learn how serious bikers are when they talk of cars not paying attention to them; we were pulled out on by no fewer than three in the two hour period we were riding.
There isn’t a feeling like riding a motorcycle on the road even at slow speed. The wind is in your face, you can filter through traffic (after being given a lesson on how to do so safely by our instructor) and you feel much more at one with your machine than you do when driving a car. When I got back in my Vauxhall Astra for the long drive home, it felt boring and slow.
Compulsory Basic Training is brilliant. People always say to those learning to drive that you won’t actually learn much about driving until you hit the open roads alone. That’s the brilliant thing about the CBT, you don’t learn how to ride a motorcycle on the road, you just learn the absolute basics and the instructor confirms whether you’re safe enough to be let out on your own to get some real life lessons. I’ve heard the odd murmur of the Government scrapping the CBT and having a more vigorous test before letting riders hit the road, I really hope this doesn’t happen as one of the best things about riding a motorcycle is the freedom it gives you and that includes the freedom to learn at your own pace.
Me? I’ve got the buzz now and can’t wait to get through my full test. or !