On Saturday 2 February 2013 I did my CBT with Simon Walsh from Celtic Rider Training. This all came about from a rather vivid dream I had in November. Nothing to do with bikes incidentally – I’d actually decided to sell my Mini (which I don’t own) and buy a Fiat Panda 4×4 to cope with the forthcoming snow. While this was all obviously bollocks, it set me thinking about an additional vehicle. I’d already bought my dream car in April, a 1.8i Sport Mk-2.5 Mazda MX-5 and I’m still ecstatic with it. It was pretty much a toy and I’ve got to say it’s fulfilled its purpose as a source of extreme fun!
I’ve always felt rather envious of bikers zooming past me but never considered riding a motorcycle myself as my parents (and numerous other people I know!) held a rather dim view of their safety. Until now I’d never really looked into it but after plenty of research (as is my style…) I considered that there were ways of reducing the risk, so thought I’d give it a go. Now the UK motorbike licensing process is irritatingly involved but I thought I’d at least give it a try to see what it was like.
The first step is Compulsory Basic Training which validates the provisional motorcycle license, allowing you to ride a bike up to approx. 15 bhp and 125cc on Learner plates. There is a strict curriculum set by the Driving Standards Agency, so that’s pretty much a checklist which makes it easy to judge how good the training is. It’s all legally required, but the whole point is whether I understand it and how it’s presented. I’d bought a copy of Pass the Bike Test: (and be a Great Rider Too!) which leads you through the whole process for a complete novice. I’ve found this book absolutely invaluable so far, so if you’re interested in getting into biking I’d recommend buying a copy.
Now I’d had an hour free ‘taster lesson’ with Simon in December to see how I got on and for him to give me an idea of how much training I’d need. If you fancy a free hour yourself without committing to anything, check out the Get On program which will sort you out with an instructor in your area. I was hooked after mine! Being 6’2″ I did struggle on the Suzuki GN125 as my elbows were pretty much on my knees! I understand that 125 cc bikes in general are smaller but the ergonomics on some are more suited to larger riders. Luckily, an amazingly useful website exists that shows how you fit on specific models of bikes. Motorcycle Ergonomics Simulator is well worth a look for those who are trying to find out how they’re likely to fit. With this site’s help I asked Simon if I could use his Honda CG125 instead as the distance between the seat and handlebars was greater so I wasn’t so folded up. I fitted fine!
The CBT was a long day, with good reason. Even though I’ve been driving a car for 15 years, riding a motorbike needs a remarkably different skill set. Some things will come naturally to those who already drive but other aspects need an alternative approach. Quite some time is spent on accustoming you with the controls, especially at slow speed. The rather essential emergency stop is also introduced here. After the instructor is satisfied you aren’t going to be a complete liability on the road (quite a responsibility!) you’re required to spend at least two hours on the road. Understandably I was a little apprehensive, but Simon had obviously done his job well as once I was on the road it was a great deal easier than I had expected.
The whole day was physically rather exhausting as I was using muscles I don’t normally use and I’d also hit it rather hard in the gym the night before… Also, being on a bike you don’t have the protective cage around you that car drivers have. Your only protection is anticipating potential hazards and a state of constant awareness. There is no room for a lapse of concentration if you want to stay on the bike, on the road and out of hospital! Continually assessing the road surface, being fully conscious of all other vehicles around you whilst also getting used to a completely different way of controlling your vehicle requires a level of alertness that is pretty hard-going mentally!
As mentioned earlier, the routes to getting your license are overly involved. I want the full licence so I’m not limited in choice of bike. The different classes of license are divided by engine capacity and power, with some extra limitations on the restricted licences by weight and power maximum levels the bike is restricted down from. Hence my desire to get the full version…
To get the full licence you need to take both parts of the practical test on a bike of at least 595cc capacity and a minimum of 53.6 bhp (40 kW). Which basically means taking lessons on a ‘big bike’. So you can go from never having been on a motorbike, to riding a machine (accompanied by an instructor) capable of 0-60 mph in around 4 seconds after only a single day’s training. I don’t think it’s unfair to suggest that’s equivalent to having your second ever car driving lesson in a Porsche…