Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Ready for the ride

The weather hasn't improved as yet - there’s even been snow.
While waiting to get out on my bike, I've invested in a set of leathers and a back protector. I’ve noticed that winter is a good time to buy kit. They’re made of Kangaroo leather (sorry Skippy) and would normally cost around £500 but I got them in the Sale for just under £200.Bargain!
On hearing I'd bought a bike, my poor Mum freaked out. She thought I'd pass my test and that would be it -just another category on my licence. (In fairness, I'd thought that at the start too)
She's worried I'll hurt myself, bless her. After buying my back protector, I phoned to reassure her I now had something that would make her feel better about me riding a bike. "What? Another two wheels?!" she replied.
She does have a point.
Although my bike has more power than I will ever use, nothing but my fear and bank balance would have stopped me from going out and buying something capable of much, much more the minute I passed my test.And VERY, VERY fast bikes are much cheaper than very, very fast cars.
After the car test the Driving Standards Agency has the Pass Plus course. A minimum 6 hour course for new drivers that looks at town driving, rural roads, all weather driving, dual carriageways and motorways and night driving. Completion can lead to substantial insurance discounts for newly qualified drivers.
There's nothing comparable for bikes.
I can just go out on my bike and wring its neck until I hit something or lose it on a bend. I am already planning to take advanced tuition, but most advanced riding associations would like you to have at least 6 months experience. What do I do in the meantime?
I speak to Ros at Ipswich Rider Training and ask what they have to offer. I book a half-day session with Police Class 1 rider Kevin Stark. (Kevin is also heavily involved in BikeSafe, which I hope to do at a later date).
Ros explains that as I’ve decided to take the course right at the start of my riding career it would be a mixture of familiarisation with my new bike and tips for better, safer riding.
I’m hoping to get a ride or two in before the training, but I feel better already knowing I won’t be going it completely alone just yet.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Buying a bike

I’d been scanning the Internet looking at bikes for weeks. I’d asked lots of advice on what would be suitable and what wouldn’t. I knew I wanted a bike that would suit me for years rather than months as the bike would be a luxury and not something I’d want to replace any time soon. I couldn’t afford anything new, which I decided was a good thing in case I dropped or scratched it and I wanted it to be capable of all types of riding.
I seemed to be attracted to the more sporty looking bikes, but having sat on a few I soon realise I’m not overly keen on the bent over, bum up riding position.
And then there’s the small budget. I started to wonder if I would actually find a bike that ticked all the boxes.
Then I found Unit 1 at Wickham Market’s website. They had a ZZR 600 for sale. It looked nice, I liked the style and colour.
Within an hour of my test I was sat on the bike to see if I liked the riding position. All boxes ticked so far. John gave it a quick test ride and everything seemed fine. The only negative was that it was slightly over budget. Luckily, Gavin Smith is really approachable and keen to help so we reached a deal. I agree to collect the bike the following week and then head home to prepare for the new arrival. I arrange my insurance, buy some disc and chain locks and a wall anchor… and have to knock down my front wall to make room for it! Three hours and a very sore back later, I’m ready for my first motorbike to arrive.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Test day

As soon as I wake up I look out the window to see what the weather is up to. Still grey and miserable, but the wind has definitely dropped.
As soon as I realise the test will go ahead, the nerves kick in.
By the time I’m on my bike heading up to the test centre, my mouth is dry and I can feel my heart beating hard.
The examiner introduces himself, explains the test and we head outside.
First the eyesight check, then the safety questions, then we’re off.
We head out towards the A14. As I ride up the slip road I check to the right and see a lorry on the main carriageway. I start to accelerate; sure I’ll be able to join before the lorry reaches me. Almost as soon as I do, the hill and the head wind make me think otherwise and I decide to slow and join behind the lorry. Bit messy. Well, that’s it then I decide. Failed.
It’s a good job it’s not two –way radio. I think the examiner would’ve thought I had Tourettes!
I decide I may as well just carry on the best I can and learn from the experience.
The rest of the ride goes well; even the U-turn I had worried about so much went without a hitch.
Back at the test centre the examiner asks another question on carrying a pillion, then after what seems like an eternity tells me I’ve passed!
He gave me a driving fault for the messy slip road incident, and another two driving faults for hesitancy at junctions (I agree, I was maybe trying too hard to make sure I didn’t slow another vehicle down when I emerged) but that was it!
The relief and excitement were enormous. Now I’ve just got to compose myself enough to ride back to Ipswich rider training. Then I can go and look at the bike!

Monday, March 12, 2007

Weather warning

The last lesson before my test tomorrow. The weather has turned again. Very high winds and showers. Surely I can’t have my test cancelled again? Andy says that if it weren’t test day tomorrow he wouldn’t have taken me out today. I soon see why. It’s not too bad once I get going (except for sidewinds on more open roads), but sitting stationary at traffic lights and junctions it’s taking both feet down and all my strength to stay upright. We pull over to attempt a U-turn and end up getting off our bikes and waiting 5 minutes while the weather gets really interesting. Watching the rain fall almost horizontally, I begin to think I’m just not destined to take my test yet.
We manage a few U-turns and Emergency Stops when the weather calms down a bit, then head back to go through the Safety Questions.
To cheer myself up, I decide if my test doesn’t get cancelled again and I pass, I’m definitely going straight to look at a bike I've just seen on the Internet.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Back in the saddle...and out of it again!

A couple of weeks after the Test was cancelled and I still haven’t had a new date through.
I decide to phone the DSA and get things moving a bit. Apparently I can have a test tomorrow morning. Urm, no thanks, I said soon - not immediately.
I take a 08.40 test for the end of next week. Now, I’ve just got to hope the weather doesn’t take a nasty turn..and I can remember how to ride!
I book two more lessons before my Test. I’m feeling a bit like the momentum has gone and my enthusiasm has waned.
I shouldn’t have worried. It was a bit like catching up with an old friend. You’re not sure you can be bothered, but once you’ve made the effort, you’re glad you did.
The U-turns were still offensive! Another close encounter with the tarmac, having not sat up enough and lost my balance! This time not as dramatic; not quite as embarrassing, but still frustrating.
I’m now resigned to the fact that I could do a hundred U-turns, and even if 99 were great, and just one went wrong, that one would be all I’d think about. All I can do is hope for the best. A quick burst of self-belief on the day…and a VERY wide road!

Monday, March 05, 2007

All dressed up and nowhere to go

This is it. Test day. The last few days have been awful. A freezing fog has just hung around endlessly, making everything and everyone feel cold and miserable. Today is no different. My nerves wake me up early, so I’m reading through the ‘Show me/Tell me’ Questions the examiner asks before we go out riding.
Apparently the Tests all went out yesterday, so I’m hoping mine will go ahead. As anxious as I am, I just want to get it done.
The ice on my car is pretty thick, and I’m beginning to wonder what it will be like to ride a bike in this sort of weather.
As I arrive at Ipswich Rider Training, Ros tells me the first two tests have been cancelled and mine is in doubt.
I can’t decide if I’m relieved or bitterly disappointed. Rob returns with the last candidate who was turned away, and we get ready to head up to the Test centre.
On the ride there, the fog gives way to low wintry sun, getting my hopes up, only to be dashed again as we approach the Test Centre which is still cloaked in fog. The ice seems to have melted off the main roads, and the ride hasn’t felt scary or unsafe. Any misgivings I had have disappeared. I’m up for it. The practice U-turn and Emergency stop went fine and I feel I’m ready to give it my best shot.
As we stand in the waiting room, an Examiner comes out to tell a poor Learner driver her test won’t be going ahead due to the weather.
My heart sinks. If a car can’t go out, there’s no way we will. Sure enough, our Examiner comes out and gives us the bad news and a letter from the DSA explaining what happens next. Apparently, I now wait to be contacted with a new Test date.
It's very disappointing, but there's not much I can do about it.

The ride back felt strange. All that nervous energy un-used. Now it’s just a case of putting everything on hold until a Test date comes through. Then I can start preparing again, and hopefully next time I’ll at least get to take the test.

Feeling the pressure

Next time I arrive at Ipswich Rider Training, I’ll be making my way up to the Test Centre.
This was my last lesson before my Test. I’m guessing it’s probably that fact that made everything feel very wrong. My backside seemed to be continually slipping on the seat; my hands couldn’t get comfortable on the clutch or the throttle, making gear changes and acceleration horribly jerky. My feet couldn’t get comfortable on the pegs. My shoulders ached. My visor kept misting up.
I felt completely ill at ease and clumsy. On the up side, the U-turns, for the most went part ok!
Two months ago I had never sat on a bike, and never had any urge to. Now I’m a few days away from taking my test, and I’ve surprised myself by how much this means to me. It’s not just about the fear of failure; it’s about wanting the licence, wanting a bike. From my initial indifference, to slight interest,
to looking forward to the next lesson, just to be on a bike again.
I find myself scouring the Internet for suitable bikes, determined to have one the minute I pass my Test. All that stands in my way is about 35 minutes of being assessed by an Examiner. I just hope my riding can stand up to it.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Mind over matter

It’s fair to say my problem with U-turns is mainly psychological. Every aspect of riding is a new skill to me and nothing is anywhere near to perfect, but I seem to have made U-turns this huge obstacle in my mind that’s so difficult to overcome.
Today I’m out with Andy again. Same old thing, some are ok, some aren’t. I’m even less consistent than when he last saw me as that was before my bike dropping, confidence-crushing incident.
Andy tries a new approach. I sit pillion while he does several U-turns.
It feels a bit faster than my attempts. He swings quicker to the left and harder to the right than I’m managing, and amazingly to me, the bike feels totally stable.
Now it’s my turn. Setting the clutch, checking over my shoulder, off we go. As the bike moves I resist the urge to pull the clutch back in and lose all the momentum, I swing it a bit to the left, a bit quicker to the right and look at where I want to finish. I made it!
We continue the lesson with a bit of riding then a U-turn. A bit more riding, then another U-turn. They aren’t all good, but a tiny glimmer of hope at least.
With only one more lesson before Test, let’s hope there won’t be any more setbacks.

One step forward, two steps back

I have started to look more and more forward to my lessons as the weeks go by. Today was no different. Despite the mishap last time, the big bruise on my leg, and the even bigger dent to my confidence, I was still keen to get back on the bike.
I knew we’d have to do more U-turns at some point and that wasn’t something I was looking forward to, but I knew it had to be done.
The general ride seemed fine, still the odd wobbles and jerks but each lesson I feel a little more comfortable. I’m feel very aware that I’m not looking as far ahead as I would in a car and that worries me as I know I’m even more vulnerable on a bike. But, the less I’m thinking about how to control the bike, the further ahead I’m looking, so hopefully that will keep improving with experience.
Then U-turns. Back to wobbling and tap dancing. Not what I need when I only have one more lesson before my test! Poor Rob wasn’t sure what to do with me! It’s easier to sort out a problem with technique rather than a psychological one. I keep thinking if only I’d dropped it at the start of my training, but to do it just when I thought I’d finally figured U-turns out has set me back a long way. By the end of the lesson, it had improved slightly, fear replaced by determination. To try and get back on track I’ve squeezed in another lesson this week hopefully to get some consistency. The reassuring thing was getting back to the training centre to hear another two learners also discussing the evilness of U-turns. It’s nice to know it’s not just me. Having said that, the test is rapidly approaching, and I’m really feeling the pressure.