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Learning To Ride A Motor Bike.

A typically British paperwork exercise.

As some of you will know I recently (well, April) learnt to ride a motorcycle.  I’m not really too sure why it has taken me so long to make this decision, as my brother raced them for several years and has worked on them since leaving school 11 years ago.  I’ve been around them a lot, but even more so since my brother opened a workshop of his own, Full Throttle Motorcylces, and I volunteered to help him with his accounts.  Along with the fact I already drive a car and have a licence for heavy goods vehicles up to full artic (Class C+E) I really do have no idea why I haven’t.

In the midst of the early February snow, while talking to my brother I decided to bite the bullet and book in for my training with Electric Start Training, because my brother spoke very highly of the chap who runs it, Charlie Royle.  The first week in April was the first slot that was good for both of us, and I needed some time to get the theory test done in any case.

The Process.

DSA - Examiners!
DSA - Examiners!

Typically British, and very paperwork heavy.  When I came to the end of this process I had 7 pieces of paper which were needed to prove I had passed every stage of the process.  Luckily these were soon replaced with my normal 2 piece driving licence (which raises the question of why we need a paper counterpart still?!).

Before you can do anything you will need provisional Class A (motorcycle) entitlement on your driving licence.  If you have a car licence this will be included; else you need to apply to DVLA for a provisional driving licence.

Theory Test.

The first thing you will need if you intend to go straight to a bigger bike is a pass certificate for the motorcycle theory test.  This is split into two parts, the first being a multiple choice exam based on the contents of the highway code and the second being a “hazard perception test” where videos are played and you have to identify developing hazards as quickly as possible.  The first part of the test was, to an experienced driver, fairly common sense; I had done two of these tests before – one for my car (was first year it was mandatory), and one for HGV.  They alter the content a little bit so that there are questions relevant to the class of vehicle.

The Hazard Perception test is a little harder, but is still relatively straight forward if you remember the key word:  developing.  They want you to click as soon as you see a hazard developing – so a woman about to walk out in the road is developing, where as a parked car in your lane isn’t.

CBT

The CBT – Compulsory Basic Training –  is mandatory before you can ride any moped, scooter or bike on the road even with ‘L’ plates on.  This was my first experience on a bike proper, although thanks to my brother I had a good grounding in how bikes worked and knew where everything was.  This is completed at an off road site, and consists of basic riding training and a grounding in theory – it’s clearly aimed at 16/17 year olds with little road experience who want to get a scooter as their first way of getting around.  It takes a full day, I did mine on the Saturday before continuing straight onto bigger bikes on the Sunday.   Mine culminated with a short road ride on a 125cc motorcycle and then you get a pass certificate; the ‘gotcha’ here is that the pass certificate is only valid for 2 years, so within that time you need to upgrade to a full licence or come back and do another CBT.

Direct Access

Once you have a CBT you then have a choice as to what type of motorcycle licence you want, and that can be dependent on your age.

Category ‘A2’ licence training is undertaken on a 120-125cc bike, capable of 100kph (62mph) but not more powerful than 14.6bhp. An A2 licence allows you to ride any bike which is restricted to 33bhp, and reverts to a full class A licence after 2 years irrespective of your age.  Most bikes can be restricted to 33bhp by a mechanic, so it’s quite common to ride a 600cc bike on this licence, but with the power output restricted initially.  Then after two years you can remove the restriction but keep your bike.

Category ‘A1’ licence training is undertaken on a bike of 75-125cc, and a pass will allow you ride any motorcycle upto 125cc; but it never reverts to a full class A licence. I don’t understand what market this licence is trying to cater for personally, except perhaps to remove the need to renew a CBT every 2 years?

Category ‘A’, or ‘Direct Access’ is only open to people over 21 and can be completed on a combination of 125cc and larger machines (generally a 500cc); but the test must be done on a machine of at least 36.6 bhp.  A pass allows you to ride a bike of any size.  This is the option I took, it makes the most sense for me.

Training.

Having completed my CBT on the Saturday the Direct Access training started in ernest, early doors, on the Sunday morning.  It was the first time I’d been up that early on a Sunday for a while!  Luckily my brother had sorted me out very well with appropriate motorcycle attire (helmet, trousers, jacket, and gloves) – soon to be the subject of another blog post I think, so I was warm despite it being a cold day.

Training Bike - Kawasaki ER-5
Training Bike - Kawasaki ER-5

The training was to continue until Wednesday (when we had part one of the actual test booked), and consisted of a variety of practising manoeuvres such as the emergency stop, pulling off from behind parked cars and the dreaded ‘U’ turn, both on and off the road; and general riding / handling.  We did this in Banbury and the surrounding villages (which reminded me how picturesque my part of the world really is), and had a good time doing it.  The bike which Electric Start use for this is the Kawaski ER-5, which is regarded as a good solid ‘naked’ or ‘standard’ bike – although I thought it was a bit heavy!

Quite possibly the hardest bit of the CBT training was the U turn, in which you start off on the left hand side of a road and perform a turn in the road so as to end up facing the other direction on the other side of the road.  This has to be completed at low speed and without touching the floor with your feet.  This is suprisingly hard to do at first, and the only advice I can offer to people learning is to look where you want to be and not where you are – this makes it so much easier.  The temptation when looking at where you are now is to over control and loose balance.

Module 1 Test.

The driving test for Motorcycles changed a year ago so that it is now in two parts, the first being an off road manoeuvres based part and the second being the more traditional ride.  This was done so the UK could comply with the European Driving Licence Directive, which aims to standardise driving tests across Europe (and having driven in Europe this can only be a good thing!!); however the change to the test has come in for a lot of criticism from almost all quarters partly for its implementation and partly for its poor accident record.

Module 1 Test
Module 1 Test

Module 1 for us was booked on the Wednesday lunchtime at Silverstone race circuit where the Driving Standards Agency (DSA) have a centre.  It’s essentially a series of cones laid out to represent ‘real world’ scenarios such as a slow ride, moving a bike into a garage, and importantly an emergency stop and a hazard avoidance exercise.

The emergency stop and hazard avoidance exercise require you to ride through a speed trap at no less than 50kph (32mph) and then either stop straight ahead or ‘swerve’ into a box having gone around a ‘hazard’.  This is the bit which most people worry about – and I was no exception to this at all.  Despite having practised this a lot in the morning, I failed my first attempt by being too slow (45kph), but you are allowed a further attempt before failing the whole test.  I scraped it in, 50kph bang on!

Module 2.

The second part of the test was booked for the following week (to allow time for a Mod 1 resit if needed, as tests are booked in advance), and was a much less intimidating road ride around Banbury with the DSA examiner in radio contact.  My road ride was fairly uneventful and thanks to Charlie at Electric Start I was aware of some of the deliberate ‘pit-falls’ which the examiner uses as a way of testing your awareness.  It took about 30-45 minutes and was actually a nice ride and I wasn’t nervous.

Thankfully when we got back to the test centre I was given a pass!  Then I had a quite lengthy conversation with the examiner as it turns out he too is a pilot, and flys microlights… its a small world.  Since my last driving test some common sense has been injected and the DSA now send your licence off to DVLA for you to have the new entitlement added.  Previously you had to do this yourself, and pay, and the pass certificate was only valid for 2 years – if you forgot to send it off in this time you had to start again.  However, I whole heartedly advise anyone sending a licence to DVLA to take a photocopy or scan of it first as its not unknown for them to “loose” entitlements off it and with no proof you will have to the test for that category again!  It has happened.

Post Pass.

I’m really glad I passed first time, as before going for the test I had signed the finance agreement for my new bike and didn’t want to have to sit and look at it while I waited for a retest.  Incidentally this was the first of my 4 driving tests which I passed first time, the others were all second time and all down to silly mistakes on the first attempt.

My new GSX-R600.
My new GSX-R600.

On the Friday after my test my new bike was ready for collection from Frettons of Leamington, who are the local Suzuki dealer.  My brother knows the chaps who own it and got me a brilliant deal on a brand new Suzuki GSX-R600.  Suzuki were also offering 0% finance at the time which always helps.  Frettons really pulled out all the stops to get the bike PDI’d and delivered so quickly.  I let my brother collect it for me, so he could “scrub” the tyres for me as motorcycle tyres lack grip when new.  I didn’t want to combine that with my lack of experience so he put the first 20 miles on my bike for me.

I’ve had it six weeks now, and although my brother has ridden it more than me (he doesn’t have a road bike at the mo, so I happily lend it him in return for his TLC of it mechnically!), I really love it – its such a thrill!

Interesting Links for April 2nd.

These are my interesting links for April 2nd:

Interesting Links for March 24th.

These are my interesting links for March 24th: