So you want to learn to ride a motorbike? This is excellent, and I really feel that more people should do this to increase their awareness for other road users. I certainly became a much better driver having completed this learning. However, as with most activities involving motor vehicles, there are a few things to take into consideration before doing the training. Riding a bike is a huge amount of fun, and in the current climate it could be a great way of completing a commute. There are a few pitfalls to avoid, and below are the three main pieces of advice that helped me get through the compulsory basic training (CBT):
Mentality is a big issue for a few road users. The trick here is to strike a decent balance. We need to display a certain level of confidence when operating the bike, because this has an effect on how well we use the controls. The controls on bikes can be very sensitive so our mindset needs to initially be one of caution before we get comfortable. If you’re going to fall off a motorcycle, better to do it at low speed and do minimal damage.
Overconfidence, and being too deliberate with the controls could end up in embarrassment and injury. Nervousness, especially jittery movement, could result in not being able to balance the bike properly, which could also end in tears. A huge part of riding a motorcycle is about balance and with the bikes being light, a rider can easily influence this for better or worse. Especially if said rider is full of burgers and custard cream biscuits.
Do Your Homework
This made a big difference to me. I believe that knowing how something works enables us to operate it more effectively. This very much applies here. I would encourage new riders to get on the internet, and have a look at gear changing, or throttle inputs. Have a look at the different types of bikes that exist, and the ones that you would aspire to own should you be successful. It will also impress the instructors, and reassure them that you are taking the learning seriously. Overdoing this and being a bit too smart will annoy people, so this is another tricky tightrope to walk. I may have fallen off this tightrope a few times.
Buy the Right Equipment
There are debates over how much equipment to buy before even learning to ride. You run the risk looking slightly foolish if you spend thousands on the best 1-piece leathers only to be sent home for not making the grade. Having said this, I felt much safer having my own helmet. I knew that it was in good condition so I felt more at ease. In the current climate particularly, I would strongly recommend purchasing one.
They don’t need to cost £2500 either. Mine cost under £50 and still had a 4 star safety rating. A forthcoming post focusing on equipment will go into more depth on this. A strong set of shoes and jeans are also recommended, just in case you become more horizontal than intended. Initially, I found I had better control with thinner gloves, although thicker ones tend to give better protection. Everyone is different so as long as you are comfortable and safe, you can’t go too far wrong.
I decided to learn to ride June 2016. I watched a TV programme called ‘How to Stay Young’. In essence, the secret is to keep your mind and body active. Motorcycling certainly does that, although the obvious dangers cannot be ignored. Having found a nearby dealership, I went along on a Saturday with perfect weather conditions to give myself the best possible chance. Knowing your limits is a great safety net.
The day started off in the classroom with other hopefuls, talking about the theory of motorcycling, desired road positioning and potential pitfalls. I coped reasonably with the classroom aspect, and knew a good number of the answers. I have a car license, and much of the highway code is equally applicable to both cars and motorcycles. This was therefore a bit of an advantage. It was here where I first heard about the ‘lifesaver’. If you’re planning to learn and you already know what that is, you’re doing better than me.
After the classroom section had finished, we were driven to an off-road site to get up close and personal with some 125s. At the time, these machines felt a little intimidating, but that feeling soon goes. The instructor talked us through all the various parts of the bike, and all the checks we should be doing as riders. We then got to push the bikes around, to ensure that we could handle their weight. Bikes only really get heavier from here upwards. For this reason, weight is a big consideration for me in my bike buying guide. Dropping a bike here may well be game over.
Once we had convinced the instructors that we could push the bikes without ending up underneath one of them, it was finally time to fire up the engine. If you’ve never ridden a bike before, the 125cc engine can sound like it means business. By law they are all limited to a small amount of power, so letting the clutch out smoothly ensured a smooth getaway. We practised straight line acceleration, turning and braking in various exercises before taking a break for lunch. I don’t recommend a full 3 course meal in this heat!
In the afternoon, after a few more refresher exercises, it was time for the road ride. I was doing all my lifesavers, indicating at the appropriate times and generally not causing chaos for too many drivers in north London. However, on the way back to the training school HQ (presumably to be told I had passed), there was a bit of a disaster.
I stopped on a hill, against the advice of my instructor. I tried to pull away, but wasn’t using enough power. So then I used much more power, but let the clutch out too quickly. The bike rewarded my idiocy by catapulting me into a tree and leaving me on my side in the road. I was physically unhurt, but mentally I was severely damaged.
I sat on the back of the instructor’s bike on the return journey to the training school. The training school asked me to come back the following week to complete the course. I was disappointed obviously, probably because I was expecting to pass. Overconfidence had cost me, both mentally and financially. I considered whether I should be riding at all, but decided that admitting defeat was not an option. I therefore spent the next few days studying, making notes and reviewing where I went wrong.
A week later I returned to the training school and felt like a different person. My wallet was certainly lighter in any case. I improved the riding, attitude and composure even when I managed to stall the bike on the road. The training school gave me a pass! I waited 4 days, and then bought the CBF 125 that is reviewed elsewhere on this site.
It was the proverbial adventure but it was worth the effort and financial outlay. I suspect I’m a better rider now than I would have been if I had passed the CBT at the first attempt. Being very wary of what the machine is capable of is key to staying on two wheels. However, the bike can’t actually do anything without an input from the rider. If the input is smooth and considered, in most cases you’ll be just fine!
Three months after passing the CBT, I went for the full license. Needless to say, I took this much more seriously. The step up from 11 to 70 bhp is very noticeable. Proportionately, it’s likely to be the biggest step up that you will undertake in motorcycling. That is, unless you go and buy a 490 bhp hyper-bike straight after passing, which I don’t recommend even if you can find one. If you decide to go straight for a big bike, have a strong drink ready when you have the insurance conversation. The three other bikes I’ve owned are all reviewed on this site. I also include my thoughts on what they were like to live with. Have a look round, do some research and feel free to get in contact. Thanks for reading!