Back to Biking

It’s about 20 years since I rode a motorcycle, if you discount last Sunday. What the hell took me so long? That was a great day! It was my Compulsory Basic Training (CBT).

I thought it would be quite a small group, but I didn’t expect to get a day of one-to-one training. The other person didn’t turn up. Dave, from 3D Motorcycle Training, is a nice guy and a very good teacher; he should be, he said he’s been doing it for 25 years (he hardly looks old enough). My only two gripes were that the 125 I rode seemed to have a rather stiff clutch lever and gave me cramp (although maybe some of that was my gloves – I shouldn’t have taken my new ones – or, as he said, my being tense), and that he said we would go out on the road for about two hours, and I’m sure it can’t have been more than about one. Cheating bastard! 😉

Maybe that was because there wasn’t much point in doing another hour with me because I’m so brilliant… Well, I am a good learner, and most of the basics were already under my belt from the fact that it’s like riding a bike. Yeah. I didn’t have to learn to do the balancing bit, or which control does what, or how to find the biting point of the clutch. It was weird though, that first moment when I engaged the clutch and rode forward a few yards, and I did find the bike slightly awkward to control – maybe mostly because of that annoying clutch, which never seemed to engage smoothly.

By lunch time, however, I was getting quite confident round the school playground, and starting to relax more. I had no real nerves about going out on the road. I was chatting to someone working in a camping shop the other day whose husband had recently done the CBT and spent a lot of money (I don’t know if this included a bike), and then couldn’t cope with the actual riding out there on our dangerous roads and packed it in again. Cheers, that was comforting for me just two days before mine.

I always used to feel quite safe on a motorbike (if I was sensible, which I have to say wasn’t always the case when I was younger). I had a Honda CB125 in my late teens and early twenties, and then got a Suzuki GP100, and they could keep up with most traffic apart from on dual carriageways, when there’s enough room for vehicles to pass anyway. Before the 125, I had a Honda SS50 “Sports” moped, which was a little more dangerous due to its slowness, causing everyone to try to overtake it, and making me feel like my rightful place was a foot from the kerb.

A great deal of the theory talk emphasized the importance of driving assertively, confidently, staking your place on the road and keeping up with traffic when reasonable. The position to hold is generally near the middle of your lane, perhaps just slightly to the left of centre, but not too far in, or people behind you will immediately decide you’re a hazard to be passed. I already had this habit pretty well, but he said I wasn’t very consistent with it on turns, and I passed parked vehicles far too close, leaving myself in danger of riding into someone’s suddenly opened door, or a pedestrian running out.

Similarly, if you leave too much space between yourself and the vehicle in front, it can invite people to fill it, and you end up again being overtaken and then having to back off to maintain that space. This is a difficult point, however, because generally people drive too close, and you don’t want to do that, so sometimes you have to find the best way you can to minimize the risks – perhaps riding well out when you need to protect that “two second gap” – but there’s actually not really any perfect solution, and it’s a problem I have in the car, too. Driving too close is one of the top causes of accidents.

I can’t for the life of me remember what bike it was – something like a Yamaha YBR or maybe a Suzuki EN – a very basic sit-up-and-beg 4-stroke, but it pulled away pretty nicely and cruised around on the town streets and country lanes at the kinds of speeds I reckonned I was ready for after all these years. It was slightly off-putting having Dave ride his big bike close behind and to the right of me most of the way. I can see the point of it – he was in a position to protect me and observe quite well too – but it interfered with my natural driving sense, my “radar”, because obviously I would not normally expect someone to be doing that (and would probably take evasive action if they did!).

Also, whenever I did the rear-observation over my right shoulder, instead of observing the traffic, I pretty well just got a look at his bike, and knew that’s what I’d see anyway! I suppose that “life saver” move isn’t really designed for looking down the road so much as the blind-spot between what you can see in the mirror and your normal peripheral vision.

It was a good little taster of what it might be like later to have a few more lessons towards my test, and what it might be like on the test.

So now I’m hanging out for my “learner-legal” bike, which means it has to be no bigger than 125 cc and produce no more than, I think, 10 kW, or about 14 bhp in old money. I did a bit of research on the net and soon the Honda CBR125 settled into first choice. It’s a good balance between economy and green credentials on the one hand and sportiness on the other, being like a little mini racing bike in styling, a 4-stroke, and the later ones, at least, meeting the stricter European emissions regulations. I haven’t quite got my head round the changes, but I think a few years ago they got electronic ignition, which helps with the fuel efficiency, and have catalytic convertors – or is that another one, my head’s spinning with the data. I’m also not sure how clean 2-strokes are these days (or a few years old), but I’ve never been particularly fond of the whine (though I always loved the smell).

I would love to go the whole hog (pardon the pun) and get an even greener CBF125, but it just looks awful, is another upright sitting position, and the build quality isn’t nearly as good. The CBR should do at least 100 mpg with skill and patience – although people often quote about 80, this might partly be due to the bike’s racing heritage and the kinds of people, therefore, who often ride them. Picking up a second-hand one, it’s probably quite important to differentiate between those used by mature learners or returners like me and ones that have been thrashed by teenagers.

I’m also confused – or a lot of people are – about the number of gears on them. I’m fairly confident it’s 6, and that gives you a nice overdrive for cruising, but many places list them as 5-speed. It could be a later mod – I haven’t found the definitive history yet.

Now it just so happens that I found one – a red and black 57-reg in nice condition – in my local shop, but they’re trying to get hold of the buyer, because they’ve had a deposit on it for weeks and not collected it yet. I sat on it, which felt very tempting, but of course couldn’t take it for a test ride. That seems to be about the only thing that would change my mind on the model I want – unless something very interesting comes along in the meantime – if I rode one and felt it wasn’t right.

Next choice might be something like the Yamaha YBR, but it’s relatively underpowered and rather boring looking, and I don’t really like that upright stance very much (although it’s actually all I’ve ridden so far). I think I’ll prefer those lower bars.

There are quite a few around, but no more of them that I’ve seen within about 20 miles. I’ll have the car on Monday and Tuesday, so I can have a look at some more then, and hopefully take one out for a spin.

P.S. – yeah, it’s 6-speed, has injection and a cat – I found these 2007 version features.

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