Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Inspiration and Motivation.

There's a motor show on at Canary Wharf where I work. Only one pitch has attracted my attention - The Triumph Motorcycle stand. If I needed any further motivation to pass my bike test, sitting on this bike would be it.
The new Scrambler is beautiful too. I can see myself on one of these. Better make sure I'm ready for the re-test.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Back In The Real World

Back at work today and the last few days seem like a dream. It's been quite an intense few days. I've never ridden as much as I have in the last week. I've been concentrating so hard on this one aim. I can hardly believe what I've been doing. It's like a memory of swimming underwater. Riding along at 70mph on a rainy road, crash helmet and visor dulling outside sounds, detached voice suddenly in my ear as the instructor comments - very strange.
Feeling more relaxed, I'm taking a few days off riding to recharge my batteries before my next assault on the unholy grail.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006


I didn't think I'd build up the tension, I failed. Not that badly though, if that's any consolation - it wasn't at the time - but now a couple of hours later and another hour and a half ride back from Brighton it is, a bit. I failed on two serious things - observation, not enough 'lifesaver' looks over the shoulder before a manoeuvre and going too slowly in a 'National Speed Limit Applies' zone. Fair enough really. I knew I should be looking more, and the speed issue was not figuring out where a 40mph zone ended and 'normal speed' began. A bit annoying that, because in a car I don't really think too much about not going fast enough, I'm more worried about too fast.
Anyway, apart from that I had very few 'points'. You're allowed to rack up 15 points (one an error) in the test before you fail - I had 6 points.
The examiner actually complimented me on my riding and control which was nice of him. My U-turn was perfect! but when it comes down to it, I failed. Sorry!
I've booked another test in two weeks time - so I have to go through all this again.
If I look at it objectively, I know that I'm a much better rider than I was last week - 50 times better. Safer, more confident and I have the experience of the test, which wasn't actually too bad. Next time I'll pass!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Who's Stupid Idea Was This?

I can't believe I'm putting myself through this. At times today I was having the worst time I can remember. Riding along duel carriageways in the pouring rain, getting soaking wet, having to keep up with the instructor, it was like torture. An hour and a half ride in the rain from Brighton back to Hastings. Where's my car? The horrible feeling of loss of tyre grip going 'round a wet roundabout, whether it really is the bike sliding or the tyre getting caught by an uneven road surface.
And I hate exams. I get stupidly nervous. No one else told me to do this - I have only myself to blame.
However there was a point as we neared home and the sky began to clear, and I listened to the 500cc engine roar, that my spirits lifted and I got a glimmer of understanding.
Will I pass my test tomorrow? I really don't know, I guess I have a 50-50 chance, there is so much that is unpredictable, not only my own performance but the traffic, the weather, the examiner.
No one else has put pressure on me to pass first time, only myself. Maybe if I allow myself the same as the car test - 3 times - that will take some pressure off. I'm not sure. I'm going to be really disappointed if I do fail. Just the thought of going through all this again is almost too much to take!
Plus, after riding all day I'm walking like John Wayne.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Day Two

Here's a photo of the bike I'm training on. A Kawasaki ER5. I told my instructor how I was enjoying riding a modern bike and he laughed saying the Kawasaki design is 10 years old. Still seems new to me.
I didn't sleep well last night. This morning I had to remind myself that no one was forcing me to do this, it's supposed to be fun. If I fail the test, I'll just take it again. I passed my car test 3rd time - that seems meaningless now years later.
I'm still making mistakes and I still can't imagine I'll ride perfectly on Wednesday. I think I'll need some luck.

Today when I was doing U-turns in the road, sometimes I was perfect, othertimes I messed up so badly. It seemed random.
Tomorrow we head to Brighton to ride around the roads where I'll be taking the test.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Training Day

Saturday was my first day of training. I started out on my bike and moved onto a Kawasaki 500. The difference was interesting to say the least. The Kawasaki goes about twice as fast, it has excellent brakes, electric start, it doesn't stall at every junction, in fact it's really nice and easy to ride. Getting back on my 30 year old Honda XL125 4 hours later felt very strange - the riding position is so different, it's slow and noisy, but it does have a lot of character. I think that's really what I like about old bikes and cars.
The training itself was good. Hard work but good. It's mentally draining to have to concentrate for that amount of time and have someone in your ear telling you whenever you make a mistake, and I made plenty.
We did a lot of miles, in on different types of roads - country lanes with horses, duel carriageways and busy towns. I felt pretty disheartened at times - I can't see how I'll be able to ride to the required standard on Wednesday, how I won't mess it up.
My instructor seems to think I'm doing ok - I have two more full days, then a half day and test.
I know I need to try to relax and enjoy it, but that's easier said than done.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

With Big Match Analysis...

I rode so badly yesterday, never feeling fully in control, that I knew I would have to find a way of concentrating better. So today, copying a video I saw of a guy demonstrating advanced driving techniques, I have been carrying out a running commentary of what I'm doing while I ride.
"...there's a road junction coming up on the left, so I'm looking out for someone coming straight out...parked cars, watching for doors opening in front of me...white van driver at the roundabout, anything could happen...slowing down for the zebra crossing...not looking at the pretty woman walking down the pavement...speed limit..."
It's amazing how much it helps to keep me focused. I realised I spend a lot of time while riding, thinking about what bike I'd like if I pass my test or what I'd do if I fail, now with John Motson in the helmet with me, I find my mind can't wander too far.
I don't think I'll always do this, but it'll certainly help until I become more competent.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Practise not making perfect just yet...

My test is a week today. I've been doing a fair amount of riding, practising, trying to iron out the faults - it's hard though, I get annoyed when I make mistakes - I think I should be able to ride more smoothly, pulling up to juctions too fast, slowing down too abruptly, pulling away too fast - manoeuvres in general.
I was once complimented on my smooth car driving by my pal George who was a coach driver at the time. He said I'd make an excellent coach driver - I'm pretty sure he was referring to my driving rather than my shouting at passengers.
I suppose it takes time and experience. Hopefully my instructor will be able to get me through the test and then I can work on the experience myself over the years.

Friday, May 05, 2006

More Zen.

I'm about a third of the way into 'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance' and I'm enjoying it.
I had some misconceptions about it.
1) I thought it may be a bit 'Jonathan Livingston Seagull' - another cult classic from the 70's - it isn't, phew.
2) I assumed Robert Pirsig would be a hippy looking type - he's not (or wasn't) see photo.
3) I thought he'd be riding some huge Harley type bike - in fact it's a quite small 1964 Honda SuperHawk 350cc.
4) I hadn't realised that the book was based on an actual trip that Robert made with his son, Chris and friends, John and Sylvia Sutherland in 1968.

More excellent photos from the trip here.

It's interesting both as an introduction to philosophy and as a retro Americana travelogue.
Also worth noting that according to the Guinness Book of Records Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is the bestselling novel rejected by the greatest number of potential publishers (121).

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Good and Bad News for the England Football Team

"Middlesbrough boss Steve McClaren has been appointed the next England manager, ending months of speculation over Sven-Goran Eriksson's successor".
I can't help feeling disappointed about McClaren getting the England job. I'm sure most football fans feel the same, except possibly the Middlesbrough ones.
McClaren is a massively underwhelming choice. The F.A. should have pulled out all stops to get Gus Hiddink. He has everything you could possibly ask for to manage the national team.
The other big England story is the loss of Wayne Rooney for the World Cup Finals. This is a terrible blow as Rooney seems to be the only player who can create the unexpected and change a game. However Alan Ball, one of England's 1966 World Cup winners, points out that a similar thing happened in 1966 when England lost their equivalent star, the brilliant Jimmy Greaves. Geoff Hurst was a squad player at the start of the tournament and only got his chance when Greaves was injured. He became the only man to score a hat-trick in a World Cup final and played a huge part in the victory. Perhaps someone will step into Rooney's boots and surprise us all.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Late Learner Ramble.

Compulsory basic training is a very good thing. When I got my first bike at 16, (a purple Yamaha FS1E 50cc moped) I had never ridden a geared bike on the road. It was really trial and error. It's incredible I survived. When I was 17, I swapped this for a Honda CB175 (like the one in the photo) that would do 75mph. Although I then continued to ride for another 3 years, I never learned some of the basic skills that I was later taught on the day of my CBT.
No one ever showed me how to ride slowly, which involves using the throttle, clutch and footbrake together - in a car this would be 'slipping the clutch' a big no-no, but on a bike apparently this doesn't harm the clutch.
Maybe it's part of my personality that I don't like to learn by the book, I like to teach myself in my own time, whether it's the guitar, photoshop or how to program the video-recorder.
However, learning to ride a bike or drive a car properly is really a matter of life or death. It seems that motorcycle training now is all about safety and riding defensively.
Another change from the late 1970's, when I was first riding, is the attitude to drinking and driving. We knew it was wrong, but we still did it. I hate to think about it now. I remember riding into a bush after an afternoon of drinking homebrew at my pal Peter's house. I remember dropping my bike outside a pub after drinking too much one night. I needed help to lift it up but still got on it and rode home. Finally I slid off the CB175 one night riding home through Ashdown Forest after an evening drinking. The bike was written off, but I was barely injured. I was lucky no one else was involved and the long walk home gave me time to sober up and think about how it could have turned out.
Later, drinking coffee in my parents kitchen, a Policeman turned up. The bike had been found in a ditch, there were skid marks all down the road and they were looking for a body in the bushes, He didn't breathalyze me, though he knew I'd been drinking, I guess (apart from being too late) he figured I'd learnt a lesson - though he did take me to task for not reporting an accident.
Some things you learn for yourself, some things you have to be taught.