More motorbiking!

My motorcycle training was only in March but it already seems to have happened on a different planet. Back then, the world was a dark-grey, bitterly cold sort of place with arctic winds and apocalyptic rain. Motorcycles were fast, four-cylinder things that cut through foul weather with high precision and oodles of Japanese horsepower. It was noisy, cold and highly stressful.

Now, with all tests behind me and a letter ‘A’ on my licence, motorcycling is becoming less difficult and more enjoyable every day. A week ago, I went over the new Severn Bridge to Bristol and visited my brother.

Anthony2 lo.res

Here he is, looking rather James Dean. You can also see that he’s being tempted. Like just about everyone who sees the bike for the first time, he said: “It’s beautiful!”

After Bristol, it was back on the road, Gloucester Road to be precise, and then the M48 which leads to the old Severn Bridge. This is an elegant, old-fashioned bridge from a gentler age. Riding across it on the Enfield, with very little traffic, it was easy to imagine oneself back in the 1960s. I shall just repeat, to the annoyance of car drivers, that, as a motorcyclist, you do not have to pay anything to cross the bridge. You just stop politely at the barrier, exchange a wave, a smile but no money, and the barrier rises for you. Twist the throttle and away you go.

Next stop was Caldicot, home of a couple of friends I hadn’t seen for ages. Yes, the fact that they lived near the old bridge was a deciding factor. Like many I know, Jane in Caldicot grew up around motorbikes and had always liked them. I don’t know why but it seems that most of the people I know turn out to have owned a BSA Bantam in the past.

On Friday, I finally made it up into the Brecon Beacons. Not going to visit anyone, this was just for the ride. Well past Merthyr and approaching Brecon, there is a beauty spot called Storey Arms. I have stopped there many times over the past 20 years and have always felt somewhat inadequate. Like a man in a lounge suit at a black-tie dinner. This is really a place where bikers stop for a rest and a cup of tea and maybe a bite to eat from the burger van. Car drivers are allowed to stop there but they are looked upon with pity. Now, finally, I was properly equipped for Story Arms!

Storey Arms

I rumbled into the lay-by and stopped where I would be able to photograph the bike with a nice background. I bought a cup of tea and immediately got chatting to a bloke called Dave from Staffordshire who was on his way to Somerset. Then two guys from Somerset turn up – one of them on a Triumph. You can just see half the front wheel of the Triumph in the picture.

Then it was on to Hay-on-Wye and lunch at The Granary. Rode home via Clyro, thus touching Radnorshire, which is important.

The weather turned as I was half way home and the A470 had strong crosswinds. Serious buffeting on the bike. This is where the first rule of motorcycling comes in. Well, first rule for me, anyway. The rule is: The bike will go where you look.

So, if there’s something ahead that you want to avoid, like a pothole, don’t look at the pothole, look at the bit of road you want to travel on. It works with buffeting too. Maintain a steady speed and just keep looking at the centre of the lane ahead of you. Well, after 600 words, I think you probably had enough. If you have been, thankyou for reading.

Next time, turning a routine trip into a little adventure and … carrying a pillion passenger for the first time!

Being a biker – my first week

So, I passed my final test on Monday, 15th April. The next day was the first proper spring day of the year. Daffodils, blue sky, gambolling lambs; it was even a bit warm. My wife got home from work a bit early so she could drive me out to a shed on an industrial estate in rural Vale of Glamorgan to collect the Royal Enfield which you can see on the header bar. It’s the black one on the left. 

As we stepped out of the house, me in my full motorbike outfit, we waved to our next-door neighbours before getting into my wife’s Nissan Micra. Well, gives ’em something to think about.

We arrived a bit early, about 5.20pm, This was the scrubby end of the estate where it almost crumbled away into nearby fields. All was quiet. We could hear blackbirds singing and lambs bleating. Then, the cheerful sound of an easy-going, twin-cylinder engine. Along the track came a three-wheel car that looked like a little aeroplane without wings. At the front, you could see the polished cylinder heads and cooling fins of a Citroen 2CV engine. At the wheel, wearing leather jacket and goggles, was Barry, the aircraft engineer who was about to release the motorbike into my possession. 

The handover was brisk and cheery. A handshake and a wave and, within a few minutes, I was chugging along narrow, country lanes with my wife’s little red car in the rear-view mirrors. Once on the A48, we stopped at a filling station and she bought me my first tank of petrol. 

And here I am, back home, safe and sound after my first ride on the Enfield. It was a glorious ride. The following day, I had to be out in the car all day so Thursday was the day 

Enfield home

of my first real trip as a street-legal, qualified biker. There was only one possible destination – Franklin’s Cafe at Ogmore on Sea. This is where Pam the cook introduced me to Chris, the man who knew Barry who had this perfectly maintained Royal Enfield for sale. Pam was a bit of a late convert to motorcycling (but not as late as I was) and had got an Enfield as her first full-size bike. It was Pam, back in January, who said I should spend my newly-found free time and redundancy money on taking up motorcycling. 

And so it was quite an occasion when I rode back into the Vale of Glamorgan and thrumbled onto the seaside cafe’s forecourt. 

Fish and chips and a pot of tea, please Pam!

It's all her fault!  Pam and Nicholas with the Enfield at Franklin's Cafe.

It’s all her fault!
Pam and Nicholas with the Enfield at Franklin’s Cafe.

More of the motorbike story

These days, it’s pretty difficult to get street legal on a motorbike. If I had taken my test at 16 when I had a Raleigh moped, I’d have had a motorbike licence. In those days, all you had

Certsto do was ride round the block while the examiner stood on the street corner. Today, you need to pass four tests. And there’s a certificate for each one.

First, you do Compulsory Basic Training on a125cc machine.  Half a day in a practice yard,  the other half on the road. There’s a lovely feeling of freedom as you go along familiar roads without a metal-and-glass box around you.

Then ‘Step-Up Day’ when you get to grips with a real motorbike. In my case, it was a four-cylinder, 600cc Honda CBF. This is a no-nonsense, precision-engineered speed machine. After a morning’s practice, I was out on the road doing 60 mph. A tiring, stressful but exilharating day.

The Theory Test is absolutely nuts. You go to an office and sit at a desktop computer and you’re given up to 57 minutes to answer some questions on the Highway Code. They are multiple choice, really easy and you can finish that part of the test in less than ten minutes. Then comes the Hazard Perception Test. Fourteen videos, each lasting one minute. The videos are taken from inside a moving car on various roads. You have to click the mouse when you notice a potential hazard and click again when one of them turns into an actual hazard. Click too early, no points. Click too late, reduced points. Click too many times, points taken away. It was sheer luck that I passed that one.

 Module 1 – the motorcycle manoeuvering test. You’re in a big playground scattered with coloured cones. You have to make your powerful motorbike go very slowly and do ‘circus tricks’ such as slalom, figure-of-eight and U-turn. If you make one little mistake, such as put your foot on the ground to steady yourself, you fail. Then, at higher speed, there’s the emergency stop and the swerve. I failed this the first time. My first swerve was not fast enough so I was allowed a second go. I over-compensated, went faster than necessary and clipped the cone I was supposed to miss. Still, second time I was OK.

Mod 1

Here I am, with fellow student, Sean, who also passed his Mod 1 that day.

I could have taken the final test, Mod 2, on 4th April but my wife took me on a surprise trip to Switzerland. When I got back, I had a couple of hours refresher on the Honda. My instructor and I rode from Cardiff to Caerphilly through nigh-on apocalyptic weather at pretty high speed on the dual carriageway. Strong wind, heavy rain, poor visibility and freezing cold. That got me back into it.

And then came the magic day, 15th April 2013, the day I passed my motorbike test. This one is sensible and pretty much what you would expect. It’s on the road and an examiner  rides behind you and informs you, by radio, what you are supposed to do. This test takes about half an hour. When we got back to the test centre, I heard him saying “passed the test” … “licence will be returned to you” … “you can ride straight away”.

And the very next day, I went and collected my Royal Enfield. More about that in the next blog.

I passed!

I passed, I passed, I passed!
I just got back home from Merthyr Tydfil where I took the test.
After my lunchtime test, I had to wait for a fellow student, Sean, to take his test. And he passed as well.
So we followed the instructor back to Cardiff as qualified bikers. Symbolically, we were not fitted with radios!
We did, er, 70mph (officer) on the way home.
Tomorrow, I will ride my Royal Enfield home from its shed in Cowbridge.

What’s all this about a motorbike?

Mod 1

Here I am with a grin on my face next to another grinning chap on a rainy day in Newport, south Wales.This is how it feels when you pass the Mod 1, the motorcycle manoeuvering  test. Having previously passed the CBT and the theory tests, I now have one test to go before I am street legal on a bike. Which bike will it be? This one. A lovely Royal Enfield. My test is on Monday, 15 April.

Wish me well.

Royal Enfield

Me and my bike.