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My experience in learning to ride

lplateI love motorcycling, it makes the commute to work a fun place to be and while I’d never take a car out for a fun drive, I love popping out for 30 minutes or so on the bike.

Since I did my first CBT and subsequently bought a bike the requirements of passing the test have changed and this is not a guide on how to pass the DSA test to get your license or even how to pass your advanced test.  It is how, where and when I learnt the basic skills.

Bike sense

Basic road sense is one thing but the motorcycle has capabilities and limitations not found on any other vehicle.  Learning the basic skills are very easy especially with a great teacher, but get them to talk about the experiences they had have.  I learnt how to corner from my teacher but I also learnt about using my horn at a junction to prevent the T bone accident!

If you don’t have a 125 while you’re learning, watch other riders and think about what they are doing and why that might be the case.  Especially if you’re pedestrian or bicycle rider as these use very different skills.  Where do motorcyclists sit at junctions against their signals (road position in other words)?  What are they doing on roundabouts?  What works and what doesn’t compared to other road users?

If you have a 125, take it out and practice what you last learnt.  The CBT is pretty good at teaching you clutch control, so choose a busy route as this stop start traffic is what clutch control is all about.  Do not filter at this point as it is all about sharpening your skills.  Filtering, in and of itself, is not illegal but traversing solid white lines is.  If you are keen to filter talk to your instructors and get some professional advice.

Park your bike in your local town centre and supermarket car parks, this is where the U-turn is most commonly used.

If you have suitable days, go to work on the bike.

I didn’t take the 125 out on the dual carriage way during rush hour but I did at other times.  One of the most surprising things I found with the 125 was the speed at junctions – I would be doing 20/30/40 in the speed limited areas and come to a roundabout and leave the car that had been up my exhaust pipe standing.

The right 125

Consider whether you want a brand new bike.  You are going to make mistakes and scratch the paint work (I dented mine backing it into the garage).

Remember that in the UK you need two L plates to be displayed clearly at all times when you are learning to ride, front and rear of the vehicle.  Not doing so when you’re a learner is a criminal offence and liable to earn you three points on your license which will affect your insurance.  I know some people wear L’s on their hi-viz jackets but I am not sure if that is good enough, although certainly that would get around the problem of sharing a bike with someone who had already passed their test.

You will have zero no claims bonus and the cheaper the bike, the less it will cost to ensure.  Some believe older bikes do better fuel economy but I am much less certain about that.  125s are really fuel efficient with the miles they cover – an 11 litre tank will get you more than 100 miles range on average.

A 125cc bike may be used on motorways in the UK once you have a full license.  Smaller than that is not allowed, currently.

Your first bike is all about building your skills and confidence.  It needs to fit you physically and mentally.  You need to be able to sit on it for 1-2 hours on a ride and be happy about the return journey.

Faired bikes weigh more, naked ones leave you buffeted by the wind, there are semi-faired options.  Think about the levers (125s often don’t have adjustable ones) and the foot pegs.  Do you have the option of a bag or box on the back?  Can it store your helmet for a period without it getting damaged?

A bike that starts every morning and evening is confidence inspiring, one that leaves you scratching your head isn’t.

If you are not riding regularly, a kick start on a 125 means you don’t have to worry about the battery.  An electric start (tends to be a button) is much easier – kick starting is a knack not a strength issue.  If you have a bike instructor, let them show you how it’s done.

Remember, most bikes have shorter servicing intervals than cars (3500 miles is a common duration).  Is this something you want to do yourself?  Do you need any equipment to help retrieve and dispose of the fluids?  Will you need some training?  You need to be able to check the fluid levels (including fuel) and the lights, the air pressures in your tyres, your chain condition and tension and be able to lubricate it.

Do you have garage space?

If not, good locks are essential for storing at home and definitely on the move.  The average 125 weighs around 120kg.  Even I can lift one and two people can easily pick one up and put it in the back of a van.

If you do direct access, the chances of you having the 125 two weeks after the test are slim, but these are the bikes most commonly taken after scooters.  Disc locks are amazing – always remember you’ve applied one or you and the bike will go down 🙂  I use data marking and apply the stickers which make it less appealing to bike thieves.  Again the trendier the bike, the more appealing it will be.  Let your insurance company know what you’ve got and seek advice on what to buy.  New disc locks are amazingly easy to apply and most have been rated on their effectiveness.

Chains are much less effective on motorbikes.  Don’t allow the lock to be positioned near the ground as this makes it easy to break!  Where possible, chain the bike to something else even if just a ground anchor.  Use a disc lock along with a chain lock: the disc lock makes it harder to move the bike to break the lock.

Bikes are not often taken if you are somewhere for a day but leaving the bike parked in front of your house every evening makes it more of a target.  Work is also a habitual place.

Riding in the wet

I bought my 125 and carried waterproofs in case it rained even though it was a beautiful spring day.  I had only spent 5 hours riding on the road in lessons so when the heavens opened I was very nervous.  It took me more than an hour to ride the 16 miles in the wet and the waterproofs didn’t last the first 5 minutes.

Modern waterproofs are fantastic but look at motorcycle, building or sailing gear as ski wear isn’t up to the job.  Modern suits often have a goretex layer which works really well and means you can wash the garments without destroying the goretex.

Modern tyres are also wonderful.  Braking is increased but on good ground you should stick to the road so long as the tread is good and the pressures are maintained.  Your visor will make visibility an issue but the advice is not to swipe it with your glove.  Above 50 mph (depending on the bike) you can clear the visor by looking to each side.

Buy boots early

I didn’t – I focused on a helmet, jacket and gloves but real motorcycling boots are amazing and change how you change gear.  Get them early in your training.  I didn’t but everything else is easy to borrow, boots aren’t.

The right big bike

You will learn what type of bike you want from your 125.  Whether fairing is needed or wanted, windscreen or not and if so, which types, whether luggage matters, capacity of the pistons, style, number of pistons, 2 or 4 stroke, night and day time presence and speed, braking capabilities and suspension set up.  Will you have a satnav or do you need to fix a map to the tank?  Always test ride the bike – if you can’t because of insurance ask a trusted bike friend.

Compare many different types and don’t rush it.

Remember you need to ride it to get the confidence up.  Do many short trips on your own to get the feel of your bike.

Plan trips with others.  Look at Bike Safe and book an advanced course from Bike Safe as there is usually a discount (whether IAM or ROSPA) – these are much cheaper than your original training and will help you understand the differences between “real riding” and the test and will be carried out on your bike.

Remember it’s fun

This is a lot of information and hopefully will let you guard against some of the pitfalls I encountered.

I’m just off to take the Hayabusa out 🙂

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