When I was younger I was obsessed with motorbikes. My dad’s friend would ride over every week for a cuppa tea, and whilst the kettle boiled he would let me sit on the front of his seat and ride along for a whopping three metres. When I got older this changed to three miles, and a few years later my mum’s friend took me on my longest-ever bike journey: Chichester to Southampton on a Harley Davidson. I loved it. To the point that I swore I would have a bike of my own one day.
Then my mum’s friend died in a motorbike accident and my mum’s concern and worry prevented me from pursuing a licence of my own. I didn’t want to put that kind of stress on her. I couldn’t. But then I met a motorbike enthusiast who had grown up riding motocross pretty much since the year he could walk. I watched from the sidelines as he scored holeshots, whipped over tabletops and flew past me with his rear wheel flicking mud in the air as he went—and the obsession deepened. So much so that at one point I looked into motocross, but it’s an expensive hobby and when you’re 18 and earning £4.77 an hour, it’s a little out of reach. So I tucked the idea away and lived vicariously through others.
When the time came that I had money to pursue a licence of my own, I was torn between whether to get a bike licence or a car licence. In the end, I chose to do my car test as having a car meant not having to wait for a bus, and being able to go for late-night trips to McDonalds with friends and boot space. And boot space meant that I had room for snacks. So it seemed like an obvious choice.
And then life happened, and I pushed the idea of getting my bike licence to the back of my mind. Until the day I rode a bike in Thailand. But outside of that, I spent my money on food and travel and generally just thought of it as a “one-day” thing rather than a priority. Until last year. Because in June 2017 I took a motorbike trip around France.
I visited Reims, Lyon, Montpellier, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Nantes and Normandy and it was epic. The BMW GS is an incredible bike, and it had the comfiest seat ever, so I didn’t get a numb bum—which is always a perk. I loved the feeling of the wind blowing through my hair. I loved that I saw each passing bit of scenery because a motorbike forces you to be in the moment.
But the part that I didn’t like, was that I was the passenger.
I mean don’t get me wrong, it was awesome. The GS was so comfortable that I almost fell asleep at one stage. I just mean that I don’t like being a passenger in life. I like to help drive things, to change things but most of all to try things. But when it came to this trip, I couldn’t. Literally. I mean, I could barely lift the GS off the floor (it’s a beast) let alone ride it, and not being able to ride it, was an eye-opener because it reawoke my desire to get a bike of my own.
So at the end of last year on a particularly grey day, I booked in to do my CBT with Rhiannon (cus she a badass too).
AND I PASSED.
I mean – I’m pretty sure that you can’t fail a CBT, it literally stands for Compulsory Basic Training and 16-year-olds can do it. But considering how shocking the training was it was a surprise that we made it through the day. I wasn’t going to go into detail on it because I can already feel that the word count of this post is getting long, but whilst I’ve got you here I might as well.
The company which I booked my CBT with were, as I said, shocking. On the day of our booking were three attendees; myself, Rhi and one other. Rhi hopped on the scooter as she had been riding them across Asia so she was well versed, and the other chap was on geared bikes. He had a licence and used to ride bikes over a decade ago, I had been on a bike once.
Yet the instructor’s attention was solely on him. Fortunately, because I’m a proper keeno, I managed to get the hang of things pretty damn quickly, but his lack of attention meant that I was spending hours practising the most basic tasks. Basic tasks such as left turns, right turns and figures of 8… All using the clutch. I literally did nothing else. The day started early and at 2:00 pm I hadn’t been shown how to change gear, practice emergency stops or get the bike over 9mph. I was bored. I was riding around a car park in circles and I wasn’t learning a thing except that going round in circles is really fucking boring. I was also getting sick of the lack of feedback from somebody who was supposed to be teaching me, so Rhi and I pulled him to one side for a chat. During this chat, it transpired that the instructor was focused on training the other chap because he had his bike test booked on Saturday and was nowhere near ready. So what was supposed to be our CBT had basically been his private lesson. At the end of this chat, I was told by my instructor that he didn’t have time to finish teaching me how to ride a bike (which was hilarious because had he even actually started?) and that I’d have to come back another day. I smelt a scam. I know (at least) a handful of people who all raved about their CBT experience and came out of the day competent on two wheels. There was no way I was coming back for another day of being ignored, especially when I had taken a day off work for it. So after a few stern words, we came to a conclusion: I could go out for the road test on the scooter that Rhi was using.
Now, I haven’t ridden a scooter since I was 15 and outside of the day of my CBT, plus the one day in Thailand; I had no experience. Heck, I had no road experience, both of my bike days were in fields or on practically empty islands! Fortunately, I had the road safety side of things down, because I drive a car, but the driving of the scooter worried me. I had literally spent all day riding around in circles doing between 4 and 9 mph – and now he wanted me to go out on the roads and do 30-60? Pfft. I decided to see how I got on but after two laps of the car park plus one emergency stop; I was out on the road.
Being on a scooter was the weirdest thing. Bikes go between your legs; scooters feel like you’re sitting on a chair. Bikes go over bumps; scooters make you feel like you’re going to fly off every time. Bikes are what I want to ride; scooters are definitely not. I made it back in one piece that day knowing two things.
1: I still wanted to ride bikes.
2: I was not going to use this company to learn to do so…
But step one is done, and I’m officially one step closer to living out my two-wheeled dreams. Here’s to hoping that step two goes a whole lot smoother!