Sunday, 31 March 2013

What I want: Triumph Bonneville

I don't have very many riding hours under my belt, so each time I do one of these 'what I want' posts it's a good idea to take them with a grain of salt. As my riding experience and knowledge build my interests morph. New information changes what I pine for.

So it was with the Honda CBF600. I did the bulk of my training on one and prior to ever throwing a leg over the thing I had thought it might be a perfect candidate for my first bike. Used models can be had for as little as £2,000 and it is a bike consistently portrayed as being reliable and newbie-friendly. Not to mention it's sort of got the naked look that I like.

But then I actually got on one and kept thinking: "Where the hell is my right foot?"

For some reason I wasn't bothered about the left side, but on my right it felt my foot was too far back –– just hovering somewhere in space behind my butt. I never had the physical awareness of the rear brake pedal that I would have liked. I didn't feel comfortable hurtling toward the chaos of a roundabout this way.

Also, I wasn't so sure it was a bike that adhered to my friend Lucky's first rule of bikes: Go for the one  that makes you grin like an idiot. Or, as Sash so eloquently put it: "Buy the one that gives you a boner."

Then, Lucky suggested a Triumph Bonneville.

"They've got leg room, they're predictable and they're chick magnets," he said.

"A Bonnie?!" I thought. "But isn't that a bit big?"

Apparently not. Yes, it's 865cc, but a larger engine, it would seem, does not always mean a faster, more-difficult-to-control machine. In looking at reviews, the Bonnie is consistently suggested as a newbie-friendly ride. It looks really cool, is reportedly quite reliable and I've seen several affordable used ones online.

A few days after Lucky had put the idea in my head I found myself at Mission Burrito in Bath, Jenn and I drinking beers and looking out the window at traffic as it passed. She caught me turning my head, following each motorcycle as it moved past, and decided to humour me.

"What kind of bike do you want?" she asked.

"A Triumph Bonneville," I answered with speed reminiscent of Ralphie asking for a Red Rider BB gun.

"Ooh, I like Triumphs," she said with something akin to a purr.

Wait. What?! Had Lucky been right?

"Your wife will not be able to resist you," he had said.

But Lucky's not had a chance to meet Jenn yet. How would he know? I quickly brought up a picture of a Bonnie on my phone and showed it to her.

"Yeah," she said. "That's really cool. You'd look pretty sexy on one of those."

So, uhm, you know, a Triumph Bonneville is pretty much the bike I want now.

Friday, 29 March 2013


"So what arrived in the post for you today?" Jenn asked as I showered.

Standing there naked (sorry to give you that visual image) I felt especially vulnerable.

"They're Kevlar jeans," I said. "They were only £25. Probably crap, since all the other prices I see for them are upward of £100, but, hey: £25."

That's right, Chris. Emphasise the price. Slowly, slowly.

I had bought the jeans off eBay a few days before. When they arrived, I made the decision to leave them and their packaging on the bed, where Jenn could see them. She has eased her attitude toward motorcycles and even makes an effort to look interested –– or, at least, bite her tongue –– if I talk about them.

My stated plan, once I earn my license, is to test ride as many bikes as possible –– to allow me the chance to ride a motorcycle without having to buy one (1). Ownership is the ultimate goal, of course, but that won't come for a time. Jenn has come so far as to roughly support this idea and has asked: "When do you think you'll first get a chance to test ride a motorbike? Are you excited?"

But underlying such a scheme is the truth that I will need to sport my own gear. And inevitably that requires Jenn's knowledge of its existence. I've had a helmet for a while now, but haven't really had the guts to tell her about it; I've kept it hidden in the wardrobe.

The purchase of a not-too-frivolously priced pair of Kevlar jeans seemed the perfect way to ease her toward acceptance. In March, the month of my birthday, I was pretty certain she wouldn't protest my spending £25 on something. Indeed, had they been a £50 pair of regular jeans from the Gap she wouldn't blink an eye. This, I felt, was a brilliant plan. A cunning scheme. A winning strategy.

"I see you also have a helmet," she said.

Oh, hell.

For a tiny moment I was standing, naked, in a vacuum of time and space. Fortunately, I had for a while been bracing myself for the possibility of getting caught. I had already decided the best way forward in such a situation was straight ahead: nonchalant, matter-of-fact. I took a breath.

"I do indeed," I said, trying to sound as I might had she commented on something as obvious as my having feet.

There was silence on the other side of the shower curtain. She was letting me suffer. It struck me suddenly that almost certainly she had found the helmet long ago, that she was aware of this blog, and had been biding her time, allowing my guilt to escalate, before taking one perfectly aimed jab. My wife is a devilishly clever woman. No doubt she knows far more about me than she will ever let on.

"Anyway, chicken alright for dinner tonight?" she asked, changing the subject and letting me off the hook.

The helmet is a known entity now, and that's a tremendous relief.


(1) It has occurred to me that this may be a flawed plan. Surely others have thought of the same thing and dealers have grown wise to it. But I'll cross that bridge when I get to it.

Monday, 25 March 2013

It's so hard to say hello

Waving like a boss.
I'm taking the Direct Access route to getting my full license, which means that thus far I have not ridden on UK roads without an instructor following close behind, issuing directions and commenting on each and every misstep via earpiece. Under such conditions one gets the sense that taking part in the time-honoured tradition of acknowledging other riders might earn me reproach. In other words, I've not had a chance to wave at other motorcyclists. But then, this morning, I found myself thinking: how would I? What's the standard procedure for such an act in her majesty's United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland? How on earth does one show respect?

I know what you're thinking: "It's a wave, Chris. You should have learned how to wave 'hello' when you were 9 months old."

My confusion comes from the fact we drive on the left side of the road in the United Kingdom, and how that affects the act of waving.

In the United States and the majority of the world, of course, people drive on the right. Which means that when an oncoming rider passes you, he or she will do so on your left side. The natural response, then, is to wave with the hand closest to the passing rider: the left. This is simple and safe enough because it only means taking your hand away from the clutch and indicator switch, which aren't immediately necessary when moving steadily along.

But if you ride on the left side of the road, that means oncoming riders pass on the right. If one follows the aforementioned logic of waving with the hand closest to the oncoming rider, he or she would wave with their right hand. But doing so means taking your hand off the throttle and moving it away from the all-important front brake, which many people think should be covered at all times. So what to do?

How do UK riders acknowledge each other? Do they just risk it and wave with the right hand? Or do they wave with their left? If they wave with their left, do they do so across their bodies or just hope the oncoming rider sees a hand in the far distance? Or do they do something else? Nod, perhaps? I've heard that in many continental European countries they raise a foot to say hello (but this, again, would be the left foot, which does not cover a brake).

One of the things a newbie motorcyclist looks forward to most is feeling that sense of somehow belonging to a community. Yes, it's fair to say the idea of that community may be a load of nonsense, but it's still nice to say hello to people, to show respect for those taking on the same risks and challenges as yourself. Waving at each other is one of the little fun aspects of riding, I'd think, and when I finally take to the road on my own I want to do it right.

So, UK riders: what's the correct procedure? How do you show respect?

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Almost there

A good day.
I passed my Module 1 test. Though not without a fair amount of stress. Sitting at the breakfast table that Tuesday morning I was, Jenn later informed me, visibly shaking from nerves. I felt sick; I had not slept but two hours the night before –– the rest of the evening spent tossing and turning, imagining all the ways in which the test could go wrong.

The Module 1 is the penultimate step in getting one's motorcycle license in the UK (1). It focuses primarily on slow-speed manoeuvring: pushing the bike around, riding at walking pace, slaloming through cones, etc. The element I found myself hung up on most, however, was the U turn. On the Saturday beforehand I had really struggled to get the bike around in the allotted space, a fact that upon afterthought was so baffling as to become an obstacle.

A Honda CBF600 has a wheel base of 58 inches. How could you not turn it around in a space that is 25 feet wide? And yet all through the morning on Saturday I had failed. And all through the afternoon I had struggled. It was a fault that ate away at me: I felt I must be an idiot who was neither competent nor deserving of riding a motorcycle.

Which speaks to what I am finding is one of the most important aspects of riding: confidence. The fact is, turning a bike in a 25-foot space is only tricky if you think it is tricky. In the days before my test day I had convinced myself it was, and as such worked myself into more and more of a state.

As had Helen, who was also taking her Mod 1 that day. She had been there on my step-up day, preparing for the test and had gotten progressively worse. I learned later she had dropped the bike at some point, something she would do again on Tuesday.

In the hours or so before the test we found an empty parking lot and went about practicing the various elements that concerned us most. Helen dropped her bike and whilst the instructor, Andy, worked with her, I spent time doing U turn after U turn. Eventually Andy came over to check my progress.

"That's about seven and a half metres, right?" I asked him, nodding at the space I had given myself for the turns. "From here to the curb?"

"No, mate," he said.

My heart sank at the thought I had perfected the art of going too wide.

"I'd say it's about..." he said, taking wide steps to measure the distance. "Four and a half metres? Five at best."

I am the muthahuggin' U turn champion, yo –– able to make a U turn in a smaller space than legally required. No doubt they are singing folk songs about me somewhere. I went into the test telling myself that I could pass the test, that I would pass. And I did.

Now I have just one more obstacle to overcome –– the Module 2 –– before I finally achieve my license. I take that test on 26 March. Onward.

(By the way, Helen passed her test, too.)


(1) Assuming one is older than 24.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

What I want: Honda CB500F (or X)

The more I think about it –– in price terms especially –– the more I feel it's likely I'll end up getting a 250cc bike. But I could be easily dissuaded. I am always applying for higher-paying jobs and if one of those Chinese lanterns (1) should happen to result in a greater income stream then a whole raft of models will come into the picture.

One of the motorcycles that is already there, that I would consider bending over backwards to get my hands on even in my current financial state, is the new 500cc offering from Honda. Technically, we're talking about three new offerings: the CBR500R, the CB500F and the yet-to-be-released CB500X. But according to all the press I've seen they are all the same bike with different faces.

The faces appealing to me most are the F and X versions. I'm not a huge fan of racer-styled bikes, especially when they don't really possess racer-styled engines. That feels just a little too much like the kid who shows up at a baseball game wearing his team's uniform. It's cute if a kid does it, but a grown man doing it is retarded. I am not a sport racer, nor do I have any ambition to be, so I don't see why I should be riding around on something that makes me look otherwise. I wouldn't drive a car that's been all decorated up to look like a NASCAR vehicle.

So, my heart gravitates toward the other models. A Honda CB500F, it seems, would be almost the perfect bike for me to start out on. Gentle enough that I can get over my jitters but with enough power that I can keep it around for a fair amount of time without getting bored. As one story I read noted: it is hard to get bored on a machine capable of 135 mph.

Indeed, all the reviews I've seen have been relatively positive. The only criticism I've spotted has been a tendency for it to not excite sport journalists who have wet dreams about gigantic sport bikes. Which is not really a criticism in my eyes. I think about the cars (2) I would prefer to drive –– a Honda Accord or a Volkswagen Golf –– and it seems to be the glory and power of a huge machine would be lost on me. I like utilitarian things. Reliable things. Durable things. Safe things.

And because of that I am also intrigued by the X model. See above what I said about playing dress-up; I can't imagine the CB500X would be a legitimate adventure bike, but it might possess a tad more ruggedness and the riding position I prefer. If it is anything on the consistently praised NC700X I'd be very happy.

All I need now is £5,000 (US $7,522). Anyone want to give that to me?


(1) I send out applications quite frequently; the utterly dismal nature of the British economy –– especially in Wales –– is such that they are just as frequently unsuccessful. I imagine the applications as being like Chinese lanterns: little beautiful things that I send out into the nothingness, from which I will never hear again.

(2) Note that I said cars. When I lived in the United States, however, I always drove a pick-up truck. I went through two Fords and a GMC but always wished to have the money for a new Toyota Tundra, because they are built in San Antonio, Texas.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Stepping up

That's me in the green sweater, wholly unaware of the fact I was in the shot. Not that I felt like smiling at that point anyway.

The picture was taken Saturday a quintessential roadside cafe of the sort that somehow manages to thrive in Britain. Greasy spoons of America were on their deathbed in my childhood; these days only a few still exist, surviving on nostalgia. In the United Kingdom, however, such cafes are omnipresent and beloved by their typically male, shaven-headed, high-vis wearing clientele. Andy, the main instructor of 1st Class Rider Training (and the person who took this photo) is a former police officer and quite perfectly fits into the category of "proper bloke," so it was a given we would take lunch here.

Myself and Nathan (the fella in the Alpinestars jacket) had been spending the morning getting comfortable with the school's Honda CBF600s, upon which I'll be taking my Module 1 test on Tuesday. Paul, sitting to my right, was our instructor and showed surprising faith in our ability. Within 30 minutes of getting on the bikes we were barrelling down the A48 toward Newport.

"National speed limit here, Chris," said Paul over the radio in my ear. "Pick up the pace."

I was in the lead of our wee convoy. I pushed the bike so the needle just tipped over 70 mph. The wind thumped my chest and nudged my helmet. All those YouTube clips of people crashing fluttered through my head. What blows my mind about being on a motorcycle is how a wholly familiar route like this can suddenly look different with the advantage of greater field of vision.

Then zip and turn and stop and start through the tediously un-intuitive streets of Newport to the Module 1 testing centre (there are only two in the whole of South Wales), where Andy had booked some time training time. And that's where I discovered I am awful at making U turns. 

Absolutely, utterly awful. I kept going wide, incapable of getting the bike to turn within the allotted 7.5 metres. Unfortunately, U turns are a part of the Module 1 exam.

Sitting at the cafe, after our training session had ended, I felt utterly defeated.

"What do you reckon my odds are of passing?" I asked Paul.

"Good, I think," he said.

"You're lying."

"Well," he paused. "But, no, really. Keep your concentration. It's not beyond you."

We took a circuitous route back to Cardiff, around and over Caerphilly Mountain, allowing a chance to calm down. Paul had done the same on my CBT, giving me a chance to pleasure ride at the end of the lesson –– allowing me to finish the day with a reminder of why I'm putting all this money and effort into motorcycling.

When we got back to Whitchurch High School, where the bikes are kept, everyone was keen to head home or to the pub in time to watch Wales utterly destroy England in rugby. But I pushed to use all the time I could. I stayed on the bike, practicing U turns.

And I hit it every time. Not all my attempts were pretty, some were comically awful. But what matters is they were all successful. Maybe Paul was right after all. Maybe I really will pass my test on Tuesday.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

3/5 done

Picture is not at all related to the post.
It just looks cool.
I passed my theory and hazard tests this past Tuesday –– an experience that was anything but stress-free. 

For those of you just tuning in, there are five steps to becoming a fully licensed motorcyclist in the UK –– assuming that, like me, you are older than 24. The youngsters have to wade through even more wallet-sapping red tape (1). 

Having now passed the aforementioned tests I have just two more steps to go. The fourth –– my Module 1 test –– takes place 19 March and I'll be spending this Saturday coming to terms with the 600cc bike I'll be tested on. The weather forecast calls for heavy showers, so I'm sure it will be a wonderful experience.

But back to the challenges faced last Tuesday. Both the theory and hazard perception tests are taken together and involve little more than going to an old building in Cardiff city centre and sitting in front of a computer screen for roughly 40 minutes. The theory test consists of 50 multiple choice questions, the hazard perception test a collection of video clips requiring you to spot various hazards (e.g., pedestrians stepping into the road). Easy enough.

I had booked my tests for 8 a.m.. Even though it (theoretically) takes just 17 minutes for the train to get from Penarth to Cardiff Queen Street, where the test centre is located, I decided to give in to my natural nervousness and was at the Penarth train station shortly before 7 a.m. 

Thank goodness for that.

The train had been cancelled. All consecutive trains were massively delayed. I would find out later that two trains had broken down, both on the route I needed to take. But in the moment I didn't have time to ponder the 'why' of the issue, only the fact I was stuck.

There is just one road out of Penarth, laid out a few hundred years before anyone thought of cars. On a weekday morning the road becomes so heavily clogged it can take upward of an hour to get out of town. So a bus or a taxi was out of the question. The only option was my bicycle.

If one cuts across the Cardiff Bay locks, jumps over curbs, zips the wrong way up roads and rides on the sidewalk, it is a straight five miles from my flat to the testing centre. By the time I had run home and changed into my cycling gear I was left with roughly 25 minutes to cover that distance.

Pushing down toward the bay I hit a flesh-ripping headwind that I screamed and strained against all the way to the city centre. Once there, I found myself wild-eyed and frantic to pop through red lights and clip between cars. The irony of my extreme rule breaking for the sake of arriving a test on the rules of the road didn't escape me, but my panic absolved me of guilt.

Completely to my surprise, however, I made it in time. Drenched in sweat. Breathing like a psychopath. But on time. I scored 50/50 on my theory test and a less impressive 59/75 on my hazard perception test. I'm going to blame the latter low score on the fact I was so ramped up on adrenaline from cycling that the video clips seemed slow; I got bored and started looking around the room.


(1) A 16-year-old, for example, has at least seven steps and six years of waiting before he/she can be fully licensed. Is it any wonder that motorcycle sales are on the decline in this country?

Friday, 15 March 2013

What do I want?

I'd not likely be a chick magnet on a 250.
As I mentioned, the biggest revelation to come from my recent CBT experience was the suggestion I abandon my plan of starting out on a 250cc bike. Their advice, based on the fact I'll be training and taking my test on a 600cc, and that I am a relatively tall person, was to jump on up to something in the 600 range straightaway.

I'm not entirely sure how I feel about that. It's thrown a cog into the whole daydream process. Before the CBT, I had a long list of bikes in the 250-300 range that I would sit and imagine myself on. The Inazuma, of course, or perhaps a GV250, but also the CBR250R (it's got ABS!) or maybe a Duke or even a Ninja 300 (also with ABS!). But when two instructors told me I'd be better suited to something larger, the 250 dreams slipped away.

Now there's a void. I don't know the targets upon which to fixate anymore. And a part of me wonders whether I really should be raising the bar of expectation so high.

When I think about it, one of the things weighing most in favour of a larger bike is pride. I'd feel slightly emasculated should I fail to take the advice of my instructors. And there is, too, the concern my skill level would raise far more quickly than my finances could respond. As such I'd find myself spending years feeling agitated I had been fearful of too much power, and waiting to set aside enough money to finally get the bike I should have bought in the first place.

But the thing is: I am fearful. Throughout my CBT experience I was gripped with a tension I felt for days afterward. Indeed, I'm not sure it has really gone away. Ever since, I have been suffering from insomnia and headaches caused from clenching my jaw. I feel often a sense of oppressive anxiety. I tell myself it is nervousness about other things but I think it may, too, be a fear of getting onto the road and discovering in a cripplingly painful way that I simply do not possess adequate skill.

Perhaps I would get bored on a 250. But isn't it better to be bored and healthy than regretful and in traction?

I think, too, about the money issue. One of the tactics I've employed over and over in attempting to sell the idea to my wife has been the financial standpoint –– cheaper tax, cheaper MOT, cheaper insurance, cheaper running costs, etc. Obviously a 250 is cheaper than, say, a 600 in all those aspects. There have been a number of articles on Cycle World lately singing the praises of the 250, which have again had me turning my head that way. I mean, if these are bikes that can be seen as legitimate for use in the United States, they must be good enough for the smaller, generally slower roads of the UK, right?

But even as I almost argue myself back to looking for a 250 my gut tells me to go bigger. What would you do?

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

The tell-tale helmet

You see on the left our wardrobe. Or, rather, what substitutes as our wardrobe: two very cheap and unsteady clothes racks bought at Ikea after I moved in with my now wife a few years ago.

To that point, her system of organisation had been bohemian. Important papers were kept in rat's-nest stacks under the bed, along with shoes, books, seasonal clothing and various comedy props she had collected in drunken adventures. Dirty clothes were in a pile on the floor, clean clothes were occasionally shoved, unfolded, into a chest of drawers, but were more often to be found discarded on an unmade bed. Pots, pans, plates and appliances were tucked into corners.

In fairness, she was still in the early stages of recovering from an incredible tragedy. She had by then ceased excessive consumption of intoxicants, was eating healthily, had a steady job and had bought herself a small flat. Her disorder was trivial. She likely would have discovered the wonders of organisation without me.

But, as I say, I brought order. On my night-class-teacher salary I purchased a great fortress of shelves and racks and boxes and chests of drawers. The wardrobe solution was temporary but became permanent once we realised we want to move to a bigger flat –– better to wait until then before buying another large, hard-to-move bit of furniture.

On the larger clothes rack you see where the dresses hang down and cover up whatever might be sitting on the shelf below. What you don't see is between the clothes and wall there is a certain width of space. Enough space for, oh, say, a motorcycle helmet.

I bought my helmet some time ago but still have not told my wife. I am afraid of her reaction. So, for the time being, I am hiding the helmet (1). Our flat is so tiny –– without a single closet –– that this not-a-wardrobe is the only possible spot.

It sits in its (thankfully) black helmet bag, practically out in the open, forever taunting me with the prospect of a fall out. It is like the tell-tale heart: always thumping in my guilty conscience, threatening to expose me.

The other day, I came home to see Jenn had suddenly decided to give the bedroom a thorough cleaning. Items had been pulled from under the bed, shoes from under and above the clothing racks. I arrived just as her hands slowly pushed into the depth of hanging clothes. She produced the sweater I had placed on top of the helmet to cover it.

"What should we do about these jumpers?" she asked. "Should we pack them away?"

"Uhm... uh... yeah... I'll do that," I stammered, trying not to wee myself.

I did my best to sound exasperated, as though I would prefer to let her do all the work of cleaning. But you bet your sweet bits that any and all things related to the clothing racks suddenly became my domain. I cleaned and tidied and placed things in such a way to make it appear the shelves were full, that there was no extra space back there, hidden, where a motorcycle helmet might fit.

I am the Laundry Master these days. I make sure I am the one to clean and put away the clothes. In the morning, as I watch her selecting her day's outfit my whole body tenses. It is hell.

My birthday is coming up next week. I think that would be a good time for me to buy myself something... or, rather, reveal something I bought a while ago.


(1) "Hiding the helmet" sounds like a metaphor for something entirely different.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Give 'em the boot

"When do you get to ride the big bike?" Jenn asked me.

She was referring to the 600cc Honda on which I'll train before being tested on it a few days later.

"Next Saturday," I said. "I have the 'step-up day'  –– the day I train on the 600 –– on the 16th of March, then I do my Module 1 on the 19th."

"Ooh, the test is the day before your birthday," she said. "Exciting. I think you should open one of the presents your parents sent you before that, though."

In the past week or so, two packages have arrived addressed to me from Amazon. Not having ordered anything from Amazon, I reasoned they must be birthday presents. I had Jenn open them and stow them away so as to avoid spoiling the surprise and fun of having presents on one's actual birthday. On her suggestion that I open one of the gifts earlier than planned, the wheels in my head turned and I realised my parents must have gotten me something off my Amazon wish list –– something related to motorcycles.

Indeed, they had sent a pair of Corcoran jump boots, which I had put on my wish list after reading an article on Hell for Leather. Originally designed for paratroopers in the late 1960s, the boots were praised by HfL as an affordable, viable alternative to bespangled racing boots for those wanting to look a little more "everyday" when on a bike.

I think gear is a good idea for a motorcyclist, but I just cannot picture myself dressing up like a comic book character for the sake of getting from A to B. I want stuff that's a little less flash. And these boots seem to fit the bill.

I've not had a chance to ride in them yet, but in simply putting them on and wearing them around the flat I've found them to be considerably more comfortable than I had imagined. More so, even, than the Doc Martens I was using. I also like them because they look badass –– a little shiny at the moment, but that will wear away soon enough.

There's another, less obvious reason to like the boots: they were a gift from my parents. Mom and Dad are supporting the whole motorcycle thing. Which I'd think would help me on this side of the water, helping to further soften my wife's resistance.

I'm looking forward to putting the boots to use.

Friday, 8 March 2013

The next steps

Suffering the nonsense.
I saw a story the other day that motorcycle sales are on the decline in Europe, with the number of bikes sold in the United Kingdom having dropped 13.4 percent over last year (and moped/scooter sales having dropped 17.1 percent). I can't really speak to the experience of riders in other countries but if their licensing processes are as convoluted, multi-tiered and expensive as the one in this soggy realm, I find the numbers not at all surprising. Whereas I can see how the UK licensing system better ensures the safety of riders than the one I went through when I was 18 years old (1), I can't help feeling it so wrapped in red tape it forces a person to be nigh fanatical to want to put him- or herself through it.

Honestly, if you are simply looking to be able to get from point A to point B, why would you even consider the five-step motorcycle-licensing process over the less complicated process for car drivers? But as is evident from this blog's URL, I am one of those fanatics. I am hellbent on trundling through the great bullshit machine, so I can be allowed on two wheels.

As I say, there are five steps:
1) Earn a CBT certificate
2) Take a multiple choice theory test
3) Take a video-based hazard perception test
4) Take a closed-course on-road test
5) Take an open road on-road test.

I am actually getting off light, thanks to my advanced years. Were I younger than 24 years old, there would be additional steps and restrictions.

The first step I completed not too long ago. On a rather cold (but sunny) Saturday morning, I got up early and spent the day swearing a blue streak at a little 125cc Yamaha. At the end of the day, I was given my CBT certificate.

The next day, I bought study materials for steps 2 and 3: the theory and hazard perception tests. And last night, I booked myself to take them at 8 a.m. on 12 March –– the earliest slot available. The ball is rolling quickly now. I feel wound up with nervousness. The British love giving tests and I am notoriously poor at taking them.

Then, just half an hour ago, the stress level jumped even further. I got a text from my instructor: he has booked step 4. That's an on-the-bike test conducted on a closed course, known as the Module 1 test. The date for that one is 19 March –– the day before my 37th birthday and only a week after my theory and hazard perception tests. If I screw those up, the whole house of cards will collapse.

I believe the phrase you're looking for is: "pooping myself." 


(1) According to a friend in Texas, it is even easier there. I had to ride around some cones to get my motorcycle endorsement in Minnesota. In the Lone Star State, however, one need only take a written test – no on-the-road element required.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

I am crazy about my wife, by the way

I may have given a negative impression of my wife. I worry I have, unintentionally, painted her as a nagging partner who uses phrases like "death machine" when referring to motorcycles and stands stubbornly between myself and happiness. If I have, it's not correct. That is not the woman I married, not the woman I wake up to each morning.

I am mad for her, my wife. I have never found someone with whom I fit so perfectly –– physically and emotionally. She wraps easily into my arms, is perfect there. And when I slip into dark moods, which I do far too often, she gives only love, support and encouragement.

Jenn and I were married in November, and together for two years before that. The night we first met I talked mindlessly for hours, until the pub kicked us out, filling the air with noise in hopes it would prevent us having to say goodbye. When I got home, I fired off an email to several friends back in the United States bragging about this girl I had met.

We clicked so perfectly that first night we saw each other again the next night, then again and again and again. Since then, we have spent few days apart. But even now she makes my heart jump. She makes me feel alive, makes me want to live. Every cliché you can think about love and affection is what I feel for her.

True, she hasn't been fully supportive of my motorcycle obsession. If she's not choosing her words she can be severe. She has said I am selfish, that a motorcycle is a luxury. Recently, we had something bordering on an argument over the whole issue and it felt I was up against something deeply emotional, from that place in the mind/heart that reason cannot easily touch. Sometimes we just feel things so powerfully.

In some way I cannot quite understand nor answer to, I think she fears a motorcycle will result in the loss of me. Not so much that I will be injured or killed, but that my personality will alter. And whereas I have always been attentive and hopelessly in love with her, a motorcycle will somehow change me into a person who disconnects and only shows up for meals.

She fears that if I have a motorcycle I will suddenly decide: "Well, I have my way of getting around. I can do what I want and everyone else can sort themselves out or disappear."

I am not that way, will not be that way. In fact, it kills me so much to upset Jenn I sometimes think about abandoning my pursuit of a motorcycle. The other day, as we half-argued, I felt an urge to produce my motorcycle helmet (of which she is still unaware) and smash it up with a hammer. I wanted to destroy my own ambition for the sake of keeping her from being upset at me.

Had I done such a thing, she would have lost it. She loves me and wants me to be happy; she would never tolerate my doing such a thing. And to that end I feel that, eventually, she will ease to the idea. I just need to be calmer in approaching things than I have been. Perhaps, before long, the issue will be so unimportant neither of us will remember it having existed.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

One step closer

I needn't have worried. Before I took my CBT course a tiny doubt was swirling in my head that, maybe, maybe I would not enjoy riding a motorcycle. It had been a long time since I was last on a bike. Tastes change. Maybe, too, had my affinity for motorcycling.


I loved it. Well, eventually I loved it. In the first few moments of being on the bike I did a fair bit of swearing. First there was the fact I kept stalling out the bike, exacerbated by my forgetting to use the rear brake. These were mistakes I overcame within a few minutes but I felt angry at myself for not being awesome right away. Some part of me had quietly assumed I would be as proficient on a motorcycle as I am on a bicycle. I cycle through crowded urban streets every day; I had not been on a motorcycle in 18 years. But one is rarely reasonable when being self-critical.

I wrote an extensive post on my CBT experience on my other blog, because I don't hold myself to a 500-word limit on that one. And when writing about taking the first step toward doing something you've wanted to do (on some level or another) for 18 years, you need more than 500 words.

Suffice to say, however, things went well. Because I'm one of the few fools willing to train in the winter I found myself with one-on-one instruction, which made things more relaxed. The instructor was surprisingly complimentary of my balance and handling of the bike. By the end of the day his only quibbles were over how well I show that I am looking in the mirrors and checking my blind spot.

"Those will come, though," he said, and encouraged me to carry on through the Direct Access scheme to get my full license and be allowed on any size bike I choose.

To that end, both he and the owner of the training school (he had popped in to say hello in the morning) strongly advised that I rethink my plan of starting with a 250cc bike and moving slowly up.

"You're a big fella," he said (I'm 6-foot-1, which is big in the UK). "You'll outgrow a 250 really quickly."

That was probably the biggest surprise of the day. I suspect he may be right, though. Just one day of training was enough to prove I was correct to no longer want a Yamaha YBR 125. The engine was small enough that I was starting to play around after just a few hours, and the bike itself was so small I felt like a Shriner.

The instructor was confident in my ability. So, the next step is to take the two theory tests, then spend a day getting used to a bigger bike, then take the two Direct Access tests. This is actually happening. Slowly. But it's actually happening.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Stupid excited

I only bought a helmet so I can
do my own Harlem Shake videos...
I am stupid excited, yo. Stupid with excitement. Excitedly stupid. Stupid stupid stupid. Excited excited excited. I'm not able to think of any other thing but tomorrow: the day I do my Compulsory Basic Training. I feel like a kid before Christmas.

No, actually, it's bigger than that – because with Christmas there was always that sense of suspicion: "Isn't Santa Claus really just Mom and Dad? That would certainly explain why he seems to shop in the same places they do."

Perhaps I could equate it to the moments leading up to the first time I had sex. But, no. That's just a creepy-weird analogy; if I had to choose between motorcycles and boobs, I would choose the latter every time. I'm pretty sure there's a "dual overhead cam" joke in there somewhere, but I can't quite think of the wording.

Besides, you don't really get a fortnight of planning for your first sexual experience. Whereas I've had days and days to ponder my CBT – ample time to develop anxiety dreams in which I forget the right paperwork or fail the test because of simple mistakes. Enough time to convince myself to buy a helmet, a pair of gloves and seriously consider a jacket and trousers.

Not too long ago, Sash suggested I "live as though the money is coming," (1) but I just can't abide  such purchases. The training school provides all the gear one needs, save boots, and it is simple economic good sense not to buy loads of brand new stuff before I've even had a chance to say for certain biking is for me.

True, I bought a helmet. And certainly part of the reason for such a purchase was an effort to will this whole motorcycle thing to happen. But also there is the simple fact that British men have a vastly different interpretation of hygiene than I do, and I don't like the idea of spending a full day with some other bloke's hair and face grease rubbing into my own, nor breathing the remnants of his full-breakfast-and-a-packet-of-Lamberts breath stench.

And, yes, I bought a pair of gloves because... uhm... the fella who sold me my helmet discounted them by £40. But the jacket and trousers I will wait on. Until the experience of being on a bike again confirms what I know in my heart: that I want to do this.

Which is one of the deepest fears. Hidden in a vindictive corner of my mind, far away from practical worries about paperwork or showing up on time or losing my nerve on the test is the fear that, somehow, I will find I don't really like motorcycling. What if I haven't got the nerve for the speed or the lean? What if I haven't got the coordination? What if it's all just too uncomfortable? What if it turns out that I don't really want to be the person I am presently so certain I want to be?

I guess I'll find out tomorrow.


(1) Thanks for reading, Sash!