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Showing posts from March, 2013

What it's Like to Crash a Motorcycle

“Damn it. John Burns thinks I’m a dick.”
That was one of the predominant thoughts going through my head as I slid down a Florida highway at 60 mph back in March.
It’s weird how the mind works. Time slows in a crash. Every tiny image burns into memory, so your brain can replay it over and over and over at night for the next who knows how many weeks.
In the moments before I crashed, I was riding the Harley-Davidson Street Rod along County Road 34 in central Florida. I’m not sure which county. The accident report simply records it as “County Code 61,” but the internet can’t agree on which county that is. Maybe I was in Indian River County; maybe I was in Suwannee County; maybe I was in Flagler County; I don’t know. I guess it doesn’t matter; I was somewhere. The road passing through that somewhere was long and straight – not the sort of place where one usually crashes – and the weather was perfect.

“My God, I am so happy,” I was thinking. “I am so incredibly lucky to be here – to live t…

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'…

Busted

"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 thi…

It's so hard to say hello

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 maj…

Almost there

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 th…

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 …

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…

3/5 done

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…

What do I want?

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 t…

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 …

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 –– s…

The next steps

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 fanatic…

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 pe…

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.
Nope.
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 writi…

Stupid excited

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…