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SOMETHING TO TELL THE KIDS?

To Bike or NOT To Bike?
A true and accurate account of 4 days of my life - though it seemed much longer.


Some events happen that words can't adequately describe, but I thought I'd try to put all this down on paper before it faded from memory among all the other so called 'life' experiences that seem to plague my days. Picture if you will the first day of my 'Direct Access' motorcycle course. I have the Vespa (actually a replica) to get to & fro the training centre, a brand new crash-helmet, and all is booked, paid for and awaiting my arrival. Hello bike license, here I come!

Previous bike experience:
Honda (125cc Bike): Compulsory Bike Training (~6hrs)
Vespa (125cc Scooter): Test drive (~2hrs)



Day 1: A little nervous but looking forward to it!


Getting There.

              I head off nice & early so as to find the training centre in good time. I'm not entirely sure where it is, but I've given myself 1?hrs to do a journey I've been told is just 15mins! So I depart with plenty of time to spare. Part way into the village the centre is situated in I take a wrong turn and find myself at a junction that is definitely NOT one that I had planned to pass. 'No matter' I think, 'no rush'. The sun is now low and I realise I've left my sunglasses back at home so, turning round I decide that, as I have LOADS of time, I'll head back to get them. Whilst I'm riding along toward more familiar roads the Vespa dies and I guess that it's fuel. I haven't yet filled it up yet, this being the first day I'd had it. No problem, I know there's plenty in the reserve tank as it's the bottom half of the main tank and I can hear it sloshing as I rock the bike; so I switch it over to reserve, start it up again and off I go.

              A couple of hundred metres further on, it dies again! Well perhaps it's not fuel I'm thinking. So, I put it in neutral and try to start it again, into 1st gear and ten metres this time! Another try and even less distance, finally I aim to try once more, but find I can't get out of 1st gear so I even can't kick start it! I try bump starting it, but no luck! OK, I ring my mate, Ben, who had headed of to holiday two days ago, but he'll have some idea; Hope he doesn't mind it only being 8 in the morning! He was the previous owner and used it mercilessly for months previously, without event. Luckily for me, but no doubt to his sorrow, he and his wife Debbie had come back early, so they race drowsily to the rescue. I wait a while imagining capes trailing in the wind and pants over trousers, reminiscent of 'Bicycle Repair Man.' Meanwhile I push it towards the training centre which can't be too far away I figure.

              I rejoice when I come to the large down hill stretch I'd been told about and merrily coast down it, freewheeling - until I discover I am now in a dip between TWO steep hills. I give up, sit down, and text my location to Ben & Debbie who roll up soon afterwards. After taking numerous coverings off and prodding things, Ben explains what's wrong. Firstly, the fuel did indeed run low and gunk from the reserve tank then worked it's way into the carburettor; and secondly, the gear cable appears to have snapped! After asking hopefully whether I had any tools in the panier and finding VERY few (AKA none!), we got to fixing it with a penknife. By taking turns blowing into fuel tanks & hoses whilst trying, mostly successfully, not to breath in we get the gunk cleared (I've never practised CPR on a motor vehicle before! The guys on the First Aid course would be proud!) We are then able to push start it in 1st gear up-hill - lucky us! Off Ben goes on it returning moments later shouting something incomprehensible as he heads past me and Debbie waiting by the car. She sighs and says "Well, I guess we're off to the training centre." And of we go.

              We managed the remaining mile fairly quickly and after only one wrong turn (Debbie took over navigation at that point) my day on the big bike started while Ben was checking the Vespa over and fixing it, Debbie having headed off home. Now there's a mate!

The Lesson.

              The training bikes are 500cc Hondas, a LITTLE larger than the Vespa! With the excitement of the morning I realise I'd forgotten my money and cards in addition to my sunglasses and so I can't eat and have to ride vampiric style (avoiding direct sunlight.) With my head on my chest so that the helmet blocks at least some of the sun, off we go. It all looks promising on the 'pan' as I manage to work out most of my problems on the bike were because I was going too slow... then the new one's are of course because I'm going too fast! After a training video and chat we head out onto the roads. As we head onto the FIRST major road, I approach too fast and brake with the rear brakes as I'm turning, the rear wheel then tries to overtake to my right and my heart tries to climb out to save itself while my brain wishes it could do likewise! I recover and the instructor seems to have missed it so on we go.

              A little later we're riding along toward a small roundabout (not just a white bump, a real one with sides!) and I find as I try to slow the bike down that I accidentally throttle UP instead as my thumb catches, now I'm thinking if I steer I'll just go flying and my brain really starts firing backwards. Everything I do seemingly making me go faster! I seem to have no choice but to STOP DOING THINGS!!! I just hold on and do what feels like a death defying sports bike imitation straight off TV, throwing myself left, then right in a controlled (OK, desperate) attempt to get round, skimming mere inches from the ground and verges I somehow manage it only to receive a calm voice over the headset - "You don't do roundabouts like that."

              Sometime later we stop (for the first time today.) We are at a bike shop and my fellow trainee, Alex, stops his bike, looks at the bike he's pulled up next to and decides, then and there, to buy it as soon as he passes!

Getting Home.

              By the time we return, Ben has fixed the Vespa (the gear cable had just stretched) and he offers to follow me home on his bike (a large BMW), so off we set. We head round to get petrol first and that goes well, but as we pull out of the garage the Vespa does the most impressive wheelie! Kicking me off, the front wheel jumps up to head height and I'm thinking that I want to be letting go! I regain control and stop. Recovering, I get off and Ben has a quick run up the road and back to test it and pronounces it fine, so off we set again. We get all the way to where I broke down that morning before it bucks again so I pull up. Ben pulls up asking what's wrong and I say it was knocking and bucking, kick it onto the stand and start it up to listen. A second or two later it BOOTS itself right off the stand and is spectacularly caught by Ben. Now we find it won't shift out of gear! Ben guesses at it being the other gear cable this time, so I push start him on it again, uphill! Getting good at that! I keep an eye on his bike while he parks the Vespa at the top of the hill, walks back and takes me up on his bike where we bump start it again and I sedately scoot round to a nearby junction where we can lock the bike against something secure, intending on going to get a new cable.

              I gather my stuff and look for my phone with the idea that I could call the relay service. No phone! I get Ben to ring my phone in a bid to find which pocket or bag my feeble brain has lost it in, to no avail... I must have left it at the centre. So I ask to use Ben's phone to make the call and he reveals that his has just run out of batteries ringing mine! OK, nothing left for it, off to the scooter shop. I get on the back of his bike, but I appear to be sharing with a bag held on with elasticised straps and, as he accelerates, I shift back and start feeling the bag slipping. We arrive at the scooter shop with the circulation cut of to my hands where I have them entangled in the straps in an attempt to prevent both myself and the bag from being left behind. Untangling myself, we pop in and get the cable, but still not having had a chance to draw any money out, I have to borrow from Ben. Back outside he reveals the bag to be a backpack so I strap it on in the hope of a better ride. Off we go, next stop is the petrol station to fill Ben's bike. That done we head onto a major road to get to the training centre. As we pull out of the garage the acceleration is such that with the weight of the backpack added my feet attempt to tuck themselves into Ben's armpits and I assume a pose that many reclining sofa manufacturers would envy. Strangely, he notices being tapped on the arm with a foot and slows, allowing me to recover and off we go again. Back to the training centre and sure enough there's my phone.

              Off to the Vespa now. Once we get there Ben uses my phone to ring home and I ring relay who tells me someone will be with me within the hour. Now that I'm sorted out we arrange to meet and sort the cable out when I get home and so Ben heads off. I settle in for the wait. One hour later Olga from the relay service rings again to tell me "Sorry, it's going to be 2 hours"! and I think I may as well have a kip. I actually get quite a good nap apart from a car load of lads slowing down so they could shout "Wake Up!" and beep their horn. Only one person stops to offer assistance and I'm on the phone to another friend, Brian, at the time. I explain that I'm fine and as the guy heads off Brian (on the phone) names the make and model of his bike from the engine sound! Some people know WAY too much obscure stuff!

              An old car pulls up at the junction at one point, the driver ignoring me like many others, but the passenger in the front, an old guy with a slightly dotty look about him, has his face pressed to the glass and is giving me thumbs up and waving! A middle-aged woman in the back seat is looking flushed and slightly embarrassed by the old guy, but I hope I end up as happy as him one day! I wave back. Relay eventually arrives. The guy knows LESS than me about bikes and I'm sure he's just been asked to do a favour for a relative. Once I get home, I text Ben then Ben, a house-mate (Lee) and I fix the bike. As it turned out the cable had just jumped out this time so I have a spare now. The bike's better than before! The tools in the pannier increase in number.



Day 2: Everything's bound to go great today!


Getting There.

              All went fine! I even remembered sunglasses, but I could only find an old broken pair. My proper pair must be at work! Brain less like a sieve, more like a colander! I stuck the broken arm on with the only thing at hand... red insulation tape! Very stylish! Still, better than being blind in charge of the bike. Almost as soon as I head off, I'm heading down the local steep hill, merrily on my way, when I get overtaken by a kid of about 14yrs old on a push bike! Good start to the day, but never mind I think to myself, it's only because I'm keeping to the speed limit, I'll burn him up after he slows down enough for me to catch up! Unfortunately we then head into a narrow section of the road with no space to overtake and so for the next mile I'm stuck behind a rapidly slowing pushbike. I do eventually manage to overtake and the rest of the journey goes well.

The Lesson.

              First thing, we went to get fuel and I headed off to get cash from the hole-in-the-wall, only to realise I had forgotten my numbers ? brain freeze! No need to panic... I had them scribbled in a secret code in my stuff at the centre, clever me! I headed to the instructor to ask that we head back as we were only a half mile from the centre, but I needn't have worried. As I was headed back I saw my fellow trainee crouching behind my bike holding up a number plate! He'd accidentally kicked it of when he dismounted to pick up his glove when he'd dropped it! Back to the centre we go! I get my numbers and we're off again. Of course all this remembering is too much for me, I forgot my sunglasses again as they must've fallen off the bike near the office! At the first stop I have to borrow a fiver from the instructor as I haven't yet had access to a cash point, but I soon find a cash point and hand it back at lunchtime and the rest of the day goes reasonably well considering the sun-blindness.

              In the afternoon, we are charging around the back roads and my hair, which I had tucked unto my coat, comes loose! I'm now racing around with waist length hair flowing in the wind looking, to all the guys (many who seem fascinated,) no doubt like an exceptionally beefy biker chick in their eyes! I don't actually notice until we get back to the centre and the instructor tells me as much. Great! Gonna take HOURS to brush it out! After way too many minutes searching aimlessly around the centre, I find my sunglasses trodden into the gravel car park outside. The other arm has broken off! No worries, I have plenty of tape. Where's the Vespa? And it's off home I go, bird's nest for a hairdo.

Getting Home.

              I'm doing just fine as I head into the first of two local towns, almost half way home and the Vespa kicks and dies. It's stuck in 2nd gear and there's no chance bump starting it. I'm in the busiest part of the main road so I have to pull it onto the pavement and I ring Ben, wondering what light he can shed on today's quandary. He & Debbie are in a restaurant in about 15 miles away but say they'll head over, so out comes the book and I settle down to read 'til they arrive. They have to pull onto the pavement when they do as I've selected a site with absolutely NO parking for a mile's radius! He suggests that the gear cable may have failed completely this time and after manually shifting it into 1st gear we push start it and I start heading back home in 1st with the aim of meeting up at home.

              I get half the remaining distance and the bike starts doing the Tango. The back is going crazy and the traffic behind me is highly confused! Puncture! Ben & Debbie go straight past, chuckling in a possibly slightly bewildered fashion, and Ben returns on his bike as I push the Vespa into a side road. After putting the spare wheel on with all the wrong tools (what's new) it's back on my way. This time I get nearly home! All the way to the bottom of the large hill I live up. Then the exhaust drops off! Ben rolls up behind and after my reporting that I, yet again, don't have the tools now needed, we jury-rig a tow chain, but owing to the fact he has no tow bar and the hill is steep, we plump for towing it around to the end of an alley that I can then push it through to cut out a huge chunk of the hill.

              Once there we take the chain of and I throw it into the pannier and shut it. The pannier lock frequently slips shut, so, moments later I'm groaning. Ben asks what's wrong and I explain, to the amusement of a couple walking their dogs, that I had locked my keys in the Vespa! He points out that I don't really need them yet and heads off, but I take a few minutes to get them out and then start pushing the bike back, the last few metres helped out by a couple of young lads who took sympathy. Or rather one with a broken ankle that took sympathy and volunteered his mate's assistance! Another evening fixing the bike followed, we fixed the exhaust back and sure enough the other cable had passed away. The toolkit increased in size (again) and all was good in the world, except for the burst inner tube of course and the fact that I no longer have a spare cable.



Day 3: Third day's a charm?


Getting There.

              Nope! Nothing... Not a problem. I even remembered my money and my much battered sunglasses with both arms taped on! I carefully put them on through the open visor and head off. I joyfully text everyone as soon as I arrived to tell them I had successfully got there! Collective sighs all round I'm sure.

The Lesson.

              No longer blind and with money for a snack... and as we pulled up at lunchtime I was thinking 'life is good.' It's at this point that, in a haze of overheated brain cells, I try taking my helmet of without removing my sunglasses. Well, I survive the attempt but came away from it with a forehead gouge roughly shaped strangly like the bridge on a pair for glasses. Everyone in the diner is staring and probably wondering how I injured myself and whether it's the latest biker fashion. Still, dinner was good and we head off again. Later on the drive my sunglasses fall completely to pieces inside the visor! So unable to pull over I'm now blind with some dismantled sun glasses rattling around the inside of the helmet. We pull up at some traffic lights just long enough for me to sort it out, dropping them once and stalling in the process, and we're OK to continue. Suavely done!

              During the afternoon the inter-bike radios start getting worse. They weren't 100% to begin with but after getting the police over them at one point we decide to pull up and check them over. As we pull up I start getting cab callouts over my headset which had managed at some point to shift it's setting just enough to still pick up the instructor one time in two and tune into various other signals the rest of the time. How it set itself is a mystery, none of us seem able to undo the change or even recreate it on the other headsets, and we DID try!

              Well now we come back to the bike lessons. As we're already parked up at this point, the instructor suggests we do emergency stops and U-turns. Off we go. After a few less than successfull attempts I manage to do a near perfect emergency stop and the instructor seems overjoyed, and no doubt surprised! I head round to do one more before we head off, and as I come in I pull too hard on the right handle, the bike slips out from under me at 30mph and both me and bike start our dance. I'm told I did a textbook 'low side' and went rag doll-like to a degree speedway racers would be proud of! I go flipping over a few times but escape serious injury, instead just writing of my crash helmet. 'WEAR YOUR HELMET FOLKS' is all I can say! Physically suffering only a strained thumb and a bruised bone in one shoulder (at least I hope it's just bruised.) After scraping myself of the road, being marked 10:10 for style and looking around in a daze for all the bits of me that I felt sure had fallen off, we picked up the bike, with myself acting more as hindrance than a help. We examined it and it had survived pretty well. In the main just heavily scratched, except that the footrest on the right had snapped off along with some of the metal side plate it was attached to which I'm told is quite a achievement. Only one thing to do; go home. I climb back on and we head back, me minus the use of my rear brake, as there's no fine control without the footrest, and with my right foot dancing round the bike trying to find somewhere to rest that doesn't respond with the spell of burning trouser or shoe! We get back to the centre for me to be told it'll probably cost something in the region of ?60. The day's over and I head off, aching and with dismantled sunglasses in pocket.

              Alex is off to put the ?1,000 deposit down for his dream bike.

Getting Home.

              At a school crossing about a third of the way home a crossing lady stops the traffic and the Vespa has great problems starting afterwards, she apologises to me grinning all the while, but I coolly head off. A little further on the indicators fail... only working approx 1 in 4 times leaving people to guess on the occassions I'm unable to flap my arms around in warning. I'll fix it tomorrow morning I decide... I NEED SLEEP! Apart from that the journey is fairly uneventful.



Day 1: Test day... my 5th day riding EVER!


Getting There.

              I don't get a wink of sleep in the night and my right shoulder and left thumb are moaning like crazy when I get up, but it can't be helped. Out I go to fix the Vespa. The lights take a short while to patch up, but they seem jealous of the main beam and refuse to work with it; one or the other! I figure I can work with that, it's pretty light. Off I go, minus the sunglasses which are now completely useless, and with a yet larger tool kit. I get over half way today before the bike stops. Woo hoo! I just know it's petrol this time, so switching to reserve, I get... nothing! I have to wheel it back a mile to the nearest petrol station to top up and examine. My shoulder and hand are complaining about the strain ALL the while, but at least it's in neutral today... so much easier to push a bike in neutral! After finding all the 'Unleaded' nozzles have out-of-order labels I have to risk putting 'Super, Premium, Ultra-Low Sulphur, Unleaded' in and hope for the best! It's so modern the old Vespa never notices the difference (if there is any apart from the name.) good news! I examine the carburettor and find the reserve pipe must be totally blocked, so I no longer have a reserve. Oh well, with a full tank I get 50miles or so on the main tank and that's plenty. I head of again and get to the centre with little further happening.

The Lesson.

              Obviously I have a new bike today, so the gears feel totally alien to me. What else would you expect on test day? They need shifting at completely different speeds and 40mph is right ON one of the change points! Nevertheless, I do pretty well excepting a few muck ups; nothing too bad though. My thumb makes indicating painful, but my shoulder is fine unless I reach either out or back and, seeing as neither move is necessary (the indicators not having failed in this bike,) all goes OK. Just before going into the test centre, the instructor gets a text to inform me the repairs will actually cost ?110 unless I know a Aluminium welder... Ben can do that! I ring him. He needs the part brought back and hiring the welding plant could cost about the same amount. With that damper I then find out that the training centre don't have an alan key large enough to remove the broken bit from the bike anyway. So, return to go, do not fix bike. I arrange to pay and head into the test centre feeling just great.

The Test.

              Suffice to say I failed... on two major points. The first point was a 'lifesaver'; I didn't look behind me early enough on one occasion. This wouldn't have been a failing point except for an enthusiastic young guy in a flashy car who decided, upon seeing a trainee biker, to speed, sound his horn, and pass within inches at a junction without slowing down! I know I handled this wrong because I didn't even see him, until after I'd felt the drag his car caused and the air pressure from his horn in my ear. The second fail was because I hesitated on the emergency stop, but who would have guessed I'd do that? Better luck next time. Oh, and my hair came loose again, so I look real cool with a scar on my forehead and a bird's nest on my head. Another hour or two of work later... and it hurts now! Oh joy.

After The Test.

              I have to hang around for another 2hrs while the examiner has lunch and Alex takes his test, so I sit in the nearby cafe with the instructor, sipping cola, wincing occasionally and slopping cola over myself with each such wince that I fail to contain, talking to the instructor while trying not to punctuate the conversation with strange noises and facial expressions each time I suffer as I shift position. Alex passed and we just shoot home but I get left behind when, whilst the others were haring up the motorway at 80mph, I found myself being tailed by a police car at 70 for a few miles. Losing them later or, if you're factual about it, after they turned off, I pick up the pace and almost blow myself off the bike at 90mph when the wind-wall hits, and to the repeated drumming of insects exploding on my visor. I catch up and we go back to the centre.

              Alex will be picking up his bike this afternoon.

Getting Home.

              The Vespa picks this time to do a flawless run home!!! Go figure! I now have a Vespa parked outside with ?ton of tools in the pannier, an empty whitewall tyre strapped to the back, jealous wiring and half the fuel tank inaccessible. On the back are a wrecked crash helmet and a pair of smashed sunglasses and in the mirror is a scarred, bruised, biker-looking scarecrow that looks as shattered as I'm feeling! But, hey, your sympathy has been touching. No, really, I mean it! Thanks.



I'd like to take this opportunity to thank those involved; especially Ben, for selling me the Vespa then going nuts in the process of working out why bits kept falling off! And Ben (again), Debbie, Kim, Lee & Brian, some for suggesting alternative forms of transport, and others for all offering to take me to, and retrieve me, from the centre in their cars! And of course both Faith and Ben (again! poor sod!) for bearing up under the weight of constant texts & phone calls! Plus lastly the 9 or so people who showed such interest in events that, rather than explain the whole this each time, I wrote this.

23rd Sep '03



BE LUCKY


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