At Long Last

Three years of bike training finally came to an end last week with me passing module 2 of the test. My last blog post about this was just after I resumed training after winter but now it’s all done. I did the theory test last year, which was pretty straightforward thanks to lots of practice from a DVD with questions and their own version of hazard perception clips. In the official version a couple of the hazards were sheep in the road. The quality of the videos was pretty dreadful: almost as if they’d been recorded by pointing a camera phone at a TV playing a VHS video.

The motorbike practical test comes in 2 sections: module 1 is off-road manoeuvres that consist of manual bike handling (push it from one parking bay to another), a slalom, a few figure 8s, a U turn, a cornering exercise at 30 kph, an emergency stop at 50 kph, and a hazard avoidance also at 50 kph. The two 50 kph exercises are done with a speed measurer to make sure you hit the minimum speed, and all of them are around coloured cones like the ones they use to mark out indoor football pitches in leisure centres. It took me 2 attempts to pass mod 1. The first time I failed because I went over the white lines for the U turn and because I locked the back wheel during the emergency stop. 2nd time I passed with 3 minor faults: during the hazard avoidance I only hit 49 kph, and when I moved off after stopping I stalled the bike and forgot to check observations. However I was so relieved to get through the emergency stop just before that I didn’t really care too much.

After that I was pretty exhausted and wasn’t entirely with it riding back to bike school so they told me I needed to do a bit more training before I could do mod 2. For this they had me using the Wakefield test centre (where I’d done mod 1) as a base so the instructors could show me round the test routes. After another 2 half days training they told me I was ready to do the test and  they’d get me an appointment booked as soon as they could. I had my last lesson on the Friday morning and they rang me that afternoon for a test on the following Tuesday. However this would be at the Bradford Thornbury test centre, not in Wakefield. Despite this I went for it anyway: good to get it out of the way if I passed, and there’s a 10 working day cooling off period if you fail, so the sooner the better. It’s not very far from where I live so I spent last weekend riding over to see where it was and finding out a bit more about the area. It’s part of the same Mid Point complex where the Leeds/Bradford Odeon cinema is and where there’s a very strange triangular roundabout. Because of that and a few other things Bradford Thornbury test centre has one of the lowest pass rates in the country. No pressure then!

Test day came and I made sure I got to bike school nice and early. We needed to get some petrol on the way and then we went up from Hunslet to the test centre via the outer ring road. Unfortunately we didn’t get full speed on the way there because the person who was leading us didn’t want to overtake a couple of slow lorries. Once we got there we went for a quick ride round, and then he had his test. I went out for another ride with our instructor, partly to get a bit more knowledge of the area and partly to give me something to do other than sit and wait. When we got back the first bloke had completed his test and was looking stony-faced because he’d failed. Bad luck: he’d locked his back wheel for a few inches when stopping and failed for not being under full control.

Then it was my turn. The examiner checked my documents and then led me out. I had to do an eyesight test (reading a numberplate from a distance) and answer 3 questions, about checking brakes and fluid levels, and what to do about pillions (“a local taxi number is…”). I told the examiner that I have dyspraxia and that I needed instructions to be clear and given in plenty of time, and he told me that they would be. The test is to see how good you are at riding, but normally when you’re out you know where you’re going, so I think this would count as a reasonable adaptation.

On the road and we rode around Bramley and Pudsey. I knew to expect  being asked to pull in for hill starts and behind parked cars so these weren’t a surprise. I’d also been warned about the examiner’s trick of waiting until something was coming and then telling you to pull away when it was safe, so I watched out for that well. During the independent riding bit (“turn left at the end and then follow signs to Bradford, then for Leeds”) I stalled when I was pulling away from some traffic lights, so I knew that would count as a minor. At one point I was waiting for lights to change at Dawson’s Corner roundabout where I could see from a clock on a building that the test was nearly over, and hoped I hadn’t made too many faults. Back on Stanningley Bypass, through Pudsey town centre, and back to the test centre.

Off the bike, back inside and waited for the examiner to finish off his paperwork. He took me and my instructor into a private room and then said “Congratulations: you’ve passed”. “Excellent!” I had 7 minors altogether: 3 for not pulling away smoothly and a couple for not checking observations. Earlier my instructor kept telling me to keep an eye out for unmarked crossroads so I was surprised that I’d seen one that the examiner hadn’t.  Anyway, it was done. I swapped my provisional licence for a certificate and I’ll get a full licence through in a couple of weeks.

As soon as we got back to bike school I took the L plates off my own bike and posed for the traditional photo:


(Yes, I know I need to lose some weight)

Getting rid of the Ls means I can ride on motorways. A 125cc bike isn’t really up to a long journey at 70 mph but I’ve since done the length of the M606, and it’s quite handy being able to use the Leeds Inner Ring Road instead of the zillion traffic lights on the Leeds Loop Road. Some time fairly soon I’ll be upgrading to something a bit bigger. I’ve had a look around and something like the Honda CBR, or Yamaha XJ or FZ6 series seem OK as long as they’re not too expensive to insure.

So, that’s it for the mandatory training. There are various schemes like the Enhanced Rider Scheme and the police Bikesafe scheme that are designed to improve your riding style once you’ve passed, but I don’t have to do any more training unless I want to. I found it hard work getting on with a car with gears so I never got round to taking a car test. It also took me a while to get the hang of bike gears, but at least I could get my own low powered bike and get in plenty of practice. It’ll be interesting to see what I get up to once I’ve got a bigger biker that can cope with motorways,  but I’ve already found that not having to rely on public transport means it’s easier to go where I want rather than where the bus or train goes. Pudsey and Headingley really aren’t far from Horsforth, but you wouldn’t know it if you had to catch a bus there.