Tag Archives: roads

Bikes (cont…)

Now that work has calmed down a bit, the weather has got better and I’ve got some spare cash, I’ve restarted my bike training. The motorbike licence classes changed just over a year ago so there are now four different ones:

  • AM – lets you ride a moped with a top speed of 45 kph (for people 16+)
  • A1 – 125cc with max power of 11 kW and power/weight ratio no more than 0.1 kW/kg (for people 17+)
  • A2 – 35kW max power and power/weight ratio no more than 0.2 kW/kg. You can ride a restricted bike but the power of the derestricted version must not be more than double the restricted version. The test should be take on a bike of 395cc or higher, and a maximum power of 35 kW (for people 19+ or people with 2 years experience on an A1 bike)
  • A – lets you ride any bike, but must do the test on a minimum 595cc bike with at least 15 kW power (open to people over 24, or over 21s who have held an A2 licence for 2 years)

Complicated! The other change was that you can no longer move from one class to another by holding a licence for 2 years. If you want to upgrade from A1 to A2, or A2 to A, you must do another practical test on a bike for the category you want to move up to.

Personally I’m doing direct access for a full A class licence. I’m getting plenty of miles in on my current bike but I’m starting to outgrow it. As I get more experienced I’m getting more confident at riding at higher speeds. My bike tops out at about 60mph on the flat, or 45 – 50 ish mph going up hills. That’s OK on smaller roads but there are plenty of national speed limit roads that I use regularly. It can be excruciating being stuck behind someone that won’t go over 50 mph on a 70 mph dual carriageway and I can’t overtake them because I don’t have enough speed. I’ve tried it a couple of times and it can be embarrassing, not to mention potentially risky when I move back to the left hand lane and I don’t have enough space to leave a safe gap. At bike school they’ve got me learning on a Suzuki SV650. It’s about the same weight as my current bike, but at 55kW it’s 5 times more powerful:

Suzuki SV650

As for the bike training, I’ve done a day and a half since I resumed this year. You do a day or half a day at a time, more like an intense car driving course than the traditional couple of hours a week of car lessons. Of course there’s no such thing as a dual control bike: instead the instructor rides behind you with a radio on a separate bike. A day’s training usually consists of a mixture of manoeuvres at the training centre followed by on road training. Because the instructor can’t control the bike they won’t let you on the road until they’re happy with your handling.

My bike school is just behind the Crown Point Centre in Leeds so you have to go more or less straight on to the somewhat meandering roads around the M621 in south Leeds to go anywhere else (of course learners aren’t allowed on the motorways themselves). I understand the training routes are intended to teach you how to deal with things like fiddly junctions and other awkward bits, but it does feel a bit odd going out without knowing where you’re going, and suddenly turning off the main road to go down a side street and emerge from a junction that no one in their right mind would use unless they had to. The A61 is a nice easy way to get from Wakefield to Leeds and goes past the bike school, so naturally we turned off a little early so we could go through Belle Isle and along its main road, which looks like where Leeds council decided to use all the spare paint they had left for traffic calming.

During one of the lessons we rode over to the test centre in Wakefield. If you look at the diagrams for the mod 1 test it looks pretty small, but on the ground it’s a lot bigger.

To get some practice in I’m going out riding by myself as well. These rides are a fair distance, up to about 50 miles. I live just by the Leeds outer ring road so that’s a good place to start. Unlike the training routes these do have some kind of logic, even if they are just loops. One I did last week was out to Shipley, Keighley and Skipton, and then back home along the A65 through Addingham, Ilkley, Guiseley and Yeadon. Another was along the northern part of the outer ring road to Garforth, and then back through Woodlesford to Hunslet, along to Armley and home along the southern part of the outer ring road. I’m familiar with Squires bikers’ cafe in Sherburn in Elmet and I’ll almost certainly be stopping off there at some point over Easter.

These ride outs also give me a chance to get the hang of longer rides so I can do more than just buzz around Leeds. Over the May Day bank holiday weekend I’ll be riding over to a rally just outside Market Weighton on a bike fully laden with camping gear. That’s about 50 miles from me. Having just a CBT certificate means I’m not allowed on motorways so I have to investigate other ways to get to places. In a lot of cases the old pre-motorway trunk routes are still there but are a lot quieter than they used to be. No one in a hurry would use the A62 to get from Leeds to Manchester, especially the weird bits through Huddersfield and Oldham, but there’s nothing to stop you and I’ve done it a couple of times. Upgrading the A1 to motorway standards meant having to leave parallel roads for non-motorway traffic. It follows the route of the old Roman roads of Ermine Street and Dere Street so in places it was the only road around.

What happens next with the bike training is that I go back to the Wakefield test centre on a Saturday to practice the techniques for module 1. Now I’ve seen where it will take place I know what to expect. This session is booked for the 10th of May, and if that goes OK there’s a slot available for me to do the actual mod 1 test on the 12th. Mod 2 comes after that and is the traditional on road driving test, but there’s no point booking it until I’ve passed mod 1. Hopefully I’ll get through it all before the end of May.

Today

In September last year I bought a scooter. I had some spare cash and I’d decided I’d had enough of relying on public transport so it was time to get my own wheels. Only two, but the minimum training requirements are a lot lower than that needed for a car. I like exploring and there’s a limit to what you can do on a mountain bike, especially as hilly as somewhere as Leeds. A couple of weeks ago I rode over to Manchester, out over New Hey Road and back along the A62.By the route I took (and the inadvertent detour via Victoria Rd and the university) it was about 100 miles. Today I rode out to Sheffield and Meadowhall along the A61. I’m on a provisional licence so I’m not allowed on motorways, otherwise it would be a lot faster, both because they have a higher average speed and also because of a lack of traffic lights, speed humps and such like. Part of me is interested in the historical network of roads that were there before the motorways were built. The A62 is the old route from Leeds to Manchester before the M62 was built, and the A61 from Leeds to Sheffield never gets very far from the M1.

One thing about using the non-trunk roads is that you get to see how good (or not) various local authorities are at maintaining them. Greater Manchester, West and South Yorkshire ceased to have county councils in 1986 so they are maintained by smaller metropolitan borough councils. Different places have different approaches to traffic calming and road safety. Wakefield seems to be on another planet when it comes to road markings, with some areas having faded “new” markings next to burnt off “old” ones so it’s difficult to see which is current, and another section having a fairly recently resurfaced road with no markings at all. The road signs are still there (including “get in lane”) so it’s confusing trying to work out what you’re supposed be doing. South Yorkshire also has a lot of “Biker Beware” signs that don’t explain whether bikers should beware of something, or other people should beware of bikers. Helpful. And don’t get me started on utility companies digging trenches along the road, putting pipes in, and then filling them not quite level with the rest of the road so there’s a groove you need to avoid, or face wobbling at up to 50 mph. Being unenclosed and on two wheels really makes you appreciate how the quality of the road surface matters.

Apart from the ride out, I found Meadowhall seems to be mostly women’s clothing shops these days. I went there for a school trip in the early 90s when it had just opened and I don’t remember a lot of how it was back then, but these days it feels pretty tired. Most shopping centres and large town centres are generally just the same shops in a slightly different order. It would make things more interesting if commercial districts were a bit more mixed. Independent shops are OK up to a point, but it would be good to have something else as well. How about shops on the lower floors and offices on the upper floors? Not just the kind of “servicing office worker” type places like sandwich shops, but big high street stores. Maybe have the odd art gallery or live music venue in the middle of the main shopping street as well. If you want to put a real spanner in the works, how about Amazon opening a range of high street shops where you can order and collect, and where they have the most popular items in stock to buy there and then?