Yes, apparently I’m a “Creaky Rider”. I prefer the term Born Again Biker personally because there’s less implication on old age, but there you go.
Last Friday I went on an individual riding assessment day, aimed at getting my skill levels up to where they need to be on today’s roads and with today’s powerful machines. The course was held in Kent, a county to the southeast of London and known as The Garden of England. This was a forty-five mile ride through central London and out the other side for me, so I was feeling pretty creaky before the course began.
My instructor was Kevin: a bit more creaky than I in terms of age but vastly more experienced. His bike looked like it had just returned from a world tour, with its strap-on luggage and home-made brackets for holding various gadgets — including TWO satnav devices — to the handlebars. His suit had also been well lived-in, with tattered and frayed edges everywhere, but despite the tatty looks all of this served to give me confidence that I had chosen a seasoned instructor who knew his way around a motorcycle and had some sage advice to impart.
We began with an acknowledged weak area of mine: slow-speed control. Low-speed manoeuvres such as figure eights and U-turns must be practised off the public roads, so we spent the first hour or so in the empty rear section of Toys’R’Us car park. When I say low-speed I’m talking under 10 mph, most often around 5mph, or a fast walking pace. At these speeds a motorcycle doesn’t have the benefit of the gyroscope effect on the rear wheel that gives it its usual stability, so it’s up to the rider to keep the machine balanced while manoeuvring where he wants to go. Even in slow turns the bike has to be leaned over towards the inside of the turn, so to prevent it falling inwards you have to use your upper body to counterbalance it, by leaning away from the turn. Think of it as leaning the bike over while keeping your torso vertical and you get the picture. At the same time you have to keep precise control of your speed by using a combination of throttle, slipping the clutch, and dragging the rear brake. Sounds hard doesn’t it? And it is. It’s one of those things that — kind of like learning to ride a pushbike — feels impossibly unnatural at first, but once you “get it” you wonder why it took you so long. I’m not quite yet where I want to be with his skill but I’m well on the way.
Then we headed out on the road for an observed ride. Kevin gave me one of his pair of radios so that I could hear him commentate and advise during the ride. His had the only microphone so I was in listen-only mode, and had to wear an earpiece inside my helmet, connected to the handset which sat in a pouch around my waist (Wow, I have a waist! OK, let’s call it midriff for honesty’s sake).
We spent another four hours like this (with a break for lunch). Sometimes Kevin would lead and give a commentary on his ride for me to observe from behind, but most of the time I would be leading with him observing and giving me directions (“2nd exit at next roundabout”) and real-time feedback on my riding.
I learned a heck of a lot from the day, including the benefits of adjusting the play on my clutch cable to reduce the range of movement of the lever, thus improving precise clutch control. Kevin followed up by emailing me a detailed written assessment of my strengths and weaknesses, and I’ve been practising my slow control every day since.
If I could I’d spend every day doing stuff like this. I loved the one-to-one attention I was getting from an expert, and the feedback he gave me was great and very helpful.
OK, now that’s off my chest it’s time to start thinking of other, non-biking topics on which to blog. I’ll be back… erm… some time soon… when… I’ve… thought of one…