Saturday, 29 January 2011

Learning to ride - for the second time

Age may bring experience and more competence in many areas of life, but one thing it does not help with is physical activity and co-ordination - at least not in my case. I was reminded of this quite forcibly when I tried on some ice skates at Hampton Court a couple of years back. Each year pre-Christmas, London opens up some of its historic sites as ice-skating venues and I went down with the family to take a turn. We all hired skates and once on the ice it was at that moment I discovered I didn't want to be there. I slipped and stumbled my way around the circuit wishing every moment I could be finished. The confidence and risk-taking which had been there when I was younger had now evaporated. Lesson learned.

Christmas skaters at Hampton Court, London.

My dilemma was therefore, "Would I have the confidence to get back on a motorbike again?" I certainly didn't want to buy a bike and then make a fool of myself by not being able to handle it. So I thought it would be sensible to book in for a refresher course at my local CBT centre. Hopefully the folk there would get me up to speed again.

The day with the Bikewise instructor proved invaluable. I began on an open tarmac area on a Chinese 125cc, practising gear changes, clutch control and use of the brakes. I was truly awful at first but bit by bit I found the old skills returning. What came a s a surprise to me was the clutch play. On older bikes, one used the clutch as little as possible for fear of burning it out; however, on modern bikes (with wet plates) the clutch is slipped frequently as a means of controlling the bike.
Kawasaki ER5

There followed three sessions on a Kawasaki ER5 (500cc): one on the tarmac area to get the feel of the clutch and the extra weight of the bigger bike and then two out on the road with the instructor. Both road trips were something of a strain for me - trying to negotiate the traffic and handle the bike was exhausting. There were two highlights whilst out on the road, however. The first was when we finally broke free from residential roads and got to ride through parkland for five minutes without having to stop at a junction. This was magic and reminded why it was that I wanted to travel by bike once again. The second high point was the cafe we stopped for lunch. From the outside it looked like your usual high street caff but this was misleading. Well appointed inside with a cheerful decor, the staff served up simple but really well cooked grub. An eating spot to remember!

Rumblin Tums

Rumblin' Tums, Wallingford

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