So I had resisted learning to ride for far too long. Heck, I had a student rail pass giving me comparatively cheap travel. I didn’t need a bike and I was frugally minded but I wanted something other than study even though that study involved filling sketch books with many sketches of bikes. I studied form and decided that Kawasaki’s Z 200 would make a nice, sensible, suitable economical choice.
I applied for a provisional license to coincide with the start of the college vacation between the final two years of my course. My father very kindly offered to teach me the basics and so we wheeled his Bantam round to the field at the back of where we lived and he set about explaining clutch control and gear shifting. Being a teacher by trade he would’ve been good at this. I set off round the field. Shit this is fast. The field was a lumpy, tussocky affair but that was OK.
The Bantam coped as did I. What a curious sensation… going faster than I could propel myself under my own steam. I made it back to where my father was standing. I hadn’t got out of first gear! I went round a second time and, at least, got into second gear. I was on my way BUT…
…my father INSISTED that I do a pre-road course before going on the road. Back then (40 years plus) there wasn’t the Compulsory Basic Training (CBT) but some bike shops were offering to deliver new bikes to new riders at a training scheme. This was the Bronze Star scheme. Apparently there were Silver and Gold Stars as well.
So there we were, me and my Dad, on the bus heading into Southend to a back street bike fixer. The Bantam had had to undergo surgery. Can’t remember what for. We departed the workshop to nip round the corner to the training scheme which was held in a college car park and therefore empty of a weekend. I noticed that the Bantam sounded different: a bit pingy of the exhaust note. We rolled up and Dad left to do some shopping and there was I with my Dad’s 1966 BSA Bantam in a row of bright new, shiny 1977 Hondas. Some of the other new riders were intrigued and thought it was cute . I think that there were 1 or 2 other girls there.
Training commenced: Getting the feel of the brakes with us taking it in turn to push and be pushed and then applying first back break, then front brake and then both together comparing the differences. Then followed walking the bike round in a figure of 8. Quite how the session proceeded I can’t remember but, I guess, it was much the same with power applied with a bit of life saver and signalling which involve hands for me! It was out of this that the CBT was based.
Training finished. My father returned and I mentioned the strange sound. I think I’d mentioned it to the trainers who might’ve suggested that the exhaust gasket was missing. We returned to the workshop and this was duly fixed. After that my father took me out to some remotish Essex countryside where I would ride a few circuits of roads just gradually building up my skill and confidence.
Now I was contemplating purchasing my own bike. I was in the position to buy something brand new but before I went for it I met up with a guy I’d met at the TT races that June. He ran a bike shop about halfway between home and college (a distance of about 200 miles). Although the shop specialized in Italian bikes he had a Honda 125 twin in stock. I tried it out and liked it and decided to go for it. Good grief, from the markedly sensible Kawasaki 200 single, I’d gone for a somewhat more expensive racier Honda twin but it wasn’t a two stroke. Oh no. I wasn’t that daft. At the time Kawasaki, Suzuki and Yamaha were having a bit of a competition at producing the fastest two stroke 250 to appeal to the learner market. This may have contributed to the decision to limit learners to restricted 125.
I duly returned to the shop by train to make my purchase. I decided to ride the bike around a bit to get used to it and off I trundled. Yes. I could get used to this. I like going faster that the 37 mph that the Bantam was only capable of. In fact I don’t want to slow down. There’s a corner coming up. I don’t want to slow down. So I didn’t and put myself in a bush!
Oh dear! I wasn’t far from the shop and was duly rescued but I wasn’t in any fit state to ride the 80 odd miles home. The shop decided that it was best to put me on a train with one of their staff and get me home that way. I don’t remember much about the journey except having a lark getting the bike across the tracks to the south bound platform. Presumably the guy rode me across from Euston to Liverpool Street, got me on a Southend bound train and left me to my devices to get off the train and ride the couple or so miles to home.
The statutory photo was taken.
I started practicing and going and visiting friends and achieving the grand speed of 60 mph down Church Road; doable but it is really only a lane. I over cooked a corner coming out of Hullbridge but managed to bring the bike to a halt before it went into a ditch. This time it wasn’t because I didn’t want to slow down. It was just inexperience at reading the road properly. Both these times I’d crossed the road (they were both lefthanders) and I put a dent into each side of the tank as the front forks got pushed round taking off the steering extent blocks on the head stock. Fortunately, other road users saw me coming and took appropriate avoidance action. (Slamming on brakes.) Oh what it is to be young and full of stupidity hormones. For some barmy moment I even tried having a sexual fantasy whilst riding. That stopped as soon as it started. I could see where that would end up. Concentration on the road is required in complete entirety. Oh well. That got me to focus on the road, the ride and appreciate those particular joys.
Soon I felt able and keen enough to take on a longer ride rather than sticking to the peninsular where I lived. I took a ride to Colchester and back which was about 70 miles and was completed without incident. I don’t remember anything about the ride. Heck it was a while ago. Not even Market Hill in Maldon which is bendy as well as being a hill and quite picturesque. This riding of a powered machine seems to be becoming second nature.
The new term looms and I ride the Honda half way to college leaving it at the shop for it’s 500 mile service while I continue on to Stoke on Trent by train. I return the following week and complete the journey. I believe I had a collection of maps rather than a map book by which I navigated. Being a learner I was prohibited from motorways and so it was largely the joys of the A5 and the A51. I took it all in my stride and started exploring the area quite extensively experiencing the exhilaration of not quite over cooking it going up a bendy road in Leek and not quite grounding the foot pegs, of seeing spectacular Peak District vistas, of meeting an outlaw bike known as Fester in Matlock Bath and enjoying the switch back roads out of there back to Stoke and of cruising over the Cheshire plains and nearly blowing up the engine because I was in the wrong gear. I was just going to some Honda dealership in some town to look at some crazy new Honda with 6 cylinders… and then there was the fun business of vision impairment: the gradual loss of it due to bugs in the summer and snow in the winter.
I’d even draw my bike.
I also noted the in the moment psychology of riding and, who knows, driving though it seems that some drivers don’t seem to deem this as necessary. I was riding around Stoke on Trent and noted how traffic conditions would present sets of problems and once solved and resolved would present a new set. The previous set would needs be as good as forgotten in order to deal with the new set. This would create a kind of meditative state of being well and truly in the moment and, thus, quite therapeutic.
During this time the taking the test saga started.