April 2010. Couldn't resist taking the cute movistar Honda CBR600rr home with me so better put it to good use. Got myself lined up with a lift from Johnny and Janey in their proper big transit van and off to Brands Hatch we went. Shakey start of course but by lunch I'd managed to get Keith jumping up and down on the pit wall with excietment as he saw me go through Graham Hill bend without sitting up 'like a policeman'. Lap times tumbled as the afternoon wore on and got just under 1:10 by the end. Good for me but the superbike boys fail to qualify over 47 secs. Another 3 trips to Brands during the year, and by the end I'm still in the Novice group but overtaking healthily and still improving every time.
Still cats and dogs but once breakfasted it's out on the well worn Brighton to Guildford route. After 20 minutes of careful filtering past the dog end of Brighton rush hour we're out on the open road. This is take your chance territory. Overtaking possibilities present themselves fleetingly and have to be pounced on or left well alone. LaDy performs faultlessly of course, raising her voice to an operatic crescendo when the peak torque rev line is crossed. The singing slingshot overtake is just fantastic and presents the rider with a clear road ahead and defeated traffic mere dots in the mirror. I'm still a long way off being able to do that round bends though, for the moment, the cars are faster there which is tragic but true.
Just about make it on time to Vines BMW @ Guildford and LaDy's booked in for surger. I'm assured she'll be treated well but she looks so little next to the 1200GS go anywhere camels that I feel for her inadequacies. Well, what I actually feel is an overwhelming urge to buy a bigger bike! Must fight it. Must wait. Just the thought of getting on one of those big beasties is enough to make me grin though. Plenty of time to browse the range as the service takes for ever but eventually I'm reunited with her and we're off back doing overtaking practice down the 281.
After servicing she's even better and I'm able to get more performance out of the 'little' 800. On Song is the best way I can describe that 60-80 power surge, Sweeeeet.
Looking forward to going on a mini ride but the signs in the sky were not encouraging as I neared Brighton on the after work express. Still, us bikers aren't known for our sanity so I still popped up to the rendezvous. No takers of course, you'd have to be raving to go out in this, and not in a good way. Enjoyed my little trip anyway, just the sound of the 800cc twin ticking over makes me smile even if it is a touch agricultural. Hardcore filtering in dense traffic was the lesson for today. I'm improving, didn;t stall once and no nearly-dropped-it moments. I make that a good day. Result !
Decide to follow the route of last weekend's breakfast run. Get it a bit wrong through Lewes but pick up the trail on the other side of the tunnel. On to Ringmer and over to Blackboys. Consider heading to Eastbourne but that's too close. Ah, Bexhill is signposted, OK, why not ? It's a long-ish run but after a while I'm glimpsing the sea ahead and soon enough I'm at the De La Warr pavilion and cruising the Bexhill riviera. The Amalfi coast it ain't but English seaside it sure is. Stop for a terrible coffee and sit on the prom watching the sun glint off the greeney channel. Home. Back aboard the autobahn stormer and trundling along the wrong side of the railway tracks thoroughly enjoying the empty roads that don't go nowhere. Eventually ease back into busy land via Pevensey Bay (big bike shop there, must check it out). On to Eastbourne, back over Beachy Head, stop in the car park to admire a 1200GS, hmm, maybe one day. Back home along the super quick A27 again and it's been my longest and possibly best ride yet. Perfect weather, good roads, minimal traffic, no dramas. All good.
Rendez-vous at chez Monsieur B to do a little DIY in the headlamp so I can go and play with the Nortonites. We're early so it's an apprehensive half hour watching the weather and waiting while the convoy collection grows and grows ending up with a highly respectable count of 14 bikes and 15 riders. A lot of fast machines but also the traditional glut of ER-6's and even a brave lad on his XT125X, just like mine but orange and somehow quicker for it. Michael 'Superman' leads us off and it's all good clean fun, well until we get to the Steyning/Ashurst road, then it's full on keep up if you can. I can't. The S bends are deceptive, starting OK but getting progressively tighter, the speed out of one being too much for the entry into the next. After a few of those I have to ease off to stop myself crossing the double white lines protecting me from on-coming traffic. We make it to the Cowfold X roads all still together and it's off from there on a mystery tour through towns and villages, tiny lanes, slippery shitty conditions but all great fun of course. The last section is high speed up hill sweeping bends but I'm as yet unable to make full use of them due to the total unfamiliarity of the road. Will be better next time !
The cafe's shut when we get to Bury Hill so it's a quick breather before blasting back along the A27 at some pace. I'm loving that 6th gear overtaking acceleration already and I still haven't been near max throttle. More to come ...
Right, lunch it is, hastily pull on bike gear and race up to Devil's Dyke to meet Monsieur B but we don't hang about to admire the view. Up and over the golf course, down towards Hassocks, sharp right to take in the roller coaster of New Road and on through Ditchling and the Wetmeston bends. Turn off at the Half Moon and we're on the way to Plumpton, then Haywards Heath, Cuckfield and back again. A super fast super twisty ride out and I'm finally feeling at one with the bike. No dramas although I think I dumped the clutch once and canceling the indicator with right thumb is a tricky combination when you're trying to apply gentle throttle at the same time, not one of BMW's finest design desicions. Most of all though I'm still loving the rumble of my transit-van-like 800 but Mr B's GSXR is in a whole different audio world. You can hear that exhaust above 6 lanes of traffic with an 80 mph headwind !
Back home and back to work for the afternoon but just can't wait to get out again.
A 9am meetup back at the LF training ground and there's a good gathering already. Skippy leading, 2 up on the GPZ and tigerbri backing up and relaxing on the VN classic, the pace is pretty quick straight out of the car park. Once we hit the open road though it's all quite comfortable and even at speed on the dual carriageway it feels pretty safe being surrounded by bikes and protected from the cars. As we approach Lancing we're covering both lanes and making good progress. Onwards to Lewes and the Cuilfail Tunnel echoes to the resonant frequency of a bunch of aftermarket exhausts but you can still hear nuttbusta's Kwaka 750 above the rest. That lad loves his new rude cans.
A quick stop to pick up the more easterly dwellers and off on the excellent straights through Ringmer towards Heathfield. Some excellent twisties and a few fast stretches later and we're pulling up at Wessons. Hilarious place, traditional cafe housed in a bike shop, ideal for our purposes. There's continual engine song as more and more Sunday bikers turn up on their various exotica, there's a lot of chrome polishing going on in the garages of Sussex during the rest of the week I reckon.
Following a hot unhealthy breakfast we're off again and this time it's the scenic route via Eastbourne to Beachy Head. Up and down the serious bendys would be hard work but LaDy behaves herself perfectly of course, no sweat for her (or me). Coming down the other side of Seven Sisters is even tighter in places but before long we're into and out of Newhaven and blasting along the A27 heading west this time. Now the sedate pace from this morning is abandoned and it's full on progressive, if not spirited at times which means I finally get to hear what LaDy sounds like punching up from 4k to 6k rpm in 6th gear. A chorus of strangled angels is as close as I can get to a textual description. Kind of a scream but it's also singing. The bike really comes alive at these revs as it turns from tourer into sport mode, everything's lighter and sharper and there seems no end to the pulling power. It's only my fear of impossibly illegal speed violations and an inabilty to hang on which limits the acceleration.
Even when I'm pootling back homewards at the end of the journey, I keep wanting to carry on, go a bit of a longer way round, just stay out for a little bit more. A working week is looming but who cares? I can still play in the evening thanks to BST. Can't wait !
Can't sleep. Get up far too early. Quick breakfast, hurried cos I just want to go. And off for maybe the last time struggling along the A27 to Worthing. Get to Mister B's and it's the shortest of van rides round the corner to pick up the new LaDy. Sharon lets me have a quick run round the block before we sort out the paperwork and just that small circuit around Durrington is enough to fix an instant grin. For such a big bike everything operates so light and smoothly. Gentle roll into 2nd gear, clutch engages with no bite, no drama, just smooth, progressive power transfer. Overtake a bus and there's a tiny stretch of open road. 3rd gear, a little twist of right arm and the torque kicks in accelerating us to er, 60 ish instantly (sure that's the speed limit around here !). Rumble back to her old home and complete the final handover. It's a bit emotional for all of us so better to be quick and get on. Luggage all strapped and fastened and it's time to head off for real. Oh so nervous slow start, give way at the end, foot down, stop, start, all ok so far. Roll into the petrol station and hit the first drama. Queue of Saturday traffic building up behind me, temperatures rising and can I find neutral?, no, not until I've given up and heading off out again, then it slots in no problem. Ah, right, got it, need the clutch fully engaged to get that little nudge between 1 and 2 to fall into 'N'. OK, next petrol station it is then. Fortunately I know 'em all round here as it's my DAS training route so no problems finding the Shell next to the test centre. Fill it all the way for 15 quid and the range indicator goes to >132 as the computer can't measure the top of the tank, then it's back to Mr B's for a proper test ride. The weather's getting worse but do we care ?, no, we do not. I'm in front to slow the pace and we're off in generally the wrong direction but we make it out to the Long Furlong and up in to the Sussex wilds, then back over Devil's Dyke before hitting the A27 for high speed manoevures. The Southwick tunnel is a bit busy for proper loudness but Mr B's Gixxer makes its presence felt ! Back to his to swap over bits from the little pony to LaDy and another trip down the A27 for me and back to Brighton. I've done this trip so much on the 125 and on the ER6 in training but this time it's completely different. Outside lane not inside, 80mph to 90, not 30 to 40 to 55 maybe, 6th gear not 5th. Doesn't take long to get home. Quick stop for showing off purposes then it's time to park up. What A Day ! The last 2 months have been all about getting to this point and it's no anti-climax. I'm buzzing, totally hyped, itching to get out again and find some more tarmac to abuse. Won't have to wait long, tomorrow is breakfast ride-out with the Norton biker boys and girls. Watch out Worthing, here I come again.
Blatt over to Worthing to pick up my consultant in all things motoring and we're off in a mini 125 convoy to Littlehampton Honda shop. To look at Yamahas, obviously ! As usual, nothing goes to plan, up pops the Honda CBF 600. Absolutely made for my needs. Looks great, feels great, well spec'd, slightly cheaper than the competition and with the Honda badge of reliablity and no surprises.
But, with my 1 week old license they won't be letting me out on it so if I want to try it I'd have to go back to Gatwick. No time, not as I've already arranged to see the BMW this afternoon.
Another blast round and back to Durrington, then off up the road to Bury Hill and back down the A27 before heading up to see the gorgeous F800ST. In my excitement I'm a bit early but Sharon is ready to show it off. WOW, it's even more impressive in the reality than in the mighty fine photos already adorning my PC desktop. Once I've thrown my leg over and I'm holding the machine balanced perfectly by the wide bars, the mental negotiations are all but over. This thing is fantastic, makes all the others seem so basic, barely average by comparrison. Turn the key and the diagnostics go through their script and the computer tells me all is well, at least for the next 43 miles when some refreshment of the fuel tank will be required.. Hit the starter with no throttle and it's instant grins as the smooth motor wakes up with a burbling growl rather than a harsh roar. Oh dear, I'm smitten. I'm half listening to the current owner as she explains more of the extras that have been lavished on this lovely but internally I'm just failing to come up with reasons not to buy it. I give in pretty quickly and agree a price, sign the cheque and arrange pick up once the funds have cleared and insurance is in place. I've just bought a big motorbike. The next adventure starts here.
Too excited to stay in bed, up by 8am, far too early. A traditional breakfast in an awakening Sydney St. then off to Mister B's to get in the van and navigate (mostly badly) to P&H at Gatwick. The breadth of selection is dizzying, really. We wander round like children in a sweet shop the size of which they never knew existed. To business, and over to the Yamaha section. Somehow the Fazer S2 looks huge parked so close to its even bigger brothers. The MT-01 is just silly size. Over to the KTMs and the fantasy RC8s look like storm troopers deressed in their stealth white armour. A short break for clothing purchases (summer gloves, a little optimistic perhaps but they fit so I'm happy). A quick sit on the Kawasaki Versys but it's a bit of a big girl's shopping bike. Almost missed the Honda showroom as it's separated up the road. Turned back and very glad we did. The new model Transalp is waiting for me outside. Quickly arrange a test drive and off we go. It's my first time on a Faired bike so it's disconcerting that the instruments stay still while the front wheel turns. Get over that and pootle round the industrial estate for a while then find a way out onto the country roads. That's more like it. No idea what gears to use when so try 'em all. 30-70 in 4th is excellent and even with just 60bhp you still have to hang on quite tight. Up and down a few more circuits before returning to the dealer, grinning. I'd buy one straight away but I'm going to make myself try the Fazer, the Kawasaki Z750 and of course the BMW F800ST.
The Honda's so easy, so comfortable, would I just get bored. Maybe, but that V-twin is a beauty. Very, Very tempted ...
After another sleepless week, the fateful Friday finally arrives. A nervous start at the training centre but a quick refresher with poo-scale Pete gets both me and the bike warmed up nicely. Shakey wait in the test centre watching the clock tick round to 10:24 when Mr Examiner walks calmly in and takes me to his little room. Fits me with the radio kit and we're off back down the stairs, out the back, into the car park for a nice east eye test. Can't believe I've actually been sweating about the eye test, how many of those have I had ?? Equally easy tyre and brake questions done and it's time to show him what I can do. Head out of the entrance, forget to signal, remember to signal, stall the engine !, right, get on with it. Round the houses, stop, start, U-turn, emergency stop, all OK. Pull out a bit too quick on one junction and run a bit wide, just once though, did I get away with it, really don't know - oh well, let's just get this over with. Out on the open road and I'm much happier. Clock all the speed limits, nicely up to each one no problem. Now we're on my favourite road in the aream the Long Furlong, this isn't testing, this is just having fun. Up to 60, no problem, on to the A27 slip road and push it straight to 70 - Arrrrgh !! White van doing 50 in front of me ! do I overtake?, well yes, have to 'make progress'. Of course, as soon as I start to pass, Mr Whitevan decides to accelerate. He's doing 65, I'm doing 67, 68, still 68 and I'm oh so slowly easing past. The examiner is stuck behind anyway so not sure if he could tell what speed I was doing but I know I'm still legal, just. After that mini drama it's back to the test centre. Park up, follow the man in for the slow climb up the stairs. Sneak a peak at the clipboard, no forest of black marks, think I've done OK. Back into the tiny room for the magc words "You'll be pleased to know you've passed ...."
Y E S
Y E S
Y E S
My head's rushing now like a redbull teenager. Back on the ER-6 for the best ride yet back to Norton, revving it properly now and giving it some decent speed, shouting into my crash helmet all the way. Quite simply, the happiest I've been for 21 years, almost to the day in 1987 when I last passed a driving test. Watch out world, I'm fully licensed and equipped for bike shopping....
So, the DAS it is then. Preparations
began for the assault on the full test leading to purchasing a proper big
bike and an end to leaning over the bars to squeeze up to 55 mph in a headwind
or up a slight gradient. First step, the theory test. A whole
week of preparation for a 40 minute mixture of scarily easy multiple choice
questions and a few pretty obvious hazard perception videos. Navigating
to the test centre in Worthing was actually more taxing than the test itself.
Then again, it's better then the old method of the examiner flashing
a few road signs before patting you on the back and sending you off clueless
but roadworthy. Now I know when I can't use my horn in a built up
area which will come in useful if I ever remember where the button is without
looking down for it first. So, pass certificate in hand, I'm able
to book some big bike training and the practical test. Now I'm proper
nervous like nothing I've experienced since 1987. Finally the first
day of training arrives and we're out on the road on our little bikes first
just to concentrate on the highly complex set of observations required
at every turn of the wheel. Mirror, Mirror, Blindspot, signal, close
the door, blindspot, go round the corner, mirror, cancel signal, accelerate,
something like that anyway. Even worse when it comes to speed limits,
observations and a touch of the brake lever for slowing down, checks before
speeding up, watch for the signs, don't go over the limit but don't go
too slow ! Not easy. If I fail for anything it will be for
speeding, an instant dismissal. Oh and the small matter of avoiding
pedestrians, not good to wipe any of them out on the test. On to
the afternoon's fun and it's up on to the 600cc machines. Going from
10bhp to over 70 is a big step up and it feels awkward and heavy to
start with. After a few laps of the pad though it's not too bad.
The increased power and weight makes the big bikes handle better
and the brakes and clutch are upgraded to match. Engine braking is
massive of course but there's no need to drop too much of that in. Slow
speed turns are a little more tricky with less steering lock and the weight
transfers suddenly at the tipping point but hopefully I'll get a few successful
U-turns in before the test ! total good turns made so far = 1, complete
failures = lots.
Day 2 and it's off out all day on the full power beasties. Wow, what a difference. Going slowly round the residential streets is much the same but out on the open road is where the grinning is beginning. Our strict instructor despairs of our sluggish progress and shouts his commands to speed up and give it full throttle for the dual carriageway slip road. I comply and just about hang on as the revs climb past 4000 and the mph goes from 30 to 60 to 70 in the time it takes to realise just how powerful the acceleration is. Excellent. No more struggling through the wind and rain now, just a gentle squeeze of the right grip and the world move backwards faster and faster. Overtake a caravan and get a cheery "that'll be a test fail" in my earpiece. I've hit 75 without even trying. Up and down the hills and even the bends on this horrible snowy sleety haily day aren't a problem, the bike goes where I want it to go. Well mostly anyway. An armful of power heading sideways off a roundabout isn't ideal but no major dramas.
Day 3 and it's Malcolm's turn to shake his head at his pair of novices. Top tips though, especially in the area of what gear not to be in at 30 mph. 4th not ideal, 2nd better, even if it does sound awful, the additional control means no more creeping over the limit. A few emergency stops, no problem, a few U turns, still rubbish but at least I know why now. Look up, not down and everything else sorts itself out.
Day 4, try and pull it all together. Simon very not impressed by me turning up 40 minutes late due to my annual forgetting the clocks go forward Sunday. But somehow managed to redeem myself by an almost good ride. Avoid shaving those parked cars and I'd have been spot on. Full of confidence for the test now, can't wait.
So, the low speed training continues and there's definite improvement to be seen. Well, until the pressure's on of course. On the practice ground it's thumbs to the tank and super slow and tight turns executed pretty perfectly. A sudden requirement to turn round on a busy street after missing the turning and it's a different story, especially on a gradient or steep camber. Still, I'm heading in the right direction, unless I'm U-turning, er, you know what I mean. Out on the open road and as confidence increases, so do distances and speed, even the Sussex border has been crossed now, at one point finding myself fairly lost in South Surrey. Taking unknown corners at high speed is still off the menu but mostly I'm keeping a fairly respectable line and a healthy lean too.
Of course the great dilemma surrounds the constant rethinking of what's going to be the next 'proper' bike. The contenders : First came the KTM 690 but it's a thumping single cylinder so ruled out for not being smooth enough. Then comes the Yamaha Fazer, a good all-rounder and reckoned to be a good choice for first big bike. Obviously there has to be a Triumph in there and the speed triple is tickling my fancy although it's way too naked. There's always the BMW F650GS but is it just too leggy and don't I really just want the 1200 anyway. Last but not least the Kawasaki ER6 which I'll be coming back to later ... Whatever the choice, can I have some luxury equipment please. Cold hands are just not funny at 50 mph, yes I know summer glove time is approaching but right now I want heated grips, big fleecy mitts and hand guards as well. Looking ahead to better weather though, it might be time to order those draggin jeans, can't wait to be able to go out in good weather wearing vaguely human looking clothing.
A week or so later and there's been a big change. A sudden rush of confidence. Two trips out with Mr Trans-Australasia / VFR nutter has changed everything, A few top tips on cornering (both at high and super low speed), lots of miles following each other over the downs and into the depths of East Sussex and I'm a new biker. The speed I was missing is there. The feel for the corners and the ability to hold a good line is there. Crouched down over the bars on the A23 gets me up to 67mph, after that everything else seems slow and easy. The test is booked ! In less than 4 weeks I could be going on a super size shopping trip to my nearest Yamaha/Suzuki/Kawasaki/Triumph/BMW dealer to make another sudden rush of blood to the head decision. After all, that's how it all started.
Day 2, seafront meet-up
So, revved from the excitement of Day 1, the weekend arrived and it's up and out as soon as possible. Slight delays due to attempts at navigating the LCD options again (note to self : leave the blue button alone) then it's back out on the open road again. A nervous start around the station area and a few dead ends where of course walking is fine but it's no through road for motor vehicles, but once the one-way system is behind me I'm back on the Brighton-Worthing seafront route again. Mush easier this time now I know the way and no surprises through Lancing and out the other side. Even the big Worthing roundabouts are negotiated with ease and before I know it I'm trundling back to the Yamaha dealer to meet up with the other half of the 125 Biker Gang. MrB is waiting for me and the sight of me wobbling into view is obviously quite comical cos he's chucklin' away to himself.
A tour round the bike accessories shops and then on to some more road practice. We're following much of my CBT route so some of the roads are familiar, especially the sweeping bend near the station, the site of my first proper lean it over and power round exercise. On to the seafront and we're back to my old cycling territory, just 3 times quicker now ! Some interesting T-junction and minor bends to negotiate and now we're riding in to the sun too. Visor down and try and concentrate on where I want to go, as the advice says, the bike goes where you're looking. Coffee stop at the seafront cafe, sitting there in our armoured jackets with crash helmets on the spare seats, no-one can tell that we've pulled up on a couple of 125 ponies although the unprotected jeans give us away somewhat.
Another trip down the seafront and I'm heading home with the sun setting behind me but there's an orange light on the dash too. Ah, I was wondering how much petrol I'd been gifted by the dealer, not much as it turns out. A quick stop at the next filling station as it doesn't take long to fill the tank. It doesn't take much cash either, £6.72 to fill it up, that's just madness.
Up and over Hove this time, avoiding the Landsdowne narrows and back up to the parking spot. I'm a bit sad to leave it but then again my legs are freezing, my head and hands sweating and a long hot shower is the most attractive idea imaginable. Can't wait for Day 3 though.
Day 3, practice makes...
Still no proper bike trousers bought so today's trip is going to be a bit shorter I thought. Yeah, right, that's before I'm out on the road and just don't want to go home, this is far too much fun. First stop, the practice ground. I've had my researchers out looking for the ideal combination of quiet seclusion, easy access and level ground and they turned up the perfect pitch. The far end of a trading / light industrial estate with a disused unit owning 20 or so parking spaces, perfectly distanced to allow for optimum U-turn and slow speed manoeuvres. And don't I need it. The slow turns and sharp stops on my CBT were abominable "What the fuck was that" was my instructor's actual phrasing. So, start from the beginning again. Safety position, standing start, back brake pressure, plenty of revs, slip the clutch. Good, smoothly away with the engine fighting the brakes and keeping me upright. Now it's time to commit to the U-turn. I'm really trying to move my head in the direction I want to go but the bike's leaning too much and I'm going too slowly. My panic right foot comes off the brake and my left hand pulls in the clutch resulting in the bike running forward and lots of unhelpful revving. Right, try again. And so it goes on until I finally find the right balance of revs, clutch, brake and speed to make the turn successfully. What a great feeling having the bike go exactly where I want it in a calm and smooth manner. Let's do it again. Yes, much better. I do at least another 4 or 5 tries before stopping for a clutch hand rest. The builders of this little patch of Hove retail park have conveniently placed 2 drain covers just the right distance apart for some figure of 8 practice, surely the hardest part of CBT. With the new confidence though it's not so bad. Going from right turns straight into lefts is tricky at first and I have lots of foot down moments but a bit of concentration and back to that perfect crawling throttle/brake/clutch balance and after a few failures I've almost got it. A few more tries and I'm nailing it every time. Brilliant, I celebrate with eight 8's and a couple of U-turns, totally relieved that I've overcome this first hurdle. Right, school's over, fun time now. No real plan just drift through the back streets of hove, back to the relative civilisation of Brighton and find myself at the end of my own street. Hmm, go home ? I don't think so. Onward it is. Down into the valley and up the other side, climbing Elm Grove at a perfectly respectable pace now, not even getting bothered by the traffic. Well to be fair, the only other traffic is buses and they keep having to stop. Right up and over the top but now we're in open country on a high ridge with nothing between me and the February sea. The wind is a monster, each gust crashes into my right side trying to take me off the straight and narrow. I persist and keep more or less to where I want to be on the road but it's a fight every turn of the wheel.. Relief when I get over the hill and down into the shelter of the Woodingdean shops. Rolling freely down the road now and recalling the discussion about the mystery road between here and Ovingdean. Look out for the right turn and there it is, can't believe I've never noticed it before. Take the turn and I'm into the hidden valley, round the twisty bits, oh so carefully, past the 11th century church and back out towards the unforgiving sea. Now I'm on the 3 lanes of full on speeding traffic with even more massive air pressure on my left, This time it's not remotely funny, that wind is having a good try at pushing me into the next lane which is owned by overtaking tin-box people. Time to get off this ride, I take the next exit and I'm back on to the relative safety of the Rodean road. Up and down to the edge of the Bristol and back up through Whitehawk to take me up to the top of Elm Grove again. A Sunday enthusiast on his beautifully restored old Triumph passes me nervously. He's spent years perfecting his pride and joy and he doesn't want to scratch it now. He's all Aron sweater and big old biker boots, the outfit carefully matching the era of the bike. Nice.
I'm focused on the home straight now, carefully does it down the hill, try not to stall at all the lights between here an home, gentle manoeuvring into the North Laine and a bit of parking practice to finish off a pretty satisfactory day. Next time, over the hills and far away...
After a long day of CBT yesterday finishing with a 2 hour ride around the suburban sprawl of Worthing, I'm legal. Fully certified to go and pick up my new(ish) Yamaha XT125X. A visit to the accessories shop to get kitted out in some protective clothing, a run through the operating instructions and suddenly I'm sitting on the bike, keys in the ignition and ready to go. Well, ready once I've set the clock on the LCD and fiddled around with it for 20 minutes to achieve just the desired configuration of rpm, mph, time of day, average lap time ?? etc. Eventually there's no choice, the moment has arrived and it can't be put off any longer, I've got to head out on my own to play in the traffic. More importantly of course, I need to pull away cleanly without making a wobbly mess of it in front of the Yamaha dealer showroom. Kick down into first, a few more revs and a tentative release of the clutch and we're off at a blistering 5mph. Around the corner to my first challenge. I'm faced with a right turn on to a busy dual carriageway. No chance, I turn it round and go the long way to find some traffic lights to help me out. So far so good. Next, the big roundabout. Now I'm starting to sweat a bit and my visor is fogging due to the heavy breathing. Wait for the gap, give it lots cos I don't want to stall in front of a queue of traffic, but of course I let the clutch out far to fast and the poor little beastie lurches forward, the front wheel trying to head skywards. Off the power and we're safely away. Things can only get better. A few more junctions, a pelican crossing or two, head out of Worthing and I'm on the seafront road. It's windy. I know this because I'm being regularly shoved in the right shoulder by a mass of air pressure that won't be argued with. Up to 30 mph and at least I'm keeping up with the traffic, maintaining road position and generally doing all right. A few problems getting into 1st gear at the lights and a slight altercation with an Alfa driver but eventually I'm back into familiar territory, the Brighton and Hove borders. Up Holland Road, carefully, round into Landsdowne and on to the scariest bit of all. Montpelier Place is narrowed on both sides by parked cars and populated entirely by taxis who drive on the wrong side of the road. Brilliant. All negotiated safely though and finally I'm pulling in to my local parking bay where I sit for a minute to get my heart rate back to somewhere near normal. I've made it.
A short pit stop and I'm back on the road and encountering a whole load more firsts. First hill start, in traffic of course with one of those funny toyota pedal cars right up my back wheel. Just about pulled that off. First attempt at the seven dials roundabout, a local fun fair ride of a 7 way intersection. Somehow manage that even with a trail of cars stopping behind a bus and blocking the exit. A quick nip up Dyke Road Avenue, straight across the A27 junction and I'm out onto the South Downs, the massive horizon opening up across the weald. This is what it's all about. The open road, sweeping bends, roller coaster hills, green fields, and a line of impatient car drivers waiting to overtake me. Yes it's only taken a couple of hours and I need more power. My little 125 can get to 40mph on the flat easily but up a hill it's struggling to maintain 25. Down into 2nd gear and it's still hard work for the poor thing. My mind flashes instantly to the Suzuki 400 in the showroom, or the BMW 650 next to it. Maybe one day, well I can dream surely.
More high speed cornering practice and some quieter country roads and I'm really starting to get used to the controls and the feel of the bike when it's leant over a little. Even the top tip of counter steering actually works. It's incredible how the most gentle of nudges on the bars sets up the perfect angle of lean into a bend. I can't begin to fathom the physics but it feels good so that's alright then. Heading back just before dark and I'm fairly pleased overall with Day 1. A lot to learn but a lot learned. I'm still hopelessly rubbish at every aspect of biking but I know I'll get to some level of competence before too long. Well, before the summer hopefully.
I'm freezing, out of breath, in need of a shower and generally roughed up but it's been an excellent start. Can't wait for Day 2 !