Discovering the world on $20 per day ......................

Post 254: Testing Times

The court of popular opinion has spoken and the motorcycle media has condemned the new Driving Standards Agency Bike Test. It’s dangerous, it’s unrealistic and candidates are putting their lives at great risk when attempting to pass. Novice riders are being asked to perform a fast swerving manoeuvre before bringing their motorcycle to a controlled stop. Students are being asked to carry out this manoeuvre, and an emergency stop, even in damp and wet conditions. These elements of the new Module 1 Bike Test have already resulted in serious injury to several unfortunate candidates. Wow, the DSA are needlessly murdering innocent novice bikers?

I’m lucky, I’m old and I took my Bike Test back in 1979 when it was easy. Twice around the block without falling off, four correct answers to five simple questions and in recognition of this amazing personal achievement, I received a certificate that would allow me to legally ride any bike that I could buy, steal or borrow. That intensive five minutes spent in the company of a driving examiner and his clipboard was not a ‘Test’ of my competency on two-wheels but merely an ‘Administrative Inconvenience’. If my wallet had been as thick as my truancy report, then I’d probably have bought myself a Kawasaki Z1000 and more than likely killed myself within weeks. Thankfully I was skint, I bought a clapped-out Jawa 350 Twin and lived to tell the tale.

The Driving Standards Agency (DSA) invited me to Wolverhampton for the opening of their latest Multi Purpose Test Centre (MPTC). It’s really little more than a single storey office building with a large enclosed car park that’s been liberally dotted with coloured traffic cones. Not a lot to see or photograph, but after convincing them that I wouldn’t sue them if I crashed, I was allowed out to complete Module 1 of the new Bike Test with my Hi-Viz examiner, Dave Sims.

After a brief briefing, I was ready to go. The first task is to manoeuvre the bike around an imaginary parking space without dropping it or hitting any of the cones. The Tiger’s a little taller and heavier than your average scooter, but so far so good. Then, it’s a slow slalom between evenly spaced cones before completing two full ‘figure-of-eights’ without dabbing your feet. A tad more difficult than pushing your bike between imaginary parked cars, but I never once felt in any great peril. Next is a swifter ride around a sweeping bend before passing through a timing-gate at 50 kph (32 mph). After the timing-gate, you then flick right and left before bringing the bike to a controlled halt between a set of four cones. Oh, the infamous ‘Swerve Manoeuvre’! To this point, I’d only been nervous at the thought of failing the test and looking like a total dick but at this point, a new set of nerves kicked in. Because of the tales that I’d read in Motor Cycle News (MCN), I was looking for dangers that simply didn’t exist, worrying for absolutely no reason at all. Ride around the bend accelerating to 32 mph, a gentle flick right, a gentle flick left, roll off the throttle and gently bring the bike to rest in the appropriate place. Faster than the ‘Slalom’ and ‘Figure-of-Eight’, but really no great shakes. Wet or dry, this manoeuvre registers a big fat ‘Zero’ on the danger scale. Having survived the 'Swerve Test', you then execture a 'U-Turn' between two painted lines. The distance between the 'Lines' represents the width of a Street, not the widest Street, but on anything shorter than a Pro-Fuel Drag-Bike, you should get around without dabbing. Then, follow the clipboard at walking pace for a few metres. Dave Sims isn’t the fastest walker in the world, but it’s still faster than a lot of the filtering that you’ll do in London. Finally, it’s the emergency stop. It’s hardly an ‘Emergency', your examiner has just told you that it’s going to happen. Again, accelerate and pass through the timing-gate at 32mph and as the Examiner raises his arm, stop in a controlled manner before hitting him, which I assume would be a ‘Fail’. The Examiner wont raise his arm until your bike is straight and upright. Use the front and back brakes, don't worry about locking the rear or not stopping in time, because you will. It's not difficult, so don't worry about it.

That’s it, the Module 1 Bike Test in a nutshell. Candidates will probably be nervous and I can imagine that a couple of riders from the thousands of candidates might drop their bikes while performing an Emergency Stop. But, if you don’t know how to stop a bike properly, in the wet or the dry, then it’s far better to identify this fact in the comparative safety of a closed car park. The open road is far less forgiving. The roll-out and implementation of the Module 1 Bike Test leaves an awful lot to be desired, but the test itself is fine. Anything ‘Less’, simply wouldn’t be a ‘Test’, and surely that’s the point. So, when MCN declare that the end of the world is near, then ask for a second opinon, because it seldom is.

Post 253: Slight Change of Plan

Oops! It should have been the Aprilia Shiver followed by the Mana, but that couldn't happen. KTM came to rescue but unfortunately, there are some problems getting hold of the one and only Press-Bike and so that's been delayed slightly. Another bike became available, but once again there is another slight insurance issue. Thankfully this time, it's somebody else's insurance policy that's failed to pass muster and I'm having to pick-up the reins. Result, thank you very much.

Sadly, or fortunately depending on how you look at it, things have gotten a little bit hectic and so no 'Blog Post' this week. Next week, there'll be much more to report. In the meantime, I've uploaded another abridged chapter to the Book Blog. Entering Europe now and things are becoming weirdly foreign. That's not a criticism, just a statement of fact ... you'll see.

Got to dash .... see you next week.

Post 252: Shiverless

The Aprilia Shiver 750GT is a beautiful looking bike. 95bhp on a fly-by-wire throttle and weighing little more than a Suzuki SV650, deep joy. The 850 Aprilia Mana, slightly less power than the Shiver but running through an automatic gearbox -CVT- Continuously Variable Transmission to be precise. I've never ridden a bike with an automatic gearbox, at least not one where my feet sit somewhere behind my arse. I was really looking forward to the whole experience. Perhaps I'd even become a convert? Unfortunately, I never got to find out if the Aprilia's beauty ran any deeper than their shiny paintwork. The week ahead was all nicely mapped out, the lovely Aprilia's awaited my attention in Peterborough and the Met Office were even promising me some decent weather. But, there was a problem. Aprilia's PR Company didn't like the cut of my insurance policy. That news came as something of a surprise, Harley, KTM, Honda, Ducati, Triumph and BMW all seem to think that the policy's just fine. Apparently Aprilia didn't like the clause in policy that excludes 'Racing'. 'Racing?' Me? I think they confuse me with others. Anyway, it's too late in the day to make alternative arrangements and there's no use in crying over lost V-Twins.

With my riding juices rising in anticipation of the Italians, there was nothing left to do but to ride the Tiger. And ride it I did. With the new front tyre, it's a totally different beast. It's fun again, it makes me smile. For no other reason than the fact that the road took me there, I ended up riding in London. A busman's holiday if ever there was. Nothing of any great consequence happened, I just rode and enjoyed. I like riding the Tiger but there's nothing quite like the experience that you have when riding a brand new bike, especially when somebody else is paying for any of your indiscretions. Thankfully, my Aprilia disappointment was short lived. They've lined up something even more appealing for me to ride. It's a bike that I've salivated over for quite some time and it's a bike that's certainly worthy of my drool. Hopefully this time my insurance policy will pass muster. It's got to happen soon. I feel like my Birthday's just been cancelled but they've given my an extra Christmas in way of compensation. Bring it on, I'm ready.

Post 251: The Next Chapters

Resting Actors and Movie Stars make it look so bloody difficult. Maybe that's just a "Hollywood" thing. Raising kids, paying a mortgage and working a job that you don't particularly enjoy, that's the really difficult stuff. By comparison, buggering-off on a motorbike is really quite easy. Pack your tent, kiss your loved ones, grab your passport, twist the throttle and go. It's simple, so lets not pretend that it's any more complicated than it really is. You probably don't need a specialist security instructor or SAS survival training before you depart. But, if it's a condition of your multi-million pound life insurance policy and somebody else is paying for it, then why not? It looks like a real giggle, so go for it. If you're very unlucky and somebody does point a gun at you, then I seriously doubt that a couple of hours spent with a pixel-faced man is going to be of any real help to you. When you're travelling, the guns only come out after dark, and after dark you're generally quite pissed. You probably wont remember what you've been advised to do. Besides, just how much training do you need to run away quickly, with or without overflowing underpants?

Riding around the world was a blast and writing the book was fun, but finding a publisher willing to take a risk with the book has been neither. I'd swear that the many rejection letters were all written by the same person. He "enjoyed" the words but had "no love for the subject", it wasn't "a work of commercial significance". Sure, we're in the middle of a deep recession, but I can't help thinking that perhaps he was just being polite. He suggested that I "develop the dangers", "raise the tension" and expand the "conflicts". All sound commercial advice I'm sure, but what happened happened, and what didn't didn't. "Chapter 29 .... the bloody Tiger refuses to start. That's not good, but the other news is even less agreeable. I've just been eaten by a gang of giant sea monkey's". No, it doesn't really work does it? The truth is, we didn't get shot or catch any wonderful tropical diseases. To the best of my knowledge, we weren't eaten or attacked by any wild animals and ignoring the possibility solo performances, there was certainly no sex. We left London in reasonable health and returned a few months later weighing slightly less, but in roughly the same condition. There was no serious crashing, the rivers that we forded were never raging and the Triumph Tigers were boringly reliable. Despite our best efforts, the bikes simply refused to break. No drama. "Plane lands safely at Heathrow".

So, my dreams of writing a best seller and buying the house next door to J. K. Rowling have been cruelly dashed. I didn't expect to make a fortune, large or small. I've seen the crowded shelves in Waterstones, the competition is fierce. Without exception, every book on every shelf seems to be written by a person who can actually spell, quite amazing. So, massive book sales aren't going to help me to make the money that I foolishly promised to raise for St Teresa's Hospice. I'll eventually reach the target, but I'll just have to do it slightly differently, or perhaps "By Any Means". Anyway, I've decided to publish and possibly be dammed, but unfortunately, the publisher will be me. Self-publishing, it's not the cheapest option. But, if I can sell one book a week, every week until my grandchildren have become grandparents, then I'll break into profit. Ha, that'll prove the doubting publishers wrong. Thankfully, just like the journey itself, I'm receiving an awful lot of help with the process - you know who you are, Thank You. It'll take a few weeks, which probably means a few months, but eventually there'll be a book, "Ashes to Boonville". It'll have words and pages and photographs and everything, just like a real book. In the meantime, I'm writing extracts from the various chapters onto my mirror Blog listed below. Maybe, just maybe, a few people might read it. Maybe, just maybe, they'll be inspired enough by the story to ignore the fun-sponges and set out on their own adventures. I hope so, because they wont regret it.

Anyway, I've got to go, I'm very busy. Busy in a relaxing sort of way. I've got a date with a couple of sexy Italian sisters, the "V" twins, they look quite hot. I'll be riding them for two weeks, but only one at a time, I'm not a gymnast. Also, I've bought a notebook in which to plan the next adventure. It's actually already planned, I just haven't written it down yet, but it shouldn't take me too long, it's a very small notebook.