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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.

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