Wednesday, 7 November 2007

CBT Continued

Where was I?

Ah yes - driving in circles and stopping. Well, I got the hang of that pretty quickly so we moved on to doing figures of eight and slalem through cones, which I found very hard! Moving slowly with control is incredibly wobble-making, and I'm pretty sure there were only a few occasions I managed to do it without putting my foot down, and even fewer where I didn't miss out a slalem cone. I was starting to feel a tiny bit like a 'girlie', which irritated me no end - until I realised my partner in motorbike education was having equal trouble, plus he was still struggling to pull out without stalling - so I felt a little better.

Once 'Tache-man was content we'd managed to grasp some semblance of control, we moved on to the gears - building speed, changing up to second and even third if we had time, then down again to stop. I'm afraid I found this incredibly frustrating - partly because my big-toed walking boots were the least tactile things in the world, but mostly because my brain was now starting to overload with information: right hand accelerate, right foot brake, left hand clutch, left foot gears - down for first, gentle tap up for neutral, firm tap up for second, then up for third, fourth and fifth (not that we got anywhere near 4th or 5th) and down again. I found myself slightly flustered by the whole process and wasn't all that comfortable that I'd grasped it properly before we moved on again. This time, Shaz was far ahead of me, changing gears smoothly, coming to a stop ... then stalling as he drew out again! Ha ha ...

Having 'mastered' the gears, we were then giving a brief rundown of the front and back brakes. Unlike on a bicycle you're supposed to use your front brakes a lot, applying them just a fraction of a second before the back brake in order to come to a smooth and efficient stop. We were drilled on this, then sent off in circles in preparation for an emergency stop - which involved braking, then checking over both shoulders before wheeling safely to the side of the 'road'. This I found relatively straightforward, and after a couple of goes I was pretty confident that, if I were to run over any small children, it would be through choice and not lack of ability.

We also practiced applying the brake at the right time in order to come to a stop at the right place, rather than ten feet away from the junction or, worse, ten feet after it and under the wheels of an oncoming HGV.

Next up - indicators and observation. We learned to check our mirrors, over our right shoulders, click the indicator on with our left thumb, do a 'life saver' check over the turning shoulder, and turn, cancelling the indicator. Again, I was pretty comfortable with this, but Shaz kept hitting the poxy horn, making me think he was about to go into the back of me which had my nerves in rags. By this stage I was also starving hungry having not had any breakfast, and my brain was starting to jellify. But we had one more discipline left to learn before stopping for a quick lunch.

Because the training ground is on both a hideously busy road and a hill, we had to learn hill starts. I wasn't particularly worried. When I learned a hill start in a car I got it first time and, to my knowledge, have never stalled on a hill, ever. As I didn't have any real problems pulling out on a bike, I didn't see why I couldn't grasp the hill start with flair and panache.

Poor Shaz, I thought to myself, he's going to have real problems here.

Off we went, with Shaz first up to try the hill start. We found the biting point, and while I waited, Shaz pulled smoothly out and headed off, neat as you like. Superb, I thought, well done Shaz!

Confidently I set off after him - and stalled. I quickly started up again, found the biting point, pulled out - and stalled.

Yes, to my chagrin, the hill start utterly screwed me over. I was embarrassingly bad at it, and a disgrace to my sex. By the time I'd managed it a couple of times I was swearing and spitting into my helmet, frustrated and flustered. I knew that, after lunch, we'd be doing our on-road driving, and it was now looming like a threat rather than a pleasure. Hiccupping on the very first hill and getting hit by some Dundonian wifie in a Volvo seemed a very possibly fate. When we at last broke for lunch I was very uncomfortable, and hoped very much we'd have a bit more practice at it before leaving the centre.

Lunch was a very unpleasant affair. Fisher had sweetly made me a lovely picnic, but I was now too tense to do anything other than wolf my egg sarnie while fetching forgotten cash to actually pay for my lesson. At least the car was warm! I'd not noticed how very cold it was while on the bike, but the moment we stopped I felt the chill to the roots of my boots.

After picking up the cash, I took my apple and coke into the 'office' - which is an old shipping container with a camping loo and a couple of chairs in it. There, waiting to go through Element D (Practical on Road Training) with us, was Crazy H - a chatty, funny, short and stocky Dundonian lassie with plum-coloured hair. Element D is classroom (or 'unheated shipping container') based and lasts about 45 minutes. Half an hour into it, Shaz and I were sitting side by side in identical attitudes of frozen misery - at which Crazy H broke off her morale boosting story of 'How I Got A Metal Pin In My Leg And How It Could Easily Happen To You' to ask if we wouldn't like the heater on.

Into the stunned silence I asked how much longer there was to go, and was told 'about 20 minutes.' As politely as we could, Shaz and I said yes, we would very much like the heater on.

"I wouldae axed sooner, ainly I didnae want yiz fallin' asleep on me," Crazy H laughed, and it was all I could do not to warm myself by leaping for her throat and giving her a good going over.

20 minutes later, only slightly warmed by the ancient gas heater, we were back outside and 'ready' to embark on our On Road Riding - but not before, thank God, we tried some more hill starts. These I managed ok, only stalling once (maybe twice?) but feeling much more confident by the time I actually had to pull out onto the main road of hideous traffic. And when it came to it, I did it without stalling and we were off!

I'd been terrified that we were going to go up and challenge the evil roundabout onto the Kingsway, but luckily Crazy H reassured me we wouldn't. Considering it's a mess of traffic snarling from every direction, with four exits, two lanes - and all perched on a hill I was considerably relieved, and the world seemed immediately rosier.

Instead we took an earlier, much smaller roundabout and went to a quiet-ish residential area. It was just in time for the school run, but on the whole we were undisturbed by much traffic, and were able to practice U-turns, emergency stops, junctions, signalling, observation, pulling in and everything we'd learned on the training ground.

Naturally, it all went out of the window for me the more we did it. I started ok, but soon was getting flustered as junction after junction approached, gear changes were needed, braking applied, signals remembered ... all with the threat of cars sending you to happy hunting grounds. (Crazy H's parting words were "just remember - all drivers are morons!" I had to calm myself down by remembering the words my mother used when she taught me to drive: "Always be vigilant, always be ready for an idiot - but remember, people don't actually want to hit you." I find this better advice than scaring the bejaysus out of you by all but convincing you of imminent death). Anyway, we did loads of junctions because both Shaz and I were shit at them. I'm pretty sure it would be easier if you knew where you were going and could prepare mentally without having to wait for instruction - no matter how efficiently applied. I seem to need a lot of time to think at the moment - something that will change with practice, but is quite nerve wracking at the time.

My clutch and throttle control were a bit suspect, as were Shaz's, but my gear changing was bad and I was quite slow in comparison to Shaz. I I found leading much easier than following, and it was interesting that, when I led, I remembered to switch off signals while Shaz forgot. Then, when Shaz led, I started forgetting. Forgetting signals is an instant test failure, so it was a big deal.

Eventually, 'Tache-man was content enough with our progress to lead us out into suburbia. And this is where the fun really started!

We headed out onto the A92 towards Arbroath, taking in a couple of nasty roundabouts, and I was starting to relax into it and enjoy myself. When we went off onto quieter, country roads and picked up some speed, I actually gave a brief 'woo hooooo!' I gunned the engine and set off to reach 50mph for the first time - and encountered the Biker's Friend: the wind. It buffetted me head on, not only challenging my confidence in my balance but chilling me to the bones of my bones. I dropped back to the 40mph mark where I was less assaulted, but by God it was cold! Nevertheless, it was all starting to become incredibly enjoyable.

We pootled through some suburbs of Dundee in the gathering darkness, and headed into Broughty Ferry to do more junctions. By the time we actually got there it was full-on night driving, and full-on rush hour, so it was definitely good practice! After touring the streets of BF, getting the full Tayside wind broadside and checking out the new High Street (very posh) we headed for home.

I managed to miss the centre's turning first time round, which was a bit embarrassing as I was leading, so took Shaz with me, but second time was a charm - and we were back, alive, well, and with the body temperature of Greenland. As I hopped off my lovely bike, the first thing I noticed was that I was seriously aching, like I'd done a proper workout in the gym, or, more accurately, like I'd gone for a long hack for the first time in years. Then I thought about it, and realised that, yes, on many occasions I'd instinctively gripped the bike's body with my thighs as if it were, indeed, a horse. Aside from this novelty, my hands were aching from holding the handlbars with nervous tension. It felt like I'd been on the climbing wall. My back and shoulders also ached a little, probably both from the riding position and the cold, which reminded me of swimming.

So, in conclsion, riding a motorcycle leaves you feeling like you've ridden a horse to a climbing centre, scaled a couple of walls, then gone for a swim in a glacial lake.

There was just one more thing to do: get assessed. Shaz and I were similar, in that 'Tache-man said we both of us 'struggled' a bit. That's probably fair enough. I wouldn't say I took to it like a duck to water. Still, on the final assessment, there were 19 points of assessment, from throttle control to overall ability, and I got ticks in the A column for 14 of them, and 5 ticks in the B. Unfortunately, I don't really know what the A and B columns mean (anyone reading this who does, please drop me a line), so I'm presuming 'A' means you'd pass in test conditions, and 'B' means you wouldn't. I got Bs in throttle and clutch control, use of gears, moving off/pulling in, and use of signals. (Sorry readers - this is dull, but I want to keep a record here in case I lose the bit of paper and forget what I need to practice).

So, did I enjoy my CBT?

To be honest - not really. It was a long, 9 1/2 hour day, full of anxiety, frustration, and occasional bouts of extraordinary tedium. Add a cold, blustery wind into the mix and you're talking proper discomfort. But am I glad I did it?

You betcha!

For half an hour or so I really relaxed into the ride, and then it was fantastic. The sensation of speed, even at 30mph, is exhilarating. Yes, the city is tricky and feels unsafe, but riding a motorbike is fun. I'm going to take a day or two and let everything sink in, then go bike shopping. I can't wait to get myself a little 125cc and start practicing all the things I was shit at.