Car, Plane and now a Bike
I recently decided to take on a new challenge – to learn to ride a motorbike. Having experienced the thrill of two wheels on various overseas holidays, I was keen to get a licence and to do it legally! There were only so many times that the police in Thailand were going to believe that I was allowed to ride a motorcycle, despite my licence saying otherwise.
Of the half a dozen or so training providers that were contacted, one stood out more than the others – the reply was quick, the service was friendly and, best of all, the online reviews were great. Previous customers unanimously agreed that this particular school was excellent.
My decision was made and it was the Farnborough/Mytchett based Excelerate Motorcycle Training that would take me through my Direct Access training. Being over the age of 24, I was able to undergo some intensive training and then take two practical tests, upon completion of which would get me an unrestricted motorcycle licence.
Before searching for training providers, I completed my theory test, which made me feel 17 all over again. The theory test comprised a 50-question multiple choice test (with four options every time) and a hazard perception test where during 14 short video clips, you must click on the mouse when you spot a developing hazard. There are no end of apps and computer test software to prepare you for both parts of the test and it is worth investing in at least one, even if the test itself is pretty much a case of using your common sense.
Some of the questions are so unbelievably daft that if any driver or rider should answer them incorrectly, they should never be unleashed on the roads. I couldn’t help but laugh at one or two of them. The same was the case with very obviously set-up hazard perception scenarios e.g. a woman who, without looking, very quickly walks into the road with a pushchair. This part of the test doesn’t require any preparation at all. Just imagine yourself driving along and click as soon as you spot something that will require you to change direction (or swerve) or adjust your speed. It’s typically vehicles that pull out in front of you, car doors opening, idiotic pedestrians who cross the road without looking and animals in the road e.g. sheep.
Diana at Excelerate Motorcycle Training tailored a training package to suit my needs and scheduled my training mostly at weekends, allowing me to learn without having to take too much time off of work. With no experience at all on a geared motorcycle, she suggested that I attend a 90-minute induction one Friday afternoon before cracking on with the CBT (Compulsory Basic Training) that same Sunday. The induction took place in the Mytchett Community Centre car park and allowed plenty of room to ride around and get a feel for the Yamaha YBR125 I was riding.
The Compulsory Basic Training a couple of days later was delivered by Nikos and Adrian, again in the community centre car park, and later on the roads. There were three students and we spent some time talking about safety and rules of the road before weaving in and out of cones, understanding positioning on the road, pulling off, turning etc. The training finished with a two hour road ride, which I really enjoyed.
The thought of riding around for up to two years on a 125CC motorcycle with ‘L’ plates had no appeal at all so I returned a couple of weeks later for the Direct Access module 1 and module 2 training, which was all delivered by Sofia and on a bigger and more powerful Honda CBF600. It took place over two consecutive weekends (9.00am to 3.00pm) and was out on the road or at the Farnborough test centre. Excelerate is one of few schools that has access to the test centre every weekend so being able to practice in the actual test environment was great.
The module 1 test is very short (not more than 10-15 minutes) and it takes place on a large area of tar-mac at the test centre itself. At first glance, it’s all very confusing, what with coloured cones dotted all over the place. Candidates are tested on:
- Moving a parked bike from one bay to another
- Slalom (weaving in and out of cones)
- Figure of eight
- Slow riding (riding a very short distance at walking speed)
- Turn in the road (or U-turn)
- Controlled stop (and cornering)
- Emergency stop travelling no less than 50km/h
- Collision avoidance at no less than 50kn/h
Just two days before my module one test, I struggled enormously with the turn in the road. My first three or four were bad, with me either crossing the white line or putting my foot on the floor – both faults resulting in an automatic fail. Travelling too slowly and over-turning on one attempt, my foot hit the floor and so did the bike a couple of seconds later.
On the morning of the module one test, I was taken to a large car park and Sofia laid out a number of cones, allowing me to get in some last minute practice. Thankfully, things here went much better and I went along to my test feeling much more confident.
The module one test was passed first time.
Just nine days later, I was back at the test centre for my module two test, which lasts up to 45 minutes. This is an on-the-road test, where candidates need to demonstrate that they can ride safely – controlling the bike, understanding road signs and adhering to speed limits. The practical test is preceded by a couple of ‘show me, tell me’ questions and they are all taken from a set list, so with even just a few minutes of study, you can’t go wrong here. I was asked to show how the horn worked and what adjustments would need to be made to the bike if ever I was to carry a passenger.
Thankfully, the module two test was passed first time as well, albeit with a handful of minors. It really was the most satisfying feeling and I was, for the first time, allowed to ride back to the community centre without the radio plugged in. I was finally deemed competent enough to ride without supervision.
Excelerate is definitely not a school that just gets you through the training before sending you on your way. Even on returning to the community centre, Nikos talked at length about how can I be safe on the road and invited me to call if I had any questions at all, whether a question about a bike, problems experienced on the road etc. Quality of training and service here is faultless.
For anybody else considering motorcycle training, there really is nowhere else to go. Forget the schools that teach you test routes and just enough skills to scrape through a test and instead stick to one that teaches you absolutely everything needed to ensure a safe road-riding experience every time.
Direct Access is, in my opinion, the best way to train. Everything happens so quickly and you are tested whilst everything is fresh in your head – both the theory and practical side of things. It’s also a really cost effective way of training, just like an intensive driving course. My training was spread over a very short space of time:
- Theory Test – Tuesday 24 June [Pass – Theory Test 49/50, Hazard Perception 56/75]
- Induction – Friday 4 July
- Compulsory Basic Training – Sunday 6 July
- Module 1, Day 1 – Saturday 19 July
- Module 1, Day 2 – Sunday 20 July
- Module 2, Day 1 – Saturday 26 July
- Module 2, Day 2 – Sunday 27 July
- Module 1 Test – Tuesday 5 August [Pass – 2 Minors]
- Module 2 Test – Thursday 14 August [Pass – 5 Minors]
On my first day off of work after passing the test, I went out shopping for some wheels of my own – first visiting Farnborough and then Bordon. At Haslemere Motorcycles, I spotted a nice shiny Yamaha XJ6N amongst the many used bikes on offer and I knew straight away that I wanted it. Many reviewers say this particular model is a ‘good first big bike’ and it was the very one I had been after since the first day of training. Before I knew it, my deposit was paid and the bike had a ‘sold’ sign dangling from the handlebar.
I am looking forward to taking delivery of the bike on Saturday 23 August and enjoying the bank holiday weekend on the road.