Big Bike Licence: Part 3 – Module One

Getting from the assessment day to passing my Module One test has been a bit of an ordeal to be honest a 500cc bike is bigger than anything I’ve ever ridden before, the acceleration is a touch scary and at times it really hasn’t felt like I was in control of the bike…

Day 1

It’s December, it’s cold, very very foggy and has intermittently been raining as though it were trying to make up for years of drought in a couple of hours. With this in mind, and having recently discovered just how scary riding in heavy fog can be I find myself obsessively checking the weather forecast. Funnily enough I’m not that happy to discover this:

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This was the last day Skippy and I did together and the first (and only) day I rode the blue bike. In theory Cheshire Biker Training have 3 identical CBF-500’s in reality they’re not quite the same. The bike I rode on my acclimatisation was different to the one I rode for the first day of the training and no where near as comfortable.

2012 12 27 22 05 28Having been enjoying it last time I came in, I found this day terrifying and I really didn’t feel like I was comfortable on the bike at all. We took a ride out in the morning and I crawled through a lot of fog on a bike that felt like it was riding me, rather than the other way round. It was cold, I couldn’t see very far ahead of me, my visor and my glasses were fogged up and I was riding a bike I was scared of – and boy could you tell by the way I was riding.

None the less we went over to the rugby club in the afternoon to have a play on the Module One test route (and the site), I couldn’t get the bike to do the simplest of things like slalom neatly or do a figure of eight and there was no way in hell I was going to try doing a turn in the road, let alone an emergency stop. No matter what I did, it didn’t feel comfortable and the more I did, the less comfortable it felt. I was cold, pissed off and close to quitting; believing there was no way I’d ever be able to ride a big bike.

None the less at the end of the day I book myself in for my Module 1 test (not that I’m a sucker for punishment or anything) and another couple of training days (this time in January). We then head off to Swindon for Christmas without the motorbike – thus meaning I’m unable to practice any of the skills I’ve learned over the day, not a great feeling.

Day 2

Despite my best intentions to go out on GLaDOS and practice we get back to discover that she has a flat battery and possibly an electrical fault. As we only get back a day before I’m due to go in for my next lesson there’s no way I’m going to get to go out, as it turns out, this was probably a good thing.

When I get to the unit, I make a cup of tea (this is the normal morning routine) and have a look at the bikes. As I’ve said I didn’t feel very comfortable on the blue bike, the seat felt very high and wide which I had somehow convinced myself was just in my imagination. In the cold light of morning however, I realise that it wasn’t and the seat on the blue bike really was different to the other two. With this in mind I ask Nick and Toby if I can ride one of the two silver bikes instead which appear to me to have more comfortable seats. Nick suggests that one of them would be better than the other as it has a slightly lower seat (which means I can actually reach the floor when sitting on it) and higher handlebars, both of these things change my riding position and mean that the bike feels better balanced to me.

As a result I have one of the best rides I’ve ever had in the morning. I feel in control of the bike, I’m starting to make progress and not be scared of the acceleration. I’m still a bit overwhelmed by having to learn how to ride a bigger bike and at the same time pay attention to learning how to ride in a different way to the way I have ridden before but it’s starting to feel more natural. I come to realise that I wasn’t using the gears properly when I was riding a 125, firstly because in comparison to the 500 they have naff all engine breaking and secondly because I have naturally good balance and I was using that to compensate for my lack of knowledge regarding correct use of gears and brakes.

By lunchtime I’m comfortable enough to go up to the Module 1 test site again and I spend the afternoon learning how to get the bike to slalom, figure of eight and turn in the road. By the end of the day I’m confident that I can do all of these manoeuvres, and I know full well that I am ready to move onto the speed work. It’s just me and the instructor on the site which is unusual but it does mean that both of us can focus. This is something I’m extremely grateful for, and probably made the difference between my passing my Module 1 and failing it.

At the beginning of the day Nick offers me a Module 2 test date that’s only 3 days after my Module 1. Initially I accept it, cautiously but I’m pleased to have it offered. He suggests I see how the day goes and give him an answer before I leave. It’s been such a good day that at the end of it I accept the Module 2 test date aware that if I fail the Module 1 I won’t have enough time to cancel the test and will therefore lose my £75. So no pressure.

Day 3

Booked deliberately with a day clear between it and the previous training session in case I should need it this day was entirely focused on the Module 1 test and was in fact the day before my test.

There were three of us training on the site, with two instructors Toby and Degs. Degs had brought the other two participants from a different training centre, while I rode up with Toby from the unit. Cheshire Biker Training and their sister riding school Stockport have exclusive access to the Module One test site in Macclesfield. It’s basically the rugby club car park with the course marked out on it but it does mean that anyone training with them has a natural advantage as they have then trained for a full day on the actual test site prior to doing their test (or in my case a day and a half).

Module 1 Test Site

We go through the aspects of the test in the order in which we will go through them on test day. First up is manual handling (not something I make a habit of doing). Even with my 125 I used to get on the damn thing and paddle her in preference to pushing her around – legs are stronger than arms after all. Anyway on test day you have to push your bike backwards out of one “parking bay” and then backwards into the other so that it’s pointing down the site. The shortest route between the two points is to push the bike and steer it at the same time but that hurt so much I nearly cried so Toby and Degs showed me a different technique instead which involved me pushing the bike out backwards in a straight line, turning it forwards and then pushing it into the other bay backwards in a straight line. Convoluted but easier to do and more sane than pushing the thing backwards. It’s a bit of an odd task if only because it’s highly unlikely I would ever bother to push a bike anywhere, that’s what the engine is for, and if I do have to push a bike I’m likely to paddle it backwards and push it forwards but still.

Next up was the slalom, figure of eight, slow ride in a straight line and U turn all of which I’d done before and only needed to tidy up (phew). Once we’d all done that it was on to the speed manoeuvres (but not at speed at least not initially). There are three laps to be done at speed:

    1. a sighting lap: showing that you can control the bike round in an arc and then stop in a controlled manner with your front wheel in between four cones.
    2. the emergency stop: following the same arc, passing through the speed trap at a minimum of 50kph (31mph) and stopping as quickly as possible following a signal from the examiner without skidding, overshooting or otherwise making a fool of yourself

the evasive manoeuvre: following the same arc, passing through the speed trap at a minimum of 50kph and swerving as though to avoid a vehicle backing into your path before regaining your original line and stopping in a controlled manner with your wheel between two cones

All of this must be done without:

  • putting your foot down when you’re not stopping
  • wobbling too badly
  • falling off
  • skidding
  • forgetting to do your checks before moving the bike
  • touching any of the cones with any part of yourself or the bike

You’re allowed 5 minors – skidding (providing you recover) and taking too long to stop on the emergency stop are minors, as is forgetting to do your checks (so technically if you forget all of them you could fail because of that). You can also get a minor for passing through the speed trap at 48 or 49kph during the emergency stop and the evasive manoeuvre.

Putting your foot down, falling off, skidding badly or touching any of the cones with anything is an instant fail.

By the end of the day (with quite a lot of encouragement from Degs and Toby) I was managing to do the speed exercises at somewhere between 48 and 55kph consistently. Keeping my hand away from the clutch during the cornering and as Degs put it “grabbing a handful” as I came out of the corner made a great difference to my ability to get up to the speeds required. I wouldn’t say I ended the day confident I’d pass but I was fairly sure it was as good as it was going to get at that point.

Test Day

I spend the time between my training and my test trying not to run through it in my head over and over again. I get myself completely wound up and stressed anyway. I don’t need to be at the unit until 1100 (my test is at 1235) so I spend the morning doing anything ANYTHING but think about the test. I end up walking down to the unit listening to Nine Inch Nails – Broken EP as close to full volume as I can physically manage. I’m calm by the time I reach the unit but not for long.

Toby and I ride out to the test centre where we meet Degs and the two young men who were training with me the day before. Although when I originally booked the test it was the last one of the day somehow I’ve been moved forward so that out of our little group I am in fact the first one to go through…

Waiting at the test site is nerve wracking to say the least. It’s set out exactly as it was the day before except that where we had little plastic bubbles there were now foot high cones, and they were in the correct colours as well rather than being made up from the colours that were available. There are two additions however, a bright orange fence separating the waiting area from the testing area and a gentleman in a HiVis jacket with a clipboard. It is the presence of this man that makes the site particularly scary.

Being first had its advantages, it meant that I didn’t have to wait around for long and at least I got it over and done with but knowing the others were there and watching did make it slightly scarier.

The manual handling was as difficult as I expected it to be. The slalom, figure of eight, slow ride and U turn went ok. I thought I’d messed up the U turn and not ended it in the right place or in a controlled enough manner but the only criticism I got for the slow exercises was that my shoulder check and U turn were too far apart – I can live with that.

The sighting round went fine, the examiner waits by the box and goes to check his equipment. It seems to take an inordinately long time for him to come back again and ask you to turn your bike round.

2013 01 09 19 48 39Next comes the emergency stop, it is here that Deg’s suggestion to “grab a handful” as I come out of the bend resulted in an emergency stop that caused me to think I’d failed. I watched the examiner as I came out of the speed trap and as his hand went up I slammed on the anchors. The beginning of the brake went fine, but there was a slight skid in the middle, I was never in any danger of coming off or even wobbling significantly, suddenly there was grip again and I was stopped. Apparently Toby was sure I was done at this point but the examiner merely checked the speed trap and asked me to turn round.

I do the same again but this time nipping through the avoidance cones and stop with my front wheel in the right place. I’m utterly convinced I’ve failed. The examiner allows me off the test site and we walk up to the office.

I’ve passed.

My second minor is for revving while coming to a halt during the emergency stop. That’s it. And my speeds for the manoeuvres? The emergency stop was was done at 62kph (38mph) and the evasive manoeuvre was done from 58kph (36mph). Slightly scary. Yes, I still blame Degs.

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My Module 1 Pass Certificate and a well deserved pint.

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