Big Bike Licence: Part 4 – Module Two

Having passed my Mod 1 test I was back at the unit the following day to be “tortured” by Nick.

Day 1

It was another clear(ish), icy day with just a hint of fog thus taking the temperature down from a comfortable 1 deg C to a somewhat uncomfortable -1 deg C. We ran out of milk in the morning and I nearly froze walking the dog (she wasn’t that impressed by the whole idea either). I ended up grabbing breakfast from the corner shop on the way down the hill (way to be healthy) and making tea/coffee for Nick and Toby when I got in.

There were two very friendly gentlemen in the unit when I arrived being taken through their compulsory bike training by Mark while I shivered, made coffee and fretted about my Module Two test.

First task of the day (the tea making doesn’t really qualify) was to write a list of the things the examiner would be looking for on the board. While there’s a lot of individual tasks that make up the answer (and no the answer isn’t everything it fundamentally boils down to the following four aspects.

Your riding should be:

  • Safe: basically that all your checks are in place, that you are travelling at an appropriate speed for the road/conditions, that you’re in control of the bike, you know all the normal stuff.
  • in control so no unnecessary wobbling, no dragging your foot, no skidding and above all, no dropping the bike
  • don’t impact anybody you don’t pull out on anyone and make them slam their brakes on or take evasive action, you don’t indicate that you’re turning when you’re not, or not indicate when you are etc.
  • If you have done all of the above you will blend with the traffic

After it had warmed up a bit we went out for a ride. It wasn’t my greatest ride ever and certainly wasn’t helped by the fog we were plunged into which froze my hands and caused me to lose concentration while riding. Not great. I eventually pulled over and warmed my hands on Nick’s heated grips (I should have done it sooner).

Nick then spent the next bit of the ride breaking my ability to do junctions by picking up on all my faults and making me think about why I was making them. By the time we headed back to the unit for lunch I was thinking so much about how to do a junction I forgot about how to ride a bike…

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Ah warmth

While we were having some food and a warm up Nick ran through the stages of learning with me – it’s not a necessary part of the training but it was an interesting thing to do and I did feel a whole lot better about it for thinking things through in a variety of ways.

So the stages of learning:

  1. unconscious incompetence: you’ve never done it before therefore you can’t do it and you don’t know why you can’t do it
  2. conscious incompetence: you’re learning how to do it, you know you can’t do it and you know why
  3. conscious competence: you’re getting the hang of doing it but it’s taking a lot of thought and concentration to get it right.
  4. unconscious competence: you know how to do it and you don’t have to think about doing it right thus leaving your brain free to think about other things – like road signs and whether you left the kettle on. This doesn’t mean that you’re riding dangerously it just means you’re so used to it that you don’t have to focus so much on what you’re doing.

At lunch time I was very firmly in the conscious competence range with occasional dips into conscious incompetence. I knew what I was doing and I knew how to do it but I couldn’t necessarily do everything that was required of me all at the same time.

We went back out again after lunch and during the afternoon I moved further up the scale and managed to make it from conscious competence to moments of unconscious competence. Result, but not good enough for my test on Saturday so it’s back in for another half day possibly days training to take me up to a test standard.

Day 2

This morning I was joined by a guy who had passed his Mod 1 the same day as me and had managed to arrange his Mod 2 test for the following Monday. He’d booked the test himself in St Helens and despite doing his Mod 1 on a test centre bike had chosen to do his Mod 2 on his own bike. He’d booked in for half a days training and was using his own bike for this as well.

When we got on the bikes it became clear that he didn’t have any wing mirrors (I’m not sure if this proved to be a problem on test day or not) but it did mean that his checks were very important.

We spent the morning going through everything that we would be expected to do on the Mod 2 (with the codicil that I would be expected to get up to 60-65mph on the dual carriageway on my test whereas Toby kept us at about 50mph as there was a fair chance the 125 wouldn’t get that fast. When we stopped for a debrief the complaints started coming.

I had been leading for most of the morning and apparently I was using my breaks too much when I stopped at junctions and traffic lights. My response to this was that I probably wasn’t putting it on as hard as he thought I was and that possibly he should watch the gap rather than my break light. Apparently he was watching the gap. I know that the break light is extremely sensitive on the bike I was using as I had had to change my riding position because riding covering the break occasionally meant that my foot would catch the pedal and I’d put the break light on even though I wasn’t actually breaking.

I suggested he go in front for the rest of the ride and he pointed out to me that he didn’t have as much acceleration as I did therefore I wasn’t to complain when it took us a while to get up to speed – wasn’t planning on it. I’ve ridden a 125 for the last year and quite a lot of miles – I know what they can and can’t do.

We also practiced hill starts – the hill we were taken to for this excursive is supremely difficult particularly on a heavy, high bike that I’m not particularly used to. Doing it on a 125 would have been very easy but sadly I don’t have that option on my test. Toby pointed out that if I could do that one I would have no problems on my test as they wouldn’t pick anything that hard – but that there would be a hill start at some point.

I left the day – not exactly feeling confident that I would pass but knowing that I had done as much as I possibly could.

Test Day

The test was in St Helens which meant the three of us getting there early, the bikes being loaded into the van along with two of the students, and my being loaded onto the back of Degs bike. (Two instructors, three students and the van only has three seats.)

About 5 miles down the road I realised I’d forgotten my driving licence – this is a bit of a problem when it comes to doing a bike test. At the first available set of traffic lights I let Degs know and we pulled over so I could ring Skippy and get him to come to St Helens with it – cause you know, there’s nothing like getting the day off to a good start.

I then spent the rest of the ride consciously relaxing, moving with the bike and focusing on the fact that everything was as it would be by this point.

We arrived at the test centre an hour early, Skippy and my driving licence arrived about 10 minutes later.

The problem with waiting around is that it increases the chances of getting stressed so by the time I was actually due to go out on my test I was extremely wound up.

The test itself seemed to last no time at all. I got back to the test centre utterly convinced I’d failed, but I hadn’t – I’d passed. I’m still not sure how.

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Big Bike Licence – Part 2 – Assessment Day

Having passed our theory tests (and messed up doing both parts of our Practical tests prior to the rule change on 19th January) the only thing left to do was book ourselves in for some training on “big bikes”. We had by this point come to terms with the fact that we would not be doing our tests under the pre-19th January rules so we took ourselves over to [Cheshire Biker Training]( and booked an assessment day. While we were there we chatted about the new rules and what we’d have to do in order to take the big bike test. I wasn’t really thinking about it as the Direct Access Scheme (DAS) at this point but of course this is the route we are taking as we are starting the process before the rule change – after the rule change it’s only those of us lucky enough to be [over 24 who will have this option]( Everyone else will have to go through staged access meaning that they have to be at least 21 before they will be able to gain an unrestricted category A licence.

Once we’d booked ourselves in and looked at the bikes (I left wishing I hadn’t) the temperature proceeded to spend the next few days plummeting even further than it previously had. The day we booked they had cancelled 12 bike tests due to ice apparently. A kindly friend told me winter riding would make me a better rider than I would otherwise be… I looked at the ice on the ground, went “no, I don’t think so”, holed myself up in my nice warm boat and only ventured out to walk the dog. So much for getting back on a motorbike before the assessment day. We watched the weather with a level of trepidation, neither of us was particularly keen on riding on ice unnecessarily however we also didn’t want to put off staring to work our way through any longer than we already had. Besides I have that Virago to think about.

In the event the weather broke on the day of our training so we traipsed down the hill in full motorbike gear in heavy rain. It would be cold and wet all day but at least it wasn’t icy. We spent the morning out on 125cc motorbikes. The first part of the assessment was a gentle ride out to see how we did on bikes. Apparently we did ok. It was cold and wet so we headed back to the centre for a cup of tea and to talk about areas that needed improvement. Having defrosted slightly we were back out on the 125s to practice control techniques. This meant a lot of turning corners and unlearning a bad habits (in my case), I’ve done a lot of mileage in a short space of time with very little training and, while I ride well (or at least well enough to be put on a 500cc bike) I do have some “interesting” ways of doing things which may, or may not be the correct way of doing them. Having spent a lot of time on a push bike prior to learning to ride a motorbike, I rely quite a lot on natural balance which is fine on a push bike or a 125 but not so good on a much heavier 500. It was on this second trip out on a 125 that the driver of a skip lorry decided to pull out on me without actually looking to see if there were any vehicles behind him. I got quite a lot of praise for the way I dealt with it, to be fair I was going very slowly at the time and it’s not the first time someone’s jumped out on me. Plus I managed to avoid swearing at him either verbally or via gesticulation.

Once we got back this time we talked through the requirements for going out on the 500s. Scary. We’d had two instructors at all times during the day, though three in total as they were doing PPD (personal and professional development), we didn’t mind as it meant we got a variety of teaching techniques over the course of the day. That first ride on a 500 was a bit scary. I loved it but it was still scary. I don’t like going fast and I left still a little scared that the bike would fall over if I wasn’t careful. We rode out to a village, had a hot chocolate and then rode back to the centre for a cup of tea and a debrief. [Skippy]( led on the way out, and I led on the way back (one of my major concerns for the day was that I would struggle to hear the radios as I had problems on my CBT (Compulsory Bike Training) understanding what the instructor was saying however this time there were no problems at all). At times I managed to relax and just ride but some of the time I was focusing too much on the fact that I was riding an unfamiliar bike and fretting about it all going wrong.

Once we were most of the way back to the centre it nearly did all go wrong. We were turning right at a cross junction with traffic lights. The traffic coming towards us was on the same phase as us. When the lights changed the car turning across in front of me and I moved at the same time, this was fine and perfectly legal, we were clearing the junction, in fact it wouldn’t be worthy of a mention at all had a car not popped out from the one in front of me, I saw it heading towards me and just for a second I was convinced I was going underneath it. Fortunately I had the confidence of my convictions and got myself off the junction leaving my instructors and Skippy caught in the middle of the junction. We were less than two minutes ride from the centre and as it was double yellows the whole way round I headed back to the centre happy that they would follow me as soon as they could.

Despite that moment I then spent the whole evening being utterly jazzed that I’d been out on a 500. It was a really good feeling and I never wanted it to end. (That said I did get back quite wet and cold.) We promptly booked ourselves in for another days training some of which would, hopefully, be spent on the Mod 1 course.

the 500cc bikes we practiced on.