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.

2013 01 12 14 35 30

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:

2012 12 18 08 47 50

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.

Big Bike Licence: Part 1

2012 09 15 12 03 04
Shiny new big bike, with optional lurcher.

Today I did my bike theory test. I passed. I now have two years to get my grown up bike licence.

Except that I don’t. I have a motorbike that I can’t ride stored securely in a friends garage waiting for me to pass my test. It’s a nice bike, a perfect first bike after test in fact. That is, if the test you do is the current A2 – restricted to 33 brake horse power for two years then ride what ever you like.

Unfortunately, because I am a pessimist I haven’t booked my practical A2 test yet. There is now, an 8 week (minimum) waiting list at all of the test centres I could possibly manage to get to (including some that aren’t in the same area of the country as me. This meand that I’m going to have to take the Mod 2 of my test under the new rules, this is entirely my own fault for procrastinating so I’m not blaming anyone but it is difficult to find information about the new rules. At least, I found it a touch counter intuitive.The upshot of my search is that I will have to do my Module One test on a category A bike in order to get a full bike licence. If I do my Module One on a bike which is currently suitable for A2 I will only get an A1 licence which means that my beautiful bike will be spending a few more years in my friends garage while I gain experience and then take another practical test.

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Slightly overloaded 125 (everything is secure though).
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Being rescued after I hit the deck in North Wales … not a good day.

If you’re interested there is a table showing which sub-category of motorcycle you’ll need to use for your Mod 2 if you do your Mod 1 under the old rules and here are the specifics of the new rules relating to riders who pass their tests on or after 19 January 2013.

It all seems a bit odd to me, although it does also seem to be a tidying up of the rules. Each category goes on from the one below and you have to be over 24 to ride a big bike at all.

Those who know me via twitter (and who happened to be around at the appropriate moments), will know I’ve taken a couple of quite nasty slides across the black-top already so the prospect of having to do my test on a big bike doesn’t fill me with glee. On the other hand it will probably make me a much better rider than I would otherwise have been.

Here’s to being able to collect my bike as soon as possible. Though hopefully, not by van.

If you are looking to do a practical test, there’s a list of national test centres and the approximate waiting times available here, but only between 0600 and 2340 (I have no idea why, maybe they think the internet gets turned off at night).


I have been down to Cheshire Biker Training who were recommended to me by the local bike shop. We talked the options through, and, as I can’t see any advantages to doing a medium bike licence (the new A2) I have booked myself in for an assessment day. So, on Friday 14th December I get to go down to the bike centre and show them that I can ride a 125. Once they’re happy that I can do that they’re going to put me on a big bike (…) and teach me how to ride all over again. Depending on how well I do, they’ll work out how much training I need to go through my Mod 1 and Mod 2 tests (I only pay for the training I receive). Here’s hoping I don’t make a complete fool of myself.