Congratulations: your new bike licence has just opened up a vast new world of excitement and opportunity. Here’s a few suggestions of what you can do next…
Go touring -
Or if you think ‘touring’ sounds a bit fuddy-duddy, how about you just go for a long ride instead? Or have an adventure? It’s all the same thing: using your bike for something other than commuting.
Every issue of RiDE has specific suggestions of good routes close to home and further afield, many of them also to be found on the Routes section of our website at www.ride.co.uk. But there really are no rules about this: just get on your bike with an open mind and a couple of days to call your own. For many, doing it with a like-minded mate more than doubles the pleasure.
If you want to try an organised trip, HC Travel (www.hctravel.com),
World of BMW (www.bmw-motorrad.co.uk/world-of-bmw) and MCi Tours (www.mcitours.com) do a variety of escorted trips.
Go on a trackday -
Some riders live for trackdays. Some do the odd one to let off some steam, or to explore their bike in a way you can’t on the road. Others aren’t so keen. But you won’t know which camp you fall into until you’ve tried a trackday for yourself.
The initial attraction isn’t obscure: you can go really fast without worrying about potholes, speed cameras and oncoming traffic. And
then you find that you’re more in tune with your bike, your riding technique is improving, your confidence increasing, and you’re
becoming both smoother and faster. Probably.
Bike magazine promotes trackdays strictly for road bikes, with no race bikes or trackday specials allowed, under the name Reclaim Our
Tracks (www.msvtrackdays.com). No Limits (nolimitstrackdays.com) and Focused Events (www.focusedevents.com) both organise a big
variety of trackdays in the UK and abroad, and can point you towards a day that’s suited to your location and level of ability.
Get some advanced training -
It’s a cliché but it’s true: it’s only after you’ve passed your test and done a few thousand miles that you learn to ride. Left to your own devices, you’ll probably make erratic progress at best. But get expert help and you’ll find you’re safer, smoother, more relaxed and having more fun.
There are many options for road riders – generally on the public road, but in some cases advanced road training is done on a circuit too.
Have a look at these to start with: www.circuitbasedtraining.co.uk, www.superbikeshcool.co.uk, www.absoluteridertraining.co.uk.
Hang out with other bikers -
For generations, certain cafés have been a natural meeting point for bikers, as well as an opportunity to thaw out. Not all biker meeting points are cafes, but cafes have the great advantage of always being there, so at least you can have a sarnie and a brew even if you’ve got the time or date of the meeting completely wrong. What makes a café a biker café? Decent grub, a parking area and a relaxed attitude to leaving wet riding gear strewn over the furniture are all important.
The biker café is like the full-blown version of the cameraderie you experience with the nod from the biker riding in the opposite direction, or the “nice bike, mate” you hear from the other side of the petrol pumps. It the most accepting, accessible, welcoming environment imaginable. Nobody cares what you do for a living or which team you support. You ride a bike and that’s enough.
Our favourites include the Ace in London, Squires in West Yorkshire, Wessons in East Sussex, the Green Welly in Perthshire, the Ponderosa on the Horseshoe Pass, Ryka’s on Box Hill, Jack’s Hill near Towcester…
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1. Be warm - If you’re warm you’ll be more comfy, less distracted, and better able to enjoy the ride. Being warm depends on many things, but starts with good base layers.
2. Be safe - Body armour, sturdy boots and reinforced gloves are all important, but the single most critical item is a decent helmet. The SHARP ratings scheme (sharp.direct.gov.uk) offers a lot of good advice, but there’s no substitute for good fit – it’s vital to try a helmet on.
3. Take care of your extremities - Like your head, your feet and hands need to be kept safe in a crash as well as warm and dry on every ride. Proper boots and gloves for riding are a world apart from civilian gear. With gloves in particular, finding the right fit can be tricky – you can try on a dozen pairs and still not be entirely happy, but the right ones are out there somewhere. It’s worth the effort.
4. There’s no substitute for proper gear - The effectiveness of textile riding gear has improved beyond recognition in recent years. The best gear keeps the wind and rain at bay without making you sweaty, has top-notch armour for the back, elbows, shoulders, knees and hips, and comes close to leather in saving your skin if you go sliding down the road.
5 Keep it real - In search of ultimate protection, or ultimate weatherproofing, or ultimate fit, or a neat bit of styling, some bike kit
loses sight of the need to be worn in the real world, on real roads, by real people. People with door keys, and wallets and phones. For some the answer is a bum bag, tankbag or rucksack, but one simple item of clothing can multi-task very effectively.
6 Plug the gaps - The best jacket in the world is useless if wind and rain are getting in at the waist, cuffs or collar. Much of this is simply a matter of taking the time to do everything up properly – many suits come with a zip to attach jacket to trousers – but the weak link is often the neck, in the gap between jacket and lid.
"Is that all there is to it?” Not words you would normally expect to hear from a learner on their very first day of training. Today Aimee Fuller is showing that the seemingly mountainous challenge of getting her bike licence isn’t half as huge as it might first appear.
But if anyone knows about mountainous challenges, it’s Aimee. A professional snowboarder who represented Great Britain at the 2014 Winter Olympics, she’s also the first female to land a double backflip in competition. When you’ve done that, riding round some cones in an industrial estate probably doesn’t seem too daunting.
Last year 22-year-old Aimee passed her CBT, but she hasn’t ridden since. Today she’s at the Phillip McCallen Training Academy in Lisburn, Northern Ireland, to start an intensive week-long course that will, she hopes, conclude with her earning an A2 licence. But the training doesn’t appear to be quite as intense as she was expecting. After she quickly demonstrates her proficiency on a KTM 125
Duke, instructor Paul upgrades her to the 390 model. While it’s physically the same size, the 390 Duke has almost three times the 125’s power and a far sharper throttle response.
But Aimee doesn’t seem nervous. She hops on, rockets off and is instantly doing perfectly balanced U-turns, slaloms and figure-of-eights fast and smooth enough to shame most experienced riders.
Aimee actually has some two-wheeled experience quietly hidden up her Alpinestars jacket’s sleeves. Though this is only her second day on a road bike, she rode motocross as a child. Her first time on a bike was at just six years old. “It was a little 50cc KTM,” she says. “I can remember always being desperate to ride it round the garden. I was so excited, I’d sit there with my helmet until
Dad would come home from work and let me go out on it.” But the experience isn’t a massive help when it comes to earning her road licence: “I stopped riding when I was 15 or 16 and I’ve probably picked up lots of bad habits from motocross,” she says. “If I had no bike experience at all, today would probably be easier.”
While her clutch and throttle control are evidently well drilled, Aimee has to learn how to ride the way her examiner will expect. This means knowing which shoulder to check first before setting off; which order to put her feet down when she stops; and even the correct way to turn the engine off. Unlearning what she’s already used to is probably harder than learning it in the first place.
While trying to remember all that, Aimee is also being familiarised with the different stages of her practical tests. Tomorrow she’ll face Module 1, also known as the “off-road” section. Sadly, it’s a different kind of off-road to what Aimee is used to. Here, off-road simply means away from the public highway, on a safe, purpose-built testing area. Aimee will be asked to demonstrate slow-riding skills, including U-turns, swerves to avoid hazards, and emergency stops. Today she’s just been
shown the procedures she’ll be expected to perform and
passes the lot with ease. “I thought there was going to be
more to it,” she smiles. “It’s a pleasant surprise.”
If anything, she’s shown competence far above and beyond what’ll be expected of her. Her slalom runs are faultless, despite instructor Paul having secretly set the marker cones closer than she’ll face on the real test. She charges confidently to almost 40mph during the hazard avoidance test, despite only needing to reach 32mph.
“That might be a record,” laughs Paul.
At lunch Aimee’s 390 is replaced by a 690 Duke. Although the 390 Duke can be made A2-licence compliant, in a peculiar twist of bureaucracy it isn’t suitable to actually take the practical tests on. Such bikes need to have an engine capacity of at least 395cc, to prove a rider really can manage a big bike. Although a 690 Duke makes too much power to be A2-approved as standard, it can
quickly be tamed from its regular 67bhp to the required 47bhp with a simple engine remap. There’s no messing about with fiddly restrictor kits, washers in the exhaust or awkward throttle plates: a technician simply plugs the bike into a computer, uploads the reduced-power 47bhp map, and it’s ready to ride.
Just hours after starting on a 125cc machine this morning, Aimee climbs on the 690 Duke. Despite being only 5ft 4in tall, she handles the far larger 690 with a calm confidence. She’s asked to repeat all the tests and routines she completed on the 390 this morning. Again, her emergency stop is perfect. Her hazard-avoidance swerve is performed in complete control. And her low-speed slaloms and U-turns are incredible.
Well, apart from one gentle topple over. The 125 and 390 machines are so low-geared that Aimee can control her speed by throttle finesse alone, with little need to control the clutch. On the taller-geared 690, a faster idle speed means Aimee has to slip the clutch more. And with the clutch lever set a little too far out for her hand, one momentary error – after hours of flawless riding without so much as a tentative foot down – sees the 690 stall, stop, and roll gently over onto its side.
A learner rider’s first tumble is a pivotal moment. Some respond by walking away from the bike, both physically and mentally. Aimee doesn’t. Her attitude, drive and determination are clear by the way she’s already trying to haul the KTM upright before instructor Paul reaches her. After he demonstrates the correct technique for picking a bike up, then adjusts the clutch lever’s span to solve the problem, Aimee’s straight back on, completely unfazed. But then if falling off was a problem for Aimee, she probably wouldn’t be doing backflips on snow…
During a break Aimee explains the similarities between snowboarding and motocross. “In motocross you’ve got take-offs and landings, just as in snowboarding,” she says. “You position yourself very similarly in the air too, stabilise yourself in the same way with your core.” Anything else? “We wear back protectors in snowboarding too, though the rest of the kit is lot baggier than this set of leathers.”
With snowboarding and motocross on her CV, is she a bit of a thrill-seeker? “I’ve done bungee jumping, diving and parachuting,” she smiles. “But I wouldn’t ride a horse. It might buck you off and you can’t control it. When I do a backflip, it’s a calculated risk. People think I just go for it, but I assess the jump first.”
So is the road licence another opportunity to expand her thrill-seeking horizons? “No, it’s something different for me. I’m not into bikes to go fast – that’s pretty stupid on the road. It’s just a cool way to get around. I sold my car last winter and I think a bike would be more cost-effective. “Plus, I’m planning a trip this summer with a friend of mine who also rides. We want to go riding in Norway, see the glaciers and fjords, go snowboarding and surfing too. I love travelling, and riding a bike is a new way to experience
things and see different places. Riding a bike can take you to places you maybe wouldn’t go to in a car.”
In the afternoon Paul takes Aimee out onto the roads around Lisburn for some further instruction. Just as with her riding this morning, she looks every bit the old hand. She even pulls a few tricks for the camera, charging through deep standing water while stood up on the pegs, then with her legs sticking out. Best not let the examiner see that later in the week…
Sure enough, the next day Aimee aces her Module 1 test, not even picking up a single minor fault on her scorecard. And two days after that, she completes the on-road Module 2 assessment as well. With desire, confidence and the right attitude (as well as some self-evident natural talent), Aimee’s achieved her A2 licence in just five riding days, allowing her to tear up her
L-plates and ride a 47bhp bike. Next step, Norway…