With the ink still wet on my CBT certificate, my DAS instructor Ian swapped the Honda CB125F I'd been using for a larger BMW F700GS. It's a standard model apart from I've gone for the lower-seat option. I guess I'm quite tall for a girl, but liked the way it made it easier to get a foot on the ground. It felt a lot more stable and smoother, both on and off the throttle, than the smaller bike.
The course I'm doing is a five-day DAS course with BMW Rider Training in Royston, Hertfordshire. Chief instructor Ian Biederman took into account how well I'd got on during my CBT, and the fact I'm already a car driver, and therefore didn't need as much time as some learners do on roadcraft and the rules of the road.
The week was planned as thus: Monday and Tuesday we were to do a fair bit of road riding, but with the focus very much on the Module 1 test booked for the Wednesday. Then of Thursday we were going to concentrate on the road riding and head to Bedford where the test centre was to get to know the area a bit - although of course, we had no idea which test route would be chosen on the day. There was also to be plenty of work on the training pad and around the actual test centre. This approach really helped my confidence, as going to the test centre not just to see it, but to also have a practice on the actual test pad made life immeasurably easier, partly because the area they use at the test centre is about double the size of the pad we'd practised on. We also got to see someone else do their test, so the swerve test suddenly felt less scary too.
Module 1 is mostly about establishing that the rider can control the machine. You start by showing you can get the bike on and off its stand and that you can push it about, as though getting it out of the garage. During training I just kept pushing the bike around every time we stopped to get used to it. Ian showed me how for someone 'a bit smaller than the average biker', how I could lean it on my thigh, and even though I practised it a lot it was still the part I was most dreading.
Then you start the bike, put it in gear and ride in a slalom through some cones, into a figure of eight, until the examiner tells you to stop. Going into the figure of eight is just a continuation of the slalom, but you need to go wide to give yourself enough room to loop around the cones. The trick to the technique is turning your shoulders to the direction you're travelling in and keep your head up and look where you want to go. Next you do a mega slow straightline ride, as if you are in heavy town traffic.
Next up is the U-turn. As it's the mod one, this takes place on the pad - so you're not on the road with cambers, kerbs of traffic to worry about. We'd practised it loads in training, so I just repeated Ian's instructions to myself in my head “Observations, move off, balance, feather the clutch, look right, turn the bars and keep your eyes moving further as you go. By the time you’re halfway round, you should already be looking up the road". Having your eyes focused on the right place really helps you to keep your balance.
Then the pace picked up. Heading up the far end of the test area you have to get up to 19mph as you head round the corner, then accelerate up to 32mph, where the examiner tells you when to do an emergency stop. It doesn't sound very fast when you say it, but at the time I felt like I was flying round the bend. I was so busy watching the examiner, waiting for his hand to rise, I completely forgot to check my speed. He told me after the test I hadn't been going fast enough, but as I was only 1mph off the required pace, he just marked it as a minor fault.
Then you repeat the run, but this time instead of an emergency stop you have to do the dreaded swerve test, where you are braking quite hard as you steer around an obstacle. Once you've got he hang of it, it really isn't as scary as I'd first thought. Although, again, I was slightly too slow on approach – another minor mark.
In total, I got three minor marks – but not too many to stop me passing Module 1, thankfully. Getting through this part has really boosted my confidence. But does that mean I’ll breeze through Mod 2 and get my full licence? Find out next month!
Thanks to Ian Biederman and all at BMW Rider Training, Royston – see www.bmwridertraining.net