I should have done my CBT yonks ago; when mates were doing it as they turned 16, when there was spare time and cash during university summers, when I started doing this job half a dozen years ago. And I didn't. Why? An assortment of reasons. While the idea of riding a bike has always intrigued, I've never yearned desperately to do it as I did with driving. As such, getting the CBT done, or saving money for a bike, was never prioritised, because cars were always number one. Plus there's the fact I was a bit scared: scared I wouldn't understand it, scared I'd fail.. just scared, to be frank.
Still, when the offer came - full disclosure and all that - from Honda to get a few car journalists behind the handlebars (I still have a lot of lingo to learn), it seemed like the ideal opportunity to scratch that two-wheeled itch. Or at least begin to, given there are still the A2 and A tests to do beyond the CBT. Here's what happened.
The CBT day began with the elementary stuff; this is Compulsory Basic Training, after all. So your vision is checked, as is your awareness of, y'know, wearing a helmet all the time and wearing flip flops none of the time. Once that's out of the way, the practical element can begin. In addition to getting familiar with which thing does what on a bike - like teaching the other guys in attendance to suck eggs, but useful when you really don't know - there's a lesson on daily and weekly bike maintenance. Again, it will seem painfully obvious to those in the know, but worthwhile to proper novices.
While it would be nice to tell a story of taking to a motorbike like a duck to water, the truth was anything but. Such was my chronic lack of experience (and, seemingly, aptitude), that I received one-on-one tuition while the other attendants made progress as a trio. Balance wasn't too tricky, given it is ultimately a bike, but combining that with my making hands and feet do things they've never really done before, while keeping myself from looking down at what they're doing, was really difficult. And that was just going in a straight line.
To say it clicked in the car park manoeuvring section would be exaggerating quite significantly, but things did gradually begin to make sense. In first gear, that is. Handily, some things were (and are) similar to learning to drive a car: keeping eyes up, making inputs smooth, thinking as far ahead as possible. Some of it, though, really took some concentration. Slipping the clutch to aid slow speed turns really makes no sense after a decade of driving, finding second at a stop happens as often as neutral and the initial first-to-second changes are jerky to say the least.
Just prior to lunch, though, when practising T-junctions, the whole process begins to flow a little, bringing together all that had been learnt in the morning about observation, pulling away, gearchanges and turns. But then everything seems easier in a controlled environment, right? After lunch is when it all becomes a lot more real, with a compulsory minimum of two hours riding on the road before qualification. Having not exactly mastered getting around cones in a car park, I was hardly brimming with confidence.
Especially after struggling with hill starts. (I promise some of the riding was good, honest.) But using the rear brake under my right foot as a handbrake while slipping the clutch in and adding the right amount of throttle felt like attempting keep-ups with a ping pong ball while juggling coconuts. And balancing a beanbag on your head. Perhaps that's an exaggeration. But be in no doubt that riding a motorbike isn't as simple as it might seem.
Bizarrely, when released from the confines of the car park and onto the open road, the process seemed a lot more logical. The gearchanges came together more cohesively, acceleration and deceleration was less jerky and - dare it be said - the whole experience was a lot more fun. Really, really good fun, actually. The sense of speed, immediacy and freedom was like nothing available on four wheels, even with just 125cc. Then it started to rain. Then it started to hail. Then riding a bike was less fun.
Still, despite some rather adverse conditions, some quite considerable panic at roundabouts and one or two iffy gearchanges, a solid chunk of the two hours on the road was immensely enjoyable; a realisation that the good bits of riding a bike were even better than hoped for. Oh, and I passed, by the way.
So yes, with presumably quite tedious predictability for those already on two wheels, the bike bug has bitten - I think it's great. There's everything you want in the best driving experiences, even while never going beyond 60mph: as a rider you're an integral part, the bike only as good as your inputs. In a lot of cars the driver can get away with being quite lazy; the demands of a bike mean that's never possible, but also that the rewards are on another level.
The next step is the theory test, then the two practicals; to say I'm enthusiastic would be accurate, certainly. For now, I'm all ears on any advice and tips that PHers may have, because goodness knows they're needed. More - hopefully - to follow soon!