On a Bike No one ever asks are we there yet

Learning to ride a motorcycle

I decided to write a bit about my lessons because, after asking several experienced bikers how they felt when they got on a bike for the first time, it was reassuring to know that I wasn’t the only one who really wanted to ride a bike, but felt absolutely terrified by the prospect. So, in an effort to pass the reassurance on, I’ve detailed below how I felt when I sat on a bike on my own for the first time, and how I’ve been getting on with the IBT (Initial Basic Training).

Two weeks ago I started taking motorcycle lessons. I thought if being on the back of the bike was so much fun then being on the front must be great craic altogether. One only has to look at the Facebook pages for all the different bike groups and rallies and charity ride-outs to see the great camaraderie that exists between bikers and the great opportunities there are to travel around the country (or abroad) and meet new people. The bug had well and truly bitten and, with “himself” heading off with the lads occasionally on a Sunday morning, I decided I was going to take lessons and get my own bike. You know what they say….if you can’t “bate” them, join them.

On a bike, no one ever asks 'Are we there yet'.

IBT (Initial Basic Training for Motorcyclists)

When I initially went looking for information on how to go about taking bike lessons I found the information confusing and didn’t find the RSA website much help. With a full car license for many years, I wasn’t sure how to go about getting a bike license. I’m not the only noob who couldn’t get my head around the process of Direct Access to the A Licensing Category as posts on Facebook and Boards.ie would indicate.

I eventually found out that I needed to do the following:-

  1. Do the IBT (Initial Basic Training) in order to ride a motorcycle.
  2. To do the IBT I needed a learner permit in the category of motorcycle I wanted to ride.
  3. I needed to do the bike theory test to get the learner permit.

In October I found out that an IBT class was being held locally but that I needed my learner permit to attend. I had one week to get the permit if I wanted to take the class.

Driver Theory Test

It was ‘All Systems are Go!’ A search of the test centres on the Driver Theory Test website showed that there were some places left that week for the theory test in Kilkenny. I booked and paid for the test and then downloaded the theory test questions from the Driver Theory Test Online (I ordered the one month access for €24 as I knew I wouldn’t need it after that week.) Then I went over and over and over those questions (with a little help from himself with the more technical questions) until I knew them inside out. It was probably a little easier for me than for a compete motoring novice as I’d already had the experience of the car theory test.

Three days later I went into Kilkenny, sat myself at one of the computers in the theory test centre in Unit 6, St. John’s Gate, clicked through 40 theory questions, and an hour later legged it up the street waving my test certificate in the air.

Learner Permit/Driver License

I didn’t really wave the certificate in the air, but I did leg it up the street to my car and all the way back to the National Driver License Service in Clonmel where I applied for my permit in Category A, and then phoned the instructor to let him know that I’d done so and that I wanted to join the class.

IBT – Modules 1 & 3

That Saturday I sat into the theory class and learnt a lot about motorcycles and motorcyclists that I’d never known before. I think, coming away from the class, I’d developed a newfound respect for anyone riding a motorbike, and a realisation that, as car drivers, we often don’t have the awareness that we should have on the roads for drivers of two wheels. I remember thinking at one point that car drivers would definitely benefit from having to undertake a similar theory class to understand the hazards on the road that motorcyclists face, and how they behave on the road to prepare for and navigate them.

Motorcyclist on road

IBT – Module 5

It was March this year before I started the actual practical work in the compound. I was very lucky to find a fantastic instructor who was very patient with me, very encouraging, and who gave me individual lessons in two hourly blocks. Two hours was as much as I could take in one session as I had to try not only to combat my fear of the bike and of losing balance, but to concentrate on manoeuvres and sequences that were completely alien to me. It took physical effort too to be able to press and depress the clutch repeatedly while undertaking the slow work in the compound.

The Fear Factor

I have to be honest and say that I’m not sure exactly what part of Cloud Cuckoo Land I was living on last year when I first thought it would be a great idea to have my own bike. Firstly, it’s been years since I’ve even owned my own bicycle, and the couple of times that I’ve hired out a bicycle on the Waterford Greenway, I’ve struggled with the balance and have had to literally dismount to cross a road or turn a corner. (Thank heavens the Greenway runs virtually straight all the way from Waterford to Dungarvan.)

Before I took my first motorcycle lesson, I asked my better half if he’d run through the controls on the bike with me, and, obligingly, he pulled his bike up on a quiet, trafficless road one evening so that I could sit on it and get a feel for it. Only, he had to put the bike on the stand because I’m a shortie. And once I was sitting on the bike, my feet dangled a foot away from the ground.

Shortie on Motorcycle

I also realised that the bike weighed a tonne and I’d never thought that a bike really had any significant weight attached to it, because, in my dreams of being a really cool biker chick, bikes were weightless objects that moved by mere thought alone.

My First Lesson

He who is responsible for my new found hobby, drove me the forty minutes out to the compound on the day of the lesson and waited the two hours for me. I’m so glad that he did because on the way there I felt physically sick at the thought that I was going to have to try to manage a big heavy bike that my feet wouldn’t even touch the ground on. I cursed myself for applying for the A category license and wanting a nice big bike instead of opting for what might have been a nice comfortable 125 that I’d have some hope of handling.

I was as stiff as a poker on the bike that day – absolutely petrified. The instructor was great though. He took me from slowly ‘paddling’ the bike forward to being able to take my feet off the ground and drive the bike in a circle. Last Friday I had my fourth lesson. At this stage I’ve taken in figure of 8s, U-turns, junctions, indicators, and gotten into second gear. Because of the time frame in between each lesson though, it feels like I’m starting back at the beginning at the start of each lesson, although I know, myself, that my confidence is slowly building. I haven’t needed to ‘paddle’ the bike again which is a good thing. I’m still daunted by turning the handle bars and losing my balance, but I’m improving. I’ve still to force myself to look where I want to go (because that’s where the bike goes), but I’m starting to relax a bit more each time.

My First Motorbike

After eight hours training in the compound and with just five more hours of training to go, it was obvious I needed my own bike. I’d been on the lookout for a while, but it was himself that came across one that worked out to be the right height for me, and wasn’t too heavy. I’m delighted with my new bike – a Honda CB500 – although I’m going to need a lot of hours practise before I’ll have the confidence to take it out on my own.

Honda CB500

I had a couple of hours on it on Sunday around one of the local business parks where I was able to take it out on the quiet roads and take a break from the slow work. I think it helped a bit, although I’m still fumbling with the clutch and indicators and trying to get the feel for the throttle.

Coming up next….

I’ll be going out on the road this Thursday as I’ve been told I can’t stay in the compound forever. I knew this day would come! I’m not sure I’m really ready for the road, but I can vaguely remember feeling the same when I was learning to drive a car. I was a lot younger and braver then though, and the engine cutting out in a car isn’t quite the same as the engine cutting out on a bike. Cars don’t tend to topple over.

So, if you happen to be out on the road in the next few days and see a learner motorcyclist, give them a wide berth and be patient with them, especially coming up to junctions, or you could be driving home with a Honda CB500 as a hood ornament.

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