It’s a Tuesday and I am at university. I am about to become the proud owner of a brand new 125cc motorbike. I should be excited. Chris is excited; I am scared.
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I passed my Compulsory Basic Training exam nearly a year ago. It involved a morning of riding around a small carpark in the rain, being patronised by a retired Welshman (he was not retired from being Welsh, nor being a man, just from his previous occupation), then two hours of road riding, stalling, forgetting to turn off my indicator, and having to repeat my emergency stop over and over because I kept locking the rear and fishtailing. Needless to say, I have since forgotten everything I briefly knew.
It is stressful, then, to think that soon I will have to get on a brand new motorbike, with my husband proudly watching my every move, and try not to catapult it into a wall/my neighbour’s car/the house.
This was never the plan. I took my CBT simply because my friend wanted to do hers. She was at a crossroads in her life and was essentially saying “YES” to everything. We got talking about it one night – wine might have been involved – and, with Chris’ encouragement, she and I thought: “What the hell, let’s be badass! Let’s be biker chicks! Let’s learn to ride very low-powered motorbikes!!!”
So, we did. I passed the test, celebrated with BBQ (I’m married to a Texan; this is how I celebrate now), and promptly forgot all about it.
‘Let’s be biker chicks! Let’s learn to ride very low-powered motorbikes!!!’
Then, Chris and I moved to a new house. My usual means of transportation is a bicycle, but the new house is too far away from university for daily cycling, so I started getting the train. It sucked; it was very expensive, crowded, and slow. I moaned about it a lot in the first week, so, of course, Chris planted a seed in my head: “You should get a motorbike.”
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That is his solution to every problem. My initial reaction was: “No way.” I am a cheapskate and it seemed foolish to spend a wedge of cash to save a wedge of cash. But, then I got seduced…
My vision of a 125cc motorbike had been those scrawny, high-pitched dirt bikes typically ridden by 16-year-olds, in between mugging grannies and drinking White Lightning in the park. How wrong I was. Chris had suggested I look up Herald, Brixton, and Lexmoto models and I was surprised.
“But, these look like real bikes!” I thought.
I immediately fell in love with the Lexmoto Valiant. I now wanted a bike; my heart took over and I started convincing myself it was my only option. How else was I supposed to get about? The train was unreliable and a waste of money. The bike would be cheap to run and insure and it would be fun. And I could also use it to get to work. Plus, I could eventually sell it and make some of the money back. How had I lived so long without one in my life?
The image of me looking as cool as fuck fuelled me. Panic gripped me occasionally when I thought about spending a bunch of money we didn’t really have, but I am excellent at burying negative thoughts deep down, so they didn’t hold me back. I didn’t think much about logistics, though, or, like, how to ride the bike until the morning it was to be delivered.
Now I’m on my train journey home, to see my new bike for the first time, and cold dread has overwhelmed me. When I get home I try to seem excited for Chris. He is bouncing about like a puppy.
He opens the garage, so I can have look at my new pride and joy. Damn, it is pretty. Too
pretty. I shouldn’t be allowed to ride this; I’ll break it. I break everything. I can’t be trusted with nice things.
‘Every corner feels like a slow-motion disaster.’
“I’ll just put my gear on and have a burn about the neighbourhood,” I tell Chris with bravado. “Uhm… just as soon as you remind me what all the buttons and lights mean. And how to start it. And how to ride it. Oh, and most importantly, how to stop it.”
After a quick lesson, I start it up, freaked out by how, ahem, powerful the throttle is. I slowly let out the clutch and give it a bit of oomph. The bike and I jerk away. I immediately release the throttle and jerk to an almost stop. Add throttle. Jerk forward. Stall. For 15 minutes I jerk my way around a loop of my neighbourhood, looking very
far from the cool-as-fuck biker I had pictured myself being.
Chris suggests I have a practise in a nearby carpark. I want to ride there but that involves two right turns. I am not yet in possession of the professional-level riding skills I would need to pull of two right turns at traffic lights. Chris rides the Valiant there for me. On the walk over to meet him I have a few words with myself. I just need to be systematic and calm, and think about what essential skills I need to avoid death, or, worse, damaging my shiny new baby.
I spend a lot of time that afternoon practising pulling away smoothly, changing gears, stopping without stalling, and cornering. Every corner feels like a slow-motion disaster. First I go too slowly and it feels like I’m going to topple over. This inspires me to go faster and ride directly toward walls or cars on the other side of the road. I ping-pong between these two extremes for about an hour.
I’m getting frustrated. Sure, it’s fun going 15 mph in a straight line, but when it comes to
turning, stopping, or pulling away, I suck. I’ll have to do those things if I want to ride on the road, and that’s stressful. Worse, I do not feel cool!
I want to go home. The main problem, though, is I have to ride there myself; Chris has already walked back. It is approximately half a mile from the carpark to my house – a
few more laps and I’m ready to face the cars and traffic lights and people watching. I make it home, shaking. It’s a bit of a buzz riding on the road.
When I did my CBT I found it easier to ride on the road than in a carpark. This gives me hope. I’d like to be able to ride to work Saturday, giving me three days to get properly road-ready. Maybe I can do it. I’ll hit the carpark again tomorrow for some more practise.
Overnight the festering fear of not ever being able to ride the bike smoothly and look cool gets the better of me. I make excuses – I have too much work to do, it’s too cold, I can go later – until it’s too late. I’ve missed my opportunity to ride.
Nevermind. I’ll go Thursday…
I’m in uni all day, then head straight out for dinner in the evening. I get home at 8 pm – too late to ride. I’m annoyed with myself for not having gone out yesterday. Time is ticking away and I really want to ride to work on Saturday. Even more importantly, I want to ride to uni next week. I’ve told all my uni buddies that I got the bike – some of them ride – and they’re really excited for me. They’ve seen the pictures of me on the bike on social media, say the bike looks cool, and are asking if I’ve ridden in today. I’m embarrassed: “No, I still need a bit of practise before I tackle rush hour-traffic.”
There’s nothing for it: I have to put on my big girl pants and hit the road as soon as possible. I have to accept that I’m not going to be super cool right from the get go. I have to practise, and that involves looking a bit silly sometimes – and, of course, fearing for my life.
‘I feel a bit rebellious. And I like it.’
I spend a considerable amount of time in life making a fool of myself because I am
clumsy, a bit slow, and often speak before I think. The way I deal with this is to own it. I laugh at myself and enjoy the laughter of others. So, I focus on how hilarious the stories of me trying to ride to work will be. As long as I don’t hurt myself, or the bike, I can own my buffoonery until I get good enough to look cool.
Fuck that carpark. I don’t want to ride around a carpark. It is unrealistic, uncool, and pointless. I am hitting the road… as soon as Chris goes out, so he can’t suggest it might be a bad idea.
Chris is spending the day hanging out with people from Ducati. He has a hard life. I am on my own, feeling nervous and excited as I pull on my Resurgence Gear riding jeans and 10,000 jumpers. For no reason at all, I feel a bit rebellious. And I like it. This gives me confidence. I plan on riding a few miles towards a large roundabout then back – an epic endeavor.
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I bid Jerry, our greyhound, goodbye, and get the bike out of the garage. I start it up and manage to get out of the driveway without stalling or hitting the car across the street. I do a very slow, very wide turn out of my street and make my way towards the main road. This is it! The lights go green and I pull away, into real traffic. A thrill of excitement bubbles up inside me: I am on the road! I am traveling 30 mph! I am maintaining a respectable stopping distance from the car in front! I am changing gears (kind of) smoothly! I am indicating, and more importantly, (mostly) remembering to turn the indicator off! This is what it feels like to be alive! I feel like Kate Winslet in Titanic: I’m flying, Jack, I’m flying!
Another biker nods at me; I am over the moon. Chris had warned me that some miserable bikers don’t give out nods to mere learners because they are not worthy. Had that biker mistaken me for a real biker? Or were they just a decent human being who wanted to encourage newbies rather than bolstering their own ego by feeling superior to someone who was trying something new? Who cares? I got a nod!
I approach the roundabout and decide to continue; I am having too much fun to turn back now. I ride all the way to work, a full seven miles. At times it is jerky, stressful, and mildly frightening, but mostly it is a hoot. I play at being a real biker, leaning a little more into turns and cranking the throttle hard to pick up speed, enjoying the feel of a mighty 7.3 kW (9.8 hp) single-cylinder engine propelling me forwards. No more carparks for me (until I learn how to wheelie). I’m a real biker now.