I recently passed the 1,000-kilometer mark on my bike’s odometer. I got my bike in May and it took me three months to ride the first 500 km. When I took it in for its 500km service I felt this was not far enough to have ridden in that space of time. I needed to be riding more. So, I started riding every day, quickly clocking up the next 500 km and a little more in less than a month.
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For seasoned bikers, 1,000 km might not feel like a lot – I’m sure some of you guys do that in a day – but as a noob I feel like I have passed a milestone. Naturally, one is inclined to reflect at such a point, so here are some thoughts from my first 1,000 km on the road.
A Roomy Jacket Gives Extra Shopping Capacity
I am an optimist. I look on the bright side and it serves me well. I don’t let little things annoy me and I am an excellent dinner party guest. However, this personality trait occasionally gets me into trouble; optimism lends itself to overestimating what I can get done in a given amount of time. So, you’ll often find me attempting to put up shelves in the 10 minutes before my train departs, or thinking: “Yeah, I can cut my hair before I leave for work.” I tend to be late and look disheveled. I rush things that need time and I often run out of the house, leaving it looking like we have been robbed.
‘I don’t let little things annoy me and I am an excellent dinner party guest.’
But what does this have to do with motorbikes I hear you cry? This optimism spills over to my spatial awareness, as well – specifically my understanding of carrying capacity. I have often popped to the supermarket on my way home, piled my basket high with goods thinking I can squeeze them into my already full backpack, and discovered that my optimism has gotten the better of me again.
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On a recent trip, I took things too far again. I had two options: leave my bike and walk home with the excess load, then walk back to collect my bike (sensible, safe but energy- and time-sapping) or utilize the equipment I had at my disposal. Obviously, I decided to go with option No. 2, choosing to squirrel my shopping about my person for the ride home.
I took my security chain and lock out of my bag and slung it around my neck. With some strategic squishing I was able to get all of my groceries in my backpack save one: a large cauliflower. That bad boy wasn’t going to fit. After some head scratching I decided the only thing to do was stuff the vegetable into my jacket. With a swift rearranging of my internal organs it fit right in there. Off I set with my chain around my neck like a wannabe Mr. T, and a big bulging cauliflower belly.
I have had less successful shopping trips since then. Frozen spinach is not a good thing to put down your jacket unless you live in a hot climate, and I wouldn’t recommend a pineapple either. I am curious to know what you guys have stowed in your jackets. Chris once told me of a guy who found a stray kitten and rode him home safely nestled in his chest hair. Surely that wins the prize.
(Jenn’s jacket of choice, by the way is the Oxford Bradwell – she highly recommends it)
Fear is Why I Can’t Corner Very Well
I hate roundabouts. They are scary. There is loads going on, you have to be bold and fast and able to change gear skillfully without looking down. Many a time, I have shifted into neutral instead of second whilst trying to accelerate around a roundabout. I am happy to report, though, that things are improving; I am getting to know the “thunk” of changing into a gear rather than the “thrink” of dropping into neutral.
One thing that is not getting easier, though, is cornering, I suck. No matter how much I will my bike to swoop and swerve around a tight corner like a bird of prey pursuing its lunch, I cannot do it. Which is a shame, because the short road I travel daily involves six roundabouts in very quick succession.
I have studied neurology, I know that practice and repetition are the most important things when it comes to improving a skill. I naively thought that riding around 12 roundabouts or more per day would lead to at least a small improvement, but it seems like I am getting worse. I am overthinking things and directing my attention where I don’t want to go, rather than where I do. Fans of target fixation will know this is not a good idea – the body follows the eyes.
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I know in the dark recesses of my cerebral cortex that I must look where I want to go, but I just don’t know how to actually make that happen. My reptilian brain has been conditioned to keep my eyes on danger. Surely, to avoid hitting a thing you need to know where the thing is, right? I know it is more important to look where I am going rather than looking where I don’t want to go but it’s so hard!
I have managed it on a few of the corners I regularly go around, but mostly fear takes over and I revert to using my will instead of skill – resulting in at least 12 squeaky bum moments per day…
Wearing Specs On a Bike Sucks On Many Levels
Firstly, glasses don’t look cool under a helmet. With my squished-up helmet face I end up looking even more like Velma from Scooby-Doo than usual, which is already quite a bit. But also they are annoying. They push into my ears, go wonky, and steam up.
It is hard to properly correct a wonky pair of specs when speeding along, which means you have to wait until you stop. I know what you are thinking: “Why don’t you just position your glasses before you set off?”
Well, smug non-spec-wearers, let me tell you: I do! But, by some witchcraft, devilry, or curse they like to creep into an awkward position. This leads to me trying to poke at them though my chin gap or opening my visor to adjust as I am moving – both actions making everything go a bit wibbly-wobbly. This, however, is a minor concern compared to my biggest complaint: condensation.
You probably know I live in the Soggy Nations™ (Trademark Chris Cope circa 2006). In Wales, it rains, on average, 180 days per year, and on most other days we are rocking between 75 and 90 percent humidity. It’s damp. Twin this with the fact that more than 6 percent of the air people exhale is water vapor. Basically, British motorcyclists who wear glasses are doomed.
The mist creeps up on you like the Kraken, slowly removing your vision until you realize you can’t see the car in front. If it is raining, which it probably is, you get the double whammy of poor visor vision, too. Not fun. The simple solution would be to wear contact lenses and stop complaining about every little thing, but I refuse to be held hostage by opticians. One possible other solution – which I have not investigated – is fog-free glasses. Do these exist? If you wise old bikers have a solution, please let me know.
(PS – If you suggest spitting on my glasses before I set off, a la swimming wisdom from the 1980s, I will judge you harshly.)
One Day I Will Be a Filtering Goddess
Filtering! It is great! I love it! Zipping past queues of traffic somehow feels like winning at life. Filtering is what took me from merely riding a bike for convenience to joining the cult of moto.
I remember the exact moment I truly fell in love with being a biker: I was following another biker who was filtering, going a little faster than I normally would, essentially using him as a human shield. We popped in and out of traffic, making our way toward the front of the queue – saving time! Being efficient! Achieving! I felt like I was in a game of Tetris, spotting gaps and speeding toward them before they disappeared.
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I outwitted my companion at one point, overtaking him and feeling pretty great about it, then moments later the road opened up and he ripped passed me on his awesomely more powerful bike. I was left feeling like I had dueled with a master, had the sweet taste of success, then been put in my place by his mightier abilities. Much like when Luke gets schooled by Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back.
So yeah, I like to filter. Sitting in traffic now feels like wasting life. Good lord, on the rare occasion I drive a car I can’t stand to be stuck in traffic anymore. My mind races, thinking about how easy it would be to whizz past these car idiots… before I remember I am a car idiot; I can’t just drive on the wrong side of the road to get ahead. I mean, this isn’t France after all!
Sometimes, though, even on the bike you have to suck it up and sit still. The gaps aren’t there. When I get stuck in traffic on my bike it is hard for me to accept. I’ve tasted freedom; I shouldn’t be sitting be sitting behind this truck! I am still inexperienced, though. Whilst my riding has improved I can’t pull off some of the moves I’ve seen others manage. My bike is not powerful enough, I am not skilled enough, and I am scared.
We popped in and out of traffic, making our way toward the front of the queue – saving time! Being efficient! Achieving!
I often see another biker flying past me yelling, “Yeeeeeehaaaaaa” and it burns. But I have to respect my own level of ability so as not to embarrass myself or worse.
Speaking of embarrassing, I recently cruised to the front of a queue of traffic stuck at a red light, feeling pretty cool about myself… only to stall on green and have to restart several times before I actually got moving. Oh, how the universe gives with one hand, only to take away with the other.
* Not really.