-- Thrown in the deep end (A learner's tale...)
-- By Jacob Leech
Obtaining my motorcycle licence is something I have always wanted to do. Ever since being a four-year-old watching my dad fly around tracks like Broadford, Winton and Phillip Island. However, my journey as an aspiring motorcyclist started in more modest surrounds at the Honda Australia Rider Training (HART) at Tullamarine.
I decided to partake in a two-day learner course (developed for people without riding experience), on a recent wintry weekend. Being up at 7am on both days of my cherished weekend didn’t fill me with joy, but it was a small price to pay.
I awoke to heavy rain on the Saturday morning and thought to myself, “Ok, so this thing will probably be postponed or cancelled then.” To my surprise, after arriving at HART and being greeted by my instructor Michael, I was informed that we would indeed be heading out into the torrentially wet conditions. Thankfully HART is prepared for such occasions and had wet weather jackets and pants for us to wear over our clothes.
Before we dived in (badoom-tish!) and got riding, we were given an introduction to the motorcycle itself and shown where all the bits and bobs were. Clutch on the left, brake on the right, gear lever with your left foot and rear brake with your right, I was set to go.
I was taking the course with five other participants and after donning our wet-weather gear we headed out on our carefully selected Honda CBF 250’s. We began by learning how to take off. The main lesson I took out of this was to ride the clutch, take as long as I needed to let and clutch out and not be afraid to give it plenty of revs. This felt quite foreign to me as I had recently purchased a manual car and was advised to do my best NOT to ride the clutch.
Once I got my head around taking off, the group took to riding laps around a marked course in first gear. I found this surprisingly easy, just like riding a noisy motor-powered bicycle. As I was gaining confidence and telling myself I was doing well, I observed a fellow rider (who had arrived half an hour late) riding very confidently. He was riding around like he had been born on a motorcycle, which I later found out, he basically had. He was sporting a rat-tail and hailed from Saint Albans.
I tried not to be distracted by his antics and continually reminded myself to keep my arms loose, head up, wrists low and legs squeezed firmly around the tank of the bike. This would prove to be my mantra over the course of the weekend.
As the rain reached its heaviest point and visibility was reducing, our introductory activity was interrupted, when another of my course colleagues had a low speed crash while taking a left hand turn and applying too much front brake. He was unharmed aside from a small gash to his left hand, but it was a timely reminder of how things could go wrong and how important it was to remain focused at all times whilst onboard a motorcycle.
The first day whizzed past in a blur of rain, wind and speed (40km/h feels really fast on a motorcycle) and before I knew it I found myself back at HART on Sunday getting ready for our final days activities before the dreaded practical assessment test.
The test consisted of four activities, the first being able to identify all the major controls on the motorcycle: indicators, high-beams, low-beams, horn and reserve petrol tank switch. All six of us managed to pass this test without crashing, which was a solid start.
Test two involved taking off and changing into second gear, taking a left hand u-turn around a set of cones and then making a tight left turn while keeping within the marked lines, finally coming to a stop within a marked yellow circle, all without stalling.
I was fifth in line to take this test, the first three riders ahead of me passed with flying colours, but the participant directly before me (the same person who crashed on day one) failed after stalling on take-off and failing to stay in the marked lines for the left hand turn. It turns out he would be allowed a retest to rectify his mistake.
Watching this unfold really rattled me and as I went to take the u-turn around the cones, I went far too slow and stalled mid-corner. I was furious at myself and couldn’t believe what had happened, as I’d never done anything like that over the two previous days of practise.
I had to remind myself to remain calm, as during one of our several briefing sessions, our instructor Michael stressed how important it is to ride with a clear mind. Riding whilst in an emotional state is something you should really avoid at all costs. So, with my tail between my legs, I rode back to the activity starting point and awaited my retest. All the riders ahead of me - bar one - went ahead and passed the remaining two activities with aplomb.
That left three of us to retry the practical assessment activities. After composing myself and urging myself to remain calm, I managed to pass the first and second activities with relative ease. The third test was a slow-riding assessment; we had to ride along a marked lane making sure to take ten seconds or longer. Again I managed to pass this activity and success was firmly within my grasp.
The final test was basically the reverse of the second activity, taking off, riding around a right hand u-turn, taking a tight marked right hand turn, only this time instead of stopping we had to take the u-turn again, get up to 20-25kph and make a safe emergency stop within seven metres of being indicated.
The rider ahead of me failed this test, riding outside the lines of the right-hand turn and keeping his hand on the brake lever before making his emergency stop (we had been advised to keep our hands on the bars until being indicated to come to a quick stop by the instructor.)
This made me extremely nervous again, so I made sure to really calm myself down before attempting the final test, taking deep breaths and reminding myself to keep loose in the arms, keep my legs tight around the tank, keep my head up and always look where I want the bike to go.
My mantra came to the rescue, as I passed the final test and in turn completed my practical assessment for my motorcycle learner’s permit. It was such a relief as Michael approached me to shake my hand and congratulate me on passing; you couldn’t wipe the smile from my face.
There was only a minor hurdle remaining, the theory based test, but this was something of a breeze. After having read the motorcycle learners handbook thoroughly, I got three questions wrong out of 32 (you were allowed seven incorrect answers), which was more a result of carelessness rather than a lack of knowledge on my part.
I thoroughly enjoyed taking part in the two day learner’s course at HART Tullamarine. I want to thank HART for giving me the opportunity and I also want to thank my instructor Michael for being not only a wealth of knowledge, but also a great calming influence during the more nervy moments of the course. I feel very well equipped to continue riding now, not only from a technical standpoint, but more importantly from an aware and safe-riding perspective.
I found the road-craft discussions we had as a group regarding on road motorcycle safety proved as valuable, if not more so, than the practical riding activities.
I am now planning to head out and buy a Honda CT110 for a laugh and for a way to get some miles under my belt, riding around local roads. I hope to one day follow in my dad’s footsteps and get to riding club races and track days around places like Phillip Island and Winton. Baby steps though.
NB: HART offers half-day, one-day and two-day Learner Permit Courses depending on your level of experience. They have three Melbourne training centres located in Tullamarine, Somerton and Kilsyth and supply the bikes (or scooter), helmet, gloves and wet weather gear. Ring 039 270 1377 to book, or visit : http://hart.honda.com.au for details. For a full list of accredited providers head to the Vicroads website.
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