Until 1990 anybody could just jump on a bike up to 250cc; the overall bike licence was a formality. Seventeen-year-olds were getting their hands on motor-bikes capable of out-accelerating Porsches. Not surprisingly the accident statistics made painful reading. As the law stands now you cannot get on a bike until you have a CBT certificate: this means that you have completed an approved bike training course and have been passed safe to ride. The CBT usually takes a day and with bike hire costs around pounds 60. You can now ride a motor-bike up to 125cc as a learner for two years. To ride a bike of larger capacity, or take a pillion passenger, you have to pass the full motor-cycle test. I opted for a three-day course, taking you out on the road and ending with the full test. This course is intended for people with some biking experience, but five-day courses for complete beginners are also available. Depending on whether or not the bike is provided, courses cost between pounds 240 and pounds 400.
My trainer is called Sian: when she's annoyed with us she calls us 'girls'. In fact two out of five on our course are girls - biking is not an exclusively male preserve.
We are taught that the best way to drive is defensively, always assuming that every car driver is a 'myopic fool' and every pedestrian 'intent on suicide'. She insists on the need for the correct clothing, telling us that leather trousers are 25 per cent safer, and gives us horrifying details about how much skin you lose falling off unprotected at 60mph.
Once out on the open road, the danger is quickly forgotten. We head off for Box Hill, stopping at Ryka's Cafe for lunch. Ryka's, on the A24, is a bikers' paradise. With a large bike park, everyone stops there to pose on their new machines. Someone pulls in on a brand new Ducatti 916, a stylish red Italian super-bike capable of a staggering 170mph. A cluster of leather-clad pros are gathered around talking in hushed tones. When our little convoy pulls in on our 125s, Sian tells us not to worry about the big boys laughing at us: 'They were all beginners once.' Lunch taken and we're off to practise our emergency stops and tackle the legendary Mickleham bends, a set of banked corners that the show-offs take at ridiculous speeds. They were hairy enough at 50mph, all my little machine was capable of doing.
In a flash the three days have flown by and my test beckons. The examiner fits you with a two-way radio and then follows you around, telling you when to turn and where to stop. With the examiner hot on your tail, it's far more intimidating than a car driving test. Nerves conquered, it's back to the test centre for the verdict. Deep joy as the examiner announces: 'I'm very happy to inform you, Mr Style, that you have passed your motor-cycle test.' Bye-bye 125, hello Ducatti.
CSM Rider Training, 45 branches nationwide (081-879 3330)
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