Sorry, mum - but I've decided that it's time I became a biker

Defying his parents' desperate warnings, Alistair Weaver goes into training to try and master the art of the motorcycle
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Indy Lifestyle Online

When I was a child, my parents used to say that they would always support me in life, unless I bought a motorbike. According to my mother, these two-wheeled monsters were a threat to civilisation, life and limb, and suitable only for strange, leather-clad men with tattoos as big as their bellies.

When I was a child, my parents used to say that they would always support me in life, unless I bought a motorbike. According to my mother, these two-wheeled monsters were a threat to civilisation, life and limb, and suitable only for strange, leather-clad men with tattoos as big as their bellies.

This caricature is increasingly outdated. There are around 1.5 million riders in the UK and last year over 70,000 people passed their test.

I began to see the benefit of reduced journey times, easy parking and exemption from the Congestion Charge. And so I resolved to defy my parents and learn to ride a motorbike.

My first task was to decide what kind of test I wanted. A Restricted Licence test is taken on a 125cc machine, but it is illegal to ride a bike with a power output greater than 25kW (33bhp) until two years after the test.

The option I chose, is the Direct Access (DAS). This must be passed on a bike producing at least 35kW (46bhp) and is only offered to riders over the age of 21. After the test, you are entitled to ride any type of bike.

But before either test can be taken, you must pass the Theory Test and Compulsory Basic Training (CBT). Theory Test centres are dotted around the country and you can book at www.dsa.gov.uk or by calling 0870 0101372. The test comprises a computer-based question-and-answer session, and a hazard perception test.

The questions require little more than common sense, but I found it useful to buy a guidebook. The hazard perception test is much trickier. You are confronted with 14 video clips and you must respond by clicking a computer mouse every time a hazard develops. An instructional DVD is available and is a worthwhile investment.

Having passed the Theory Test, I began to think about protective gear. Motorcycling remains a dangerous pursuit -- in 2002, 580 bikers lost their lives and 26,628 suffered injury. I decided to go upmarket and the bill for my Dainese outfit -- boots, trousers, jacket, back protector, gloves, helmet and underwear -- came to £1,360. But it should be possible to get a set of leathers and a basic helmet for as little as £600.

Armed with my new suit, I booked a DAS course with west-London-based RAE (020-8940 1236). I opted for a five-day course, which cost £624, including bike hire. Day one was spent in a school playground negotiating a series of cones, followed by an afternoon on the road with an instructor.

The Honda 125cc bike wasn't fast, but I still took time to master the hand-operated clutch and foot-operated gear lever. There are also lots of checks that must be obeyed. Touching the front brake while cornering is forbidden and every major change of direction must be accompanied by a "lifesaver" shoulder check.

On the second morning, the course proper began. Our instructor, Jim Mason, used to work as a despatch rider before he took up teaching 10 years ago. He approached everything with good humour and a realistic attitude. "I'm teaching you how to be safe, that is the most important thing," he told me

After another day on the 125, we moved on to a 500cc bike. In motorbike terms, the Honda CB500 is slothful, but it will still sprint from 0-60mph faster than a Porsche 911. And it feels even faster. If you have never travelled on two wheels, imagine sitting on a park bench in a 100mph wind.

I was struggling to master the low-speed manoeuvres, in particular the U-turn. This must be achieved without either foot touching the ground.It wasn't until Wednesday morning, moments before my test, that I finally grasped the technique.

As I left the test centre my nerves were at breaking point. Even a perfect U-turn did little to lift my spirits. I found myself asking: "Even if I pass today, do I really feel confident riding a high-powered bike on the public road?" The answer, I admitted to myself, was no.

Eventually, the genial examiner guided me back to base and revealed my fate. I had failed for moving away without being in proper control.

It was depressing news, but the experience has given me a new determination to try again and earn the right to call myself a biker. Sorry, mum.

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