This was no Pauline conversion on the road to work; no revelation in the rush hour. The experience was more akin to falling in love; gradual and unexpected - and just as likely to end in tears.
"You'll be dead within weeks," cheerily prophesied my brother on learning that I had passed my test, and indeed I have a fair idea of in what manner he will be proved right. I'll be overtaking a slowish moving car when that car turns right without indicating. It's happened three times now. (So far I've just had my foot run over by an imperious Joan Sanderson type. "You shouldn't have been there anyway," was the extent of her concern. The really painful thing was that she was probably right.)
Death and serious injury are the biker's companions. They are not constant companions, but it is good to remind yourself of their existence at least once a day, lest you do something really rash, like believe a car is turning left just because it is indicating left. So why would anyone ever put a crash helmet on their head and, otherwise unprotected, join that vicious, deadly psychodrama we call traffic? Fighting for space with armour-plated Volvos and lorry drivers counting sheep at the wheel. Is biking, like sex, something so elemental and overpowering that we will risk our lives for it?
Taking a bend down a country lane at 60 mph and at a 45 degree angle can, as the saying goes, be better than sex - but, no, that's not the answer. The thing is, sad to relate, that motorbiking is so damn convenient. Especially in a big city like London.
Name your three biggest bugbears of getting from A to B in the metropolis. They are: the gridlocked roads (or the rundown, stress-inducing public transport); the expense of either maintaining a car or purchasing an annual season ticket; and, if, like me, you gave up using public transport years ago, the constant problem of finding somewhere to park. With a motorbike these seemingly immutable obstacles are banished overnight. Just like that.
What do you see at the traffic lights, at the head of every line of traffic? Motorcyclists, of course. Imagine how liberating it must be to know exactly how long a journey will take - and that it won't take very long. Imagine cars banished from your cityscape. Cars are still a menace, but they are no longer an obstacle.
Needless to say, bikers don't suffer from road rage, and - being considered a different, almost invisible, species by car drivers - are generally not the recipients of road rage. And if a BMW or a Porsche should decide to reenact the car chase from Bullitt with you? Eat dust, sucker. The Zen of motorcycling is in the acceleration.
You become the master of your urban environment rather than its slave, a fact made more blissful by the ease and cheapness of parking. Someone, sometime (I am prepared to believe it was God doing some part-time consultancy work for the GLC) has liberally sprinkled London with "solo motorcycle parking" bays. There is always one near where you want to park, they nearly always have space, and they are free. If you want to go to Peter Jones in Sloane Square, the Empire Leicester Square, or Gap in Oxford Street - simply park your bike just behind these emporia, and saunter in unhassled and ready for retail therapy. Next time you're waiting for someone to unclamp your "nimble" little hatchback, think of me.
I use my Honda CB500 (heartily recommended to townies, although longer journeys can weary the bum) for commuting through central London and visiting country pubs at the weekend - and all on pounds 7 and a few pence each week in petrol. Larger bikes, I am aware, can drink petrol as hungrily as the average family saloon - but you'd be stupid to ride anything much bigger than a 500cc in a big city anyway. It's like keeping greyhounds in a high rise flat; and anyway superbikes are not as nifty in the denser traffic.
Don't forget, bikes are green, too. I'm not exactly the most environmentally conscious of people, but even a Jacques Chirac must wonder at the waste involved in carrying around just one person in a car. To paraphrase Mrs Thatcher: there's no such thing as a traffic jam, just individuals and their cars - and most cars are just carrying one individual.
Oh, there are drawbacks: how do you carry that interesting lamp stand you bought in Peter Jones? Just how do you dress stylishly on a motorbike? Also, when the weather gets really cold, all those wet leaves, black ice and imperious Joan Sanderson types can make you envy the cosseted drivers in their heated, leather-upholstered company cars, dreaming along to Radio Four.
And then you realise why car drivers need to be so cosseted in the first place. If you going nowhere slowly, you might as well be comfortable.Reuse content