Revenge of the yuppie bikers

Hell's Angels are the stereotype. But when Gerard Gilbert went to learn to ride a motorbike he found a bunch of affluent male professionals, like himself

"This ..." says our instructor Darren, in his mordant Butch Wilkins tones, "is a crash helmet." At half past eight on a murkily chill Saturday morning, knocking back cup-loads of under-strength coffee in a push to make contact with our brains, the self-evident is not unwelcome.

There are about 15 of us learner riders huddled in the common room of the CSM motorcycle training school - happily, most are clad in the sort of gear that would attract admiring glances at a jumble sale rather than at Brands Hatch. The school is based in the car park of Wimbledon Greyhound Stadium, a place, as it happens, where over the years I have surely thrown away far more than the £399 cost of this "Super" five-day course.

The idea is to learn to ride a motorbike safely, and then, with any luck (although this is not guaranteed), to pass the motorbike test - all in a matter of days.

The course is in two parts - one day in which to pass the Compulsory Basic Training certificate (undertaken in the empty car park), without which you cannot to take the bike test, and without which riders with a licence issued after 1 December 1990 cannot progress on to public roads. The rest consists of three consecutive days honing your skills, and one day nervously downing cups of tea in a caf near the test centre - awaiting your date with destiny, or Mr Stokes, as my examiner turned out to be called.

This week's intake is exclusively male, with an average age in the early thirties and with largely white-collar jobs. The managing director of a movie special-effects company, an engineer on the Jubilee Line extension, a freelance in the video business and a bloke from Pinkertons make up my group.

There's nothing unusual about the maleness of the company - we're talking motorbikes here - it's the age and social status of the assembled men that challenges the stereotype of biker as a reckless 17-year-old boy- racer, or an ageing Hell's Angel. In fact, young bikers are a dying breed, as it were, forced on to four wheels by prohibitive insurance costs and an industry geared up to the more affluent biker. Meanwhile, gridlocked commuter traffic, cheaper parking costs, and, in some cases, a middle- aged desire to revisit their lost youth, are driving many thirty and fortysomethings on to two wheels.

The basics of equipment covered, we go out to the car park to meet our trainer bikes - either Honda CG 125s or Honda MTX trail bikes - properly restricted to prevent us from getting too carried away. Not that there was initially much danger of that. Told to practise our emergency stops, most of us come to a sedate halt from a timid 10 miles an hour. But Darren, who looks like a Visi-goth cousin of the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers' Freewheelin' Franklin, but turns to be an excellent, demanding teacher, is having none of it - and we aren't allowed to progress to weaving around traffic cones or practising turning at imaginary junctions until we've all made emergency stops from at least 30mph.

The two semi-mythical bogey-figures, it transpires, are "Pedro the Pizza delivery boy" (forever scootering up on your inside as you go for that left turn) and Volvo drivers, who, protected by broad acres of bodywork, are prone to manoeuvre into your path without indicating. I don't have the heart to tell Darren that my other car is a Volvo - and that is exactly what I had done the previous summer. Fortunately, that particular bike- rider had been unhurt.

With CBG certificates in hand, we are allowed on to the open roads, and given a change of instructor - a woman, begad, by the name of Sian. Togged up with a one-way interbike radio system - so that she can give out directions and a gentle stream of sarcasm - we are Sian's until the end of the course, following her Triumph Trident on our weeny Hondas like ducklings behind the mother.

The next day we drive out of the anonymity of south London suburbia and into the open countryside that leads to Box Hill on the Surrey Downs - the beauty spot that also acts as a Sunday lunchtime gathering spot for bikers. This is the first taste of what biking is truly about, the physical closeness with your surroundings being exhilarating instead of merely frightening. It also serves as an introduction to a whole new community, to which the mere riding of a motorbike gives instant access, although I wonder whether the new breed of "yuppie bikers" would be so enamoured of this dedicated brotherhood. (Two months into being a biker myself - yes, I passed my test - and I think my scepticism was misplaced. "Bike talk" turns out to have as many endless possibilities as football).

The meeting point at Box Hill is a fast-food restaurant called Rykers, where you also have the chance to run your eyes over a large selection of other people's bikes. To stop us getting too starry eyed, Sian relates the tragic tale of a former student, a policeman, who went straight out from passing his test and bought a Ducati 1200. He was dead within two days.

Changes to the rules mean that from next year, riders will be able to learn on any size bike they choose (currently the limit is 125cc). There will be nothing to stop you going straight from tootling around a car park on a Honda 125, to having your first experience of road traffic on a Ducati 1200. Except, that is, your common sense.

There are 40 CSM schools throughout the country. The Wimbledon branch is on 0181-879 3330

News
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
science
News
Richard Dawkins dedicated his book 'The Greatest Show on Earth' to Josh Timonen
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Extras
indybest
PROMOTED VIDEO
Travel
Dinosaurs Unleashed at the Eden Project
travel
Arts and Entertainment
music
Sport
football
Life and Style
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the first online sale
techDespite a host of other online auction sites and fierce competition from Amazon, eBay is still the most popular e-commerce site in the UK
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, Graduate, SQL, VBA)

    £45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, ...

    Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Perl, Bash, SQL)

    Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Per...

    C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB6, WinForms)

    Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...

    C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

    Day In a Page

    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
    eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

    eBay's enduring appeal

    The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

    'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
    Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

    Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

    Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
    Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

    Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

    After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
    Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

    Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

    After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
    Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

    Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

    Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
    7 best quadcopters and drones

    Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

    From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
    Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

    A descent into madness in America's heartlands

    David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
    BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

    BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

    Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home