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

peopleMathematician John Nash inspired the film Beautiful Mind
Richard Blair is concerned the trenches are falling into disrepair
newsGeorge Orwell's son wants to save war site that inspired book
Life and Style
Audrey Hepburn with Hubert De Givenchy, whose well-cut black tuxedo is a 'timeless look'
fashionIt may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
Arts and Entertainment
The pair in their heyday in 1967
Life and Style
fashionFrom bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

    £40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

    Guru Careers: Software Developer

    £35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

    Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

    £25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

    Day In a Page

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine