A pretty full day:

8.07am. What a time for a driving test. It meant we had to be at the test centre in Banbury by 8am, so into the office at the training centre by 7am, time for a quick cuppa before heading off for one last mock test. During that final mock I felt my riding was the smoothest and most competent that it had been all week and too be honest I was really concerned that it was the best I could offer and anything that came later, ie the actual test, would be to a lower standard.

After my introduction to Barry, the examiner, I saddled up and made to leave. First problem - the key to the bike was buried in my pocket and I had to dig around, taking off my gloves to find it. He did reassure me that he was not assessing me for numptyness!

So we set off. The actual route was not a challenge for it was one we had covered several times yesterday in various configurations - start in one direction, then the other. Re-do a bit, etc etc. So that was not an issue, but as I had feared my riding was. Lurching around, taking a turn in neutral, forgetting my much practised "Life saver" look, all these were errors that I should not have been making and I was immensely annoyed with myself. Not long after we set off, we passed a group of ladies setting off for Royal Ascot, complete with general finery and splendid hats. It seemed from my brief glance (concentrating on the road you see) that they were waiting for a coach in front of a small group of shops, but Barry remarked over the radio something about "people getting married at the chip shop" which was very funny (you had to be there). Sadly he then forgot my name, calling me James, which then unsettled me far more than it should have done for some reason.

The other issue was my previous concern, addressed to the instructor, that I needed some practice on hill starts. We had tried one or two, and I felt pretty confident, but during the test it seemed nearly every junction was a hill start so by the end of the test I was well and truly practised. Just not the best time to get that practice perhaps!

On my return to the test centre I was convinced I had failed. I had already started thinking that if I had failed, I would probably not bother to retake the test at least for a few months, if ever. After all, this week was only embarked on as a bit of fun - I don't need to ride a bike, I have 1, 2, err 3 vehicles that I can call on (2 Land Rovers and a van) so I am hardly desperate for transport. I embarked on the course because I wanted a challenge and a bit of fun and a contrast to my day to day life. At the beginning of the week failure was not an issue, this morning pre-test it became a definite no-no, but by the end of the actual test I was happy to accept that I had not passed. But..........

I passed! I nearly fell off my chair in shock. (Luckily I was off the bike by then). There were three minor faults (you are allowed 10 per test, 11 being a fail), maximum 3 in each of 6/7 categories such as handling, progress, steering, observation etc. What a feeling - it didn't really sink in until after I was back at the training centre, Nik the instructor had to remind me to look a bit happier when I was sitting in the test centre. I was also really pleased for Kate who had come yesterday to redo her training after failing once before in Gloucester. Her Godfather passed away last night and she received the news when she arrived back at the training centre. It seems they had been really close and this was totally unexpected, but she didn't let it hold her back and also passed.

The rest of today has been made extra pleasant by that little voice in my head that pops in every so often to say "you passed your test". I have visited Stratford and was pleasantly surprised by how clean and tidy it is, throngs of tourists enjoying the sight of Shakespeare's birthplace, and prices even on the main street that were reasonable. Salisbury take note, especially about the cleanliness! After lunch by the river I visited a Triumph/Honda dealer on the outskirts where I was sorely tempted to walk out with a new bike under my arm - luckily I remembered in time that I don't have a spare £8K about me.

I also went up to another Honda dealership in Coventry, revisiting favourite haunts from another blog post back in September 2010. The Ford Dealership that repaired the van, the garage where I first stopped after being rescued from the motorway. So a happy homecoming...not. You will have to look back to the post.

At both dealerships I have been looked after brilliantly - far too tempting not to buy something although to rush into a purchase at this stage would obviously be very foolish. I still have to buy most of my own kit - borrowing a jacket, high-viz, helmet and gloves from the training school has meant that I have been spoilt all week. I need to budget a considerable amount for these items - I cannot afford to be skimpy on something as important as a helmet, never mind other protective clothing such as a decent jacket and gloves. I bought a good pair of trousers prior to starting my course, but thinking about it I will also need boots. So basically my cash reserves will be eaten up very quickly on gear, but I still won't have a bike to use it all on. Doh.

To round off a generally excellent day, I have wondered down to the local pub in the village of Hornton - the Dun Cow. Nice owners, real cider and perry on the bar, good food, what more do you want? Highly recommended if you are in this neck of the woods. And still that little voice is saying "you passed your test!", even after a couple of pints of cloudy Welsh cider. I must have done something right this morning! 

Module 1 Passed!

Well, the nerves, revision and preparation all paid off and I pass the Mod 1 low speed handling test this morning. At 8am myself, Kevin the other trainee and Nick the instructor all met at the office to do some last minute revision before heading over to the test centre in Solihull. It was good to spend another 30 or so minutes going through any manouvers that we each felt weak on, and Nick had made sure that his training was in much less space than allowed on the test. So when the real thing came we had far more room to play in.

After a quick pee and a cuppa we set off for the 1 hr 10 minute ride to the test centre. This was a real baptism of fire as en route we experienced road works, a fire engine on an emergency, lots of roundabouts, fast country roads and slow suburbs, complete with buses and pedestrians. Nearer the huge test centre there was a steady stream of learner drivers coming in, some very hesitant, and a sprinking of fellow bike tests. One moment that made my morning was a RAF C17 Globemaster on short finals to Birmingham Airport - it passed right over our heads and cleared the road by about 100 feet. An amazing sight and I was in exactly the right place at the right time.

We arrived at around 10.50am and parked, then made our way into the centre where Kevin was called first. This gave me the chance to see his test outside and also hear some of his comments as mine was not booked until 11.50am. When it was my turn I was introduced to the examiner and then we wnt outside to the test ground. The whole thing is over in abount 15 minutes, plus a 5 minute debrief, and for those of your keeping score I received 2 minor faults out of a possible 5. One major or 6 minor faults is an instant test failure.My two were both for insufficient speed on the 30mph emergency stop/hazard avoidance, although you are allowed one second attempt to go quicly enough which I did and passed.

The ride back was enjoyable, much more smooth than the ride in, and I really started to understand the draw of biking. There is a lot of emphasis in making progress - that is, if you leave a 30mph zone into a 60mph zone then get up to 60 asap, assuming it is safe to do so. Use the power of the bike to accelerate away, use the brakes to slow you down closer to roundabouts than I would perhaps do in a car, etc etc. It is a different was of driving for me - in the Land Rover I have to be very defensive as there is virtually no power to speak of so manoeuvres take a lot of time  - overtakes are virtually never performed as I cannot get past other vehicles. On a bike there is power to spare so I am expected to use it.

Once back there was time for lunch and a brief bit of theory about road positioning especially on roundabouts and juctions, and also discussion about an overtake we had made where my positioning left a lot to be desired! Tomorrow I will be with another, different trainee, and we will be spending the whole day riding various test routes around Banbury this time and doing mock tests, as earliy (8am) on Thursday morning is the MOD 2 on road test. I will lead with an instructor following me, giving directions and observing how I interact with other traffic. This time, unlike the last three days, hw will not be telling me what to do in the earpiece, only saying "take the next left" and such, so I will really have to be on the ball.

Finally this afternoon, for a complete contrast and way of relaxing I drove round to the nearby Gliding Club to see if I could have a flight. It is over 15 years since I last flew in a glider and being such a nice day I was looking forward to it, but the chief instructor was unwilling to fly with someone who has epilepsy without a doctor's note, so I had to leave it. Maybe another time.

On my travels again

Last night I drove up to the Banbury area in some of the worst driving conditions I have experienced for a long time. The much needed rainfall, so missing over the past few months, seemed to all arrive in one day. Heavy rain, reduced visibility, deep puddles across the road. Really unpleasant and I was thankful to be driving Betty, my Land Rover, rather than anything more flimsy. If you hit a deep unseen puddle in Betty not a lot happens - water shoots up, the steering stays straight, you carry on, all is well. Try the same trick in a normal car, or worse a motorbike and it all goes horribly wrong.

The reason for this journey is to start an intensive 3 1/2 day Direct Access motorbike course, with a training school in the area. 2-3 weeks ago I decided on a whim to take my CBT, that is the compulsory basic training that allows a driver to ride any motorbike up to 125cc, with L plates, on any road apart from motorways. I did this one Sunday at A1 Roadcraft in Netherhamton and was sold on the idea immediately. Riding a motorbike is like a push bike in that you can enjoy the countryside, but you also make real progress and when you come to a hill there is power on tap to take you up.

As part of my preparations for the CBT I had also taken and passed my Theory test. This is critical, for without the Theory you cannot progress any further and you a stuck with the CBT restrictions. So clutching shiny new certificates I arrived this morning at the offices of Bike-Moore. This is run by Emma and Nick Moore and has been going at its present site since July 2010. I was immediately impressed by the clean offices and new equipment on show, as I had been by their website and response to my initial enquiry.

Today's training assumes that you know and are happy with the basics as these have been covered in the CBT. No time is spent goign through the controls of the bike, or which end is the fast end, as really that should be pretty obvious at this stage. We are riding 650cc machines - a big step up in power, weight and speed from the 125cc on which I did my CBT. Some riders will chose to spend some time on a 125cc leaning the ropes - maybe 6 months or so, before going on to the bigger one, some might never move up, others like myself jump in at the deep end!

My initial thoughts were that the bigger machine, while heavier, has more power on tap which is no bad thing. It comes on smoothly and in a controllable fashion, so providing you are smooth with the controls you will be fine. The exercises we have practised today are the low speed, off-road manoeuvres that make up the MOD 1 test, without which you cannot progress onto MOD 2 which is the monitored on-road section. Basically this means practising a U-turn, slalom, figure-of-eight, slow ride, emergency stop and hazard avoidance.

I have struggled today with putting all the necessary items in the right order. Back brake, front brake, clutch, throttle, steering, lifesaver and observation checks all need to be done in a certain order so that the bike stays smooth and controlled. However too and from the main practice area we spent around 20 minutes on the road each way, and here I felt much more relaxed. Nick my instructor said he was happy so far so I hope that this is the case. Tomorrow morning we will have another couple hours of practice before heading over to Solihull (about 1 hr) to the test centre. Fingers crossed!

You can find the Bike-Moore website here: http://bike-moore.co.uk/default.aspx