Sunday 18 December 2022

The Monkey Motorbike Diaries - Episode 3

I am two-thirds of the way along the route to taking the L-plates off my dear Honda Monkey 125cc bikje. Part 1 of three was all about doing the theory test, and Part 2 was Module 1. The final part, Module 2, will be at a time in the not-distant future.

Slightly worn but somewhat valuable certificates!

Once I pass that then I will have the A1 licence. It is basically a full licence, but restricted to 125cc motorcycles. Usually the A1 licence is what young riders get as they are not old enough to be issued with the A licence which allows you to ride any sized bike. For that, you have to be over 21 years if you have done a progressive access course, or over 24 years old if you are getting directly into motorcycling. 

So, as a woman in her fifties some might say that I should go for the A licence. Folks on motorcycle social media groups often say that the A1 licence is a waste of time getting if you are over 24 years old. After all, it will cost the same to obtain as the A1 licence. Furthermore, you'd soon get fed up with riding a 125cc and I will be wishing for a big bike.

The thing is, on a number of fronts I don't agree with what folks say. Firstly, in my opinion, getting the A1 is a hell of a lot cheaper than getting the A license.

The motorcycle test to get the A license has to be done a minimum 600cc engine size. So given that CBT only allows you to ride a 125cc then any time you want to practice and prepare for the test you have to go via a motorcycle training school. The A1 licence, being for 125cc bikes means that if you own a 125cc bike you can prepare for the test yourself, without having to go through the programme in a training school. And it is true that the sessions will be the same as for the A licence so it will cost almost the same - around £800-£1000.

So yes, there is a case for going for the full A licence if you only plan to prepare via a school. But that's not my line. I went to two different schools in order to obtain my Compulsory Basic Training (CBT) certificate, neither of which were schools that I rated. By the time I'd done my CBT I had had my fill of training schools and so am not ready to send my cash to any training school for the time being.

So with that in mind, I was ready to do the A1 as a privateer and just pay the test fees (£15.50 for Module 1, £75 for Module 2) plus a small investment (£15) in a set of cones to practice riding around in a car park.

As I already have my little Monkey to ride I can get all the practice I need riding around the various streets in London. For my Mod 1, I took to hanging out in carparks - at the local Tesco, usually early in the morning; then in a local sports centre, and even just on quiet residential roads for things like the emergency stop and hazard avoidance test. 

When I told a few people of my intention to prepare and take the test as an individual many people were quite skeptical of the idea and told me that it would be really tough as I don't know what the examiner will be looking for - there is a reason why people get trained by a motorcycle instructor. I just didn't feel convinced that a motorcycle instructor would teach me anything that I couldn't work out myself or obtain from online resources. Judging by the behaviour of other instructors I had experienced I just didn't rate them enough for me to want to take any instruction from them.

After passing the multiple choice test, which I thankfully passed first time, with the help of the DVSA video practice tests in books and on-line, I then attempted my Mod 1 at the driving test centre in Mitcham. That wasn't a great experience.

I had visited the test centre a couple of days before, to get a feel for the layout of the place, but I wasn't allowed to ride around the route. On test day I was very nervous, and the examiner was anything but friendly or welcoming. He delivered the instructions quite quickly and when I asked him to repeat, so that I could check I had understood what he wanted, he sighed and repeated them again just as quickly. At one point he said, "You haven't had no lessons have you?" I replied that I had prepared for the test but I was feeling very nervous. That didn't register with him and when I asked him to repeat the instruction on another occasion he shouted at me saying, "You should listen."

Despite all that I performed all the tasks correctly, except for the very last task, the hazard avoidance. On my first go, as I looked at my speedometer and saw 25 mph shortly before the speed trap I abandoned the attempt knowing that I wouldn't be able to reach the required 31mph.

On my second attempt I was determined to give it some welly, revving the engine right up and I went through the trap at 34mph, then brought the motorbike to a controlled stop feeling pleased that I had done a good swerve.

But, uh oh! I looked at where I had parked the bike and realised I stopped completely in the wrong place, and nowhere near the cones where I was required to come to a halt! I knew I had blown it and just wanted to ride straight home.

The examiner said I hadn't done badly apart from the final exercise, and he put it down to me having gone through the speed trap too fast, and not being in control of the bike. I didn't agree with that. I knew that the nerves had gotten the better of me, and his behaviour had not helped matters.

I went home feeling quite furious with the situation and fed back about the behaviour of the examiner, who I later discovered had not even gone through the proper administrative processes at the start of the test. I have no idea if DVSA will have taken any action in respect of this. Given some of the negative feedback that I have heard about the place, I don't get the impression they care.

On the road to a life of no L-plates

Still, it didn't stop me going back to take the test on another occasion. On my second attempt I did everything perfectly, but once again I failed on the hazard avoidance test. My first attempt was too slow, and on my second attempt I looked down at the speedometer, and seeing that I was at 34mph I thought "great" and released the throttle, only to drop, unbeknown to me, down to 28mph. I could have kicked myself. Finally, I got the test on my third attempt, and with just one minor error. When I did that test, I didn't feel nervous at all - probably more fed up and with a bit of a ground hog day/here we go again feeling. So I was probably quite relaxed!

It's been a bit of a faff getting the Mod 1, but to be honest, I still feel that it has been worthwhile doing it this way, and I have generally been very much in control of where I am and how I go about the motorcycle test preparation. The times I failed were on the same issue - the hazard avoidance test. That was also the aspect I practiced the least during my preparation because it wasn't that easy to find an off-road space where I could ride at 31mph without potentially being a nuisance. But when I found a magic cul-de-sac the day before the test, and practiced on it during a quiet time of the day that made all the difference. I now have the final part to do - hopefully that will be a more straight forward affair. 

Some people might still wonder why it's so important to have an A1 licence if I could just continue with the CBT certificate and L-plates, then keep renewing it every two years - something that is quite commonly done. Firstly, I am not sure how economical that is in the long run because CBT renewals cost at least £150 (as much as £180) in the London area, and that works out as as more than taking an A1 test. 

Once you have an A1 licence there is no obligation to renew anything, You don't need L-plates and you have the same status as anyone on a larger bike. So you can carry a passenger (if your bike is set up for that), you can ride on a motorway (if you dare to do so on a 125cc bike), but for me most importantly, I can take the bike abroad. My goal in the next few months is to be able to take the Monkey to France - to ride up the Champs Elysées, park there and soak in the Paris in the Spring atmosphere. I look forward to getting to the French capital significantly quicker than on my pushbike!

Related posts

Monkey Motorbike Diaries - Episode 1

Monkey Motorbike Diaries - Episode 2

Tuesday 6 December 2022

Freewheeling - The senseless killing of a cycling champion: Davide Rebellin

Italian ex-professional cycle racer Davide Rebellin was knocked down and killed by a heavy goods vehicle while on a bike ride last Wednesday morning (30th November). 

The accident occurred on a roundabout on a road he had cycled on literally millions of times, for it was just four miles from his home in Lonigo, near Vicenza. 51-year old Davide was born and bred in this area, and had ridden around these roads since the time his father Gedeon, who owned the local grocers shop and was cycling fanatic, got him and his brothers into cycling when he was 10 years old.

Carlo, Stefano and Simone liked cycling, but it was Davide who had a real gift for spinning the pedals fast, winning world junior titles and national races. At the age of 20 he got the call-up to represent  his country at the Barcelona Olympics, where he was instrumental in securing a gold medal for team-mate Fabio Casartelli (who died three years later in a horrific crash during the Tour de France).

A young Davide (right) with his brothers
[Credit: Rebellin family] 
Davide turned professional immediately after the 1992 Olympic Games and raced for different teams throughout his 30-year career including Gerolsteiner, Polti and Francais des Jeux. A specialist of the Spring Classics, races that take place in March and April on testing, undulating  sometimes cobbled  windswept roads in Northern France, Belgium and the Netherlands, Davide made his mark in 2004 by becoming the first rider to win Amstel Gold Race, La Flèche-Wallone, and Liège-Bastogne-Liege - the Ardennes Classics Week series. 

Over his 30-year career, he took 62 victories, including a victoria at the Giro d'Italia and a silver medal at the Beijing Olympics. The medal was revoked following a positive drug test, but he was then absolved of the charges following a 7-year legal battle.

Davide finally ended his professional cycling career on October 16th this year, where he took part in a race in Verona, in his home region. 

The quiet-mannered man who lived for cycling, was looking forward to spending more time with his friends and family between Monaco and Veneto, in this next phase of his life. 

But barely six weeks into this new era, on a morning in which Carlo was originally going to join him on a training ride (but was unable to go when something coming up at work) Davide cycled out, never to be seen alive again.

An articulated freight truck registered to Rieke Transport, a family company based in Recke, in the Rhine-Westphalia region of Germany, sped round a roundabout near the Montebello interchange between the Venice-Verona A4 motorway and the regional Stradale 11 road near Vicentino. In the process Davide was hit in the blindspot of the vehicle, trapped and dragged for around 25 metres along the road. Davide died instantly. 

These tragic events bear echoes of another shock to the world of cycling, in 2017 when Michele Scarponi, a racer, preparing to contest the win at the Giro d'Italia (Tour of Italy) was killed in a road traffic accident near his home. 

Where Scarponi was hit by a transit van whose driver stopped at the scene and was charged (though later died of cancer) the Rebellin incident had a shocking twist. 

The driver of the articulated lorry, a 62-year old Wolfgang Riecke, fled the scene. The man stopped, briefly looked at the scene of the accident, then jumped back in the cabin and fled back to Germany. Unsurprisingly, the social media pages for the freight company has been flooded with angry comments and insults.

Aftermath of the fatal accident [Credit: ANSA]

Although Italian police are due to charge the German national with road traffic homicide, at present they can't arrest him because this charge is not classed as a crime in Germany, and so no extradition can take place. 

The sight of Davide's road bike all crumpled up and in pieces, gives chilling thoughts about what happened to the cyclist in those final fatal moments. Coupling that with the notion that the perpetrator could practically get away with murder is sickening. Note that the driver has antecedents, having pleaded guilty in 2001 of leaving the scene of a road traffic accident he caused while driving, and having his driving licence temporarily revoked in 2014 for drunk driving. I hope that justice is done for the Rebellin family.

In the mean-time an autopsy is due to take place on 13th December, and the funeral will take place soon after that, in the cathedral of Davide's home town in Lonigo. 

May Davide rest in peace.