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

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