I’m walking through leafy suburbia, early for the lesson by a whole hour. Not to worry though, I have a parcel to post and it’s great to have time to grab a sandwich. Luckily, I meet a dog-walker who points me in the right direction. She laughs apologetically, her little dog is avidly trying to get my attention.
“Post Office up the road, past the Co-op, sandwich shop next door”.
There’s a shortage of brie for the panini. Demand has been high today, but I agree to mozzarella instead. The tea’s hot, so I sit down where the Sun and Daily Mirror are spreadeagled before me. The tabloids exhibit their usual journalistic standards, so I pull out Feral by George Monbiot from my oversized bag, needing some distraction from my nerves. I make some connection between sheep grazing and new National Trust farm acquisitions, but find it difficult to concentrate.
Nerves have the better of me. I wrap up what’s left of my sandwich and stroll toward the motorcycle school. Two grizzly bears wearing biker gear and carrying panniers amiably nod. I guess they are the proud owners of Triumphs.
“You coming with us?” One jests.
“Maybe next time?” I suggest.
“Why, what have you got on that’s so important?”
“About to have my first bike lesson.”
The expression of surprise is gratifying. I adopt the siren’s walk; I know he’s looked back.
The school makes use of a local football club discretely nestled between detached houses. Cherry blossom scatters like confetti. Three bikes emerge, an instructor followed by two newbies. I feel a kindling of empathy for those tending their gardens, motorcycle engines disturbing the peace of suburban ‘paradise’.
Making my way through a variety of shipping containers and assortment of shed-like buildings, I spy a hi-vis jacket smoothly spinning in circles on an upper yard. The CBT participant, who didn’t make it to the road, promptly stalls and his self-consciousness makes it difficult for him to start again. I feel bad for him, knowing my presence isn’t helping.
“Don’t worry, that’ll be me in a few minutes!” I called out, suddenly not feeling so nervous.
His sheepish smile is endearing. I feel relieved when he finds first gear and duly proceeds through the bollard jungle. There’s some avid maintenance work taking place; nature had encroached on the training ground. One lad looks up from his pile of weeds to greet me. After a short interlude we realise we’ve already spoken on the phone, and he introduces me to the ‘gaffer’.
I’m already more at ease. We agree fees and proceed to sort out the admin, while I transform myself into something that looks like a biker.
I plod after the gaffer, feeling like Michelin Man in hi-vis. I meet my friend for the day – a small Suzuki. We get on well. After all, I’m a natural. I expertly sit, straighten up the bike, kick up the stand and with my feet planted firmly on the ground, I’m ready to go. Suzu starts first time. It’s the little things that matter.
Mr Sheepish Smile is invited to join us. I’m pleased to have the company even though a couple of weeks ago I was only going to do this if absolutely no-one else was watching. But Mr Sheepish Smile has worries of his own.
The gaffer gesticulates the mechanics of the gears and ‘bite’, the kind of stuff that shimmies through my brain and fades into the aether, leaving no imprint on the neural circuitry. But I feel ‘bite’ a couple of minutes later and Suzu suggests its time we went for a ride. Slowly at first, my feet are still in contact with the ground, and I’m happy to keep them there for the rest of the lesson if necessary. Not long after, me and Suzu stutter and stammer for a bit around the yard while I gain control over something called Clutch. Clutch soon cooperates and me and Suzu are going smoothly. And hey, look at me – no feet!
Next step: change up one gear.
We do six more circuits before I pluck up courage to change. The first six were needed to imprint the sequence of movements into memory. And wey-hey we’re away – second gear is fun.
Now, up to now, stopping seemed to come naturally. I’d been stepping back down to first gear without being told and never stalled. But then, the gaffer changes the rules and demonstrates how to stop properly. I made him do it an extra time, just to be sure. Mr Sheepish Smile thanked me. He’s not so bold about asking questions. I take off, go around the circuit – get a mind meld, and stall. Can’t believe it. I was doing so well. Whatever Mr Sheepish Smile’s got, it’s infectious. I compose, go around again, but get my timing wrong. I’m stopped some yards in front of where I’m supposed to be. Crossing pedestrians – beware!
A couple more attempts, but Suzu patiently tells me I ought to make up my mind. The gaffer does too. Apparently I’m giving her mixed messages about our friendship. Hammering up the throttle when pulling the brake isn’t a way to get Suzu to stop on cue. We try again and even begin to get the hang of it just as the gaffer calls it time.
“How was it for you?” I’m sure he said that. Hard to hear with a helmet on.
Looking forward to Monday.