The sun’s out, there’s a bit of a breeze and Verd stands in front of me in full biker gear.
“Come on, we’re going to Bradford Motorcycles.” He declares.
I groan, make up a list of excuses, even pulling the ‘women’s problems’ card. What? It was a life or death situation! He stands there with that look. You know the one: the I’ve-heard-it-all-before look. I put on my gear. Slowly. Very slowly. But in no time at all and too soon for my liking, the engine’s running and I put her into 1st gear and pull away.
During lessons, I noted the liberal language of the instructors. Motorcycling has liberated my own. I’ll not describe the journey over to the bike shop. 2nd gear failed a lot; it’s horrendous. I discover there are swear words and cusses I never thought were in me. Good job I can’t hear myself over the noise. Hope no-one else can either.
The guys at the bike shop are incredibly helpful. They ride around on it for a while and there is a bit of tinkering, a bit of riding, more tinkering and Yami’s presented to me as fixed. They have a large empty car park, and I take my time practising and getting that gear change. All is good. Then Verd announces that he’s been given a training slot at the bike school (he’s going for a full-licence), I’m on my own to get home.
It’s a tortuous route, I’m in the wrong lane to go back the way we came, and traffic was too crazy for an attempt.
Let’s say I’m behind that white van, the lights turn green, I pull out, 2nd gear works – wey hey! I cross the junction and then realise I need to be in that right hand lane. Quick judgement call, it’s not possible. Luckily, I used to live in the part of town towards where I am now heading. I know that I can find a route back.
I visit the housing estate where I used to live. It seems more empty. I realise that I’m experiencing the space where tower blocks used to be and I wonder how the occupants were rehoused. There is no-one about, not even children. The quiet feels uncomfortable, there’s a tension to the place that would set the scene for a film thriller. It’s not how I remember it. It used to be a lively community, with regular family arguments, the occasional shooting, regular drugs bust, burglaries, joyriders and the pecking order activity of children.
I take a break before leaving the relative calm of suburban roads. A couple of lads pass who take a keen interest in the bike. I remember that it was not far from here that someone attempted to steal my MZ, my first ever bike, but the pair were caught in the act by the police. Memory drives in overkill, I realise it isn’t the place to hang around too long.
There have been few times in my life where I have been so proud of myself that I could jump for joy. Can you remember when you last felt the pure joy of achievement?
It’s a long time since I’ve felt that sense of accomplishment after a hard slog, or facing all those fears that prevents us from doing anything at all.
I arrive home, park my bike, and jump up and down in glee as if I’ve just won the lottery. There’s an audience. Taking advantage of the sunshine, cafe goers take their lunch outdoors. I let them think I’ve passed my test, which is the assumption they adopt.
The cafe owner, who has been charting my progress, gets the full story, I am so very, very proud of myself.
It’s a couple of days later, no further problems with second gear. I pack couscous, water and flapjacks into the top box and set off with Verd on a more leisurely journey. I want to bike in the countryside.
I tackle a sharp left turn onto a narrow road with a steep incline. I slip the clutch in 2nd gear (it works) and I laugh out loud when I succeed. We pass through very pretty villages which operate a speed limit of 20 mph, I learn to position myself for narrower roads with oncoming traffic at a pace I can cope with. Between villages we ride stretches of windy road across the moors. I experiment with 4th gear and push the bike up to 40mph. I’m loving the bends.
My hands are cramping as I’ve been tense, we take a pit stop at a pub which is now closed. We have lunch and wave to passing bikers and a few cyclists.
We make it home and I feel satisfied. I need to work on reaching the speed limits, but I’m happy with the control I have of the bike.
Later I’m walking along the street and my gait is upright, proud and confident.
Face the fear and do it anyway. It’s worth it.
Photo credits: Screenshots of Google Maps and Streetview