It’s the day of the Mod 1 test.
A mod 1 test is the first of two that a motorcyclist does to obtain their full license. It involves a series of off-road exercises on a football-pitch-sized pad. The bike has to be of a minimum specification. I’m on a Suzuki Gladius (650cc). There’s a sequence of manoeuvres every candidate goes through in a particular order. You first have to park your bike so that you’d have to reverse to get out of the bay again. You get off the bike and manually steer it into an adjacent parking bay. There’s a bit of a technique to this, so that you’re not carrying its weight. I’m successful at this, however, I remember that I didn’t do any observations. You are told to treat the pad as if it’s a public road. That’s a minor fault and I’m allowed 5. To avoid the mistake again, I imagine a small group of kids playing football in the street that I have to watch out for all the time. It’s a silly idea, but it works for me, otherwise, I only feel the need to observe where the examiner is.
Once complete, you are sat in front of a line of cones in yellow, followed by two blue. You slalom through the yellow then perform two figures of eight around the blue, and when they are complete he calls you over and sets you up for riding at walking pace until you reach a designated stopping point. After this you complete a U-turn between two lines.
I’m starting to feel I could pass the test. I haven’t faltered yet. I’m smiling and breathe a sigh of relief. The examiner smiles too. Such small gestures take on so much importance in unfamiliar circumstances, whether intentional or not. Only three exercises to go.
The first is to round a bend at a reasonable pace and come to controlled stop in a designated area as if you were approaching red traffic lights. That goes well and I almost cry out a yahoo when I look down to see my front wheel bang in the centre of where it is supposed to be.
The last couple of weeks have been quite stressful. I’d spent three sessions on the 125cc improving my road craft, then two relaxed sessions getting used to handling a bigger bike. However, to make the sessions on time meant morning rush hour traffic through one of the most notorious cities in the country for traffic safety. Good for slow control practice, but not good for a feeling of relaxed riding. As the third week of training started, it took me 80 minutes to complete a 30 minute journey. I even considered inter-lane weaving to get out of the jam, but on seeing a lot of lane change jostling down the road, I decided against it. That day, I didn’t make the transition from one machine to the next and it was like I was starting again. We called it quits and I came back the day before the test. The session started later and I enjoyed the traffic-light journey. Being more relaxed, things went reasonably well. I was introduced to the speed manoeuvres required for the test.
It’s probably not a good idea to learn something for the first time the day before your test. However, the first speed exercise is an emergency stop and this had been well-practised in 125 training. The difference this time is that you’ve got to reach 50kph (30mph) before you stop. This doesn’t sound hard, this is the speed I usually have to travel at due to the number of residential areas and road restrictions I pass through on most journeys. But I’d usually ride at this speed in third and fourth gear, depending on conditions. In this exercise, you have to round a bend in 2nd gear, straighten up and in about 50m reach the speed. My 125 can’t do it – I’d tried many times on the straight, but the 650 is an altogether different machine. She can do it.
I round that bend, see the radar and rev her up to make her wheeze. I’m sure I hit it. The examiners hand goes up and I stop. I look at the examiner hopefully. I didn’t lock up the wheels on the stop and I didn’t stall. I didn’t travel too much on the stop. I’ve nailed the emergency landing, but did I hit the speed?
He shows me the monitor. Damn – only 41 kph.
You do get a second chance on the speed exercises. I’m determined, I try to pick up a bit of speed out of the bend and I make Suzi roar a bit louder. I didn’t like my stop this time, but I didn’t do anything that would have failed me, I knew that. But had I hit the speed? I hold my breath.
Second to last exercise, and it’s over.
You get a debrief after and I’m told:
“I’m sorry, on this occasion you have not passed.”
Both the examiner and instructor are impressed with my slow control, but they don’t need to tell me I’m not going fast enough when it’s needed. I feel pleased with myself and gain more confidence from the experience. I know now I can do it. My instructor tells me I don’t need any more training for this test, but I do need to work on speed generally as it’ll be vital for the Mod 2 and final lap of this journey to full license.
My task going back to the school is to ensure I ride to all speed limits when safe to do so. His idea of safe is slightly different to mine, but who am I to argue? There’s a couple of 60mph stretches that are fun and I enjoy the power of the bike I’m riding. My homework is to ride my little bike “like I’ve stolen her”.
I’ve a week of reprieve and a chance to focus on the joy of riding for its own sake. I’ve learned that I’m not confident in working down from the higher gears for stopping, bends and hills, so avoid using them. I determine to work on that. I’m also very tense when on roads I don’t know and if I become unsure of where I’m going. This week I’ll vary my trips to get used to all manner of conditions.
The first is a trip north to a place called “Bolton Abbey”. Verd is on his Beamer and wants to practise slow control as he has no problem with speed! We have to find a happy medium. I chose a route with both town traffic and open roads.
It’s a pleasant trip on a nippy sunny day across the moors. I have the chance to practise opening the throttle and using all the gears. After Keighley, I’m on unfamiliar roads, but I’ve memorised the route. We follow signs toward the end, but miss a turn, so Verd gets practise at U-turns. We’re about 3 minutes from the abbey but don’t go to view it. Instead we discover a disused garage now converted into a cafe stop for bikers. Verd makes friends with another Beamer owner and they make plans for a meet with the local BMW club. My learner bike causes some amusement among the Kawasaki racers. I have a mug of strong Yorkshire tea and talk to a Harley rider about the joys of early retirement.
On the return journey, I try to get the learner bike to go to 70mph, but at 9000 revs we’ve only made it to 60mph. It’s windy, my helmet tugs at my head in the buffering and figure that’s the best we can do for today. Instead I take in the views. A reservoir below us, surrounded by walled fields of many colours, is strikingly beautiful in the lowering sunlight.
It was good to get a run without the stress of an instructor in my ear and the pressure of an impending test. We stop on the way home to pick up some ingredients for my planned meals. The farm shop is at the top of a hill with constant bracing winds. The view across fields to the city is stunning and worth the stop. Today’s meal is jewelled wild and red rice, tapenade and roast chicken breasts. I recommend it, it makes your cooking taste like restaurant standard.
The recipe can be found here. You’ll see that I amended the red mullet part of it. Otherwise the same.
Settling down to watch Richard Curtis’s “About Time”, we snuggle up, tired, but happy. It’s a great end to a refreshingly relaxed day.