Blog #2 – The new rider course

After choosing the test centre of choice (ART Training….those lucky people!) Getting booked onto the new rider course, then the day arrives to get back on a motorbike.

I arrive at ART training after following their very good directions. The weather was not on my side I’m afraid, but then what did I really expect learning in the winter!

So I arrive at the centre, to a warm welcome by Kim, and Frank, with beaming smiles. Suddenly my nerves hit in for reasons I can’t even explain. Anyway Frank (or Spanky as he is more fondly known! I didn’t think I ask questions!!) asks me about my riding experience, I give him the small low down on it, 2 mins later and my life signed away into the safety of his hands, its time to get practical.

So, I didn’t mention before I hadn’t thought too much on my attire, except for my huge grin (from nerves and excitement) and my sparkly new helmet (from topgearsuperstore.)
I was donning my huge brown new rock boots, yes new rock you may say, great for biking! Well these have a large platform and heel, photo of these to follow on request!

After a long conversation on these with Kim and Spanky, we decide I will get on the bike and see how it goes, as these boots are more or less attached to my feet at all time, and during many of my daily activities.

Did I say in my last blog that ART provide the basics whilst you train with them? Well I lied. They more or less provide everything you need! I am faced with a wall of new waterproof jackets nicely hung in all sizes, a wall of gloves again hanging in size order. Followed by high-vis vest, trousers (if required,) and helmets. I was very impressed as I remember back in the day of my last CBT it was just a bin full of mismatched gloves, wet jackets, and that was pretty much all they gave you, oh and a helmet that looked like it was just about surviving, and wouldn’t protect anything on impact! I’m told that these types of places are still around training people, basically from a shed with no luxury facilities!

Back to ART, I didn’t mention that they don’t train you from a shed either! They have a large, heated cabin, with chairs, tea and coffee making facilities, and toilets.
If there are any other budding bikers out there I would recommend you think about these things when choosing a training school, as although you are there to ride a bike, all these other things come into play before and after the class.

Ok, so in a nice new waterproof jacket, gloves, helmet, high Vis. All check. All that left is to see if I will be able to ride in my boots. 5mins later on the bike the boots will do the job.

First thing Spanky got me doing was taking the bike of the stand. Great I thought – easy. 5 mins later I’m still tooing and frooing tying to get it off the stand. By this point it feels like 20 mins, and I feel a bit of an idiot! I finally more or less get it. Oh did I mention I’m vertically challenged, standing at 5ft 1”. Yes the 1” is important!

Moving on, I learn 1st gear, and neutral. Again easy you say. 20 mins later im still trying to put it into neutral from first, I start to manage it by going into second, and tapping down. Spanky reassures me that alot of people do this! I have to say it wasn’t the boots, but turns out after years of dancing I don’t have a gentle touch in my feet!

I will just stop there and say by this point I’m starting to think this is not going my way, or maybe I’m just not very good! Spanky is reassuring though, which is slightly helping.

Give it half an hour and I’m flying round the track, stopping at relevant points, and pulling off again. Before I know it Spanky is getting me changing gear, weaving through cones, and doing figures of 8. OK the figures of 8 were quite difficult, and after mild hysteria, managed about 1 decent one. But the gear change etc was going well.

I’d like to point out at this point it was raining quite hard, and I was doing very well, so Spanky was moving me on quickly.
I then had a taster of what’s to come in the CBT, like U turns, emergency stops and using indicators. I can hear all you bikers out there chuckling to yourselves that you don’t think twice about these things when riding now, but try to take yourselves back to being a learner. ;o)

By this point I’m feeling really good, and realised how I hadn’t noticed how quickly a) the time had gone and b), how fast spanky had moved me on. What a great instructor. I would like to add that during some of these tricky manoeuvres, my smile had gone and turned to concentration – sometimes too much. At these points Spanky would yell to me to keep smiling which made me relax, and therefore ride better.

It was such a great experience and has given me a real confidence to go on to do my CBT. The new rider course is such a good idea, and at a price of only £55 for 2 hours hire, it’s a real bargain.

I have now booked onto do my CBT and cant wait. A bit nervous about being outside the confines of the fenced of track that ART have, but I’m sure I will be fine.

Now I’m off to study my highway code a bit more.

Due to the weather no photos, or video was taken during this time, but fingers crossed we will have some road action from my CBT.

Muse3 - Winter riding by endemoniada_88

Grey Horizon (MPH MMIV)

So, winter riding: still a topical subject, particularly given the current cold snap we are experiencing. In fact, this is about as bad as it gets down here in the South: sub-zero temperatures all day long, anonymous grey cloud stretching to the horizon in all directions, morning frost thick enough to look like snowfall and the ever-present dangers of black ice and careless, frozen motorists.

Granted, it's a little more difficult to appreciate the joys of biking under such circumstances, but all-year-round means just that. Unless conditions are utterly hazardous, it's still better, faster and more fun to be rolling on two wheels. The only question, really, is which two?

It's long been one of my contentions that any bike can be an all-weather, all-purpose vehicle with the addition of four items of equipment – Scottoiler, crash protectors, sport rack and cargo net - and a can of WD40. It's worked on an awful lot of bikes over the years, during which time I've had to borrow something with four wheels or resort to public transport no more than a handful of times.

There are some obvious disadvantages to this basic approach, of course.

The first is cost and inconvenience if it should all go wrong. My first proper winter crash was carried out on a lovely, shiny '86 VFR750. Being on the young and foolish side, I looked at the rutted, part-melted ice and decided it would be fine. And so it was - until the first corner. Turning on to a shady side road had me sliding helplessly on a flawless, frozen sheet. Miraculously, I didn't fall off, but turning around was out of the question, so it seemed like a good idea to creep around the block, park up back at home and walk to work. Nearly made it, too...but the very last corner put me down on my ear, wrecked the fairing and my leg. And I still had to walk to work, not just that day but until the VFR was fixed - at great expense.

The second is that, although it can be done, it may not always be comfortable. I spent one winter on a harshly-throttled '96 Fireblade and another on an '01 GSXR1000 with a badly squared-off and largely-shot rear Pirelli. With both, when the frosts came, it was a job not to be highsided at every corner and sometimes, with immoderate use of the throttle, even in a straight line. Never actually got as far as falling off either, but the constant feeling of being about to did get a bit wearing on the nerves. Too much power for the conditions, really, even trying to keep it all smooth and progressive.

The third is cosmetic damage. Not that I have much in the way of mechanical or aesthetic sympathy, but when the salt and gravel are down in thick, damaging layers and every metal part on the bike is turning either brown or furry – and sometimes, both – it does leave me feeling a certain amount of guilt about maltreating my vehicle. Probably not a good plan, either, if intending to get top dollar on a trade-in at any point in the future.

There is a near-perfect solution to this, though: buy another bike, preferably of the genus known as "winter hack". Not least among the arguments for doing so is that will give you at least two bikes to mess around with – and that can only be a good thing.

Opinions vary considerably as to what constitutes a good hack: the answer, it would seem, is pretty much anything that a rider can get along with, bearing in mind it will deliberately be exposed to abuse in order to save a "proper" bike. It simplifies the purchasing process somewhat: style and desirability not an issue, cheapness and reliability definitely are. Not just cheap to purchase, either – there will be insurance, road tax, consumables and spares to think about. Best to pick something with a bit of weight and stability, a fairing or screen for weather protection, enough power to be interesting but not so much as to make it a real handful. Reliable electrics and cold-weather fuelling are a must - again, it will be called upon to perform in unpleasant conditions – and a simple, unburstable engine configuration is highly desirable.

In short, leave out the more exotic manufacturer experiments and pick any middleweight or above nineties Japanese motorcycle. It'll do the job.

That said, I've spent more winters without a second bike than with. That's probably because the vast majority of the bikes I've owned have actually been middleweight or above nineties Japanese motorcycles already out of the first flush of their youth. Generally, they haven't been unique or valuable enough to justify owning a spare and most of them have come through the grim months uncrashed and without too much environmental damage. Which does at least provide evidence for the theory that they are ideal bad-weather bikes.

For a change, though, I started the 2008 off-season with a new and still-shiny GSXR600 and wanted to keep it that way. An ideal opportunity to pick up a hack bike arose when a friend decided to sell his weatherbeaten and misfiring TDM850 at a knockdown price. A new coil, a couple of weekends in the garage tidying up and fettling and the TDM was good to go: fully otr for less than a grand. I'm not usually a big fan of twins – although my previous favourite hack was a similarly parallel twin GPZ500S – but the Yamaha makes a great winter ride. Spacious, stable, adequate weather protection and good visibility from the high saddle. Currently top of my personal recommended list, although I'm sure others will have different favourites.

Having reverted to type, the GSXR went a couple of months ago, to be replaced by another nineties big-bore supertanker (Suzuki RF900R, since you ask). Having wintered on an RF some years ago, they're more than up to the task all on their own, but the TDM still gets a lot of road time at the moment. Partly that's down to the completely different feel between the twin and the multi keeping it interesting, mainly it's because I don't really mind how much abuse the Yamaha gets. Come the spring I plan to take it apart and respray it all anyway: of course, if it ends up looking any good, I may need a third bike to hack for next winter...

So, if you want to ride the year around – and, as noted before, why wouldn't you? – it's just a case of getting the right tool for the job. And if that isn't the bike already in your garage, well, there are plenty of options out there that will cost less than the annual depreciation of your sunny Sunday hyperbike and give you an extra three months or more a year in the saddle rather than stuck in a small tin box inching slowly towards the grey horizon.

Go on, you know it makes sense...

Cold, wet and grey...Yamaha weather again

#1 Before even getting on a bike!

In my new role for UKBike, I feel it’s only my responsibility to become a fully fledged biker!
That means a full bike license. Yes it’s a duty in my new role, but I’ve wanted it for ages!

Being right in the middle of the biker’s world, I have easily started to make contacts and get good advice on the way to go about getting my license in style!

So where does one start? I have my provisional bike license already, so that’s one thing done. Next CBT, well I haven’t been on a bike since the last time I did a CBT so maybe a gentle easing back in to a bike would be a good thing.

So, after hunting round through a fair few training schools I have chosen the people who are going to train me. They are ART training, based in Crawley, the main man being Steve.
After having a great chat with Steve I am booked in for my first lesson. Like I say its been several years…ok 12 years since I last did my CBT, so it’s a bit un-nerving getting back on a bike, especially in winter. So Steve suggested I do a new course they have called the ‘New Rider’ course. It’s like a pre-CBT, to get you used to riding a bike, without having to go out on the road 10 Min's after you’ve just learned to ride the thing!

So with being booked in, my mind turns to my outfit. Just kidding, I mean my protective gear! ART do supply the basics such as helmet, gloves and high vis etc whilst in training, but if you know your in it for the long run, best to get kitted out from the off! At least with my own helmet.

So after seriously messing up my hair, and trying on a dozen helmets, I’m told the best helmet for my shaped head is an Arai. Therefore the best thing for me to do is get this brand of helmet. I wasn't aware that they differed so much. I thought you could just measure your head and go get any helmet of the shelf! You learn something new everyday! Apparently its very important to get a well fitted helmet so you don’t have problems later. (Watch this space!)

I am now at the Topgearsuperstore trying on helmets. Yet again earrings out, hair like I've been pulled through a hedge backwards. Yes the Arai is the one for me. Even better comes in true Binny style with a skull and cross bones down the side, SUPER, one please!
To tell you the truth Ian from TGSS went to a lot of trouble to get me the one I wanted, which I really appreciate. (Such good staff at that shop!)

So all that’s left is kit, and then my first lesson.

I can’t wait!!

PTW industry holding on during the downturn

Numbers in from the Motorcycle Industry Association (MCIA) show that motorbike sales in the UK throughout 2008 remained healthy despite the economic downturn, as a wider range of people turned to bikes as an effective solution to rising transport costs.

A total of 139,715 motorbikes were registered in 2008, which is merely 4,866 or 3.4% less compared to 2007. The car market plunged by 11.3% in 2008.

The MCI's Sheila Rainger said: "With a robust performance very close to 2007, the motorcycle market and industry is providing further evidence that powered two-wheelers offer a credible and very affordable transport option. We will all continue to face financial pressures in 2009, and with rail fares increasing by as much as 11% and incentives such as bikes being able to use bus lanes, motorcycle use is more relevant and practical than ever."

"There was a big increase in motorcycle tests in 2008, and dealers selling new and used bikes to people taking to two wheels for the first time. The industry is well-placed to offer people a cost and congestion-busting alternative for everyday transport and this year, we will be campaigning hard to urge people to join in, as well as working to increase safety and transport provisions for motorcyclists."

Last year's top-selling model was the Honda CBR 1000RR (pictured above).

Six And The City and The Boy Biker: December's articles on

What with the new site design which launched this morning, we've been a bit pre-occupied lately. So it's taken a while, but finally here are December's exclusive articles courtesy of the Rider's Digest. Enjoy...

"I have always been unlucky when it comes to breaking rules, because all the way through my school life it was always me that seemed to get caught. I was just never any good at covering up or looking out for people watching, in fact I was just too honest. And that’s why de-restricting my moped seems like a bit too much of a risk, because I always get caught, and getting caught with a moped that is de-restricted and therefore no longer a moped is quite a big thing. I would certainly be prosecuted for no licence and no insurance and that’s just for starters..."
- read on at The Boy Biker @

"As my P45 hasn’t landed on my desk, I’m still plodding away at work. Whilst sitting here in my Louboutin splendour, there are a few tell-tale signs that what you see is a thin veneer of corporate polish and underneath, subversion lurks…
My lid lives on the end of my desk. (My standard response to men fiddling with the Suomy: ‘I don’t play with your helmet, kindly don’t play with mine’)
My screen saver is his Rossiness getting his knee and elbow down and it all indicates that I like bikes but most people assume I’ve got a moped, and a certain visitor behind me was no exception:
"What bike do you ride?"
Me, obtusely, "A small black one."
- read on at Six And The City @

New Suzuki XC range announced

Suzuki GB have revealed the new RM XC cross-country bike range for 2009.

The spin-offs from the popular RM range come in 125 and 250 flavours, upgraded with a larger capacity fuel tank, hand guards, O-ring chain and a Relentless Fast Eddy replica graphics kit.

The RM125XC retails at £3920 inc VAT, while the RM250XC will cost £4210 inc VAT.

MotoGP 09: Kawasaki set to pull out

John Hopkins

Over the New Year it was revealed that Kawasaki were to pull out of the 2009 MotoGP season, leaving riders John 'Hopper' Hopkins and Marco Melandri without a team, and only four factory teams remaining on the track.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Kawasaki are yet to make a formal announcement, but the BBC reports that the economic climate and poor returns on the circuit are likely to be the main factors of the pull-out. Since joining the MotoGP tour in 2003, the team has failed to win a race.

Despite speculation linking Melandri with an immediate switch to the Gresini team, the plans of both riders are very much unknown. It has also been rumoured that the Aspar team are looking to keep the Kawasaki MotoGP profile alive for the forthcoming season.

Kawasaki are the latest in a line of Japanese manufacturers to pull out of motorsport in recent months; Honda announced that they were leaving Formula 1 back in December, while Suzuki and Subaru have withdrawn from this year's World Rallying championship.

New modular motorbike test - consultation period coming to an end

As previously reported back in November, the Driving Standards Agency (DSA) have published proposals for a new motorbike practical test which would see the current single-event test being split into two modules.

The six-week consultation period ends this Friday, and the DSA have made a final call for feedback on the proposals from the bike industry as well as riders.

The proposals can be seen at the DSA website.

Happy new year! London's bus lanes now open to bikers

Hello and welcome back to the UKBike blog! We hope that all our readers had a good break. The seasonal celebrations are now well and truly behind us, but with the new year comes a fresh batch of bike shows, new models and news from the world of two wheelers - plenty to keep our readers entertained.

Today marks the first day of Boris Johnson's experiment to allow motorbikes to use London's 'red route' bus lanes. As we reported back in October, the plan was met with opposition from the London Cycling Campaign who delivered a 3,500-name petition to the Mayor's office in protest.

Still, the bus lanes were opened to motorbikes this morning and the Motorcycle Industry Association (MCI) have marked the occasion by publishing a code of conduct for city riders who intend to use the lanes.

The code was developed with the Metropolitan Police, and contains guidance and information for bikers, emphasising the benefits as well as the dangers of riding in a shared space.

MCI's Craig Carey-Clinch said: "Motorcycles in bus lanes is good news for road safety and will also help to improve accessibility for motorcyclists who travel in London. However, it is essential that riders use this new freedom responsibly. This is why the MCI and its partners have developed the Code, which provides valuable advice and encourages riders to be aware of pedestrians and cyclists when they ride in bus lanes."

The MCI's code can be viewed at the MCI website.