Two Wheels Bad, Four Wheels Good…
At some stage in his life EVERY bloke thinks about buying and riding a motor bike.
And I am no different. When I was stationed at RAF Coningsby I used to commute the 16-17 miles from Sleaford to Coningsby by car. Occasionally we’d share lifts, but work shifts often made this difficult. I was a humble Junior Technician (probably the best rank in the RAF – good pay, but no supervisory responsibilities) and had a mortgage and young kids, and was finding things…difficult…cash wise.
So I thought about the idea of a motor bike; just a 125 putt-putt, to get me to and from work for as cheaply as possible. A good idea.But the problem was I had never ridden one. Never even been on the back of one as a pillion passenger. Bit of a drawback. However, a good friend of mine, Andy, had a 125cc bike. (Sorry petrol/bikie types I have not idea of the three random letters the Japanese manufacturer had assigned to it – or even who the manufacturer was.)
I had a chat to him and told him my idea. He loved it, he said that as I had never been on a bike I could have a go on his, to get the basics of riding sorted – afterall we had the benefit of a large flat wide open space for me to practise on – the aircraft apron in front of the Hardened Aircraft Shelters (HAS). I could putter around and learn how to go and stop, and the basics of changing gear RELATIVELY safely.
So out we went, Andy and I, with his bike. He gave me a good 15 minutes instruction about the bike. What all the levers and controls were, how to change gear, and so on.
For non-bike riders, if I recall correctly, the clutch is on the left hand, and the brake on the right hand lever. The right hand also controlled the throttle. The left foot was for changing gear and the right foot had the rear brakes. To make a bike go, you pulled in the clutch with your left hand, put it in gear with the left foot, took the front brake off and turned the right handle to rev the engine. Once you have the right rev’s, release the clutch and off you go….then use the clutch to assist in changing gear to accelerate away. As the Meercat says “Simples…”
I got ready to go, but Andy then gave me a word of caution. He said that if I felt that I things were going wrong then simply release the throttle, pull the clutch lever in, and then apply the front brake with right hand. This would then bring me to a gentle halt and I could start again. I practised this with the engine off a couple of times. As i was going to be riding Andy’s bike, I thought it was probably the best manoeuvre to learn before I actually hit the streets, so to speak.
So. I fired the engine up. I did the routine to put the bike into gear and slowly revved. Or what I thought was slowly revving.
But it wasn’t. I over-revved.
And then I released the clutch.
And all the rev’s from the engine were applied to the rear wheel to drive the bike forward, but then physics got involved. Think back to school; vectors, angles, moments, all got themselves involved and the bike did as bikes do when too much power is applied to the driving wheel – the front end of the bike lifted as I moved forward and I pulled a wheelie.
A bloody big wheelie.
The front wheel raised a good 3 feet in the air and I held on for dear life. I think I might have let out a little scream. I can’t remember. But what I did remember was to do the stopping drill, just as Andy had told me.
I was still with the front end in the air, wobbling forward, so I released the throttle and pulled in the clutch. Quickly the rev’s dropped and the front end of the bike dropped. It bounced on the shock absorbers slightly, but I held on…I gently pulled on the brake lever and the bike slowly came to a halt. I’d gotten away with it!
I’d pulled a wheelie and ridden a bike a distance of about 20 feet in a straight line, but I’d survived and most importantly Andy’s bike was intact. Andy was almost apoplectic. He came running up shouting “My bike! My bike!”
I managed to release the clutch and as the bike was still in gear (I’d forgotten to put it into neutral) it stalled with a jump. “Ooh” I said. “Cheers Andy. But I have to say that I think, on the whole, riding a bike will be a bit of a mistake for me…I am safer with four wheels…”