We all have a motorbike story/journey to tell. Mine started in 1992 as an 11-year old going to secondary school for the first time and passing the motorbike shop with its mass of green Kawasakis outside. When I first saw a Ninja, I knew I would one day own one.

Fast forward a few years to July 2017. I sat my motorbike theory test and passed first time. I sat the test even before having ever been on a bike. My theory was, if I couldn’t pass the written test then there wouldn’t be any point doing the practical. It wasn’t until a year later that I took my CBT in July 2018. Oh my, I fell in love. I knew this was something that I really wanted to do. The feeling of being on a bike was akin to my other passion – skydiving – freedom! Due to work, it took me until September 2018 to pass my full licence.

As a nurse, I knew passing wasn’t the end of my motorbike journey, rather it was just the beginning. I was aware I needed to be as safe as I possibly could, having seen what happens when things go wrong. In November 2018 I joined TVAM. I remember my first ride, I was shocking! The second observed ride was just as bad. I came to a stop at a junction, put my foot down, went to go but had to stop again. I’d noticed bikes coming around the blind corner. It was almost like the tarmac had been removed, there was nothing there. The road had disappeared and I toppled over onto my ass, laughing at my stupidity. I’m not sure my Observer, David, saw the funny side. At the time we discussed it and we went through what happened and what went wrong. It’s only now, after going through the process, that I fully appreciate why David hadn’t see the funny side. Firstly, I’d missed the sign to say ‘give way 100 yards’. Secondly, I didn’t read the road and hadn’t noticed it was off camber – until I was on my ass.  Finally, I rushed into something without an appropriate plan. On my second observed ride, I was still learning the system – IPSGA.

I was still making silly mistakes up until my 7th observed ride – 6 weeks since starting at TVAM. But then, something clicked. It all made sense. Hoorah! I was riding at an advanced level on each observed ride and I understood. I was becoming a thinking rider. I was becoming a safer rider. I was also becoming a fatter rider thanks to all the coffee and cake over debriefs!

At this point, I thought of something crazy. I will ride around the Highlands on my own, but that’s a story for another day.

Then came my first, big group ride on 7Ws. For most people, 7Ws is a weekend full of fun, sun (at times) and learning. For me it was full of tears, tantrums and losing myself a little along the way. The Friday of 7Ws riding to Wales, was great. My only kind of cock-up was filtering on a solid white line for the Chief Observer to witness. Duh! In my defence, the road was clear and the car behind me was making me nervous, so I avoided danger. That’s my story and I’m going to stick with it. The Friday for me was the best part of the weekend. Having never ridden within a big group or over such distances, it was a challenge which I embraced with both wheels. I hold onto that experience with very high esteem and it helped shape me into a good rider.

On the Saturday, I went on the pink run. I really had no idea what to expect. I went pink because it’s such a pretty colour. In hindsight, I should have paid attention to the ride not the colour. I’m not going to go into much detail, but I was rocking backwards and forwards, crying and ready to hand in my keys! Thanks to Ness and Barry, that didn’t happen. With their observation, knowledge, support and guidance I survived the Saturday. It gave me the reality check that I needed.

On the Sunday, the final group ride, I took the long ride home. Again, in hindsight, I should have taken the quick route. Although this ride was tantrum and tear free, the fatigue had set in. I had to, at each stop, check my own human factors, looking for holes, repair those holes and continue riding again.

Although, my experience on the 7Ws wasn’t like most peoples, I am very much looking forward to September, where I plan on being a back marker.

Anyway, I came back from the 7Ws a different rider. I was a lot more competent, but I’d also lost some of my confidence. Although I have a very limited biking history, the one thing I’ve learned is you need to be competent, but you also need confidence – not too much, but just enough, and I’d lost some of mine. I felt sorry for my Observer; he really didn’t know what he was getting himself into when he was paired with me. I’m not going to lie; I was – still am – a challenge. It took a pep talk and a social ride for me to regain what I’d lost. From that point, each ride was about fine tuning. My cross check went swimmingly and I was recommended for my advanced test. Hoorah!

After only 9 months of riding under my belt I went to Scotland and rode the NC500 on my own. I had to come back a few days earlier than planned because I had, whilst on the NC500 route, booked my test. I never do anything the easy way.

I remember the morning of my advanced test; I was bricking it. Yes, I vomited! I’m not ashamed to admit that nerves got the better of me for all of 10 minutes. But I took it like a girl, I ‘super-womaned’ up, I could achieve anything, and I did. I passed my advanced test with a F1RST and full clean sheet of ones.

I went from a learner, to advanced rider in 9 months! Within 6 months of joining TVAM I had undergone 16 observed rides, countless social rides both with large groups, small groups and, when not on an official ride, my ‘riding buddy’ David. With maybe 60 hours of contact time, countless text messages ranging from analysing rides, discussing situations and random questions with my Observer, I was an advanced rider. As I said, I could achieve anything and I did, but I had the support of the group and my Observer. If it was not for David but also Alan, Steve, Ness, Keith and many more Observers and fellow Associates (mostly Julie – who was told everything – if it went wrong, we discussed; if it went right, we discussed) I wouldn’t have been able to achieve my goal. I look forward to where my place fits within the group, my story isn’t like everyone else’s and I want to pass on my journey and experience to the future, thinking riders.

Unfortunately, 4 days after passing my advanced test I came off my bike, broke my foot and am unable to ride for the moment due to being in cast – but that’s a story for another day!

Oh, and if anyone is wondering – The Tea Cosy, Hurstbourne Tarrant was probably the best stop off/debrief location/cake-eating place David and I visited whilst on our journey to making me a thinking rider.

Paula Nash

First Published in Slipstream August 2019