Until a few years ago, I had absolutely no interest in bikes. My only experience was riding my Dad’s old Puch Maxi 50cc moped just to get me to and from college for a year. Once I’d passed my driving test, I never gave bikes a second thought. I preferred riding horses!

Fast forward to 2012, my husband Ian announced, out of the blue, that he wanted a bike and would take his test again. Mid-life crisis I called it. He had ridden bikes as a teenager, a 125, then an RD250 at 17 but once he’d got a car, he sold it and never got another one. In March 2012 he booked himself on a 1-week DAS course. The day after he passed, he went over to Aylesbury to pick up his Honda CBF600 SA. I was  persuaded to jump on the back one Summer’s evening and reluctantly agreed. I absolutely hated it, way too fast and I felt vulnerable and not in control – never again! Until a year later when he changed to a Triumph Sprint, this time it was more comfortable, but I still wasn’t convinced.

As a keen cyclist, Ian was interested in marshalling at cycling events and one of his friends from Reading Cycling Club said he would need to do the advanced test so suggested joining TVAM. By Spring 2014, after chopping in the Truimph Sprint for a Triumph Explorer 1200, he joined TVAM. I rode pillion a couple of times on the Explorer and found it pretty comfy. That summer for my 50th birthday, I agreed to a weekend away on the bike to Hay-on-Wye. I was nervous but we had a great time. Later that year, Ian passed his advanced test.

In early 2015 we found out about a trip to France for 1 day, a ‘French Taster’. It was one night in Calais and a day’s riding on some French roads. Good for those who had never biked abroad. We had a great time despite the appalling weather. Strangely, it didn’t put me off and a couple of months later we went on another french trip to Normandy with some more TVAM members. I’d always wanted to see the beaches and the WW2 sites. I was actually beginning to enjoy this biking lark! We did the pillion riding course which was really useful and informative. Looking back, I think the people we’d met helped make these trips so enjoyable as well as some lovely roads.

We began to visit Wales a couple of times a year where the roads are just fantastic! Ian had been on his first 7Ws so we rode some of those amazing roads in mid Wales. I started to tag along to some of the Green team runs and some of the other group runs. I had got used to the marker system and buddy system after a few rides, but at this point, whilst I had become accustomed to riding pillion, I still had no desire to ride myself.

In September 2016, we went to the Picos de Europa national park in Spain with some other TVAM members. I absolutely loved it! The roads and scenery were fabulous, we were with a great bunch of people and we all got along well and had some laughs (and a few gins!) along the way. On my return, I decided to bite the bullet and get some bike lessons. So, in October 2016, I booked a taster session with Lightning Training in Caversham. I got on one of their CB125s and rode it around the car park for a bit getting used to the gears and brakes. Despite driving for over 30 years, riding a geared bike didn’t feel natural at all, however, I enjoyed it, so I did my CBT training the following week. I spent the first half of the day around the car park getting up into 2nd gear and practising emergency brakes and U-turns. I got my certificate at the end of the day, really pleased with myself – not bad for a 52 year old!

 

 

I was keen to do my Direct Access quite quickly – I wanted to get it done and dusted in a week, like Ian had before – so, I booked a ‘Roadrider’ day for the following week to get some more road experience. I had to go to the Lightning’s Oxford centre as Reading was fully booked. I rode the CB125 again around Oxford City centre, which was very challenging – bicycles and buses everywhere. We rode a couple of times between their Oxford and Reading centres to pickup and drop off the bikes, and as we did I was becoming more used to the bike’s controls. 

I booked my MOD 1 training for the following week with Lightning, again. I spent all day in their training pad on a knackered old Suzuki Gladius. I was a bit peeved as they had some newish CB650s but they thought they were a bit tall for me. I had a fairly good first half of the day, then I dropped the bike on a U turn ending up with a massive bruise on my leg. It knocked my confidence and they decided not to let me out on the road that day so I was a bit deflated and decided I wasn’t ready for the test. I had bought myself a CB125 but found it a bit small so I got myself a 2007 Honda Varadero 125, which was perfect for me. It was a bit taller and didn’t feel like a 125 in size. It was a great practice bike and I went out a few times on it just getting used to gears, brakes and turning. I kept it for a year, until I got bored of trying to keep up with Ian on his Triumph Explorer.

In 2017, going pillion again, we went on our own to France for a ten-day tour, then again to the Picos in the September. When I got back from Spain, I decided I was ready for my big bike test. I had heard about BMW’s Rookie to Rider training through another TVAM member, so I made some enquiries and in October 2017, almost a year to the day of passing my CBT, I booked myself on a 5-day training course up at their centre in Royston, Hertfordshire. The process was pretty easy and they even recommended a local B&B. It turned out that the lady owner had recently passed her DAS with them the summer before and couldn’t recommend them enough. The best thing of all was I got to learn on a new F700 GS!

On the Sunday morning, I arrived at the training centre in Royston around 9am having travelled up the day before. Over a couple of cups of tea, I filled in all the paperwork and then we had a briefing in the classroom with the other students. I immediately opted to start on the 700 rather than the 125. We did a couple of hours or so around their training pad just so they could see our level of riding, then we went out into the countryside, stopping in the popular biking village of Finchingfield. As I reverse parked, my foot slipped on loose gravel and the bike went over – couldn’t have happened in a worse place in front of all those Sunday bikers! Anyhow, I brushed myself down and carried on after a quick cuppa. Apart from that slight hiccup, we had a cracking day’s riding, even getting in some twisties. I couldn’t wait for day two.

Day two was MOD1 training day. Lots more in the training pad, mastering the slaloms, figures of 8 and lots of U-turns. I managed to drop the bike a couple of times doing U-turns but carried on, determined to master this manoeuvre. We did lots of road riding in the afternoon.

Day 3 was more MOD1 and MOD2 training and we got to practise in the actual DAS test enclosure before the test. I dropped the bike AGAIN on the U-turn. At least it was a practice and not the real thing. I was beginning to doubt my U-turn abilities. Everything else was spot on.  .

Day 4 was the MOD1 test. I was nervous and didn’t sleep much the night before. After some more practice in the training pad we headed off over to the test centre just outside Cambridge. There were 2 of us and I went first. I failed! I was gutted and so was Julie, my trainer. I’d done a near perfect test with just that one fault. I’d wobbled over the white line on the U-turn. I did the actual U-turn OK but going over that line was a fail! How frustrating, the other chap passed.

I decided to save day 5 for another time and upon my return home, I spent days on my 125 practising. I had to wait 3 weeks for a re-test, thankfully passing MOD1 the second time and immediately booked my MOD2 test for the following week. I passed with just 3 minors. I was over the moon!

While I was away, Ian had sent me a picture of a 2013 BMW F700GS, the same as I’d been training on at Royston which was for sale in Christchurch. So, the day after I passed, I removed my L plates from my 125 and rode it down to Christchurch on a rainy November day to view the BMW. I picked my new bike the following week, riding home on my own BMW700GS. Happy days! Stopping in Lyndhurst for lunch on the way home, I stalled and dropped my new bike in the car park. I’d only had it five minutes! The throttle was sticking a bit, but I had to ride it home like that in the rain and it was getting dark! I rode quite a bit during the winter months and decided to wait until the Spring before joining TVAM and eventually joined as an Associate in April 2018. Since then, I’ve had over 30 observed rides some good and some not so good but my scores were coming down and my riding improving. I was struggling with cornering, particularly right-hand bends not looking round enough and keeping to the left. I practised these a lot and went on the 7Ws last October plus the Look, Lean and Roll course this year which both helped my riding, cornering and overall confidence immensely. It all started to fall into place.

Finally, on August 1st 2019, I took my Advanced Test and got a F1RST! I am absolutely chuffed to bits. Looking back, it took longer than I would have liked, but I’ve learnt so much in that time, especially as I’ve only been riding a bike just under 3 years. Of course, there’s always room for improvement and I see this as a continuing learning curve with each ride. I cannot thank Observers enough for their support. Steve, my Observer, for encouraging me and getting me through this process. I’m not the easiest of students. Plus, of course Ian, for putting up with me along the way. It’s been quite a journey.

Riding a bike has opened up a whole new world. I’ve been on roads I never knew existed in this country, seen stunning scenery and ridden amazing roads in the UK and through France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany and Spain. I’ve met some fabulous people along the way in TVAM, alll of whom have been so friendly and encouraging throughout my journey. Too many names to mention, but you know who you are.

Looking forward to new adventures and hopefully a new bike in the near future.

Julie Colville 

First published in Slipstream October 2019