Direct Access Course in the UK 2006

In Advance

There was a very interesting article in my husband Arthur’s copy of Motor Cycle Sport & Leisure, about a lady who joined her husband for the first time on one of his biking trips away – riding pillion. Hubby’s been nagging me for a while to try a trip away with him on his BMW R1150 GS Adventure, but I commented that I wouldn’t want to be stuck pillion. He said why not get your own bike then. [title] I had never ridden any motorcycle at all – not even a scooter! A chat with my friend Alice Spain, who had taken her CBT already, and the two of us were game to give a Direct Access course a try. We found the course run for World of BMW by Julia and Kevin Sanders, holders of the record for the fastest round-the-world trip on a motorbike. Based on the edge of the Brecon Beacons in South Wales, it seemed ideal. Beautiful countryside, and hopefully less traffic than in our busy part of the world of Watford, just north of London. Hubby decided to come too, and use the week to do some touring.

Thursday 6th July - The Journey


I picked up Alice at 10:00 am – hubby was taking his bike along and meeting us half way at Gloucester. Following a great journey, we arrived at Craig Y Nos Castle, in the centre of the Brecon Beacons. Superb location! Very interesting building and history! Very peculiar ideas about how a hotel should be run! For example, the rooms (in the ‘nurses wing’) have comfortable beds but very little cupboard space and no mirror. Showers were 50p a time, and breakfast started at 8:30 every day – very annoying when the course started at 8:15 in the town down the road. Fortunately, the hotel management couldn’t handle two strong-willed females, so a chef was arranged every morning just for us. We’d stay there again, though – quirks and all – for the sheer character of the place.

Friday 7th July – Day 1 – Compulsory Basic Training

Firstly, I would like to apologise now to our instructor, Emmett, and to the Honda 125 CG that I was allocated. They both were stressed to the limits of their endurance by my inability to grasp some fairly fundamental principles, and both were sworn at several times (in Emmett’s case under my breath). After kitting up and a classroom talk, we were off to a large car park on the industrial estate where BMW Rider Training is based. Alice was way ahead of the game. Her previous experience on the CBT and some fairly low-key practicing in the months that followed really showed. I could NOT get to grips with slow manoeuvring, and as for U-turns – forget it! However, I did manage to hang on to a very spectacular wheelie, which Emmett said was better than any that he’d managed on the Wheelie course he’d attended. Feeling very despondent, and without being allowed loose on the public highway, we returned to the unit.

The Public Highway – oh – and the Big Bike!

Saturday 8th July – Day 2 - Saturday started out showing similar signs of lack of control. Emmett didn’t get cross (he doesn’t!) but he was starting to get a bit intense. Then – A Miracle! It Clicked! All of a sudden, I could ride the bike through those cones as expected. It wasn’t perfect, but at least I was under some kind of control. U-turns? Well,

not quite every time – but at least some of them were happening as they should. At last Emmett thought we were ready to be let loose on the General Public. With one way walkie-talkie on, we rode into the local village. The first hour went very well. Then we tried a Right Hand Turn. Alice pulled off superbly. It was at this point that she heard in her earpiece what must be the understatement of the century so far: ‘That was an interesting manoeuvre!’ What she didn’t see was the second spectacular wheelie that I took, straight across the road, through some undergrowth and up a brick wall. Fortunately (and amazingly) the only thing that was bruised and/or dented was my self-confidence and Emmett’s nerves.

The next hour went reasonably smoothly, so with CBT passed it was back to the unit for lunch. Now for the bit we’d both been waiting for – the introduction to the Big Bikes – the BMW F650GS. They were beautiful, and big, and shiny silver, and a little bit scary. But by the end of the afternoon we were riding them about the car park with a similar amount of skill to that we’d learned so far on the 125’s. In fact (dare I say it?) it was easier. They had power, a lower centre of gravity, and just purred instead of sounding like an overworked sewing machine. We came away buzzing. It was only after the adrenaline had died away that we realised how tired we were.

Sunday 9th July – Day 3 – Town Driving

Emmett’s Birthday. And the World Cup Final day. And it was raining – hard! The car park had big puddles on it. Alice and I were getting very nervous indeed. But Emmett would have none of it. ‘The weather’s moving out’, he said, ‘the rain will stop soon’. In for a penny, in for a pound – by the end of the first hour we were off round the car park and slow-riding around cones. Satisfied at last, and despite the still-pouring rain, Emmett was ready to take us off to Neath, the nearest ‘busy town’. Busy? That’s open to interpretation. It was Sunday afternoon, after all – but I cannot imagine my home town of Watford EVER being that quiet! It was great. Plenty of space to practice riding round junctions, roundabouts and fast dual-carriageways. Alice took to the Big Bike like a duck to water, and even I amazed myself. It was difficult to believe that this was the same person who two days before couldn’t go round a car park without stalling the bike at least three times. And then it happened. We were instructed to stop at the kerb going up the hill, so we could try a hill start. The problem wasn’t the hill start, it was the hill stop! I pulled up beautifully, put my left leg down – and the bike started rolling backwards. Too late to grab the front brake, I ended up with the bike very gracefully falling sideways, pinning my ankle to the pavement. Emmett to the rescue. One very bruised ankle later he had me back on the bike and we were on our way. Then feeling very tired but elated, it was back to the unit.

Monday 10th July – Day 4 – Rush hour?

We’ve been all over the world, and never fail to take a First Aid kit with painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs. So why did we come to Wales without it?? Monday started for me at 1:30 am, with a throbbing ankle, and no way of relieving it until I could stop at the local Co-op in the morning. An Ibuprofen later and we were ready for the day. First, back to the car park to practice U-turns and emergency stops. By jove, I’ve nearly got it! Then back into Neath for a ‘busy town in rush-hour’. Well, maybe comparable to Watford on a Sunday afternoon. Suits us – it allowed for a much easier ride whilst still teaching all the road skills we need for the test. The driving was definitely getting easier, and constant prompting from Emmett was beginning to knock some of the silly errors off us. Alice was performing superb U-turns at will, and even I was managing over 50% of them. Emmett kept on hammering it home though – it doesn’t matter how good your riding is – if you botch the U-turn you fail the test. So still quite a way to go. Then I dropped the bike again – same as the day before, a hill stop that didn’t! No bruise on me today but a broken clutch lever on the bike. I was spitting mad with myself. Then – the disgrace of it – we stopped for a coffee and I forgot to put the side-stand down before getting off. Much to the amusement of everyone in Burger King, over I went again. Emmett assured me though that today was a very good day. I hoped he was right.

Tuesday 11th July – Day 5 – Practice, practice, practice

After two horrible rainy days, we woke up to blue skies and sunshine. Superb!

Emmett warned us that today was a day of practicing the test – six thirty minute sessions, with an assessment after each one. And lots of U-turns in as many different places as the test examiner might take us. My success rate was definitely improving – not 100%, but certainly better than 75%. But Emmett wasn’t content – he still wasn’t happy with my right-hand-turns on roundabouts, and we needed ‘polishing’. Then disaster struck for Alice. One of our ‘normal’ U-turn spots was busy, so we were taken off to an alternative spot. Both of us did superb U-turns – I was chuffed! But the turn out of the road afterwards was very awkward – with the road surface sloping down to the left so much that it was difficult (if not impossible) to put the left foot down and pull away in our normal way. I was in front and just about managed to leave the junction in an upright position. Alice wasn’t so lucky. The bike went over. Following an instruction from Emmett, I was parked safely at the side of the road, but I was far enough ahead that I couldn’t see what was happening. After ten minutes I was getting very worried – but eventually I heard ‘We’re on our way’. Talking to Alice later, Emmett helped her back up then she did the same thing again. I’ve never seen Alice so cross! There were no serious injuries though, although Alice did hit her head and (much to her disgust) scuff her new blue leathers (I think this annoyed her more than anything else all week). The ride back was along some fantastic sweeping nationals, skirting the Brecon Beacons. What a way to end our final full day.

Wednesday 12th July – Day 6 – Test Day

An early start – would we persuade the hotel to get us breakfast at 7:00?? Clothes for the day? For me the ‘Know Fear’ T-shirt and for Alice the ‘Bike Babe’ top. This examiner wouldn’t know what had hit him!

Emmett took us for a practice run around Neath, including U-turns, and I was OK. Not good, but OK. [title] But I was terrified. Unfortunately, Alice was taking her test first. I just wanted to get it out of the way. And I didn’t want to know whether she’d passed or not. I don’t think Emmett believed me – but I really didn’t want to know. I purposefully didn’t look her way when she came out of the test centre, but they didn’t take the hint. She’d passed. Fantastic! I was very pleased for her, but it put even more pressure on me. The examiner was a grey-haired, steely-eyed Welshman called (coincidentally) Pete Pass. Apparently he can be hard, but he’s always fair. Emmett had taken us down every road in Neath that is usually used on the test route. The first thing Pete did was take me down a road we’d never been down before. Then he asked me to pull up behind a white van. There were two vans, with a fairly large gap between them. I pulled up behind the wrong one. Pete did not sound happy. Everything went downhill from there. I couldn’t change gears smoothly. I was pulling away jerkily, making silly mistakes. I think I knew fairly early on that I didn’t deserve to pass. But I did do that crucial U-turn. Finally, the misery was over – Pete confirmed I’d failed. I think Emmett was more disappointed than me – but his first question was ‘Did you do the U-Turn?’ At least I could answer yes to that one. He was right about Pete, though, he was scrupulously fair – and I wouldn’t have passed me either. So it was back to the unit, along the beautiful winding Brecon Beacon roads. We hadn’t seen many of them that week, but we could draw you a map of Neath. Emmett recommended that I find a 125cc motorcycle to practice on then come back for two days practice before retaking the test. As Alice wasn’t insured on my car, I had to drive home. We had to stop after about one and a half hours, as I was feeling so drained. When we got out of the car I couldn’t stop shaking. Fortunately, an hours rest and a decent meal later, I was safe to drive again.

The Following Days

It was back to work the next day – but I wished I’d taken the day off. I ached all over, and was still mentally shattered. It wasn’t until I had time to relax at the weekend that I started feeling better. I did a lot of thinking about why I had failed, and summarised the following: Taking a Direct Access course from nothing to test standard in five days is very hard work – but it is achievable. I certainly couldn’t fault the tuition – Emmett was superb. But I’m an overweight, out of condition (but basically healthy) middle-aged woman. Although Alice is the same age as me, she is fitter, and she had already mastered a geared bike before we started. I was very nervous on the day, but I think the main reason I was making so many mistakes (and in particular on gear changing) was that I had reached the stage where I was just too tired. So there’s the excuse – now all I’ve got to do is practice, then retake the test and pass it! Alice wants to come back with me, but I really want to do the next bit on my own.

Sunday 24th September – Journey number 2

Two and a half months on – and time to try that test again. Alice was brilliant and very supportive, and even lent me her 125cc cruiser so that I could practice. I did get out on it once, but I’m afraid that life got in the way. She wanted to come back with me too, for my test re-take – but I had to do this for myself. So Hubby came, but otherwise I was on my own. The only trouble was I wasn’t well. Nothing serious, but one of those nasty flu type viruses that just hangs on. I felt as weak as a kitten. Would I be well enough to ride?

Monday 25th September – Retake Practice Day 1

Coughing and spluttering, I turned up at the unit. Emmett looked very concerned. He asked me if I thought I’d be OK, and I couldn’t answer yes for definite. I’d be riding with Emmett and another beginner, Sophie. She was on day 4 of her Direct Access course. We decided to see how I felt after riding around the car park for a while, [title] and getting used to the bike again. I was so relieved that I didn’t seem to have forgotten much, and the adrenaline must have kicked in, because although I still didn’t feel well, I did feel safe enough to ride the bike. So off we went to Neath. It felt so familiar. What a day. I thoroughly enjoyed myself. The day was sunny but not too hot, I felt in control of the bike, and every single U-turn worked as it should. Towards the end of the day I was beginning to have difficulties with smooth gear changes again, so I must have been getting tired. Emmett proclaimed that he was happy with my riding, and said if I carried on like this I might just pass – praise indeed! So it was off back to the B&B for a hot shower, a glass of wine and an early night. Tuesday 26th September – Retake Practice Day 2 The flu bug was getting worse, but I knew I could handle the bike now. Today was the day that Emmett made us practice mock tests over and over. Hard work, but worth it. Sophie was improving in leaps and bounds, and I couldn’t believe how much I was enjoying just being on the back of a bike. By the end of the day, I felt so confident, and I hadn’t dropped the bike at all during the last two days. Roll on the test.

Wednesday 27th September – Retake Test Day

After eight days of riding with Emmett, he wasn’t taking me to the test centre. There were five people taking their test that day, and mine was one of the first whilst Sophie’s was later in the day. So for the first time ever, I rode off with a new instructor, and another pupil who was taking his test just before me, and without Emmett’s soft Dublin brogue giving me instructions. And what was the first thing I did? I broke the number one rule. Don’t break with the front brake when slow riding round a corner. Over I went. It’s just as well I did it during our practice, and not in the test, but it really shook my confidence. Never mind – a cup of tea later, and the nerves were recovering. Then into the test centre. Not Pete Pass this time, but Kevin the Car – driving behind me in a small MPV, and not a motorbike. I found it very peculiar riding without another motorbike in view behind me. But I felt as if I was riding well. It didn’t stop those butterflies though when we eventually stopped and I was waiting for the verdict. ‘Congratulations, you’ve passed!’ Whew! What a relief. I drove back to the unit on cloud nine – and with no instructor to give me instructions over the headphones. By the time we started for home, four out of five of us had taken our test, and all passed, thanks to BMW Rider Training. That’s a phenomenally high pass rate. And from Sophie, Alice and me we have Emmett to thank for our licences.

Thursday 25th January 2007 – Now

So where am I four months on? Well, we’ve had a bit of a life change. I’m sitting in our new house, looking over Auckland harbour in New Zealand, and studying the South Island road maps. There isn’t a motorbike in the garage at the moment, but on Tuesday I start a new job. And there’s a BMW motorcycle garage just down the road to my new office, with a bright yellow BMW F650 GS in the window. Hubby’s got his eye on that Dakar too……..

p.s. Two new additions to the family

motorcyles_in_new_zealand/learning_to_ride.txt · Last modified: 2012/04/07 21:13 by art
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