Having last driven with a set of L plates attached to my car around 10 years ago, the prospect of returning to the road with red letters signifying to other road users my limited knowledge of the vehicle I was piloting was a little daunting.
But it’s part of the process in obtaining your CBT certificate – that is, Compulsory Basic Training. It’s a course you need to take in order to get on two wheels, and progress to getting your full bike licence.
We’re sized up for equipment, with a helmet, jacket and gloves all making me feel immediately more motorcycle-ready, and I’m all ready to get behind the bars.
But the day kicks off in the classroom, and rightly so. While much of it is familiar – particularly to those who have been on the road for some time – a lot of it is new territory. As a car driver, you’re surrounded by metal. Though it may sound obvious, immediate dangers are far more apparent as a biker, and as a group we’re told to look out for potential problems coming from all angles.
We’re also briefed on all the relevant kit associated with being on a motorcycle. A helmet is an obvious – and legally required – piece of safety equipment, but the difference in quality of trousers, jacket and boots are surprising, almost as much as the variation in price.
Finally, there’s an eyesight test to ensure that I’m actually able to see where I’m going, and then it’s across to a small car park where the bikes await.
A fleet of 125cc (the maximum engine capacity you can ride on a car licence with a CBT) lie ahead of us. As the day has been organised by Honda, they’re Honda motorcycles – so there’s a dinky MSX125 and CB125R (which looks scarily similar to some of the brand’s more powerful bikes), and the brilliantly retro Monkey, which everyone immediately gravitates towards.
Though I’m chomping at the bit to get in the saddle, I’m shown through the various controls and displays first. I’ll add that I have ridden a motorcycle briefly before off-road, so I had a bit of an inkling about the layout of a motorbike, but it was good to have a refresher course through the dos and don’ts.
We’re shown how to properly wheel the bike, as well as how to put it on its side stand and centre stand. Then, it’s the moment we’ve been waiting for – time to get start the engines.
I start off on a CB125 R, which is like a pint-sized sports bike. As a group we’re shown how to blend the clutch and slowly operate the throttle to make steady progress. Before long we’re navigating around cones and performing u-turns.
The advice we’re given makes an instant impact. It’s not often that you see such clear improvements with little changes, but on two wheels the tips come thick and fast and quickly I’m noticing how small edits in the way I ride (body positioning when cornering, for instance) immediately helps me out.
We then have to perform a series of emergency stops, ensuring that we bring the bike to a halt smoothly and accurately. It’s a weird thing to get your head around – my mind instantly thinks of being on a pushbike, but bringing a motorbike to a stop is a different kettle of fish.
Then, after trying to perform several hill starts, it’s time to head out on the open road. We’re given an earpiece with a direct link to the instructor – there are two of us to one instructor – and we’re given instructions about direction and where to exit roundabouts. And I’ve got a Monkey bike as my noble steed.
Being out on the public road is quite different to doing circles in a car park. Fortunately, most drivers are courteous to us and give us plenty of space. It’s easy to find a rhythm, and before long I’m relishing the chance to change gear, as well as getting to grips with the way the bike responds.
CBT? Completed it mate. Very happy to have done it on this, too pic.twitter.com/Q5j1lEoivy
— Jack Evans (@jackrober) May 4, 2019
Then the rain comes. And boy, does it really tip down. As I’m still relatively unsure of the grip levels on the motorcycle (I’m still adamant that it’ll slip away as soon as I go around a corner), I take it easy. Fortunately, the little Monkey clings on remarkably well, and I learn to trust in its ability to take a bend without sending me flying.
Two hours fly by. I could quite easily carry on riding all day, but it’s time to return and see if I’ve managed to gain my CBT certificate.
Back at base, I’m pleased to find out that I’ve passed. I get given my certificate, and though I have to drive home behind the wheel of a car, all I can think about is the next time I can get out on a bike.