Friday, 13 July 2012

Easy Rider

OK, so I’ve kind of got over the issue with Barclays. I just couldn’t believe the fucking gall of them – charging me £8 for an error that they were solely to blame for. Jeez. But that’s done now...well, until they try to take the charge at the end of the month, even though I’ve been assured they won’t. We’ll see...and I’ll report back. Roll on next month so I can change banks. I saw something on BBC 1’s The One Show the other day that was fairly interesting – it was an item about switching bank accounts and how easy it’s actually meant to be. Again – we’ll see.

But onwards – today I want to talk about my transportation issues. When I knew I was taking a pay cut, I decided that owning a car in this financial climate was a bit of a waste of money. You only have to look at the price of petrol these days to see that: £1.32 is about the average price of a litre of unleaded where I now live, and if you ask me, it’s still ridiculous even though most people have pretty much conceded that it’s not going to change (or go down, at the very least) any time soon. So, as I said two posts ago, I sold the trusty Proton to my dad and embarked on a mission to get myself on the road via an altogether more cost effective means: a motorbike.

I booked myself onto a CBT (compulsory basic training) course in January, and it was basically just riding around some cones in a closed car park, followed by a bit of on-road tuition. It’s fairly straightforward for someone who’s got previous riding experience as I have, but I can imagine it’s a bit daunting riding a motorbike through traffic if you’ve never done it before – especially when you’ve got to wrestle with the actual operation of the machine and also have your wits about you with regard to road safety and other (usually extremely ignorant) road users (read: twats in cars). After I passed my CBT, I got myself a little 125cc 4 stroke – a Sinnis Max 2 – and found it to be an extremely capable and reliable machine. If you’re thinking about getting a motorbike and only have a CBT to ride with (meaning you have to use L-plates and can only have a 125, for those not familiar with biking stuff), then the Sinnis bikes are a really good place to start. True, they’re manufactured in China, and most ‘bike snobs’ will baulk at this, but to be fair Sinnis are a British company based in Brighton and their bikes seem to be of a quality a few steps higher than most other Chinese-manufactured bikes.

Sinnis Max 2: Not your average Chinese-built bike.

So I had my Sinnis Max, and I was quite happy with its low maintenance, 90mpg fuel economy and £100 per year insurance premium. Added to £15 road tax and no MOT costs due to its age, and I was onto a money-saving winner. Then I got offered my new job. It was 30 miles away. I tried out the journey using an A road, and it took me just over an hour to get there from where I was living. Hmmm. Not the best commute time. I factored in rush-hour traffic and computed that using my Sinnis, with its 60-65mph top speed, it’d probably take me an hour and a half to get to work every day (and the same going home): that’s 3 hours in the saddle every day. 15 HOURS A WEEK. Quite simply: No.

I had an alternative – the motorway. The motorway runs alongside this particular stretch of A Road, but due to my bike being a 125 I wouldn’t even bother and besides, being only a CBT holder I wasn’t allowed to ride on the motorway anyway. So I took the decision to attempt to get my full license. Step 1 involved me completing the third theory/hazard perception test I’ve done in my time (after the car and HGV ones I’ve done previously) and I passed it with 100% on both parts (yes – I’m boasting). Once that minor inconvenience was out of the way, I progressed to training for my MOD 1 test, which is basically doing some slow/controlled manoeuvres on a bike while an examiner watches you.I did a couple of day’s training with a local riding school and went for my test on the Monday.

I’ll be honest – I was absolutely shitting myself. My fucking legs were shaking when I started the test, but I found this actually helped when I was doing the ‘figure of 8’ as my whole body was really tense so I was able to maintain complete control of my bike (weird, eh?!). The same couldn’t be said for the ‘swerve test,’ in which you have to gun it down a straight, swerve to avoid a cone, and then come to a controlled stop in a box marked out by other cones. I skidded and fucking failed. I was understandably gutted as it was the last manoeuvre and the ride home afterwards was horrific – especially when the other people who I’d gone to do the test with all passed! Determined not to give up, I booked myself onto another test on the Friday via the driving tests website, rode the 100-odd miles to the test centre on my own...and fucking nailed it. Bosh. On to MOD 2...this was the biggie: a proper test where you ride around on open roads with an examiner. I won’t bore you with the details, but I had to travel to Taunton in Somerset to do it and after a very nervous, sweaty morning waiting at the test centre, I went out with the examiner and passed first time with no minors. Fuck. Yeah.

This whole process (from CBT to full license) took about 3 months (CBT in January, test passed in early March), and even though there were several sleepless nights and outbursts of extreme annoyance at myself (mainly upon failure of my first MOD 1 test!), it was totally worth it. Granted, my license is a restricted one due to the fact that I took my tests on my Sinnis Max (I’m limited to bikes of 33 bhp for 2 years, after which I can ride anything I want), but now I have a Honda CBF 250 which whilst not the fastest machine on the planet, still cranks out 90mph at a push and is totally comfortable either on the motorway or in city-centre riding. So that’s the state of play. In little over 3 months I went from staunch car-driver to motorcyclist and my pockets have reaped the rewards. It costs me about £14 to fill my tank up to the brim, road tax is £36 a year and the insurance is about £120 a year.

Honda CBF 250. Not fast, but reliable.

It sucks slightly at the moment because of the incessant rain (cheers, British summer), and the number of locks and chains I have to wrap around my bike to keep it safe is bordering on the neurotic...but better be safe than sorry in Cameron’s broken, rainy, recession-dogged Britain, right?!

One thing I have become acutely aware of since I’ve been motorcycling though, is car drivers’ complete lack of awareness in the main. As I alluded to earlier, I have a car and a HGV license, and have a good deal of experience on the roads so I’m not saying this as a biased motorcycling noob – but goddamn there are some inconsiderate and downright stupid people populating the roads of Britain. Being on a motorbike means that you have to have a slightly heightened awareness of what’s going on around you due to the exposure you have, but I’ve never experienced rudeness from other motorists on quite such a high level as I do now while on the bike. It’s true that some motorcyclists ride like nutters, cut though traffic and are generally a menace, but sensible riders like me seem to be tarred with the same as a side effect I’m constantly being cut up, tailgated by Audis (that’ll never change – Audi drivers are born as cunts), and generally just aggravated by other people’s complete lack of regard for safety on the road. But that’s another story.

If my tale of ditching four wheels for two has inspired you, then go for it. The feeling of freedom whilst on a motorbike is unlike anything you’ll ever experience in a car, trust me. Plus if you're like me and enjoy messing about with engines and stuff, being a motorcyclist means you'll be forever getting your hands dirty fixing stuff when it goes wrong. This is a GOOD thing!

Feel free to ask me any questions and I’ll try to answer them from my own experiences.


RealChicGeek said...

Congratulations! That sounds exciting. I drive a Honda too (car that is). What will happen in the winter when it snows? BTW bank overdraft fees are only 8 pounds? What?! That's not too bad- in the US the standard is around $35 ($40 for returned checks). I know you got screwed over and all, but it could've been worse.

Tomleecee said...

We don't usually get a lot of snow in the winter...just rain. And it doesn't even have to be winter - it pretty much tips it down all year round! The bank charge is pretty low, I agree, but it was their error not mine so I think it's unfair to charge me anything!

RealChicGeek said...

Rains all year? Talk about seasonal depression!