Trusting the training wheels

At school, it is easy to remember you’re learning. That you will be expected to prove you have been listening by passing tests – it’s all part of the day job and something to take in your stride. Growing up, reading, writing and arithmetic help set us up for adulthood so we could write shopping lists and speeches and calculate budgets and business plans, and people usually preferring one set of those tasks over the other. Me, it isn’t the maths.

There is the other kind of learning that you do by osmosis. By watching people and by listening, reading and doing. You aren’t formally tested on how you’re getting on, although the folk around you will usually let you know – ‘don’t talk with your mouth full’, ‘don’t hit your sister’, ‘don’t swear at that stranger’, ‘keep it up, you’re doing well…’.

The Welsh have a saying, ‘every day is a school day’ – and I do think life is about continuing to learn. Having suffered a brain injury over two years ago (long story, different blog) the thought of learning a new skill was a bit daunting. Deciding that my new skill would be riding a motorbike was a brilliant brainwave brought about by my insatiable curiosity and desire to enjoy more of what Marcus had introduced to me.

For me, learning to ride a motorbike has called on both ways of learning, and continues to call as I continue to learn. The first step to becoming a rider was getting my Learner Licence, which included a Basic Handling Skills course where I basically ensured I had the slightest skills required for handling a motorbike on my own – how to turn it on, how to put it into first gear, how to brake and how to stay upright. I was the only one who dropped the instructor’s Suzuki 125 as I tried to weave my way around little cones on a little court, and he would have been pleased when I returned for the next lesson on my freshly acquired, Learner Approved G310R – thus leaving the heartbreak of any mishandling in my hands.

I also had to sit my first formal test in over two decades, sitting in a queue with nervous teenagers hoping I had memorised the Road Code and could manoeuvre my way around multichoice. I didn’t tell anyone I was sitting the test that day in case I needed to keep failure to myself, so imagine my glee when I sent a photo of the temporary licence? It also helped I was having a great hair day for required updated photo.

With freshly minted licence in hand, I was sent off from the little tennis court of learning with a certificate and an L plate to help me on my way. The first time I changed up to second gear was also the first time I was on road alone, but I felt mildly confident as Marcus joined me for our first ride on real roads. I’ll confess, I was obviously over-confident and we both quickly realised I would need lots of time practising the basics on quiet roads. Marcus joined me on most of them, sending instructions though our helmet intercom and critiquing and complimenting as we went. His patience was (is) outstanding and allowed me to learn at my pace without pressure.

The best way to learn is to do, and so I did. I rode whenever I could and gave myself imaginary bonus points for going on the motorway and not stalling at lights – giving myself extra points and smiling broadly each time a fellow rider acknowledged me as part of the gang. After six months it was time to remove the L plate and sit another test. On the day of the test it was teeming with rain and I hoped it would be cancelled but alas, no. In my horrifically unstylish but terribly useful full rainsuit, I confidently headed to the test course…but the rules got in the way! Rules! I failed for not adopting a longer following distance in the rain on the motorway – something I was actually grateful for as I had failed for my own safety. I was told I was a good rider otherwise, so the tears of frustration were relatively short-lived.

When I finally did pass, removing the L plate also removed some of the hesitancy I had about my ability. I am not a reckless rider but a mindful motorcyclist – taking the time to take in my surroundings and anticipating the actions of others. When I take my bike out it never feels like a chaotic commute or a charmless chore and I learn something every time. The lessons range from how the bike handles differently depending on where I am on the seat, to how the tyres feel on wet road paint. With each ride and each lesson, I rely less on my virtual training wheels. I can’t imagine I’ll every truly lose them though.