It’s the 29th of December. The temperature’s -4°C, the roads are like glass (the bits that aren’t are caked with diesel and salt) and it’s 7:15 am — a time I normally only ever see from the other end of the day.
So why am I even thinking about getting my bloody bike out? The usual excuse of congenital insanity doesn’t even hold this time, as the decision was made several days in advance, following a call from the IAM’s examiner for the advanced test — something I’d applied for back in November, when ‘dry roads’ wasn’t an oxymoron. I’d had one non-attempt at the test already — earlier in December, we’d arranged a Saturday morning. On the day, it was throwing it down and I had major-league jetlag. My server had also crashed so I obviously needed to go into London to reboot it (turned into a three day rebuild, but never mind :)), so that was a good enough excuse to cry off. This was the rerun.
I’d even managed to get some practice in — for a couple of hours on Boxing Day the gales died down and a strange yellow light appeared in the sky. That was enough to persuade me to kick the tyres and head out for a quick 70 miles down my second-favourite local road, the infamous A272. There is a certain perverse pleasure to be had in successfully and semi-smoothly negotiating conditions that, taken on their own, you’d simply choose a motocross machine for — washdown, leaf residue, tractor mud and diesel from numerous elderly horseboxes heading out for the Christmas Point-to-Points. All good practice at keeping a smooth line and learning good throttle sense — accelerating and slowing as far as possible without using the brakes — I managed thirty miles of twisties and villages at a halfway decent pace without touching either brake lever.
So where was everybody? I saw about three other bikes the whole trip, on a road where every hedge normally has its complement of R1s. Is it really and sadly true that sportsbikes simply get laid up from the Fall through late Spring?
The payback of course is the return home, with the Duke caked with all the sort of corrosive crap that motorcycle designers never seem to allow for. So I’m standing in the drive, in the dark, wearing full waterproofs, with sleet lashing out of the gale, pressure-washing the bike. My neighbour then walks past with his dog. I venture to suggest that going out for walk in this weather is insanity. Dave’s normally pretty talkative — this time he just looks me up and down, opens his mouth, closes it again, shakes his head and walks off. Funny chap.
Back to this test thingy. At 8am, standing on the road outside, I start sliding downhill without any external assistance. My chances of getting the Duke out of the garage intact, let alone up the road, seem slight, to say the least. Fortunately for my wallet and any remaining cool points, the phone then goes — Guy Allen, my examiner, has come to the same conclusion and we postpone until 11am. Getting lots of practice at getting in and out of my new Furygan oversuit — great suit, but a sod to get in to. Come 10 o’clock, the ice is still there, but has softened in the sun and the main roads seem to be fine. So it’s back on with the suit and off to Fairoaks airfield, to meet with Guy there, bluff my way through the Highway Code and do the hour or so it takes him (a traffic cop) to observe, analyse and dissect my riding. And that’s exactly what he does. Sitting comfortably on his lorry (Honda PanEuropean — his description), he follows me through the streets, lanes and highways of Surrey, as I attempt to demonstrate a basic grasp of how not to kill either myself or other people on the road, while sticking to some approximation of the national speed limit. That’s the tricky bit — I soon find that going everywhere a gear lower than normal helps keep me in line. Conditions are moderately evil, the main problem being the amount of salt spray being thrown over the Duke’s vestigial windscreen and caking my visor. Guy of course has no such problem on the Honda, with its sensible screen and lots of heated wossnames.
But did he pass me? Yes he did, but not without taking me through the full debrief first. Sadist. I guess it comes with the job. In fact a very constructive and helpful deconstruction of my riding, including the last section of twisties, ridden in complete granny-style after I’d had a front-end slide through allowing it to run wide onto a patch of diesel. Main probs were occasional drifting upward of speed and some lazy lifesavers (not so much lazy as unable to turn head much when wearing back protector, leathers and oversuit — I’ll leave the protector out in future). Turns out that I’ve got the basic idea then — now what to do? I do quite fancy going on to do the Observer training with WVAM — keep the cycle going and all that sort of thing. I might just wait for some better weather though.
Oh yes, and Pro-Twins have just sent me their winter sale price list. The distant whimpering you can hear is my credit card…