Time to bike? Do I give in and go all-out 'mid-life crisis'
Most men have a mid-life crisis at some stage in their lives. Given my long and colorful history of heavy drinking, substance abuse and general 'risk taking' - I'm probably overdue my mid-life crisis. I'm 41, but I think expecting to bat 82 would probably be an overly optimistic outlook on my innings.
Some chaps opt for a two-seater sportscar. It's a relatively safe toy, but I've already had one of those. Technically I've already had a bike, but if I'm honest it was a bit of a damp squib.
I had a Yamaha DT50. Basically because I'd turned 16 and I was sick of peddling everywhere. To those not 'in the know' this probably sounds like a mid-nineties electronic synthesizer and was about as exciting. It was barely faster than running and broke down constantly. I had to literally ALWAYS have a mate with a van on standby - ready to come pick me up. Despite its general 'crapness' though, I do miss going for a ride.
Since giving up my moped for an equally crap Seat Marbella in 1995:-
I have had a go on a few bikes. I had a few goes on my father-in-laws 1950's AJS 500 single. Just up and down the dirt track we use as a drive. I also had a rip on my nephew's Suzuki 500 Scrambler on my sister's 1 acre lawn. Which she REALLY appreciated! She was totally unconcerned about me almost popping wheelies as I cut muddy grooves in her manicured grass!
If you check out my garage, you WILL see a Kawasaki Ninja H2:-
Now I'll be honest - I am an idiot. Me fast-tracking my license and jumping onto one of these would be about as safe as moving to Saudi Arabia, then trying to overthrow the government. To my credit I am at least intelligent enough to appreciate, that I'm an idiot and therefore I have the sense to avoid things like this, at least until I've got a good few 'biking accident free years' under my belt, or alternatively - have actually taken the decision to commit suicide in an interesting way.
For some men, the mid-life crisis involves swapping their current partner for a younger model and embarking on a lifestyle change that involves gym membership and spray-on hair. But that's really not for me. I more or gave up on trying to maintain a reasonably attractive appearance in the mid-noughties, when the last of the hair on the top of my head fell out. Besides which, despite our differences - I'm rather fond of the present Mrs. Stanley. We DO agree on politics and religion. Plus she's slim, I still find her attractive and she's my best friend. All in all, any meaningful benefits I'd gain by dating a twenty year old would probably be offset by the crippling divorce bill and all that awkward stuff about 'who looks after the kids'. Even if said 20 year old WAS a petrolhead and a hardcore gamer.
For me, I think the draw is to a Triumph Street Twin. My attention was first drawn to this bike by my good friend and colleague Mr. Richard Hammond.
I've always had a thing for classic bikes, as you'll see from my garage. Sadly they probably aren't for beginners. The suspension and brakes won't compare to a modern bike. Plus I'm about as good at spannering as a grumpy, drunk Clarkson who's recently scraped the skin of his knuckles building a Caterham 7 kit.
The Street Twin isn't a fast bike. From what I've read and what I see, it seems like just a nice, easy bike to ride. Something for cruising along a twisty country road as you admire the scenery with the wind up your nostrils.
So what are the steps for a UK mid-life crisis'er to get his full license?
Well, seeing as I've held my driving license since 1995 I already have a provisional license for a 125cc motorbike. So that's the first hurdle out of the way. If I'd waited longer to do my car test, then I'd need to apply for a provisional license with the DVLA. It's not expensive, but it's not actually all you need to ride on the road.
The next step is to take a CBT or 'Compulsory Basic Training' course. It lasts a few hours and is mainly on a large carpark with a jaunt out onto the road at the end. I actually did one of these in 1994, but sadly it doesn't last indefinitely. It's only valid for two years, so if you DO want to get your biking license, you need to get your skates on.
Basically the CBT consists of a walk-around and talk-through of your bike. Some advice on how to handle it and basic riding tips, plus some practise manouvres. Then, once your instructor is confident you can handle your bike, it's out onto the open road. There's no pass or fail as such, but the instructor will only sign you off once he or she is confident you can ride safely unsupervised.
Funny story: When I did my CBT on my Yamaha DT50, for ages the instructor was moaning at me telling me to release the clutch slowly for a smooth start. Eventually he gave up, sat on my bike to demonstrate - only to then pop a massive wheelie as he set off! It turns out the clutch was setup all wrong and I had to get a van to pick up my bike while I rode pillion on the instructor's BMW to get home!
Once you have your CBT you need to pass your Theory and Hazard perception tests. The theory test looks fairly easy. It's a series of questions which appear to be designed essentially, to make sure you aren't a complete maniac, head-shakingly stupid or an utter twat.
You DO need to get almost all of them right.
In honesty I think most experienced drivers with ANY idea of motorcycling could probably just pass or nearly pass without any practise.
There are books and online practise tests you can do to help.
Have a go and see how you do!
The Hazard Perception test involves watching a first-person perspective video clip of someone riding, and clicking a button when you see the hazard. There's one hazard per clip and the sooner you spot the hazard the higher you score.
When you've passed the theory test and Hazard Perception Test, and you feel ready - you can take the 2 part test. It's worth noting at this stage, if you're going for direct access (which means passing on a 600cc in order to be able to ride anything) then you can ONLY practise on the road on a 600cc bike whilst supervised. If you want to practise alone you'll still need to buy a 125cc.
The first part of the test sounds like a more advanced and critical CBT. It takes place off-road and is designed to make sure you can handle your bike safely. You MUST pass the first part of the test before taking the second. The second part of the test is a long, supervised ride on the road, whilst accompanied by an examiner on their own bike. (They don't ride pillion thankfully!)
Once that's completed you send your license off and it comes back with a new category on it.
The way I actually intend to do this; is do my Theory, book a CBT, then book a 2 hour assessment lesson with bike hire. Pending me being able to convince the instructor I have enough experience and can handle a bike, I can then book either a 3 or 5 day intensive course with the test at the end of the course. It's not the cheapest way to do it, but I think it's the surest way to pass quickly.
So am I going for it?
Well I've done my homework. I know what I need to do. I DON'T want to buy an old 125cc to learn on. I'd rather just learn on a borrowed 600 and buy what I want once I've passed. I DO really like the Triumph Street Twin, but I'd probably take a few test rides before I decided.
In some ways it's not a great time. My daughter has just started high school so I have lots of homework to do most nights, plus I have a lot on at work, jobs to do on my house and I'm studying the last 30 point module to complete my OU degree.
I'd also need to convince the present Mrs. Stanley to give me a green light. Whenever I mention it, she raises various concerns. In some respects it's annoying. However, most of her concerns are about it being dangerous rather than it being expensive. So at least I know she still likes me at least a bit. If she was REALLY keen and was encouraging me to rush the test through and buy a Kawasaki Ninja H2 for my first bike... Well alarm bells might be ringing. Particularly if she was also desperately pushing me to get life insurance at the same time.