Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Born to be Wild

I'd overslept and so only had time to roll out of bed and pull on the nearest clothes before I left for the motorcycle school. I was quite excited and yet slightly daunted. I'd never ridden a scooter before and didn't know how hard it would be.

While all I needed was the Certificate of Basic Training, I couldn't help thinking that five hours of instruction wasn't really enough time to learn how to drive a Vespa at speed around London. It seems crazy to me that sixteen year old boys can jump on a machine with up to125cc and zoom around to their hearts' delight with only a day's training and a couple of L plates. Still, if the DVLA thinks it's okay, who am I to disagree?

"You must be Laura," said one of the instructors as I stepped into the portakabin.

"How do you know?" I asked.

"You're the only woman coming in today."

Feeling distinctly underwhelmed at this prospect and more than a little intimidated by the big biker boys wearing leather trousers and Axl Rose neck scarves, I sat at the back of the little classroom and waited. I looked up at the sound of heavy footsteps and my heart sank. An enormous biker with a skin head, a bolt through his ear and tattoos up his neck took a seat next to me. He was wearing an all in one leather black and white biker suit (that made him look not unlike a Power Ranger) and an ugly scowl. I shrank back into my seat.

Our instructor, a dry Australian who evidently takes the whole business of biking extremely seriously, came in and talked us through some basic safety before taking us out to the bikes. I took to the whole thing pretty well, even though I say so myself and much to the surprise of my fellow classmates who seemed to be having a harder time than I was. The Power Ranger said very little, preferring to glower at people instead. After all, he was the only one on a "proper" motorbike.

We weaved in and out of cones, performed figures of eight and learned how to turn left and right without getting ourselves killed. Still the Power Ranger glowered menacingly, his skin head gleaming in the autumn sun.

"Time for the emergency stop," said our instructor. "You've got to get the sequence right unless you want to fly over the top of the handlebars. Understand? This sequence is probably the most important sequence you will learn on the bike as it will save your life and the life of the little girl who runs out in front of you. Get it? THE SEQUENCE IS EVERYTHING!!!"

I think I'd pretty much got the message.

"So, number one, release the throttle." He looked up at us expectantly. We nodded vigorously, but the power ranger just glared and glowered some more.

"Two, squeeze the right brake a little. ONLY A LITTLE. Too much and it's over you go and you'll be overtaken by your packed lunch."

I wasn't exactly brimming with confidence.

"Three, squeeze the left brake A LITTLE and then, four, squeeze both brakes together as hard as you can. For those of you with gears," he looked at the Power Ranger, "you've got a fifth part of your sequence. Putting the bike in neutral." The power ranger gave no sign of recognition and the instructor tried again.

"Mate, that's a sequence of FIVE. One, two, three, four and five." He demonstrated as he counted but received no more than a stare. He tried once more his voice heavy with irritation.

"One! Two! Three! FOUR! and Five! Got it?"

At this the Power Ranger cocked his head to one side, shifted his wait and levelled his gaze at the instructor. The class took a collective breath as he went to speak.

"So, what you're saying, mate," he growled, "is that it's a bit like salsa!"

The instructor looked at him incredulously.

"You mean salsa as in the dance?"

He nodded and grinned cheekily. Counting up to five just like the instructor, he demonstrated a little salsa move and chuckled.

"Sequences," he said. "Just like salsa!"

The whole lesson was much more fun after that.