Something to get hold of
It’s day two of six at the BMW Rider Training Centre in Wales and romance is already blossoming!
I mentioned yesterday that my wife had decided not to spend her weekend with me down here in the Brecon Beacons, where I had hoped to see her waiting patiently at the B&B each evening with a cup of tea and a cheery disposition ready for my return from a hard day's riding, so this morning I met her substitute for the next five days; my new girlfriend, the BMW F650GS.
She’s a big old girl, with a wide seat, large headlamps and plenty of grunt. As for the BMW, as soon as I threw my leg over her I knew we were in for a good time. Compared to the Honda 125 CG I’d rattled around Ystradgynlais on yesterday, the Beamer instantly felt more comfortable, secure and safe – partly because my instructor, Sergeant Paul, had cheekily organised one with a lowered seat and suspension to cater for my ‘compact’ frame. I graciously concealed my affront.
After some typically thorough instruction on the controls, which unlike the Honda included separate indicators on each side of the bars, an individual indicator canceller, ABS button and hand-grip warmers, I fired her up and instantly felt like a ‘proper biker’. We spent the morning out on the ‘pad’, a disused car park next to the centre, repeating the start-stop, slow control, u-turn and emergency stop exercises we’d done yesterday but this time getting used to the bigger bike, with its longer wheelbase, extra weight and horsepower and more responsive front and rear disc brakes. Personally I couldn’t wait to get started and I wasn’t disappointed, but for anybody feeling daunted by making the step up to a bigger bike all I can say is that the principals are the same except everything feels safer and easier.
The same can be said for riding on the road and the route from Ystradgynlais towards Defynogg, which we took today with me in front, Paul at the back and my new fellow student John in between on the way there and John and I reversing positions on the way back, has almost every kind of hazard you will come across on most roads: roundabouts, double mini-roundabouts, 20, 30, 40, 50mph and national speed limit zones, zebra crossings, traffic lights, school crossings, parked cars and of course wandering sheep.
Whilst the BMW is slightly more awkward to manoeuvre at low speeds, the stability at over 50mph on a blustery and drizzly day like today took care of the mild panic and morbid mental imagery I’d experienced on the same piece of tarmac yesterday. I was able to employ the riding techniques we’d learnt on the pad and worked principally on my position on the road, anticipating and reacting to hazards and my ‘observations’ (checking mirrors and over each shoulder) – the feeblest of several current weak points.
Once we’d returned to the centre and had lunch we went back out onto the pad to continue our work around the cones, preparing specifically for the module one test we’ll be taking next Tuesday in Swansea. This, of course, includes the dreaded ‘swerve test’, which a few of my Twitter followers have expressed concern about whilst others insist it has had bad press. After today I can concur with the latter group. If you are prepared properly and attempt the swerve test in gradual stages, starting at around 20mph and then building up with two or three runs to around 35mph, as we were expertly taught to do today by the rigorous Paul, the swerve test is nothing you shouldn’t be able to do as a competent motorcyclist with sufficient skill to be allowed on the road. I’m not sure whether other training centres offer this level of groundwork but considering that the test is not until Tuesday and we still have two full days to prepare I know that if I can’t master it by then I will only have myself to blame. Tomorrow we’ll be doing some more work on the pad and heading down to Swansea to peer through the fence at the test centre and get an idea for what their facilities are like.
Hopefully the BMW F60GS is still talking to me at breakfast.