I passed my MOD2 in the morning and bought a bike in the afternoon: a gleaming, sapphire blue Suzuki Gladius. She arrived two days later. A week after that, I set off on my first road trip. I went to Devon, riding solo, taking in hills, coastal roads, severe bends, a car ferry and three exhilarating hours of motorway driving. It was fantastic. I did two hundred miles on the first day alone.
By Day Two, I was totally in awe of myself. I knew I had been extremely well- trained, and now it all came into play. I couldn’t believe what I was handling. It was way beyond anything I had done in my DAS training.
As I rode, I repeated my favourite training mantras to keep me focussed. Laura’s One good decision… Simon’s Take the heat off the junction… Mike’s
There’s your view. The RMT guys were all there with me, their voices clear in my head like I still had a radio attached. I found that enormously reassuring.
South Devon is impossibly hilly. I was staying with friends in Brixham, which is a labyrinth of tiny streets with hairpin bends and astonishingly steep inclines, usually combined. The route to their house involved a brutal uphill right turn at traffic lights that always turned red as I reached them. My left wrist was constantly sore from all the clutch control I was having to do.
I found myself on rollercoaster roads, too narrow for overtaking, rammed with tourists and locals into queues of traffic. In MOD1 you ride at walking pace, but not downhill for ten minutes at a time. And stopping at a junction when it is on a steep downhill slope is terrifying! The whole weight of the bike seems to be behind you, pushing you towards the line. I couldn’t remember doing one in the whole of my training, but they are commonplace in south Devon towns.
That was one of the joys of the road trip, though: facing unforeseen challenges and handling them. Unfamiliar roads, physically unlike the ones I was used to. Impossibly busy tourist towns, with people wandering everywhere, paying no heed to the road. Following signs, finding my way without a satnav.
I soon learned you can’t be thinking about the bike on a road trip. You must be able to ride – there isn’t headspace to deal with clutch control alongside all the challenges. There were many times when I congratulated myself for buying a Gladius. The familiarity brought comfort when the pressure piled on. I knew I could ride it, so that was one less thing to worry about. I was also able to remind myself of its sheer manoeuvrability when faced with tight junctions. You did a bloody slalom on this bike! I would tell myself. Just turn it, hard!
Some people said to me, ‘Don’t buy the same bike you trained on. Try as many as you can. There will be one that is far more ‘you’.’ Maybe that’s true, but with every day that went by, I loved the Gladius more. It was comfortable, easily accommodated two fully-laden side panniers and
effortlessly gave me the acceleration required to handle five lanes of rush- hour motorway at Exeter. It was, and remains, a perfect bike for me.
One important lesson I learned on the trip was this: do not listen to your friends if they live local and do not ride a motorbike themselves!
My friend Cecilia is a sweetheart but she didn’t understand how challenging the terrain was to a newly qualified rider. When I announced I was going out for a ride, she suggested I take the coastal road.
‘Go to Kingswear,’ she said, ‘and take the ferry across to Dartmouth.’
The road to the ferry was a winding dead-end street, packed with a snaking line of cars. As I reached the final bend, I saw a ferry man beckoning me forward – and saw the approach for the first time.
It was smooth wet concrete, a 25% descent. The ramp onto the ferry was wet metal and MOVING, swaying from side to side with the swell. Seven hells! In that moment, I was desperate to turn back. Surely this was beyond my skill level? But it was too late for turning.
I took a deep breath, rode down, pulled up behind a parked car and felt my heart hammering. When the ferryman came for the fare, I dropped the coins, my hand was shaking so much with adrenaline.
Five minutes later, the crossing was over and I was facing the same challenge to disembark, this time going uphill. When my turn came, I held back to let the cars in front clear the rise then went at it like Steve McQueen in The Great Escape. Whoosh! Right up. I wasn’t going to stop for anyone. Then I rode on, grinning from ear to ear. Another quiet triumph.
That night at supper, my friend’s husband told me he knew a motorcycle courier who had come off his bike on that same ramp.
‘He was delivering some photos to my business,’ he said. ‘The ramp was very wet and he skidded right off and ended up in the river, along with his bike. I don’t know what Cecilia was thinking of, sending you down there. There’s a much easier ferry just five minutes further up the river!’