It’s been about eight years since I took my practical for real and nearly as long since I last performed a proper feet-up u-turn, so I’m interested to see how I tackle the slow speed manoeuvres that form the off road part of the new motorcycle test. As a teenager I’d had a bunch of lessons and professional tuition on what it takes to pass. Today I’ve rocked up at the purpose-built centre to see what this new test is all about with no idea what to expect.
I’ll be using the Honda Hornet 600 that I ride every day to take the exam. I’m very familiar with the bike, but it’s a good bit heavier than a learner-friendly 125. To shave off a few kilos I craftily ran the tank nearly empty on the way to the test centre. That combined with thin summer gloves – for extra feel – should give me the edge. I hope. Let the cone-dodging commence…
Exercise 1: Wheeling the machine
To start off gently, the first part tests your ability to balance your bike’s weight when pushing it around and get it safely on and off the side stand. A series of cones simulate two adjacent parking bays. You have to park facing inwards in one bay (left or right, your choice, but most people prefer right), then get off the bike and reverse it into the bay next to it.
There’s a nice amount of space between them so you don’t have to worry about keeping it too tight. Most learners should find it very straight-forward, especially with a light-weight 125. Riders who’ve spent years wheeling their bike in and out of garages won’t find it a challenge either. How you do it is up to you, but I opted to keep both hands on the bars, leaning the bike on my leg slightly.
Exercise 2: Slalom and figure of eight
When you’re successfully parked in the bay and back on the bike, you’ll see a line of cones laid out in front of you - 5 yellow then 2 blue. You have to slalom the bike through the yellow cones, then perform 2 figure of eights around the final 2 blue cones. The examiner is looking to see good slow speed control not full-lock gymnastics, so you can take your time. Smoothness and composure are key.
The cones are quite generously spaced so I found the slalom easy and fun, but doing the figure of eights was a little bit trickier. Day to day riding doesn’t generally involve that kind of manoeuvre, so it felt odd. Learners will have been practising for it beforehand and be more prepared for the experience than I was. Having said that it was very do-able on my Hornet with a little clutch slip and a touch of back brake. It might have been a bit of a challenge on an R6 or a big tourer though.
Exercise 3: Cornering and avoidance test
Next up is two tests in one. You have to take a corner and as you come out of it, accelerate up to at least 32mph then swerve to avoid an obstacle. In the test it’s two cones but in real life it could be a car bonnet jutting out of a side road.
The corner needs to be taken at a minimum of 19mph (30kph). It requires a little lean but it’s nothing scary. The examiner will use his judgement on whether you were doing 19mph or not, so I went into the bend doing a giddy 25mph to be safe.
After you come out of the bend you need to get on the gas and hit 32mph (50kph) before you pass through a speed trap. Then you swerve around the obstacle and come to a halt in the box. The examiner has a Bluetooth handset that gives him a read out of your exact speed through the trap and it must say 50kph or over for you to pass.
Luckily you get two attempts at it, because on my first try I was doing 48kph (29.8mph). I do wonder whether years of being conditioned to ride at 30mph played a part. Either way, it’s hard to fight the natural urge to roll off the throttle too early when you see those cones looming. Second time around I did it with a comfortable 53kph.
Exercise 4: U-turn and slow ride
Since it’s done off-road, the u-turn in the new test is actually easier than it was in the old one. The surface at the test centre is smooth and flat, rather than bumpy and cambered like a real road on an industrial estate. There’s no kerbs to hit either, just two white lines spaced a generous 7.5 metres apart. Set off slowly in first, slip the clutch, cover the back brake and most importantly look where you want to go. Simple. It also helps to shift your weight slightly over to the left of the bike to aid balance.
After your u-turn you’ll be asked to keep pace with the examiner as he walks slowly between two cones. This is to prove you can balance the bike at slow speed to deal with traffic and filtering. This exercise is already present on the CBT, so it’s nothing new and probably the easiest part of the test.
Exercise 6: Emergency stop
As with the u-turn, the emergency stop is safer and easier in the new test. The specially surfaced test area is more grippy and confidence-inspiring than a real road. Once more you need to be doing 32mph (50kph) to pass, so the examiner will have you go around the bend again and pass through the speed trap before raising his hand to signal you to brake.
By testing it off the road learners can perform their emergency stop in a safer way and leave more time for actual riding in the on-road test.
Despite no real preparation, I managed to take the test and pass. I even had fun doing it. The swerve test is especially entertaining and worthwhile too. Previously new riders were only taught one way to get out of trouble – the emergency stop – but as bikers one of our greatest assets is manoeuvrability. By highlighting that fact you give learners another option when the unexpected happens. It also teaches counter-steering and a better understanding of how to make a bike turn, which I think could even go on to help prevent high speed cornering accidents with new riders.
If you’ve been riding for a few years and are reasonably confident then none of the exercises in the test would pose a problem for you. For new riders it’s clearly more of a challenge than some of us had to face to get a license, but nothing is too difficult or worth worrying about.
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