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Starting to ride: Theory chaos

Published: 08 August 2019

Updated: 09 August 2019

It feels like years since I did my CBT, but alas it was only a couple of months ago. In that time I've been riding, but also reading, because I needed to swot up for my motorcycle theory test.

My revision material comprised of two books – the Highway Code and an official DVSA Theory Test for Motorcyclists (shown above) – and some online tools, which provided mock exams as well as familiarisation of the look and feel of the test itself.

I say test, but it’s actually split into two parts. The first is the multiple choice portion, followed by a hazard perception test. It costs £23, takes around an hour, and I registered to take the test in Peterborough.

So the past few weeks have been full of revision and practice as I prepared. Entering the building on the day of the exam, I’ll admit I was pretty nervous. I’d got the facts and figures of the multiple choice part there or there abouts, but the hazard perception was playing on my mind. Not only had countless people told me how a) hard it is to pass, and b) how unrepresentative it is of normal road riding, that I wasn’t entirely sure I’d get it right.

You see, it’s a generic test aimed at those who’ve never used a road in their life before as well as more experienced drivers, and therein lies the problem – if you’re used to observing hazardous situations unfold on the road, you’re likely to highlight them earlier than the computer is ready for in this exam. That, along with the lack of any cursor on the screen (sounds trivial but it was enough to throw me) had me worried.

But alas, an hour later I walked out of the building with a pass certificate. As expected I’d done fairly well on multiple choice, dropped two points of the maximum 50, but my hazard perception score was a poor 49 out of 75. The pass mark is 44, so I’d done it by the skin of my teeth.

Still, I’m through it and it’s job done. Now onto investigating my mod 1 and mod 2 practical exams after some rider training on bigger bikes. It’s starting to get real…

Jump to

Starting to ride: 125 shootout

Best 125cc motorbikes

This week on MCN we published a feature that would have been very useful for me a few months ago while picking my bike. The best 125cc motorbikes article takes some of the most popular bikes that I can ride right now with my current licence - a full UK car one with a CBT, which means up to 15bhp and not more than 0.1kw per kg.

So reading through the options, the obvious question is: would I have chosen any differently? Given I'm an inexperienced rider, I'm not in a position to comment on the differences in powertrain performance or chassis design, but I will say I'm pleased I went for a naked design with a more upright riding position. The equivilent sportsbike design, the GSX-R125, requires a more hunched-over approach that I think I'd find less comfortable now that I've started doing longer rides of up to an hour. I've become more of a fan of the look of the sportsbike approach, however, and can fully understand why you'd buy one like that. Particularly if, as in the Suzuki's case, you can buy it in race-replica graphics from MotoGP. 

I'd like to have tried the KTM 125 Duke given another shot at buying a 125. It looks just as comfortable as the Suzuki, and arguably slightly more interesting, but I'm told it's a bigger bike as well, which should mean it'll be more comfy for my ample frame.

Still, I'm enjoying the little GSX. I've just buzzed past 300 miles on the odo and I'm out riding a lot. I've also discovered the joy of £11 fill-ups at the petrol station - I've filled up twice, and some basic maths shows I'm doing around £1 per 10 miles, or 10p per mile. That's pretty decent value for money considering how much fun I've been having...

Learning to ride: basic bike wash

I’ve done a few hundred miles now and most of it was in the rain, so time to clean the Suzuki GSX-S125 for the first time…it was time to get bike tester and expert Dan to show me what to do. Watch the video above to see how I got on.

Learning to ride: the first 100 miles

First 100 miles

After passing the CBT, I was free to get out there and learn to enjoy this Suzuki GSX-S125 – which incidentally I still can’t quite pronounce when people ask what bike I’m riding. The arrangement of letters seems to make my tongue double in size. I’ll have to work on that.

I'll be the first to admit I'm finding it difficult to pronounce my bike's name - the Suzuki GSX-S don't compute in this brain

Anyway, I was ready to ride on the open road, and ready to find out just what this motorcycling malarkey is all about.

Except Mother Nature took matters into her own hands to ensure I didn’t have too much fun. The first night I’d planned to take it home, it rained. The morning after, it rained more. The following evening? You’ve guessed it…

Now, I’m not about to start moaning about our Great British Weather. I’ve spent 35 years getting to know and love it. However, it put the kit I’d picked directly into focus, and caused a few more wallet wobbles as I properly acclimatised to the situation.

On the first evening it became startlingly clear my rucksack wasn’t up to the job. This laptop-laden luggage was sopping by the time I’d reached home after 17 miles of prodigious precipitation and frankly, the electronics were in danger. When I got home I also realised that the bike would need to be left exposed to the elements (albeit tucked securely away) over a weekend, and while a motorcycle should be waterproof, it didn’t seem right to leave it out for days on end with such poor conditions.

Take cover!

The cover from Oxford Products fits the Suzuki GSX-S125 perfectly, and even has a hole for a disc lock

I ordered a cover to fit the GSX-S, which cost £24.99, and an Aqua V20 backpack was £49.99.

The cover for the Suzuki GSX-S125 is in 'small' size - to the surprise of precisely nobody

I found the cover a surprisingly tight but accurate fit, with a belly strap to keep it on the bike, breathable fabric to prevent mould and a hole for a disc lock at the front. More on that later…

The bag came in high-viz, which if you remember back to my first update, was something I’d been told can only be a good thing when you’re learning to ride. It also holds 20 litres, has waist and chest straps for security while riding, and feels incredibly robust. In fact, it feels like the same material they make RIBs – Rigid Inflatable Boats – with. A sort of heavy-duty waterproof rubber.

You won't miss me wearing this - particularly from behind!

What followed was a total reassessment of my logistics as I adjusted to spending what felt like half my life getting in and out of biking gear.

It meant being more strategic with where I left items of clothing, ensuring I had viable, non-biking attire for work activities where necessary and not leaving anything I need to ride anywhere it wasn’t useful.

The shoulder, waist and chest straps help keep the £49.99 AquaV20 rolltop bag secure while riding

I’ll admit there were a few trouser teething troubles here. While I’m a big fan of the riding jeans I’d sorted before the CBT, the two-layer waterproofs got a lot more use in the first instance. A few times I found myself wearing just the lower layer (easier, quicker, cooler and more comfortable than both) when it rained before I learnt it’s probably a good move to carry the outer layer in my backpack. Obvious, maybe, but not necessarily to a new biker wondering what on earth he’ll encounter each time he heads out.

How’s that bike treating you?

I don’t have many things to say about the GSX-S125, and that’s not because I don’t want to have to keep saying its name.

However, I will say I find the riding position comfortable. Its naked design with upright stance seems to suit what I’d imagine my riding style will evolve into.

My Suzuki GSX-S125 isn't always wet - honest!

But after 100 miles, I’ve discovered one issue, and that’s its performance. My ride home involves a fair amount of national speed limit B-road, and this Suzuki doesn’t do much more than that.

While I’m not wanting to go warp speed the whole way home, I’d appreciate the extra safety net that more power offers you when you’re above 50mph or so. Being able to extricate myself from situations isn’t something I’d thought about, but now I completely understand why some more experienced riders write in to MCN saying you should be able to skip the enforced 125 step and move directly to a feistier machine.

It hasn’t all been wet and expensive, either. In fact, I’ve had two(!) rides to and from work in beautiful, warm sunshine. During those cushty commutes I really began to understand what this brilliant lifestyle is all about. That feeling you experience when you lean the bike into a bend and come out precisely where intended is a thrillingly addictive one, and something I can only imagine will improve as my limits widen and I get used to the bike. I can’t wait to ditch the L-plates already… and I haven’t even had to fill the bike up yet!

  • Suzuki GSX-S125
  • Mileage: 1401
  • Fuel spend so far: £0

Second update: doing my CBT... on video!

This week's video update sees Gareth take his CBT at Wheels in Peterborough. Special thanks to instructor Matt Hardwick from Shires Motorcycle Training.

Second update: my first motorbike insurance policy

Now, I’m booked to do a CBT next week, which I’m very much looking forward to, but first I’ve been having a look at a little matter called motorcycle insurance. We all need it if we’re going to ride on the road, and that’s what I’ll be doing on the second part of my CBT, assuming all goes according to plan.

To find out how much I’d be stung for, I fired up MCN Compare’s comparison tool and went to work inputting my details. Other companies are available, of course.

My rough profile is as follows:

  • Age and marital status: 35, married
  • Postcode: PE8
  • Work: editor in publishing
  • Type of licence: provisional, car licence held since 2001
  • Annual mileage: 5999 (wishful thinking..?!)
  • Bike usage: social, domestic and pleasure, including commuting. Kept on driveway locked with alarmed disc lock
  • Voluntary excess: £300

The best quote came back at £318.06 for the year, courtesy of MCE. The lump sum could be split into a £50.71 deposit and eight instalments of £43.95. I’ve no idea why eight payments, but that’s what it said!

Oh, I'd need to tax the bike too - VED costs £20 a year for bikes under 150cc, or £21 if you split it over 12 months. Things aren't quite that tight, thankfully.

Now that's all sorted, I'm ready for my CBT. Keep an eye out for the video diary over the coming days...

First update: all the gear and no idea...

All the gear and no idea

It was around 2am when I shot bolt upright in bed. No, not what you’re thinking – it was the realisation that it’s time to learn to ride a motorbike.

I’d been keen on bikes for years, but only from a distance, because until very recently I was in the car industry and so that’s where most of my attentions faced. A new job away from cars was all the inspiration I needed to make the leap, so I’m going to document my journey here. Hopefully it’ll give you something to send to any budding bikers out there to inspire them to do similar…

As a little background on me, I’m 35-years-old, have held a full UK car licence since I was 17, am a keen motorsport enthusiast and love all kinds of engineering. My riding experience is little more than buzzing around on a 50cc twist-and-go for a brief period when I was 16, however. I’ve got basically no idea how to operate a bike with gears!

Step one: choosing rider training and a bike

Once I knew I wanted to try motorcycling, the first thing I did was Google motorbike licences. This brought me to MCN’s new Advice section, where I found two articles in particular that were to prove incredibly useful: How to Ride a Motorbike, and How to pass your full UK motorbike licence.

Now, I had to decide what to do first. From the above articles it’s clear you can achieve very little on the road in Britain without a CBT – Compulsory Basic Training – so that quickly went to the top of my to-do list. I quickly located the nearest school with a good reputation (it’d be with Shires, who are based out of Wheels in Peterborough), but in order to do that I needed a bike to do it on, and some kit in case it rains, or I’m particularly inept at riding once I’ve got going.

The bike turned out to be the easy bit. I’m keen to do this properly, so it had to be a geared 125 – the largest-capacity engine you can use without taking more intensive biking tests.

A chat over a beer with MCN’s youngest expert bike reviewer Dan Sutherland at the Carole Nash MCN London show threw up some interesting options, but he absolutely raved about Suzuki’s GSX-S 125, telling me it’s approachable and safe but loads of fun at the same time. He’d covered the launch of the bike for MCN and I fully trust his opinion. The Suzuki sounded good to me!

It might be a while until Gareth can ride the Suzuki GSX-S 125 this enthusiastically...

The one I’ve ended up with isn’t new. It’s got 1300 miles under its belt already, and I’m told that means it’s just about run in. Hopefully I can avoid any teething issues with the bike, because there are bound to be loads with me and my riding!

Step two: kitting out with bike clothing

Now on to the kit. I knew I didn’t want anything too… let’s say, 'racy'. I know my capabilities are lightyears from lighting up the rear tyre on a lap of the TT. In fact, flying under the radar is more my preference, but that’s not always a good thing, as I was to find out in my CBT course later on. I should have borrowed some kit until I’d done that, if I’m being completely honest.

So I went for a matte black helmet from Icon. This polycarbonate full-face lid, according to the specs, is called Airform Rubatone and comes with an integrated sun visor and a moisture wicking removable interior. They both sound like useful features. You're also able to customise it thanks to the removable spoiler at the back, which plays to my desire to tinker with everything I own. Maybe in a few weeks.

I tried a few on around the same pricepoint and this one seemed to fit my head best. It’s priced at £136.00 at time of writing, which didn’t sound too bad to me.

Slightly more visible is the Alpinestars T-GP Plus R V2 jacket, which costs £199.99. While I may not have picked this particular colour scheme, I was amazed at how well this fitted my torso. I’m not sure I’ve got a jacket that’s more snug yet liberating – it’s very breathable, has loads of vents, proper CE Level 2 protection for elbows and shoulders, VELCRO fastenings and loads of pockets. Quite a spec! My only concern was the main zip, which felt a touch flimsier than a lot of the other kit I’d tried and harder to locate when zipping the jacket up. I’m sure I’ll get used to it, though. 

Fashion meets function

The two-layer black Hein Gericke trousers I'd found went off sale a long time ago and weren't particularly comfortable, taking me ages to get into them as I learnt how all the kit went together. But then someone in the office asked me whether I'd be wearing some "riding jeans". I'd not considered this was even possible, but it turns out my favourite legwear is also available with the kevlar protection required to be legal and safe for riding a bike.

There are actually countless designs on the market, but after a bit of investigation I settled on a pair of denim-look Furygan Steeds. I was surprised to note they're not too much more expensive than my regular jeans, weighing in at £159.99. They're new for this year, and my first impressions when I unpacked them and tried them on were good - they're comfy, despite the extra padding in crucial places. It took five minutes to work out how to sit down without pinching a little, but now that's done I feel like I could wear them all day. I suppose that's sort of the point...

For the extremities I went for some RST Raid multipurpose gloves – black, comfortable and protected across the knuckles, but also usefully dextrous enough to allow me to take my lid on and off without removing the RSTs first. That could be useful at a petrol station.

The Forma Majestic boots (£129) don’t rewrite any sort of fashion rules either, but all the right ingredients are included: waterproof, robust-feeling zip, sturdy protection around foot and ankle. It’ll be interesting to see how they loosen up as I start to clock up some miles.

So now I had all (well, most) of the gear, but still hardly any idea. Time to change that, and on to my CBT in the next update. Stay tuned for the video blog…

More from MCN

Gareth's Suzuki GSX-S 125 ready to get going

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