Learning to ride: from MTB to motorbike
Learning to ride a motorbike is a challenge weirdly harder than the sum of its parts. If I can ride a mountain bike and drive a car with a manual gearbox (obviously not at the same time) then surely it’s not a huge leap to combine those skills on something like this Honda CB125R. Surely.
If you’ve been through this process already, you won’t need to see me wobbling around a car park to know just how wrong that assumption is. If like me you’re hoping to upgrade from pedal-power to petrol, trust me, you’ll need to forget nearly everything you already know about bikes.
I've been on two wheels for about as long as I’ve been able to stand, from balance bikes to BMXs and then mountain bikes – crap ones from the 1990s, heavyweight downhill sleds of the 2000s and modern day do-it-all enduros. Bikes have featured since the day I denied my parents that sepia-filter moment of teaching me to ride without stabilisers by bombing past our house on my older friend's bike, straight into a hedge. I’ve been looking for bigger and bigger hills to crash on ever since.
What sort of bikes do you ride?
It’s only ever been mountain bikes really – I’ve got nothing against roadies but my idea of riding involves finding thrills on steep gradients with roots and berms and jumps, plus if you go to the right places, a van to drive you back up to the top again. I am properly, monotonously obsessed by this, to the point of boring anyone who’ll listen to tears about my last ride. But even so, I’ll acknowledge that push bikes are seriously flawed by the need to pedal.
So, I suppose then it’s with some inevitability that I would eventually want to ditch leg power altogether and get a motorbike licence. My Dad’s ridden big bikes his whole life, often daily as a means of getting to work, so it’s something I’ve always wanted to do.
My first time riding a motorbike was oddly similar to my first driving lesson – in that a large part of it was spent faffing about trying to balance the clutch and gas to move off without stalling.
This is harder than in a car because if you get it wrong you might fall off. There were other struggles I’ll get to later, but my main take away from that experience was that contrary to popular belief, it appears you actually can forget how to ride a bike.
What are you strugging with?
It’s the little things that catch me out – not the fact that my rear brake is now foot operated, and the lever that would normally pull it is the clutch – but moments like when I pushed this Honda into my garage and to help make the 90 degree turn I tried to pick the back wheel up. Or once when I forgot what I was doing and stood up on the pegs while going over a big speed bump.
Every now and again though my fear levels drop and I realise I’m enjoying the ride - my heart rate is racing not because I’m pedalling hard but because this is brilliant, this is exactly how I thought it would be, this is like flying.
I think this is because just like riding my mountain bike and exactly not like driving a car, motorcycling requires you to move around, side to side on the seat or ducking down between the dials to breach 55mph in a headwind. The latter may well be a 125cc thing, but either way, you don’t so much feel part of the process but the entire process itself.
Plus it sounds good, this one-cylinder mini-bike that has about as much power as my lawnmower somehow sounds more emotive than most new cars I've driven; they're getting so refined they don’t feel like machines at all. I know that’s a weird thing to complain about. So let’s end there before this becomes entirely too existential.