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Four Up and two down

Seeing Prince William pass his motorcycle test recently reminded me of my own motorcycling days and just how much has changed since then. Now of course the test is much tougher with progression through stages. Back in the late seventies things were a whole lot different.
Anyone who had reached seventeen could go out and buy a bike with a capacity of up to 250cc bung a few L plates on and that was it. A bike this size could do the ton.  And tons of people did which certainly kept the NHS and the undertakers busy.

My first bike was a little Suzuki 100cc. I bought it from a shop in Corby in the West Midlands which was about 80 miles from the RAF base I was stationed at.
The instruction was a quick run up and down the back yard of the shop. "Of you go then give it a try" the proprietor said. And wobbly off I went, made it to the top in first gear. "That's fine your getting the hang of it all right" he said. "Try changing gears this time" Seeing my bewilderment he added "it's one Down and Four up" What? directions to the local casualty that'd be it.  Nice of him. maybe he'd do a map so I could pin it to my chest. Just in case the ambulance driver didn't know the way, after he peeled me from the back of a truck. I could see the headlines "Airman in truck smash horror" Bike shop owner said he was getting the hang of it all right". "The gears, you really don't know much about bikes do you" never was a truer word spoken. A half hour later and I was ready for the open road.

I pottered around all weekend gradually gaining in confidence. I could stop in traffic with out staling the engine, or falling off and everything. The first twenty miles of the journey back were very nervy, but after that I started to relax. Wow this was great, and that was it I was hooked. If you haven't experienced the thrill of riding a bike, even a relatively small one on the open road then you haven't lived. Then with about twenty Miles to Go disaster. The thing spluttered to a halt and that was that. There was plenty of petrol in the tank I looked , the spark plug was sparking but still the thing wouldn't go. Fortunately a nearby house holder let store the thing in her shed for the time being.

By now I was seriously overdue and carrying my helmet set of to hitch back to camp. Almost immediately a bike pulled up and I was on my way. I don't know what its like now but back then the posesion of a helmet by the roadside made your a fully paid up member of the society of bikers. This organization had a very loose membership policy. If you had a bike you were in and that was it.  Members always flashed their lights on passing each other, and stopped for a chat when encountering other members out and about. And always stopped to offer assistance to other members in trouble.

When I arrived back with typical barrack room humor they were running a sweepstake on which hospital I had made it to. The next day a rescue mission was launched a car full of bodies and enough tools to stock a Halfords. On arrival the Biker who we had persuaded to come along gave the kick starter a prod. "hmm he said , You've tried it on reserve I presume" Reserve what reserve? with that he reached down moved the fuel lever and she fired first time. Which just went to show what I really knew about bikes.

My biking learning curve followed the same trajectory of most new bikers at that time. You get a bike you ride it around gaining in confidence all the time, till you reach Milestone Two. Millstone two usually takes about Two weeks to achieve depending on the ability of the rider. MS2 is of course where you start becoming overconfident and fall off. How fast you are going and where you are when you achieve MS2 is very much the deciding factor in whether you progress to MS3. My MS2 involved an embarrassing encounter with the tarmac right outside the Guardroom fortunately it was at a relatively slow speed so I progressed to MS3.

If you imagine the "quickening" from the film Highlander then this is what MS3 is all about. It's learning the hard way the road craft, you now have to have before getting on a bike. It's gaining that six sense to know that some idiot car drivers going to pull out of a junction in front of you.  Once you mastered MS3 progression to MS4 was usually rapid.MS4 is of course when you buy a bigger bike this can however cause a regression to MS2. I came through my learning curve relatively unscathed and covered many miles over many years in all weathers. I never did get around to taking my bike test.  If you were happy to stay within the 250cc limit you didn't need to.

We've come along way from those days and. Motorcycle accident statistics have shown a marked improvement which shows the tougher licensing regime is having the desired effect. It's been about Fifteen years since I was any were near a bike but suddenly the , smell of leather, oil dropping on a hot exhaust, the lure of the open road , the fly's impacting through an open visor. Sod it I'm off down the bike shop . Only reminiscing of course dear. Did some one mention mid life crisis.


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