When riding for work is a pleasure, what’s riding for pleasure?

Now that I’ve settled in to my new role as a Motorcycle Instructor, most of my riding involves demonstrating various manoevres on the training yard or road (my U-turns have improved quite a lot!), or following trainees as they get their first taste of “survival riding” on the roads of Salford and Manchester.

So far I’ve had glorious sunshine and torrential rain, gentle breezes and howling gales and even the odd bit of hail thrown in for good measure. But one thing remains constant. The sheer pleasure of being outdoors and riding my bike. Add to that the smiles of the complete “newbie” trainees when they finally find that they are riding the bike (and not the other way round, which is how it feels at first!), and I don’t regret having chosen a much less well-paid way to earn a crust.

But it’s not all plain sailing. One of my trainees, who shall remain nameless, was having difficulty with the slow-speed exercises that form most of the Module-1 motorcycle test during his Direct Access training recently. Having had a full day with the boss, Rob, he was entrusted to me for his 2nd day, and we had the yard all to ourselves. After spending a little while explaining the difference between how the clutch is used on a bike vs his car, and having got his slow-speed control really sorted, we moved on to the turning exercises. Once he’d mastered the U-turn we started on the figure-of-8 exercise, which the day before had been his undoing, when he dropped the bike after pulling in the clutch (a no-no as it results in loss of stability). And he was looking so good I took his picture…

No more than a couple of seconds after this was taken, he pulled in the clutch and dropped the bike. Doh! After restoring his confidence and reassuring him that Rob wouldn’t mind yet another broken indicator lense, he had another go, and completed a perfect figure-of-8. Then another perfect figure-of-8. Then pulled in the clutch whilst turning and down the bike went on the other side, resulting in matching broken front indicator lenses. But I’m not one for quitting or letting my trainees quit, so we continued until he had mastered the art of controlling the bike and not dropping it on the floor.

I’ve also had some challenging days, when the mix of trainees creates its own problems, such as last week, when I had 4 trainees, 2 of whom could already ride and 2 who were complete beginners. What made it worse was the 2 “experts” were riding the automatic scooters, whilst the 2 newbies were on the geared 125cc bikes. Needless to say the “experts” were bored stiff within half an hour of starting the yard work, whilst I paid most of my attention to the teaching the newbies the intracacies of clutch control and looking where they were going. When the “experts” started deliberately riding at the cones, it was time to send them in for a coffee before bringing them out again for the observation exercises. This is where things evened up, because by now the newbies were riding well, with good control, and being car drivers understood the need for rear observations and when to do them, whilst the “experts” didn’t. At the end of the day, though, I’d managed to get them all through the full CBT syllabus, including the 2-hour road ride during which the “experts” both had chance to appreciate why the “lifesaver” glance into their blind-spot is so named, curtesy of some incredibly bad driving from the local car traffic. Needless to say they were both appreciative of the lessons I’d forced them to listen to earlier in the day!

But if riding for work is a pleasure, then riding for pleasure is still a real joy. This weekend I had the chance to ride solely for pleasure, as I headed up to Kirkby Stephen in between the Yorkshrie Dales and the Lake District for the Adventure Bike Rider magazine’s “Back to the Boil Rally”. This is a repeat of the rally I went to last April, when one of the ABR forum members opened his new campsite a week early to host a rally for readers of the magazine. Paul & Maria who run the excellent Takoda Campsite organise the rally which includes a fabulous “Curry Night” for charity, raising money for a village in Tamil Nadu, India (which last year bought the first beds for the schoolchildren living there). Cooked by local chef Jessie, the food last year was outstanding and so I was eager to return this year, even though I would only be able to stay Friday night as I had things to do on Saturday.

So I loaded up the panniers and strapped on my tent and off I went on another mini-adventure. I took the scenic route up via Skipton and the Yorkshire Dales, passing the Tennant Arms at Kilsney where Tracy and I stayed when I asked her to marry me, and on via a stop for soup at the biker cafe in Hawes. After stopping at the Co-Op for supplies (beer and eggs/bacon for brekkie) I met up with a guy I knew from the Dambusters run last year, and headed to the campsite. Pitching up next to Neil, one of the other instructors at the training school where I work, I was once again happy to be camping.

Once settled in I went for a wander and was delighted to find several people who remembered me from last year, and it wasn’t long before the beer and conversation flowing. With over 60 bikes in attendence there was a fair crowd gathering for the curry which was served shortly after 7pm, and boy, was it good!

Jessie and her team of helpers had excelled themselves once again, catering for 150 people. I’m not sure there were that many present, but with most being “adventure biker types” (see “Hairy Bikers”), it was all gone fairly quickly. With the raffle, we also raised over £1,000 for the charity, as well, which can’t be bad!

Suitably stuffed and smelling of curry and beer, we naturally headed into town to the local pub, which must have heard we were back in town, judging by the sign outside…

Inside was utter chaos, though, as the local teenage population had decended on the pub to drink the hours away before a coach arrived at 10:30pm to take them somewhere to a club. It was a real clash of cultures, as barely-dressed young girls and their studs mixed at the bar with 50 or so middle-aged bikers in multiple layers of gore-tex armoured clothing. When one of our party, who shall remain nameless (at least here, everyone else knows who he is!), feeling the after-effects of the curry and gassy beer, erm, “let rip”, the poor young lass next to him at the bar nearly fainted!

I suspect there may not be a welcome sign outside next year…

Eventually I had to call it a night and wandered back to camp leaving the rest of the group partying until closing time. Still stuffed with curry I had no more room for beer and waddled contentedly into the field, crawled into my tent and fell soundly asleep. When I woke briefly in the middle of the night, the only sounds were the thunderous roars of countless blokes snoring loudly! I felt sorry for any light sleepers, as I drifted off again, no doubt to join the pre-dawn chorus…

In the morning I abandoned plans to cook my own breakfast due to the state of my cookware (which I spent a happy hour cleaning once home again) and packed up, bid farewell to my fellow campers and rode off into the gloom. Despite the overcast skies I decided to ride into the Lakes before heading South to visit Nikki and then my mum, riding over to Penrith where I stopped at the Little Chef for breakfast, then by the side of beautiful Ullswater and over Kirkstone Pass and on to Windermere. Once again, I could imagine myself off on a much longer adventure, and were it not for Tracy (and a lack of funds!), I would have been tempted to simply keep going…


But the one night away has stirred my desire to get away again, but first, I need to earn some money!
 

 

Home Sweet Home…

With the snow melting all around us it was clear that we would be able to return home on Friday as planned, but we still had time for one last walk up to Solomon’s Temple and the opportunity for me to borrow Tracy’s camera and try and get a few shots of the stunning scenery. So whilst she stayed behind to prepare dinner, Konnor and I kitted up once more and headed up the hillside to the temple. What a contrast this walk was to the 2 previous ones! First we’d all had a cold wind and rain showers to content with, then Konnor and I had braved a blizzard to get necessary supplies, and here we were faced with blue skies and sunshine (it was still cold, though). Just beautiful…

Once again we climbed the temple steps and admired the view, before climbing back down and looking out over Buxton from the big arched doorway.

As we made our way back to the caravan site, Konnor couldn’t resist the few remaining snow drifts, launching himself into the deep snow, clearly full of the joys of Spring…

After our final night in Polly we made our way home again, unpacked Polly and returned her to the farm where she lives in between adventures. With Konnor starting school again after Easter, and me now working most weekends, we wonder when we’ll be able to take her out to play again…

The following day, Saturday, Tracy had to drive down to Haverhill to meet Sean who was returning from his school trip to the USA that afternoon, whilst I went to work leaving Carlie (who had come home from Uni for a break whilst we were away) looked after Konnor. Work was interesting to say the least, with 4 new riders to take through their CBTs, none of whom had any experience of riding bikes at all. It was a fun day, though, as once again I got to see big smiles emerge on their faces as they got to terms with controlling the bikes. Not only were they new to riding, but 3 of them didn’t even drive! By the end of the day they were all riding the bikes under control, but I felt only 2 of them were ready for the mandatory road ride (the 2 riding the automatic scooters and so not having to worry about clutch control). The road ride then highlighted their lack of experience and road-sense, and after an hour I had to call it a day as they were worn-out and no longer improving. Whilst I hadn’t been able to get any of the 4 to the required safe standard to issue them with their CBT certificates, they’d all had a full day and enjoyed the experience, and all had learnt a lot. A few more hours each and they’ll be out on the roads on their own, equipped with the basic skills to enable them to at least be safe whilst they gain experience.

By the time I’d got home Tracy had picked up Sean and was already making her way back, opting to return home in one day so we could all have Easter Sunday together. Unfortunately Carlie and Mike had to go home as they had their own plans before Tracy returned. When she finally got home, Sean was suffering from serious jet-lag and barely able to speak!

On Easter Sunday he was a little better and Katie, Brian and Niamh came round for a slap-up roast lamb dinner, before I settled down to watch the first MotoGP race of the season.

How nice to be home again!

Dreaming of a White Easter…

 

When the sun was baking us to a crisp the other week, Tracy told me she’d seen a weather forecast that was predicting snow at Easter. I laughed, ignored it, and we booked a short break in Buxton. On arrival it was windy but dry and we spent the afternoon chilling out, with Tracy and Konnor taking a short walk to the rocks on the entrance road whilst I updated the blog.

 

Tuesday dawned windy and with a smattering of rain but that wasn’t going to deter us from getting outdoors and into the freshening air. We walked out of the site and up the hill to a small round stone tower known as Solomon’s Temple which would have afforded us spectacular views over the surrounding hills and over Buxton itself. As it was, the view was somewhat obscured by low cloud, but we could just about make out Buxton Opera house and the Pavilion Gardens.

 

 

From here we walked down into Grin Low Wood and passed the “Go Ape” attraction which consisted of several high wires and zip wires through the trees. Investigations revealed that it was necessary for an adult to accompany anyone under 18, which meant either Tracy or I accompanying Konnor, and with the price reaching a whopping £50 for 2 of us, we decided to skip it. The decision had nothing to do with fear of heights, honestly!

 

After a scone and brew in the café by Poole’s Cavern, which Tracy and Konnor were planning to visit on Thursday when I went to work, we made our way back over the hill to the caravan site. It was a steep ascent, and by the time we’d got back to Polly we were all quite tired, but glad of the exercise. That evening we played Pass the Pigs (I lost, as usual) and had curry and pasta for tea then watched Monster’s Inc. before calling it a night.

 

And what a night it turned out to be.

 

When Tracy woke the following morning and looked out of the window, her “Oh My God!” expression had us all clambering for a view. Outside was white. Pure white. It had started snowing in the middle of the night and hadn’t stopped, the ground already covered by 8” of the white stuff. The blizzard was in full flow and it was clear that it was in for the day, meaning a hasty re-plan was required. Despite the intermittent mobile signal I was able to send a message to work to let them know I wouldn’t be able to get in tomorrow as planned. Then we needed to get some supplies as we were running low, having planned to go to the shop today. With the weather so bad, Konnor and I left Tracy tucked up warm inside Polly and set off into the storm with a cheery “We’re just going outside, we may be gone for some time”.

 

From the road out of the site it was almost impossible to see Polly – see if you can find her in the picture below…

 

 

It was hard going walking in the deep snow, and it took Konnor and I well over 1.5 hours to walk the 3 miles to the supermarket the other side of Buxton. We stocked up on bread, milk and other essentials such as Hot Cross Buns and cup-a-soup and made our way back again. A short stop on the hillside in view of Polly to make snow-angels was wasted as Tracy couldn’t see us in the gloom. Back at Polly we dried off and tucked in to warming cup-a-soup before settling down to play Logo (which I won!) before watching some episodes of Criminal Minds. Outside the snow stopped, but the ground remained covered and we weren’t too optimistic about getting off the site tomorrow (Thursday).

 

However, Thursday dawned bright and sunny with the early morning sun reflecting off the snow as it slowly started to melt.

 

 

With the possibility of getting offsite, and with the snow still making walking treacherous for Tracy, we dug out the car and drove into Buxton to visit Poole’s Cavern. This is a remarkable old limestone cave, which has been turned into a tourist attraction and for the princely sum of £22.50 we were all able to take the guided tour. Our tour guide pointed out the various weird calcite formations and explained their history and how they were formed. I could barely hear him, but the cave was quite spectacular regardless, even if the photographs don’t do it justice.

 

 

 

With our fill of tourist culture, we drove into the town centre to find a café for a spot of lunch and to buy a snow-shovel (so that it never snows again) before returning once more to Polly to relax and enjoy the sweets we bought from the Traditional Olde Worlde Sweet Shoppe.

April Fool!

At least that’s how I felt when I turned up for my first day at RJH Driver and Rider Training to take a couple of guys through their Compulsory Basic Training and checked their driving licences. One was French, and had lost his photocard licence so had brought his passport as proof of ID together with his counterpart licence. The other was Somalian. Fortunately, both had UK driving licences (the former only provisional but a quick phonecall to the DVLA confirmed provisional entitlement to ride motorcycles) and spoke excellent English. The second “April Fool” was when I was taking them through their emergency braking exercise and as usual I asked how many times during their driving career they’d had to perform one (to highlight that real emergencies are rare and to explore hazard perception). “Never” was the understandable reply from the Frenchman with the provisional licence. “Lots of times” was the rather unnerving reply from the other guy. “Well, you must be a bad driver then!” was my retort, to which he replied, “I do them almost every day as part of my job… I’m a driving instructor!”.

 

The rest of the day went well up until we did the emergency stop on the road, when the Frenchman ignored my earlier pleas and the skills he’d developed practicing in the safety of the yard and panicked, grabbing the front brake on the scooter hard and flailing his legs about. In a split second he was on the ground, as was the scooter. He was completely unharmed and embarassed. I was shocked, the image of the blind panic in his face immediately following my raising of my hand imprinted on my mind forever. And my target of never having a trainee drop a bike ruined. Damn. As there was no damage done we continued, repeating the exercise several times after more briefing to ensure he wouldn’t panic again if he was unfortunate enough to encounter a real emergency. I think I learnt a lesson too, to emp[hasize even more that an “emergency stop” is nothing more than a “controlled stop done more efficiently”.

 

The following day I rode to work with the temperature showing -1.5degrees and with the scare-mongering headlines forecasting snow on my mind. But the sky was blue and the sun came out as I finished putting the cones out .


All ready for the trainees

 

My trainees for the day were a couple of young guys who had never ridden bikes at all before. The smiles on their faces when I ‘d got them riding safely round the yard and stopping (controlled, of course!) set the tone for a really enjoyable day. Whislt we didn’t get to do the 2-hour road ride, they had a great day and went home happy, ready to complete their training on another day. There’s a lot to the CBT, and if you’ve never ridden before it can be too much, so part of the instructor’s job is to ensure his trainees don’t get too tired before they head out on the road. On this occasion, it was their decision to call it a day, as one had been at work until 2am, before turning up at the training centre at 8am!


Learning how to slalom
 

Having worked for 2 consecutive days, it was time for a holiday, so this morning Tracy, Konnor and I loaded up Polly and headed for the Caravan Club site in Buxton. Truth be told, we had this booked for a couple of weeks, using the first week of the Easter holidays to get away in Polly for the first time this year. When we went to pick her up on Wednesday to give her a good clean she wouldn’t start with a flat battery but after putting it on charge for a couple of days she was good to go, and after a good cleaning was all set. So here we are, enjoying a relaxing few days away. Except I’ve got to go home on Wednesday night as I’m working on Thursday, but I’ll be coming back for the last night before we head home again on Friday. Who knows, I might even get to beat Konnor at Swingball a few times before then!

Tracy and Konnor warming up