Living the Dream - From Rookie to Rider.
I guess it started in the early 1980s. After decades of admiring and longing for the various generations of BMW RTs, I decided the time had come to live the dream. And who better than BMW Rider Training in Royston to get me there? That was how, after doing my detailed homework on training providers, I ended up at BMW Rider Training in Royston. To be honest it was a bit of a gamble. Would I even like it? Would I be able to learn new skills, or would I be too entrenched in the way I do things? Maybe it would be a nice distraction for a few days, and finally I’d put the idea to rest? Maybe I would decide I didn't like road riding, maybe my dyslexia would impact my learning, or maybe I would just fail.
Nervously I arrived at their fantastic training centre for day one of the course. Immediately welcomed and put at ease, I walked in, past the immaculate ranks of neatly lined up, almost new bikes, all shining in the sun and spotlessly clean. There were four of us there for the Direct Access Scheme – two men and two women. We met our instructors and each other. We covered the classroom stuff and were then fitted with our BMW riding kit. We were introduced to our bikes, and got to work on the purpose-built training pad. Those impossible 125cc Hondas, wobbled and stalled, wouldn’t turn, and seemed intent on catching cones. Like some errant child, they defied our will and misbehaved.
The boundless patience, guidance and reassurance from the instructors (“Don’t worry it’s easier on the big bikes”) seemed somewhat perverse, but slowly the small bikes were tamed and started to come to heel, only for us to be presented with yet another challenge to achieve: the impossibly tight U-turns, the slaloms through the cones… not to mention the figure eights. That first night I retired to the B&B wondering just what I had done!
Day two dawned. Back on the bikes, those Hondas seemed intent on frustrating us again. More work, more practice, more challenges, off the pad and onto the private roads of the training centre – our chance to burn up the road. We were bikers! Well I guess 20mph in first gear and trying brakes probably doesn’t really count… The U-Turn we practiced on the pad came into place on the road, we had to turn round and come back! As we gained in confidence under the careful guidance and instruction of the team, emergency stops and gear changes all evolved.
Inexplicably the time came to swap bikes, stepping onto the 2016 BMW F700 GS. They were monsters, resplendent in brilliant white paint and red frames they looked just superb. And, despite all the staff had just seen, they trusted us with them! Each one of us was fitted for size, we now had our own bikes, and based on their centre identity letter, we were asked to choose a name. I chose ‘Imogen’. Slowly we grew together and became a team. More of the same – just as promised by the instructors the bigger bikes were easier, or maybe our embryonic skills were starting to come together, but it was working and followed by a sense of pride and achievement as the CBT was signed off.
It was time to venture out onto the road – for the first time we ventured beyond the gate, shepherded, guided, encouraged over the radio link by Ian Biederman our instructor. Under strict instructions to ‘STOP’ at the ‘Give Way’ sign, we then emerged safely into the world and started our exploration of the roads, protected by our instructor, who physically guarded us from the traffic with his bike placement. He was like an attentive mother hen. My nerves dissolved and the excitement and enjoyment began. As confidence built, we even played games. ‘Swinging our pants’ was one. It involved riding on a quiet snaking road, making sweeping turns and weaving through in-between manholes. This was becoming fun. I wanted to be a biker!
The memories of the training pad seemed a lifetime away, as we moved towards the Module 1 test, the team had hired the test centre for us, and everything we had done suddenly made sense – even ‘swinging our pants’ was swerving at speed, a part of the test. Filled with confidence, we returned to the training centre, the day done, and I retired for the night.
The fitful sleep was probably an indicator of the day to come; it should have been a clue. As we rode to the test centre the nerves were palpable – waiting my turn, reassured by Ian and trying to relax before being called to start the test. I knew I could do it and the team had prepared us well for it. But somehow, when you're being observed, under scrutiny and with so much riding on the outcome, the nerves kick in. Yes, it was a scruffy test, but the quality of the training and preparation carried me through the nerves and I had a pass! I was elated, the first independent and official corroboration that I could do this.
Filled with a renewed confidence, we set out onto the road and we rode! Regular breaks punctuated the days, mileage increased, we visited new places, speed and exhilaration increased. Then we hit Bedford, where our Module 2 test would take place. Experience building, we encountered more challenges and confidence grew again and again. We saw other training schools out on the road, and felt slightly sorry for them, just seeing what their trainers provided for them and comparing to what the BMW team provided us.
All too quickly the time arrived: we were at the Cardington test centre, and I was nervous again. My time had come. Pursued out of the centre by the examiner on his fluorescent battenburg bike, it started: the driving school car parked on the junction to the centre, the cyclist on the country lane, the post office van parked in the middle of the road round the blind bend. We were only a few moments and a quarter of a mile into the test, whatever next…?
Friday afternoon in Bedford was next. Gridlock – what do I do? We never really covered this, so I bottled it, decided not to stop and irrespective of the consequences I decided to crack on. Picking my way through the traffic, finding space, owning the road, making sure I was safe. I didn't know how he would judge me, but I was committed and now. It was too late. I am riding and it’s done, so I thought “let’s just enjoy it”! That’s just what I did, humming songs to myself and eventually returning to the test centre.
The instructors eyes searched for a clue. A clue I couldn’t give because I had no idea how I had done. I had enjoyed the ride, and made mistakes, but being the eternal pessimist, I thought I wouldn’t have passed. The surprise and unbridled joy I felt at hearing the congratulations of the examiner as he presented my pass certificate and took my licence to add the motorbike qualification to it was immense. It was a great day!
As we reflected and discussed the details of my test, the message from the lessons came flooding back: how the examiner wanted to see us deal safely, legally and appropriately with what we encountered. I had actually implemented the training I had been given, although I hadn’t recognised it at the time. As four successful candidates, we rode back with our instructors to the centre, I was relieved and elated; I was now a biker… or so I thought!
What is evident to me now is the preparation we received through our comprehensive training had equipped me and carried me through the test. I could safely operate a motorbike on the road and I had showed it to the examiner. I had my bike license.
We returned to the Training Centre at Royston with Ian in the lead, the instruction continued as he guided us home and built on what went before. The seven days had ended, the coveted licence was won, but it wasn’t over.
Job done, it would have been more than enough to hand out the happy sheets, wish us well, say goodbye and close for the day. But training with Ian and the BMW team at Royston is more professional than that. They are more dedicated than that, they have a true passion for developing safe and confident riders. Ian knew my desire to move to the BMW R 1200 RT, and he sat with me, counselled me, gave me options and offered his advice on bike choice. He let me try a couple of the bigger bikes at the centre. But more importantly he made me realise what a monumental step I was considering.
He impressed on me the very real need for more training and then supported me, offered me the chance to have a bike delivered to them to start my training to ride the bike, gave me contact details and answered endless questions. Questions on tyres, on clothing, on just about every aspect of my intended purchases. Even to practical advice like not filling the tank more than half full to keep the centre of gravity down while I got used to the sheer bulk of the beast.
The search for a bike began. I was impatient for more. In the absence of a bike I decided to undertake the training Ian suggested: three days one-on-one, which was duly booked utilising one of their great fleet of bikes. I could build on my skills, prevent skills decay and have more fun. Then it happened. The advertisement was found, the used bike bought. All the while Ian continued to freely and enthusiastically offer support and advice.
I decided that, as I had booked the course, I would have my bike delivered home and see how I got on. That way I could do the training and return home to my bike. Or if, in the few days left, I could get the confidence and experience with my bike, I could ride there and complete the course on my own bike. The bike arrived on the Wednesday, and the course started on the following Monday – it was a big ask!
I operated my bike for as many miles as I could, in as many different circumstances as I could: city centre, open road. Trying to build experience like the course did. Trying to work out if I could set out on the Sunday alone on my bike for the 150-mile journey across the country. Or would the car be the option?
Rested overnight and now ‘driving’ into BMW Rider Training on the Monday, my nerves and apprehension rose, then melted away with the customary warm welcome and relaxation as the details were discussed over coffee. I had my documents, so the three days’ training would take place on my bike. ‘Imogen’ was parked up outside ready for a new customer to train on, and I have to say I looked at the F 700 GS with a degree of fondness and a slight smile for what experiences we shared and went through together.
It would not be an understatement to say that Ian moved mountains and performed miracles in those next three days. I learnt so much and had such fun. We rode hundreds of miles, continually building, refining and focusing on my development needs. A ride through Bedford let me clearly see just how far I had come in the few days since my test. But Ian’s help and support didn’t end there; he and his team are dedicated to nurturing growing and supporting riders to be the best they can be. Ian most definitely went over and above in his help and support for me and I will be eternally grateful.
So here I am three days later, reflecting on a most wonderful experience, able to confidently and safely handle the bike on major roads, country roads, motorways and dual carriageways, in towns or on the open road, using speed to make sustained progress up to the speed limit, to overtake and be able to judge and adapt and cope with evolving conditions and situations.
Just the journey home to do and how I was looking forward to it. Satnav set to take in the best bike roads. I managed till lunch time before I had to stop and text Ian, to let him know how much fun I was having and say thank you yet again for the gift he gave me. I was now a biker and able to actually ride my R1200RT. I was living the dream!
The journey home was a blast. Real elation, the sheer pleasure of a great bike on the open road. The training allowed me to take everything safely in my stride and to enjoy. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Ian and the BMW Rider Training team at Royston. As I head out onto the road, I leave them as friends and with the utmost respect for what they do and for the care, values, and professionalism with which they do it.
But that isn’t the end, only the end of the beginning. Already we’re loosely planning the next stages of my training, once I have experience, and a decent number of miles under my belt.
It seems the best is yet to come…