Some people take to riding motorbikes really easily. I would love to say that I was one of them. I wasn’t.
There are lots of things you don’t realise until you start putting on the standard biker leathers. The big thick gloves turn your hands into bunches of bananas, and suddenly they’re too fumbley to do anything. The helmet cuts out your peripheral vision, so you have to keep turning your head right round to see anything to either side. And all together, the leathers are very hot. If you stand around in the sun too long like that, you start to boil in the bag.
At each lesson, the instructors gave us neon yellow overalls to show that we were learners, and little radios so that they could tell us what to do while we were on the move. Then we found ourselves astride motorbikes.
The thing is, what keeps a motorbike from falling over is its forward motion. So when it’s not moving it’s only the strength of your legs propping it upright. And then, when you need to move away you start the engine and tuck up your feet and…
Alright, I admit it, all the other learners seemed to be able to manage this without tipping over sideways with a deafening crash. I was the only one who kept having to struggle out from under my own bike, or go back to my instructor shame-faced to give them pieces of the gear handles that had snapped off and skittered away across the tarmac.
But eventually we were all ready for the road. Our instructor took us out into the lanes, watching us wobble over every speed bump, and then I was off and away, with the wind buffeting me, feeling as if I was going a hundred miles an hour. And then of course I realised that I was being overtaken by everything on wheels except the little old ladies’ shopping trolleys. And even they seemed to be gaining.
Then there were the bigger roads. Roads where we flew along faster still, leaning into the bends. Suddenly I was freezing. The wind was terrific, and I would have felt like a bird flying through a storm if I hadn’t had this runny nose all of a sudden. A runny nose that I couldn’t wipe.
I wobbled my way through a lot of those lessons before I finally gave up. In the end what got to me was the birds. Whenever I was about to go out on the road, I’d see big black birds of the carrion crow variety gathering on the telephone wires overhead, and watching me with undisguised interest. It reminded me of vultures in films, circling over the soon-to-be-dead.
I can take a hint.