Sunday, 28 December 2014

The hardest ride of my life - the motorbike test

At the beginning of June this year I decided I wanted to get my full motorbike licence. I did my CBT in May and it was actually much easier than I thought it would be and a lot of fun. So I got back in touch with Aaron and Ang at Cumbria Motorcycle Training in Carlisle and decided to do my Direct Access course to get my full licence.

Before getting straight on a 600cc "big bike" my next lesson was on a 500.
First time on the Suzuki 500

I really enjoyed having more power and found the bike easier to handle than the 125. All I can remember about my early days on the bike was how much fun it was. I had a ride around in the car park on this bike and then was allowed to go out to the quieter parts of town. Feeling the wind on my face for the first time was amazing and after this first time out  I couldn't wait to get back on a bike.

My next lesson was on a Suzuki Bandit 600 and I liked this bike as well but found it quite a bit heavier.
Me on the Suzuki Bandit 600

Generally my lessons were with Aaron and one other pupil. We were in radio contact with Aaron and took it in turns to be in front or behind. The lessons were fairly intense and Aaron is a great long as you can take criticism. Every time you did something wrong Aaron told you, but in my opinion this is the only way to learn. I was always knackered after a couple of hours intense riding and learning. 

Steve was away riding his bike across the States, whilst I was learning to ride. He kept sending me pics and emails of amazing riding tales... I didn't need any more motivation to pass my test! Before he went away he had bought a Suzuki DR 350 for himself and for me to learn on. However as the laws have changed I couldn't put a limiter on it....a real pain.
I decided I really needed more practice in between lessons and I needed to get out on the roads more. At first I had thought I would wait and ride the DR 350 when I had passed my test. But I just seemed to get so rusty in between lessons, I would spend the first hour trying to remember how to ride a bike! So I ended up buying a 125. My choice of bike was a Honda XR 125 L 
My pride and joy - my first ever motorbike!!
At the bike school we started to work towards passing my module 1. This is the second stage of the bike test. The first part is a theory test done on a computer. The mod 1 is all about bike control. I spent many hours in the car park practising figure of 8's, U-turns and slaloms. We worked on clutch and brake control and a big one for me - turning my head!

Thumper - full of helpful hints on bike control
So the lessons continued and we did a mix of riding around town and slow speed stuff. I booked my mod 1, hoping to pass it before Steve returned from States. But it was not be, I failed and to be fair I shouldn't have passed - I really wasn't ready for it. 

When Steve did return from the States the first thing he did was put off road tyres on my little Honda. He claimed the real way to ride was to get off road!
Practising off road skills

Pooped after only a few hours riding!
And how right Steve was!! I honestly believe riding off road really helped my bike skills, confidence and balance. And it was great fun...I loved riding off road and exploring the Lakes. I also commuted to work on my little Honda over Whinlatter pass, which again helped my all round riding and saved me heaps of cash - £10 a week on fuel!!

However the reality of the matter was I had to get my mod 1 passed and so it was back to practising in the car park. It took me another 2 goes to finally pass my mod 1 and then I booked my mod 2 test straight away. I thought the mod 2 would be pretty straight forward as by now I had had a lot of lessons, been out in Carlisle loads and was riding my 125 pretty much every day. I have also been driving a car for 20 years so I was fairly familiar with the Highway Code and road rules....or so I thought.

My first mod 2 test went really well but I got confused at a roundabout and ended up in the wrong lane. Something I wouldn't have normally done but I think the pressure got to me and I failed :-(  The one problem with bike tests is if you fail, you cannot book another test fro 10 days and with it being summer you can't always get one. So I got another test booked but it was for a month later! 

Enjoying the freedom of exploring by bike
Steve cheered me up by suggesting we just go out and have more off road fun!! On my 3rd attempt of the coach road I finally made it up the "bad step" on my Honda. The first couple of times I aimed it straight at the little rock step and all that happened was the front wheel bounced off it, followed by me!!

A successful ride along the coach road

Steve and me also spent a couple of evenings in Carlisle practising junctions and roundabouts....yawn yawn but necessary. My next test date was badly planned. I had PMT (not a good start), I had my dissertation to finish for my Open University degree and I had my test all in the same week. This mod 2 test was awful and I got stuck in a filter lane at traffic lights. The lights turned red and I should have gone but I ended up staying in the filter lane and of course failed...the pressure got to me again! It didn't appear to be my riding was highway code stuff that I was failing on. I was absolutely gutted but managed to book my test for pretty much 10 days later. And yes you guessed it .......went off road riding in between to cheer myself up!!
An evening of easy lanes by myself near Loweswater
The day came to take my test again and to put myself under pressure this time I had 2 weeks booked off work and Steve and me were hoping to head to Wales for some off road fun and with me on a bigger bike....hmmm.
This 3rd mod 2 test that I took was the hardest of them all. I had lots of obstacles to deal with and a lorry stranded on a roundabout, but I concentrated hard and passed. Happy Days. I cannot put in words how happy I was. It really was a huge weight off my back and one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. 

So to celebrate.. I went shopping as all girls should. However, it wasn't for shoes and handbags, it was for a new bike!! And that's when I said a sad goodbye to the Honda and became the proud owner of my KTM EXC-F 250.
Caldbeck ford on my KTM
My riding is improving all the time and I love my KTM. It was a bigger jump than I thought from the 125 to a 250, but it's a KTM after all...a bit of a monster that I have finally got under control!! And as for the bike test...yep it's hard but it's also one of the best things I have ever done as I now have a new world of freedom and travel by bike opened up to me. It's a passion that I feel will stay with me for the rest of my life. Happy riding!

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Northumberland TRF Bottle Drop Rideout...

About five years ago, the Northumberland TRF group started to go around the houses on the green lanes that they use each year to offer either a bottle of wine or a card to the people on those lanes as a way of making contact with them & also to say a hearty thankyou. This year Lucy & I had an opportunity to help out & so jumped at the chance.

We made a right early start this morning, on the road to Consett at 6.30 am... an easy drive across the A69 saw us at Morrison's for a 8am & feeling hungry, a bacon butty & some coffee in the cafe sorted that & we saw a car & trailer with a KTM six days on it... so we headed off round the back of the car park to see a Landy, Mark on his KTM 350 EXCF & what turned out to be Richard, our 'leader' for the day...

Tony, (The Chairman), gave us the list of houses to visit & the all important wine & cards, (or rather gave them to Richard!) & we all set out to meet up at Alston.

Just after we bailed on a river crossing!
We headed out of Consett for our first drop off where we met up with a nice lady who volunteered to open the gate for us. When Richard gave her the card & bottle she was well made up & smiley. so off we went with a good deed done, hoping the rest were like this one!!

We also had a few close calls with some patchy ice on the back roads, with Mark sliding the back end sideways on a steep descent & I almost lost the front wheel on an approach to a junction. Everybody had a moment at some point during the day which just added to the spice of the fresh cold air & beautiful winter weather.

We had some great views as we passed by Slaley Forest, plenty of mud & puddles before dropping down to Derwent Reservoir & passing by the local shooting fraternity with a wave & a smile!

Unlike the person at this house where we dropped a card off too & the guy in the photo, (who may or may not be a local councillor??), told us to 'F' off. Very ironic as this has been a byway for 120+ years & we were actually parked up on a tarmac road as you can see in the photo!!

Anyway back to the positive stuff...riding green lanes in the UK!!

Lunch at The Cumberland Hotel in Alston was a chatty affair, with a fair bit of gossip about how easy the guys in the Landy had had the trip!! ;-). Meanwhile Richard was still trying to warm his hands on his exhaust even after sitting in the hotel for an hour!

Tynehead was a great bit of the day, dropping the all important bottle off before tackling the steep uphill into the snowline... Mark & Richard both showed their riding skills off here, cruising up whereas Lucy & I struggled up on or first ever visit.. hey ho...

Tynehead Cottage

Mud, mud & a bit more mud!!

Snow & mud!!

Mark looking good in the snow!!

Richard, our fearless leader for the day
The day wound on & we cruised up a fair few more lanes including 'H' lane, Scarsike Head, Cuthbert's Hill & back into Slaley forest. It was getting dark now so we opted for the road approach back into Consett where we all pulled up to say our farewells after a cool day out...

Another great day out on bikes, yet more lovely new people we've met & of course a load of new lanes ridden & discovered!

Our day ended up with a drive back to Cumbria, followed by several tots of Tullamore Dew Irish Whiskey before getting tucked up in bed by 10pm!!

Cheers to all the Northumbria TRF guys for a great ride out, some good company & 

Friday, 26 December 2014

Christmas Day playtime...

After the tea, the bacon butties, feed & walk the dog time & finally open all of our pressies, thank you to all for those!!...

We got out of the house for a Christmas morning sneaky local ride!! Oooh happy days...

After the last few days of heavy rain, it was good to see a sunny morning here in the Lakes, the air was clear & the temperature nice & warm... Mud & water abounded, with loads of local roads still having 'closed' signs on them as we've had a lot of flooding up here, so the lanes were all draining away that water, leaving behind some interesting water damage on even the most stable of surfaces.

The back roads were all covered in debris as rivers overflowed & tree branches & leaves had been washed off the road edges & onto the tarmac.

We managed to find some good deep puddles, plenty of mud & a couple of river crossings to play in, as well as visiting a couple of friends en route.

Old favourites were the choice for the day, The Coach Road of course, Longlands & lots of the smaller lanes that link all of these... great stuff, some challenging riding & a little bit of playing on the rocks adjacent to the roads...

The clouds started to gather & roll in from the west, as they do around here, so the Coach Road was grey & misty, but that just made it more atmospheric!!

Lucy cruised down the downhill section, her skills & confidence growing all the time, but a shortage of fuel had us running to Keswick, where we managed to be the last people in the garage to get fuel as they were closing for the rest of the Christmas Day.

So back home for more tea, chocolates, family calls & christmas dinner... Christmas at it's best!!

Monday, 22 December 2014

It's Christmas!!

It's a bit wet out there!!

Another day out in Cumbria, it hoyed it down for the whole day, wet through to our undies, but again some great new lanes ridden.. we keep on finding them!!

So after an early start in the dark & drizzle, we parked up near Staveley so we could do a South Lakes anti-clockwise route... Ugh! We both really dislike setting off in the rain for some reason!! ;-)

The first lane of the day was a new one, Ashes Lane is short but pretty, plenty of loose sheep running around to add to the Lakeland feel as well! We moved through here & on towards the Windermere ferry where we saw a group of lads mostly out on WR's with one solitary KTM, a rare thing these days!!

Once off the ferry we headed into Grisedale Forest where we met some properly grumpy mountain bike lads, (mind you I would have been too in that rain!!), Lucy rode the up & the descent really well, which just shows how much her confidence has improved over the months of riding...

A quick pass through Hawkshead had us heading down Scar House Lane & over  Knipe Fold & into Hodge Close, where Lucy took on a few more new lanes for herself, along with a couple of 'ooops' moments as she dropped the bike!!

Included in the new lanes was the one that drops down into the Tilbethwaite valley, this I reckon is one of the Lakes more technical routes as it has two big rock steps on it, a really bouncy rubbly bit & then the rough descent with the drop off's. It's only short really but it sure packs in a fair bit!!

We met a nice guy on his KTM 400 EXCF on this trail, he was pretty handy on that bike, obviously got loads of trials experience too as he rode one of the rock steps with that little wiggle of balance that all trials riders seem to be able to do!!

There were also the two mountain bikers who came through just as Lucy started her approach to the rock step, the lead guy was flying down & she had to stop to let him pass & he was never gonna be able to stop which completely threw her out so a couple of faint hearted attempts saw the bike walked over this step, not a bad option by any means!!

From here we dropped into Coniston for some bike fuel & hot chocolate at the cafe, it had been totally peeing down for hours now & we were thoroughly wet, so some energy was needed. We decided here to trim the route down a bit so headed to Blethebarrow Lane & on into Colton Wood next, missing out the Parkamour trip we'd planned, (still haven't ridden that lane!!)

Lucy looking grumpy in the cold & wet!! ;-)
Tilberthwaite rock step no.2

A quick drop down to the A590 saw us heading up past Ayton & onto Foxfield before the final lanes of the day around Whitbarrow. By now we were both totally soaked through, so we bailed & headed back to the van to get into some dry clothes!!

En route though, somehow I managed to take us on a detour back into Windermere as I missed a turning! (Definitely need a GPS with a bigger screen one of these days!!)

Once back, we loaded the van up of all the soggy bikes & gear, then headed off to a party... it is Christmas after all!!! ;-). It took Lucy until at least 10pm & a few glasses of wine to warm up!!!

We're soon to be out over the Christmas period as Lucy is off for a few days, The Dales, the North York Moors & who knows where else as well as helping out with the Northumbria TRF bottle drop trip!!

Oooh more fun in the mud & rain!!

YouTube Vids
Hodge Close
Little Langdale
Tilberthwaite Lane