Draped in leathers. Hair flowing in the breeze. Looking very cool. Images of the cult film Easy Rider manifest in my mind. But for me, trials and tribulations are many when learning to ride a motorbike.
In the past, my only experience on a motorbike was as a pillion (passenger). The longing to be in control and riding a motorbike myself manifested itself slowly, but first, a little background.
Riding a bicycle
As the third child in a family of four children, I never even owned a bicycle. My older sister and first-born in the family enjoyed this privilege.
Sharing this highly in-demand bike amongst four siblings meant hopping on this precious bike maybe half a dozen times if not less and teaching myself, which I didn’t do well.
Later when in high school and as the daughter of a farmer, a super cool Quad bike was available. Although, sharing this amongst five – including my father – meant that I rarely used the bike.
Fast-forward to 2010 and the burning desire to learn how to ride a motorbike blistered strongly in my brain. Powerful enough to actually enquire about lessons and setting the wheels in motion for the goal to obtain my licence – serious stuff.
Booking the training
A little research online and I find myself checking out the State-certified Q-Ride 3-day course with Team Moto – although training is done through the Motorcycle Riding School in Brisbane’s south side.
I live on the north side of the city so it’s around an hour’s drive to get to the riding school. Regardless of this, I book the expensive lessons – they’re all expensive, especially if you’re a first-timer.
The state of Queensland requires you to complete two or three phases for a licence, depending on the power of the motorbike you wish to ride.
Obtain RE Learner Licence and commence training or if you already are proficient in the skill of riding, then go straight for the riding test.
Upgrade to RE Licence, which is restricted for an engine capacity of not more than 660mL (power-to-weight ratio not exceeding 150kW/t) and must be held for two years.
Upgrade to the unrestricted R Licence to ride any size motorbike that your heart desires.
I’ve heard that if you can master riding a bicycle then it’s much easier to master riding a motorbike.
Since I never mastered this skill, nervous, and apprehensive, I don’t find it easy on the first day of training.
Some in my class as my instructor are naturals and beautiful to watch, gliding up and down the deserted road as if they’re floating through air – this is not me…
Instead, dropping the bike several times throughout the 9am-4pm training day, something in my brain isn’t clicking for the knack I need to master.
I’m not embarrassed to say that I’m a slow learner when it comes to riding a motorbike, unlike learning how to drive a car. Slowly after a couple of training days, my instructor clicks to what I’m doing wrong.
When riding a motorbike, “never look down as this is where the bike will go – always look up and ahead in the distance”. Obvious? Not to me during this time. Why the instructor doesn’t teach this tip at the start is beyond me and it would save much angst and time, especially when my natural instinct is to look down.
Finally, the something in my brain clicks and I’m able to complete the Slalom and slow Figure Eights.
For the non-bikers that don’t know what I’m talking about, check out this video by DanDan the Fireman. Although this is American, it’s the same as our training.
Last training day
After a few days of training, riding in all weathers including pouring rain whilst sloshing around on the seat with a sodden jean crotch, today is the last day. The instructor needs to confirm if I’m ready to take the test.
The morning is going well and around 10am it’s time for the Slalom exercise.
With too much speed up and on 3rd gear, I’m really enjoying the Slalom until coming around the corner, not even thinking to drop back to 2nd. The bike starts to lean over precariously and I’m too slow to counteract this motion.
I drop the bike. Damn.
Trapped under the bike, my left hand is still holding the clutch. Uncanny how heavy a small 250cc bike is when you’re under it…
Me: “can’t move the bike, my hand hurts”
Instructor: “get up and keep riding, stop exaggerating”
Me: “I’m trying but I really can’t get the bike up…”
Reluctantly, the instructor wanders over to pick my bike up and tells me to get back on, which I do finishing the rest of the day.
Throughout the day, an excruciating jolt of pain runs through my hand so much so that I can’t move the indicator light with my left hand. Instead, steadying the bike with my left hand and crossing my right hand over, I turn on the indicator when required – not safe.
The day can’t finish soon enough when 4pm rolls around. I’m advised that I’m ready for my test.
Gingerly removing my leather glove, my hand is painful and swollen but still drive home.
The next day at work, colleagues urge me to see a doctor as they’re certain that my thumb is more than a sprain.
An X-ray and scan confirm a “Gamekeepers Thumb”, also known as Skier’s Thumb. Never breaking any bones before, I don’t realist that I’ve broken anything.
Because some bone and ligaments are torn from my thumb bone, this needs surgery and not the usual plaster cast. So, I’m booked in for surgery on Friday then back to work on Monday.
At my hospital bed, the surgeon advises that the surgery ‘went well’, of course.
Instead of pins, his new technique involves drilling through the bone, threading fine stainless steel wire through the bone from one side of my thumb to the other, then fastening everything back together on the other side with a tensioning button.
The rigid cast runs from my hand up past my elbow. Seems overkill for a broken thumb.
So I can get back on my bike soon? “No, not for another 3 months.”
To my surprise, the very next day the rigid cast is cut off and replaced with a removable purple (very cool) hand-cast but not before the Physiotherapist exercises my thumb.
Aren’t broken bones supposed to be left alone in one position for weeks?
Apparently not – another new technique.
For a few months, weekly visits to the Physiotherapist sees the plaster removed every week, enduring painful exercises with my thumb before replacing the plaster. As the swelling reduces, another plaster is refitted. I also have a series of daily exercises I need to complete.
The worse part of all this is that my partner organised a surprise birthday present in two weeks.
The present? An incredible 25-minute Jet Fighter plane ride!
I’m worried that I won’t be allowed to go up in the jet with a hand fresh from surgery. Jet Fighter Post to follow next week.
Removing the wire
“You may feel a little pain whilst I remove the wire”
Without anaesthetic, the surgeon snips off the button then rips out the wire running through my thumb’s bone that’s been there for 3 months. You don’t want to hear what came out of my mouth!
During the operation, he tightened the button too tight causing an ulcer beneath the button. For this, a course of antibiotics is prescribed to stop the ulcer becoming infected and any infection travelling back through the wire’s track into my bone.
I always thought he was a horse doctor.
Nine years later, my now deformed thumb works at 50% and aches during the winter, but I do have a great part trick.
Conquering the bike
Finally, after three months of convalescing my thumb, I head out to the training school once more. My quest today is to conquer the bike.
Completing the day’s training without dropping the bike or any hick-ups, I’m ready to take the test.
The day of testing arrives. This involves passing some theory initially, before heading out on the bike.
Completing all the required exercises, standards, and riding for the day, I pass!
A slip of paper with the school’s approval, applying for my RE Licence, and I’m free to ride any bike that’s under 650cc.
During one of the first rides with my new licence, I’m pulled over by a cop. Checking my licence and realising it’s brand spanking new, he cautions: “ride with more confidence!” – seriously?
Since 2010? I’ve been busy travelling to different countries so, not much opportunity to ride a motorbike. Only a one-day hire of a step-through in Trinidad (Bolivia), a scooter in Khao Lak (Thailand) for a couple of months, a one-day embarrassing eBike hire in Myanmar (Burma). You definitely experience crazy traffic in these three countries.
Know how to ride a motorbike? Take lessons? If so, share your experience below. What type of bike do you own?