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Learners are Heroes

Guido circa 1982

(From the Travels with Guido series, circa 2003)

Guido straps on the L-plates and hits the deck...

I've just had an absolute pig of a lesson, and the worst part is I can't really blame the ordinary weather, the instructor, the machinery, the unfamiliar territory – none of them. As much as I want to.
It was just a bad co-ordination day when I probably shouldn't have been trusted with a pair of shoelaces, let alone complex machinery.

It was so vile I just wanted to stop, give them the money and tell them to leave me alone. For some inexplicable reason, all the things I'd developed over the previous seven hours of tuition fell apart. Wasn't steering properly, couldn't spot the right point for turning, hitting the power, for anything, and couldn't get the safety checks (which I'd learned by rote) in the right order.

Roy, my instructor for the day, who's about 70 in the shade and has far more hours up than I have breakfasts, saw the white knuckles on the controls, was very forgiving and kept saying to relax. Kerrist, I should know that by now. How hard can it be?
Trust the machine, look for the aiming point on the horizon, and work on getting your eye in so you can judge where to land.

Ah, sorry. I'm talking about a flying lesson, but all of it applies to motorcycles. What's got me revved up about this is just how difficult it is to be thrown out of your comfort zone and put in charge of a new machine in a different culture.

I've been riding bikes daily for the last 27 years (see hoary old pic of me attempting to tune a Dunstall-equipped Honda CB750) and, while I learn something from the adventure most days, it's a fairly comfortable experience. The thrill of sitting astride and starting and riding an engine never goes away.
I'd forgotten, though, how tough getting on this road is. I’m rapidly rediscovering, thanks to some insane urge to fly, just how difficult it is for a learner. With a whole eight hours of experience I've been through the oh-so-sexy thrills of being able to start it and make it go, getting some sort of handle on riding it around, and have just been through the bloody awful stage of seeing it all go pineapple-shaped for no apparent reason other than inexperience and bad judgement.

The weird part was, the week before, I was making huge progress and walked away – albeit sweaty and relieved – feeling like the king of the kids. It was just great. I almost had it nailed.

Then it all turned to shite. Apparently this is normal. Roy (a former motorcyclist) said, "Don't beat yourself up over it. This happens to everyone."
Daughter Ms A (a budding motorcyclist) nearing 17, agreed. She's apparently sane despite learning to ride, drive and fly all at the same time (enough to make anyone's head spin) and so I should probably bow to her greater experience on things learning.

A few things have hit home. For a start, anyone who's learning to ride a bike or scooter should be cut an awful lot of slack. If my recent experience is anything to go by, it's just goddamn hard to step out of your comfort zone (car, public transport or whatever) and master a new machine which is likely to bite you if you don't get it right.

Secondly, it's potentially a vicious emotional road where one minute you think you have a grip on the plot and the next it all goes weird. Motorcycle culture might let you crash before you work that out. Regardless, it's the same lesson.

And last, you have to deal with the people who think what you're doing is just dumb. Or dangerous, or both. I've copped a mild version of it – "Wouldn't go with you even if you coated it in honey, and can I have your bike when you die?"

It's the mark of a certifiable motorcyclist (apart from the mad glint in the eye) to keep trying despite all the hurdles thrown up in front of them. Which is the current plan.

To all you learners out there, you have my respect and admiration – I'd forgotten how difficult, emotional and rewarding it is.

Apparently the next danger period is 100 hours, when you're fully licensed and get cocky. Gee, that rings a bell...

(From the Travels with Guido series, circa 2003)

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