Sunday, June 24, 2007

Practically Testing

After my experiences with the CG125 I decided to take my test on the bike I am most familiar with, my Vespa. I realised this would mean only ever riding automatic bikes, but I can live with that, especially as I have never been a Moto GP wannabee.

I arranged a full day of training with Elite , followed by a test on the second day. When I turned up I discovered I would be riding with an instructor I had not met on my previous visit, called Jim. There were no other students so the two of us rode around Wimbledon, Putney, down the A3 to Esher and Weybridge, then back up to Chiswick for lunch with some other students, and finally a run back through Barnes. We practised all the manoeuvres etc and Jim seemed very impressed with my progress and was very confident by half way through the day that I would pass. I had a thoroughly enjoyable day and as with the other Elite instructors I have met, Jim was impressively professional, knowledgeable and good humoured.

Day two started back at Wimbledon Stadium where I met the other candidate who would be going for a test today. My test was set for 11.41, in a place called Belevedere. Where the Hell is that? I had never heard of the place before – and was not impressed to find it was the other side of London. I also wasn’t impressed to find that Jim was even that clear about how to get there!

As it turned out the Blackwall Tunnel was closed that day which, along with the usual problems in South London, and the other candidate getting lost for 40 minutes meant we only got to Belevedere with less than 50 minutes until he test. We had a quick look at the roads where Jim had been told the U-Turns are usually done, and a quick whizz round the area and it was time for my test.

With the day before being so positive and Jim being very confident that I couldn’t fail, I won’t go into a lot of detail about what went wrong. The examiner had a strong Scottish accent I could barely understand and came over from the outset as having got out of bed the wrong side as he barked his way through the preamble and the tell me show me questions. Several times I had to ask him to repeat himself as I couldn’t understand what he was saying which seemed to irritate him further.

Out on the road I thought everything had gone OK. One or two slip ups, but nothing too serious, but right at the end I was concentrating so much on understanding his instructions I hesitated at a junction. That was fatal – if I had concentrated on the road signs, and not his voice, I would have realised I had nothing to hesitate about. Not only did he fail me for not observing the no left turn sign, which I can’t argue with – I didn’t see it - but he also gave me 9 minors for all sorts of things my instructor never had a problem with which was a major blow!

I wished the other candidate luck and left him to get on with Jim and practice for his test in the afternoon. I set off back round the South Circular, which fortunately passes close to Kay’s place and she had invited me to drop in. I was keen to see her as she had injured herself in another accident – this time it was a rabbit that ran out in front of her without looking! I wasn’t expecting her to provide lunch, but she cooked a very nice and very filling chicken dinner, and it was a great way of winding down after my test. After chatting for a couple of hours I set off home, just in time to experience some dreadful weather.

A few days afterwards I contacted Elite – I had paid for a three day course and took advantage of their free training under the guaranteed pass scheme. I booked another morning of training, and a further test, this time in Croydon an area I know much better, and an area close enough to explore some test routes I found online.

Just over a week ago I met up with three other candidates, and Ray took us over to Croydon. We did a bit of practice, but by the time the paperwork was done, the process was explained, we had done a bit of turning in the road etc, it was nearly time for my test. The experience could not be more different! The tester was a very pleasant man who clearly took the trouble to put me at ease. When he asked me to read a number plate I read all but one character and said – “I know there is nothing wrong with my eyesight, but I can’t say if that character is an ‘M’ or an ‘N’”. He said “I reckon that’s good enough, ‘cos neither can I!”

Unusually he followed me in a car despite the weather being bright and clear. Somehow that is far less intimidating than being pursued by something looking like a Police bike! I also realised that being in a car he is less able to see what you are up to, and it is easier to lose a car so you can waste some of the allocated test time stationary waiting for the examiner to catch up. All this is to the student’s advantage, although I only deliberately lost the examiner once when I pulled out of a side turning after a bus, which immediately signalled left and stopped at a bus top. I could pass easily; the examiner was stuck behind the bus for ages!

A couple of times I knew I made mistakes, I put my foot down pulling away from a hill start (don’t believe any instructor that insists an examiner will never do a hill start if you test on an automatic – mine did!) and I had a slight wobble turning right on a platform junction. However, at the end the examiner was pleased enough with my performance, and I had passed. Credit to Croydon test centre – they have a bin in the car park for you to throw your L plates into!

Now, off to look at some bigger bikes!