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Day One – MOD1 Training! Katherine's adventures on a big bike...

Day One – MOD1 Training!

Wow, what a first day! Being on a bigger bike is certainly a whole different experience to my little grom, but it isn’t as daunting as I expected. I was terrified I physically wouldn’t be able to handle the extra weight, especially as it’s a little more around the tank than lower clearance bikes. But the thing that everyone told me was completely true, once you’re moving you don’t notice the weight; go physics! While the SV650 may not be much to look at, some may say, the back to basics riding style that makes it so accessible for new riders is also the draw for more experienced riders. Speaking to a lot of the team they sing the praises of the Suzuki staple.

In terms of the actual training, I met Paul the instructor just before 9 am and after a few formalities of checking my license and making sure I am who I say I am we were on the road surprisingly quickly! After making sure I was safe on the bike (read “making sure my feet touched the ground”) we were out on the quiet road around the store getting used to the new weight and feel, and the difference in braking. With 8 times the power, 5 times the engine capacity, and over twice the weight of my little MSX being more planned and deliberate in my braking was something I needed to get used to but the more powerful brakes actually made that easier and I got the hang of it pretty quickly! So we set off onto the main roads and made our way out to the sticks towards Altham and the industrial estates, known to nearly every learner driver and rider, to work on the controlled slow speed elements of the MOD1 test.

Day-Glow Yellow has always been my colour…

So the MOD1 side of the practical testing is what’s often referred to as the off-road element of the test, not because we get to go fly over hill and dale but because certain elements need to be done at speeds over 30 mph and controllable areas with 30+ speed limits are rare, if not impossible to find so this section is done on a training paddock called the MMA – Motorcycle Manoeuvring Area. We did get an allocated spot on their later in the day, but until then we kicked it old school with cones on a car park. Around 75% of the MOD1 is controlled slow speed manoeuvers so before twisting in and out of cones I worked on nailing clutch control. High Revs, Tight Clutch, Back Brake – this trinity of slow speed is now engrained in my mind I’ve done it so much. The science of it is that the revs create the engine inertia to maintain balance and stability, and the tight clutch working that biting point to its fullest to control speed alongside the brake. You’d imagine the larger bike would be more difficult to control at slow speeds, but it’s so much easier. Being able to ride in a straight line at “walking speed” (about 3/4mph) is actually an element in and of itself on the test, not just the basis for slow manoeuvres. Once I’d got that down we moved onto the salmon and, my nemesis, the figure 8.

Cutting from MOD1 instruction sheet: Step 2 and 3 – Slalom and Figure of 8

I’ve never got on well with the figure of 8. I have a bad habit of looking down at what I want to avoid instead of looking where I want to go (aka target fixation – not good on a bike!) I managed to get it out of the way for my CBT, but alas they need to see it again so I was running rings around the industrial estate car park for a while. I’ve learnt that everyone has a good side and a bad side and my bad side is left. I cannot get on with left turns. I think it’s because as I turn the bars I roll of the throttle by default so I lose momentum and that all important engine inertia. I was doing ok, but it was soon time to go to the test centre for a practice session so we put a pin in it, got back on the road, and picked up a butty on the way over. I didn’t feel defeated, though. Riding from place to place is practice in and of itself in bike training, so even though I wasn’t doing as well on the figure 8 as I would’ve liked to have been by that point, riding to the centre was still practice. As many people have said “you can’t underestimate how important time in the saddle is!”

It’s been nearly a decade since I last went to the test centre, and little has changed! Even though it’s fenced in, the training/test paddock isn’t as claustrophobic as I’d thought it would be, or as daunting. It reminded me of my old school playground a little bit, and I supposed it is a playground, really. Just the bikes and people on it are bigger!

The MMA at Darwen Test Centre courtesy of good ol’ Google Street View!

We started off from the beginning with the manual handling. Now, I see people move bikes every day. I know that being short in stature isn’t a barrier to pushing bikes around, you’ve just got to find the sweet spot. This, however, didn’t stop me being terrified of doing it! The key is, I found, was to look where you’re going (pretty obvious) and don’t be scared of stopping and taking a breather. This element isn’t timed, so as long as you look around to make sure it’s safe to move off (when you’re on the MMA you must always act as if you were out on a public road so shoulder check are mandatory!) you can stop pretty much as often as you want. So I’d ridden into the right hand box (left-hand on the diagram below) and I needed to back the bike out of the ‘parking bay’, and move it so I could back it up into the far left (right below) parking bay so the nose of the bike was facing out.

Cutting from MOD1 instruction sheet: Step 1 – manual handling

Now, backing the bike out isn’t too much of an issue, just find the bike balance and use the handlebars and dresser bars to sidestep out. You can, if you want, drag the bike back by the handlebars, but I found that tricky and I ended up pulling the bike towards me, not straight backwards, so I wouldn’t recommend this if you can help it. After you’ve backed it out and had a look around to make sure it’s ‘safe’, then comes the brute force bit; pushing the bike forward and round. I honestly must have been at a 45* angle pushing this thing! I found this ok as long as I took tiny steps forward. If I needed to take a break I could just use the front brake and step up the ride of the bike, balancing it on my hip a little bit for a breather. All done, happy days! I’m glad I got this fear out of the way. Unless I’m on a lowered bike or a bobber I won’t be paddling my bike about so this will be the main way I’ll move it. Although one the sales guys read this they’ll know I can now do it and won’t move bikes for me anymore!

After this, it’s the slalom and figure of 8 we worked on earlier in the day. Paul had picked up that this was where I struggled so he worked out a way to make sure my left turn was the top of the 8 where I had most room, and my stronger right turn would be between the blue and yellow cones at the bottom. Now on your test, you can go around the last of the slalom yellow cones and still pass the element, you’ll just receive a rider fault (aka a minor). You’re allowed 5 riders faults before you’re marked as not passed, and putting your foot down mid-manoeuvre is a fail so sometimes it’s better to take the minor and keep your feet up!

Annoyingly, I did my figure of 8 perfectly first time. And the second. And the third! I couldn’t believe it. You’d have thought doing it on the test centre pad would be more daunting, but apparently not.

Cutting from MOD1 instruction sheet: Lower half of circuit omitting top curve rides

After that is the slow ride (the dashed yellow line marked 4), which was all happy. You’ve got to stop correctly at/in the blue cones, which includes checking mirrors! We’d done a good amount of work on my braking. Being used to a 125 where I held the front brake on until the end, it took some practice easing off the front brake and just using the rear to come to a stop. I usually wobbled and ended up putting my right foot down instead of my left, so I worked out a good way to stop this was to squeeze my knees to the tank like on a horse, which seemed to balance better. Then was element 5, the U-Turn. We did work on this earlier in the day and, once again, the trinity of revs, clutch, and rear brake came to the fore. While my head was facing where I wanted to go, the eyes would keep flickering down to the white line I wanted to avoid, which Paul somehow was able to see under my lid! Any time I returned to those blue cones, I’d try another U-turn and after many a turn, we finally cracked it! Happy Days.

So after element 5, I zipped over to the other corner of the paddock to element 6 which is the curve ride where you should be averaging about 20mph but it isn’t recorded on a speed monitor you just need to look like you’re making good progress. After the curve, I needed to ride through the speed trap aiming for 25mph (you need to be anywhere between 20 and 30mph) and ride down towards point 7 again where I needed to stop with the front of the bike in the blue cone box. It doesn’t need to be exact, but you as the rider shouldn’t be completely in the box. Obviously this showing you can stop to a target. Stopping is something I’m pretty good at, it seems, which is always a good thing, so I practised another U-turn and zipped over to the other side of the paddock again for a curve ride and element 9, emergency stop!

The whole MOD1 instruction sheet for left circuit – you can be tested on either a left or right-hand circuit and you don’t have a say in which one, so practice both!

This is one of the two infamous manoeuvres that changed the layout of the bike test in 2009. To standardise the test across Europe the emergency stop and the “swerve” element (formal name is “avoidance”) needed to be conducted at 50KPH, which is about 32mph. That smidge over 30mph means these can only be done on 40mph roads in the UK, and there aren’t many quiet 40mph roads about! Hence the need for an off-road training area, the MMA. What spooks most people about these elements is the fact you ride through a speed trap so you don’t just have to look like you’re doing 50kph, you actually have to be doing 50+kph. It’s also weird because you can’t get it out of your head that you need to stop soon. Pretending the examiner putting his hand up is a surprise is just strange, but needs must. Turns out my tight knee technique is golden here and there are zero wobbles when it comes to doing the emergency stop. You do get a bit of literal wiggle room on this element because you are braking suddenly so as long as you don’t drop the bike, if you put 2 feet down once you’ve stopped or anything like that you’re still going to be ok. Something people say a lot to learners is to forget the word “emergency”, and that is a really good piece of advice. What you’re doing is stopping quickly, but safely! There’s no point crashing whilst trying to avoid a crash. Another thing is that the MMA is grippy as hell, so if your tyres are in good nick, even on a wet day this stop will be a piece of cake. Luckily, my desire not to have a crash is strong so my emergency stops were on point. Getting to speed was tricky, 32mph on a training paddocks feels a hell of a lot faster than on the road but I ended up averaging 48kph which would leave me with rider fault but hey, I was stopping, so that was the primary goal.

Another U-turn practice brought me around again and off I popped up towards the opposite top corner curve ride, but this time we were following the green line to element 11, the avoidance manoeuvre! If you’re keeping count of the elements you might have noticed that the numbers don’t quote follow-on, that’s because each curve ride is an element in itself so the ride to the emergency stop is element 8, and the ride to the swerve is element 10.

The avoidance is another element that spooks people. When the test first changed there was talk that this part of the test was solely to do with avoiding deer in Switzerland or something bizarre like that, so because that one country had an issue with it, everyone had to do it. I personally think that was codswallop. Lots of countries, including the UK, have deer for a start, and swerving without binning your bike down the road is generally a pretty good skill; one I incidentally learnt the hard way when someone pulled out in front of me last year. We still collided, but the swerve meant they hit my side instead of me going over their bonnet. Ideally, you want neither of those things to happen, but it was the lesser of two evils and it meant I limped away to ride another day. I wasn’t, however, doing 50kph, however, so this was still something I needed to practice! Much like the emergency stop, you need to go through the speed trap so you’ve got to fight the instinct to take it slow because you know something is coming. As I tend to accelerate quite progressively I shut off the throttle *just* before I get to the sleep trap, but if you have a heavy wrist you might be able to afford to shut off the gas earlier. It’s just down to how you ride. Looking at the diagram, and the cones, you think you’ll never be able to do it but when you actually ride it you’ve got tonnes of room, and you don’t have to straighten up after, you can take a diagonal route to the blue cones to stop. Point to note: stopping correctly is part of this element, not just the avoidance, so keep it together!

Now, obviously, most things I did I didn’t do perfectly first time/every time. Paul and I worked together a lot on how to weed out little habits or fears that were holding my riding back. Paul is such an experienced instructor, though, he nailed everything on the head every time and in around 45mins on the MMA I had done everything to test standard more than once. I was super chuffed! I can’t praise Paul enough, his methodical, direct yet relaxed approach to everything really takes the fear of the unknown out of the training. I feel super lucky to have him!

So that was our first day! We got so much packed into 6hrs I couldn’t believe how much I’d achieved in that one day. Paul was confident in me, and in turn, I became confident in myself. There’s a lesson there I’m sure of it….

Stay tuned for the next write up of my training, and then my test!!