Yesterday I took my motorcycle Compulsory Basic Training...

This is a photo of the certificate I received at the end of the training to say that I can now ride a 125cc motorbike, with ‘L’ plates, legally on the road for two years or until I pass my big bike test, when I’ll able to ride any bike. The instructor said I was safe on the road.

There was an element of being observed critically that felt uncomfortable to me during the training. The instructor knew his stuff and was extremely confident at riding and this creates in me, as well as a sense of trust, a feeling of unease. What is this about? I suppose there is a sense of superiority when an expert is observing a novice, regardless of whether the expert feels it. My instructor has been riding since he was seven and doesn’t remember how it felt to first get on a bike. Riding well is ingrained in him. It’s almost like breathing. I feel jealous. But that feeling doesn’t acknowledge all the time and effort of practice that he’s put into riding since he was seven. He’s forty six now. I’ve ridden for a few hours.

One of the recommendations my instructor gave me at the end of the training day was to practice changing gears in order to do so more smoothly. In the training ground, second gear was the highest possible because of the space available; when I left the paddock to do two hours riding on the road, suddenly I could get into third and fourth gear. It wasn’t explained to me that I would be riding in higher gears. I know I should, possibly, have realised this because riding on the roads means travelling at a safe speed and riding at twenty mph in a thirty zone may not be a safe thing to do – other road users, used to travelling at maximum speed limit might get angry and do something silly. When I got used to increasing my speed, it felt exhilarating; thirty mph seems much faster on a bike than in a car and the wind and the rain can be felt and experienced rather than watched.

My instructor told me several times to go faster, to change gear; I didn’t used to be reticent about this stuff in a car. In fact, I used to drive aggressively (particularly when I had an Astra GTE and used to race people off the traffic lights (I can’t believe I used to do this – perhaps I just needed some game playing in my life?!)) but that dissipated. The last car I owned was a Proton GL automatic. I quite liked the laziness of not changing gears and I don’t know why, but after a while I started driving very sedately indeed, never going over 30mph in a 30 zone etc. Again, I think this has something to do with operating within the rules and relates to game playing (and driving so slowly used to annoy the hell out of my ex, which, sadly, gave me a passively aggressive sense of satisfaction). It was also an extreme opposite of the way I used to drive, so perhaps there’s something about needing to experience extreme opposites in order to find a middle way?

I found it easier to ride on the road than in the training paddock. I felt more nervous in the training paddock than I did on the road. On the road, my senses are busy noticing what’s around me that could, potentially, kill me; in the paddock I have to pretend to notice hazards. Real situations allow me to explore and learn. However, there was one area I struggled with on the road: the u turn. As soon as I was instructed to do a u turn my body started to shake, my breathing became shallow and I felt scared and unsure of my ability, despite being able, eventually, to do the manoeuvre in the paddock. I think, again, it had something to do with it being a made up scenario and had an air of pointlessness about it. I was being made to jump through hoops to tick a box. If it had been because I’d actually gone the wrong way and needed to turn around I think it may have felt different. When I did eventually do the u turn, and was asked to do it a couple more times just because I could do it now, it felt great: an achievement.

During the figure of eight training in the paddock, I was told to trust myself. The instructor noticed that I would look in the direction I wanted the bike to go but, during the manoeuvre, I would glance away and then the manoeuvre would go wrong. Eventually, he likened the manoeuvre to dancing: when doing a pirouette the dancer focuses on a point then turns and after the half way point snaps the head round to the point and the body follows. This helped me enormously and I was able to do the figure of eight more easily. However, my body felt incredibly tense during the manoeuvre. There is a reason for this: when I was a child I was sexually abused on the day of my father’s funeral by the boy next door. As I laid there on his bed, my body rigid, my hands balled into fists at the sides of my body, my head was turned to the left in the direction of his bedroom door which was not quite closed. I was staring into the wood grain of the chest of drawers next to the bed and all my feelings were in my fists. I didn’t realise until today that my struggle in trusting my body on the bike is related to the childhood sexual abuse. The tension in my body was so strong yesterday that today I ache.  When I told my friend, Andy, about how my body was reacting to the manoeuvres he said, “if you can do this under these circumstances, you can do anything.”

On Saturday evening John, my boyfriend, and I took my bike to a car park near Brighton Marina to try some off road manoeuvres. It was incredibly windy and there were people about: two boys skateboarding with a kite and some people sitting in parked cars in the car park. I felt uneasy about operating the motorcycle with these people around but I started it up. I stalled it and gave up. I think it didn’t help that it’s been an emotional week regarding my relationship with John; something I did stirred up some old childhood feelings and I’ve been feeling a lot of shame. It’s very hard to approach a new activity with enthusiasm when I’m feeling this way. I suppose, then, it is a big achievement to have received a CBT certificate in light of this. I am worried, ‘though, that I’ve bitten off more than I can chew in relation to riding my Honda. My confidence is low. The 125cc bike I trained on yesterday was easier to handle, weight-wise, and I didn’t drop it once. The weight of the Honda scares me; I’ve dropped it three times. What happens if I drop it when I’m on my own? What if I can’t get out from under it and there’s no-one around to help? John says my bike handling skills are not the issue when I told him I was feeling less confident; he says I pick up new activities quickly. He stated the parked cars could have backed out with little warning so it is reasonable that I was worried about training in the Marina car park. I think, also, all the hazards that have been pointed out to me in the CBT training and on the hazard perception DVD I bought have freaked me out. When I think back to the first time I road a bike at a “get on” session, I remember how thrilled I was when I could actually ride and the instructor told me I was a natural. I laughed and smiled throughout the session. It doesn’t feel like that right now. All these tests and preparation for tests are taking the joy out of it. During a conversation with my counsellor today I told her about the heightened sense of fear I felt during the CBT session. It’s also there when I try anything that requires observation by other humans like, for example, when I did some comedy improvisation a few years ago. She said my fear levels are imbued with the memory of the abuse and when my fear is triggered these other emotions are also triggered, making it harder than if it was just plain fear, which is hard enough to manage already.

What inspired me to ride? I was on the back of John’s bike and I was observing what he was doing and noticing how he responded to the road. We’d ridden from Brighton to Thruxton and from Thruxton to Bristol; we were on our way back to Brighton from Bristol. On the outward journey I’d been content to watch the scenery whizz by and sense when he was going to lean so that I could lean with him. On the return journey that wasn’t enough. I wanted to know what it was like to be in control of the bike. It took me a couple of weeks before I contacted TT Motorcycle Training School to organise a “get on” session. I had some insecurities about it; I didn’t want anyone thinking I was only doing it because my boyfriend is into bikes. Also, I knew that if I liked it, it would involve a lot of money because I would want to train and buy a bike. A couple of years ago I went through a process of eliminating as many material possessions from my life as possible. My lounge, at that time, had a concrete floor with just a table, a bookcase and a chair in it. I painted a lot then and used the floor to lay my canvases on; making a mess didn’t matter. I suppose material possessions are a way of creating a sense of identity and I tried to lose mine – I tried to become as close to nothing as I could because that’s how I felt about myself. Buying a bike, then, is a symbol of identification. I spent £600 on an object that is not necessary; it’s almost an expensive toy. I could have spent the money on psychotherapy but I couldn’t bring myself to do that. The bike purchase, however, was easy once I’d committed to it. The bike is teaching me a great deal about myself and how scared I get and how that feels. It’s also teaching me about balance. When I’m in a frame of mind that allows me to be curious, rather than scared or elated, I can hear the bike and respond to it. It’s so much harder to do this when I’m feeling triggered and I feel frustrated by this. It’s also hard to do when my ego is inflated by an achievement: I dropped the bike after successfully completing two slaloms and was feeling proud of myself; there is immediate feedback from a motorcycle.

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One thought on “Yesterday I took my motorcycle Compulsory Basic Training…

  1. Pingback: Reflections on motorcycle training | everything is art

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