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Euro Bikes - The Learning Curve

Nicholas Frankl

European Correspondent

Bikes. You either love them, or you've never tried riding one. Because, plain and simple, they are about as much fun as can be had on this planet, if you ignore Cindy Crawford anyway. I have ridden over the years but never on the road-always blasting around tracks after the F1 boys had finished. My greatest memories.., blitzing an M3 down hanger straight (Silverstone) at over 100 mph on a 750 Suzuki without protection par a set of Ray Bans and doing a wheelie at over 70mph as a pillion on the back of the French World Record holder. All this when I was still 16!

Now my father never minded my biking at tracks, my mother - and every other - meanwhile bitterly opposed my obtaining a road licence. And so it was. Car racing, scuba diving, speed boating and even bobsleigh driving, all licences earned and activities enjoyed, but in the end the desire was sure to become overwhelming and strangley, it was a racing car show that ultimatly trickered the final step. One climb aboard that brilliant Daffodil yellow Triumph T595 and I was easy rider bound.

The procedure is rather complicated-in the UK - at least. If you are a beginner and don't have a car licence, then patience is going to be needed, it will take you a couple of years to graduate up to anything with more than 35bhp. If you've got a car licence, and are older than 21 then you can take a direct access 500cc test and hit a Fireblade the very next day. 1st step is to pass the compulsary basic training or CBT. That takes a day and the folks at Pass Masters of Merton in south London took me and my 50cc Honda 125 cb through the paces.

Actually being on the road is a weird feeling. The wind noise is loud, the elements biting at the tips of your fingers. The other cars? Well it"s like being the cub in the big cat arena. 1st day completed safely, roll on day two of this intensive 3 day course and suddenly I'm up to 500cc. It"s now that you get the tingling feeling through your body, the engine throbbing right below you, the Ferrari eating acceleration and the ability to syth straight through the traffic.

You learn to think ahead, as far as possible, anticipate danger, treat all other machines as potencial death dooers and generally get your mind and body into biker mode.

This was achieved, but the cone manouvers, emergentcy stops and, trickiest of all, narrow u-turns are tough at first-no matter how good you are riding a bicycle. The 125, with it's low weight and centre of gravity, is relatively easy to manoeuver- but once you get something more sustancial a ceratin ammount of practice is required, particularly the leaning away from the bike on very tight turns.

The third day, test day, was interupted by the need to attend the launch of the Honda CRV, so the motocycle dept lent me a CB500s for the following week. Basically the whole thing was a rush and with out a bike to practice- I failed! Mighty pissed off? You bet. The instructor, whom I must mention, was, by the way, the nightmare come true and that's enough about the negatives.

Three weeks later and having borrowed a CB250cc, to practice with solo on the street and a 650NTV to practice with a friend of mine, it was time for test number two.

I am pleased to say that on this occasion it just felt right and I got my little piece of paper. For the next week I toured around London on the 650- which is very popular with despatch riders - so I got no leway at all from all the lovely car, bus and truck drivers. Next came the blow out trip to Motorcycle City in Wandworth for the sexiest looking black and yellow jacket, a pair of leather pants and some boots. Fully equiped, and not quite so vunerable, I headed back to Scott at Honda who had a "big" bike for me.

The VFR C 750 is a custom bike using the fabulous VFR engine and bits. Built for the US market only a few have found homes in the UK. Long and fat with chrome all over it was a perfect companion in town, with a low centre of gravity, excellent grip and comfortable riding "feet forward" position. Even my super bike collegues were impressed, though you won't get much change out of 8,000, the bike does perform excellently. My only quibbles being that if you make a bike look loud- it's got to be able to cash the cheque, know what I mean?

Honda says it's the only way with all the noise regs - and I know the neighbours appreciate it - but a good set of after-market pipes fixes the problem I am told. Alas, I cannot tell you how fast it goes round a race track nor the rear spring compression ratio, but if you want Honda reliability on a great looking machine then you could do a lot worse, best of all the bike stands out in traffic- which is still my biggest concern!

NEXT UP.... Learning with a Champ- Steve Parrish's racing school.

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