Not a usual Monday today. This was a Monday to look forward to, an excellent tone setter for the week. Jonathan, a good friend of mine, was coming round with a trailer and bike to pick me up for my first off road riding session.
I was not ready of course, as I could not decide what to wear. Typical girl, I know. What does one wear for off roading, which one happens to have lying about in the garage? I tried Kevin's off road helmet, but I could turn my head round in it, so no good. I settled for Jonathan's helmet and his, for me, oversized jacket, which he kindly lent me. My Triumph over trousers would have to do. How much padding would I need? Hopefully there is enough in them. Secretly, I hope I will not get them dirty, as they are so lovely. Boots are next. I only have one pair, which have started to crack, but will hopefully survive today. Gloves are more of a problem. I have one Triumph glove left as I dropped the other near the Grand Canyon, riding Route 66 with Kevin two years ago. After a rummage through Kevin's gloves, which were quite obviously too large, I decide to use the snug fitting gloves signed and donated by Bradley Smith for the Kevin Ash Fund. They fitted me perfectly. I must have man-sized hands. Shocking. Does anybody want to buy some gloves worn and signed by Bradley Smith, and now me?
The weather had changed from rain every day, and every minute, to frost and glorious sunshine. I would stay dry today but it would be frosty and slippery - great! I was filled with anticipation of what was to come as we drove to the Cotswolds, towing a trailer with the Yamaha TT R250 securely strapped down.
Arriving at the woods, I took in the enormity of the task ahead. The first hill was almost vertical and fear gripped my heart. I can't do this, can I? I hopped on the back and I received some one to one tuition. Jonathan explained how to tackle different situations and I felt it all it all made perfect sense. One of the things he mentioned was to let the bike do what it wants to do and go with it. Now, as I was born on a bicycle in the Netherlands, I know what it feels like to let a bike do what it wants underneath you. That is what he must have meant, I decided, which turns out to be correct.
As I didn't feel I was ready to throw myself off the nearest vertical dip, and I had spotted a gravel pit nearby, I opted to have my first introduction to the bike there. Getting on it was my first challenge. I am not the tallest girl around, I needed to quickly get used to being on tiptoes with one foot and my other sticking up into the heavens - different sort of fun. I rode off and spent time getting used to the different riding position and trying out different manoeuvres. The bike was surprisingly easy to ride. It felt very light and agile as the weight is down low. I felt at ease in no time and started really enjoying myself. As I went round, still receiving instructions from Jonathan, I could feel what this bike would do. It was very forgiving, I could almost stall it but I could easily recover.
The gear change was smooth and the lever is in the right place. I have ridden a Honda CBR 500 and the gear leaver was not it the right position to start off with, and it made you conscious of changing gear, which is not something you want to do as you are about to overtake. It should be done almost unconsciously, so you can concentrate on riding. The clutch and front brake leavers are often positioned too far from the handlebars for me, and are a challenge to use, even though I know now I have man sized hands. But these were within my grasp. A bonus!
I liked the height and the seat/handlebar position, I felt immediately in control of the bike and the seat is just the right width.
I tried tightening my turns, adjusting to the different riding position from riding on road to off-road. As I increased my speed, my confidence increased too. I now felt ready to take on the woods. I climbed back on and an initial route was chosen. I did not want have to make last minute decisions which way round a tree I should go, knowing very well I would end up becoming a reluctant tree hugger. I wanted to concentrate on riding. I was ready to go for it. I gripped the handlebars, swore quietly to myself, opened the throttle and set off down the first slippery dip. On my return, Jonathan said he was surprised to overhear me swear - oops. I explained to him “I do that when I have to do something I have not done before and it is a bit scary”. Not something to worry too much about.
I tried to treat the bike somewhat as a mountain bicycle. There was of course the added pleasure of being able to open the throttle riding up the steep hills instead of having to peddle like mad. I think I would like to add a little engine on my mountain bike.
I was surprised how quickly I had forgotten how to ride a motorbike and wobbled round like a first time learner. Been one now twice. I got very cross with myself and told myself I could carry on like that, or improve. If Jonathan had been nearby he could then have overheard me talk loudly to myself all the instruction he had given me. It did help chastising myself a bit, and subsequently my riding and my confidence improved. After a well-earned biscuit and apple for lunch, Jonathan took a turn and I watched and learned what I could try and do to improve.
I did fall off once at the end of the session, and I have a bruise to prove it. That was a fantastic day learning something, which I now want to get better at and do lots more of.
Thank you Jonathan for lending me your bike, your helmet and jacket, your time and being my excellent teacher and photographer.