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Learning To Ride - Two Days At Honda Australia Rider Training

1 September 2009- I arrive bleary eyed at the Honda Australia Rider Training (HART) facility at 8:40 on a freezing Saturday morning. I’ve enrolled in a two day learner course, designed for people who have never ridden before, and will today realise a childhood dream of riding a motorcycle.

I work for Honda Australia so it’s a bit ironic that I’ve never ridden, but will today finally join the club.

There are about 16 people clutching plastic coffee cups, huddled in a room filled with shiny new motorcycles. I’ve arrived alone and a mild panic sets in when I notice that a lot of others have come in pairs, so I join a table of two Irish travellers and commence gazing wistfully at the line of motorcycles waiting for us outside.

There is grey haired guy sitting in the corner wearing a biker style leather jacket. He hasn’t really ridden before but he bought a Harley from a friend at a party, and the one time he tried to ride it up and down the driveway he dropped it. His mate chipped in for the course.

There are a lot of young guys, one that’s learnt everything there is to know about motorcycling through internet forums, a tradie that doesn’t talk much, a pair of uni mates that want to buy scooters and a young guy who has brought his Dad along.

There are also a few middle aged cyclists that want to speed up their commute, a twenty something couple with ‘his and hers’ raincoats and a girl that has brought a pink helmet with her.

I’m carrying a certain mystique because I’m wearing some authentic motorcycle boots that I borrowed from a workmate, and apart from the Harley owner and the internet forum guy (who bought a leather jacket from his neighbour) I’m one of the few equipped with an item of serious motorcycle attire.

We are split into groups, those holding red clipboards and those holding green clipboards, and commence basic classroom training. Apparently as long as you can ride a pushbike you’ve got the foundation skills to become a motorcyclist.

Our instructor Glenn talks us through the controls, how to change gears, how to coordinate front and back brakes. He’s a good man to learn from, he tells us, because over the years he’s made a lot of mistakes that we can learn from.

You can hear a pin drop in between Glenn’s words, because he knows what he’s talking about and also because every sentence he completes brings us one step closer to riding.

Once the class is done we collect helmets and safety gear, and as we walk outside to the bikes everyone struggles to restrain themselves to a power walk. My stride is faster than the rest and I get the black one, a shiny CB250 with safety bars and a small dent in the fuel tank that looks pretty tough.

My first riding experience is a complete failure. We have to push our partner around a course so they can get used to balancing a bike.

I’ve been paired with the internet forum guy and he seems to know what he’s doing. It’s the one exercise where we’re allowed to go as fast as we can, as the engine isn’t turned on, and no matter how sporadic my pushing this guy deals with it like a knee dragger from way back.

It comes to my turn and my partner doesn’t skimp on the pushing. As soon as I lift my feet off the ground I’m overwhelmed by the weight of the bike, and despite my efforts to turn left I steer us toward the fence and take out a traffic cone. I soon learn that the instructors’ patience knows no limits.

After learning to use the side and centre stands we start them up and slow idle for five metre stretches, the instructors slowly introducing us to riding with our feet off the ground and using the clutch. After a while of this the bikes are set up in a line and the real action happens, riding around in circles in first gear.
It may not sound like much, but I could do circles around these traffic cones for hours, it’s exhilarating to be riding. Although I could probably use the adrenaline pulsing through my veins to crawl faster than I’m riding, I am having an awesome time. It gets even better when second gear is introduced.

After a few hours of riding in various shaped loops, both fast and slow, I feel really comfortable on the bike. I’ve started to lean into corners a bit and am now able to get to third gear and back. I even have a sneaky try at fourth. Then they pull the rug out from under me with an exercise in emergency stops.

Stopping quickly, we’re told, is one of the most important defensive riding skills to have. We learn to ease on the brakes so that we don’t lock up, and the instructors show off their riding skills with various ‘what not to do’ demonstrations.

There’s quite an art to stopping in a hurry, and resisting the urge to lock up the front and back brakes. If we do this properly we can reduce our stopping time from not at all to less than two metres. We only need to be able to stop within seven metres for the test, but the instructors are more concerned with getting us ready for the road than anything else.

We then learn to ride around an intricate course at a painfully slowly pace, which is the hardest thing I’ve done all day. The balancing skills required for slow riding are similar to those used by cyclists at red lights, the ones that are too hardcore to put their feet on the ground. It gets easier, and before long I’m trying to impress my instructor by applying the brake to go even slower than idle speed.

At the end of the day we head back to the classrooms for some more theory and question time. We’re assured that no question is a stupid question, and I test this.

I finish day one exhausted, and within five minutes of leaving I’m mentally juggling my finances and merging my wants and needs to justify buying a bike that week.

Day 2

Day two is a little more nerve wracking, as the learner permit test looms on the horizon. It involves a riding test, broken up into four parts, as well as a multiple choice theory test. We start in the classroom watching videos about cornering, before having the serious chat.

Around 85% of HART students pass the test, but we are emotionally readied to return another day for a practise session and second attempt should we fall into the remaining 25% bracket.

Car learner drivers need 120 hours of road experience before they’re allowed to drive solo while we’ve had just two days, so there aren’t any second tries during the test. We’re told that any pressure we’re feeling is nothing compared to the pressure we will experience on the road.

We split up into groups and practise all morning, going over our corners, emergency stops, slow riding and gear changes. I’m having a ball riding around, but because I’m getting nervous I’m holding on too tight and getting really sore hands. The guy I’m riding behind must be getting nervous too, because he’s started stalling when he gets to the bit where you need to ride really slowly in a straight line, and he keeps riding outside the lines.

I’m having a bit of trouble getting around some of the tight turns, but sort it out after some positive reinforcement from one of the instructors restores my confidence.

Before I know it the testing process begins, and we line up our bikes to go through all the switches without looking at them. This part is a real crowd pleaser because we get to honk our horns.

We then take it in turns to start up our bikes, do a loop around to the left through a tight corner and stop in a small square for the second test. While waiting my heart starts to race and I’m shaking a little bit. I regret the bucket loads of instant coffee I drank in the morning to recover from my late night of studying the theory book. Everyone nails it and no one forgets to indicate, which is apparently one of the most common ways to fail the test.

Part three of the test requires us to take off as normal, but then ride between two narrow lines really slowly. We can’t go outside the lines and must take longer than 10 seconds. This is too much for one guy, the one that was stalling earlier, and he swerves outside the lines to an instant fail. It’s pretty devastating, and he slumps over his bike in disappointment.

It’s at this point that I start to flip out, and have to sing ‘Eye of the Tiger’ in my head to get fired up again before my turn. I take off a bit fast, but keep my eye level in line with the horizon like we were taught and make it through in over 11 seconds. Whew. Everyone else makes it through alright as well.

The last part of the riding test is a big loop to the right, through another tight corner and ending with an emergency stop. This is a big moment for me, because I’d had a problem that morning with accidentally clipping the throttle at the same time as the front brake, and I’m scared my nerves will bring me undone.
Internet forum guy has been smashing the test so far, he’s pretty good, but this time he approaches the emergency stop too slowly.

This is one of the few occasions where you’re allowed another try, as you need to be approaching the stop at 20-25kmph. He loops around again and does it fine. I’m lucky last and do it fine as well.

The euphoria that follows is pretty extreme and me and internet forum guy are high fiving, shoulder patting and chattering like excited schoolgirls.

I pass the written test thanks to my late night cramming and we return to the classroom for a ‘what happens now’ session, where they run us through things to watch out for, situations to avoid, safety gear, bikes, bad experiences they’ve had and what we need to do to prepare for our probationary licence test.
We watch someone have a go on the riding simulator, which looks like a motorcycle video game but teaches you about riding hazards by throwing all types of trucks and taxis at you. In this one hour class I learn more about traffic than I have in three years of driving.

The group of 16 that emerged from HART shared a weird ‘never going to see you again’ two day bond, hugely improved riding skills and a lifetime of riding lessons to learn. Even if I never get to buy a bike, I’ve at least gained a huge appreciation and awareness of motorcyclists and am now a much more careful driver.

The two day HART learner permit course costs $290 across a weekend, or $260 on weekdays. People with riding experience can do a one day course for $190.

For more information on HART’s programs including learner, licence, refresher, intermediate, advanced, ATV and off-road programs, visit: or phone (03) 9270 1377.