My first lessons for the 250-400cc (chugatta) licence.

I’ve started taking lessons for the 250cc-400cc class licence, called the chugatta licence in Japan. I’m taking the lessons at a driving school only 15 minutes by scooter or car from my house.
They’re costing about 13万  ($1,300 or 650 British pounds) and I must take 17 in all. Here’s an account of my first two lessons:

The driving school has two courses side by side, the car course and the bike course, which is on slightly higher ground than the car course. Each course has a building beside it, with the one beside the car course being the main building with the admin office in it. The building beside the bike course is tiny in comparison, with two floors. The ground floor comprising a garage with the bikes and helmets and other safety gear in it and the 1st floor has the desk and waiting area.

After checking in at the desk, I went down to the garage and geared up. I wore a hard shell chest guard with a cloth bib with a number on it and knee and elbow pads. I was given a hygiene head cover to put on under the helmet. Very Japanese. I’d call it a hair net, but that would render it useless in my case!

There were three others taking lessons and when the buzzer went I followed them out onto the course where the bikes were parked and joined them as they lined up. Two instructors appeared and we all went through the usual, very formal Japanese ritual of bowing to each other and saying, ‘Onegaishimasu’, which means, in this context, “Thank you in advance for the efforts you will make on my behalf”, or something to that effect.

I reckoned I wasn’t going to get riding until the third lesson, but I was on the course within 10 minutes of starting and rode alone for the vast majority of the 2 hours. The bikes were all Honda CB400 Super Fours, favourites of the driving schools and one of the bikes I may end up buying.

To start with, the instructor gave me a quick run-through the bike buttons and switches and then had me pick it up from prone. He showed me the basic safety procedure of looking behind before mounting, dismounting and starting off and checking the indicators and headlight to see if they’re working properly.

He asked me if I’d ever ridden before and I told him that I had owned a 50cc manual transmission bike about 15 years ago. Within five mins of that he had me following him around the course seemingly confident that I had a strong enough grasp of the basics to start riding. Once he was sure that I knew the course, he let me ride for the rest of the lessons alone, pulling along side me once in a while to offer tips and remind me graciously to turn off the indicator light.

The CB400 Super Four is not a 50cc scooter for sure. My biggest grief was dealing with the power in low gear, getting the thing moving smoothly without lunging and over-reving, but within a very short period of time I got the hang of it.

After a 10 minute break between the two lessons he had me follow him around the course again, but this time he extended the course to include a slalom of five severe turns around cones. No clutch or breaks allowed, only engine breaking, and on passing a cone I had to accelerate to the next cone and then let the engine break the speed before repeating. He followed me twice and let me go for the rest of the hour by myself. By the end of the second lesson I was pretty solid on the gear changes and taking bends without clutch riding. The slalom look me a while to get used to, but I got it down pat in the end. I haven’t had as much fun in years.

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