Fifth and sixth lessons report.

I’d a lot of fun at these lessons which were on the day before the school closed for the New Year’s holiday started.

The first lesson took in the hill start. For anyone used to driving a manual transmission car, this is a cinch. Exactly the same principle: brake; put into low gear keeping clutch held; press the gas a touch; release the clutch slowly and when you feel the gears engage the engine, more gas and release the brakes and clutch completely. But here it is precisely for the bike:

1. Stop on the hill by using both the right handlebar brake and the footbrake and holding the clutch in full.

2. Drop into first (low) gear.

3. Release the handlebar brake maintaining the brake with the footbrake only.

4. Turn the accelerator until the needle hits 3,000rpm on the rev counter and slowly release the clutch.

5. Once the gear engages the engine and the bike pulls forward a touch, simultaneously release the footbrake and the clutch whilst increasing acceleration.

6. If this is done right, the bike does not roll back at all and you slowly and smoothly move off. If the bike rolls back at all, you’re doing it wrong.

I was asked to do that and got it right five times in a row (drove a manual car for years). The instructor was well happy and he told me that I could move on to the next thing.

After that I was asked to run the A course again several times. Once I had done that I was given a 400cc Skywave automatic scooter and asked to do the A course on that. I fell off the ipponbashi the first time as the bike’s centre of balance was low and strange, but after that I managed it fine. Then back on the CB400SF and a few more runs of A course finished the lesson.

The next lesson was after lunch and that was when the real fun began. When I returned to the centre there was only me and one instructor, a guy I hadn’t met before. He seemed a bit stand-offish to begin with and just instructed me to do a couple of runs of A course. Then he described B course to me which was almost the same as A course, but with the Crank and S bend swapping places in the order of things. He watched me do it and I got it down first time. Then he took me pillion around the course and showed me how it really should be done. He wanted me to hone my skills.

The first half of the S bend should be done with a swift, sweeping movement, killing the indicator light half way through, whilst the second half should be about slowing down to exit the S bend and the appropriate indicator light switched on half way through. You enter the S bend in second gear and to the left, so your first sweeping movement starts outside of it and finishes half way through. On both the A course and the B course I exited the S bend to the right, so I had to change the indicator light half way through every time.

The Crank should be approached in second gear, just like the S bend, so slowly with the clutch half engaged that when the clutch is released a touch the bike will accelerate without needing to turn the accelerator. On entering the Crank (left turn in) release the clutch with a jab to give the bike a nice little lift, just on the aggressive side of soft, and the same again on the second turn (to the right). So that’s a quick left and right turn with two short, sharp jabs of power. Both are done very close together so this is tricky. Switch indicator to the appropriate indicator light before being half way through the Crank (I exited the Crank in different directions in A course and B course). After the second bend, hold half clutch and let the bike roll slowly around the third bend. If there is no traffic coming, look both ways (this absolutely must be done for every junction) and just release the clutch to accelerate to leave the Crank (still in second gear). If there is traffic, stop the bike, drop into low gear, wait for the traffic to pass, look both ways and then leave the Crank. This end sequence is the same for the ipponbashi, slalom, S bend, The Crank etc.

Then he told me that I was too slow on the slalom, and this is where the fun began. He produced his timer and showed me my last time which was almost 9 seconds. “Too long”, he said. He said I needed to get it down to around 7 seconds, 8 at most. The slalom is done directly after the kyusejo, the emergency stop (I wrote jusedo early, but I was wrong), so you’re just getting into second gear before entering it.

Up to that point I had been taking things pretty slowly to make sure I didn’t balls it up. The next time I did it he stood right at the end with the stop watch. I went in slowly and at each cone give the bike a burst of gas, letting the weight of it do the heavy lifting for me. I came out of it and he showed me 8 secs. I had thought I had nailed it. I was pretty disappointed. Then the next time, just as I approached it, I realised that I had been going really slow between the two entrance cones and the first slalom cone, a distance of a few meters and one which is perfectly straight. So then I gave it a bit of gas entering the slalom, engine break at the first cone, immediate burst of gas, engine break at the second cone, burst of gas, and so on. Each time I just let the weight of the bike swing naturally with the weight of my body, smooth, flowing movements and loads of gas passing the last slalom cone and out between the two entrance cones. That time was 6.9 secs. The instructor was laughing, “OK, faster!” The next time was about the same and then the time after that was 6.1 seconds. Getting the speed right going into the slalom was the ticket.

Then he challenged me to get the time up on the ipponbashi. He was just enjoying himself at this point. Apparently the other instructors had told him that I had been getting good times on it, so he wanted me to push myself more. So far my best had been 9.3 seconds, but I had no idea how to get it down.

The start line to the ipponbashi is about two meters from the little ramp up onto it. I had understood that you should not use the clutch or brakes when on it, so getting the bike moving and up the small ramp and onto the ippon bashi required me giving it a bit of gas from the off. That meant that the bike was running at a bit of speed from the top of the ramp before it would slow down to the minimum speed it would go without gas. That was knobbling me from getting the speed down and the time up. Therefore, with him watching, I was trying to get the bike up the little ramp while giving it less gas, but it was stalling. Then he told me that I could use the clutch whilst on the ipponbashi, but not the brake. At that point things took off as you can have so much control over the bike using both the clutch and accelerator. My first time was 11 seconds, the second time was over 12 secs and my last time was over 14 secs.

So this guy coached me to such a level of performance on the S bend, the Crank and the slalom that the test should be pedestrian by comparison. He’s a genius. I left with my confidence well up.

Now this is something quite important about booking lessons, if other schools operate the same booking system as the one mine does. I book my lessons by inserting a card given to me by the school into a card slot beside a computer at the reception desk. A screen appears with my name on it and the lesson schedule for the next week or two. When lessons are free there is a 空 kanji on the lesson slot. Before today I’ve been booking the next lessons after my lessons had finished because I was told to do that by the people in the reception. However, today when I went to book, everything both sides of the New Year’s holidays, up to the 12th of January was booked up. It dawned on me then that people were turning up for classes, checking in and then going straight to the computers to book their next lessons rather than waiting until after their lessons had finished. I asked if that is possible and I was told that it is. I’ll not be caught out again.

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