A beginner’s guide to motorcycling

Paul Allen passed his bike test in Ipswich in the 1970s. He tells us how to do it in the 21st century

By Paul Allen

So you want to get your full motorcycle licence?

    ...it’s one of the last bastions of personal choice and freedom.  

The good news is it’s unbelievably easy!

You pay 11 quid, then turn up at Ipswich Driving Test Centre along Woodbridge Road. You’ll have to answer three questions from the Highway Code, then go outside and read a number plate on a parked car a few yards away.

After that, you jump on your Yamaha RD250 and ride around the block, looking out for the examiner, who will be unenthusiastically attempting to hide his portly bulk by crouching behind a car. As he jumps out waving his clipboard, you feign surprise then come to a stop without locking up the rear wheel. And Bingo! Rip up them L-plates, boy… you’ve passed!

Then, after triumphantly wheelieing out of the test centre and nearly hitting a Kesgrave bus head on (in your ecstasy you have temporarily forgotten you are actually very bad at wheelies) you can get yourself down to Revett’s Motorcycles on Norwich road and sign your hard-earned weekly wages away for the next three years on HP.

You’ll be a heady £600 in debt. But you’ll be the king (or queen) of Manchester Road Hill and Chantry Estate on your brand new faster-than-anything-else-in-the-world 120mph state-of-the-art SOHC Honda 750. And your mum won’t sleep properly for the next few years as you selfishly come in late every night while she lays in bed listening out for your engine, so she can nod off in the knowledge that you haven’t been killed by either the bike or the locals at the Safe Harbour on the Whitton Estate.

Was there ever a pub in Suffolk or indeed the world so ironically named…?

Oh no, wait…

That was 1977. And here’s the bad news.

That test, the one that got me my licence, has long gone, along with Revetts, the old test centre, and indeed my long-suffering mum. The Safe Harbour, one of Tolly Cobbold’s grand old ‘30s pubs, is now an Aldi. Oh the ignominy.

Fast forward to 2019, and getting rid of those ‘L’s is a tad different, to say the least. The paths to a full licence are now so complicated the government has a flow chart on its website that looks at first glance like a heavily researched family tree. I would try to explain it, but I’m 60 this year, and honestly don’t think I have the time. Besides, even if I did survive to the end of an explanation, it would have changed again. It’s been through more incarnations over the years than I’ve had good hidings in the aforementioned ‘Safe’.

(That’s a lot, btw.)

Buying a bike and gear

£600 won’t get you a new superbike in this brave new world, but will just about cover a decent helmet. As long as you don’t want a top-notch product with a race-rep paint job. Bikes are now so expensive that dealers rarely talk in terms of their actual price: more how little it will cost in PCP payments.

    I’m of an age and disposition where the journey is far more interesting than the destination.  

It seems the old “never-never” (Hire Purchase) has made a triumphant return from the seventies, albeit with a posher name and a “balloon” payment at the end.

Of course you could use the three grand PCP deposit to buy a perfectly good second-hand bike. Like cars, motorcycles are built so well now that a 15-year-old minter will do you just as well as a factory-fresh vehicle. You’d actually own that, but you wouldn’t get the toys…

“Rider aids.” Wow. Everything from ABS to traction control and all manner of wonders in between. And to be fair, they do make biking safer. Though to old duffers like me they take away far more than they give. Which is handy because I can’t afford a new bike.

Clothing? A decent Rukka “two piece” (jacket and trousers) is about two grand. That’s more than I paid individually for three of my bikes! But if you can afford it, it makes sense. I guess.

Me, I ride old bikes, slowly. I’m of an age and disposition where the journey is far more interesting than the destination. I don’t wear expensive, or even bike-specific, clothing. My choice totally. I wear Dad’s old open-face helmet and a jacket and jeans. I would never in a million years advise anybody else to follow suit. Hit a car in a car, you lose a wing. Hit a car on a bike, you lose a leg. Or worse. But that’s one of the great things about biking, it’s one of the last bastions of personal choice and freedom. Which is, I guess, why I have four bikes, and no car.

Your choice is clear.

Choose a new, safe bike, with the best and safest clothing available, regardless of cost.

Or follow the path of a man who thought drinking Tolly Cobbold light and bitter in The Safe Harbour every Saturday night throughout the late 1970s was a good idea.

Published: 13 June 2019

© 2019 Just Recruitment Group Ltd

If you liked this article, you may enjoy – The best 10 albums from the 1970s (in my opinion)

You may also like – Why I became a writer: a builder’s tale

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