Guest post from Endemoniada_88, who has a little piece of Good News ...
A New Arrival
No, before anyone gets too excited about champagne and cigars, not a Winston Churchillesque mini-me sort of arrival. Something rather more mineral than animal was installed in secret at Chez Endo, not to be revealed on pain of...well, pain, I suspect. Fortunately, the reporting ban has now been lifted, so the risk of going global (hey, I've seen Rich's reader map!) is somewhat mitigated in favour of my bones remaining intact.
And, possibly, this may make some sense as I no longer have to refer to "the secret thing" and can instead use rather more accurate descriptive terms.
It started a few weeks back, when the weather was a bit nicer and there were hours of daylight. Myself and Mrs E - who, for the sake of argument, we'll call Sue (which is apposite, that being her name) - were whiling away a quiet Sunday. The conversation meandered on to whether I would be going on another continental bike tour next tour (which I sincerely hope will be the case) and suddenly turned sharp left.
"I'd quite like to learn to ride," Sue said.
I've heard similar things before, on other topics. Not all of them have been ideas that lasted out the afternoon. So my first response was one that veered between mild encouragement and mild scepticism, but she brushed that off and expanded on the idea. As a gardener by trade, she has a Land Rover. Nothing especially wrong with that, if one has to have a car, but I tend to agree that it's a cumbersome and costly to run beastie. Space (oh, and cash) preclude her having the sports car she'd like for best, but neither of those would be a particular bar to having a two-wheeler as alternative transport.
Well, fair play: that's not a bad argument, speaking as someone who's used many and varied justifications as to why a new bike would be a very good thing to buy right now. She wanted easy and stylish, something that wouldn't look out of place parked outside a Roman cafe. Obviously, I thought "Vespa" immediately, and only revised my opinion when I saw the asking price of them, both new and old. The scooter idea stuck, though, as did the idea of an automatic - and, of course, learner-legal. I plugged all of that into the eBay motors search and we took a look at the results.
Top of the list (after filtering out all the trade ads) and only about ten miles away was just the sort of thing that demonstrates the power of coincidence. Relisted due to a previous timewaster: a silver Sachs Bee 125 on an 09 plate, one owner from new, low mileage and cheap (well, they're only £1800 brand new...). No harm in taking a look, we figured, so I phoned and arranged to pop over there and then.
The owner proved to be a very pleasant and genuine lady. She and her husband had shared the scooter: he'd now bought an upright motorcycle-shaped motorcycle and she didn't get enough use out of it on her own. We looked it over: Sue liked the style and ergonomics and I liked the general state of repair and the sound of the little four-stroke. Having thought to bring my lid and leaving the wife as deposit, I ran it around the block and found it pretty much as expected. And shortly thereafter, a deal was struck and deposit left.
We picked it up the following evening after exchanging cash for paperwork: Sue drove her car back and I took the Sachs.
It was a little odd to be back on a twist-and-go: the last time was back in the early 80s. Little-wheel handling and a tendency to try and use the clutch despite it actually being a brake kept my mind occupied. On the open road, with a bit of patience and some contortions, I got it up to an indicated 65, although the white van behind seemed to think it was slower than that. From the experienced rider's viewpoint, it ticked very few boxes, to be honest - but as a simple way to get from a lifetime of four wheels on to two, it seemed ideal.
So, "the secret thing" was installed in my (sorry, that's now "our") garage and I was sworn to secrecy. Sue told her sister, inevitably. I told nobody. We spent an evening checking her pillion gear and supplementing with alternatives from my spare stuff. Sue booked herself on a CBT training day on a site a few miles away. To spare all sorts of logistical difficulties, she decided to use one of their supplied bikes. Come the day, she took herself off just before I left for work. At lunchtime, she phoned me to say she wasn't ready to do the road assessment and would be taking advantage of the company's free retake policy instead.
Later, we discussed it and found she hadn't warmed to her original trainer, but had spent some time with one of the other trainers, a lady also called Sue, who had impressed her. Her retake was already booked with the aforementioned Sue. Next problem: simple bike handling and familiarity. I had her go up and down the close a few times, identified a few entirely expected issues - deathgrip on the bars, reluctance to tip into turns and too much hesitation with the throttle. My advice: relax, and give it more gas(!). That weekend, we found a quiet carpark and practised until U-turns were a very real possibility in ordinary-width roads. Final issue: kit. Sue found the gloves she had were too bulky for comfort, and her full-face lid too restrictive. Fortunately, my Caberg flip-front does an open-face conversion, and is of a suitable size to fit her. I took the chin-bar off and had her try it. The end result was a trip down to the dealers for an HJC open face unit and some Weise ladies gloves. As it happened, they also had fully armoured and waterproof Alpinestars ladies boots that actually looked like a fashion item. Neat trick, and as it was a week from her birthday, they went on the list too.
Second try at the CBT got as far as the road. The training site happens to be in a shopping centre just off the main crosstown A road. It's always busy enough for tailbacks, and the feeder roads are a nightmare of junctions and traffic lights. It was late on a Friday afternoon and Sue couldn't quite muster the plunge into that maelstrom of commuters and shoppers. Sensibly, she backed off - which was one reason for not telling anyone she was doing it in the first place, so there wouldn't be the pressure to overreach.
Sadly, the next try wasn't free. It was, however, successful, despite drizzly conditions. One of the other trainees, a fearless young girl, came straight out of the training centre and promptly crashed on too much front brake. No harm, no foul - apparently, she went on to pass as well. And Sue got home with her all-important certificate of road legality and a big smile. The D-notice was lifted and she took considerable pleasure in visiting people unexpectedly on her bike.
I don't know how much use the little Sachs will get over the next few months. Not as much as it has been enjoying, one suspects. Sue's still a little apprehensive, especially in less than ideal weather, and there are some fairly harsh roads around these parts. Still, that's not the point. The point is, she has the option and the desire to ride it, and has discovered something of the joys of two-wheeled transport. It's funny in a way, seeing it from a newbie's point of view (and trying to remember what it was like to be there myself), and rather delightful to know that the bug can still bite someone later in life, when they're supposed to be much more sensible!
A full test is likely to be some way off. I would guess that the restrictive nature of a 125 will make itself known in reasonably short order, especially since Sue likes to drive, well, fast. It's good for learning roadcraft, but the sensible way forward would be to phase in gears and proper controls at some point, in preparation for a Direct Access option. Even if she wants to go back to automatics after that, it makes little sense (to me) to take any of the lesser or restricted tests. We'll see, though.
For now, I'm inordinately proud of her for having got this far. And if you're down Sussex way and see a little silver Vespa-alike on the road, she'd be delighted to get a wave.
(More info on the bike: www.sachsbikes.co.uk)