Motorbike riding lessons
Here I was: at Spoorenberg's Traffic School in Edam. It's located at the edge of a small commercial area, with only little traffic. Frans Spoorenberg, the owner and motorbike instructor, welcomed me and immediately started telling me about the Kawasaki ER-5 is was supposed to be riding in the upcoming one and a half hours. He showed me the way how to start the engine, how to handle the lights, the brakes and switching gears. Then, to my surprise, he said: "Know what? Why don't you put on your helmet, hop onto the bike, and ride around for five minutes or so, while I go get the cones and set them up for exercises. You can go straight ahead here, turn right at the end, turn left three times, at the end of the street at the roundabout turn left again, and you'll end up back here coming from there. Enjoy!"
The first five minutes
I started the engine, while Frans walked away. Extremely carefully I shifted into first gear, and operated the clutch lever. The bike moved forward. I let the clutch lever go and turned the throttle. There I went! I'm not sure anymore what I have been doing the first fourty meters or so. I must have tried finding the foot rest for my right foot, while remembering that the left lever was the clutch and the right lever was the front brake (which is entirely different from the Ely). I must have felt a little aching in my hip (cramps!) because the sitting position is leaning forward strongly. Then I realized, that the engine was screaming loudly. Shift gears now, I thought!
While closing the throttle and trying to clutch and shift gears at the same time I approached the first crossing. Now it was time to stop accellerating, watch out for other vehicles, slow down a bit, find a good position to turn right, look into the mirror, keep calm, and .....
I made it around the corner without dropping the bike. I even realized that I had forgotten to operate the direction indicator. But it didn't matter. Here was a straight street, and I could practice shifting gears again. It went much better already. Didn't take long to go into third and fourth gear. This bike has six gears, so plenty of room to play with....Ooops! Now I was doing 80km/h in a 50km/h area.
Anyway, the next four minutes went far more smoothly, and I safely got back to the school building. Frans was holding up his hand, indicating that I was supposed to stop there. I managed to do so, too!
"Let's do some exercises", he said, as if I had just become an expert with the bike, ready to take on the difficult tasks of a biker.
The cone dance
The first exercise appeared to be easy: six cones were positioned in line at 5 meters intervals, and I was supposed to weave around them in second gear. "Just look ahead, don't look at the cones", Frans said. Well, the first time went pretty well, but in the second round, I managed to hit two of them. Darn!! Luckily, the third and fourth try were OK, so I went on to the next exercise: same cones, same weave, but now at 4 meters intervals. I had to dodge them in first gear, using the foot brake at the same time. That, too, didn't go bad.
The trickiest exercise turned out to be the 8-turn. I had practiced this several times on the Elystar, and it appeared to be a piece of cake. But on this bike, things were different. I kept leaning into the corners, which is what you're not supposed to do. "Use the hips. Push the bike away from under you. Keep your body upright!", is what Frans kept saying. Eventually, I managed to do the left turn decently, but I never mastered the right turn.
Meanwhile, fifty minutes had passed. Although the weather was excellent (sun, some wind, 21 degrees Celsius, dry roads) I felt as if I had been riding in a desert for three hours already. Frans summarized the exercises, and I nodded while appreciating these few minutes of rest. Then he suggested: "Would you like to enjoy a little tour?". I hadn't reckoned that we would be going onto the road this very first time, but he was very serious about it. And so, we started for Edam, Volendam and Katwoude.
The first Tour
I received an ear plug, then put my helmet back on. "Here we go"! His voice was now right in my ear. I took off, and he followed on his large instructor's bike. Actually, I started feeling a little more at ease. Yes, I cornered decently, I finally found enough time to pay attention and watch out for other vehicles, and I even managed to shift gears, operate the throttle, indicate direction and enjoy the ride at the same time. Just an occasional "Next junction, turn right" and "You forgot to switch off the indicator again" in my ears disturbed the feeling of experiencing a bike ride.
The ride through town was not much of a problem. Now, a 2km road along the IJsselmeer dyke was ahead of us. This is a wonderful road for a motorcycle tour. Long curves, lots of space to look ahead, etc. Frans ordered me to stop at the road side, and instructed some more. He taught me how to go into a left and right curve. How to anticipate traffic from the other direction. Generally: where to position the bike in various situations, and why. When I nodded that I understood, he added: "Oh, half way I'll overtake you, and will ride in front. Your challenge will be to follow my lines."
Off we went again. I rode in front for about 800 meters. Then I saw him, in my mirror, indicate direction. The very next second he went by me at, in my perception, tremendous speeed. He made me accellerate and speed up quite a lot. From then on, I felt as if I was flying (in reality, our speed was 75km/h)! Fluent corners, overtaking bicyclists way over in the other lane, it was great.
Back on the N247, we increased our speed to 90km/h. Now I really felt the wind against my chest, especially since my bike didn't have a wind screen. Yes, this was a bit uncomfortable, although I can imagine that bikers consider this the main reason why they want to ride their bikes.
Back at school, Frans again summarized the Tour. Especially roundabouts require more practice.
My hair and back were soaking. My hips and lower back hurt. My wallet contained 58 euros less now. But it was a great experience. One to be repeated at least once more. Those who were betting that I would want to take more lessons were right. Next lesson will be on August 27th: riding to Hoorn (20km), doing cone exercises there, and enjoying a ride back. Let's hope for equally great weather!
After the training, I got back onto the Elystar. The first mile on my scooter back home can be characterized as lame, slow, but very comfortable!