He is 39 year old who’s been driving for eons, gave up his biking desire, but after burning so much time in the Nairobi traffic has decided to commute – after learning the safe and right way, and hopes to have fun while at it.
I arrived early. The instructor is late…….. Tsk! Tsk! I parked in reverse and watched some Ethiopian (or Eritrean) guys playing football on the grassless pitch. After a few minutes, an Apache pulls up. The rider has on a really good reflective Duchinni helmet. At least I know that much. He stops at the gate and starts shaking his head. This cannot be a good sign. He then calls me and I drive over to him. We agree to drive to Lavinton – use the parking lot at the Methodist United Church. I start imagining how large the parking lot is, how good the cabro paving is – I mean, I’ve heard that the MuMeru Methondists have a huge church. Off we go! I reach there, pull up to the gate and try to look important. It works!! The person-in-charge-of-gate-opening flings the gate open with a smile to boot. Ara?! Njamaa?! I ask myself. Where is the large parking lot I envisioned? After a few minutes, the instructor arrives and informs me that we’ll be using the parking space outside. It fits kidu 20 cars.
Now, the lesson starts. After an hour, the lesson ends. Boss, this guy knows his stuff, lakini we need a better surface. I’m pretty certain I am getting good instruction: the United States standard, MSF (Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s) curriculum is what we are using. We started with basics. “This is a steering wheel, taya, lights, etc. But seriously though, MSF curriculum starts with TCLOCS (pronounced Tic-locs) which is the standard pre-ride inspection list. It stands for Tires, Controls, Lights, Oils, Chassis and Stands. Yaani, I have an American instructor. This is deadly. Then, he asked me to take the bike for a quick spin around the parking lot (past the SECUREX car and back) so that he could assess my riding level. Not bad he said. We worked on starting; stopping, gentle hill starts, a little cornering………. Aiiiii, my hands are so tired from holding that “steering”, “I write another time”.
Now, we are on! We are riding at the Harlequins football field. Bwana Instructor brings me a helmet that doesn’t quite fit since my chin is too long – it sits halfway down the chin, so my beard is visible. Also, he brought some deadly communication devices so that he can talk to me as I ride. Nice! Oh, I forgot to mention the gloves.
What did I learn today? The “inked” in Inked Biker refers to all his tattoos. What? Oh, about riding…. Yes, I almost forgot. I learn how to use my signals (bike and hand), how to brake using both the foot and hand braking (using some interesting marker cone patterns and on straight lines), gear shifting up and down, slowing down and gearing down at corners. I found out that this is a high revving bike and that I won’t kill it if I rev it hard. Next time, I’ll nail the hill start. Steady on the throttle- none of this throttle pump revving. Wonder where I learnt that bad habit.
My hands are tired, but am I getting the hang of it.
Ahhhhhhhhhhh………… I was late today. 5 minutes late. The Instructor was waiting patiently texting away – I think (or posting an update about his latest student who is running late). We started quickly. I was told to do 10 laps to get warmed up – that 5 clockwise and 5 counterclockwise, and cover all the drills from last time. The football team hasn’t arrived, but the security askaris recruits are already doing drills on one side of the field. This was a lot easier and the hands are getting used to holding that “steering”. Then, I walked the bike over to the “grassy knolls” for some drills – drills to improve my cornering and turns. Right now, my cornering/ turns are woeful, to say the least. I’m better off hopping off the bike, lifting it and turning it around. But, I must nail this. Going around the markers wasn’t too bad. But, the grass is quite wet, so I have to have one foot out just in case……….
Second drill: weave in and out between the markers, which are spaced about 1m from each other. I end up running over a few markers. The instructor says not to feel so bad since they are plastic and have some memory. Third drill: he creates an outer circle and asks me to do weave in and out – from the outer markers, to the inner markers. Men, I tell you this bike has a problem, but the instructor doesn’t think so. So, having paid my tuition, I demand that he demos the drill! He does! Let’s just say that I got onto that bike and my emotions ran anywhere from “argghhh” to frustration. I definitely need to work on controlling the pace of that bike.
We end the class by going through the dip. Oh, didn’t I tell you about that one? This is where I drive the bike out of a rut (trench) – it’s the drill that helps control balancing the clutch and the throttle. I just about nailed it today. But clearly, mastery of bikes is at slow speeds. I think most people can power up and drive on stretches. But riding around traffic or around obstacles, that requires a fearless, calm and balanced approach. I can, I will!!
My instructor asked me to send him a copy of my ID and KES 600 to pay for a learner’s permit so that we can hit the road at the tail end of the training. Haiya!!! A law abiding citizen!! But of course, he had already told me that we’d have to pay for the permit, but somehow, I thought we could “just” hit the road……… “What’s the harm”.
DAY 5 (Friday 17th)
I “so” don’t feel like writing about Day 4. But, I did get my provisional DL (PDL permit). I think that means that I can put an “L” sign on the bike now and hit the road. Day 4 drills were good and I did much better. The trick about limited space maneuvers is to control that throttle (listen to your throttle) and work the clutch (feel the clutch), (a rider on YouTube called this the friction point – I think it’s called the loading point for cars……….). I wasn’t revving the bike ovyo ovyo and I was calmer. Today, I also had on my new gear – just about everything, except for the helmet which I have already ordered. I started wearing the gear yesterday after I procured it from a store called Bikers Garage in Gigiri. I got some low cut riding boots, knee/shin pads, body armor vest, an H-belt and Kevlar gloves. I’ve ordered for a reflective helmet.
I was quite enthused about Day 5 – The Instructor is bringing in a mid size cruiser (Yamaha Virago 535 xv) so that I can get a feel of a different bike. When still 10 minutes away, I called in to know if the track was too wet. I am already thinking like a biker. I arrived at 6:40 am and he was right behind me on the Virago. Men, that’s one loud bike. I changed into my riding gear and then he sprung one on me: do the TCLOCS on this bike. Oh boy! Now I understand why you have to TCLOCS each bike before riding it. There are things “you cannot expect to start looking for once you hit the road”. The tires were different: spokes instead of alloy rims meant that the tubeless tires actually needed a tube to hold the air, and that’s just the beginning. I also got to manipulate the reserve tank switch on this bike. After about 20 minutes of stuttering when answering the instructor’s questions, I took the bike on a few laps just to get used to it. I first had to cast fear out of my thinking. This is one big bike with loud pipes. The bike is so different from the TVS Apache: it corners differently, you have to learn to glide around corners, etc. Then I completed a few straight n back drills cutting across the width of the track to work on gearing up, stopping, gearing down and turning. All in all, it’s a different bike. I’m not convinced that I am a cruiser guy, but, if need arises, I can still ride one. I must say that the pipes on this bike make all the difference. As the Instructor says, when in traffic and you rev up the bike, the “a path opens up”.