Saturday, July 01, 2006

Learning to ride a motorbike, part 1

For your amusement and edification, here's my take on learning to ride a motorbike in Madrid.

I've had a (car) driving licence for almost 17 years, and perhaps the first sign of an incipient mid life crisis is the fact that I've decided to get a bike. The justification for it is the hour-a-day I'll save on travelling, but that's beside the point. I want a bike. I've always wanted a bike. And I'm going to get one.

So what does this learning to ride malarkey consist of in Spain, then? For someone with a valid car licence it's a two stage process:

1) Theory test
2) Riding test

That's assuming you want to ride something bigger than a 125, otherwise assuming you've been driving for over two years you can simply extend your licence (no test required) and get the bike you want. (This licence is an A-1, the full one is an A).

24/05/06: Sign Up
I pootled off to the local driving school and explained to the young ex-catholic school girl behind the desk that however fit she may be, what I wanted to learn to ride was a bike. No problem, you give me 210 euros, plus another 70 odd for the test, and you're on.

Total cost so far: 280 euros

So what did the 210 euros (that's about 145gbp) get me? One 158 (A5 sized) page book. It's got a nice cover though, with a picture of a highly relevant VW Golf on it. Chapter 1, Definitions and Concepts (aka what is a motorbike). 2, Rules of the Road. 3, Licences... and so on up to 7, Basic Mechanics. Each chapter with a 16 question multiple choice (3 choices) test to drive (ho ho) it all in. At the end of the book are sample tests, same format as the chapter ones but covering all the material. And that's the theory test.

The test can be divided into three parts - the totally pointless, numbers, and the blindingly obvious.

Totally pointless (at least from my point of view) are questions about what 16 year olds can ride, and sidecars. Apparently an A class licence will also allow me to ride a load carrying trike. Great, I've always wanted to drive a Robin Reliant.

Numbers questions are the tough ones. Speed limits vary according to how much of a hard shoulder there is, depending on the vehicle a load you carry can be 0.25m longer or more than the wheelbase, the A-1 licence is limited to 0.11kW/kg...

Most of the questions, probably about 75%, are so blindingly obvious that you wonder what kind of idiot could possible get them wrong:

If you fall off your bike, what clothing will protect you best:
a) Cotton
b) Jeans and a denim jacket
c) Leathers

The fairing on the bike...
a) Is part of the transmission.
b) Has an influence on the aerodynamics.
c) Automatically adjusts the chain tension as this wears out.

I should point out that deaths/million inhabitants/year in Spain is about 125, compared to about 70 for the EU as a whole... So perhaps the blindingly obvious questions are a population reducing measure?

28/6/06: Test Day.
Over 4 million people live in Madrid province, so obviously it only has one test centre, and the only way to get to it is by car (enjoy the traffic!) or by train then bus. At least getting up at 5:30am means it's not that hot. The test centre is huge, hundreds of cars with car-school signs on top, buses and lorries, even a few bikes warming up around a couple of cones. It's 7:30, and I've got 30 minutes to spare. Time for a coffee.

It was probably a bit optimistic of me to expect any signs to the actual room where I'd take the exam, but a bit of walking around and asking soon led me a large train station like waiting room, complete with graffiti detailing what the authors thought about the traffic authorities. I'm not sure that they are all the offspring of prostitutes, but I have to agree with the sentiment.

8:00 am, and nothing happens. Glad I got here on time then.

8:15 Nothing yet. I chat to the guy next to me - he's here for the car test - and try not to stare too much at the eighteen year old girls. God I feel old, and as the only one out of 50+ wearing a suit...

8:30am, there's about 200 of us here now, and finally a civil servant type tells us all to shut up and listen. We're to be called up, one by one (!), present our ID cards, take the answer sheet and enter the room.

8:35am My name is mispronounced and off I go. The answer sheet is one of those optical scanning ones, a cross in the right answer, and fully fill in the square if you get it wrong. Don't even think about trying to recorrect... The final part of the instructions? When you sit down, put the answer sheet over the questions, which are sitting face up on the table.

8:45am My knees are beginning to hurt. The table and chair have probably been robbed from a primary school. Loads of people are reading through the questions, and some have already started. I can only assume they're nephews/nieces of the invigilators.

9:00am You may start. Those of us doing the bike test only have 16 questions, car tests seem to have 32, and there are some tests with even more. Not quite sure what, though.

9:05am I've finished, time to read through it again.

9:07am I hand it in. I'm going to be late for my meeting, luckily the only people present will be the client, my boss and the chief financial officer.

I pop into the driving school, I've passed. Time to start learning to actually ride a bike then ;)

More later, as Engerland-Portugal is about to start...