The Young Gun
Wellington 1989. It was raining. It was dark. And it was cold.
I felt glum that I had to ride in the rain. I had been looking forward to this for weeks. Hoping for good weather. But still, I was a little nervous at not knowing what to expect. Staring at my new motorbike I couldn’t help but be impressed with its sporty lines. It was a naked GSXR400. Well that’s what I told everyone. It was an impulse. The same motor as the GSXR400 without the fairings and expensive price tag.
At the ripe old age of 19 I had been riding for four years. Starting with a honda cb100. When I said riding, it was more like commuting. Leaning the biked over scared the Be-Jesus out him. At 59 horsepower this was the most powerful bike I had owned. Ever. When I had purchased the impulse I had been given a free advanced motorcycle course with the bike. At the time I thought that he probably needed to go on the beginners course first or at a stretch the intermediate one. But still; it was free and I was a student. I had been told to meet up with the group North of Wellington. Two days and one night. The first day was to ride with the instructors up over the Rimatukas and around the Wairarapa. Staying the night Eketahuna. A one garage one pub wonder town. I mused at where I would be staying in Eketahuna given the population was about 5 or so on a busy day.
Still my mind wandered to task at hand, finding the group and the riding ahead. The rain eased as he rode north, and the day started to emerge from the darkness of the night. I found the group North of Wellington on a layby. I hadn’t met anyone before but soon found the head instructor. There were other instructors too, but the boss instructor was an older, bigger guy sporting a ginger beard. He rode a 1100cc Suzuki Katana. When you bought the 1100cc over the adequate 750cc model, you made a statement. This was a serious rider. Well it was large heavy motor bike which sort of went well with the boss instructors large size. I quipped to the younger instructors it was a pity about the rain. They looked at me emotionless- like a robot and shrugged their shoulders not replying. Cleary they could see I was such a greenhorn to motorcycling that I wasn’t worth making the effort to talk to. The Big Boss instructor gave the group instructions.
“ …. for about 5km I want you to practice one thing on your bike. We then stop and give something else to work on“
It started raining again
The group took off. I was in the middle.
As we rode I noticed the “robot” instructors where leaning into the corners in the wet. Overtaking everything on the road including on double yellow lines. We had stopped for our instructions before the big hill climb up to the Rimatukas and down the other side.
The big Boss instructor gave directions
“ on the way up to the summit I don’t want you to use your brakes. Use the engine to slow you down for the corners. And at the top flick the bike into neutral and let it coast down the hill. Just use your brakes. But not too much because you can’t use your motor. You will have to keep you speed up on the way down.”
One of the robot instructors was next to me. I asked him about his overtaking on double yellow lines….To which he stepped back waving his hands towards me if almost to shake off some plague I had just spread on to him….
“You don’t worry about them……” he said.
I went to mention that overtaking on double lines was illegal but he had turned away and was walking back to his bike. Clearly this course was very advanced.
We found ourselves coming into Masterton. Finally, it had stopped raining. We pulled over at the heavy traffic bypass. One of the instructors was talking to another impulse owner. The instructor was a bit older than the other instructors and seemed a little more human. He was riding the RG500 two stroke. A blue and white GP racing replica. It had a distinctive smell of burning oil. He was talking to Glen the owner of the other impulse. Glen was my age, but unlike me he rode at the front of the pack. The instructor was talking to Glen like he was an equal. Glen was loving the respect the instructor was giving him because he rode fast. Glen was 19 and was angry. He wasn’t quite sure why he was angry, but it showed in his riding. The big bosses voice wafted over to us, and we listened to the next instructions…
“ now I am not saying that there won’t be a cop up here, but every time we have rode on the bypass there has never been a cop. So if you wanted to go a little faster along here you could….” He paused “but you do it at your own risk.”
To which I thought well, no one would be stupid enough to speed because there could be a cop. I followed Glen and the instructor on the RG500.
The road turned left away from the town, and no one was speeding. So far so good. The road then turned right and opened up a long straight road. Suddenly we were no longer in Masterton-we were at the drag races! Predictably Glen took off like a bat of hell. But then suddenly a massive cloud of blue smoke came out the instructors bike. I thought it had blown up. I couldn’t see the bike or the road. As I rode through the cloud of smoke I imagined I would see the RG500 on fire or in a twisted heap. But it was off in the distance. Just like the Millennium Falcon in Star Wars it had made the leap into hyperspace and was gone. I was left to breathe in the cloud of smoke to look out for cops, while all the other bikes whizzed by. We rode out to Riverhead. The Big boss warned the group about a dangerous patch coming up, where inexperienced riders often fell off. He seemed to be talking mainly to me in the group. Later on someone mentioned that the only person that fell off on that wet greasy patch was the big boss man on his 1100cc silver katana. Heavy bike combined with a heavy rider on a greasy surface is a recipe for an accident. Finally we pulled up at our “five star hotel” for the night. I think it had about four rooms in total. All upstairs. The entire population of the five people came to the pub. The locals stared at us in amazement. No one had planned to drive there and stay the night before. Well so it seemed. The locals even put on a disco in honour of our visit. Glen was loving it. I retired to my room. Which was right above the disco. I fell asleep to boom boom of the disco beat.
A Day at Manfield
The next day the sun came out. It was crisp and clear. After chugging down a large big breakfast the Big Boss instructor told us to meet at Manfield. The instructions were to just hop over the Paihitua track and get there. I was riding in the middle of the pack now but struggled to keep up with the front of the group. We even encountered a black and white MOT cop on the way. Everyone overtook him at 5km above the limit and then planted it in the corners when he couldn’t see us. We arrived at Manfield and were Shepherded onto the track.
The big boss man laid down the rules. “ Today no one can use the R word. If you do there is no insurance. If anyone doesn’t follow instructions today they are kicked off. No second chances.” “We will go one rider at a time. The rider then goes back around the track and to the group. “
I was nodding thinking we are at Manfield. As in Manfield racing track. World famous. Can’t hide that fact from the insurance companies I thought. As the morning progressed we were taught various techniques for riding. Glen had a crash down at the other side of the track. The big boss told everyone not to panic. No one was. In fact I was expecting Glen to crash and was surprised it hadn’t happened sooner. He looked around for someone sensible and calm to take him down to crash site. I was praying it wouldn’t be me. He pointed at me. The slow one. Lectured me about riding sensibly and slowly. We rode down. Glen was OK. Just his pride had been dented. The course ended on a sunny Sunday afternoon. The big boss man said that they had rented the track for another two hours and we could do as we wish. But not to use the R word. I thought it would be a good idea to practice what we had been taught. I started to put the techniques together. I started to whiz by the larger cc but older bikes. I stopped for a break. Glen pulled up. He started walking towards me pointing. He had his helmet on and was saying something to me. I couldn’t hear what he was saying as his helmet muffled his words. He took off his helmet. I was waiting for a tirade of irrational angry abuse, “ what happened to you man?” He said to me .
I asked. “what?”
“ I couldn’t catch you around the track. “ Glen seemed genuinely surprised. He repeated that he couldn’t catch me. He couldn’t believe it. “ oh “ I said a little taken back. I didn’t know he had been chasing me.
A group of us rode back to Wellington We stopped for gas. The initial “robot” instructor who was illegally overtaking the day before came over to me.
“ you have to tone it down notch mate.” I said ” how do you mean?”
“you’re taking too many risks on the road.”
The robot instructor replied annoyed that he was having to tell me this – at the same time slightly disturbed that he was telling a greenhorn to ease up. I nodded. I wasn’t quite sure what I was doing wrong. I wasn’t angry like Glen. I was ignoring the road rules like the instructors had taught. I was following the instructions from the course on how to operate my bike.
The robot instructor looked at me saw my confusion and took pity. “look mate on the track you rode at 100%. On the road we go up to 80%.”
“What’s the difference?” I asked
He explained the difference between 100% and 80%“. Trim it back to 80% mate.” The robot instructor said. I had assumed to ride fast you had to be angry. I was still waiting to get angry. While I was waiting for the anger to arrive my riding style had changed.
I hadn’t noticed.
Today I never ride angry, but still use the techniques the course taught me in 1989.