So I figured I'd write a bit of a diary of my exploits in choosing & sourcing a scooter, learning to ride it, and my first steps out on the busy city streets of Edinburgh. The Story So Far I passed my car license test in 1991, and since then have owned and driven a variety of cars, including a three year stint as a taxi driver. I reckon I've driven around 100 cars, and probably more than 250,000 miles during my life to date. I live in Edinburgh, around four miles from the city centre. One of the buses has its terminus 100m from my house. You'd think that this would be nice and convenient. But in reality, I have to take the children to nursery, which is an eight-mile round trip, in the opposite direction to work, then get a bus (40 minutes) into town, then a 15 minute walk to work on my client's site. My employer is moving its office from a 45 minute bus ride + 5 minute walk location to one requiring the 45 minute bus ride, followed by a 20 minute bus ride, followed by a 10 minute walk. Yet both of these sites are four miles from home, and the client's site is five miles. Clearly then, public transport is not working, and there is nowhere to park a car at the existing company office or client's site. Whilst there is parking at the new office, it will take me 40 minutes to drive there, and my car does 28mpg in town. Clearly, I need a means of transport that is rapid, economic, and flexible. (I didn't mention that most of the bus services are at 15 minute intervals). Seems like a scooter is in order. License Requirements There are two basic types of scooter, and in the UK, if you own a car license, your entitlement to ride is as follows: - 50cc scooters. Limited to 30mph, generally two-stroke engines, automatic gearboxes. A car license holder can ride one of these on Learner plates with no training. Sitting the Compulsory Basic Training (CBT) test allows removal of the L plates. -125cc scooters. Top speed around 70mph, four-stroke engines. More economical and cleaner than the two-strokers. A car license holder can complete CBT, and ride a 125cc scooter on L plates. At some point within the next two years, the rider must either sit the A2 bike test (to become qualified) or resit CBT to remain on the Learner plates. Expect to pay around £120 for a CBT session. This will be a full day, and will include a loan bike and clothing & helmet. This is ideal if you haven't ridden before as you can do the training, and if it all goes horribly wrong you can walk away. There are options to do it cheaper if you provide your own gear. Training centres offer an intensive, 5-day A2 course, which shortcuts all that messing about with L plates, but it tends to cost around £500. A2 training lessons are £20 per hour. My plan therefore is to do the CBT on 20th March 2008, and buy a scooter shortly thereafter (early April, to get it on an 08 plate). I'll ride around on L plates for a couple of months, generally getting the hang of it, then I'll do three or four hours of A2 training, and take the A2 test. My understanding is that in September the A2 requirements become more stringent. So, which scooter? I've selected the Honda FE125 S-Wing. It's quite a big bike, could seat me and a pillion with ease. It's capable of around 70mph, and will do around 90mpg in town. Fully automatic "twist & go" gearbox, and it has Honda's Combined Braking System, with disc brakes front & rear, both activated by pulling the left grip lever. Front brake is activated with the right lever as normal. It has excellent underseat storage, so should be able to take my laptop bag and my camera bag (but not at the same time). This will mean I won't need a top box, which is good as they're expensive, and only the larger one will take my stuff. I've sketched out a preliminary deal at 5% off the bike, plus 10% off anything else I buy in store at the same time, i.e. helmet, gloves, security etc. I'll update this as I proceed through the plan. The CBT Day CBT day dawned wet, dried out, then got windy. There was much to learn. I did it on a standard 125cc motorbike, rather than on a scooter, which made life harder, because I had to learn the clutch and the gears too. There was chat about what to check on a bike before each journey, and also on the regular maintenance that we car drivers tend not to bother with. A tour of the bike itself, and then some practice riding. We were in a small car park area about 70m by 50m. We started off with some simple start & stop. Then we learned to do control braking (slipping the clutch and riding the rear brake). After that there was standard braking to a halt, and then turning. Finally it was emergency stops and gears. Lunch. More chats. This time on road safety, and how it applies to bikes. Then it was time for the 2-hour demonstration. We had some difficulties though, with the wind, and my training partner & I were completely out of sync. So when he rode well I rode poorly, and vice versa. I think it stopped either of us getting into any kind of rhythm. By this time it was rush hour, and our instructor was increasingly unhappy about the wind. He felt we both needed about another hour, which wasn't available to us with the light, the traffic and the weather. So, it's back to the test centre at the end of the month. I'm pretty disappointed, and quite hacked off not to have completed the course in the one day. Circumstances conspired against me, and I could have done a better job. Oh well. I enjoyed riding the bike on the road. The car park bit was a trial, frankly. I didn't really think that the car park was big enough to be able to mentally settle prior to attempting whatever the task was. Being out on the roads was fine, ironically, and I would have smoothed everything out had we maybe had a clearer run with the traffic. I'm keen to get back at it so I can start scooting! CBT Part Deux So often in my life, I will try to do something, find it very hard, and either fail, or give up before the failure makes itself evident. Then, later, I'll go back to whatever it was, and blast through it like I've been doing it all my life. And so it was with my second attempt at a CBT demonstration ride. I had been trying not to think about it too much in the ten or so days since my training, but even so, I know my brain had been sorting out the muscle movements. My first pull from a standstill was better than any I'd done during the training day, and so it continued throughout the two hour ride. I made hardly any mistakes, and was able to show a much better level of control of the bike. This added to my general awareness of the road and conditions, plus the ready way in which I incorporated the hints the instructor was giving me, enabled me to convince him that I'm sufficiently able to ride a 125cc machine on my own. Passed! Rumours abound that the CBT is going to become a two-day training course. On the basis of my own experience, I have to say that that would be a good move. I'm not sure whether it would apply to everyone, but I know that the break between the training and the demonstration ride helped, rather than hindered, me. Buying Stuff So I've put down a deposit on the bike. Not sure when I'm finally getting it, but it's arriving in at the dealer on Wednesday 2nd April. Hopefully we'll be able to sort out the registration, insurance and tax in time for collection on 5th. I've also got the requisite clothing. A D-Dry fabric jacket from Dainese, a fully certified helmet from Shoei, and carbon-fibre/leather gloves from Richter. Quite excited to get scooting now! Buying stuff, part two So, it turned out that there was a bit of a fracas at the dealership. The inbound scoot, for which the dealer had taken my £300 deposit, had been mandated to be registered and used as a demonstrator by Honda. Except that the dealer doesn't allow demonstration rides for scooters, since they're normally ridden on a provisional license, and the garage's insurance doesn't cover this. Further, there seems little point in having a demonstrator - which is there to stimulate sales - when the manufacturer has a waiting list and can't actually supply the demand! So, the sales dude was very apologetic, and went off to talk to the area sales manager for Honda. I said that I did have some limited scope for patience, and I expected him to come back to me with either a promise that I could have the inbound scooter, or a firm delivery date for another example. He came back saying I could have the inbound scooter. He came round to my way of thinking. He did well. Insurance I used a range of insurance comparison sites, none of which were entirely clear with all of their options. Still, I entered the following options: - 35 year old male - Provisional Bike License (1 month) - Full Car License (>15 years) - Use of own car - No insurance claims within last 5 years - No incidents within last 5 years - Zero no claims bonus on motorcycles - Bike garaged at home - Serious (2m x 20mm chain) - 3000 miles per year: Social, Domestic, Pleasure & Commuting - Third Party, Fire & Theft with Personal Accident Best quote was £150 for the year from Hastings Direct. Collection And so dawn came on the day of the collection. I'd made an appointment with the salesman so that he'd be able to block out the time in his diary, and it was a good thing I had, because the handover process was quite involved, and he was a busy man. Nonetheless he took the time to ensure that I had everything I needed, that the important bits of the manual were clear, and that he'd given me a thorough tour of the bike. It was very good service, all in all. The Bike Itself So, the bike. It's a Honda FES125 S-wing, in black. Brand new, so it's on an 08 plate (which combines quite unfortunately with the preceding location code SL). 1 mile on the clock. Full tank of fuel. The dash is very car like, with a small fuel guage, large speedo, warning lights, large rev counter and small temperature guage, left-to-right. Twist throttle and front brake lever on the right, plus starter button, and on the left are the turn signals, lights, horn and combined brakes. Insert key, twist to the right, pull the brake, press the starter. Choke is automatic. There's a cubby hole and a shopping hook on the steering column, and the fuel flap is just by my right foot. A 9 litre tank should be good for somewhere just shy of 200 miles. Under the seat is a deceptively useless space. Yes, it'll take my helmet, with a good slam, and yes, it'll just about take my laptop bag, but it is still a pretty small space, with the remainder taken up by the chain and my waterproof trousers. Still, I'm not yet moved to buy the £250 35L or £350 45L top-boxes just yet. Underneath, the 125cc engine is small and quiet. Drive is twist-n-go through a belt-drive CVT 'box. There's a very shiny heat shield on the exhaust. The wheels are quite small, but each of them is braked by a drilled disc. There's both a centre and a side stand. Putting the side stand down kills the engine, for reasons of which I'm not quite sure, but it is by design. That First Ride The family had left me in the dealership, so I rode around to my in-laws (where they were) on my own. It was, in truth, quite a leap of faith. Yes, sure, I'd breezed through the CBT demonstration ride, but that was on a full geared bike, not an automatic scooter, and there was an instructor behind me at the time. So I'm faced with pulling out onto a busy road, unsupervised, on my first go with the new machine. Twist-n-go should be simple, yes? I was quite expecting it to be a creeper, like an automatic car, but in truth it's more like a chainsaw. Idle speed is around 2,000 rpm, and it won't move until it's doing 4,500 rpm, at which point it sets off at a brisk walking pace. Quite a leap of faith to pull away then: nothing, nothing, nothing, woah! Once away I felt very stiff and awkward. It was raining (obviously), and I was acutely aware of my own inability. Nevertheless, I settled in, and enjoyed it, until I came to the first of the tight turns on the route. I think I'm just a bit timid, and yet expecting too much, to be honest, but I've been having a bit of a problem turning the bike tightly enough at times. I think it's a combination of not wanting to overload the tyres (especially given that they're new tyres and the road is wet), and feeling that the turn is very slow. Something to work on. 100-mile Update So, been working on the turning thing. It's getting better, not least because I'm learning more about what the bike can do, how to balance it, and also noting that taking a 90-degree junction at 15mph in the wet on a scooter probably isn't that bad. Really enjoying the freedom, and it is realising the reduction in journey times. 20 minutes into work this morning compares favourably with 40 minutes on a bus plus a 15-minute walk. Scooting = teh funs. 1,000-mile Update After 300 miles, the run-in period was complete. After a few full-throttle blasts I settled back to my normal riding style. I'm rarely needing to use full throttle to be honest, and when I do it's harsh and drinks fuel. At 500 miles, it had an oil-change service, for which the labour was free, and the oil was about £11. Fuel economy is steadily increasing as the engine loosens off, currently running at around 84mpg. Fastest speed attained so far is 65mph. I've become increasingly confident on the bike. I'm thinking ahead of it, and naturally adjusting to differing levels of grip in wet/dry conditions. I've had a few emergency stops, when others (mainly pedestrians) have pulled out in front of me. I've sussed out the best route to and from work, which gives me a nice safe ride and good options for bypassing the traffic. It's fun, I've been safe, and the economy has worked out as expected. Using the scooter has increased the overall fuel economy of the Espace, and the scooter is within the manufacturer's claimed economy scale. And it cuts a minimum of 40 minutes off my commute. Each way. It has returned 80 minutes a day to usable time. Marvellous.