This is going to be a long one.
I learned how to cycle when I was about 13. My Dad taught me. It was one of the few moments we’d actually spent time together. He taught me how to swim too, many years ago. My family doesn’t talk much, but these are the moments we all (quietly) treasure the most.
Once I’d mastered the skill of balancing on two wheels, I was unstoppable. I was obsessed. I would be cycling almost daily after school progressing from a 20-inch BMX to a full sized mountain bike and subsequently, a street bike – basically a hardier bike for doing tricks. At 15, I was flying down flights of stairs and doing all sorts of..well, dangerous things, on those two wheels.
In fact, I was so obsessed with cycling then my grades started to fall. I started to do badly in school, skipping classes even. I was 16 and about to do one of the most important examinations in my life, the O’ levels, and all I could think about was the next time I would be cycling. It was nice, cycling with friends, but I would go at it alone quite often. There were many qualities to it. There’s a strange sense of tranquillity, cycling alone at night through empty streets. Strange, because you start to imagine the places with people (that would normally be there in the day) and then you feel that sense of solitude, through the absence of people, if that makes any sense. Words fail me sometimes.
My passion for cycling went on through the years. At 17-19 I’d join larger groups of riders who’d gather in town on Friday nights. They called it the Friday Night Ride (FNR). I haven’t been for years, but I hear it’s still a thing now. We’d set off at 9 and sometimes ride through the night, until daybreak. It was very tiring, but very enjoyable.
As I grew older and started on my tertiary education at a local polytechnic, it grew increasingly impractical to cycle. I couldn’t’ cycle to school and a lot of us spent a lot less time on our bikes and a lot more on our prospective futures. I would still have the occasional night ride, usually by myself, but it wasn’t the same.
– Rise of the machines –
I registered for my driving course in late 2011, at the age of 23, during my National Service. It was at a LAN gaming centre, probably after a few rounds of Left4dead or Team Fortress. I’d always wanted to learn driving, but never actually had the courage or initiative (or knowledge) to do so. With the proper advice, the process seemed simple enough. First, you register for your basic theory test, and attempt the test about two months later. After which, you can apply for your Provisional Driving License (PDL) and start your practical lessons while you wait another two months for your Final Theory Test (FTT), which you have to pass before you can book a practical test (which would take another 2 months).
I remember my first practical lesson. I was fearful at first, to be commandeering a machine capable of so much damage if not operated properly, yet, being on the roads again, albeit in a different vehicle, brought back many familiar feelings. I was hooked, and I started to book as many lessons as I could, so as to expedite the process. There was a glitch somewhere along the way (I think) and I didn’t have to wait the full two months to attempt my FTT. I was able to then book the practical test two months earlier than I would have.
As the test date came closer, and the thought of finally getting my driving license started to sink it, I contemplated getting a motorcycle license as well. You see, the thought had always been in my mind, naturally, being that I was such an avid cyclist, it only made sense to transit into motorcycle riding when I came of age. Still, I never actually got to it, until now. I registered and attended the theory and orientation lessons whilst waiting for my driving test.
Wow. You’re still reading. I’m flattered. Well, I passed my driving test and went on to really start on my motorcycle lessons. I remember the first time I sat on a motorcycle and lifted it off the side stand. It’s true, what I was being told prior to the lessons – it’s heavy. Even more so, coming from a history of being able to fling two wheels in every direction with my body weight, It’s not the same with a motorcycle. But one thing I knew for sure, the moment I go onto one – I loved it, and I knew how the following months of my life would be spent: lessons after lessons, and looking online for bikes of interest.
I passed my motorcycle practical test six months later. I remember not being able to sleep the night before. I simply waited till it was time to leave the house, and got up. I also remember feeling a great sense of achievement and relief. “No more stinky elbow guards and long hours breathing in exhaust smog”, I thought to myself.
Got me my first bike a few weeks later (picture above), a 150cc machine (2b license only allows you to ride up to 200cc, and you can only upgrade your license after a year to 2a, up to 400cc and another year later, 2, more than 400cc). I remember meeting a friend (who was an experienced rider) to take a look at the bike prior to buying it. I also remember feeling listless and very conflicted after having transferred the money to purchase the bike. It was easily the most expensive thing I’d ever bought.
Everything was different. Everything was all fun. You can probably guess what I would say about the joys of riding and owning my own machine…and so on, so I won’t delve into that. It was all good, until my accident.
I was going straight on a three-lane one way road when a car (who was at the u-turn stop line) comes out just as I passed, hit me on the side, and I fell. I didn’t have the habit of wearing gloves or any protective gear (besides the mandatory helmet) at that time and so I suffered multiple injuries which caused me a great deal of inconvenience (and pain!) for a good number of weeks.
As I hit the ground upon impact, the first thought that came to my mind (naturally), was “SHIT!”. The second, surprising even to myself then, and still now, wasn’t about the pain or the trauma or how I could’ve died but it was the sadness I felt as I looked at my half-destroyed bike, knowing full well that it’ll be a long, long time before it gets fixed up and road worthy again.
I waited a whole month before I was able to ride again, because of both my injuries and the repairs. It was probably one of the longest months ever. It was torturous. I was so desperate to get back on my bike, to feel the wind in my face, the whole deal. When the day finally came, I had a friend follow me to the pick up point where I would finally get to bring my bike back home.
I don’t know if it was because I hadn’t rode my bike in a month, or because of the traumatic experience of being in a motorcycle accident but the ride home was more fearful than enjoyable, despite the entire month I spent in anticipation of that day.
But as the world stands, the experience did not ruin my riding experience. In fact, I upgraded my license and eventually my current bike.
A lot of memories were made, a lot more will be made in future. I can say with confidence that riding has significantly changed my life. It’s enjoyable, it’s refreshing, it’s exciting (yet at times calming)..and so much more. I enjoy it immensely. It allows me to avoid people when I need to. I am no longer a slave to public transportation (yes, I really, really abhor the overcrowded buses and trains). In fact, when I got my first bike, I told myself and a lot of concerned people that I would only ride my bike leisurely, and not daily for commuting purposes.
A week or so later was my first week in university. I did as I said I would and took the bus, train and another bus to school. Took me a good hour and a half to get there. The next week, I decided, screw it. I’m gonna ride there and save an hour daily. Been riding almost daily ever since.
I got my Class 2 (>400cc) license recently. More exciting times await, and I think I’ve gone on long enough. Perhaps I’ll talk about my adventures next time. Until then!