Progressing through the ranks of scootering depended on one thing: getting rid of those L plates, no matter what the cost
The excitement of getting your first scooter on the road was a feeling like no other. Having the freedom to travel without asking your parents for a lift was a major step towards independence but more importantly it meant being able to go to a scooter rally as part of the club. Unfortunately, it didn’t matter whether a scooter had a standard paint job or a superbly finished custom paint job, we all had one thing in common, the dreaded learner plate.
There was no real way around having it unless you just didn’t bother, but that almost guaranteed trouble. In a time when the Old Bill was dishing out producers to scooter owners like confetti, discovery was inevitable, as was the subsequent fine. In an effort to minimise the shame some would cut them down, making them small as possible, but the effect was minimal and still illegal. That bright red ‘L’ branded us as apprentice scooterists. The only real way to get rid of them was passing the motorcycle test. Unfortunately most of us had just left school and the thought of studying for anything wasn’t at all appealing. The very idea put the fear of God into most of us and adding insult to injury, it had to be paid for! On the flip side those who were wiser and older happily gloated about the freedom a full licence gave.
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It was decided by the club’s ‘apprentices’ that we should all make the effort and get the test done so we could become ‘proper scooterists’. The task of organising the gaggle of unwilling students fell to Rich and at first all went well. Around 10 of us were prepared to take the plunge and get it over with. That was until he explained this would be a course of six lessons with the test at the end. Suddenly a few weren’t too keen. That wasn’t quite it though; this course would only see us pass Part One – Part Two was the official examiner’s road test. Someone piped up: “Well what the hell is Part One then?” Patiently Rich explained that this was the bit going around cones on a school playground, adding confidently: “It’s a guaranteed pass.” This information came directly from a learner school named Star Rider who, in their five years of existence had never let anyone fail Part One. Even with such assurances the realisation that this was only halfway to getting rid of the dreaded L plates caused several to drop out. In the end Rich and I were the only two club members determined to banish the ‘L’ plague.
The first hurdle was finding the 30 quid needed to pay for the course of six lessons and the test at the end. This was the best part of a week’s wages and steep though the price may have been, we reasoned that if it led to the road of freedom it was well worth the cost. The next surprise was that the course began at 8.30am on a Sunday morning and no allowances would be made for how much beer had been consumed the night before. The lessons were carried out at an old crumbling primary school a couple of miles down the road, learning the basics in the playground before the real humiliation started. This came courtesy of a bright yellow bib that was visible from about 20 miles away. If that wasn’t enough it had ‘learner’ stamped on it in capital letters. We were trying to disguise the fact we were learners, not broadcast it to the whole world. It’s fair to say that it took some lengthy persuasion from Rich to stop me packing it in there and then. “Just think,” he said, “in six weeks we will be free and way ahead of those that chickened out.” Even in my bright yellow bib I knew that he was right.
Before we knew it our big day arrived: a quick one-hour lesson followed by the test which consisted of several manoeuvres around a course marked out by hundreds of small cones. Our instructor was an ageing biker who detested scooters and did little to hide his contempt. Eventually he put his prejudices aside and over time became very helpful. Failure wasn’t on the cards, so all his students were carefully tutored regardless of what they rode, and he reiterated: “No one fails Part One.”
Finally, the time had come for our test, this was our hour of reckoning and Rich was up first. Both of us had a slight disadvantage over those on motorcycles because we didn’t have indicators. This meant that while navigating the cones we must display hand signals; it was nothing too difficult and something we had been accustomed to out on the road. There was however a slight problem for Rich, in that the forks on his Vespa were slightly bent. Getting them sorted was a low priority as, in his words: “With two hands on it doesn’t drive that out of line.” The problem was that the test meant navigating down narrow channels, hand signalling as we went, and with only one hand on the controls. After 10 yards of the test, it became clear the forks were a major problem. When Rich put his arm out to show he was turning right there was no way he could steer in a straight line.
It’s not clear how many cones he demolished but they went down like skittles. Some even lodged underneath the footboards. Not only was it the shortest attempt at the Part One in the history of motorcycle testing, but it was also an instant failure. The instructor looked aghast at what he had just witnessed, simultaneously realising that his 100% pass rate was no more while at the same time trying to stop laughing.
He may not have become a star rider, but that day Rich proved to be a star ****.
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