I began by slipping into my jacket. I felt its armor’s weight as it settled onto my shoulders, at once a comforting layer of protection and a tangible reminder of inherent risk. Next came my helmet — I ducked my head and slid it snugly into place. Lastly, I encased my hands in reinforced gloves, giving my now-concealed fingers a few flexes. The only patch of visible skin was that around my eyes, and they were focused solely on my motorcycle.
Motorcycles have always fascinated me — even at a standstill, they look liable to start up and take off on their own. Mine rested idly on its kickstand, monopolizing my attention. The bike's white fuel tank gleamed, bright against the seat's black leather. Underneath hung the naked engine and its stainless steel exhaust, which wrapped sinuously around the bike’s black frame before terminating high up near the tail. The suspension and braking equipment were conspicuously bared, forks and shocks and drilled discs and biting calipers. Above it all sat a single rounded headlight, ready to illuminate the way forward. I didn’t need its beam to lead me to the saddle.
Giving my bike a final appreciative glance, I swung my right leg over the seat and settled down at the controls. I took a relaxed grip of the handle bars and gave the levers their perfunctory pulls, savouring the clutch's smooth action. I tested the front brakes, too, encouraged by their reassuring grab on the rotor. Enjoying the rightness of everything being in its place, I twisted the key to its final stop; in response, the display lit up bright blue, and the tach needle completed its stately sweep to the top of the rev counter and back again. My right thumb hovered over the starter button's lightning bolt. Buzzing with anticipation, I gave it a push.
The engine took but a blink to bring forth its idle's thudding cadence. This was no highly-strung screamer — there was muscle in its tone, a pleasing lumpiness that hinted at effortless torque. Gentle vibrations emanated from beneath my seat, as though the bike was semi-sentient. Both motorcycle and rider were eager to be off.
Nearby, other engines fired up — seems I wasn’t the only one going for a ride. But through the visor’s aperture, I had eyes only for the road ahead. I glanced down at the digital dash nestled below the tachometer. “N,” said the dash. I pulled back the clutch lever, placed my left boot on top of the gear selector, and flicked it down with my toe. It actuated precisely, and the gearbox responded with a sharp clack — “1,” read the dash. Exhaust burbling throatily beneath me, I gently eased out the clutch lever, added a teaspoon of throttle, and felt the bike begin to roll under its own power. Simple, practically inconsequential, and yet the process of getting a motorcycle off the line remains satisfying. By instinct, I pulled my boots up onto the foot pegs and gave myself over to the bike.
A twist of the throttle. Snorts from the exhaust. The road rushing beneath me. And then, all too quickly, out of road. Squeeze on the brake. Point the front wheel forward once more. Addictive like strong espresso, except even more eye-opening. Over and over again, the heady cocktail of exhilarating control and open-air freedom. Clutch out, boots up, throttle open, brakes down. And then, suddenly and intrusively, a quick blast from a bike’s horn. Not my horn.
I hit the brakes and glanced up. An instructor waved to us from beyond the barricade; it was he who’d beeped the horn, indicating that our group’s first motorcycle experience was done. The NEC’s overhead lights lost some of their brightness as I killed the engine, and the bustle of Motorcycle Live filled my ears once again. My “road” — the slick concrete area in which we’d been riding — was roughly the size of a basketball court, providing just enough room for my loaner Lexmoto Tempest to reach the speed of a healthy jog. I was reluctant to abandon the retro-styled scrambler, which packed a mighty 9.4hp in its single 125cc cylinder. My fellow newbies relinquished their learner bikes as well, and we meandered out of the riding area, taking off our borrowed safety gear as we went. Without its weight, I didn’t feel quite the same — but perhaps that was just elation. Even at its most rudimentary, riding a motorcycle was euphoric. I intend to replace that “a” with “my”.
Left: Get On at Moto Live teaches novices (like me) the most basic of riding basics. Right: my Get On loaner — the Lexmoto Tempest.