Johannesburg - Time to man up I suppose. For just over a year I’ve been learning the ins and outs of motorcycling the easy way – perched on top of a 150cc scooter.
But, the time has come to set aside my trusty little Honda PCX and upgrade to a real bike. One with a clutch and gears. And a motor where it should be ... between my legs.
Not to say I don’t think scooters are the perfect way to get into the world of motorcycles. The PCX was an ideal machine for me to get accustomed to inner-city traffic negotiation and the general awareness needed to ride safely among other road users.
But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t terrified at times. Thank you lady in the white Etios who either didn’t see me, or didn’t care that I had right of way that chilly morning in Fordsburg. Without you I wouldn’t know what it feels like to lock up a bike’s rear wheel.
Near-death experiences like that one have happened more often than I’d like, but I’ve tried hard to adapt my defensive driving style to biking. And it’s saved my ass more than once.
Like I said, it’s only been a year and I’m still far from a master of lane-splitting. I can’t bob and weave around cars like those skillful breakfast-runners I see on weekends either.
Can I get a knee down on a sharp bend? Nope. Can I pull a wheelie like Jorge Lorenzo on a victory lap? Not a chance. But I am comfortable enough on two wheels to know it’s time for the next step.
I was a bit surprised when Honda SA recommended an NC750X as the next bike in my progression though. All I heard was the 750 part - a number this rookie rider associates with high revs and way too much power.
“Hang on guys, I did mention I’m a beginner, right?”
Surely a jump from an auto 150 to a 750cc with gears is skipping a few steps? It took plenty of reassurance from Honda SA that this bike was tailor-made for intermediates, and after only a few minutes on it I could see exactly why.
It may have a big engine, but it’s a lazy, low-revving thing in comparison to the screaming sportbike I was afraid it might be. Redline here comes at only 6500rpm, and for most cruising it operates like a normal car at between 2500 and 4000rpm.
As a beginner I’m in no way qualified to pass comment on how this motorcycle compares with another, but I can tell you that it comes with some pretty ingenious features - or at least ones that have made my time with it more convenient.
That area where a bike’s petrol tank normally lives is instead a lockable storage compartment, big enough for a helmet when parked, or a grocery bag’s worth of goods while on the move. And, because the 14.1-litre petrol tank is under the seat, the NC 750X has a lower centre of gravity than it would otherwise. This makes it a little easier for beginners like me to handle at slow speeds, and also keep upright when stopped at a robot.
Not that I’ve ever experienced keeping a Harley V-Rod upright, but the NC feels like a very manageable machine nonetheless.
The move to clutch and gear operation has been a non-issue. Once you’ve learned where the lever bites, take-offs come as second nature and I had the hang of it by the end of my first day. Jorge would be seriously impressed.
The next step for me is upgrading from a learner’s to a proper motorcycle licence and, to be honest, I’m not looking forward to it. South Africa’s K53 system has little to do with rider ability and everything to do with bureaucracy. I can guarantee not even Lorenzo would pass the riding test without memorising all the nonsensical blind-spot checks and pre-ride inspections. I’ve been told I’ll be docked points in the test for not checking the choke ... even though there isn’t one.
In the meantime I’ll keep learning, riding defensively, and steering clear of anything that looks like a white Etios.
Follow Jesse Adams on Twitter @PoorBoyLtd