I Passed my A2 Exam and Here are the Things I Learned

Other than how to ride a motorcycle, that is!

Last year I passed my A2 exam and got myself a bike. It was a bumpy ride, especially given that it was a pandemic year, with lockdown and delays, but I managed to push through.

My New Kawasaki Z900

Getting the license and buying a bike was an impulse decision: one day I decided I want a motorcycle and I actually followed through. For about 10 months. This is quite new for me since I don’t generally deliver on impulse decisions that take that long to be implemented.

When we entered 2020, I had no idea how to start a motorcycle. How to shift gears. Or that there are gears that need to be shifted, although I kind of suspected that. At the end of the same year, I had my license, have bought a beginner 125cc KTM Duke, rode several other rented motorcycles to get a better idea of what type of bike I want, sold the KTM, bought a 950cc Kawasaki Z900, and clocked in about 4500km around Catalunya.

I count that a win! So what did I learn on top of how to ride a motorcycle?

The exam is not that hard!

In order to get a license in Spain, one must take 3 different exams: a theoretical one, a closed-circuit one, and the traffic one.

The theoretical one is straightforward, with most questions being something attune to: ”You drive and you see a big red sign that says STOP. What do you do?” With options like “a. stop”, “b. dance the Macarena”, “c. have a siesta”, and “d. both b. and c. are correct”. Pretty clear, no trick questions. One small caveat, sometimes they ask about mechanical parts of the motorcycle. In Spanish. That’s the one question I missed because I didn’t know the word.

The closed-circuit one is horrible. It’s divided into 3 parts and they need to be done all in one go.

The first part is parking the motorcycle by pushing it. While this may be difficult for people of smaller stature, where the sheer mass of the motorcycle makes it difficult to move — damn Newton and his inertia — I personally didn’t have any issues with it.

Second, there’s a low-speed maneuverability trial, in which the candidate needs to execute some maneuvers at really slow speeds. Something between 7 and 10 kilometers per hour. Motorcycles are notoriously unstable at slow speeds and require a lot of skill from the rider to keep them upright. And skill is something beginner riders don’t generally have. This is where most people fail! I think Satan was working as a consultant when they wrote this up.

The third part of the closed-circuit test is actually cool: the speed and cornering trial! Because at the end of the day, this is what it’s all about: speed and corners! Go through some cones, U-turn, accelerate, 3 more cones, and perform an emergency brake. Needs to be done in less than 25 seconds.

And finally, the last exam is the traffic one. The instructor and the examiner drive in a car behind the candidate and give instructions via Bluetooth. Go there, turn left, etc. And that’s pretty much it. Just obey basic traffic rules — actually stop at stop signs, don’t go over the speed limit, and so on — and you’re good.

Overall, I passed the theoretical one on the first go, with a single wrong answer as I didn’t know the meaning of the word. I failed the slow circuit once but passed with a maximum score on the second attempt. The traffic one I also passed on the first try, although I got a warning for not obeying the speed limit and going a bit over.

Riding is awesome!

Riding a motorcycle is completely different than driving a car. The world on 4 wheels is simple and it boils down to a simple rule: everyone driving slower than me is an idiot and everyone driving faster than me is a psychopath. The whole trip becomes a game of overtaking those in the first category while steering clear of those in the second. And after learning to drive in Bucharest, the Spanish roads feel like playing the said game on easy-mode. Which in turn allows me to relax. Driving becomes a “part-time job”. Yes, I drive, but I also listen to the radio, talk to the other people in the car. Eat. Drink.

The motorcycle is a different animal. It’s immersive. I ride. That’s it!

The motorcycle is a different animal. It’s immersive. Requires 100% of my attention. I ride. That’s it! While I steer the car with my left hand by moving it a few centimeters left or right. I steer the motorcycle with my whole body by leaning into the curve. I can’t do anything else.

And I need to pay attention! In the car, unless I drive at ridiculous speeds or fall off a mountain, a vehicle packed with airbags and NCAP stars will protect me from getting hurt in case of an accident. The motorcycle is another story. One small mistake and I’ll be riding in the ambulance. The asphalt is really close. And hard! Knowing this keeps me involved. Keeps my adrenaline up. I constantly need to scan the road ahead for even the smallest obstacles. At speed, something the size of a tennis ball is enough to trip me over.

Riding requires constant attention. And yet, it’s somehow relaxing. Like a state of deep flow. Feels liberating. Shitty day? Bad week? Tasks pilling up? Just put everything in the mirrors, focus on the road ahead and enjoy the moment!

If I could give one piece of advice to the 15 years younger version of myself it would be this: get a motorcycle!

Nobody cares about your bike

Motorcycles are amazing pieces of technology. And there’s an entire world built around them. Helmets, jackets, after-market exhausts, under the handlebars mirrors. Lights. Stickers and decals. All of them awesome. All coming together to create an unlimited pool of ideas and bragging topics. And yet, people are not interested.

Every time I bring up the customizations to my bike, everyone is like “Yeah, that’s…nice!”. Even other motorcycle owners aren’t that interested. They just wait for me to finish so that they can start talking about their motorcycle. I can’t complain since I pretty much do the same!

In a nutshell, talking about one’s bike is the moto-world equivalent of posting pictures of children on Facebook. The parents may think it’s cool, but literally, nobody gives a shit!

You can teach an old dog new tricks…it’s just harder

This was the first exam I had in years. Probably more than a decade. Or even fifteen years. Fuck me, I’m old! And as we progress through our lives, it becomes increasingly more difficult to acquire new skills.

When was the last time you did something for the first time?

Which begs the question: “When was the last time I did something for the first time?”. But for the very first time. Not getting better at something I was already doing. In my line of work, there’s a new framework popping up every 6 to 12 months, so technically I need to learn “new” things all the time. But it’s more like honing an existing skill rather than acquiring a new one.

And the truth is…I don’t even remember when I learned something truly new. Which is kind of sad. Maybe when I started with scuba diving almost 10 years ago? I did have some attempts at picking up new hobbies or learning new things. I’m too young to say that I’m too old for this shit. Sorry, Danny Glover, I’m not yet there!

I’m too young to say that I’m too old for this shit!

The problem is never how to start. The problem is to keep going. And that’s dictated by how I handle failure. Because sooner or later, things will get hard and I will hit a roadblock. It’s an immovable part of the learning process. And that’s when the main demotivator hits: “I don’t need this crap! I have lived happily for X years without it”. I guess the higher the X, the more weight it adds to the argument.

The older I get, the better I get at the things that I’m doing. Because, well, if nothing else, I’ve been doing them for a long time. I have experience! I am progressing but inside my comfort zone. Each new problem is just a more complex version of a previously solved one. Eventually, I will crack it! After not trying any new things for a while, I forgot how it feels to truly suck at something. To fail! And if at any point I do something that looks like it’s about to fail, I retreat to my comfort zone.

After not trying any new things for a while, I forgot how it feels to truly suck at something.

I did have some epic fails while learning how to ride a motorcycle. While I wasn’t quite accustomed to the concept that there’s a rear brake pedal at my right foot, I was coming in too fast and I panic slammed on the hand brake with full force. Since the motorcycle didn’t have ABS, the front wheel locked, and I was thrust forward over the handlebars. I landed on my face. And a split second later, the motorcycle landed over me. It weighs north of 200 kilos. Good times!

But the worst “I don’t need this crap” moment was when I failed the slow circuit. It was summer in Barcelona. About 35 to 37 degrees in the sun. I was wearing full-body armor. Jacket, boots, gloves, thick pants, shin pads. The whole shebang. Like I was going to war. I felt I was a crusader going to invade Jerusalem.

Motorcycle protection gear is built for speed and relies on the incoming current for airflow, thus, when moving slowly, there’s not enough air coming in. My entire body was boiling. My head was slow cooking inside my helmet. I was already pissed off from all the waiting. And while I was snailing at 10 kmph around some cones I lost my balance and put my foot down. #fail! That’s when I wanted to fuck off home and quit. But a combination of peer pressure — having told everyone that I’m getting the license — and money already paid for training and equipment kept me going.

So it seems you can teach an old dog new tricks! It just needs to be more at stake. Like money and ego!

Ride safe!

Trust me, I used to be an engineer!