About 6pm I get to the BP in Elwood. I'm well early for the 7:30 departure time, but that gives me a chance to grab a bite to eat, and then ride out into the carpark out the back to practice doing slow riding and U turns. By 6:30 there's a number of other bikers turning up, and people are very willing to introduce themselves and stop for a chat.
It's a learners' night, so there's no shortage of L plates and 250s. My Suzuki looks a little forlorn amongst the hordes of Ninjas and VTR250s, but there's a variety of bikes there - and a number of folks who are off their Ls and riding some more impressive bikes to drool at.
By 7:30 there's 47 bikes at the BP, and the night's nominated leader calls us over. The briefing is simple - be good to each other, watch out for each other. One person in a corner at a time, ride your own ride at a pace consistent with your skills and experience. (There's also instructions on being a corner marker, but I won't explain that here coz I'll just make it more confusing!.)
Instructions over, and 47 bikes rumble to life, and start heading down Marine Parade towards Station Pier. This is Follow The Leader en masse - which is great for a learner as you don't have to worry so much about visibility (you're not one rider in a sea of cars for a change) and you don't need to worry about where you're going (just follow the bike in front of you and keep your eyes open for a bike pulled over at the side of the road telling you to turn here).
We wind through the inner west suburbs, going through industrial estates here and cobblestoned alleyways there, before opening up a bit on some windy windy roads that led us up to the streets out behind Tullamarine Airport. For all the appearances of not being sure who was going to lead the ride, the guy who led it had clearly put a lot of thought into a route that would be both enjoyable and a chance to practice the technique of riding a motorbike.
The half-way stop is down a dead end street in Tullamarine, and it is here that I have to split off from the rest of the group and make my way home. Thankfully, Drew (the leader) explains that if I turn left up ahead, I'll wind up back at H.A.R.T. where I got my learner's permit (about three and a half weeks ago - is that all?!). Now I have a landmark I can find my way back home from!
As I'm riding home down the Western Ring Road, the rest of the bikes make their way to an all night diner in North Melbourne somewhere, after doing a slow ride past the departures area of the airport, which I'm very sad to have missed!
So if you're a learner who's a little afraid to get out there on the bike, this is the ride for you. Lots of friendly people who are more than willing to help you out, and a chance to go for a ride and build up your skills and your confidence, without pressure to ride beyond yourself. There has even been pick-up points where an experienced rider will meet people who want to be guided in to the meeting point.
If you want more details, jump on to the Netrider forums and have a read. The details are all on the first page, then skip towards the end to pick up the recent conversation. You'll even come across a girl who heard us riding past her place, saw that most of us were learners, and searched the net to find out what was going on. We should be meeting her on her bike at the learner's ride next Tuesday!