When Laura Smith’s dad Dave passed his motorcycle test when she was a young girl, she eyed his bike enviously, wishing she could ride herself one day. Despite this early passion, she never would have dreamed that she would eventually make a career out of her love of biking.
But some 25 years later, Laura is doing just that. She’s a fully-qualified riding instructor, helping other females to achieve their biking dreams through her business Women Only Motorcycle Training (WOMT), based in Redditch, Worcestershire.
Laura talked to LadyBiker about her journey from fledgling rider to training expert. She said: “I thought biking was amazing and loved riding pillion with my dad. But, as I got older, I kept putting off taking my test because it was expensive; I was renting on my own, had a car to run, a social life. Eventually, when I was 28, I’d broken up with a boyfriend and was feeling down in the dumps so thought I’d just give it a go.”
She found a taster session at a local training school and went along with her dad. But it wasn’t the most auspicious of starts. “I was horrendous!” she said. “I’d never ridden a bike before and didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I had balance issues and leant the wrong way around corners. My dad being there just added to the pressure and I thought, ‘This isn’t for me.’”
Happily for Laura, the instructor offered her an extra session later that day, and she gave it another go with slightly better results. Eventually, her confidence grew to the point where she felt ready to take her test, and she went on her first European biking tour just a couple of months later.
“I had to take an advanced riding course to go on the tour, which showed me that the standard you have to reach for the basic test isn’t actually that high,” she said. “And lots of riders never take any kind of advanced training after they pass.”
The importance of advanced skills really hit home for Laura when she had her first motorbike accident a year after she passed her test. “It was only cosmetic damage, both to me and the bike,” she said. “At the time I thought I’d been unlucky, but I was actually very lucky in retrospect. I realised that I’d spent 12 months riding with my dad and his friends, trying to keep up with them, even though they had 20 years’ more experience than me. As a female in a predominantly-male pastime, you’re trying to show everyone that you’re just as good as them; you want to prove them wrong. But that can be very dangerous.”
With her own confidence dented, Laura was also learning that lots of other women bikers had similar issues. “I went to a large women-only bike event in London,” she explained. “I noticed that lots of the females were scared to be there without a partner to help them. I saw that their skills weren’t where I would have expected them to be. That’s where the idea for Women Only Motorcycle Training came about.”
In 2016, Laura decided to leave her job as a graphic designer and take her love of biking to the next level, joining RMT Motorcycle Training as a full-time trainer. And, as time progressed, the acorn of the WOMT idea became an oak tree all of its own. To ensure she offered her students the best possible service, she became a fully-qualified instructor in Compulsory Basic Training (CBT), Direct Access Scheme (DAS), Advanced Motorcycle Training, Enhanced Rider Scheme and Take Control.
Now, with WOMT operating under the flag of RMT, Laura’s services are in high demand, with women travelling from across the country to learn from her. She explained that she prides herself on offering a bespoke service to the women who train with her, ensuring that each of them come away feeling empowered and confident on their bikes.
She said: “Some of my students have had a very poor experience with other training schools and say they have felt patronised by male trainers. They come away feeling deflated, upset, and like they don’t want to carry on. That’s such a shame when they’d been excited about learning to ride.”
Laura stressed that she doesn’t try to push her students through their CBT too quickly. “There’s so much to learn,” she said. “In a one-day CBT course I have to teach the students 40 lessons. Going from zero to being out on the road in a day would be a challenge for anyone. I’ll often ask people if they know a foreign language, and then ask them how long it took to learn it. They might say six years! So why would learning to ride a motorbike be any different?”
She added: “Some of my students might say that they want to do their CBT in a day because that’s what their partner did. But it just depends on the person. For example, a pianist might find it easier to ride a bike because they’ve got good dexterity, or someone who does Pilates will already have good balance. But if you’ve never even ridden a push bike before, then we probably won’t be out on the road on the first day.
“There’s no need for anyone to put pressure on themselves to get their CBT done too quickly.”
With Covid-19 having curtailed most people’s riding over the last year, Laura says it’s important for all bikers to brush up on the basics before they hit the road again. She said: “I haven’t been on my bike for nearly three months. I know I will feel rusty when I get back on, and that it will take some time to get back into it. But most people who haven’t ridden for a while won’t practice their skills in the Asda car park first.”
Women Only Motorcycle Training offers the full remit of courses for lady bikers, including CBT, DAS and advanced training. Laura also runs tours to build confidence, improve riding skills and make new friends. Visit the WOMT website for more information, or call Laura on 01527 500333. You can also follow WOMT on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.