I started riding powered bikes on my 16th birthday – well, mopeds as that’s all we were allowed back in ’73. On my 17th birthday though, I splashed out and bought my first real bike – a Honda CB175. This was a necessity at the time as, living in rural Suffolk, getting to work for 7:45 each morning meant a 20-mile ride each way, in all weathers. Somehow, back then, they didn’t seem able to make waterproof clothing that wasn’t made of plastic sheeting so you either arrived wet from rain, or sweat….Belstaff’s – who could afford those?
The Honda was a great little bike that rev’d its nuts off to about 14,000 rpm but ran out of power from around 7,000 by which time all 20 horses inside were already down the road panting. Needless to say, that bike only lasted until I passed my full bike test 3 months later. The test in those days was riding round the block whilst the examiner flitted about hiding behind lampposts and jumping out on you for the emergency brake test. There was a slow-riding part, meaning you had to keep your feet off the ground whilst he walked alongside you for 20 metres in a straight line and then a few highway code questions. Darwin principles applied back then and your learning curve was what your mates told you or what you discovered when you fell off.
So with a ticket to ride, the question was whether to buy British, with the accompanying oil slick, or go Japanese? By ’74 the age of the superbike had dawned – Honda’s CB750 was well established, and of course Kawasaki had the Z1 900 along with their screaming super two-stroke triples. But in sleepy Suffolk few of these dream machines had found their way into the second-hand market or – more likely – my budget range. So it was a ’71 Yamaha YR5 350cc two-stroker that I rode out of the dealers. The YR5 was the fore-runner of the, now, infamous RD350. The only difference was the RD had reed-valves on the inlet ports and a few extra horses. So similar were they that, a year later, I acquired an RD350 engine from a crashed bike (there were lots of those around!) and dropped it into my YR5 frame. I sold my original to a friend who swapped it for his 250 engine even though he didn’t have a full licence – after all who could tell? The Yam would thrash my mates’ Norton 500s and could top a ton on the Yoxford straight (err, apparently).
I kept on bikes for quite a few more years as I couldn’t afford a car and I preferred biking anyway. Even when the car did come along the Yam was still there in a friend’s barn to be ridden at weekends. It was eventually swapped for a DT175 trail bike so a mate and I could go off-roading around the pine forests and sand dunes near the coast at Dunwich. However, like most of us, other things and sports took over my life. I became a Cat D skydiver, which was expensive, and I married and had a family, which was almost as expensive – so the bike had to go.
It was only as recently as 2009 that a neighbour of mine persuaded me to climb onto one of his bikes and to ride out with him and his wife to Marlborough on the A4. Woohoo….I remember these…..’Can we pick up the pace a bit?’ I asked. (It was also the first time I got a parking ticket on a bike!) Thanks Pat (our Chief Observer) and Amanda for a great day out and for, possibly, changing my life!
So I joined TVAM and, within 6 months, four motorcycles stood in the garage. I passed my advanced test later that year (not on the first attempt I have to say – so keep the faith all of you who think it’s hard – it is, but it’s worth it). Then someone suggested I might like to become an Observer. Sure enough, a year later, with help from some great mates including Colin Wheeler, I collected my gold badge. Helping other riders have ‘light-bulb’ moments is, for me, one of the best things about observing. Quite how that led to me being elected as Chairman of the Bottys (now The BAR) I can’t remember, but the club, the local teams, and the friends I’ve made have all provided some unforgettable memories.
So wanting to put more back into this great club I’m currently working with the rest of the committee to bring forward some new ideas and events to keep the club moving forward. The most important one for me is to launch a scheme aimed at young riders who have recently passed their A2 (or above) test. The club has agreed we can sponsor 25 riders under 30 years of age to get them through their advanced test. This is a group of riders we, as a club, have a poor record of engagement with, yet they are probably at the highest risk on the road due to a combination of inexperience, youthful enthusiasm, and multiple episodes of ambition exceeding ability. You’ll hear more of this as we start to promote it. We’re also trying the Moto Jumble in December so dig out that old kit and bring it along to St Crispin’s.
Hope to ride with you soon.