I visited The Bike Experience yesterday. They’re a charity that helps to get disabled riders back on a bike again. The event was held at Silverstone and is one of several they hold each year.
By using adapted bikes, and a lot of volunteers, The Bike Experience teaches and advises motorcyclists who have been disabled how they can ride again, through the provision of an adapted and modified motorcycle that allows them to ride in a safe environment using a logical step-by-step process.
Although the event was at Silverstone there’s no element of track use or racing; like some of our courses, they just need a large area of tarmac.
There were about a dozen people booked onto the session to have a go on the bikes. Some had been before and for some it was their first time. There was a wide range of (dis)ability too; several were wheelchair-bound, some needed crutches, or had lost a limb, and several had had strokes.
The bikes used have been adapted in lots of ways. Several had all of the controls moved on to one handlebar (some on the left and some on the right) so that they could be used one-handed. Most had clips or Velcro attached to allow feet or legs to be more securely attached – but not so attached that the rider wouldn’t part company with the bike in the event of a spill.
One bike had outriggers fitted, so that beyond a set lean-angle an outrigger would touch down and prevent the bike falling over. Maybe this bike would be useful for so many of those TVAM members I’ve been hearing about recently lying their bikes down in car parks…
Key to the process were the volunteers present, who easily outnumbered the candidates. All were trained, and some had special roles, such as ‘catchers’ who would help to launch a rider that couldn’t easily get a foot down – and then catch and steady them as they came to rest. It was quite a sight to see two, three or four catchers congregating on a slowing bike and get hold of it at just the right moment to stop it going over as it came to rest.
The Bike Experience makes no charge to candidates and is run by volunteers. Their costs, however, are significant; they pay £4,000 per annum in public liability insurance, and they pay Silverstone £1,000 per session for the use of the empty car park. This means that they need to raise at least £14,000 per annum just to run the 10 sessions, before they’ve spent any money on bikes or riding kit.
It’s worth every penny though.
Riding a bike is a very rewarding experience. There’s something about riding a bike that you don’t get driving a car and most of us don’t ride just as a means of transport to get from A to B. Watching the candidates yesterday it was interesting to see their reactions. Those that had been before were getting kitted up and approaching the bikes with obvious anticipation. Newer candidates seemed apprehensive and expressed concerns about being able to get on the bike and manage the controls.
All of the candidates, once on the bikes, listened to the helpers and then executed their exercise with enthusiasm.
You could see the confidence build in all of them as they got better and better. The sense of achievement, and the huge grins as the helmets came off, was obvious. Without exception the candidates came away having moved from “I’ll give it a go” to “look what I just did!”
It made me think about my own riding. How, with four fully-functioning limbs, I find riding a very rewarding experience. Many of the candidates rode with a confidence, fluidity and smoothness that meant, once they were on a bike you couldn’t tell they had any disability. I guess that’s how they feel too.
Safe, and rewarding, riding
First published in Slipstream August 2018
They would welcome more involvement from clubs, and are happy to provide tea, coffee, toilets and cake if anyone wants to organise a ride-out to drop in on one of the sessions (please let them know in advance).