#25 – Ride on a motorbike
The fact that I’ve lived nearly 40 years without getting on a motorbike will tell you that I’m not a petrolhead. I don’t get excited about cars, engines, motorbikes or similar. My smallish hatchback is perfect for me – small enough that I can park it but big enough to get the camping gear in for a weekend away – and that’s all I need. To me a vehicle is purely a means of getting about. It’s not a status symbol, I don’t get a rush from driving anything, it doesn’t matter what it looks like as long as it goes. And because I’m so not interested in anything with an engine, I’ve never dated a petrolhead either. All of which means that a ride on a motorbike has simply never come up as an option in my life, so, when I was putting this list together and thinking of everyday experiences I’d never had, it seemed an obvious inclusion.
I will admit I was nervous. Riding a motorbike seems more dangerous to me than driving a car, and this is backed up by Think!, the government’s Road Safety website*, which states: “Motorcyclists are roughly 38 times more likely to be killed in a road traffic accident than car occupants, per mile ridden”. That’s quite a big risk. In fact, I believed this was the most dangerous challenge of my 40 before 40 and I was pretty scared. To be honest, I thought about leaving this challenge til last just in case I didn’t survive it, but a forecast for a good sunny day coinciding with a free weekend seemed too good an opportunity to pass up.
My cousin’s husband, Pete, had offered to take me out. He’s a professional driver and very experienced motorcyclist so I felt as if I was in the safest hands I could be. He could also lend me an armoured coat, gloves and helmet as I was keen to wear good protective clothing to help mitigate the risks. Helpfully, he has a brilliant gadget which attaches to the helmet with a microphone and speakers so that you can talk to each other whilst you’re travelling, which very much reassured me and was really helpful in letting me know what was going on and what to expect next.
Before setting off I had numerous warnings from Pete, my Dad and my (very definitely petrolhead) work colleagues about how the pillion passenger can seriously put the balance of the bike at risk if you lean the wrong way on a corner. These didn’t exactly make me any less nervous. I was terrified I’d do the wrong thing and end up injured or worse. It didn’t help when I found out that the engine on Pete’s bike, at 1400cc, is the same size as the one in my car!
Pete fired up the bike, I got into all the gear, checked the communication system was working, climbed up on the back and off we went. In total we were out for about an hour, cruising a short section of motorway and winding through the treelined gloriously twisty Hampshire country lanes, before visiting Loomies, a renowned local bikers’ café to admire some of the machines there, and continuing on via more country lanes and through picturesque villages, finishing with a ride across the top of Portsdown Hill, catching stunning views of Portsmouth city, the Spinnaker tower and the waters of the Solent en route. I hadn’t appreciated that on a bike you’re higher up than in a car, and the pillion is slightly higher still so I was able to see over the top of hedges and into peoples gardens. Of course the driver can’t do this but once I’d relaxed a bit and realised I could turn my head without unbalancing the bike I started to enjoy the sunshine and the views.
I felt most exposed on the motorway – the lack of a thin tin box surrounding me made me feel very vulnerable on there, but to my surprise I actually enjoyed the experience of riding the country lanes. Pete told me I could look slightly over his shoulder instead of just having to stare at the back of his helmet all the time, which helped with turns as I could see where we were going. I managed not to lean the wrong way, and Pete kindly told me I was a natural pillion and he wasn’t worried about cornering with me on the back. Phew!
So, with little fanfare, that was the 32nd of my 40 before 40 completed and I had lived to tell the tale. Despite my misgivings I not only survived but did actually enjoy the experience of riding on a motorbike. I’m not a convert – I have absolutely no desire to buy a bike or learn to ride one, but I’d happy ride pillion again with someone I trusted. Providing the sun is shining!
* The Think! Website, with useful advice for both motorcyclists and car drivers, can be found at: http://think.direct.gov.uk/motorcycles.html