This is the longer version of the article I submitted for the NRAS magazine (it contains a bit more bike related info)
There are some things you wouldn’t initially associate with having RA, abseiling and riding a motorcycle for example. Both are things I loved doing and 21 years after my RA diagnosis and 14 years of not riding, thinking it was lost to me forever, October 9th 2013 became the day I got back on motorcycle.
I originally got a bike when they decided that Birmingham didn’t need a night service bus any longer, so with the silly shift starting times I had with my job, it meant getting to work was going to be more difficult. So I got myself a 125cc bike (a second hand red Honda CB125TDC SuperDream) to get to work for those 02.50am starts and that is when it all started.
The bike that started it all 1987
There’s a motorcycling documentary called “Why we ride” and one of the people who are interviewed beautifully sums biking up with the following “some people have it inside, its a seed and if you ever put the water on it and feel the sensation, the seed is sprouted and it doesn’t die till day you take your last breath” So what started out as just a cheap way to get to work meant that seed sprouted, and grew and enriched my life, the joy, freedom and the wonderful people made it something special.
I passed my test and moved up to a 350cc machine, a white Honda CB350SG a really reliable workhorse which was soon replaced by a 600, the first one I had, a red Honda Revere (NTV600), which felt more lethargic than my previous 350cc machine, but the shaft drive was great especially in the inclement winter weather. so I traded it in, and having a job that paid well if you put the hours in I got my first sports style bike a second hand Honda CBR600 in the Benetton colours (the one with the bright pink tank, which would lead to an interesting tale when attending the Weston Beach Races one year) from the wonderful Charlie at Sherwood Motorcycles a dealer who would help fuel my love of biking.
Three years later and I bought my first brand new bike another Honda CBR600 which friends nicknamed the ice cream van due to the red white and purple colour scheme. A few years later and another new bike this time the highly revered Honda VFR750 in Caribbean blue which to me was simply the best bike I ever had, even more amazing was that that 2 other work colleagues turned up on identical new bikes on the same morning! The VFR was just so enjoyable, the sound of the V4 engine, the comfort, tearing up the miles effortlessly taking me to remote parts of the country to see amazing places and experience wonderful emotions. It even had a clock on the dials! :)
Beloved VFR, thanks to Jase for the pic
Not long after I was diagnosed with RA, I was struggling to get on the bike, and was having incredible difficulty at work as my RA was really aggressive at the start, to the point where Prof Emery (my then rheumatologist) told me I was either mad or had really high pain threshold to be still working. We agreed that it might be a combination of the two. I traded in the VFR for a new CBR600 as I thought it might be easier to manage.
As the RA continued to cause problems I was forced to give up the job I loved, the company doctor retiring me on ill health grounds, in 1999 my biking days came to an end shortly after, wanting the best for my family and having a hip replacement at the age of 29 I was forced to sell my bike, getting a fraction of its true value watching it disappear into the back of a van was heartbreaking, taking a part of me with it that has been missing ever since. I’ve never strayed far from bikes, as I wrote earlier, once biking is in your blood, it stays there, so it was always so close, but seemed out of reach due to the RA.
My last bike, Honda CBR600
Also being a bit of a geek, I also get my bike fix via various websites and social media and it was on Twitter that I learnt of a charity called The Bike Experience (also on Facebook and Twitter) . I looked them up and was amazed at what I saw, they were getting people with all sorts of disabilities back onto a bike and for free! Watch the video on their site, even if you’re not a fan of motorcycles you can’t help but appreciate what this charity are doing, it’s also quite moving and they certainly deserve support.
I got in touch with them explaining my circumstances and they got back saying they could help, but both of the last two events of 2013 were full. Pleased that I had something to look forward to in 2014 I added The Bike Experience as a charity I was supporting in my abseil at Walsall Art Gallery on 5th October. A few days after booking my abseil I got a message from one of the founders saying a place had come available for the last event of the year on 9th October at Silverstone. I signed up to attend despite my abseil a few days before (as I usually need a few days to recover).
A good friend took me down to Silverstone the afternoon before my day with the Bike Experience, and I stayed in the Snoozebox, which is located right inside the circuit. A track day was taking place when we arrived and it was great to watch and listen to the bikes whizzing past. The snoozebox, was compact, but very clean and comfortable, I’d certainly use them again if I’m ever at Silverstone.
The social hub at Snoozebox Silverstone with upstairs viewing balcony overlooking the track
Box number 04
Compact, but very clean and comfortable
En Suite has a shower too
The morning of the 9th arrived and after a breakfast at the hub I headed over to the training area at Silverstone, and was greeted by a wonderfully friendly group of volunteers and three other disabled riders, after being helped into some leathers, helmet and gloves by Jo. we went through the safety procedures, and shown how wheelchair users get on the bike with the help of the crew. Watching the two guys who were in wheelchairs climb aboard, and being held front and rear until the clutch bit and they headed off to the other end of the straight where two catchers helped them stop and stay upright was amazing.
My turn came, with a bit of help from the team I got on the bike, a Suzuki SV650, got it in gear via the handlebar mounted gear changer, felt the bite of the clutch, got the revs up and headed down towards the catchers, it was wonderful, all those memories and the great feeling you get from biking came rushing back. With the help of the catchers, they turned me round and I headed back to the other end. I came to a stop and got some great encouragement from the team at that end, it all became a bit much, and I started crying, as I never thought I’d feel this again the TBE volunteers were really supportive and saying it’s something they often see.
I spent the rest of the day improving my skills, on an Aprilia 850 Mana , they soon came back. I was worried about problems with my joints while riding, especially my shoulders as they’re shot and there’s not a great deal they can do for them due to the ruptured tendons. But with around 3.5 hours on the bike, no problems at all with hips, knees or shoulders, it was if the bike had been made for me. At the end of the day we all had smiles across our faces, mine is still with me almost two weeks later, I’m hoping to go back to TBE in the new year, and am considering volunteering for them myself, even if it’s only making the tea, it’s such an amazing charity, with such wonderful people.
Aboard The Bike Experience’s Aprilia Mana
Having any long term condition or disability can seem to stop your life in its tracks, you can’t do the things you love because of the pain, the stiffness the way of having to fight the effects on a daily basis and the negative effect that it can have on your emotions I certainly know it did in my case, but in time you shift and become able to help others, and decide that RA is just a part of you, it doesn’t define you as a person. You might have to do things slightly different or get help to do things, but don’t let that stop you.
Bono sang that he still hadn’t found what he was looking for, but with advances in treatments, support from the rheumatology team, orthopaedic surgeons, family, friends and the wonderful work of some fantastic charities.
I have and you can too!