Why I ride a motorbike
Updated: 4 days ago
From surgery on both legs and feet to commuting on two wheels for a 42-mile journey (even in the winter), to finally discovering a true passion and freedom of being a biker.
In my youth, I was a tremendous athlete, played on the wing in my school's rugby team, and was always chosen to run the 100m and 200m in our house sports day events. I was a healthy, strong, and active boy about to enter his teenage years. Unfortunately, something happened, and things would never be the same again. Whether meeting me in person or through the podcast with Aldo Moto, you will probably know that I have been recovering from a neuropathy since 12 years of age.
For those of you who aren't familiar with the term neuropathy, it is when the nerves in the body's extremities, in this case, my feet, are damaged. The motor nerves responsible for controlling muscles were the affected area. There are many different symptoms, but I experienced constant burning, stabbing, and shooting pain throughout my feet. I've always had a high pain threshold, but this was on another level, and I wouldn't wish it upon my worst enemy. I also suffered from loss of balance and, finally, muscle weakness. The latter really affected me mentally as I went from a strong and healthy frame to a skinny, fragile boy.
The neuropathy took away my ability to walk correctly and run. Hence, all my dreams of playing rugby or sprinting at a professional level went out the window overnight. It's not only the sports that took a knock. My tuition suffered as well. I still attended school, but I was in constant agony during every lesson. When you're in that amount of pain, it's pretty hard to concentrate on the whiteboard.
As life moved on, I reached the years where I could start learning to drive a car. Everyone else in my year jumped at the opportunity, and soon all my mates had their own cars and reached a whole new level of independence. For me, it was a different story. I had always been a massive petrol head and was obsessed with all things automotive from as early as I can remember. Whether it was supercars, Formula 1, rallies etc., I loved it and always dreamed of driving a manual. When the time came to learn, I tried and failed. I must have had about 5 hour-long lessons, and I was defeated each time. The neuropathy, still causing me pain, had caused so much damage to my feet that I couldn't move them properly. As much as I tried, I couldn't get to grips with the pedals as I couldn't move my ankles. Even with an automatic gearbox, I struggled. All in all, it was yet another battle scar.
I underwent my first corrective surgery on my right foot when I was 18. Tendons were disconnected and reattached elsewhere, bones were cut and repositioned, and enough titanium was installed to give the bionic man a run for his money. I had this repeated on my left foot 6-months later. Several years later, I had to go through it again, and I had my last surgery in August 2014. I would resort to public transport or friends' kindness to get around throughout my time at university. You feel like a liability after a while.
My first proper job out of university was with a learning and development company (think leadership, management skills etc.) down in Horsham. Bearing in mind that I lived in Battersea at the time, this was quite a way to travel. For two of the five days, I was in a central London WeWork with the sales team, and for the other three, I was required to be with the rest of the company. The office was in the middle of nowhere, and I mean the middle of nowhere. It was 42 miles from door to door on a good day.
I used to get the train that would take just under an hour and then rely on a friend to pick me up and drive me the last few miles. A bus came once an hour and would take around 40-mins, taking my total commute to just under 2 hours (which was never really an option).
I was therefore left to put up with the struggle of driving, or I learned to ride.
I always thought bikes were cool, but I never saw myself riding one. Well, all that changed. I decided to do my CBT with my brother and one of his mates. Having completed the morning practice, we went out in pairs for the last part of the test. 45-mins later, I was back at the head office getting my certificate signed, and that was that. It was my first taste of independence in countless years. With this, even something as small as popping to the shops with a backpack became possible.
The commute to Horsham was pretty full-on. Getting out of London meant following the A3. The speed limit on the A3 is 50mph across three lanes, which was pretty much top speed for the Mutt Mongrel unless you're going downhill. Once you've made your way through Leatherhead towards Dorking, you pass the famous Ryka's cafe, a popular stop-off for bikers. Not long after this, it goes from a single to a double lane and starts snaking through the countryside at the national speed limit.
I tell you now, it’s a pretty terrifying experience being overtaken by a lorry which probably weighs close to 40 tonnes when you’re on a little bike made from Chinese parts, with a first hand tried and tested top speed of 52mph (60mph if I was going downhill) first thing in the morning.
There's one part of the journey where the road starts to wind beautifully, but it was also the most stressful. The road went back to one lane, and if I didn't hit my gear changes correctly, I would be in trouble. The road undulates, and if I hadn't built enough speed on the downhills, I wasn't getting back up again. That's all very well and good when you're alone, but when you have an angry lorry and car drivers behind you, it's pretty daunting.
The real fun came when winter crawled around, and I was commuting in minus temperatures without the right gear. I had no idea how my hands survived riding in the icy rain in summer gloves. The gear lever wasn't adjustable on the Mutt, so I struggled to ride in big boots. Instead, you would see me come rain or shine in my boat shoes. My girlfriend's dad was kind enough to provide me with my first helmet. An Arai with its crazy black and white stripes and stars; it certainly didn't match the Mongrel's aesthetic, but it did the job and would keep me safe. He also gave me a leather jacket from New Jersey, which was huge, even on me, and weighed so much I probably lost a few mph off the top speed from that alone. As for my lower half, armoured trousers weren't even on my radar. Instead, I wore a thermal base, trackies, and my regular jeans on top.
To a passerby, it must have been quite a sight!
To summarise, I started riding through desperation to ensure I could get to work each day. Eventually, I moved on from that company and decided to find a job closer to home. I got myself a position at a start-up located in a shared office space building in Angel. I started by taking the train, but forking out a fortune to be crammed into a carriage with hundreds of other people each morning wasn't really doing it for me, so it was time to jump back on the saddle.
Like before, my experience shot up from all the riding in London. It's true what they say; you need to have eyes in the back of your head.
I have been riding for more than three years now, and as I write this and think back, all I can do is laugh. Riding the Ducati Scrambler Sixty2 has been a dream, and I rely on my bike journeys to clear my head and give me a fantastic sense of freedom and independence. I also have a full car automatic licence, but I take the bike for my commutes/journeys 95% of the time.
Thanks for taking the time to read about my experience.