Silver dream racer Will Hollman The Tonic www.thetonic.co.uk

Silver dream racer – taking up two wheels in my fifties

 After decades of dedication to four wheels, classic cars and vorsprung-ventures, Will Holman finally finds himself in love with two wheels…

I couldn’t any longer feel my fingers, and my toes weren’t far behind. The icy wind whipping under my rented full-face helmet was the only thing preventing a claustrophobia-induced panic, and my Kevlar-lined jeans were so tight that discussions about vasectomies would likely be of academic interest only, from now on.

I was having the time of my life. No – I mean it. There’s something about a ride on a motorcycle that’s about so much more than getting from A to B. It’s an immensely liberating, constantly thrilling endorphin rush of noise, wind, blur and, of course, life-affirming mortal danger. In short, everything a bus ride or a trip in a Honda Jazz isn’t.

A long term biker I know once offered a ride on the back of his superbike as a raffle prize at his local village fete. The winner said it was without doubt the most exciting thing he’d ever done in his life. He was an RAF fast jet pilot. So why didn’t I realize what I was missing out on until the age of 53? I blame the parents – specifically my mum.

 

My mum steered me straight on to cars and as I was never particularly good at riding a pushbike, I didn’t argue. But then I met up with my nephew in India last November…

 

I can’t actually say I blame her. My 17-year-old son is currently learning to drive and the idea of him or his sister – who’s already displayed a so-far irrepressible talent for knocking corners off her Nissan Micra – riding a motorbike scares the living hell out of me. My mum, similarly terrified, steered me straight on to cars and as I was never particularly good at riding a pushbike, I didn’t argue. But then I met up with my nephew in India last November.

Will with nephew on motorbike in India
Will with his nephew Chaz on the motorbike in India

Chaz doesn’t have a car license. In fact he only recently progressed from getting everywhere on a Honda C90 to having a proper grown-up motorcycle. So while my wife and I landed in Mumbai, spent a couple of days looking around and then flew to the beaches of Goa, he rode the 370 miles there on a Royal Enfield Bullet, an old British-designed machine from the 1940s that’s still made in India today. ‘You’ve got to come to the beach I’ve found,’ he said. ‘It’s paradise.’ But how would we get there?

 

The beach was indeed idyllic, and riding there and back top and tailed a perfect day. I vowed to get a motorcycle license on our return to the UK

 

We could possibly get a taxi there, but we’d never be able to get one back to our hotel, as the beach was in the middle of nowhere. So we rented a bike. Using the roads in India is worthy of an article in itself but to sum up, it’s chaos gone mad, as a particularly hairy cross-channel ferry crossing was once described to me. All the same, the beach was indeed idyllic, and riding there and back top and tailed a perfect day. I vowed to get a motorcycle license on our return to the UK. Which is where we came in…

I did my CBT (Compulsory Basic Training) in a day, then signed up for an intensive course to take me from zero to leather-clad (freezing) hero in six days flat, managing to score 95% in the theory test beforehand. This left two tests to pass, imaginatively entitled Mod 1 and Mod 2. Mod 2 is exactly what you’d expect a riding test to be – out on the road. But it was Mod 1 that threw me, although not literally, thankfully.

It takes place in a test centre on an area like a large school playground, littered with cones. The examiner stands in the middle with a clipboard and gets you to do various manoeuvers – slaloms, figures of eight, emergency stop, swerving round a cone at speed and riding at walking pace in a straight line.

 

I decided Dave didn’t like me. I reckoned it was because of the turned-up jeans, genuine 1970s leather jacket and Ray Ban Aviator sunglasses

 

The combination of all this being new to me, plus the unerring surveillance of a man with the clipboard left me feeling quite nervous about the whole thing. All the same, I got through it and was confident I’d passed. However, Dave the examiner failed me. ‘You went too wide on the figure of eight,’ he explained. I was infuriated as I’d been told you could take as much space as you needed when doing the exercise. I went home and fumed, but only for about three weeks.

I decided Dave didn’t like me. I reckoned it was because of the turned-up jeans (he wouldn’t have known they were Kevlar lined) genuine 1970s leather jacket and Ray Ban Aviator sunglasses. My instructor assured me this wasn’t the case, but everyone else was wearing riding school sensible kit. Either way, she said Dave was only a stand-in tester and wouldn’t be there when I retook the test.
So when Dave came out of the test centre to conduct Mod 1 Mk2, it upset me so much I rode straight into a cone and failed before I’d barely begun.

Third time lucky, new tester, did the same as on the first attempt, passed.

I wasn’t worried about Mod 2. After 35 years of driving a car I know how roads work and although you’re still being watched, the examiner following you also has to look where they’re going, so the scrutiny isn’t quite as intense. Besides, Dave wouldn’t be there. So you can imagine how happy I was when he walked out with his riding kit on to conduct my Mod 2 test – with me in my turned up jeans, leather jacket and Ray Bans. Bollocks.

I rode as well as I could under the circumstances, but even managed to stall the bloody thing in the middle of a busy city street, so nervous was I. I didn’t really care though – I knew Dave would fail me.

‘Congratulations Will,’ said Dave back at the test centre. ‘I’m very pleased to say you passed. You rode very well.’

Cracking bloke, that Dave.

That was back in June, and I haven’t done more than 100 miles on my bike since then, despite the extraordinary summer. But that’s because I insisted on buying a 1976 Triumph Bonneville that had stood unused for 20 years, and I’ve yet to get it running properly. I’ve got this thing about tinkering…

Still, my mum will undoubtedly be pleased.

Will Holman

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