As will be obvious to anyone reading this site, I am not in my 20’s any more. I started motorcycling at 17 and didn’t even get a car licence until I was 26. I then gave up bikes in the belief that I ought to start looking a bit more “respectable”, given my job- looking back on it, a baseless worry. I would have been far better off keeping the bikes and sod the image. Coming back to bikes in my late 40’s, it struck me forcibly how the overall public perception of bikes and bikers has changed in the meantime, mostly for the better.
Huge improvements in bike design and technology, coupled with an increasing tendency for people exactly like me to go back to bikes in later life, mean that there are far more riders nowadays who are not seen as feckless hooligans. Indeed, the sheer purchase and running costs of some higher-end modern bikes mean that it is usually only the fairly well-heeled who can afford to buy and run them. Hence, we see more and more “respectable” blokes on bikes- lawyers, doctors, bankers, accountants, God save us. There was a time when you had to be pretty dedicated to take your bike and tour abroad- nowadays, with chaperoned tours of the Rockies and Europe, as well as a greater ease in reaching all parts of a shrinking world, many ‘average’ punters will think nothing of taking themselves, their spouse, even their children on 2-wheel holidays. Jolly good thing, too.
Along with this shift in perception of bikes and biking, there are other benefits to society as a whole. I have no experience of the changes in bike tests since I stalled my very first 250cc at the age of 17, but I do know that there has been a steadily-increasing focus on practical training, alongside theoretical examination- all of which cannot but improve the overall level of ability of new riders. There will always be idiots, of course, and at all age levels, but when you consider that I was able to pay for a provisional licence, a helmet, a pair of L plates, and then jump on bikes which even in the 70’s could top 100mph (just), the more rigorous training has to be an improvement.
As stated elsewhere in these pages, I survived my early riding years and went on to have a healthy appreciation of how to minimise risk so I could continue to survive. My work in injury law, my wife’s work in the NHS, led me by sheer chance to Freewheelers EVS, a national charity that provides an out-of-hours motorcycle delivery service to the NHS for all sorts of medical needs- blood, medication, transplant organs, breast milk for premature babies, medical equipment. All riders have advanced qualifications and handle anything from routine deliveries to full-on emergencies, for which designated bikes are used, fully kitted with blue lights, sirens and stripes. Riders use their own machines for other jobs, often at their own expense.
Perhaps like you, my first thought was that this was a fun thing for a motorcycle enthusiast to do, but what real benefit did it bring? Well, the answer is simple- by using this service, the NHS saves a huge amount of money every year, money which can then be spent elsewhere. This was brought home by one example recently- a patient was in Bristol for specialist surgery but important medical data was in London on a disk. A private courier would have delivered the disk, but at a cost of some £800. A series of EVS volunteer riders across Middlesex, Berkshire, Wiltshire, Somerset ferried it to Bristol for nothing. The cost was met by the charity, which in turn is run entirely on donations from the public.
So, I signed up. I was given a check ride by an ex-police instructor, passed with a glowing commendation, and now feel I am able to do something tangible for my local area. More to the point, I am part of a large group of very different people, but all with this in common- they love their bikes, they take a pride in their riding ability, and they use that ability for the benefit of others.
Respectable by anyone’s standards.
You can see more about Freewheelers EVS here:- http://www.freewheelers.org.uk/