Facing Fear: The real reason I took my motorbike test
I’m feeling brave. I wonder if by opening up my heart this way and sharing my thoughts, maybe I can help someone? Here goes…
** Trigger Warning: I write about mothers, loss and grief **
— I wrote the following on 2 January 2011
The tears were heavy tonight. As one of my personal plans.. goals.. resolutions.. for 2011, I wrote ‘let go – write about mum’. I wrote the words just before going to bed. Though I’ve been thinking about it for days, writing it down made it all the more real. Several hours after writing it, and unable to sleep because of it, I looked out of the window for the stars, and then the tears came. I’m ok. I suppose I needed to cry. Though I hate it when I do, I always feel better afterwards, like the pressure has been released somehow – in the same way a shaken up bottle of pop goes “tssss..” when you unscrew the lid.
My mum was killed in a tragic motorbike accident on 1 June 1997. It was ‘Mad Sunday’ at the Isle of Man TT Races. The track is open to visitors on Mad Sunday, and my mum rode pillion with my dad’s boss. It was their last time on a motorbike. Neither survived the crash.
Mum didn’t like motorbikes, in fact when I told her I wanted one, she told me no, and that she was firmly putting her foot down. She was sat in the single seater sofa at the time. I lifted her legs so her feet were off the floor. It was still a “no”.
But when a motorbike took my mum away from us, my love of bikes turned into fear. I couldn’t go near them. I would panic.
When my brother was old enough to own a scooter, I was scared for him. I rode pillion with him once, we thought it would help and stop me worrying. Bravely, I rode his scooter on my own. It was a big accomplishment. It was a far cry from a motorbike but it was two wheels, it was the challenge I needed, and I quite enjoyed it too. I ventured out onto the main road and visited my then boyfriend in the next town. I was pretty pleased with myself. When I rode home I had a close encounter with a car and realised just how vulnerable you can be on two wheels when car drivers don’t see you. I made it home safely, and I borrowed his scooter several times afterwards too.
Less scared and a bit more confident about two wheels, I decided to do my CBT (Compulsory Basic Training) on a 125cc motorbike. I’m a worrier. I can worry about the smallest thing. It’s ridiculous. But when my then boyfriend wanted to do his CBT, I wasn’t about to sit around worrying about him. No, I was going to jump right in and do it too. After all, hadn’t I grown up wanting a motorbike of my own?
It was a one-day course. I remember parking my car in the car park and feeling a little nervous. I actually enjoyed the course, even the ride around town when a sudden gust of wind from a passing truck made me curse. We were miked up so we could hear the instructor, and although the microphone part was twisted behind me, I remember hoping that it was a one-way set up. It was a lot of fun, we both passed the CBT and I was proud of myself.
I thought I had conquered my fear. But later realised I hadn’t.
In the UK, the age at which you pass your motorbike test determines what cc bike you can ride. If you pass your test after age 21, there are no cc restrictions. So can you guess what I wanted to do for my 21st birthday? Yes, a fast-track one week intensive course to pass my motorbike test. My dad agreed to it. I was all set and I was actually excited about it.
On the first day a female instructor gave another girl and I a refresher course on a 125cc motorbike. It was all going well till the end of the day when, in the miserable rain, she told us we would ride to her house on the way back so we could leave one of the bikes there, then one of us would ride pillion back to Horwich Leisure Centre where our cars were parked. I thought nothing of it, until I was the one she asked to ride pillion.
All I could think of on that miserable ride back to the leisure centre was “my mum rode pillion … this is what it must have been like for her … she didn’t even like roller-coasters … I hate this … get me off this thing … is that what mum was thinking too? … I can’t believe I’m riding pillion … my mum died riding pillion”.
That short ride back to the leisure centre felt like a lifetime.
I was completely shaken and when I was at home later that evening, I cried in my dad’s arms. I was afraid. I was really really afraid, and the next day I’d be riding on a 500cc motorbike. My dad told me I didn’t have to go back if I didn’t want to, but although I was afraid, I was also determined to do this. I wasn’t going to quit. This was something I needed to do.
My dad understood. He had bought himself a motorbike. He’d ridden it alongside an experienced rider. I worried every time he went out on it, and especially after the time I had watched him leave and helplessly looked-on as the heavy bike toppled over at the edge of our driveway before he’d even left. He was ok, but I never watched him leave on it after that. I trusted the rider he was with that my dad would be ok. My dad’s bike riding days didn’t last long and soon the bike was sold. I wonder if he’d ridden it for the same reason I was taking my test. Perhaps I wasn’t the only one trying to conquer fear.
I went back for the second day of my course. We had a different instructor, an ex-policeman who had ridden a motorbike during his police days. I felt instantly at ease, I trusted him. I felt brave. I was going to do this.
I found the 500cc much easier to handle than the 125cc and found myself really enjoying it. What a relief, and how different I felt that evening when I saw my dad.
I can’t remember now if it was a 3 or 4 day course, I think 3. But I do remember riding in the hills and dips near Belmont and being last, and stuck behind several cars. The road was too windy for a clear view to overtake the cars and catch up with the other girl and our instructor. Via the radio, I heard our instructor tell me the way was clear for me to overtake, and boy did I go for it. What a thrill and rush of adrenaline. Unforgettable.
We had a last ride out for practice and then it was time to take our test. I guess I assumed we’d start the test from the leisure centre’s car park and had left my driver’s licence in my bag in the boot of my car. Our last ride out ended at the test centre in Chorley, where the examiner needed my licence. My test was first and there was no possibility to switch times with the other girl. There was also no time for us all to ride back to Horwich.
“Jump on the back, we’ll make it there and back in time” – I had no time to even think about it, no time to worry. I had 100% trust in my instructor and I jumped on the back of his bike and we were off, up and down hills and windy country lanes. My adrenaline was pumping. I was enjoying this. I felt alive. Such a huge contrast to a couple of days earlier when I rode pillion with the female instructor.
I grabbed my driver’s licence and we were back at the test centre just in time for my test to begin. And because of the unexpected pillion ride, I’d had no time to worry about the test either, and all of the sudden, it was over.
I passed! I passed my test on a 500cc Susuki and now I could ride any bike I liked. Incredible. I was beaming!
The other girl passed too. She had a Kawasaki awaiting her. I maintained I had my eye on a Yamaha R6. It had been my dream bike ever since I could remember (I’d even chosen my blue and white Arai helmet to match it!).
It was 2002 when I passed my motorbike test. Several people who didn’t know about my mum would ask what bike I was getting and when. I still dreamed about the R6, but it was a half-hearted dream. I wasn’t so bothered any more, I was just happy I’d conquered my fear.
When I first came to The Hague in 2003, I discovered I had colleagues that rode bikes. I brought my helmet over and rode pillion with a few of them. I wasn’t scared anymore. In fact, I caught the biker-bug. I wanted a bike again. It didn’t last long though. The Netherlands is pancake-flat; there are no windy country lanes here, it wouldn’t be the same as riding in the UK.
At the time I’m writing this, I haven’t ridden a bike or been pillion in a long long time. It doesn’t bother me. I don’t feel the need to ride. I’m just glad that I once did, even though it was only brief. I’m not afraid anymore. The R6 still turns my head whenever I see one, but I’ll never own one.
Although, never say never, I suppose…
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