Riding along On My Automobike…

Today we have mostly been, pottering. You know those days when you know you want to go out on the bike but you don’t know where and nowhere seems to fit? So you just set off and potter.

I had a couple of errands to run, delivering a birthday present to my BFF (massive brownie points) and a trip to the post office, but apart from that there was no idea of being anywhere in particular. Initial thoughts of going to Cowbridge to look at crystals and unaffordable tie-dye blew away on finding that particular emporium closed several weeks ago (what is a hippie biker to do?!?) so we found ourselves in Llantwit Major.

That where things got interesting. I tried to find the back way out of Llantwit and missed. I found myself on the road to St. Donats and Marcross, a wonderland of autumnal tree tunnels, winding lanes and spectacular little Welsh hamlets nestled in grey stone under the trees. I’ve driven those roads before, I’m sure but biking gets you into the heart of the landscape in a way a car never can.

Most people associate Wales, particularly South Wales with heavy industry – coal, iron, copper, steel and The Valleys. It’s easy to forget living here just how little of Wales is industrialised, or indeed populated. The part of Shropshire I grew up in is formed by the last convulsion of the Cambrian Mountains as they slide gently into the plains of Mercia. It’s also a part of England/Wales that veered between the two countries for generations, depending  on which king was ascendant, something which has left its mark on the accent and outlook. This outlook coupled with the relative proximity of North and Mid Wales beaches for weekends and even day trips led to a feeling of familiarity and comfort associated with North Wales that I must admit I haven’t felt as much here in the South. Riding up to Brecon, or even to Carmarthen brings something of a “coming home” feeling as the scenery changes to something more indefinably Northern – I hadn’t even noticed this until starting to ride rather than drive.

However, today’s little jaunt threw a couple of little Welsh gems past my visor, a reminder that there was and is a South Wales outside the industrialisation and urbanisation. You just have to get out there and find them, preferably on a motorbike 😉


Completely In The Dark

Well bugger me backwards with a basting fork and call me Basil but I am NEVER doing that again! Little motorbikes are so not designed to be ridden in the dark, I’d have had a better chance if I’d strapped one of these onto the front bracket.


Rear light-  lovely and bright, indicators – light up like a feckin Xmas tree, front light – dimmer than the cast of TOWIE  on valium. On the plus side my avoidance technique is now superb, speed-bumps that loom out of the darkness like Mount Fuji, sinkholes, Ents, (possibly I was hallucinating by that point)…

The irony of a crash on the way home from a Blood Bikes Wales meeting was not lost on me as I tottered, moth-like, between streetlights but it seems my over-worked Guardian Angel yet again stepped up to the plate along with St. Christopher, Hermes, Rhiannon, Hecate of the crossroads and an undoubted host of other Protectors. I’m off to uncork the damson gin and pour libations.

Lost In Neath

My ability to get lost in the simplest of places astonishes even myself… I have successfully navigated round Denmark, round parts of France, most of the UK including the Swindon Magic Roundabout (on the second attempt), but put me in an industrial estate and I have no more directional ability than a drunken gnat.

It was such a nice little idea. Pop down a side road to have a quick water-stop and look at Neath Abbey and the Tennant canal, then back to the A4230 and M&P Swansea. Somebody in Neath Council is a sadistic one-way enthusiast, and this is a TRAP! You can get in but you can never get out. Many heed the siren call of the ruins, but few return to the lands above…Admittedly the signage could have been better but still. There is no excuse for today’s joyful excursion which saw Mike the Bike and I crawl over increasingly potholed tracks until we ended up facing the wrong way in a quarry somewhere near Skewen. At this point we faced a choice of either trying to turn round and go back over the railway lines which stood about 3 inches proud of the surrounding gravel, or push on sideways down a bank of hardcore scree. We chose the sideways option, slithering down on the clutch, both feet and tyres skidding, wishing I’d paid more attention 30 years ago when I went pillion on a dirt-bike.

Shaken, stirred and with slightly looser teeth and bolts we finally made it out of Pothole Hell and straight onto the A465. Which was nice.

Sacking off the whole idea of M&P (and yet another industrial estate) we made for home the long way round, ending with a blast over the heath on full throttle. All 55 mph of it.

On The Road

2 hours yesterday on the road with K for some Mod 2 training. Since we’ve got such a long gap before going up for Mod 1 again we might as well get some road training in 😉

My biggest problem is as always, the bloody nerves! As soon as I get my leg over (no sniggering at the back there) I’m fine, but for 72 hours beforehand I’m a gibbering wreck. My brain is actively trying to kill me. It’s not like I don’t ride most days anyway – why should the rather gentlemanly Suzuki SVF650 (Gladius) be exponentially more scary than Little Mike the Bike? It’s more stable, more responsive, the clutch works, even I can manage the ABS…

Still, as I said, once astride the massive 650 (unrestricted!) I thoroughly enjoyed myself, and by the end of the 2 hour stint was actually getting some real flow going. Well until some oblivious bint simply stopped in the road and reversed at us round a blind bend. I do hope she could hear what K was shouting at her, I missed most of it as the language actually melted my earpiece at that point.

Speaking of which, are those things designed for human ears? Being as I am, completely lopsided, I can only fit it on my right ear, which is of course the ear that doesn’t work so well. Rides with K are a confusing olla podrida of instructions, observations and animadversions upon the parentage of certain other road users interspersed with crackles, bangs, hurricanes and the strange whistling noises he makes when particularly contented. This last noise is always welcome as a sign of his satisfaction in our riding but is a bit like having a large, bald bearded parrot sitting on one’s shoulder.

The How and The Why

You’re not really a what I call a natural biker” – K, my CBT instructor on realising LTG and I will need another day of CBT

You’re neither of you natural bikers really” K, our Mod1/2 instructor faced with the task of getting us through Mod 1

You’re still not natural bikers but you’ve failed with smiles on your faces and that’s what counts” – K, on being told we had both failed our first Mod 1 attempts.

This is Mike the Bike. He is my mid-life crisis. He is a Yamaha YBR125 Custom. He’s not all mine, I have to share him with Long Tall Gary, my oversized other half.

MtB YBR 125 Custom

MtB YBR 125 Custom

Like my fondness for 50s-style British Trad Jazz and Golden Age hard sci-fi, my wistful and so-far unfulfilled love affair with motorbikes started with my Dad. He started riding in the mid 1950s and had a succession of unreliable but gorgeous British bikes and sidecars for several years until I arrived on the scene in 1969 and he never owned another bike since then. It’s no wonder I often feel I should apologise…

Both my brothers are bikers (Fazer and V-Strom respectively) along with a couple of ex-boyfriends so why has it taken me this long?

Although Ole Papa Bear denies it, I have a distinct memory of being told at 17 “if you want a car, I’ll teach you to drive, I’ll buy you a car, I’ll maintain it for you, but if you want a bike you’re on your own”. As a penniless VIth Former living in the depths of rural Shropshire I went with the car option… Speaking to other Fathers-of-Daughters who are bikers this attitude seems pretty common – it’s not sexism, most of them have no issues with women riders (Ole Papa Bear follows Jenny Tinmouth with awe) – it’s just too dangerous for their own little princesses. And of course they don’t want their own babies mixing with oily hairy bikers. I have removed any possibility of my own daughter (14 going on 35) mixing with hairy buggers in leather by becoming one and thereby rendering it the most uncool occupation on the planet. She’ll probably become a Tory-voting accountant as a form of rebellion.

An ex-husband who didn’t even like cars (?!?) let alone bikes, followed by post-divorce penury took care of the next few decades until Long Tall Gary learned of my secret love and decided if he couldn’t beat it we’d both join it.

Part of me really wishes I’d done all this 25 years ago when I was young, fit, slim and knew no fear. However the more sensible part of me remembers the girl racer I was, looks at Ole Papa Bear with his single remaining knee-cap and facial scars, and an ex-boyfriend who is largely titanium and wonders if I’d still be here now if I had.

So Mod1 is re-booked for the morning of Bonfire Night and we keep on buggering on. x