Updated: Apr 28, 2019
I catch myself finding reasons to hesitate before getting on the bike. Faffing around. Where’s my phone? Have I locked the house? Where are my favourite gloves (Held Air n Dry, if you wondered)? And I’m still standing in the garage, wearing jeans – I haven’t even got into my leathers yet. So on one level, I must be nervous about riding again.
It’s Friday, exactly seven weeks to the day since I fell off in South Africa, breaking pretty much all the ribs on the left-hand side of my chest and puncturing the lung, as well as breaking the shoulder blade and a couple of toes. I can try shrugging it off because the crash was on a gravel road and, as everyone knows, I don’t really do off-road… but still. I did fall off a motorbike…
Enough prevarication. Or is it procrastination? Whatever… I’m not wasting more time pondering the difference. Leather strides on (god, they’re baggy – that’s the crash diet, for you) and boots as well. My trusty Alpinestars SuperTech Rs: still as comfy as slippers but reassuringly reinforced. Put some air in the tyres then push my Kawasaki Z1000SX backwards out of the garage – easier than expected – lock up and settle into the saddle.
Deep breath. Turn the key, thumb the starter, clunk into first… and it’s completely normal. Except I’ve pushed the bike out differently to normal, so have to do a full-lock U-turn to get out of the courtyard. Start with something easy, why don’t you? Actually, the bike feels great – balanced on the back brake at low speed, throttle super-precise. Pulling out onto the road, just a small sniff of gas gets it momentarily up to the limit, then I’m turning again, then a few more times and I’m out onto the bypass.
I head left. If there’s any problem, I can turn left again, back onto the estate, slinking back home. I keep speeds steady – there’s a bit of traffic – but everything feels good. Even changing gear with my still-healing broken big toe (the thing that really worried me about riding) feels fine: that’s good boots, I guess. So I keep going.
I’m still a little wary as I head into Bourne, watching all the cars and perhaps paying a little too much attention to the road surface right in front of me. Chin up, I remind myself, forcing myself to look further ahead. I’m on this route because I can still bail out easily at the traffic lights if I need to, hanging another left to get home in a two-mile circuit of the south side of town.
But there are no problems. So far everything feels natural. Normal. As it should be. So I keep going, heading out of town behind a big BMW estate. It’s briskly driven as we pass the black-and-white national-limit sign, but it’s still just a car and there’s plenty of view… so I pass it with a little twitch of the throttle – and god the acceleration feels great.
I settle down in the saddle, arms relaxed, light grip on the bars, head low but chin up to get a long view ahead. This feels natural, comfortable – it feels like coming home. I’m able to take a deep breath and sigh contentedly. Why had I been nervous? This feels like where I’m meant to be. Still, I’m only about three miles from home. Let’s see how I feel after a bit of a ride.
I carry on north along the A15. I’m not pushing at all – just flowing steadily, making a bit of progress but only really using speed for overtakes, then rolling off to a legal-ish velocity. I turn left at the A52 roundabout, heading for Grantham, devouring the first few twisty, undulating miles… but then it’s under a strict 60mph limit with rear-facing average cameras. That’s fine today: steady-away is all that’s needed.
At Spitalgate, I carry on straight over the roundabout on the B6043 – a stretch of Ermine Street that sneaks in a couple of corners, with satisfying elevation changes and a few front-wheel-lifting crests on the straight bits. <What have the Romans done for us? Etc> I’m happy to give the bike its head down here, though the surface is tooth-rattlingly bad at the bottom of Moose’s Hill – just before the evil railway-bridge corner. A short stretch of the A1 gets me to Colsterworth where the truck stop’s still open for a brew, so I stop to take the selfie that goes with this piece.
That’s when I realise the time: 3pm. The time difference to SA was two hours when I crashed at just past 1pm… So it’s seven weeks since my accident, practically to the minute. And here I am, back on two wheels, relaxed, assured and absolutely loving it.
I get home after 40 miles and wash the bike. Naturally, while I’m doing this the spring sun fades away to be replaced by a light drizzle, but it can’t dampen my spirits. At the back of my mind had been the nagging fear that if I’d lost my bottle, I wouldn’t be able to do my big trip. And if I couldn’t do that… well, what would I do? Riding has come to define so much of my life, ever since I was a teenager, that I don’t quite know what I’d have done if I found I couldn’t do it. Knowing I’m fine to be back on a bike is a huge weight off my mind.
I head inside to complete another first for this busy Friday: finishing the first tour commissioned for a customer. Just had to ink the last map and write the daily route notes. The tour’s for Phil who’s an experienced tourist, but he’s taking three mates away for the first time: nine days; they’re all on different bikes with different ranges and comfort levels; one mate wants to ride Italy’s Stelvio Pass; Phil wants to show him that other mountains are available…
So his trip takes in the Vosges, the Swiss Alps, the Dolomites, the Austrian Alps, the Deutsche Alpenstrasse, Black Forest, Pfalzerwald and the Ardennes – broken into chunks everyone will be able to manage. There’s virtually no motorway and shopping around for hotels means cost per head, including crossings, is down to £50 a day plus food and petrol. And it’s a trip I’d kill to go on myself… Especially now I know I’m as happy as ever when I’m riding.