Other than playing bass guitar, I’m also a big fan of riding motorcycles. I’ve been riding on and off since I was about 10 or 11 years old (when a group of us bought a Puch Maxi Sport moped in a cardboard box for £12) but for one reason or another I only got round to passing my bike test in 1998.
Since I passed, I’ve owned (or sometimes, part-owned) 7 bikes and have been riding up and down the UK and Europe, either to get to work or for touring holidays. I’ve always thought that, while bikes are considered dangerous, if you keep your wits about you and expect every other driver to do the most stupid thing you can imagine, nothing much will go wrong. This has largely been backed up by my real-life experience, that the only accidents I’ve had have been pretty minor, and I could always trace it back to a lapse in concentration on my part. I felt pretty safe on a bike.
My latest bike is brilliant. It’s a 2009 Triumph Speed Triple, and is the best thing I’ve ever owned! It feels stable and secure in the corners, has a stonking great engine which does exactly what you tell it to (some bikes I’ve known are a bit “flighty” and need to be treated as if they are an axe-wielding maniac who’s just been told they’ve got 30 minutes to live), and looks just like a motorcycle should. Two wheels, engine, seat, handlebars and not much else. If I’m honest, it’s got one more headlight than it really needs, but as the rest of it is so good I’m prepared to let it off on that point…
I’ve owned it since November and I’ve barely been able to keep off it. Even though the weather has been cold and damp (it is England, after all) I’ve had a lot of fun riding to any work which doesn’t include a bass or an amp, and a few random little pleasure trips out. I’ve finally found the ideal bike to suit my riding style and what I want from a motorcycle. If it is possible to feel love for a complicated jumble of metal and plastic then I that’s what I feel. If we can only get a few sunny days, I’m sure this summer will be brilliant…
This state of nirvana is only slightly marred by it trying to kill me one morning without any warning.
I’d just returned from a fortnight holiday abroad, and was embarking on my first commute – a journey of about 18 miles which I have made hundreds of times. I left home, joined the main road, took the second exit at the roundabout and was just settling into the ride when I felt the front wheel sort of “shimmy”. Literally the next thing I knew, I was lying in the middle of the road looking at my bike lying on its side a few feet ahead of me in the road. My front brake had seized up in one of those “unlucky” moments we hope will never happen, causing the front wheel to lock and me to come crashing down.
There’s a bizarre calm which can take over in these situations. I’ve just fallen off my bike at about 50-60mph and (judging by my clothes and helmet) I’ve landed pretty hard on my face, shoulder and right side, but the strongest memory I have is realising that there were cars queued back in both directions and they were all looking at me. I was embarrassed to be the centre of attention.
I quickly got up from my position in the road and went over to the bike. As I was picking it up a chap got out of his car and said he’s called an ambulance, and he helped me wheel my bike to the side of the road, where a group of people were asking me if I was all right, if I could remember my name, if I knew what happened etc. I counted my arms, legs and fingers and everything appeared to be there and in working order.
The ambulance appeared a couple of minutes later and they gave me a thorough going over. I’m sure you don’t decide to work in the ambulance service unless you want to help people when they’ve been troubled by accidents or illness, but these two were both lovely. I was checked over very thoroughly by the bloke who didn’t think I’d broken anything, but when he asked me where I was hurting and I mentioned that I was a musician he suggested a more detailed exam in A&E.
More lovely people examined me a bit more in A&E, and sent me to yet more lovely people who took X-rays. Another lovely man talked me through the X-ray results, and then sent me to his lovely colleague who put a cast on my wrist to stop be from moving my left thumb (a ligament had been pulled back across the bone in my thumb, meaning a little sliver of the thumb bone had come off and the ligament itself was strained). No bass or bikes for at least four weeks.
I feel like I’ve been beaten up, my left hand doesn’t work very well (mainly due to the cast) and my bike has lost a couple of components and gained a few scrapes, but all in all I think I’ve come off very lightly. A few weeks convalescing, a LOT of bass practice, a few hundred pounds and a few hours spent on the bike and everything should be back to how it was.
But the most important thing I think came out of this was being reminded just how wonderful the NHS is. I can choose to travel using an inherently unstable two-wheeled vehicle, and when I come a cropper, a load of wonderful people leap into action to pick me up, and put me back together. No one asked me if I had medical insurance, no one gave me any invoices, or demanded any payment before, during, or after my treatment.
No one made me feel like an idiot for choosing to put my life and limb at risk by travelling this way, or made me feel like I had any less right to those resources than anyone else. (Well, nobody with the possible exception of me and my conscience, but that’s another story.)
This, and a million other reasons, is why we need to fight to keep our National Health Service. I don’t often get involved in politics (I’ve got very little interest in any of the parties or anything they say) but I really believe in the NHS. It is a fantastic institution full of wonderful people we should all be hugely proud of and it would be a tragedy if it is allowed to be dismantled as it appears some people are hoping.
I love it even more than my Triumph. I believe you should too.