Wednesday, 21 January 2015

I can't believe it, it is January again. Weather is appalling. I am lying in bed, 4 on the morning and the rain is lashing at my bedroom window trying to get in! The wind is making the house come alive and keeping me awake. Definitely not weather for riding bikes. Shame, it such a long time ago I had a go. Yesterday I saw a lone biker on the M40 as I was coming back from Oxford Uni after dropping off my daughter. My eyes followed him with envy. I know, I know, he was probable envying me in my car, but his bike was a Triumph tourer, and his back was big, and it just looked so appealing to just hop on and go for a ride.
I loved being a pillion, and I miss it with all my heart. It is such a shame those days are over. I miss them. But from now on I know I have to ride myself.

Well, that's not all that bad! Plenty of bikes have been offered to me to ride.
The day after coming back from Germany having looked at Kevin's crashed bike, I felt so low, but also defiant. I was determined not to let all the miserableness of it all stop me from riding and enjoying bikes!

I had been given tickets for the November mototrcycle show at the NEC, so the following morning after returning rom Munich, I drove (shock, horror) to the show. Going to a bike show in a car was not even an option in the past: bike show meant Bikes from morning till evening. But times have changed and I went with my daughter and friend.

The traffic was as horrendous as the day before.  It had taken me 6 hours to get home to Stratford upon Avon from Gatwick, up the M25 and M40. It seemed we just picked up the jam where I had left it the previous evening. I think my friend and daughter were relieved when we got there, being fed up with my sighing and commenting! Sooo frustrating though, I felt I was wasting valuable time.

The first stand after the barrier was CCM. A huge Teepee housed various CCM's, wooden benches and barrels dotted round the outside. I could see the CCM Adventure; the bike I should have ridden last year. This is one of the bikes which I am going to test when the weather improves. I love the bike, it's look, the image.  Also the bike is not as tall as the Yamaha TTR250, which caused me some grieve. Riding the Yamaha was fine, but the minute you needed to stop or pull away, I found I felt not in full control of the bike. The CCM I believe would give me the same as the Yamaha, but more. It will allow me to be confident at stopping and starting and keeping the bike under control of road. Well, that is what I hope I will find out when I finally have a go. Would be a very cool bike to own, I think.

After CCM, i had to take my daughter to Ducati to get a good supply of chocolade for her! She loves Ducati too, just like her mum. Good choice. The day was good to me. At the end of the day I had blagged a few bikes for the next season. I left feeling pleased I knew I could have a go at riding bikes in 2015, but so sad too. I miss Kevin so much. I wish so much he could see that the industry are willing to support me in this way, but even more I had been more confident to have tried it when he was alive.

It is morning now, and the rain and wind are still not letting up. Time to wake up the sleepy daughter and ready to take her to school. And then I can do some dreaming up of good features to write about the next seasons bikes. Not bad.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Monday 30th May 2014 Riding my Yamaha TT250R Off Road

Happy as a pig in mud
Whilst writing this, I am nursing my left thigh, by having a bag of peas dangling from my belt of my trousers onto my leg. I have a very sore leg, but today’s riding was worth it. The peas are doing a good job cooling down a huge bruise, which many motocross racers would be impressed with. I am almost proud of it! Nobody learned to walk without falling over and hurting themselves, I certainly will not learn what I can do on the bike, off road, if I don’t push myself, which will result in some falls. I can then think about what I did wrong and learn and hopefully keep the bike upright when I am in a tricky situation next time. I’d been observing the riders yesterday, manoeuvring the bikes through some tricky situations on the track, and I knew that I would like to copy that.

Jonathan, a friend of mine, came round on his bike, and we set off to a farm with a track, not far from where I live. I have never been there before, but Jonathan had been in the past, messing around with friends on dirt bikes.

Changing into Jonathan's jacket using his inappropriate bike as clothes horse
We had to stop for some fuel on route. I rode up and pushed the side stand out and let the bike rest on it, whilst Jonathan filled up his tank and paid. In the mean time, I was thinking how I could ride off in a minute. I realised I was stuck on the bike, not sure how to right the bike again. The bike is very tall, and now the ground was very far away. I could swing my legs and my feet would not reach the ground. Up to now, I had been finding it difficult to get on and off the bike, and now I had it on the side stand, astride it, and I didn’t know what to do. When Jonathan came back, I told him of my silly predicament. He helped me get off, and then we took the bikes over to the corner of the petrol station and I spend some time swinging my leg over. I felt a bit funny doing it, but this problem had to be solved once and for all. I now know how to do it. I have to push the handle bars full lock towards me, keep the front brake on, drop the bike towards me and swing my leg in the air, and over the bike, and I am on. Simple. Once you know how to do it. Getting off I just had to move my butt of the seat and stand on the ground and get my other leg back to join the other. Pew. I hope I can do it each time. The Ducati Monster 696 is definitely easier to mount.

We rode on to the farm. The riding was less stressful now then previous rides as I now have one mirror to keep and eye on the traffic behind me. Jonathan had brought over two, but the thread of the right hand mirror was damaged so it could not be screwed on. I think having one left one mirror is luxury. Poor Jonathan shook his head when fitting it. A dirt bike with mirrors!! Shocking, just not done. I must say it does look a bit strange, but I feel happier knowing if somebody want to drive into me I will know before impact which idiot it is. Not that it matters by that stage, I suppose. I have no indicators so this mirror is going to be treasured like not mirror has.

Who's that coming over the hill? Is it a Monster? No a Yamaha
Jonathan spoke to the owner of the farm and we then moved to a large area of what looks like wasteland. Round the sides of the open space there were manmade hills of various heights and steepness. Jonathan rode around on his bike looking for the track he and his mates used. I, in the meantime, tried to follow him, and got stuck on the first hill and had to step off and let the bike roll back down. Not a good start. I then kept to the middle, flatter part and started to get the hang of it. When I felt happier riding on muddy ground, I eyed up some of the hills and decided to go for it. I didn’t have a clue what I would find behind the hills, but it didn’t occur to check it out first. I thought I deal with what I find. Well, I found deep rutted puddles and then straightaway the next hill. No time to change your mind, but you just have to get up the next hill and see what happens then. It all went well. Jonathan came to me and he hopped on the front and was going to show me the track. Now two up on a dirt bike is a laugh, you get bounced around and not easy to stay on. At one stage, we cornered and found a huge puddle and no way round it. We took an impromptu short cut over very bumpy ground. 

Back in the middle I took the bike and I had a go down the track. There was a particular muddy narrow path with the verges knee high and thick oozing mud. I edged through it and came back to the middle and then decided as I could do it, to do it again, but this time not so slowly but try it at a higher speed. I had almost slipped and slithered through this very difficult part again of the track when the bike or the path, (but definitely not me) changed the position of the bike. I had no time to stick my leg out and the bike and I ended up on its side. I now have a bruise with a capital letter on my left thigh. The mud had reached every part of the bike and grass was hanging on the handlebars. I picked up the bike and then got on and finish this path. I wasn’t ready to stop trying. I rode along to the next lot of deep puddles. Again I went down, but this time my leg was pinned under the bike and I couldn’t lift it up. Jonathan pulled at the bike and I used my free leg to push the bike upright. It was funny to be in such a stupid place: Narrow path filled with soft oozing clay up to your ankles. Quite a laugh. We could hardly stand up.
I can do it!
Pure fun

The next hour or so Jonathan gave instruction and I practiced. It was such fun. It felt brilliant to try something what I was just told I could try and then it worked. I fell of one more time when I tried to climb a hill and the bike went a different way I wanted to go and I ended up almost head first into a mount of clay. The bike handlebars ended up feeling bent. Jonathan rode the bike and sorted it out with a good kick. Who needs tools.

When we left the bike looked like it had been used for what it had been designed for. Mud was flying of the bike in all directions as we hit the main road. My mirror was useless as it been well covered in mud and pointing the wrong way.

A good day. Next time I must put the right clothes on. I have lovely Alpinenstars enduro jacket and pants and proper boots too. Why I forgot to put them on is a mystery. Thank you Jonathan for lending me your jacket and helmet.

Sunday 29th May 2014 Watching motocross

I wasn’t going to stay long, but as life changes sometimes unexpectantly, so did this day. My plan was to see a friend and his son racing for the morning and then go to drive to Peterborough to see friend to talk bikes, and girly talk too of course.

On setting off, I send a quick text to her to see if it was still ok to meet up, and yes, everything was fine. Then a few miles down the road, my mobile rang and she said her son had become ill and was taken to hospital. All change; I thought I might as well spend the whole day watching motocross. Unfortunately I wasn’t dressed for muddy fields at all, and looking at my feet, I saw my pretty lace shoes. Sigh, more ruined shoes. This is not the first time I killed of some shoes. Oh well, this would be a good reason to buy some new ones….

Normally, my car is filled with gardening tools and wellies, but on leaving I had taken them out. So, no wellies to change into. It would have looked silly anyway; shorts and wellies!

I drove through some gorgeous Northamptonshire countryside. In the past I used to live in Kettering, and then, I didn’t have a very high opinion of the countryside there, but this part of the county is very different.

The weather was good and I felt all the bikes were out today for a good ride, enjoying the day. I felt very jealous! Driving a gutless car on windy roads doesn’t do anything for me.

I didn’t see any signposting to the event, but this didn’t matter, as getting nearer, the motocross stood out as a beacon at the top of the hill on the opposite side of the valley. The sun lit up the trailers and cars as if the spotlights had been turned on.

On arrival and turning into the field, I took one look of the steep hill ahead, which lead to the track, and thought it would be best to leave my car at the bottom, and walk up. The engine under the bonnet is the size of Flintstone's car. It would be stupid to expect miracles. Shame I wasn’t on the Yamaha TT250R. It would have been a good place to practice.

It had been raining on previous days, but the ground was not too bad. During the day it you could see the ground drying out.
Dad to the rescue
I thoroughly enjoyed watching the little children racing round. They are so capable of doing something quite challenging.  If a child crashed, fathers would come running to their rescue, picking them up, starting the engine again, and plonking them back on and giving them encouragement. Most adorable. The children I meant.
In one race, thirty odd children aged roughly between eight and thirteen showed what a pickle they can get into. When the bar came down at the start of the race, some racers opened the throttle too fast and ended up doing some spectacular wheelies, ending up on the ground. Racers who were late of the start line, had nowhere to go and it quickly became a heap of bikes and children, like an ants nest. Fathers and marshals untangled the lot and send them on their way.

As I was planning to have a go at some off roading the following day on my Yamaha, I kept looking at how the racers were positioning themselves in different situations. I noticed that sometimes they would be sitting very forward and at other times further back. I worked it out, if you need grip at the front, you would slide forward, and the back can move around, as it likes. I am going to practice this tomorrow. I thought it is better not try the jumping yet, even though the riders made it look so easy.
I watched and photographed the races from different places, walking up and down this hill. I kicked myself for not having taken my canon camera with me, so I had to use my telephone instead.

Lost no calories unfortunately as there was a good burger and chips place, so all lost calories where replenished in no time.

I left feeling I had a good day and was looking forward to tomorrow when I would have a go myself.
I like to thank Mike and James for letting me photograph them. I also like to thank Mark for allowing to use his pictures from his phone.

Friday, 30 May 2014

Steph Jeavons and Lois Pryce

Steph Jeavons and Lois Pryce

I have just finished reading Steph Jeavons blog.   I wanted to follow her from day one but was not able to do so, but now I am up to date with her adventures. I have known she was going off to travel round the world. I wanted to meet her at the Excel Motorcycle Show in London last February, to wish her the best with her imminent departure and have a chat, but there was not enough time to do so. Now I have seen her website I am impressed how she has achieved her goal.

 Her blog is full of information about the preparation, which I feel is the stage I am at. By reading her blog you get a good feel for what she is experiencing; from the countries she travelling through, the people she meets, to the difficulties she encounters. Her trip is a very long one, (as the world is rather large planet) so I am looking forward to many more months of reading. I have signed myself up for regular updates, so I can read them as they become live.

On her blog she has a list of good inspirational books to read and I have found some of these books in Kevin’s office. The first book I read about people travelling the world, or part of the world, was, Lois on the loose. I was given this book to read by my dear friend Jonathan. When I talked to him about my plan to do a big trip on my own, the next time he came to see me, he gave me the book of Lois to read.  I was fascinated to read that she, one day decided, she didn’t feel like working in an office anymore and then took off, to discover the world and most likely found herself.
My life has been completely ‘demolished’ a year ago, and my future wiped out. In this book I was reading that it is possible as a girl to go and discover the worId alone. A seed was sown in my head, which now occupies my thoughts every day. When I finished the book I decided that that is what I must do. Lois is my inspiration. I can see now, I can perhaps achieve the same. I do hope so.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Excel Motorcycle Show 2014

Pictures by Ingrid Ash
Caroline on the California Superbike School DucatiArriving at the Excel Motorcycle show by car did not feel right. My excuse was that the weather was atrocious with very strong winds and therefor coming by car did seem the better option.
Oh, and I haven’t got a bike, so it wasn’t a realistic option anyway. The car park was heaving with cars, but not a bike in sight; a bit worrying. I was wondering if I had come to the right place.

Walking up to the ticket control, I handed over my ticket. I was as excited as a child let loose in a sweet shop. It was most disappointing to have my ticket returned and refused entry. I have travelled two and a half hours and I cannot go in? What sort of cruel trick is this? The man pointed at the sign which read clearly in bold letters that this was the entrance to the diving and watersport show. Ah…I had not spotted that.  That felt a bit silly, say the least. I make a mental note to get my eyes checked next week.

Finally, I get past the correct ticket control and I feel I am back in a very familiar world. Bikes everywhere and lots of people who have the same passion. Heaven. 

Caroline on a CCM GP450I head off to CCM. On their stand there are two,new, very clean looking 450’s. I think they need to be worked off road a bit, to show them what they should be used for. Maybe the public doesn’t want to get dirty on bikes? The first 450 I try out feel lovely and high up. I think it is a similar height as the Yamaha TT R250 I rode recently. I am told that I will be riding the lowered version as I swap bikes. This one has been seriously lowered as I can put both feet securely on the ground. It almost feels a little to low. When I get of the bike and compare the clearance under the bike, I can't see there is any, or much difference between the bikes. So the height difference is taken off the seat and under it. This is fantastic as shorties, like myself, can ride the bike feeling they can but there feet down and reach the ground and have the advantage of the same ground clearance as lofties, like Kevin. That is surely the best of both worlds. Can’t wait to try it out. 

My next stop is with Mark and Lizzy of the Spyder, Club, having a chat with them.
During the day I meet up with staff of Honda, KTM, Triumph and Ducati. I get reintroduced to Badger from California Superbike School and get my first lesson on how to sit properly on a bike. You have to start somewhere!

Mmmm lunch - hotdog!At lunchtime I observe the crowds, whilst eating the most expensive hotdog I have ever eaten. I notice the same thing as I observed at the last show at the NEC. It is plain to see that there is a serious lack of young people at the show. I am wondering what is going to look like in say about 10 years time. Maybe manufacturers need to start thinking of designing bikes for the elderly.
Where are the youngsters? What is putting youngster of riding bikes, I wonder. Can’t be the constant rain, or their mother’s disapproving attitude? Or are boys not boys anymore?
Is it that the government is killing of motorcycling on the roads? I do know that taking your test nowadays is not the same as when I took mine, 20 odd years ago. Getting a licence is costly, and there are a huge amount of hoops to jump through, before the government, will allow you near the roads. Then you need to get insurance, which is crippling too, and a bike and riding kit. I think it is such a shame to think that youngsters have so many obstacles put in their way to experience something that I took for granted. 

Caroline with Kevin's Dave Taylor Lifetime Achievement AwardIn the afternoon I meet up with Phil West from MCN at the MCN stand. I am very proud to say Kevin had been awarded a Dave Taylor Lifetime Achievement Award, and I was here to collect it on Kevin’s behalf. Phil hands it to me and I get offered a plastic bag with it, to keep safe when taking home. There were no trumpets, speeches or applause. Just as arranged, just as Kevin would have liked it. I will have a drink to this, tonight. Thank you all, staff of MCN, for awarding Kevin with this prestigious award. He would have very much appreciated this, and then he would have said something about this which I cannot possible write here.
I go round the stands and show it off. I am so proud.
I finish of the day with a beer and a smile on my face, having had a good day, and a long drive home.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Sunday 9th February 2014

I woke up with the realisation I had forgotten to buy Saturday's Daily Telegraph. How do I get hold of one now? I want to read the motoring section. I jump into the car and pick it up from one of my clients I work for.

There, for the first time, is an article about me written by Erin Baker, the Daily Telegraph's motoring correspondent! I am so excited. I wish Kevin could see this. I hope he can. He would be so proud of what I am trying to do, I am sure.

I have a strong desire to keep Kevin's life going. He was such a great man, I do not want his work and his passion for motorcycles to stop for him or for myself. I feel I still have a connection with him by riding bikes. I can not have him back, but I am hoping to ease my pain by doing the things which we loved to do, such as riding motorcycles. I now know I do not have to say goodbye to that as well. I have to create my future myself now. I would like to do the things Kevin and I had planned, hoping it will help me to come to terms with losing Kevin and our future together.

All this is way out of my comfort zone. For years I have been very happy being pillion with Kevin, and had little desire to ride myself. Kevin was an excellent rider, full of confidence, without taking stupid risks. He knew his limitations and worked to improve himself. But, having lost my rider, I have to move forward on the seat of the bike and take control myself.

Monday, 20 January 2014

My day on the Yamaha TT250R

Not a usual Monday today. This was a Monday to look forward to, an excellent tone setter for the week. Jonathan, a good friend of mine, was coming round with a trailer and bike to pick me up for my first off road riding session.

I was not ready of course, as I could not decide what to wear. Typical girl, I know. What does one wear for off roading, which one happens to have lying about in the garage? I tried Kevin's off road helmet, but I could turn my head round in it, so no good. I settled for Jonathan's helmet and his, for me, oversized jacket, which he kindly lent me. My Triumph over trousers would have to do. How much padding would I need? Hopefully there is enough in them. Secretly, I hope I will not get them dirty, as they are so lovely. Boots are next. I only have one pair, which have started to crack, but will hopefully survive today. Gloves are more of a problem. I have one Triumph glove left as I dropped the other near the Grand Canyon, riding Route 66 with Kevin two years ago. After a rummage through Kevin's gloves, which were quite obviously too large, I decide to use the snug fitting gloves signed and donated by Bradley Smith for the Kevin Ash Fund. They fitted me perfectly. I must have man-sized hands. Shocking. Does anybody want to buy some gloves worn and signed by Bradley Smith, and now me?

The weather had changed from rain every day, and every minute, to frost and glorious sunshine. I would stay dry today but it would be frosty and slippery - great! I was filled with anticipation of what was to come as we drove to the Cotswolds, towing a trailer with the Yamaha TT R250 securely strapped down.

CarolineArriving at the woods, I took in the enormity of the task ahead. The first hill was almost vertical and fear gripped my heart. I can't do this, can I? I hopped on the back and I received some one to one tuition. Jonathan explained how to tackle different situations and I felt it all it all made perfect sense. One of the things he mentioned was to let the bike do what it wants to do and go with it. Now, as I was born on a bicycle in the Netherlands, I know what it feels like to let a bike do what it wants underneath you. That is what he must have meant, I decided, which turns out to be correct.

CarolineAs I didn't feel I was ready to throw myself off the nearest vertical dip, and I had spotted a gravel pit nearby, I opted to have my first introduction to the bike there. Getting on it was my first challenge. I am not the tallest girl around, I needed to quickly get used to being on tiptoes with one foot and my other sticking up into the heavens - different sort of fun. I rode off and spent time getting used to the different riding position and trying out different manoeuvres. The bike was surprisingly easy to ride. It felt very light and agile as the weight is down low. I felt at ease in no time and started really enjoying myself. As I went round, still receiving instructions from Jonathan, I could feel what this bike would do. It was very forgiving, I could almost stall it but I could easily recover.
The gear change was smooth and the lever is in the right place. I have ridden a Honda CBR 500 and the gear leaver was not it the right position to start off with, and it made you conscious of changing gear, which is not something you want to do as you are about to overtake. It should be done almost unconsciously, so you can concentrate on riding. The clutch and front brake leavers are often positioned too far from the handlebars for me, and are a challenge to use, even though I know now I have man sized hands. But these were within my grasp. A bonus!

CarolineI liked the height and the seat/handlebar position, I felt immediately in control of the bike and the seat is just the right width.

I tried tightening my turns, adjusting to the different riding position from riding on road to off-road. As I increased my speed, my confidence increased too. I now felt ready to take on the woods. I climbed back on and an initial route was chosen. I did not want have to make last minute decisions which way round a tree I should go, knowing very well I would end up becoming a reluctant tree hugger. I wanted to concentrate on riding. I was ready to go for it. I gripped the handlebars, swore quietly to myself, opened the throttle and set off down the first slippery dip. On my return, Jonathan said he was surprised to overhear me swear - oops. I explained to him “I do that when I have to do something I have not done before and it is a bit scary”. Not something to worry too much about.

I tried to treat the bike somewhat as a mountain bicycle. There was of course the added pleasure of being able to open the throttle riding up the steep hills instead of having to peddle like mad. I think I would like to add a little engine on my mountain bike.
I was surprised how quickly I had forgotten how to ride a motorbike and wobbled round like a first time learner. Been one now twice. I got very cross with myself and told myself I could carry on like that, or improve.  If Jonathan had been nearby he could then have overheard me talk loudly to myself all the instruction he had given me. It did help chastising myself a bit, and subsequently my riding and my confidence improved.  After a well-earned biscuit and apple for lunch, Jonathan took a turn and I watched and learned what I could try and do to improve.

I did fall off once at the end of the session, and I have a bruise to prove it. That was a fantastic day learning something, which I now want to get better at and do lots more of.
Thank you Jonathan for lending me your bike, your helmet and jacket, your time and being my excellent teacher and photographer.