Camchain and tensioner seen up close in a cutaway bike engine

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When Is A Biker Not A Biker

By Tom McGuiggan - July 2014

When he has no bike, of course!  Or at least that’s how I’m feeling right now, after selling my bike following a very nasty near-miss.  

I’ve been riding bikes for almost four decades and have clocked up a fair few miles. I’ve always been the sort of biker who is keen to seek out new places and in all kinds of weather. I prefer early starts, late finishes and almost never set off without a clear destination – or even multiple destinations.
I’d choose a primary place to visit and then see what else could be included along the way. The trip would involve lots of brief stops and lots of photos to aid my ailing memory cells. 300 mile days were pretty standard – sometimes more, sometimes less, depending on how long I stopped off at places en-route. Sometimes I would spot a side-road or a place-sign that spiked my curiosity and make a detour resulting in me getting lost. All part of the day’s adventure.
Quite often, I’d discover beautiful little hamlets, ancient churches, old market towns and sometimes I’d happen upon amazing twisty roads which provided me with new views of familiar places. Some of the discoveries would result in a painting when I got home (another hobby of mine).
Biking is famous for its camaraderie and like every other biker, I have always felt like I belonged to a subscription-free club of some sort. It’s not just the nods from fellow travellers and the easy conversations at chuck-wagons, it’s knowing that bikers are always there for you when you break down at the side of the road or have a little “off”.
Speaking of “offs”, over the years I’ve had three. One was when I was 17 and it involved heavy snow and a blatant disregard for my health and safety. The second one was soon after the first and involved a poorly maintained chain which wrapped around my rear wheel, launching me into the path of an oncoming bus. The third was a couple of years ago and involved a powerful Fireblade, freezing tarmac and a brand new, slippy tyre. None of the incidents involved more than heavy bruising.
And then in June 2014 I had a REAL eye-opener! I was travelling at approximately 65mph when a car pulled out in front of me at the very last second. Somehow (no skill was involved) I managed to throw the bike to the right hand side of the road against oncoming traffic and narrowly missed a head-on collision with a van. Instead of smashing into the van’s bonnet, I went between it and the kerb.
That day changed me altogether.
I wasn’t hurt. No one else was hurt. There was no damage to any vehicles and other than almost chucking up in my helmet, I was fine. But I just knew there and then that I would be selling up.  

Other bikers who I know have had much worse happen to them, and sadly, a few didn’t even make it home. Biker funerals and FaceBook RIP’s seem to be an all too 
frequent occurrence – but it wasn’t just the fear of being killed that worried me now – it was the fear of surviving with horrific injuries!
I like to think I’m pretty logical in my outlook on things. After nearly 40 years of biking, I’m guessing that the odds of something happening are escalating. It doesn’t matter what kind of biker you are – you can be an idiot, inexperienced, experienced, a qualified instructor or even a super-fast racer – sooner or later something’s likely to happen.   

I’ve had many happy years biking and don’t regret a single day. Lots of fantastic memories of places and people. In all that time I’ve had a few near-misses too and like most other people I have simply shrugged them off. Some slow you down for a few hours or even a few days, but pretty soon you’re back to thinking you’re invincible.
But this time it was different. I can’t explain why exactly. Could be I’m just getting older. Could be because I now have two beautiful grandchildren I want to enjoy. Could be I’m just getting soft. Whatever it is, it feels pretty final.
So that brings me to the question – when is a biker not a biker.
Well, this weekend I walked my dog up to the biker-meeting-point “Rivington Barn” and as I approached it, bikers where whizzing past on their shiny, roary mounts just like I would normally do. Blipping throttles, forcing overruns for ear-splitting backfires, popping wheelies, pausing for the lady with the camera and generally having a bit of fun.
But now I was on foot. And I was feeling a bit alienated. I was wondering what I’d actually do when I got to the Barn. Would I be an outsider? Should I actually be going there? Would people still treat me as they had before or would they be privately thinking “What the hell’s he want now that he’s not a biker”? 
When I reached the barn, there was actually no one there who I knew well, so I had a quick walk around the bikes, then had a chat with some fellow dog-walkers. Maybe I’m not a biker any more. Maybe I’m now a dogger! ? 
Back home I’m looking around at a house full of biking books, DVD’s, models, MotoGP and TT memorabilia, leathers, gloves, boots, helmets, satnav, videocam and in the garage there’s a 34yr old Superdream ‘resto’ that needs finishing, pistons, swingarms, shock absorbers, silencers, carbs, tyres, oil and tools galore! It all has to go now.  

I feel sad. Like I’ve reached the end of a really treasured book. I don’t want to say I’m no longer a biker – I still feel like one. But I guess I’m not. 

Reader's Comments

Paul S said :-
Give it time Tom. You may not be due another near miss for years. Or you could have 3 in a day, but time will lend perspective.
Incidentally you can be a biker and a dogger.

I am ;)

Two whippets. lol.


1/1/2000 UTC
Sharon said :-
Maybe you will get another bike Tom, maybe you will not. But it does not matter if you have a bike or not Tom you are a friend. It is your friendship I value not your bike. Please always feel welcome to come out with me any time. If you want to meet up in a place by driving in the car then do it. If you want to come camping or a weekend away with us lot then you are always more than welcome. Bikes gave us a common ground but it is the friendship that last and matters the most.
Besides I could take my big hair dryer if you were in a car wahoo!! xx
1/1/2000 UTC
Tom McQuiggan said :-
Thanks :-) I was explaining to some the other night that I've not suddenly become scared of bikes - I would very happily jump on a Fireblade tomorrow - on a track day - and have a real good time, but it feels like my road-riding days are over. I'm surprised at how little I'm missing it! The worst bit is not being able to go places without getting stuck on queues and having to find parking spaces :-)
1/1/2000 UTC
Tom McQ said :-
Well here we are 2yrs later and I'm back on a bike again. And even found a new life-partner :-)

Tom and Liana
13/7/2016 7:46:35 AM UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
I'm not sure if a CBF600 is a "life partner"?
13/7/2016 9:30:51 AM UTC
Andy said :-
May I tell you about a near miss I had last year that may make you feel better.
I was riding my BMW along a winding country lane I know very well.
I was pressing on, but within the speed limit which is 60mph.
As I started straightening up after a left hand bend, I was faced with an Aston Martin, on the wrong side of the road overtaking, heading straight at me.
I pulled in as far as I could without burying my bike in the hedge, and as that car went passed, I felt it brush against my leg, it was that close.
I also heard the female passenger in the car screaming.
I pulled over a bit further up, lit a fag, and contemplated my near death experience.
I had the same thoughts as you.
Maybe it was a sign.
I've had 35 years of happy riding.
Maybe it's time to quit while I'm ahead.
Then something else occurred to me.
What if I'd been in the car.
It was because I was on the bike that I was able to use my width advantage and get out of the way.
If I had been driving instead of riding, that would have been it.
Game over.
Of course we know that riding is inherently dangerous.
It would be stupid to argue that it's safer to be on a bike, but on this occasion, being on the bike instead of the car, saved my life.

19/2/2017 11:57:20 PM UTC
Bob said :-
Glad you're back on two wheels.
I've had loads of near misses and a few hits, the last time was cartwheeling my KLE500 into a ditch due to a flat back tyre.
Nobody knows how they'll react until something major occurs and there's no wrong or right about it. I seem to have the talent for just forgetting about it (I cycle to work so near-death experiences are a weekly event).
But I do agree with the point about life-changing injuries. I don't fear death half as much as I fear not quite dying and ending up in a mess for the rest of my life.
22/2/2017 12:21:57 PM UTC
Sharon said :-
Your prediction of the CBF 600 not being a life partner was certainly true Ren. Tom you change bikes more often than I change my brake pads. No forget that my brake pads seem to last a long time. Put up a photo Tom of your new lodger. Wonder how long her tenancy will last?? ??
22/2/2017 12:54:14 PM UTC
Tom McQ said :-
OOOPS! You are so right Sharon! I bought a Tiger Sport and then sold it and bought a VFR. Isn't it time you changed your pads??

Lightning Fast!
27/2/2017 9:05:22 AM UTC
Sharon said :-
I have yet to change my brake pads. I checked the brake pads last week on the Keeway RKS 125cc and still plenty of life left in them after 23,000 miles.

Is this normal? If not I either have the best brake pads in the world or I hardly ever brake. I will leave that up to the readers to decide which is the most likely
27/2/2017 9:45:28 AM UTC

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