Sunday 30 April 2023

The Monkey Motorbike Diaries - Episode 6: Dropping the bike

Just when you think you're getting the hang of it..... and you have that really embarrassing fall.

I am really enjoying riding my Honda Monkey, and I must say I even feel I have a bit of status because I ride my minimotorbike with no L-plates - unlike most other riders on small motorbikes and scooters around London.

I guess that comes with pros and cons. It's great that people can look at me and view me as someone who takes their motorbiking a little bit seriously, riding with all the correct protective gear, being responsible on the road, and not thrashing the bike around like a frisky teenager. 

But on the other hand, folks may also look at you like you are this really experienced bike rider. And then some of the newbies may even follow my line when filtering through traffic. Look, I'm just ad-libbing things and learning on the job. It may even be that some motorbikers with L-plates have been riding on the road for more years than I have been. The difference between us is just that they have chosen not to take the test for a full licence, preferring to renew their Compulsory Basic Training certificate every two years. So who knows they may actually be better bike riders than I even though they have L-plates. If that is the case, I am confident that it won't always be the case. I am determined to do all the courses and activities that will make me good, safe motorcyclist.

However, for now, I have to put up with those silly schoolboy errors. Top of the list of silly errors is dropping the bike whe3n riding at slow pace. I remember dropping the bike a couple of days after I bought the Monkey. It was pretty embarassing, as I pulled into the driveway of my house and as accelerated a little to get the bike to ride over the ramp in the kerb, I must have accelerated a bit too much and ended up losing control of the bike as there was a rapid surge in momentum. At that point me and the Monkey were in a heap on the pavement. 

Before I had time to think about any damage to the bike or my body, I focussed very quickly on getting back on my feet, hoping that nobody had seen what was a rather embarrassing fall. I picked myself up trying to style it out as though the tumble had been a planned action - not!

Apart from that, I hadn't had any mishap on the bike until now, when I was parking in a residential street in Hampstead to go to the Lido. It was a lovely sunny morning and I was enjoying riding down this tree-lined cul-de-sac with its Victorian red-brick houses. Finding a space on the other side of the road I did a very slow U-turn, then before I knew it, the bike lost momentum and wobbled. My gut reaction was to try and rescue the fall. But at this point I was already heading for the ground, and I was beyond rescue. Both me and the Monkey flipped sideways and I had hit the deck, with the bike lying on top of my leg. The engine continued running for a few seconds more before stalling.

I didn't feel any pain as the thickness of my kevlar trousers must have absorbed the force. Motorcycle gear is definitely worth investing in. I would have felt very embarrassed, but in fact my biggest issue was how to get up. The bike weighs 104kg, which is light compared with most motorcycles. Nevertheless, it felt like a tonne and I was completely unable to move it. I was trapped. P The saving grace was that this was a small cul-de-sac, so no chance of traffic passing through. Unhelpfully no pedestrians were coming through either.  So I was faced with the prospect of just lying there until someone could help me. 

Luckily, two young women emerged from one of the houses. When they saw me they looked shocked and at the same time mystified as to what to do. I asked if they could lift the bike for me. The younger woman bent down to reach the bike. I felt a little awkward as I didn't know how strong she would be, and I would've been horrified if she put her back out. 

Thanks, that's great. I can do the rest now, I said to her as she tried to bring the bike into an upright position. All I had needed was for thecbike to be lifted enough for me to remove my leg from underneath it. Then I could stand myself and the Monkey back up. I was really grateful of her help. Are you alright? She asked, looking quite worried for me. Oh, I am fine. There's no harm done. At that moment a cycle courier on a scooter appeared from nowhere, and also asked if I was okay. Then I began to feel silly. When you're on an eye-catching bike like the Honda Monkey you should be able to walk the walk, not hit the deck!

"I'm totally fine," I replied. "I just made a silly mistake when doing my U-turn. I just feel really embarrassed!"

"Don't worry about it. We've all done that. But you're okay, right?" The young man enquired. 

I told him I was fine, before he went along on his way and continued his day, as did the two women. 

A quick inspection of the bike showed no damage, apart from to the right wing mirror which had come loose. This road turned out to be a a convenient place to have a mishap as there was a Kwik-Fit garage right opposite. The guy quickly resolved the issue by secreting the wing mirror back on, and everything was fine. Of course I would be getting the bike checked over properly once I got home.

After that mini drama, I found a parking space a little further away, and swam my cares away at Parliament Hill Lido.

There was no harm done during this fall. Most bikers wouldn't class it as a fall, but as dropping the bike. It's said to be one of the most common incidents, and can happen to anyone regardless of experience. That's reassuring to hear, but what I need to do is to learn how to pick myself up after such incidents.  In fact, I just say that this "bike drop" is one reason to stick with the minimoto Monkey, and not get a larger bike. I need something I can easily lift in these instances, or at least any passer-by helping me can easily lift.

Better still, I should try not to drop the bike, and learn for if I do drop it, to find a way to style it out!

Related posts 

The Monkey Motorbike Diaries - Episode 5

The Monkey Motorbike Diaries - Episode 4

The Monkey Motorbike Diaries - Episode 3

Monday 24 April 2023

Freewheeling: Is women's professional cycle racing in a good place?

Demi Vollering wins Liege-Bastogne-Liege @GettySport

Phew, it's been breathtaking watching how the races have unfolded during this year's Spring Classics races - those tough one-day races in northern France, Belgium and the Netherlands over windswept, sometimes cobbled, sometimes undulating terrain, often in the rain. No one must be more out of breath than SD Worx rider Demi Vollering, who completed the Ardennes Classics triple in scintillating style by winning the Amstel Gold, Flèche-Wallone, and Liège-Bastogne-Liege - a feat last achieved by her mentor and team Sports Director, Anna van der Breggen in 2017.

As women's professional cycling continues to grow and more is being done to achieve parity with men's cycle racing, it is worth doing a stop and check, and asking if women's professional cycle racing really is in a good place?

Vive Le Tour de France Femmes

It has been great to see that sports event organiser Amaury Sports Organisation (ASO) continue to add to its sports portfolio by staging the Paris-Roubaix Femmes and a Tour de France Femmes. Last year's renaissance competition caught the eye of millions as the women raced around the streets of Paris on that hot Sunday afternoon during Stage 1 in the last week of July, right before the men raced the traditional finale. For many, it was an emotional day to see a women's peloton starting the stage race using the infrastructure of the iconic cycle race - something for which the likes of former professional cyclist Kathryn Bertine, and others including multiple World Champion Marianne Vos have campaigned for decades.

ASO were very happy with the viewing figures in France, with 20 million viewers on France 2 and France 3 free-to-air television channels across the whole race. There were on average 2.25 million viewers per day, making an audience share of 26.4%, and notably 5.1 million during the showdown between Vollering and Annemiek Van Vleuten on the final stage, on La Super Planche des Belles Filles. Across Europe 14 million viewers in seven countries tuned into fee-paying Eurosport. Naturally ratings were solid in the Netherlands with audience share of its national TV station, NOS being 45% as fans tuned in to watch their compatriot heroes race their way onto the podium and don the winning jerseys - Van Vleuten in yellow, Vollering in polka dots, Vos in green, and Shirin Van Anrooij in white. 

British hopes would normally have been placed on the top road racer, Lizzie Deignan, who won the inaugural Paris-Roubaix Femmes, but she was away on maternity leave. That will have impacted on viewing figures on this side of the English Channel.

Stage 1 of 2022 revived Tour de France Femmes

Meanwhile in France, crowds came out in force along the road sides for key stages in Paris, on the gravel roads into Bar-sur-Aube during Stage Four, and at the finale on the slopes of the Vosgian mountain passes. But even Tour Director, Marion Rousse said that there were questions to be asked around the lack of roadside spectators on other stages.

In some cycle races, local schools get the children to come out of their classrooms to watch the race, and make some noise. That generally makes for good viewing to see crowds of young, excited faces and their high pitched cheers ring out loudly as the television cameras pan through the town centres. But with the Tour de France Femmes being in late July, many schools are already closed for the holidays. 

Growth is in the eyeballs of the beholder

Very importantly, the number of eyeballs on a race is a key factor in the growth of any sport. It's important to have the viewing figures, and it also looks good for viewers when they watch images of competitors battling it out in front of enthusiastic crowds. 

While sports fans avidly watch their athletic heroes performing well, they also like the stories and the characters behind the sport - the professional who was just a weekend warrior barely a year previously; the outspoken activist; the rivalries - between teams or even within a team; the bad boy/girl; the athlete making a come-back following a serious injury or illness.

The highly successful Netflix Formula 1 docusoap Drive to Survive has consistently attracted the same comment - "I don't follow F1; I don't know anything about motorsport; but I am fascinated by the characters and the stories."

Personally, I think we need a bit of that in cycling, and particularly in women's professional cycling. Cycling fans marvel on social media over who they believe to be the GOAT (greatest of all time) - be it Marianne Vos or Annemiek Van Vleuten in the modern era, Beryl Burton from the vintage times, or Jeannie Longo if they want to go for a controversial choice. Whoever your don't want athletes who when they are interviewed are just a bit too.....I dare say, "ordinary"! Many of these athletes just talk about their racing, their calendar, their strategy, and they will have been media-prepped to not stray off that line. That's all well and good for the purist fan. But a sport cannot live on purists alone. There needs to be an extra dimension that can attract a wider audience and give a wow factor - or at least a story that chimes with observers.

Marianne Vos, for many the GOAT

Recently, a camera crew on the famous Koppenberg climb on the route of the Tour of Flanders, asked a group of women riders to move out of the way so that they could film one of the top men's teams doing their training ride over the cobbles. 

The camera crew failed to recognise that among the women they budged out was a certain Lotte Kopecky - defending champion of the race, a native of Flanders (voted Flandrian of the Year) as well as being winner of other classics like Het Nieuwsblad and Strade Bianche, plus a multiple World and European Track cycling champion. 

I previously wrote an article in Rouleur magazine about a big sporting rivalry in the 1980s - not Borg and McEnroe, but Longo and Canins. Two of the best women riders of that era, who dominated the erstwhile Tour de France Feminin. Jeannie Longo was a former Alpine skier from the French Alps, while Maria Canins was a former cross country skier from the Italian Dolomites. A young firebrand demoiselle against la mamma volante (on account of her juggling her racing with being a mother). This rivalry filled column inches of the sports pages and garnered curious as well as dedicated fans to support team Longo or team Canins. Both women have reminisced whimsically about those days when they had their faces plastered on the front of popular sports newspapers like Gazzetto dello Sport or L'Equipe. Longo also appeared on sports shows on French television. 

Everybody loves a story - where is it? We need it! 

Among the sea of women's teams today, a couple of frontrunners have emerged in the race for World Tour supremacy, with both teams having a clutch of World and National Champions in their fold. I'm talking about Trek-Segafredo and SD Worx. Wouldn't things be spiced up if we had a Manchester City v Arsenal type rivalry going on?

While there are quite a few riders who have shown true grit on the road, there don't seem to be any real characters that do acts that go beyond sport. Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig's trademark effusive post-race interviews attract interest and have brought her a significant following, and a comparatively less well-known Canadian, Alison Jackson - the surprise winner of Paris-Roubaix Femmes - got people talking as much about her sporting achievement as for her post-race dances on social media. But it seems to be limited to that. Let's hope Alison wins a few more races.

In short, we see some great racing in the women's game and there are some outstanding riders. But we could do with more characters and back-stories to make the sport. That's what garners a wider interest than just pure sport, and what brings more eyeballs, and hence increasing TV deals, and sponsorship. We all want to see our favourite sport on television, but clearly given the costs of televising a sport event, there needs to be something in it for the organisers who would sell the rights, and the broadcast companies who purchase the rights, and ultimately the sponsors and advertisers who are hoping to get the visibility and the returns. 

There needs to be solid evidence that loads of people will watch the event on TV. The Tour de France Femmes last year was deemed a success in terms of viewing figures which is great, but that scenario needs to be replicated again and again across the collection of big races in the racing calendar. As annoying as it may be that a women's cycle race isn't shown on terrestrial TV, it has to be kept in mind that it's an ambitious expectation to see a race televised if viewing figures are measured in the thousands - which is not uncommon for some World Tour races -  rather than in the millions.  

Sadly, sponsorship was lacking when it came to the Women's Tour of Britain race. The week-long stage competition had been running since 2014, attracting the best riders in the world, and was a paragon of parity in sport, with the race being televised on terrestrial free-to-air TV in the UK, and offering over a 90,000-euro prize fund - equal to the men's Tour of Britain, and more generous than other World Tour races apart from the Ride London Classique, and the later revived Tour de France Femmes.

But the organisers, Sweetspot, could not sustain this model and find a company willing to become the headline sponsor once the OVO Energy sponsorship ended after 2019. The event took place in 2022 but without a headline sponsor, but this could not continue for 2023. With funds desperately needed following the departure of other sponsors of the winners' jerseys and a vehicle sponsor, crowd funding was set up to try to make up the £500,000 shortfall. Sadly, there was no light at the end of the tunnel for this year.

The organisers, hope to hold the race in 2024, but that remains to be seen. The Vårgårda one-day race in Sweden has been stopped altogether due to economic reasons. Meanwhile, the women's Vuelta a España race, which had been held over one or two days in the September (and known as the Challenge Madrid) has been brought forward to May and will be a week-long stage race. The inaugural women's United Arab Emirates Tour took place in February over four days, and two newish stage races - the Tour de Suisse and the Tour de Romandie continue to establish themselves in the women's racing calendar. The women's calendar is busier than ever with 27 races (including 13 stage races) on the calendar, up from 23 in 2022. This is a far cry from the 17 races (including four stage races) when the calendar was established in 2016.

On paper professional women appear to have significantly less racing to do than their male counterparts who have 20 one-day races and 15 stage races (of which three are three weeks long) on their calendar. But in fact a men's team has around 30 riders in its squad, with an average of 12 sports directors/associate sports directors, so they can run dual squads in parallel. Women's teams don't have the resources to do that, especially as many teams will have just one or two sports directors, and 15 riders to fill the calendar. It is not uncommon for teams to run overlapping squads, and some also have a development squad too, but still, athletes can quickly become maxed out in racing if there are any injury or illness issues. This was a problem for Trek-Segafredo, which led to Lizzie Deignan returning to racing slightly earlier than planned. 

Some of the smaller World Tour Teams have said that the changes in structure and conditions in women's professional racing - increased minimum wages, greater prize money, television coverage, maternity pay - are very welcome, even long overdue. However, this can only be sustained with more cash, which can be challenging to find and sustain.

In the words of a UK Prime Minister, "There is no magic money tree".

Hoping for a great future

As well as the unfortunate absence of a few races from the 2023, in the last couple of years teams have spectacularly folded, among them Team Virtu Cycling, Paule Ka, and B&B Hotels - which led to Chloe Hosking unexpectedly facing the prospect of an early retirement from racing. Lifeplus-Wahoo had previously been a World Tour team (when sponsored Trek), but sponsorship issues led to the outfit dropping down to a Continental team status. As for Zaaf Cycling Team, this has been a catastrophe with several riders leaving, including French National Champion Audrey Cordon-Ragot (who had also been a casualty of the B&B Hotels fall-out) after there were reports of riders and staff not being paid.

Development in women's professional sport is always a good thing. But it is also important that any growth be sustainable. This apparent boom in women's professional cycle racing will do wonders for the future of the sport - for athletes, businesses, media, and inspiring more girls and women to get on a bicycle. But the proportionate financial support needs to be there to keep things going, and there needs to be an incentive for corporations to want to pour money into the sport. 

Serena Williams 

In my opinion, the incentive comes down to eyeballs - maybe a Megan Rapinoe moment, which raised the profile of women's football during the 2019 Fifa Football World Cup, or a Serena (Williams) Slam, circa 2003 and with the matching flamboyance and character - or is it sacrilege if I mention a Lance Armstrong moment - but without the industrial scale doping programme and bullying.

Megan Rapinoe at the 2019 football World Cup

Putting women's professional cycling properly on the map like sports such as football or tennis is easier said than done, at a time when professional women's cycle racing is finding its climbing legs. But I think the gains for the sport would be significant, and can move it from it's current reasonably good place, to a great place.

Related posts

52 Cycling Voices - 35: Kimberly Coats

52 Cycling Voices - 32: Emma Wade

Farewell Look Mum No Hands!

Le Tour de France Femmes est Arrivee

Wednesday 19 April 2023

South London spin: Flèche-Chislehurst - My alternative Flèche-Wallonne

As it's the day of the Flèche Wallonne cycle race in Belgium, I thought I would do my own version of the race, which is 194km (127km for the women). It runs from Herve to the famous Mur de Huy, a climb of 1.3km with an average gradient of 9.6%.

As I haven't been able to do loads of cycling due to a few injury issues I can't ride what the pros are riding, and I certainly wouldn't want to waste time and effort going over to Belgium and doing the cyclosportive version of the event created for amateur riders. So I thought I would ride my own version. 

Old Hill, Chislehurst

It is considerably shorter - just 34 km, was in a less iconic - though still enjoyable for me - Bromley, Chislehurst, West Wickham. I didn't have fans cheering me on when going over the climbs. As it was around 9am I had lots of parents and kids on the school run watching me. Instead of vehicles from the race organisers, teams, and media, my roads were cluttered with school run vehicles. Still, I had an audience.

This is a short ride that I like to do early in the morning during the week before starting work. I get out to Bromley via Beckenham and Hayes and straight into Chislehurst. Overall, the ride is not so hilly compared with some of the other routes in the Kent area, and I don't tend to want something too lumpy first thing in the morning when I am still trying to get my body into gear.

I always enjoy the part where the road plunges down suddenly just before Chislehurst train station and you get nice views over the Kent suburban countryside. Then right after the sharp left-hand turn after the railway bridge the road immediately begins to climb gradually and then becomes steep and narrow. 

If I'm not feeling fit, I'm not ashamed to say that occasionally I've ended up walking up the hill! It has to be said that the narrowness of the road and parking means that this road is best approached early in the morning, or in the evening when traffic is light.

Vehicles coming down the hill tend to give way to you as you're going up, but in a way it also assumes that you're going at a minimum acceptable speed. 

The problem comes when two vehicles need to get past one another and the vehicle going uphill decides to stop. Then you have to do a track stand and then restart pedalling when the road is clear; or the more normal folks among us just put our foot to the ground, mean you end up walking as the gradient makes it a bit tricky to get going again.

The good thing about this climb when pacing is that there are two pubs to look out for: The Bickley Arms, just as the road steepens, and then The Imperial Arms just as the gradient levels off. Note that if you go down the side of the Imperial Arms there's also The Rambler's Rest which is also a decent watering hole.

On this particular day, and because I was honoring the big event over in the Ardennes, I also went up another hill nearby, though more clement Camden Park Road, which takes me to the same summit as old hill. 

Actually, I also went up this second hill because Old Hill was a little too rammed with school run cars for me to go all the way to the Imperial Arms. Now if only I had had a motorbike escort ahead of me to clear everyone out of the way!

Going down Old Hill

Once at the summit, at Chislehurst Cross my route then goes through the quintessential Kentish village-like London suburb, and then on to Petts Wood, Crofton and Locksbottom. While the route from here is largely flat, it's good to save a bit of energy for another steep climb later on at West Wickham, Hawes Lane. 

Most local riders turn right at the Coney Hall roundabout and take the shallow hill to West Wickham High Street. But this alternative of the road before the roundabout, Hawes Lane provides a nice little home-run tester - not quite as steep as Old Hill, but the 10% gradient is still a sting in the tail when you think it's time to relax.

Finally, the route reaches the back of West Wickham and the road back to Elmers End and Crystal Palace. This is the stretch where I ride at a moderately quick pace, ready to jump on the back of one of the many trains on the home run back into London. 

Most groups of riders are too quick for me given my current lack of fitness. But it was still possible to join a couple of guys who were going at a more relaxing pace (which was by my standards, still quite fast). At that point I could imagine myself in a train containing the likes of Marlene Reusser, Lotte Kopecky or Elisa Longo Borghini! Okay, I was probably only doing about 15mph, but why not dream!

So in this ride honoured the Flèche-Wallonne by climbing my version of the Cote d'Ereffe, Cote de Cherave and the Mur de Huy by doing Camden Park Road, Hawes Lane, and the Mur de Old Hill! No World Tour points or prize money for me, but I think I earned my breakfast! 

My mini local Flèche-Chislehurst route

Related posts

Regents Park, London - My favourite training ground

Rouleur Live - London rocks! Why I think London cycling infrastructure is pretty good

Winning on Winnats Pass at the National Hill Climb Championships

Cycling up Toys Hill - the hard way ( via Puddledock) 

My cycle Tour of Flanders

Sunday 9 April 2023

The Monkey Motorbike Diaries - Episode 5: Ride to Newlands Corner

Easter at Newlands Corner 

All smiles at Newlands Corner after taking a few fun bends and then doing some trail running

Since passing my A1 motorcycle test in February, I have enjoyed riding around on my Honda Monkey without L-plates. Even though I am only on a 125cc bike I still feel like I have come up somewhat in the motorcycling world. It just gives me a feeling of being a slightly "serious" biker as opposed to a kid on a runaround for delivering pizzas, or someone confining themselves to a life of just renewing the Compulsory Basic Training (CBT) certificate every two years. No, I want an actual license, so that I can do all the things that motorbikers do, albeit in a mini version!

I now have the full gear, having gifted myself a pair of fully padded trousers for my birthday, to complement the jacket and boots. They did set me back to the tune of around £250, but I am sure these pants will be worth it and can provide the difference between slight bruising and broken bones if I come a cropper. Very prudently, my clothing is included in the bike insurance!

So with all my gear I decided to go out on an Easter ride. My longest outing to date was 40 miles round-trip to Box Hill and back. Today, I went a little further and went to Newlands Corner, also in the Surrey Hills but slightly more to the West and close to Guildford. 

Route-finding was not an issue for me as I am familiar with these roads, having done lots of road cycling around Surrey. I headed down to Reigate where I picked up the A25 to Dorking and basically stayed on that road all the way to Shere. I stopped quickly to fuel up and then took the short uphill stretch to the popular visitor centre and car park on the North Downs Way.

I had been slightly apprehensive about the ride, mainly because my little Monkey is more used to urban riding, where the average speed is around 15 miles per hour and top speeds approximately 35. Would the little 9 brake horse power engine be able to cope with 40 or 50 mph roads? I was afraid of holding everyone up, and having a long snake of vehicles behind me. Also, would I be able to take the bends?

To make life easier for me, I set off from home early - around 8.30am, when the roads would be quiet. Riding along the A25 in the shadow of the chalky hills of Box Hill, Denbies Hillside, and Abinger Roughs was a real buzz as I took the bends prudently but still faster than I normally ride. The Monkey felt firm on the road and as long as I opened the throttle generously and before the road steepened I was able to get up without without dropping too much momentum. There was a section after Wotton where I underestimated the steepness of the hill and the bike began to chug a little so I dropped down to second gear. Luckily there was no one behind me so it was no big deal.

I must say when I arrived at Newlands I had a smile on my face. By the time I arrived at the car park it was almost 10am, and bikers were already gathering. 

The thing is, I didn't have any intention of hanging out eating a bacon sandwich/burger or admiring other bikers' kit - whatever it is that bikers do when they gather at these places. I chose to go to Newlands because it's a nice trip out, and more importantly it's great for trail running. I even had a little orienteering map with me to check out a permanent course and get in some running as well as navigation training. So while folks were queuing up at the café, I was getting changed into my trainers and running kit.

My bike was parked up next to an older guy who greeted me on my arrival. I must say I felt a bit of a fraud. "I'm not a real biker," I told him. "I'm new to motorbiking and I've just come here for a run." He half laughed and said, "Don't worry about it, we've all got to start somewhere. Nice bike, by the way." He then told me about how he had come all the way down from Newcastle-on-Tyne for the weekend, and had taken part in a big ride out to Windsor with about 500 mainly ex-military guys on motorbikes. He was still on a high from that event. I guess that was something I could look forward to doing. (It's open to civilians as well.) He then said he'd had enough of Newlands Corner as he found it a bit too cliquey and would be going to Ryka's at Box Hill, which is apparently a lot friendlier. "I might see you over there," he said. I told him I'd be doing a trail run first, and he said "Okay, see you later." I could only guess he didn't know what I meant when I said "trail run". I didn't have the heart to explain to him it would take me a little longer than the time he would take to ride the 10 miles to the foot of Box Hill!   

My orienteering trail run was quite fun, and it was great to be able to explore the trails near the area of St Martha's Hill, even if it was quite taxing trudging uphill and down dale through the woods and on the grassy banks. Still, I really enjoyed being in these deserted pockets of beautiful countryside in the April sunshine. By the time I returned to my bike the car parks - for cars and motorcycles - were rammed full.

A couple of guys had gathered around my bike which I had covered to conceal my motorcycle clothing and boots. "We were waiting to see the bike uncovered; we were curious to find out what bike was underneath the cover," they said. I suspect they already knew what my bike was, as they would have identified the familiar small-sized chunky tyres. By some coincidence one of the guys said, "I knew it. I have a Monkey as well. Come and see mine." He then proudly led me across the car park to show me his yellow pride and joy, known as the Monkey Banana. It did look pretty cool. He reeled off all these modifications that he had made to the bike - getting long armed wing mirrors, putting on a stronger suspension, modifying the exhaust, and adorning it with some cool-looking stickers. 

I actually felt embarrassed to say, I had no modification story to reciprocate. Feeling quite the boring so-and-so I said, "Mine hasn't had any thing done to it!" I did welcome his recommendation on where to get some monkey shaped stickers though! I wouldn't mind having some of those.

Interestingly, this gathering at Newlands was a day out for the guys, though they only lived down the road in Cranleigh. At least I could take some brownie points for having travelled almost four times as far as them, having ridden across from Crystal Palace.

Throughout my time in the car park, various people arrived and left, with people who seemed to know each other or recognise each other from other biker gatherings catching up and chatting. A guy on a big trike parked up next to me, and a lot of people crowded around his mean machine observing, inspecting, discussing, and quizzing about it. It was all very intriguing. I just busied myself with getting changed and packing away my bike cover. 

I couldn't have contributed towards the discussion after bidding him a courteous "hello", other than to say "burgundy is my favourite colour" or something equally inane. So I judged it better to not be part of the crowd. Maybe my homework will be to read a little about trikes in case I bump into him again.

All in all, it was a good morning (which turned into an afternoon) out. On leaving Newlands Corner I felt quite emboldened and motivated on my ride home, after spending all that time among motor bikers. It may have even given me a confidence boost when riding.  

I may not "feel" like a motor biker, but in fact just turning up at a motor biker car park (particularly where the folks are friendly) does have the effect of the culture rubbing off onto you without realising it. Who knows, maybe they'll make more of a motor bike out of me in the future. 

I look forward to doing a similar outing before long.

Related posts

The Monkey Motorcycle Diaries - Episode 1

The Monkey Motorcycle Diaries - Episode 2

The Monkey Motorcycle Diaries - Episode 3

The Monkey Motorcycle Diaries - Episode 4