Not missing anything
THERE are some things in life which just don’t make sense. A bee shouldn’t be able to fly because its wings are too small. Peter Stringfellow should not be able to pull nubile young women. And a one-armed man should not be able to ride an R1.
But try telling that to Roger Poynton, Steve Poole and Darrin Sharp, R1 owners who have three useful arms between them.
Many people with a full complement of limbs are scared witless by the 1000cc Yamaha. Open the throttle and 140horses race to the back wheel, forcing riders to hang on until their knuckles go white.
So imagine what it must be like screaming towards 170mph with just five fingers wrapped around the bars and your knees glued to the tank.
” It can be a bit of handful, ” said 27-year-old Poynton. ” Every rider knows it gets harder to hold on as you open the throttle, but one of my arms is tucked in my leathers. ”
Poole is more confident. He said: ” It’s easy! It doesn’t take too much hanging on. You just hold on with your knees. Wheelies are easy, too, it’s just stand-up ones which are tricky. ”
His confidence is shared by Sharp, who said: ” I don’t think about it, I just do it. It comes naturally. I’ve recently been doing some off-roading on a Yamaha TY250. I haven’t quite got around to doing a track day yet, but I intend to, and I’m practising wheelies. ”
Riding the same machines, in the same colours, isn’t all this trio has in common – all were injured in collisions with cars, and all overcame the odds to get back in the saddle.
Poynton, 27, a customer service provider from Cambridge, lost his right arm when he was knocked off his bike nine years ago.
But five years later he was back on the road riding a Suzuki Bandit 600. And, yes, he’s heard all the jokes about being a one-armed Bandit rider. ” The dream of riding again was always there, ” he said. ” I went to the TT in ’96 and saw other riders who only had one arm and I thought ‘I can do that’. ”
Poole, a 25-year-old sales consultant from Norfolk, lost the use of his left arm nine years ago after an accident in which he suffered serious nerve damage. But he was back in the saddle even faster, riding a Kawasaki GPz305 just 10 months after the crash.
Like Poole, Sharp has two arms, but one doesn’t work. The 34-year-old from Cambridge said: ” The nerves were damaged when I hit a Metro which had turned in front of my Yamaha FZR1000 on June 5 1988 – some dates stick in your mind. ” He was back on the road in just six months.
They all met by accident. Poynton said: ” When I moved to Cambridge, I went to a bike shop to buy a winter glove. But of course I only wanted one, so I asked the assistant if he’d do me a deal, and he told me that he had another customer who only had one arm. That was Darrin. The shop assistant passed my number on to him and he phoned. The first thing he said was: ‘Hi, I’ve only got one arm. I hear you have, too’. ”
The pair quickly became friends and spotted Poole one day when they were looking around a motorcycle showroom in Suffolk. ” Steve worked in the shop at the time and rode an R1, ” said Poynton. ” We were considering buying R1s and he convinced us. We got to know him quickly because he’s such a mental rider. Now we all go for regular rideouts. ”
These are no ordinary riders, but then these are no ordinary R1s, either. All three men have fitted Ohlins steering dampers, and Poole has modified his bike by fitting the clutch to the right-hand bar in place of the front brake. Both the front and rear brakes are operated via the rear brake lever. Sharp and Poynton have fitted the front brake, clutch lever and throttle to one handlebar so they can operate all three, plus the lights and indicators, with one hand.
Poynton explains: ” The clutch and front brake are on the same side, but the front brake is closer to the bar than the clutch, so both can be operated independently. ”
This might sound tricky, but Sharp says it’s not a problem. ” Because the clutch is closer to the bar than the brake, you can pull the clutch in with or without the brake, and you can pull it all the way in while braking. It’s hard to explain, but I’ve been riding for 13 years like this so it comes naturally. ”
Unfortunately, putting on leathers and gloves isn’t such a doddle. Poynton and Sharp have both had a sleeve removed from their suits, while Poole still has both. But getting into them isn’t easy for any of them. ” When I go into a shop to choose some leathers, people seem curious. I’ve had bets with shop staff over whether or not I can put on two-piece leathers, ” said Poynton.
” Luckily, I can do it. It’s a matter of being agile and reaching right around your body. Putting on a glove can be bloody difficult, though. I have to hold it in between my leg and the tank and try to wedge my hand into it. ”
Sharp can only put his two-piece leathers on by zipping each half together before he climbs into them, and Poole has given up on two-piece leathers altogether, saying: ” I’ve had two-piece leathers, but it’s too difficult to do the zip up. Putting on any leathers is awkward enough, and gloves are tricky, too. I have to push my hand against the throttle grip and try to squeeze it in. Even getting a helmet on was awkward at first. ”
As well as the difficulty of putting on a glove with one hand, the trio also has the problem of an ever-growing surplus of spares.
You might think that, since Poynton only needs a left-hand glove and Sharp only needs a right, they should be able come to a handy arrangement. But things aren’t quite that simple. ” We all take different sizes, ” says Poynton. ” It’s a nightmare. Every time I spend £80 on a pair of gloves I waste £40. ”
Being a one-armed rider does have its bonuses though, and the potential for baffling over-zealous police officers is endless.
Sharp said: ” I was pulled over twice on one journey by police who were curious to see how I was controlling the bike. They even turned up at my house once. Apparently, a driving instructor had spotted me and reported me to the police because he didn’t think I was fit to ride. I just showed the police my licence and they left. ”
All three had their licences revoked following their accidents and had to do the test again one-handed before being allowed back on the road. That means they have every legal entitlement to ride, despite the fact it’s illegal for a two-armed man to ride one-handed.
But the police often can’t grasp this concept. Poole said: ” A copper pulled me over and said it wasn’t safe for me to ride like that. I told him the law and the DVLA were on my side and he walked off scratching his head. ”
And it isn’t just the police whose heads are turned by the sight. The three attract attention from just about anyone who sees them. ” People are constantly doing double-takes, ” says Sharp. ” I often tend to lead, with Roger following. People will stare in disbelief at me, riding with just my right arm, and then gawp even more when they see Roger, riding with just his left. It’s great to see their faces. ”
Having one arm may make them slow at putting on their leathers and gloves, but the same can’t be said about their riding. ” Steve will kick anyone’s arse, ” says Poynton. ” He’s a fruit bat. We’ve never known him to have a rear tyre that isn’t absolutely caned. ”
Sharp agrees: ” Steve’s incredibly fast on a track. He leaves most two-armed riders for dust. And there’s no reason why I can’t get away from the lights as fast as a bloke with two arms. Most of the time I’m fighting to keep the front wheel on the floor. ”