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First Love

Published: 29 April 2010

Updated: 19 November 2014

The road drops behind me as I open the throttle and feel the weight of my bike surging away from the intersection, a light crosswind snaps against into my slipstream as I slide through the shady lanes and over the hill I see the twisting roads of Hampshire open up before me.

A pale sunlight warms the light chill in the mid-April air as I slip the clutch and downshift to roll over a hill and into a town of quaint cottages and Sunday strollers wandering the early days of a promising spring.

I feel the gentle rumble of the engine with her reassuring tempo and as I soak up the lazy Sunday scene my peripherals click and scan for the potential dangers in my riding environment.

Loose gravel, stray dogs or wayward cars with bike-oblivious drivers are all constant blips on my radar. All flows well as my mind registers and assesses the route with a subconscious familiarity, just like I never left.

It feels like forever since I was last on a bike, I grew up in the rainforests of Australia riding old scrapper dirt bikes through the rugged mud & clay ‘roads’ of Northern New South Wales with my father & brother.

We had a basic philosophy to our mechanics; if it came off, you banged it back on, if it bent, you bent it back again, if it ran out of petrol... well... you were stranded 60 clicks from civilization with only the snakes and critters of the bush to keep you company until you could figure out how to get back.

Mostly we tried not to run out of petrol. I change up a gear, dropping the hammer and feeling the bike surge ahead as I hold tight and tuck in against the buffeting wind.

The hum of the engine reverberates in my bones and I sway my bike to avoid a manhole cover in the road, the weight shifts with controlled ease and I feel in unison with my machine.

I check the dials as I cruise along the open road, the temperature sits at 15c and I average around 65mpg as the speedometer clicks up around the 50, 60, 70mph mark.

She has more in her, a lot more, though we’re running out of road so I ease off and lean into the corner, feeling the gravitational shift pulling me around the bend. It’s great to be riding again.

Did I ever fall lout of love with bike riding? No, I don’t think I ever did. After I threw my gear into a backpack and left Australia for the first time nearly ten years ago, I guess it never occurred to me that I wouldn’t be back on a bike again for some time.

The countries I lived in were either too cold (-40c in Canada is enough to make a man think twice about even leaving his house let alone on a bike) too miserable (Ireland you bastard) or I was just too broke with living a young traveller’s life to afford another bike.

Every couple years I would make it home to Australia and my brother and I would chase each other around the back garden on an old Yamaha XT 250, rusted by then though that rig used to ship me to school and back every day for three years, freezing in the winter, sweltering in the summer.

So last year before making the jump to the south of England I spent a few months back in Australia with my family and my brother generously allowed me the use of his bike to commute about on.

His Suzuki GSF 1200 Bandit was a step up from the XT 250 I was used to, though as soon as I jumped on her I fell in love again, how did I ever go so long without riding!?

A few months was all I needed to re-ignite the fire once more and lodged solidly at the back of my mind was the plan to obtain a bike when we got back to the UK.

So here I was on the road again once more, a rare week of blazing sunlight made for the perfect conditions to take my newly obtained BMW F800ST out for a spin in the countryside.

I was a little nervous at riding in a slightly unfamiliar country though I have always been a cautious rider, I can thank my father (and a few good high-sides as a kid) for that.

I lean into the bend and let the g-forces take me, as I straighten out I am looking down the length of a broad English valley in the spring sunshine, it’s moments like these that remind me why I am here and the lyrics from an old Ralph McTell song drift into my head; ‘...and the echo from the green hills, runs through the city streets. And the sun when it shines on England, well it lifts the heart in me...’

I remember reading an article out of New York stating that riders over 40 were twice as likely to be involved in serious or fatal crashes. Baby boomers dusting off a dream and buying a bike to push too hard, too fast and too quick.

I remind myself that I have been off the road for a while and that a slow start might be a good idea, so I click it down a gear and breeze through a small village beside the Forest of Bere, I don’t even know its name or where I am and really I don’t care.

Dare I say it, there appears to be promise in the winds for a decent summer and I look forward to re-acquainting myself with the open road and coming back full-circle to riding a motorbike again.

I am back on the road and not because of a Hollywood image, not because of a book I read or a TV series that grabbed me one night, I’m back because riding was my first love even before I knew how to drive a car.

There is an unreplicable sense of freedom and possibility that rides with you on the open roads and if nowhere else, it’s here that I feel at home.

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