#8 My Bike Journey

A blog about my bike ‘journey’ has been requested, my iPad ran out of charge so this is my window to share the little story of how R1Liz got her R1s. I’ve also got some FAQs to answer which I’ve squeezed between the paragraphs.

I remember two occasions when I was small when I decided that I liked motorbikes. The earliest one was probably cycling and thinking how convenient it would be to not have to pedal. The more prominent memory is sitting in dads car on the way home when a bike came screaming past us on the way into a roundabout; I asked why they were going so much faster than us and dad said it was because ‘they had better breaks’. 7 year old me was extremely impressed with this. I wanted to join the Tigers Motorcycle Display team, so for a few weeks I drew little stunt bikes jumping over logs until I eventually started riding horses instead. My whole family are bikers, my Mom rides and has always ridden, my dad has ridden on and off around his work, my Grand-Father was a riding instructor, my Uncles ride, and my cousin was in the White Helmets motorcycle display team. Despite this, biking wasn’t drilled into me as a child and I didn’t notice my family were so bike oriented until I already had my first bike.

FAQ – How did you pay for your first bike? – I saved all my wages from my first job until I had a decent sized pot (something like 6 months worth). My family paid half and bought me my first helmet.

When I was about 16 I had a boyfriend with a bike, and going on the back of that bike was the most exciting thing ever. My helmet was 2 sizes too big, my jacket was about as protective as a tea towel and I can’t remember if I had gloves or not, I’d sneak away to a carpark out of earshot from Moms house and we’d go for a ride somewhere. I bought a lot of bike magazines and put up posters all over my room and tried to soak up as much information as I could. Eventually I found a job, saved up as much as I could and when I turned 17 I was able to buy my first bike.  

FAQ – What was your first bike? – My first bike was a Yamaha YZF R125 and I loved it

My first bike was a 2012 Yamaha YZF-R125 in black with gold wheels, it was brand new and I rode it home from London with my boyfriend dutifully riding in front of me along the motorway at 40mph due to the running-in restrictions. I was proud as punch and thought I was too cool for school. I had no idea what I was doing with it, how to look after it or how to ride it properly, but I was on it every day to and from work and college, riding in all the conditions and slowly getting confident and comfortable with it, revving at traffic lights and carrying my helmet around everywhere like a trophy. 

FAQ – How did you choose your first bike? – It was the prettiest one I could find and in the same family as the R1s I loved to read about and look at. As far as I knew, new 125s were all pretty similar and I wanted a sports bike shaped model, so the Yamaha was just the obvious choice.

It took me 3 attempts to pass my full test. I completed it a month before the UK rules changed which meant I was one of the last people my age that could ride any sized bike. I failed Mod 1 twice on the emergency stop. I’d had a small accident on my bike not long before, and the emergency stop freaked me out a bit. After taking a break from testing and practicing relentlessly, I finally passed the test, and the following week I bought a Ninja 300. 

FAQ – How much is your bike insurance? – Not as bad as I always expect it to be, luckily I’ve always had affordable quotes from MCE and haven’t had to make any claims.

Money was ok for me back at this point, I was a full time college student with a job and some leftover inheritance money which disappeared on my tests, my insurance and my bikes. Thinking back now, I shudder at how much I spent insuring the Ninja 300, and how much I spent on servicing I didn’t necessarily need at the time. But there’s not much point dwelling on it, things might have taken a different turn if I’d bought older cheaper bikes and despite finding it a bit underwhelming (because really I wanted something bigger) the Ninja 300 had a big impact on the direction my life took.

FAQ – Most embarrassing moment on a bike? – My first time going into a multi storey car park and not understanding how the ticket system worked. I thought it was pay and display and I didn’t have any money with me and couldn’t turn around, so I left my bike at the gate with cars queueing up behind me and went up the line of cars asking for money until someone told me I was supposed to just take a ticket. I’m sure I’ve done sillier stuff since, but this one sticks out.

Up until this point, although I was enjoying riding, it wasn’t much of my identity. I didn’t have any bike friends, my boyfriend wasn’t riding much having bought a car and concentrating on his own studies. The bike got me where I needed to go but life was pretty dull and I needed some kind of adventure. Back in 2012 when you bought a new Kawasaki you were signed up to their Kawasaki Riders Club (now known as Club Kawasaki) which gives you access to their exclusive online forums, discounted entry to events, and a lanyard. Things were very busy for me at the time, applying to university and fitting in overtime, but I found 10 minutes to sort out my access to the online forum and pop a little ‘Hello’ on one of the posts. I forgot about it, but someone noticed it. The person who noticed my little ‘Hello’ was Nigel. Nigel sent me an email asking if I wanted to meet some other members of the Kawasaki Riders Club, they get together on Thursday in a little pub up the motorway, I was welcome to go.

FAQ – Were you ever put off by the laddish culture of the biking world? – No, when I first started riding I didn’t have any bike friends so I wasn’t really involved in the culture, and I was ‘exposed’ to it gradually. I wouldn’t say it was ‘laddish’ and it’s definitely not like what you see on TV (have you ever watched ‘Torque’? Don’t.). Everyone was friendly, and there were a lot more girls than you’d expect and now I often ride with more girls than men, so maybe where I’m from is not the stereotypical male dominated community that you’d expect.

It was mid winter at this time, Thursday nights were dark and cold, I selotaped directions to my glove and rode up the motorway to this strange pub to meet these strange people. They made me welcome, bought me a mug of tea, admired my bike and included me in their Thursday meetings from that point on. I was invited to ride to Dijon in France with them later in the year, and I was included in their plans to ride to Silverstone to a Kawasaki event. I started riding with this group, the group got bigger, I learned how to ride quickly and keep up with the bigger bikes as well as I could. This group became my friends and biking became real fun. My general confidence grew, I made goals for myself, I started to really enjoy riding and being part of this huge biking community. 

FAQ – Have you ever been able to get both feet flat on the floor with any bike? – My Ninja 300 I think I was able to and the schools little 125, but none of my other bikes, I’m 5’7 so I’m a good height to ride everything but I have to tip toe.

It was around this time that my relationship with my boyfriend at the time got stale, he didn’t come with me to France, he didn’t encourage my bike related goals, and he said I couldn’t get an R1. We broke up when I returned from France, and my new boyfriend who I met on the trip helped me look for an R6 because I decided it was time to trade the bike up too. 

FAQ – Did you ever worry about other people’s perceptions? – Not really. I get on with it, it’s fun to be able to do things people tell you you shouldn’t be doing and change perceptions.

The R6 was new dream bike material, upside-down forks, two front break disks, proper sports bike riding position, big back wheel, all the things I wanted in a bike. Riding it home from the shop was initially terrifying. I’d been scared into thinking that a 600 would be a monster, that I’d immediately lose control. One thing I notice is that people LOVE telling people that something’s too much for them to handle, and that had been drilled into me, I had no idea what to expect from it. Pulling away for the first time was scary but I only had to do it once to realise it wasn’t going to spit me off, and that was a turning point for me – If I could ride this, I could ride anything. 

FAQ – Any unexpected costs? – The R6 continuously surprised me with problems, I threw a lot of money at it until I was convinced it was done for. I think the bike may have had underlying issues when I bought it which weren’t helped along by the missed valve service. I don’t regret it because I abused it and still got a lot of use out of it, but it taught me a lot about making sure I look after bikes.

The bike went through a lot. It went through France and Spain, it went to the Isle of Man twice, it went on my first track day. I dropped it twice, once in ice, once in mud. And it went in and out of the garage more times than I could count because as it was my first second hand bike, I had no idea it needed a valve service until it was 10,000 miles too late. 

FAQ – Have you ever had an accident? – Not really, on my own bikes I’ve only had a few minor spills, none that have resulted in a claim or injury. I have had one accident that did result in a broken shoulder but this was on a loan bike when I tried off-roading.

After owning the R6 for two years it was in a local garage after making a particularly angry splutter when I started it up. At this point it had had its valve service and was at the stage where it was just giving me endless attitude, odd noises were a regular occurrence and we were running out of things to fix. I dropped it off at the garage with the expectation that it needed a new cam chain, and I got the call saying actually it needed half a new engine. I had it collected by the garage I use for valve servicing so they could find out what went wrong. By this point I was thinking about a new bike anyway, I knew the shop had an R1, so I went with Joe so he could ride the new ZX10 and I could take the R1 out. I’d ridden a few 1000cc bikes by this point (mainly Joe’s 2009 ZX10 while the R6 was being sassy) but it was my first R1. 

FAQ – How long have you been riding? – Since 2012, I had the 125 for about 9 months, my Ninja 300 for a year, and the R6 and R1 for 2 years each.

The R1 was special. I had a poster of an R1 that I pulled out of the middle of a magazine and it’s imprinted in my memory for being the picture I took to people and said ‘I want an R1’, I’ve wanted one since I bought that magazine back when I didn’t have a bike, it lives under my desk now. Usually if I said I wanted an R1 I’d get ‘you can’t handle it’, ‘it’s too big for you’, ‘you’d be utterly stupid if you get an R1’. Nothing makes me want something more than being told I can’t have it, and so, the R1 is special to me. I looked over this bike sat in the shop, not the age I wanted, not the colour I wanted, too many miles, too many stickers. But I took it out with Joe on the ZX10, through the city and out the other end into the countryside, and it was flawless. It felt so effortless and natural and I felt like a boss finally riding this bike that had been my ultimate goal since day one. When we got back to the shop they confirmed that the R6 was well and truly at the end of its life, and with tremendous effort and a lot of tears I managed to scrape together the money and I bought the R1. 

FAQ – What was the biggest challenge of changing bikes? – Learning where all the buttons are. I test ride a lot of bikes so riding one bike to another isn’t so difficult, but I never have to learn the buttons on the bikes I test ride. The R6 to the R1 was easy because it was the same generation and the dash was the same, the new R1 is completely baffling. 

This R1 is the bike you’d recognise from the cartoons, a 2007 R1 in pearl white with 50th anniversary red stickers. In the background of my bike journey at this time I’d finished my degree and was about to draw my first digital cartoon. Over the next two years I built my artwork business from the ground up, I made a name for myself, bought a house with Joe, and we built our life together. I had my R1 to 30,000 miles, with the right amount of servicing and maintenance it never put a toe out of line. I did my second track day on this R1, but over the period that I owned it we didn’t do any big European trips.

2 years later I decided it was new bike time, I got a third job, and after working and saving and working and saving, I was able to buy a new R1. And that’s where I am now.

Life has had its ups and downs, the bikes will always be a big part of my life and I feel extremely lucky that I’ve been able to own this bike that I couldn’t even dream of owning back when I first started to ride. 

FAQ – If you had to do it all again, what would the journey look like? – The same, but maybe I wouldn’t have put new tyres, chain and sprockets on a bike I was about to sell. There are things I wish I had done differently, but they could have lead to different overall results, and I’m happy with where I am now.


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