I have spent many years working out of Silverstone Grand Prix Circuit and thought I knew almost all there is to know about what takes place there. From international world class events, track days, general testing, conferences and exhibitions, Silverstone is both diverse and flexible in the extreme regarding the facilities it offers its visitors. During my time there I have been lucky enough to see and experience many incredible motorsport memories as both an organiser, a driver and a spectator be it Formula One, Moto GP or Classic Motorsport. Therefore, on a midweek sunny July day, I wasn’t expecting to make what is probably my fondest memory so far.
My great friend Talan runs a charity (The Bike Experience) whose focus is to enable disabled people to do the perceived impossible - to ride motorbikes. Disabilities can range between amputees, paraplegics, MS, Stroke, to some with brain injuries or vision impairment, and incredibly, a high percentage of these riders were disabled in motorcycle accidents. This in fact also applies to Talan. On the 8th of March 2003 Talan was using his motorbike to attend a rugby match, in which he was playing to help out a local team who were short of players. The ex-Naval Officer, then PE Teacher, was knocked off his motorbike into (and under) the oncoming traffic, resulting in him being completely paralysed from the chest down.
An extraordinary chap, he took this cruel twist of fate and used it to lead a high action, high speed, high achieving life which we will cover in detail in another article. But one of the things he went on to achieve was not only to teach himself to ride a motorcycle once more, but to set up a charity to allow others to follow in his dream and just be ‘another person on a motorbike’.
I arrived to blistering heat and was in awe of the organisation and efficiency shown by the dedicated group of volunteers that donate their time to allow the charity to function. This group of high vis wearing heroes were clearly excited to be ‘home’ and were enjoying laughs and banter with what were an understandably nervous, if not an overwhelmed, set of volunteers that they would be assisting throughout the day.
As each rider arrived, leathers were fitted and crash helmets allocated. Outside the portacabin, specially adapted motorbikes were warmed up and cones placed around the Old Copse Runway to create a road / circuit for riders to follow, along with a pit lane for the riders to safely depart from and return to.
The ages of the riders varied greatly as did the level of injury, therefore the adaptions to the bikes also have to cater for the rider. However the ‘catch and release’ system developed by Talan and his team remains unchanged and is equally as effective in all cases.
Three ‘Launch Crew’ are allocated to each bike. The team help the rider to get on the bike whilst the bike is static on a paddock stand. LC 1 holds the front of the bike, and LC 2 the rear. The bike is started, put in gear and LC 3 removes the paddock stand, and when the rider indicates they are ready to set off, LC1 steps aside. When the bike revs, and the clutch bites the bike moves forwards and LC2 releases their hold of the rear of the bike - the rider is off and riding.
Upon the riders return, LC 1 raises their hand for the rider to slow and aim towards, LC 2 and 3 stand by either side about ten feet up towards the direction the rider is approaching from. At the point the bike stops, LC1 has full hold of the front frame and LC 2 the rear of the bike, ready to be placed back on its stand.
As the capability and confidence of the rider increases, so does the distance they ride. Under strict supervision and at a safe and controlled speed, the laps increase as do the massive smiles behind the visor.
At the point at which they are called in to be caught and invited to get off the bike, the sheer adrenalin, excitement and sense of achievement overwhelms everyone including the rider. Back slapping, shouts of congratulations and applause ring out across Silverstone like that a winner of a Grand Prix enjoys.
Talan says – “We all know what a rewarding, fickle and addictive drug riding a motorbike can be. Why should participation have to stop because of an injury or disability?’
The fact that Talan and the team can achieve what others deem to be impossible in reuniting a rider after life changing injury is simply incredible and the most impressive thing that I for one have ever seen at Silverstone.
With that in mind, I’m delighted to confirm that ‘The Bike Experience’ is to be the Official Motorcycle Charity Partner to The Sisterhood Of Speed, so we can all get behind this fantastic initiative. Get involved ladies!