Becoming a biker

Right, so I’ve got the bike, now I have to get a licence.

When I was a young man, in another millennium, passing a motorbike test was easy-peasy. And a lot of young men got killed or badly injured. When I was 16, I had a moped which I rode for a year with ‘L’ plates. At any time, I could have taken a test on that moped and got a motorcycle licence. If I’d done that, then either:

A) I wouldn’t have to go through all the bother of taking the modern tests.

B) I would have died young.


For many years, my driving licence – even when it changed to plastic – had a little symbol of a motorbike on it, showing my provisional entitlement to ride. When my latest licence arrived, I was quite annoyed to see that the little motorbike wasn’t there. I resolved to get it back – and then some!

So first I bought a motorbike. It just sort of happened. I found myself chatting with some middle-aged bikers  in a small engineering workshop in the Vale of Glamorgan, chequebook at the ready, eyeing a gorgeous, gleaming, black-and-chrome machine. How the hell did I get here?

Two days previously, I had been having lunch in my favourite seaside cafe when a bloke turned up on a classic, single-cylinder Royal Enfield from the 1950s . It turned out he was a good friend of Pam, the cafe’s cook, who was a recent convert to motorcycling. Pam introduced the biker as Chris. I told him I had been thinking of getting a bike, probably a Royal Enfield. I wasn’t after a screaming rocket  with vivid stripes and designer aggression, I just had a hankering for a classic motorcycle, something noble and steady.

“I know a man who’s selling one just like that,” said Chris. It was three years old but had been maintained to perfection by an aircraft engineer. It was an all-black, 500cc Royal Enfield Bullet with a pillion seat and a black leather pouch on the front. Pam thought it was destiny.

So I met the owner two days later in Chris’s shed. Turns out he was not merely an aircraft engineer but he had actually rebuilt two Spitfires to full airworthiness. Well, that sold it. My grandfather, Percy Whitehead, worked at Rolls Royce during World War Two. His job was building Merlin engines for Spitfires. I always smile and think of him when I’m at an air show and hear the distinctive Merlin roar as a Spitfire passes overhead. Now, here in front of me, stood a retired Spitfire builder who needed a bit of ready cash. Reader, I gave him the money.

More on the motorbike story in the next blog. Also a shed and garden update!

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