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Richard Hammond

Richard on: rebellious bikers

Published: 16 Dec 2013

I had, until recently, all but given up on biking. I don't mean given up actually riding - I can't. Firstly, I live, unlike pretty much everyone else in TV, outside of London, about 125 miles away in the rural west. I could drive into town for meetings and stuff, but doing so would take so long that I'd have to leave the day before, stay overnight in London and not return home until late the following night. The alternative is to ride into London on a bike. It takes two hours.

OK, so it's two hours of unending terror and near-death experiences, but the terrible truth is, dear reader, that I enjoy it. I love biking. Always have. And that's the second reason why I couldn't give it up. I love being alone on the bike, looking at things as I pass and knowing I could touch them, that I am amongst them. Very much amongst them if I bin it, of course, but avoiding that is all part of the fun.

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But I feared for the ruination of biking, because on every trip into town, I found the place increasingly cluttered by accountants riding fully Dakar-prepped off-road BMW R 1200 GS bikes to take on the wilds of Kensington. They took their bike tests and bought them, presumably, because they felt that Ewan McGregor looked good on his and suddenly fancied a bit of rugged bikerly badness for themselves.

It's different for me. I grew up staring wide-eyed with itchy fingers at pictures of bikes printed on my bedroom wallpaper. I dreamed of riding one. I drew pictures of bikes with skulls for headlights that were piloted by skeletal heavy metal gods with guitars slung across their backs and red eyes in their bony heads. I took up biking because it was outside of the norm, it upset people. The second I hit 16, I got out on my moped and set about trying to be a badass as best as I could with half the power of a lawnmower.

It's more difficult today, when every new-to-biking radio, TV and accounting star is throwing an expensively booted leg over the latest race rep or custom bauble to potter along to the wine bar and hang with other ‘bikers' to talk about mortgage rates and their agents' percentages. And so I thought it was ruined. Biking had been elevated to join golf, squash and drugs as the preserve of the firmly established middle classes, as secure in their salaries and stock options as in their opinions and smugness.

Nevertheless, I persevered and ride for pleasure and for work whenever I can. Which is often, as witness the tyre wear on my daily ride today after several thousand miles in a few weeks. And there's a slightly tricky issue in there. I mentioned ‘daily ride'. I'm a fortunate man these days and have a number of bikes to play on, to ride for the hell of it. But for the long slog into town, and, if truth be told, for the majority of the riding I do, I climb on a BMW R 1200 RT.

It's ugly, with a face like a melted welly, it's got a top box the size of a Volvo strapped to the back and I have never, ever cleaned it. And so it was that the boy who wouldn't have peed on a BMW tourer if it had been on fire found himself regularly clocking up a thousand miles in a week aboard one. And I'll admit that the radio, telephone, satnav and staggering dynamic ability of the thing to get a move on and hustle past poseurs on race reps, who've spent more time matching their leathers to their paintwork than they have clocking up miles, helped change my mind.

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Another shred of comfort came when my eldest daughter expressed an interest in riding on the back of the thing. We tried it, she loved it and still does. For her recent 13th birthday, I bought her a Buff (a sort of neck-warmer thingy for bikers) with Welsh dragons on it and a Bluetooth headset to fit in her crash helmet so we can talk when we ride out together. She was playing hockey on her birthday at a school an hour or so away and asked if I'd collect her on the bike. I was glad to oblige. Any daughter showing an interest in anything a father does or enjoys is a rarity to be treasured and embraced.

I duly turned up, parked the bike ostentatiously next to the school minibus, watched the match and counted the seconds till we could ride home. Match over, we left in front of the school bus. I felt the bike shimmy as Izzy raised an arm behind me to wave over her head at her team mates on the bus.

At the time, I assumed she waved with an open hand, rather than a single digit. When asked later, she remained mute on the subject. And a tiny spark of hope flickered inside my chest. Is it possible that she did? She didn't spend her earlier years keening after bikes and dreaming about them. And so if not conditioning, it must be something else that lit in her the flame of rebellion the moment she got on a bike. It must, in fact, be the bike itself. And if even a saggy old auntie of a BMW tourer can light that flame, then there is hope yet for bikers everywhere. Bikes are, as I think I've always known, magic. And they will survive this temporary glitch.

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