Sandy Caulfield, guest writer at Speedmonkey, catches up with The Bike Exerience
‘The Bike Experience’ may be small, and you may never have heard of it, but to bikers with disabilities it is life-changing. Based at Silverstone race circuit, this self-funding charity aims to get disabled bikers back on a bike – people who thought they would never ride again. Clients have included paraplegics, MS and Parkinson’s sufferers, stroke victims, riders with severe rheumatoid arthritis, and ex-servicemen who have lost limbs in theatres of war. There really is no limit.
The Bike Experience was founded in 2011 by paraplegic Olympic skier and Moto GP racer, Talan Skeels-Piggins, and his associate Russell O’Neill.
Talan says, “For me riding a motorcycle is freedom from the wheelchair. The wheelchair is a form of prison. The day I got back on my bike, following my accident, was the best day of my life. I wanted to give other people that chance not to feel disabled again, in any shape or form.”
Talan was severely injured when he was hit by a car in 2003 and paralysed from the chest down. He later represented Britain in the 2010 Olympics as a skier. Determined to ride a bike again, he bought a motorcycle and adapted it, and took himself off to Castle Coombe in Wiltshire where, as he puts it, he tried and fell off, tried and fell off, until he succeeded in riding the bike.
‘The Bike Experience’ now has four motorcycles. Two are Manas on loan from Aprilia, automatic 850 twins which Talan says “inspire confidence in nervous riders, and are a really good ride”. The other two are Suzuki SV650s, one of which has landing legs so that the bike will not fall over when it comes to a halt.
On a typical Bike Experience day, riders start with a 30m straight ride. They are launched from a standing start by a launch team, and caught by another team so that they remain upright when stopped. The day progresses at the rider’s own pace, and moves on to longer rides and u-turns.
Disabled biker Joanne Connors, who has suffered from severe rheumatoid arthritis for over 20 years, says, “Having any long-term condition or disability can seem to stop your life in its tracks. The Bike Experience was wonderful. All those memories and the great feeling you get from biking came rushing back. With the help of the catchers, they turned me round and I headed back to the other end. I came to a stop and got some great encouragement from the team. It all became a bit much, and I started crying, as I never thought I’d feel this again.”
Paraplegic Steve Jones is paralysed from the chest down, and in 2011 had the chance to ride for a day with The Bike Experience. He says, “I cannot tell you how chuffed I was afterwards. I was smiling like a Cheshire cat and I couldn’t stop telling people about it for weeks.” He has gone on from that one day to ride with the Bike Experience as part of the ‘Worlds First and Only All Paraplegic Race Team’ in Assen 2013.
Another of the Bike Experience customers, Elfed Weaver, went home from the day and quietly bought himself a bike, adapted it, took it to the Isle of man, and completed a lap of the Manx TT route. No fuss. No bother. But life-changing nonetheless.
But putting big dreams aside, it is the impact on the lives of ordinary people like Joanne and Steve, that inspires Talan and his team at The Bike Experience to continue their tireless work, whether the day helps someone to get back on their bike on a regular basis or simply helps them to put some demons to bed. Charity coordinator, Anthony Kirwan says, “To ride a bike one more time is enough for some, and a stepping stone for others.”
Joanne says of the Bike Experience team, “I'm hoping to go back to The Bike Experience in 2014, and am considering volunteering for them myself, even if it's only making the tea. It's such an amazing charity, with such wonderful people.”
The future for the Bike Experience is uncertain. It was funded initially by Talan himself, and in 2013 was lucky enough to secure £10,000 grant from “Awards For All” Big Lottery Fund. Aprilia sponsor the two Manas at present and the charity organisers hope that this will continue. Each year, the Bike Experience aim to provide between ten and twelve experience days at Silverstone. Hire of the track alone costs around £10,000. The experience day is free, as the organisers do not want cost to prevent anybody from taking up this amazing opportunity.
As Talan so perfectly puts it, “In the biking community we try to look after one another”.
More information about The Bike Experience can be found on their website www.tbex.co.uk
There is an inquiry form at
Or email TeamTBEX@gmail.com
If you would like to help, The Bike Experience are always glad to meet new volunteers, who will be given training in how to launch and catch disabled riders on the day.
Donations can be made via http://www.justgiving.com/thebikeexperience/Donate
By Sandy Caulfield
Sandy Caulfield is a freelance motorcycle journalist based in Sussex. She can be found on twitter at @sandycaulfield1