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When Colin Chalkly-Maber, Chartered MCSI, found himself on his back in India, looking up at the wheels of a bus after being thrown off his bike by a marauding donkey pursued by mangy dogs, he may have decided to quit motorcycling. But 63-year-old Colin, managing partner at Farley & Thomson, has been riding since the age of 12 and he’s not ready to hang up his helmet any time soon.
Colin learnt to ride on his uncle’s farm. “In those days one could ride a bike of any size with L-plates as long as one did not carry a pillion. The test involved turning up at the centre and riding a predetermined route until told to stop.”
He took motorcycling up seriously later as a “matter of simple economics” when he was studying at King’s College in Old Aberdeen, Scotland. Travelling to university in the 1970s from Poole, Dorset, where he has lived most of his life, Colin could take his motorcycle “in the guard’s van of the train for half of a student fare, a quarter of a full fare. That compared well with running a car and was convenient”.
Motorcycling allows Colin “to travel great distances effortlessly” on his 1,100cc Honda Pan European tourer, and he often rides from Poole to Cornwall or Snowdonia, or over the Severn Bridge and up the Wye Valley, which is a particular favourite. “Three hundred miles in a day is not remarkable,” he says.
But 300 miles is nothing compared to his experience travelling through Russia with his wife Merolyn, who rides her own motorcycle. “We were at first dismayed to find that the satellite navigation system had no map, distances were vast and on one occasion, the machine said: ‘Turn right in 267 miles.’ Sure enough, that was the next turning off the roadway,” he says.
“Anyone who doesn’t take protection seriously has never seen skin that has hit tarmac”
Apart from being knocked off his bike by a donkey in India, Colin recalls getting lost in Russia and roads blocked by elephants in Botswana as noteworthy experiences, but the most memorable happened in South Asia. “We were crossing the Friendship Bridge between Nepal and Tibet, a task that took most of an afternoon, bringing us out on the Friendship Highway that we rode all the way to Lhasa. Deviating from the main road, we travelled to Everest Base Camp and there was one heart-stopping moment when, coming around a bend, the Everest Valley, bare and rugged, opened before us and there at its end was Mount Everest rising to 26,000 feet in front of us.”
Of course, any lifelong biker has to do what’s left of Route 66 in the US. Colin and Merolyn have recently returned from this trip, which Colin did on a Harley Davidson. “Had it not been for its iconic status and the thought of explaining to people how I crossed America on something else, I would not have done so. The bike I rode was an ‘Electra Glide Ultra’ 1,690cc divided between two cylinders. It weighed 900lbs, nearly 50% heavier than my four-cylinder Honda; it supposedly has a top-speed of 100mph but I cannot imagine how long it would take to wind it up to that speed or what sort of hill one would need to descend to do it. The bike vibrated like a pneumatic drill and made it impossible to adjust the satellite navigation system without turning the engine off first. If we return to the US, as we may do, I will be hiring an Indian motorcycle as Merolyn did!”
Safety is paramount when motorcycling, and Colin takes no chances. “We always ride in full Kevlar suits, with armour built in. We use purpose-designed boots to protect our feet and ankles and gloves with reinforced knuckles. It is true that it can feel hot and restrictive, but anyone who does not take protection seriously has never seen skin that has hit tarmac.”
For anyone wanting to take up motorcycling, Colin says: “Undergo a proper course of training. Riding a motorcycle is not the same as driving a car. As well as requiring different motor skills, a rider must be extra vigilant and see the road slightly differently. Awareness of other road users and their possible foibles is important. Never skimp on protection. Hitting the road, even at slow speed, has very different consequences if you are not in the right gear."
This article was originally published in the Q4 2017 print edition of The Review. The print edition is available to all members who opt in to receive it, except student members. All eligible members who would like to receive future editions in the post should log in to MyCISI, click on My Account/Communications and set their preference to 'Yes'.