Great Fall-Offs of my Motorcycling Career:
By Lorraine Litster
I think of myself these days as a competent motorcyclist, able to stay in the saddle in all manner of adverse circumstances. This might be so today, but as I recollect upon my long, very long, motorcycling life I began to recall all sorts of tumbles I have taken from motorcycles. Some in silly ways & in mundane places, but others in exotic locations & exciting ways: so I thought I would recount them for you.
My first spill was the most silly & left me with my only motorcycle scar, which must be a cause for celebration, only one scar!! I was 19 & had only been riding a short while & the complacency & overconfidence of youth was about to bite me. I was riding my 1957 James Captain on the Dorchester Road in Weymouth & I was not paying attention, indeed I was daydreaming. I ran off the road & hit the kerb, which threw me off the bike & I skidded to a halt on my left knee. My Mother fainted when I got home dripping blood onto my boots & my visiting cousin had to fix me up instead. Voila my one & only scar.
Later that Summer the James had been replaced by my beloved Velocette, & I had learned at least to pay attention whilst riding! I was on a continental tour, my very first motorcycle excursion 'Abroad'. I had diligently serviced the Velo before departing, following the manual, but I had not done up the sump drain plug enough, mechanical ineptitude was to be my undoing this time.
I was riding along a Belgian motorway near Ghent in the pouring rain when this plug fell out. With no oil light fitted I knew nothing about it until the engine seized. Of course with half a gallon of oil on the rear tyre I immediately lost control & I fell off for the 2nd time. This was at over 60mph & it could have been very serious for me, except that I was wearing oil skins & in the rain I skidded to halt & I got to my feet unharmed. It was only later when I discovered two neat holes in my jean's rear pockets, the shape of 'two bob bits' that I realised just how lucky I had been. Getting the bike back from Belgium was a saga which I will recount another day.
All went well after that for quite a while. I really had learned to ride properly & even to service the bike with a degree of confidence. I was 21 when the next spill occurred, again on the Velocette, but not my fault this time. I had ridden the bike with my Brother to Italy, an epic voyage I have to admit on reflection. We had spent a wonderful holiday camped in an olive grove high above the Mediterranean. Brother Simon had crashed the Velo whilst we were there, with two Italian girls on the pillion, smashing the sump, which had to be welded before our return. Again this story must await another day.
We were returning over the Alps, again in rain, with Simon at the controls. I saw the telltale bits of broken car on a bend, but too late, we hit a patch of wet diesel & were off the bike sliding to a halt on the slimy mess. No real damage was done & we were amused when an Italian Merc ran into the same oil, despite our waving frantically, & hit a retaining wall with an expensive smash. This was the last time the Velocette took a fall as far as I recollect.
Several years passed before my next silly spill & I was 24. The Velo had been replaced by a T120 Bonneville by this time & a very capable machine it was (and still is). I had just got off the ferry from Weymouth to Cherbourg, France & was riding across country which looked very much like my native Dorset, which I had left earlier in the day. Indeed so familiar did it look that I began to ride on the left-hand side of the road. This all went well for several miles until a car came around a bend. "What is he doing on MY side of the road" I thought, just before I swerved into the ditch. The poor French family was so concerned, that I was taken to their home where I stayed the night to 'calm my nerves!' I was uninjured, but felt very foolish. It was a lovely evening though of French food & wine. That was the Bonneville's first spill, but not its last!
I was 25 when my most serious crash occurred, & yes it was the Bonneville that sustained the serious damage. It was Winter & I was in Bournemouth riding along a narrow suburban street, when a Pakistani pulled out of a line of parked cars right in front of me creating a blind canyon of cars. I hit him on the front wing crumpling the front of the poor Bonneville. I flew over the car & accomplished a perfect parachute roll, again getting to my feet with little more than a few bruises. I was a luck soul wasn't I?
The Bonneville was off the road for quite a while, being repaired by Fishers of Christchurch, but it was as good as new afterwards. That was the Bonneville's last spill. It was brought to Australia & fully restored a few years later, & it still sits in my shed with the 'Beloved' (Velo).
I had two more motorcycle events to face before I left Blighty for these warm sunny shores, both in snow. It was Winter yet again, I was 25 & heavy snow had fallen a week before, very heavy. The Bonneville, my regular transport as I had no car, was off the road still at Fishers. I was living in Penarth, Wales at the time: but I needed to get back home to Dorset. So my rarely used S7 Sunbeam was pressed into action. I reckoned that after a week the snow would be cleared.
I set off in the gloom of late afternoon & was soon riding by the very yellow feeble headlight of the S7. But the roads were fine, despite many drifts of snow seen beside the road: I was fine. My usual route took me on a ridge road from Shaftesbury, to Blandford Forum, Dorset. This was much shorter than the windy main road. The sign said it was closed, but I paid no attention, thinking that if I could climb the hill onto the ridge all would be well.
I did indeed climb that hill & was soon smugly riding along the ridge in the darkness. That was until I hit a vertical bank of snow some 8 feet high, where the plough had finished for the day. I impaled the S7 as far as the saddle into that snow drift & I struggled out of it spluttering snow. Amazingly the S7 was still running & I hauled it out of the drift without any damage to either of us. I did reach Blandford Forum & home to Weymouth, but I felt a bit silly.
Several years on, & my days in England were short. I was 27 & living in Bicester, Oxfordshire, where my regular ride to work in Thame took me over a range of hill, on the B4011. The Bonneville had been replaced on 'ride to work duties' by a CZ125: yes a come down but it did the job. One Winter day snow began to fall heavily & I found myself riding home after dark in this 'white-out' Visibility was bad & the snow had drifting filling all the roadside ditches. I found myself having to guess where each corner went, & I was quite successful for a while, until I misjudged one corner & ran into a snow filled ditch. After hauling the CZ & myself out of the deep snow & remounting the bike I rode home pondering: "Perhaps I should go & live in a warmer climate?"
More in Part Two: The Australian Fall Offs!