Wanting to do something a little different this year, we here at Devitt thought it would be great to invest deeper into the grassroots of biking and start searching for a worthy biking charity to sponsor. In our hunt we found, The Bike Experience.
This amazing charity, set up by Talan Skeels-Piggins in 2011, aims to teach disabled motorcyclists how to get back on their bikes and back out into world with confidence and a new lease for life.
We first found out about The Bike Experience last year when a key player in the charity, Anthony Kirwan, approached our sponsored site, Keep Britain Biking, asking them to share a blog about the great work this charity does. Since then we have followed The Bike Experience and this year decided to donate a HONDA VARADERO XL 125 to their cause, with the aim of now helping those that are disabled and have NEVER ridden a bike before get on two wheels!
Whilst the bike is under construction to add the necessary adaptations and landing legs for the new riders, Talan has kindly put together a few words about how The Bike Experience began, what they are about and how you can get involved.
“In March 2003, whilst on my way to a rugby match, I was knocked off my motorcycle and thrown under the path of the oncoming traffic. The accident left me paralysed from the chest down, destroyed my hopes for an active future and left me thinking I would never ride a motorcycle again. However, over the coming years, I learned that many things are possible, despite what you might originally have thought impossible.
So, five years after my accident I decided to buy a bike, adapt it and try to teach myself how to ride. The first attempt was not terribly successful, as I fell over after just five minutes, but it had shown me that it was possible. I then approached Castle Combe track day instructors for help, and together we designed a way to start and stop safely. This allowed me to enjoy the feeling of freedom and independence that I used to. I felt released from my wheelchair, released from my disability. Over the course of time I became a regular track day enthusiast, and conversations whilst riding track days with my friend, Russell O’Neill, led to the creation of what has become the most unique charity in the world.
The plan for the first season was for a single rider to come each time and use my adapted bike. The disabled rider was to bring all their own kit and their own launch crew. Then Russell and I would demonstrate how to get on, teach the riders own helpers how to launch and catch the rider, then get the rider to circulate around the Castle Combe track during the lunch break of the track day. After the first event we became inundated with requests from other disabled motorcyclists to have the opportunity to ride again. More bikes were going to be needed, a national business said they would support the project with a sum of money that would have bought two further adapted bikes. The money never came but the demand kept growing, so I decided to use my own savings to get other bikes and adapt them. From this, we landed at The Bike Experience!
By the end of the first season, there were four disabled riders coming along to each event, an amount of riding kit had been sourced, local motorcycle volunteers were helping to act as launch crew and the word was spreading that the impossible was possible.
For the second season, the Bike Experience was formed as an official charity, and it operated from two venues: Castle Combe Circuit and RAF Odiham. This enabled the charity to run 12 events between April and October, having enforced a limit of three riders per event for safety reasons. From 2013 onwards, the Bike Experience began running its main teaching events at Silverstone Circuit, using the Old Copse Runway arena. This has logistical advantages being in the centre of the country, having onsite medical, fully accessible toilets, a portacabin and no time constraints on area usage. Whilst the charity operates within the surrounds of a race circuit, there is always a reminder to the clients that the experience is not a race day but merely the use of a closed road, which allows for maximum safety. The inner circuit area at the beginning of the day allows for the slow speed section of the day whilst the outer circuit or airfield allows the riders to enjoy riding again at a controlled pace.
The day to day running of the charity is organised and managed by myself. At each Bike Experience event I am the main point of contact, oversee the running of the day, demonstrate and instruct. I am assisted by Russell, who has been with me on the project from the very beginning, and other volunteers that have come and been touched by what we do. The event also needs the use fifteen volunteers to provide the safe launch and catching of the riders, many of whom give up a days unpaid leave to come and be part of something special.
The charity has a national coverage, is pan-disability and tries to ensure that anyone who is interested in getting back on a bike is helped to full-fill that dream. Since the first event in April 2011, there have been 75 disabled riders fill 110 places (as some have come more than once) from 42 events. The riders have come from all areas of the UK, and there has also been one rider from Belgium who travelled over to Castle Combe to learn. The internet has allowed the charity to advise motorcyclists from Europe, USA and Australia, proving that there is also a world-wide demand for the services this unique charity has to offer.
We have struggled with funding. For the first two seasons I used all my own savings to get the project off its feet and running. Not charging the riders was something I was very insistent on. I never received any form of compensation for my accident, as the vehicle that caused the accident fled the scene. So I know how hard it is to cope living on DLA and benefit.
Having tried to do disabled motorsport in the past, only to be told it would cost £200-£300 for just 20 minutes, I was determined that the only thing to stop someone from getting back on a bike would be themselves, not cost or access to equipment. We have been let down by countless companies and individuals who have promised funding and then pulled out claiming economic climate difficulties. Trust funds tend not to want to get involved as we are using motorcycles, and are therefore seen as dangerous. We have been successful with some Awards4All grants, but you can’t apply for the same thing in consecutive years, which means we are in a difficult position when trying to raise over £10,000 to pay for venue hire.
I’ve run out of savings, but there are a lot of disabled riders that are now living their lives through a totally new approach thanks to the experience they had from the charity, so it’s all been worth it!
We are always looking ahead to see what we can develop, how we can improve and bring the joy of motorcycling to more riders. The procurement of a 125cc machine (donated to the Bike Experience by Devitt Insurance) and its adaption with bolt-on landing legs, will allow us to being teaching disabled people how to ride from first principles, thereby opening up an entirely new world to them.
Riders are best advised to look at the website (www.tbex.co.uk) which gives more information, and then email me (email@example.com) to ask about coming along to get back on a bike. The same goes for volunteers and those wishing to help fund the charity. We have a Just Giving page, and have a number of exciting fund-raising events going on at the moment. There is also the Facebook page which has regular updates and is where volunteers can book in to help the events. Photographs from each Bike Experience are posted on our Facebook site too. Or you can follow us on Twitter.”