The days are, finally, lengthening. That seemed as good an excuse as any to drag the Ural from under its cover and clack-zag though the staggered web of lanes to Bibury.
At this time of year the coach loads of travel-myopic, Bath-Stonehenge-Bibury-Shakespeare n’ Stratford-inna-day tourists are still tucked up and posting acid on TripAdvisor. Instead, Bibury was free for the ducks, the cold and huddled bundles of legged scarves, hats and Barbours. And motorcyclists. Two of us.
Keith was riding an old favourite of mine. A patinated K75RT sat at the kerb, a few feet away from him as his eyes tracked the ripples in the river moving past. Busy with his thoughts.
He looked up as I cut the Ural’s engine and said hello, as one does to a fellow rider.
“I’m 70 next week.”
The statement hung like his breath in the cold air before it dissipated.
“I’m 70. Time to give this up. My nephew says he’ll have the bike, although he doesn’t understand it like I do.”
I suggested that seventy wasn’t much of an age to hang up one’s helmet and gloves. But my words bounced off him like grains of rice off a tortoise shell. Keith was determined. It was as though some Calvinist feeling drove him to seek penance for the hours of real life in the saddle in the de-coupled, de-sensitised prison of a nice, sensible car.
“I love riding – can’t do enough.” he replied, shuffling the keys around in his gloved hand. “But I’m too bloody old. Time to stop.”
“Says who?”, I asked, thinking of pressure from family, perhaps Mrs Keith if there was one. But no. Keith had simply decided that, at 70, one gave up riding. That was that. It was how it was done.
He was no fair-weather man. He’d ridden four-seasons, snow and sun since he was 16. There was no logic, just a feeling as if a pre-ordained switch had tripped.
Problem was, If he gave away his bike there would be more than a motorcycle-shaped hole left behind for him. He’d had Bonnevilles, Bantams, triples, twins, R90 airheads, and now the K. He guessed he’d ridden half a million miles and he tipped me off about lanes in the Cotswolds I’d never heard of or even seen signs for. Without his bike, Keith knew he was bowing, turning the lights off and shuffling quietly into the wings.
We sat in silence for a few minutes, both watching the river ripple by.
I wish I could say I persuaded him to hang on to the K, clearly loved as it was. But I didn’t. I rode away leaving him as blindly determined as before. The bike would go. I wish I could say something satisfyingly concluding, but I can’t.
For me, there is no date set for hanging up helmet and gloves. No time to hand a cared-for and mile-polished machine to a nephew who won’t understand the story, the ride or the road.
I hope perhaps Keith will realise that dates and ages are arbitrary before he gives up and hands his keys on.
I’ll keep looking out for a blue K75 in my mirrors. It’d be more than the usual pleasure to give him a wave and stand him a cuppa at the tea wagon.