For many years Len Page rode solo on his British bikes, but then began a quiet campaign to encourage his better half to join him on two wheels…
In the early years of my motorcycling life most of my girlfriends were reluctant to ride pillion. It was the time of the mini-skirt and the pillion seats left a lot of leg showing. The British climate was then as it is now, so some of the legs were blue with cold. As for any long distance rides, like a weekend away… well, the luggage became a bit of a problem!
I did for a while have a sidecar but it was considered uncool, although one of my girlfriends did get on quite well with it. I can still remember her getting in and out of it. This operation showed more than just leg! Still, I wasn’t complaining.
When I eventually settled down, my wife Barbara was a non-biker. I used a bike to commute in London but a car was used for outings. Time passed, we moved to the country and had children so the car was essential transport. Later I reverted to motorcycles as transport and as a hobby. I wanted to get my Barbara interested in two-wheeled transport, so I devised a plan to get her on the pillion of one of my bikes.
Start small, I thought. One day I suggested that we should use my B175 Bantam to go shopping. Car parking has been made impossible in town other than in expensive car parks which are small and usually packed, so you have to drive round for half an hour looking for a space. Bike parking is free and not heavily used so she agreed to go on the Bantam. All went well and we covered the six miles to town and parked the bike and went to the shops. Shopping completed we set off home and, of course, the heavens opened. To say that she was unimpressed would be a major understatement…
The next attempt was more successful. We planned to go the big local air show at RAF Fairford. The traffic for the show is very heavy and small country roads soon become gridlocked so the bike would be ideal. This time the weather gods smiled and we had a great day. There had to be a downside though. Barbara found the seat on the Bantam hard and complained that there was not enough room. I should add that Barbara is quite tall at 5’ 9” and the Bantam is not the world’s largest bike.
What next to try? I have a YZF1000 Yamaha Thunderace which is a lot bigger bike with much more room. I suggested the Yamaha for a 20 mile trip to another air show with our modern bike club. Even in good weather the difference between the Bantam and the Yamaha was too much for her. When we returned home she said ‘never again’. Having seen the photographs of her getting on and off the bike I don’t blame her!
Some years passed and I had almost given up the idea of her sharing my hobby. I’d resigned myself to going on rallies by myself or with my male companions. The time came for the annual John Bull rally in Belgium. Friends of ours, a married couple, asked if they could borrow my BSA M20, a 1947 solid frame bike with sprung pillion saddle (featured in RC193 in fact). I agreed and thought I would see how my friend’s wife got on. They are very experienced bikers and she had travelled thousands of miles, both a rider and pillion passenger.
After 150 miles across France and Belgium we arrived at the rally site. I asked how her backside was after the journey. She looked at me with a slightly pained expression and said ‘My bum is alright but marital relations are off the menu!’ She walked away with a distinctly John Wayne-type gait, however she did complete the homeward journey on the M20. Based on that information I crossed the M20 off the list of possible pillion mounts.
Then came a local auction organised by the Swindon branch of the VMCC. I entered my long-stroke A7 BSA, which sold for a good price. One of the other lots was a 1950s Canterbury Arrow sidecar, in excellent condition and with full weather equipment. I hadn’t previously considered a sidecar but no one seemed interested. Up went my hand and I became the new owner with my opening and only bid.
When I got it home, to my surprise Barbara came out and looked it over and said something like ‘that’s quite nice.’ She then walked away, but it was a better reaction than I expected.
The sidecar came with some fittings and I obtained the correct ones for an M21 and attached the chair to the BSA. I had not ridden an outfit for way more than 40 years. They say you never forget how to ride a bike – but this doesn’t apply to sidecars! ‘What have I done?’ came to mind as left-hand corners became terrifying and brakes make the bike do strange things. After a week or so I came to terms with it and over the next few months even took the outfit to the Hot Rod Rally in Holland on my own.
Over the next year I managed to get Barbara in the sidecar on a few occasions for short journeys. She found that the cut-away sides of the body allowed a cold draught to come in. This was soon cured but putting the side screens halfway up. One night we were in the pub and the subject of bike rallies came up. Unbelievably, we talked my wife (who does not drink) into doing a local modern bike rally. Not only that but camping!
The rally we picked was the ‘Gert Bustard’ at Devizes, about 30 miles from home. The drawback was it is held in October. In spite of my misgivings we had a great time with good music and beer, and even the frost on the tent in the morning didn’t put her off much. Her dress in the sidecar was a little unusual but she was warm and comfortable.
In 2010 the BSA Club International Rally was to be held in New Zealand. By this time Barbara was quite accustomed to three-wheeled travel. As an added incentive, her sister lives in Dunedin so we shipped the outfit to New Zealand. After the rally we set off to Dunedin in sunshine and, as the day warmed up, Barbara changed from trousers to shorts in the sidecar, on the move. In the afternoon it clouded over, the temperature dropped and started to blow a southerly gale. Barbara changed clothes again…
We spent some weeks touring the South Island before shipping the outfit home. Since then Barbara has become an inveterate sidecar traveller and has toured California, France and Belgium. On one French trip we were caught in torrential rain and, after over an hour, I pulled into a rest area for a comfort break. Barbara unclipped one of the side screens and said ‘do you know this sidecar leaks a bit?’ At this point I was emptying 2” of water from my left boot and had cold rain running down the back of my neck. That was the only complaint she has ever made about the sidecar.
I now have my wish: my lovely wife of nearly 50 years accompanies me on most of my motorcycle adventures.
Words & photos by Len Page
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