Petrolhead Kate and the impressionable boy

JAMES twists the handlebar-grip and, as revs mount, the low rumble becomes a throaty growl. As the decibels hammer on his eardrums and the vibration sets his skinny frame a-quivering, his eyes show what’s going on within his grey matter: a battle between two equally-matched forces – sheer joy at sitting astride a Kawasaki and terror at the force boiling away beneath the seat.

Once he’s confident the beast isn’t going to topple over, he smiles. Widely. Gee, thanks, Kate. (Owner of said steed.) Now I’ll struggle to stop him lusting after his own bike and becoming a 2018 accident statistic... as if it isn’t already hard enough, thanks to the current “Get On” campaign aimed at winning converts to two wheels. The world is ganging up on me, bent on turning a fragile son into Valentino Rossi.

I haven’t seen Kate, an ex-work colleague, for years. And I didn’t know she had petrolhead leanings. “When I split up with my boyfriend there were two things I missed: his daughter and his motorbike. I couldn’t get a daughter, so I bought a bike.”

To be fair, she does deliver the kind of lecture I’d give – only James will listen to someone who’s been there, done that and got the helmet. “Nothing scares me more than seeing people riding with just a T-shirt and jeans,” she says. “Even on a hot day like this you must have proper boots, gloves and protective clothing.”

I’ll say. My sole experience of two motorised wheels was 20-odd years ago, when wages wouldn’t stretch to a new car (the old Mini’s perforated wheel-arches transformed the floor into a swimming pool when it rained) and I invested in a Honda Camino moped that hit 33mph going downhill.

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I’d had it two weeks when, pootling along country lanes, the front wheel mistook a thin strip of sludgy autumn leaves for sheet ice. Down I went. Even at about 6mph I tore a hole in my trousers and gashed my knee, cut my hands despite wearing “normal” gloves, and gouged my helmet where my mouth and chin would have been had I not been wearing full-face protection.

Nowadays, sit me on 500cc – or even 50cc, like that Camino – and I’d probably wipe myself out in seconds. “I came off last year,” confesses Kate. “Took the side off a stationary car when I caught it. Luckily, the guy driving it was also a biker. I was all right, though the bike was nearly written off. It cost �800 to replace the fairing and the insurance company nearly didn’t go for it.”

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I can see some of the gleam dulling in James’s eye. He doesn’t like the idea of injury and pain.

Thank you, Kate. That’s the best thing you could have said. Now, ride home safely.

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