This month we meet National Observer and LAM Webmaster Mark Clarke.
When did you start riding?
I grew up on a council estate in Sunderland and one day the local villains nicked a battered old Yamaha FS1E. I'm ashamed to admit that my first experience of motorcycling was riding circles in a field on a stolen bike. I didn’t know how to change gear and screwed the sack out of it in first, until the engine overheated and cut out. However, it was such a thrill and I've been hooked on bikes ever since. Fortunately, I tend to acquire them by more conventional means now …
How long have you been an Observer?
I passed my bike test 6 years ago at the ripe old age of 50, clearly having my second mid-life crisis. After riding for 9 months, I was then wiped out by a car. Once I’d recovered from surgery, I thought it might be a good idea to invest in some further training. One of my friends suggested I check out BikeSafe and I signed up for one of the sessions at the Warren. Riding with the Met Police was amazing and they introduced me to the concept of Advanced Riding. I immediately signed up with the IAM and joined LAM. I passed my test in 2016, became an Observer in 2017 and National Observer in 2020. The club is fantastic with outstanding members, many of whom have become friends. I've got so much out of the club that I try to put as much back as possible. I serve on the Committee, Training Team and run the website as LAM Webmaster.
What does LAM mean to you?
Ever since I was a kid, I've loved everything on two wheels. I spent 25 years riding and racing bikes (cycles). However, injuries, the passage of time and being deliberately rammed and knocked off my bike made it difficult for me to keep cycling. To stay on two wheels, I took up motorcycling. Motorbikes make up 1% of road users, so we're automatically in the minority and are our own sub-culture – and I quite like that. I genuinely love the friends I've made through LAM, the camaraderie of my fellow riders and the similar, irreverent humour we all seem to share. I still get a thrill from the nod and acknowledgement from an oncoming rider.
With no exaggeration, the skills and techniques I've learned from LAM have meant I've been in a different part of the road and saved my life on at least two occasions. I find it incredibly rewarding to give something back and pass on these skills to new riders. Hopefully, it will keep them safe and might even save their life one day.
What is your favourite route?
I've a few ... I love Wales and riding up Llanberis Pass, over Snowden and down through the Ogwen Valley is fantastic. The roads around the Nurburgring in NW Germany are simply amazing. However, I think the best roads I've ridden are in Austria and Switzerland - empty roads, impeccable tarmac and breath-taking scenery, with the stunning Alps as a backdrop. However, a word of caution – if you go over there, stick to the limit as they have zero tolerance for speeding. When I got back from my European Tour, I had two brown envelopes waiting for me with fines for going 5 km/h and 8 km/h over the limit!
What is your number one safety tip?
Information! Keep your chins up (both of them), eyes on full beam and throw your vision as far up the road as possible. Riding is inherently dangerous. However, collecting information as early as possible helps you spot clues, make a plan and navigate a safe path.
What is your number one tip for passing the test?
It's incredibly daunting when you're first introduced to Advanced Riding and the SYSTEM. There's so much new information to learn and think about - then have to apply it at 60 mph, with the added pressure of someone behind you critiquing your ride. My advice is don't try to do everything at once. Focus on one area, practice hard, nail it - then move on to the next. Build on a solid base. Get it so ingrained in your muscle memory that it's automatic and you don't even have to think about it.
What is your favourite piece of riding kit?
My snood. It's like Arthur's blanket in Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy. You can't go anywhere without your snood.
What is your favourite bike?
Kawasaki Ninja 1000SX and I've had three of them so far. It's a sports tourer, about 80% sports and 20% tourer. It does everything amazingly well, from commuting, track, touring, twisties and a trip to the shops. It's a brilliant bike and completely flatters my riding.
What has been your best or funniest moment on a bike?
I got home late from work and as I was putting the bike away, the side stand flicked up. As it was dropping, I managed to catch it, put my body underneath it and gently lay it down on top of me. Unfortunately, I was completely stuck and couldn't move. It was a cold, wet January night at 10:30 PM and I was lying in a poorly lit parking bay. After about 10 minutes thinking “how the hell am I going to get out of this?”, I heard the 'click clack' of high heels coming towards me. This young lady asked if I needed help, put her handbag down and deadlifted the bike up - in heels - then walked off as if she did that every day. Strong girl!
Ask me about …..
I'm an eclectic geek, so ask me about anything about ballet, bikes, IT or bird watching.
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