When I turned sixteen, I was old enough to get a driver’s licence.
I was restricted to motorcycles (under 150cc) but that was fine. I inherited my sister’s autocycle.
The Mobylette was basically a very heavy bike with a 50cc engine. You started it by pedalling until the engine fired and off you’d go. It had no gears or clutch and to go faster you twisted the throttle and if you wanted to stop you just put on the brakes. It had a top speed of around thirty miles per hour (or fifty kilometers per hour in new money) and got about three hundred miles to the gallon, or so I’m told – I never drove three hundred miles so I can’t comment.
I loved that Moby. It was noisy and smelly but I got around with little effort. The only problem was that if it broke down – which it did regularly – I would have to push it home.
I remember doing my driving test on it. I had to drive up to the test centre near The Phoenix Park in Dublin. The examiner then told me the route to take and sent me off. He would run, taking short-cuts through various alleyways and every now and then I’d come across him standing by the side of the road with his clipboard. I passed the test!
A year later, I left school and started college. We were also moving house to Enniskerry which was around fifteen miles from college, so I traded in the Moby for a Yamaha 80cc motorbike. This was a proper motorbike – three gears, a clutch, a kick-start and no pedals. I was in heaven!
That motorbike had a lot of use. I ventured much further afield with my longest single journey being the time I drove from Dublin to Rosslare, caught the ferry to Fishguard and then drove across South Wales, over the Severn Bridge and on to Cheddar in Somerset. I did it in a single day on a £5 fill of petrol.
That trip to Cheddar was for a Summer job and I used the bike to explore north Somerset. During my time there, there was a freak storm that devastated the village. My precious bike was completely submerged under water, gravel, silt and rocks. After the flood waters subsided I frantically dug the bike out. I wheeled it onto dry ground and tried starting it. On the third kick it started and shot a stream of muddy water out of the exhaust. It came in very handy ferrying injured staff back and forth to Weston-Super-Mere Hospital.
In my push-bike days I used to frequently damage myself by cracking my ankles or falling off. The motorbike was a different affair altogether. I had fairly frequent accidents, usually by hitting patches of oil or ice on the road. The only serious accident I has was when I was ferrying a friend from college to his house. I was overtaking a lorry when it suddenly turned without any warning. Both myself and the bike ended up under the lorry which led to a spell in hospital. The friend had hopped off and just had a grazed knee.
I really loved that bike. I was like a fledgeling discovering I could fly. It was my first real feeling of independence.