to explain my approach, or endeavours relating toof blind motorcycle riding, one of the first google searches I did when I got back online in 2006 was searching for a blind biker, and, I came across mention of Billy Baxter, who was a soldier who's gone blind from a disease, and, he'd captured a land speed record on a motorcycle, as well as doing a full lap of Donington later on, and, that's pretty much when I decided that I was going to "go all the way" myself.
It started off with me talking to my friends from the Hellrazors, since I was still part of the scene - they were prepared to accept, and, accomodate me - and, in November 2006, at our annual track day weekend, I rode my other old motorcycle, a Suzuki Bandit 1200 streetfighter, up and down the main straight, in only first gear, with one friend following me, and with another one talking to me via a cellphone, and, no, I didn't go very fast, or try going round any corners then, but, I had proven a point to myself - if I wanted to do something, and, had the right forms of support, then I could make it happen.
Two years later, I again rode that same motorcycle across the skid pan at Phakisa, again talking to a friend via a cellphone call, but, this time getting up to third gear, and roundabout 70km/h, but, on a skid pan, besides stopping and starting, there are a lot less risks than in more enclosed environments.
After that, I also rode an offroad motorcycle around a blind friend's plot near walkerville - the guy who used to do blind endurance horse racing - and, after that, a couple more times, once in the Magaliesberg, and then near Henley-on-klip, and, all those times, while I was taking it relatively easy, I also had proper protective gear on, had friends talking to me via cellphones, and, during the last ride, in January 2018, it was actually the guy who would become my "motorcycle guide dog" - our joking term for a good riding companion - on the track, following me on a quad bike there, at times telling me to slow the hell down... ;)
Those last three rides were sort of arranged by the guy who runs the Action for blind and disabled NPO - I had been involved in a couple of forms of what he refers to as being his technology consultant, in terms of computer usage, software adaptation, etc.:
ACTION For Blind and Disabled
Anyway, since my girlfriend is the manager of a bike shop here in Benoni, Nick's Cycles - she'd provided the quad bike, and, it was her brother, Ian Howard, riding it behind me. When she mentioned a blind guy doing an offroad ride to the person who produces the Dirt and Trail magazine, he said he wanted to use our photo's, and write up an article about the ride, my passion, etc.
This magazine article was then shown to a guy who used to compete in South African superbike racing, and, who runs a track day school based at Red star raceway, near Delmas, called Moto Rentals, and, since my girlfriend had told him that I had always been a Suzuki-lover, he got in contact with the regional motorcycle sales manager for Suzuki SA, and, that's pretty much when the whole thing went into action, since Jason, from Moto Rentals negotiated with Red star in terms of practice sessions, and, Clint, the manager from Suzuki SA arranged the provision of the motorcycles for all of it, as well as them offering to sponsor the rental of the track on the day, which ended up being July 7 2018.
I'm going to give you a bit more background with regards to how we handled the riding, technology, and, other forms of support, but, firstly, besides the links to the SABC documentary, which I will include lower down, here's a video clip compiled by zabikers.org:
Blind man rides motorcycle around racetrack
Anyway, the main aspects were that me and Ian Howard were making use of a wireless helmet-to-helmet intercom system, during all our practice sessions - I would guess that before the big day, we did at least 180km around that track, trying out different forms of communication and instruction, and, we ended up primarily making use of a form of numbered dial system - 5 meant straight ahead, 4 meant slightly left, 6 meant slightly right, and, either lower, or higher numbers would mean that I should make a more immediate form of direction adjustment, but, besides that we would otherwise just keep a form of conversation going, with him keeping me up to date on speeds, approaching corners, time to start an actual turn, when I needed to tighten or loosen my turn angle, etc., etc., and, the other reason for all this practicing, besides us figuring out what would work for us, was also for me to get comfortable with track conditions, start building a picture in my head relating to which corner was coming up next, etc.
In terms of additional forms of assistive technology, partly since I have always loved gadgetry, and, because technology that may not be widely known yet, can still provide valuable forms of feedback if you work out viable means and methods to make use thereof, and which is something I have been using at times, since roundabout 2008, relates to a form of sensory substitution, and this is the vOICe (camel-case pronunciation there will emphasise it's implementation of alternative forms of sight - Oh, I see), from seeingWithSound.com, which is the effort of a dutch scientist, Dr. Peter Meijer, and, during some of the practice sessions, and also on the day, I was using the following setup at the same time as talking to Ian:
The vOICe for Android on smart glasses
Dr. Meijer himself had implemented a colour-filter tweak to his software, specific to the track conditions, and, it definitely resulted in me adjusting my own riding lines before Ian Howard told me that I needed to, at times.
Anyway, yes, during the practice sessions, there were a couple of times when I might end up riding onto the grass next to the track, or even just stopping on the track to take a couple of deep breaths, but, I never even came close to putting the bike down, and, both of us, were wearing full race leathers, helmets and gloves all the way through, from day one - not taking any chances, even though I never really got up above second gear, or 45km/h, on the Suzuki SV650 I was riding.
On the actual day itself, we also arranged some other things taking place, like action4 bringing through a bus load of blind and disabled people that we kitted up in protective gear, and took for rides around the track with my bike club members doing the riding, as well as a group called GEES (Afrikaans term for spirit), who organise rider development practice sessions, helping disadvantaged people to gain riding as a form of work, or lifestyle empowerrment, and, on the day, while we wouldn't have wanted them to bring dogs through with them, Guide Dogs SA did also have an awareness/media stall there, since the proceeds for the day would be getting split up between them and action4, although I still say my main goal, besides the ride, was promoting forms of awareness for both organisations.
In any case, at 2PM on the day, after some of the other riding sessions had finished off, me and Ian kitted up, and, went out on the track, and, we rode 4 full laps around the track with no stopping, no mishaps, no going off the track, etc., etc., and, my guess - wasn't paying too much attention to it - was that I was probably averaging 20km/h around the track, doing around 30km/h through a couple of corners that I am the most comfortable in, and, hitting roundabout 40km/h on some of the straights at times, but, not too often, and, on this 4.2km long track, the 4 laps took us just under an hour, and, I think they even waved a chequered flag for me as I came up to the start-finish line the last time.
There was actually one more surprise waiting for me, since it hadn't been pre-planned - not to my knowledge anyway - and, that was after we finished that lap, all my bike club members there, with bikes available, lined up behind me, and, we did a final, 5th lap, with me leading a pack of something like 38 other bikes, and, I should have mentioned that, all through the ride, I did have my hellrazors colours waistcoat on, over my race leathers.
There were also various other sponsors, and people who helped out in the build-up, as well as on the day, and, without all of them, this would not have been possible - so, thanks to all of them.
This is by no means the end of it, or anything like my last ride, and, we are also planning to, possibly, assist some other blind, or visually impaired guys in terms of them trying out the bike riding activity, in controlled, safe environments.
In terms of relatively mainstream media coverage for the day, besides various text-based publications, which did write-ups regarding this event, I did also do a follow up radio interview with the late night show, on Cape Talk radio:
The fringe: Blind biker
Besides that, there was also a mini-documentary filmed, and compiled by the crowd from Stories untold, from the SABC:
Stories untold: Blind biker