Australia's first bioptic motorcyclist!
Belinda riding her bike (photo credit: ACT Office for Disability commissioned Damsel and Sprout www.damselandsprout.com.au)
Its a dream come true! I am now a motorcyclist, but with one difference, I use a bioptic as an assistive technology device to support for poor vision acuity. I have always wanted to ride motorbike and thought with the right support I could. Its been a very long journey.
Getting my licence
In 2018 I got my motorbike learner licence and my first bike that is my current bike you see below, in 2019. Before I got my licence I spent years researching other bioptic motorcyclists, asking questions about learning techniques and how they fit their bioptic in their helmet so the scope can fit with the visor down. I started with a silver open face helmet as that is all I could find in Canberra at short notice. After getting my learner licence, my partner drove me to Sydney to a bike superstore and I got the white Nolan helmet that I love because it is full face, fits the bioptic really well, has a visor for glare shading and can remove the chin for open face use.
To get your learner motorbike licence in the ACT, you do a one day course that teaches how to use a motorbike, to get on and off, start and cut power, go and stop, turn, brake, throttle control including friction point. We started in a room with a group of five others. The instructor asked each to come up to the desk with their licence so he could sight it. In seeing mine I told him I'm a bioptic rider and it is part of my licence condition to use the bioptic and fit overs and showed him those conditions. He asked if the bioptic fit in my helmet, I said yes and the day started. I was very nervous all day. At the end the instructor called us together, passed the three men and failed the three women (there are rumblings about the issues of a male dominated instructor environment for motorcycles but not for discussion here). One young lady did an about face and headed straight to her car in tears. Another instructor came up to me later and said they thought I did okay and if I had time I can use my free lesson to do a test after. That happened and they gave me my certificate of passing. The next day I went to the driver licencing authority and applied for the learner licence condition. Again, I was nervous but for no need, they called the medical team as I provided my medical document as well and came back with good to go! I was stoked! Immediately rang Brad my partner to share the awesome news!
|Belinda riding her bike wearing her first motorbike helmet, a silver open face 'postie' style helmet. There is a large "L" for learner on the back next to the number plate. You can see her face in the reflection of the right side mirror.|
Sharing the journey
By far the best part has been sharing the journey with others. For this I have to thank ACT Facebook groups: Female Riders of Canberra (FROC) and Gorgeous Ladies on Wheels (GLOW). I have met some amazing women through this group with friends still today and been going on group rides since I joined. I joined ladies for fortnightly dinner and chat and participated in online forums sharing tips. It was so refreshing to learn that all people had the same feelings as me. One lady posted "how do I get to 60km/hr without crapping my pants". OMG I laughed so hard and thought to myself wow, I thought the same at first and its not because of my eyesight. its normal! I know this too because I've traveled regularly on my push bike at 60, 70 and even 80km/hr.
Overall the other riders have been curious to learn and fantastic to ask questions and seek information about concerns. However, I was advised by one rider of one couple making a comment like "ah, I don't want her smashing into my windscreen" with the insinuation being because of my eyesight they think I'll ride into their car and get hit and be flung into their windscreen. I can certainly see where fear comes from. What I don't think is fair is people spreading these types of statements about people who are different from them and using those as facts and not trying to find out about the evidence or research or ask me or ask others. This unfortunately is how disability discrimination happens and is not just unconscious bias, its ableism i.e. the belief that only able body people can do these things.
Overall I have had good experiences. I have joined the groups for many rides. Here is one for the 2019 Convoy for Cancer where we raised funds and dressed up and joined the convoy of hundreds of other riders following the trucks around Canberra streets.
|Belinda's motorbike decorated for Convoy for Cancer ride with pink boa and rubber small unicorn on the handlebars|
For me the simplicity of commuting with my motorbike is my life blood. I love riding to work and from work because I get on that bike with the baggage or thoughts and enter flow mode as soon as the engine kicks over. I love the sound of that V-twin and love to hear it roar through the gears as I blip through.
I have been on long group day rides as well to various places. Its great to start out early, join the group for riding out on country roads and head back home after lunch and other stops. Here's a couple of photos of some of us at Wildbrumby Distillery just outside Jindabyne in NSW's snowy region.
|Four motorbikes with back drop of Lake Jindabyne, Belinda's bike is second in line.|
|Group of people at Wildbrumby Distillery. Belinda is squatting in front of group.|
Life long learning and keeping safe
I love learning from different sources and different people. I spent years looking at training methods and YouTube videos and learning about how motorbike crashes happen and how can I avoid them. Overall I learnt I need to ride like no one sees me...just like how I ride when riding my push bike on the road. It doesn't matter who's in the right, the one on the bike will come off worse. I know I still have a lot to learn and periodically do training courses to build my skills. Here's a photo of me at one of the training courses.
|Belinda is rider at the top of the screen about to go into the bend.|
I have to share that on this course I was feeling over confident. A recipe for accidents for those who cannot reign it in. So towards the end of the day at this bend I tried to overtake a scooter who also sped up to prevent me from overtaking. I then didn't leave myself enough braking space before the bend, overshot and rode onto the grass. I later had a chat to the scooter rider to say sorry for scaring the crap out of her and she said she thought I was a goner! That incident put me in check and I am really grateful for that experience, especially in a controlled environment. I also think that because of my years of experience of riding a mountain bike I did not panic and let the bike run straight while I slowly pulled the rear brake only. I also must emphasie for the ableists reading this post, no, it was not my eyesight as to why this happened. It was my ego and my choice to overtake on a bend and I knew what I was doing and where I was positioned on that straight and bend and knew the instructors had already told us to do the overtaking in the straight. I had run out of skill, not eyesight. Or as my partner puts it, I did a Rossi... my ambition outweighed my talent. Yet, this is something I would not and do not do on the road. I leave the ego to training courses.
At another course, one instructor came up to me to tell me a story of a friend who had a crash wearing glasses under their helmet and indicated to me the risk of me wearing my bioptic should I crash. I pleasantly chatted back. But really wanted to tell him, doesn't he think I already know this and still decide to ride just like other riders who wear glasses?
The ACT government offers a free few hours group course for people who first get their learner licence. At this first course I realised later the instructor had set me up for failure and fell right into the trap. I want to share this so other disabled people can prepare themselves for this type of behaviour (- unfortunately not the first time this sort of thing has happened to me by a teacher/ instructor in doing activities). It was a group of about 7 riders. After our skills session we set off to run through a circuit on streets. The instructor then told me to lead the group. I felt in myself to say no. The reason being is I always travel in familiar areas and get to know routes driving and riding and at my own time and pace so I know the speed limits, where critical signs are where to stop / start etc. But not listening to my inner voice and not wanting to make a scene off I went. I rode under the speed limit, did not position my bike properly in certain lanes and couldn't see where we had to stop. When we did stop the instructor said "well that was shit!" and went on a rant ripping into me in front of everyone the above points. I was stunned and I am pretty sure someone else complained on my behalf. That's the other thing. As disabled people we are so scared of being attacked constantly we don't lodge complaints and it takes a lot of strength and acceptance and preparedness of what might happen to you if you do complain. Yep, not okay. What was even more glaring on this course is on the run after, one of the women who rode a scooter when trying to park it lost control and full throttled into the other parked bikes and knocked them over. The instructor was calm and nice to her. Putting that experience behind me and embedding how to ensure I keep my boundaries in the face of authority telling me to do things I am not ready to do. I then went and did the course again a few week later. It was all good.
Sharing to give others hope
The most important part of all of this is to show it can be done in Australia and to give hope and drive to other potential and current bioptic drivers who think they can ride a motorbike. Yes, its hard. People really need to make themselves aware of the risks and self manage all the time when riding. This isn't for all bioptic drivers, in fact, I think only a minority and only those who have years of riding experience of a push bike on the road. Those people have learnt to keep themselves safe riding on the road and know that they must ride as though they are not seen.
Here is some of the media throughout my journey and I'll update in the comments from time to time too.
Thank you to the ACT Office for Disability for this photo shoot opportunity. Photos of people living with disability were commission in 2021 to be used in government campaigns to promote disability awareness in the ACT. More can be seen here about disability awareness in the ACT: https://www.involvedcbr.com.au/news/article/344/australias-first-ever-bioptic-driving-demonstration-day
|Belinda sitting on her bike wearing her bioptic with helmet sitting on fuel tank. (photo credit: ACT Office for Disability commissioned Damsel and Sprout www.damselandsprout.com.au)|
|Belinda sitting on her bike with Black Mountain tower in the background. (photo credit: ACT Office for Disability commissioned Damsel and Sprout www.damselandsprout.com.au)|
I would like to thank the ABC for this awesome story of my journey:
And here is the written story:
It is really encouraging to learn that there is now another bioptic motorcyclist living in South Australia. Just awesome!