This week, Carla told us all about her life of riding motorbikes – custom mods, Christmas rides, and drag racing.
At the age of 16, I asked my parents if I could get a moped. They said no.
At the age of 22, I did my CBT and got my first bike.
I’ve always been into cars. I knew nothing about bikes but I knew I wanted to get on one. The first step into the biking world for me was when I decided to take action on my need for two wheels. For me, it wasn’t just about riding about a bike, I wanted to know everything so I contacted a local bike builder and asked if he would be interested in teaching me everything there was to know about them and how to ride. And the rest, as they say, is history.
I used to go to the workshop every day off and most evenings. This guy taught me everything I know about bikes – I remember he took me to get my first jacket and helmet, and we travelled to get my first bike, a 1984 Honda CM 125 Custom.
I came in, I looked at the Apache and I was like, “I like that – it’s got that dirt bike, rebellious look about it.”
The very first challenge I was given was to take apart an old petrol lawnmower engine and put it back together – right down to taking the crankshaft out and removing the piston rings.
While it was apart I got the complete rundown of everything, what each part was, what it did and how it worked. I did this rebuild several times a day for a couple of weeks until I could do it blindfolded. Then I was allowed to start using this new knowledge on bikes. Slowly, I built up my skillset and I learnt how to rebuild brake callipers and build and balance carbs, and these became some of my main jobs to do on bikes when they came in.
I learnt to weld – both mig and tig welding – and would make bespoke exhausts. I learnt to use the lathe and milling machine and started designing and making bespoke parts for bikes that we were building. I also learnt how to make parts with carbon fibre including the mould making process.
The hardest part of bike building for me was getting my head around wiring diagrams. Once I thought I had the loom figured, I lost where I was and had to study the diagram over and over again – that was the one part I loathed.
After a while, I got involved with the drag racing scene and started building bikes to race. Our own bikes had stretched swing arms, quick shifters and upgraded Dynatech pickups along with the usual performance upgrades. We would head up to the drag events with the bikes on the back of my bright pink jeep (obviously we got laughed at for this at first) and rip up the tarmac on the strip.
Soon we had people bringing their bikes to us, for us to fit them with similar upgrades, and although we were in direct competition with them, we did it for the love of the build. To see bikes we’d worked on getting better results the next race day was everything we wanted. We worked a lot with Kawasaki’s and had a lot of ZXR’s and ZZR’s- which I think is why I have a soft spot of them myself now.
My little Honda CM, I’ll be honest, I didn’t love it. The bike wasn’t quite ‘me’. It was slow and cumbersome and due to its age, obviously a bit worn. But it was my first bike and I went everywhere on it.
We built a great little bike community and ended up getting involved with MAG (Motorcycle Action Group). I became chairperson for our local group and started organising rides and building the community.
I needed a bike that had a bit more oomph and was more reliable than my old Honda. This is when I was first introduced to Sinnis. My first Sinnis was a 2014 Apache 125 – and boy was it totally different. No jump starts, it was nimble and light, and it was a lot of fun.
Eventually, I came away from MAG and decided to build the biking community. I organised bike events and little rides in the evening to meet others and head out for fish and chips on the coast, and I used my Apache for all of it. The community reached over 700 members on the facebook group in its first year and we were off almost every weekend on carefully planned 150+ miles rides on amazing roads to beautiful locations.
One year, I decided to organise a Santa run to the local Children’s Hospice and the response was massive. We had over 100 motorbiking Santa’s on our first year and have done the Santa Run every year since.
We always tried to plan somewhere different on our weekends and I ended up having my own right-hand man for this, who had much more riding experience and knew all the best roads – the planning of the routes was down to him and some of the destinations were just amazing.
We would head everywhere on the Devon, Dorset and Cornwall coast, two of my favourite places being Lynmouth and Boscastle. My Apache never missed a beat. I was totally in love with it. It was miles apart from my first bike and even though it wasn’t a patch on the adrenaline the drag strip it gave was so much fun in its own right.
Everyone who got to know me and my bike definitely had their views changed on the stereotype of learner legal bikes. My boyfriend at the time lived in Brighton. I lived in Exeter and I used to ride up on my 125 to visit him. I didn’t have a phone holder or a great amount of data so I relied on my google map memory to get me there the first time. I did it! I got lost a few times but that’s all part of the fun, isn’t it? I don’t think you can really get lost when you’re riding – you simply just find new roads and I wasn’t complaining about having to be on my bike for an extra half an hour.
I LOVED every second of being on that thing. I could do the trip to Brighton (for the times I didn’t get lost!) on a full tank of fuel, which would cost me around £17. On the odd occasion that I took the car, it would be triple that. Being on my apache was the best thing ever. I can’t even begin to explain how much fun I had on that bike.
Now we come to the time when I stopped riding for a while and was bike-less for the first time in a few years. I had a baby! And I ended up not being able to get my leg over the bike after a couple of months! I moved to Brighton and decided to sell my beloved Apache and get another bike once the baby was born.
Once he came along, I bought Sinnis Heist! Yep- another Sinnis. I liked the styling of the bike and although I loved my supermoto before, I just fancied a change. I made a few modifications to the heist. It’s a great bike to work on and there’s a lot you can do to make it your very own one-of-a-kind model. Little things like changing handlebars, grips, the seat and cutting down the rear mudguard made it look like a mean little chopper.
I used the bike mostly for leisure and headed to the seafront for a cruise down the coast when I could – I got the nod of approval from fellow bikers at traffic lights, and I remember having a group of Harley Davidson riders come over and compliment me on my bike and ask me what it was. When I told them, they were surprised and said they wished that this type of bike was around when they were learners. I also took it down to Exeter to take part in the annual Santa Run and it performed amazingly well in the pouring rain!
I didn’t keep the Heist for that long, I moved outside the city and ended up doing a lot of dual-carriageway travelling, which wasn’t really that comfortable on The Heist. I would say it wasn’t best suited for that type of riding.
So what did I get next? Another Apache of course! But this time it was a 250. How could I not? The Apache didn’t let me down before and was so much fun. The acceleration was more reactive on the 250 and felt much safer on the faster roads as it allowed me to get out of potential danger quickly. She never let me down! This time though, I decided I needed to change the styling a little bit so I removed the stickers, resprayed the panels and designed and put my own graphics on.
I changed the grips and even put spoke covers on – don’t do this in the cold! Ouch! That bike feels like an extra limb. I love looking at it, I love being on it, I love being seen on it. I walk out of a shop and people are looking at it, I get thumbs’ up from people when I ride past, and I even get kids asking to sit on it – I love that! My absolute favourite comment I heard from a little one was, ‘A girl? On a bike?’ I gave him a wave a toot and his face lit up with a huge smile.
I now own a Kawasaki ZX6R as well as my 250 Apache. Again, she’s had a full re-spray and been styled exactly how I like – you can probably notice a theme. I have my sports bike, I have my supermoto, and I just need to get myself a bobber or chopper-style bike (I’ve recently taken the hoodlum for a spin!), then I think I may have enough of a variety to choose from depending what mood I wake up in… maybe 😉