I am an avid bike hiker. Astride my bike, I have been to all the cities in all districts in Sri Lanka except Jaffna. The planned Jaffna trip had to be postponed after the freak bike accident I met with last September. But that accident won’t dampen my spirits and I will go on the much-awaited trip to Jaffna as soon as I get my bike repaired. At the moment it lies in a motorcycle workshop awaiting to devour 30,000 – 40,000 LKR (195 – 260 USD) for the repairs which I can ill-afford at the moment under the circumstances that prevail.
In fact, if you knew about my childhood, nobody would have imagined that I would end up as a biker at all. The reason being that I could not ride a push cycle till I was almost 16. Kids in my village (both boys and girls) start riding regular bicycles even before they start going to school. But, poor me, had to tolerate the humiliation of not being able to ride a bicycle till I was 16!!! Kids rode bicycles and my younger brother rode bicycles and I was dead angry with the innovator who created this nonsensical device called the bicycle so much so that if I could get hold of him, I would have sent him to hell to be with his honorable ancestors. There was an old Raleigh bicycle at our home and it was a very prestigious brand those days and it still is. Anyway, I was so angry and frustrated that I could not ride a bicycle while everyone else could. The big question I had was how someone balances himself/herself on two wheels, against the universal truth the natural position of a two-wheeler is not vertical but horizontal or rather fallen down on the ground.
Anyway, Udara Mama (Uncle Udara) a close relative of ours came to the rescue when I was around 16. He taught me the art of cycling with a lot of patience. I kept total faith in him that he wouldn’t let me fall on two wheels and while I was riding I was under the impression that he was holding the bicycle from the back of the luggage not letting it fall. But Alas! It was much later I knew that he had already let me go on my own and was not holding the bicycle nor following me at all. This was the trick he used to teach me. I thank him even today for giving me this totally new experience at a later stage of my teenage years. Thank You Udara Mama.
Let’s come back to motorbike riding. My eldest brother bought a Honda C70 secondhand motorbike for our family. That was a hit bike those days as it was a versatile piece of machinery for all the work one needs to do at home or farm. Now that I was good at riding the regular bicycle, I wanted to learn riding the motorbike too. So, my eldest brother (Nayanasena Wanninayake) asked me to take the bike out to teach me and I pushed it to the road. And he asked me to get onto the seat and I thought he would be sitting behind me in the pillion till I was able to learn the basics. But, what he told was shocking to me. He told, “Look brother, there is no point in both you and I getting injured if something happens and now you are on your own! Luckily, I did not have a single fall and I mastered the game in no time. Besides, Honda C70 was a model that made riding easy as it did not have the clutch (C70 has the same clutch assembly inside the motor as its clutched counterpart CD70. In the former the clutch is semi-automatic. Besides, the ‘Postal or Mail model is a domestic production model and better-built than the export models. C70 is better than C/CD50 and C/CD90) to break the gear into different ones. It was all about smooth sailing.
My first experience with a bike with a clutch also was equally enthralling. I was living at my friend Pubudu’s house in Anuradhapura those days and a young couple (Ravi Ayya and his wife) lived in their annex. One day, Ravi Ayya came in a hurry and asked me to get a helmet and sit in the back of his bike. I complied. And then he rode fast to his office and told me that he was going to Kandy in an office vehicle and asked me to take the bike back home. Oops! I had never ridden a bike with a clutch. Besides, this was a pretty bigger bike. I was having butterflies in my stomach but Ravi Ayya had already vanished into thin air. So, I started the bike with a few hiccups and took the bike to the road slowly. And yard by yard the bike was on its way home. I changed the gears as I had seen other guys do it and the bike had terrible jerks every time I changed a gear. On top of that, Anuradhapura is a city where you get a large number of roundabouts in Sri Lanka. My bike stopped stubbornly in every roundabout I passed and other vehicle drivers were annoyed and they kept sounding their horns (a deplorable motoring trait in unruly countries) till I managed to get the machine started and leave peacefully. Anyway, by the time I reached Pubudu’s home, I had mastered the bike with a clutch too. And here I am still in one piece after riding motorbike for 30 long years!!!