Q&A with record-breaking blind motorcyclist Stuart Gunn
Blind motorcyclist Stuart Gunn, the fastest disabled biker on the planet, talks to Disability Horizon’s Zubee about his love of bikes, and how his vision impairment doesn’t limit his thirst for speed.
Please could you tell DH readers a bit about yourself and how you got started in motorcycling?
I’m 39 years old and bikes have always been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. In one way or another, bikes have always been around, whether it was me watching in awe as motorcycle racers Barry Sheene and Kenny Roberts battled each other, or putting a wee toy rev handle on my beloved Raleigh Grifter bicycle.
I started riding motocross with a friend at high school, but I had to keep it secret from my parents – 2 things my mam hates most in the world is tattoos and motorcycles! Oops! So I messed around on them doing some schoolboy racing, just for fun as I wasn’t that great at it, but loved every second of it!
As the years went on I discovered girls and drinking etc and the bikes were put on the sidelines for a while as I took a fairly hefty run up at being a rock star! Then in my early 20s I started getting back into them in a big way as I got a ZZR600 motorcycle and went from there!
Who inspired you to take up motorcycling?
Initially Barry Sheene, hands down. The guy was amazing and could ride like a devil with its arse on fire! Later on in life Chris Walker was a big part of me wanting to ride bikes. I went for a ride with him on the back of his bike in the late 90s. I doubt he’ll remember, but trust me, as long as my arse points south, I will never forget it!
Do you have any special adaptations on your motorcycle?
I don’t, no, although my dad does talk to me through an intercom system so I know when to brake and if I’m going off course. Also, because of a motorbike accident I had back in 2002, I have some paralysis down my right side – I broke my back in two places and shattered my ribs.
As a result, I put a tie around my right foot so that my leg is kept in place. But, it’s done in such a way that will allow the foot to slide free if the worst were to happen, other than that, completely stock standard bike.
You became the fastest blind disabled biker on the planet to hit 167mph, how did it make you feel when you heard that you had beaten your previous record of 164mph?
It was a bit of a mix of feelings. Firstly I thought; “get in, I’ve done it,” mixed with; “I know I can go faster than that.” I also felt a sense of relief that I had actually done it and proved to everyone it could be done.
I certainly felt real happiness and gratitude to the loved ones around me. My girlfriend puts up with an awful lot and has sacrificed a great deal in the run up to the event. My dad, Geoff, who had to work damn hard to keep me on a straight and safe line during the ride while all the time having to concentrate on what he was doing!
Then there’s Phil and Abe, my other riders, and Shannon and Theresa, Phil’s wife and daughter, who all did an amazing amount of work to help us get this thing done.
It felt good, really good, to have the crowd cheer and go nuts when I took my helmet off and grinned!
Not really, no. It was just a case of working out all the biomechanics of the run as well as the combustion mechanics of the bike.
My father and I spent a while working out a shorthand code, so that there was as little amount of information coming to me as possible so as not to break my concentration, but something that let me know exactly what was going on as I rode.
I had to train my arms and my core for strength as I can’t use my knees to help braking, so everything was going through the arms and shoulders. Other than that, praying to every deity possible that I did’t land on my arse!
What has the public’s reaction been like since your world record attempt?
It’s been very mixed to be honest. In the main people seem to be inspired by it, or at least just curious as to how it can be done. I’ve had a good few haters too though, mainly because they don’t understand what I’m doing or what I went through to get to this point. Some people just like to be mean. But they don’t bother me – I know what I’m doing and why I’m doing it.
Before setting out, did you have a set speed in mind that you wanted to reach?
I wanted to get at least into the 170mph bracket, and I definitely wanted to be out of the 160 bracket. But the speed was getting harder and harder as the side winds really picked up. I feel I have the ability to do 180mph, probably 200mph, but that wasn’t to be I guess.
How did it make you feel when you found out you were in the Guinness World Records book?
To be completely honest, I didn’t really think of it in that way. It was about me achieving something that seemed so far out of reach that I had to really stretch for it! It was a life goal, something I needed to do.
I always have to have something to aim for. I refuse to just sit at home feeling sorry for myself because I can’t walk or see. Big deal, there are people being destroyed the world over, there is always someone worse off! So it was more a personal goal, the record book was just a massive bonus on top, like the ubiquitous cherry up there!
How did your motorbike accident in 2002 affect your love of bikes and how long did it take you to learn to ride again afterwards?
After the initial accident, I was off bikes for about a year and a half. I just couldn’t get on one due to the pain. In addition, my bike was mashed in the accident, so I didn’t have access to 1 even if I wanted to ride.
I was lucky enough to have a good friend working in a bike shop close by and he kindly offered me any bike in the showroom. I took out a Honda CBR600, after drooling over it. 2 weeks later I was there in leathers and full kit.
When initially went out I wasn’t doing very well, especially on busy and new roads. Thankfully my pop was with us, so he took me to a road that we both enjoyed riding on. There, the wee hooligan that had been quietly snoozing in the back of my head woke up with a vengeance.
I even managed to pass my father on the back wheel and throw it into a corner. He just shook his head, while probably wanting to kick my butt for it. But I’m sure there was a touch of pride in there too! From there, I bought a CBR600 in 04 and went from there again.
When you first told your family you were going to get back on a bike, what was their reaction?
Erm, it was varied to say the least! My mum was horrified, my dad exasperated and general feelings of; “holy sh*t what have we spawned?!” were echoed.
By this time I had done all the planning in my head, from every possible angle and every possible situation, so I was able to volley answers to some pretty stern questions. Finally my dad, Geoff said: “Right, if you’re going to do this, we’ll do it right!” My mum still isn’t happy, but she does have every newspaper or magazine I’ve been in over the last year or so! 🙂
As a blind rider don’t you feel scared travelling at such high speed?
I wouldn’t say scared, no. Exhilarated, feelings of joy actually, feeling like a kid at Christmas I guess? It’s not an emotion I usually get to be honest, but that feeling of speed and freedom gets the butterflies going.
You are an inspiration to many blind and visually impaired people around the world. What advice would you give to them if they wanted to start riding a motorcycle?
Firstly, think about it, like really think about it! There is an awful lot to take in and compute in a very short space of time.
Then, once you’re sure, check out your local listings for bike shops and training centres and visit a few. Don’t get hung up on the first one and don’t let anyone doubt you or put down. If they do, walk away before they even finish talking, that’s not the place for you!
You can also contact me or any other disabled rider – we all have our own little tricks and tips and not one of us will laugh or put you down! Ok well maybe I’ll laugh, but I’ll never put you down, I just have a weird sense of humour! 🙂
What are your aspirations and goals for the future?
For the near future, a holiday for my girlfriend is in order I feel! As I mentioned, this has put her through a lot, but she has stood by me through out and is just an amazing person, so she’s going to come first!
After that, who knows? I’d love to do something at the TT races, it’s been a dream of mine to race there since there first time I saw Joey Dunlop give it stick around there, then Hislop (RIP) and Foggy’s last lap epic finish had me hooked for life!
I’d like to do some public speaking, I’ve spoken to a couple of classes at schools. Last November I spoke at St. John Walls RC school in West Brom. It was such an amazing experience to hear how the kids felt about what I was doing, and they had some pretty deep questions, too!
Other than that, who knows? Maybe your readers could come up with some ideas for what’s next?! Please just don’t let it start with F and end in Off!! 🙂
Thank you all for reading and for all the support I’ve received over the past year, many people made this happen.
Photo credits: Julie Bull from the Evening News and Stevie Manson of Zeephotography
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