Why We Ride - James Beddows
Q. Let’s just start off with, what got you into motorbikes to start with? What was your first interaction with bikes?
A. I think from the age of seven or eight at the top of my Christmas list would always be a quad bike, motorbike and go-cart. Followed then by things that I might actually then get, the realistic stuff like a video game or sweets. Usually I just got an orange and a pair of socks.
I don't know why I was always obsessed with bikes or anything with an engine. My Uncle used to give me a video for Christmas every year, which was always something along the lines of banger car racing or motorcycle stunt videos, and I think he kind of like slyly fed the interest as well.
Q. So your Uncle was into his bikes then?
A. My Uncle was like a massive bike nut and always has been. Whereas my dad really doesn't like them. I think it's because he fell off the back of my Uncle's bike when they were teenagers. So he never had an interest after that.
When I started working, washing dishes as a teenager in pubs, in my early teens, I started saving up money. I think I bought my first little pit bike, for around £100 off a friend of a friend. I used to buzz around my parent's back garden, which was not very big, but on a tiny little pit bike, you know, it was a lot of fun you could just mess around.
My parents weren't particularly impressed because they never wanted me to have one, but I guess that's where I learned about entrepreneurship and making my own money meant I could then make my own decision for what I bought. I think that's why bikes and businesses sort of went hand in hand. I didn't have to rely on my Christmas list that was never going to get fulfilled.
When I got a little bit older, maybe I was 16, I then saved up a bit more money and bought a PW80 off a friend of a friend again. I bought it for about £200 I think, and would ride it everywhere throughout the farm that I lived on, in the woods with my mates, pretty much every day I could.
I thought it was awesome, we were just these free-range kids having fun with bikes. So yeah, always loved that, but never went bigger than a PW 80cc.
I had the PW up until I went to Uni, I used to still take it out and race around the fields for fun as a bit of a toy, but eventually I sold it soon after I went to Uni, as I needed the money.
Q. Sounds like you got the most out of it anyway. So obviously you were riding when you were young, but how long have you actually had a licence for and been allowed to ride on the road?
A. So I came back to bikes probably six years after I sold that little PW. I was living in London for a few years and basically sick and tired of public transport. At the time I was spending probably an hour each direction getting to and from work across London on multiple undergrounds and it was not fun.
I had to travel around town a lot for meetings, so I thought I'll get moped and then I'll be able to ride to work in 25 minutes and ride to meetings, park outside and not have to like turn up hot and sweaty versus if I had cycled there. So getting a scooter seemed to make complete sense.
This was when I was about 24-25, so 2015 I think it was. I did my CBT Course and I had no real understanding of the rules of the road or licences or whatever, I assumed I could do a CBT get a scooter to take my girlfriend on the back and buzz around town. I had this vision in my head of how great it was going to be, I think like a lot of people do when they stat thinking about learning to ride.
It wasn't until I was on my CBT that instructor said if you want to take someone on the back then you need to do your Full Motorcycle Licence. At this point, I'd already sold it to my girlfriend that was gonna give her lifts everywhere so she was already invested in the dream.
So I thought, oh looks like I'm going to have to do my full licence then, which I just took the tests for an A1 licence 3 months after doing my CBT because at the time I was like 'oh I'm not a motorcyclist, I just wanted a scooter for getting around town.
Q. What's your favourite thing about the motorcycle scene?
A. Up until recent years, I wasn't properly actively interested in the biking scene to be honest. Riding bikes off-road is probably outside large parts of what would be called the 'scene'.
Then I started to ride for practical reasons, so not really in the scene there either. Then over the years, I got more into riding and got bigger bikes which I used for a combination of commuting and fun. Up until recently though, most of my riding was for practical reasons as living in London it was just the way I got around town and the occasional trip out at the weekend.
Q. Did you find there was much of a commuter rider scene? Or is it not really a thing?
A. Not really to be honest. What happened is it all came full circle, once I got my first big bike and my full licence, all my mates I grew up riding dirt bikes with then started to do the same.
We then started to go on one or two trips a year, off into Europe and various different places, which opened up a whole new world of riding for me. It wasn't about thrills & spills on dirt bikes anymore but the adventure and freedom through the places we could go and the people we'd meet along the way.
Getting my full 'A' unrestricted licence and my second big bike; a Triumph Street Scrambler 900, is when I think I really discovered all the possibilities of riding and properly caught the bug.
Q. So take us through a rundown of your bikes.
A cheap little pit bike and the Yamaha PW 80 were my first two bikes. Then I had a 2013 Vespa Primavera 125, when I got my A1 licence I used to ride from London down to Brighton with my girlfriend on the back. We did it a few times there and back in one day which is about 120 round trip. On a 125 with a passenger, it was a long day!
I then had a Honda CB 400 SS which is a single-cylinder Japanese import, really lovely bike I used to get a quite a lot of people ask me about. Then I had a 2018 Triumph Street Scrambler 900, which I had from new up until a year ago. Then I got my Triumph Thruxton R 1200 which is my main bike now. I also have a Sur Ron LBX Off-Road electric bike, which is a huge amount of fun and makes me feel like a kid again.
Q. You've obviously gone through a journey of getting different bikes at different points in life and you're still riding. So what's keeping you on two wheels?
A. I think I ride for two different reasons now. On the road, it's all about the places that you go and the people that you meet.
I think that really hit home when I started doing these trips with mates once I got my full licence. For example, me and my best mate Sam rode to Amsterdam a few weeks after both picking up our new bikes from the same dealer. That was just such a cool experience to do with someone I had been riding with since a kid.
There's always an adventure when you go on a trip on motorcycle, as things never go to plan. You breakdown, run out of fuel and get really cold. Your boots get soaking wet and you have to wear plastic bags over your socks. You have to tape stuff together and then finally get home absolutely shattered and saying never again. But after a few weeks back in the day to day grind, the appeal of the open road starts to creep in again and it's just a matter of time until the next trip is being planned.
The second reason why I still ride is in pursuit of that joy and excitement I found as a kid. Riding the SurRon off-road and round dirt tracks, it's basically a bit of a flashback to just being a kid and racing pit bikes with my mates, without any kind of worries about where you're going, or anything like that. I think the two different bikes I have now represent the two different reasons why I'm still riding.. It also gives me double the excuse to go for a ride!
Q. So what's the single best thing you've done on a bike?
A. It's a close one between when I was a marshal on the Malle Rally a few years ago; 2020 I think it was. That was an amazing experience riding from the bottom to the top of the UK. Just seeing all that scenery and being involved helping out and meeting loads of really interesting nice people. Also just riding some of the most incredible roads in the country ,that I never knew existed. So it's definitely a recent highlight.
Probably the other one is where I took a trip with some my childhood friends; we rode all the way out to Milan in 2 days and stayed there for a few days. Then spent about 10 days leisurely riding back through France, just stopping off where we wanted and yeah had an amazing time, doing that with no real plan of where we're going or where we were going to stop, that was definitely a highlight.
Q. What's something you'd love to do, something on your riding bucket list?
A. Just more riding around Europe I think, more camping. I would quite like to get an old adventure bike or something like that and go ride around Europe and wild camp and get out with some mates.
Q. Talk us through how your love for bikes, took you to where you are now as the founder of RideTo, obviously a bike orientated business. So how'd you get from riding a little PW 80 to a business of training people how to ride?
A. It was really just from personal experience, I guess. I've always been quite entrepreneurial, and always run my own businesses and various harebrained ideas since I was a kid, some good, lots bad.
When I went through the process of learning to ride, with all of these questions that I had, I was searching everywhere for the answers but with no luck. None of my friends had their licences at the time so they didn't know either. I just felt that the whole process was really frustrating and overwhelming. I couldn't believe that there wasn't an easier way of figuring out what course/licence you needed, where to go, who was good and even how to you book it.
Coming into it with fresh eyes, I felt that if I was frustrated and finding it difficult, then surely other people were as well.
In the early days of RideTo when we started off just with one instructor in one location, my friends who are now riding, were our first customers. It was kind of a tool to persuade them to get their licences.
Sam, the friend I went to Amsterdam with, he was our very first customer and we had to talk him through how to use the website and how to book the course and it was very clunky and painful. He persevered with us and we helped him get his licence.
So yeah, just experiencing a problem firsthand, made me realise that other people probably were too and there was a way we could hopefully help people to make it simple and easier. Helping more people to experience that same joy of riding is what it's all about, it's pretty crazy to think we've been able to help coming up to 100,000 people get their licence since we started.
Q. How do you find balance between work and play when your business revolves around something you also do for fun?
A. I guess when I'm riding my bike, it's just me enjoying myself you know. My day to day job is in the office, managing the business and running stuff, so I'm not out riding eight hours a day as part of my work usually.
So when I do get to ride the bike, it's the same as if it was for anyone else who has a desk job and wants to go out and get some fresh air and see some new scenery.
The perks to working with bikes is just sharing the passion with the team, we are talking about bikes on a regular basis during the day, it's just a nice plus you can talk about bikes and pretend you're doing work... 'you seen this video?!' that's always fun. But when it comes to riding I don't feel like I'm bored one bit because I'm never riding as much as I'd really like to.
James is the Founder & Managing Director of RideTo, the UK's #1 new rider platform. He started the business from his bedroom aged 26, building it into a multi-million pound award winning business. RideTo provides a route to two wheel freedom for more than 20,000 customers a year. You can find more on his Instagram @Jbeddows.