Riding since he was 18, freelance graphic designer and photographer Andy Plane has racked up five decades on the road, the last of which he’s spent with Norfolk Blood Bikes.
“I first became interested in joining Blood Bikes when I read an article in the EDP about how they were setting up a Norfolk branch,” says Andy, who as well as a rider, is also a driver and trainer for the charity.
While reading the article, Andy says the idea of joining the new branch appealed to him for two reasons: “Firstly, riding is something I truly enjoy. It gives me a great sense of freedom and a buzz. I think motorcycling is like marmite, you either love it or hate it, and you can guess how I find it! I have been on many touring holidays with my bike in Europe and, while at home, I would sometimes think about going out for a ride – but where and why? Joining Blood Bikes offered me a good reason to ride.
“Secondly, I wanted to use my motorcycle riding skills to do something good for the NHS. I was treated incredibly well some years ago and was keen to give something back to them.”
Seeming like the perfect fit, he signed up and continues to support the charity to this day, committing around eight nights a month, several of which he’s typically called out on. He’s also helped with fundraising collections and often talks to the public. “People are curious about what we do and I explain what, how and why we do it. I glibly say I’m selfish because I like riding bikes! But it also gives you a sense of achievement,” he adds.
Over the years, Andy has amassed a host of stories to tell of his time as a Blood Biker, some are fun, some heart-warming and some more challenging. A favourite of his happened on one of the New Year’s Eves he’s given up for the charity. “I remember collecting donor breast milk for babies from The Rosie Hospital in Cambridge and delivering to the Norfolk & Norwich Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. I arrived two minutes to midnight and the nurses invited me to stay for a drink to celebrate the new year – non-alcoholic of course!”
As well as experiencing an appreciation for what he does from NHS nurses, Andy also receives support and encouragement from many others, including family, friends and even strangers. “I remember some time ago, I was fuelling the bike on a garage forecourt, in high-vis attire, when a stranger came up behind me, patted me on the back and said: ‘you do a great job’. I felt a little embarrassed, but it’s nice to be appreciated none the less!”
Continuing, he adds: “In the early days, not many knew of us or even saw us because we ride at night most of the time. Now we are reasonably well-recognised and often get a wave or a nod of acknowledgement from ambulances and police cars.” Commenting on his most challenging rides, Andy says: “I once had to collect breast milk from the Queen Charlotte Hospital in Chelsea, as the freezers in Cambridge had packed up. It was a six-hour ride through heavy London traffic on the bike!
“Another time, I was asked to take a sample to Stevenage to drop it off with a rendezvous group who then transport it to London. There was road closure after road closure, it was a nightmare. I was in touch with the controller, but they couldn’t get the correct traffic information, so I ended up (with the help of satnav) riding through several villages with diversion signs non-existent. In the end, I got there and back, but I was in the saddle for four hours. Fortunately, it wasn’t raining. It was a challenge, but satisfying once completed.”