Bouncing Bob Lewis

Flicking through the paper yesterday the Covid 19 stats showed the SW amongst the least likely places in the country to contract it. If you live in Newham London, 144 people per 100,000 have died. In East Devon, 4.8 and Mid Devon 5.9. two of the lowest 6 in the country. Norwich is the lowest, but then again folk over there will only ever contract it from their sisters anyway…. And so we’ve been largely untouched mercifully. I was rocked last week by the passing of MX legend of the 1970’s Marty Smith in a dune buggy accident. I then logged onto the Devon TRF forum, which I’m a bit crap at, owing to living on the computer all day and so reluctant to spend the night on it as well. I like to look at the flog it section, but at the moment, we’re all hunkered down, cowering from what seems like an existential threat. And then thumbing through the ‘recent posts’ I’m stopped in my tracks to hear Bouncing Bob Lewis has died of Covid 19.

 I guess at the end of the day your life could well be judged against a combination of the anecdotes you leave behind and possibly the wider imprint you leave on the world. Most of us will pass through largely unnoticed by all but our close family and a few friends. Remembered by our immediate progeny and slowly fade away. I think most of us are modest folk and hope that we’ve ‘trodden lightly’ on this planet, if we are lucky, have given more than we’ve received. If we are lucky, then we get things said about us when we are gone like “they’d do anything for anyone”, “always saw the positive side of things” and “no one ever had a bad word to say against them”. You’d think this would include most people, but actually, I’m not sure that is the case in reality. But at least from a trail riding acquaintance point of view, to me Bob fell into that category.

The reality is, a group of like-minded individuals, who share a passion, we immediately fall in step with each other, we are at ease in each other’s company and within minutes of meeting for the first time, kicking the tyres of each other’s bikes, we find ourselves on the same wavelength. We are also reasonably shrewd judges of characters, the free wheelers, the jokers, the extroverts, the introverts, those careful with their money, those who are just a bit uptight. We don’t really know each other in most cases, even folk that ride together for decades but are not deeply involved socially never really know each other beyond chatting about bikes, bikes and errr bikes. We get snippets of back stories obviously, jobs, where folk live, bike history (obvs) but we come together to ride, not sit on a couch and unload our deepest psychological machinations.

When I arrived back in Devon I rode out mostly with Harty, Tigerman and Doug. All three ran (or still run in Doug’s case) lovely rides, they had great knowledge of the lanes and catered their rides to the who they were leading. I was an ‘experienced’ run leader back up in the Thames Valley, but had always taken the view, that I’m going out, I kinda know where I’m going, feel free to join me, but sign this disclaimer regarding your own ability/safety associated with the lanes ridden. Up in Thames Valley, not knowing where you are going is low risk, the trail riding is very pleasant, rolling countryside, ruts, yes, but no technical climbs, no rock slabs, no steps etc. A bit of chalk, super slippy yes, but other than tiring a newby in a deep rut across the Lambourn Downs, the lanes catered for all.

Devon as you will know is a lot more complex, a zillion more lanes, significantly varying terrain from farm tracks, through ruts, to steep climbs, rock slabs and steps. So being a natural born leader….., I picked up a map and decided to try and collect all the lanes in my i-Spy book of Devon lanes conveniently provided by the comprehensive and absolutely superb Devon Lane overlay. Equally I was happy for folk to tag along so pinged up rides on the forum, assuming that if an idiot like me was happy to have a go then anyone else would be fine. Obviously this is a bit of a step, as actually I had and do quite a lot of riding, am reasonable fit (ish) and am quite dogged in my approach. Consequently, I blithely led out into the unknown, always with that frisson of excitement of exploring something new. I guess I was never sure if those following behind also understood the pact. They may that thought I knew what I was doing and was a seasoned run leader who knew the lanes like the hoary old Devon folk who ride on a gps of the mind based on riding since birth. For anyone who may have thought that – I’m sorry…

So around 2014 as I organised rides around mid ish Devon starting from Honiton going east or Exeter going south, Bouncing Bob was often part of the group, his old TTR humming away, the old Tazmanian Devil strapped to the front – for what ever reason I never found out, but at least it made the lurid white, purple blue TTR stand out. Bob in his camo jacket and permanent smile. We rode out with Devon legend Ollie Cooke, now long departed across East Devon, across lowland heaths, down the deep Devon lanes, through streams and rivers, through the bare oaks of winter to the thick verdant foliage of horse chestnut and fluffy white hawthorn of early spring to the sultry faded hues of summer foliage starved of water into the russet musty season of mellow fruitfulness. But as Terry Jacks once said, we had fun, we had sun, we had seasons in the sun, but these must come to an end.   

And then on one fateful day deep into the Shaldon lanes, I got it all wrong. Every decision was wrong. It was probably my third time in the area and the last time was in the dry, so riding up or down most of the lanes made little difference as any rocky slabbly climbs afforded plenty of grip. But today it was winter and the lanes were wet and greasy. Picking the right order and direction of travel was crucial and I picked them all wrong. Bob was his usual positive self, with a comment or two even after we reached the top of the lane out of Combeinteignhead having made him ride the venerable TTR up those horrible steps past someone’s back garden. To rub salt into the wounds I’d even manged to catch him diving into the hedge after some unknown but obviously interesting artefact or rare species. Bless him, he never cursed me – or at least not to my face… But he came off riding down into Lower Rocombe, in what looked like an innocuous grassy rut beside the house that it appears you ride across their front lawn and clipped his arm. Looking back I should have noticed he was getting tired, but with my nose in my gps and fixed on ‘the route’ I was rather oblivious…

It was after that day Bouncing Bob scaled back his trail riding erring more towards tarmac on that august TTR. As will all these things we saw less and less of him at club nights and now he’s gone. Life is a precious thing we all too often take for granted. It takes the loss of someone you know to pull this fact into sharp focus. Something none of us should lose sight of. Be thankful for what we have, appreciate those around us, seek out those who make us smile and enjoy the ride. RIP Bob.