A cocktail of pandemic restrictions, cancer and old age did nothing to deter Wally Leigh from fulfilling a long-held ambition – passing his advanced motorcycle training test.
Wally Leigh, 84, has been riding motorbikes on and off for 65 years. He says: “I thought I was quite a reasonable rider until I went out for my first lesson with my Observer, Dave Hutton. I’m very glad I did the course, I feel a bit happier since doing it.”
Wally, who lives in Pendoylan near Cardiff, is now one of the oldest members of South Wales Advanced Motorcyclists (SWAM) and says he’s looking forward to being able to join a ride with other club members.
He passed his advanced test in April, soon after coronavirus restrictions were eased. He was keen to achieve it before undertaking chemotherapy to treat bone marrow cancer, which will leave him off the road for a while. “I was diagnosed with cancer about six years ago. They can’t cure it but can control it,” says Wally.
Another family member also had cancer and Wally has devoted a lot of time and energy to fundraising for Cardiff’s Velindre Cancer Centre, which specialises in cancer treatment. This has included four skydives, for which he was well trained as a parachutist from his army days.
Wally has also had flying lessons, flown hang-gliders when he ran out of money for the flying lessons, paraglided off the Eiger mountain in the Bernese Alps in Switzerland (from 3,000 feet) and been on a zipwire in north Wales – another fundraising venture for Velindre.
Five feet and four inches tall, Wally prefers a low bike so rides a Honda Rebel. His first machine was a two-stroke BSA Bantam. “I would have preferred a different type of bike,” he says. “I’m a little short in the legs, so wouldn’t buy a bike where I couldn’t get both feet flat on both sides.”
Wally was coached by SWAM Chair Dave Hutton and did a final couple of pre-test rides with Dave Meadows, chair of SWAM’s Training Support Group. “For me I was forgetting a lot and they had to have a lot of patience. The pair have worked hard with me, I’m very grateful to them.”
Dave Meadows says: “I have been inspired by Wally’s enthusiasm and willingness to learn, proving you are never too old to learn new skills.”
Dave Hutton adds that while SWAM has had members riding into their 90s, he doesn’t know of anyone who’s done their test aged 84: “We’ve had older members of SWAM but don’t know of anyone who’s taken their test as old as him.”