As Gordon Castle took to his motorbike one afternoon in August, he thought he was nigh on invincible.
“I used to say it was possible to ride and not have an accident,” he said. “I used to think I was the living proof. Unfortunately it took 50 years.”
On August 22, five decades after his first experience of travelling on a motorbike, Gordon was involved in a collision with a car as he was returning to work in Alnwick, the Northumberland town where he was born and bred.
The 66-year-old councillor, former RAF man and Barter Books employee suffered injuries so serious that that ride is likely to be last.
It looks set to bring to an end a chapter in his life which spans that half a century - and an astonishing 56 bikes.
That first experience was back in 1964 when a 16-year-old Gordon, living in the Alnwick home he re-bought in 1989, rode as a pillion passenger on a Velocette bike ridden by his cousin.
“He was an extremely capable smooth rider. From a very early age, I was lucky enough to be shown how it should be done.
“I took to it and he showed me how it could be done, that is what to aspire to.”
Gordon had access to and acquired various second hand bikes but the first he bought was a Suzuki Super Six 250, in 1967.
The ride cost him £480, a lot in those days, and Gordon had to borrow the money for his insurance from his dad.
The acquisition was before he had even passed his test, with him casting aside the ‘L plates’ a year later.
Looking back, Gordon recalls: “I was hooked on motorbikes. I was in a group of local men with motorbikes. It was very much a motorbike club. Young men bought motorbikes rather than cars.”
After leaving school late in 1968, Gordon had a string of Japanese bikes, which he describes as “very unusual.” In 1970, he joined the RAF as a pilot at RAF Ouston, now Albemarle Barracks.
A year later, he took to racing Norton motorbikes on the Northern Race Circuit. He was affiliated to the North East Motorcycle Racing Club and also a Scottish club, needing to be so so he could ride on both sides of the border.
“I only fell off twice, once at high speed.”
Gordon won trophies for finishing second a couple of times and a similar number of thirds. In 1973, Gordon married Liz. Within a couple of years, he had to give up the racing because of his RAF service and training.
However, he continued to ride, travelling on two wheels from the base up to Alnwick to visit Liz. And even when Gordon could afford a car, he stuck with riding bikes.
“I kept acquiring and buying them and had two or three at once.”
In 1984, by which time Gordon had moved to RAF Newton near Nottingham, he landed what could be deemed his dream job - testing Norton motorbikes.
“I blagged myself into the job by having experience. I was always a safe rider but it was was ridden at what I regarded as safe limits of its performance at any time.”
His all time favourite ride was a BMW GS1100 - “easily the most versatile bike I have ever had.”
“The most impressive” of Gordon’s bikes was a Suzuki Katana 1100 for which he paid around £3,000 - again a considerable fee at the time - 1982.
“It was in its day a league above anything available.”
He later moved to Germany with the RAF - a two-year posting where he took the Suzuki with him and stored it in his cloakroom! While there, he had a further two bikes.
After returning to the UK, Gordon took up touring as a hobby both at home and overseas.
He rose to the position of group captain in strike command at RAF High Wycombe before taking early retirement from the air force in 1995.
Gordon has worked in Alnwick’s famous second hand book store the last 20 years. He has also been a councillor for 18 years, 12 as a county councillor.
Gordon, who had a brief foray into the world of vintage bikes, passed a test to become a member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists 10 years ago, for both motorbikes and cars.
Both his sons - Gordon and Christopher - ride, with the former a Scottish champion.
Over the years, Gordon has clocked up an average of 10,000 miles a year, completing more than half a million miles on two wheels.
“Without ever - until this last sad incident - hurting myself,” he said. “Not a scratch, quite remarkable really. I realise I must have had a guardian angel.”
What may prove to be Gordon’s last bike - the one he was riding in August’s accident - was a Kawasaki 1400, which he had bought barely four months earlier for in excess of £14,000.
The crash which looks set to end his biking days saw Gordon fracture his neck and spine and suffer a head injury.
He is still receiving treatment.
Gordon insists the accident was not as a result of his advancing years.
“People say your reactions must have slowed down,” He said. “It is the right reactions. If you have got experience you do the right things almost immediately. If you have to do something quickly you do it.”
Yet he admits his body is not recovering as quickly from the accident as it once would. “At my age you do not fix as you would have done when you started.”
Gordon has been bowled over by the level of support he has received since his accident.
He said: “People have been immensely good to me. There is no such thing as a thing without a good effect. It has been quite a humbling experience for me. To have so many people asking for me is very humbling.”
On the back of the experience, the veteran rider issued the following advice to fellow bikers.
“Buy the best protective equipment gear you can afford to buy. Wear it even when you think you do not need it.”
Gordon does have another bike in his garage, a Moto Guzzi, which he plans to use to assess whether he will be able to ride again.
“I am pleased to say I am still a motorbike enthusiast even though it will still be a while before I can get back on one. I will certainly get back on to see how I feel.
“I will have to be certain that all is well. I will have to be certain I am of the standard I was at before the accident. My standards are high.
“If I am not for any reason, I will say 50 years was enough.”