Managing Parkinson's symptoms with motorbiking

Barry was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2010, but that hasn’t stopped him enjoying his love of motorbiking. In fact, he finds his hobby helps him manage his symptoms.

In Aldeburgh – dotted with houses painted in famous Suffolk pink – Barry and his wife Jean sit in their home, less than a minute’s walk from the sea. They moved to the coast in 2005 to get away from a busier lifestyle working in Essex.

“It’s a tranquil existence. There’s a local community spirit – summer street barbecues and town music festivals, that type of thing,” Barry says.

“So when I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, I thought, take the diagnosis, do your weeping and being sad and then continue to live your life,” he adds.

Noticing a stiffness in his neck in early 2010, Barry put this down to his job, having worked as a welder then project engineer for 30 years at the Procter & Gamble chemical factory in Thurrock, Essex. This later developed into a tremor and problems with his walking. He was diagnosed a few months later.

“I knew there were going to be good days and bad days, but I also knew I was going to fight it.”

It’s a philosophy he’s putting into motion with plans to travel thousands of miles across the north of Spain, down to Barcelona and back up through France on his Triumph motorbike. He’s had 15 motorbikes in his life since the sixties, when he sported long hair and sideburns. “When I was diagnosed, my consultant said he’d never met anyone with Parkinson’s who rides a motorbike,” he laughs, “but it’s my hobby and I love it.”

Barry finds that his tremor is the trickiest symptom to deal with. When he’s nervous it gets worse, but taking his mind off it makes it almost disappear completely. That’s an unexpected perk of Barry’s motorcycling hobby.

If you imagine sitting on a machine that is on the move, with suspension and speed – the tremor compensates for it. When I am riding, I honestly don’t know I have it. It doesn’t tire me out either, which is the best bit.

In 2016 Barry and his gang of friends biked through the Pyrenees mountains to Calais. “My mates are great as they help with luggage and bags when I need a hand. And I never have to go to the bar as they don't trust me to carry the drinks back safely!”

But Barry knows his determination to carry on biking is out of his hands. “One worry is that I don't know how long I’ll be able to carry on. I could do it for 5 more years or I could be in a wheelchair tomorrow,” he adds.

Aside from his tremor, one of the main symptoms Barry experiences is stiffness in his left side – not ideal for someone who is left-handed. But it’s clear Barry is determined to adapt and learn to take control. He has created a short quick signature, and gets Jean to write on his behalf to avoid using his left hand for too long. “I find I use my right hand a lot more now and I am getting a lot better at it. I use a screwdriver in my right hand and when the kettle boils I use my right hand to lift it,” Barry says.

Although Barry feels his symptoms don't affect his life too much, on more than one occasion people have made comments on how he looks.

“There was one guy who basically said, ‘Silly old man, he’s been drinking.’ So I had to pull him up on it. But he didn’t know about Parkinson’s, so I found myself thinking, was I being unfair?

“But when you get tired and your walking gets bad, you can look odd if someone doesn’t know. I thought that I was maybe being precious. But it’s part of Parkinson’s, and people should be aware of that.”

Barry has taken up swimming as a form of exercise, which he finds keeps his condition at bay. Recently, he’s also swapped his manual car for an automatic so he can continue driving.

And what about the future? “I retired early with a good pension from my firm,” he says. “I have a nice home in Aldeburgh and I have three grandchildren. I enjoy my motorcycling and I still do it. And that’s how I fight it – with the positives.

“And it is a fight you have to take on because I see Parkinson’s as the enemy and you know what? The enemy will not win. I’ll make sure of that.”

Find out more

Parkinson’s is a complex condition that affects people differently, with a wide variety of physical and non-physical symptoms. It’s important to remember that not everyone will experience every symptom.

Read more about the symptoms of Parkinson’s