Apr 19, 2021

Vanessa Ruck aka The Girl On A Bike with a Determination to Ride

Kelly Kozakowski
Vanessa Ruck aka The Girl On A Bike

Why did you start your account?

I started @TheGirlOnABike when I was bed-bound after my third surgery following the accident. It was the first on my hip and decided that I needed something positive to channel my energy into. I wanted to find others battling life’s challenges and see if we could help each other. Since that day I have continued to share my journey, but not just the happy days you expect people to share.

I feel social media can be so toxic with all too perfect ‘unreal’ lives projected. I work hard to be real and honest and show the rough and tough days too. There are down days, the days you have to find all your inner strength to even just get out of bed. Life can be brutal and I hope my energy helps others.

What is the best life lesson you've learned from owning/riding a motorcycle?

That anything is possible if you put your mind to it and train. This really applies to my hard enduro side of riding where I’m often sat on my bike eyes wide looking at some horrific terrain ahead. But breaking it down into 16 foot sections at a time, working on my technique and fighting on, it’s possible. For me, with a slightly reconstructed body, I’m more determined than ever to prove to myself that I can!

A secondary lesson is about looking after what you have. If you look after your bike, maintain it, clean it, and keep it ready to ride, it’s amazing what you can achieve together. But when neglected, things can go wrong, and having something fail out in the wilderness or mid-race, purely because you ‘didn’t bother’ to sort it earlier is insanely frustrating. Look after the bike and it looks after you [mostly, it still tries to throw me on the ground frequently.]

Vanessa Ruck riding a horse

Your love affair with motorcycles started before your bicycle accident, how did you get into riding?

Surprisingly to many, I didn’t grow up with motorcycles and I wasn’t a small kid braaping around at an early age. I was into the world of four-legged friends and was obsessed with horses.

This all changed when I lived in the Bahamas in my early 20s for one and a half years where transport was difficult. I couldn’t afford a car, so I bought a Chinese Lifan Enduro 250 motorbike and had it shipped in. There wasn’t a single other bike on the island and I’d never ridden before, but that didn’t faze me. Others can ride bikes, how hard can it be?

I was however rather shocked when it arrived part assembled in a box. Yikes! Thankfully after a trade for a bottle of rum to a local bush mechanic, I was on my way on my newly-assembled bike. I never remember ‘learning’ to ride, I just did it as it was the only way I could get around the island. I was very soon found exploring the remote island of Eleuthera, where I lived, with my spear and fins strapped to the side for spearfishing beach adventures.

What was your first bike?

So my first bike, a Chinese Lifan Enduro 250 was quite an adventure, with lots of sand and track riding in the Bahamas. I then came back to England and realized that it was about time I actually got my full license. I immediately passed my full access license, but years went by without having a bike. I guess early in my career and post-university, I couldn’t see the financial commitment of a second vehicle as feasible when a car was vital.

Years on, I was living in the UK and working nine miles from home so I commuted by bicycle. However, this all changed with my accident taking my strong body away from me. In the years after my accident, I was unable to do my commute cycling and was driving in our 3.5 liter V6 Mercedes-Benz Viano, which drinks gas back and forth to work. Once physically able I decided to get a bike, a Suzuki Bandit, to skip the traffic and save money. This was really the first catalyst for bikes taking over my world following the accident. After that came a Harley-Davidson aka a comfortable sofa to cruise and 20k miles of touring around Europe.

Vanessa Ruck on Yamaha Tenere 700_review (4 big)

The transition to mud was a little random. I was bedridden following my first hip surgery, but I woke up one day and turned to my husband, “Please can I have a dirt bike?” To this day I’m not sure what sparked it by let’s just say he was more than thrilled by the idea. As soon as I was mobile enough, we started the hunt and found a Yamaha WRF250 4-stroke. That was it!

It was five months until I could sit on it, but I had it and it sat there as a goal. It was something to strive towards, it helped motivate me on those days where the pain just made me want to quit. Once I was able, always following medical recommendations, I was buzzing around on her, named Whizz. It was just gentle green lanes near home.

Although I started off-road riding four years ago, my total time on the dirt bike is perhaps two years or so as I’ve had to take breaks and go through more surgeries. Seven surgeries in total, including a reconstructed shoulder and hip.

Vanessa Ruck bicycle accident

You mention an accident, what happened?

Seven years ago, in a single moment, life as I knew it was taken away by the momentary lapse in judgment of a red-light-jumping car while I was cycling. My recovery to fitness has taken seven years with seven major surgeries and now I’m partly bionic with a reconstructed hip and shoulder. While the initial injuries were not life-threatening, they were definitely life-changing, and it was going to be a long road to full fitness and one I’m still battling. While I’m incredibly proud of where I’ve got to with my recovery, I very much live with pain and manage my body. It will never be the same again, however, I refuse to let that stop me. I only have one body, one home for my whole life, so I’m determined to make the most of it.

It seems you were always very adventurous, what was it like getting on a motorcycle again for the first time after your accident?

Terrifying. Absolutely terrifying. Your inner voices, the ones that want you safe, were on overdrive and freaking out. I remember the thumping of my heart racing through my body as I pulled away. What on earth was I doing? But, no matter how scary, I was never going to let one women’s momentary lack of judgment take away my experiences. I had to beat the fear, life goes on and you can’t sit at home in bubble wrap your whole life.

I have also been on a roller coaster of emotions, it’s not just physical; my body has changed, my daily activities, my ability to play sports, my views on the world, views on life, recovery, and even pain have changed. When people say ‘recovery’, you typically think of returning to how you were before the accident, illness, or life-changing event, but there is no going back. You do not merely recover, you reinvent yourself. You learn so much as you fight through. You find the strength you never knew existed, you learn things about your body unbeknown before; it’s an irreversible journey.

I am now a stronger and more determined person than ever before. I’m more grateful than ever for what I do have and more thankful for the wonderful things around me. I have a fire in my soul only this type of recovery could light. Even now, six and a half years on, I can’t walk, far but who needs to walk when you can ride!?

Vanessa Ruck Husqvarna TE 250i

Why did you choose your bike?

I feel very lucky to say that I have a few bikes, each for very different styles of riding, but the most important to me is my Husqvarna TE 250i two-stroke enduro bike. I picked this as it’s a lightweight, highly capable, and high-performance race machine. With my body, I need the electric start as my hip certainly can’t kick start. It’s the ideal beast to head into hard enduro terrain for me and he’s named Buddy.

I also have Thug, my 2015 Harley-Davidson Dyna Street Bob. Bear, my Beta Evo 250 trials bike, and an Africa Twin adv beast.

What inspired you to ride?

Pre-accident life was all extreme sports, with kitesurfing being the main one. With my body ‘broken’ I had to adapt but as my recovery continued, I sought more adventure. First, it was the big gentle cruising on a Harley-Davidson, which was really the transition to becoming a biker.

However, I wanted more - the fun and adrenaline-filled kind. It was this that made me look to off-roading. I could combine more adrenaline, the physical, and the adventure together. It seemed perfect! I didn’t know in my mind hard enduro was going to be my end goal, but let’s just say it’s escalated quickly! Hard enduro is the ultimate in pushing the bike and body to its limits, but the adventure riding gives me culture, scenery, and distance that I’ve just fallen in love with.

There is not a day that goes by where I’m not aware of the physical implications of the accident. From simple things like getting stuck in a tight sweater because my shoulder doesn’t function like it used to, to pushing on through pain to pick up a 220-pound motorcycle in the mud. In many cases, pain is the body’s way of telling you to stop and rest, however, once you’ve had significant injuries it’s possible that the pain just never really goes away. If I always listened to the pain and rested I certainly wouldn’t be racing and competing.

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Riding, especially in the harder terrain or longer endurance, requires me to push through in a way those without a history of injuries don’t have to. It doesn’t make me want to stop and give up, but it does mean I need more energy, more drive, and a bigger smile to make it through. If I gave up, I’d be letting someone’s momentary lapse of judgment take my world away from me and that’s not an option. Plus, I’m incredibly lucky to have a body able to push on again, even if it does hurt, it could have been so much worse.

The big bikes offer a level of adventure and the ability to cover the mileage that the small enduro bikes just can’t handle and I love it. Riding in Bolivia, Iceland, and Sardinia, was incredible. We were able to explore so much of the country on two wheels and that’s what adventure riding is all about!

What does being a part of the motorcycle community mean to you?
It’s all about combined passions, support, and enjoyment on two wheels. I love how bikes take us to new places and there’s always a new friend to be made. United by the love of bikes. Plus, with my hip, I can’t much walk but thankfully who needs to walk with a motorcycle!

Vanessa Ruck Harley Davidson

Tell us about the most exciting adventure you’ve taken on your bike?

Iceland 100%. That trip was mind-blowing. Over 2.5 million tourists visit Iceland each year to see the big sights; hot spas, waterfalls, glaciers, geysers, tectonic plates, and lava fields. They pack into coaches or hire cars, but riding there on off-road bikes changes your perspective. You can discover the must-see spots from the less trodden tracks, skip the crowds, and see things most tourists might only glimpse from the plane window.

We rode up close to Hekla, slept below the Myrdalsjokull Glacier, recharged in an abandoned spa, explored huge craters without a soul in sight, picked across lava fields, crossed valley basins, crested mountains, and rode volcanic ash berms. It was riding heaven combined with cultural and geological discovery. It was a trip only motorcycles could have made possible. You can see videos here: Iceland Playlist.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with our audience?
I feel so lucky to be able to share my story and adventure. If I can help just one person each day with my story, it makes everything I’ve been through so worth it. I guess I’m on a mission to help motivate others to do more every day because life as we know it can change in an instant, which I sadly know all too well. Let’s have gratitude for what we do have around us. Let’s get up, get out, and give new things a go.

I hope that with my adventures I’m helping show that even slightly reconstructed people can do it and so can you!

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