Motorcycle-loving English comedian Ross Noble arrived in London as a teenager to ramp up his career, but how to get to gigs without breaking the bank? He soon found a way…
It’s the ultimate way to cleanse the soul: raucous belly laughs at a comedy show. But it’s rare to find a 15-year-old cracking the gags, but that’s the tender age when Ross Noble began his career as stand-up comedian at his local funny parlour in Cramlington, Northumberland. He really shouldn’t have been there, either, as he was too young according to the local council by-laws, so leaving through the back door was the best way to minimise suspicion about his underage pursuit – even though it was all in the name of good rather than evil…
It was clear then that Ross Markham Noble was cut from a very different cloth from his peers, the majority of whom were still trying to work out what they wanted to do with their lives.
Emboldened by the positive vibes he was getting from the local comedy club – his non-structured, free-flowing ‘off-in-multiple-tangents’ routine was already striking a chord with audiences – as well as the dollars that were coming his way, Ross knew the time was right by the age of 18 to take the next step in his career: immersing himself in the thrust and parry of London.
“I moved to London, rented a room and I was a professional comedian – I can do anything I want now!” says Ross. “I could get a car or bike, but a motorcycle was where it was at for me.
“I loved motorcycles when I was a kid. I used to watch CHIPS and Street Hawk, an American series when an ex-cop uses this motorcycle to fight urban crime.
“There also used to be a show in the UK called Kick Start, which had a trials theme – but my parents were like, especially mum, absolutely no way are you going down that path.
“I had a go on a quad bike, but they were still dead set against it. So I started mountain biking and unicycling. I used to have loads of unicycles: tall ones, short ones, and at the time I didn’t know you could do bicycle trials.
“All good and well, but as soon as I moved to London I had to get around. I knew it was going to be a bike, but I looked at the insurance and it goes off your job.
“There were three jobs – comedian, pub landlord and stunt work – which were the highest risk, and the insurance on a 125, which required a full motorcycle licence, was 2000 pounds!”
Ross was gutted, as that was a stratospheric cost he couldn’t bear, but he wasn’t done with yet.
“There was this loophole where if you got a bike less than 50cc – a twist-and-go pizza delivery bike for all intents and purposes – you could ride it on a car licence and the insurance was bugger all.
“I bought a 49cc Honda City Express, and I’m really glad I did because in London they used to have a thing where taxi drivers did a knowledge test and they had to learn every street in London. The way they learnt it all was on a pizza bike with a clipboard and the streets A-Z all listed and mapped.
“Mine still had a clipboard mounted on the front, so I used it to get myself to gigs. All the taxi drivers thought I was learning for the knowledge test and used to give way to me all the time!
“I remember Valentino Rossi in his autobiography talking about his respect for couriers riding around London. It should be a law that everyone must ride these things for at least a month because it teaches you so much about riding awareness.
“I used to also head off road occasionally or try and get my knee down around roundabouts, so it was a lot of fun.
“I also used to get it serviced at the local pizza shop, which would also fix my flat tyres as well!”
The clipboard was a valuable resource to get himself to London gigs, but he was also travelling far and wide – so freeways, highways and A-roads weren’t really on the menu for the City Express.
“I used to do massive rides like London to Brighton (Ed: about 80 miles) where I couldn’t go on the main roads. I would leave at 9:00am in the morning for a 9:00pm gig that night, so there was preparation and patience involved.”
Eventually the City Express was ditched for more flair, comfort and horsepower – first up a Kawasaki KMX125, followed by a Bandit 600, Honda ST1100, Suzuki Hayabusa and a Ducati Hypermotard – but it’s the little tacker which retains a special place in his motorcycle life.
Pity he didn’t have the chance to keep it, as it was nicked along with the KMX125 – if you didn’t leave your motorcycles inside your London house in the mid-1990s you were walking the possession tightrope.
The City Express was Ross’ ticket to international comedy stardom and an entrée into all sorts of motorcycling adventures, including a national tour Down Under where he zig-zagged across the country on a BMW R 1100 GS, covering about 24,000km in the process.
The R 1100 GS was one of 15 machines destroyed when his house in St Andrews, just outside of Melbourne, was razed in the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria.
Noble, who has an Aussie wife, Fran, and two daughters, has also competed in a 24-hour enduro race in Wales, the arduous Scottish Six Days Trial and the Romaniacs and Roof of Africa extreme enduro events.
And on his Aussie wishlist: the Finke Desert Race and the 24 Hour Trial in South Australia.
Ross is now touring Australia with his Jibber Jabber Jamboree show, which concludes in early September.
Mark ‘Mav’ Fattore has been hanging around the motorcycle scene longer than he can remember, but still struggles to contain his two-wheel exuberance. He also eats like a bull-at-a-gate, which is why he once swallowed the prong off a plastic fork stuffing down Chinese takeaway during a frenetic magazine deadline. The digital space is a safer haven, and he’ll turn his writing hand to anything.