Every BMW motorcycle rider knows how important their bike is. But for one UK organization, the BMW R1200RT genuinely helps make the difference between life and death. The touring machine is used by members of a network of around 20 volunteer groups, who dedicate their free time to delivering blood and other medical essentials. The National Association of Blood Bikes (NABB) is the umbrella organization, which supports blood bike groups around the UK – its members may be called upon to deliver anything from blood or platelets, to breast milk and pathology samples.
Gordon Downy, Chair of NABB and trustee of regional branch Severn Freewheelers, set up NABB four years ago. He wanted groups and volunteers to have an easy way to meet, support each other and drive fundraising and sponsor support. Today, his idea has paid off – the number of regional blood bike groups has grown from five to 20 and the organization has its very own spec for the R1200RT, which it orders direct from BMW Motorrad.
Gordon says, “The groups were all doing a great job, but they didn’t have a way of talking to each other. It was clear that having a central body would make it much easier to talk to BMW Motorrad, rather than each group going to their own regional dealer.
“In terms of the BMW motorcycles, Tim Peters and I have been using them right from the beginning and we worked on a specific blood bike spec, so that groups would be able to order that straight from BMW Motorrad.
“Essentially, we took a police bike and adapted that to create ours! We took away the radio and communication equipment, and the rear pole, which they only use when stationary, but left the red and blue emergency flashers on. We adapted the livery too – ours is blue and orange. Other people on the road recognise it as an emergency vehicle, but don’t mistake it for police, so it helps when we need to get through on the roads.”
The bikes are used to carry any cargo their size accommodates. The National Health Service (NHS) calls a central switchboard whenever it needs to use the blood bikers’ services, and the request is then filtered down to the appropriate biker on call. Not all requests are emergencies and required response times can vary.
“In addition to transporting blood, we carry pathology samples and breast milk. With the samples, they often have to be subjected to tests which must be carried out within the hour, otherwise they’re useless. The breast milk is exclusively for premature babies, because when they’re born very early, they can’t tolerate anything but human milk, but it’s too early for their own mothers to be producing it. So there’s a huge network of women who supply it!”
As with most charities, maintaining the services of the blood bikes involves significant financial support. All those who work for the organizations are volunteers, but NABB supplies bikes, fuel and funds other necessary costs. Severn Freewheelers alone costs around £42,000 (about $66,000) each year to run – however, the saving to the emergency services is much greater.
“We do a lot of fundraising, but we’re always looking for volunteers too. It’s usually quite easy to recruit riders, but where we struggle is with people to answer the phones, fundraise; do the other essential jobs. One of the good things about working with the breast milk bank is that it makes us more accessible to women – 93 percent of motorcyclists are men – and we’ve delivered a lot more talks to the Women’s Institute (WI) and other organizations.”
For Gordon and the other NABB volunteers, the reason they choose the BMW R1200RT is that it is simply ‘the right tool for the job’: “They have a real presence on the road, which is important and they don’t have any reliability issues – we need to be able to depend on our bikes. On average, each rider does about 35,000 miles a year (56,000 km) which is a lot for a bike to take. They’ve got great weather protection and we can get from A to B in relative comfort – they’re very steady.”