Monday, 14 May 2007

Biking chronicles

For no particular reason it popped into my head that this month, I think this week to be exact, marks the 25th anniversary of me riding bikes. So also for no particular reason, here are my bike riding chronicles:

• The prequel
Aged 11, a mate's dad had an enormous (well it seemed that way at the time) 500cc Husquava Moto-crosser. The mate's dad was a bit of a nutter - with a large back garden. So he encouraged us to have a go, which I did and promptly rode it into ( in fact straight through) his rotten wooden shed. Far from being deterred, I was hooked.

• Yamaha 50cc moped -thing.
My first legal bike.I can't remember the model, but it doesn't matter they were pretty ubiquitous. All mopeds were restricted to 30mph, unless you whacked a spike up he exhaust to de-restrict them. I do remember having to regularly de-coke the 2-stroke exhaust using bicarbonate of soda, which had a radical effect on performance. But most of all I remember that the bike meant freedom. No more getting lifts from parents or waiting for buses, and for the first time I acquired the habit of riding around for the sheer hell of it without any destination.

• Yamaha RSX125.
When I left home to go and be a student I abandoned the moped. There was some medieval university statute that banned students from having motor transport. Like a fool I believed this and it wasn't until my second year that I got a bike again. In the meantime the laws about learner bikes had been changed with the restriction going down from 250 to 125cc. This was provoked by the likes of my boy-racer mates who had stayed at home and were all tearing around on the RD250LC that could burn off 'super bikes' three times their size. I was pissed off at having to stay with a 125cc until I passed my test, but on the other hand two of those mates were killed on the road whilst I was off studying ...

Jawa 350.
Unquestionably the biggest pile of automotive shit I have ever owned. It was Czech and cheap. That's about all that can be said. The build quality and engineering, even to a socialist like myself, made a compelling argument for western capitalism. When it wasn't in bits, I think that I did more mileage pushing it than I ever did riding it. In the student houses that I shared this, and the carcasses of other failed mechanical projects, made the gardens look like breakers' yards, medieval statutes not withstanding.

• Honda CX500.
My first proper bike, and one that actually worked. Much loved by London dispatch riders because of its longevity it was also famed for its ugliness and was known as the plastic maggot. For reasons that made perfect sense at the time (too many Mad Max movies) I re-sprayed mine matt black and put hi-bars onto it. I thought it looked pretty good until, within a year the rattling cam-chain devoured the engine on our way to a wedding.

• BMW R75/5.
I still get dewy-eyed at the thought of this. It was more or less a classic when I got it. I ditched the police style fairing and put on a sidecar for the sake of my pillion-hating other half. On this we toured all over Europe. provoking startled responses from villagers who had last seen something like it when the Wehrmacht came to town. We even got to East Germany on the re-unification night, and took it the mother ship, the BMW museum in Munich. I had the bike for almost 15 years, but it finally made its age felt in the reliability of the electrics and for the last ten of these it was in pieces in the garage. Sadly the awaited restoration never happened and I ended up giving the bike away. I just wanted to see it go to a good home - hopefully it has now been fully restored.

• Suzuki GS850.
This was only meant to be practical transport, but I ended up keeping it on the road for nine years. At one point it I wrote it off in a slide, and brought it back from the insurers. I got it fixed up cheaply as a basic custom job; drag bars, plain black paint, mini-clocks and lowered seat etc. It just kept going and going, enduring neglect, commuting and touring. Finally it needed a bottom end rebuild that would have cost more than it was worth , and it had to go.

• Yamaha XV1100 Virago.
I had hankered after a Harley for years. When it got to the point that I could I afford one, I didn't do it. I allowed horror stories about their practicality, and their adoption by middle life crisis riddled yuppies to put me off. There was nothing wrong with the Virago except that it wasn't a Harley and yet it tried so desperately to be one. The engine was fine, it was the styling that the Japanese couldn't get right. Way,way too much chrome, even chrome on top of plastic. And what really bugged me, 'false' features - like dummy exhausts and air filters trying to look like the real thing. Whilst most Virago owners were working out how to bling up their bikes, I seriously considered spraying mine matt black.

• Harley Davidson Sportster.
I finally succumbed a couple of years ago. I found that it wasn't essential to be a wannabe "wild hog" to own one. But the brutal simplicity of the engineering and styling had me hooked. There are bikes that are more practical to ride every day; there are bikes that require less looking after; even some that don't cost a fortune every time something goes wrong. None of that however is the point - as they say when was the last time you saw someone with 'Honda' tattooed on their arm ?

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