If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Saturday 24 March 2012


I like this French phrase. Translated literally, it means 'pretty ugly', but Merriam Webster gives the accepted meaning:
good-looking ugly woman : woman who is attractive though not conventionally pretty
Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beerholder and all that, and perhaps I am just getting old, but there is something special about a woman who does not conform to all the conventional rules of beauty but nevertheless provokes the gut reaction of "wow, yes". All those tanned, blonde, perky-breasted 20-something starlets - well, yeah, OK. But the Regency knew all about the positioning of the (fake) beauty spot, and the rule of the Golden Section demonstrates that the most pleasing proportions are never in the exact centre of the rectangle or line. Fibonacci knew a thing or two.

OK, I'm digressing. I had a very interesting conversation this morning in unlikely circumstances.

I had parked the XT outside the supermarket to use the cashpoint. Two chavmobiles (a 205 and a Fiesta, exhaust cans the size of dustbins, massive bass units, tinted glass) were parked driver-to-driver while the occupants had a chat. As I climbed back on board, the driver of the one facing me shouted something at me. Fully-helmeted, I didn't hear what he said, but I'm not one to back down from a challenge, so I got off again and walked over. I asked him what he had said.

"I said 'how old is the bike?'"

"1994, first registered 1995. What about it?"

"It's beautiful, man. What a lovely old bike."


"Yeah, it's great to see a bike like that still being used on the road. I love it."

He wasn't taking the piss. In fact, I retract those chavmobile comments above, because the pair of them were nice lads, about 20, clean and tattoo-free, and seemed very pleasant and polite. I told them a bit about the bike and why I liked it so much myself, and they seemed to understand. I told them they had made my day, and departed.

Now be serious. Have a look at this (pic taken the moment I got home) and tell me with a straight face that this is a beautiful bike:

No, thought not. The wheels are rusty, the engine is covered with oily muck, some of the body plastics are missing and it hasn't been washed in six months.

I was convinced for a while that they were taking the mick, and then I realised something. It was exactly the same reaction I have at bikes from the 50s and 60s which are tatty but in working order and regular use. There's a guy I sometimes meet at rideouts and events who rides a 1950 Norton 16H, tatty and rusty but sound and well-used. I love to see it, to ride alongside it, to listen to it. It's a proper relic, but somehow keeping a relic in working order is putting two fingers up to the planned-obsolescence culture of rampant consumerist trinketry, and I like it. What gets me going is a working bike from my own childhood or teenage years, and when I do the maths it's the same for these kids. I guess they were born in the early 90s, so their reaction to the XT is the same as my reaction to a bike from, say, 1955.

Which is exactly the same. They probably drooled over bikes like this in magazines, and Uncle Emlyn had one and he was really cool, and all that. Just like I did over the Bonnevilles and Tigers and Commandos of my youth.

Nothing really changes, I guess.

But I don't have that excuse. I think my reaction is something like the 'jolie-laide' idea. You know, when something is so bad, it's good. Who would have a pale green motorbike, still less one where the designer's idea of colour co-ordination is to mix it with lilac? A lot of bikes in the late 80s had these migraine graphics, and it looks dated but correct on a large sportsbike. I think Yamaha were a bit late to the party with their trail bikes on this one. By 1994, a lot of bikes were being dressed in plain colours. Yes, it's naff. And I like it naff, thank you.

It does pose a problem, though. When (if) I ever get round to restoring/refurbing the XT, do I go for a plain colour and less plastic - better-looking, almost certainly, and easier and cheaper to do - or do I go for the back-to-factory approach and wear myself down tracking obscure parts in even more obscure colours down on eBay? These green ones are pretty rare, it seems. A search for XT600E in Google Images produces hundreds of XTs, but hardly any of them are green and lilac. And from the reaction of these lads today, maybe it will be worth keeping it as standard as possible.

Decisions, decisions - but it's a nice day here, so I am off for a ride.

And first rideout of the year with MAG tomorrow. Excellent.


  1. An interesting post Richard.

    I have to admit that when I opened it, I was half expecting (hoping?) you'd made a rare typo with the heading, and article was going to be about Angelina's extra-curricular activities.

  2. Heh! The good weather seems to have brought out all the convertibles, and on the way back from shopping this morning we passed a meet of what looked like the local scooter club in the pub car park.

    Spring is here!

  3. To them it was a beautiful old bike just as bikes from the 60's and 70's are beautiful to me. I completely agree richard. Or as you said from the 50's and 60's.

    It just depends on generation. Sure new bikes are nice and shiny but the old ones have a certain beauty to them as well.

  4. From an engineering perspective it has to be function before form, but that's no reason why it shouldn't look good too....

    Perhaps the knowledge that something has passed the test of time gives a form of beauty. Is that part of the attraction of some antique furniture?

    As for refurbishing the bike, you should be able to find someone near you with a vynal cutter - any signwriter should be able to help. Take some good photos of the existing graphics, and they should be able to do a reasonably good copy in any number of lurid colours. If you have an artistic inclination, perhaps design your own.

  5. Joe - nice idea, but this blog involves itself with far more important issues than the sex lives of people who play dress up and pretend for a living. Like Yamaha paint schemes. Critical stuff.

    Julia - yup, we get those here too. Every sunny Sunday, there is a group of them in Morrisons car park. Middle-aged to a man, dressed in parkas with RAF roundels, and riding restored Vespas and Lambrettas, and the occasional modern replica thrown in. I should start a fight for old times' sake, but in fact we just exchange cheerful nods. Life isn't what it was.

    Trobairitz - you are giving your age away! Thanks for pointing out you are younger than me, anyway. That was kind :)

    Mick - I'm definitely form over function myself. It's why I never replaced the tank air scoops on the XT. They did nothing but mimic the scoops on watercooled bikes, and they leave a nice bracket on the tank that may one day be used to secure a side rack, long journeys for the use of. Thanks for the tip on the graphics. I know a couple of firms locally, and it's good to know they can copy from photos. However, I believe there is a guy somewhere in England who has templates for everything from ancient Brit bikes onwards. He advertises in the classic mags and I might look him up one day.

    Trouble is, the bike is so bloody useful that I can't really see myself taking it off the road unless it actually breaks.

  6. Is it my imagination or are the colours the same as Arriva Trains?


  7. As you know, I'm not one for the latest gadgets and machinery, so I can well understand their thoughts. When I bought my CZ175 new, I suffered considerable mickey taking from friends with Japanese machines. But after a few years when they had mostly blown up, worn out or rusted to bits, and my old heap was still giving reliable daily service, those comments strangely fell silent... I think you've seen some of the pictures after I treated it to a rebuild, and took it to the IOM TT. That was rather special, and more of an achievement than the other trips by Morini & BMW.

    I've also had numerous people speak to me when I was running an Austin Maxi - yes I know it was hardly flavour of the month to the motoring journalists, but as versatile everyday transport it took some beating. In it's final years there were only a handful about, and I would often walk out of the local parts shop to find someone looking at it, then finding out they had also owned one. I wish I'd had the time and money to completely restore it, however it became a donor to keep another one going, which is the best I could hope for.

    I'm now on my second Panda 4x4 so the saga continues! And if I ever come into some money the R65 is still gathering dust in my friends barn...

    1. There is no modern car with the interior packaging of the Maxi (including conversion to a double bed). There is no modern car with that gear change action either....

  8. Funnily enough the dreadful gear change action was largely due to the sloppy rubber mounts the remote box was mounted on. Some Mini exhaust rubbers made a hell of an improvement.

    But if you had found a gear, and were making progress, it was best to remain in it...


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