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

- George Washington

Thursday, 1 December 2011

How I got into all this

Via Sonja, I learn that Gary France has a post up describing how he got into motorcycling, and throws out the challenge for other people to do the same. So here's my tuppence-worth.

I think I've always treasured mobility. I had a tricycle very young, and then got onto two wheels as soon as I was able. I can still remember the moment I took to my wings on a bicycle. My Dad had his hand under the saddle as we wobbled along the road, then the coins in his pocket started jungling as he ran faster, and then the noise stopped. He had stopped running and I was still going - therefore, I was riding under my own steam. The feeling of euphoria and sheer bloody joy when I realised I could do it by myself was overwhelming, and I have never looked back. I cycled everywhere as a child (even running away from home on it once, and getting down the A1 and into the next county before I realised that I was hungry - I think I was 9) and getting a powered two-wheeler was an ambition from the age of about 12.

Parents forbade it, of course (and, looking back, rightly so), but I had plenty of friends with scooters and Cubs and C15s and Honda CB72s, so I got plenty of 'goes'. It was only a matter of time, and money, before I had my own.

The first bike was a Honda C70 in banana yellow, bought new from Watson Cairns in Leeds with a loan from my Dad. I was at University at the time, and the excuse was that it would save him all those tedious car journeys to take me there and back, but really it was just a chance to fulfil an ambition. I loved that bike, and it took me all over the place, but I hankered after something bigger. I passed my test on the C70 and soon afterwards traded it in for the only 'big' bike that I could afford, a Jawa 350 two-stroke twin. That bike deserves a whole post to itself, but suffice it to say that it got me a lot of places for three years and broke my spirit with its unreliability and general shittiness. One good thing was that it left me with a complete lack of fear about taking things apart to mend them, and the ability to strip a two-stroke and fit new crank seals, pistons and rings in a dark room with my eyes shut.

I haven't always had a bike since then. Like many others, marriage meant a proper car and I did without a bike for a year or two. And a period of serious illness later on meant that making monthly repayments on a bike I was not using was unsustainable, and at that point I truly believed my biking days were over. My balance had gone, and I didn't know if it would ever come back.

But I did get better, slowly, and soon I was back at work, this time in a training role for an advertising paper. The company acquired a biking website and installed a die-hard rider as its head honcho. Via company email, he asked for anyone with the vaguest interest to post bike reviews on the website, just to generate some much-needed content. I posted one, then two, then many more, and as I did so, I realised that I was missing motorcycling more than I could have imagined. A vague, hands-in-pockets, whistling-at-the-sky visit to my local dealership ensued, and a week after that a 3-year-old Yamaha XT660 was on my driveway. It had been ten years since I had last ridden, and that first ride was a strange affair. After ten years in a car I felt very vulnerable and small, but I soon got over that and was riding every day. Even so, I reckon it took me about a year to get my 'bike head' back on.

So here I am today, with an old scrapper of a trailbike for the commuting duties and a nice shiny sports-tourer for the faster days and longer rides. And I won't be giving it up again so easily.

Cold, dead hands, and all that.


  1. Richard:

    I think riding starts out with the intent of saving money, but then you get hooked and ride more, or take the long route, or go for joy rides, or in your case have multiple bikes. In the end it is never about saving money

    Riding the Wet Coast

  2. You are right in my case, if you define 'saving money' as 'couldn't afford a car'. I've never been convinced by the economy argument. If I drive my car carefully, I can equal the XT's consumption and beat the Sprint's. But your last sentence is bang on. Biking is about far more than mundane considerations like money :)

  3. Great post Richard - you deserve an award for bravery & modesty - actually admitting to owning a Jawa oil-burner.

    My first set of (motorised) wheels was a 200 cc Tiger Cub. The freedom, the independence!

    Traded that in for another single, a 350 cc Enfield (a 'proper', Redditch-made one). That one kept BP & Shell in profit, the amount of oil it leaked. It also had a habit of wearing down the clutch 'thruster-bar' (there must be a technical term for it). Oh, and it had a habit of blowing head gaskets. (Or maybe I was just crap at fitting them.)

    That got traded in for a legendary CB72.

    My final (proper) bike was a Velo Clubman 500 - til some idiot driver turned right, in front of me. [The sorry-mate-didn't-see-you myopic c@nt.] Wrote it off, he did.

    Marriage & a brood put paid to biking. Yup, I could get the missus on the pillion; but couldn't get her + offspring 1 + offspring 2 on simultaneously.

    Later on I dabbled with a 250 twin Fanny-B, and a stonking Greeves trialler.

  4. Learning something new every day. I had never heard of a Jawa 350 before. It is, well, je ne sais quoi... different.

    And as much as you might have cursed its unreliability, it certainly taught you things about motorcycles and life back when you were a young Jedi.

    The XT is a wonderful all-rounder. My brother kept one in his shed that he hadn't ridden in ages (got married, breeding ensued etc.). He did the basic maintenance, and it started like it was never parked before.

    The next thing I hear: He buys kids riding clothes and has his six year old daughter riding pillion.

  5. Joe, you had some interesting bikes there. Shame you didn't keep it up, ho ho.

    Sonja, I read your latest post on this. Good news for the young lady, and I hope she 'gets' it and follows her Aunty Sonja's wheeltracks. I'm not surprised the XT got straight back to work after a long sleep. They are awesome bikes, and mine would be the last thing of mine I sold (if I had to). It has reached 'old faithful pet' status. Remember the VW Beetle in Woody Allen's 'Sleeper'? Like that.

  6. I was lucky enough to be given 6 driving lessons for my 17th birthday, which were enough to get me a full driving license. As a poor student, though, it was pushbike time - until my dad (for reasons no one was entirely able to fathom) bought himself a hideous Yamaha QT-50 step-thru 'ped. Which I liberated, rode around on for a couple of years, then swapped for a brief succession of truly cheap and nasty cars. In my early twenties, after finally completing my degree, I managed to acquire a Honda H-100 SII - in those days, rideable without CBT or any other nonsense on a full car ticket. That got me through the bike test and since then, I've had nothing else but two wheels. Some good, some bad, all of them lovely in at least some respects.

    Marriages haven't been a problem - I'm happy to buy the current wife the car she wants, just never tempted to drive it (or ride in it, if at all avoidable) myself.

    It's the only way to travel.

  7. It was never about saving money for me. It was disgust at travelling into London on the tube when people could fill it with fag smoke.

    Started in 1979 with a CG125, this lasted for 3 months before I hankered for something larger. Then a Yamaha XT250,rare but good and reliable, had it until it was stolen. By that time a GPz550 had arrived, this was 1985 and I still have it. Way back then, my friends had V-twins, I loved them but the draw of a quick inline 4 was just too strong at the time. A couple of years ago I fancied something sporty and V-twin, couldnt face the heartache/expense of an old Ducati so opted for a Firestorm, it blows my socks off and holes in my licence!

    Life without a bike, even if just in the garage? Never!

  8. Apart from the losing the balance thing, your story is remarkably similar to mine. Cycling everywhere, small Honda, then a 350 two-stroke, amateur mechanic, marriage = car, long break from riding, visit to a dealer = biking again. Wait a minute, are you me?

  9. Endo, it was so easy in those days, wasn't it? Car licence = provisional bike licence, a test that only a baboon could fail. I like the remark that 'all were lovely in some respects'. Even the Jawa, which was truly horrible, has a small place in my heart for all the stuff it taught me.

    Moppy, bikes are like dogs. A house/garage without one would be a strange and lonely place. Good move with the CG and XT - both bikes I have a lot of time for. I never really caught the inline four thing, but a 26-year-old one-owner GPz has to be a record.

    Gary, yes, possibly :) Great blog, by the way.

  10. + 1 on the dogs, I have two retired greyhounds!


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