Before I continue, let me make it clear, especially to my pupils/students, that you should NOT reveal your identity on the internet in the way I am about to do. I am fully aware of the risks and, for a number of reasons, am happy to reveal my real life details - you should NOT do so.
In real life I am a middle-aged Englishman, living in North Wales. I am a teacher/lecturer in Information Technology and Computing but I have also worked in industry as a Systems Manager, and, for a memorable 12 months, as a recording technician/engineer.
I am an outspoken critique of religion and a vocal supporter of science and rationalism, and I believe passionately in freedom of expression.1
I enjoy debate, riding motorbikes, messing with technology, reading and cooking. I have recently parted (amicably) with Carolyn, my wife of 30 years, and I am currently working on what comes next.
In this section I am going to run through my bike history in chronological order, relating some milestones in my life as I go. I think all the bikes I have owned are here, though I keep getting a niggling feeling that I've forgotten one or two.....
My first bike was bought using pester power. When I was about 12, four of us pestered our mums and dads and, eventually, it paid off when they bought the object of our desires for us. That object was a ratty old Honda C50 which some guy was selling (from memory I think it was a couple of quid, but I might be way out - memories of my 12yr old self are indistinct, to put it mildly).
The cub was amazing. I was brought up in a mining town - Leigh - and right across the road were what seemed like miles of paradise - in fact several 'slag heaps' - the spoil from the coal mine. In those days nobody blinked an eye at the sight of 4 boys pushing a moped across the road and tearing around the slag-heaps......
The Cub took all the abuse one expects from four young lads, and never missed a beat. It was crashed, dropped, wheelied, ridden off a 6ft drop and generally abused for over a year - and it still ran. But by then our fickle young fancies were well and truly elsewhere. We had, by then, grunted our way into the notice of a 17 yr old who used the slag heaps to practice for local bike competitions. He was, to us, some sort of God-like figure.
He rode a huge (to us) Swedish crosser - I later found out it was a Husqvarna 360cc single. One day he let it be known that he was signing as a semi-pro rider for the Maico works team and would, therefore, be looking to get rid of the Husqy. I'm pretty sure our pestering reached new heights, because once more the various paters coughed up the needed, and we found ourselves in possession of his monster. I can still remember that I got first ride - I think my dad coughed up a quid or so more than the others (but again, beware the faulty memories of 40 yrs ago). I also remember getting on (the other lads had to hold it - I couldn't touch the floor). I got it into first gear after a struggle, then I did what I always did on the Cub - ripped the throttle straight to full. Unlike the cub, this bike had a clutch, and as the revs neared maximum I let go of the lever. I remember the sensation of going up, then seeing everything revolve, strangely calm and silent, followed by a bone-jarring impact as I completed the trajectory imparted by a large bike determined to have the back wheel overtake the front. In short it somersaulted and, luckily for me, I was thrown slightly sideways, or it would have crashed down onto me. I learned an important lesson - not all bikes are the same. I also realised that some bikes could go much faster than their riders were able to manage. The Cub was always slower than I was able to ride, so I always had the throttle wide open - the Husky was much faster than I could ride and therefore required finesse and control on the throttle. I never mastered the bike, but I did learn to ride it reasonably competently after many bumps and bruises.
Along came my 16th birthday. My parents had needed some cash during the previous year (washing machine or some such) and they had asked if they might raid my Premium Bond stash (my Granddad put an amount into it, in premium bonds, every birthday, and there was a goodly sum stored by the time of my 15th birthday). I agreed, but set a condition which I knew my mum wouldresist. I said it had to be replaced by a Yamaha motorbike on my 16th birthday. My mum hated (and still hates) the thought of me on a motorbike, but I guess she must have really needed the money, because the deal was struck.
Despite her trying every trick she knew over the next 12 months, I held to the deal and mum (bless her - I know now what it must have cost her, emotionally) reluctantly honoured her side.
When my birthday came I was the proud owner of a worn but serviceable Yamaha FS1E 50cc bike (the word 'moped' was never used and was ignored if anyone was tasteless enough to say it. It was a BIKE, at least it was to us).
I was the second in our 'gang' to get a bike - leftie (Stephen Wright) had got a Suzuki AP50 some months before and we were all insanely jealous. Now it was my turn to ride up to the shop-fronts, which was our meeting point, casually park up and join the lads, as though the bike was a mere unimportant detail. I remember it happening just like that, and I certainly don't remember wobbling up to the curb, almost dropping it as I struggled to locate the side-stand with my foot, being forced to get off and lower the stand with my hand, and finally easing the bike onto the stand, sweaty and flustered - but I'm also pretty that this is, in fact, what happened.
Of course it didn't matter a jot. The bike was the thing, and soon I was the centre of attention, the lads gathered round lusting openly, as I waited to see who would ask first. Lettuce2 was first to break. 'Any chance of a go on it?'. 'Nah, still running her in ', I lied. This was accepted, with appropriately grave nods of understanding, by all present, even though everyone could see the bike was at least two years old with a healthy mileage on the clock.
The conversation turned to maximum speed and I gave out the usual tall tales of 'seeing 50 on the East Lancs, flat on the tank.' In reality the bike probably did about 30mph flat-out, but who wants to hear that?
A year later it was time to go big bike - away with pedals (though we all removed them from our 'bikes' as soon as we could get our hands on the correct spanner), and welcome to proper bikes. In those days you could ride up to 250cc at 17 yrs old, on a provisional license for as many years as you liked. But my mum had been waging a continuous propaganda war in the meantime and, for reasons I still cannot remember, come 17 I was learning to drive the family car, with a test soon to follow. The family car was, I remember, either a Simca or a Datsun 1200. I had been driving since the age of 13 or 14 - my dad would take me up to Southport where I could drive on the beach - so I turned up for my test confident in my abilities, and promptly failed.
I was too young and stupid to think that it might be worth seeing if a professional instructor could polish what I considered my fabulous driving technique. My dad nodded on hearing the news of my failure (I think, looking back, that this was all going to plan) and told me that he would arrange for a 'mate' to 'take me out'. I need to explain that my Dad was a Special Police officer - Sub-divisional inspector or some such, I recall. He was also in the Greater Manchester Police Choir, and had many friends in the force. This particular mate turned out to be an advanced police driving instructor, and taking me out involved learning to control skids on a skid-pan that made the car behave like a greasy weasel, learning handling on an off-road track, several adrenalin-filled goes in a police-spec three litre Capri, and the ignominy of starting-out on a supermarket car-park together with several dozen traffic cones.
Over the next couple of months I learned to drive - properly. The retest was a formality, but the earlier failure had done what I suspect my Dad knew it would - it had knocked some cockiness out of me, and made me ready to learn from a fabulous teacher. I remember coming out of the test centre smiling and waving the pass certificate. I also remember Keith (the advanced instructor - though I was never allowed to call him that, he was 'sir' to me) refusing to let me drive back, because I was too excited and not a 'proper driver' yet. He told me that I should consider the test to be the start of learning to drive properly. He also got me to sign up, there and then, for a course of advanced instruction. He was, of course, absolutely right :-)
The next few years were filled with Polytechnic, bombing out of same, returning home, moping around, getting a couple of jobs and finally deciding to do a teaching degree. I was now 21 and studying for a BEd in Computing at Padgate (Warrington) campus. Time for another bike, and I picked-up my next ride - a Suzuki GT185. This bike was chosen for one reason only - it was almost identical to the GT125. A quick swap of side-panels and my insurance was suddenly much more affordable. Luckily I didn't have any serious crashes so nobody had occasion to look at the engine or frame numbers and I got away with it - I shudder to think nowadays what might have happened had I not been so lucky.....I was still on L plates at this stage, so I decided it was time to do the bike test.
I bought the perfect bike for the test a Yamaha YB100. Very much like a bigger FS1E. The reason it is perfect? It has a great turning circle for getting round the bollards (try that on a 125 sports). It has good brakes, an easy sit-up-and-beg riding position, good mirrors and it looks very mature, safe and not at all hooligan-like.
For these reasons, perhaps, I got the test at the first attempt with no dropped points. The lad on the 125 RR Supersports failed badly - he couldn't get it round the figure of 8 cone test :-) Was I smug? Well, maybe a little...
By now I had met my future wife - Caz - and was finishing up my degree. I decided to get a job whilst Caz stayed on an extra year to finish the Honours. We decided to buy a house, close to the college, in Longbarn. Amazing though it might sound, this was easily achieved on nothing more than my first pay-check (probationary teacher at Lymm High School) and Caz's grant award. The Halifax were happy to pass over £11k and the deal was done. How times have changed.....(this was 1985-6). I got married a year later - the reception was at the motorcycle museum and a good time was had by all.
On the bike front it was time to move up and next was a Suzuki Katana 650. This was a radical looking bike - it still is. It was underpowered but reasonably good to ride and I enjoyed my brief liaison with Kat. I moved it on to a friend after a few months, however, because I wanted to go faster.
I had my eye on a mate's bike and it became available, so onwards and upwards to the legendary Honda CB750. This was the bike that effectively killed-off the British bike industry. Where a Beezer or Norton might struggle over the ton, this bike would pull a genuine 120 mph. It was also reliable and comfortable. It quickly became the super-bike that everyone wanted and the rest is history. It was, if I'm honest, too much bike for me at that time. I was still relatively inexperienced on the big bikes and this was a step up in power. I could ride it OK, but I couldn't wring it's neck and take it to the limits.
I sold the Honda on, reluctantly, and bought a ratty Z550 for Caz to ride - I had persuaded her to take lessons. I rode it for a month or so before she took (and passed) the test.
Incidentally, this turned her from the best pillion I have ever had into one of the worst. She went from inert passenger who I frequently forgot was actually on the bike, into an active back-seat rider who regularly mucked-up my lines by 'leaning into' corners.
MESSAGE To all pillion passengers reading this - DON'T LEAN. SIT STILL. The bike will lean, and the rider might lean, but you just stay sat on the seat and do nothing. You will naturally lean as the seat under you leans. Don't resist this and try to stay upright, but don't lean either. Just stay absolutely neutral, let the bike and rider do the work while you chill and sit still. Trust me - do this and your rider will be a very happy chappy. Every time you shift your weight around it changes the balance of the bike and can throw it into a new line - this is not optimum, and can be dangerous if your rider is near the limits (which he/she should not be with a passenger on-board)....
I handed over ratty and bought the bike that soon won me over completely... the wonderful Yamaha FJ1200.
This bike was amazing. A big easy engine which had power right through the rev range. A low and comfortable riding position. Good for long rides (no cramps), and quick enough to embarrass many sports bike riders.
I had three in succession. Then, horror, Yamaha stopped making it and the supply of nice used bikes dried up.
I next bought a Suzuki RF900 on impulse. I had never seen one before and it was going cheap. In those days I had quite a bit of spare cash, so it was no problem to fork over a grand for the bike.
I didn't have long with this bike, but in the time we were together I found it a joy to ride. Not blisteringly quick but competent at everything and no nasty bad habits. I still think this is a much under-rated bike that many have never heard of.
Unfortunately a bunch of thieves decided that they wanted it. In a single night they toured my town in a flat-bed truck and physically hoisted six super-bikes, locks and all, onto the back, before vanishing. My RF was one of them. Plenty of people saw them but nobody tried to intervene and, as far as I know, they were never caught. Bastards. To replace it I got myself a Yamaha YZF Thunderace. This was almost as good as the FJ, but not quite. It was certainly quick - faster than the FJ for sure. Imagine it as a slightly porky R1 and you have the picture. The only problem was the riding position. It was a little too sporty for my now ageing frame. It was fine for shortish rides but anything over 100 miles would result in leg cramps and backache.
I decided that I also wanted a 'winter' bike. At this stage I was still riding all year - the bike was my transport, I had no car. I got sick of the wear and tear winter would cause to the bike and decided to buy a cheap rat that would be OK for winter, meaning I could keep the good bike for when the weather got better. I picked up a Suzuki GS850 from an old friend for not much money. Bullet-proof engine (roller-bearing crank), and comfy enough. Shaft drive was a bonus.
This was my first proper shaftie and I got to like the convenience. I learned to handle the slightly weird feeling it gives, especially when giving it the beans and cornering hard, and after a while I didn't notice any more. At the worst part of winter I used to put an old 'grandpa' screen on the bike, attached to the handlebars, to keep the worst of the wind and rain off me.
It was during these years that I learned the secret of keeping warm. Until this point I had tried very expensive gloves. They would last for about 15 mins - 5 minutes more than cheap gloves. My ride to work was about 35 minutes and I frequently arrived in tears with the pain from frozen hands starting to thaw - believe me, it hurts. I considered heated grips, but I tried them on a friends plastic pig (CX500) and found that they kept my palms OK, but the outside of my hands were still freezing. Eventually another mate - Wing Commander Dave4 - showed me how he managed to stay warm. Heated waistcoat - that's the secret. A thermal vest with a heating element running through it, worn under the leathers or Kevlar jacket and plugged into the bike battery. It keeps your core temperature toasty which means your hands never get cold - even with cheapo gloves. With my newly acquired heated vest under my Hein Gericke leather I could ride all day at 10 below and be warm and happy.
Then, joy of joys - Yamaha launched the replacement for the FJ1200.
(I should say first that the FJ did have a couple of niggles. Firstly it positively ATE chains. I could easily go through a chain and sprockets in well under 8k (yes, I did fit a Scotoiler but no, I was never organised enough to ensure it never ran out). Secondly, the front brakes seemed to be made of some type of high tensile chocolate. Every winter they would seize solid and the chrome would flake off the pistons, requiring a new rebuild kit and hours of work .)
The new FJR started appearing on the used market, and when they were down to my price bracket I swooped on a particularly tasty used example - high mileage but well cared for, my very own FJR1300, in silver. Imagine my joy when I discovered the flaws in the ancestor bike were gone. The chain was no longer an issue - the FJR is shaft drive. The brakes had been sorted and, in fact, were now so good that I could frequently engage a new bit of kit - ABS on the front anchors. It also had an electric screen which I was sure would be a useless gimmick. I was wrong. As soon as it rained, simply press the button, raise the screen, keep the speed over 30 and, magic, you stay dry...
How would I rate the bike? Simply and in a few words. The best bike I have ever ridden. Zero defects.
The FJR was still with me until the recent parting of ways, when I very reluctantly admitted it had to go and sold it on ebay.
So, will I get another bike? Damn right. Once I have found somewhere to live, got it straight and got some regular money coming in, a bike is near the top of my list.
What bike will it be? I can answer that without hesitation. It will be the best bike I have ever ridden and the bike I would be happy to ride as long as I can ride. It will be an FJR1300.
1 Somebody wise once said words to this effect - remove my freedoms one by one if you will, but leave me freedom of expression and with that one freedom I will regain all the others.
2 David Fairclough, and no, I don't know why we called him lettuce...
3 Dave rides a GoldWing with the full swing-face helmet and intercom. He likes to take charge on group rides so naturally he became wing commander
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