Jul 21, 2014 2
It’s time to give you up. To let go. To say goodbye.
You were first there when I was about 10, taking me to cubs behind my dad. That was so cool. (It wasn’t, of course.) You were a clapped-out Honda 50 straining under the extra load of one small boy, but those warm evenings I was Evel Knievel and I can still feel where the battered chinstrap of that gobstopper helmet scratched me. Later I’d wobble up and down the drive on you all by myself, never quite sure whether you had a clutch or not. You were pretty ambiguous on the subject, too.
At 16, you were still pretty lame – Ju beat us up a hill on his pushbike, me and you and your puny, restricted engine. Sometimes you were a borrowed Fizzy or that DT100 I nearly threw into the hedge at Clieves Hills. Unrestricted power – the surge of passing 40mph for the first time as I rode your 100ccs up the St Helens Rd away from the shop. The smell of hot petrol and two stroke in the back lanes at Halsall. Boys heading to Southport, to girls and dunes and the chance of a snog. Jeans streaked with oil and hormones.
Riding test on a CZ125, too slow to be any danger to anyone, and that first moment without the Ls on the Abingdon Road when a passing biker dipped his head in salute for no other reason than we were on bikes, and it wasn’t raining. Oh, and we weren’t in London, where that sort of civility isn’t done. I was in. I wasn’t a learner. I was a biker. You took me through frozen fog that night to Birmingham airport, to surprise Justine on her 18th in Dublin. Gloves still stiff with ice even as I boarded the plane.
Now a GT250, you fell apart in style with that collapsed, inaccessible oil seal, but Ben and I – mostly Ben – found an old engine in Headington and patched you back together. The noise that shook the Cowley Rd when you fired into life at the first time of asking, sans exhaust! A howl of defiance, heralding new opportunity (and cash) as I rode you for real – summers as a courier up and down the M40, sometimes three times a day. Manchester in the cold, Exeter in the rain. The incredible satisfaction of finishing a day’s work with a signed slip, and the knowledge of a job inarguably completed. That didn’t return for another 20-odd years…
Then you were the most hideous pink VT500, a pimped-up despatch bike with built-in boxes and a full fairing. I was CHiPS of East Oxford, sometimes able to top the ton on the sliproad out of Headington, all rollies and camaraderie – swapping parcels for signatures in Soho design agencies.
Biker, son of biker, son of biker – and when the oldest was close to the end – “if you want to see him, you’d better come quickly” – you took me there quickly – tearing up the A43 for one last hand-hold. The one good hand that had raced his own polio-adapted bike, all those years ago. He cruised over the horizon, and I cruised back to college.
Once you were a massive Kwak 1000, collaborator in sinful liaison with her sister by the Farmoor reservoir. Oh my, those days. Or that maroon GT550, less said the better. The courier’s two-wheeled Transit, plodding and dull.
To London, and your XJ600 era. Getting a bit more grown-up now, four cylinders of balanced buzz, but how you must have hated me as I neglected your sprockets until the teeth came off. Prague with the Aces, though, slipping over rain-dashed tramtracks and cobbled streets, and the mighty solo leg home, dad of two tinies whose holiday pass had run out early, dodging the temptations of the gaptoothed sirens on the Teplice road. Hands blue with vibration, and unable to speak on arrival home.
With first proper job, I splashed out on you as a brand new CBR600. Flipped head over tail after 3 weeks but you were well enough after a rebuild to get me to Le Mans and for a few brief moments show me your absolute top speed on the 24hr course. Next, you were a VT1000 Firestorm (warning me of your lethal power with a sideways squirm of the back wheel on ice).
The litre V-Twin superbike: I’d arrived! I loved you so much (didn’t care that you were a bit tamer than a Ducati), wanted to keep you perfect, and on murky days rode you in the shape of your older cousin – the one that Mike stabled with me while he rode an XT round the world. It was one foul wet December morning that you catapulted me through a windscreen, shattering both my leg and my love for you. Two years limping with a metal thigh bone to add to my biker cred. I got rid of you after that. Crashing again with a steel femur wouldn’t have been clever.
A few years off – responsibility and rehabilitation (and poverty) setting the course – until the XT500. The classic 70s trail bike, you took me to Gibraltar after the divorce. It was needed. I suffocated you with altitude in the Pyrenees, but you forgave me as we wheelied into Spain. We sat by the port at Algeciras and I thought about inflicting Africa on you. But we turned north, and I played at being Corser through the meanders up to Albacete. I strapped petrol cans to your handlebars, and a guitar to my back, and tasted freedom and bitterness.
Then you were a VFR and I knew that you were one of the greatest bikes ever made. But…I sold you out for more power. I dabbled with the hard stuff; big Aprilia, GSXR – but also the old stuff; occasional flirtation with AJS and Norton – even, briefly, a Vincent. Dark deeds by Blackbird, as you showed me how you could Hoover the horizon towards me at full throttle. Beautiful aerodynamics stopped me feeling your 150mph blast round the M25 (thigh now rebuilt and de-steeled by this point).
You were a Firestorm again for the motorways, as I two-timed you with a 660 Yamaha thumper. The Firestorm blew out, and then you became Tweetbike. Brief global fame dodging tubestruck London, traded soon afterwards to a new model with vanity plate. Loud cans, “Let them know you’re coming!”, the most fun that could be had in a city.
Then you left me. Or I left you. Older, wiser, perhaps a little too stiff and sore. No real justification to keep you on; you sat and cried rusty tears in the garden for far too long. I’m letting you go today. It’s time. I’ll give you a last sip of petrol, wipe your arse down, and find you a new home. It’s been hard to let go. I’ve put it off for so long. So much more than a collection of metal, glass, rubber and plastic. Heat, passion, dreams, freedom. I’ll find them again, somewhere else, I’m sure.
But to you, my bloody lovely bike, maker of adventures, thriller, rescuer, it’s time to say it now. Goodbye.