“Can I rev it?”

I was getting my lid and my trousers out of the undersized locker at work when I heard Dapper Colleague being turned down for a lift home. He lives not far from me so I offered to drop him home…with just the one small caveat that he would have to ride in the MZ sidecar.

Fair play to him, he accepted with gusto and we had a proper giggle as I chauffered him the couple of miles back to his flat. Him being a Modern Person, he filmed the whole way to post to what I believe the Young People call ’the ’gram’.

As we rolled into the flat’s parking we were met by another dapper young chap, maybe ten years old in high-end football kit and a mountain bike.

“Can I rev it?” he asked.

Of course, but gently as it is old.

“Would you like a quick lap of the car park?” I asked him, and he clambered in to the chair.

If only more people were able to experience bike riding, the fun, the freedom and just the sheer coolness of it, I think we would be better off. Dapper Colleague says he absolutely loved it and slightly wickedly greeted me this morning with ”thanks for the ride of my life last night!” No need to involve HR though as he is Out and Proud and I’m not in his dating pool [grin].

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Make someone happy

If it’s Sunday it must be time to ride. Thanks to a lack of enthusiasm on the part of the Triumph’s battery yesterday’s tour party ended up as PRC’s Africa Twin, Diana Rig (a splendid Ural combination) and the W650, that doesn’t currently have a name. 

During the faffing between parking up and shedding enough helmets, gloves and other detritus to make the walk to the cafe more straightforward, a small voice said “when I was younger, I rode all around France in one of those.”

The voice belonged to a diminutive but well-turned out dowager on her way back to her car from the garden centre. (Yes, dear readers. I am 50 and I had come to a garden centre on a sunny Sunday. But at least it was on a motorcycle).

She knew her sidecars – the W650 has a Velorex, but “I travelled in a Steib,” she said, before ribbing me for “turning to the Japanese side” for the sidecar tug and going on her way.

Next time this happens I’m resolved to say “I would love to hear more about that, do you have time to chat?”

 

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The Cathcart Towers Hotel

The Proprietor of the Northern Rest Home for Distressed Machinery used to joke about a bit of workshop kit you might struggle to get from Halfords.

If a nut or bolt was proving particularly recalcitrant, he’d ask “have you tried the psychological spray.” A quick skoosh (after a short break to find a can that still had some go in it) and 9 times out of 10 victory would be mine.  

Psychological spray

Of course, it probably wasn’t the mystical powers of WD40. Which, as old hands like to point out, isn’t actually designed to penetrate and loosen, it’s designed to disperse water.

It was probably just the short break from the task, which can be equally well achieved with a cup of tea or just a moment of Zen-and-the-Art staring out of the window. Or it was a burst of confidence provided by believing that the spray would dissolve the rust. Belief is a powerful thing, as manufacturers of motivational posters know.

I was thinking about this as I refitted the tank to the Triumph, for about the millionth time since the autumn, after fitting a new set of coils. For the Triumph has been stuttering like Ken from A Fish Called Wanda since its encounter with the tank of E10 last year

Ignition problems often manifest as fuelling problems. Fuelling problems can manifest as ignition problems. And if you’ve checked both of those you still might have a mouse nest in your airbox. I’d had the tank off, taken the fuel tap to pieces and cleared out an aquarium’s worth of sand. Yet still we stumbled at idle and when pulling through 3,000 revs.

A hundred quid for aftermarket coils seemed worth a go (although three hundred quid for Triumph branded ones did not.)

A short test ride suggested that they had done the trick. But maybe I was just persuading myself that the money and the swearing had been worth the effort?

There was only one way to find out. Platonic Road Companion and I agreed that a couple of hours run to a heritage railway would be a suitable distance to test the coils and their breakfast. 

And after a hundred miles or so, double bacon and some very fine toast I’m still on the fence. The bike feels perkier, and feels like it picks up with more gusto. Is that the new coils? Or just the approach of spring?

But then, it doesn’t actually matter, does it? Confidence starts with con for a reason – if my brain can be tricked into believing that the problem has been cured, and so is prepared to throttle on through a corner, reducing the embarrassing lag between myself and anyone else I’m riding with, then the job has been a success.

As was the breakfast.

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Happy New Year, 2022!

Time, wrote Douglas Adams, is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so. And when you think about it, the New Year is a pretty arbitrary way to slice up time. The solstice makes more sense – an actual, objective moment of change – the shortest day, the longest night. But the difference between 31 Dec and 1 Jan, other than a lot of fireworks and the chances of a hangover?

Well, this year it was the difference between endless, incessant rain and blue skies.

And when the sky is blue we ride motorcycles.

It’s about six weeks since I’ve been out on a bike, because of a lot of boring and complicated things including a left knee the size of a football. It’s longer than that since the MZ has been out. It did very well, though the Africa Twin and Trevor the Triumph were rather champing at the bit as we hit our maximum speed of about 48mph up a steep bit of the A5.

As the Wingman is now in the beyond, Badass Pooh Bear has taken his place in the chair. He is less motivated by bacon and seems phlegmatic in the face of rain.

We ate bacon sandwiches cooked on a Coleman stove and talked about plans for the year ahead. I cannot think of many better ways to spend New Year’s Day.

And as for resolutions? I am resolved this year to do more of the things that bring me joy.

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Happy place – Sunday at the NEC

Thanks to the kindness of friends, I have been to the bike show! I wasn’t going to go this year because I haven’t published enough recently to qualify for a press pass and I hadn’t won any tickets.  But covid-19 struck down a friend-of-a-friend and I was the beneficiary of their misfortune.

Since my most recent attempt at off-road riding (back in October) ended with me faceplanting in the forest I’ve had a very tetchy and lumpy knee.  A day walking round the show was going to be sufficient of a challenge for it, so going to see our local 70s rock cover band the night before and giving in to the urge for a spot of flailing around on the dance floor rather sailed straight past “unwise” and landed on “bloody stupid.”

I packed ibuprofen, stick and stretchy knee support and looked longingly at the mobility scooters.

But I wasn’t there to give in.

I was there to look at bikes and possibly buy a pair of fat bastard sized winter trousers, because the problem with duffing your knee in, just when you were literally getting back on your feet after a third-degree burn (also self-inflicted) is that not being able to walk anywhere for 5 months means you’re shopping in the plus-size aisle.

I did a quick count on my fingers and I think this year is 16 years since my first visit, when I was a VIP thanks to the job that I was in at the time. This year I was just a punter, grumbling slightly about how much things have changed. It was good to see all the electric bikes, because whether we like it or not, they’re going to be playing a big role in years to come.  I’m less keen on the current fashion for adventure bikes to have great big lardy front ends, and they all seem to have shrunk in the wash – if I have to shop in the men’s aisle for fat bastard trousers long enough for my inside leg I want a bike that I’m not scrunched up on.  The only one that’s still tall enough that I can put my feet down with straight legs is the Ténéré 700.  So I shall be saving up. As I doubt Yamaha will want a W650 outfit in part-ex…

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My own private gulag

Ummed and ah’ed a bit about writing this because essentially it’s just a massive moan, but it’s a moan that reveals some really troubling attitudes so I’ve cracked open the Kronenbourg and I’m going for it.

This morning I went to a Motoring Event billed as the past, present and future of vehicles. Let’s pretend that you don’t know who was organising it, otherwise we’d have to get into right of reply and that would just get tedious.

Why did I go? Because I got an email asking anyone interested in displaying a vehicle to get in touch. I thought an Eastern Bloc sidecar would be an interesting addition to the vehicular gallery, given how sidecars were low-cost family and trade transport at a time when cars were only for the top brass. I got my joining instructions and I rolled up this morning, before 8am, on a day when the skies were grey and the forecast was Deluge.

The cars were being lovingly greeted and arranged in the prime spot on the plaza.

“Where do you want me?”

“Oh, bikes usually go over there by the steps. Just head over there and one of the men will come and talk to you.”

Over by the steps? That’s where bikes park when they’re just …. parking.

I learnt many useful things from Big Chief Polar Bear and one of them was “if other people are being vague, do what you want to do and they’ll probably just agree.”

So I parked about halfway up the plaza, next to a big sign so it was clear I was part of the event, and near a handy concrete feature that I could sit on if I got tired.

Then a nervous chap in hi viz shuffled up, presented a bucket and asked for my donation.

This was the first time it was mentioned that this was a paid-for opportunity. I had been promised a voucher for a free pastry if I bought a coffee. At no point was it suggested that I would need to make a donation for the privilege of getting up at 6.30am on my weekend and freezing my tits off. I expressed this to him, more or less in these words, and he shuffled off again saying “thank you for the feedback.”

More cars came in, and were lovingly arranged.

I remained on the edge of the plaza.

Now, I accept that I am unusually prone to feeling unwelcome. But politically, this was really bad. An event promising to showcase the future of transport has excluded bikes from the main display and left us “over there by the stairs.”

I accosted a BeardedBro in another hi-viz, while a vintage chap on a Triumph put–putted over to join me.

“Oh,” said the Beard. “We always put the bikers on the edge. You’re our security. If people get funny we say behave yourselves or the bikers will sort you out.”

Let’s unpack that.

The problem with that statement isn’t just that bikers aren’t part of the transport mix, not welcome to line up with the other vehicles on the plaza. (Well, eventually it was conceded we could shuffle over once all the cars were in. Like an afterthought).

The problem with that statement is that Progressive Beard Dude thinks we’re just thugs.

I fixed him with my best beady glare and said “Don’t you think that’s a bit of an outdated stereotype?”

“Oh no,” he bearded back at me. “One of my friends is a biker and he doesn’t mind.”

I bloody mind.

Later on the Mayor turned up in his official car. He was met by a rush of hi-viz organisers and ushered straight past the four bikes – two of them built just up the road – to admire the cars.

Maybe I had missed something and it was just a car event? But I sent a photo of the outfit to be sure they knew what I was offering to bring. There was an opportunity there to say “actually this is just for cars but we do plenty of other stuff where bikes can come along.” But they didn’t.

And they didn’t say they’d be asking for money either.

So I finished the coffee I’d brought with me in my thermos, got a push start from the vintage chaps, and huffed off home.

No-one, at any point, said “thank you for coming.”

So I shan’t bother again.

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A brief word about E10

Don’t.

OK, that was probably too brief.

I like to be a good citizen. I recycle, I buy second-hand (when I’m not shopping in skips) and I don’t have children, which apparently makes a big contribution to reducing the strain on the planet.

So when the E10 announcements came out I checked my vehicles – MZ, are you having a laugh, Citroen 2CV, not listed, W650, not compatible, Triumph – compatible.

So I filled up the old girl with a tankful. Big Mistake. Huge.

I was out yesterday on a run with a few friends and I genuinely thought I had a blockage in my fuel line. Symptoms – wouldn’t pick up cleanly in any gear when rolling on; wouldn’t idle – if left without revving, would splutter to a halt in about 10 seconds.

So I started looking for E5 to start filling the tank with something more to the bike’s liking, and friends, I can tell you now that “widely available” is already a lie.

By the end of the day we’d burnt through most of the E10 and the idle is just about back to normal.

But I’m pretty devastated. That’s three motorcycles that are now on the fast track to obsolescence, and my car.

How does it benefit the planet, and its limited resources, for these four beasts to go to the scrap yard, and for me to scrape together the cash to replace them with something new?

It bloody doesn’t.

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“Did you tell them about the tiffin?”

Last night I made a teenage boy’s dream come true.

Not like that, you perverts. (TM @motonutjob)

By riding in a prom escort.

There are many advantages to being old. The first is that no pictures of my youthful indiscretions, from terrible haircuts to the aftermath of a bottle of mezcal, are on the internet.

(A brief diversion into the mezcal story. Wibbly sounds, wavy screen. Welcome to 1989, when a thrifty university acquaintance was notorious for shirking his duty to contribute to parties by bringing this revolting bottle, which may even have had a worm in the bottom. See, I have brought booze, he would say. It’s not my fault if no-one drank it. Then he would reclaim the bottle at the end of the evening, take it away, and bring it back to the next one. After a few episodes of this I spiked his guns by drinking it. Friends, it is a miracle that I am still alive.)

The second is that Prom was not a thing when I left school.

It seems that making an entrance that will be talked about for years to come is the goal, and the pressure of that must be extraordinary. The young lad’s mum explained that in recent years someone arrived in a tank, and four girls chartered a helicopter.  This particular young man had been promised a Ferrari but the offer fell through at the last minute.

If you can’t arrive in a Ferrari then arriving at the head of a motorcycle club run is, it seems, an acceptable substitute for the “will everyone be talking about this tomorrow?” test. But that’s not an easy thing to organise at short notice.

MCs aren’t everyone’s cup of tea but it’s times like this that I think show the community in its best light.

At 6pm, a handful of us “99 per centers” were waiting with mum, dad and offspring, cheerfully chomping on some truly excellent rocky road, and having a lovely chat but you could see that dad was anxious that 2 sports bikes, a Ninja and a ropey old Triumph weren’t quite the dramatic force he’d hoped for.

At 6.25pm the roar of open pipes preceded the arrival of about 8 of one of our local Outlaw-affiliated clubs.  Looked the part, sounded the part, formed up around dad with son riding pillion, in splendid vintage gear, and about half an hour later the Spectacular Entrance of Prom Requirement was duly made.

An hour out of my evening, but hopefully a life-long happy memory for one teenage boy and his family. Isn’t that what biking should be about?

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I’ll be looking at the moon

He died.

We didn’t have the luxury of time after all.

On Saturday evening he took a nasty tumble and all of the pharmaceuticals the vet could provide weren’t touching the pain so there was only one choice left.

If you’ve followed his adventures here, and he’s brought even a tenth of the joy to your life that he has brought to mine, then I am glad.

If I write about new trips without him please don’t think I have forgotten him. He will always be with me in spirit, and what a spirit it was.

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There are storms we cannot weather

I was going to write a couple of happy posts about how brilliant it was to be out in the sidecar with my Wingman camping in the sunshine.

But on the way home from Wales I had a sinking feeling that all was not well with the hairy boy.

I’m prone to “borrowing trouble” so convinced myself that I was just catastrophising and all was well, he was just a bit tired after three lovely days with new things to sniff and widdle on.

But on Friday, halfway up the country to an MZ Club camp in the Forest of Bowland, when we stopped for a photo he was singing his unhappy song. And when we got to the camp he was a miserable and grumpy hound.

Of course I felt like shit. By being so slow on the uptake I had inflicted pain and discomfort on an elderly, arthritic dog, and worst of all, he would have to go through it all again to get home.

In my defence he used to love riding in the chair and he used to love camping and scavenging bacon off friends and strangers alike. So I had been really looking forward to us being able to resume.

But the sad truth of doge life is that the year and a half we have been in lockdown is more like five years for him.

And the bitter reality is that with the help of friends I built a magnificent camping rig and the Wingman is now too frail to enjoy it.

Of course I can give up sidecar riding. I can even give up camping if I have to. But what’s been on my mind all weekend is what they tell you about how to judge whether your dog is suffering – if he stops enjoying things he used to enjoy then he’s one step closer to the trip over the rainbow bridge.

I am grateful for the luxury of time. Too many friends have lost their beloved dogs suddenly. But I lack the courage to make the call. We will go back to the V.E.T. for a painkiller review and have some gentle rides in the 2CV over the next few weeks, and then take stock.

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