The Wingman had another wobble about a month ago, and it looked for a few days like he would be packing his bags and making his final journey. Mainly due to failure of my courage, he’s still here, but while I was trying to think about all the things that would need to be done, and all the ways that life would be different, I realised that I had two motorcycles with sidecars attached for the sole purpose of transporting my hairy life companion, and one Triumph that had done 500 miles on its own wheels since 2015 and about twice that in the back of a van up and down the country before descending into the vicious circle where every time I took it out something went wrong – last year, that was fuel pouring out from the air box drain hose – so I took it out less and less for fear of getting stuck miles from the dog and it got less and less reliable.
Of all the unbearable things that would have been life post-Wingman, the worst would have been taking one of the outfits out with an empty chair so I thought after he had gone I would get the Triumph sorted and return to solo riding.
Then I thought, why wait until after he’s gone? Now that I’m at home with him all the time, there’s no reason why I shouldn’t be able to sneak out on my own now and again. Apart from his wobegone face when he sits right behind the door so I can’t even open it, that is.
Who do you trust with your favourite motorcycle?
There’s only really one answer for the Triumph and that’s Steve and Caz Hutchins of Raceways Motorcycles in Stevenage. A very long time ago I started out on IAM training and the first thing you do is walk round your bike (or maybe that was just the first thing my observer made me do…) – anyway, I was in a Tesco car park in Hitchin looking at my bike thinking “that front end is squint.” Turns out when you smack into some diesel-coated tarmac on the way to your sister’s wedding things don’t quite stay lined up. Steve and Caz took a huge amount of care getting it all straight again and became my workshop of choice until poor life decisions took me to the Fens. So I gave them a call, and they said “bloody hell, are you still alive?” and said of course they would sort the bike out. So a man in a van did a covid-busting run down and last Saturday was time to go and get her back.
You need to know that I’m a terrible pillion. I hardly ever ride behind people because I’m a lot bigger than most women (and in truth, than most men) and it upsets the aesthetic of the bike. I’m also a total coward. About this time last year I went pillion to the bike night at Jack Hill’s Cafe and genuinely thought I was going to go arse over tit off the back as Meerkat opened the throttle. Fortunately in Shoei no-one can hear you scream.
“I’ll put the top box on for you this time,” he said.
It’s not that I don’t trust him. I just don’t trust everyone else on the road. So for the first half of the trip down I remembered the advice of Big Chief Polar Bear, closed my eyes, sang show tunes and tried not to throw up. I quite liked the motorway because the speed was just in a straight line but then we were on the rollercoaster which is the Baldock to Buntington Road, my nemesis as an IAM learner – it’s fast and sweepy and then there’s a tight, tight set of esses which we piled through without hesitation or deviation but in complete terror. It’s just not dignified at my age to be trying to velcro myself to the leathers of a younger chap like some sort of novelty backpack while whimpering.
I had been a bit worried about piloting the Triumph after so long on tiny bikes. If you add the MZ and the W650 together, you’ve only just matched the Triumph for capacity. But after 75 miles of white-knuckle adventure, there was no adrenaline left in me.
When life got dull, Sherlock Holmes would turn to a seven per cent solution of cocaine to stimulate his brain. He would have been better off with motorcycles.