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Wednesday, 29 August 2012

A motorcycle book par excellence!


by Neil Bradford

Motorcycling tends to attract independent-minded people, those who like both freedom and the extra challenge and thrill of 2 wheels compared with 4.  Perhaps it's also fair to say that most of us are free spirits to some extent with a few eccentricities thrown in for good measure!  Something to be proud of in this day and age when the pressures to conform, standardise and sanitise are ever-present.

This anthology covers motorcycling tales from the early 20th century right through to the present day written by both sexes. Some of the writers were unknown to me before reading this book, others are household names.  They have different writing styles (which is part of the joy of this book) but no matter who they are, the same passions and sensations that we experience as motorcyclists are shared by all of the writers, irrespective of their status or experiences.  I found myself nodding in agreement, grinning and sometimes moved as they committed their feelings to paper.

The title of the book comes from the Aramaic word Boanerges which T.E Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) called each successive Brough Superior motorcycle which he owned. It literally means Sons of Thunder and it sits well!


The feats of some of the early writers almost defy belief, like Theresa Wallach and Florence Blenkiron who in 1935, rode a 600cc single cylinder Panther with a sidecar from London through Africa, including the Sahara Desert.  Similar journeys today with all the modern equipment are still a major undertaking, let alone nearly 80 years ago!

Whilst T.E Lawrence was serving in the Royal Air Force, he describes riding through the English country lanes at full throttle on a twice-weekly shopping trip to buy sausages and bacon. All pretty innocuous but he then adds the sentence that every motorcyclist will identify with:  

"For months, I have been making my evening round, twice a week, riding a hundred miles for the joy of it and picking up the best food cheapest, over half the countryside".

We all know about the journey, not the destination being the important bit, don't we?

The fabled Lawrence of Arabia with his Brough
(file photo)

LJK (Len) Setright was an English eccentric who gave up law for motoring journalism.  His command of the English language is simply superb and he was also gifted with a deep technical knowledge of anything automotive.  Even though his essays are often complex with rich language, it was one paragraph written several decades ago which caught my eye as I thought it only applied to the modern world.  He's on his motorcycle en route to play in an orchestra:

" ....I almost got to Rochester to encounter the tail of what proved to be a 6 mile queue. As carefully as one does in such circumstances, I rode past it all - and was dismayed by the anger and hostility of all those stationary motorists, blaring their horns or even waving fists at me.  There was no way in which I could have been harming them, but the thought that I was going and they were not aroused furious jealousy".

And we've all felt a similar frisson of malicious satisfaction, haven't we?

The wonderfully eccentric "LJK"
(file photo)

Very few people will not have heard of flambouyant American writer, Hunter S Thompson.  He was asked by Cycle World magazine to road test a Ducati Superbike and his narrative is largely about that experience.  He notes that he's not without mental and physical scars from previous accidents, yet can't help himself from taking it out and thrashing it within an inch of it's (and his) life.  This sentence of his sums it up rather neatly:

"A thoroughbred Cafe Racer will ride all night through a fog storm in freeway traffic to put himself into what somebody told him was the ugliest and tightest diminishing-radius loop since Ghengis Khan invented the corkscrew."

Yep, if most of us are honest, we've been there and done that!

Hunter S Thompson
(file photo)

Valentino Rossi (aka The Doctor) must be pretty close to a household name, even among non-motorcycling families. His book extract gives a wonderful insight to the world of Grand Prix racing where the very top riders not only know their own bikes intimately, but their opponents and the characteristics of their bikes too. He says

"You've studied your main opponent's trajectories, the way he takes every turn; you know where he's strongest and where his weaknesses are, you know where he's vulnerable if you attack him.  It's the ultimate rush."

He describes his battle with Max Biaggi on the last race of the year for the World Championship title.  Biaggi is leading, Rossi has sussed out where Biaggi is weakest but daren't try to pass him too early as it will only work once - chess on 2 wheels!  So he leaves it until the last lap and the last tough corner of that lap.  The mark of a true champion with that much at stake.  Two rivals at their absolute limit - what incredible reading.

Valentino Rossi
(Motorcycle USA)

I bought the electronic version of the book though Amazon.  There are no photos but this in no way detracts because the writing is so powerful and evocative.  Don't know if there are photos in the hard copy version. The e-book cost ~$10.  I would have happily paid a lot more for it.

There are 28 separate essays/book extracts and everyone a gem in its own right.  The other great thing about this anthology is now being able to track down some of the original books from which these extracts came to provide many more years of enjoyable reading.  Overall, this is the best motorcycling book I've read for years.  Although the subject matter of each story is quite different, they all carry the assertion which we already know.......  motorcyclists are different from most of the world's population, motorcycling is not about getting from A to B, motorcycling lifts the soul.


Friday, 24 August 2012

Rectification and a rapid ride....

Last week, I had a message from my Triumph dealer in Hamilton that there was general recall for Triumph Street Triples and 675 Daytonas up to a certain VIN number to have the voltage regulator/rectifier replaced.  I've never had any bother in nearly 3 years of ownership but from looking at a couple of Triumph forums, some others have been less fortunate.  There was a similar problem with Honda Blackbirds pre-2002 and although the issue had been present for a number of years, Honda-San made no attempt to sort the problem out with owners who broke down, often in out of the way places.  It therefore came as a delightful surprise to learn that Triumph would be replacing the R/R at their cost, including labour - maximum Kudos to them!

The dealer is some 170 km away but as we've had some nice sunny days for a change, it was a good opportunity today to beat the winter blues and go for a decent, rapid ride.  I must say that before setting off, there was some vague unease as to whether Sod's Law would strike with a R/R failure on its last run before replacement; leaving me stranded somewhere in the countryside. Fears turned out to be unfounded of course.

Radar detector locked and loaded!

Most of the journey is through countryside and a "brisk" pace could be maintained with minimal other traffic about.  Rocking up to the Hamilton Motorcycle Centre is always such a pleasant experience because not only are their team on top of their game in terms of competence, the relationship with their customers is flawless.  On pulling up, Matt, the senior workshop technician and one of his team walked out to say hi and that they were ready for me - still getting my riding gear off whilst it was wheeled inside!

Prepping it before hoisting it to eye level

The photo below shows the old R/R (the finned block) just to the left of the monoshock.  Not only is it directly behind the engine, it runs down the axis of the bike so there isn't much area exposed to cooling air and these mothers run hot!!  It would be a really fiddly job, but the guys simply unbolted the top of the rear shock which made it a straightforward exercise.

Not a job for large hands!

Pristine new R/R

The new R/R has a transverse mounting, exposing a bigger surface area to cool air so that should aid reliability, together with whatever they've done to the internals.

New R/R bolted in place

Whilst the guys were putting it together again, I strolled into the showroom to see what goodies I could drool over.  Readers who have seen previous posts about the Hamilton visits may remember that the dealership covers Triumph, Ducati and Kawasaki. First bike to drool over was a Ducati 848 Corse.  This must be one of the most beautiful bikes on the market - absolute design excellence.  I'm not sure that my knees would bend far enough to get my boots on the pegs but if we won Lotto, I'd buy one as a lounge ornament (err... subject to CEO permission of course).
 

Talk about going weak at the knees!

Every line carefully crafted

The seat is a work of art by itself

The 3 pipes of the Tiger Explorer 1200

Retro chic Bonneville - extremely attractive in the flesh

Blue and white Bonneville - gorgeous, shiny engine

Early 2000's muscle bike - the Kawasaki 1200 ZRX
I love it!

If Darth Vader owned a bike, this would be it - the wicked ZX10R

Ducati 996 race bike - drool, slaver.......

Less than an hour after arriving, I was on my way again.  Is there any better way of spending a morning..... riding 350 km in great weather, looking at some fantastic bikes and dealing with a business which is right at the very top of its game - thanks a million guys for the magnificent service!




Sunday, 12 August 2012

The bike that got me back into motorcycling

I've loved bikes for as long as I can remember but motorcycle ownership went on hold with marriage in 1972, moving to NZ in 1975, building a career and raising a young family - a pretty typical scenario for many of us.  I'd also got into competitive sailing although bikes were never forgotten.  On one fateful day in 1987, a visit to Auckland to pick up a yacht sail right next door to a Honda dealer was to cause a few ructions in our household. 

You know how some bikes trigger an instant emotional connection?  (Otherwise known as "I want it, and I want it NOW").  Well, that's what the bike on a stand in the dealer's window did to me, completely out of the blue.  Jennie wasn't best pleased with several days of whining on my part and reluctantly gave permission for ownership.  A week later, I was the proud owner and not long after, she was the proud owner of a piano at nearly twice the cost of the Honda.  That's what you call a quid pro quo in spades!!

Anyway, back to the bike......

It's called a GB400TT, predominantly produced for the Japanese domestic market and loosely modelled on the classic British sporting singles of the 50's and 60's such as the BSA Gold Star. The motor was a modified XR400 single cylinder trail bike engine with a 4 valve head and a 2 into 1 exhaust system.  Finished in rare midnight blue metallic paint and silver guards with plenty of chrome, it looked gorgeous.  The following photo was taken not long after taking ownership.

1987 Honda GB 400TT

It was a great bike to re-launch a motorcycling career - light, reasonably quick (around a genuine 100 mph / 160 km/hr) and utterly reliable.  

Now, the reason for this post is that I've just made one of my occasional forays into our many boxes of photos and found some extra shots taken around 1990.  At that time, I saw an advert for locally made aftermarket fairings and enquired about one for the GB 400. I got a reply saying they had one based on a Yamaha RZ 350 and a few weeks later, the deal was done.  Had it sprayed to match the bike and signwritten in gold - looked like it was made for the GB.  Here are some pics...


Nice slim front profile

Resplendent in midnight blue metallic paint and gold sign-writing

Classic "British" profile with Manx Norton-type short reverse cone megaphone

It was a delight to ride - light and flickable.  Reminiscent of the current Street Triple in that respect, but with only 1/3 of the gee-gees!  I even bought a single race seat for it later on to make it look even more like a British classic racer.  Spent 5 happy years with it until stepping up in capacity and buying a BMW K100 RS. Our eldest son inherited it for a year or two before it got sold to a delighted buyer in the South Taranaki region of NZ.  A great machine for getting me back into bikes and forever held in great affection!

Now for something to put you off your dinner, hehe!

Some of you may remember previous posts featuring my mate and fellow Coromandel resident Paul who owns some classic Nortons, including the superb 850 racebike below.  A few Kiwi friends who read this blog have actually met him and will attest to his "apparently" reserved demeanour.

Paul and his 850 at the Pukekohe race track

Now you may wonder how the residents of a remote village like Coromandel (pop 1600 on a good day) spend those long winter evenings apart from varnishing their banjos and making moonshine. Well, they hold a Mizz Coromandel pageant and dinner in the local school hall to raise money for the local food bank.  The unique difference is that the entrants are all macho guys - loggers, fishermen, engineers ........ and Paul!!!  They had to parade on the raised catwalk in what might be described as "local daywear", swimwear and evening dress.  Most of the entrants appeared to have consumed a fair bit of alcohol to get them through the ordeal!

Laugh?  I nearly choked to death!!  Some guys went the whole hog with a full body wax and looked (blush) stunning.  It was even funnier seeing the more ummm.... hirsute guys with masses of chest and back hair prancing about in glorious costume!

Anyway, here are some shots of the normally quiet and retiring Paul as Mizz Whiplash (or something like that).

Paul in tasteful evening wear

Paul in modest beachwear attire

When the Master of Ceremonies commented on the brevity of his attire, Paul said that he'd spent a whole $20 on his green swimwear and about $10 of that had disappeared up his arse - brought the house down!!

Anyway, a massive amount of money was raised for the local food bank and everyone had a truly memorable evening, even if we won't see Paul in quite the same light again - what a star!!!!  Maybe it's a commentary on all Norton owners....... ;-)