A Damn Good Friday

A couple of weeks ago, after a particularly brain mangling day’s social work, I found myself passing the Project Bike Shop and decided to call in on my buddy Steve the bike sparks to scrounge a cup of Rosy and mellow out a bit.

Over said cuppa, he introduced me to Warren as a TRD contributor and the author of a Bitz plug in issue 43. Warren’s the owner of Project Bikes and a regular reader, so he was quick to suggest that his emporium would make the perfect subject for a feature article. After all, was it or was it not a regular cornucopia of rare and wonderful motorcycles? I had to admit I’d spotted quite a few tasty bikes in his showrooms, while in the back yard there were literally stacks of interesting projects just waiting to be chosen for restoration.

I suggested that it would be a good idea if I took something interesting out for a day — to give me a focus for the piece (not to mention an incentive). No problem. Warren knows and loves his bikes, so he was full of angles I could approach an article from. The ’66 black Honda Hawk for example, a genuine slice of history. A true 100mph from a 305 twin with a pressed steel frame. The British 500’s didn’t know what hit them when the CB77 came along.

Then there was the evolution of the Kawasaki dohc four cylinder superbike; from the beautiful green 1975 Z900, through a choice of red or silver fuel injection GPZ1100’s and the first Ninja (an ’85 red & silver GPZ900R) to a 600 ‘P’ reg version of the same assassin in purple & blue.

Or what about Honda’s attempt to raise the stakes and break Kawasaki’s domination: the awesome (or is that awful?) CBX. The thought of taking the six-cylinder behemoth out for a day’s point to point, brought me up short. I know for a number of people of around my age it’s the stuff of wet dreams; but with all due respect to them and the wonderful example that dominates the front of the shop window, it’s never been my idea of a fun filled frolic in the country. Besides, I levelled with Warren, to be honest, because I ride a piece of history every day, I was more interested in checking out… what shall I say? The advances that had taken place since I last rode something sexy or new.

That was fine with Warren, he’s not stuck in the past; he’ll give floor space to any bike that’s interesting – historically or otherwise. And there’s no denying that some bikes grab your interest simply by virtue of the fact that they’re very accomplished at going extremely fast. Which I had to admit when pressed, wasn’t a quality that I found totally abhorrent, so we started looking at some of the younger more spirited members of the Project Bike family.

Moving swiftly into the Nineties, there was a ’97 CBR1000F with heated handlebar grips and (I was assured) stomp to spare. The ’95 Suzuki RF900 in canary yellow (sporting a purple seat) is a 950 special which apparently was pretty special and very fast. Aesthetically the ’98 ZRX1100 in deep ruby red was a lot more my style, but once again I had to cut Warren off in mid flow. While none of the modern bikes he’d suggested carried the designed in bulk of the CBX, they were still a quantum leap from my trusty SRX6, at the other end of the power and weight spectrum.

The bike which had really caught my eye (and continued to flutter its eyelashes every time I glanced its way) was an FZR600R. It was beautiful, a ’93 model with a classy black & white paint job. I felt so much like an eight-year-old in Hamleys, that when I sat on it I was tempted to tug Warren’s sleeve and say: “This one please Daddy!” But I settled for a nod. No problem, it hadn’t been started for a while, but it was fully serviced and raring to go. We agreed that I’d take it out Friday and I as I rode home I couldn’t remember what had wound me up at work. 

On Friday I turned up at the shop soon after it opened and found the FZR sitting out front gleaming. I left shortly after, but quickly realised the speedo was kaput. Call me old fashioned, but the idea of going out on an unknown motorcycle intent on serious fun, but with no way of knowing what sort of warp factor you were doing until the summonses start hitting your doormat, ran counter to everything I’d learnt about licence preservation. I swung it around and headed back. As I bumped up the pavement I could feel my big day evaporating. Of course they didn’t have a cable to fit. Why would they? They don’t have a parts department. Warren told me not to fret and looked around to see what else he had that was easily accessible.

Minutes later I was off again. This time I was aboard the altogether bulkier CBR1000F, but I didn’t care, I’d have taken the old Suzi kettle if it had come down to it. It was a Bank holiday, it wasn’t raining and my heart was set on a days riding. I’m no more superstitious than I am religious; so the fact it was Good Friday — the 13th — hardly filled me with trepidation (although it did make me chuckle when I thought of the mumbo jumbo backlash there’d be, if happenstance chose that day for me to stuff it big time). Anyway I didn’t need superstition to help keep me focussed, my own TPF&T was all I had by way of protection, so I was riding nearly four grand’s worth of bike on the old you bend it, you bought it principle. Still the way I saw it, however the day turned out it had to beat being nailed up!

I was a bit worried when I noticed the brakes were superdualinked blah blahs, because it made me think of the Guzzi system which I’d always found disconcerting; but if I hadn’t read the stickers I’d never have known, the CBR had masses of feel. Fortunately, as I don’t share Roger’s inadequacies in the inside leg region, the height and bulk were never an issue, even while we were getting acquainted in the heavy traffic between Thornton Heath and the M23.

When I peeled onto the Motorway the Golf in front pulled over sharply, so I felt the least I could do was dignify his thoughtfulness by winding it on a bit. The hand I raised in thanks returned to the bar just in time to hang on tight, as the acceleration went from rapid to exponential and kept on going. Zipping out of the curve, I straightened up and glanced at the unfamiliar speedo, but the glimpse I allowed myself told me nothing that I didn’t already know (ie: that I was going very fast). So as there was nothing rushing up behind me, I brushed the brakes bringing it just below the ton and keeping it there. That way I figured if the worst came to the worst, I wouldn’t lose my licence in one pop.

I went up the hill, down the other side and all the way to where the M23 becomes the A23 and with the exception of a couple of balks, kept it at a steady indicated 98. Near Pease Pottage, I saw some seriously dodgy lane changing ahead, checked my mirrors and jammed on the brakes. It turned out to be a false alarm, the caravan missed the car by at least a Rizla’s width, but it was staggering to feel the CBR shed 60mph in what felt like as many feet — and it did it with such panache, that my confidence in the bulky bike rocketed.

I accelerated away from the non-accident and as I came out of the sweeping left hander back on the ton, it seemed like the perfect time to check the roll-on. Which is when I realised that last months description of winding my Ducati up to 130mph, must have sounded singularly unimpressive to any rider who’d ridden a half-way serious modern bike. I’d figured the speedo out by then and saw it flash past the best my Duke could manage in seconds. It reached 145 and was still going like a train when I finally gave in to my licence, which was screaming from my pocket, warning me I’d lose it forever and feature in crap articles in the tabloids if I didn’t desist and behave. I dropped back below the ton chuffed that apparently I’d got away with it. And at least I’d got it out of my system and wouldn’t need to go there again (although when I’d checked my mirrors and no police were rushing to catch up, I was kind of disappointed I hadn’t carried on until the train stopped steaming. Still best that I didn’t, there were lots of family units heading for the coast and I could have caused a serious split in any of them at those sort of speeds).

Besides, I’ve never been a terminal speed freak. It’s not the speed, it’s the motion that gets me. Travelling at extreme speeds along Motorway class roads is fine for adrenalin junkies who don’t mind where they get there fix; personally I like to have a bit more input than keeping the throttle on the stop and my eyes on the road. I’m a swings and roundabouts man. Show me an ‘S’ shape road sign with “next 3 miles” writ below and watch me go. I mightn’t be the fastest, but I guarantee I’ll have the biggest grin. I was heading for Brighton because it was a Bank holiday and I’m a Londoner; but once I’d had a smoke by the edge of the sea, I was heading back inland.

Clearly the car driving populace didn’t want to catch tyre and bonnet disease (a large chunk of the countryside was shut due to foot & mouth disease in April ’01); because they’d all bypassed the countryside and headed straight for the seaside. You’d have thought it was a blazing August Bank holiday, rather than an April day when the best you could say was that it wasn’t raining. Still I was feeling pretty at home on the bike by the time I hit the queues, so I rolled straight past. In the one-way system towards the centre of Brighton, I caught up with a couple of dressed up bikes and swept past them with an arrogance that must have emanated from the bike, because it was entirely out of character for me.

Or was it. I tossed a few pebbles into the channel, but quickly became restless and headed north to the Devil’s Dike. When I hit the South Downs I realised I was on the prowl, hunting for bikes to mix it with — and I think I know what was going on. For over ten years I’ve been involved in all sorts of situations with bikes pumping out as much as three times the bhp I had on tap and as long as it stayed good and twisty, or there was plenty of traffic, I’d usually make a good show of it. But I always thought it terribly unsporting, when so many of them would simply piss off without so much as a wave goodbye, as soon as they hit a decent straight. That day I could hear an atavistic voice deep in my brain chanting “payback time” and sitting aloft on my muscular charger, I felt like Lancelot scouring Sussex for a joust. You bet I was feeling cocky. ”Bring ‘em on!” the same voice shouted.

There was plenty of two wheeled traffic, but definitely no takers. All the trick bikes were lifestylers and although I knew it was invariably members of that genus who generally confine themselves to straight line stunts, on level terms they were even more disappointing than I’d expected. Passing them provided little sport and absolutely no satisfaction. I’d catch a glimpse of two or three bikes up ahead and haul them in. Usually I’d end up within striking distance before they checked their mirrors, so I’d sit well back in their right one until they registered I was there. If they pulled over and waved me past, I thanked them and went. If they made a break for it, I chased them — and on the CBR they were going nowhere. None of them lasted much beyond two or three corners and they all gave up once I’d passed them.

I rode overland to Lewes, then down to Peacehaven where I ate a burger at a van (which was the only eating place on the whole seafront!). Feeling more peaceful I headed inland and wandered quickly but aimlessly. There really wasn’t much traffic off the main arteries, which was hardly surprising considering every field in East Sussex carried a “CLOSED” sign. Still, as the ramble I was on only needed tarmac, I sucked in the freedom and took all the best lines as I roamed up the hills and down the dales.

I surfaced on the A22 somewhere just short of East Grinstead and turned north By the time I got to the Caterham end of the squiggley dual carriageway bit, I was feeling genuine affection for the beast (and I never thought I’d say that about a Honda). It was probably a good thing I didn’t meet a kindred spirit, because it could very easily have got out of hand and if I’d killed the bike, I’d have had to sell one of my children! As it turned out most of the bikers I met were simply nice folk on a day off. They were enjoying a ride that was low on risk and high on pleasure. Which I guess is exactly what I got in the end. Thanks Warren.

Be careful out there

Carin’ Sharin’

This article first appeared in issue 45 of The Rider’s Digest in May 2001

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