It was inevitable that I’d get into motorbikes. I had six bicycles and was regularly clocking up 200, 300 or even 400 miles a week, racing, training and touring. Fine whilst I was working in a bicycle shop, but when I took a position as a computer engineer, complete with company car and oscilloscope, it became harder and harder to maintain the miles as the unpredictable nature of the hi-tech system failures blew the training schedule to pieces.
Even earlier than this I was attracted to the motorbike, as opposed to the pedal bike. I’d read Zen and the Art of Maintenance for the first time when I was about 16 and found I could very easily relate to the author’s descriptions of what motorcycling was like; and it appealed.
But I’d never been on a motorbike before.
A very helpful chap from a bike shop in Oxfordshire gave me lots of advice on the phone, treating this novice biker with respect, so I took myself over to the dealership to see what they had in store. A bewildering array of machines, of all shapes and sizes, that’s what they had!
Alas I forget now the gentleman’s name, but he very kindly offered to give me a ride on one. What I do remember about this helpful chap was his size; how can I put this? Well, there would be plenty of protection for the wind sat behind him…
And in a few minutes that’s where I found myself, perched on the pillion seat of a 600cc Suzuki GSX600F, otherwise known as a “Teapot”, which I didn’t realise at the time. Anyway, there I was, holding on to the grabrails behind me as we pottered down one road; I went with the lean around one corner, then another, and I was thinking that this was all very pleasant and started to relax.
As we exited a roundabout onto a dual carriage way, the salesman, keen to impress me with the bike’s performance, opened the throttle. Jeremy Clarkson extols the virtues of super cars, their 0-60 times of 3,4,5 seconds, the thrill of acceleration, the G-forces, the noise. Well nothing really prepares you for what a humble motorbike can achieve, and the GSX600F really was a humble motorbike.
The sudden snap of the throttle and we were away, like a bullet from a rifle. Which would have been fine had I been expecting it; but I wasn’t. The bike surged forwards so quickly I didn’t have time to react, every physics student will tell you that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, so as the bike shot forwards, I shot backwards, my feet came off the pegs and legs started to flail around in the wind.
I tightened my cataleptic grip on the grabrail behind me as my forearm muscles were the only things keeping me from toppling backwards off this damned bike. I was having to twist my wrists to counter-balance the rearwards thrust, my body weight and the increasing force of the wind as we bashed our way at near supersonic speeds through the atmosphere; a good job this mad rider was the size he was as I’m sure that extra shield from the buffeting wind was the marginal difference. “Ooooooiiiii!” I shouted; but no one hears you scream in space or a bike helmet and the speed just carried on building, my grip on the bike, and life, was becoming ever more tenuous. “Oh my God! I’m going to dieeeeee! Let this end nowwwwww!”….
…which it duly did after what seemed like a lifetime, but what was in fact only a few seconds as the dual carriage way became a roundabout. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction and as the brakes were abruptly applied, my body, already fighting to stay forwards as much as possible, was relieved of all the backward-forcing forces and pivoted on my bum, feet landing on pillions, helmet head butting the back of my erstwhile guide to motorbiking.
Then we were leaning over to the right and I was saying “Hello” to the outside of the central roundabout in a much more personal way than I’d ever imagined possible. We whipped around the tarmac’d circle, threw ourselves over to the left (a macro-view of grass verge revealed an interesting collection of flora and fauna) and accelerated away again, with me hanging off the back of the bike, praying this nightmare will end; praying that I’ll still be alive. “OK! OK! I’ll buy the bloody thing! Just stoooopppp!
Finally we ducked down a side turn and this mad alternative speed of light world became tranquil, calm. Flooded with relief, but at the same time wary that we’ll take off again, I shift position to better remain on the bike, just in case we catapult off to the horizon again.
And I did buy that bike, and had a lot of fun with it. Until some bastards nicked it from outside a B&B in Cardiff.