Tag Archives: motorcycle

Fettle the devil you know – motorcycle ownership just gets better

Those who know me if not intimately then at least well enough to keep their distance will be aware that given half a chance I will toss a day or three (and two weeks’ wages) on the pyre of executing cosmetic automotive improvements, or in other words fettling my cars.

Absolutely none of these vehicles has been anywhere near showroom condition, which ought to underline quite how distracted I can become when handed a bottle of trim gel, a hairdryer (for removing unwanted stickers) or a clay bar and detailing spray. In these circumstances my hands are the equivalent of the TARDIS for a faded window seal or a battle-scarred front spoiler, and such accomplishments deliver a hit no drug can rival (you’ll have to trust me on that).

The recent introduction of not just a Suzuki SV650S motorcycle but also a 22-year-old VW Corrado 16V to the family has upset the normal rhythm of my fettling regime, which for a couple of years until last December primarily involved keeping my Saab 9-3 Viggen clean but not so clean that the small patches of tinworm on the rear arches and bootlid would cause sections of the bodywork to break away from the mothership.

No eye-rolling highs there, then. For those I had to turn to cleaning her nibs’ feisty VW Lupo GTI, a fine example whose nick belies its 16 years but which, sadly, isn’t mine. There’s only so much elbow grease you can throw at somebody else’s toy, and I found myself unfulfilled.

Enter the SV and the Corrado. Being a more substantial not to mention older beast with the complex history any vehicle of its age has inevitably accrued, the latter requires the greatest attention. And one day soon I shall bore you witless about that.

Not today. What I want to celebrate is the discovery of yet another gratifying aspect of motorcycle ownership which I hadn’t been prepared for: ease and speed of fettling.

To keep the machine looking its best, on a weekly basis I need do little more than hose it down and give it a wash – the two-bucket method (email me for instructions) using regular car shampoo – before rinsing it and drying the most visible bits with a shammy. Ten minutes and it’s done. The wheels, which are nothing special, get a good wipe with WD40 now and then – a three-minute job. In periods of prolonged bad weather I wash the bike more often and apply ACF-50 regularly during the colder months, but that’s it.

In fact the longest I’ve spent titivating the SV was last weekend, when I borrowed my good lady’s hairdryer (as you can see I have no need for such an apparatus) and finally removed from the frame the original stickers advising me not to wash the bike using turps, to inflate the tyres to the correct pressure and so on. It looks better dirty now than it did than when it was clean beforehand.

Cleaning the SV is a buzz, then, though not half as efficient at ridding the mind of cerebral knots as riding the machine. This malarkey just gets better and better.

Reproduced with permission of Herald & Times Group.

Is motorcycling really more dangerous than golf?

For the past week or so I have been on less than top form, being the victim of a pincer attack by a nuclear-powered cold and a bad back. The cold caused my nose to become a Mount Etna of snot and my lungs a pulmonary Smith & Wesson firing bullets of phlegm as I attempted to immerse myself in the Open Championship from the depths of the sofa. I’ve had colds before, obv, but none like this.

The spinal aches, however, are a recurring niggle that can be traced back to my lifelong yen for the sport Jordan Speith mastered at Royal Birkdale last weekend. Twelve years ago I was still sufficiently robust to carry my golf bats in a bag, and while sauntering blithely down a muddy slope at Littlehill in Glasgow I took a tumble, the weight of the clubs and my torso coming down with an almighty thud upon my coccyx. The resulting herniated disc and associated spinal issues have given me gyp ever since.

What does this have to do with motoring? Simple. I have, you see, been thinking about risk.

Golf, or at least the variant in which most amateurs such as myself participate, is not perceived to be a dangerous pastime, whereas motorcycling is widely seen as colossally treacherous, both by those in the know and those, er, out the know.

A question I have been asked more than once since becoming a rider is: why do something so potentially disastrous to my capacity to walk/talk/breathe, besides for fun? And while it’s tempting to drone on about how my appetite for golf – not alpinism; golf, for God’s sake – has seen me temporarily unable to stand upright, and what could motorcycling possibly do that would be worse, the truth as I see it is that the regular navigation of perilous circumstances is a central pillar of what it means to be alive. And the more you do it, the better you get at it.

Unlike the so-called dangers that governments and corporations insist lurk in every cranny of daily life, on a bike the risks are slap-bang front of you, in darkest black and brightest white. In seven months of riding I have been forced into an emergency stop when a car cut me up (wobble factor on a scale of one to five = one; I was doing 15mph) and watched, powerless, as a VW Polo lurched across my path to reach a motorway exit at the very last moment (WF = three). Most recently, where the M77 merges with the eastbound M8, I was forced prematurely into lane one of the M8 to avoid being crushed by a straying HGV (WF = five).

What I’ve learned from these experiences is this: if you’re going to ride a motorcycle, never forget your vulnerability to even the slightest hazard. Drivers of cars, buses, vans and lorries will always carry out manoeuvres that endanger you, and occupying the moral high ground doesn’t speed up the fusion of bones or the healing of wounds. Assume the worst and always, always have an out.

Oh – and install an action camera on your handlebars or helmet. The chances of remembering a registration number to provide the police with when facing oblivion are nil.

Reproduced with permission of Herald & Times Group.

Senses working overtime: reflections of a newbie motorcycle rider

Immeasurably more than driving, motorcycle riding is a sensory experience. It’s not that you gain consciousness at the lights having undergone intense hallucinations the likes of which even Timothy Leary might have balked at. It’s more the case that even the most cursory of journeys can send your nostrils twitching or your peepers widening.

The sights you see from the vantage point of a motorcycle saddle span the glorious and the godawful. As the late author Robert Pirsig wrote in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: “Through [a] car window everything you see is just more TV … It is all moving by you boringly in a frame. On a cycle the frame is gone … You’re in the scene, not just watching it.”

While this means you get a new perspective on rural landscapes, you also get a new perspective on human behaviour, especially when it comes to people using smartphones at the wheel. Texting, watching videos, making calls – I’ve seen it all.

The nose takes a fair battering too when you’re on a bike. If it’s not a cloud of camomile and walnut-flavour vapour billowing from the driver’s window of a premium German car it’s a lungful of illicit smoke floating from the cabin of a Fiat Ducato on a Friday afternoon, or a whopping belch of diesel fumes from the exhaust pipes of a bus (providing there’s any left in the tank. In my experience most of the diesel that buses take on at the depot ends up on the road).

Further thrills are to be had when passing kebab shops, fishmongers, sewage treatment plants and rubbish dumps. It’s even better when you’re forced to stop outside said establishments.

While modern cars all come with suspension so soft you can’t tell when you pass over a cattle grid, motorbikes are not so forgiving. This means your sense of touch is heightened, which in turn informs how involved you become in the practical business of steering the motorcycle, which in turn makes getting from A to B an active pursuit and not, like 99% of car journeys, a passive experience.

Every rut and bump or change of camber can upset the balance of the machine, as can ironworks and road markings. The rider who can find the least disturbed surface will inevitably have the most pleasant ride. You know you’re making progress when you begin to manoeuvre the bike between paint and manholes silkily and almost unconsciously.

As for your ears, like your nose they are subjected to epic levels of abuse, mainly though not exclusively in the form of wind noise. It is, however, a microscopic price to pay for the relentlessly alluring roar/grunt/burble/whistle of whatever exhaust you have stuck on your machine (only squares leave the original pipes on, dude).

All of which leaves one sense unexplored. While it’s fleeting – and the fact it’s required at all is perhaps an indictment of the way most of us choose to lead our lives – it’s at the very heart of the motorcycling experience, and always will be: the taste of freedom. Now that’s a trip.

Reproduced with permission of Herald & Times Group.