Sunday 30 June, 2013 by Uncle Spike
Going back to my early teenage years, I went through that typical boyhood-manhood conundrum… should I go down the route of 2 wheels, or 4?
After leaving school at 16, I ditched the idea of further education in return for the incredible opportunities I knew were out there waiting for me; of course, what that actually amounted to was a job selling cameras, radios and televisions at a high street electronics store in exchange for some £30 a week ($50). I thought this to be smart move on my part, and in no way comparable to the obvious drudgery of studying Politics & Economics, as were the plans of my parents.
Needless to say, I was happy with the course of my life, especially as all the mega-bucks I was earning meant I could finally buy my own vehicle. Hmm, well, how shall I say this… the BMW did not happen; but I did get manage to get myself a tired old red 1977 Suzuki B-120. It was ever so slightly naff to be honest, but it became my trusty steed for the initial daily commute of 24km, some 15 miles. I was a happy guy, with a real motorbike, teenage spots, long unkempt hair, a wispy teenager’s moustache, bags of attitude, and the delusional self-confidence of youth.
For any biker aficionados, the technical and performance statistics of this bike were impressive. Perhaps I exaggerate just a little bit… the 118cc single cylinder, two-stroke, 10 BHP noisy little engine used to propel me along like a bullet, with a top speed of 104km (65mph) – that’s of course downhill, with a following wind and lying flat on the tank. In the company of my biker friends, I was at last accepted, one of the lads, an equal; well, I had 2-wheels, which was the primary and only real requirement. I did however, always have the smallest bike amongst the guys, always the slowest bike, and most certainly, had the oldest bike, but… like all bikers, I had to play the part, had to get all the right gear; from leather trousers, a ripped old leather jacket, some patches on a denim cut-off, an open-face lid, shades and almost to the knee biker boots. This young dude was well and truly on the road.
Trouble was, without having passed my bike test, I had to bear the indignity of L-plates, those embarrassing white plastic plates attached front and back, emblazed with a big fat red letter ‘L’, just to announce my inexperience to the world. Now we all go through this stage in life, but whereas in a car, you are stuck with an ‘instructor/parent’ sat beside you in those early days, on a bike, the ‘freedom of the road’ even as a learner makes you feel invincible, simply because you aren’t restricted at all, even from day one; that is, apart from the damned L-plates.
We, like all young bikers, had a pack mentality; kind of like young dogs, in that we rarely travelled alone, enjoying the camaraderie and self-belief induced bravado that was a spinoff from belonging to such a cluster of long-haired, spotty two-wheeled reprobates in the early 1980’s.
Suffice it to say, things did change after a couple of years; the bikes got bigger, the exhausts became shorter, I found some leathers that fitted, and even a full-faced helmet for rainy days. But back at the beginning, my trusty little red rocket was my world, my pride and joy, however much the amusement I created in my wake. And laugh they did, especially as the bike, whilst being a real motorbike and not a pedal-type moped, was in fact rather small, rather dumpy by comparison to all my friend’s bikes, and in fact most other forms of 2-wheeled transport on the roads. So… sad to say, in those days I did attract my fair share of ridicule, maybe brought on by the fact that riding along dressed in full leathers that even a seasoned Harley rider could potentially respect, did seem ever so slightly ‘over the top’ for such a cute little machine.
On one late summer’s ride, heading out of Southampton, a city on the central south coast of England, the lads and I weaved our way through lines of waiting trucks and cars at the traffic lights, having offended numerous drivers simply with our ability to pass in front of them. There were I think 10 of us all told, ranging from a super-fast race bike, a few large cruisers, a couple of mid-sized courier type bikes, down to… yes, me. As we waited for green, the engines revved, the exhausts howled, the tachometers twitched, and the car drivers fumed. Green it was, green for go; and we were off, roaring off down the open road like it was the start of some international grand prix. Me, well, I was last of course, accelerating as fast as the single piston could muster its maximum 10 horsepower through to the drive chain. With plenty of 2-stroke engine oil burning, I sped off, lying flat, straining every muscle in the vain hope of an increase in speed. After some 500m, the inevitable happened. A small Ford car, packed with 5 or so angry, frustrated guys in their early 20’s who we had passed queuing for the lights, sped past, blaring their horn, and all hanging out the window doing an impression of drying their hair with a hairdryer, the pun intended being how my little bike sounded like a hairdryer.
To put it lightly, I was mortally offended, insulted beyond words, and more than that, completely embarrassed by my predicament. That was it. That was the moment I decided my time had come, time to go to the next level. I booked my bike test and a few compulsory lessons the very next day. Within a couple of months had my full licence… and whilst still riding an old Suzuki, I had at least progressed up to a 550cc, 4 cylinder beastie with a rather loud exhaust. I had, finally, bought myself some dignity at the traffic lights.