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My Great British Motorcycle Journey Part 4 - Speeding Practice, Side Stand Blues & Rinse, Dry and Repeat.

October 3, 2017


I'm no styling maven, but this was a poor effort by Honda


The Honda was a generation on from the GPZ in terms of sophistication, but was, to be frank, a bit of a bus. I wasn't really in the market for a new ride, as I had the Z, but a friend of my brother who was moving abroad floated the idea of me buying his bike. It was a good deal, so even though I wasn’t head over heels with the bike, I thought ‘why not’. It was a comfy, smooth, predictable and capable machine if not a little bland - and it probably formed the start of my long held conviction that modern Hondas can be a little lacking in the character department. But that's an angle for another article (memo to self).


Two incidents have stayed with me from my time on that bike. The first one ludicrously embarrassing and the second embarrassingly ludicrous. And both incidents I will blame squarely on the fact that this bike was in European* spec. At this point, I will state that I have only dropped a bike once and have never crashed one (WHY DID I JUST WRITE THAT). The bike I dropped was the CBR, the location was the local motorcycle store on a slam packed sunny Saturday, and the audience was pretty well every biker within a 50 mile radius. Curses.


It went down thusly; I rocked up on the Honda looking cool and nonchalant (as one does when riding a bike in the presence of others who are so inclined) and steered her into the carpark. In scoping it out I saw there was but one spot available. Spoiler alert - this just happened to be the spot where the ground sloped away to the left - you know, the side of the bike where the side stand is. I had been anticipating this visit as I was going to buy an armored leather jacket and was relishing the idea of a journey home looking bad assed and moody (I really do have an active imagination). As I came to a halt, I casually flipped down the stand with my left boot and rocked the bike over in order to sit it down. The thing was, as the bike was not a UK spec model, the side stand was heavily spring loaded to ensure it flips up when you ride off. I know, ridiculous, right? So, I tipped the bike to the left, and the stand flipped back up just as I passed the point of no return. Down she went and off I hopped, as to avoid getting stuck ‘twixt bike and tarmac.


It is no exaggeration to say that I was mortified and although there were plenty of helping hands ready to aid me getting the bike upright again, I barely noticed them. You know those movie scenes where someone falls through ice into black water and everything (including the music) goes into slow motion as they try to orientate themselves and get the world back in focus again? That was me. I only really returned to the reality in a coffee shop some time later, at which time I also became aware that I had bought myself a £300 ($450) jacket at the store in the immediate aftermath and hardly remembered anything about it. My budget had been £175 - £200. A life lesson methinks - seems I struggle to make good decisions while in a state of total humiliation. Now I think about it, this probably explains a problem I have when shopping for clothes. Even after seeing my rather depressing reflection in the mirror, I STILL end up buying jeans that are too small for me...


My foreign CBR hadn’t finished with me though. I was riding back from my girlfriends on the epic route where my first bike (the LC) had expired. I was far further into the journey at this point though, being only about 30 minutes from home. It was raining and had been for the last hour of the trip, and I was stiff, weary and soaked (apparently waterproofing was not an attribute of my new £300 jacket). I was on a two lane, 60mph road and I came upon a convoy of cars running nose to tail at just under 60mph. To my irritation, no one was attempting to speed up, overtake, or just generally get on with the program. Not being a great believer in the tortoise and hare philosophy and keenly aware that a hot cup of English breakfast tea was but a matter of miles away, I peeled off into the overtaking lane and began slowly reeling in the cars one by one.


As I got near the front, I saw that the reason for this behavior was that there was a police car at the head of the line. It seemed no one wanted to run the risk of overtaking the boys in blue. The cop had presumably watched me approaching in his side mirror and I knew that slowing at this point would be lame and make me look guilty. I also didn’t want to ride side by side with the police for the next heaven knows how many miles. The only option that was available to me then, was to cruise slowly past and hope for the best. Yes, I’d be going a few mph over the limit - but surely the (normally reasonably relaxed) cops weren't going to be petty enough to stop me for something as minor as that?


So I did. And they were.


Did I forget to mention that the speedo on my bike was in KPH not MPH, as it was an import? Silly me! No biggie though, as I was confident in my ability to convert from kilometers to miles per hour. My confidence bubble was brutally popped by the cops though, as they told me that they were traveling at 65mph and I had overtaken them. Ergo, I was speeding by some margin. I next said something that I genuinely believed to be true, but in retrospect was hilariously naive. It was “but I thought that the police couldn't speed unless in pursuit, so I thought I’d be ok if I just inched past. I’ve been on the road for hours, I’m wet and I just want to get home”. The cop looked at me, then looked at his buddy, then looked back to me and said ‘No, we have to practice speeding so when the time comes, we can do it safely’. Silence reigned for a second or so while we all regarded each other warily and somewhat quizzically. I definitely didn’t hold the cards in this situation, so I was pleased when they let me off with a warning. Did kinda make me wanna be a cop for a while after though - maybe you get to practice stealing stuff too?


Talking of being wet on the CBR, there was also the time that I left London by an unfamiliar route to head south on a sunny day for a job interview. Therefore I was quite unprepared when I came upon, then drove under, a clump of purple gray storm clouds dropping biblical amounts of rain on the road and surrounding area. The 2 minutes or so it took me to emerge on the other side and back into the dry air were enough to soak me to the skin. A few miles later, shivering in the wind but drying off rapidly, I saw an unfamiliar sign and realized to my horror I was heading into London and not out it. Cursing, I took the next off ramp, crossed the bridge over the motorway and headed down onto the road that I had just left. Only this time, in the opposite direction.


I was pretty well dry due to the 70MPH wind last when I came upon the micro monsoon again. I gritted my teeth as I entered the deluge and even though I was scrunched right up behind the screen, I was thoroughly hosed down once more. It was like going through the waterfall looking for the cave behind it, only to discover that there was no cave, just 2 miles of water. I shot out the other side into the near sunshine, glad that that was behind me for good. I continued to feel this way for quite a few miles during which I gradually dried off. This raising of spirits lasted right up to the moment that I saw a large, cheerful ‘WELCOME TO LONDON’ sign at the side of the road. At first I thought it might have just been a hallucination brought on by the dry / soaking / drying / drenched again / drying cycle I had just been through, but 2 miles later I saw the same thing. “Gosh, that's a little annoying, but I can see the funny side”, I definitely did NOT say to myself in my helmet.


I found the next off ramp and took it shivering, livid, and steaming up the inside of my visor with a stream of choice and quite creative invective. I swore my way over the road spanning bridge, before profanely turning off down the ramp to get back on the road before cursing my way onwards once more. I was now going in the direction I had been been originally traveling, back when the world was a fair place, full of endless possibilities and job interviews to which no one was ever late.


This time, as I approached the hovering tempest, I accelerated to an extremely antisocial speed and punctured the wall of water screaming a blood curdling battle cry - daring the rain to do its worst. As I felt the moisture soak through to my t-shirt, socks and underpants for the third time in 30 minutes I heard myself beginning to laugh maniacally. Then, through clenched teeth I started singing, a little hysterically perhaps, Queen’s ‘Don't Stop Me Now’. I don't know why, but it felt appropriate. It seemed like hours later, but eventually I blasted back out into the tepid sunlight like a little black and red bullet, shrouded in spray and cloaked in defiance.


To keep my spirits up as I started to dry off in the 90 mph plus wind blast, I treated myself to a couple more of Freddie and Co’s greatest hits and by the time I got to the head banging bit in Bohemian Rhapsody, I was feeling more at peace with the world. I slowed down to a more socially acceptable speed while doing what I imagined were breathing exercises. The rest of the journey passed in a Zen like oasis of calm and meditative reflection. At least I assume it did, because I can't recall anything about it apart from the fact that I missed the job interview.


*It is important to point out at this juncture that NO Englishman considers himself as a ‘European’. ‘Europeans’ are the people that live on the continental landmass known as Europe. Englishmen live on a tiny island some 50 miles of rough, gray freezing sea away from it and we are English first, British second and in my case American too. I am especially keen to point this out, as my years in the USA have taught me that Europeans are synonymous with Speedo swimwear and no Englishman would ever be seen (nor should be) in a pair of those. I would imagine the effect on the eyes might be similar to looking at an eclipse without the requisite eyewear.


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