Bikes

I’ve been a biker since 16. I got my first moped, a Suzuki ZR50 X1 mainly as cheap transport. It was OK I guess in the rather anaemic way of mopeds at the time. There were other bikers in the family so I’d been around bikes all my life. My brother was seriously injured in a bike accident a couple of years previously so I was well aware of the dangers.


When I hit 17 I upgraded to a Yamaha RD125DX - the air cooled twin not the water cooled single. This pre-dated the 12 horse power learner law which meant it was learner legal despite making 16 horsepower rather than 12. It was also a rather more practical machine for any trip longer than nipping down the local shops. I once rode it from Bristol to Kent for the weekend (Kent Custom Bike Show).

After passing my test I got a Z250 twin which was a really nice bike other than a distressing tendency for the cylinder head to blow up - which mine in due course did. I fixed it but by this point I’d moved from Bristol to Stafford to go to poly and a 250 was looking a little small for nipping home to Bristol for the weekend. An old friend was looking to sell a Katana 550 and we came to an arrangement.

The Katana was much more suited to motorway work which was good while I was living in Stafford but come the end of turn the fact I’d done a lot more drinking than coursework caught up with me and I left Stafford and moved back to Bristol.

I took a job as a dispatch rider. The Katana wasn’t a bad bike for this but in practice it didn’t last long. One day as I was returning to base a VW Beetle driver did a U-turn without looking straight into the side of it. It didn’t look that badly damaged as I picked it up, just a small hole in the alternator cover where the wheel hub on the Beetle’s wheel hub had hit it but further investigation showed that not only was the alternator toast but also the extension on the end of the crankshaft onto which it mounted was bent over. That meant it would need a new crankshaft and on a bike that old that was a write off.


With no bike I was out of work so getting another bike on the road as soon as possible was top priority. I unfortunately missed out on a GS650GT with full fairing and panniers I’d happened to notice in a local dealer a few days before. When I went to check it out I discovered someone else had beaten me to it so I went on a tour of local dealers to see what else I could find that was up to the job and in my rather limited budget. In the end I settled on a CX650 Eurosport that a previous owner had fitted with a Rickman fairing.

I ended up doing really rather a lot of miles on the “Plastic Maggot” as CX’s were ‘affectionately’ known but it was only ever a tool not a bike I ever felt particularly attached to. This wasn’t helped by the supposedly reliable CX turning out to be anything but. A succession of things went on it (mechanical seal, big ends, small ends, clutch) and I ended up doing even more miles on borrowed or hired CX500s than my own 650.


When the insurance on the Katana 550 was finally sorted out and it was official written off I bought back the remains from the insurance company and came to a deal with a local breakers whereby they took most of the katana off my hands in exchange for a frame, engine, fuel tank and other assorted bit of a GS750. I kept the front end a some other bits of Katana and built the whole lot up into a very disreputable looking mutant GS750 rat bike. This was far less easy than it sounds and any such job teaches you a lot about how apparently identical looking bikes have a lot less interchangeable parts than you first think. Eventually though it all came together (with some other bits from army surplus stores and scrap heaps) into what in a lot of ways was my favourite bike I’ve ever owned. It was oily, it was smelly it had straight through pipes and K&N air filters and I had to go up several sizes on the main jets to get it to run. It had slide carbs so was generally a bit temperamental to ride it was also somewhat prone to speed wobbles over 80 (but sorted itself out if you accelerated). The bigger main jets meant it drank fuel but also was a bit faster than standard. Or at least it felt faster than standard what with being the loudest thing I’ve ever ridden. It made the bikes in ‘Mad Max’ films look effete and its party trick was backfiring on the overrun and firing a 3’ flame out of it’s upswept exhaust. Great fun in tunnels. It was this bike that caused me to be arrested for stealing my own bike when it turned out the documents and number plate I got from the breaker hadn’t been issued by DVLC. Fortunately I’d kept receipts but even so it resulted in the bike getting impounded for months and my having to Q plate it when I eventually did get it back - some time after giving up the dispatch rider thing and moving into computers (via writing a computerised job control system for the courier company I was working for at the time).


Finances being a little wobbly still in those days and the 125cc learner law meaning there were a large number of late 70’s 250cc bikes available cheaply I picked up a Suzuki GT250 X7 when someone made me a decent offer for the 750. As cheap transport for hard times it wasn’t a bad little bike, as a grin inducing hooligan tool on Somerset back lanes or Bristol’s city streets it was great. I also gave it a somewhat “interesting” stripy beige on black paint job - sort of like a photo negative of a zebra. Eventually it was the long hill climbing out of Lynmouth up to Exmoor in Devon that killed it – a hill that must have done for hundreds of vehicles over the years.


I had a GS400 twin for a while - this was a really nice little bike. Not hugely fast but a nice little engine that was first incarnation of the one that later powered the GS450 and GS500.


Next bike I had was a GS850 - shaft drive and a two valve per-cylinder hemi cylinder head engine design that was more about torque than power. The GS850 was big, comfortable and reliable. A great bike to live with as every day transport and also extremely robust. So robust in fact that a car pulling out on one was likely to come off worst. I ended up riding GS850s (I owned a couple of them) for over a decade. Which brings me to my current bike a Suzuki DL1000 V-Strom.


I bought the V-Strom in 2008, just before christmas. The economy had just imploded and it was winter. I found the bike in a local dealer, it was 18 months old with only 1500 miles on the clock. It was the GT model which meant it had full hard luggage, hand guards and heated grips included and I got a price a couple of thousand less than the new price and 0% finance on it. It was barely run in when I got it but a bit of ‘getting to know you’ thrashing soon made it loosen up nicely. It’s certainly the nicest bike I’ve ever owned and the engine is a complete peach but on the down side Suzuki build quality isn’t what it was when my GS850s were new and I’ve ended up replacing almost every fixing on the bike with better quality stainless ones.


I no longer ride as much as I used to but I used to use bikes as my only form of transport and didn’t actually own a car until I was in my 40s. I still ride year round (which doesn’t help with the quick-rust fastener thing).