Its cold, its dangerous, its not practical, why bother?
These are some of the more reasoned comments I get when I tell people I ride a motorcycle, but usually all you get is the raised eyebrows and the knowing look that silently says “fool.”
Today its mid November its a cool dry beautiful late autumn day, pure blue skies, visibility into the next county. I have been to visit an old friend who is staying a little over an hour away from home at his mother's beautifully converted water mill house, on the edge of a small Dorset town. After a very nice afternoon of food chat and walking I say my goodbyes and head out to the bike.
The bike is one of those rare pieces of machinery that looks beautiful to even those who have no intention of ever riding on one. To me it makes me smile just to look, it looks designed for a purpose. Not in the utilitarian way of a hand tool or kitchen table, this bike is breaking the speed limit parked on the gravel drive. I spend a minute or so going through the preparation ritual, neck tube, jacket zips and cuffs, insert ear plugs, helmet on, start engine, gloves, climb on board, bring up off the side stand and fold stand back. The three cylinder engine burbles away at tickover as I nod a final goodbye and click into gear and move off down the gravel drive. Gently does it, round the tight turn, covered in newly fallen leaves, where the drive becomes a rutted lane of indifferent surfaces. Treat all controls as if directly connected to delicate parts of my anatomy, be positive but above all smooth. Keeping control of a heavy motorcycle at low speed is one of the trickiest skills. Concentrate, read the ground, pick a path and smoothly I bimble my way along the 300m of track that takes me onto tarmac in the little town. The sun is just setting behind the quaint yellow Dorset stone town houses as I find the town square I emerge onto the main road and gently roll south.
I soon join the rear of small convoy of four wheelers making good progress along the winding, rolling road. I settle into a nice gentle rhythm the engine just rumbling away at the low end on minimal revs, swinging from side to side on this road without straights, taking joy in gentle precision. Choosing the line of least resistance, putting my eyes always in the best place to see. The way a bike goes round a corner when its done right is a simple delight. On four wheels there is always a fight going on between left and right, front and rear, a struggle of forces that achieves a result of forcing the huge mass of metal and plastic to adjust its course. On two wheels it just seems simpler, I go where I look, no thought, no struggle, just a split second response from eye to wheel.
Within ten minutes we reach the main coast road as it skirts a town, and I slip past the convoy on the approach to the roundabout, arrive as the gap appears, flip, flop, fly, I circumnavigate the chevron bedecked island, and wind open the throttle onto the trunk road. I go from 40 to 80 as fast as you can say “from 40 to 80", click the gear change a few times and I'm cruising on this two lane blacktop, riding this 21st century rocket, that holds onto the road as if it was a winning lottery ticket, takes off like a scalded cat, and can stop so quick your teeth nearly come out. Heading towards a western sky that is stunning; yellows, golds, pinks, purples and blacks all blended and mixed with exquisite taste that only nature seems to pull off. The road is busy, roll off and cruise behind. Concentrate, position, scan ahead, around, mirrors, repeat as necessary. The perfect prescription for safe riding, just what the doctor ordered. Finger tips just beginning to feel cool, flip on the heated grips. A space ahead, mirror, indicate, quick head twist, and open up a touch and the big torque has eased me past one car then another. A brief spell of clear road and I settle into a happy cruising speed, concentrating, scanning and planning against the ever changing colours of the western sky. There is no room for thought, thought is distraction. The rush of wind, exposure to the elements, the knowledge that a momentary lapse could well be my last is the motivation to concentrate with a level of intensity that many people rarely experience.
After a while I come up behind a new convoy tucked in behind a slow moving lorry carrying a mobile home, doing what its name implies, namely being mobile. Or is it a static caravan breaking out of its restrictive lifestyle and heading out on the road? Stop that chatter and concentrate! Having eased my way along the tail of cars I tuck in at the offside rear of the truck which is following the few cars sandwiched between the truck and its little warning van with the yellow flashing light, all tightly packed. I recall a short stretch of straight road with no junctions just ahead. I drop a couple of cogs, check behind, check again, straight appears and nothing coming, pop out and whack it open. Milliseconds later a growl from the air box the front becomes lighter, the rear digs in, I become compressed into seat, and I shoot passed the lorry, car, car, car van and I'm gone. Now the road is empty again, settle to safe cruising speed, silly grin, nice lines, beautiful sky. I roll down off the Blackdown Hills and join the dual carriageway towards Exeter. Easy fast cruise mode, the fairing takes away the wind blast, just enough pressure on the shoulders to take the weight off the wrists. Motorway speeds are easy, me and the bike could do this all day and the next and the next.
All too soon I arrive home, silly grin still firmly stuck to face. How was your journey home today?
This is why I ride a bike!