Wednesday, 24 November 2010

On Mopeds

In 2005 as I wandered, faintly bemused from the Bath and West Showground after a bike show, I held in my sweaty little paw a scrap of paper which apparently proved I was the new owner of a dog eared Gilera DNA 125 motorcycle.
And fine little machine it was too, as I discovered while hacking it back home over the Mendips.
It was only when I got home and photographed it, as I always do these days when I get a new vehicle, that I started to count up the number of motor vehicles I had owned since I first hit the road in 1977.
At that point I had had 57 motor vehicles. The number is now 62.
That's two and a half a year. And they haven't been normal motor vehicles.
There were Dutch mopeds, Polish cars, French vans, East German motorcycles and too many Hondas. All had a personality of their own and all of them were hacked unmercifully round country lanes, mostly in the south west.
Most of them were also held together with baling twine, chewing gum and bent wire.

My first passion was for motorcycles and it was all my stepmum's fault. I was a 15-year-old spotty herbert living on the outskirts of Glasgow, and oneday she announced that we were to move house, to Northamptonshire. After years of good of public transport we were to live in a little village where they had one bus a week.
On a sunday afternoon a few weeks later, she produced an Observer colour supplement with an advert for Honda Mopeds it it. You met the nicest people on a Honda.
"Don't worry," she said, "We'll get you a little moped when you are 16, so you can get about, and then you can have a Mini or something when you're 17."
The idea of owning a moped was something I had never considered, but within a fortnight my bedroom floor was awash with glossy brochures and motorcycle magazines and could tell you the power output and top speed of every sports moped on the market.
I wanted a Fantic GT - allegedly the fastest moped you could buy, which could crack 60 mph downhill with a following wind. Either that or a Yamaha FS1E.
But as I wasn't the one paying for it, I got a Batavus HS50.
This amazing piece of Dutch engineering - which is not a phrase in common parlance, the Dutch being more famous for cheese, tulips and cannabis -  would just make 35 mph with its one gear engine, bicycle tyres and the strangest suspension system ever. The swinging arm was fixed and the frame moved up and down. And the front forks were fitted with biro springs. I crashed it on a fortnightly basis, getting through plastic headlights so regularly that the dealers started buying them by the half-dozen for me.
I rode it everywhere - touring East Anglia and visiting a girlfriend in Bournemouth on it.
After a year of thrashing it into the ground It was pretty much worn out, and the bug had bitten - My stepmum could keep her Mini, I needed a proper motorbike and a leather jacket, and that was that.

Next time: How to destruction test an MZ150

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