Saturday, 11 December 2010

Do you want to fly?

It's the early winter of 1983.
My Honda CB250RS is toast.
There's no courtesy vehicles for the victims of motor accidents. There's pretty much one motorcycle insurer, Norwich Union. Claims, even ordinary ones, take six months to a year to settle - theres no no-win/no-fee solicitors prepared to make a fat wedge fighting your corner. Compensation is almost unheard of.
There's no phones, certainly in the sort of bedsitters I was slobbed out in, so you can't hassle the insurance company for your money, and everything has to be done by post.
But it didn't stop me from needing wheels in a hurry.
I had the £700 I had scraped together to buy the GPZ550 with, but that was it, the other £400 the GPZ would have cost was in a pile of bent metal  and broken plastic.
The dealer I had intended to buy from had nothing for that sort of money, and neither had anyone else.
So in those pre-ebay days, it was off to the classified section of the local paper.
I scanned the small ads and found a  silver four-year-old XJ 650 Yamaha.

                                           An XJ650. Mine wasn't as pretty as this.

The XJ was a UJM. A Universal Japanese Motorcycle. Four cylinders, two camshafts, electronic ignition, and a shaft drive. It was Yamahas third generation four-stroke - They had ironed out the drive train problems they had with the XS750, but, irritatingly for Yamaha, who had spent millions developing it, the XJ was always in the shadow of the much older XS650 twin - to the extent that it is rumoured the bosses stopped making the XS650 even though it was selling well, because it was getting embarrassing competing with themselves.
To be honest there was something dubious about the bike I had found. It was far too cheap, for a start. The seat had been been given a new cover, which seemed odd for such a new bike. The tank looked very tatty, with a poor quality spray can paint job.
There was a big rust bubble appearing on one exhaust.
But I liked the look and feel of it, and the big engine and the shaft drive, so I bought it.

This is the sort of thing I was listening to when I bought my Silver Yamaha XJ 650.

Bet you can't guess what I called the bike.

The one other 'proper' biker  I knew who wasn't prepared to go into hock for a new bike each time he wanted a change, or hadn't been seduced by BMW, was the mechanic at the petrol station I worked at.
He took a look at the XJ 650 and pronounced it a bag of nails.
I reckoned he was jealous I'd got such a bargain, and besides, as he was on the second bottom-end rebuild on his CB900FA he could hardly talk.
I cut a deal with the garage's paint shop - If I prepped the tank, they'd give it a good paint job for me.
I spent hours rubbing it down ready for a new coat of silver. And that’s how I found out why it had been so cheap.
The petrol tank was full of holes. Other evidence showed the bike had been in a fire and been left for a while covered in water and fire extinguisher foam. This had rusted through the bottom of the tank and the exhaust system.
The bloke I‘d bought it off had just slapped paint over the holes it the tank until it had been resealed.
I'd been riding round on a 120mph firebomb.
But with the help of the now very smug mechanic a proper repair job and spray was effected.
He brazed me a plate over the hole in the exhaust and the bike, now christened the Silver Bullet, was starting to come right.
It wasn't perfect by any means - for a start, it now took me 15 minutes to get to work, instead of 11, which was odd.
The mechanic swapped his CB900FA for a Yamaha  RD350LC and we swapped bikes for a few days, and I realised that fast and light was what I liked, not big and powerful -  I didn't want to give the LC back, but he didn't want to keep the XJ.

Still, Spring was coming, and then Summer, and I had pockets full of cash, and a great big motorcycle. Things were looking good.

And then I had the worst day of my life.

And of course, it involved a girl.

I'd been offered a job as a trainee manager at a city filling station, there was more money, and I wouldn't have a long journey to work. It had "prospects".

I took the job.
And there was the girl. The girl who I was hopelessly besotted with. Real unrequited heartache, the kind you only get when you are young and impetuous. I'd known her for two years, and got absolutely nowhere.
And then one day I invited her to dinner and she said yes. I had a bath, bought a bottle of Muscadet and a couple of steaks, Went to my new job and, as I didn't have a fridge in those days, took the bottle to the filling station and chilled it at the back of the fizzy drinks fridge. I did my shift, went home, picked her up on the bike, cooked her dinner, we drank the wine and had the single most disastrous romantic evening either of us ever had.

And when we got up the following morning, trying to avoid looking at each other, I went to the window, and saw that someone had nicked my XJ650, which I hadn't locked up as I had been too busy trying to be cool.

So the girl and I parted company, I reported the theft to the police,  I walked to work, and on arrival was fired for having alcohol on the premises the previous day.

I saw the XJ650 again 3 weeks later. It had been sprayed black, had the plate changed, and that was it. It was also in the possesion of a well known local sociopath. I wrote it off as a dead loss.
I was unemployed, heartbroken, single, skint and had no wheels.

Could be worse, right?

1 comment:

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