Tuesday, 6 September 2011


Sorry I've been away, but I've been out. Summer festivals and a new found passion for the unpowered two wheeler have been absorbing my time over the Summer, but as it's nearly September I thought I might as well get this baby finished.

And then I went out at the weekend and broke my wrist, so typing is a bit curtailed

Another problem I've struck is a digital one. You see, all the pictures I have used that are actually mine, as opposed to nicked off someone elses site, have been hard copy, but the next set were taken on a digital camera.
It was a Kodak jobby, 1 MP, held eight pics on its internal drive, and saved them in an obscure format which were saved onto floppy discs and read by a huge Apple  Powermac. The camera was the size of a late Harry Potter hardback and cost my employer an eye-watering £800.
Trouble is, I have absolutely no idea where the discs are, or, even if I did find them, where I could find a base unit that worked so I could read them.

Which is a bit of a shame, as I didn't just drive the next vehicle, I lived in it.

more when I can type porperly...

Saturday, 4 June 2011

The Desert Fox

The Bandit was replaced with a machine as far from the little Jap screamer  as it was possible to get – a 1978 BMW R100/7.

The Beemer had all it should have – the original tool kit, capacious Krauser panniers and stainless exhausts.

Rommel, my BMW R100/7

I bought the BMW because a job change had meant that my route to work was now 30 miles down the M4/M5 corridor.
Anyone who has ever done that journey will tell you that the hold ups in a car are a nightmare, but not on a motorbike.
For that 60 mile a day hack you don't need a little 400. What you need is something sure-footed, reliable and with the solidity of a Panzer.
The BMW cost me £1,000 from a bloke in Gloucestershire who dealt in them out of his garage. It remains the most expensive motorcycle I have ever bought.

I called it Rommel. I'm sorry about that, but it was those Commando comics of my youth calling again

Gott in Himmel!

It did everything I asked of it  – it would happily blat down the  motorway in all weathers.
But the 1970s brakes were a bit of a liabilty in the 21st century.

I found this when barrelling down the M4 when a woman in a Citroen Saxo randomly pulled out into my lane as we negotiated the Almondsbury interchange and then for no readily apparent reason stopped in the middle of the motorway.

I hauled on the single disc front brake and stomped on the back brake pedal, but twas to no avail.

I whacked into her at about 15 mph and the resulting impact left a hairline crack on my front mudguard.
It pretty much demolished her back bumper.

She didn’t know this, because she leaned out of her window and shouted “Sorry” before heading off into the middle distance, oblivious to the fact that she was leaving a trail of glass fibre chips in her wake. When she found out I hope she paid more attention to her mirrors for approaching motorcycles.

The next mishap for the Beemer was in the company car park, when I turned on the ignition one day and hit the starter button.

The bike started to do its traditional side to side lurch as the starter turned over its two enormous pistons. Suddenly large blue sparks, then flame, started licking from the underside of the petrol tank.

There followed frantic banging on doors as I searched for a fire extinguisher.

By the time I had found one, the flames were out.

What had happened was that the previous owner had fitted the tank badly, pushing the main battery to starter motor cable against the frame tubes. Slowly the insulation had been worn off and when I hit the button that day the bare wires had shorted out with the frame, causing the fire.

I replaced the wire with one for a Ford Escort but it never really started properly again - I expect the BMW was offended that I had not fitted special German wires - and I would stand winding the starter for a good few minutes before it would fire.
Even after I replaced the cable with a real BMW one it was jolly unhappy.
That Christmas marked the very last time I rode a motorcycle a long way in bad weather because I had to.
Me and the good lady had intended to drive to her parents in Hertfordshire, but on Christmas Eve the little Escorts brake pads gave out. So in sub-zero temperatures the BMW was loaded up with Christmas presents and hacked Londonwards in light sleet. The temperature kept dropping, and sitting defrosting at Membury Services on the way back to Gloucestershire remains one of lifes most painful experiences.

Still, Rommel kept plodding on, until the contact breaker points shorted out.
And so much for the genius of Bavarian design -  they just happen to be positioned in the stupidest place possible for a fragile electrical component – right behind the front wheel, just where it can collect all the road crud, and in such an awkward position that it was near impossible to set the points properly.

By now I was pretty much brassed off with it, and I was also feeling my age – you can shrug off those cold and miserable mornings in your twenties but doing it in your 40s is a lot less fun – especially when  another job change meant I now had a ride to work not along nice straight  motorways, but on some very slippery Somerset back roads instead – the chances of this overweight, under braked lumpy behemoth (and the BMW, guffaw guffaw) ending up in a rhyne one foggy morning were pretty good.

I swerved to avoid a Badger,  Ossifer..

The Beemer was sadly relegated to fair weather use only, and then it was propped up against a coal bunker for a while before I was offered a sizeable wedge for it and I off-loaded what had become something of a millstone.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Six months with a Dingbat

Next purchase was back to two wheels, and I bought a Japanese import Suzuki Bandit 400 Sling Shot from Morses Motorcycles in Weston-super-Mare.

Before the Bandit bloated out to 600 and 1200cc the 400 was the bike that really started the explosion in naked Jap bikes in the late 80s.
Real Motorcycle, ahoy!

Morses didn't seem to know what to do with it, and punted it out for £900, even though it had only done 10,000 miles and was shinier than a shiny thing. Because it was a Jap Import, rather than a UK spec one it was faster and had better goodies on it - mirrors and indicators and the like.

After years of cheap cars and the cool but stodgy rattlyness of my XS650, this bike re-kindled my love of Motorbiking.

The Bandit was an astoundingly fast machine for a 400, howled along at a hell of a rate of knots and the supension was so good and the engine was so smooth that you could barely feel the road – it was like riding one of those light cycles in Return of the Jedi.

I christened it the Dingbat and used it for six months, enjoying it immensely.

It was the first motorbike I took my kids - by then 9 and 11 - out on. The older one got off looking slighty shaken but grinning, and the younger one just shouted "Faster, dad! Go Faster!" in my ear as we rode along at a speed I had felt was entirely adequate.

The only trouble with it was the build quality – bolts would snap off if you showed them a spanner.

It was put to pretty unsuitable use commuting, howled into central Bristol to drop the Missus off and howled out again down to Clevedon on the coast, then flat out on the way home all along the motorway.
Not the gentlest of treatment for a little watch like 59bhp screamer.

Then I found I had to buy a new tyre after just a few thousand miles. It came as something of a shock, after years of chunky old tyres for chunky old customs to find that soft compound sports bike tyres  cost an absolute bloody fortune.

I also found that many dealers would only change tyres for sports bikes in pairs which was a fast route to bankruptcy  – so on the market it went and was sold to a kid from Reading, who I feel sure had loads of fun on it.

Not a very exciting tale, I know, but sometimes thats all there is. A very good motorcycle, that works very well, but you don't engage with it, and its gone.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Home again home again, jiggity jig

So there we were, battered old Ford Escort filled to the brim with icky diesel – this is not what you want to happen to a petrol engine, especially when you are around 1,000 miles from home – although I do believe that the result of a tank full of petrol in a diesel car can be even more dramatic.

There was much latin handwaving from the garage proprietor and proclamations of an innocent mistake.

However he didn’t let me off paying for the tankful, and mysteriously produced, as if from nowhere, a number of enough 25 litre drums and a length of hosepipe and swiftly siphoned the contents of the tank into them giving him with 50 litres of diesetrol.

Unfortunately he left about 10 litres of diesel in the bottom, and the Escort ran comfortably after that for about a mile and a half before the top speed dropped to about 20 miles an hour, the engine started to bang and splutter, and it looked like the grand tour was at an end.

I had visions of being trailered back to the UK, and managed to crawl back to the caravan park where I spent a couple of days with my head under the bonnet all the while being fed Peroni and Pizza trying to clean everything out, until the top speed made 40mph.

This was still not enough to get us home again, but a new set of spark plugs and some carburettor cleaner bought at a massive italian hypermarket – the place is a petrolhead’s paradise I tell you – sorted it.

With the Escort recovering its form we spent six days driving around the stunning villages on the shores of Lake Garda, then headed back to the UK, car stuffed in every available orifice with bottles of wine.

Lake Garda. Completely stunning.

We drove past Milan – which is like Birmingham with sunshine, and where they sell bottles of wine with pictures of Mussolini on them and eventually headed up into the Alps again on the Italian toll roads – which were much less expensive than I thought they would be.

The views and the atmosphere were something else. As the air got thinner the wounded Escort’s engine gasped and struggled until the top speed was down to 40 mph and the missus got a nose bleed,

After the climb up the Alps we made it to the Frejus Tunnel which is 15 miles long and the border between France and Italy. After a serious accident in the Mont Blanc tunnel a few years before some extremely strict safety measures had been introduced.
brace yerselves kids, we're going in

Cars had to travel at no more than 40mph, which was handy for us as it was all we could manage, and had to leave a gap of 150 metres between them and the driver in front.

We had two more stops to go.
The first was just north of Avignon where my battered appearance clearly marked me down as local – I got asked for directions twice. The site was deserted, as the French holiday season had finished.

Then we headed over the mountain roads of the Massif Central to a campsite where we met our first compatriots in a fortnight

After the friendly Luxemburgers and Italians and the polite French and Germans I now realise why the British have such a boorish reputation.
The place was packed with Brits on trips to Disneyland, and they were mostly awful. There they were in France, home of the finest food in Europe, apparently, and all they wanted was chips and beer.

They shouted at their children and their children shouted back, and they were only interested in Disneyland and complaining that the pool table didn't work, or exchanging tips on the best way to get 50kg of Golden Virginia rolling tobacco past customs.

One thing I did spot in small towns all across Europe was the number of war memorials.

These days it is quite common to hear from whiny lefty historians that the British are obsessed about the Second World War and how it is “time to move on”.

But it’s not just us, because all over northern Italy there are signposts pointing to German military war memorials to this Wehrmacht regiment or that SS battalion and at the same time dedicated to the 7th Armoured Division. The Italians sell Hitler wine and Mussolini memorabilia.

A cheeky little number, but I think you'll be amused by its presumption

The French are the same – every small town we passed through had its “Museum of the Resistance”, or at least a plaque reading: “On zis spot in 1943, the Maquis destroyed an important strategic German bicycle” or some such.

"Eh senor, don't tell Mr Churchill, but most of us are Spanish Communists"

Leaving Paris I finally succumbed and splashed on an autoroute toll for the run to Calais, stopping on the way at a French Macdonalds, because the kids were getting restive about the constant diet of fresh bread and great cheese and wanted something bland, and I wanted to see if you really could buy a beer in a MacDonalds – you can – this one sold 1664.

We chugged onto the ferry and spent some time being smelly in the first class lounge, just because we could, and then chugged off at the other side to be presented with customs – we got singled out by the officers who clearly figured that in such an old car we were running contraband booze and fags.

“Can you tell me where you have been sir?”


The look was disbelieving, but they checked the car and our documents and we were waved through, the customs officer shaking his head.

The final stretch, from Dover to the M25 was about as miserable a journey as you can have, dodging the asylum seekers who had climbed out of the backs of the lorries and were walking up the M20, and then into the ghastly traffic jams of south London, all I wanted to do was turn the Escort round and head back to civilisation, sharpish.

Sadly the trek pretty much finished off the Escort and within three months it had failed its MoT and been carted off on the back of a lowloader. Still, what a way to go.

In the footsteps of Hannibal

If you were going to do a grand tour of Europe with a family of four what vehicle would you choose? An Aston Martin? A Mercedes or Volvo estate? A big 4x4?

I bet you wouldn’t try it in a 13-year-old 1.3 litre three-door Ford Escort Popular with 170,000 miles on the clock.

I'd been without a vehicle beyond dear old Cassius the XS650 for a bit,  and had been using the new bird's Ford Fiesta Popular - 900cc's of raw Dagenham Power.

The Fiesta was a handy little thing, but she was offered The Escort cheaply – £400 from a relative – so she flogged the Fiesta for £25, whence it became a festival run-around, was the abode of a young homeless couple on a patch of waste ground, and ended its days dramatically being used in a ram-raid,which was a suitable end for a vehicle of such impeccable Norf Laaadon origins.

The Escort was a beltingly good little car and provided had provided sterling service for three years, pottering back and forth to work with little maintenance.

When I was offered the chance to try out a Eurocamps holiday free of charge a grand tour was planned – England to Italy and back, and after a few fruitless attempts to borrow a bigger car the Escort was pressed into service.

The first stop was to be Luxembourg. Being a cheapskate, I wasn’t going to use the French toll roads, so we chugged though Northern France, across the First World War battlefields through Amiens, across the Somme, and down to Sedan, all of which the little Escort took in its stride – which is more than I can say for the cramped occupants.

We discovered that the French were not too keen on letting us find Belgium, because all the road signs only pointed to French towns, not Belgian ones, and the French roads were appalling.

Over the border into Belgium and through the Ardennes forest, the long sweeping roads through the forests were a godsend after the stop-start of the French villages, we were through Belgium and into Luxembourg in a few hours, where the roads were even better, and the welcome fulsome – and they had the cheapest petrol in Europe.

what the Ardennes looks like

What every English schoolboy since 1945 thinks the Ardennes looks like

An early start saw us heading for Germany and across the border at  Trier, stopping at a German site near Stutgart with a high speed rail line down one side.
We made the astonishing discovery that Germany closes on Saturday lunchtimes for the weekend, which rather curtailed our food intake, though not the beer intake as the campsite staff had kindly stocked the fridge so it was beer, ham, bread rolls and cheese for tea.

So far the Escort’s performance was faultless. On the following day we had to make it to Italy, on the same day as England were playing Germany in Munich at football, which resulted in some fairly good-natured barracking from minibuses full of German football fans. And my word, the Germans drive fast – why on earth they don’t have more accidents defeats me.

We headed for Austria, and the sight of the Alps approaching 70 miles away was both exhilarating and scary – would the car make it?

We had to buy an Austrian toll road pass to use their motorways and in those pre-Euro days, I didn’t want to buy any Schillings, so we got one in Germany and headed over the Alps, very slowly, following a procession of tractors.It has subsequently struck me as odd that the main road from Innsbruck to Munich is little more than a British b-road, and that farmers are the same the world over - Its going to take more than a horde of tourists to keep them from taking a trip to the bier-keller in a Massey Fergüsön

I didn’t like Austria – there was something about the place I couldn’t put my finger on – it was just too clean.
We stopped briefly at a spotless motorway services if only to get the full value from out toll pass by having a slash, and then headed over the Brenner Pass which is a quite incredible drive and one I wouldn’t have missed for the world.

Then three days after leaving England, we were in Italy – and I loved it from the moment I arrived.

It was endearingly tatty and you can forget everything you have heard about Italian drivers – they were excellent – they kept their distance, and while everyone drove like Senna, they all seemed to know what they were doing. And you can buy fresh bread, gorgonzola, parmesan, olive oil and red wine in the motorway services.

After all that driving, when we got to Lake Garda, where the German visitors were in a very reserved mood, but the English tour guides ecstatic – England had beaten Germany 5-1.

I figured we all needed a bit of a rest – the Escort most of all, so we sat around for two days before venturing out. The Carabinieri traffic police were a bit disturbing – I do think that a submachine gun over the shoulder is far more likely to make me behave than a speed camera – and the presence of scantily-clad ladies touting for business in laybys was most entertaining.

"Dad, why are those ladies hitchiking in their underwear?"

It when we went to fill up with fuel that what could have been a disastrous event occurred.

The ancient Italian who ran the filling station stuck the nozzle in while I visited the loo and when I came out I found the tank had been filled.

With diesel.

Next week: the voyage home.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Fat Cat

A sign on the door of my favourite motorcycle shop, Dog Motorcycles which is a proper old fashioned bike shop, with spares hanging on the walls in yellowing plastic bags, cheap helmets, a selection of old jap fours and scooters and a chopper on the workbench for at least the last three years.
Long may it continue.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

oh bother

It seems that blogger may have lost my last post, and has yet to restore the bugger.

This is a trifle irritating, but forewarned being forearmed etc, I've just copied all 41,000 words into a word doc for posterity - only 5000 words more and I'll have equalled Farenheit 451, I believe.

Anyway, in the interim while the gallant chaps at Google try to get the missing post up, here is some music.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

A man of means by no means, King of the road.

Graduating from University in 1999 I was of course convinced that it would be a matter of weeks before one of the national newspapers beat a path to my door, or Hollywood would come calling.
However the phone stubbornly refused to ring. Mostly cos one of our housemates was spending his evening ramping up a phone bill the size of the national debt calling sex line routed through Tuvalu, we later discovered.

But with nothing doing after three years of arsing about, I took a job delivering toilet rolls and cleaning fluids for a very strange outfit in Newport. I was pulling a fiver an hour driving a big Merc panel van around south Wales and Bristol. My colleagues were all members of a Charismatic Christian Church. Nothing wrong with that, and they were terribly sweet. But the company was owned by one of their elders and they had to give one-third of their wages back to him, which he passed over to the church.
Still, they seemed happy enough with this arrangement, the church looked out for them in hard times so who am I to judge...
Though deciding to leave would mean you were ostracised by your family and friends and you lost your job. The Merc was alright though - neat bit of kit, did the business, reliable as hell. Sorry, heck.

We plough the roads and scatter, recycled bog roll through the land...

It was while out on my rounds in Bristol that I happened to do a delivery to a shop opposite the house of a chap who had been a very dear chum, but who I hadn't seen for ten years. And as I pulled up he emerged from underneath a Bedford Rascal he was fixing.
Best mechanic I've ever met, by the way. Has a care and an eye for detail that makes me envious.
And it turned out that he had a room spare for a short period, and that we had to get out of our student digs. Very serendipitous. I bought the local paper and there was a stack of jobs I could do, all better paid than in South Wales. 
A deal was struck. We could move in for eight weeks while we (I and my new beloved)  got ourselves straight.
So we did. I stashed Cassius my XS650 under a tarpaulin, we loaded the good lady's Ford Escort with the meagre belongings I'd managed to amass in the previous two years and we moved.
24 hours after moving I got my first job, It was a Sunday job driving a seven and a half tonne lorry a quarter of a mile from a warehouse to an IKEA full of flatpack furniture, unloading it, driving back to the warehouse and doing the same for eight hours. Because it was a Sunday I got 12 quid an hour. And I found a fag packet full of home-grown in the cab, which I obviously handed into the police...
Life looked good.
And the following day I took a job as a motorcycle despatch rider, seduced by the idea that I would be a knight of the road, and better yet I would get to ride around on someone else's bike.
In reality the job was an absolute sod. I learned very fast that riding a bike for a living soon took the edge off the experience.
The bikes had been pretty good, but a multitude of riders had made them a tad sloppy.
They had three ex-police Honda Pan-Europeans _ the one that later got taken off the road for being a deathtrap, and a couple of K100 BMWs one RS and one RT.
The Pans were good machines, and the companies failure to take the yellow police flashes off did get people to move out of your way sharpish. Best time on that was Bristol City Centre to Parliament Square , London - 119 miles - in 80 minutes, in the rush hour.

nee-naw nee-naw

The K100s were alright, and I liked the RS on short hauls, but the crouched riding position  was damned uncomfortable on long haul and the riding position was a nightmare in traffic.
The biggest problem was the working conditions. You got minimum wage and I soon found I was working enormously long days for next to nothing.
Part of the deal was that the working day was supposed to be 8am - 4pm - and they docked an hours wage for the most trivial of misdemeanours.
Ze motoradd make wrists hurt,  you zay?

And if a job came in it had to be done - and no matter how long it took you to do it if it came in before 4pm. but even if you worked many more hours there was no overtime. You got eight hours pay, and that was that. Which was how the owners had brand new Ducati 996's and top of the range BMW sports coupes.
The final straw for me came on week four when I found they had docked five hours from my wages, - even though I had been working unpaid for more than two hours a night.
The day I got my short wage packet, at 3.56pm they gave me a package and told me it had to be in Essex that night - a 400 mile round trip...

I did the job - and penned a letter that night.

"Dear Sirs, I regret to inform you that I am afraid your company does not reach the exacting standard I expect of an employer, and it is with regret that I am going to have to let you go...."

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Zero-Budget cafe racer

Inspired by the good folk at www.returnofthecaferacers.com  I thought I'd have a crack at zero budget building.

Bought a little RS100 for one of my kids about three years ago, but its been sat at the back of the shed ever since. Had a rotten seat and a worn out kickstarter gear, and I managed to pick up a very cheap GS125 in the meantime for junior.
His younger brother won't be seen dead on something 30 years old, the ungrateful little goit.

So I've dragged it out, slapped a pair of ace bars I had in the shed on it, used the pillion pad off a Jap sports bike I found in the road a while back as a seat, next step is to fabricate a seat hump from a three quid bit of alloy sheet I bought at a classic bike show. I'm thinking maybe a little mesh fly screen and a chequered flag type graphic.

Total cost so far, including buying the bike, 70 quid...

My little Ring-a-ding Yamaha RS100 cafe racer. yes, the dark patch is where I poured gearbox oil in without re fitting the drain plug

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

A milestone

5,000 hits? good lord. Who ARE you people?
OK, so I can understand the Ducatisti being interested in the Italia Auto day, or the general interest in the 59 club pics.

But who are the Dutch and the Portuguese who keep visiting the picture of my GS550 chop?
Or the Colorado, USA posse who are riveted by my picture of a Honda Express moped...

 Feel free to introduce yourselves. Should be all done by July.
There's another decade or so to go and if I don't post quite so regularly, I do apologise, but the sun is out and there's riding to be done and festivals to attend.

All the best

Ixion's Disciple

Monday, 25 April 2011

Bikes wanted, cash waiting

 In 1997 I decided to make brief second foray into the second hand motorcycle business.

I'd just signed on for a three year humanities degree at the dear old alma mater, The University of Glamorgan, or as it was known in those days "degrees 'r' us".
These days I believe it to be quite a good university. Back then it was full of overly muscled sports sciences students, stoners studying environmentalism and a fair proportion of people who either couldn't get in anywhere else, or were attracted by the honest Welshness (and cheapness) of the place.
And for what I went to study, which was writing and drama, it was staffed by some remarkable talents.
With no qualifications other than four dodgy GCE's and an Grade E in A-Level technical drawing, oh, and an RTITB diploma as a semi-skilled motor mechanic, I went in as a mature student, got a full grant, and a full student loan. But it wasn't going to be easy - as a postie I'd been making well over a thousand a month, and I was going part-time, so that was going to be halved and I still had a family to support.
So I used my student loan to start a short lived second-hand motorcycle business, working on the principle that even if I only made a tiny profit, the money would last longer if tied up in aluminium and steel.
So I took out a small ad, saying I wanted to buy a motorcycle. Any motorcycle.
By the end of the week I had spent £1,000 and had amassed a Honda CB500-4 chopper from a kid in Builth Wells, A Suzuki GS400, Three quarters of a CB550, A Kawasaki KE100 trail bike from a bloke in Newport and a Benelli 250-2C.
The GS was sold in days, but the rest didn't go quite so smoothly.
The CB500 was kind of funky, and I liked it a lot, so didn't mind hanging on to it for a bit.
My CB500 chop. These days it would be called a rat. I thought it looked very cool

I broke the CB550-4, selling enough parts to make my money back, and still having the frame and forks to off-load. I never did sell those bits though, and they went into the crusher with the Peugeot when the council cleared my lock-up.

The KE100 was a lovely little bike, and far too attractive to leave on the street. The teenagers round my way would have had it away in a trice.
The Kawasaki KE100. As a motorcycling parent it is compulsory to keep photographs of your children looking silly in order to embarrass them later in life

So I stuck it in the basement, where mice chewed a hole in the two-stroke oil tank. I fixed it with a hot knife and some gaffa, sold it for a tidy profit to a kid three streets down, and as I expected he only had it for a fortnight before it got stolen.

The Benelli was a mystery. The bike was pretty much immaculate, and the bloke who sold it to me started it up, and it ran fine, so I gave him £200 for it.

Looked great, wouldn't run worth a damn.

But I could never get it to run for more than a  mile before it would cough to a halt and refuse to go again. But if you left it for a few hours, it would start up again for a mile and die again. I never got to grips with it, but still managed to sell it for £350, despite warning the buyer about this baffling fault. As far as I know he never worked out what was wrong with it, and in the end it got chucked in a skip...

And while all this was going on my whole world was turned upside down, the response to the demand: "It's him or me." turned out to be "him", and I went from my family home to a single bedroom in student digs.

I flogged the chopper for a healthy profit and good old Cassius the XS650 took me to and from work, and back "home" at weekends to see the kids.

And for a few years automotive nonsense took a back seat while my time was taken up with studying, writing, working, looking after the sprogs at weekends, acting,  falling in love and generally arsing about with drama students and musicians. Despite everything else, I had a ball...

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Harbinger's of Spring: Massed Italians hit the streets

Some pictures from Italia Moto 2011, Bristol, where we were all deafened by the clatter of exposed clutches. I thought something had fallen off mine, to be honest.

some of the slower, yellow ones
lovely little thing
what mine should look like
Diavel. Different... surprisingly compact - I was expecting something more V-Max-y

Fast red ones. Next to the bins.
Love the patina on this Laverda
Oh look. a Harley Davidson
And one from the Montgomery Ward catalogue of 1966. 3200 miles on the clock. made by Benelli and sold by mail order.
its a block of flats. Imposing, or what
What this needs is Marrianne Faithful or Bridget Bardot in it. Or both of them.
bit of a jaw dropper
thats what I should have done with my 126...
Gorgeous little Parilia
equally gorgeous 250 Desmo. Not really a desmo, thogh
most photographed bike of the day...
nicely done streetfighter job
I really liked this one

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Zupełnie okropny *

I can only plead blind stupidity when it came to the purchase of a Polish-built Fiat 126.

The building of trikes was becoming increasingly popular at the time and many of them were built by cutting a VW Beetle in half and welding the front of a motorbike onto its back end.

I happened to have the frame and front end off a Honda CB550 knocking about and was contemplating doing the same thing.

But I was going to be different –  I thought that if I got a rear-engined Fiat 126 and attacked it with an angle grinder I could do the same, and build a small, cheap, lightweight trike.

As these things happen, a couple down the road had a 126 for sale for £250 with 12 months tax and test, and with my Peugeot misbehaving I bought the Fiat and decided to use it as it was for a bit.

Now Fiat 126's, in case you didn't know are tiny little things with air-cooled twin cylinder engines. Like VWs they have a fan. 

On its first journey, the alternator seized up after ten miles and as the alternator shaft also powered the air-cooling fan the seizure caused that to disintegrate too.
gosh, eh? just gosh

It came home on the back of a recovery truck and I bought another alternator and fan assembly from a breakers yard.

Fitting it was a pain, and in the process I found that the vibrations from the engine had loosened the cylinder head nuts – something that I would have thought was impossible.

I clearly hadn’t done a very good job of fitting the new fan, because ten miles down the road the new assembly fell apart as well.

Another fan was fitted and then the cable operated window winders snapped too.

Then a tyre exploded. I'd had the bloody thing for three months and had barely covered 100 miles in it. In fact, it had travelled further on breakdown trucks that I'd actually driven it. It never completed a journey of more than 5 miles without breaking something or other.

After a while I gave up – all ideas of turning the thing into a trike were abandoned as it clearly was hellishly unreliable. It sat outside my house for a few months, moss growing on the window frames and the interior going mouldy cos I had the driver's window inexpertly wedged shut with a clothes peg. I left the thing unlocked but not even Pontypridd's most desperate car thieves wanted it.
Eventually I sold it for £25 and said good riddance to bad rubbish.

What a nasty little pile of Wombats' do's

* Completely terrible

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

The entente cordiale gets a little diluted

With the Citroen BX on the way to the scrapyard a replacement was needed.
The chosen vehicle, also French, was less of a gem however. I wanted an estate, and I wanted a diesel, for reasons of economy.
I found, on Cardiff’s Broadway which was then the site of a dozen dodgy back street car dealers, a Peugeot 305 diesel estate.

Hardly earth shatteringly good-looking. Worthy, perhaps, but not as solid as it looks
It looked sound and ran well, if a bit noisily. I paid £1,000 for it, and on investigating the MoT certificate I discovered that the Peugeot had miraculously done almost 50,000 miles backwards since it was issued. The mileometer said it had done 107,000. The MoT said 153,000.

I did consider taking it up with the dealership, but I figured that if you buy a car for £1,000 from a back street dealer, you deserve all you get.

It went well enough, but had a number of niggling little faults.
None of the trim fitted properly. The plastic was nasty and brittle. The heater burst on holiday, and I bypassed it by fitting a length of hose between the two intakes, but after that it ran very hot indeed. And it was icy cold in the winter.

Eventually the head gasket between the two centre cylinders blew and although no water got past the break I found that in order to start it, it took a good five minutes, or so it seemed, of winding the starter before the thing would burst into smoky life.

Less than a year after buying it I got fed up with it, parked it in a lock up garage and left it there to fester. Eventually, while legging it from a busted relationship and a valley that had lost all of its once Brigadoon -like charm I handed the keys to the garage back to the council and left them to deal with it.

By the way I did buy a towbar for the Peugeot but the car broke before I got the chance to fit it. So if anyone needs a tow bar for a Peugeot 305….

no, you get to be the worlds second oldest car manfacturer thanks to mahoosive French government susidies...

Friday, 25 March 2011

Bad to the Bone

I mentioned before that I'd sold the Honda 400/4 and the CM125 and used the money to buy the single most disastrous vehicle I ever bought.
I'm gonna keep this one brief, as I didn't get to drive it, much.
With the thousand quid I bought my partner a red Triumph Spitfire.
It came from a young poshish bloke in Port Talbot, and while it looked a little battered the soft top was sound, everything worked, or seemed to at least, and it had a years MOT (For all five of my foreign readers, thats a certificate of roadworthiness. Brit cars need one ever year.).
We both loved it, it was rorty, and classy, and tarty, made a racket, and theres nothing like getting the top down on an empty valleys road, with the sun streaming through the trees, and giving that accelerator pedal a good hard boot, feeling the back end fishtail a bit, ragging it into a couple of bends and flooring it again out of them.
ok, so imagine this a year older, rustier, tattier and sagging in the middle

Not a lot of the panels fitted, and everything creaked a bit. Things broke, but on a 20 year old Spitfire, what do you expect? We bought our own wheel clamp to stop the scrotes from having it away. Parts were easy to come by, and it had a nice 1500 engine, with two gulping carbs sucking in house bricks, pheasants and small children through minimal air filtering. Only did about 25 to the gallon, but fuck it, eh?

I didn't get to drive it much, but when I did, it stirred the blood.
But when winter came, a decidedly loose Spitfire with tolerances in cubits, an ill-fitting soft top and a minimalist heater was not what you needed on roads that where several inches deep in snow a good part of the time.
And then we'd had it a year, and took it for an MOT, and found that thing was a bit lethal. Chassis, body, steering components etc, were pretty much shot away.  There was no way on earth it had got through an MOT a year before - the level of rot implied it hadn't been roadworthy for years, and we could only assume Junior had bought the certificate down the pub.

So it was sold, for a few hundred pounds, to a young lady I had just met on the university course I was enrolled in, though she did get sight of the fail certificate first.
And the poor lass ended up having to spend more than two grand putting it right. Something I do still feel guilty about, but amazingly enough, she still talks to me despite this.
(I would point out, K m'dear, if you are reading this, that I don't feel guilty enough to give your money back.)

And that was my one brush with a British sportscar. As a motorcar it was great. I often consider getting another, just for devilment. I'm thinking of an MG Midget this time.

But let me give you one piece of advice. If your relationship is a bit rocky, and you are spending a lot of time at the typewriter, and your partner is the sort of person who wears short skirts and works later than they really have to, do not buy her a red soft top sportscar that is rotting from the inside out.
For some reason such a vehicle will make her enormously attractive to other men.  Especially her gin-soaked aging lothario of a boss.

You'll be lucky if your relationship lasts longer than the track-rod ends....

Oh lordy. You can hire them out for weekends...

Classic Car Holiday Hire

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Yond' Cassius has a lean and hungry look....

 "Let me have men about me that are fat;
Sleek-headed men and such as sleep o' nights;
Yond' Cassius has a lean and hungry look;
He thinks too much: such men are dangerous." 
Julius Caesar: Act 1, scene ii.

I found the Yamaha XS650 Special through a small ad in my local Free Ads and drove down to the Mumbles near Swansea late one October evening in 1995 to see it.

The owner was a very hairy young man living in  holiday chalet on a run down holiday camp, signing on for the winter with a selection of other hairy young men and and the sort of girls who had lots of beads and tattoos and not enough on, who I would have found very attractive in my youth but as I was at the sensible age of 34 they didn't even turn my head, oh dear me no...

The air of the chalet had an interesting herbal smell about it.
The bleary-eyed owner of the XS650 took me outside to show it to me.
It was a little the worse for surviving life on the South Wales coast, and had been fitted with a ghastly set of T-bar handlebars, but other than that it was standard – something of a rarity in itself as most of these machines had been customised in one way or another, and it was a European one, which meant it wasn't all bunged up with the ridiculous emissions regs nonsense the Yanks had to deal with.

It was supposed to come with spare set of forks and a pair of disc brakes and to my later regret I never be bothered to go and pick these bits up.

Of course I had decided the bike was mine before I even arrived and it took little in the way of haggling – I got him to knock £100 off the £950 asking price – before I straddled the XS and made off on it.
It is one of the most expensive motorcycles I have ever owned.

"I would not wish
Any companion in the world but you."

Riding the bike with its T-bars was, it has to be said, an experience. They made it feel as if you were riding on marbles set in ice. I ditched them quickly in favour of a set of flat dragster bars I had lurking in the back of the shed, giving it a lovely cobby look. The was way before XS650s were hip, and Bratstyle was but a glimmer in a Tokyo hoodlums eye.

There was plenty wrong with the bike.

The front brake master cylinder leaked fluid and was more than a little spongy so it was ditched in favour of a unit from a Kawasaki GPz550.

The back brake had seized solid in the off position and it took some hefty whacks with old copper/hide mallet to get it to work properly.

The side stand spring was missing, but a dead washing machine released a suitable alternative.

(old washing machines are great sources of bits for bodging. They're full of springs, bits of stainless, good quality fasteners,miles of strong wire, metal sheets, and the motors can make handy polishing wheels.)

The seat had so many holes in it, it looked like a doily, but a rummage in the bargain bin at a back street dealership uncovered a genuine Yamaha replacement cover.

I also fitted the greatest boon to motorcycling since the advent of electric lighting – the Scottoiler.

For the unititiated, let me explain.
There's this little plastic bottle you fill with oil. Using the vacuum pressure from the carburettor the Scottoiler builds up pressure in the bottle, which forces drips of oil slowly onto your drive chain – the faster you go, the more oil it drips. It’s genius – it reduces the number of times you have to adjust the chain and makes them last about six times as long – and as a Scottoiler costs about the same as a chain and sprockets, it does not take long before it pays for itself. I love it. Its such a genius bit of tech, but so simple.

The exhaust system had been – ahem – modified by the expedient of drilling holes in the end of it and had got very rusty in the sea air, so I whipped it off and bolted on a set of straight-through drag pipes which made it sound like a racing dumper truck. This was a bit anti-social, seeing as I set off for work in those days at six am, so I bunged on a pair of silencers from a Harley Davidson which I had picked up on my travels.

However the bike didn’t run very well, and at over 60 mph and it would misfire badly.

I changed lots of electrical bits – the coils, condensors – sourced from a Volvo – plug leads, points etc, before finding that it wasn’t an electrical problem at all, but that there were microscopic holes in the carburettor diaphragms. The bike having been out of production for many years they were obviously unobtainable from Yamaha, but there is a sizeable industry in aftermarket bits for the XS650 and a company called NRP in Manchester sold me some.

The bike got through cables for the throttle, speedometer and clutch at a rate of knots and left me stranded many times.

On one occasion I managed an emergency bodge by buying a bicycle brake cable, tying it to the throttle linkage and wrapping the other end round my wrist which I then had to wave in the air if I wanted to go faster. I did try using my teeth, but it hurt.

The gear shift shaft was worn out so I glued the lever back on with Araldite as a temporary measure -  that stood for nearly six years - before I found an engineering solution to the problem , and  drilled a hole through it and whacked a 6mm bolt through the hole.

Bits fell off often, including one of the side panels. This was irritating, as like many Japanese motorcycles, this one was made of that curious material “unobtanium”. I could not find another panel for years. After this virtually every component which might fall off was fastened in place with ratchet cable ties.

The fuse box fell apart and had to be replaced with a cheap auto spares shop alternative and I never found a mirror that would stop vibrating long enough for me to see what was happening behind me.

The drag pipes stated to look pretty grotty and so the Harley silencers, which weighed a ton,  were ditched in favour of two into one system bought from a bloke in Frome – he also supplied a pair of replacement side panels with curious, demonic-looking runes painted on the inside – I never painted them out – just in case.

Also rotted was the seat base which I repaired with glass fibre and I had to change the brake pipes for braided stainless steel items, just so the dreadful stainless dinner plate of a front disc would actually haul me to a stop – the forks and discs I hadn’t picked up would have come in handy as they included a pair of racing cast iron discs.

The shock absobers were replaced with something a bit less bouncy and the front mudguard with one from a BSA Thunderbolt.

The bike broke down in a number of irritating ways about ten times a year.

So, if it’s unreliable, why is it still in my garage?

"Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them unto thy soul with hoops of steel."

Because it’s such a fucking cool motorcycle.

It has soul, looks mean, all shiny and slender and black, sounds cool, and there’s nothing like watching heads turn as you roll back the throttle and go brarrrrrpppp down a high street, all the while trying not to glance at your reflection in shop windows.
And it makes you feel dangerous, not in an erzatz 21st century buy-it-off-the-shelf way, but like riding a motorcycle used to make you feel.
Sworn to fun, loyal to none, the sort of motorcycle you should only ride if you own a black leather jacket, covered in scuffs and scars.
Like you've come out of a time warp from the 70s with nothing more than twenty Players number 6, a bottle of Woodpecker and a pocket full of dexedrine, and you're looking for a teenager to deflower, and you're  mad, bad and dangerous to know....

Cassius, as I call the him, is 33 years old, and he still has a "Lean and Hungry Look".  He needs a rebore, and the frame could do with a repaint. But for five hundred quid and a few weeks work, he'd be right as rain. I'd quite like to trim the back mudguard, cut the seat down a bit, fit a prettier zorst. If money was no object I'd bore him out to 840 and slap on a pair of slide Mikuni carbs. About once a week I go on ebay and search for random bits that would make him prettier.

We've been through thick and extremely thin together. He's taken me places you wouldn't credit, appeared on stage, and been my friend and boon companion for nearly half of his life and a third of mine. I could no more sell him than sell a kidney. I’ll probably be buried with him.

"A friend should bear his friend's infirmities."- Cassius, Julius Caesar 4.3.85