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.