2 Feb 2013

Bikes - First Ride of the Year. Time to scare the crap out of myself again

The sun is out and the temperature above 0°C.  Matt Hubbard dusts the cobwebs from his Triumph Street Triple and takes it for a spin - eventually

I only passed my motorcycle test when I was 33, nine years ago.  We'd moved from Cheshire to West Berkshire for a job, based in Reading.  The house was 15 miles from Reading and the office had no parking.

And I'm allergic to public transport.

As a lifelong car lover and impervious to the delights of bikes I'd never felt the need to get cold and wet on a motorcycle.  But, necessity being the mother of invention, I had to get to work via personal, rather public, transport - and it had to have a petrol engine.  So I passed my test, bought a Yamaha Fazer and commuted to work every single day of the year for four years.

It took about 5 minutes to realise that motorcycles can do something no car could ever do - take you so close to the edge of the line where fear and thrills meet danger and certain death - that I was hooked.  The adrenalin rush from riding a bike is like nothing else I'd ever experienced.

A door had been opened.  I stepped through, and I'll never walk back to a world without a bike in it.  Where driving a car requires a modicum of talent all one does is essentially make it go forwards with your feet and make it turn one way or the other with your hands - essentially a 2D experience.  Riding a bike is 3D.  You don't turn the bike with your hands.  You use your whole body.  You stop a wheelie by leaning forwards.  You stop an endo during heavy braking by leaning backwards.  You drop your chin onto the tank to reduce wind resistance - to go faster.  You aid fast-turning by shifting your body down towards the road - at stupid speeds.

I recently wrote that the Jaguar XFR is overpowered.  That it is so powerful and fast the back end can take on a life of it's own, and that the traction control steps in to save you from a trip into the nearest hedge.  The XFR has 503bhp and weighs 1890kg.  That's 266bhp per tonne.

My Triumph Street Triple, on the other hand, has 105bhp and weighs 189kg.  That's 555bhp per tonne, and it has no traction control.  My old Yamaha R1 had 150bhp and weighed 175kg - 857bhp per tonne.  I crashed and wrote off the R1.

So the Street Triple has a power to weight ratio nearly double that of the XFR, and it only has two contact patches, each the size of a credit card.  Bikes have to be taken very seriously.

Over the past few years I've worked from home so biking has taken on more of a leisure, than commuting, role.  But if I don't get my fix I start to fall into a stupor.  Cars can only provide so much thrill.  The insulation from the elements, the ease to drive fast, the get out of jail free card of traction control and ABS.

Which makes winter hell.  This morning my wife returned from a ride on her horse and told me they galloped for the first time in months (the ground is so soggy it hasn't been conducive to any more than a canter) and that she was still buzzing.  I looked out of the window and saw receding flood waters and sunlight.

"Bike," I thought.  I pulled the cover off the Triumph and tried to fire it up.  The battery was dead flat.  I jump started it from the Golf and revved the engine.  It sounded good.  Ten minutes later (preparation for a bike ride is a faff) I was off.

An hour, and sixty miles, later I was back - exhilarated.  I'd ridden my favourite routes - the twistiest A and B roads Hampshire has to offer, including a section from Whitchurch to Kingsclere that is one of the best, and quietest, roads in the country.

My neck was sore from the high speed buffeting.  My ankles were sore from the cramped position.  My wrists were sore from holding my upper body weight in the slow stuff.  My backside ached from sitting on the narrow seat.

I didn't notice any of this until the moment I got back home and stepped off the bike.  Being on the bike is to remove all of life's troubles and worries, the aches and pains of being the wrong side of 40.  Adrenalin masks all ills.

Last year was the wettest in history, which was awful for us bikers.  Riding in the rain is not fun.  This year I have a 1200 mile round trip to Scotland, with the pair of characters in the photo below - my brother Colin, and his mate Robin.  Both hardcore bikers.

This spring I have to ride more.  I'm rusty and need to ride to get 'bike fit'.  I'll report back from time to time.  And expect Speedmonkey to encompass more two wheeled adventures as the weather improves.

If you would like to write about your biking experiences, or put together a "Living with" about your bike, for Speedmonkey, please get in touch.