23 Dec 2016

Take The Trip, Buy The Car, Ride The Bike

Someone recently said to me on Twitter that he'd love to take his Alfa Romeo on a trip to Italy. I said he should and he said it would need to be more mechanically sound than it currently is and that he'd probably never do it.

This reminded me of how I once was when turning dreams into reality. I didn't because I was too scared.

Another conversation, this time with the lady who looks after my dog when I'm away. I bumped into her recently and she said something that sounded funny. She said that when she knows she has to go on a long trip she worries about it beforehand but that when she actually goes on the trip it turns out fine. I thought back to the me of a few years ago and realised that I used to do exactly the same.

I used to travel a lot for work - sometimes 800 miles a week - and before those long journeys I'd fret for days. Then, when I hit the motorway it was absolutely fine. When it came to non-necessary trips, i.e. trips to places I might want to go, this worrying prevented me from going. However if someone else organised and led the trip I did go.

I don't know why. I don't even mind travelling alone. In fact I prefer it. I like my own company and driving time is thinking time which, in my mind, is a good thing. I suppose I just had a fear of the unknown and of taking risks.

What I do know is that I was putting barriers in the way of things I wanted to do.

And I did have dreams and desires. I had trips I wanted to do and I had vehicles I wanted to buy. Scratch that - needed to buy.

I had always wanted to go to Le Mans to watch the 24 hour race, to the Isle of Man for the TT and ride the circuit, to the Nurburgring to drive round the track, to America to drive from coast to coast and to drive from the top to the bottom of the UK. The car I always wanted was a Porsche 911. The bike I always wanted was a Yamaha R1.
Dream bike. My 2000 Yamaha R1 before I crashed it

That was then and this is now. Now I have lost my fear of exploration and of the unknown. I've done all but one of the above trips and I've owned a 911 and an R1. But it has cost me.

The 911 cost the most. Good lord it cost. It was a £10k 1998 Carrera 2. It was the worst spec - tiptronic, convertible - but it was dirt cheap and it had a reconditioned engine fitted. The seller was private but he was selling via Brookspeed Porsche, one of the most respected independent Porsche garages in the south.

I thought I had a bargain and I'd scratched my 911 itch. I'd desperately wanted one for at least 25 years but had never been able to justify one practically or afford one financially.

After I bought it I spent another £600 fitting a decent stereo unit and another £150 fixing the recalcitrant alternator. I took it on a good few trips and told everyone how brilliant it was but in reality it gave me cramp in my right leg and the interior creaked like buggery. It didn't handle any better or go any faster than my current car - a BMW 330i M Sport.

But it was a 911 and it was mine and that was what I always wanted. I was happy.

Then I wasn't happy. At 70mph a chunk of cylinder bore lining came adrift and the engine smashed itself to smithereens. After 6 weeks of ownership I sold it for £5k.

Then there was the Yamaha R1. I didn't just want an R1 - I needed one. I had to have one like I have to breathe air. In my late 30s I finally bought one and it was an absolute beauty. It was a 2000 model in red, white and black. It produced 150bhp and weighed 150kg. It went like a rocket and had no traction control or ABS. I went faster on that R1 than I've ever been on or in any other vehicle - and it still had more to give.

But it didn't half give me leg ache, wrist ache and neck ache. And it was far too much bike for me. I'm a skilled rider in city traffic and cutting a line on country roads but the R1's untamed 1,000bhp per tonne was just too much. Nonetheless I stuck with it.

Then after only three months of ownership I killed it in the most embarrassing way possible. I had taken it to my son's primary school's autumn fayre. After the fayre I turned right out of the school, gave it slightly too much throttle and fishtailed twenty yards before high siding. The bike and I slid 50 yards down the road, absolutely destroying the R1's right hand side and my ego.

I actually got two things out of that. The full value from the insurers and the knowledge that I'd owned the best, most fantastic bike I could imagine.
Dream car. My 1998 Porsche 911 Carrera before the engine exploded

After the experiences with the 911 and the R1 I'm now comfortable with every purchase I make. I don't have to buy something for the sake of it because I've already done that.

As for the trips, well they came about in different ways. The first was the trip to the TT in 2009. The only reason I went was that it was organised by someone else and a big group was going. Someone else did the organisation and booking and I just rode along. It was a fabulous week and made me realise it is possible to take long trips and just enjoy them for the sake of it rather than racing to a destination as fast as possible - something I am wont to do.

Then, in 2010, I decided on impulse to go to the Nurburgring to scratch that itch. I'd always wanted to go but the distance, fact it was in a foreign land and total lack of understanding I had of the place had stopped me. Buoyed by the fact my mate Scottie would be coming with me we booked a ferry and set off after work on a Friday and drove through the night.

We arrived at Nurburg at 5am and slept for two hours in the car then found the entrance to the track and had an unbelievably brilliant time. It was a huge eye opener for me. I could do the things I wanted to do. I didn't need to worry. The video below is of us getting stuck behind a BMW on the Karussell.

So Scottie and I went to Le Mans in 2012 and when I got home I created Speedmonkey. In 2013 my brother organised a trip to Scotland on motorcycles. We did 1,400 miles in 4 days. Earlier this year I drove from Miami to San Fransisco with my son in a convertible Mustang. They were the best two weeks of my life.

I often take road trips now and never fret about them beforehand. I do things I would never have done beforehand because my mindset is much more JFDI than 'can't'.

Next summer I'll be taking a huge tour of Europe and in just a few days time I'll undertake the last of my bucket list of trips to take and cars to buy. I'll be driving from John O'Groats to Lands End in one day.

If I can do it so can you. Go on, take that trip, buy that car, ride that bike. You only live once.

By Matt Hubbard