Every generation of men in my family have at one time or another been ‘Bikers’. That’s bikes with an engine of course; Motorbikes. Proper ‘Bikers’ with ‘Bikes’. Not to be confused, or indeed in any way associated with the lycra-clad polystyrene-helmeted brigade that take to the highways and byways (or in fact the Redways if like me you live in Milton Keynes), on ultra-lightweight, muscle-powered pedal cycles during summer weekends; what I think of as born-again cyclists!
The tradition was continued by the most recent biker in my family, my eldest son, and it goes way back, at least to my great grandfather. I don’t know about before then, as it’s not in living memory and probably would be before the turn of the twentieth century. I do know that in his day, my Grandfather had an Ariel. Not the famous ‘Ariel Square Four’, but a bespoke factory customised model, with at that time a unique ‘V Four’ engine I believe. I seem to remember him saying he also had other classic British bikes such as a Matchless and possibly others. My Father had a BSA Shooting Star before I was born, as well as a Lambretta (but the less said about that one the better!). I’ve had various bikes myself including British and Japanese marques, and done my own fair share of traversing the country.
The first ‘bike’ I had was a Motobecane Mobelette and at the tender age of 11 I had managed to get it running (perhaps with a little help from my dad), and was to be found running up and down the garden on it. I often spent my pocket money on half a gallon of petrol from the petrol station located handily less than 100 meters from our home; petrol was around 44p for the half gallon at the time! The ‘moby’ gave way to a Yamaha FS1E, which dad and I worked together on after buying a crashed wreck for fifty pounds. This proved to be a real learning experience and as a young teen I soaked up knowledge on mechanics, wiring & electrics, body-filling and finishing, as well as spraying and painting. Later I also had a sweet little green Kawasaki trials bike that I used in my mid to late 20s for commuting to work.
On turning thirty, I decided it was time I took my full motorcycle test. As a car driver, I could ride bikes up to 125cc on a provisional license (the laws have now changed), but I wanted a bigger bike I could use for the three hundred mile weekly commute (Cleveland to Hampshire). I had the idea that even a big bike would be a much cheaper way to travel, saving money in the long run (at least that was my story). It would of course also be a great excuse for me to get back onto two wheels, and have some serious motoring ‘fun’ once again. As far as the bike was concerned, I wanted something powerful, that could eat up the miles in all weathers and would easily cope with an anticipated mileage of at least two thousand miles a month.
After visiting local bike shops on a regular basis, I finally plumped for a nearly new Triumph Trophy 900 decked out in British Racing Green. Massive power… a six-geared beast, which could be unleashed with a quick twist of the throttle. Until I got used to it, riding this bike was like straddling something untamed; something quite scary. My new bike boasted impressive statistics, that on paper made it sound more like a Formula 1 racing car. From the paperwork and receipts that were tucked into the user manual, it transpired the previous owner had trick parts fitted to the engine, such as high-rise pistons, titanium piston rings and a Dynojet racing kit. Though it was decked out with removable touring equipment such as full paniers and top-box, it was a monster that could manage 0-60 in a lot less than three seconds, 0-100 in less than five and potentially gave a top speed of just under 160mph. Of course I never tested that top end, because that would be highly illegal on British roads; I would probably have left stains in my leathers (something I came close to on a few occasions when I first started riding it). However I will say, the M40 is very straight for long stretches in places, very clear at 3am affording great visibility on a spring morning, and that even with luggage on the bike and a rider hunched down behind the windscreen for maximum streamlining, I have heard it is allegedly, and theoretically possible in those conditions and on such a road to reach close to double the UK motorway speed limit.
Anyway, to the story… This occurred within a few weeks of acquiring my bike late in the year. It was my usual practice to commute between my home in the far North and where I was working in Basingstoke. On Monday morning in the very early hours I would set off for the three hundred mile journey South, and on Friday afternoon I would usually head North. Heading South I would usually use the A19, A1(M), M18, M1, then A42, M42, M40 and onto the A34. On Fridays heading North, the route was reversed.
Whilst I often used to get away early on Fridays (around 4pm), one Friday I had to stay late working on completing an important project and was not able to leave work until fairly late. It was a bitterly cold November evening, and the windchill factor (which is important when you ride a bike), was high. I was running low on petrol so I pulled into a services on the M42 close to Tamworth.
To be continued…