It’s interesting that Oldlondog should choose a Steinbeck reference to illustrate an article about his local bike shop because the American Nobel Laureate was very much to the forefront of my mind when I was thinking about this editorial. In “Once There Was a War” – a collection of dispatches he originally sent to the New York Herald Tribune from Europe in 1943 – he described, as only he could, what it was like to pile out of a landing craft into a hail of fire and then having to fight your way up a beach with random death and destruction happening on every side.
Reflecting on what an utterly terrifying and horrific experience it is, Steinbeck decided that there must be some sort defence system within the human brain that blurs and softens the memory of just how awful it felt when it was happening, or nobody would ever be able to go into battle a second time. He suggests that it’s probably a similar mechanism that allows women to go through childbirth more than once.
I’m a great admirer of big John’s so I’ve probably read just about everything he’s written; and to the best of my knowledge he’s never claimed any sort of affinity with motorcycles. When he made his Last Great American Road Trip in 1960, rather than heading out solo riding an old Speed Twin, an ancient Indian, or a flathead Harley, he chose to make the trip in a custom camper van (named Rocinante after Don Quixote’s horse) with a French Standard Poodle for company. Consequently, I have no idea whether or not he had any real idea what it’s like to ride over the Horseshoe Pass when it’s five degrees below, but as my friend and old time Digest co-contributor Andy Sanson assured me the other day, it was so cold in January he had icicles in his beard.
While Andy and I were carrying on our online exchange about the bleak mid winter in North Wales, outside my office window it was a gloriously sunny spring morning and I found it impossible to even imagine ever having ridden a bike in that sort of cold, which struck me as pretty ironic given that I have on any number of occasions over the years and each time I have, I’ve sworn that it was my last winter on a bike. The trouble is I always end up recanting some time towards the end of March (or April in a bad year) and by the middle of November I’ve completely forgotten just how excruciatingly painful it was when my fingers and toes were screaming with pain, telling me that I will never make it to my destination without losing them to frostbite!
However, with yet another winter finally receding into my increasingly unreliable memory a paragraph from “The Spring of My Discontent” (chapter 9 in my book – did I mention my book? Do check out the adverts on pages 20 and 111) came to mind: “The spectre of winter had faded away and everywhere spring was springing. As they’ve done for generations, young men’s testosterone laden fancies turned once again to mating and motorcycles (and not necessarily in that order). In cities, towns, villages and hamlets across the nation, from streets, alleys, garages, kitchens and bedrooms, the pungent aromas of WD40, petrol and Castrol R were exuding slowly into the atmosphere, while the ring of tools on metal, punctuated by the occasional dull scrape of knuckles on the same, could be heard all over, combined with raucous laughter, curses (of both pain and frustration) and outrageous (if rarely more than partially true) riding stories. Bikers around the country, if not the entire Northern hemisphere, were gearing up for the good bit. The fun bit. The sunny bit!”
I’d like to welcome all the seasonal riders back to the roads (I think that sounds so much kinder than ‘fair weather bikers’, with its nakedly pejorative implications – besides if we ‘enjoy’ the kind of ‘summer’ we had last year, it will be something of a misnomer again!). I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, if you don’t have to use you bike as daily transport, I can entirely understand why you might SORN your bike from November through to the beginning of May each year and just bring it out for the – potentially – good bits.
I mean, in common with all the other hoary old bastards who use their bikes all year round, I’ve just spent four paragraphs going on about the agony of riding in the winter, actually comparing it with the horrors of war and the pain of childbirth, so it seems a bit ridiculous to be pointing a finger at people who choose not to feed their masochistic streak! It doesn’t matter how many miles you cover, nor how often you get out on a bike, as far as I’m concerned the fact that you choose to ride one at all gives you enough common ground to hold your head up in any company.
If you are reading this the same way you always have either online in Flash or on a PDF that you’ve downloaded, you might want to revisit the homepage and click on the button that takes you to our new, interactive web site. It is currently in beta form and it only has this issue and the last one available at the moment, but providing everything works properly and you lot like the way it does, we will start loading the rest of the archive that’s currently online (issues 164 – 176), before moving on to the 40 editions I put out between 2006 and 2009.
If you are already savvy when it comes to social media, you will notice that you can Tweet stories, ‘Like’ them on Facebook, Pin photos to Pintrest and – according to one of the dropdown menus – you can spread the word via 338 other means, including Google+ and Linkedin, and running the entire spectrum through to Zukmo (whatever the hell that might be?). If you do enjoy a story, or one of the features please do share it because if it interested you, there’s a better than even chance that there will be other riders out there it will appeal to and it’s all about getting the word out.
So please explore the new site and let us know what you think of it, what’s good and anything you think we can improve on, but most important of all spread
the word and spread the TRD love!
Talking of which, most of you will be unaware that the entire Digest empire would have collapsed and crumbled to nothing long ago if it wasn’t for the on-going love and support provided by my partner Wendy. In recognition of her of her sterling service over the last three years, I have decided to make an honest woman of her – so I’m going to be turning her in to the police! Boom, boom!
Nah, seriously, by the time you read this we will have tied the knot at Ramsgate registry office and returned to our West London idyll for a brief three day honeymoon. Why don’t you pop along to the Ace Cafe this coming Friday evening (3rd May) and raise a glass to our future?