Greetings, I don’t know how the weather’s been down your way but I’ve got to tell you it’s felt pretty damn summery in London for the last few days. Unfortunately for most of most of them I’ve been in lock-down mode putting this issue of the magazine together and the sun has been little more than a bright suggestion behind the closed slats of the blinds. So much so that each time I’ve gone into the back garden for a smoke, I’ve had that sensation of surprise you get when you walk out of a cinema matinee into a blazing mid-afternoon sun.
And each time I do, I think what the hell am I doing sitting indoors in front of a screen, when I could be enjoying the best British summertime has to offer on the back of a bike? It seems that the answer is that I’m not allowed to because I’m a grown up and I have a sense of responsibility! But what sort of bollocks is that? I mean what the hell have I ever done to deserve a life sentence like that?
It’s all made worse because there’s a chronic case of arrested development lounging on the sofa behind me, rolling ludicrously outsize joints, flicking through my CD collection and saying, “What’s the point in sitting there writing bullshit about bikes when there could be miles and miles of sun dappled Tarmac between now and the afternoon school run?” I turn to reason with him, to point out that there are a lot of people who expect to see another issue of The Rider’s Digest at the beginning of July and that’s not going to happen if I listen to him and throw it all up in the air for an extended motorcycling jolly in the middle of the day!
“Oh… right” he says, nodding slowly as if I’ve tried to explain a long and very complicated algebraic equation to him, “Aren’t you worried they might see through you and figure you for a fraud if all you ever do is write about bikes and never actually ride one?”
I look at him and he meets my gaze with all the cock-surety of a young man in his mid-twenties, at the ‘grown-up’ end of a mad decade that started when he was still a kid (the very years when anecdotal experience and insurance companies both agree that young blokes are at their most dangerous) and he knows that I might have accumulated a veritable mountain of knowledge in the thirty-odd years since I was his age, but I’d obviously forgotten all the really important ‘live for the moment’ stuff along the way if I could sit indoors on a glorious sunny day when I have a perfectly willing bike waiting right out front!
I attempt to explain the principle of deferred gratification, but he simply shrugs his shoulders, rolls his eyes theatrically and mouths ‘Why?’ and I realise, not for the first time in my life, that there are certain conversations that are never going to come off because the respective parties barely share a single point of reference – so I get back to my work. But I can still feel his contempt niggling between my shoulder blades like a stiletto; it doesn’t matter how much I try to reassure myself that I’m the grown-up who’s behaving like a responsible adult, while he’s just an impetuous man-child (with great hair and teeth) who will be lucky to live as long as Jimi, Janis or Kurt!
But of course he did, in fact he’s more than twice their age now and although he’s managed to acquire a modicum of self-discipline over the years it doesn’t mean that he won’t allow ‘Live for the Day Dave’ to take the controls when they ride across to the other side of London tomorrow to visit their mum. Which isn’t quite as scary as it sounds because I’ll be riding right along with him, tempering the worst of his high-speed derring-doing and keeping a weathered eye on all those important bits of detail that might just help to keep us safe and ensure that his determination to live for today doesn’t condemn us to a lifetime of awful tomorrows.
And it’s amazing what you can manage if you live long enough. Picking up on the PC’s comments about tyre treads (p.162), I was warned that my front hoop was down to 1.5mm when I got my MOT recently and whereas in the past I would have procrastinated until it was beyond the legal limit, I decided to sort it out rather than wait until I was facing compromised control and the possibility of points on my licence – how grown up is that? Besides I once read that 90% of punctures happen on the last 10% of tread and in my experience that sounds just about spot on, so after a lovely lunch with my daughter in Stockwell, I boogied down to FWR in Kennington to see long time Digest friend Bob Collins and sorted it out.
It really doesn’t take much to make me glow with righteousness and I was rocking on the ride home (obviously while being aware of the need to scrub it in) as I was reminded once again that ever since I watched Mark put an Avon Roadrunner – the first new rubber I’d ever had – on the back of my Mercury GT250 in ‘78, happiness has been a brand new perfectly profiled tyre.
Some things never change; there have been all sorts of developments in the motorcycling world since I began riding in the middle of the seventies, but ultimately when it comes down to riding a bike out and about in the real world, give or take a bit of traffic, it’s just about the same as it’s ever been. When I started out riding it was common practice to flash your headlight and raise your left palm Tonto style whenever you saw another bike. I remember reading letters in bike magazines a few years later, written by old fogies and bemoaning the ‘modern practice’ of no longer raising a hand in greeting but merely flashing a light. A decade or so later the same letter writers, presumably aided and abetted by a whole new generation of Victor Meldrews, were appalled to report that many riders could barely even manage a nod.
While a small part of me understood and empathised with their nostalgic regret, the rest of me accepted that in time codes, customs and traditions, evolve, change and occasionally drop out of usage altogether. Having said that, I have always believed that the convention about motorcyclists always stopping to see if they can help if another rider appears to have a problem, was absolutely sacrosanct! So I was disgusted to read how “a great many UK plated bikes” rode straight past while Rod and the diminutive Cheryl struggled to push their broken combo up a long steep off ramp.
All I can say is shame on you, every last miserable one of you. I sincerely hope that Rod and Cheryl’s experience was as much of a freak as the rest of their breakdown episode, because it will be a desperately sorry day for motorcycling when that most basic of common courtesies is no longer a cast iron rule. You don’t have to be a mechanical expert to help; it’s amazing how often a few words of support, or just a wee bit more muscle can make all the difference
Lastly, for the sake of any readers (and contributors, eh Ian) who in spite of being sufficiently computer savvy to be reading this, have never really embraced the whole Internet social media scene, it gives me great pleasure to repeat the newsflash that we announced on our Facebook page on June 28th announcing our partnership with the British Bikers Association. As I am quoted as saying (in the Wall Street Journal no less) “…While the old-school print values we apply to every issue have maintained the quality of our content, our old-world understanding of the Internet and digital media generally have done little to expose us to a wider audience but we are confident that by combining our talents with a computer savvy bikers’ organisation like the BBA, the resultant synergy can only be to the benefit of the wider motorcycling community.”
If you’ve arrived at this page via the BBA, welcome, be sure to have a good look around our archive because if you enjoy good motorcycle writing, you’ve got a real treat in store.