The other day I was having a clear out of the bike pictures I keep on my computer, a kind of very early Spring clean ready for next year’s rally season, when something about certain pictures made me think what mad buggers we can be sometimes when we set about building a custom bike. I know the whole idea is to stretch the boundaries of what has been done before, but there must come a point in the process where the ability to ride the bike without risking life and limb due to intentional constructional failings must be taken into consideration.
I’m not referring to pure show bikes, many of which will be lucky to see a couple of runs round the venue’s car park, or onto the winner’s podium. These bikes are created to showcase the builder’s technical abilities and vision, without worrying about the day to day practicalities of riding. A couple of years ago a bike featured in the AMD Championships which really appealed to my sense of the bizarre – it was the one where the petrol tank had to be strapped to the rider’s back. Imagine walking into the local BP station to pay for your fill up, with a full tank on your back – hilarious!
No, I’m talking about bikes which are ridden to rallies, but which possess one or possibly more features that make the thing inherently dangerous to the rider or the general public. The following examples were all taken from pictures I’ve taken at rallies.
Spiky bolts. The French streetfighter brigade seem to love having a few big pointy bits on their bikes, but the particular bike which prompted this observation had literally hundreds of needle sharp little spiky things all over it, including all over the exhaust system. Dangerous even to walk past or sit on, the result of even a minor drop would pretty nasty – death by a thousand cuts.
An aluminium bellmouth on the carb is not going to keep out the crud, but couldn’t be considered dangerous, unless of course the rim has been nibbled away to leave lots of sharp little edges at exactly the point where the rider’s leg makes contact with the bike. The kickstart pedal was bit spiky too, so lots of opportunities for losing chunks of flesh on this one. At the same run I spotted an air filter in the shape of a twisted, vertical spire – you don’t need two guesses to know which part of the rider’s anatomy is going to suffer here!
Then there are long forks, which the Swedes seem to treat as the normal way for a bike to be and ride them accordingly. And then there are looooong forks. The ones fitted to the bike in question made the whole outfit too long to fit on a double length show stand. If I tried to ride it onto my purpose built Harley trailer, the front wheel would be against the clamp while the rest of the bike was still on the street. How it negotiates roundabouts and traffic is a total mystery to me, as it must have the turning circle of a North Sea tanker.
I like high bars, or apes, or whatever you want to call them – I have them on my own bike, but there must be a limit where their height makes it difficult to control the bike. I saw one particular case where the rider had swivelled the front brake lever to an angle where he could reach it, but was unable to do the same to the clutch lever as the cable was at its limit of extension, and he was clearly struggling to obtain a secure grip on the lever while manoeuvring the cycle. At least he would have dry armpits!
Open four inch primary drives look great, and are a good idea on high power competition motors, but for a street driven bike can be lethal in more than one way. A short jockey shift puts fingers dangerously close, and the front cog is perfectly positioned to drag in a stray foot making its way to a forward control, or even the bottom of a trouser leg. Scary stuff, but what about when they are fitted to a hardtail with a lower than a snake’s belly frame? Think about which piece touches down first when giving it some through a lefthander, and the following consequences?
At one show I saw a stunning bike, full of innovative ideas and brilliant engineering – a laser cut alloy frame of multilayer construction, machined alloy swing arm holding the oil, unique machined forks, and lots, lots, more. It was fitted with a jockey shift with integral clutch lever, and this was where I saw a problem. The rider was trying to negotiate his way across a bumpy, crowded rally field with one hand on the bars, the other on the clutch, and clearly struggling to avoid a painful accident. Painful, as more than once he came close to running into groups of the promoting backpatch members. I could think of nicer ways to go!
In all the above examples I watched the bikes in motion, but for my last case I spent a long time waiting for the rider to leave, as did a number of other curious watchers. I had been assured the bike had been ridden in, but we were all curious to see it in motion. Eventually, I had to leave without seeing how this beautifully built Sporty, with left hand jockey shift and normal bar mounted clutch, also on the left hand side, could be safely controlled. Think about it, then imagine trying to ride with this combination.
Now, I don’t want to be thought of as preaching, because if someone wants to spike their bollocks or chop off a finger, that’s their business, but I really, really do not want to be swiped walking over a rally field, or on the road, by some tosser who cannot control his badly designed bike!