TRD issue 48 – August 2001
While Hollywood’s ‘golden couple’ Tom Cruise and Nichol Kidman were going their separate ways after an LA divorce (which it was being rumoured was likely to cost the diminutive Cruiser something in the region of $100m), tarnished former Conservative MP Neil Hamilton and his wife Christine, were standing firm and united against the accusation that they had been involved in a serious sexual assault.
If you’ve read much of the stuff I’ve written in TRD, you’ll know I ride a rotting old SRX6 which, aside from being my daily transport, has until very recently, been my only source of motorcycling jollies. Last October in issue 38, I described how my headlight fell off on a pitch-black back road in Wales. What I failed to mention was that it wasn’t alone. So many bits had vibrated loose by the time I got back to SE19 that I realised I’d been in more danger of being pulled for littering than speeding. Nonetheless, just like John Wayne with half a dozen bullets in his chest, the 16-year-old Yamaha continued to slog on manfully. In return, I’m ashamed to say, I failed to deliver anything by way of meaningful maintenance; not even first aid. In a nutshell, I mercilessly abused its big-hearted willingness.
In spite of all the shit and my apparent indifference to its welfare, the SRX has stood by me loyally for over three and a half years. It’s like some oriental Tammy Wynette, who’s man keeps doing her wrong, but who just keeps on struggling – and all for the sake of the occasional good legover (the irony being that even then, it’s the desperately flogged and abused bike that puts in all the lung-busting effort). Day after day without exception, whenever I called on it, it always started and whether it rattled, coughed, or growled, it always got me to my destination.
As time went on, I realised that whenever I made that statement, I made it more out of sheer amazement than any sense of pride. I knew that there was no way it could continue to maintain its Herculean effort. As hard as I tried to duck reality until I had a bit more time, or my finances were in a less dire state, I was well aware that the day was long overdue when it would simply breathe a sigh and die. I also knew that if there was any justice in the world, it would choose a desolate B road somewhere in the middle of nowhere to do it. By March, it had got to the stage where I was scared to go to my Mum’s in Kentish Town in case I didn’t make it back to pick my boys up from school. The situation had got ridiculous. Unless I had nothing on for the whole day, I wouldn’t go further than up the road and back and fun runs became a thing of the past.
The trouble is I’ve always had a bit of a “never put off until tomorrow, what you can put off until the day after” sort of attitude, with the result that I rarely get around to fixing things until they finally break down. Whenever I had a day off and thought I really must do something, anything, even if only to show willing’, I’d look at the Yam and so many areas would scream for urgent attention that there seemed little point in twiddling around the edges – so I wouldn’t. Instead, I’d sit on the doorstep and have a smoke while I pondered the enormity of the task.
The whole bike was liberally smeared in oil. There were tell-tale gungey rings at the top of both fork legs; the rear shocks were black and gritty, indicating (if the “bouncy” ride hadn’t already tipped me off) that their contents had oozed down the outside; and the engine, in particular the left side, looked like a chip pan from The Young Ones. The major source of engine oil was hardly a major mystery, the base gasket had been blowing since before I went to Wales, but then one day I discovered that the bolt whose job it was to nip it down at the nearside rear of the barrels had lost its head. That’s not to say that it started humming S Club 7 songs, claiming that New Labour where the answer to all of our problems, or suggesting the 250 Superdream was the best machine Honda ever produced; I mean it had actually lost the six-sided bit that was meant to be torquing down that corner of the engine. How or when it went, I’ve no idea. One day I was just watching the mini-bubbles that always gurgled from the base when I warmed it up and I noticed it was gone!
It was the same sad story wherever you looked. I’d become used to other bikers giving me accusatory stares at traffic lights, because it really was a mess. The logbook stated that the bike was silver, but the tank (which I’d got from a breakers in Wolverhampton after the original one rotted through) was canary yellow and had developed that arty cracked effect you get on old masters. The SuperTrapp exhaust, which was the best thing on the bike, covered the offside pillion peg, while the large Jubilee clip that (usually) stopped it detaching itself was an incredibly ugly lash-up. Every surface on the bike was covered in grime, corrosion, or oxidisation; most with all three.
The problem was I knew I needed to put a fair chunk of time aside and that was in almost as short supply as money (although fortunately you can’t quite go overdrawn with time!). Last time I rebuilt the Yam, that’s literally what I did: I put it back together. I took it apart around six months before, after a bracket broke on the exhaust, but when I tried to sort it out, I discovered so many knackered or rotten bits that I had no choice but to take the engine out. I finished up stripping the whole top end down, but then I hit a brick wall trying to get the worn head sorted. Luckily, Simon Pavey loaned me the XR600 he did the Paris/Dakkar on, so my motor ended up spending half a year waiting for me to get the bits and my act together.
Unsurprisingly, it took until Si needed to give the bike back to Honda before I finally got my shit together and tracked down everything I needed, including a new secondhand head. Then, as I say, I put it back together. For many of you that may be bread and butter, but I’ve got to say for me it was an unbelievable feat. I was genuinely amazed when it started and ran; and I would never have believed (and certainly wouldn’t have taken any bets) that it would continue to do so for another two years. But against all odds, that’s exactly what it did; it continued to pile on the kilometres and on its second anniversary this Easter, it was still defiantly limping along.
That’s when I had my day out on a CBR1000, courtesy of Project Bike. I’d just dropped it off and was plodding home back on my bike when I got into a pointless thing with a VTR. I was just up the road from my house when he wheelied away from the lights, and I ended up tearing straight past my street at a silly speed. I was chasing him all the way until he turned back up Gypsy Hill, then all he did was tip the front wheel skyward, before gunning it up the sharp incline – and that was it. In the traffic and going downhill, I was fighting an uphill battle, but going up a steep hill, I was doing nothing at all.
I rode back to my house at a more sensible speed, relieved that none of my neighbours seemed to have noticed me being childish in my own backyard. I sat on the doorstep smoking again, and looked across at my bike as it stood there panting and bleeding. I knew this just couldn’t go on. I needed to either sort my bike out, or bite the bullet and get a new one. Mindful of all the beautifully restored bikes I’d seen at Project Bike, I knew exactly what I had to do. You can only procrastinate for so long before it becomes inescapable that it’s a long way past the day after the day after tomorrow, and that you’re pushing your luck. The moment when a little timely maintenance would have bought me another couple of years was long past; so if I was going to do anything with my bike, I needed to do it all.
Obviously, the engine would require a full rebuild (preferably started and finished within the same calendar year). All the rotten, rounded-off bolts would need to be surgically removed so that they, along with the rest of the mild steel fittings, could be trashed and replaced with stainless Allen jobbies. The tank needed some damage repair; then, once some kind of consensus had been reached, the whole bike needed a paint job. The nearside indicators were held together by insulating tape, so the whole lot needed to go in favour of something a little neater. Then there were the brakes: all three callipers needed stripping and servicing (don’t we all) and while I was at it, I knew it wouldn’t do any harm to bung on anodised and braided hoses. The SuperTrapp was waay too good to imagine life without; but ideally it would be nice to have the option of sharing the pleasure with a pillion occasionally. After that lot the suspension seemed like a simple prospect.
I know there are those of you who enjoy the details: all the hours spent rubbing down paint, grinding valves and drilling out broken studs; the Arthurian quest for parts; and all the wonderful people I discovered who performed the various special services that made the whole thing possible; but aside from being deeply sad, you would also be deeply disappointed. There was only one wonderful person, and that was the man who put the Ron into last month’s “Ron’s Story.” When we got to talking, aside from agreeing we were both happy old tossers who loved bikes, we discovered we had a lot more in common. When we got round to the “What do you ride?” bit, it transpired that Ron also owned an SRX6, and more significantly, that he was considering selling it to provide some cash flow for his Isle of Man trip.
He gave me no idea how lovely his bike was, just that it had the equivalent of about 8,000 miles on it, and that he was considering knocking it out for around a grand. I could make as many plans as I wanted to sort my bike out, but the reality was I still hadn’t even named a date to get started. So on a day off over Easter, I arranged to bop down to Godstone and have a look at it. You’ve seen the pictures! If you like that sort of thing (and I lurv it!) you’ll know how excited I was when I saw it. And when I started and rode it, it was everything mine wasn’t. Basically, it was a fifteen-year-old new bike with a number of useful improvements.
I left Ron saying I’d have to check my credit status and get back to him. Generally, I try to avoid looking too closely at my finances, because life’s pretty sweet as long as I don’t dwell on the negatives. However, this was too good an opportunity to miss, so I bit the bullet and started checking all my unopened junk mail looking for a cheap loan offer. Then I came across a thin book of cheques from my credit card issuer, which they’d sent to provide me with extra flexibility for those spontaneous purchases. Clearly, they’d cynically decided they had me on the hook, and all they needed to do was to make it as easy as possible for me to run up plenty of debt. And it worked! As soon as I found them, I called Ron and when he said MBNA would do nicely it was all sorted for the next day.
He agreed that £900 would do the job, as I’d saved him all the aggro of advertising and having to put up with time-wasting wankers coming round and I rode off as happy as the proverbial porker in poo. The buzz I get from my new partner is very similar to that wonderful excitement you get with a new relationship. Walking out of work after 25 hours and seeing my Yam waiting patiently in the corner, I feel like my new gal has turned up to meet me before walking me home so it’s not such a drag. And I love it. After a long weekend away with the family recently, I was aching to get back on the Yam for our daily tryst.
Whether or not this beauty will go the same way as all the others before it, remains to be seen. I really don’t want to end up typecast as a pock-marked wife beater in the Tommy Lee Jones mould; I want to show this one how much I love it and live with it happily for ever and ever. The old one is in a lock up, as my own private breaker. With a little forward planning, I could strip and rebuild the engine from that long before it was needed and that way I’d have a real keeper. Well, I could!
Be careful out there