19. Road Trips

TRD issue 57 – June 2002

Nothing happened in the UK in June that year. However, across the pond the Bush government announced that they had foiled an al-Qaida plot to detonate a radiological or ‘dirty’ bomb on the American mainland; Lennox Lewis put paid to Mike Tyson’s attempt to regain the World Heavyweight title in Memphis, in what was, at almost $107m, the highest grossing pay-per-view fight in history; and Gambino crime family boss John Gotti died of throat cancer, aged 61, in a Federal prison in Springfield, Missouri.

I suppose there must be a fair number of commuters and even a few couriers who ride a bike simply because it’s quicker through traffic and cheaper to run than a car. It’s not a love thing for them, it’s a marriage of convenience, which must be a hell of a life when you think about it. It’s bad enough having to struggle up the A2 on a cold wet winter’s day if you love bikes, but if they mean nothing to you beyond being an expedient form of transport, it’s gotta be soul-destroying.

However, I’m assuming that in your case, as you’ve chosen to read this magazine, bikes mean slightly more to you than 50+mpg and sixty-five quid a year road tax. The problem is, even if the reason you first chose to ride one was because you got hooked on the sheer joy of two wheeled motoring, it’s still all too easy to allow the repetitive negative bits to gnaw away at your passion.

If you commute sixty miles a day, or despatch for fifty hours a week, how do you keep your relationship with bikes fresh? Going back to the human relationship analogy, any agony aunt will tell you that even a marriage that is based on deep and abiding love and affection needs something special from time to time. A little something out of the ordinary to provide a break from the routine and a reminder of what it was that ignited that spark in the first place. Without the occasional explosion of passion on the kitchen table, weekend in Paris without the kids, barefoot paddle in the sea, or good night out with good friends, the whole thing can easily deteriorate into a turgid, soulless grind. And if that sort of thing is allowed to go on for too long, any memories of the bright beginning are likely to slide into a black hole, dragging the prospect of any future joy with them.

Fortunately, bikes tend to provide plenty of opportunities for a “quickie on the kitchen table”. Any time I take up the gauntlet and get involved in playing silly buggers through the traffic or blasting around some twisties, it puts me in touch with why I rode a bike in the first place. But great as those little blasts can be, they’re a lot like the knee trembling “Wham bam, thank you ma’am” sex of my adolescence that can’t begin to compare with the intensity of passion available to a couple of mature adults away on a consummately dirty weekend.

So does that mean you have to drape your Fazer in stockings and suspenders, and sign in at a B & B in Whitby as Mr & Mrs Smith? Of course it doesn’t; don’t be so bloody silly. I guess this is where the motorcycles/marriage analogy falls apart. Because nice as a journey may be with the person closest to your heart (or groin), if the whole point of the trip is to arrive at a destination and get down to some serious shagging, chances are you’re less likely to be entirely enraptured by the journey. I’m always banging on about the journey being more important than arriving when you’re travelling on a bike, but when it comes to the old fluid exchange situation, the complete opposite seems to apply. So how do you get your relationship with your machine back to basics?

Anyone who’s familiar with the 1978 National Lampoon classic Animal House will remember that the shit really started flying after the Delta house toga party, and the whole fraternity was put on double triple probation. Did they wimp out and knuckle down? Did they bollocks! They went on a road trip. (OK, given John Belushi’s well-deserved reputation for excess and his premature death, it mightn’t seem entirely sensible to use his wisdom to illustrate my point, but hell, you can’t deny the man knew how to party.) There is nothing like a road trip with a group of like-minded individuals to provide everything that’s good about motorcycling.

My introduction was a trip to Porthcawl in the Easter of 1979. Spring had arrived late, on the back of a particularly bitter winter (my first as a DR), and the trip provided the perfect opportunity to celebrate the return of the kind of weather bikes were designed for. Early on Good Friday morning, two Transits (much more convenient than tents and great for breakdown back up) and nine or ten bikes headed off with the sun on their backs.

Away from the constraints of work and London traffic, the ride was completely different. While it was still largely fast and occasionally downright silly, there was the overwhelming distinction that, although we were mostly on company bikes, we were entirely on our own time — and determined to make the most of it. Which we did. We spent the first evening in the Knight’s Arms (and joined the United Bikers to ride off en masse past the waiting police). We went for a little scratch around the hairpins of the Black Mountains and with the Transits parked either end as goals, we enjoyed a great game of football in a field on the Brecon Beacons. The game disintegrated when Big Nick — a man of monumental proportions — took a van to get the ball back after it rolled about a mile down the hill. When he returned he decided that a variation on bull fighting, where his van was the bull, and the rest of us were toreadors/targets, was much more entertaining than trying to chase skinny blokes all over a football pitch that was covered in sheep shit.

Evenings, if I remember, consisted of drinking copious amounts of Brains beer, followed by cocktails in one of the vans. The alcoholic varieties were concocted from the bizarre array of alcohol we’d scrounged up for the trip, while the others were multi-skinned United Nations jobbies (with ingredients from South Africa, Morocco, Jamaica, Lebanon, Thailand and Penge). In spite of our nocturnal excesses, the ride back was every bit as good as the rest of the weekend. When I got home, I couldn’t help thinking of the school trips we used to go on right at the end of the summer term when you’d finished all your exams and there was nothing else to do. There was that same feeling of being away with people you see on a daily basis but, for once, without the threat of work interfering with the fun.

And you don’t necessarily have to have a big crew for a successful road trip, it’s the company and the sense of freedom that’s most important. Early the following year, I rose with the alarm at 8am and pulled back the curtains on a glorious spring morning. While I was eating my breakfast, Dave, who had the day off, pointed out that it was too nice to go to work. He suggested that I take the day off as well, we pick up some French bread and cheese, and go for a picnic on our bikes.

I took another spoonful of Frosties and thought it over. “Only if we go to France to get the bread and cheese.”

There’s nothing like starting out with a tossaway idea, then talking it up until it’s an inescapable mission from God. By the time I rang Smelly to ask if I could interest him in anything from the duty free, it had reached those sorts of proportions. I was the overwhelming voice of reason. It was a Tuesday for Chrissake. It was probably the nicest day of the year so far and coming as it did on the back of about a fortnight of solid rain, everyone at every two-bit company in London and his Superdream was sure to turn in for work…

Smelly stopped me while I still had at least another dozen rock solid reasons why he should search for some light in his dark controller’s heart. My clincher was going to be the fact that as I wasn’t much of a ‘bread head’, my goodwill was worth infinitely more to the company than the few poxy quid I was likely to earn it on a day like that. But I never got that far, because he cut across me to say “OK, call me in the morning… Enjoy it.”

Just like that. It was freaky. It was as if it really was a pre-ordained mission and God had indeed been moving in mysterious ways. We went along the landing and Dave kicked Ali’s door violently, while I shouted God’s instructions through the letterbox. It was sure to be OK for Ali to skive off for the day, because he was a student and that seemed to be the way it worked. More importantly, he was studying photography and me and Dave both agreed that as God had been good enough to set the whole thing up, the least we could do was get him some decent snaps for the next edition of the bible.

So it was that by 10am the three of us were sailing past Falconwood with the throttles on the stops, brothers sworn to a sacred quest for fresh baguettes et fromage. Now I’m no Chaucer, so I can’t really do credit to our pilgrims’ progress, but fair play to Ali for standing on the back pegs of my GS425 to take a memorable shot as we galloped along a clear ribbon of A2. It was cheaper and easier to cross without the bikes, so we parked them up in Dover and hovered straight over. While my peers sat in steamy cafes, washing limp Sunblest sandwiches down with dishwater tea and moaning incessantly about the lack of work, we were sur le continent getting stuck in to the plat du jour and toasting “friends across the water!”

In courier mode, if I came up empty in one of the channel ports, the ride back to Peckham would’ve been a real grind. But in the wee small hours of Wednesday morning, as we walked back to the bikes after a top day’s ‘French leave’, it was with the knowledge that there was still a little more pleasure to be squeezed from our trip.

Less than twelve hours later, I was sitting inside Shoe Lane cafe, trying to look like someone who actually gave a toss, as the assembled riders moaned and whinged about the appalling day they’d had while I was skiving off. In the end, rather than get a good kicking for laughing out loud, I hit the mute switch in my head and just sat there watching their lips moving. They reminded me of a load of pot-bellied married men, sitting in the pub bemoaning the fact that their Doris, Daphne or Deirdre doesn’t turn them on any more.

Keep your love of motorcycling fresh, or you risk letting a good thing drift away. Change your undies daily; and have a little change of scenery at least as often as you change your oil.

Be careful out there

Carin’ Sharin’

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