“You wait ’til your first 1000…!”
These words that had echoed in my head for a good 24 months before purchasing my first 1000cc motorcycle; the infamous carburettor’d Yamaha R1 – Japan’s fastest motorcycle which ended up being banned because of its rawness and kill count.
Living in a van has its own set of limitations but what it does allow for is being able to purchase your own weapon of a crotch rocket so that you own it, outright. No monthly payments, no loans, no interest rates. Straight up, mine.
Since May, I’ve clocked up roughly thirty hours of riding the equivalent of being strapped to 150 horses whilst they run to the moon. By my own calculations I had done quite well. In three months I wasn’t in prison and I wasn’t dead.
The statistics aren’t great for first time riders of two-wheeled 1000cc death carts. I only picked up on this fact from my own experience; 90% of everyone I told that I’d purchased a bike responded immediately with ‘Be careful and don’t kill yourself.’
Thanks for the confidence boost. Fortunately, I’m quite aware of what I had purchased and knew only too well that to disrespect a machine that powerful is to flip off the very laws of physics and still hope to win. Interesting that only 10% of people responded with something more positive, like ‘Amazing, having fun?’ or similar levels of mild encouragement. Usually those members of the minority were bikers themselves. Real recognise real, yeah?
It was only until I started riding a couple of hours a day, for consecutive days at a time that I was forced to have a word with myself, otherwise I felt strongly that I was going to get nicked. The roads open up very quickly once you’re settled into her power, with just the twist of your hand, an inverted royal wave for speed freaks and dissidents where what lays before you is yours, yours to own and conquer.
Now you can see why these things can be massive ego-traps; absolute power corrupts absolutely. Combine that with an addictive and or trigger-happpy personality and you’ve got a concoction known as Grim Reaper.
My first 25 hours had been a period of settling, essentially. Getting used to the weight and power of the bike, how she handles, when to open the throttle, and how to stay alive if you fuck it up and come into a corner scolding hot (too fast).
Beyond this, my natural progression was learning to corner. ‘Everyone can ride in a straight line,’ I was told whilst passing my test. Learning in to a corner, however, is an entirely different sensation and approach and a skill that many bikers I’ve seen on the road aren’t quite confident enough to pull off. I think it’s because more trust is needed for the increased feeling of vulnerability. An acute sense of balance is required so you don’t fall off, and most importantly, you need to know your angle and speed of approach so you can take the bend at the right speed and apply power at the right point as to travel through as fast as possible, but also cleanly. Anyone who has ridden pillion will have felt the challenging aspects of trust and balance.
Wednesday night is Burger Night. A popular bikers’ cafe and grill stays open late on a Wednesday for those willing to make the post-work pilgramage; an hour’s hoon through the back country roads on high quality tarmac, for miles at a time.
3 of us had suited up for the ride and had quite frankly, been attacking the shit out of bendy roads with the other two doing a good proportion of the journey solely on the back wheel.
I had been given a cornering lesson 3 days prior and had been practicing daily since. I had been shown how to enter and exit a bend, regardless if it was a left or right-hander. It was explained to me how to select the correct gear, what the ‘apex’ was and how to find it, and when to apply power at the right point in the bend. And it fucking worked, I tell you! Immediately I began to empathise with the bikers in the world who live for the ‘Twisties’; usually countryside roads that bend forever.
I had taken corners on this specific pilgramage far faster than before, a combination of increased confidence and the option of being able to follow the line of someone in front of you, which for you beginners out there, is a massive help.
I hadn’t eaten much all day. On the off-chance that it might be hours before I would get to the Burger Night, I instinctively went for a meal deal with the last £3 in my pocket. 10 minutes from the Cafe and we’ve overtaken a horse box, coming on to a roundabout. The front two leant into the right hand bend and took the exit. I followed, leant in and before I could even say ‘Ejection’, I had slid down on to my side, skidding across the road surface whilst watching my mechanical girlfriend scrape and spark 5 meters ahead. Each scratch felt like I was being lashed with a whip of finance and 9 tails of deformity.
The slide experience seemed to be in slow motion. The bike ended up some 15 meters beyond my ejection, me, around 12 meters. I sprung up as thoughts of being skull-crushed from cars behind flashed into mind and assumed a world-class, adrenaline-fuelled deadlift postition as I hauled the bike back to standing upright – some 180kg of it. But it was too late. She was heavily bleeding; petrol pooling on the side of the road, coolant and water pissing out of the radiator. Fuck.
It was at this point another driver had pulled over, exited his car and was asking me if I was OK, to which I was surpised and did not know the answer to, yet. A quick body shake and a couple of extended elbows, followed by a ‘Yeah, fine cheers.’ was my reply. And I really was. No broken bones, no crushed skulls, perfectly functioning limbs and organs. Result! The bike, however, sustained a broken front brake lever, severed indicator, punctured radiator, scathed-to-the-bone engine and clutch casings and a chipped exhaust with a fractured bracket. Already my adreno-calculator was out in my head, totting up all the fuck ups I’d just manifested as a result of binning my bike. A few minutes later, the others had returned, wondering what on earth was going on. It was at this point I knew how close I was to having my fucking burger! And I was starving.
As soon as we had completed our collective autopsy, we had concluded I would not be riding to get my burger, nor back home. Combined with 3% battery, no recovery membership in my own name and a bonus touch of darkness as the sun had begun it’s descent, some 60 miles from home, the feeling of being a right twat started to bubble up. With my last telephonic juices, I dropped a pin on Whatsapp to a friend who would not be free for another 2 and half hours – a digi-skill I had been shown no two days earlier by a technologically savvy acquaintance – and bid my friends Bon Appetit as they continued to get their well-earnt and patiently awaited dinners.
The AA did actually show up to the scene, after my mate made a phone call requesting their arrival on my behalf, a deal that comes as part of one of his bank account policies. My eyes lit up at the presence of the recovery vehicle, until the moron in the shape of a yellow boiler suit starting speaking to me. What is it about the nightshift that resembles wage-slaved zombies?
In fairness, I also delivered on the morosis front by opening my gob to his question ‘What’s happened here, then?’ with an uninformed ‘Came off on the roundabout mate.’
Turns out my friend who made the call said he had solely snapped the brake lever, known in the industry as a “Mechanical Failure”, hence their ability to commit to the recovery. My lexicon had described perfectly what is known as a “Road Traffic Accident” which ticked Mr Moron’s Recovery’s switch for ‘I’m getting the fuck out of here!’. Excellent. So no ability to be recovered because I’ve crashed, instead of telling him I couldn’t ride home because of a broken brake lever. He was also unwilling to ‘pretend’ it had been a mechanical failure, despite my efforts to bribe him in the form of alcohol and money. Maybe flesh was more his thing? And no mates to the rescue because they’ve already made plans to enjoy their weekday evening, as they should. Bollocks.
All credit goes to the boys I was riding with who were very concerned about leaving me by the side of the road due to the pervading fear of vulturous pikeys – troops of three to four men in Ford Transit vans who prey on crashed motorcyclists and cycles by pulling up alongside the scene whilst the victim is waiting for recovery and bundle the bike into the back of the van, driving off into the night. Apparently it has happened.
This seemed like a somewhat grandiose phobia, but so did the thought of coming off a motorcycle due to shit tarmac just an hour ago, so I did not dismiss their concerns and instead moved my bike and myself into the shadows where I could barely be seen from the roadside. I made a bed out of a roadsign I had found discarded just a few meters from my impact zone and tucked myself behind the bike as to not alert too many drivers going past. Much to my surprise, however, those that did catch the silhouette of an elongated body, lying supine behind a scuffed and busted motorcyle did actually stop, wind down their windows and shout at me ‘Are you OK?’ or ‘Do you need an ambulance?’ which really shocked me in the best possible way. The parable of the Good Samaritan came to mind and for a moment, my faith had been restored in humanity. Until I saw another AA vehicle drive past.
Despite the constant feeling of a hollow intensine for the next couple of weeks, I did indeed get recovered by my friend some 4 hours later and managed to get the bike repaired for a mere £320. I replaced the front tyre, which I found out was a ‘Touring’ tyre and not a ‘Sports’ tyre, so I switched to the latter and am planning to do the same with the rear, too.
The lesson here is don’t skimp on cheap, shitty-rubbered tyres on a big, powerful bike. And don’t pitch yourself into a bend unless you are SURE that the tarmac or road surface is worthy of holding traction, something that can be calculated by simply driving the route in a car or slowly on a bike first time round. Otherwise there’s a good chance you will end up far worse than me, because to be honest, I got away with it, scot free.
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