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Friday, 9 December 2016

If wishes were bikes...

A motor-bike's attractions lie in its very nature.

No clutter, just an engine, two wheels, a frame, a seat and controls.

As a result bikes have a favourable power-to-weight ratio; eg, my car develops 112 kW and weighs 1180 kg whereas the admittedly hairy-chested Honda Fireblade sports bike develops slightly more power yet only weighs 15% of the car. Guess which has the better top speed and acceleration.

A bike has superior ergonomic logic. Car speed is controlled with the foot, bike speed with the more sensitive hand. It's the other way round for gear-changing but a car gear-change moves through an H-pattern whereas the bike's changer moves up and down, always in a vertical plane, and may be three times as quick. Quick gear-changes make an engine more responsive to prevailing circumstances.

Cars are steered manually through a complex linkage which now demands power assistance. A bike is steered via small, intuitive movements of the rider's body, usually assisted by road camber.

A bike is intrinsically unstable, adding risk which, in turn, adds appeal.

In the end, though, a bike is fantastical. Bought as pure indulgence and used selectively it has its points. But a car is superior where the family vehicle must earn its keep. Apart from its obvious flaws a bike can undermine parental obligations.

I last rode a bike in the seventies, a Velocette as illustrated though less clean. I chafed at its antiquity; would have preferred a bike that was more demonstrably beyond my control. Anti-bikers would say that was a death-wish; pro-bikers – eternal optimists – would contrarily say it was a life-wish. I am clearly far too old to ride again but the urge is still there, well buried – like many men who’ve also felt that urge, I suppose.


  1. You sold me your bike circa 1958/9, a Triumph 500cc Speed Twin. I had only driven cars before.

    Sat astride in our back street - revved up to full- engaged first gear - instantly released clutch without feeding - shot out of back street across residential road - demolished neighbour's double wooden gates - little damage to bike -had to pay for gates - learnt to ride fairly quickly after that.

  2. "Anti-bikers would say that was a death-wish; pro-bikers – eternal optimists – would contrarily say it was a life-wish. I am clearly far too old to ride again but the urge is still there, well buried – like many men who’ve also felt that urge, I suppose."

    This eternal optimist would whole heartedly agree, RR. I don't know your physical abilities, but I know of one 82 year old (an ex motorcycle cop) who recently had a stroke but is now back on his 600cc fire breather. I am managing a smaller 250cc at 78. So, you are not too old, on paper anyway. It's possible if the wish matches the ability.

    So, a Velocette MAC 500cc by the look of it. You really were a masochist! The clutch adjustment needed a night school course to set up properly and kick starting one was an esoteric feat, the facility for which ensured the rider was held in awe by lesser mortals.

    To change the subect, I have honoured your enquiry on my blog about e-bikes (pedal variety) with a whole post to yourself.

  3. Sir Hugh: I have, of course, heard that anecdote before. Except for the last seven words. My impression was that traversing Heaton Park Road at speed was your first and last bike ride. What was your next trip? A shaky exploration of Garden Lane?

    Avus: Far better to dream, reality is almost always a letdown. No such thing as a casual bike ride nowadays; the first step consists of buying a helmet. Have you seen the prices?

  4. I went to Langdale several times and Borrowdale and then to Sky. One of the gang took me up a climb in Borrowdale and frightened me to death. In revenge I took him down the twisty Borrowdale road on the back of the Triumph next day, and did the same to him. He said he would never go on the back of my bike again. Thankfully I was saved from predictable extinction when my employers supplied me with a brand new (1959) Ford Popular, although that may have been more dangerous. Braking was feeble and uncertain, steering slopped, and the single windscreen wiper, working by air pressure from the carburettor I think, went slower as one increased speed.