As a new member from end of last year, I’m in my fourth life on two wheels after some fairly lengthy gaps. So in all, my motorcycling has stretched across 1970-72, 1984-6, 1989-90 and from 2016 to date.
My TVAM journey started when I met what I presume was a bunch of WAGs, while on a trip out to Wantage, 2 years ago. Having arrived in the Market Square to stop for a coffee I found myself in the midst of about 25 bikers and joined their ride through Oxfordshire, and was made to feel very welcome. So, it was natural to later consider joining and the offer of a Taster Ride with Paul Wells as my Observer came up, thanks Paul! I described it afterwards as ‘Epic’!
FREEDOM: SIGN HERE
To go back to my first motorcycling days, I had to get to school and back. We were living in Lower Basildon and my school was in Sonning. I bought my first bike, a Suzuki 50 M15 (2 stroke, not a moped), from the proceeds of working in my school holidays. I loved the freedom it gave me and it got me on the road at the weekends, to my best school friend Steve’s house in Wargrave. He was on a chopped Triumph Tiger Cub with the registration plate, 4761 D, but it looked the part. You’ve got to remember this was the era of Peter Fonda and Captain America.
This freedom was to be dramatically cut short when I got back to school from a Saturday away football match. The bike was AWOL (Hell’s teeth!). Not a sign, but 6 weeks later, my beautiful little Suzuki was spotted sticking out of the weir at Sonning. Joy-ridden and heavily baptised in Father Thames, by a pair of (I think the term was: greeboes), who lived on the school site. Worst of all, no fingerprints left. If your name is Thompson and you’ve got a twin brother, I’m after my 28 quid!
The school insurance payout helped me move up-scale slightly to a Honda 90 C200. Okay, small beer in biking terms, especially as in those days, a 250 could be ridden on L-Plates. The next machine was a Triumph Tiger Cub with clip-ons and a very decently done cafe racer set up. White fibreglass tank and metallic green stove enamelled frame. Seized on me at 60mph on the A4!
1970s JAPANESE MIND INVASION
I can clearly remember the 6 page Honda fold-out of those years, picturing the full range from SS125 twin up to the classic super bike, the CB750. My head was turned. Superb machines and marketing, no question. BSA and Triumph were still putting out half decent bikes, like the Starfire and the Trophy, there was the Norton Commando, but the momentum had shifted to the East!
BIKER DOWN (ME) & A CHANCE REUNION 10 YEARS ON
One day on my Honda, while leaving a T-junction in Wargrave, I came to blows at low speed with a yellow Audi in broad daylight, yes, a serious lack of active scanning. I was down but alright and the gent in the Audi was very understanding. His name was Bob Noble and by some incredible chance 10 years on, we crossed paths again when I got a job with an advertising agency in London, where he was the main Partner. I think we both knew… but staying schtum seemed to work best.
It was to be nearly 15 years before my 2nd biker rebirth. Why such a big gap? Something to do with Minis and Capris. They also come off better at T-junctions!
My friend Steve (a constant lead in my biking life) was on a Honda Nighthawk. Trips to Thailand in 1981, where large machines could be readily hired and without full license and test, rekindled something. The scene was set for me taking my test on a Honda 125, around the streets of Tilehurst. This led to the Honda CB650Z becoming my first “serious” machine. I put myself through the Star Rider Course for some degree of mastery over this first 4 cylinder machine. Such a mighty power revelation after a 200cc single Tiger Cub, although I’d experienced Honda fours in Pattaya.
EARLY 90s. MID-LIFE CRISIS? MID-LIFE CHRISTMAS MORE LIKE
In the early 90s after my next biking interval, I went out and bought a Yamaha XV750 (imported from US). Lovely machine, semi-cruiser style. Then came the next and last gap in riding, until 2016.
PRESENT DAY: EWAN AND CHARLEY SHOW US THE ONLY WAY IS UP!
Watching those guys, I just kept smiling and Ewan’s post trip reflections resonated strongly. I think it’s fascinating how we’ve all come to being bikers, with our many varied life paths. In a club like TVAM, I can see that a membership of over 1,000 spans a broad swathe of motorbike history and is a microcosm of our favourite industry, over many decades.
My own relatively lightly trodden path has encompassed Suzuki, two Hondas, two Yamahas and two Triumphs. Perhaps the most important is Triumph, themselves reborn and unrecognisable from my early days. Thank you, Mr Bloor. My own tastes have never entered sports or adventure bike territory, so I must be stuck in retro/classic mode! I’m now on Triumph Bonneville America (2014) and Yamaha XSR 900 (2017) and I love the contrast, ranging from relaxed cruising to just pure exhilaration!
I’ve yet to be seduced by Harley, BMW, Ducati, Moto Guzzi and Kawasaki, please forgive me, I’m working on it! I am equally fascinated by certain other brands and machines like Indian and even Benelli for the future, what a great time to be a biker! Aahh, if only the garage was bigger.
What does biking represent to me? It’s the freedom, the shared culture and the semi-spiritual experience of banking round bends, akin to flying. Coming back home, still alive, but actually more ALIVE! Now I just need to learn to do it properly!
First published in Slipstream September 2021