Summer's always better on two wheels

We're not just retailers... we're riders.

Why motorcycles?

Robin with his eyeball-adorned lid and his AJS caff racer; where it all began for me.

I am writing as intensely as I ever have, anywhere, this week. The new issue will soon be at print and  I am doing an intensive round of interviews to get the magazine finished, talking to bikers from as far afield as Southern California and Sweden.

My natural nosiness always kicks in when I am chatting to people about motorcycles; I love hearing about their formative experiences. What made someone climb aboard a motorcycle instead of a horse? Choose something mechanical and potentially dangerous over football or gardening?

And it got me thinking about my first brushes with motorcycles; I was (and probably still am) a bit of a follower rather than a trailblazer and it was always my best friend Martin who got me into the most interesting situations when we were kids. "Let's get the bus into London" or "Let's go after school to Barnet Fair"... without someone to push me along, I am sure I would have just stayed in my room reading comics.

So it wasn't surprising that Martin was my conduit to first experiencing the visceral thrill of motorcycles. The first one I remember actually standing next to, smelling and touching was an AJS cafe racer owned by Martin's next door neighbour, Robin. We were probably nine or ten and he must have been in his mid-twenties. I'll never forget the gold pin striping on the immense, shiny black tank or the impossibly low-mounted handlebars. Even in the early seventies this already felt like quite an anachronistic machine: something from another (more exciting) era. I remember how Robin's leathers smelled and his cork-lined pudding basin helmet with a bloodshot flying eyeball painted scratchily onto its crown. I used to step back behind Martin's garden wall when Robin kick-started this beast, he dressed entirely in black except for the white tops of his socks folded over the top of his boots. Martin, of course, stood confidently right there next to him as the bike exploded into life.

Martin's love for motorcycles was born then (he still rides them); mine was a slower-burning fascination, but the fact I can still remember Robin and his bike so vividly is testament to to the memory's importance. But eventually Robin was swallowed up by respectability, he sold his bike and left home and we started hanging around another older lad's garage, where things got even more exciting.

Neil Graham was the eldest son of family friends of Martin's and my parents. He was a bit (only a bit) of a tearaway and he was my first hero. He lived up a side street off Martin's and my road; we used to go and just stand in the doorway of his parents' garage (integral to the house) watching Neil as he tinkered with his Triumph Bonneville. Again, the smell of leather and motor oil (and in his room, patchouli oil!) was intoxicating; we tried to keep thinking of things to ask him, just to keep the conversation going so we were able to stay nearby. God knows what he thought of us. Vitally, though, Neil gave us both our first ride on a motorcycle... sat behind him on his Triumph. I don't have to describe how – beyond – exciting this was. The absolutely impossible thrust of its acceleration and power of its brakes (hey, remember I was only a pre-teen) were amazing to me.

Martin was absolutely hooked; as soon as he was old enough he went through the grinding embarrassment of riding a 50cc Puch Maxi moped (to get his test as soon as he could) then a much cooler Kawasaki KH250, which I rode pillion on. His parents were wealthier than mine... but more importantly, easier-going too. My mum worked at the local hospital and there was no way my brother or I were having bikes, even if my folks could afford them. I made do with borrowed Yamaha FS1Es from my friends.

The two-wheel touch paper was lit; but Neil also sparked a passion in me for something that – at the time – became a much bigger deal. Something that reflected exactly how I felt about life, parents, girls, school: Punk Rock.

But that's another story.


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