My life on two wheels
The Histories of Fitz the Biker
You can skip this bit if you're not interested in where and when and what I've ridden over the last twenty years or so
I first learnt to ride on a tiny little British one-lunger. I was about nine or ten at the time, and I don't remember too much about the bike; I think maybe it was a BSA Bantam. Whatever it was, the controls were all in weird places, a fact which almost got me killed a couple of times in later years.
The first motorbike I had regular access to (my father's, actually) was a 1966 Suzuki commuter scooter. 50cc of raw, throbbing power! It had a pressed steel frame and forks, did about a thousand miles to the gallon, and with a little help could get up to nearly thirty miles per hour. My dad sold it to one of my friends, who replaced the forks with some cobbled-together sprung tubes, and we'd take it out into the Tarawera forest and wring the bejeezus out of it. I have very fond memories of that little bike.
Next came another Suzuki, this time a two-stroke TS185 trail bike, which I bought for a few hundred bucks when I got my first ever money-paying job. It holds the record as the noisiest, smelliest, vibrating-est hunk of junk I've ever owned. It lasted me about a year, and I rode it up and down the North Island, shuttling between my home in the Bay of Plenty, and university in Palmerston North. For long trips, it had all the ease and comfort of hanging on to a pneumatic drill for eight hours, but at least it got me where I wanted to go. I must have had a powerful love of motorcycling to voluntarily undergo torture like that.
Next came another trail bike, this time a four-stroke Honda XL350. I'm not sure how Honda expected this thing to compete on the trail-riding circuits; it felt as though it was made entirely out of densium, with lead packing for added weight. (Mind you, it may have felt so heavy because of the contrast with the TS185, which was a real featherweight.) I'm not a big guy, and though it didn't stand as high as the Kawasakis of about the same vintage, I had to leap up onto it and couldn't get both feet on the ground at once when I was astride. I loved it though; I'd never ridden a bike with as much power until then. I put road tyres on it, and rode around all over the place until one sad, sad day . . .
A Honda CB750E (1973 vintage, if memory serves). My first road bike, and my first bike of any size. Not the highest performance machine in the history of motorcycling, but a fine, reliable street machine. I had a job at the time putting together a publication for NZUSA (if you don't know who that is, don't worry -- it's totally unimportant). It was one of the make-work holiday jobs you used to be able to get if you were a university student back in the olden days (1981), and everything about it was hopelessly disorganised. Christmas came around, and since I hadn't been told anything about what my holidays were, I went to one of the bosses and asked. She said "I suppose you get the same holidays as everyone else around here". Cool. I went home happy in the knowledge that I would be able to go on the two-week tour around the South Island my flatmate and his lady-friend were planning.
Eventually, I did get another bike, but it was a bit of a step down from the CB750 of beloved memory. It was another Honda CB, this time a 250RS. Fine machines as far as they go, and perfectly adequate for most purposes. But they don't quite have the presence of the big bikes, or the versatility of the trail machines. I rode it around for about a year and a half, until some half-witted clown in a company car pulled out in front of me, sending me over his bonnet on to the road beyond, and sending the little Honda to that great garage in the sky. After some monumental wrestling with the guy's incredibly parsimonious insurance bastards, I finally managed to wring nearly $900 out of them. That was supposed to cover the bike, repairs to my jacket, and a new helmet. Cheap bastards; I hate insurance people! (I didn't find out until later that I wasn't obliged to accept their write-off value, and that I could have forced them to fix the bike. Hey-ho, I'll know better next time.) I promptly went bike-shopping, scouring the "Buy, Sell and Exchange" for a bike in my price-range that I wouldn't be embarrassed to be seen riding. I found one.
It was a 1981 Suzuki GS550. She appeared at first to be a fairly tatty old clunker, with a rusted-out seat pan, ill-fitting cables and a hideous jerry-built 4-into-1 exhaust, but with sensitive handling she could be made to perform quite creditably (to which $740 worth of speeding tickets amassed in a one-day trip to Hanmer Springs can attest!) Top speed of about 170kmh, and reasonably nimble with the right combination of tyres and lunatic rider, I thoroughly enjoyed riding her for just over a year before a catastrophic failure of the alternator forced her into the shop for horrendously expensive repairs at the most inconvenient possible time. My poor baby had to go to hospital! I had to ride north from Christchurch to Lake Rotoma in the Bay of Plenty, and was without a bike to do it on! What to do? Easy call Danny.
Danny owned a 1981 Yamaha Virago 750, which he seldom rode any more. I asked him if I could borrow it for the trip north, and he not only agreed, but also sprung for the warrant and registration it needed so that I could do so! Very generous indeed. As it turned out, my Princess was out of hospital unexpectedly early, and since the Virago was having some starting problems (who'd have thought!), I decided that I would ride my own bike up. I had already decided that, since Danny was selling the Virago anyway, it might as well go to a good home where it would be loved and cossetted, and that home should be with me. The trouble was that I would have to sell my trusty Suzuki to finance the Virago, and such is my sentimental attachment to it that I didn't find the prospect particularly appealing. My dilemma was made worse by the ride north and back; Princess performed so pleasantly and reliably that I came back trying desperately to find some way of buying the Virago without having to sell her. I found a way. I borrowed the money off my parents.
As it turned out, I ended up selling my Princess after all, since I ran into some rather unpleasant cash-flow difficulties. But since she went to a friend of mine, (Mike Garland, secret master of kung fu and loony hormone-ridden anime fan-boy), it's sort of like she stayed in the family and I can go and visit her from time to time. Also, I can threaten him with a fate worse than bananas if he neglects her.
On New Year's Eve, '97, some dirty stinking pus-licking sheep-fucking maggot-ridden dingleberry hanging off the foetid arsehole of humanity stole my bike out of my driveway and tore off on it, dropping it a couple of times and wiping out the mirrors and indicators. It was found a week or so later, abandoned out back of a church, but the ignition barrel was smashed to pieces - $150, plus the cost of new indicators. I'd really, really like to have a pleasant (for me) conversation with the person who nicked my bike. Ideally, the conversation on his side would consist mostly of "Aaaagh! Aiee! No, don't! Please stop hurting me!" Realistically, this is very unlikely ever to happen, but I can dream can't I?
In June of 2002 I finally became fed up with the constant flow of money from my wallet caused by the recurring starting problems of the Virago, and decided that it was time to buy a reasonably new bike. I found the bike I wanted, a 1994 Yamaha XJR1200. It cost me more money than I've ever spent on anything before (with the exception of our house), but hopefully it will be a few years before it starts needing the constant mecahnical attention the old Virago did. Plus, it's got more power than Voltron, master of the Universe, which is always a good thing, and it goes like the clappers. It's a Japanese import, so it's rev-limited at 8,000 rpm. That means that it will only do 180km/h unless I spend an arm and a leg to get it delimited, but frankly I doubt very much that I'll be spending any time at all at such high speeds — I'm getting far too old and boring for that sort of carry-on these days.
End of an Era
In 2012 I finally had to bow to the inevitable. My joints could no longer take the strains of motorcycling in all weathers; the vibration and cold were giving me painful rheumatism in my hands, wrists and shoulders, and they were exacerbating the effects of old knee and hip injuries. So, I sold my last bike to some guy who had seen it parked idle for a while, and hopefully he has (a) not killed himself on it, and (b) is enjoying it more than I could any more.
I bought myself a little Nissan Pulsar to get around in. I doubt that I'll ever own another motorcycle.