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

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BSA Bantam, by Nick WardI 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.
I don't even remember who it was who owned the bike, or who was teaching me, though I suspect that it was my good friend Marcus. Most of what I remember of my virginal motorcycling experience was the noise of the engine and the smell of the oil and the exhaust, and the vibration as I rode around and around the local soccer field in first gear (I didn't know how to change up!) That one experience was enough. I've been hooked on motorcycling ever since.

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.

Suzuki TS185Next 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.
The bike came to a sad end; I took it to pieces with the virtuous intention of repainting the frame and cleaning everything, renewing the wiring and all that sort of stuff, ready for sale to some poor sucker. Since I didn't own a manual for it, I carefully laid out all of the assemblies in order on the garage floor. Then I went out to the pub for some well-earned refreshment before getting to work. You can probably guess what happened.
My flatmate came home, and in an uncharacteristic fit of tidiness, decided to clean up the garage. Aaaaaarrrrrggghhh!!!!! I got home to find all of my nuts and bolts and springs and washers and electrical crap neatly stowed away in a cardboard box under the workbench. I threw up my hands in frustration and fled back to the pub.
The flatmate escaped with his life. He went out again, and by the time he got back home a week or so later, I'd shifted out into a den of vice and depravity the like of which the world has seldom seen. But that's another story. I was having so much slippery, squelchy, rumpy-pumpy double-backed hump-monster fun and taking so many exciting drugs that I forgot all about putting an old motorbike back together. As far as I know, it's still there.

Honda XL350Next 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 . . .
I was riding home for the holidays from Palmerston North, with my friend Wayne Pierce. The bike had been running a little rough between about 3500 and 4000 rpm, and as we climbed up on to the Desert Road, the problem became worse and worse until the bike sounded like a tubercular asthmatic with the hiccups. We stopped, and I fiddled with this and that, but couldn't get any improvement. We'd just passed through Waiouru, and Wayne gave me a lift back to the garage there. I made arrangements for them to pick up the bike and fix it, the idea being that I'd pick it up on my way back down in a couple of weeks time.
I went out with the guy to pick up my poor forlorn baby, and we loaded it into his ute. I left him to tie it down. Bad move. As it turned out, he only secured it by the back wheel to the tow-bar of the truck, relying on the tailgate to keep the bike in place. Inevitably, the tailgate came down and the Honda rolled off the back just as I turned around to check on it. I yelled at him to stop and he stamped on the brakes, but we were travelling at a fair old clip and my poor bike bounced and dragged about a hundred metres down the road (still attached to the tow-bar) before we came to a stop. I took a look at the remains; the left-hand side of the bike was a complete wreck. Every last thing on that side was destroyed, with the exception of the tyres. I said some Bad Words.
Eventually, after some nasty legal letters from my lawyers, the guy got on to his insurance company, who wrote off the bike and gave me a measly $900 for it. Hey-ho; I'd only paid a thousand for it, so I took the money and ran straight down to my local bike shop and put a down-payment on . . .

Honda CB750EA 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.
We had a great time on our holiday (except for a nasty bout of the screaming shits on the West Coast), and came home to Wellington happy and refreshed. In my case, happy, refreshed, and fired. Apparently I had been given incorrect information regarding my holidays. I went back, had a flaming row with another of the bosses (a sleazy, slimy scumbag who should have been throttled at birth), and failed to become re-employed. Hey-ho. Shit happens.
Unfortunately, this meant that I had no way of keeping up the payments on my beautiful new bike. I spent a month tearing around trying to find some way of financing it, with my only income being the dole (difficult, to say the least. Try it some time), but eventually the inevitable happened and my baby was repossessed. I did come out of the affair with a pair of boots and some gauntlets; they surely must count as some of the most expensive leather goods ever. After that, there was a looooooooong hiatus in my motorcycling career, mainly due to a chronic lack of money.

Honda CB250RSEventually, 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.

My trusty GS550, a princess amongst motorbikesIt 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.

1981 Virago 750 -- just like mine, only cleanerDanny 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.
The Virago keeps running fine and dandy, though I had to replace the inlet manifolds since they were ancient and perished. Aiee! Who'd have thought that anyone would have the brass face to charge so much for a couple of bits of rubber? Bloody hell, anyone would think that Yamaha supplied stuff to the US military, their prices are so steep. At present my tinkering is just cosmetic -- I've bought a slightly battered tank and side-covers which I have restored to pristine smoothness, and painted in a multi-layer candyapple red finish. If I can come up with a decent design, I'll airbrush something over that, but at the moment my inspiration is distinctly lacking. I'd like to replace the mufflers, since the existing pair are showing the effects of friction with some hard and abrasive surface (wonder what that could be), but that will have to wait until I have considerably more money than I do right now.

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?

Yamaha XJR1200In 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.

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