It all started when Denver mentioned that he took his bike “Ratbag” a Suzuki TU250 for a test run and failed to hit the ton (on a private road of course :). Geoff said his Royal Enfield would be quicker and the challenge was made…
Back in the day when I could still count my pubes on the fingers of one hand and the number of boobs I’d felt-up on the other…I saw it. I can’t rightly remember where now. It could have been parked on a footpath somewhere, in that golden age when you could park a bike literally anywhere, except perhaps actually on a traffic warden’s foot, and get away with it. It could have been on one of those A4 spec sheets you used to find in bike dealers, with a studio shot of the bike magically standing upright without using the stand. Wherever it was, just like the first time I saw that poster of Farrah Fawcett with her nips out, I got a funny feeling downstairs and knew I wanted it. And in exactly the same fashion as my desire for Farrah, it was never to be.
Sadly, at the time, my income was nil and my savings were limited to the sponsored-walk money I’d collected, but neglected to hand in. So I never got to buy an XT. In fact, again like Farrah, I never even got to ride one. By the time I could afford two wheels, things had moved on and I was drawn to road bikes instead: the moment had sadly passed. Let’s fast forward a number of years to a time when I’m again bikeless and poverty stricken, having sold all my worldy chattels to move to London. I was staying with a mate in a crappy flat in the arse-end of Camden for the princely sum of 30 quid a week and I had a shite job which paid about the same. I was, and I believe you’ll find this phrase used often in banking circles, skint as fuck.
Everyday I would trudge down Camden Road to the tube station, past the same glum looking people and the same rundown shops, coveting the bikes whzzing past. One of the particularly derelict terraces housed what was perhaps the smallest bike shop in the world. It was tiny, which was in marked contrast to the mountainous bunch of Hell’s Angels who worked there and owned it. Their floor stock never seemed to change and the motley collection of old CB250’s and knackered X7’s spilled out onto the pavement everyday like they’d been dumped there from a skip. I’m not one to start rumours but, if I’d had any, I’d have bet money that flogging bikes was perhaps not the sole or even primary source of income for that shop…if you get my drift.
So one morning I’m shuffling past half asleep in my too big camouflage jacket, my too tight jeans and my too trendy hair, when I look up and see, proudly presented in the window like some angelic vision, a near immaculate XT 500, with chrome tank, gold wheels and ludicrously spindly forks. I stopped in my tracks. In fact I’m not sure that my mouth didn’t fall open a bit. In any case, I obviously stood there for a while because eventually Bigfoot shambled out of the shop under the weight of his piss-washed Lewis leather, and sleeveless Levi jacket encrusted with a million Legalize Cannabis badges, to grunt at me from behind a huge beard apparently constructed almost entirely from old food.
I can’t recall the exact conversation but the upshot was he offered me a test ride on it…the bike not the beard. Despite the fact that his stench probably contravened the Geneva Convention, and the last thing I wanted was to be on the same motorcycle as this man-beast, plus the fact that I literally didn’t have enough money for food let alone a bike…I felt intimidated into saying yes. At this point he trudged back into the shop and, with his arms-like-legs, casually lifted the bike out of the window as if it were full of helium. I gulped…loudly.
He wheeled it out of the shop, bashing the door and splintering the frame with the serrated ‘pegs for good measure. He also handed me an ancient, battered open-face helmet which, I believe, at some point between entering Paris in 1945 on the head of a Panzer commander and exiting Camden some decades later on mine, may have been home to a quantity of sick.
Now I was up close, it was obvious that the bike wasn’t as original as it looked in the window. The tyres for one thing; which were as skinny as a pram’s and as shiny as a billiard ball. They were not any make I’d ever heard of and actually looked to be sweating some unknown residue from the rubber.
At about this time it dawned on me that Bigfoot wasn’t coming with me on the test ride. “You not coming with me?” I asked, just to ensure he wouldn’t pull my arms and legs off if I attempted to ride away without him. “I don’t need to…do I” he growled, towering over me to emphasise the menace in his words and not even bothering to make it a question. My new BFF then slung a giant leg over the Yam and spent a goodly while gently coaxing the big single into life with a cunning blend of extreme violence and blood curdling profanity, before stepping off and passing the now idling XT over to me. As I had no means or intention of ever buying the bike, this was all starting to feel like a bit of a mistake on my part. I decided that, not to take the piss further, I’d do a quick loop of the neighbourhood and come straight back.
So I set off, doing my best impression of a man riding without insurance of any kind – not difficult as by-and-large I didn’t have insurance of any kind – and immediately turned off the main drag. Out of sight, I flew up the following straight before throwing a left at the first opportunity. It was around this time that I discovered the tyres were made from a substance with a coefficient of friction akin to that of candle-wax on a hot day. With unbelievable ferocity the XT literally spat itself out from beneath me and I went sprawling down the road on my knees and bare hands, for, in a manner befitting someone wearing an item of Nazi paraphernalia on his head, I had eschewed the wearing of gloves as somewhat girly and not in keeping with the idiom of the Third Reich. The XT seemed to accelerate away from me, with sparks flying off all the pointy bits and, as if to emphasise how truly awful the situation had become, God visited one final indignity upon me, as I sat in the road goggle-eyed and bleeding, by arranging for my left shoe, which had flown off and evidently gone some distance up in the sky, to cuff me across the back of the head like some ghostly George Best taking a penalty with my noggin.
In a period of time smaller than that which is measurable by atomic science, I was on my feet, scooping up my shoe and running to the now silent XT, my thoughts a swirling fog of decompression levers, top-dead-centre and legendary tales of how impossibly difficult big singles were to start. Adrenaline had kicked in to such a degree that I yanked the bike onto it’s wheels, pulled the clutch in and jumped on the kick-start in one seamless action, whereupon, in an event worthy of a note to the Pope, the bloody thing burst into life.
I reached down and pulled my trainer on, taking in the amount of dirt and holes now evident on my jacket, but, to my relief the XT seemed to have suffered hardly at all. There were certainly a few extra scuffs here and there and the end of the clutch lever was pointing in a new and amusing direction, but nothing had actually snapped off or been smashed as far as I could see, and the tank at least wasn’t dented.
With the bike running I was desperate to get it back so, jacket flapping like a tent on Everest, I nailed it to the end of the road as hard as the Yam could manage…which brought me back out onto the main road about ten doors up from where I’d started the whole sorry tail. As I pulled up on the pavement my limbs had turned to jelly and my knees were knocking with shock and fear. I undid the strap on the lid with bloody, trembling hands as Bigfoot came out to meet me - although in truth he’d hardly had time to go back inside. He stopped and looked me up and down, and I believe his mouth fell open slightly too.
Like a man with a nose full of marching powder, I rattled off some old bollocks about it not being my cup of tea and I’d have a think about it and let him know later but I really had to be going as I was late for work and I was going to miss my train and oh look an eagle… He looked me in the eye for a second and then stared at my ruined hands, before letting his gaze drop further. I too looked down at myself and my wrecked jacket. The zip was still done up but the seam had burst, allowing the front to hang wide open. It was only then that I realized I had also split my jeans - and this is the honest truth - literally from the inside of one knee, up and around my crutch, and back down to the other knee. To all intents and purposes I was standing there in my pants.
I had been away from the shop for about four minutes and I’d come back looking like I’d been gang raped by a herd of elephants…which was similar to what I imagined my actual fate to be if the patch gang decided to look closely at the XT.
Mustering as much dignity as possible I stood tall, gathered the scraps of my jacket around me as if nothing had happened and limped off saying I’d ring them, which of course I never did…and of course I never walked the same way to work again either.