I learned to ride – legally – in Italy when I was fourteen and I’ve been riding bikes in the UK ever since my sixteenth birthday. These are the bikes I’ve ridden or owned in that time.
Garelli “Rekord” 50 (1968)
In 1968 we spent the summer in Italy, a country where a fourteen-year-old was legally allowed to ride a 50cc bike with no licence, no insurance, no helmet, nothing like an MoT, with just a road tax sticker costing 1500 Lire – the equivalent of £1 in those days. My cousin Manlio taught me how to ride his mother’s moped and I was hooked. Within 48 hours my father had secured the loan of a relative’s Garelli Rekord for the rest of our stay, and Manlio and I spent most of the summer riding around together. I only fell off once! Manlio, all this is your fault… I can’t thank you enough!
This isn’t the actual machine – it’s a picture I found on the Web – but it gives you an idea of what the Rekord looked like.
1965 Honda C92 “Benly” 125 – EFH 443C (1970-1972)
After the summer of ’68 I spent two years lusting after a bike of my own. I must have driven my parents nuts! Two weeks before my sixteenth birthday they forked out £80 for a five-year-old Honda C92 Benly with about 2000 miles on the clock. The owner had fallen off it three years previously, injured his hand and never ridden it since. I spent those two weeks polishing it at least twice a day and starting the engine “just to make sure”!The actual day of my birthday was a school day so I got up at about five o’clock to go for a run. With that hot Italian summer still alive in my memories, I zoomed off into a chilly UK September morning wearing a T-shirt and no gloves. I came back absolutely frozen! The agreement had been that my parents would pay for the machine but I would be reponsible for the insurance, road tax, petrol, etc. Two years later with my savings depleted and the prospect of university looming, I was obliged to sell her. I remember crying. And I never did go to university.
Again, this isn’t the actual machine I owned as the family photos from that period aren’t immediately to hand, but I shall post some here as soon as I can lay my hands on them.
04/07/2019: I’ve received an email from someone who tells me he’s just bought this machine and that it’s complete and running. Hopefully pics to follow…
1971 Suzuki T500 – JFH 99K (1974-1977)
I spent the next two years looking at every bike that went past and trying to work out how I could afford to get back on the road. I wasn’t interested in cars – they were boring. I was working at a building society in Gloucester at the time and squirrelling away every spare penny. After two years I had nearly £300 burning a hole in my account and I knew the time was right. I loved those big American cop bikes but I knew I couldn’t afford a Harley Davidson, so when I found a Suzuki T500 for sale locally with the big screen, high-rise handlebars, back rest, top box, panniers, crash bars, etc, I just had to have her. The photo on the left isn’t the actual machine but it’s exactly the same colour. A pink cop bike? I can’t imagine what I was thinking!
I had to push her home from Matson to Tuffley at night in the rain because the engine was seized – I knew that, obviously – and the following day I pushed her round to Neal Fraser‘s new workshop near Barton Gates and threw what was left of my savings at him for a couple of new barrels. (If you’re reading this, Neal, do you remember what happened when we started her up for the first time?!)
Suzuki called this bike “a wolf in sheep’s clothing”. I’m not so sure – she struggled to get up to the ton – but she was fairly lively and very comfortable to ride. I kept her for three years until I fell in love with a girl who didn’t seem too keen on riding pillion, and then I had a dreadful decision to make. The Suzuki went and I learned to drive a car. The girl stayed and we’re still happily married thirty-six years later. Good call, me!
13/01/2016: I’ve just been contacted out of the blue from someone in Australia who now has this machine – completely restored and a prize-winning show bike. I’m absolutely delighted that the old girl has survived nearly forty years after I let her go. Pics below – story to follow…
1979 Honda CB250N “Super Dream” – EDG 36T (1981-1986)
By now I was married and a large chunk of our joint incomes was going straight to the Halifax every month, but we were both earning so it seemed sensible to be (secretly) planning for another bike. The Dolomite Sprint you can see in the picture was a bit thirsty on petrol, especially when driven by me, so with the excuse that it would save money in the long run – I had a thirty-mile round trip to work and back every day – ‘we’ forked out £360 on a Honda Super Dream. I knew my mother would be mortified if she found out I was back on two wheels, so whenever she was due to visit I moved it from the front of the house and parked it out of sight round the corner. Then one day she called in unexpectedly…
I kept the Super Dream for five years: she was boring but reliable, and very easy to ride. The fairing gave loads of protection from the weather but caught the cross-winds on the Golden Valley rather badly, so sometimes I had to use the back road. Then in the winter of 1985-6 I had to leave her out for several months and when spring came round again she threw a hissy fit and point-blank refused to start. We’d just moved house and the mortgage payments were a real drain on a single pay-packet, and with a second baby on the way I couldn’t justify spending any more money putting her back on the road or running her. I sold her to a friend for just £50.
1984 Suzuki GSX550EF – B969 PFH (1990-2007)
Four years without a bike and I was suffering serious withdrawal symptoms. I still found cars boring and my salary had shot up after a couple of carefully-contemplated and well-judged career moves, so once again I found myself in the market for a new bike. The mortgage payments which had seemed unaffordable in 1985 were quite bearable five years later, so when I wandered past the showroom of Mead & Tomkinson’s, the Suzuki dealers in Westgate Street, Gloucester, and saw this machine I knew it was time to get back on to two wheels. A week later she was sitting on my driveway.Mead’s had agreed to deliver the bike to my house because I was nervous about riding her after they ‘d warned me how powerful modern midweight bikes were compared to the twenty-year-old T500 I remembered. I’d even declined a test ride myself, instead persuading a friend to try her out on my behalf! I tootled around Longlevens for a couple of days getting used to her and then, confident that she wasn’t really such a beast after all, I took her out on to the A38 and opened her up. She frightened the life out of me!
In seventeen years she never let me down once, ever, and sailed through sixteen MoT’s. However I decided almost reluctantly that it was time to get something slightly newer and maybe just a little bit zippier. Here are a few pictures of my trusty old steed: click on the thumbnails for a closer look.
2002 Suzuki GSX750F – CE52 GLZ (2007-2011)
The Suzuki GSX750F “Teapot”: apparently “owners love them and their quirky looks” (Motorcycle News). She looked very nice in the showroom of Performance Suzuki in Tewkesbury, had less than 10k on the clock which isn’t bad for a five-year-old machine, and came complete with: full service history, DataTool immobiliser; Scott oiler, Givi rack and top box; Oxford tank bag, heated grips and battery optimiser; and a set of full-length waterproofs. Bargain! Okay, I really (really!) wanted the GSXR750 standing next to her in the showroom but at two grand more, there was no way I’d be able to sneak her past my Financial Secretary. Never mind, I’m still buying lottery tickets and I’ve asked the guys at Performance Suzuki to keep a GSXR1000 polished and ready for me to collect. In the meantime, I love my Teapot: she’s very nippy – the first time I opened her up I came home with the most enormous grin on my face!
Pocket bike (mini-moto) – make/model unknown (May 2008-February 2016)
Now that I have two grandsons, I need to start planning ahead. Okay, they’re both less than a year old at the moment but the time will come when they’re going to need to learn how to ride a motorbike. With that in mind, I paid £15 for a frame, pair of wheels and large tin of spare parts at a car boot sale (Cheltenham Racecourse, Sunday mornings). Ten days later, having spent just over a tenner, she’s on the road – not literally because, as we all know, you should never ride these things on public roads.I just need a grip for the left handlebar – oh, and I have to wait for my grandsons to grow up a little – and the next generation of Lacchin bikers is guaranteed. In the meantime I shall start her up now and again and maybe take her for a spin… *:)
2005 Honda CBR1100XX Super Blackbird – VX05 OOW (August 2011-January 2015)
I never fell out of love with the Suzuki but the Honda Blackbird was in a different class. I spotted this one for sale on the Motorcycle News Web site just a couple of miles from where I live and I didn’t need to agonise too long before I was scraping together the dregs of several bank and savings accounts to find enough of a deposit to convince the seller I was serious about buying her. Forty-eight hours later she was sitting on my driveway. This is the mug shot from the MCN listing. Sadly she sustained a considerable amount of cosmetic damage to the offside bodywork when I came round a bend on a rural road in October 2014 and lost control on a slurry spill which was disguised by a dip in the road surface. The repair quote from the local Honda main dealer came to almost as much as the market value of the machine and the insurance company refused to authorise a repair. They offered me almost as much as she was worth in order to write her off and she was last seen disappearing down the road on the back of a vehicle transporter. A sad day.
2006 Honda VFR800 VTEC – AF56 UPJ (March 2016-August 2016)
I was having real problems finding a nice Blackbird, and I saw this in the local Honda dealers. Perhaps I was a bit hasty in buying it after nearly eighteen months off the road but I just didn’t get on with it. Performance-wise it was okay but I felt a bit scrunched up riding it any distance and it just wasn’t as comfortable as I remember my old Blackbird was, so after a couple of months I was faced with a hard decision…
2005 Honda CBR1100XX Super Blackbird – XX05 NEG (August 2016-July 2021)
So my friend Andy gets in touch. “I have some news… My uncle is selling his 2005 Blackbird – in black. I know this bike and it is immaculate and has been meticulously maintained. It’s in Sheffield but I can guarantee you a superb loved machine in pristine nick…” So to cut a long story short, I was on the first train up to Sheffield and I’m now once again the happy owner of a Blackbird, five years almost to the minute after buying my first one. It’s booked in to have a temperamental Datatool System 3 alarm removed and then I have a few days left of what we laughingly call “summer” to renew my acquaintance with one of the best machines Mr Honda ever conceived.
Sadly I’ve decided that the Blackbird, with a kerbside weight of 255kg, is too heavy for me following the lower back and nervous system injuries I sustained in an accident in 2014. I may look around for something lighter (and inevitably slower and less exciting) when the gloom of this decision has lifted slightly, but in the meantime, the Bird had to go. The proud new owner has just disappeared into the distance on her. I hope he has as much enjoyment as I’ve had out of the two Blackbirds it’s been my pleasure to possess.