My First Motorbike: Used, abused and ridden to destruction
18:46 04 January 2016
Patrick D Cousins recounts his first motorbike’s tale of thrills – and spills – and daredevil riding stunts.
My first proper vehicle was a motorcycle, after I had ‘served my apprenticeship’ on a 50cc moped. But perhaps the story is best told my the bike itself in an extract from Short Cuts, my collection of short stories and humorous articles available as an ebook from Amazon.
I have read with interest the My First Car and motorbike stories but what about us machines. We also have stories to tell.
I remember it as though it was yesterday. I was sitting in the showroom of Pride & Clarke in Stockwell, south London, my polished chrome glinting in the spring sunshine that penetrated the plate glass windows, my price tag of £135 dangling from the handlebars on a piece of string.
My previous owner, a middle-aged man with a cloth cap and a pipe, had certainly spruced me up before saying goodbye. I missed him but I was quite optimistic and looking forward to a bright new future. Little did I know that within a few short years it would be all over for me.
I don’t remember much about my early days, only that I was called Norton Dominator – ‘Dommie’ to my friends. By the time I was sitting in Pride & Clarke’s, in 1960, I was five years old. The skinny, spotty youth wandering through the display was obviously shopping for a new toy and I tried to look inconspicuous, hoping he would pass me by. He stopped in front of me and called out to his friend, “’Ere, Tone, wojer fink of this one?” Had I been fitted with a reverse gear I swear I would have engaged it.
Tone ambled over and looked down his nose at me, “Nah,” he sneered. “It’s only a five ‘undred.” Only a five hundred! OK, I wasn’t the biggest bike on the block, but I wasn’t the smallest either. And what I lacked in muscle power I made up for in agility and good looks. And modesty.
Spotty wasn’t to be put off, however, and the following week the salesman wheeled me out on to the street and handed him my key. I’ll never forget that first journey. I’d heard about bikes having their footrests scraped on the ground while cornering but I never thought it would happen to me! After the initial pain you get used to it, and it was nothing compared to what lay ahead.
Apparently my image wasn’t sporty enough. Spotty fitted me with a second-hand fairing, which didn’t look too bad except for the ‘mounting brackets’, some of which he had cut from old baked bean cans – a commodity he seemed to consume in industrial size quantities. My now bent and buckled mudguards were disposed of and replaced with something which appeared to be made from milk bottle tops. He sprayed my once beautiful petrol tank with red paint, diluted and dispensed from an old pump-action fly spray. Can you imagine – the indignity of it!
Although I strongly disapproved of racing on the public highway I must confess to a sneaking satisfaction at leaving 650 Triumphs and BSAs in the dust. If only it had stopped there. It wasn’t long before Spotty was looking for diversions to make the journey home more interesting. He had several times pushed me beyond my capabilities and we’d ended up sliding along the tarmac – through no fault of mine, I should stress. Anyway one of the side effects of all this abuse was that my handlebars had been bent and straightened so many times that my twist grip would stay in whichever setting he left it (I was probably the first bike in the world to boast cruise control).
Spotty would often ride the last three miles home without touching the bars – just a quick dab on my footbrake on the approach to some of the sharper bends. For his next trick he would stand upright on my pillion. No, I don’t know why, I suppose it just seemed like a good idea at the time. Although I don’t recall the man with the cloth cap and pipe ever displaying such tendencies. A damn good job one of us knew what we were doing, that’s all I can say.
One night, while riding back from Johnson’s Café on the A20 in Kent, he spotted a friend walking home after missing the last bus so we stopped to give him a lift. I wouldn’t have minded but for the fact that we already had a pillion passenger. Spotty soon went into his circus repertoire and I could hear the passengers screaming. I don’t know if this was from fear of crashing or because of the juxtaposition of their faces with Spotty’s nether regions – something I could sympathise with having travelled thousands of miles with him sitting on my back after having consumed the aforementioned quantities of baked beans.
Not surprisingly, Spotty attracted a lot of attention from the traffic police and it wasn’t long before his third driving conviction was looming, which would mean an automatic driving ban. This, I soon realised, signalled the end of our relationship and I suddenly felt immensely sad as we toured the local dealers looking for ‘the best offer’. Best offer! Honestly, how would you feel? And after all we’d been through together.
Looking back on it I must have made a sorry sight that day. My scars were covered with mismatched paint, my rear light bulb daubed with lipstick – not Spotty’s, I hasten to add – so as to glow red through the cracked remains of the light cover. And my sturdy Featherbed frame so twisted that I didn’t know whether my wheels were front and rear or left and right.
The dealer walked round me, shaking his head and kicking my bald tyres (why do they do that?). Spotty started my engine and there were some embarrassing sounds from somewhere deep within my bowels and, as much as I tried to control it, some telltale drops beneath my sump. Eventually he sucked air in through his teeth, sighed and made a sort of tutting sound.
“It’s only any good as scrap, son,” he said. “I’m a fool to myself but I can give you a tenner for it. Take it or leave it.”
Spotty took it and climbed on to the back of Tone’s Triumph Bonneville. As they pulled away he glanced back – perhaps I imagined it, but I like to think I saw a tear in his eye.