Mo­tor­cy­cle cheater start

Classic Driver - - FRONT PAGE -

I sub­scribe to the the­ory of old cars and en­joy the com­pany of peo­ple who own and drive them but I don’t think I’m cut out to be one of them. Rather like mo­tor­cy­cles.

Back in the 1950s in New Zealand you could buy and ride a mo­tor­bike for six weeks to de­cide whether you wanted to go for your li­cence. At that point you had to fit L-plates and be­have like a learner. Noth­ing over 40mph. No pil­lion pas­sen­ger. I used to buy a mo­tor­bike at the start of the Christ­mas hol­i­days, ride it like I was on the Isle of Man TT for the six-week trial pe­riod which also co­in­cided with the Christ­mas hol­i­days...and then sell it.

My first bike was a 197cc James sin­gle while I was work­ing at the ANZ bank in Ti­maru around 1958. I re­mem­ber rather vividly its habit of bounc­ing its plug lead off un­der what passed for power surge but this came with a ma­jor bonus. This was in the days of six o’clock pub clos­ing. Us teller chaps hur­ried through our cash bal­ances and then rushed to the Hy­dro Grand Ho­tel where we beered un­til six and then headed for home usu­ally suit­ably over-re­freshed. The James winged it down the Bay Hill and then zoomed up the climb of Wai-iti Road... where the plug lead usu­ally de­tached it­self and with­out thought I would lean down to reat­tach it. This meant I got the to­tal elec­tri­cal charge up my arm which apart from gath­er­ing my to­tal smart­ing at­ten­tion for some dis­tance, achieved the mir­a­cle of de­liv­er­ing in­stant to­tal so­bri­ety. Amaz­ing. Should have found a way to patent and mar­ket it!

Six weeks was prob­a­bly long enough with the James. The fol­low­ing year came a hand­some 350cc twin-cylin­der Tri­umph 3-T. By way of dif­fer­ence the Tri­umph usu­ally ran slightly lumpily on one cylin­der – but on oc­ca­sion chimed in on two to de­liver its smooth cat­a­logue lusty per­for­mance. They were the bonus times, strangely op­po­site to the James.

Twenty years later in Sur­rey, my mate De­nis Jenk­in­son – fa­mous as the jour­nal­ist who had rid­den with Stir­ling Moss when they won the 1955 Mille Miglia in a Mercedes and rid­den side car for Eric Oliver when the won the World Cham­pi­onship – talked me into buy­ing a Honda 400-4. It was smooth per­for­mance per­son­i­fied but my in­ter­est waned and the Honda went. A while later I was in Jenks’ com­pany at a pub lunch when some­one asked why I had sold the 400/4. Jenks said “It rained...” On re­flec­tion he was prob­a­bly right. He was right.

Oh yes, and when Mike “The Bike” Hail­wood shared a house with other F1 harum-scarums like Chris Amon, Pete Rev­son and Tony Maggs, I was Mike’s man­ager. He was al­ways happy to come home from a race in the far cor­ners of Europe with his race boots crammed with for­eign ban­knotes. Never mind how many, just lots! So we talked him into in­sist­ing on get­ting paid what he re­ally was worth to bump up the crowds in Cze­choslo­vakia rather than the least the pro­mot­ers thought they could get away with. He sug­gested it wasn’t a very good idea to keep his boots-full of cash un­der his bed, but the happy-go-lucky Hail­wood’s rea­son was that no thief would ever look un­der his bed... and if he did he wouldn’t want a bat­tered old pair of boots. Mike leaned his bikes so far over that he scraped the leather from the sides of his boots... and would tape the holes af­ter each race. Long races = bleed­ing feet!

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