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18th April 2005

Opinion: My Bikes - I

The path to classic biking need not necessarily be a direct one. NVT explains how he took a wandering route via trials, touring and an enforced absence...

I've been a RealClassic member now for just over a year and have enjoyed reading the stories about members and their bikes along with the passion we all share - namely Motor Cycling.


I had just returned home from the first proper run on the most recent addition to the stable, my 1977 Norton Commando Mk 3 Interstate E/S. The thought went through my head about how I had arrived at the ripe old age of 50, riding a bike similar to one I used to lust over as a snotty-nosed school kid all those years ago. Every day I'd be stuck to the window of Butlers motorcycle shop on the way home from school in Long Eaton. The Commando I remember seeing in their window was an Interstate in a gorgeous shade of metallic red. Wow.

My passion for bikes started at a very early age after being dragged down the road when I ran after my dad's bike. He didn't know I was there. Grabbing hold of the rack, I was dragged along behind, badly grazing my knees. Still got the scars. The first of many. All I remember of the bike was it was big black and had two cylinders. It was probably an AJS or Matchless.

My parent's split up when I was only little so motorcycles didn't reappear as a major part of my world until I was about 12 years old. At that time one of my schoolmates lived at Trent Lock at a boat yard next to a large area of wasteland formally excavated by the railway for ballast. He and the other boys used to ride a motley collection of old bikes around the tip. These consisted of a Norton 16H, two Panthers, a V-twin Indian, various Villiers-engined bikes and of course the odd Bantam. I managed to talk them into letting me have a go and I was hooked.

My first bike was a 98cc Moto Guzzi, which was soon, followed by Cubs, Ambassadors, Francis-Barnetts, a BSA C11 -- all culminating in a pre-unit T100ss. Those were the days when if you had a paper round and noticed a bike in someone's back garden then you made them an offer to take it off their hands. 5 was the going rate. Bit like Frank's 100 now, except 5 bought the bike then... The T100SS was the most expensive bike I had ever bought it cost the then kings ransom of 35. Oh, if only I had a time machine?

It wasn't long after this I was seduced by the Dark Side. Scooters. A collection of Lambretta Li, Td and finally a GT200 with Dellorto carb, Bultaco piston and Ancillotti seat and expansion box. OOH ERR! But I never did quite succumb to the mod thing.

Eventually I saw the light and bought a Honda CB72 -- nothing much to report except it carried me to work and back, never let me down except for when the exhausts rotted and fell apart.

My Grandad did a beaut bodge and soldered them back together using copper sheet and stick solder. Well, he was a plumber and a damn good one at that. They lasted for 12 months like that till I sold it! Those were the days.

Classic Honda Stuff on

At some point the lads got interested in trials. Long Eaton was home to the Pidcock and Oakley families competing successfully in trials in the East Midlands Centre in the late 60s and early 70s. A succession of Greeves Scottish and the odd Cotton, AJS and Sprite followed and an enduring interest in Trials was kindled. So I competed, with a little success, through to the early 80s riding Ossa, Montesa and Bultaco bikes culminating in a Fantic 240 pro and Yamaha TY250 mono. It's strange but the guys I rode with then -- Mick Andrews, Chris Milner, Dave Thorpe and the late Ted Breffit (he always wore a collar and tie even when riding a real gentleman) -- are all still competing, apart from Ted of course, in pre-65 events. More of the trials connection later...

That takes us to the late 80s when I had a desire to take a break from trials.

The Kickstart TV series had significantly changed the face of trials forever, a retrograde step for the sport as a whole IMHO and not my thing anymore. This was just after I had done an extremely stupid thing and been banned for 12 months for drink driving. Typically, I was pulled after being followed for two miles as I had a noisy exhaust. That conviction was thrown out of court as unsubstantiated but the drink driving conviction stood. I have no problem with this as I stupidly broke the law and took my penalty. All I will say is that if I had known I would have to pay double for my insurance for the next five years, then I may have thought twice. Either way it probably did me a favour and made me appreciate how valuable your licence really is.

As a celebration of getting my license back I bought a Yamaha FJ1200 for touring on and my long suffering partner, Maggie, allowed me to build the Yamaha TY in the front room. I did the home - John O'Groats - Land's End - home run. Look - I had never been to Scotland before and how was I to know the road from John O'Groats via Tongue to Fort William would be barely more than a gravel track in places? It was an A-road on the map. You know: A-road - big, wide, black tarmac thing, average speed 60/70mph. Easy? NOT.

As modern trials now held little attraction with its bias towards 'trick cycling' I part exchanged the TY250 for a Yamaha FZR 1000 Genesis and my Superbike phase started.

The FJ 1200 gave way to a Kawasaki ZX10, big mistake, never really got on with that bike and I can't really say why. Just didn't gel. So after about 1200 miles swapped for a ZZR1100. Much nicer. We toured France, Italy and most of the West Country on that bike. Superb. After five years ownership the old girl was getting ready for a generous amount of spend, the ZZR not Maggie, so I traded her in for a Suzuki 1200 Bandit. It was at this point I was a bit cash strapped so the FZR had to go. Very sad don't know why but I've always had a soft spot for Yamahas.

The lack of a Yam didn't last long as I was offered and bought a tatty 350 powervalve and for some unknown reason I restored it. I ran it for 500-ish miles then sold it at a loss! We toured on the Bandit for a few years but Maggie was getting a bit... well, not anti-bike but anti- getting wet and cold and had reached that age when cars and hotels looked more attractive. The Suzuki languished for a year then I popped into Granby Motors, my local bike shop, to get it MoT'd and instead just fell in lurve with a 2002 Yamaha R1, all red, white and black. Of ALL the bikes I've owned this was the hardest one to part with when the time came.

But that time would come, because this was when I started the classic phase...

Spot the differences between the Norton as bought (top of page) and as it is now...

Next time: getting ripped off, and why Power Rangers are people too!


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