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15th August 2014

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Famous Last Words 25: The Solo Motorcyclist

Motorcycling is a sociable activity, especially classic motorcycling. So inevitably Frank Westworth rides alone...

I'm a popular fellow. You know how it is; every day another invite to buy lunch for someone somewhere. 'Let's ride out for lunch! The snow's stopped! Let's freeze together!' How can a chap refuse such selfless generosity; the opportunity to ride along with someone else and then pay for their lunch and endless coffee?

But refuse I do. I really do not enjoy riding with other people. I don't mind buying lunch occasionally, but riding with others? Not if it's avoidable. Do you enjoy riding in groups? Do you live for wet cold Sunday mornings when you can meet up with a bunch of alleged mates and ride out to … where? Where do club runs go? It's so long since I've ridden on a club run that I've forgotten.

The Solo Motorcyclist

I gave up on club runs when out of the dozen or so regular riders who'd turn up, only two fools would actually be riding bikes of the marque to which the club was supposedly dedicated. Jim (for that was his name) and Frank (that's me) would kick and kick and kick our ancient leaky rattlers into some semblance of life, while our club'mates' sat sneering as their Teutonic twins or Hinckley ripples started themselves and ticked over reliably and silently. While Jim and I sweated inside our waxed cotton and froze our extremities, they would click on their heated grips, seats and suits and glide away, using their hundred horsepower to humiliate our clattering relics.

Except when Jim led the run, in which case it involved mountainous tracks which no sane goat would ever attempt, and deep streams with hidden treachery and trout. Oddly, only Jim and I rode on those particular Sundays. Every other clubmate managed to get a note from Mum, even though in many cases Mum had been deceased for a decade or two…

The Solo Motorcyclist
Solo Matchlesses on ...

And even when I attempt to ride with another madman on a similar machine to my own mighty Matchless (at the moment; Nortons are better for summer of course), then it's fraught with calamity. They ride so stupidly slowly. I would fall asleep or fall off if I even tried that soporific sloth. How do they balance? Are they all Sammy Miller in disguise? Apart from those utter imbeciles who ride far too fast, of course. What is it with them? How embarrassingly tiny in the trouser department are they if they need show off to such an outrageous extent? I ride like the wind, myself of course, so anyone who overtakes me is just doomed and has a death wish. Idiots.

And why do they slow down so much for corners? Corners are the best bit on a Matchless. Having got the noble and flawless beast up to its howling best of 55mph or so, the very last thing I want to do is slow down again. Not that slowing down is easy, what with the feeble brakes and the stretchy sticky brake cables, but have they not read Motorcycle Roadcraft? Do they not understand that making efficient progress is all about maintaining speed? Not slowing down at every slight bend. Fools.

And what is with those clowns who scratch around bends showering everyone with sparks and bits of footrest rubber? What is their problem? What are they trying to prove? They should have their licenses revoked and be condemned to riding only on track days and the Brighton Run. Lunatics.

Have you ever stopped for petrol while riding in a group? There is only one other sane rider on the planet, and when we're riding together and need to fuel up, we fill up from the same pump, her bike first, then mine, and then I go and pay. I'm not sure why the last bit happens, but it's become sort-of traditional now. But in a group? Of so-called mature riders? Ten of them, say. One stops. Dismounts. The others fester, unable to turn off their engines either because they will never start again (that's magneto-itis) or because their heated riding nappies will drain the batteries in a minute (that's Chinese electrics), while the first rider has poured petrol all over the place because he'd filled up not ten miles before but had forgotten (that's age) and the pump has pumped half a gallon into a space for just half a pint.

And other riders get lost. They either roar off ahead down a dull-carriageway shortcut which takes them through thirty miles of roadworks, or they stop to read the map, realise that although they have a map they've not marked up the destination and everyone else has gone…

It's easier riding alone. It's the only way to ride at the right speed, to the right place, and to arrive in the right frame of mind. Who needs friends anyway?


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