Mechanised Farts: The Motorcycle Years

I’ve owned several cycles, from the barely functional to the state of the art (and crashed every one, with or without the assistance of others). I’ve owned several cars (and dented them – I’m especially talented at ripping wingmirrors off the side if you ever need someone to fulfil that function for you).

But I’ve only owned one motorcycle. A rather decrepit Honda 125.

That’s my bike, underneath my now wife… circa 1977

I bought it off my brother. I should have known better. I was usually beyond broke so I carried out any repairs and servicing myself. I certainly should have known better. There were these books called ‘Haynes Manuals’ which were meant to be a pictorial step by step guide to cars and bikes, helping the incompetent to carry out those simple tasks like cleaning the carburettor. Sadly they tended to assume a certain knowledge – such as what carburettor was. They always seemed to photograph a before and an after but never a during, thus leaving the servicing to include (a) guess work (b) witchcraft and (c) luck.

The result was that I was fairly reluctant to travel far on said machine. Until, eventually I had to.

After finishing my degree and having decided that a career as a solicitor would suit me, I needed to pass the second level of my professional exams – neatly named my ‘part twos’. Keep it simple. Only they were far from simple. Seven subjects to be crammed into a six month course in Guildford followed by a week of the worst exams stress I have ever experienced. I was to live in a small Surrey village of Cranleigh, some seven or eight miles from the College and the only way to get to the compulsory lectures was by car or bike. Thus is was that one day in late July 1977 I drove my bike from the family cottage in the New Forest to Cranleigh. Dad kindly drove with my clothes and stuff, to drop them off but the idea of going in some sort of convoy never occurred to him. “See you there, boy.”

Why I thought the best preparation for this journey was to attempt to service the bike is yet another example of stupidity winning out over sense by two clear goals. However I did. It actually sounded pretty good when I kicked it over and I set off, if not with confidence then with hope. Which lasted until I began to weave my way around the north of Southampton. There were a lot of lights and junctions and the stop-start did the engine and, specifically the flow of petrol no favours.

I lost count of the number of times the engine cut out and the subsequent kick starts. So it was that on a stretch of dual carriageway near Bitterne, the engine flooded and despite my precarious position on the side of a fast road the bloody thing stubbornly refused to go.

I’d been in enough duff cars by then to understand the concept of the bump start, something I imagine my children think is old school foreplay. Only up to that point I’d only ever seen or been involved in bump starts in cars. But surely the principle was the same for a bike and I had a vague memory of someone – maybe my brother as he’d had a few motorbikes – explaining how this neat trick worked on two wheels.

Basically, as I now remember it, you:

1. Put the bike in first

2. Engage the clutch – this is on the handlebar for those unfamiliar with motorbikes

3. You push the bike ideally down a slight slope to gain momentum

4. You let in the clutch, thus forcing the engine to fire and blasting the surplus petrol from the carburettor; there was a suggestion that to increase the traction, jumping onto the seat and forcing the back wheel down increased the chances of success

5. With the engine now engaged you pull the clutch back in so you are idling in neutral and engage the handbrake. You can now take up your driving position and recommence your journey.

Great theory. Ahead of me, in the increasing drizzle was a set of traffic lights. Next to me two lanes of traffic. The cars moved fast but when the lights went red they slowed. Activating my best brain I reckoned that if I begun the bump start as the lights went red I’d be as safe as I could be.

Which is what I did. Dressed as I was in a heavy coat and boots, getting up to any sort of speed was a challenge. And the road to the lights sloped gently upwards. All that, plus the increasingly inclement weather meant I needed to add some muscular oomph to my pushing. I was still wearing my crash helmet, of course. Safety first.

But I’m a diligent and resilient bloke so, nil desperandum, I began to trot and then, head down essay a sort of run. Puffing hard, I decided now was the moment to let in the clutch…

I have had many ‘oh shiiit’ moments in my life and this is probably in the top ten in a motorised context, up there with cycling into a drainage ditch full of chicken guano when drunk and affecting a rather cool impersonation of a bouncing bomb as I skittered across the bonnet of a white van.

The previously coy engine discovered its inner ego, burst into life with a small explosion out of the exhaust which had the effect of leaping the bike forward, making it impossible for me to reach let alone engage the clutch. It also meant that my right hand, firmly gripping the throttle for dear life, had pulled it open and rendered the idea of pulling back the brake moot.

Have you ever tried sprinting alongside a manic motorbike, in first gear, engine screaming as its speed increases towards 20 mph? In more clothes than an arctic explorer? Wearing a crash helmet?

No? Don’t.

The gap between me, the bike and the traffic lights, still red was shrinking quicker than the chocolate supplies in my fridge. I was also vaguely aware of the surprised faces of the occupants of the cars, waiting in a short queue at the lights as I hurtled past. I don’t suppose they often see someone trying to out-sprint a riderless bike. Even in Southampton, the mechanised rodeo isn’t yet a popular form of entertainment.

Now, stay with me. I was reaching a sort of personalised event horizon, a cycling singularity. By now I wasn’t going to stop the bike in any sort of traditional way because, arms fully outstretched I could no more get a grip on the brakes than I could the principles of quantum mechanics. I had a stark choice: keep running and hope the bike ran out of petrol somewhere near Portsmouth; or let go.

It was a no brainer. I would like to say it was the logic of self preservation that told me to let go. In fact it was my instinctive lawabidingness – I knew better than to cross while the lights were red.

I let go. The bike now free of my hands and my weight, did a sort of skip and shot across the junction. Fortunately nothing was crossing so it sailed on as it made its bid for freedom, before a strategically placed pothole redirected it into a ditch.

I sank to my knees, wondering at the damage. Several people got out of their cars. All but one went to check on the bike. The one was a lady with a tight grey perm, a sympathetic smile and the air of someone who instinctively cared. Like kind grandmas everywhere. She put a hand on my shoulder, bent her head until I could see her face and asked, “Why the fuck did you do that?”

Oddly the bike was fine. Covered in mud but purring smoothly. It behaved impeccably all the way to Cranleigh. I still needed it, still had to care for it, but we were no longer friends. I’ve not sent it a Christmas card since.

*

And the title of this piece? After one servicing attempt, when I tried to fix the exhaust, Dad came outside, looked at me trying to work out why it was spluttering and said, “Sounds like a mechanised fart”. It sort of stuck.

About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published several books: a four book series following Harry Spittle as he grows from hapless student to hapless partner in a London law firm; four others in different genres; a book of poetry; four anthologies of short fiction; and a memoir of my mother. I have several more in the pipeline. I have been blogging regularly since 2014, on topic as diverse as: poetry based on famous poems; memories from my life; my garden; my dog; a whole variety of short fiction; my attempts at baking and food; travel and the consequent disasters; theatre, film and book reviews; and the occasional thought piece. Mostly it is whatever takes my fancy. I avoid politics, mostly, and religion, always. I don't mean to upset anyone but if I do, well, sorry and I suggest you go elsewhere. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
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32 Responses to Mechanised Farts: The Motorcycle Years

  1. noelleg44 says:

    Such machines have a mind of their own. My first car was a 1930 Model A Ford Phaeton. It had to be started on a hill or else I had to crank it, but the car did not come with the crank. My favorite memory was of some of my classmates and my French teacher in high heels pushing the car down the road outside the school so I could ‘jump’ it – which I was good at!

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      My parents first car had a crank. Mum could work it – she learnt the ‘trick’ driving trucks during the war – but with dad it was like watching a cartoon as he fought being slam dunked into the tarmac by the recoil. We learnt a few unexpected adjectives that way.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. gordon759 says:

    I really enjoyed this tale of the 125, I wonder how I managed to jinx it, did I manage to ride it comfortably to an inch of its life, then pass it on to you? Or is it your remarkable mechanical talent? (doubtless inherited from our father – is there a gene for cack-handedness?)
    However you do have an ability to describe your marvellous activities with wonderful humour. Many thanks I don’t remember hearing this one before.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Darlene says:

    That was very funny, right out of a PJ Wodehouse novel! My hubby has had many motorcycles but has never had such a humorous episode.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. As soon as you said “Put the bike in first” I knew, I just knew. Next time you have to bump start anything use third. Now go outside and practice……I’ll be along later to test you!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. L.K. Latham says:

    Oh, the things we do when we thing we know what we’re doing. Terrific story! Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This was five puffs from my rescue inhaler funny.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. JT Twissel says:

    Oh my! My first vehicle was a Honda 90 – bright red motorbike with a top speed of 35 mph.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Pam Lazos says:

    I’m laughing out loud. Would have loved to see that, Geoff. It would make a great scene in a movie.😂
    Also wrecked my share of bikes, or rather, me on bikes, but have been much more Successful with cars. 🤪

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Whatever state Haynes Manuals went out of the library, they always came back black. They had to be kept behind the desk because otherwise they got nicked, and you could smell the shelf as you walked past.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Yvonne says:

    Your comment section gives me even more fun and chuckles.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I managed to keep my body reasonably contained until the elderly woman spoke

    Liked by 1 person

  12. trifflepudling says:

    Hee hee – am surprised you didn’t dislocate your shoulder when it zoomed off!
    I vaguely remember this machine.
    That photo looks like off Gloucester Road somewhere?
    I used to work with the author of many Haynes’ bike manuals – wonder if he wrote yours? He would love that story.

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      I was really none the wiser. Thank him if you speak to him. His books were aimed at those on a higher intellectual plane.
      It’s Linda’s flat in Collongwood Road in Redland so not so far away.

      Like

  13. Widdershins says:

    The fact that you are still alive is a constant source of wonderment (and joy) to me. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

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