Hi, my name is Martin and this is my story.
Many people reading this will already know my story. It’s not a story that is particularly impressive or inspirational, in fact its none of those things. However it is my story and the facts cannot be changed, they can only be embellished.
I’ve always been around bikes. Before I was a twinkle in the eye my dad rode a Heinkel scooter between Rotherham and Manchester. Manchester was where he settled and where I was born. As a child I remember various bikes that I now know to be a Honda CB400N Superdream and an BMW R80/7 before he got a BMW R100RT, the bike I spent many hours on the back of. There was one other bike and for the purpose of this story I’m going to call it a Honda. What I do remember was that it was a Honda XL175cc trail bike and when sitting on it my feet didn’t reach the floor so I’d hop from foot to foot. It was this bike that gave me my first experience of riding solo on the fields at the back of where we lived in Sale. I was probably 9 years old at the time.
The first road bike
At the age of 16 I left school and started an electrical apprenticeship. It was 1984. Like most parents I’m sure that my dad didn’t really want me on a motorcycle on the road but having got my final written warning from work for turning up late I needed to get off public transport. I was working all over Manchester an often needed to catch three buses. A motorcycle would give me the independence I needed. We bought a Honda MT5. It was a fine bike for a 16 year old and since some previous owner had tinkered with the exhaust baffles I could get the best part of 40mph out of it. After some time it started to become unreliable in the rain due to an electrical fault. It was time to move on and I had my eye on a flash new Honda MBX125F, more refined and less common than the Yamaha RD125LC of the day. As often happens I was cleaning the MT-50 ready to sell it and I found the electrical fault. A corroded going from the alternator that would short out whenever it rained which was all the time in Manchester.
I got the MBX on my 17th birthday. It was a beautifully sunny day at the end of March and it was delivered to me on the back of the dealers van. The 125cc liquid cooled, 2 stroke sports bike was a different world to the 50cc ‘moped’ I’d just sold. I was still serving my apprenticeship and while many of my peers had taken their driving test and were in cars I was happy with my two wheels. The 17 year old me was also happy to get wet. He didn’t care if it was raining. He didn’t care that the water soaked through his jeans. He was going to look good on the bike. Back in the day no-one else cared anyway. It was never the weather that got the better of me. It was the girls. They wanted boys that had a car. That and the fact that if I didn’t pass my bike test I lost my licence. You could only ride up to 125cc on a provisional licence and you only had two years to get the test done else you were on a year ban. You could however pass your car test and have an unlimited provisional entitlement. I passed my car test and bought the car but in doing so the bike was gone.
The return to two wheels – nearly
This is where we fast forward for the first time to 1991. I’d found myself out of work with spare time on my hands. My brother-in-law decided he wanted to get a motorcycle and needed to pass his test. I had always regretted not taking my test and still had dreams of riding those bikes of whose posters adorned my bedroom walls as a teenager notably the ‘dogs’ at the time, the Kawasaki GPZ900R (red, of course). I agreed to do the training with him and we took our test. I past first time with ease, I had been riding on the road for years and had many miles in my tank, it was a formality. He failed and had to retake his test. Despite passing my test and having the ability to buy any bike without limit to engine size or power (seriously, there were no restrictions back then!), I had no job with a young family and no means to buy a bike. My brother-in-law however free from family and financial constraints went out and bought a Suzuki GSXR750. It wasn’t long before he lost it up the notorious Cat and Fiddle and went under a car. He survived after a period in intensive care. Chances of me getting a motorcycle after that? Bugger all!
The return to two wheels – second attempt
This is where we fast forward again. Thoughts of having a bike were a distant dream and long forgotten. We are now in 2013 and it has been 22 years since I rode a motorcycle, and that was during the bike test. It was a late night in January and we were watching TV. More specifically we were watching Top Gun. Tom was riding his Kawasaki down the runway waving at the F-14 Tomcats. We all know that he was strapped to a trailer but that’s his story, this is mine. My thoughts went back to that poster I has so many years ago. The fastest road bike of its time and the first stock road bike to exceed 150mph, the GPZ900R. The first Kawasaki Ninja. I turned to Jayne and said “that’s the bike I always wanted and never had”. I expected nothing more than a dismissive scowl of disapproval. The reply changed everything. They talk about pivotal points in your life, your wedding, the birth of your child, Manchester United winning the treble but this was truly a life changer. “Why don’t you go and buy one then”. I remember it taking a moment or so for it to sink in such was the magnitude of what was now possible. It wasn’t long before I was trawling eBay.
The green one
It didn’t take too long for me to find that things had moved on from the 80s. There were a whole new breed of bikes available and regardless of the GPZ being the catalyst I wasn’t really into buying a classic bike. After a bit of research it seemed that the bike for me was another Ninja, the ZX6R-636 and there was one for sale in a dealer near me (green, of course). I drove over to the dealer to see it. It was in pristine condition and despite being a 10 year old bike it could have been brand new. I drove home the owner of a Kawasaki ZX6R-636 A1P. I was the owner of a supersport bike. I was a motorcycle rider again.
Its funny looking back now but back in 2013 I had never rode anything on the road over 125cc and it had been over 20 years since I had been on a bike. In my teens I had looked longingly at RD350LCs, GPZ900Rs, Suzuki Katanas (strangely) and had a soft spot for the GPZ600. But at that moment of picking up the Kawasaki ZX-636 I was greener behind the ears than the bikes paint job. Regardless of the fact that I had been driving on the road for years and the current car was a 3.2 V6 Audi, in my mind it was the day after selling the MBX and it felt like I was that teenager again.
Those first days were a little strange. I’m not sure if it was being on a physically larger bike or that after so long I was just rusty but I remember being very stiff on the bike. Not physically, that would come later and we’ll get to that. I hadn’t appreciated that the bike needed a bit more input from me to wrestle it around. I was giving it more respect than it deserved. A few more miles under the belt sorted me out. I spent the first few weeks pottering around home just enjoying riding the bike, cleaning the bike, looking at the bike and cleaning it again just in case it had got dirty while I was looking at it. It wasn’t long before I had a local group of mates with bikes and we were taking regular longer rides around the Northwest and Wales.
Got a motorcycle, box ticked. Rode the motorcycle, box ticked. The next box that needed ticking was on the track.
My local track is Oulton Park. With its origins as a race circuit starting in the 1950s my first recollection was going there in the late 70’s with my dad to watch the super bikes and eat beef sandwiches. Apart from the racing I remember the sandwiches had excessive amounts of butter and salt. Nice. I’m lucky that not only is it on my doorstep but, in my opinion, it is one of the best circuits in the world. In its 2.8 miles It has wonderful sweeping curves, changing gradients, and technical bits that are a joy when you nail them just right.
The bike was ready for it. I’d replaced the stock exhaust with a shorter carbon fibre PipeWerx exhaust and with its baffle out I was amazed to get it through its noise test. The mirrors were off and the headlights were taped up. Unfortunately it was a bit damp. Not so much that it would spoil the day but enough that you knew you couldn’t fully commit to the bends. Not that I’m shy of a bit of rain. As a choice we don’t ride in crap weather but that’s a choice made of keeping the bikes at a showroom standard rather than any inability to ride in any condition on my part, as I’ll show later on in this tale.
The fast one
Much as I love the Kawasaki and being back on two wheels in general there was that box that remained unticked. The Superbike. When once asked did I really need all the performance that one would deliver my answer was “No, but what’s that got to do with it”. I’d considered all the 1000cc options including the obvious choice having aligned my preferences with Kawasaki however I wasn’t expecting things to happen the way they did.
My regular rides out to Wales and the BMW owning riders I rode out with meant that visiting Motorrad in Chester was a regular occurrence. It was on one such visit that out of the blue I got presented with the opportunity to buy an ex-demo S1000RR with all the extras on it and 1000 miles on the clock. In a whirlwind of activity one minute I was an owner of a supersport bike and the next I was the owner of one of the most desirable super bikes on the market.
The bike was like night and day compared to the previous machine. It had enough power to pull your arms out at the sockets but it was also very agile and an absolute precision tool. I spent two great years with it and spent as much time looking at it as I did riding it.
The highlights of my time with it had to be a day with the Californian Superbike School at Silverstone on an extremely wet day and a tour of Scotland. The latter was the beginning of the end for the super bike as it turned out, and sports bikes in general. As I began to cover longer distances it became clear that I would have to get something that was less harsh on the joints.
The comfy one
By February of 2016 the S1000RR had gone. In hindsight it was very much a foregone conclusion with the decision even preceding my first ride on a GS that I had rented for my trip to the Tail of the Dragon (US129) in the Smokey Mountains. I had made my mind up. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the RR and by comparison the GS (affectionately) can be a bag of spanners but I’ve had more fun on that rental on the 318 curves in 11 miles than I’ve had on any bike. It was also in the knowledge that a GS would open up a whole new world of possibilities, like touring the Alps, and so the RR was traded in for a brand new R1200GS Triple Black with all the toys.
And so the story continues. I hope you enjoy my posts and feel free to contact me if you have any travel related opportunities. I have yet to work as a freelance travel journalist but I think I’d quite enjoy it 🙂