Motorcycles

A.P. Atkinson

Motorcycles are so much more than a lump of metal with a wheel at each end. They’re a mobile expression of consciousness, encapsulated in engineering, and they connect with the human spirit like no other vehicle is capable of. They fire the imagination and embody the concept of freedom, in a world where freedom is becoming near impossible to find.

My love affair with motorcycles began at a young age. I come from a family where many of the men rode bikes and I was around them all the time. My dad had several tiny, under-powered commuters that he occasionally rode to work.

It was probably my uncle that did the most to sow the seeds in the fertile soil of my perpetual journey towards self-annihilation. My uncle was the youngest brother my father had, the one in the middle being the only one with no interest in machines with anything less than four wheels. My uncle would come to visit, straddled across a loud, powerful-looking and angry motorcycle, usually one he built himself. He was rugged, unshackled, full of life, and always accompanied by a pretty girl who eventually became my aunt. He was the role-model your mother wishes you never had.

It wasn’t just me—the same damage was done to my brother; we both grew up dreaming of motorcycles.

When I was at the tender age of sixteen, a friend of mine at school bought a scooter. Most people laughed at him, but I was inspired. I had to take a long, painful bus-ride to get to school and the idea of the freedom to travel under my own power was compelling.

My uncle, the biker, offered me a cardboard box for the princely sum of around fifty pounds. I was told that there was a complete scooter inside it, I just needed to put it all back together.

It took a few weeks to figure it all out, but the whole machine was in there and it actually did come together fairly well. It was a Honda Melody Deluxe, a 50cc bike that was capable of 30mph flat out and looked about as cool and sexy as a mullet.

I didn’t care, I liked it. I rode it around, to and from school, to and from work and out at weekends. It used almost no fuel, costing only two pounds a week to completely fill up.

Finally, I was free.

Honda Melody - The 'mullet' of the motorcycle world. Mine wasn't even this nice...

I crashed it more times than I can remember. It was never anything serious, I just pushed it too fast and it simply lost traction on the slippery-slidey UK roads. It taught me a lot about first aid.

In the end, the lack of power and weird top-heavy handling just made me lose interest in it all. It wasn’t until I was off the road after a car-accident, which involved me getting rear-ended in Devon, that I thought about giving two wheels another go.

My brother had bought this weird, purple, 100cc bike, ironically from the same friend that had owned the scooter. It had sat in storage for a while, until I decided to borrow it.

This thing was garbage and popped engines like an English-language teacher pops beers at the weekend. It really belonged on the shelves of a recycling store, but it limped on for over a year. The reason I stayed with it so long was that the idea of riding was actually starting to get under my skin.

Seth bought one too—a different model, but essentially the same specs. We wobbled about together at weekends, revelling in our own stupidity. Even though the engines in these things were barely the size of a decent chain-saw motor, we rode them to the Kent Custom Bike-Show and the whole lifestyle began to take a firm grip of my heart.

My uncle sold me a 250cc, my first “big” bike. It felt like going from walking to running, at least at first. Seth ended up upgrading too and, before I knew it, 250s had become 600cc sports bikes and I was well on the way to killing myself in glorious style.

Seth left for greener shores while I carried on experimenting with the world of two wheels.

I went to many more bike shows, enjoying riding all around the country, really just for the excuse of doing it.

I soon established two types that were firm favourites.

Sometimes I would find myself on a big-single, a lumbering 500-800cc bike with a single cylinder engine throbbing away at its heart. These were eminently practical machines that I could happily ride every day, and that pretty-much did it all.

 

Given time though, I would always end up back on something fast. There was simply no escaping the sheer exhilaration of the speed and performance of a really powerful motorcycle.

What the one could not do, the other did perfectly. Looking back, most of the hundreds of bikes I bought and sold were simply about me looking for that perfect compromise between the two and never managing to find it.

Motorcycles have a way of becoming a part of your life. Unlike a car, they are only a part of the machine. Without a human being, a motorcycle is little more than the metal frame suspended between two wheels that I opened up by saying they weren’t. Without the rider, they are just an inert part of a greater whole. To move, even in the slightest, a person has to be added to the equation.

That, above all, separates them other forms of transport. They’re more like clothing, something you wear, than a car, a cage you shackle yourself into.

Aprillia Pegaso 660. Singles are great, except this one.

Motorcycles come in all shapes and sizes. Perhaps they’ve over-specialised by becoming so good at expressing themselves for a single role that they can’t do much else, but they each do express themselves and help the rider to do the same. A bike is an accessory, it enhances the physicality of the owner, not transporting him so much as enhancing his ability to transport himself.

A lot of people sneer at them, the most popular argument being that they’re dangerous. Well, perhaps they are, although the statistics don’t point to them being the death-traps that some imagine them to be. For whatever they might be, they are, without question, fun. Perhaps it’s that very fact that makes them so compelling?

But, there’s more to motorcycles than just delivering a smile to the rider when they straddle onto one. Bikes are more accessible in the best possible way. They’re proportionally cheaper than any other vehicle and that makes them easier to come by. They come in a wide variety of types and sizes, shapes and styles to fit any possible rider.

I’ve travelled around the world and met both men and women riders, people of all ages, races and abilities, all equal by the choice to get around on two wheels, the most practical way for most of us to do it. When you travel on a bike, you’re a part of the world around you, not fenced off from it, gazing out from behind plates of metal and glass.

When I travel now, I travel by bike. When I write, they are my passion and they creep into everything I create.

Human Race might have been a character study about human endeavour, and how the world pushes us to desperation just to survive, but if you have to study survival, it’s better to study it on a bike, right?

Hawk-Eye was a science-fiction inspired by certain 80s TV shows, so that needed a motorcycle in there too.

It would be easy to think I was obsessed.

So, when I decided to leave England and travel around the world, that was done on a motorcycle too.

I’ve been cold, wet, battered by wind, lashed by sand-storms, sunburnt, hit by blind motorists and left exhausted, but there could have been worse things to deal with since I can proudly say that I never got stuck inside of a car.

Because I chose a motorcycle, I’ve met people I never would have any other way. I was a part of everything, and I experienced it all as a participant, not a spectator.

They’re in my blood, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Another cool motorcycle I always wanted but never owned, but I never owned it because it was rubbish. KTM are one of those brands I want to like but just can't. I'd rather have a Honda Melody...

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