The burble of my exhaust unwound like a long cord behind me. Soon my speed snapped it, and I heard only the cry of the wind which my battering head split and fended aside. The cry rose with my speed to a shriek: while the air's coldness streamed like two jets of iced water into my dissolving eyes. I screwed them to slits, and focused my sight two hundred yards ahead of me on the empty mosaic of the tar's gravelled undulations.
—T.E. Lawrence, The Road
I was wandering back from the shops this morning, when a bloke caught up from behind me and said, "Nice to see someone who knows what a proper bike looks like." Huh? I thought to myself, and then realised I was wearing my old leather jacket with the BSA logo painted on the back. So then I had to endure (well, okay, to be honest it wasn't that bad, and twas nice to have a bit of company) him regaling me with tales of his long-past motorcycling days, back when British manufacturers ruled the motorcycling world, almost uncontested. This modern "jap-crap," I was told (for perhaps the thousandth time in my life) isn't a patch on Good Old British Engineering™.
Well, sure. If your idea of a well-engineered bike is one on which you don't so much change the oil as constantly replace the losses. If you like your jacket weighing half a ton, because the pockets are full of spanners. If you think a four-speed box is daringly innovative. If you like sticking to A-roads instead of motorways, because the oil system doesn't like the engine running at constant revs for too long. If you're happy with drum-brakes. And let's not forget, if the damn thing's factory-standard, you'll be running a six-volt system made by Lucas, Prince of Darkness. (Every wiring-loom comes with inbuilt, ready-to-release smoke, free of charge. "Charge," in both senses, all too often.) Ah, the joys of thanking one's lucky stars that it's a full-moon, 'cause The Sporadic Mystery-Fault That Disappears When The Bike Sees You Pick Up A Multimeter means the lights are about as useful as a candle in a sea-fog.
That said, I do love old-Brit bikes. (My Beeza was a '63 B40, if anyone's wondering.) And the experience of motorcycling has changed with bikes built since the late '80s. If you're into bikes, these days, then what you are primarily into is the experience of riding them. The days of having to know how to fix them just in order to enjoy riding them, are long gone. Which, let's face it, for most people is probably a good thing; but it does leave them, to my eyes, and even more to the eyes of my walking-companion, a little characterless. The constant tinkering and fettling—even the odd bit of customising—was, to many of us, part of the attraction. Ah well.
So, anyway, this week's Friday Night Is Music Night is, if you haven't already guessed, dedicated to the motorcycle. Oh, and if you must; hot-rod cars, for much the same reason.
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