Tag Archives: motorcycles

Rolling Back The Years

The sun was smiling warmly as I walked out of the relative gloom of the Chequers Inn, in the tiny rural Hampshire hamlet of Well. I carefully cradled my pint as I walked to one of the somewhat rickety tables overlooking the small car park.

Sitting down at a secluded corner table, I wrestled with my packet of cheese and onion crisps, childishly relieved when the deceptively tough bag finally submitted and dutifully opened, spilling the yellow discs onto the aged wood.

In direct contravention of my dear old Mum’s advice, I gathered them up from the slightly damp, green stained table top, munching them in indecent haste.

Leaning back against the mellow bricks, I could see my motorcycle. It too appeared to be resting, leaning against its side-stand. I smiled. Metaphorically, all she needed was a cigarette…

She was a bit of a beast. Conceived in Milwaukee, she was a diva, and a total extrovert. Dripping in chrome, she was loud, brassy and turned heads wherever she went.

I smiled to myself. 103 cubic inches of American muscle. Deep iridescent metal flake crimson. Acres of chrome. Slash cut muffler and tyres that wouldn’t have been out of place on a Range Rover 4×4.

I took a pull on my pint. Here I was, aged sixty, blatting round the backroads of leafy Hampshire on a hooligan’s machine.

Idly reminiscing, I thought back…

How did I get to be biking?

In a heartbeat it was 1977 again and I was 18, free and single. I was earning a decent wage as an apprentice communications technician, and was enjoying combining working on the tools, and attending West Kent College of Further Education.

It was there that I met my good friend DC, (you know who you are!) who lived in one of the villages south of East Grinstead, where I lived.

Every Friday evening, I would drive the seven miles to Chelwood Gate in my careworn 1969 Vauxhall Viva, and pick up DC, Chip, and our ever-faithful wingman, Elvis.

From there, we would hurtle through the byways and farm lanes at stupid-crazy speeds, playing 50s rock n roll at maximum volume on the eight track. Back then we were all into rock’n’roll, and Chip and Elvis even wore the obligatory drapes and crepes, and both had great haircuts – the Tony Curtis look. I swear that Elvis got through an entire man-sized aerosol of Cossack spray every Friday. His quiff would probably have stopped a round from a Kalashnikov assault rifle at fifty feet!

DC was more of a greaser type, with leather biker jacket and jeans, and although I had a Tony Curtis, I went for the American college-boy look, with drainpipe Levis and baseball boots.

And so it was that fateful Friday…The old country manor house set deep in the West Sussex woods reverberated to the sounds of classic rock and roll – just a normal Friday evening really.

The resident band, The Whispering Sands, were ripping it up, with a rendition of Wipeout, and the dance floor was a mass of gyrating figures, some bopping, some jiving, and others just swaying.

The crowd parted for a moment – just long enough for me to spot her. Tall, willowy, and with a mane of copper auburn curls. Sensing my stare, she grinned, and waved me to come over and join her.

I swallowed the lump in my throat. I was not renowned as a dancer of any kind. More of a self-propelled clothes horse – that was my style. Still, it was too good an offer to decline, so I made my way over.

Thankfully, the band ran out of steam at that point, so I avoided having to dance, and we found a quieter table and sat down.

After an awkward introduction, we settled down to chat amiably, and all too soon it was time to leave. I did however, manage to get her phone number, which I hastily scrawled onto a damp beer mat.

In a blink she disappeared into the night, leaving me wanting to see her again.

Two days later, I called her, and she seemed pleased to hear from me. I asked if she wanted to go for a drink. She immediately agreed, and suggested a small pub in one of the nearby villages.

“When should I pick you up?” I asked, hoping to find her address.

“Meet you there at seven o’clock. Public Bar”

I was about to respond, when I realised that she had hung up.

Later that evening, I parked up in the small car park at the Punchbowl Inn in Turners Hill. I checked out the public bar, but she wasn’t there, so I ordered a pint of Harveys and went out to sit in the beer garden, which sat adjacent to the car park.

The mid-May sun was low in the clear cloudless sky, and was painting the local roofs gold.

I could hear my car clicking softly as it cooled down. The outside of my beer glass soon had a sheen of condensation.

I was checking my watch for the fiftieth time since arriving, when a light blue motorcycle swooped into the car park, it exhausts crackling and popping. The rider got off, and pulled the bike onto its stand, and then removed the blue crash helmet – revealing a shock of copper curls.

Turning, she saw me, waved, and walked over.

“Nice bike” I ventured.

“Its new. I only got it three weeks ago.” She grinned. “It’s already run in!”

I walked over to get a better look at it. Iridescent blue, with gold pinstripes, gleaming chromework, and a gloss black frame.

Suzuki GT185 proclaimed the badge on the side panel.

I then realised that there was an open face helmet with WW2 Fighter pilot goggles strapped to the small rack behind the seat.

“Drink up” she said. “Leave your car here. We can go to the White Hart at Ardingly”

“On that?” I asked.

Looking at me levelly, she said “Call it a rite of passage.” “That’s assuming you would like to see me again.”

I hastily pulled the helmet on, feeling my stomach start to knot. I eventually managed to fasten the strap, and pulled the goggles down over my eyes.

She was already rigged, with helmet scarf and gloves on. Leaning over, she popped the small pillion footpegs down, and got astride. I awkwardly climbed aboard, and held onto the chrome rack with a vice like grip.

The bike suddenly started, and she yelled at me to lean with her, and relax. With that she swung the bike back onto the main road, and we sped off, with fantastic acceleration.

It was a truly visceral experience, the joy of speed, the sensory overload of seeing hedgerows and houses pass in a blur of colour. The smell of two stroke exhaust, and the smooth roller coaster swings of the bike as we rounded bends. The weird feeling of the footpegs dancing up and down as they followed the wheels trajectory – I could not only see the road, I could feel every ripple, every bump.

All too soon, we stopped at the White Hart, where we stayed for the rest of the evening.

Driving my car back home was very much an anti-climax, and at that point I decided to get a motorcycle.

Within three weeks, I was the proud owner of a second-hand Suzuki GT250, in iridescent blue, with gold pinstripes, gleaming chrome and glossy black paintwork.

I then owned a variety of bikes of differing sizes, including a TS250, RD 200, TD175, RD250, XS250, KH250, and then, having passed my test, Suzuki T350, GT380, GT550, GT750, Triumph Bonneville, Yamaha XS550, XS750, Kawasaki Z900, and then more latterly, after a gap of some twenty years, Suzuki GS550, Triumph Bonneville, Suzuki V-Strom, Harley Davidson Switchback, and now my Triumph Trophy 1215 SE.

And not to forget a Honda Silverwing 400cc scooter, which is very different and was a good commuter for an 80-mile daily round trip.

I’m now sixty. Still riding. And all because of a girlfriend in 1977 who owned a bright blue Suzuki GT185.

I Feel The Need….. The Need for Speed!

The sun streamed through the slightly dusty windows of the Alton branch of Costa Coffee, as I sat enjoying my coffee, catching up with the news, both digital and conventional.

 

An article caught my eye about road safety, so, having had my curiosity piqued, I conducted some research which I found very interesting, and in the spirit of friendship and understanding, I offer my thought to you, gentle reader.

 

Speed Cameras. Love them or loathe them, they do serve their purpose, which is reducing speed, and increasing safety. However, adherence to the speed limit isn’t the sole factor that a driver is monitoring, particularly when driving in heavy traffic, or demanding road conditions. Distraction management is not a skill that is taught during driving lessons, and maybe it should be.

 

It would appear that most Police Authorities are aware of this weakness, and allow for a tolerance in speed keeping, to ensure that motorists are not penalised unfairly for a momentary breach of the speed limit.

 

Most police forces in the UK have confirmed that they allow for a 10% error plus a 2 mph additional tolerance to account for minor lapses in driver speed control. This is an agreed standard set by the National Police Chief’s Council.

 

As far as I am aware, this margin was originally put in place to account for the inaccuracies of early speedometers, which were cable driven from either a gearbox on a road wheel, or from the vehicle transmission gearbox. I have also heard anecdotally, that the additional 2 mph was to account for what we could call distraction error.

 

A recent Freedom of Information request made by Auto Express© (www.autoexpress.co.uk) to UK police forces confirmed that 22 constabularies adhere to the guidelines, and cameras are calibrated to trigger at the posted speed limit plus 10% + 2 mph (i.e. in a 30 mph limit, a camera will trigger at 35 mph, in a 40 zone at 46 mph etc)

 

The remaining eight constabularies declined to offer full details of the trigger tolerances, which is a shame, but understandable.

 

According to a study conducted by the London School of Economics and Political Science, [1] speed enforcement cameras reduced accidents by between 17 to 39 per cent, and reduced fatalities by between 58 to 68 per cent[2], so they are definitely an effective measure in improving safety.

 

Interestingly, speeding accounted for 60 per cent of all fatal accidents in the UK in 2015.

 

However, whilst the cameras reduced accidents within 500 metres of the site, accidents outside the camera zone increased, as drivers either braked suddenly to ensure they were in compliance with the limit, or accelerated heavily once outside the camera’s operational range.

 

As a result of this behaviour, more and more speed limits are now enforced with average speed cameras, which ensure compliance over a greater distance, and without the related dangers of braking and accelerating in the locality of the speed camera site. This works very well, as I can testify to.

 

One of my regular routes takes me up the A3 towards London. Just south of Guildford, the national 70 mph limit drops to 50 mph, in the area known locally as Wooden Bridge. Up until recently, it was almost impossible to maintain 50 mph in safety due to aggressive tailgaters, dangerous filtering and regular high speed lane changes and sudden lane changes.

 

A few weeks ago, Average Speed Enforcement was activated, and as a result, most drivers now comply with the 50 mph limit, and aggressive tailgating is negated by the need to maintain 50 mph.

 

Human behaviour, being what it is, means that wherever it appears safe to breach the rules, then a driver will consciously break the limit. I admit that on an empty motorway, I often take a calculated risk and drive at 80 or 90. I have done so on a number of occasions, when my experience and perception indicates to me that it is safe to do so. I say that with the benefit of 42 years of driving experience, both on motorcycles and in cars.

 

It often appears that the authorities are willing to reduce speeds when appropriate, but not to increase speeds when the conditions warrant it.

 

Across the EU, they take a sensible and pragmatic approach. In France for example, I have seen a limit of 130 kph (81mph) with a further sign reducing the limit to 110 kph (68 mph) in rain.  Across the Netherlands, the Autoroute limit is 130 kph as well, so 10 mph faster than the maximum speed limit in the UK. So much for EU unity!

 

As it appears that drivers are incapable or unwilling to abide by speed limits, which to be fair, are generally there for the safety of all road users, the EU is now is now mandating that all vehicles manufactured after 2022 will be fitted with Intelligent Speed Adaption (ISA).

 

There is currently a lot of mis-information about what is perceived as external speed control. ISA is designed to complement the driver’s speed keeping discipline, and will intervene should the speed limit be exceeded.

 

ISA is an onboard system that tracks the vehicle’s position by GPS, and compares the co-ordinates with a speed limit database. The system then continuously monitors the vehicles speed.

 

ISA will be designed to offer three modes of operation.

 

At the most basic level, should ISA detect a breach of the posted limit, an audio/visual warning will be generated to alert the driver. This is referred to as an “Open” system. This is an advisory system only, and the driver may choose to ignore the system-generated warnings.

 

Should the authorities decide that the system should be more robust in its levels of intervention, then either a “Half Open” or “Closed” system will be mandated.

 

The Half Open system will be designed to provide force-feedback through the accelerator pedal should the posted limit be exceeded, thus giving the driver not only an audio/visual warning, but a sensory input that actively resists the foot pressure delivered to the accelerator. The driver would then have to consciously make an effort to overcome the feedback pressure. This enables a driver to breach a posted limit in the event that an emergency condition dictates it.

 

Lastly, is the “Closed” system, which actively prevents the speed limit being exceeded, and gives the driver no means of intervention

 

There are obviously drawbacks to the ISA as a system.

 

Firstly, there is a risk that further automation of the driver’s interactive functions will reduce the level of awareness and involvement, potentially leading to a reduction in attention to road and traffic conditions. Loss of awareness is highly dangerous, and could in itself lead to further accidents.

 

Secondly, once a driver has accepted the use of such a system, there may be a tendency to become over confident, with a perception of invulnerability as the system effectively manages maximum speed. However, as the system only monitors compliance with the maximum speed, the driver needs to remain involved and “in the loop” as conditions may dictate a much lower speed for safety.

 

Some drivers may also become frustrated at the system holding them at what they consider to be a speed that is too low for safety, especially where speed limits have been set arbitrarily rather than as a result of evidence based decisions. This may result in risk based behaviour.

 

 

 

So, vehicles are becoming much more automated, and much work needs to be done on developing that man-machine interface.

 

I am so glad that I enjoyed driving as a young man during the years when there were no speed cameras. As a country teenager, I took my chances with getting caught by the police whilst rocketing around the lanes of Sussex at lunatic speeds. I was lucky that I enjoyed this without sustaining a crash, injuring or killing anyone else, and without receiving any driving bans.

 

This is a privilege that is denied younger drivers now.

 

Brave new world?

 

 

You decide.

 

 

Mark Charlwood© May 2019

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Figures from 1992 – 2016 Cheng Keat Tang PhD

[2] Within 500 metres from the camera site

He Rides a Different Road

He’s in his fifties, yet leather-clad, his grey hair proves his years,

His tattoos long since faded, and his belly fat, from beers,

With chains, and studs and heavy boots, his presence here is awesome,

The patch upon his back is clear, he is an iron horseman,

 

Iron Horseman, iron Horseman, on your two wheeled steed,

In search of lost horizons, a wistful, restless breed,

Always riding to the future, in search of some deep truth,

Or chasing down the tattered fragments of your youth.

 

You’ll see him up the Ace Cafe, or at a bikers boozer,

He spends less on food and clothes, than he does upon his cruiser,

In his mind he’s easy rider, he’s Brando on the run,

Mad Max on the Highway, Terminator with a gun,

 

Iron Horseman, iron Horseman, on your two wheeled steed,

In search of lost horizons, a wistful, restless breed,

Always riding to the future, in search of some deep truth,

Or chasing down the tattered fragments of your youth.

His summers packed with ride-outs, just cruising with the HOG,

In a roaring stream of metal, they look a fearsome mob,

But behind the beard, and denims, the leather and the chrome,

Is a bloke who’s’ taking Christmas toys, to the local children’s home.

So when you sit in judgement, from your shiny, ivory tower,

On your dull commute to office land, where you wield such puny power,

Of the old bloke on his noisy bike, In his jacket, jeans and scarf,

Remember that he’s just chosen, to ride a different path

 

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Mark Charlwood 2019©

A Summer Fly-in at a Country Airfield

The sky was an azure bowl, and the scent of new-mown grass lay heavy in the mid-morning sunshine. The playful breeze toyed with the surrounding tents, causing them to billow and sway, like an insane troupe of Turkish Belly Dancers.

I wandered along, past ranks of parked aircraft, each one trembling slightly at each soft breath of wind. To the other side of the runway stood a mediaeval cluster of tents, gazebos and stalls, each accumulating untidy gaggles of pilots and aviation enthusiasts.

The subdued hubbub of conversation was suddenly overwhelmed with the electronic hiss of the public address system. The disembodied voice of the commentator rolled across the airfield, bouncing back from the surrounding hills, the echoes garbled and distorted.

The announcement was garbled, but I caught a few words and realised that a lost boy was being held at the First Aid tent. I wondered idly where his parents were. At the Burger Van? The Mobile Bar?  Or were they queuing to use the lavatories?

The murmuring was quiet at first – almost beneath the threshold of hearing, but it gradually became persistent, growing in volume and engorging with tone. Suddenly the day was split apart with the thunderous yet melodious note of three vintage aeroplanes flying in perfect formation – appearing low over the trees at the Eastern end of the airfield.

The staccato high-pitched whine of motor-driven cameras was just audible above the palpable growl of the engines. Every spectator looked skyward, envying the superb airmanship shown by the pilots.

The flight swooped majestically around the airfield, the sun glinting on the polished cowlings, refracting off wings as they looped and rolled above the South Downs. They were gone as suddenly as they arrived, and peace reigned once more.

As I continued my ramble towards the end of the runway, I heard the much softer note of another aircraft engine. I spotted a single light in the sky, which grew steadily until it metamorphosed into a small aircraft.

With its engine at idle, the aeroplane passed me, sighing softly as it touched down on the bumpy grass, its nose nodding up and down, affirming a good landing. As I watched, it slowed to walking pace, and taxied sedately towards the low Nissan Hut housing Air-Traffic Control.

A sallow youth wearing a very grubby High Visibility Tabard, stood glumly at the head of a vacant parking slot, and  began to unenthusiastically wave his arms at the pilot, marshalling him into the vacant position.

More incoherence from the Tannoy indicated something would soon be happening. Looking up, I faintly recognised the profile of an aeroplane, obviously at high altitude – a ghostly insect crawling across the window of the sky.

Suddenly, the blue fabric of the sky was cross-stitched with a web of pristine white trails, each creating patterns of gently expanding white.

Blossoming into multi-coloured parachutes, each action-man figure oscillated like a small pendulum, expanding as they approached the white cross laid on the grass.

With a graceful pull on their control lines, each man arrested his descent, landing as softly as thistledown. An appreciative crowd clapped, as the team collected their deflated chutes.

Shadows were lengthening as I drove out of the car park. A Spitfire suddenly howled overhead, just in front of my car, its wheels already tucking up into its belly, its sides bronzed and gilded by the setting sun. Disappearing into the heat shimmer, it left only the echoes of its engine to testify to its existence.

End

Mark Charlwood MRAeS MISTC)©

Facebook – A Modern Time Machine

Social Media is a wonderful thing.

A few years ago, when my dear old Father was still alive, I recall a gloomy conversation that I had with him about friends. He lost touch with many of his school day friends, mainly as a result of being evacuated to different parts of the UK during the war.  He was expressing his sadness about how he had never been able to find those old friends of his lost and damaged childhood. 

Friends Reunited, and Facebook arrived too late to help my Dad, and so he died having never found those boys he grew up with.

I am very privileged. Using Facebook,  I managed to reconnect with a number of old friends, some from school, and some from my apprenticeship and college days. I am happy to say that I am still firm friends with all of these individuals , despite the passing of the years. It just needed the catalyst of social media to re-ignite old friendships.

I was sitting in my man-cave the other day, when my IPad softly chimed, indicating an incoming message. Putting down my mug of tea, I opened the app, and read my message. It was from a very old friend, Mark 

Now, I should perhaps explain here, that Mark was a year younger than me, but his Father had been my headmaster, a man who is still fondly remembered by many of my friends, if their comments on social media are to be believed. 

Mark and I used to be regular members of the local youth club, the Wallis Centre and both of us developed a passion for motorcycles – a passion encouraged by the leader of the youth club, a middle aged eccentric who loved bikes, and was a skilled photographer. I have many black and white photos of my bikes, accompanied by either my girlfriend of the moment, or in some cases, me!

At the time, in the mid nineteen seventies, there were a number of cliques in my youth club. There was my age group – seventeen and eighteen year olds, and a number of older members who were already in their early twenties.

However, under the wise management of Stef, we made the transition to adulthood with a soundtrack provided by the Mighty Status Quo, Lynyrd Skynrd, Thin Lizzy, Led Zeppelin and the Stones. We all got along, and grew up together.

I remember the thrill of taking my first real motorcycle up to the Wallis; a metallic blue Suzuki GT125, and then as the years passed, of riding up on different, ever larger machines, from my ponderous Honda CD175, to my agile and nimble Suzuki TS185, the TS250,  The Yamaha RD200, Suzuki GT380, GT550, Yamaha XS750, and so on.

Friday nights used to be almost a ritual. Black fringed leather jacket.  Check. Levis. Check. Despatch rider boots. Check. White tee shirt. Check. Denim cut off with badges and patches. Check.

Bikes would be washed and polished – never knew when Stef would have his camera out. A gentle potter up to the Wallis centre and park up – along with maybe twenty or thirty other bikes.

The disco would be in full swing, and the sounds of rockabilly, rock, and rock and roll would be pounding.  Black ink stamp on the back of our hands.  Helmets and jackets everywhere. Long lines of guys n girls stomping out line dances to the Stones and The Quo.

All of these leather jacketed “bikers” in a polite and orderly queue, buying bags of crisps and bottles of Pepsi at the tuck shop – no alcohol allowed in the youth club. 

Summer evenings, outside, with your girl, enjoying a snog and a hug. Quiet conversations over a cigarette, helping mates through the pains of a break up, or helping them to screw up the courage to ask a girl out.

Bad Ass people us motorcyclists.

At ten o’clock sharp, we would be unceremoniously ordered out, and we would tumble out of the doors, a happy throng, and jump astride our bikes, kick them into life, and a stream of Hondas, Yamahas, Nortons and Triumphs would make their way into the High Street, where we would park up by the war memorial.

Laughing and joking, we would all pile into the Public bar of the Rose and Crown, where we would have a few pints and shoot some pool.  Once the pub turned out at eleven o’clock, we would wander across the road, and sit down on the steps, by the memorial. There we would sit, smoking, laughing and talking.

This would go on until the Town’s local police car cruised past us for the third or fourth time. Eventually, the car would stop, and PC Rain would casually walk over.

“Evening Lads” he would say. All of us would respond, “Evening Sir”. A little banter would ensue, with gentle insults traded in both directions.

It would normally end with “Plod” heaving a deep sigh, saying, “Goodnight lads. I don’t want to see you here when I next come past”

He would then climb back into the little sky blue and white Ford Escort, and slowly drive off down the town.  We knew from previous experience that he would drive down to the fire station, turn around in their car park, then come back up the town, via the cinema. 

About ten minutes.  He was always very reasonable, and we all liked him. 

Within five minutes, we would be helmeted, started, and gone, leaving only the smell of burnt two stroke oil, and a slight haze to testify to our existence.

We would be back in place by ten o’clock on Saturday morning. We would sit on the steps and chat, and maybe take a wander round the market. By noon, we would descend on the Wimpy Bar, where we would take up residence for the afternoon, drinking tea and coffee until we were unceremoniously booted out at five o’clock

This went on without issue for months, but apparently, somewhere, somehow, we had managed to irritate someone.

We only discovered this, when someone wrote to the local paper, complaining about anti social motorcyclists gathering by the war memorial. The East Grinstead Courier were delighted with this, and the headlines screamed out “Top of the town motorcycle gang causing concern”

Really?  A bunch of bored middle class kids enjoying a cigarette and each other’s company? I never witnessed any problems – not even dropping litter. Yes, we may have got a bit loud sometimes, but we were never villains. I think I still have a copy of that headline. 

Eventually, we all grew up.  Moved away. Had kids. Got divorced.  Got back into motorcycles.

So, within the last three or four months, my old friend had got in touch with everyone he could think of who used to be part of this notorious “gang of n’ere do wells”.

And so it came to be – the Rebirth of the Top of the Town Bikers. Forty years since it all began.

As a result, if you venture up to the top of the sleepy West Sussex town of East Grinstead at ten o’clock on a Sunday morning, you are likely to see fifteen or twenty middle aged men and women, on a selection of bikes from sports bikes through to customised cruisers.

You will witness much laughter.  You may be in time to see them mount up, and start their machines, the ground shaking, and the peaceful high street woken up with the noise of engines.  Then they will be off, majestically sweeping off down the town, off on a ride out somewhere. Probably back to 1976. Who knows?

I was with them on the most recent ride out – there must have been 12 bikes, including 6 Harley Davidsons, and the rest sports bikes.  We rode down to Goodwood motor racing circuit, and enjoyed ourselves in that uninhibited way that only long time friends can.

 

Happy days…thanks to Facebook!