It is roughly 260 miles from the quaintly crumbling South Wales town of Penarth to the Yorkshire village of Grassington. That’s assuming you do most of your travelling via motorway, which is what I tend to stick to when I need to get to places on time.
Of course, the “on time” concept is often a fuzzy one for me. I am a strong adherent to the Ride Your Own Ride school of thinking and one of the ways in which that manifests is in how long it takes to do certain things. Some days I move pretty fluidly — stops for petrol or food are well-coordinated and efficient. On other days, I seem inclined to spend upward of 10 minutes adjusting my scarf before putting on my gloves. Such was the case this past Sunday when I set out for northern England.
|Security forces have erected barriers and a 9-foot fence to protect a castle…|
Traffic was light, but for the first time in my eight years of living in this country everyone was sticking to the speed limit. I suspect this had something to do with the ever-growing police presence coming that had come in preparation for the NATO summit taking place a week later. More than 67 world leaders are attending the event, including President Barack Obama, so all the security bells and whistles were being brought in. A 9-foot-tall fence had been erected around Cardiff city centre, Cardiff Bay and Celtic Manor in Newport; seven NATO warships were stationed in Cardiff Bay; and more than 10,000 police officers from all parts of the UK were being brought in.
I am in the process of training to run a marathon these days and had run 15 miles the day before, so by the time I was nearing the southern edges of Worcestershire my knees were aching, and the right arm thing that happens from time to time was worse than usual.
Sometimes when I ride it feels as if a nerve in my armpit is being pinched; it causes slight pain in my bicep and elbow, and results in my losing feeling in my fingers. I can never really figure out what causes this, though I have noticed it more since I started wearing a Knox Fastback gilet.
Based on that, one automatically assumes the Fastback is to blame, but it’s not pinching me at all and is comfortable to wear. Also, I started wearing the Fastback right when I started taking longer journeys — first throwing it on when I rode to the Peak District back in April. So, perhaps the issue is not with what I’m wearing on the bike but how long I’m on the bike. Additionally, the pain and numbness really only seems to show up when my Honda’s engine is turning above 5,000 rpm; perhaps buzzing in the handlebars is the true culprit? If anyone has any input on what might be at the heart of my right arm thing I’d be glad to hear it.
More often than not I enjoy this aspect of motorcycling — that everyone wants to talk to you — and was happy to indulge it today. A mother took a picture of her son sitting on my bike. A man told me of the Fazer he had owned before “the wife” made him sell it (b). Another man asked if I thought the Honda CBF600 SA was the right size bike for him, as if he were shopping. But the best moment came as I was packing up to get back on the road.
“My dad’s a biker,” a balding man said, walking up to me. “Well. Was. He’s 93 now, he is. But, you know, in his heart, yeah, he’s a biker. Loves his bikes, him. Listen, mate, you wouldn’t mind coming over to have a chat with him would you? Only take a moment and it’d mean the world.”
He pointed to a car parked a few yards away in a handicapped spot. It was close enough to just wheel my bike over, but when I started to do that he stopped me and asked that I pull up at the passenger side of the car with my engine running.
“Really give ‘er a good rev,” he said. “Dad’ll love that.”
Not wanting to scare a senior citizen to death I waited until I was alongside the old man before even touching the throttle. The car’s door was open and I pulled up to within arm’s reach. The old man was weak and frail and pretty much asleep. Then he caught sight of me in his peripheral vision and rolled his head toward me.
“Go on, mate, give ‘er a good rev,” said the old man’s son.
The old man lifted a bony hand and waved it as encouragement. Stock Honda pipes are not exactly renown for their sound but I gave it my best shot. I clicked the bike into neutral and held in the clutch just in case, then twisted the throttle back as hard as it would go. The inline four’s engine jumped to 9,000 rpm and let out a roaring whine that probably frightened me more than anyone else.
|A British dispatch rider in WWII.|
The old man was grinning now. He motioned for me to kill the engine. He wanted to tell me about his motorcycling days. He had started riding bikes in World War II, as a dispatch rider in Italy. He had been seriously injured four times in crashes because they would have him ride at night without lights and inevitably the dispatch riders would end up crashing into shelling craters.
“‘Course, you’d rather be thrown from a motorbike than shot,” the old man explained. “So you kept going, didn’t you?”
He talked for a good 45 minutes — about riding in the war, some racing he had done, and listing off just about every machine he’d ever ridden or encountered. His body was beat up, and he did little more than move his head and weakly wave his right hand, but he wasn’t a 93-year-old man. Not in his eyes, at least. When I glanced at the man’s son, the one who had insisted I come over, I saw in his eyes, too, a much younger person. I saw a little kid looking up to his dad.
The old man spoke until he wore himself out, mumbling and beginning to retell the story of his breaking his leg because he was thinking too much about a girl and not the moonlit Italian road he had been speeding down. His son smiled warmly and cut him off. He thanked me for taking the time and told me to ride safe.
I pulled on my helmet and fired the Honda to life. The old man came back around and said something unintelligible, but reading his face I guessed it to be a joke. I laughed as loud as I could, to be heard through the helmet, then waved goodbye.
A few seconds later I was out of the car park and on the M5, settling into an 80-mph cruising speed. I thought of Italian girls and felt thankful that British potholes aren’t quite as bad as they could be.
To be continued…
(b) Usually when I hear these stories I suspect the truth is that “the wife” is, in fact, “a temporary fit of intelligent self awareness.” I imagine the individual realised that his combined lack of skill, immaturity, and unwillingness to subject to the “embarrassment” of learning was eventually going to get him killed, but to admit any of this would be emasculating so he blames his partner.