Tuesday, 10 January 2012

30 Years in the Saddle - My biking heritage

Do you remember the first bike you ever bought?

For some unknown reason I can, down to the last detail. I’d told my Dad on the phone a few weeks earlier that I thought I’d saved up enough for my first motorbike. Now the reason I said motorbike to him is because I’d been riding pushbikes since the age of 4, there was no doubt in my mind it was time to “upgrade” plus I didn’t want my Dad having any doubts as to what I wanted, I wanted a motorbike.

My Mum was non to impressed on hearing the news and proceeded to give me a good old fashioned motherly lecture about the dangers of motor biking over the phone.

I had become very independent having left home a few years earlier to train as a chef at High Peak College in Buxton, before returning to the Shoulder of Mutton in Hardstoft where I  lived and worked again. Now if anyone reading this knew the Shoulder of Mutton back in the late 70’s / early 80’s it was biker paradise with one of the local HA using it as their regular watering hole. So I was constantly in the company of some serious bikers and we got on amazingly. Plus the fact my Dad had had bikes from a very early age. I remember riding in the BSA Combination as a very, very young child.  So really the route I would take was on the wall from day one.

I listened intently, as you do when your Mum is on one about the perils of riding a motorbike. She listed all the financial pitfalls, insurance, maintenance, road tax, plus being vulnerable to cars and lorry drivers. This was followed directly by a strict do’s and don’ts list if I did buy a bike.

I did! The following week! So much for trying to put me off, even my Dad kindly offered to “give” me his 1.6 Ford Escort.

“Thanks, but no thanks Dad. I want a motorbike”

“Fine, if you’re determined to have a bike, then I’m coming with you to check it over before you waste your cash. I don’t want you riding a death trap”

So true to his word my Dad came over from Mablethorpe where they owned a guest house and along with my Uncle Frank, Dad’s eldest brother, we all set off in the car to check out my find from the Derbyshire Times.

The poor bloke looked at me then took one look at the two of them then back at me, having gone a little paler in the process.

“You here to see the bike?”

“Yes mate, I hope you don’t mind but my Dad wants to give it the once over”

“It’s in the shed I’ll bring it out so you can ALL have a look” he said with a quiver of fear in his voice.

Poor sod must have thought he’d got a sale earlier in the week when I called him up all giddy with excitement at the prospect of buying my very own motorbike. Then turning up with the “Heavies” in tow must have set him thinking, “what the hell is going on here”. I know I’ve felt like that on occasion’s faced with a gaggle of family to buy on item.

I’ll not bore you with the ins and outs of my Dad’s “once over inspection” but it ended with me handing over my wodge of hard earned cash all £200 of it and taking possession of my very first Dream Machine a pristine 1970 Suzuki T125 Stinger Mark 1.

My very first bike which I loved.

and this is how she looked in colour.
(reference picture only)

Having never seen or heard of a Suzuki T125 Stinger in his life before, I was shocked when my Dad actually gave it a clean bill of health. Even Uncle Frank was impressed.

Sticking my lid on for the first time I could feel myself shaking with anticipation. One kick and she sprang to life but sounded like a cross between a peashooter and a Gatling gun on steroids.

“Knock the bl**dy choke off”


“Switch the choke off or it’ll flood”

“Where’s the choke?”

The guy came running over to me from his drive and pressed the choke back in, the peashooter / Gatling gun noise subsided into a nice steady tick over. I loved it immediately.

“Remember, to start it cold, pull the choke out,  once running push it half way in and let it stand for a couple of minutes to warm up, then push it all the way in. It hates starting when it’s flooded. If its warm just try it first if it won’t start try half choke, OK, Good luck”

“Cheers for that”

My Dad came back to me from the car having already got in and indicated to pull out.

“You Ok?”

“Yes ta, forgot to switch the choke off”

“Well come on your Uncle Franks doing a turn at the club tonight and is wanting to get back”

“I’ll go back to work, you two get off”

“No we’ll follow you back to the Shoulder?”


I had a look over my shoulder, put the indicator on, the road was clear so pulled out and immediately stalled the bike and almost ended up on the deck.

“Shit, shit, shit!” I felt a right plank; well there went my big moment of glory.

It was all I could do to keep the bike from dropping but there was no way she was hitting the deck, not after handing over all my savings, no chance!

Heading back through Chesterfield towards Temple Normanton, I then rode on towards Holmewood finally riding over the roundabout in the direction of Tibshelf all the way to Hardstoft. The ride felt like nothing I had ever experienced. The hills just vanished without a bead of sweat being shed. The bike just wanted to fly, sticking to 30mph was a real pain but with the “Heavies” following in the car I was too scared to make any mistakes.

Arriving back at the Shoulder of Mutton still with my Dad and Uncle Frank in tow, I parked up and just stood there looking at my pride and joy. Both my Day and Uncle Frank were well impressed with the performance. Strangely enough I’d not once worried about being on a motorbike, I suppose my road sense had been hard earned through years of riding my 10 speed Carlton Racer through Chatworth Park, Old Whittington and Glapwell to name but a few.

I took my time and leaned to ride the “Stinger” as I called her (note female) properly on the back roads around Hardstoft heading up towards Hardwick Hall, and down to Matlock Bath. It felt brilliant; the freedom bike gave me to go where I wanted when I wanted and not worry about it taking hours. A ride to my Grandma Lunn’s would normally take me nearly 2 hours on the Carlton but on the “Stinger” 35 minutes had the job done. It was just fantastic. For the first time I could go where ever I chose, my Grandma and Granddad Walton loved it, my Grandma and Granddad Lunn where not too sure at first but became more understanding as time rolled on.

My Mum sadly worried about me, a lot. Even when I called to tell her I had passed my test at the first attempt.

Now this I have to tell you about, Motorbike Test 1982 Style at Chesterfield Test Centre.

“Good morning Mr Walton, can you read that number plate just over the road there”

“blah, blah, blah,”

“Very good, now I want you to drive out of the test centre and turn left, take the next left then pull in behind the town hall and wait for me” (250 yards tops)

So off I pootle, left, left then right, mirror signal, manoeuvring all the way! (Life saver, what’s one of them?).

Pulling up at the curb I sit and wait, 5 minutes later the examiner arrives, ON FOOT!

“Right Mr Walton, I am going to walk along this footpath, I want you to wait until I am level with the second lamppost then ride along at 30mph”

“In your dream’s mate, it’s a 125 not a bloody 1000” I thought to myself but hey who am I to argue.

“I will hold out my clip board and when I do I want you to do an emergency stop, do you understand”


So off he sets walking, gets to the second lamp post and I’m off like the clappers, 1st, 2nd, Shit!

The boards out breaks on 75% front 25% rear but still the rear locks up. Me and my fine tuning! I almost stop dead give or take the 2 foot black line behind me, Whoops!

“Very good Mr Walton but can you tell me what happened”

“I applied the front brake 75% and the rear 25% but I was trying hard to get to 30mph as you requested and so stepped on the rear brake a little too hard”

“Correct however as you stopped in a perfect line and did not lose control I will allow that as a pass, now continue to the end of the road (50 foot!) Turn left then right, then right, go to the top of the road and turn right again. I will be watching you very closely (how he planned to do that I have no idea to this day as there was a row of houses between us for 95% of that 500 yard ride), then pull back into the test centre, is that clear?”

“Yes” Keep it simple, keep it safe that’s my motto.

5 minutes later give or take 1 minute for the traffic I pulled back into the test centre.

“Right Mr Walton, just a few questions from the book (Highway Code), what does this symbol mean?”

“Hump back bridge”

“And this”

“No entry”

“And finally this”

“No overtaking”

“Thank you Mr Walton, if you could just park up over there and come inside”

Inside I have to wait 10 minutes till the examiner re-appeared.

“So how do you think you did Mr Walton?”

“No idea”

“Well Mr Walton I’m pleased to say you have passed, well done”

“Thank you very much, does that mean I can take my L’s off now”

“It most certainly does, goodbye”

And that as they say, was that! I had waited longer in the test centre than I had actually been riding. It would be 28 years before I would take any formal training in the form of the I.A.M. Course, now how frightening is that.

19 years old and free to go and buy a whichever BIG Bike I fancied. Madness, I loved it.

The search was on for my next bike and search I did looking at all sorts of machines in Claycross Kawasaki, the local Yamaha dealers but they were always far too expensive for my meagre earnings of £75 a week, live in mind, as I always got rammed down my throat when I asked for a pay rise.

I had a few cracking adventures on the “Stinger”, like the time I was following one of my mates on his KX175 out towards Buxton. He was leading and went into a  great big open  right hander, about a third of the way around I looked over to see how far he had pulled ahead when as I looked back at the road I could just see the open field. The bike sat up and all I could see was barbed wire coming towards me at a great rate of knots. No way was I going through that and so hit the fence post at about 45mph that’s after stamping on the brakes (I knew I should have practised that damn emergency stop some more). Bang the post went down, bouncing along man and machine doing a good impression of being on a pogo stick through the rough field for at least 20 foot then, Whack! I was airborne, Wallop! I was winded and I mean seriously breathless flat on my back another 30 foot on.

I remember slowly getting my breath back and all I could hear was my mate laughing his head off, the git! He had stopped just in time to see me

“Flying through the air with the greatest of ease” as he put it.

“Where’s my bike”

“Back over there in the ditch”

Gutted! I’d hit a 2 foot deep ditch full on, the forks had bent back and there was a line of teeth like dents in the front mudguard where it had hit the engine cooling fins. I was amazed when she started up first time even though there was petrol all the down the side of the tank and onto the engine. Happy that she had not gone up in flames I failed to notice one major problem till I was out of the field, riding back the same way I had entered over the fence post.

The forks were bent, big time. Instead of going out at about at about an 80 degree angle they went straight down at 90 degrees. The ride home from Buxton to Higham where I now worked and lived was like riding a pneumatic drill, agony. Every hole, ridge, rut, even down to grit on the road gave me the pounding of a life time and as for going around corners, fifty penceing didn’t come into it, it was more a case of 90 penceing around. It took us hours to get back which taught him not to laugh at me.

When I got up next morning I felt like I’d been run over by a steam roller, my back, kidneys, shoulders, arms even my thumbs were killing me slowly and enjoining minute of it.

After  stripping the front end and then having the forks rolled there was a small matter of re- building the “Stinger” which I had kept in my wardrobe whilst it was in parts. Well that’s not entirely true, the frame was on the back of the door, engine in wardrobe and covered with a sheet, tank under the bed and all other parts in a box with a cloth over and a bed side lamp on top. Don’t forget this bungalow was hotel accommodation with 5 other staff living there. Only one realised what had happened when he caught me at 3 in the morning re-building her in the conservatory. Luckily his complaint came too late and the manger never did understand why by bedroom stunk so strongly of Brut all the time being as I wore Old Spice! Mind you, baking the exhausts in the oven at work used to get me loads of grief with the Head Chef every Sunday morning.

You see from day one I used to ride to Matlock Bath every single Sunday afternoon without fail. My old boss Mrs Simpson was giving me grief about not cleaning the ovens properly one day which went along the lines of.

“You know I wish you would clean these ovens as well as you do your bike young man”

“Well if I could ride them to Matlock every weekend I probably would Mr S.”  Resulting in yet another written warning for the file!

Anyway, I’m not sure how it happened but one of the lads was selling his trusty steed, a Silver Suzuki GT380 and “muggins” here thought “go on then why not. Selling my much loved and trusted “Stinger” to the bar manager for his son to learn on. Who incidentally pulled up in front of a truck off of the main road to Alfreton for a pee. Only for said truck drive to pull off, pushing and crushing the “Stinger” as he pulled out of the lay-by. I could have battered him when I found out she had to be scrapped! Not the ending I wanted for the “Stinger”.

My Suzuki GT380 before all the fun and games started.

I had a bit of a love hate affair with the GT380 which started when it decided within the first week of ownership to pin me to the ground doing a doughnut on its side with me still on board, shredding my new Belstaff Trousers and Frank Thomas boots. Again my mate was there to laugh his socks off and give me a blow by blow account of how the centre stand had just dug 2 inch into the soft tarmac, on what must have been a sunny day, apparently we had done 4 full circles.

This was followed by my first ever crash involving another vehicle. I was riding back from my Grandma Lunn’s at 4.45pm on a winters evening. It was drizzling and I had just rode down Old Whittington hill heading towards Chesterfield, before they added the three round-about’s, Positioned behind a white van with workmen in the back. The van pulled out to overtake a parked car and for some inexplicable reason stopped dead! I locked up the back brake and skidded straight into the back door leaving a perfect “i” imprint with my front wheel and helmet. Then promptly fell over with the foot rest digging into my leg for good measure. The driver jumped out looked at me and started asking passers buy if they would be witnesses’? I was screaming for someone to lift the bike of my leg as I was in agony. The workers all piled out and helped me up. The driver demanded I follow him to work to speak to his boss. I was crapping, myself as they were all builders. The lads in the van said not to worry as it was the third time that week he had hit someone. His boss was fine apologising and even offered to pay for any repairs before giving me £20 note and asking me to forget it. I left sharp as I could limping like a wounded dog. Twenty quid up I rode back to work grinning from ear to ear, just wish I’d taken a photo of the vans back door. It looked great!

When I blew the centre pot for the third time I knew it was a wrong-un. Plus the seat was split on both sides and annoyingly the exhausts would not fit in the pastry oven, it just had to go. 

Now I was convinced by a fellow member of staff that there mate’s Kawasaki Z650 C was up for grabs and at a snip at £600. SIX HUNDRED F******** QUID! I nearly passed out at the thought of that much money but the friendly Abbey National Bank Manager in Alfreton said he could sort it out and sort it out he did with my first ever Personal Loan.

The mighty Kawasaki Z650 C
(reference picture only)

Wow! Is all I can say about the Z650. She looked amazing, felt amazing and always bar always pulled a crowd down at Matlock on a Sunday. She was perfect with a great 4 into 1 which fitted into the oven. Very important to me at that time, just don’t ask me why!

Two things let the Z650 down though, 30 mph was not an option.......... not cool at all you see and going round corners at over 50mph meant you, meaning me, would be dicing with death. She could tank slap an elephant to death mid bend and no matter how I rode her, be it hung off, hung on, slower or even faster, my arms would swell to the same size as Popeye’s after a can of spinach.

That aside she was an amazing bike and having to be sold when eventually my point collection overtook my legal allocation of 12 by 3. Speeding is not good for you licence nor is riding to Trowel Services on the M1 for your supper at 3.00am in the morning with your mate on the back holding his petrol tank just in case I ran out.  Full English Breakfast devoured (something we did quite often after a night out at the Aquarius Night Club in Chesterfield) we set off back to Higham only to be tailed all the way up the M1 at 70mph. With my mate sat on the back hanging on to his full tank of petrol for grim death. We had just both filled up before heading back much to the amazement of the petrol attendant and the two police officers stood over in the corner having a brew, I got pulled.

That will be 6 points thank you very much as your insurance ran out at midnight and your reminder was posted to your Mum and Dad’s house in Mablethorpe. Shit happens and usually to me.

It was time to join the Army if you ask me and so I did. To be honest I’d wanted to join up at 15 but the timing was all wrong and my Mum and Dad just refused point blank to allow me to join as an apprentice so would not sign the appropriate paperwork.

12 months in Aldershot in training, followed with a posting to Munster in Germany with the first 6 months being banned from riding (and driving as I’d passed my test a year earlier) I settled into my new job. Sadly I just could not buy a bike straight away but within 12 months of being in Germany and a handy six month exercise in Canada where I didn’t spend a penny. I came back flush and looking for a new bike as we could buy tax free as long as we kept the vehicle in Germany for a minimum of 6 months.

Now there were only two bikes in the running the Kawasaki ZZR1100 which I just loved and was just about to order when the CBR1000 hit the press as the fastest production bike ever to be built with a top speed of 180 mph. No competition, the CBR was ordered.

One of the all time greats Honda CBR1000

What an amazing bike, comfortable, quite, smooth, it even when round corners like it was on rails. I rode to and from Munster to Chesterfield so many times I forget and never once had a breakdown. The worst thing that ever happened was I nearly ran out of petrol at 2.00am one morning heading back to work. After that I started carrying a 5 litre can of petrol. Life with the CBR was outstanding and I kept it for almost 4 years. Once again life got in the way in the form of family commitments. A 2 year break ensued working as Personal Chef to the Chief of Staff but once back with a unit I bought the best bike I have ever owned a Kawasaki ZXR750 L1 in 1993.

Kawasaki ZXR750 L1 1993
My ZXR obsession began right here!
(reference picture only)

The ZXR was just an animal; it devoured all comers as if it had never eaten before. The German bikers would just look in disbelief when I’d ridden them into the ground. Mind back then I was a “Bit of a nut” to say the least but my love affair with the ZXR remains to this day in the form of “Trinity”

Leaving the army and my old life behind in 1996 I sold the ZXR and returned to the UK with a car and containing all my worldly possessions.

Within 6 months I had swapped the car, a white 5 series BMW for a Japanese import Suzuki GSXR 750 with which I  to racked up 9 points in 6 weeks. I duly parked the GSXR in the shed only bringing it back out to show the window fitter working on the house. We did a deal and the GSXR was swapped for a “Double Glazed Front Door” that evening.

Suzuki GSXR 750
My Japanese Import had an annoying red light that came on at 50mph!
Drove me insane at times.
(reference picture only)

I then had a couple of years working in Oldham without a bike, the first time I started to get “the itch” again Jeannie and I witnessed an horrendous bike crash directly in front of us in our Honda Prelude with Jeannie being 8 months pregnant “Biking” went back on the back burner once again. Watching a Suzuki Bandit hit a car head on 15 foot in front of you whilst overtaking 4 cars. I almost drover over him myself as he span on his back in front of the us as I hit the brakes hard, only to watch one of his mates do exactly that, ride straight over him at 80 mph, it really does knock you. Especially when you see the bike is exactly the same colour, size and model that you have almost put a deposit down on 2 hours earlier. I believe in “Fate” and as far as I was concerned that was me being given a clear message. “Leave it alone Raymond” your time will come.

So when Lilie Rose and then Ben came along I just could not help myself I really wanted to get back onto two wheels. Seeing Jamie Oliver blasting around London on his 125 Aprilia Mojito I just had to have one for work in Manchester.
I know not your hardened "Biker" image but
got me back onto two wheels.

12 months on I took the Mojito into Robinsons of Rochdale for its first service brought home a Triumph 675 Daytona as a courtesy bike, 3 weeks late I had a shiny Black 675 in the garage and have never looked back since.

Triumph 675 Dayton - I was back in business!
In 8 months it went back into Triumph 9 times
Exup Valve failed 3 times then replaced, I warped the front disc's &
starter motor relay packed up in Austria
But what a machine - when she worked!

I rode the Triumph 675 all over Europe with my best mate on a tour of Italy via France and returning via Luxembourg a story in its self.

The 675 turned into a Triumph 1050 ST after 8 months 9000 miles the ST1050 only lasted 6 weeks and 4000 miles but was replaced with “The Beast” a beautiful Black Yamaha FJR1300 which I’ve had so many adventures on in the 18 months and 40,000 miles of ownership.

Triumph 1050 ST
Sadly the vibration was just too much for me to cope with
on the RBLR 1000 miles in 24 hours ride in 2009

However "The Beast" my Yamaha FJR1300
Loved the big miles all 40,000 of them.

But the obsession with the ZXR lives on.
18 years after buying my first
"Trinity" was born. 

I swapped the FJR in June this year for my current stead and yes you guessed it, a shiny black Yamaha 1200 Super Tenere the adventures of which are only just beginning.

Let the adventures begin.

30 years in the saddle and still riding strong!

No comments:

Post a Comment