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Monday, February 18, 2008

Ducatis & Cigarettes and Other Things!

Yes well the title is correct, the '&' and the 'and' are purposely placed.

I firstly need to thank Mr. Peter Egan, Cycle World's "Editor at Large" for his inspirational writings in said magazine the most recent one of which I have just read is entitled "Ducatis & Cigarettes (see Cycle World issue March 2008 - Vol 47 No.3 - for the anoraks).

Secondly I need to thank the US Government for employing individuals of quite incredible character and substance that have also inspired me to read the aforementioned article in the first instance - nuff said.

Thirdly, and finally, my fathers recent triple by-pass surgery at the tender age of almost 79 has proven successful with his path to recovery almost trodden and my less than 3 years to go when I will hopefully hit 50 brings me back to Egan's writings.

In said article he explains his first sight, in 1980, of a square-case Ducati 900 SS with the beautiful black and gold livery at a bike show he was visiting with some fellow journalists. Apart from him they all walked away from the display stand while he just "stood there transfixed by the beauty.....". He then goes on to tell the reader that at the first opportunity, which was fortuitously only a few weeks later following the win of a handsome amount of money for his writings on a Triumph Bonneville, he bought a black and gold square-case 900SS - the winnings staying in his possession for all of 15 minutes, the time it took him to walk to the local dealer!! I'll say no more about the article but you must read it to share in his experiences and find out why 'Ducatis & Cigarettes' is a wonderful title for the piece.

"and Other Things" well my bit of the title. Mr. Egan's experiences and vivid illustrative writings of his continuing life with motorcycles ( yes and cars - he writes for car magazines also) bring back so many great memories of my personal experiences over the last 32 years (I was a late convert) of my motorcycle dominated life. From sitting in a garage, freezing cold, for hours just lovingly looking at my first brand new bike, a 1981 Yamaha XS850 to cleaning every micron of chrome on my Yamaha DT 125 which I bought at 17 years of age after walking 4 miles with 140 50 pence pieces (approx. $140 in todays money and heavy too) to place a deposit on and, thank you George Beale Yamaha, ride home 3 hours later with a grin on my face that a Cheshire cat would be envious off. Wonderful stuff and wonderful memories.

Years later reading his writings, I can smell the garages and the bikes I have had over the years, I can feel the bikes engine cases, everyone one of them as I washed and polished them to a level of cleanliness a hospital would find acceptable for an operating theater. I recall those times when I couldn't afford to get things done at a dealership. Could not afford the correct tools so always improvising to remove tires, split chains and replace cylinder heads following a decoke with the old 'refurbished' gaskets, the split knuckles, the sweat dripping and the atrocious language coming out of a normally reasonable persons mouth as another knuckle loses the 4th layer of tissue the same morning!!!!

Then an hour, a day, sometimes a week later firing her up for the first time post repair, jumping on and 'blasting' through the local lanes. FS1E, GT380, CB550K3, XS750, no matter what, I was the man, heaven exists, it's here, the blood on the knuckles, the face and hands impregnated with grease, the discomfort of oiled up dirty sweaty clothes because I couldn't find the time to clean up before I went for 'that' test ride - heaven indeed and once again I was Barry Sheene, me and utopia.

Years later, it's different but it's not. Now I can afford to get the dealer to do things but the 'old Mick' still participates in the occasional effort to fix, replace and/or improve an item or two on one of the bikes. How does it end up, well at 47 most of the time successfully but the path to that success is the same as it was when I was 17, 27 and 37. The selection and quality of the tools has improved significantly, my dexterity has not, the sophistication of a bike is alien to when I first started riding and can I replace a tire that is wider than 140 - no I can't. Have I tried, yes, more than once, do I still try - yes - success, no never - an expensive tire machine looks destined to become a fixture in the garage but just one more try until then!

I cannot get out of my mind the numerous times I have had punctures, especially on my 850 Yam, in the pouring rain (it seems to be something from the late 70's and 80's because, touch wood, I don't seem to get any these days - I am going to live to regret this statement). I would stop, pull the tools out from under the seat, remove the wheel, front or back, didn't matter, successfully flip one side of the beading off the rim. Next call a buddy from the nearest phone box and ask him to bring a new inner tube or I would fix the 'nailed' one there on the spot, reinsert it, flip the tire beading back onto the rim, replace the wheel, push the bike to the nearest gas station, pump it up and ride off 1, 2 maybe 4 hours later looking like that Cheshire cat with skinned knuckles again. Oh the satisfaction of achievement and rewarded so quickly and generously.

Motorcycles are a wonderful thing, cigarettes are not. They are both synonymous with one another as they are addictive for life, you'll spend your last penny on either, they can prove to be fatal, they can be shared but more importantly they are both so totally personal and throughly rewarding.

Oh by the way, the language is still as colorful as if was over 30 years ago, good job the kids have left home.

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