2016 – now 42 years…
1974: Raleigh Runabout RM6 GNV69D
When I was 16, all my mates had mopeds. Honda SS50, FS1E, Puch Grand Prix. I had a Raleigh Runabout. It cost £15, had a variable belt drive and could hit nearly 35 mph which came as quite a shock to my sports moped mates. You had to squirt 2-stroke oil into the tank with the petrol – it cost about 50p to fill the tank…
My mum insisted that I do some motorcycle training and so I joined a Bedfordshire County Council scheme that ran every Sunday for 6 weeks in the car park of County Hall in Bedford. There were classroom sessions too – 2-stroke vs 4-stroke, how to maintain your bike, highway code etc. I have an RAC/ACU Certificate (somewhere). However, the best bit was the fact that they had a couple of “school bikes”, a Honda CB100 and a CB125S. This was my introduction to clutch control, gears and a “proper” bike. We rode them around the carpark.
The only picture that survives is this dreadful shot taken by my mum. Parka, empbroidered loon pants, red socks, open face helmet and rucksack (I was off to camp with the local Venture Scouts)
GNV69D – I wonder where you are now?
When I was 17, I sold it for £25 and bought a CB125S.
1975: Honda CB125S
Having learned to ride a bike with clutch and gears around the carpark at Bedford County Hall in 1974, my first real bike was never going to be anything other than a CB125S.
This 12bhp, 60 mph missile soon forced me to give up the open face helmet for a fluorescent orange Kangol full face item. It was bright… (whatever was I thinking of?) As you can see from the photo (below – again the only surviving photo of this bike), it was blue with one red sidepanel and a large Rickman topbox with a broken lock (hence the bungee strap).
This was a 1972 L-plate, although I can’t remember the registration number. It cost me £135 and my mum paid the insurance.
My biker gear had also progressed, now decked out in denim waistcoat and sneakers!)
Note the mid-seventies hair (who-hoo!)
This bike was the envy of my sports moped mates, who had got their ‘peds on HP and couldn’t upgrade (heh heh…). I used to ride it to school, where the Lower Sixth “bike park” sported Bob Sucher’s YCS3 (Electric start!), Mike’s Ariel Arrow, Terry’s Bantam and Dick’s Citroen 2CV…
I passed my test on 15th October 1975 at Bedford test centre down the Goldington Road. Twice around the block and an “emergency stop” that was telegraphed so far in advance by the examiner who was standing at the side of the road with his clipboard that I nearly forgot to stop. One of my mates failed his test as instead of stopping dead, he slowed down and rolled up to where the examiner was standing. I used hand signals as they were still required in those days.
With a sparkling new full motorcycle license, I used to take my girlfriend Beverley (now my wife of 30 years) home from school before heading out on the Kimbolton Road to see how fast I could get round the two right-angle bends at the top of Cleat Hill (now a 30 mph limit).
With University in Brighton beckoning, I needed something with a bit more long distance capability (and more cylinders) so sold the CB125S (for £135) and bought a CB175K4 from a vicar in Sandy…
1976: Honda CB175K4
This was a 1971 K-plate and was fitted with a full fairing, Craven rack and panniers and Dunstall Decibel silencers. It also came with a very cool (for 1976) pair of “aviator” sunglasses!
The CB175 was the sporty version of the CD175 commuter. It had twin carbs, a rev counter, twin leading shoe front brake and a 10,500 rpm red line.
I rode this bike back and forth from Bedford (home) to Brighton (Uni) and once or twice to Derby (Beverley’s college).
It soon became apparent that what I really needed was more cylinders!
At the time, I was a member of Bedford Eagles Motorcycle Club. At their weekly(?) meeting, I was absolutely stunned by a 500/4 that belonged to one of the guys there. 4 cylinders, disk brake, 50 bhp. What more could a (penniless) student ask for?
Sorry, but this is a divagation…
My most memorable evening at the bike club was when we were all introduced to the late Malcolm Newell who had brought along his revolutionary Quasar “feet-forward” motorcycle.
Thanks to BFFMCC for the picture – check them out for loads more info.
Back to the 500/4. I bought a non-runner from a guy in De Parys Avenue in Bedford and it lived at my parents’ house for a few months while I sorted out the dodgy ignition. By February 1978 it was ready to go to Brighton. I sold the CB175 to my younger brother who rode it for a while before destroying the top end on the A1 somewhere in Cambridgeshire a few months later…
Like your first girlfriend, it is said that you will always remember your first bike…
This bike was a revelation. Anyone who grew up on single and twin cylinder motorcycles, will remember the first time they rode a “Four”. The turbine-like power delivery, the gut-wrenching acceleration, the crap brakes (this is the 1970s don’t forget).
The photograph shows her on her 50,000th birthday (1st February 1980). By that time, she was pretty non-standard:
- Rickman Type 2 fairing
- “Ace” handlebars
- CB550K3 seat and tank
- Piper 4-1 exhaust
- Finned alternator and points covers
- CB550 shocks
- Drilled disc
- Fiamm air horns
- Rickman engine bars
- Cibié headlamp conversion
- Norton Comando twist grips
- Bar-end mirror
- K&N Air filter
- Eurodesign rack
- 12V accessory socket (all bikes have these now!)
Back to the beginning. I paid £350 for this bike as a non-runner (actually, it ran but only on 3 cylinders). It was the 28th September 1977 and it had 20,855 miles on the clock.
Fixed the misfire and the brakes. Fitted the fairing, the horns and the carrier.
MOT (£2.50), tax (£20), insurance (£78) and hit the road on 21st February 1978.
I traded her immediately after this photo was taken for a 1978 (T) CB550K3 with 15,500 miles on the clock. They gave me £200.
As this is merely a summary, check out “Tales of NGK”.
NGK62L: If I could find her now, I’d buy her back in an instant (in any condition).
1980: Honda CB550K3 CPP489T
8th February 1980, NGK62L sounded like a bag of nails and I was sick of the loud exhaust (which was “exhausting” on long trips).
HGB in Ruislip had this CB550K3 in stock for £689, 13,400 miles. So I bought it.
It was quiet. Bliss…
Fitted a Eurodesign rack – you don’t see them any more but they were a really sexy design and looked much better than the other racks that were on offer at the time. They made one with a flip-up to clear the seat. I couldn’t afford that so always struggled when the seat had to be raised…
This was a true UJM (Universal Japanese Motorcycle). It started. It went. It stopped. It had four cylinders. It was a bit dull to be honest, but did the job at the time.
My ownership of this bike was uneventful, with the exception of a tyre recall. I had a Dunlop Red Arrow 4.25/85 fitted by Central Tyre in Bracknell (£35) and on the 9th May 1980 it was recalled by Dunlop because of a potential manufacturing defect. It was replaced at their expense – so that was 5,000 free miles then!
Road Fund Tax was now £28 and insurance was £79.
I swapped to Avon Roadrunners in April 1981 at 27,000 miles (9,000 miles from the Red Arrows)
Life was busy but biking was dull. I sold the bike privately for £700 on the 7th July 1981 and called up Richard from Uni. I wanted a fairing, offered him £700 and drove away on CLC719T, an almost identical bike with lower miles and a fairing for no extra money. Result.
1981: Honda CB550K3 CLC719T
This is the only photo that I have of this bike
It had 21,800 miles on it when I bought it. I changed the oil and filter regularly.
In 1981 I got married, bought a car and a house and the bike sat outside and didn’t get used. I sold it in the end as a non-runner with 29,500 miles and began a 20-year bikeless period.
So here we are in 2001 and the hankering after a bike has returned. Beverley (now married for 20 years) told me to buy a 500/4 as she really missed my old bike and didn’t want me screaming around on a modern plastic rocket…
The search for a decent 500/4 took 6 months, eventually ending up 20 miles up the road in Maidenhead where I went to see CJF937K. It was black with a poorly painted tank and had no mirrors but otherwise was a pretty good restoration with “only” 5,627 miles on the clock. I paid £1,800 and rode it away.
This photo was taken a couple of weeks later. I had sourced some mirrors and a grab-handle from David Silvers, paid £99.05 to Carole Nash Insurance and was back on the road.
The bike came with a load of old documents, including MOTs going back to 1982, when it was showing 1,340 miles. What it did between 1972 and 1982 is anyone’s guess…
I went to bike shows, I rode it to work, I went everywhere on it but still hankered after a K3. Then this came up on eBay and I got permission to bid on it. I was a two-bike household and this was the start of a slippery slope.
More detail and photos in “CJF – Modern Days”
CJF was sold to a fellow enthusiast Malcolm Avery in September 2011. He was looking for a 500/4 that was good but that needed a bit of work. He took the gearbox bits and promised to let me know how he got on. I first met Malcolm at a Classic Bike magazine photo-shoot. His T150 Trident was being featured alongside Eamon’s CB750K0 and a Mach III Kawasaki in Jim Moore’s “Back to 1969” copy in July 2009. It was sad to see her go, but I needed the money to put “Goldie” back on the road.
I’ll post a photo of the proud new owner when I can get one.
2005: Honda CB550K3 NGS391V
I spotted this restored CB550K3 on eBay in April 2005 and managed to get permission to bid on it.
“How much is it worth?”
“OK. You are allowed to bid up to £1,900”
I won it at £1,800
The restoration had been carried out by Dave Booth in Leicester. He restored cars as a hobby and had decided to try something a bit different and did this. Here’s a 1953 MG TD that he had previously restored:
Here are the two bikes together:
And some detail pictures of the restoration:
Although I loved this bike, it never really had the draw of the 500/4 (mainly sentimental I’ll admit) and it was really too good to get dirty!
I sold it to John Elms from Oxsted a year later. Here he is in 2009. He still has the bike and is hankering after a CB750 as well…
2006: Honda VFR800 Fi-1 Y507UMR
I was commuting across Reading on my 500/4 every day when I had a call from an old mate of mine from Nortel. “Meet me at Maidenhead Office Park, we have a meeting with the Marketing Dept”
I went on my bike (of course) and met Chris who was the proud owner of a red VFR800. “Have a go”, he offered. Never having ridden anything more modern than my mate Nik’s CB900FA in 1981, I gingerly rode out of the car park and onto the one mile of straight (and empty) access road leading to the A4 outside of Maidenhead. I was absolutely staggered by the power, the brakes, the suspension, the brakes, the noise (did I mention the brakes?)
Two weeks later (28th April 2006), after a quick flirtation with eBay, I bought my silver Viffer, unseen, from a guy in Tewkesbury.
My neighbour Brian took me down there on the back of his Harley.
I fitted a Givi rack and tried various Powerbronze screens and rode it every day on business.
Here are the two together:
Of note on the Fi-model VFRs was the linked brakes where the rear brake pedal operated the rear brake and one of the front discs, while the front brake lever operated the second front disc. This worked pretty well and you soon got used to it – the plumbing was pretty impressive too!
This model also had the full stainless exhaust system with catalytic converter. The Cat was underneath the engine just behind the centrestand in the picture above and had a mild steel heat shield which very quickly rotted away and fell off. When asking about how safe it was without this I was told “just don’t park in any long, dry grass”. I didn’t so that was alright then!
The Showa shock absorber gave up one weekend and deposited its oil all over my drive. I was told that 25k miles was quite good for a VFR… A call to Hagon sorted that as a new shock absorber arrived the very next day. Fitting it was interesting as there is very little space under there. Eventually, I loosened the swing-arm and moved it out of the way to remove the old shock – the new one went in easily.
After 12 months, I was starting to get frustrated with a (perceived) lack of performance and the general “dullness” of a silver Japanese bike. It was great at everything but not “brilliant” at anything. The most frustrating thing I found was the requirement to constantly stir the gearbox around town as there was no “ooomph” below 4.5k revs. I had fitted a Remus can and the VFR Sound was evident.
Still, I had no intention of changing it until I visited RJS Motorcycles in Hurst one day with my mates Jim and Eamon. Eamon had gone to look at a Ducati SS that Rob had advertised. Eamon was a great lover of all things Hinckley and spotted a red Sprint 955 at the back of the barn. Very dusty and waiting for preparation for sale. “Have a go on that Steve”, said Eamon, “I guarantee you’ll love it compared to the VFR”.
After moving about a dozen other bikes and firing up the Triumph, I set off up the country lane and out onto the roads North of Wokingham.
I reckon it took me about 20 seconds to decide that this was a great bike and after 10-20 miles I had decided that it was everything that the VFR lacked; charisma, torque from 2.5k revs, colour (Tornado Red), and a badge on the tank that stops old gents in their tracks as they come over and tell you all about their old bikes and how they didn’t know that Triumph still made bikes.
The next week I was back at RJS with £2500 in cash that I counted out onto the desk in front of him as he slowly but surely came down from the asking price of £2650.
I sold the Viffer to Mark McGee from the Bikers Oracle VFR forum. He painted an interesting picture as he rode out of my drive with the standard (enormous) VFR can in his backpack!
2007: Honda CB500/4 (Silver Machine)
This bike was built by my old friend Frank Cooper in Reading in the 1980s.
This is what he says:
The old Honda was a wreck, bought for £40. The camshaft had badly worn cam lobes due to lack of oil but the bearing surfaces were OK. Also the engine could not be turned over, thankfully this was only due to light rust in the cylinder bores. Other problems were badly worn swing arm bushes, rusted up speedometer; Yamaha wheels not fitted correctly, missing side panels, seat, exhaust and rear mudguard rusted out.
The camshaft was reground by a local firm; more cam followers were obtained from a breaker. Swing arm bushes, gaskets, rings, Motad exhaust etc., bought from the Motor Cycle Parts Centre in Oxford Road Reading. Being strapped for cash at the time, I made what parts I could (more later). Got it first on the road in 1988 after two years, it is now on the road for a second time after a five-year lay up. The mileage I have done at the time of writing is 21,000 miles; total for the bike is at least 40,000. It was featured in the Silver Machine magazine about 1989, this magazine went out of print years ago.
When I was riding my black 500/4 around Reading in 2001/2, I passed Frank one morning going in the other direction and set out to track him down. It was the first 500/4 I’d seen on the road for many years. I eventually found him on www.sohc.co.uk – I think his username was “Old Boy”. We rode around a bit over the next few years; Frank had a Suzuki SV650 by then and had decided to retire and wanted to get rid of the old Honda. I offered to take it off his hands (as you do…)
Frank has his own website, on which he has described his modifications to the bike. He’s an electronics engineer and also very good at fabrication (both in metal and fibreglass). His description of the work that went into this bike can be seen here:
- Home designed and built electronic ignition
- Electronic speedo with instrument pod
- Home made silencer (can) to go on Motad headers
- Electronic regulator
- Bridge rectifier
- Glass fibre side panels
- Home made seat
After years of searching, I found a copy of the old Silver Machine magazine which I gave to Frank so that he had a more permanent record of the years he spent with this bike.
In May 2013, “Silver Machine” left for a new home with Tom Exelby in Wokingham/Woodbridge who is planning on getting her back on the road.
2007: Triumph Sprint ST 955 T802AJO
My first Triumph. I owned this bike for two years (27th March 2007 – 6th April 2009) and covered 24k miles on her. I loved this bike and went everywhere on her. I fitted a Triumph race can with TOR (Triumph Off Road) map, a gel seat and an SW Motech rack with Givi box.
The first year was relatively uneventful, but the second year really didn’t start well as I ended up with an ST595.
I also had some fun with Photoshop:
I sold her to Mark Vincent on the Biker’s Oracle Sprint forum on 6th April 2009
2009: Triumph Sprint ST 955 T124JRU
This was an impulse buy. It appeared in my local dealer as a trade-in and he was going to sell it on within the trade. It was almost identical to my last Sprint but had only 18,200 miles on the clock. I transferred the rack and Givi from my last bike. It was 1st April 2009!
Two months later I spotted the same model on eBay with only 4,280 miles on the clock!
2009:Honda CB500/4 (Goldie)
September 2014: Back from the dead.
“Goldie” has languished for the last 34 years. There are odd MOTs and SORN notices, but the bottom line is that when she changed hands in 1980, she had 37,367 miles on the clock. Today, 34 years later, she has covered 37,420 – that’s 53 miles in 34 years…
I’m not an anorak and just want to enjoy riding the bike, rather than worry about whether the seat is correct for a “K0” or not. Having said that, the seat is not correct and I’ve had an original 1972 seat in my garage for the last 5 years waiting for this day… (oops, I’ve started…)
The bike was recommissioned by Sean Brennan of SB Engineering in Woodcote (Oxon) who comes highly recommended. With a shiny new MOT, it took me about 20 seconds on the DVLA website to get her taxed. Now all road legal. Just needs riding!
You can find Sean here: SB Engineering – Motorcycle Restoration
2009: Triumph Sprint ST 955 T721JRV
This bike was featured on the dealer’s stand at Rafferty Newman (now Destination Triumph Fareham) in October 1998. The first owner was an older chap (mid-sixties) and liked it so much that he put down a deposit there and then.
The owner hardly used it. It was MOT’d every year and had a brand new BT020 on the rear. Race can, gel seat, 33mm bar risers and a Givi touring screen completed the list of extras…
Oh… and the “gold” wheels. I think he’d seen the gorgeous gold wheels fitted to the Fireblades of the time and tried to get his wheel painter to match the colour (unsuccessfully)
He fancied himself as a bit of an engineer and had made up some natty little “mushroom” fairing protectors out of black resin. Unfortunately, I dropped the bike in my drive and as the protectors were only fitted to the fairing bracket (not the frame), all they succeeded in doing was punching a whole in the panel requiring a much more expensive repair than would otherwise have been necessary. I bought a set of proper R&G crash bungs…
After 11 months and 11k miles, she was brutally murdered by White Van Man in Lewisham on 21st July 2010
2010: Triumph Sprint ST 955 (22-Aug-10) T236WGJ
I don’t know what it is about T-plate Sprints but this is my fourth!
Armed with the insurance money from White Van Man, I set off to find a replacement bike and soon came across this black one in Ramsgate with only 9,00 miles on the clock. £1,650 changed hands and I rode it (some of the way) home. Following my mate Jim on his GS, I was finding it increasingly difficult to keep up on the twisty bits. The handling was awful and I limped in to H’s Cafe on the A20. As this is a (friendly) Honda dealer, I asked the mechanic what the problem could be.
“Have you checked the tyre pressures?” he asked… [gulp]
The rear had 5psi in it [ashamed…]
Backtrack a few days to the scene in the workshop of my local dealer, where the sad remains of T721JRV sat after the visit of the insurance assessor. Given a slack afternoon, I removed the race can, the rack and box, the heated grips, bar risers, tankbag ring and even the fuel from the tank! Most of these were immediately fitted to T236WGJ – except the race can as the new bike already had one!
This bike came with an unexpected bonus. I’d seen carbon-type heel guards on Sprints before. They save the rubber cover on the rear brake reservoir from being destroyed by your right boot. I’d never seen one for sale but this bike came with one!
One memorable moment that I’ve blogged about on here is when I discovered that I could see the canvass on the rear tyre.
I never really loved this bike (like the red ones) and started saving my pennies after a memorable trip to Munich on a Tiger 1050.
In February 2012, I traded the 955 for a sparkly 56-plate Tiger 1050:
2012: Triumph Tiger 1050 (04-Feb-12) CN56HZT
- Full luggage
- Zard can
- Engine bars
- MRA Vario screen
- Michelin Pilot Road 3s
- Heated Grips (Oxford – much warmer than the Triumph ones)
- 100mm mirror extenders (from a Speed Triple)
- Gold (actually “Scorched Yellow”)
I very quickly discovered that the Triumph luggage, although pretty, is pretty useless if you have to carry a laptop computer around. The panniers are too small and the topbox too short to fit the laptop bag in flat and too low to fit it in standing up. My old Givi E360 (as fitted to four Sprints) is just the job but I had to add an adaptor plate to the Triumph sliding rack.
Now I found that the Tiger needs a fender extender on the rear to stop the road crap from spaying all over the topbox. Not wanting to fit one of those long extenders (like the ones I had on the Sprint(s), I decided to try a Buttflap. Stupid name I know but it works like a dream and is virtually invisible:
Not long after that I saw a Campbell Custom Sidewinder exhaust on eBay. It looks the business!
See what I mean about the invisible fender extender?
Swapped the Campbell Custom Sidewinder for a Remus Powercone. Deeper tone and slightly quieter:
Two years in and decided to pitch in for a Tiger 800 Roadie – I have tested both this and the XC model and feel like something a bit lighter (and newer) for the summer.
July 2014: Converted (mostly) back to standard and sold to new owner in South Wales.
2014: Triumph Tiger 800 (05-Apr-14) T800RDT
62-reg with a personal plate. The previous owner bought a Fazer 1000 so didn’t want the “T800” plate. 4,500 miles only and still 6 months of warranty left.
Here she is with the obligatory Givi:
Fitting was not difficult – just drilled a couple of extra holes in the AMC rack and bolted the Givi E250 adapter on top. The box sits a lot lower than on the 1050, in fact the whole bike is lower, lighter, revvy-er (is that a word?).
It’s a very different bike to ride, more like a big Street Triple than a small Tiger. The bike will not pull away on tickover (as I discovered in the petrol station) and 85mph in top gear is 6k revs (6k revs on the 1050 is closer to 100mph).
The gear indicator is brilliant. The time display is a little small in the top left corner and the trip meter doesn’t automatically switch to “miles to empty” when the fuel light comes on. Buffeting is pretty bad so I’ve lowered the seat which makes it better at 80 but worse at 40. I might have to experiment with a few screens…
LED spotlights are great but I don’t use them much. Tyres are Pirelli Scorpions (OEM) which are OK but the rear is squared off.
Here’s a picture of the AMC box:
May 2014: Here’s the obligatory exhaust – you didn’t really think I’d stick with the standard can for long did you?
Look – no baffles…
After a month, I’ve just about come to terms with the bar risers and decided to keep them!
Here’s a recent picture of me on the Tiger:This photo was take the other day by my mate Frankie whilst out on a Bulldog RAT run to Broadway Tower.
There’s (loads) more of his work on his Facebook page