Sunday, 30 October 2016
Travel Tales: Bumming around Scotland on ageing but fast Japanese hacks
There's always some loud mouthed yob in any group of motorcyclists. In a drunken slur they will admit only that they could do anything they wanted. Nothing to it. is their usual refrain. When the idea of a two week run around Scotland was proposed, the drunk roared his approval. Piece of cake, nothing to it, mate.
Thus, for I was he, a couple of weeks later I was a bit astounded to find myself at the head of a pack of motley motorcycles. I was supposed to have planned out an interesting route, read some guide books and generally know what I was doing. In fact, I‘d only had time to grab the brother-in-law's tent, change the engine oil and give the ancient GPz550‘s tyres a kick.
We all come from North London, so it was pretty obvious that all we had to do was put our machines on the M1, hold open the throttle, just stopping for an occasional fuel up. Do it in a day, I heard myself muttering to the half dozen bikers who were gathered outside my house at 5.00am. The neighbours were never very friendly to begin with and after the awful racket we made that morning have since completely ignored my existence.
The other bikes consisted of two ratty 350 YPVS's, a wild old Z1, a recently reborn CBX550 and a cafe racer CB500T. With a bit of desperate right-hand work we could all put a ton on the clock and even the Yamahas were reliable enough to be pretty certain to make the journey The one proviso was that we would all be paying attention to our oil levels at each and every stop. Old bikes can lose a sump full of oil when thrashed hard for a few hundred miles!
Truth to be told, my Uni-trak back end had a bit of wear In its bearings which caused all kinds of madness at high speeds. I'd been meaning to get around to fixing it, but I just knew it would involve a deal of hassle and expense. I could also recall going on at great length in one pub session about the line high speed, as in 125mph, stability of the Kwack. Me and my big mouth.
The Z1 owner was even worse off, but he was one of those mad buggers who didn't seem to notice the way his bike leapt around until he was thrown off. The strokers just loved to wail all the way across the country, so there was nothing for it but to take a firm grip on the bars and roll along on full throttle in sixth. As we were running into a strong headwind this only put 110mph on the clock, which had the Z1 sniffing up my tail.
I finally wrapped my somewhat porky frame around the tank and got my head down on the clocks. The half fairing began to work when I was thus contorted, helping speed to creep up to 120mph. The vibes and the waltzing chassis did not make this a very pleasant experience. I shouldn't have bothered as the Z1 sailed past, leaping across a couple of lanes of carriageway. The others were not in the mirrors, so I at least had an adequate excuse for backing off to a more moderate 90 to 100mph.
We'd agreed to stop off at some services, so we would not get strung out too far apart. The Z1 owner sported a huge grin, complaining that he had been waiting for hours. I took the edge off his amusement by pointing out that his cylinder head gasket had started to blow, judging by the amount of oil obscuring his engine. Last in was the CBX550, not a slow bike but the owner was so sick of fixing the camchain tensioner that he refused to thrash the engine - not that gentle treatment made much difference to tensioner longevity. The CB500T was the most surprising of the bunch. cruising at the ton, and if the owner was telling the truth averaging nearly 60mpg, about twice what the strokers managed.
The one thing that could have ruined the whole adventure was if the weather turned bad. There was nothing worse than sitting in wet clothes for mile upon mile. Luckily, although there was a slight early morning chill the sun had risen as we sped up the country and the sky was so blue and free of clouds that it was hard to believe we were roaring through the heavily industrialised and therefore polluted heart of England. Scotland would be another matter. notorious for the tickle nature of its weather.
By nine o'clock we were drawing level with Sheffield, some bright spark insisting that we call on his relative in Manchester. An absurd idea that l was all for vetoing, but some others were in favour of spending the night in the Lake District. I would have been bloody annoyed if I had gone to the bother of planning a proper itinerary.
Traffic between Sheffield and Manchester was a snarled up mess that took a good hour to filter our way through despite some suicidal antics on our part. It was a bit of a waste of time riding like a lunatic as invariably one of the others was left behind and we all had to cools our heels awaiting his arrival.
Finding the relative's house blew another hour as half the population couldn't speak proper English and the other half ran away in terror at our approach. Still, by then it was near enough to lunch time to demand some food from the relative and open up a couple of six-packs. Two of the younger elements could hardly walk, let alone pilot their machines, so I couldn't complain too harshly about being forced to spend the night at the somewhat distressed relative's house. We weren't invited to call in on the way back down, something to do with rolling up drunk at 3.00am.
A late morning start meant we didn't make it to the Lake District until about three o'clock in the afternoon. The roads were crowded with too many caravans to make them much fun. I'd nearly lost the end of my handlebars on one occasion when the gap between two caravans going in opposite directions suddenly started to close as I was overtaking one. The guys behind thought I was a goner - luckily, I'd stopped shaking by the time we pulled up a few miles before Ulverston.
A mile long trek led to a bit of open ground, testing the bike's abilities as off-roaders to the limit. The Z1 owner was swearing his head off when we finally slewed to a halt. Protests at the lack of amenities were quickly quashed when I pointed out it was free. My tent turned out to be a huge job that could accommodate the six of us and our machines. It took several attempts to erect, but we got there eventually. The beer was opened in celebration and the night ended in a massive farting competition, which I won!
The next day was spent quite enjoyably roaring around the Lake District, having agreed beforehand to meet up at Carlisle bus station. So, we could all ride at our own pace, either with a death wish or just enjoying the scenery. l was soon involved in a wild dice with the Z1. What I lacked in speed I made up for in flickability, even if my suspension was shot to hell. There were really too many cagers towing huge great caravans to enjoy the winding roads, which had they been deserted would have been as enjoyable as the IOM. The sun still shone, not a hint of precipitation given in the blueness of the sky. Fantastic scenery in the Lake District, too.
We hustled along the coast for most of the time, making fast and furious dashes inland whenever we spied a clear road of an interesting character. Some patches of highway were such fun that we turned around and did them again. The Z1 owner and I called it a draw before one of us threw our bikes off the road.
Had a late dinner in Whitehaven, where by one of those curious coincidences the others turned up. One of the YPVS's had a dose of tarmac interference but no serious damage to the rider and the Yamaha was kicked back into shape with a bit of brute force. The lights didn't work any more, but he could always ride between two of us at night.
It was only three o'clock but we were all a bit knackered, so we decided on a gentle saunter to Carlisle and a B&B for the night. Of course, a few bursts of wild acceleration soon got the adrenalin going. A mad race developed, last one there buying the first two rounds. I had the throttle wound open in fourth, good for the ton and a deal of vibration, with no intention of slowing down.
I look this lorry just as we were coming up to a bend, figuring I could cut in front of him. Only there was another lorry in the way. I bounced around the bend on the wrong side of the road, banked over so far l felt I was near to being tipped off, just sitting there petrified. The terror intensified when I saw that a bloody great Sierra was coming towards me, apparently oblivious to my existence. I just made it by diving in front of the second lorry, so close he had to whack on his brakes, giving me an angry blow on his horns.
At least it lost my mates. who turned up about ten minutes after I'd hit Carlisle. The Z1 owner lost the race, much to our hilarity, complaining that the bike would not pull more than 6000rpm. The hissing noise from the blown cylinder head gasket gave the game away. The head was torqued down to within a notch of stripping the threads and a liberal smearing of Araldite on the outside for good measure. Our most respectable looking member tore off his leathers and started knocking on B&Bs, no sign of any motorcycles. On the third attempt he found somewhere. Bit of a doss house with the six of us sharing three double beds in one room. We were too drunk, again, after a night on the town, to care! The repair to the Z1 seemed to work, but he didn't take much notice about keeping the revs down just to be on the safe side.
We departed Carlisle on one wheel at about twice the legal limit! The blue-rinsed landlady would probably regale her neighbours for months to come with the time she had the house full of Hell's Angels. Especially as one of us managed to crack her toilet bowl! One hard blast got us into Scotland at last. I'd decided that the thing to do was follow the West Coast as far as possible and then come back down the east side, with the occasional blast through the centre when somewhere of interest appeared on the map.
Almost as soon as we crossed the border there was a squall and the sky dumped down a dose of icy cold water that soaked us through before we had a chance to don our waterproofs. There was nearly a mutiny as we were headed away from the blue sky into black clouds but I got a bit stroppy with them and they agreed to carry on. By the time we got to Dumfries we were all shivering like exposed arctic explorers and cursing the howling gale that made the rainstorm all the more fierce. We found a bus shelter in which to change into dry clothes and hid out in the town for a couple of hours until the storm abated.
The CB500T refused to start until lavished with two cans of WD40, even then spending a couple of minutes coughing on one cylinder. My GPz thought it was a triple for half a mile or so, but cleared up when I hurled down a hill flat out in second. The damp road surface proved treacherous, with the poor old Z1 going into a massive skid that ended with the bike sliding down the road. Tough bugger, took out a huge furrow of tarmac with the engine bars but was otherwise OK except for a couple more dents.
A light drizzle made sure we stayed on our toes, speed never more than 50mph. If this was Scotland at its best they could stick it up their kilt. Rather than follow the coast we decided to cut across country, following the road through New Galloway to Ayr. A bit of sun, some nice roads running through the hills and the odd stunning view got us back in the mood. Prestwick didn't do much for our spirits, so it was another mad dash, this time for Glasgow, the threat of another cloudburst to our rear making us employ our right wrists as God intended. Would have been a great run had we not got caught up in the late afternoon traffic on the outskirts of the city.
We perpetrated the same scam to get into a B&B, but it cost over a hundred notes for the six of us! Glasgow was better than we expected but we couldn't understand anything they said, I think they deliberately thickened their accents just to annoy us. Made me think we were in a foreign country.
This is the real Scotland I enthused to my disgruntled mates. We had hit a good pace up to Crianlarich, getting out of Glasgow at first light, with the roads mostly deserted of traffic. We had all played wild tunes with our throttles, using our experience to keep the weaving beasts in line. The Z1 had turned so wild when the road went suddenly rough that I bumped into his number plate at about 50mph. The way the GPz's front end wobbled almost made me drop a load, but I caught both my sphincter muscle and the bike before disaster struck.
The real reason for the disgruntlement, though,was that the rain had returned with a vengeance. It hissed down heavily, although we had been riding all day with the waterproofs on just in case we were once again caught out It turned even heavier, lowering visibility so that we could not do much more than 20mph. It was follow your leader time, with each of us clinging on to the taillight in front. Only, as l was the leader, I had to up the visor to peer through the murky vista to ensure I didn't take the whole procession off the side of a mountain.
By the time Ballachulish was in sight my eyeballs had had more than enough, going red and standing out on storks. There was little sympathy for my plight and no volunteers to go on sight duty. Some friends!
Enough was enough, it was obviously time to find somewhere to camp. We found a tiny bit of flat land next to a raging torrent of a river, which I thought would be idea as a source of water and public toilet area. The huge tent was most difficult to erect, once threatening to hurt itself and the foolish chaps who were holding on to it across the river. Persistence paid off, both ourselves and machines finally getting out of the rain which was now accompanied by a concerto of lightning and thunder!
It was only then we realised we had neither food nor beer. It was obviously my fault, so the sadistic bastards despatched me into the maelstrom with a long shopping list and a couple of haversacks to sling on the back. It was only four miles to town, but by the time I'd returned I was soaked through, shaking with the cold and the terror of having the 550 slew all over the road. Too much weight from the beer and victuals had wrecked the single back shock. At least I was greeted as a great hero on my return.
We were hunkered down there for three days whilst the storm played out its full force. At one point the river burst its banks, leavrng us swamped in fetid water and the odd dead sheep. Luckily, the built in groundsheet stopped the water from getting into the tent, but another day's rain would have seen us submerged.
There was a strong contingent for abandoning the adventure and heading back to civilisation, but I reckoned the least we could do was head for Fort William and then a quick run up the Loch to see if we could spot the Loch Ness Monster. That would get us to Inverness where we could indulge in the luxury of a hotel for the night. Only about 200 miles, I told them, a piece of cake for real men like us.
It would have been fun, too, the sky turning clear and the heavy rains having persuaded the tourists to stay at home. The only problem was that one of the YPVS's seized up solid. The rider forgot to pull in the clutch, the machine bouncing off the road and sliding into the Loch. At least the rider remembered to fall off before getting a dousing. A few bubbles and it was like the Yamaha had never existed. The rider was dumbstruck. almost in tears as his pride and joy did a disappearing act.
We decided that the bike would be nicked that night and a claim made on the insurance. The rest of the ride was pretty subdued. We didn't sight the famous monster and Inverness turned out to be Dullesville in comparison to the surrounding scenery which was often eye popping. Rain fell heavily in the night, but by the time we'd finished with the cops it had cleared up.
Everything sparkling fresh by the time we were ready to hit the road. I was all for going north but this was met with sullen silence from those who wanted to hit the main road south as fast as possible. We compromised on the east coast. A fastish bash to Elgin, Bantf, Fraserburgh. Peterhead and Aberdeen, the enjoyment heightened by a bracing breeze off the North Sea. There was some muttering about getting the hell out of there before it turned into another howling gale, but I ignored that.
Aberdeen turned into a battleground when the road weary Z1 pilot knocked his pint of Newcastle Brown over a native girl. I didn't approve of this oblique means of introduction any more than her boyfriend, but we had to stick together, didn't we? When the Z1 owner butted his assailant in the face all hell broke loose, with about a dozen louts piling in on top of him. We were all well built and a few well placed blows with the beer glasses and our knees extracted our friend from the mess. We had to run like hell once out of the pub though.
We left early next morning with a wild roar through the town centre, helped by the way my baffles had rotted away. We had probably put back Scottish-English relations by about ten years. We couldn't really leave Scotland without seeing Edinburgh, so that was the next stop. The day was dull, threatening rain all the time, taking the edge off our enjoyment, as did the miscellaneous bruises from the Aberdeen lads.
We were all a bit the worse for wear and in need of a night in a luxury hotel, but not at Edinburgh prices. Ended up in a pretty awful doss house, lulled to sleep only by breaking out a couple of bottles of whisky, which had the tramps eyes aglow with wonder. Even the strong smell of whisky could not shut out the odour of meths that hung over these down and outs. Almost turned me into a socialist until I realised it was my income tax that was supporting the bums.
We spent the next day wandering around the city's many amusements and wonders. Then did a quick dash down past Kelso and over the border back into England. As if by magic the dying sun welcomed us with forgotten heat and brilliance. Our mood lifted as we put the tent up in a record twenty minutes. The last of our Scottish whisky went west that night and we sang ourselves to sleep with chorus after chorus of rude songs.
We still had a couple of days left to make it back down to London. One of our lot reckoned that Scarborough was worth a look, bound to be full of crumpet. Until I looked at the map l had no idea where it was - at teast it was on the right side, about 250 miles away. Do it in a morning we all said in unison, a sudden coming together of spirits occurring.
The caravan and camper brigade were out in force again. it took most of the morning just to get to Newcastle, where we wasted two hours wandering around the shops whilst eating fish and chips - jolly nice they were, too. A good motorway blast down to Darlington made up some time, the Z1 owner reckoned he put 140mph on the clock. The Kwack was running rough, even the CB500T was able to stomp on me. The shame of it. Just as well, really, as the rear shock had not recovered from the previous bout of abuse. We turned up in Scarborough just as the sun was disappearing but no problems finding hotels rooms. There were about six times as many men as women; what a downer.
The Z1 had started spewing out oil again, the Honda CB500T was knocking and the remaining Yam had seized its power valve. Only, the CBX550 had escaped any mechanical malaise, much to everyone's annoyance. We all did an oil change, much to the amusement of the tourists, figuring it would be enough to get us the 300 miles home. And it did.
Apart from the demise of the YPVS, things had turned out much as expected on the reliability front. These were, after all, hard used hacks that were past their prime and kept going on a shoestring budget. Two weeks worth of hard riding were enjoyable, but I needed a week's recovery before I felt like joy-riding on the GPz again. Scotland would've been great fun but for all the bloody rain.