Sunday, 23 April 2017

Despatches: Honda VT500

The VT was my first big bike, bought partly out of enthusiasm, and to find a job as a despatch rider in Central London. After an old Yam RD125, the VT was very difficult to throw through the traffic - it kept feeling like it was going to fall over. Also, at 70mph it weaved and was no more stable than the RD. It's an '83 bike and had 35000 miles on the clock when l bought it a year ago.

I've since put another 22000 miles on it and the motor has begun to rattle and vibes above 75mph have become pretty horrific. Since I've caned the 52° vee twin engine with the minimum of servicing I don't find this very surprising. I once tried to adjust the tappets, but there was so little space that I quickly gave that idea up. When the gearchange becomes very stiff I know it's time to change the engine oil (between five and seven grand).

The only problem I've had from the engine has been the clutch which has gone through two sets of plates and one bearing. But it's quite simple to work on. With 57000 miles on the clock there's a two stroke type blue haze trailing behind the bike, but this doesn't seem to make much difference to the performance and the bike can still struggle up to the ton. It has become very difficult to start once hot, which is a little awkward for despatching so I tend to leave the engine running.

My first weeks trying to find my way around London were very frightening - huge packages on the seat and top box made the Honda even more difficult than normal to handle and taxi drivers and Golf GTi owners (for some strange reason) always tried to cut me up. In the end, I became very blase about other traffic figuring they didn't want to scratch their paintwork as much as they wanted to break my kneecaps.

This worked for about a week, then I had three minor accidents in one day and started riding defensively. After about six months you get a kind of sixth sense and know just which bastard's going to pull out on you. Usually.

I also eventually became used to the Honda's handling and could do a tight U turn without putting my foot down. While the Honda was useful in town, motorways and back roads were a waste of time because by the time I bought the bike all the suspension was totally shot, and because of the age of the bike, and the thought that it was due to blow up, I could never bother to spent my hard earned dosh on even a pair of cheapo shocks. The suspension didn't become any worse after 40000 miles.

After running expenses, the most I ever earned was £524 in one week and the least £45; I usually averaged around £250. This was self employed with no job security, although I did stick with the same company and worked my way up the pecking order for the decent jobs. Training? I lied my head off and pretended to be experienced, otherwise you start off on lower rates, which is a right waste of time. You just have to look the part and do the job and you can get away with it.

Rear tyres (Roadrunners) were needed every 5500 miles, although I usually squeezed a couple of thousand extra miles out of them. Fronts lasted for 8000 miles and riding on illegal tread would let the tyre wash out with dangerous ease on wet and greasy London roads. Disc pads lasted for five grand but I always rode the bike on the brakes so it'll probably be easy to get better mileage. Taking the enclosed disc apart was no fun.

Fuel started off at just over 45mpg, but with my more desperate attempts at earning money and a rapidly ageing engine, it's now averaging 38mpg. And it needs a pint of oil every 250 miles. There's an oil leak between both heads and cylinders and oil drips down the front of the crankcase. The engine is protected from the elements by a mixture of grime and oil.

Most of the baffles have fallen out of the silencers and there are some holes that have been filled by a friend with some welding gear. It'll be interesting to see if the engine will expire before the exhaust falls off. The chrome, alloy and paint are all In an awful state because I'm always too tired out to bother cleaning the bike (that's my excuse, anyway).

After nearly a year's despatching I want out. As soon as the Honda expires, I'll stop - I've saved a few thousand quid so can have a good rest. I don't use the bike for pleasure anymore, despatching has kind of spoilt my normal motorcycling fun.

John Fareham

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