Itching to do a project

I’ve been back on bikes now for about 19 months and so far so good, have ridden a vast range of entertaining machines and taken in many of the best biking roads here in the Yorkshire Dales; including an S1000RR, various Ducatis, my own Street Triple and the later 765RS as well as a BMW GS1200 Rallye and sponny new Suzuki GSX1000R on the 2017 test day at Squires.

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One itch that I still haven’t scratched though is my desire to buy and refurbish some kind of older project bike – so now I’m starting to seriously look for something interesting to work on.

Happily I’ve actually come up trumps and found somewhere terrific to work on the bike; there is a great little place in Keighley called Renaissance Motorcyle Workshop that runs like a collective organised by Roger Henderson, a former lecturer at Keighley College in motorcycle maintenance.

I popped down to meet Roger who it turns out is a great chap, very approachable and helpful; he gave me a tour and explained how everything works; it’s basically £55 a month to rent a bench which includes access to all the various tools they carry (a lot) as well as his expertise and assistance as you learn your craft. They have welding equipment, lathes and even common nuts and bolts (chargeable at cost) so you aren’t running backwards and forwards all the time looking for sundries.

If you are a local and like me interested in learning to maintain your bikes, why not pop down, you will be made very welcome.

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So, having identified a space to work, all I need now is a bike that I’d like to work on.

I say ‘all’ a little tongue in cheek as it is actually proving far harder than I’d anticipated. You realise once you start looking how little you know about bikes as well as what marks out an interesting prospect from a potential money pit. Roger had already explained that you don’t renovate motorcycles for commercial gain as you always end up with a bigger bill than the bike is worth, even so if you choose poorly some bikes can end up costing way more than you anticipate so it makes sense to take your time finding a suitable bike to work on.

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I’ve spent ages so far on eBay (a minefield) and the internet, as well as popping over to look at bikes in various shops around Yorkshire, so far without success.

Part of the issue I think is I haven’t really got a clear enough idea of what I want to work on – the heart is pining for an older classic like a Norton 750 Commando, similar to the one my dad had when I was a toddler, or a Bevel Ducati, although both of these bikes are already fully valued (short hand for f@#king expensive) amongst collectors – a scrappy Commando is about £5-6k and a 900SS is, well, don’t ask, suffice it to say it’s unlikely to be one of the bikes I cut my teeth on.

Other options include an early Fireblade (the 92-96 versions are quite interesting) or maybe an RD Yamaha, the RD400s appeal to me most. There are more of these types of bike about yet finding a base for a good project still proves challenging.

I recently looked at a ’95 (SC28) Fireblade being sold in a local shop on behalf of a customer and whilst it looked (and sounded) reasonably good, it had apparently been tracked and as a consequence had aftermarket downpipes which had melted the lower left fairing and it also had a non OEM brake lever which I took as suggestive of the fact it had been dropped at some point in it’s 23 years.

Not an issue in itself as long as the frame was straight although finding those downpipes, a fairing and front tyre (puncture) would have added at least £500 to the cost of buying it even before any rebuild costs began in earnest.

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And that is the nub of things really, most people want more for their bike than realistically it is worth, and not choosing a wrong ‘un is harder than I’d ever imagined, given my relative inexperience – so I’m still on the hunt right now, I figure it is better to take longer and find the right bike than buy something flaky and pay double on the renovation itself.

Well that it is for now, hope to be able to update more in due course

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Novice Trackday At Cadwell

So, after buying the 20th Anniversary Gixxer last year to allow me to take on trackdays, I finally got round to booking onto a Novice day at Cadwell and what an awesome event!

As this was my first track experience I really didnt know what to expect, it helped that I was going with my mate Dave on his S1000RR and that he had already done a couple, even so, it was with some trepidation that I set off from Harrogate at 5am on a cold spring day to drive to Louth in Lincolnshire, keen to ensure I was there in plenty of time to check in, get through scrutineering (noise test at Cadwell is 105Db limit), attend the briefing and generally be ready to hit the track.

I was also more than a little anxious that I would somehow stack it and end up injuring myself, so it didn’t take long for the adrenaline to start flowing. This might sound strange however I very much welcomed that, its been a long time (I’m 45) since I felt that incredible rush of energy that comes from being deliberately ‘on the edge’ or exposed to real danger by choice. I get a rush when I ride my bikes on the road although for obvious reasons I always try and avoid riding close to the limit.

I have to say, MSV Trackdays (the owner of Cadwell and several other circuits) really nailed it with the delivery of my trackday, from upfront booking, through briefing emails, to on the day organisation and ensuring everyone had a good time, it was absolutely excellent, highly recommended.

Essentially, if you haven’t done one, the day is divided into roughly 7-8 ‘sessions’ with each session lasting 20 mins and starting at twenty to the hour. On our event we were sharing the track with two novice car groups so in every hour there was one bike and two car sessions. 20 mins doesn’t sound like much although believe me it is more than enough to get your arms pumped up and to tire you out by the end of the day. In general we were getting around 6-8 laps in a session.

Apart from nearly taking out one of the two on track instructors (actual instruction is an extra £25 for a session) by trying to squeeze past him in the turn before the mountain, I kept it at 90% as it was more than exciting enough without a spill. On the day I saw 2-3 people crash, as far as I could tell just bruises (including to egos) which is enough to keep you grounded. On the straight I was managing between 110-125mph terminal velocity, the hard thing was remembering to keep it pinned in gear as there is a temptation to change up long before reaching the redline. My biggest challenge was navigating the hairpin at the end of the circuit, I kept imagining the bike might topple over at slow speed as I turned it in (thankfully it doesn’t).

What was my highlight? Pulling a wheelie up and over the mountain, the famous Cadwell landmark, what a sensation, absolutely priceless.

So, would I recommend it, absolutely yes – the most fun I’ve had for £79 – period!

Cafe Racers – Second Coming

Is it just me or are we in the middle of a renaissance for Cafe Racers?

Let me be clear up front I am a huge fan of these stripped back, racers for the road machines which found prominence in the 50’s and 60’s. My interest in them most likely arose from discussions with my dad about the way he used to amend his father’s BSA Gold Flash for tearing about on at the weekend.

Nowadays the BSA Gold Flash in standard form would most likely be considered cool by most fans of motorbikes. Back then without clip ons and with it’s stock mudguards it was considered a little how might I say ‘fusty’, something which my grandfather would use day to day to make his way to work on. Steady and reliable transport for the working man.

So on a Friday night dad would jazz it up a little ready for the weekend.

From what I have read and heard the principle aim of the movement was to take a bike which was ok if a little ordinary and turn it into something which looked and was faster. Perhaps due to their relative ubiquity at the time Norton, Triumph, Vincent and BSA are all well represented in the group of bikes given the full Cafe treatment.

Norton in particular has a very good showing. Presumably as a result of the immense success they had achieved at the Manx TT with the featherbed frame. As well as standard Manx Norton Cafe Racers the well regarded platform also spawned a broad range of derivatives which are highly sought after today including Norvins, NorBsas and Tritons.

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I digress. Cafe Racers or bikes with a similar look and feel at least as those original machines have become so incredibly popular now that they dominate the social media feeds of the current generation of motorcycling fan. In an age in which MotoGp and Superbikes remain as popular as ever I guess it is natural to want to emulate this.

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Many of these bikes are actually being built by mainstream manufacturers such as Triumph or even BMW with their popular R nine T model. As commercial businesses they will be on the front foot when it comes to spotting a resurgent trend. They also have many advantages in that they can build and promote these machines at real scale to customers.

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I like the R nine T variants, the Triumph Thruxton is an undoubtedly good bike, Ducati is perhaps cashing in somewhat shamefacedly with it’s Scrambler Cafe Racer Edition however who can blame them although I would argue it has lost the core ethic which made this motorcycling genre so popular to begin with. And what of Norton’s Dominator?

Norton more than most can legitimately lay claim to this space given it’s heritage. Albeit they are a very different company now than they were in the 50’s and 60’s. Stuart Garner their owner and CEO has made leaning on the history of the company a core strength of the recent relaunch of the famous Norton brand. Their Dominator exemplifies this.

It is a truly beautiful machine which clearly borrows much from Cafe Racers of yesteryear. Price tag to one side, this is the mainstream manufacturers bike that I would choose.

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Mainstream manufacturers clearly have an advantage in this resurgent category. They will make many of these bikes so they can achieve efficiency and reliability for customers. However it is arguably the smaller, niche bike builders today who might best be able to make what is a credible claim to be the holders of the torch in this particular category.

Bike builders such as Pepo Rosell in Madrid with his standout creations based on often quite mundane or dull looking donor bikes. This is what he calls extreming a bike although when it is considered it has much in common with the ethic and general aims of the early pioneers who developed the UK Cafe Racer movement.

There are of course many others around the world doing similar things. Imagining and then building some simply beautiful and very desirable machines. Whether each of these is trying to be or should be considered Cafe Racers is somewhat academic. Motorcycling enthusiasts from many years back would surely agree the spirit of their machines survives.

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V Twin vs Triple – which sounds best?

With the predictably unpredictable British weather largely precluding any more hands on biking activities I’ve had to think rather more laterally for blog ideas.

Owning both a Street Triple and a rather lovely looking 848 EVO, I’m in the priveleged position of getting to compare and choose from both a V Twin and a Triple soundtrack.

I thought it would be fun to do a couple of videos so that you can share in my dilemma.

Here’s the Triumph in the environs of my garage on a slightly overcast and chilly day.

Not my best directing work (I didn’t fancy hours of editing) however you get the picture. The Triumph engine is tight sounding and revs willingly like a Japanese sportsbike. In truth it’s very easy to ride as the power curve is super linear. The more you twist your wrist the more you get and the faster it goes. Not fickle or fussy, just willing and simple to ride.

Here’s the Ducati for comparison after a short period of warming up.

I captured these on my phone rather than the GoPro however the video and sound quality is pretty good to be honest. Check out the sweet sound from the Termignoni pipes when I move the phone down to the back end. It veritably purrs like a resting tiger and then gives the occasional growl to remind you of it’s real potency. 

I’ve never heard this bike with standard pipes and ECU and I don’t plan to return it to it’s original set up however I imagine it would still sound absolutely bloody amazing.

To my mind, if it’s on aural drama alone there is simply no contest here, the Ducati V Twin sounds absolutely and totally thrilling compared with the Triumph. Even with after market cans from Arrow or similar it’s hard to imagine the little triple getting close to the thumping sound of the highly tuned Twin. 

And that’s fine too. I bought the Ducati because it creates a real sense of drama, an X Factor if you like. When you start it up in the street people look admiringly or come to chat. I bought the Triumph essentially to learn to ride and as a practical day to day proposition. Something that starts readily and delivers oodles of power effortlessly. 

Genuinely horses for courses I’d say.

Well there you go, the Triumph Triple (675) and the Ducati 848 EVO V Twin, running side by side. Which would you choose? Is there a better engine sound in a road bike than the Desmo?

Would love to hear your thoughts on this.

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Frustration building

Grrrr…………….and Grrrr again!

Having been a biker proper now for less than 6 months I hadn’t imagined how frustrating it would be not being able to ride a bike for extended periods during winter.

Admittedly I’m a fair weather biker and I also avoid days when it’s at or close to freezing. Having been down on my push bike in 2012 on black ice, tearing my shoulder ligament, that’s an experience I can do without again.

Checked in on both bikes yesterday and as expected the Street Triple started immediately with no fuss or messing. Perhaps more surprising albeit positive too is that the 848 EVO coughed pretty quickly to life, despite having a considerably older battery. I’d assumed this piece of Italian exotica would be considerably more ‘fragile’ in a British winter.

I ran both bikes for about 15 mins and no issues appeared which is encouraging. Had been thinking about getting some kind of trickle charge battery conditioner for them however on this evidence there’s no real urgency. Will probably still pick something up online as it seems like the prudent thing to do.

Hoping the weather improves soon although I may be a little deluded.

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