First Dry Run of the Season
Looking out of the window, I could see the hazy sun starting to dry the ground out a bit from the previous night's heavy dew. It wouldn't be long before the roads were nice and dry for riding. I went downstairs, emptied the coffee filter jug into my cup and headed out to the workshop. Round the back of the house, the gravel was still pretty sodden but I could see where the sun had been shining round the side, it was drying out well.
I backed my Triumph Bonneville out of the workshop and stood it in the sun on its side-stand for a little while to warm to the day. I went back inside to tell Ellie that I was going into town and sat in the back porch to kit up for the road. Looking at the Bonneville, it's one of those bikes which, as you don your leathers and pack the tank bag, shines back at you as if daring you to have a go: "Go on - you know you want to!"
I have a routine - a ritual, if you like: first the leather trousers with my old chainsawing braces (I thought about wearing long-johns under them today, but I judged it to be just warm enough not to need them); next the goretex socks over my thick ex-army socks and then the heavy armoured boots over both; then I take my helmet out of its protective bag and select a pair of gloves (either summer: kangaroo skin with kevlar plating, or winter: hipora backed leather with kevlar plating and thinsulate lining - today I selected the former and placed the others in my tank bag just in case); I usually go back into the kitchen at this point to pack my diary, wallet and mobile phone into my tank bag; then it's out to the bike to start it up.
Turn the fuel petcock on and pull the choke knob on the left side of the twin carburettors all the way out - in with the key to the left of the front light - one click clockwise - check the kill-switch is at "on" and count to ten to let the pre-heating elements in the carbs do their job. Press the start button and relish the noise as it fires into life, a thudding percussion alternating from each exhaust and reverberating back again off the surroundings at 1200 rpm, then ease the choke in a little way - just enough to keep it ticking over without stalling. Back to the house to put on my armoured leather jacket and fetch my helmet, gloves and tank bag back out to the bike. Irritated that I couldn't find my scarf, I zipped my norgie shirt all the way to the top and checked my bike's drive chain for tension, wheels for true and tyres for wear or damage - all well. I pushed the choke in a little further and donned my helmet and gloves.
Sitting astride the bike, I kick the side stand up out of the way, pull in the clutch and press gently down with my left foot, feeling the whole bike nudge forward at the engaging "clunk" of first gear as though in anticipation of the ride ahead. I ease the clutch lever out and twist the throttle and we're off slowly up the driveway. Again, I thrill at the sound. Out onto the road and up to the junction at the main road with measured restraint to let the engine come fully awake. Nothing coming and I'm away - the bike leaning into that first surge of acceleration, the big twin cylinders providing that famous low-down torque which can be felt pulsating through the whole machine on every twist of the right hand. Up the hill and down the other side to the first corner and it's time to push the choke the rest of the way in.
The sky was looking slightly overcast but the sun was able to poke through every now and then and the road was still only a little damp. I flicked the headlight switch to "on" to make myself more visible to others on the road. As I progressed, I increased the revs until, after a couple of miles, I felt happy opening the throttle up all the way. Though dulled by my helmet I could hear the beat of the exhausts as the engine forced us forward along the last of that empty three mile straight to slow down for the dip and corner at the Hesket Newmarket turning, easily taken at around 70. Along to the next corner for Skelton and then another long straight. The bike, warmed up, is more than a match for others of its kind on the road: the over-sized Wiseco 904cc pistons and barrels fitted and the standard air filter and pipes dispensed with in favour of a pair of K&N pods and straight-through togas; the front fork springs and rear shocks replaced with Hagon progressives and Nitros; Goodridge stainless steel braded brake hoses fitted for more positive stopping power through the over sized Metzeler Lasertec tyres; Norman Hyde "M bars" for the café racer look and handling - the list could go on. All topped off with a visit to Hobsport near Keighley for a spot of race-tuning in their dyno-booth - this is, indeed, no ordinary bonnie.
Nearing Unthank, I eased back a little, knowing that the long sweeping corner at the farm is invariably covered in mud from tractor wheels and the hooves of cattle, which make their way to and from the milking parlour from the fields opposite twice a day. No attempt is ever made to keep the road clean, despite the law and road safety issues - the farmer must be related to a councillor somewhere. No matter, where there are houses and the like I tend to keep to the speed limit out of consideration. Past Hutton in the Forest, over the M6 motorway and onto the A6 to come into Penrith from the north. I tend to avoid the motorway, as do many other bikers, favouring instead the security and interest of the trunk roads. The view west from the A6 north of the town over to the Hills, normally one I regularly enjoy, was mostly obscured by a damp misty haze. I overtook a couple of dawdling cars and decelerated down the hill into the outskirts.
Down Scotland Road, onto Stricklandgate and into the one-way system through Middlegate to pull up outside Barclays Bank on Devonshire Street. The square was busy with people perusing the wares of the makeshift stalls of the Farmers' Market set up just beyond the Town Clock. Side-stand down, I flicked the kill-switch, pocketed my keys, unclipped my tank bag and crossed the street to have a look around the stalls. There was a fairly decent variety of products being sold, amongst which were local pottery, cheeses, preserves and meats. One stall caught my eye, selling long Cumbrian Chorizo and Biltong. I happily bought one of each and walked down Angel Lane to the regular Tuesday Market on Great Dockray. A regular stopping point here is a music record and CD stall whose owner had managed to find me a Fatboy Slim CD I had requested a couple of weeks previously. I paid him and headed back to my bike, stopping briefly to take a couple of pictures of the Farmers' Market.
As I made my way back over Devonshire Street, I noticed an elderly couple examining the bonnie - this often happens, as it is fairly distinctive in its appearance being somewhat "retro". I am often asked: "What year is it?" or told; "Nice bike sonny - you know, I used to have one of those when I was about your age". Mainly by reminiscing, misty eyed old gentlemen whose eyes twinkle once again in the reflection of the Bonneville's brightly polished chrome nameplate. There invariably ensues an involved discussion on the pedigree of the bike following my revelation that it is, in fact, only five years old. Always, we part with friendly, knowing smiles and he walks away slowly - but with just a touch more vigour in his step than hitherto. I feel a curious satisfaction, and hope that I, too, live long enough to enjoy that same happy nostalgia one day.
I reattached my tank bag, donned my helmet and gloves and started the engine. As usual, there was a thunderous echo as the still slightly warm motor caught, revved and slowed to an idle, and people nearby started and stared. I pulled out of the parking space and headed past the Town Clock and up Castlegate. The high walls enclosing this narrow street amplify the sound as I accelerate up the hill, so I took it easy. Having decided to stop for a bite to eat, I went straight over at the roundabout onto Cromwell Road then left over the railway bridge and around along Norfolk Road to the Gilwilly Industrial Estate by the Castletown area of Penrith. Here, every weekday, opposite Harold's Tyres on Gilwilly Road, is situated Nelly's Snack Bar - a mobile snack trailer and a regular watering hole for me on trips to Penrith, where I always take a little time to enjoy a bacon and egg buttie and a cup of hot chocolate. I struck up a conversation with a gentleman of that casual yet well-tailored appearance peculiar to those of the long established rural managing class who, after admiring the bonnie in close detail, mentioned that he had a Kawazaki W650. We talked around the subject, whilst munching our food and sipping our drinks, until he finished his meal and excused himself. I checked my mobile - no calls or messages and the time was getting on for 13:30hrs, best make tracks for home.
I kitted up again, said goodbye to Nelly and made my way back up Gilwilly Road to exit the industrial estate. The day seemed to be brightening up a little. Onto the Greystoke road, I passed over the motorway and allowed the bike to speed up, leaning into the corners more now on the dry road. A couple of cars easily overtaken - one trying to outpace me (yeah, right!), and I was away in a flash. In no time, I was at Pallet Hill where I slowed down considerably, wary of its dangers, and then taking the right fork at the Clickham Inn towards Blencow. The narrow back road from Blencow to Skelton is full of twisties - and a favourite of mine on the way back from town. I didn't take it fast as there was a car ahead of me, albeit the driver clearly trying desperately to loose me and almost loosing himself in the process - besides, there is no need to as there is plenty of fun to be had from taking the corners low and throttling up for the next one without really hammering it.
Through the village, slowly and with deference, and along onto the main Wigton road once more, I decided to really open things up and the bike responded eagerly, almost trying to wheelie every time it revved into the area of maximum horse-power (6500-7300rpm). The conditions were just right and the bonnie was loving it - the roads were dry and empty, the air was dense and both the tyres and engine were at peak temperature. The long straights came and went, interspersed with the odd well learned corners, taken at a peg-scraping angle of lean with just a touch of counter-steer and with a heave of the throttle into the apex. A car half a mile or so ahead - mirror - signal - out - and gone in a flash - a memory in mere seconds, replaced only with the thrill of the catch and a single minded concentration on the road and environs ahead as the bonnie reached the point where it had nothing more to give other than its unyielding progress.
The front of my well-fitting helmet starting to press against my chin and my ears filled with a great roar of wind, I leaned forward to reduce my profile and coax what little more I could from the machine but, all too soon, my last three miles of straight were up and it was time to start slowing down to around 90mph to lean into the smooth new surface of the final bend and slower yet for the roller-coaster down the hill to home. I hit 40mph exactly at the signs then down, round the corner and back into the driveway. Round the back of the house and stop - kill-switch and silence, save the ringing in my ears and the pumping of my blood.