My First Car

The year is 1982 and I have just graduated from Durham University and ridden back home to the folks in Preston on my Honda CBX. The bike story so far is covered here : Bikes – The Early Years. I am due to start work at Ricardo Consulting Engineers at Shoreham-By-Sea in Sussex in mid-August and need some transport to get me there. I need to sell the bike and buy a car…
I also need a driving license…
Fortunately, I had managed to sort that one out earlier in my final year. I applied for the test, scraped together as much spare cash as I could find and went to the driving school in Durham. The test date was two weeks away and I only had enough funds for 5 lessons. Of course I had a lot of experience on bikes but had never driven a car before – amazingly I passed !

My experience of cars was somewhat limited… My brother Tim had owned a Mini and now had a Triumph 1500. I think my Dad was driving a Renault 16. The lads at Durham had a Mini and Escort Vans, although Steve did upgrade to a VW Scirocco in his final year. The other guys I knew from my time working at Leyland Vehicles (who sponsored me through University) tended to favour British Leyland – MG Midget, Austin Allegro, Austin Maxi. The most exotic cars around were a tuned Mini and a Ford Escort RS2000.

So it was against this background that I had to decide what car to look for – no Google to help with research in those days. The sensible option would have been to look for something small, economical, reliable and cheap to insure and run. But if you’ve read any of my bike history you’ll know that I seem to be drawn to the fastest thing I can get my hands on. Probably not a good idea for someone with only a few hours of driving experience…

Ford Capri 3.0 S

So I sold the bike and bought the fastest car I could find – a Ford Capri 3.0 S. This was a 1977 Mk2 model and cost me £1500 cash, which in today’s money is around £5.5k – a lot of money for a 22 year old to be spending on anything…

The Ford Capri was first introduced in 1968 and promoted by Ford as “The car you always promised yourself”. It was based on the mechanicals of the Ford Cortina and you’d have to be even older than me to remember them. CAR magazine unkindly called the Capri a “Cortina in Drag”. They had lots of engine options (all petrol) and even had a 1.3l which must have been a real dog. Having said that it weighed less then 1000kg – todays base model Fiesta weighs 1150 kg. It is now a modern classic – even Jamie Oliver has one..

Insurance ? Didn’t seem to be as much of a problem in those days, although I did only insure it TPF&T – quite a risk to take with an expensive car…

The picture shown is not the actual car as I can’t seem to find one, but it was white. I can’t remember if it had the vinyl roof and mine had steel wheels instead of the alloys shown – otherwise it looked pretty much the same. My mate Paul Robinson who lived opposite the old folks had a Mk1 3.0 Capri – so maybe there was some influence from him ?

I think Tim gave me a lift to Manchester to collect the car and I remember the drive back – on the Motorway for the first time and in “control” of a powerful car without really knowing what I was doing. And the bonnet on the Capri was so long you had no idea where the front of the car ended. Although I did find that out the first time I parked the car in my Dad’s garage and put a dent in it by running into the workbench at the end.

I’d like to add more about the car and the driving experience and my impressions but :
a. I had nothing to compare it to – apart from motorbikes
b. I can’t remember anyway
I seem to remember liking the instant response and good mid range torque of the V6 engine and also that it wasn’t great at going round corners which I had a habit of tackling as if I was still on a bike. Definitely some tyre squealing involved.

Room for a V8 in there..

Before long it was time to load up the car with all my worldly possesions – one suitcase, a rucksack and a tool box – and head South to start my new job…

I was “in digs” with a guy called Derek in Shoreham – just a short walk across the footbridge to work – and this is where I met my mate Dougie who was also lodging there. I was a long way from home and even further from Durham so didn’t really know anyone – but there was a guy called Tim who lived near Brighton who I shared accommodation with in Durham – at the Shafto Arms. One evening I drove over to see him, taking the back roads to make the drive more interesting, very interesting as it turned out…

I was on a country road and ahead was an open right hand bend, it had been raining so the road was damp but not soaking. Not sure how fast I was going (officer), but I wasn’t pushing hard, just enjoying the drive. At the apex of the bend the rear lost grip and started to slide… As a novice driver my reactions were slow but I did start to apply some opposite lock – too slow as the car started to cross the white line and by the time it was coming back into line I was in the middle of the road. If the road had been clear all would probably have been OK…. But it wasn’t ! There was a car coming the other way and there was nowhere for him to go as the road sloped down into a ditch on the inside.

We hit each other head on… My car then bounced off to the left ran up a slope on that side of the road, rolled over completely and ended up facing the way I had just come. The other car was stopped on the road. The door wouldn’t open so I climbed out through the space where the windscreen had been. I seemed to be all in one piece so walked back down the road to see if the others were OK. The other driver extracted himself and walked towards me. I said “Sorry about that” and we shook hands. No-one was hurt but both cars were write-offs.

Dougie very kindly towed the car back to Derek’s where it sat forlornly on his drive (much to his disgust). I went back to look at the corner where I lost it and discovered that the road had recently been resurfaced – I had been driving on a resurfaced section but the resurfacing came to an end – just at the apex of the corner. The damp, worn tarmac was very slippery compared to the newly surfaced section.

I’d only had the car a few weeks, it had cost me all the money I had and was now a write off with only Third Party insurance. I hadn’t even had my first paycheck… And I needed some transport as I didn’t want to lodge with Derek and had the opportunity to rent a farm cottage with a couple of other guys, but it was 8 miles away…

I needed to find another car, soon and cheap…

Bikes – Off-Road

Most of this has been covered already on this blog so I apologise in advance for repeating myself, and I will add links to the other detailed articles with videos within this post for anybody who’s really bored.

Why Off-Road ?

I am very fortunate to live in an area that is criss-crossed with trails that start right outside my house and which you are allowed to use on a motorbike – not the case in much of the UK. I had walked and been running along many of these trails and even done a bit of mountain biking – but I had never ventured off-road on a motorbike (apart from a brief excursion on the massive DR BIG).

If you have followed my bike history so far you will have seen a recurring theme of searching for fun and excitement. In the early days this desire had led me to buy ever faster and powerful bikes but I often ended up disappointed at the opportunities to use the performance (and my ability to manage it!). The previous post ended with the KTM Duke, a bike which I owned longer than any other and was probably best matched to my pursuit of fun in a manageable package. Until May 2018 that is…

It was in early 2018 that my mate Doug announced that he was coming over to France with a van full of bikes (and his mate Mark) to take part in an Austin VINCE motorcycle event in the Pyrenees. I invited him to call in for a couple of days on the way down and he suggested we could explore some of my local trails. I readily agreed but immediately realised I had never ridden off road before… There followed a quick search for a suitable machine to buy to get in some practice before they arrived, so as not to appear a complete idiot and slow them down…

Based on my previous motorcycle purchase record (now with the advantage of the Internet) I should have gone out looking for the biggest and fastest bike I could find. But for some reason I didn’t – instead I searched for one of the slowest bikes that you can buy in order to learn some new skills with low risk. Although as Doug likes to point out he has broken a wrist and a leg in two separate accidents and both at 0 mph !

Scorpa SY 250

I chose to buy a trials bike to learn some low speed balance and machine control that I would be able to use for practise around the garden. The Scorpa is relatively cheap and uses a Yamaha water cooled 2 stroke engine with a good reputation for reliability. Original blog post : Scorpa Trials Bike

Scorpa SY250

Unlike some of my other bike buying decisions, this turned out to be a wise choice as I had no idea what I was doing and had a lot to learn. I started by doing very large and wobbly figure of 8s in the garden, turning on gentle slopes and even jumping over some very small obstacles. I still managed to fall off a few times – even capturing some of the mishaps on video.

Looking back it’s interesting to compare the protective equipment I was using – back in 1978 I was doing laps of Longridge race circuit on my RD250 wearing jeans, denim jacket and trainers. Now I’m doing very slow speed manouvers in my back garden on a trials bike wearing padded enduro trousers with knee protectors, full body armour and hefty motocross boots !

By the time Doug and Mark came to visit I had at least covered the basics and we were able to ride a few local trails – initially on the Scorpa, but then I borrowed one of Doug’s full size bikes which were a lot better suited to going at any speed off road.

Mark (L) and Doug at the ALBAS viewpoint

This visit marked a significant turning point for me as despite the fact that I live in a place surrounded by wonderful trails (which the other guys were very envious of), I had never done any off road motorbike riding. Although I have had many motorbikes over the years, including some pretty interesting ones, they have all been road bikes. My road bike at the time was a KTM Duke 2 – a 640cc single supermoto. This was my dream bike and I had wanted one for years, but in fact I hardly used it. The problem was that the bike was so capable that I found myself riding fast (too fast) in order to get to a level that I found interesting. This is clearly a dangerous practice on the road and as a result I tended to do very few rides. Trying the off road experience was a revelation because the same level of excitement and feeling close to the limit of what the bike and you are capable of happens at very low speed. I was sold, and so was the KTM shortly after Dougie’s visit. Off roading here we come !
Original blog post : KTM Duke Farewell

The next event that the guys were planning to participate in was a 3 day navigation Enduro in Normandie in November run by a guy called Chris EVANS. I decided to join in even though I didn’t yet have sufficient skill or a suitable bike… I chatted with the organiser and explored the possibility of doing it on the Scorpa – I had acquired a long range tank/seat unit for it – but the limited fuel range and cramped riding position were not really suited to full days of riding. I asked about hiring a bike which was a possibility but would be expensive and then Chris suggested just buying a suitable bike, use it for the event and sell it again afterwards – which sounded like a good plan..

Scorpa T-ride 250F

I searched around for some time and actually went to try out a couple of bikes – a Sherco 250 Enduro (which just felt too big compared to the trials) and a Beta X-Trainer which felt slightly smaller but was reletively new and therefore rather expensive. And then a Scorpa T-Ride came up locally and it felt easy to ride so I bought it. This is a French made bike but again using a Yamaha engine – in this case a detuned 250 four stroke 5 valve enduro engine. Scorpa are better known for their Trials machines and the T-ride is meant to be a cross-over bike in that it is bigger and heavier than a trials while maintaining some of the geometry, but not as large and unwieldy as a full size enduro machine.

Scorpa T-ride

Once I started to check the bike over I came across quite a few things that needed sorting out. The steering head bearings couldn’t be adjusted correctly and when I stripped them apart one of the bearings was rusty. There were various electrical issues – a previous owner had done some wiring mods that were hard to fathom out and the bike still had the wiring for the indicators although none were fitted. The bike came with the original trials tyres which were old and some dubious brand so I replaced them with Michelin competition trials tyres – exactly the same as on the Scorpa Trials. I also fitted the Tubliss system to allow me to run low pressures.

I think the T-ride is a great concept and the idea has now been taken up by others – in particular KTM with the Freeride model – in being a slightly smaller, easier to ride and generally more manageable bike compared to a full size enduro. However, the T-ride was only in production for a few years and didn’t have a long development so there were some niggling issues – particularly the wiring. Mind you the same sort of teething problems were also common with the first years of Freeride production.

In all my years of road bike riding I had never had any training – it is a wonder how I survived this long. But for the off road stuff I was determined to learn to walk before attempting to run. And so it was that Doug and I signed up for a session at Tricks in the Sticks in Kent which was a days trials training and extremely beneficial. We also took the opportunity to do some trail riding in the same area with Doug on his BMW 450X and me on his 350 Freeride : Trail Riding in Kent.

I continued to ride both Scorpas over the summer, trying to get up to a reasonable standard ready for the Normandie event in November. I was very aware that we would be riding together as a team and that Doug and Mark were vastly more experienced than me. I did get better and more ambitious which, of course, resulted in the occasional off – one of which ended up with the bike part way down a slope from which I was unable to recover it. Fortunately a couple of walkers came along and were able to help me extract the bike. Short video on that mishap in this post : T-Ride Practise.

And so we get to the Normandie Sport Adventure trip – I thought this would be a a baptism by fire, but I was only half right – there was no fire involved, only mud and lots of it. The organiser Chris took one look at my trials tyres and said “I think you’re going to struggle with that front tyre” – and he was right ! But I didn’t have a spare so just set the pressures as low as I dared and set off. Well actually we didn’t set off because the T-ride wouldn’t start – it had developed a habit of flooding the carburettor and taking ages to clear so we were pushing it up and down the road in front of the hotel trying to get it going. It fired up eventually and generally behaved OK after that but it was a bit of an embarrasing start.

The front tyre was a problem – as soon as we encountered any sticky mud (which was most of the time) the tread would plug up with mud and just slide the front wheel. I had so many slides and close shaves that I gave up counting, but amazingly I didn’t fall off. Admittedly I was going slower than my team mates but they all managed to take a mud bath at one time or another. I like to think that my trials practise had helped my balance, but maybe I was just going slow and the easy handling of the T-ride won the day ? Original post : Sport Adventure Normandie.

At the end of the Normandie trip I really felt I had achieved something having only started riding off road 6 months earlier and had been able to hold my own with more experienced riders on better bikes – well maybe not hold my own, but at least keep them in sight ! To further my skills all I needed now was a better bike…
As mentioned above I had bought the Scorpas to learn on and felt I had served some sort of apprenticeship so it seemed like the right time to sell them and move on. So I spent some time researching the next bike… My idea was to get a newer enduro bike that would serve as a replacement for both Scorpas – which would be quite expensive so I would need to sell them both anyway.

There is a huge choice of enduro bikes on the market and I had a bit of time over the winter to narrow down the selection. And I had the experience of running the Scorpas to draw on. So my short list of characteristics was :

  • Mainstream manufacturer – easy parts availability
  • Model in production for some time – niggling problems should be ironed out
  • No heavier than the T-ride < 105 kg
  • As simple as possible – two stroke, no linkage suspension
  • Available locally and within budget !


This was just about the only bike that met the specification I had come up with. It was then just a question of finding one… The Bon Coin is a great source for bikes but France is a big country and they can be some distance away – this one came from an hour and a half away in the Dordogne – a 2016 250 EXC.


Compared to the T-ride the KTM is a full size enduro and as KTM like to tell you it’s “Ready to Race”. So as received it was a bit too much for me to handle and it wasn’t long before I was attempting a hill climb and let the engine hit the powerband and it looped the bike. Following this incident I then detuned the bike as far as possible by switching to the soft ignition map, changing the powervalve spring and winding in the pwervalve adjuster. Even in this state it was still very fast, but slightly more manageable for a novice. Over the last year of riding the bike I have gradually undone these mods to get the bike back to full power mode as I have become more used to it.

I was and still am impressed with this bike – it is a proper enduro race bike that has been developed and refined over the years and has none of the niggling issues the annoyed me about the T-ride. The biggest single issue I have had with it has been the carburettor jetting. It seems that the bikes are set up rich from the factory, which is a safe option and KTM probably know that real racers will be tweaking the carbs anyway. When running wide open there were no issues at all and starting was never a problem. The problem for me was a just off idle, light throttle richness that made the bike “blubber” (for want of a better word) – a bit more throttle or a few more revs and it would clear and start to sing but just in that transition it was terrible. Unfortunately that sememed to be the region where I was wanting the bike to operate while picking my way along trails or practising low speed manoevering. Having tried every jetting option in the book (and some that weren’t) I concluded that the throttle slide cutaway was the only thing left that could fix it. Chatting to my mate Doug and he had been through similar issues with the Freeride 250 2 stroke he used to have – he had tried everything (except the throttle slide) and eventually gave up and sold the bike. Predictably the slides are quite expensive so you can’t afford to have a selection – I just bought one (the next grade up) and decided if that didn’t work I would modify it by hand… Which I did, and after lots of trial and error the bike is now running much better.
Other mods to the bike – modified the radiator guard to get better steering lock, fiitted the Tubliss system and balanced the wheels and that’s about it !

Here are a few posts on riding the KTM :
Sunday Trail Ride
Sport Adventure Dordogne
Keeping Up With The Boys
Golden Gnome Treasure Hunt
Rando Courbiac
Golden Gnome Challenge
Massif de Morvan

When I bought the KTM I had hoped it would be a “do it all” bike – I sold my two Scorpas in order to buy it in the first place. As I have ridden it more and improved my (limited) skills I have come to realise that the low speed control of the bike is one of the hardest and most important things to master. I have fallen off the KTM several times but almost always at low speed. Once the speed picks up the bike becomes more stable and the amazing suspension does a fantastic job of keeping everything under control. But at very low speed it feels tall, heavy and a bit cumbersome – very glad I went for just about the lightest enduro bike around. To try to improve my low speed skills I have been doing more practice around the garden – and fell off several times in the process. This made me realise that to make more progress I needed another trials bike…

Montesa Cota 4RT

In the search for a new trials bike I wasn’t searching for a specific model, just looking for something local and within budget. I went to look at a few bikes (Gas Gas, Sherco) but they seemed quite low quality – even compared to the Scorpa I used to have. Then I went to look at the Montesa and was amazed at the quality – it’s not a bike that is favoured by the experts as it is a bit heavier (being a four stroke), but for me it was ideal. Unfortunately it was a non-runner…
Original post : Montesa Cota 4RT

Montesa Cota 4RT

As the bike wouldn’t start I managed to do a bit of a deal on the assumption that I would be able to sort it out…
It turned out to be a failed fuel pump (the Montesa is fuel injected). Genuine replacements are outrageously expensive but I managed to source an equivalent specification pump which did the trick. The other significant issue was the clutch plates sticking which seems to be a common problem and makes finding neutral impossible. A new set of plates sorted that one out. My low speed bike control is coming along and I can even practise (carefully) in the garden during our COVID-19 confinement – just need to transfer these skills to the KTM !

That’s All Folks !

Well congratulations if you got this far through my bike history… Thank you for reading.

I currently have the KTM and Montesa and no plans to change them any time soon…. But you never know..

I’ll just finish with this short video which shows why it’s important to always wear the right protective gear – and cover the clutch…

Log Hopping With Chris

Bikes – Big Boys Toys

In the early days when I was at University bikes were an essential form of transport. They were also tremendous fun as you can probably tell from the previous post where my objective seemed to be to get the biggest and fastest bike as soon as possible.
On leaving University in Durham and starting work at Ricardo on the South Coast I had to switch to using a car for my everyday transport and, like most poeple, that necessity continues to this day. But most cars are not much fun and there was always a desire to have a bike as well…

Rickman Kawasaki Z1000

The last bike I owned was the Honda CBX, which was fast and sophisticated but rather heavy and cumbersome. I had always been happy with the power and reliability of Japanese bikes but the handling and braking often left something to be desired. Having been at work for a while I started to search for an interesting “toy” bike that would be fast and have good handling. And what could be better than buying a road-legal race bike ?

I managed to find a Rickman Kawasaki and bought it from a guy only a few miles from where I was living in Worthing – he had upgraded to a Bimota Suzuki. The Kawasaki was an ex. TT Racer and actually competed in the 1979 Formula 1 TT on the Isle of Man. The previous owner had bought it as a race bike and fitted lights and number plate and managed to get it road registered. It had a highly tuned engine (the original Kawasaki engine was already pretty close to the CBX on power) and a Rickman frame with proper brakes. The Rickman Brothers are specialist frame manufacturers in the UK and have a trade mark of nickel plating their frames. They are much lighter and stiffer than the originals – ideal for racing.

Rickman Frame

Impressions of the bike ? Exactly like a race bike on the road, with all the pros and cons that go with that. On a fast open stretch of road it was extremely fast, controllable and exhilirating. Anywhere else it was a bit of a pain. Commuting to work through the traffic was tiresome as the riding position puts a lot of weight on the arms unless going fast enough for the wind pressure to offer some relief. the engine was quite peaky – lots of power at the top end but not so much low down torque. As a toy for a weekend blast it was hard to beat, but as daily transport it was not so good.

It’s interesting that in looking for a new bike I always seemed to be in pursuit of something better, bigger, faster and now, having got the fastest bike available I’m a bit disappointed with it. Did I learn a lesson from this ? Of course not as this is about big boys toys and common sense and reason go out of the window. So where do you go from here ?

Well I put on my rose tinted spectacles and remembered the “good old days” of my first bike the Yamaha RD250 and what fun that was. It probably had about 30 bhp and might manage 100 mph on a good day, compared to the Kawasaki with over 100 bhp and 150 mph potential. There’s no doubt which one would win a race, but which was more fun ?

Yamaha RD400

This was a 1978 bike and the bigger brother of the RD250 I used to have.


This was a bike much more suited to local commuting and having fun at sensible speeds and I embarked on a series of modifications..
I fitted lower handlebars and rearset footrests, added a steering damper and I can see from the photo that I had to make some little alloy brackets to support the headlight with the new bars fitted. However, the biggest modification was to the exhaust system which was a project in itself…

On joining Ricardo I met up with my mate Doug CARTWRIGHT who was in to kart racing. We used to go all over the country to compete in the 125 championship – my role was to help with the spannering and share some of the long drives in Doug’s old Opel Rekord diesel estate. The 125 Rotax was a very high performance 2 stroke engine and as we worked for an engine R&D company we spent some time developing the engine on a dynamometer. I wondered about doing some tuning of my own on the RD400…
Two strokes respond very well to exhaust tuning as the standard exhaust is quite restrictive so I started by doing some dynamometer runs on the standard bike to get a baseline and then designed some expansion chambers which I believed would give me more power. I am not a designer, but having drawn a 2D representation of the pipes I gave them to my friend John KIDD (Pongo) who was working with the CAD system. He converted the 2D layouts into 3D CAD, then “cut” the pipes into sections and “unrolled” each section to give a flat paper drawing of each of the pieces I would need to make the pipes. It was then just a matter of cuttung out these shapes in steel sheet, rolling the cone shapes and welding it all together – which did take me a little while. These were all assembled onto the bike (as shown in the photos) and retested on the dyno..

I was pleased to find the bike “revved out” further and produced more power – pretty much what I had designed the pipes to do. However, there was a loss of low speed torque and driveability… So it turned out that the original pipes were a pretty good compromise and for nipping in and out of commuter traffic the low down response is actually more useful than more top end power. It seems we have had this lesson before…

Taking the first step on the ladder of being grown up and more sensible was marked by moving from rental accommodation and buying a flat with my girlfriend. Having no garage and probably no money left over were also contributing factors to spending a few years without a bike. And then, within a few weeks of us splitting up, I was on the hunt for a new bike… Having clearly learnt no lessons from all my bike ownership experience I set out to find something stupidly fast and fun…

Suzuki GSXR750

We are now in the late 80s and motorcycles have come on a lot in the last 10 years. A new category of race-replica bikes have emerged – maybe the Phil Read Replica was the first ? But these bikes are not just cosmetic make-overs, the engine, suspension, brakes and tyres have all moved on dramatically from the late 70s.


As a comparison the Honda CBX which was the fastest thing out there in 1981, was a 1000cc six cylinder producing 100 bhp and weighing 274 kg. The 1986 GSXR750 produced 106 bhp and weighed 205 kg.

The GSXR was extremely fast, capable and exciting. It was more useable than the Rickman Kawasaki, being a road bike rather than a pure racer – but still suffered from the same character traits. Looking back it is obvious now but at the time I seemed to value the sheer excitement more than the overall riding experience. The Suzuki was perfect for the race track or fast roads but in West Sussex, amongst the traffic there was very little opportunity to use even half of its potential.

Modifications ? None – it didn’t need any. It only came with a side stand so I did get one of the apprentices to make me up a paddock stand – but that’s about it. This would have been a perfect bike for “track days” but such things didn’t really exist back then. Great fun in small doses…

We now enter another bike desert as we move further up the ladder of growing up – getting married, buying a house, starting a family…
But the desire to have a toy is still there, it’s just a matter of time… Fast forward to 2000 – have I learnt any lessons yet about the type of bike I should look for ? Bikes have continued to develop and are getting faster and more powerful – but also generally lighter and with top quality suspension, brakes and tyres. I have started to realise (it took a long time), maybe influenced by my increased responsibilities that going for a race-replica superbike is not the right choice. I made that mistake a few times and certainly enjoyed the buzz when you could unleash some of the potential. I have had many opportunities since then to go down the “faster is better” route but have managed to resist temptation (so far at least).

So the search began for a bike that would be fun and enjoyable at low speed (<80 mph), rather than one that can reach that speed in second gear. And this lead to a Supermoto…

KTM 640 LC4

The supermoto concept is fairly simple – you take a dirt bike with its high up riding position and long travel suspension, bolt on some smaller road wheels with sticky rubber and a massive brake disc on the front – and away you go ! The supermoto idea really took off in France where they have a race series specifically for this class of bike that involves riding on a race circuit but with some off road sections thrown in. KTM are leaders in the off road world and were one of the first to embrace the concept and offer an off-the-shelf supermoto.

KTM 640 LC4

What appealed to me was the idea that you could go fast and have fun without getting up to silly speeds. These bikes are light – 150 kg but still produce 55 bhp. Compare this to the Honda 550 I had in Durham – 190 kg and 50 bhp.

So this was probably the “best” bike I’ve had so far in it’s fitness for purpose – having fun. But sadly it was very short lived….

When I bought the bike I didn’t do an HPI check and it turned out to be subject to a finance agreement, so after only a week in my hands it went back to the previous owner…

Another bike-less interlude while we make the move to France and create a new life over there. This meant cutting back to the essentials – 1 car. I had been bitten by the Supermoto bug and was keen on the idea of getting something similar. However, the budget was rather constrained…

Suzuki DR750S

Also known as the DR BIG, this was a 750cc single. Once again this was a sort-of race replica, but in the case the race was the Paris-Dakar off road adventure rally and the modifications were mainly cosmetic but did include the enormous long range tank. In terms of numbers we are talking 175 kg and 50 bhp.

Suzuki DR750S

Although not a supermoto it does have the upright riding position and long travel suspension – just lacking the sticky tyres and stonking front brake. Although it has off-road pretensions this is really a road bike which could manage the odd gravel road or farm track. It has no bash plate and it way too heavy for manhandling off road. I tried it once off road but it felt much too heavy and cumbersome. On road it was pretty good and suited my purpose well, being quite happy chugging along without encouraging you to go fast. When trying to push along a bit faster on the road you soon came up against the limitations of the weak front brake (which was small and had a lot of weight to stop) and the high centre of gravity which meant swinging the bike through S bends required considerable effort. The original exhaust rusted through but I managed to find a reasonable second hand replacement.


When I bought it the head bearings were extremely notchy and had to be stripped out and replaced. But other than normal servicing I didn’t have any problems with it. For a budget bike it worked very well – maybe not quite as much fun as I would have liked…

After a few more years in France c. 2010 with finances on a bit more of an even keel (i.e. we were earning more than we were spending) I started looking for an upgrade and the Supermoto itch was still there…

KTM Duke 2 640

Following the success of the KTM Supermoto (which I owned briefly) KTM developed a more road orientated version called the Duke. This was very similar to the LC4 model but with road suspension and no pretensions of going off road.

KTM Duke 2 640

I had this bike for 7 years and spent more time polishing it than riding it – you can read my fond farewell to the bike here :

Modifications – these involved derestricting the bike by removing emission controls, opening up the airbox, changing the jetting and de-baffling the exhaust. The exhaust work took the longest as it is made from stainless steel and quite tough – lots of cutting and grinding with a dremel. The end result looked exactly the same as stock, but sounded awesome!

Although this was my “dream bike” it was not without its faults.. Quite a lot of vibration from the single cylinder (no balancer) and in quite a high state of tune so it liked to be revved rather than chugging along. Interesting to compare it with the DR BIG which was slower and heavier but quite happy chugging along, it was OK going a bit faster but you quickly reached a limit where the bike would say “Well we can go faster, but do you really want to do that?”. In the same situation the KTM would be saying “Let’s see how fast we can go!”

And this became a bit of an issue… To ride the bike and have fun, you have to go fast which increases the risk and as the years tick by you realise more and more that you are not Captain Scarlet (indestructible). Another factor is that there are some nice A and B roads around here but they are also used by the French – a nation with the toughest driving test in the world that somehow manages to produce the worst drivers. And the government introduced a blanket 50 mph speed limit…

The Duke

Although I no longer own any of these bikes I feel very priviledged to have been able to experience them. I am not one for accumulating stuff – preferring instead to have a few things that get used rather than a collection of museum exhibits.

You’ll have to wait until the next post to find out why I sold the KTM, or read the Farewell post above… Suffice to say that up to the present The Duke was my last road bike…

Bikes – The Early Years

I’ve always had a bike (sometimes more than one). I started with push bikes and got used to them as everyday transport as I had to cycle the 3 miles to school each day in all weathers. But what I wanted was a motorbike…

In 1978 I left school after A levels, borrowed £300 from my Dad and bought my first bike – a 1974 Yamaha RD250. Looking back it is quite atonishing to realise that you could apply for a provisional license, stick on some L plates and hit the road on a 100 mph bike. No training, no tests, no qualifications necessary. You were limited to 250cc but all the main manufacturers offered bikes to suit the demand. I bought the RD off a school friend (Peter Cook), who was upgrading to a Honda 400/4. We did a few rides together but he had no fear and was much faster than me. We crept in to the by-then disused Longridge motor racing circuit and did a few laps – I can see from the photos that my personal protective equipment extended to a helmet and leather gloves accompanied by jeans, denim jacket and trainers!

Longridge Circuit

Jumping on a bike like this with no experience was of course a recipe for disaster and I did fall off a few times – but no serious injuries. I fell off one night and couldn’t get the bike to start and ended up calling out the parents who duly arrived – probably just glad to see I was OK. We eventually got the bike going and discovered that during the off one of the carburettor slides had got jammed wide open. My worst crash was in the car park at our halls of residence in Leyland where there was a workshop for students to use. Having done some tweaks to the timing I went to try the bike around the car park – and fell off skidding across the tarmac in only a T-shirt – Ouch !

The bike was very senstive to ignition timing which had to be set up using a dial gauge down the plug hole to find TDC. This needed adjusting on an almost weekly basis to keep it running crisply – I eventually installed a transistorised Boyer Bransden ignition which was a huge improvement.

I was sponsored through University by Leyland Vehicles, which meant a “gap year” working for them before going to University – and then back working for them in the summer holidays. As Leyland was not far from my parents the RD250 was an ideal form of transport on these short journeys. However, I was due to start University in Durham in September and would need to be able to get there and back which required a bigger bike. So having passed my (very simple) bike test and with another loan from Dad I bought a Honda 550 F1 – a four cylinder four stroke.

Honda 550 F1

Strangely I don’t have many memories of this bike – it was a reliable workhorse for the Durham trips, but rather unremarkable. As usual with my bikes I did make some modifications, fitting a Dunstall exhaust, lower handlebars and rearset footrests. In common with all Japanese bikes of the era the front disc brake didn’t work in the wet but at least it had a reliable rear drum brake. The previous owner had fitted a luggage rack and panniers (useful for load carrying) and also upgraded the normal spoked wheels to alloys – a pretty unusual thing to do in those days, but they did look cool. One of the wheel bearings worked loose but I managed to refit it using Loctite bearing fit. I also swapped the Boyer Bransden ignition over to this bike but it was much less sensitive to adjustment and had plenty of performance anyway. Why the 550 ? Well I was looking for a 400/4 but this came up for sale in the local paper – no Internet or Auto Trader in those days…

Modified bike

Having been a little bit underwhelmed by the 550 I looked for a bike to upgrade to and the obvious choice was to go for the 750 version of the same bike, which promised 120 mph performance. I rang round the local dealers and struck lucky with one who had just got a special version of the 750 in part exchange – this was a 750 F2 Phil Read Replica… This started a trend that continues to this day of buying transport that is a little bit “different”.
Phil Read raced for the Honda Britain team and won the Isle of Man TT on a modified 750 in the late seventies. To celebrate the event and help to shift some more bikes, Honda commissioned Colin Seeley to modify the standard 750 to make a road going “race replica”. It came with a five-gallon alloy works replica hand made petrol tank with a custom made filler cap. Rear sets, ace bars, single race saddle, full fairing, twin Cibie headlights, a hand made works exhaust (which is music to the ears) and little one-off parts to complete the package. Only 150 were made and there are alleged to be only 35 remaining.

Honda Phil Read Replica

This was a great bike (for the time) – had a good riding position, great looks and super roadholding thanks to the Dunlop Red Arrow tyres. I didn’t feel any need to make modifications to the bike, apart from changing the exhaust to a Piper 4 into 1 when the old one rusted through. The fairing was great for when doing the long trips up to Durham and the bigger tank helped the fuel range. It was almost a single seater but there was just about room to squeeze my girlfriend on the back – for short journeys anyway. The suspension was set up for a single rider but even so it was possible to scrape the pegs through corners – mainly thanks to the grip from the tyres. Two-up getting round any corner at speed usually resulted in sparks flying.

I managed to avoid any accidents of my own making, despite the enthusiastic cornering, but I did have one significant off. Riding through the centre of Durham when a car pulled out in front of me – I grabbed the brakes, locked the front wheel, came off and slid into the car sideways. I had slowed enough so the impact was minor and I was unhurt, but the off had damaged the bikes ignition which is on the end of the crankshaft so it wouldn’t run. I was rather cross and made the poor lady driving the car write out and sign a confession on the spot! There was some other minor damage but the insurance paid out and I managed to fix it myself. The forks were bent but I took them into the engineering lab in Durham and managed to get them straight again.

Being a sponsored student and having a job during the holidays meant that I was relatively well off (for a student) so I was looking for an upgrade from the Honda. I had my eyes on Italian bikes which had a reputation for better brakes and handling than the Japanese equivalents – the Ducati 900SS and Laverda Jota were top of my list. But the reality of pre-Internet bike searching is limited to scanning the local paper or ringing bike dealers. I came across an ad for a Honda CBX1000 – this was not on my list but was the fastest bike you could buy in 1982…

Honda CBX

An in-line six cylinder engine with double overhead cams and four valves per cylinder – 24 valves, 6 carburettors and 105 bhp. This particular bike also had the benefit of a Marshall 6 into 1 exhaust which sounded amazing. It also came with a hefty set of crash bars to protect the very wide engine.

Looking back it seems quite astonishing that a 22 year- old student could be running around on a bike like this, but I was ! But for all the “fastest bike” and six cylinder hype it wasn’t a great bike. The performance, sound and smoothness were perfect. The weight, handling and fuel consumption were less so. In a foolish attempt to reduce the weight I removed “non essential” parts like the centre stand and crash bars. But on the way into lectures one morning, going round one of my favourite roundabouts I reached the limit of the tyres grip and the bike slid sideways – no thanks to me they regained grip and didn’t throw me off – thank you Pirelli Phantoms. On parking the bike I noticed that some of the lower engine bolts had gained a new chamfer – it had been leant over so far the engine had touched the ground ! I was a bit more careful after that…

After graduating from Durham in the summer of 1982 I needed to find alternative transport to get me down to Shoreham-by-Sea to start work at Ricardo. So I sold the CBX and bought a car – my first car, but I’ll save that story for another post…

Durham 79-82

I studied Engineering Science at Durham University from 1979-82 and was a member of St. Cuthbert’s Society. Durham operates a collegiate system but unlike the other colleges with large halls of residence to accomodate the students Cuths has only a small number of residential students and the rest “live out”. I spent my first year in residence in the South Bailey – at the end of the peninsular formed by the river Wear. But for my second and third years I lived out at the Shafto Arms in Langley Moor. This was a pub that had been converted into student accommodation in a small mining village a few miles outside Durham.

My fellow “Cuths Engineers” who also lived at Shafto were :
Simon HAYE
John KIDD (Pongo)
The main picture above was taken on Palace Green after our graduation ceremony in 1982.

Living out meant that we needed our own transport and being engineers we managed to run and maintain a motley collection of sometimes working vehicles.

My memory is a little hazy but I think Simon had a Honda 400/4 that he rode up from Reading each term but after a cam chain problem and dropping oil all over the Cuths courtyard he upgraded to a Yamaha XS750 with a very loud Marving pipe. I can remember Tim having a Ford Escort van and Pongo had a very new yellow Mini. Steve had a Honda 550/4 (I had an identical one) and then an Escort van (identical to Tim’s) and finally a VW Scirocco. I started with the Honda 550/4, then a Honda 750 Phil Read Replica and finally a Honda CBX 1000.

Lots of stories I could tell if I could remember them but at least I have managed to unearth some old photographs as memoroy joggers…

Shafto Arms
Simon on his XS750 – parked between two Escort vans?
Yours truly..
Doing the head bearings on Steve’s 550 – my identical bike in the background
Just changed the wheel bearings on mine…
Down the pub after graduation…