Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Ride out to Matlock Bath for fish & chips. And why some of us persevere with old Brit bikes.

My mate Tony used to have a vintage Triumph T150 Trident, and it was a good match for my vintage Triumph T140 Bonneville on rides out around Cheshire, the Peak, and sometimes further afield (see the post on this blog back in April: 'Two old gits, two old Trumpets, sunshine, steam trains.... and Copper Dragon').

Well, Tony doesn't keep bikes very long and the T150 has gone; In his garage now are a few 'chicken chasers' (50cc mopeds - don't ask!) and a Suzuki Freewind. The Freewind is a modern 650cc single, not a classic like the Trumpets, but nonetheless Tony insisted it would be a good match for my 1979 750cc twin for ride outs together. I wasn't so sure; my old Trumpet can trace its lineage back to the 1930s when Edward Turner developed the Triumph Speed Twin, and the vertical twin engine in my bike is a direct descendant of that venerable piece of engineering, complete with mechanical clatterings, the occasional oil drip, and much vibration.

What killed the British motorcycle industry was the influx of Japanese bikes in the 1970s and 80s, with new designs using the latest technology. As a result motorcycle performance has improved dramatically since 1979, and modern bikes, especially Japanese bikes, are at least as advanced as today's cars. Tony's Freewind is Japanese.

Why, then, do some of us persevere with oily, vibrating old Brit bikes when the modern product is smoother, far more reliable, much faster, and has better brakes? The answer can be expressed in one word: character!

Japanese bikes do exactly what it says on the tin. They are 'white goods'; uninvolving and competent two-wheeled high speed transport. I've owned two Japanese bikes, a Honda VFR 800FI and a Blackbird. The latter was the fastest bike in Honda's range with a top speed of about 180mph and a 0 - 60mph time of a couple of seconds. Blistering performance, yet it was bland to ride. It was almost silent (just the well-oiled whine of machine-cut gears), totally smooth at any speed. Even at speeds north of 100mph it felt as if one was hardly moving, that one could get off and walk almost as fast. Well, I like machines with character so the Blackbird was not for me. Besides, with that sort of effortless performance I was either going to lose my licence or worse if I kept riding it. So I sold it and bought a BMW R1150 GS.

As ever, click twice on any picture to bring it up full size.

My Honda Blackbird; blistering performance but soooo bland

Me and my BMW R1150GS by Lake Como, Italy several years ago (the low promontory behind me is Bellagio, where Chris and I would holiday this year - see post of 23 July 2011 on this blog).

The boxer twin air/oil cooled BMW did have character! It vibrated (a bit) and sounded like a bike should sound. It was designed as a long distance tourer capable of cruising all day at 120mph and very comfortable, and that's what I used it for. France, Spain, Morocco, Switzerland, Italy, Germany were among the countries it took me before I hung up my long distance touring helmet and 'retired' from biking. But once a biker, always a biker and something had to fill that bike-shaped space in the garage. It was then that I met Tony, who introduced me to vintage British bikes. The old Bonnie is ideal for a retired guy who these days just wants to potter around on nice days, and fettle the bike in winter or on not so nice days; one thing about old Brit bikes is that they are mechanically simple compared to modern ones.

Back to today

So how would the old Bonnie and the not so old Freewind get on together? Today was promised to have by far the best weather of the week, so we arranged to meet at my house for an 11:30 departure to Matlock Bath in the Derbyshire Peak District. I got my gear on, rolled the Bonnie out of the garage, and waited. Just before half past eleven, not one but two Freewinds blattered up our road; Malcomb had decided to join us!

Tony lead the way, out through Alderley, Macclesfield, over the Cat & Fiddle to Buxton. Through Buxton and on past the lovely Ashford-in-the-water to Bakewell, then Matlock (the traffic on the A6 getting progressively worse), and finally Matlock Bath. We found a fish & chip shop where we could sit outside as it was such a lovely day, and Tony and I treated ourselves to Matlock Bath's speciality take-out. And very good it was.

My Bonneville outside the Matlock Bath chippy

The return home would avoid the traffic-clogged A6, so after a leisurely lunch in the sunshine we set off south to Cromford and took the A5012 to Friden. Malcomb lead the way home and we were soon blasting up towards Buxton on the A515 Ashbourne road, the Bonnie happy with our maybe 20% uplift on the 50mph speed limit along here. At Brierlow Bar we turned left through Harpur Hill to Ladmanlow, avoiding the centre of Buxton, and here Malcolm decided to stop for fuel.

My Bonnie framed by Freewinds at the Ladmanlow petrol stop, Malc filling up while sitting on the bike as Tony does a soft shoe shuffle to appease the gods that keep an eye on bikers and bring us lovely biking weather

Ladmanlow is the eastern end of the Cat & Fiddle road, and it's up there we went next. The highest point on the road is the Cat & Fiddle pub and its car park attracts bikers from miles around. We pulled in there and met three chaps who'd ridden in on an Aprillia, a 'super scoot', and an old 650 BSA.

Tony and Malc at the Cat & Fiddle among some of the bikes that gather there on any fair-weather day. Once again the Bonnie is framed by Freewinds

Malcomb led the way down 'The Cat' to Macclesfield taking both of the steeper and narrower 'old roads' which cut off many of the sweeping bends on the new road. I suspect Tony missed this and took the longer new road, as he didn't come into sight behind me.

Malcomb and I stopped in Macclesfield to wait for Tony, but I soon had to move on as I was due at Quarry Bank Mill at Styal at 4pm for a meeting.

(It later transpired that Tony had taken the longer new road, and caught up with Malc in Macc.)

So the Bonnie can rub along with a Freewind on a ride out, but there's no denying that if the Freewind rider wants to, he can leave the Bonnie behind if only because, in deference to the bikes antiquity, I don't like to push it above 60mph for very long. And of course the Freewind will have much better brakes and can therefore carry its speed for longer upto bends, obstructions etc.

Nonetheless, it was a great way to spend a lovely day!



  1. Howdy, nice story, I just bought a 97 Freewind my 40th bike. I had a number of English bikes, 4 Nortons, 2 ES-2 and 2 850 Commandos, a Velo 350, and Enfield 500 1935 and a lovelly A.J.S 500 1949. I bought the Wind to pay tribute to all those singles I rode.
    But is not the same, the stock XF 650 is horriblen constipated exhaust, lean mixture, front disk prone to warping...
    I had installed a new front disk, I installed the GPR exhaust and modiffied the interior for less noise and more back pressure, now she runs much better but still leaks a bit of oil !
    On yesterday's ride, when we parked, someoned said, "I smell oil "
    "Is mine, is an English single with Jap plastics" I joked...
    There's no comparsion, my Nortons Easy twos where 79 X 100 my Freewind is 100 X 85 !
    I always match bikes with airplanes, my Commandos where Typhoons, your Trumpet is a Spitfire MK IX, the Freewind fells like a big Cessna or a small helicopter...

  2. Thanks for that, George. A Spitfire Mk1X! That'll do for me!