The Journey

Crazy things I do: Get puppy-dog eyes for every bike that passes

I hear ya comin’.
Remember when you were a kid and you’d hear a fire engine? Your ears would perk up and you’d run to the window to see the enormous red machine zip past – whose house was it going to? What exciting thing was that siren speeding toward? If you were out playing with friends, almost instinctively a siren would cause the group of you to jump on your bicycles and pedal, hell for leather, toward the sound. This is how I now behave when I hear a motorcycle engine.
I have become surprisingly good at picking out a motorcycle’s engine from a distance. Those of you playing along in the United States may not think it an impressive a skill, but in the UK people drive tiny-engined cars. None of my friends drive cars with larger than a 1.4-litre. A BMW in this country offers only 1.6. And on these minuscule cars the chavs install noise-enhancing exhausts. From the right distance, a person could get confused.
But I can hear the difference. A motorcycle’s engine sounds more authentic. It carries in a certain way. When I hear this noise I find myself walking to the window, waiting to see what passes by. With the bikes that pass regularly I’ve gotten to the point I can identify exactly who it is on sound alone.
“Dyke on a Bike,” I say, nodding to the window from across the room.
My wife is sitting at the table, next to the window. She looks down at the street right as a portly woman on a Yamaha Diversion passes by.
“What’s she carrying today?” I ask, not getting up from the sofa.
“Flowers,” Jenn says. “Balanced on her lap. You pay way too much attention to traffic that you can guess who it is.”
Along with Dyke on a Bike, there is No-Good Monster (a Ducati Monster owner who refuses to fix his regulator-rectifier), Studious Boy (a kid on an L-plated scrambler who triple checks all directions before moving through the roundabout), Stunt Scooter Boy (who knew you could do wheelies on a scooter?!), Wish-I-Was On a Triumph Guy (all Triumph clothing but riding a loud Chinese bike), and a handful of others.
On the street, I’ll turn my head 180 degrees to look at every. single. bike. I find myself studying them as if trying to memorise them. Perhaps I’m hoping it will come up in a pub quiz: “OK, picture round. You’ll see on your sheets several pictures of motorcycle fairing – name the bikes with which they are associated.”
As I’ve mentioned before, I often stop and stare at bikes so long the owners come out to see what I’m doing. They hear the American accent and calm down. No doubt they can see the newbie enthusiasm in my eyes, and many will take a moment or two to tell me about the bike – how it runs, whether they’re happy with it and so on.

It’s a disease, this tendency. I can’t make it stop. I’m not sure I’d want to, though.