Bikes we love The Journey

Thoughts upon travelling at 110 mph

If you are a member of the South Wales Police Department I want to stress to you that the following story is totally made up. Actually, let me extend that to all police forces in Her Majesty’s United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland. And maybe the UK Home Office. And the DVLA. And any other body or individual that has the power to issue fines, take away my license, deport me or in some other way sanction me for riding a motorcycle at 110 mph. That did not happen. Or, if it did happen, it was on a closed track and I was supervised by professionals. Because on British public roads I always ride at or below the speed limit, and according to the relevant conditions. Always. I am respectful, courteous and law-abiding. Always.
For everyone else, though: Dude, I did the ton for the first time the other day.
Before I moved to this country I had never heard the phrase “do the ton” –– an old-school British term for riding a bike at or above 100 mph –– and I still can’t say I totally understand its etymology. That is to say, a ton is equal to 2,000 lbs. Or 907 kg. Or 142 stone. As far as I can tell, there is no unit of measurement by which a ton is equal to 100 anything. Saying “ton” to mean “100 mph” makes no sense. But such is the way with the British; they don’t understand their own language. It’s like how they shorten “Hampshire” to “Hants.” What is that?! I don’t even. 
Anyway, I was on the motorway, riding back from Bristol, where I had spent several hours looking at and drooling over the myriad awesome bikes at Fowlers. My head was full of thoughts on The Bike I Want To Get Next: what style I want, what features I want, how much power I want, etc.

Officially, I was there to get an MOT test. While that was happening I had spent the time wandering around, checking out every single machine that appealed to me even in the slightest: Triumph Thunderbird, Triumph Sprint GT, Kawasaki Versys, Yamaha XV950, Yamaha FJR1300, Honda VFR800, Honda CBF1000, Honda CTX1300, Moto Guzzi Norge, Moto Guzzi Griso, Suzuki GSX1250FA, BMW F800GT, Harley-Davidson XL883R, and on and on. Fowlers has a lot of bikes.

I had sat on the bikes, shifted them from side to side, put my feet up, clicked buttons, tried to imagine myself on the machine, and made little decisions about which ones I wanted to test ride (e.g., the Suzuki GSX1250FA) and which were definitely off my list (e.g. the Honda VFR800). I had eventually left Fowlers feeling I had put in some good “work” into getting my next bike, the bike I really want. Because, after all, the bike I have is more the result of tremendously good fortune than choice.
Nearing Cardiff, a BMW 6 series screamed past me. That is how drivers of BMW cars are in the UK. They feel it is their God-given right and responsibility to never, ever go the speed limit. Fine, I say; let them. When I spot that distinctive BMW front end in my mirrors I always just slide over into a slower lane, they zip past, and I go on about my day.
That happened here. But as the distance between myself and said BMW rapidly increased, three things occurred to me: 
1) On this very particular stretch of motorway there were no speed cameras, nor any place for a police officer to hide.
2) If somehow there were a police officer hiding somewhere –– perhaps in the mix of cars far ahead –– it would definitely be the BMW drawing his or her attention, because…
3) The BMW was definitely going in excess of 140 mph.
I just wanted to see how quickly my bike could accelerate. I fell into the fast lane behind the BMW and twisted the throttle. There was that half-millisecond of nothing that I guess happens with carbureted bikes, or Hondas, or my Honda, or I don’t know, then the needle on the speedometer started to move up. A gentle, quick, steady acceleration, as if the bike were attached to a bungee cord. From 80 mph, the numbers came almost as fast as you can say them: 85, 90, 95, 100…
One hundred miles per hour. I eased up a bit, held the bike here. This was the fastest I had ever gone on a motorcycle. Since I am a strong believer in the philosophy of riding within your limitations, I had never really tried before. Now, perfect conditions had allowed me to achieve the holy grail of speed.
“Well, hell,” I said aloud. “I guess since I’m already up here…”
I twisted the throttle, tucked a little, and watched the needle dance to 105, 110… and here it was me that gave out. My nerves forced me to let the throttle roll forward, made me sit upright to catch the wind, and I slowed back to the speed limit while the BMW disappeared.
Suddenly, 70 mph felt springtime peaceful. And in its solace I thought to myself: Well, let’s examine what just took place here. When I had let off the throttle I had not been wide open. Nor had the engine been anywhere close to screaming. The fact is: the Honda still had had more to give. She hadn’t been shaking. There had been no wobble. Nothing about the bike had made me slow down, it was just my own fear/sensibility.
So, wait…
Do I actually need a different bike?

Ever since the Triumph Bonneville episode I have found myself looking at a number of bikes semi-seriously, with the aim of getting one sometime in the next 12 months or so. And, of course, one of the underlying motivations in considering the purchase of a new motorcycle is telling yourself that you “need” it in some form or another, that it has something your present machine doesn’t.

So, I’ve got this bike that can easily go much faster than I’ll ever want to, that I have ridden to Scotland without problem, that has anti-lock brakes, heated grips, decent fairing, and great tires, and which presently has less than 14,000 miles on the odometer.

Yes, the bike is 9 years old, but thanks to MOT documents I can see that my its previous owner averaged less than 1,000 miles a year on the machine. Thanks to Google Maps and the fact he wrote his address in the owner’s manual, I can see that he lives in a very nice house that has not one but two garages, and a shed big enough to house a motorcycle. My Honda was kept well before coming to me. Add that how much I baby the motorcycle, and I feel it’s safe to say its age belies its condition.

So, again: do I actually need a different bike? The evidence seems to suggest pretty strongly that I do not. Especially in light of what I could actually get for my present budget. Sure, a Victory Cross Country is better than a Honda CBF600, but that purchase is just not going to happen any time soon. Anything I could possibly afford right now is going to be very similar to what I already have, or will require a step down in terms of features/power.

Such a realisation makes me a little sad because I still feel my Honda is so terribly uncool. It’s just so grey and plastic and, I don’t know, not cool. But is also so damned reliable and good and, quite frankly, superior to bikes that would cost five times what I could sell it for.

Damn you, Honda, for making a bike so good that I can’t force myself to realistically consider getting rid of it.