burning hydrocarbons

When, aged 17, I threw a wobbly leg over my very first bike, a Honda 250cc 4-stroke twin, I was continuing, in my small way, something of a family tradition. My dad had been a great Norton man; my mum had been a great Norton woman; the pair of them went on their honeymoon on a matched pair of Dominators. Numerous uncles had Matchless, BSA and suchlike. My mum had made their leathers herself- I grew up in a wonderful, Victorian seaside house and can still remember the smell of the understairs cupboard, where the leathers used to hang.

They must have racked up many thousands of miles over their early years together and although by the time I became aware of bikes, dad was long dead, I had wanted one for as long as I could remember.

I can still recall the intense delight at being able to just twist the throttle and go places, without seeming effort. I can also remember the perverse pleasure of having full-face helmet protection in the pelting rain, a luxury denied to me during the previous 6 years of cycling 8 miles to school and back every weekday.
We were of limited means and the only reason I had a motorcycle at all was because my grandmother had left me £1,000 when she died. I blew £624 of it putting the Honda on the road. It was the only new bike I ever owned.

I bought it from Kersey’s in Gorleston (doubtless long gone) and must have scrounged quite a few quid from my mum to put petrol in it during those first few weeks of riding. I have no idea, now, what sort of mileage it would do to the gallon, but I do know that I used to fill the tank with 4-star at the Green Ace Garage on the Lowestoft Road for 36p per gallon- that’s right, per gallon. If my notoriously bad maths is right, that’s about 8 or 9 pence per litre. Anyway, bloody cheap.

On a provisional licence and a pair of L plates (£2.50 and 28p respectively), I then stalled my way around the block, getting the hang of the clutch, before graduating to the main road. By the end of that first morning, I had made my way to Yarmouth and back, and by the end of the day, had ridden to Norwich, then Cromer and beyond.

When I took the bike back to Jack Kersey a week later for it’s first 600 mile check, I told him, rather ruefully, that I had wasted an awful lot of money on petrol just riding around. “Did you enjoy it?” he asked. “You bet!” I replied. He grinned at me- “Then it wasn’t wasted, was it?” he said.

Since then, I dread to think how many thousands of pounds I have burned via the petrol tank. Some of it for a good reason, a lot of it for no reason at all except the delight in riding. Nowadays, I suspect even the most flush of us pause for a moment when clicking up £25 of unleaded, guiltily thinking that perhaps we ought to be a bit more aware of what we do with it.

But, if I’m honest, I can’t say any mile I have ever ridden has been wasted…….

michael.clarke@sleeblackwell.co.uk

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