It was during the heady summer of 1975 when I first became aware of the thrill a motorised two wheeled vehicle could give. Until then, it was a hand-me-down Hercules bike from an older brother, which weighed more than a double decker bus, quickly superseded by a Raleigh Chopper, which was the icon of the day and the envy of all my mates.
That summer, I worked hard for my father who was building a new house. I assisted by lifting tons of roofing tiles up onto a roof via a ladder 3 tiles at a time and was rewarded with a new Honda SS50.
JAS 870P was bright red and bought from Mr Billy Mitchell of Mitchells in Inverness (a few years ago his son showed me the transaction in an old cash book!). JAS became my trusty steed for about 18 months until I got my car wings and moved onto my Datsun Cherry 100A, a bright yellow lady-puller that spat out a massive 53 bhp!
I loved my SS50. The first jobs that needed to be done on it were to dismantle the carburettor and cut 20mm (about ¾in in old money) off the float to allow more fuel into the chamber. I then took the baffle out of the can which not only gave me a horrendous noise but also another 5mph at the top end!
I went everywhere on JAS with my two mates who also had bikes. It was Open face lids, sunglasses, gutties and Wranglers. Smoking Gitanes or Disque Bleu, how cool were we going up the Loch Lomond road to Arrochar and holding up all the traffic on our souped-up mopeds?
All the nonsense stopped when that first car came along and I grew up, if only a wee bit. Further education, employment, the love of my life, a mortgage and my two children made me all sensible and broke. At 40 years old, I changed my job and my hankering for two wheels became a reality again when I bought another wee Honda, this time a CBR600. Soon after that, I moved on to a VRF800, followed by 3 CBR1100 Blackbirds in a row. I can’t list the other bikes after that in case my wife reads this but, suffice to say, there were a few and the majority of them were silver, in the hope that she would not know I had changed the bike again!
Those early days of motorcycling introduced me to a group of friends whom I still hold dear to this day. We are called The BUMS (Banff, Ullapool Motorcycle Society) and over twenty years later we still regularly jump on our bikes and head out to the west coast of Scotland to Applecross, or further north to the very tip of Sutherland for a ride out. In addition to those days, we have almost every year for the last 15 years, travelled across the water to Europe with the furthest trip south being into Croatia and the furthest east being into Poland. The excitement we feel waiting to go on one of those trips is palpable and the build up and the planning are almost as much fun as the holiday itself.
We normally travel over to Holland on the DFDS ferry from Newcastle, a ferry which is affectionately known as the ‘Vomiting Vera’ to those who live locally. To be fair, that ferry, as well as the P&O to France and the Brittany Ferry to Spain, have always been clean, quiet and comfortable.
The hospitality I have received in Europe has never failed and although I normally book accommodation in advance, I am convinced that you could move freely through the different countries, just stopping in the towns and villages as you go and finding dinner, bed and breakfast without any difficulty whatsoever.
As a motorcyclist, I have met true life-long friends, I have been to places I would never have been to otherwise and I have seen sights I would never have seen. Without my bike I might never have been to the furthest extremes of the Isle of Skye and the Outer Hebrides, visited Ardnamurchan Lighthouse, travelled through the Cowal Peninsula and visited Campbelltown before taking and the coast road back to Lochgilphead and beyond. I would never have seen the magnificent Plitvice Lakes in Croatia, Lake Bled in Slovenia, Hitlers nest at Bechstedt Garden in Germany, the Rhine Falls at Schaffhausen, Switzerland and travelled (numerous times) over the Passo del Stelvio on the Italy/Swiss border.
My motorcycles have changed over time and my riding skills have improved. Gone are my ZZR1400 ‘hooligan’ days and, as soon as Covid-19 allows me to, I have been encouraged to qualify as an Advanced rider by my employer, Brenda Mitchell of Motorcycle Law Scotland. I hope to continue to ride my bike to the best of my ability and as safely as I possibly can. I know that ‘smooth and progressive’ is far more enjoyable than ‘fast and erratic’!
So, if you are reading this wee blog and thinking about becoming a biker, then don’t hesitate. Get yourself qualified and get out there as soon as you can, meet new friends, see the sights and feel the freedom, but above all, please ride carefully and stay safe.