Is it me, or is it the bike?

16th August 2020 |

There was a time when I was riding in Malaysia towards Thailand that my bike felt really uncomfortable. It was my first long trip on the bike since the accident that shot a lead pellet into my eye. I was nervous, trying to recover the confidence that I had built up over three years of riding, but the bike just felt wrong. I couldn’t account for it, and I couldn’t even describe it. I stopped and looked at the chain – sometimes if the chain was too slack it seemed to have this clunky effect – and the alignment too (I was on a Meriden Triumph 500) but everything seemed OK, so I persevered, and got to Hat Yai.

Next day the bike felt perfect.


The same thing had happened in Africa, riding south from Mombaça on a pot-holed dirt road towards a frontier. I was nervous. I’d heard that they might give me trouble and even refuse to let me through. Once I got to the other side, the bike felt fine, but I put that down to the smooth asphalt.

From the time I first got that Triumph I couldn’t bring myself to give it a name. To me it was a machine; a valuable, important machine but still just a very clever assemblage of metal parts, nuts, bolts, chains, bearings, and so on. I just didn’t want to get caught up in silly anthropomorphism.

But gradually, over time, I found it hard to resist the idea that the bike had some kind of primitive personality, mainly because it was kick-start. Nothing rouses my ire faster than an engine that won’t start and flailing away uselessly at a kick-starter just makes it worse. However I have to say that generally the bike started promptly and efficiently, and particularly in moments of crisis, such as when a nearby elephant looked likely to take a run at me. At moments like that, when starting or not starting was a matter of life and death, it would be a bitter twisted soul that didn’t say, “Thank you, dear motorcycle.”

So, gradually, the motorcycle smuggled itself into my affections and it got to the point where sometimes I couldn’t be sure whether it was my state of mind that was affecting the bike, or vice versa.

What’s all this about?

Well I told you last month that my BMW Funduro (which I often call Fundador after a Spanish brandy, by mistake) had a problem. It stopped unexpectedly, starved of fuel and the only way to get it going again was to pull the fuel hose off the tap and put it on again. After all the obvious solutions proved negative, my friend Simon suggested the fuel filter was too close to the block and got hot, creating a vapour lock. So I tied a piece of string round the filter to hold it away. And on Tuesday I was all set for a trial run. Obviously it needed to be a hundred kilometres or more and I was nervous. The bike ran beautifully when I brought it here from Germany, but that was in 2017. I haven’t been anywhere on it since, and I’m three years closer to the grave. I’m absolutely fine on the scooter, but there’s always that niggly thought; will I be fine on a proper bike?

Well the bike felt terrible. There was one little sweet spot in each gear, at around 4000 revs, and anywhere else it felt like it was about to fall apart. I gave up very quickly, and drove it back into the garage. Now I’m wondering, how could it get so bad just sitting there. Was it really the bike, or was it me?

I shall have to find out soon. Watch this space or, if you can’t bear it, look away.