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Why a motorcycle?

Cars are for transport, motorbikes are for your soul.

One day soon, with a tap on an icon on your smartphone, an autonomous vehicle will drive itself to your location, ready to deliver you to your destination by a route determined by an algorithm that tracks and interprets your thoughts via a database of your every interaction over the internet. It will also factor in the movements of every other connected road user out there, so you will be able to bury your face in a screen during the entire journey to avoid an attack of the dreaded FOMO. Cars are already equipped with automated parking, cameras, sensors, lane deviation alerts, proximity alarms, autonomous braking, automated windscreen wipers and headlights - marketed with an alphabet soup of initialisations: ABS, ASCD, ASTC, DSC, get the picture. The world seems ready to embrace autonomous vehicles. And the Prince Of Darkness (aka Mark Zuckerberg) is rubbing his hands in delight.

Some innovations such as automated collision detection are well worthwhile; others are just a wank (what - you can't turn your own headlights on? FFS!) that take responsibilities and skills away from the driver. Roll on the fully autonomous vehicle, then there will be no drivers and no need to drive.

No doubt there will still be some folks like me appreciating a journey for its own sake and loving the mastery of a machine, who revel in the thrill of a fast sweep through the arc of an open road and who are not in constant thrall to a fucking screen. We have the motorcycle.


If i had a big, big shed and lots of money my dream collection would be:

Bultaco Sherpa T

Bultaco Sherpa T

My old man was a particular pain in the arse as my instructor when i was learning to drive some four and a half decades ago. He was such a pain that i thought "fuck this" and went out and bought a motorbike. Up until then i'd had no particular interest in two hindsight the old man's impatience was a blessing and i quickly became addicted.

Dirt bikes had a greater attraction back then through their versatility, simplicity, robustness and lower price tag. With a dirt bike you could go anywhere, and the master of go-anywhere is the trials bike. Those things can climb trees.

I used to greatly admire the slow-motion artistry of the trials riders and their laid-back demeanor - i recall one geezer (the old fart must've been in his 40s), flatcap on head, rubber wellies on his feet who rode up for a chat,then with his feet still on the pegs, stationary, he rolled a cigarette. He was on a Bultaco Sherpa T. I was won over.

Ducati 750SS

During my dirt bike phase my road-bike riding brother owned a Kawasaki 750 H2 two-stroke triple of evil temperament and appalling manners. It had a light switch in lieu of a throttle and a frame of al dente spaghetti. Inevitably its owner ended up with multiple fractures and a lengthy stay in traction.

At the same time one of his mates had a Honda CB750 K2, a better mannered machine certainly, and one that was received with great acclaim but to me it was a heavy, slow-manouvering lump - me being used to far lighter, agile 2-stroke singles.

I jumped off those monsters straight onto a loaned Ducati 750SS. That sound, that gorgeous V twin engine, that sexy Italian style, the handling, the brakes. I wanted one.

Honda CBR1000RR Fireblade

Honda CBR1000RR Fireblade

Your eyes follow those shiny, black curves, linger on the nooks and crannies and make you want to throw a leg over, start up the throaty 1000cc engine, snick it into gear and roar off down the road. Outta the way woman, I'm off for a ride.

The Fireblade is the great, great grandson of my brother's mate's Honda CB750 - and a far, far superior machine in every way.

MV Agusta 750S

MV Agusta 750S

Those Italians! Nobody does art on wheels like Italians consistently do. And Giacomo Agostini contributed a bit to the cachet of MV Agusta by winning 14 Grand Prixs and 10 Isle of Man TTs on MVs. Jeeze!

That a helicopter manufacturer can produce such desirable bikes as a sideline says a lot about Italian style. In objective terms there were faster, better made and vastly more durable motorcycles on sale than the 750S. There are cheaper to maintain, more durable Italians than Sophia Loren too, no doubt.

Britten V1000

A total of 10 Britten V1000s were produced by the Britten Motorcycle Company and now reside in collections and museums around the world. A big, 4 stroke V-twin full of Kiwi engineering inspiration.

Got a spare $250,000?

Manx Norton 500

Occam's razor (the law of parsimony) is the problem-solving principle that, when presented with competing hypothetical answers to a problem, one should select the answer that makes the fewest assumptions. Or more simplistically - the KISS principle.

Manx Norton

The Manx Norton is that principle in gorgeous metallic form.

Old grungy Harley Davidson

WTF? Some of us like to tinker with things mechanical and the internal combustion engine is the ultimate Meccano set for those who have not outgrown their boyhood toys entirely.

So why a Harley? There are any number of reasons why an old Harley is at the top of my tinker list:

  1. Room for error. Old Harleys never ran particularly well when they were new so you can bugger things up yet not necessarily make them run worse.

  2. There are no fancy electronics (there's NO electronics) to frustrate those of us who think that managing the behaviour of electrons should be left to geeks in a lab.

  3. Rugged (if not entirely reliable) simplicity. I don't want to have to invest in a set of special tools that cost more than the bike.

  4. Old school motorcycling distilled to its essence - they cover all the senses. The smell of leaked oil, the touch of real metal - no poncy plastic here, the unique, thumping bass sound, the vibration and the looks - those huge V-Twin engines may be crude but by god they are kinetic art with purpose. That purpose (mobility) may often be frustrated by old Harleys' reluctance to function properly on a regular basis but that is the two-wheeled tinkerer's ideal.

  5. Presence. The most appealing motorcycles have an aura and character that is unique to their brand. The week-end roads these days are replete with merchant bankers and celebrity chefs astride their shiny new Harleys - the wanna-be bad boys captured by the cachet of the 1%er outlaw but too captive to their establishment lifestyles to have more than a temporary and superficial acquaintance with motorcycling and its various tribes. Effectively they form their own sub-tribe - wankers on wheels. But that is just a symptom of Harley Davidson's success - an iconic brand that is evocative of tattoos and big beards, scantily clad 'old ladies'* on the pillion seat, biker bars and bad behaviour, the Americana of Easy Rider and the Hells Angels. Sydney's Middle-Eastern crime gangs have even succumbed to that allure - another sub-tribe of style-over-substance tossers.

*Old lady means young nubile nympho in biker-ese.

The joy of taking an old, grungy Harley for a ride is not in dressing up in look-at-me cliched biker regalia of Johnny Reb boots, matt black open-face helmet and bandanna - it is in the simple satisfaction of getting the fucking thing to function.

Ducati Panigale V4 S

Superbike performance meets artistic flair - this would be what Ferrari would produce if they wanted to make something sexier than their cars.

Ducati Panigale

Bultaco Matador

Precursor to the fabulous Fronteras, two of which i have owned and loved.

Bultaco Matador

Bultaco's 2 stroke, single cylinder, piston port engines were used to power road racers, flat trackers, road bikes, trials bikes, motocrossers and enduros. The Matador is a fine example of Bultaco's rugged simplicity.

Go anywhere with a set of Belstaff's waxed cotton all-weather gear and an open-face helmet to show that big grin.

MV Brutale

Aggressive mechanical artistry that is not hidden behind a fairing. The antithesis of the simple beauty of a Manx Norton yet still a masterful sculpture in metal. Even its name is inspired.

Big arsed stripped back Guzzi

It's a big Italian V-Twin. That qualifies it.

Munch Mammoth

In 1966 the Germans beat the Japanese to the punch with this large capacity, across the frame four cylinder 4 stroke. Apart from that it's got just a touch of the weird to make it desirable.

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