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It was early in the 1970s and I was the geeky kid at school. You know the one that carried a briefcase instead of backpack. The occasional saving grace that kept me from complete social isolation was my brother. Six years my elder and a biker. He would, when the mood strike him, pick me up outside the gates of my all boys secondary school on his motorbike. This was not just any bike, this was "the beast." A full on cafe racer from the 1960s, these were the days before the Japanese had taken over. Before fiberglass fairings and disc brakes and engines the size and weight of a small house. A Triumph 110, the precursor to the Bonneville although any resemblance to the factory model had long since past. The 650cc engine had been fitted with 11-1 compression pistons that made kick starting it a risky art form. Twin carbs and a two into one swept up exhaust. Four leading shoe front brakes that left the front wheel spokes no longer that a large match stick. Twin leading shoe brakes on the back and an aluminum five gallon fuel tank. Clip-ons and rear sets forced the rider into a near prone position hunkered down with his chest embracing the tank. The whole sight was a vision of black and silver, aluminum and chrome with just one nut on the front wheel painted red as a highlight. Like I said, a classic 60s cafe racer. Dad said, "Son one say that bike will kill you." He could not have been more wrong.
Nothing sounds as good as an old Triumph. It would roar up to the gates. The un-baffled and illegal exhaust rattling the chalk dusty windows of Church road secondary modern school for boys and I was the envy of all my piers. Clutching the sissy bar at the back of the small seat whilst holding on to my briefcase with white knuckles. I tried not to show the fear on my face. The fact that it would be pushed towards the nape of my neck as we accelerated away must helped somewhat.
My vicarious heroism was unfortunately short lived. After a year or so of dead end jobs and traffic tickets. John decided to take her to the island. The Isle of Man, that is. For any biker, Mecca. Home of the TT races and still to this day with no speed limits outside of towns. You can test your metal of both engineering and nerve on the most unforgiving road race circuit in the world any day of the week. A holiday destination for most of the year with a high preponderance of female to male tourists. John was at home. Remember when any STDs could cured by penicillin?
My brother being his own good self could not stick at any job too long. This did not matter much on the island as the number of bars almost exceeded its resident population and bar work was what he did. However eventually he had to get a job in Summer land. A large mismanaged entertainment complex on the sea front. The saying was, "You got a job in Summer land till you found a real one." It was low paid and bills were mounting. So with a heavy heart he decided it was time to sell her. Just one more outing on the mountain circuit for old time sake and say goodbye to the beast.
A blind corner. A Wednesday afternoon. Traffic was light to non-existent and he took too much of the road but then again so did the car coming towards him. A split second decision. Stone wall or car? No brainer. The bike took the impact as he slid into it. Metal crumpling against rock in black and white. Car skidding to a halt. The beast was dead but John was not. A few cuts and bruises, torn jeans. The driver all apologetic explaining that though they might be both at fault he had no insurance. Well neither did John and just as they thought it best to just forget about the whole matter along came a police car. A very unlikely occurrence on that stretch of road but there he was just the same.
"Not on me"
"Name and address?" John said the first thing that came into his head that was not his and promised to get the remains of the bike off the road. It is a small island and the deception would not last too long. A few phone calls and the wreckage of his beloved bike was gone to a scrap yard for plane fare. His time on the island was over.
Back home and we are all sitting in front of the TV. Mum, dad, me and John. News at 10 had started and as we talked John shouted us all to shut up. Visions on the screen showed billowing black smoke engulfing a modern building. Summer land had caught fire. Casualties were growing as the news continued. Fifty dead was the end total and many more injured. If not for a heap of broken metal lying in a scrap yard my brother could well have been one of them.
You can hold whatever beliefs in fate or karma you want the beast probably saved his life.