RiDE Magazine are currently in the midst of running their annual rider survey, by which means they elicit the experience of their readers of all things motorcycle. One of the questions they ask relates to your “dream” motorcycle, money no object. Another asks you if there is a motorcycle that you would never, ever ride.
In previous years’ surveys I gave the answer Harley Davidson to the later question, and felt secure in my ignorance that this was a righteous answer. Oh how wrong was I!
Earlier this year, following a Lincolnshire Road Safety Partnership, “Performance Plus“, event at Cadwell Park I was offered the chance to ride a Harley Davidson “Street Bob” around the UK’s most technical and demanding circuit. Akin to using a sledge hammer to shell a peanut I thought. Indeed I put up some resistance to the suggestion, informing the bike’s owner that I had never ridden a Harley, (had no intention/desire ever so to do), that I feared damaging her pride and joy, that I really did not think that the mix of me; neither a spring chicken nor a light weight, the Street Bob, and Cadwell were a match made in heaven. Nonetheless both she and her fellow HOG members were adamant that I should give it a go – so give it a go I duly did.
Just sitting on the thing confirmed my stereotypical prejudices, everything was not where it should be, the foot pegs were in Nottinghamshire, the handlebars spanned the Wolds, and everything appeared “agricultural”, (but thankfully the bike was devoid of tassels).
Then I started the engine, or perhaps I should say, “The World Ceased To Turn – it SHOOK!!” The engine, at tick-over, rocks everything, my vision was gone, I seriously feared dropping the bike as I was thrown out of the seat by the soup bowl sized pistons thrashing about just in front of my gentleman’s bits, and the handlebars wobbled about as if possessed. I seriously doubted my ability to ride the bloody thing and was convinced that I was about to humiliate myself in front of the bike’s owner, the assembled grinning HOG members, and even more worryingly, my fellow instructors with whom I had been working for the past three days.
Then I engaged 1st gear, (more noise and memories of piloting a Routemaster through London traffic), took a deep breath, and released the clutch……..
Less than a minute after the world changed, it changed again! Everything smoothed out, gobs of buttery smooth torque oozed out from the engine, through the clutch, and onto the tarmac via the fat rear tyre. The bars ceased shaking; well their oscillations became less extreme, and the bike glided forward with the merest movement of the twist grip. I was riding it and laughing, (partly as a result of not having dropped it/fallen off/stalled in front of the assembled crowds), and I was heading to the assembly area in preparation for entering the circuit.
The bike’s wonderful owner had told me to enjoy myself, not to worry if I heard scraping noises, and that she expected that her bike would be safe in my hands, but that it would be considerably lighter when I’d finished with it. She was correct.
I have been riding Cadwell since the middle 90s, and generally attempt to avoid “touching down”, on some bikes this is difficult; I can go through a set of pegs and foot levers in a couple of years on my 1100GS, on others nothing even gets near the tarmac. On the Street Bob EVERYTHING connects to the ground, on every corner, sometimes throughout the corner, sometimes with what seems the enthusiasm of an elbow sliding Marquez. I tried keeping the bike as upright as possible, first one, then two cheeks were off the saddle, then the whole of my considerable girth was off on the inside of the bike as I tried, (vainly), to get around without leaving huge gouges in the circuits surface. It was impossible to go through a single corner without leaving portions of metal behind me. But I was laughing like a deranged hyena, lap after lap was completed to howling, hooting, hysterical laughter – it was awesome!
That engine; once off idle and connected to the road, is wonderful. From a fully closed throttle it delivers copious amounts of torque that propels the beast forward with a cream like smoothness, and I was hooked. I have never, ever, laughed so much whilst riding a bike.
After eight laps I returned the “shaved” Street Bob to Sue, its smiling owner, and thanked her profusely for the loan of her bike, and for making an ol’ giffer laugh so much.
Jim & the Street Bob at Cadwell Park
Yes, as a dynamic riding machine the Harley was antediluvian, its braking, steering, and cornering capabilities are dire, but the total is much more than the sum of its parts, and that engine is stunning. As a riding experience it is comparatively slow, cumbersome, and awkward, but as a bike to make you enjoy yourself, relax and laugh out loud it has few peers.
I was wrong when I told RiDE in previous years that I would never ride a Harley – I have and I loved every lap.