From Cyril's memoirs dated 4 November 2007
‘Cuppa tea mate?’ Those words, in an unmistakable Black Country twang, were uttered to me a few years back by Lee Longmore, swiftly followed by, ‘Wait there mate and arl getcha a bacon sarnie. Brown sauce or red?’ All of which would have been extremely welcome if at the time I hadn’t been trapped beneath a Yamaha R6, having been skittled off in a South London street by, I kid you not, a transvestite dwarf on a minimoto. Lee Longmore was not that dwarf. He was far stranger than that.
I first met Lee in a San Francisco coffee shop. Well, I say I met him, but in fact he sat across from me on a low sofa, dressed in running kit, including very short shorts, his legs sprawled wide in a rather forced show of masculinity. It was difficult to know whether or not his genital display was accidental or for my benefit (maybe my leathers had caught his eye?), in any case, the boys were certainly out of the barracks and remained so until the arrival of a young couple he knew, the woman looking rather unnerved having, on her approach, also been treated to Lee’s ‘last turkey in the shop’ impression. I rode away from the coffee shop and didn’t expect to see Lee again, so when I came round in that Clapham street and found him standing over me I was relieved that his full leathers covered all eventualities.
Since that day, I’ve got to know Lee pretty well – linked, as we are, by a love of motorcycles. He was one of the first to buy a Triumph Daytona 675, putting in his order after reading the pre-launch article in Bike (foolhardy given his renown gullibility. He once spent an evening drinking Tennant’s LA, assuming it was a trendy beer named after the Californian city, and was confused as to why he remained sober). Shortly after buying the Triumph, he rode to Italy to visit me and Francesca and I found him a slightly freakish guest. At one point I could have sworn he was wearing bike boots as he clomped around upstairs, but it was his normal, bare-footed Frankensteinian stomp.
He also brought along several Airfix kits, over which I’d catch him hunched in the small hours, like an obsessive elf. He brought a rope ladder, which he attached to the balcony of his attic room and kept rolled but ready for action, ‘merely as a precaution, Cyril’. And he insisted on ‘tweaking’ my computer, claiming to be a professional who wrote Triumph’s ignition and fuelling maps (a blatant lie). It cost me a packet to have the labyrinthine chaos unravelled by a real professional, who handed it back with a pained expression, saying that unravelling the mess had been like ‘peering into the mind of a psychopath’. Perhaps Lee really should write fuelling maps.
But you couldn’t wish to meet a nicer psychopath and that week, while Lee stayed with us at our modest house in Montemona, we went on some great blasts together in the Testa di Cazzo hills, he being a brisk and smooth rider, though far too keen to advertise his Advanced Motorcycling certificate (‘Cyril, you might think, What’s that child’s bike doing there? I think, Where’s the child!’).
It was rather sad what happened to Lee Longmore on his return to London. His behaviour became increasingly erratic, he put on weight and would be seen cruising the streets on his Daytona wearing overly-tight designer clothes better suited to a man half his age, and, in warm weather, a large and unsightly sweat patch swamping his back. He rigged up a PA system to the bike and would ‘talk’ his route for the benefit of the general public, spreading the Advanced Motorcycling gospel.
Then one day, this normally mild-mannered man simply flipped. Approached at traffic lights in Cricklewood by a tramp asking for spare change, Lee stepped off the bike, letting it crash to the ground, threw his helmet to the floor and challenged the shocked tramp to a fight. When the tramp backed away, Lee took out his frustration on the bike, laying into it with fists and boots. When the police arrived the bike was in flames and he was in tears, squatting in the gutter stripped to his underpants, trendy clothes burning along with his beloved Daytona, sobbing ‘I shoulda bought a f***** Mini’. If only I’d been there to offer the poor chap a nice cuppa tea.
From Cyril's memoirs dated 22 September 2007
I took the Multistrada to Florence the other day, sent on an errand by Francesca. The sun was beating down, the skies were blue and the Duke was running sweetly. What could possibly go wrong? Ha!
I headed across country and by the time I reached the town of Radda in Chianti both the bike and I were warm and into our stride. I've lived in Italy for almost seven years and have come to accept that the majority of Italian riders and drivers have as much a concept of risk as they do of a chip butty. They seem to know no fear. I’m amazed that Italian men can walk without pushing before them a small wheeled trolley, given the apparent size of their balls. But then, fear doesn't come into it, because fear requires you to believe that some day your luck will run out.
I was humming along at a decent pace when I noticed headlights in my mirror. There was a series of bends coming up, in the middle of which, I knew, was a humpback bridge set at 45 degrees to the road. With the first right-hander approaching, I drifted left to the centreline and was about to pitch in at about 80mph when a horn blared and an Aprilia Tuono carved past on a mission. Well, my adrenal gland may be rather withered, but there's still a bit of juice in it yet and I took up the challenge, hoping that the increasingly tight turns and uneven surface would, for a while at least, help me to stay in touch with the thundering Aprilia.
But the other chap was really on it, using all of the road even when you'd have needed to be clairvoyant to know it was safe. By the bridge, I knew my capacity for lunacy was lacking and backed off. A good decision. The Tuono pitched into the left-hander very early, using the other side of the road, just as an Alfa saloon coming the other way appeared from behind the bridge's stone parapet. The rider picked up the bike and manfully tried to wrestle it down again in time to make the bend, but clipped the bridge wall and was pitched into the air, landing quite gracefully flat on his back in the long grass at the side of the road. The Alfa driver wouldn't have seen any of this and carried on. I pulled over and dashed to where the rider lay.
He hadn't moved and when I flipped up his black visor he didn't seem to be breathing. I felt for a pulse and found nothing, so unzipped his leathers ready to give heart massage. Well, that's when things all went a bit wonky.
As I pulled down the zip I suddenly felt as if I was in a Seventies aftershave advert, because not only was there no other clothing beneath the leathers, but an ample pair of breasts lost no time in escaping their confinement. He was clearly a she. Perhaps out of a deep-seated sense of guilt, owed mainly, I suspect, to that incident with Auntie Margaret when I was 12, my first reaction was to zip up the leathers. I was in the process of herding the escapees back into their leathery pen when the woman sat bolt upright and pulled off her helmet to reveal a tumble of raven hair and fierce green eyes. Ah...
Back home, Francesca eased a packet of frozen peas into my underpants in an attempt to halt the swelling and bruising (the old family jewels were rapidly resembling a couple of small mangos and a saveloy). She asked me to repeat exactly what I'd said to the woman. I admit that my Italian isn't what it might be, despite my years here, and with the awkwardness of the situation I became a little tongue tied. When Francesca had stopped giggling she explained that the English equivalent of what I'd blurted out would be, 'I'm very sorry, but I thought you were dead and I was chasing your lively breasts.' That's the last time I play the good Samaritan. I felt a right tit. Left one, too.
From Cyril's memoirs dated 14 September 2007
Speed, to me, will always mean Bonneville Salt Flats. And prison food. The other evening Francesca and I were rooting away in the store room at the back of my office, getting up a good old sweat humping and humping box after box of old papers and documents from years back. I managed to drop one and amongst the spillage I noticed a notebook from a trip to Bonneville during my days at Suzuki. I've reprinted some of that notebook here, and hope that, should this memoir ever see the light of day, I'm not sued by any of those still in a position to do so.
15 June 1980: Finally, after some outrageous bribery, the warders have given me back my notebook. How do I describe the catastrophic events of the past five days? From the beginning, I suppose. So...
10 June 1980: We fly into Salt Lake City and collect the hire car. There's immediately an argument as to who will drive, with Barry [Sheene] insisting that it's him. I tell him I'd heard enough stories of what he and Stavros [Steve Parrish] had got up to with hire cars and hand the keys to our chief technician, Don Prior. Barry goes into a sulk in the back of the car and all the way to Bonneville lets go of silent but utterly nauseating farts, chuckling each time we’re forced to wind down the Chevrolet's windows in panic.
Check into the hotel and meet with the rest of the crew. The bike and spares are here, having been shipped over ahead of us. I remind everyone of Suzuki's desire to keep this under wraps, hence the unliveried bike and choosing a relatively quiet time at the salt flats. We're not here to break records, but we do want to push this bike to the limit. Early night, big day tomorrow. Passing through the bar I wish Barry goodnight. He calls me a c***. Light heartedly, I'm sure.
11 June 1980: This morning Barry puts in some very high speed runs before complaining of a loss of power. Don Prior begins to take a look, but even under the awning the sun’s heat is intense and he's clearly flustered. With uncharacteristic clumsiness he pulls the bike on top of himself, taking a heavy blow to the head. He insists all is okay, but it was a mighty knock and he has a cut that might need stitches, so I send him with one of the mechanics to get a check up with a doctor in town. He returns two hours later with a bemused mechanic and a chimpanzee ventriloquist’s dummy which is dressed in a Stetson hat, fringed leather chaps and blue waistcoat, complete with sheriff's badge. Don assures me that he's feeling fine. Or rather, Mr Kenny Roberts the Chimp assures me.
12 June 1980: Don comes down to breakfast with Mr Kenny Roberts on his arm and speaks only through the dummy throughout. This sets the pattern for the day, with the chimp advising Don on carb settings and revised ignition timing. Don clearly finds it awkward working with a dummy on his left hand, but when Barry suggests he 'put the fackin' monkey down' Don becomes agitated and we let him get on with it.
After lunch, Barry threatens to refuse to ride unless 'that bloody lunatic puts down the fackin' chimp and gets on with his bleedin' job'. In the event, Barry relents, but the afternoon session comes to a premature halt when salt crystals are sucked into the engine, damaging the bore and a valve seat on number one pot. A heated row develops between Don Prior and Mr Kenny Roberts, Don castigating the puppet-chimp for advising they run without air filters.
It's now late in the evening and Barry and I are enjoying a few drinks in the hotel bar. Then Don appears, having worked on the motor all evening, and still with Mr Kenny Roberts on his arm, its synthetic fur matted with grease and looking rather worse for wear. As does Don.
Barry, choosing the diplomatic route as ever, says: 'Don, I've had enough of this. You've bleedin' cracked. Give me the fackin' monkey, I'll fackin' put an end to this bollocks.' With which he lunges at the dummy and a bitter struggle ensues, during which tables are knocked over, with glasses crashing to the floor. Finally, Barry bursts free from Don, triumphantly holding aloft the head of Mr Kenny Roberts.
'That's it. It's fackin' over, you nutter,' he shouts, throwing the head across the bar with some force. Unfortunately, it ricochets off the jukebox and bounces onto a table, knocking a drink into the lap of the local chief of police, who’s been watching the whole sordid performance.
So, there you have it. We were all eventually released after paying substantial fines and while at least some of the work we carried out at Bonneville did find its way, many years later, onto the Hayabusa, Don Prior was never quite the same again, though he did complete a successful 1981 summer season with a refurbished Mr Kenny Roberts as Kenny and Don on Blackpool’s north pier.
From Cyril's memoirs dated 19 August 2007
I recently read an article about haggis stalking in the Scottish Highlands, and it took me right back to the late 1990s, a tuned Yamaha V-Max and Morag McCuddie, fearsome Queen of the Lathe.
Morag is an engineering legend within the industry yet all but unknown outside it. This could be down to her outright strangeness, but I'd say that makes her interesting. She’s certainly always interested me – but not in the way you might think. She stands six feet four and even now, in her 70s, has the physique of a Clydeside riveter, complete with ham-sized, hirsute forearms. She always wears a kilt, exposing mighty legs, and I certainly wouldn’t like to see those broad, calloused hands tossing anything less substantial than a caber.
We first met in 1958 when I was working for Ariel and we immediately got along well. I’d been sent to her workshops in Oban on Scotland's rugged west coast to convince her to try to iron out problems with the new Ariel Leader that had flummoxed the chaps at the factory. Morag was either idiosyncratic, an imaginative liar or plainly mad, depending on your view. During that first meeting she told me that she’d built the great Bob McIntyre entirely from spares and insisted that he only managed to pull off the previous year’s first ever 100mph TT lap thanks to last-minute tweaks she’d made to his pelvic oil galleries.
It was a lovely day in that summer of ’58 and she invited me to join her for a jaunt into the hills on scramblers. We rode for a couple of hours then stopped on a hilltop to admire the view, our bikes pinging in the background as they cooled. Morag turned to me with a wink and I watched as she reached down and opened the flaps of her knapsack. She reached in and pulled out a couple of mighty smoked salmon sandwiches and, more importantly, a large bottle of Glenfelch single malt whisky (label motto, “Ye'll sup more wi' a straw!”).
Well, my hazy memories of the rest of that afternoon come to me only in brief and seemingly unconnected episodes, like clicking aimlessly through YouTube. I know we wrestled, and I know that at least part of that wrestling took place naked. I know that we also rode the bikes in the buff and that for some of the time I wore a slice of smoked salmon both as a wig and a loincloth. The next morning, I could hardly move for midge bites, my skin a Square Four workshop manual in Braille. And to this day I have a scar on my right buttock in the shape of the exhaust heatshield on Morag’s B33. It has become a ritual that every time I see her I have to show this brand (I’m convinced she did it on purpose when I was comatose), at which point she roars with gravelly laughter and slaps me on the back with the force of a dockside crane.
So, jump forward to 1998 and my arrival in Oban to bring details of work Morag was to take on for Yamaha (my then employers). As usual, she mulled over the proposal for no more than ten minutes before suggesting a drink. She went to the courtyard at the back of the house and appeared from one of the outbuildings on her tuned V-Max. At Morag’s insistence I foolishly left my R1 at the house and climbed on the back.
By the time we reached the Beaver and Merkin I was in need of a drink and the first few pints of Grainger’s Disgraced Ghillie slipped down with unseemly haste. Before I knew it, we were deep in our cups and Morag was demanding I bear my buttock to show the heatshield scar. Despite the crowded tap room I did just that. But even after all those years I wasn’t prepared for the hearty slap on the back and, leather jeans like shackles around my ankles, I stumbled forwards, hit my head on the bar and was knocked out cold.
Apparently, Morag McCuddie collected me up like a rag doll, and without even bothering to pull up my trousers threw me over the back of the V-max, cowboy style, and rode home through the town. What happened between then and the next morning I have no idea, but I can tell you that the long ride back down south on the R1 involved a rather ridiculous number of comfort breaks.
From Cyril's memoirs dated 17 July 2007
Glencrutchery this and Cronk-y-Voddy that has brought back vivid and frankly unsettling memories of the TT.
In 1998 I was there with Yamaha, meeting others from the industry for an annual pow-wow. A friend of mine, Paul Carlton, was racing a FireBlade in the Production TT as a privateer, so one morning after the first early practice of the week I went over to the paddock to see how he’d got on.
Well, poor old Paul was in a bit of a state. His mechanic, the only other member of his two-man team, had gone down with something tropical involving worms and orifices after an adventure holiday in Belize and would have to rest his spectacularly enlarged scrotum on a soft pillow for at least two weeks. I promised Paul I’d put the word out to see what could be done. That, as it turned out, was my mistake.
Steve ‘Deadly’ Davies came recommended via a friend of a colleague’s brother and warning bells should have rung when I sought him out at the campsite in Peel. His tent was draped with an army camouflage net and a crudely home-made flag fluttered above it bearing the barely legible words scrawled in marker pen, “Swift and Bald”. It later transpired that it was actually “Swift and Bold”, not his favourite two washing powders but the motto of the Royal Green Jackets, of which he claimed to be a former member. I tapped on the ridge pole and out stumbled a ginger-haired man dressed in a tartan dressing gown and huge slippers shaped like penguins. He clearly had no shame, something that would become apparent as the week wore on.
I left him to get dressed and when I returned to ride together to Douglas so Steve could meet Paul, he was dressed in garish full leathers made up of a patchwork of colours, making him look like a cross between a jester and a bean bag. But next to him stood a beautiful and elegant woman who, inexplicably, turned out to be his wife, Sacha (affectionately known as Basha, for reasons unrepeatable here). I was with my own lovely young wife, Francesca. We’d been married for just nine months and were virtually inseparable (literally so at one point, but that was a rare spasm and eventually solved with a squirt of Swarfega and a lollipop stick) and it was soon obvious that Sacha and Francesca got on like a house on fire. If only I’d found Steve ‘Deadly’ Davies as likeable. I recall sitting on our Yamaha R1 watching Steve go through a bizarre, tai-chi-style stretching routine, complete with muted squawks, before getting on his 600 Bandit. ‘He’s very keen on Jackie Chan,’ Sacha said, rolling her eyes.
As weird as Steve was, Paul was desperate for a spannerman and Steve talked the talk, so the problem seemed solved. However, I called by a couple of days later and things weren’t going well.
‘Cyril,’ said Paul, pink-rimmed eyes struggling to focus with sheer fatigue, ‘the bloke’s a nutter. For a start, he precedes everything he does with ridiculous martial arts moves, complete with sound effects, so everything takes forever, and this is despite constantly saying, ‘crack on’, which is something I’ve yet to see him actually do. When he does get to work he’s not bad, but the bloke’s living in a dream world. He whispered to me yesterday that he’s actually on the Island on secret army manoeuvres and might get called away at any moment. It’s patently bollocks, Cyril. I mean, this is the man who claims with all sincerity that his red hair is down to a Welsh ancestor having been raped by a fox. He hates the things with a passion.’
Things came to a head on race Thursday when Steve was caught in the paddock toilets sodomising a Basil Brush soft toy, insomuch as that's possible at all. As the police led him away in cuffs he pleaded that he was actually a copper himself (that did turn out to be true) and that he’d been ‘teaching that bastard fox a lesson’, a defence which later failed to convince the magistrates.
From Cyril's memoirs dated 28 June 2007
The smell of warm rubber always brings back such powerful memories. The thrilling, acrid whiff from the snot-bobbled edge of a Dragon Supercorsa after a wild ride in Umbria’s Testa di Cazzo hills. The pungent, all-enveloping scent on entering a tyre fitter’s workshop – and look, there’s the man himself, hands glistening with rim lube. Then there are the thrashings I received from my father, wielding a 19in Avon ‘Ne’r-Breach’ inner tube (deflated, I’m sad to say, else beatings could have been quite comical). The faint smell of rubber on my mother’s lips as she kissed me goodbye before I set off for school (I’d always assumed it was from her Marigolds, though thinking back, she never used them). And the vaguely fishy pong from the air let out of a police Triumph T110’s tyres round the back of an Okell’s pub on the Isle of Man one year. Yes, tyres. Perhaps the most all-round sensorially stimulating part of a motorcycle.
I recall, back in the mid-Seventies, my then-wife Teresa (oh, you remember, the asthmatic one with a penchant for spit roasts and swearing) had a real thing for tyres. I discovered this by accident after spending an increasingly desperate afternoon in the garden trying to seat the bead on a Dunlop Gold Seal. It was a hot day and eventually I returned to the house, defeated, and flopped down on a kitchen chair like a wet rag doll. Teresa brought me over a cold tin of Double Diamond and the next thing I knew her hot-pants were hanging from the cooker hood and she was riding me like a Maico 250 over the Hawkstone Park whoops – fine with adequate damping and a fat knobbly, but I was merely a passenger holding on for dear life.
Then there was that time in Germany in 1994. A few of us were at a trade show in Berlin and one evening, after a few beers in the bar at the show, a chap called Terry Fletcher, the sales manager for an aftermarket spares firm that must remain nameless, decided it would be great fun to steal one of those huge Michelin Man costumes from behind one of the stands. He somehow sneaked it out via the goods entrance and we met him around the back. This costume was so cumbersome that Terry had to be helped into it and once in, couldn’t get out again on his own. After ten minutes of messing about, the taxi arrived to take us into town for the evening. We’d all had a bit to drink so we jumped into the cab and sped off laughing, leaving Terry lumbering around the deserted carpark.
About five minutes later we saw sense and turned back to get him, but we couldn’t find Terry anywhere. Only one of us had a mobile phone back then, so there was no way of contacting him and eventually we gave up and went into the city, assuming he’d gone off on his own. What we didn’t realise was that as we stuffed our faces with smoked sausage washed down with weissbier, Terry was stumbling around like an obese albino freak in the thick rubber suit, vision severely restricted, and eventually tumbled down a steep grass bank at the back of the main hall, becoming wedged between the spars of a stout wooden fence. He was there for five days and was in a bit of a state when they rescued him. I’ve since seen him attack a cuddly Michelin Man toy with the ferocity of a drugged and taunted pit bull. The scars are deep.
Finally, when riding hard I always bear in mind the advice given to me by Pietro Ficabagnata, chief tester at Pirelli in the late Eighties. ‘Cyril,’ he told me, ‘the tyre is a fickle mistress, with a full, rounded body and a powerful grip. Treat her with respect and she will bring you untold joy, but ignore her warnings and she will tear off your manhood and throw it over the hedge of uncertainty for the wild boar of skidding to feast upon.’ Wise words indeed.
From Cyril's memoirs dated 3 May 2007
We are constantly surrounded by – and sometimes perched upon – stunning examples of modern engineering. But the people behind these creations are often anonymous. Well, I have to say that’s probably a good thing. I'm not saying that all engineers are strange, merely that their ranks appear to harbour a large proportion of what most people would call eccentrics.
Takatoshi Takahashi was one of the most brilliant men I’ve ever met, little known outside the industry in Japan, but seen as a demi-god by those within it. In mid 1996 he was given special access to a prototype of what would become the Yamaha YZF-R1, then known only by the codename of “Warm Turbot” (I believe it was meant to be “Hot Tuna”, but something was lost in translation). The idea was that he’d tune it to run in the following year’s Suzuka 8-Hour, campaigned beneath anonymous bodywork, then feed back his findings to Yamaha HQ. Well, that was the plan, and I’m afraid I feel partly responsible for what followed.
In summer 1997, I went to Japan from Yamaha UK to see Takatoshi while he prepared the bike at his clinical workshop in an industrial suburb of Iwata on the central eastern coast. Over the years, I’ve dabbled with various workshop machinery, rarely happier than when getting to grips with a mighty tool, and thanks in part to his excellent English, Takatoshi and I got on well. I was flattered when, a month before the race, he asked if I’d polish a set of conrods. I set to with the powerful bench polisher and all was going fine until there was an almighty clang and the conrod pinged out of my hands, across the workshop and struck Takatoshi squarely on the back of the head. He fell like a sack of water chestnuts.
The hospital released him later that day, claiming no lasting ill effects. However, he was a changed man. He no longer wanted me in his workshop (understandable), but neither did he want anyone else there, becoming ever more reclusive over the following weeks. Yamaha executives were rather taken aback by the armed stand-off with which they were greeted and no one predicted Takatoshi’s dramatic exit, aboard the now chopped “Warm Turbot”, the rider dressed in colourful ceremonial robes.
The bike was never seen again, but later that year a scientific expedition to the Ogasawara islands, south east of the mainland, stumbled upon an isolated encampment. There they found a small group of people involved in some sort of primitive cult, and though the hurriedly-taken photos are a little blurry, its leader is unmistakably Takatoshi Takahashi. More worrying was the object of the group’s fervent worship, a freakish, four-legged creature made of motorcycle components and animal hides. Worst of all, its monstrous head, fashioned from hunks and flaps of dried meat, bore a spine-chilling resemblance to yours truly. I had become a deity.
Another slightly unhinged engineer was Harry Teischman, who worked with me at BSA in the early Sixties, where he’d spend board meetings harvesting earwax and the nasal equivalent. We've all picked our nose or delved into our ears, but Harry could produce a prodigious haul. He would carefully roll his booty into balls before flattening them into discs. Then, as I watched from the other side of the table, he’d use his fingernail to work away at each disc in turn, but I could never see what he was doing.
One afternoon, the fire alarm sounded and after some grumbling we hurried from the room (since the time Edward Turner set fire to his trousers while doing the splits over a scented candle – it was some sort of a bet with Bert Hopwood – we'd taken fire alarms seriously). I was last out and, passing Harry's place, took my chance for a closer look. There were four discs in all, alternately of earwax and snot, and each displayed the initials of one of the people present at the meeting. The third disc (earwax) bore the initials CG. Voodoo? I would never have thought it except that a few weeks later Harry was found dead in his Solihull garden, slumped over a BSA Starfire wearing nothing but a goose-feather head-dress, his scrawny, pallid body daubed with strange runes rendered in green Hermetite. This upsetting scene was within a pentangle marked out on the lawn in empty two-pint Castrol tins. I mean, how shocking – a fragile 250cc single, of all things! It’s assumed he died of a heart attack attempting to start the heap of junk.
From Cyril's memoirs dated 2 April 2007
Reading Ben Miller’s recent comparison of the Honda CBR600RR and Kawasaki ZX-6R reminded me of the superb ZX-7R I had back in 1996. Actually, it was Ben’s talk of the ZX-6’s seamless fuel injection that really reminded me, because although I’ve always been a fan of carburettors, the ZX-7 was not the bike to be riding through the winter, because carb icing could turn it from a focused stallion into an unpredictable pig. And while there’s never a good time to be straddling any sort of a pig (those with a fruity palate might disagree), when there’s snow and ice on the ground it can be a nightmare, albeit one with a decidedly porcine flavour.
I recall riding up to see a friend who lived between Kendal and Penrith in the Lake District. It was mid-March and a period of mild weather had fooled me into thinking winter was all but over. How naïve of me. In my defence, perhaps I wasn’t seeing things too clearly at the time. I’d recently been divorced from Anoushka and it had been a stressful experience. Many things came out in court that were rather shaming – the fighting, the drinking and the awful temper leading to violence at home – but I could no longer put up with her behaviour and it was a relief to be free of the monster. So, not-so-young, free and single I fired up the ZX-7 and headed north with a small rucksack, a credit card and a walletful of folding stuff, aiming to have a blast of a weekend with my old mate Bob McDrew.
All was going well until I decided to leave the A684 and take some more nadgery roads in the Yorkshire Dales. I didn’t know the area, but I still had a few hours of daylight and the bike was running beautifully as we carved through the scenery. Once off the A-roads, there’s nothing like dry stone walls for sharpening the mind and on quiet roads the bike and I slotted into a groove. I could feel the tension of the previous months melting away and my spirits soared as the roads climbed higher.
When the temperature drop came, it was quite sudden, as was the appearance of a threatening blanket of low, grey cloud. I remember the bike started playing up soon afterwards. Throttle response went to pot, with the engine sometimes picking up immediately, other times not until after a huge lag, and even then the power was intermittent. My steed had turned into a rocking horse. I pressed on in the descending gloom and before long was wiping slow from my visor every few seconds. Now, I know I was old enough to know better, but surely we’ve all done it. Although I knew I ought to slow down, I was also anxious to get back to the main road, so I pressed on, the bike now lurching and coughing like a three-legged asthmatic camel (what do you mean you've never ridden one?).
The highside should have been no surprise, and I suppose to me it wasn’t. However, to a certain occupant of the roadside field I suspect it came as rather a shock. I was pitched into the air and over a low wall, landing heavily still in a riding crouch. There are two noises I shall never forget. One is that of my beloved ZX-7R revving its tits off somewhere out on the road (carb icing now not seeming to be a problem), the other is the bizarre honk of a rotund Swaledale ewe being squashed by a man descending from a snowy sky dressed in full leathers. Its life was not given in vain.
As night descended, I had a five-mile trudge before I saw the welcoming lights of a remote pub. After a hot bath, an enormous shepherd’s pie (seemed a little disrespectful in the circumstances, but it was delicious) and several pints, I was highsiding 30mph faster and flying 30 yards further. I’m not sure that the barmaid believed a word, a beautiful young Italian called Francesca, in England to improve her English and who owned a classic Husqvarna scrambler. Did I offer to school her in my native tongue? That’s another story.
From Cyril's memoirs dated 15 March 2007
I'm often asked, 'Cyril, why are your recollections so full of smut and filth?' I can only hold my hands up and say, Mother, I've lived a charmed life full of good fortune.
The other day, Francesca and I were poring over the January issue of Bike and the luscious photos of the new Ducati 1098. We agreed that certain motorcycles really do have a certain sex appeal in themselves, and I can assure you it goes beyond the merely academic discussion of bulges, tubes and orifices.
Many years ago I had a Suzuki GSX-R750H, hard to believe now, but there was a time I could bend this old frame of mine to fit a supersports bike. And talking of bending my frame, this was when I was married to former Soviet discus champ Anoushka (she of neck-twisting thighs and killer right hook fame). She always loved the bikes and would climb on the back at any opportunity (she'd climb on my back at any opportunity, but that's another, rather painful, story). The woman was a real speed freak and always urged me to go faster, whatever bike it was we were riding. But when it came to the Gixer, it was different. We'd get up to about 80 and she'd start nudging me in the kidneys to slow down. This would generally happen on long stretches of boring road, such as a motorway.
It wasn't until we tried an intercom that I realised what was going on. It turned out that in top gear at 80mph the 750 would produce a particular frequency of vibration through the subframe. I'd never really noticed this, but Anoushka certainly had, as betrayed by barely stifled whimpering and laboured breathing one day on the M6 between Kendal and Moffat (normal enough after a service station lunch, but we hadn’t stopped). And there was me thinking it was the fresh air leaving her rosy-cheeked at the end of a good ride. The intercom didn't last long, by the way. Ever had 110 decibels of Russian profanities piped directly into your ear while trying to find an obscure address in an unfamiliar city?
Another experience I had happened when much younger. I must only have been about 18 years old and riding around on a tatty AJS single. Well, you chaps will know what it's like when a healthy teenage body is flooded with out-of-control hormones; a nanny goat in a summer dress could have given me a stiffy, but the vibes created by the old Ayjay would cause trouser anarchy.
I recall having to run a package round to a local engineering firm, the aptly named Upright and Sons. It was a mild day and I had on a woollen jumper, with no jacket, and loose-fitting worsted trousers. Traffic was heavy and I had to make several detours before I reached the Upright offices, by which time I could have honed a Panther cylinder with my own special tool. The cruel trick was that after ten minutes or so of these vibes the old todger would be left practically numb and I'd become pretty much unaware of it.
Have you ever seen a woman faint? I entered reception with the package in my hands and as I walked across to the desk I saw a look of absolute horror on the aged receptionist's face. Her gaze was fixed firmly on my groin and by the time I'd realised my predicament it was too late, up she stood and down she went. This was, let's remember, 1953, a more reserved age. I'm sure if an 18-year-old arrived in such a state these days the receptionist might well go down, but in an altogether different way.
I was terribly sad when I sold that bike, rattly and slow as it was, but the old boy who bought it was thrilled. He never let it out of his sight and even when he became too old to ride he could be seen sitting on the Ayjay on his drive, revving the thing rhythmically, a wistful smile on his dreamy face.
From Cyril's memoirs dated 2 February 2007
It was 1964 and I was a young and, whenever possible, thrusting Global Sales Director at Triumph, but as Triumph was by then controlled by the mighty BSA I was generally aware of what went on at the Small Heath HQ. Back then, the Cold War was at its height, as were James Bond films, with Goldfinger on the screens that year (I saw it in a Soho cinema and was expecting something entirely different). There was another film already in production – Thunderball – and BSA was approached by special effects genius John Stears (who later won an Oscar for his work). He wanted to equip a performance motorcycle with rocket launchers, to be ridden by the SPECTRE agent Fiona Volpe (played by the really rather stunning Luciana Paluzzi, who happens to be Francesca’s aunt’s godmother’s niece, but I digress).
All went very well and Stears got a 650 Lightning on which his own people did a lot of modification work. Months later, there was a special private preview of the film at the Birmingham Odeon to which various members of the BSA board were invited, including Harold Armstrong and Edgar Smeer.
Armstrong and Smeer were long-serving board members with solid engineering backgrounds, which makes what follows all the more baffling. They were, as a pair, so taken by the stunts they saw in the film, featuring a pneumatic woman in tight black leather shooting rockets from her Beeza, that they took it upon themselves to develop their own fully-functional version of the bike, no special effects needed. They rightly assumed that they’d never get official approval for the work but convinced themselves that the Ministry of Defence would be thrilled with the machine once presented with it. At the subsequent trial at the Old Bailey they referred to the disastrous events as ‘snags’. The judge, I recall, preferred the term ‘criminal negligence’.
Thanks to BSA’s background as a gun manufacturer, Harry Armstrong had several useful contacts in the arms trade, which was how he managed to get hold of the anti-tank guns which were fitted to the side of an A65 Firebird street scrambler. After various bench tests and many hours with the slide rule, Armstrong and Smeer decided to take the contraption to a disused airfield for secret tests. We should be glad that they decided to film their exploits as the grainy black and white footage provides a valuable document (reputedly available in some obscure corners of the internet, though I've never found it, and even Francesca's deft young fingers fail to raise anything despite intense googling).
The footage, as shown in court that day, begins with Armstrong and Smeer unloading the bike from the back of a Commer van on a bleak and blowy airfield (I forget where). The bike looks proficient enough, with the launchers attached to its flanks. But then, from the back of the van, emerges the bizarre sight of Smeer's secretary, Janet Jones, dressed in a replica of the leather catsuit worn by Fiona Volpe in Thunderball. All very well on a toned Italian siren, not so fetching on a middle-aged mother of three a little too fond of the biscuit barrel. The impression was of an over-stuffed black pudding at bursting point. The men had clearly convinced her to take on this role purely for their own pleasure as her riding skills were not the best, as soon became clear. In fact, one wonders whether the whole venture wasn't focused solely on getting Janet Jones into a leather catsuit, an endeavour that I imagine required a couple of hefty lads and a pint of baby oil.
Anyway, the A65 was fired up and, with Armstrong filming furiously, Janet Jones squeaked onto the saddle with the sound of a hand being dragged over a highly-inflated balloon. The following events happened very quickly indeed and I recall the court re-watched the footage in slow motion many times. It seems Janet released the clutch rather abruptly, the back wheel stepped out, the bike went down on one side and one rocket shot out and destroyed the Commer, seen exploding in the background. Janet, now sprawling on the tarmac, is highly compromised as the catsuit's gusset seam finally gives up and bursts wide open (ah, now I remember, it was Blackbushe airfield in Hampshire) and Smeer flings himself on top of her in what he claimed to be an attempt to 'preserve her modesty', though I've never before heard it called a 'modesty'. It's clear in the footage that she sees things differently and the ensuing fight goes on for almost a minute, the dedicated Armstrong not missing one second with the camera.
It's a shame that the film ran out before the arrival of the police soon after. What they found was a scene of devastation, degradation, broken machinery and a grown man crying – a scene that by the decade's end would be fairly normal at the increasingly troubled BSA.
From Cyril's memoirs dated 22 January 2007
What first set me off on this passion for motorcycles? I can still remember the day that started a lifetime's obsession.
It was summer 1945 and my brother and I were at Uncle Gilbert’s place near Uttoxeter. I was ten years old and distinctly recall emerging from the improvised swimming pool my uncle had made using hay bales and a tarpaulin. He was on the gravel path on a large motorcycle, watching us intently with a far away look in his eyes. I ran over and he picked me up in his strong arms and lowered me gently onto his big thumper. It was such a rich sensory experience, the smell of warm lubricant, the feel of ribbed rubber in my hand as I reached out and gripped tightly, and when he loomed up behind me and thrust hard with an animal-like grunt, the thing came to life between my legs with a pulsing throb and I was left breathless by the whole amazing experience. At that point something happened deep inside me. Yes, Uncle Gilbert had planted a seed. Five years later I was a messenger boy at Ariel and the rest, as they say, is sub judice.
Many years later still, in 1976, I was UK Sales Manager for Honda. It was my first time working for the Japanese after years with the British industry, and I was keen to make an impression. It was that memorably scorching summer and in those pre-Playstation days the streets and parks were filled with youngsters. One day, I stopped at the edge of a park in Chiswick to double check something on a new Gold Wing I’d taken for a spin from the Power Road HQ. Within seconds the bike was surrounded by chattering, goggle-eyed kids keen to know everything about it. That got me thinking; why not set up a special day for youngsters to introduce them to the wonders of motorcycles? Some might immediately take up off-road sports, others might start saving for their first road bike. It couldn’t fail. Or so I thought. I’d decided to keep a diary of events that day, to enable me to pinpoint the most successful areas for replication nationwide. What follows are extracts from that notebook.
09:30 Saturday 21 August, St John’s Park, Chiswick
Hot and sunny. Bikes all here and on display, including CB125S, CB750F1, CJ360T (though God knows why), CB400 Four, XL250 and GL1000 Gold Wing. People beginning to drift in. No sign of Bill Curtis [my Dealer Liaison Manager]. All bikes to remain strictly stationary with engines off!
10:40 Place filling up nicely and the kids love the XL and the Gold Wing in particular. Some rather fetching young mums around, too! Apparently Bill is organising a refreshments truck and will be along shortly. Small fat boy has just fallen off the stationary CJ360 and torn his shorts. Will have to placate irate father.
10:55 I take two aspirins for the pain in my cheek and although I cannot currently see out of my left eye I’m assured that the swelling should quickly subside. He really was rather angry. Bill Curtis has arrived, ushering in a large snacks wagon that appears to sell alcohol. Maybe not the best thing at this event, but still, I might have a quick snifter to help with the pain.
12:15 Marion is absolutely stunning, although her 15-year-old son, Wayne, is a little shit. Pain is easing nicely thanks to Mr J Walker. After much badgering, decide that starting the engines is fine. But definitely NO riding!
14:40 Luckily, it was the XL that was ridden into the ornamental fish pond and it showed its off-road ability to the full. Unfortunately, Wayne, flapping from the bars like a rag doll, found it all rather a shock. Perhaps I shouldn't have leaped from the pillion, but it seemed a hopeless and extremely dangerous situation. Bugger that!
16:20 Bill has totalled the Wing. I don’t know how it happened. Susan (or Sally?) and I were ensconced in the herbaceous border discussing the effect of crankshaft off-set on piston skirt friction levels. I emerged to see the bike on fire in the middle of the bandstand. The CB125 and XL250 are now wailing skeletons ridden by youths stripped to the waist, their bodies painted with ash from various fires. I appear to have created Lord of the Flies on wheels. What fun. Another drink, I feel.
23.15 Released on bail pending appearance at Acton magistrates court. I seem to have lost my trousers. Not the best of days. Whole thing needs a bit of a rethink.
From Cyril's memoirs dated 14 December 2006
‘Get me Ago’s sperm!’ And with that shout from the boardroom so began one of the strangest and most regrettable chapters in the history of the British motorcycle industry.
This year I’ve spent many a happy hour glued to the screen watching lithe youngsters perform while a foaming stubby sits snugly in my hand. MotoGP has been thrilling, but how much more thrilling it would be for us Brits if we had a bunch of riders out there capable of getting on the podium. No disrespect to James Elison, [now James Toseland – Ed] who at least gives us a presence.
In the late Sixties we Brits were beginning to struggle both on the track and in the showrooms. When Mike Hailwood retired at the end of the 1967 season, it left only Phil Read with a real chance of winning a prestige title (which he did admirably, with a 125, two 250 and two 500 crowns between 1968-’74). But it was clear to all that the glory days were coming to an end and something had to be done. There was much talk of racing academies and the like, but nothing has even been divulged of the plot to systematically breed fresh racing stock. It was a dark period in Britain’s proud motorcycling history.
By 1968 the boardroom at BSA-Triumph was being infiltrated by accountants and marketing men with little background in motorcycling. The future looked grim for this once immensely successful industry and they were desperate for a solution. In November of that year, three directors – Tom Wildman, Terry Sheldon and William Atkins – gathered for an informal meeting at the Talbot Inn, Leamington Spa. The discussion that took place over pies and pints today beggars belief. It was agreed that what dealers needed was not only a high-tech product to combat the increasingly popular and sophisticated Japanese motorcycles, but also a highly-talented British racer to put the firm’s name on the podium (imagine how Ducati feel right now, with Capirossi [now Casey Stoner – Ed] doing the business for them). However, BSA-Triumph's methods were questionable to say the least.
It’s said that Atkins first proposed obtaining Phil Read’s sperm with a view to creating a test tube racer, as it were, even offering up his own wife, Glynis, as the carrier. However, although in vitro fertilization was in development, the first success wouldn’t come for another ten years and it was decided that given Triumph’s inability to get a reliable oil feed to rocker spindles, the chances of manipulating Read’s lively semen into the right nook or cranny were minimal.
It was then Sheldon who suggested that surely the thing to do would be to select a young, healthy woman, fully paid for the task, to seduce a racer and fall pregnant, the progeny to then be raised in an environment that would nurture his inbred racing talent. And why not, he suggested, aim for the top? Giacomo Agostini had already won four world titles and showed no signs of slowing.
So, the buxom daughter of a former British racer of some repute (doubling their chances of producing a racer-baby, so they argued) was enrolled for the job and packed off to Italy with the aim of draining Ago dry. The firm lost contact with her after two weeks and after a couple of months had given up hope of ever seeing her again, assuming she’d simply done a runner with the down payment of 400 guineas. But five months later she returned, clearly pregnant. Champagne corks popped in the boardroom.
However, doubt was soon cast over the child’s parentage. Rumour had it that the midwife sprang back in shock when the glistening infant slipped out and emitted an unearthly, guttural howl. He had more of a pelt than skin and by the age of five his Cro-Magnon features and inability to master simple words were giving serious cause for concern. Unfortunately, he was never able to cope with riding even a tricycle, a nasty tumble mercifully knocking out one of the buck teeth from his hideously overcrowded gums and leaving his ginger mop with a slight bald patch. A child of Ago's? Never. He was, however, extremely dexterous and when presented, aged 7, with an 80cc Italjet scrambler he rapidly converted it into a rudimentary two-speed ploughing device.
Aged 11 he escaped into the wild and, now in his thirties, is believed to be living a feral existence in the dense forests of Cannock Chase in Staffordshire. Rumours that he’s being stalked by Foggy Petronas trappers, keen to offer him a development engineer position, are completely unsubstantiated.
From Cyril's memoires dated 7 November 2006
The Kawasaki ZZR1400, Suzuki Hayabusa, even the ageing and relatively sane Honda Blackbird, we’d all have given a testicle to medical science to have just one day on any one of those bikes back in the spring of 1960. Why? The first stage of the M1 motorway had been opened in December 1959, a 50-odd mile stretch from Watford, Hertfordshire to Crick in Northamptonshire (now junctions five to 18). Mostly three lanes, almost empty of traffic and absolutely no speed limit whatsoever (they didn’t spoil the fun until 1965).
At that time I was Overseas Sales Manager at BSA and for a short while, with the new M1 just a 30-mile hack away from the HQ in Brum, unofficial high-speed testing was frequent and exhaustive. It might have heralded a golden era of test riding at Small Heath, but I’m afraid the whole subject of testing on the M1 came to be seen as something of a curse.
Test riding bikes on the M1 was officially frowned upon by BSA, but despite this, testers would often hammer up and down at full tilt enjoying the relative space and the chance to hold the bike on the stop for sustained periods. Sometimes they’d be spotted by management lackeys and reported, other times news of an unfortunate incident would unavoidably reach HQ. There was the time that Harry Charlton rammed an old Golden Flash test mule beneath a lorry carrying effluent to a sewage works, rupturing the tanker and causing a lethally slippery and nauseatingly pungent slick to spread across the whole carriageway. From then on the bike was known as the Golden Flush and Harry as The Crapped Crusader.
Another incident involved veteran test rider Sid Turnbull, who’d stopped by at a friend’s abattoir near St Albans to collect five gallons of pigs’ offal to feed to his five Red Setters. The offal, in a thick, flexible, black rubber tub, was precariously strapped to the back of an A7 Shooting Star. Just outside Potters Crouch, with about 80mph on the vibrating clock, the bag slipped round, jammed the back wheel solid and the bike went down. Sid ended up in a field, where he lay unconscious for about 20 minutes, meanwhile, the Potters Crouch police, unused as they were to dealing with high-speed traffic accidents, decided that the splat of bloody guts they found on their arrival was the inevitable result of having a speed limit-free motorway. This, they muttered among themselves, was the carnage of which they had warned.
So management got tough and when the next rider was caught on the M1, a youngster by the name of Johnny ‘Fireball’ Jameson (that’s another story), he was summoned by none other than the Chief Executive, the eccentric genius Edward Turner.
Turner was a daunting man. Though nearing retirement he still cut a powerful figure but had always been known for a certain maverick approach. It was around this time that he was putting a lot of effort into designing a scooter to rival the successful Italian models and I suspect the pressure was leading to increasingly erratic behaviour. (Incidentally, left alone in his office one morning, I couldn’t help noticing some scribblings on his desk jotter, possible names for the new scooter. Marilyn, Lana, Betty. No, no. Edna, Ethel. THINK MAN!! Maud, Mary. BOLLOCKS! BOLLOCKS! BOLLOCKS! They eventually settled on ‘Tina’, so to speak.)
Well, young Johnny went into the great man’s office and the door was closed. We’ll never know exactly how the conversation went, but the next thing anyone knew, Johnny emerged with Turner on his back, riding him piggy-back. Johnny was straining to maintain balance and momentum as Turner, a portly man stripped to his vest and pants and sweating profusely, whipped his mount with a clutch cable, shouting, ‘This is how to bloody test ride, you sodding young upstart! I’ll ride you to hell and back, you jive monkey!’
When Johnny finally collapsed just outside the toolmakers’ workshop after an agonising ten-minute gallop, Turner simply strolled back to his office as if nothing had happened and the incident was never spoken of within earshot of management. From that day BSA testers were very cautious about using the M1 for work, lest they too should be subjected to what became known as ‘the Teddy-back ride’.
From Cyril's memoires dated 2 October 2006
Heat. Without it our bikes would go nowhere, but dealing with it can be a problem. My lovely young wife Francesca reminded me of this on a recent trip to the south of Italy on my Ducati Multistrada. Underseat exhausts are a tidy design, but, she explained, squatting over a hot pipe for a few hours can lead to a certain amount of discomfort, especially in an Italian summer. By the time we reached our hotel, Francesca was desperate to jump in the shower and douse the bush fire, as it were. Being a gentleman, I insisted on applying a slathering of cold-cream. It was the very least I could do.
The temperature in a combustion chamber can reach more than 1000 deg C, so there's a hell of a lot of heat to get rid of. Liquid cooling helps, but I recall a trip to South Africa in 1982 when we were involved in pre-launch tests of the superb, air-cooled Suzuki GS1100GK. The simple aim was to put in plenty of miles on three bikes in high temperatures and our small team comprised myself, chief engineer Colin Craywell and one of his young protégés, Ashley Gardener. Much could have been learned from that trip, if only things had gone according to plan.
Ashley Gardener was a tall, skinny, wax-white youth in the Peter Crouch mould, very uncomfortable in the hot South African summer and if something wasn't chaffing then something else had broken out in a rash or had swollen painfully. We were all in the hotel swimming pool one evening and I'd never seen so many mosquito bites on a man. He assured us they were 'all over' and had to be dissuaded from proving the point in a sheltered area behind the chlorination out-house.
Day five's itinerary demanded that we take a long and extremely exposed route from Britstown to Moffie. The bikes were checked the night before and we set off well loaded with water and food. The morning went very well and Colin and I were loving the ride, dicing with one another, or just sitting back and enjoying that silky motor and the stunning scenery. Ashley loitered at the back like a sullen teenager and at each stop reeled off a list of blisters, sores and throbs.
The road deteriorated badly and we were reduced to 20mph for more that 30 miles. Well, you can imagine that on a fully-faired air-cooled bike in 40 deg C, the heat rising up from the engine was enough to boil an egg. My eggs were certainly boiled. After a while we realised that Ashley was no longer with us. Colin offered to go back to see what had happened, while I stayed beneath a shady poes tree.
After half an hour I started to get worried. After an hour I jumped on the GS and retraced our tracks. A mile back, I found both Ashley and Colin and the vision I was presented with in that sun-scorched landscape is one I've never shaken from my mind. Colin's bike was on its centre-stand and the throttle was pinned open, the rear wheel spinning furiously. He was lashed to the bike on his back with his head on the clocks and his legs splayed over the panniers. He was absolutely naked and gagged with what I assumed to be his own underpants. I could see no sign of Ashley.
Then, from behind me came a blood-curdling scream and I turned in time to see a spark plug spanner fly past my left ear. Ashley was naked, too, except for a bandanna fashioned from an inner tube. His scrawny, almost hairless body was smeared with engine oil, presumably taken from his own machine, which now lay on its side in the poephol bushes. He squawked like a bird and with uncanny agility scaled a nearby tree, from where he proceeded to put on a lewd display of genital gymnastics while grunting, babbling and drooling. It was hard to tell whether he was in a state of arousal or if his distended manhood was the result of yet another nasty bite, but distended it was. Meanwhile, the bike was still revving painfully in the background and Colin began to yelp in pain as Ashley pelted his rotund, naked form with spiky fruit from the tree. It was a scene straight from hell.
Back in Britain, the doctors blamed heat stroke for Ashley's bizarre interlude and a week later he returned to work. However, Colin Craywell never recovered fully from the trauma and he spent the rest of his working life in a Jawa-CZ dealership just outside Chorlton-cum-Hardy. It seems that for Colin the nightmare was never-ending.
From Cyril's memoires dated 22 September 2006
Twist 'n' go motorcycles, highlighted recently by Honda’s DN-01 and Yamaha’s FJR1300AS, prompt much debate. Emasculated beasts for those who don't have the skill to swap ratios? Or a natural development letting the rider concentrate on other aspects of machine control? My own opinion is darkened by a rather unpleasant experience.
Few will remember HappyTime, a Dutch set-up moderately successful with 50cc scooters in the late Eighties. But in 1981 their ambitions had been higher. At the time I was European sales manager for Suzuki but a friend of mine told me that HappyTime, who were as yet unknown to me, could offer lucrative freelance work. Truth be told, I needed the extra cash due to my then wife Anoushka’s heavy addiction to vodka, horse meat, gambling and shopping, usually in that disastrous order, so I agreed to get involved. If only I’d known.
I met Arty Boerelul, HappyTime's owner, at the firm's base on an industrial estate to the south of Amsterdam in the spring of 1981. Something about him immediately put me on my guard. The lace-up leather trousers, zapata moustache and bubble perm were fine. No, it was a fevered look in the eyes that made me uneasy.
'For shure, Shyril, I'm not bringing you here to be shafting you, you know? I’m wanting everything to be shtraight up!' I'm sure he didn't intend the double entendres.
'I'm having a great thing to be showing you - a monster that will shurely impresh! I'm hoping you'll be taking it in your hands!'
This, Arty explained, was the future. A motorcycle with automatic gearbox but also, unlike Moto Guzzi's Convert and Honda's CB750A (recent experiments back then), he told me it had plenty of power as at its heart was a turbo-charged Kawasaki Z1-R engine. But it was also a hideous carbuncle, a massive torque converter contributing to its pot-belly girth.
'I'm calling it the Freefist Slippy,' said Arty proudly. Given that I was employed in a marketing capacity, I convinced him to think again.
I managed to avoid riding the contraption for quite a while, until one fateful day when Arty said, ‘Shyril, we've been working for sheveral months and you've not yet ridden the beasht. For shure, you're needing thish for the true knowledge.'
For shure, I hadn't been looking forward to this moment. The only time I'd seen the machine in action had been in the hands of Arty, who would manfully wrestle it out of the carpark, vicious power surges and coarse and thudding ratio shifts causing his bubble-permed head to rock violently back and forth like a hairy bladder on a stick. However, the money was good and if I wanted to keep the work I needed to show willing.
The first 100 yards were fine. Yes, the change into second severely cricked my neck (I heard a definite twang) and when I throttled off slightly the instant lurch threw the borrowed and ill-fitting open-face helmet over my eyes. At this point I'd still not collided with anything, so it was going relatively well. But as I pushed the helmet off my eyes I thudded into a pothole, the jolt causing me to open the throttle no more than half an inch, but the result was disastrous.
With a sickening lurch the turbo kicked in, whipping my head back on my cricked neck, which locked solid with a blinding white flash of pain. I let go of the machine (by now, incidentally, called the Freebase Wristy) and tumbled off, bouncing into the road. I lay there helpless and watched its progress.
The chances of the riderless bike ploughing into a delegation from the Lesbian Society of Rotterdam, down to assess production of a new range of strap-on 'accessories', must have been a million to one. Luckily, there were no serious injuries, but quite a few nasty gashes.
Arty Boerelul and I parted company at that point and I never again heard of him or his Freebase Wristy. And I have to say that since that day I've had an aversion to anything that's automatic, straps on or is a diabolic combination of the two.
From Cyril's memoires dated 20 August 2006
When the MotoGP circus cavorted into Britain recently, it made me think not so much of the great victories, the thrilling skills, the memorable races, but rather of the downright skulduggery that has gone on down the years. Some rivalries reached such a pitch as to drive even level-headed riders to acts of near lunacy.
The spats between Phil Read and Bill Ivy in the Sixties were legendary and while Read’s manoeuvres on Ivy have been well documented, he’s been a tower of discretion in not revealing some of the provocation coming from ‘Little Bill’.
During the 1968 season the Yamaha team mates both had a chance of winning the 250 world championship. Things had been especially fraught during practice for the Dutch TT at Assen. The evening before the race, while Read was back at the hotel completing his life-size bust of Queen Elizabeth II made out of plum stones glued together with Bostik (a grotesque thing that he shows to visitors to this day) Bill nipped into town on a borrowed bicycle and returned with a packet of itching powder, which he emptied into his team-mate’s leathers hanging in the pit garage.
Race day came and although Read was leading comfortably he was clearly in some distress and began to lose ground. On lap 12 he pulled over and threw off his leathers and rode the rest of the race pretty much naked. He made up many places but narrowly lost to Ivy by a tenth of a second. With the Summer of Love fresh in the memory no one batted an eyelid at the time, in fact much of the Dutch crowd had consumed copious amounts of LSD, with many copulating openly in the grandstand. However, footage of the race was subsequently doctored using the latest Hollywood techniques to make Read appear fully clothed throughout.
Barry Sheene was always one for the ladies and it was with this in mind that his old rival Johnny Cecotto decided to attempt to put Sheene out of the 1977 Finnish Grand Prix. Cecotto aimed to ensure that Sheene was simply too tired to race to his full potential and through a series of messages sent via mechanics and local gofers arranged for a beautiful and indefatigable prostitute to be sent to Sheene’s room the night before the race.
However, there was a dreadful muddle and instead of a high-performance tart, Sheene took delivery of a nanny goat. Never one to be overawed and a keen practical joker himself, he set about milking the goat and by morning had produced several small cheeses and bowl of yoghurt, which he presented to a crestfallen Cecotto at breakfast. But Cecotto had the last laugh as Sheene, ever the perfectionist, had laboured feverishly on the dairy products throughout the night, at one point sending out for a second goat as the first batch of cheeses were not up to scratch but the original nanny had been squeezed dry. Our Bazza was too exhausted to put in his best performance on the track, finishing an uncharacteristic sixth while Cecotto took the win.
One of the great rivalries of recent times has been between Valentino Rossi and Max Biaggi. The most memorable manifestation of this was the infamous ‘fight’ between the two after the 2001 Catalunya Grand Prix. Much was made of it at the time but few real facts emerged. However, living in Italy I’ve made a few contacts in the racing fraternity and it appears the truth was stranger than any imagined scenario.
Italy is a country engulfed by superstitions dating back hundreds of years and that still hold sway, especially in rural parts of the peninsula. It seems Rossi and Biaggi had been involved in Il Passaggio della Cacca (The Passing of the Turd), a complex and ancient form of hexing with, to the outsider, an impenetrable set of rules. Basically, the hexer must touch the victim with a bony part of the body to pass on ‘the turd’, but the subsequent re-passing must be done with a body part appropriate to the strict rules of conduct. It seems that in the days prior to the race Biaggi had ‘toed’ Rossi and Rossi had ‘kneed’ Biaggi some time later. This went on even during the race where if one watches closely there’s a clear clash of elbows on lap seven, a complex manoeuvre that left Rossi with ‘the turd’. However, Rossi’s decisive use of the knuckles immediately after the race turded Biaggi once and for all, a crucial moment that even today seems to be dogging the Roman’s MotoGP career.
From Cyril's memoirs dated 8 July 2006
Smiffy is a character from my past with whom I’ve had many adventures, several of which I’ve tried hard to forget, though they return in fevered dreams. I shall now tell you of one I’ve kept to myself for many years.
Carl Smith is one of the finest motorcycle mechanics I’ve ever met. Known to his mates as Smiffy or Smudger, we’ve been firm friends since school. He was a bull of a youngster, a superb lose-head prop and bore huge forearms which easily powered him to the position of school’s top arm-wrestler. And even at that relatively young age he already packed a fearsomely destructive punch.
In 1985 we both celebrated our 50th birthdays and decided to mark the occasion with a motorcycle tour of Britain. I was working for Suzuki and got my hands on the then new RG500 Gamma – not ideal for touring, but hilarious two-stroke madness. Smiffy had his Kawasaki Z1000-engined Harris Magnum, a beast he’d spend years tuning to match his rather volatile but ever entertaining personality.
On a bright summer’s morning we headed for Dorset, for no other reason than as kids we’d had a great holiday together in Weymouth. Early on there were tedious dual carriageways to clear and what better way to clear them than quickly? It was still early morning and the long stretches of open tarmac were too much to resist so Smiffy and I lined our bikes up side by side and wound up the throttle.
I was caught napping with the Suzuki out of its power band and the Magnum pulled away in top gear on torque. Down a gear and the Gamma’s revs pushed to the magical 9000, the exhaust note crisped and Smiffy was reeled in. As I crouched behind the fairing I turned to see him braced hard against the wind blast. I flashed a victorious grin and screamed off with 148 on the clock. I didn’t know it then, but I’d sown the seeds of disaster. Smiffy has never taken defeat well. (As kids, we once battled to capture the most disgusting fart in a jam jar. After several attempts my gaseous resources were exhausted but I’d produced the most nasally damaging parp. Smiffy, straining desperately to produce one final example, went a little too far with dire consequences.) Laying the Magnum to waste had lit Smiffy’s fuse and he would have revenge.
We left the dual carriageway for a twisting B-road and the Magnum filled my mirrors. We came to a short straight which, at most, was good for 100mph before a sharp bend. Half way along the Magnum came by doing about 130. By the time I was braking hard Smiffy was bursting through a flimsy gate into a field, feet down and elbows raised like a motocrosser.
Somehow, he stayed upright. I found him sitting on the edge of a trough lighting a cigarette. The Magnum was his pride and joy and the thought of it being totalled in a crash had shaken him up. I approached with caution as at times of high excitement (and damaged pride) Smiffy could be unpredictable, but he smiled ruefully and we laughed about it.
As we chatted, a fat Friesian cow wandered over to drink from the trough. When it had finished, it lifted its tail and a steaming gush of piddle cascaded over the Magnum. Horrified, Smiffy leaped up and tried pushing the cow aside, but the pee kept coming and the cow wouldn’t shift. Incensed, Smiffy took a step back, threw off his jacket and let go with one of his trademark right hooks. Well, I’ve seen him lay out a few blokes in my time, but a cow? The creature’s back legs buckled, it lurched backwards, knocked the Magnum onto its side then squatted with its full weight on the bike. But the searingly hot engine against the cow’s backside caused it to jerk back up, wide-eyed and mooing, inadvertently head-butting Smiffy full in the face.
I’m afraid that was the end of our celebratory jaunt. As I said, Smiffy never could take defeat, and being knocked cold by a dairy cow was a personal disaster. To this day his explanation for the clearly broken nose involves a yarn about a gang of skinheads. And I, naturally, have never contested that in public. Until now.
From Cyril's memoirs dated 17 June 2006
Electric motorcycles are in the news more and more lately. I ended my full-time career in the motorcycle industry in 2000, while working for Yamaha, a very go-getting bunch who have put some great technology into our road bikes – the EXUP power valve and Deltabox frame to name just a couple. But they missed the boat on this one.
You may recall a colleague of mine from my days at BSA, Peter Cartwright, he of shaven dog, V5 lawnmower and faecal-powered engine infamy. Yet it must never be forgotten that behind an often catastrophically confused mind lay a razor-sharp engineering intellect.
Back in 1999, I received from Peter a highly detailed proposal for an electrically-powered motorcycle, meticulously drafted in his distinctive brown ink. The fact it appeared on scores of sheets of crisp Izal medicated toilet paper stuck together with Elastoplast may have fazed someone not familiar with Peter’s eccentric methodology, but I didn’t let it muddy the issue. Unfortunately, Yamaha top brass didn’t see it in quite the same way and refused to follow up the project.
I wasn’t going to be stopped there and wanted to help the unfortunate Peter to realise what could have been his greatest achievement. I’d built up a few handy contacts in almost 50 years in the business and managed to get an independent engineering firm (whom for legal reasons cannot be named) to take on the project and decide its feasibility. Despite my warnings, they decided a face-to-face meeting with Peter would be necessary if they were to fully understand his concept, so I made arrangements with the authorities at his care home to be able to take him out for the day.
I thought it would be a treat for Peter to be collected by motorcycle (apart from having been a road rider, he was an excellent scrambler in his day, only missing out on a ride in the 1958 British Grand Prix at Hawkstone Park due to being heavily beaten the night before by a gang of teddy boys in an alley, in circumstances still shrouded in mystery), so on a bright May morning I went along on my V-Max. I’d have taken my company R1, but my neck was undergoing a recurrent bout of spasms, the result of an injury picked up many years previously during a bed-based incident while grappling with my former Soviet discus champion wife, Anoushka. (Powerful thighs, clamping action, suffocation and panic. I’m sure I need say no more.)
We’d arranged to meet in a pub close to the engineering firm’s headquarters, reasoning that it would be a more relaxed atmosphere for the rather edgy Peter. I’d booked the small conservatory, which was ideal, with plenty of light and soothing views of the well-kept gardens. Introductions were made, pints ordered and soon Peter was chatting away eagerly seeming every bit the young genius I’d worked with all those years before.
Now, I maintain to this day that it was the care home’s responsibility to tell me about Peter’s medication, particularly its perilous incompatibility with alcohol. About an hour into the meeting Peter excused himself to go to the toilet. There was nothing to warn of the performance to come.
We were alerted by screams from the public bar – those of several elderly women and of a V-four engine being held against the rev limiter. I ran through in time to see Peter, having filled the bar with acrid rubber smoke, heading straight for me, his eyes a demonic blaze and teeth bared as he hunched over the V-Max’s bars looking like a coke-fuelled stunt-riding pensioner. I stepped aside and he rode through the open double doors into the conservatory, straight through the closed French windows and into the garden, his Izal-based plans, snagged on the left handlebar, trailing in the breeze.
The police apprehended Peter several miles away. He’d ridden the V-Max into a village duck pond and when they arrived he was still sitting on it, catatonic, up to the fuel tank in muddy water. A small gathering of locals were edging slowly nearer to view the lunatic in their midst.
So, there you have it. The Izal plans were never found and Peter never again spoke of his ideas for an electrically-powered bike. Actually, he didn't speak at all for three months. It was a disaster that I firmly believe set back the development of such machines by many years, all triggered by just one pint of Ramsbottom’s Inappropriate Fondle. You live and learn.
From Cyril's memoirs dated 14 May 2006
Ah spring. A time of fast motorcycles, beer gardens, buxom lovelies and… camping. A roll of material strapped to the saddle offers the magical freedom of rapid travel with shelter at hand. But a tent isn’t the most secure accommodation.
A very good friend of mine, Bob Scammel, has a son, Neil, who rode his just-launched and exotic FireBlade to the 1992 Cambridge Folk Festival. The lad had more interest in poke than folk and having heard that the festival is awash with single females (a cruel fallacy in my experience) he decided to try his luck.
Having endured finger-in-the-ear caterwauling and interminable fiddling, Neil decided to seek some fiddling of his own, homing in on the prettiest drunk he could find. All went well and the girl advised Neil, also rather worse for wear, that her friend had gone off elsewhere so she’d be alone in her tent and to join her there in ten minutes. In the meantime, Neil returned to his own tent and, displaying youthful high spirits and imagination, took blue and red felt pens to his erect manhood to create a mini Pepsi-era Kevin Schwantz, presumably as a form of sexual ice breaker.
Lord knows how long this penile doodling took, but long enough for the girl to come looking for her Romeo. Unfortunately, she lurched drunkenly into the FireBlade, toppling it onto Neil’s tent as he lay there admiring his handiwork. I’m afraid Kevin Schwantz took the brunt of the impact. Apparently the ambulance men dropped Neil off the stretcher twice while leaving the field, so wracked were they with barely suppressed giggles. It was, by all accounts, an excellent likeness, if a little crooked.
A second incident features yours truly. It was summer 1986, I was working for Suzuki and had borrowed one of the all-new GSX-R1100s. Good grief, that blew the cobwebs away as my then wife Anoushka and I blasted down to Bordeaux for a week’s sunshine. Ah, I can still hear her excited screams as we tore through northern France.
We arrived late afternoon, pitched the tent on a busy site then nipped into town to sample the local vin de pays. Afternoon turned to evening and the wine flowed on. At about 9pm, in walked a couple wearing lurid Cordura bike jackets and speaking English. We got chatting, they were very friendly, and the rest of the evening flew by with plenty more plonk consumed. Fine, you say. And it was, but not for long.
Staggering back to the site we got chatting about the Bol d’Or 24-Hour and it turned out that this chap – the name of whom escapes me, despite having read it so many times in solicitors’ letters – had never been. I became very animated about the mêlée of anarchic celebration that used to be the campsite when the race was still at Paul Ricard in the far wilder south, near Bandol. I raved about the lunatics who would remove the header pipes from their bikes then rev the motor at full throttle. It doesn't take a genius to see what’s coming next.
Ever equipped with a decent tool kit, I set about the GSX-R. Working by torchlight with double vision slowed my progress somewhat and the rest understandably got bored and went to bed. It must have been 4am when I carefully wheeled the bike into position, the exposed exhaust ports as close as possible to the doors of the sleeping couple’s tent. I’d strapped the throttle full open with a bungee so I could watch the effect from a distance. I could hardly bear the excitement. I pressed the starter and ran.
If you’ve never heard the unfettered racket from a pipeless large capacity engine at full tilt, it’s hard to describe, but it’s fair to say that it’s highly disturbing on a deep, gut-churning level, perhaps like some infernal machine Satan might use to instil naked fear. And that’s rather apt given that I hadn’t anticipated the pulsing 12-inch flames that instantly set fire to the tent. I think I was in shock for a second or two, long enough to see the poor couple (in pyjamas!) fight their way out of the flames with ashen faces, thinking themselves engulfed by Gallic Armageddon. I rushed to the bike but couldn’t release the bungee (in my drunken panic I completely forgot about the kill switch).
My last memory of the whole sorry mess, other than Mrs Thingy and the Suzuki screaming in chilling discord, was of a rapidly advancing Anoushka who summoned all her might as a former Soviet discus champion to knock me out with a clean blow to the jaw. I must say, I’ve had better holidays.
From Cyril's memoirs dated 15 February 2006
Fat, long and exceedingly slippery. Suzuki’s Hayabusa really is a marvel of aerodynamics and I remember thinking when it was launched in 1999 that the designers were brave not to be led by aesthetics, but by physics. Handing over large amounts of cash for a greased rhino with a jet pack up its chuff didn’t deter the punters, bent, as we all are, on speed.
A key tool in the development of fine aerodynamics is the wind tunnel and I first encountered one in 1968 while Global Sales Director at Triumph. We were involved in an exciting project aimed at increasing road bike top speeds by standard fitment of a highly aerodynamic fairing. It should have reaped great rewards, but while you can factor in all manner of known characteristics for raw materials, the same is not so easily done when one is dealing with a human mind. In particular, that of our new aerodynamics engineer, George Hardle. Such a tragic waste.
Over the years a friendship had been forged between Triumph and the Moto Guzzi factory and I'm proud to say that I’d had much to do with that process, going right back to the 1957 TT when, while working for Ariel, I’d got chatting to a couple of Guzzi mechanics looking after Bill Lomas’s race bikes. They spoke no English, but it’s amazing what sign language can achieve (including, unfortunately, gross misunderstandings. To this day I’m baffled as to how ‘Let’s go for a pint’ came across as ‘Your mother's breasts need milking’, but the Italians seem to have a sign for everything and an insult to match. Giuseppe and I can now laugh about it, but whenever we meet up I insist on showing him him the scar. Those Neapolitans are jolly quick with a blade). So, when Triumph wanted to use Guzzi’s famous wind tunnel at the Mandello del Lario factory to develop their new fairing, I managed to secure its use for the whole of March 1968.
George Hardle became a problem on our eighth day in the tunnel. He’d struck me as a curious character on joining the firm a month previously. He stood about 5ft 5in, was in his early 50s and carried a large paunch, gained, I imagine, from over eating as he was teetotal. He was bald except for a curtain of grizzled, mousy hair and had a bushier version of Hitler’s contribution to facial grooming. None of this was especially remarkable, but when one tried to look into his eyes they’d dart around and never meet your gaze. Basically, he seemed a little demented.
That day, our famous test rider, Les Colcroft, was on the bike and moving around to get the best aerodynamic position with the gale blowing full tilt. But the instruments showed a lot of drag still evident, despite (actually, because of, though no one dared say it) huge amounts of plasticine that Hardle had added to almost every surface of the fairing, remodelling it continually and with ever increasing fervour. By 3pm Hardle, beside us in the control room, was visibly distressed, pink face glistening with a sheen of sweat. He began banging on the thick glass of the control room window, cursing Colcroft for an inability to streamline himself effectively. This was nonsense and had more to do with Les being perched behind a fairing which, loaded with pounds and pounds of plasticine, looked like a five-year-old’s rendition of the head of a triceratops.
Suddenly, Hardle left the control room and entered the tunnel, the huge propeller still sucking air through full blast. Struggling to keep his feet, he pushed Les off the bike and jumped in the saddle, briefly assuming a racing crouch as his tie whipped behind him and his flapping trousers rode up to his knees. But within seconds he was off the bike and began punching and kicking the plasticine-laden fairing. Les stood by helpless, bracing himself against the wind blast, while Hardle pulled off huge chunks of plasticine, throwing them first at Les, then at the control room window. He really was in quite a state – if only it had ended there.
Leaving his tie in place, Hardle tore off his shirt, which stuck high against the wire mesh ahead of the propeller. He then dropped to his knees and pulled more plasticine from the fairing flanks and began stuffing it into his mouth. It was clear that he was having awful trouble chewing it, but he remained hunched and determined in the roaring wind.
I’m afraid my final memory of George Hardle is of him utterly naked except for brown brogues and a tie, pressing his waxy, hirsute body against the control room window, his genitalia distorted hideously against the glass. His teeth, revealed by a deranged grin, were covered in gobs of brown plasticine.
So next time you’re slipping through the air with 150 on the clock and more to come, spare a thought for George Hardle, well-endowed aerodynamics pioneer and long term resident of The Verniers, a rest home in Tipton for bewildered former engineers.