The Medicated Toilet Roll of Fate
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.