It came out of the sky

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.

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