The Japanese VIP

From Cyril's memoirs dated 4 January 2008

The freakishly wonderful Suzuki B-King has brought back mixed emotions. You see, I once had close dealings with a certain Haru Jakamashi from Suzuki HQ, who went on to be a key figure in the B-King’s birth. When we set off on a road trip together in the spring of 1996 it should have been the start of a long friendship and a fruitful working relationship. Instead, it was a disaster.

Mr Jakamashi doesn’t have a motorcycle licence. He raced in his youth, but for our journey to a European Suzuki summit in Valencia he was to ride pillion. He was flying in from Hamamatsu and I was to pick him up from Heathrow on a then newly-launched 1200S Bandit. However, I have a confession.

The maintenance department had entrusted me to carry out the bike’s first service myself at home and, of course, I left things till the evening before the trip. By 11pm I was all done, when, having changed the oil as part of the service, I decided to recheck the sump plug. I’d lent out my torque wrench so I was using guesswork as I applied a little... more... pressure to the spanner. It's quite odd, looking back, that the thought of stripping the thread and it actually happening seemed to occur simultaneously. A sweat broke out down my back.

I’ve always been a bodger and opted for one I’d once used on a Kawasaki Z900. I opened a bottle of plonk, poured myself a glass, poured another, then, after a little trimming I screwed the cork into the sump. So long as I didn’t cane the Bandit, and I had no intention to with a high-ranking Japanese suit on the back, I felt sure the cork would stay in place till I got back.

There hadn’t been time to fit hard luggage except for a top box, so I used soft throwovers. At the airport, Mr Jakamashi and I had a bit of a tiff straight off when he insisted that the panniers be adjusted way down so they weren’t interfering with the backs of his thighs. Maybe he had a Cordura phobia, but eventually he was happy and off we went.

The overnight crossing from Portsmouth to Bilbao was interesting. The demure Mr Jakamashi found his voice after a bottle of Chardonnay and several large cognacs, and we spent two hours in the karaoke lounge duelling with some footie lads on the way to a game. When we staggered back to our shared cabin (an administrative error we decided to endure) my honourable Japanese companion rounded off the night by chundering into my shoes.

The next day he was moving very slowly as we set off across Spain. Twice he fell asleep against my back before I insisted on bungeeing him to the top box for his own safety. Later, on the A68 just north-west of Zaragoza, people started flashing us as we overtook them. Disgruntled do-gooders infuriated by our speed, I thought. Until, in the right mirror, I noticed the flames.

It’s remarkable how long it takes to get a bungeed fat bloke off the back off a bike, especially when he’s hung over and panicking as flames from a burning pannier lick at his right buttock. Moments later, as we stamped on smouldering clothing on the hard shoulder, my suggestion that it was his fault for insisting the panniers were adjusted down so far that one had touched the exhaust didn’t go down too well. It was salt in the wound, given that the charred remains were all his. My clothes were in the other pannier.

The rest of the ride down was tortured. We hardly spoke. Then on the last evening after the conference we made friends again in a drunken haze. Mr Jakamashi had cheered himself up on a shopping spree, feeling especially proud of a hugely expensive pair of hand-made Spanish shoes. Once again we took to the karaoke, duetting, in a fit of hysterics, to Arthur Brown’s ‘Fire’.

The next morning, I was outside the hotel checking the straps on what was left of the panniers as the Bandit warmed up on the sidestand. Mr Jakamashi emerged, looking very swish in all his new clothes, ready to take a taxi to the airport. We shook hands across the thrumming bike.

‘We have good time together,’ he smiled, and I could see a rosy future for me at Suzuki after all. ‘I like this bike very much!’

And with that he gave the throttle a slightly cack-handed twist, the revs hit the limiter, there was a dull pop and three litres of hot oil disgorged themselves onto Mr Jakamashi’s brand new tan suede monkstrap shoes. I left Suzuki in the autumn of that year.

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