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  • Jamie Rogers

My First Time (On a Bike) | Automotive Writing

As a child of the 1970’s and the son of an original Meriden Triumph employee, I grew up to the sounds of British twins reverberating throughout the house, my father and my eldest brother both had the ubiquitous ‘Bonnie’ as did many of my brothers’ friends. One even had an original X-75 Hurricane. He still owns it to this day.

Inside the original Triumph factory at meriden.
Inside the Meriden factory

At the time, I believed these to be monstrously powerful rocket ships, no doubt aided by the stories of derring do and (as I now know, unattainable) top speeds that I would often over-hear. A Smiths instruments speedo played a part in it all as well, and as far as I was concerned, if the speedo had 150 mph printed on it, then the bike was absolutely capable of reaching that speed.

We had the annual pilgrimage to the bike show, myself and my middle brother competing for who could get the most promotional material, our walls constantly adorned with pictures of the latest models, stickers and sew-on patches.

Other than sitting on my father’s bike as he rode it into the garden, I hadn’t actually really been on one, unless you can count sitting on it, twisting the throttle to its stop, the cable so taut that it could be used to string a guitar and making loud ‘brmm brmm’ noises as is the wont of most children.

That was all going to change though.

I had made it my mission to pester my brother, any excuse, any time and as often as possible. Talk of it being dangerous was easily dismissed because as far as I was concerned, at the age of eight I was plenty man enough to travel at 150 mph.

An original Triumph Bonneville
The Bonnie that started it all

I would like to think that it was my reasoned argument, persuasive power and brotherly love that meant he agreed; I suspect that my brother’s version would be along the lines of ‘he wouldn’t shut up. Ever’

My father’s spare helmet was duly dropped on my head, a proper 1970’s style full face Kiwi, an up-turned goldfish bowl affair. The Bob Heath visor was either closed or fully opened and when opened it acted like a big air scoop, trying to separate your head from your neck, luckily, it wasn’t garish 70’s colours, just a nice understated fire engine red.

A Little Advice

When attempting to get on the bike, you should never just leap on to a high leverage point (the pillion footrest) without first telling the rider, especially if he has his foot on his footrest and not on the floor. First lesson learned. (Sorry)

No matter how cool and grown up you feel, the grab rail behind you is not the place for your spindly eight year old arms to hang on. (Ouch)

Speed is relative. 40 mph really can feel quite fast. (Gosh)

The First Journey

After gentle and encouraging words, my brother imparting his wisdom and vocabulary, I managed to safely get on the bike at the second attempt.

My feet didn’t really reach the footrests, my arms clinging on to my brother with as much strength as I could muster, my whole body vibrating along with the engine. Hearing the clunk of first gear being engaged, slowly balancing the clutch and throttle and we were away.

After head-butting my brother in the back on each and every gear change, I soon learnt to anticipate the change and tried to avoid annoying him any further, I didn’t want him to stop and I certainly didn’t want this to be the one and only time he took me on it.

The feeling was incredible, the noise coming from the reverse cone ‘megas’ was all but deafening, sounding like God snoring as we made our way down the High street. No doubt the coolest thing that the pedestrians had seen all year, never mind all day

Watching the reflection in the various shop windows just confirmed that, and even now 35 or so years later, whenever I travel down that road on a bike, I still do that.

All too soon we were on our way back home. I guess that my brother sensed that I wasn’t done, I wanted to experience more and at the next set of traffic lights that we had to stop at, he told me to really hang on to him.

Evel Knievel pulls a monster wheelie on his Harley
This is exactly the image I had of us - properly cool

The lights changed and we were off, it felt like being shot from a cannon. The front wheel was just on the verge of getting air, my brother only really shutting off when he noticed my feet up by the petrol tank.

We got home without any further incident, both laughing as we got off the bike. I was absolutely hooked.

I’ve since gone on to own many different bikes, DRZ 400, ZXR 400, ZX9R, V-Max, ZZR 1100, ZX12R and ZZR 1400 are just a few, some of them quite forgettable, but that first journey on the Bonnie will live with me always.

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