Friday, August 14, 2015

Why do I keep messing about with this old dinosaur?

Gray, friend of this blog and proud custodian of another 1991 Triumph Trophy 1200, asked me:

"I've often wondered while reading your blog if you've ever considered selling Ruby and buying something more modern? I know you have invested a lot of time and effort into her but hasn't the lure of an ultra reliable high tech Japanese bike ever tempted you?"

That is a good pair of questions.The answers are easy. No and No. But they aren't really answers at all, are they? Both 'No's deserve a bit more qualification.

Even when I was really struggling to make Ruby run well in the early days after my rebuild, it never crossed my mind to sell her. There is no doubt that the technology is old, as is the fabric of the machine. I knew I was taking on an old bike when I took possession of her, back in August 2010. I was looking for a challenge. So I expected hiccoughs and grumbles as she shook off her slumbers and reawakened as a working machine. I did feel down in the first couple of months, especially when I discovered the failed fuel liner in the fuel tank, and suffered regular engine shut-downs after between 5 and 20 miles. And when all my fiddling with the carbs did not solve the misfiring when hot, I felt angry and dispondent. But I sorted it, along with the other age-related problems. I got through all that, as this blog testifies, more upset with my own inability to diagnose the problems than with the machine.

But the feeling I get when I put right the wrongs, when I am able to restore some sweetness to the way she runs, is very important to me. I have always liked tinkering with my bikes. When I bought my Daytona 900 in 1995, she was 18 months old and in almost as-new condition. I enjoyed riding that bike immensely but felt frustrated when I got home. No tinkering needed. No little jobs to do beyond cleaning. It wasn't enough to satisfy me. So I started modifying the bike, sometimes well, at least once very badly. But that Daytona became my bike. I still have 'Streak' but she is getting the in-depth renewal treatment now. The pleasure I derive from fixing and fiddling with old bikes is one very important reason for not wanting a new machine. I'd be bored.

It is true that I would enjoy trying some newer bikes. Maybe not new new (for the 'no tinkering' reason). Just new enough to allow me to play. Maybe five years old. But so many of them look like insects. I can't warm to the angular, lumpy appearance of them. The abdomen-thorax-antennae look doesn't work for me. I've had a sit on a couple of classic-styled bikes. They were OK. No fires were lit though. I did see a bright red Sprint 1050 in Trevor's tiny emporium around the time Tim got his blue one. I was hugely tempted. I resisted because I could not see it as a replacement for Ruby or Streak, my garage has no more room, and anyway I couldn't afford it.

The second answer to the first 'No' is to do with a sense of history. Ruby was, and remains, a monumental achievement for a tiny band of motorcycle designers and engineers. There have been several other really great achievements in the sense of a motorcycling dream being realised (Hesketh, Shenstone Norton rotaries, Brittan twins). Occasions when small concerns have fought off impossible odds to create something unique for the biking world. They have been idosyncratic, flawed in many ways, brave in many more. They have all collapsed in one way or another. All of them.

Except the T300s.

The T300s were the platform upon which the T500s were built, and the ethos which brought Hinckley Triumph its success. I've little doubt that the folks who work at Triumph understand this. When I visited the original factory in the summer of 2013, I met a great guy called Mark. Mark was in charge of warrantees and servicing. Though he started working for Triumph long after the factory was re-launched, he treated me like royalty. The T312 Trophy was the most monumental of the first T300s: the largest, the smoothest, the engine with greatest thrust, the rider's eye view the most world-conquoring. As I have written elsewhere, Triumph responded to the motorcycling press and public demand to change the T300s for the 1993/4 model year. In my view, some of the engineering purity was lost at that time, for all that many positives were introduced.

When I work on Ruby, or rumble out into the world on this big old red bus of a bike, I am conscious of these things. Rarely at the front of my mind, but deeper than that. I'm gifted with riding a piece of history. Even though I know few people think about the old 1200s this way.

The road is calling. See you out there.