I’m one of a team of presenters for the BBC Radio 4 Extra show
called “The Seventh Dimension” which means working in their Portland
Place studio in London when it’s my turn on the rota. The last time I was
there I spotted a row of really interesting parked bikes, and I just had
to stop to admire them and take a few pictures. It made me think of
the very wide range of excellent bikes that are always available from
The width of the Bars
Another thing that row of bikes reminded me of was an occasion when I was filming for one of my TV shows. I had ridden into London from Cardiff on my big Harley Glide and reached the Cromwell Road rendezvous point where the studio had hired a London Courier on a scooter to show me the way to the studio. He was a real London traffic wizard who knew all the back doubles, and we were making a great time through the congestion when he forgot that my Harley was near twice as wide as his Lambretta. With great judgement and precision — and no more than an inch to spare each side – he manoeuvred between a double-decker and a taxi. There was absolutely no way I could follow that on the big Harley! About three sets of lights ahead he realised I wasn’t behind him – but we got to the studio on time.
Having reached the studio, I was met by a young trainee director – who was also a keen biker. “I’ll look after the bike for you,” he announced eagerly. I had taken about eight steps towards the studio door when there was an agonised shout for help from behind me. I sprinted back and rescued him from going down under 870 pounds of Glide.
“You haven’t ridden that thing through London, have you?” he gasped in something close to disbelief.
“No, I’ve just ridden it in from Cardiff,” I replied.
Thoughts on the Line-up
The bike in the line-up that took my attention first was the red BMW 125 complete with a roof. A 124 cc engine normally powers these. It’s a four-valve, four-stroke, water-cooled job from Rotax, a superb engine company, which were founded in Austria in 1920. It produces 15 brake horsepower, corresponding to 11 kW and includes a CVT gearbox. The initials CVT stand for “constant variable transmission”, and it’s very efficient.
The history of BMW goes all the way back to the end of WWI in 1918. Before that, they had been the Rapp Motorenwerke company that manufactured aircraft. That stopped under the terms of the Versailles Armistice Treaty at the end of WWI. When the terms of the Treaty began to loosen in the mid-twenties, the firm started building motorcycles. Cars followed in 1928. The first of these was the Dixie which was based on the Austin Seven.
The first bike in the row was unmistakably a Suzuki, which set me thinking about their intriguing history as well. The company, founded by Michio Suzuki (1887–1982) started as the Suzuki Loom Works in the Japanese coastal village of Hamamatsu. That business did well because of the Japanese silk weaving industry. Michio invented a new type of weaving device in 1929, which did exceptionally well, and was exported worldwide. His inventiveness didn’t stop there. In 1952 the so-called “Power Free” bike appeared with a 36 cc two-stroke engine and its ingenious double-sprocket gearing. You could pedal it with the assistance of the 1 HP engine; you could use the engine alone, or use only the pedals! This amazing little “Power Free” was the ancestor of the superb Hayabusa, the GSX-1300R, with her top speed of 190 mph.
There were also two fine Hondas in the line-up, between the BMW and the Suzuki.
In the late 1940s, Soichiro Honda began by manufacturing piston rings and then turned to motorcycles. In 1949 it brought out the Model D, a two-stroke 98 cc. When one member of staff watched it being ridden outside the factory, he said, “It’s like a dream!” And that’s how it became known as the “Dream” model. In 1951, Honda brought out the 146 cc with a four-stroke engine. This model was the “Dream E”. In 1974, the first Goldwing, the GL 1000 appeared. In 2007, Honda manufactured the very first motorcycle with air bag crash protection.
This Month’s Charity
The National Association of Bikers with a Disability (NABD)
http://www.nabd.org.uk Charity No. 1040907, is well worth supporting.