I slipped, last night, into a parallel universe. It was so good, I went back for some more today.
Back in 2010, about a year ago, I met a man in motorway car park. He was a little younger than me and was riding a BMW GS of some kind. He wore textile suit, had GPS mounted on the bars and blue tooth everything, everywhere.
In short, he looked like a thoroughly zipped up modern motorcyclist.
Naturally I was wearing black leather and a ripped T-shirt, the epitome of a hardass ageing rocker.
We made conversation about his bike; it transpired he used to ride a Harley, but now he was made new and reconfigured as an Adventure Rider.
I woke, a year later, at 6 a.m. Eyes wide open. Fingers tapping a happy tune as I smiled at the ceiling
An hour later, exhausted by happy tunes and bored witless by repeated news stories on BBC I got up, made tea, and got on with day.
But this day, January 3rd 2012, was THE DAY.
Motorcycle Collection Day.
Over previous months, and with increasing fanaticism fervour fever interest I had joined half a dozen web forums, read every feedback and review and complaint written over the last 2 years. A two foot stack of motorcycle magazines grew at the side of my bed.
The choice of The Chosen One didn’t take that long. After a mere 6 month’s intensive obsessional daily research a bike was located, negotiated and paid for.
But hear this and raise your hands to heaven my equally obsessive friends – I bought the bike before Christmas. And 10 days later it was still unseen.
There was relief during the Christmas break. My wife bought me a Belstaff technical textile suit (note how my language is moving away from leather) as a present. My daughter and her fiancée had matching monkey suits. How fine we all looked dressing up on Christmas day.
I sat on my other motorcycle wearing technical kit and shouted Vroom Vroom, but it wasn’t the same. The Victory is a different lifestyle – black leather, guts and glory.
I had arranged, for January 3rd, to pick up the bike between 11.00 and 12.00. According to Google maps the journey time by car to Wareham, Dorset was 1 hour 55 minutes. We would need to leave at 09.35 at the latest to arrive at 11.30.
Only the true obsessive will understand the act of supreme control exercised when, sitting in the passenger seat of my wife’s car at 09.47 I was told that we would have to get petrol first. Why hadn’t this been done the night before? Maybe get the bloody car serviced and change the tyres all round before we go? Stop at Mc Donald’s for a sausage egg McMuffin. A what??? I sat smiling, nodding, teeth gritted.
Training paid off, slow down, think calm thoughts. I even paid for the petrol and whilst there bought a motorcycle newspaper to get me through the next 2 hours.
A calm of sorts descended until my mobile phone rang. “Unknown number” said the dial. I knew immediately it was a client, and I knew, because it said “Unknown” exactly who the client was.
He was having a problem. He did not know of my problem, which was much greater than his. My problem was that he was calling me on Motorcycle Collection Day when I was actually on The Journey. I solved the problem with two international and one domestic phone call and reverted to reading. I was using controlled breathing by now: calm, breathe, calm, breathe. If she noticed, my wife said nothing.
We were lost, five hundred yards from my goal. I had no GPS or map. I was relying on Google on my phone. Unreliable postcodes and policeman were consulted. Hither, thither and more hither.
Finally, 11.58 am. Dorset Bikes.
I stepped inside the store, stopped and all but fell to my knees. Huge. Black. Shiny.
Two thousand hours of research and here I stood at the beginning of a brand new rainbow.
Into the silence of my deep and profound contemplation noise entered.
The owner of Dorset Bikes, veteran biker and all round wizard Ivan brought me gently back and connected me to Earth, 2012.
A cup of tea in my hand, I sat at his desk, papers to sign. My wife, unaffected by this display of unworldly goings on, smiled and sipped her tea too. She patted the Stelvio’s seat as one might gentle a horse.
But Ivan wasn’t finished with me yet.
He’d magicked up and fitted a pair of HID headlights. Lights on. Engine on. Vroom. Like a two wheeled celestial chariot the Stelvio shone, quivered and snorted bass power. (Ooops, slipped into biker porn for a moment)
The engine turned off, I approached the beast nervously. Nervous because the seat is about a yard high and I have the legs of a short rhinoceros.
With both hands gripping my thigh firmly I swung it over the saddle, slid forward and tilted the two hundred and eighty kilos upright as I went. Toes scrabbling for purchase on the road I managed to stablise myself and the machine.
Sean, Ivan’s outstanding mechanical genius, gave me a fifteen second briefing on how to turn on the heated handgrips and switch between menus on the onboard computer and that was it.
Switch on, lights on, engine on, in gear, moving, feet up, moving, gear up, turn right, turn right, gear up, feed a little more power. Hmmm. I can see over these cars. Slowing at roundabout, slide forward on seat, gear down, down, clutch in, toes on ground. Hmmm, ok. I can do this...
Weather window closing, head for home.
Gaining confidence, I was following my wife’s car at around 80 mph on the motorway but the bike seemed reluctant to advance any faster. I wondered if this was the infamous flat spot. Meantime I was running low on petrol so I overtook said wife, indicated and pulled into the service area to fill up.
My wife agreed it was not worth waiting and carried on ahead. I filled up – still trying to get used to digital petrol gauge – paid and set off.
As I pulled out of the services the bike started to cough and wouldn’t respond to the throttle. I tried each gear and various levels of acceleration but it just got worse. After 4 or 5 miles I pulled over and called Ivan who put me on to Sean. Sean said the only thing he could think of was that the petrol had dirt in it – but asked if could I get it back to the shop?
I was almost exactly midway in the journey. Go forward to home was 60 miles and would then mean getting 120 miles back at some future date, or get another 120 miles under my belt today. No contest!
I set off with the bike coughing and accelerating and slowing independent of anything I did with the throttle. This made riding very hard. I slowed down going up hills, but if I didn’t overtake I would slow down even more. When I did overtake I didn’t know if the revs would stay high enough to get past. It was a challenging 60 miles but I arrived safely back at Dorset Bikes
Sean jumped on the Stelvio, rode half a mile and brought it back to the shop. He checked both plugs, discarded one and replaced it and the HT lead for good measure. He took it out to test and came back in 10 minutes.
“What speed did you get up to?” he asked me with a grin. I told him, about 80.
“Hmm, who did this then?” he continued with a smile. There on the trip recorder it showed XXX mph (Numbers withheld to protect against prosecution)
Excellent ! Sean took another 10 minutes to balance the carbs and I was up and away.
The parallel universe.
I wound again through the village roads, the dual carriageway and finally the motorway – same roads, different experience.
It was raining now. Pouring. But the bike was perfectly balanced and held a line at 2 mph or 60mph through bends. I noticed not the rain - I had a windscreen (and wore Belstaff technical jacket and pants) The rain did not touch me – it simply shone like a million diamonds as the HID lights cleaved a path through the traffic. A glorious throaty roar developed as the vTwin sang - and to my astonishment the speed gauge showed 3 digits.
My world had changed, I had slipped into a Parallel Universe of effortless travel. My first experience of a windshield - no wind tearing arms out of sockets. Smooth power – not arm wrenching like my Vmax, just on and ever on… I could even hear opera playing from my Bluetooth helmet at high speed.
The journey home was far too quick. And having arrived, I was not allowed out again that night.
But the following day, the next horizon beckoned…
I have another 138 countries to visit.
Maybe not all in 2012, but I will try to visit some more.
I have not ridden enough miles on motorcycles.
There is always a new horizon.