It’s Sunday morning. Outside the sun is shining, and I can hear groups of bikes moving west on the highway on the first leg of whatever recreational loop they’re taking. I won’t be joining them. I haven’t been out for a few Sundays now, and I can’t quite see one in the near future.
But if I didn’t get any more Sunday rides I’d have no cause for complaint. Recently I wrote elsewhere about the first I can remember, on an 80cc Suzuki through a bitter English winter’s morning to my first race meeting, at Mallory Park – and that was a few months short of a half a century ago.
As a kid, I made my way up the capacity scale gradually, via the inevitable 250cc two-strokes. I made a wrong turn when I bought a CB400F Honda rather than an RD400 Yamaha, but by then it was too late to worry about it; I had a job on AMCN and the world was full of open-class bikes. After a brief apprenticeship on the office Z650 Kawasaki, life was about Suzuki GSX1100s and GPz1100s, then Honda CB1100Rs. I didn’t enjoy struggling with quarter-ton deadweight 1100s, but soon the Yamaha RD350LC came along and suddenly everyone was smiling again.
There were plenty of arresting headlines coming from the racetrack. We were by then deep into the American era that began with Kenny Roberts and ended with Kevin Schwantz. It was a shame Australian domestic competition went into decline soon after. Anyone around during the early 1980s, with the Australian calendar was packed from one end to the other with Production racing, Superbikes, the ARRC and Bathurst, will be unlikely to forget it.
There’s not much left of all that now, but hats off to the FIM for taking the bold decision to replace 500cc GP two-strokes with 1000cc four-strokes to revive GP racing. I don’t think anyone could quibble about the quality of grand prix these days, even if we seem to have exchanged the traditional breed of racing hard men for 20-year-old flyweights who might look happier racing horses.
I left full-time bike journalism towards the end of Mick Doohan’s reign and my bank balance has since reaped the benefit, even if I haven’t had quite so much fun. In my day bike magazines had a tendency to be run on squeaky-tight budgets; the enthusiasm of its staff was always a vital if unquantified factor on the balance sheet. And that’s okay for a while. You can do 15-hour deadline days, for years if need be, and only become aware of a developing problem when you begin sleeping for whole days afterwards or become unaccountably cranky when the telephone rings.
It’s time to go when that happens, or at least take a step back and let the next generation get on with it while you try to work out what it means to be described as a ‘veteran journalist’. True, in some ways journalism has been a natural fit for me: I like getting to the bottom of things, to paint as full a picture as possible, even if I’ve never been much good at getting into the face of a complete stranger and demanding his story then and there, regardless of circumstances.
At the end of this career, like so many others, it’s about the memories, the good people, the great times – and the bikes that made the headlines: the Ducati 916, those hysterical LC Yamahas; and for me, my old steel-framed CBR600R and that little MuZ I was so fond of. The people: Mike Esdaile, Fraser Stronach, Paul Sattler, Mike Hanlon, Jamie McIlwraith, Jeff Fereday, Peter Smith, Jeremy, and, of course, Nigel at Cycle Torque, who had an idea a few years back about a free magazine – and we all know how that turned out.
I’ve been in bike journalism for 36 years, with Cycle Torque for around half that time. By my count this is column number 213, and that’s more than enough. It’s been fun and great to have you along for the ride; but it’s high time someone else had a go. As for me, I’ve still got my Triumph, so I’ll see you on the road. Probably on a fine Sunday morning such as this.