At 17, in the deepest darkest Cornwall, social responsibility didn’t really enter my silly little head. Having written and sold my first computer program, I dropped out of college in favour of work in an electrical shop, money, mates and motorbikes. There may have been a girl involved too.
A mate loaned me his Honda XL 125 for a while as he was working away in London. I chipped away at learning to ride it in the local car park. Trying to figure out why the front wheel always ended up in the air when I pulled away. I soon learnt how to be a little more gentle with the throttle.
Then my boss loaned me a 250 Superdream. He didn’t think to ask if I had a licence. I didn’t give it a great deal of thought either. It was a bit bulky for my gangly young form and was a sluggish beast two up with my girlfriend riding pillion. But it did the job and took us all over exploring. I was in love, in the ways only your first love could ever be. With her and with riding bikes.
The death knell to the Superdream was my elder brother and his Maico 440 motorcrosser. He used it to get around despite having no number plate and no lights. And by god it was loud. Like wake up the entire street loud! One late night, he needed to take it to a mates garage, of course I used the Superdream to illuminate the way. The locals complained about the noise and the finger of accusation went to my boss. And was redirected to me. That was the end of the Superdream. I was lost without my only means of getting around. And the public transport consisted of a bus that passed through before 9am and again around 5pm. My brother got himself a 12v torch, taped to his front mudguard to light his way.
Short of cash, I bought a Yamaha. An RD 200. This was just before the era of liquid cooled power valves. The Yam was an air cooled two stroke twin, it came as a bare frame and all the rest of the bits in a packing crate. I had very little mechanical skills, though fortunately a mate offered to build it for me. Result! It took about a month though and I was gagging to be back on the road.
When the day finally came to take it on its virgin voyage, I couldn’t keep the front wheel down on the ground. Or the wonky grin off my face. It still wasn’t really ready for the road though. I listened attentively to the advice of not riding it on the road until we had a few more bits. And then promptly ignored them. The lack of baffles meant the straight through twin exhausts were a touch loud. The noise was usually accompanied with more stupid grinning.
My first accident was on that bike. Surprisingly, it wasn’t entirely my fault. Other than the fact that it wasn’t ready to ride, the throttle stuck, while I was “testing it” on gravel. No kill switch or ignition and only a front break to halt my uncontrolled blast. It reached a point where my choice was to continue and end up going down the rapidly approaching slipway for a dip in the sea or squeeze the front brake lever and hope for the best. Both feet down, sliding, nope that didn’t help any, as I abruptly skidded and the bike flipped down onto it’s side. It was ok though. No major damage. I on the other hand, had a massive rip in my jeans and spent much of the rest of the day picking bits of gravel out of my knee.
A few of the locals weren’t happy either, so I did eventually see sense and ordered some baffles from a breakers yard, along with the parts needed to complete the rear brake assembly and a new ignition switch.
My second accident was all my fault. A late night, and a blast along country lanes to “clear my head”. I laid it down again. Gravel in the road and my ambitions to crank it over through a corner were more than the tyres could cope with. Ho hum. More time spent picking gravel out of my hand and knee.
So was I socially responsible? Well. I did respond to the complaints about the noise and quietened it down some. And I was courteous about it. I had learnt that much from my parents. Riding though, having a blast through corners, was something that got under my skin much more than any road rash did. It became a part of me. Even in those years spent raising kids of my own, that need for speed never really went away. I did become more responsible and also more aware of my own mortality.
And I am very thankful that my own sons have more sense than I displayed in my teens.