1976 - part 2 (Machines, machines ...)

"... On those nights the air tantalises
with its nameless promises ..."

Nigel, Paul, Les, Kym, Dave B, Dave S, Jackie, Michelle, Maria (Misty), Penny, Helen

The larger machines brought with them increased stability, far superior braking (trying to brake a light-weight at speed you lost traction too soon, the heavier machines added some decent down-forces to the equation - far more bikers were killed on fast 250's than anything else in the 70's and early 80’s) but much more importantly - you didn't NEED to ride so fast on a machine that was OBVIOUSLY very fast. I guess it's a man thing.

Footpegs on these brutes were shaved down the edges by friction with the tarmac - heeling over at night, exposing acres of exhaust plumbing - the footpegs are the first items to ground-out, sending showers of sparks across the carriageway.

On those nights the air tantalises with its nameless promises, and the nearness of the Purbecks, and unlit highways beckon – the round-harbour run is about as much as you need for a minor home-time diversion between, say, the town centre and, er… Moordown. Believe me, these machines were time machines – something you’d never consider in four wheels– through mileage or time, becomes nothing – absolutely nothing, to a time-machine, a mere 20 minutes added to your journey.

So how do you stay alive on a vehicle capable of shifting from standstill to 80mph in less than four seconds? To be in your mid-to-late twenties aboard something that out-accelerates a Ferrari, with precious little protection and even less experience? Unless you’re blessed with unbelievable luck, you will almost certainly die.


This is for highly illegal antics, not for pottering along in the traffic, or the occasional blind ‘though the middle’ stuff we all witness daily; this was the searing, weaving, screamingly accelerated time-shift biking that has all but left our roads today through cameras – but more, sheer volume of vehicles on our roads.

You evolve a multi-split focus, encompassing literally scores of constantly shifting variables:

(1) Foreground/split: Road-surface, engine noise, gear, tyre condition.
(2) Mid-ground: to say, 800m, immediate traffic (including intensely specific vehicle situation four-to-five cars ahead – if a vehicle so much as twitches a millimetre – four cars ahead – you’re alert), side-roads, pedestrians, surface condition changes, manhole covers, police.
(3) 800m to infinity – brake lights half a mile away (at these speeds you’ll BE THERE in a few seconds), bends, patterns of spacing (vehicles) proximity of side-road entrances, locality, police possibility (parked patrols), fast cars that might take-up the chase, weather. And, of course – alongside all this – the FEEL of your mount - its merest glimmer of oddity transmitting itself back to you as a full-scale emergency.

My God, you even get to recognise driving patterns from the time of day (evenings, older or customised vehicles – younger drivers = alcohol), day of the week (weekend drivers don’t possess the ‘flow experience’ of business day traffic and panic more quickly), locality (is this location known? Do the inhabitants expect traffic at this speed? Where are the local dangers?), type and age of vehicle (this always signifies the probable mindset of the driver), age/sex of driver (the females can be more aggressive – yet less skilled at keeping to lanes, judging braking distances) the males will ‘have a go’ but give-up sooner.
Road markings and signs don’t count (you can’t afford to see them at this speed) – it’s the curves and cambers that affect you, and TIMING. Those lights coming-up toward you (you’re on their side of the road), and THAT GAP 600 metres-up – calculations rip through your subconscious, as the wind tears at your visor, a ceaseless symphony of rising and falling notes against the tinted perspex.

The machine answers, four carbs suck in gaping lungfuls of air to mix with your fuel and four tailpipes howl in complaint, tyres scuffing in momentary blindness though a hasty shift-down or chain-lag causing a transitory rev-drift at a hasty shift-up. Sheer brutal pressure, as real as a dozen hands pummelling your chest as the beast accelerates through its own power-band, the scenery blurring, the wind now purely that of your own head-stream – you’ve entered the realms of time-shifter, everything a fraction lighter, now is mere light, shape and effortless motion. A gentle lean left – and a mile of tarmac vanishes – a lean right – and you’re starting to brake for the next village, half-a-mile,17 seconds of blurred light away, swinging with an almost audible THUMP back into focus as the machine lands back into real friction, real wind, the real world.

1976 and all that ...

"... shrieks and hoops of the riders
barely penetrating the engine noise ..."

Nigel, Paul, Les, Kym, Dave B, Dave S, Jackie, Michelle, Maria (Misty), Penny

1975 onwards....
Tuesday nights downstairs at 'Longs' in Old Christchurch Road ... the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Thin Lizzy - at times you actually had to listen, and further-up the same road, later that decade a Cafe appeared - 'Chimneys' projecting B&W movies on the walls as we supped our early-hours coffees. Meeting times for this place always around midnight ie: after our respective evenings and outside, often the focus - The Bikes sat gleaming.

A hybrid bunch - not always content with the one identity, some of us closely shaved, elegant shirts, trousers and packed cigarette cases under the studded denim, leather and doss-rag; we'd use B'mth's discos (The Other Place, Bumbles, earlier on ... Chelsea Village, Maison Royale, Enfer) as much as the Biker bars, returning to the machinery in the early hours, sated by some female student's strawberry flavoured lipstick.

Some Saturday nights were truly amazing. On that millionaire peninsular now traded exclusively by either Estate Agents or Cafe Bars for the seriously heeled, the Haven Hotel once housed The Thumbscrew Bar - all decorative splendor playing host to the boys and girls who dared be there. 11pm - or nearer half-past - twenty + machines would fire-up and hurtle back along Panorama road. Alcohol-fuelled, the stunts down that glorious piece of tarmac defied gravity...sheer pace or unbelievable acceleration melded into a blur of streaming lights, riders only identifiable by the stud-patterns on their backs. These were very early days, we had to be content with our CB & CD 175's, GS250's, (I can't bring myself to mention the Fantic125 Chopper - surely the most ludicrous 55mph ever achieved) - one of the pack owned the first 100mph 250, the Kawasaki H250 'Hustler' - as skittish and unpredictable as the owner always seemed to be. On rare nights a huge black quad-potted beast would join the pack, four chromed tail-pipes shouting its superiority - the impossibly romantic Z900, the King. From Haven Point to Westover Road, B'mth (using the Westcliffe bends, of course) - about 5 miles of utter mayhem, shrieks and hoops of the riders barely penetrating the engine noise, then stacking the machines outside one of the cinemas - ready for the late showing of whatever. Saturday Nights!

Weekdays it had to be The (as was) Pinecliffe in Southbourne, a rock venue from the dawn of time, favourites for most: 'Freshly Laid', yet for me the sublime 'Gringo' fused Latin Rhythms with searing, soaring rock riffs (a la Santana - yet far more approachable ) long before we started to hear the mess that passes for the same this century.
Further afield The Alice Lisle, The Rising Sun, and in Everton a pub reached by surely one of the best pieces of road ever Biked at Midnight. - Now altered, smoothed-out and dumbed-down, the route from Everton back to Bournemouth - through Barton, Highcliffe, Mudeford, Southbourne - at first requiring intense concentration, reducing into a rolling motion lasting all the remaining miles, ' seemed like your steed would find the way should you not be able to.

In '76 both 'Hotel California' and 'A Night at the Opera' were released, confirming to us our choices - speaking to us as surely as if we'd penned the lyrics ourselves on the shores of Poole Harbour. We rented our own Hotel California - a ground-floor flat in a vast old mansion that used to occupy No.10 The Avenue, Branksome. A mesh screen door separated the immense lounge from the grounds, the bikes housed two-hundred metres away in garages on the very periphery of the gardens. Living the dream, this launching-pad toward experience was the backdrop for our emerging styles, our differences, our loves and our passing out of late teenage.

We evolved. GT380's,CB500's, GS750's - safer through their weight, and older pilots..................