I know when she’s gonna break down as she makes more funny noses than usual

Anonymous Triumph rider on The Motorcycle Show.

I love my 535 and all her temperamental behavior. I usually have an idea of what’s up with her, it’s usually one of many things that just got worse than the others. She’s not even that old, born in 1992. I might take her somewhere nice for an extensive service when her 21st birthday comes around. I don’t know how I’d cope with a vehicle where you couldn’t hear and feel everything the engine was doing.


Rain and fenders


The fender extension I eventually fitted after much wrestling with the bike.

I suspect that I have done more miles in the wet than in the dry. I usually ride in waterproof textiles (nylon with a goretex/shelltex/other brand of similar membrane style waterproofing) so I stay quite dry. Leather with emergency waterproofs is an option but that tends to get sweaty inside and is a lot of messing around. I took my old 125 for trade in and came back with the 535 during an almighty deluge that flooded roads, and I found out the hard way that hitting a flooded road too fast causes the water to go underneath the wateproof jacket, and soak down inside trousers and run down the jacket into the gloves. Hideous. But that was the only time I’ve been really wet since I got decent waterproofs, so the rain doesn’t keep me off the roads, but it goes without saying I’m very careful not to fall afoul of the conditions.

The 535, however, has a hard time if it is really wet. The ignition coils live just above the front cylinder head, allegedly protected from the elements by a little plastic cover. Running in a deluge will eventually cause the bike to misfire and eventually stop, and as soon as this sets in the remedy is to stop, take the cover off and blast the area with WD40. It’s then a case of cleaning hands and riding on. I don’t go anywhere without a little can of WD40.


The neatly hammerited underside of the fender is only really visible off the bike.

I bought a fender extention as an attempt to sort this out. Allegedly dead easy to fit. Remove fender, stick in place with foam tape, drill and screw into place, reattach fender. Not quite so simple, first one of the fender bolts was rounded off, eventually shifted it with mole grips, found a replacement bolt of the same thread and cut it down to length. Then I saw the inside of the fender. There was a strip almost all the way along the middle of it where the paint had been abraded away, presumably by the action of gritty water being thrown at it. I decided to attack it with Hammerite. It’s not a place that is easily visible, so a good thick layer of tough paint is just the thing.


The connection between the coils and the wiring loom was a mess.

Waiting for the paint to dry, I thought I’d take a look at the low voltage side of the ignition coils, I’d replaced the coils, HT leads and plug boots a few months ago, which improved wet running marginally, but this part of the wiring loom was a state. Fortunately it’s all spade connectors.


A dirty corroded mess so I made new leads, didn’t take to long. I sprayed everything with Holts Damp Start which is a water repellent lacquer. Hopefully this will add some additional protection. Only time will tell.


Once removed from the plastic plug, the corroded state of the spade connectors can be seen.

The next morning the two coats of hammerite had dried enough to attach the fender extension, which was duly stuck in place, pilot holes drilled, and then I noticed that the provided screws stuck out so far as to present a hazard to the tyre, so out they came. Tried filing them down, getting nowhere fast, tried the dremel, tried the hacksaw but couldn’t hold them well enough. Eventually used a small set of bolt cutters, not strong enough to use in my hand, so covered jaws with a rag to stop parts flying across the room,and stood on them. Crack. Worked amazingly well, tidied screws up with a file and put them back in. By the time I was done and had tools away I forgot to take a photo, and didn’t do so until a month later.

Granted I got the camera out at first to keep track of the wiring I was redoing, but that’s not the point. Collapsed in a heap for a bit, had a coffee, swore my way into my kit and pointed the bike in the general direction of the two-footed love of my life. Didn’t move the next day until mid afternoon. Nearly missed my best friend’s birthday do. Got there just in time after a spirited dash across the back roads. Rest of the week has been a bit of a write-off.


Are you biker Stig?

/me folds arms and stares through tinted visor

Yes I was asked that, by a child, in the Recycling Centre (i.e. dump) of all places, as I neatly parked the bike, opened the top box and set about disposing of the various bits of small electronics goods that the WEEE Directive says I can’t throw in the bin.

I think it illustrates perfectly the way that doing everything by bike or not at all seems to perplex those who see bikes as toys for rich people or outlaws. Don’t have a car, a permit is required for pedestrian access to the recycling centre a hundred yards from my house, and some days I can’t walk that far. Certainly not comfortably carry the amassed collection of broken tech and dead batteries that far.

All that remains is navigating the vicious speed humps that seem designed to cause an accident or otherwise deter anyone owning a vehicle with low ground clearance from recycling. Because range rovers are really environmentally friendly. But then if it was actually about saving the environment, perhaps it would be easier for those who can walk to take their refuse there rather than leaving it festering in piles nearby.

Does it hurt?


But less than walking. Less than taking the bus. And everything is going to hurt at some time or another so avoiding it because it hurts a bit seems ridiculous. Agony means time to stop or don’t start.When it doesn’t hurt much, then it’s time to go places and get things done.

Painkillers are something of a bad joke. Aside from when I have damaged myself in a new and temporary way they are a waste of time. Anything strong enough to stop things hurting means that my judgement is probably lacking. If it hurts too much do do something, It’s only going to hurt more if I find a way of ignoring it and doing that something.

That seat is a nice big soft chunk of foam that hugs my arse. I’ve got some bars to hold onto to keep my back in a nice position and a fuel tank to wrap my thighs around. There’s not a lot of weight on my wrists as I lean forward, as my lean mostly balances out the force of the wind on my chest. The whole thing vibrates like a massage chair, the 535 mostly at a fairly low amplitude throb. It’s quite nice. The 125s used to feel a little tingly if riding like I mean it, which on a 125 means pretty much all the time.

I started getting some major wrist pain on the second Suzuki GZ I owned, as it spent a lot of it’s time at Wide Open Throttle (WOT). This used to entail my forearm being horizontal and the back of my hand being pulled back nearly vertical. Not a particularly comfortable position. I got around this by swapping the throttle tube for a Yamaha one that had a larger diameter cam, which reduced the amount of twist to WOT, needed to be a tiny bit more sensitive with it, but I only had 12 horses to play with, which was hardly a bestial amount of power.

I’ve already mentioned aches with prolonged low speed manoeuvres in a previous article. It was the major killer doing my basic training, which I split over several sessions as I knew from the start that I wasn’t up for a 7 hour training day. It was annoying again during my mod 1 training and my incessant U-turn practice. Cruiser style bikes are well adapted to me, but their long wheelbase means the allowed space for a U-turn is very close to their minimum turning radius. Now I’ve passed all the tests I’ll ever need, it’s not something I do, getting lost is a rare event, and when I do need to turn around, it’s usually somewhere where a U-turn is inappropriate. Heavy traffic is something I meet from time to time and I hate it to the point of preferring to stop, in a McDonald’s if it’s the only dry place with coffee,  rather than soldier on through it, although it is nice to be able to filter through really slow traffic.

A long journey can leave me quite stiff from being in the same position for a long time. Getting off the the bike afterwards, that can hurt. Being in a different position having gotten used to that one, that can hurt. Have been known to find a bench, sit astride it, elbows on knees, leant slightly forward and find it stops hurting.

Cold hands. I don’t think anything is worse as hands stop functioning if they are very cold, and it’s a sign that the rest of you is pretty cold too. It’s a generic biker issue and I don’t think I get this any worse than anyone else. It was particularly bad getting to and from the test centres in Scunthorpe (mod 1, rain) and York (mod 2, damned cold). Winter grade gloves are obviously better than summer gloves, and it helps if the rest of your kit is warm and waterproof. Mine is all pretty good now as I like staying warm and dry. Came back from my mother’s once in jeans in the rain. Had waterproof (and armoured) trousers the next time I rode. I have a heated waistcoat somewhere. Used it occasionally on my 125. The 535 has an electrical system powerful enough to run heated grips. They are awesome in winter, turned all the way up the bars are too hot to hold. A big air cooled engine doesn’t let anywhere else get that cold, the rear cylinder head is just in front of my seat, so the insides and underneath of my thighs stay warm. I had to make a small heel guard to keep my left boot on the peg so I didn’t destroy the boot on the engine casing. The 535 has one on the right but not on the left. Sat at a level crossing with the engine off, i’ll warm my gloved hands on the engine if it’s a really cold day. On a really hot day, I’ll put the sidestand down and get off the bike before I bake. Summer cooling is mostly go faster and undo more vent zips. 60mph can be quite cold on a hot day if all the vents are open.

Importantly it hurts physically long before I’m mentally tired. If I can get on the bike and get it onto a road without severe discomfort, I’m likely to be in a fit state to ride. It’s something of an expectation that one doesn’t ride unless well rested. I’m fairly sure the same is not true for driving cars. It appears to be quite accepted and often encouraged that I use roadside cafes for a rest as much as for a snack, and most of the friends I vist by bike accept that there is a chance of me overnighting. I was afraid at one point that I might have upset some friends by not staying the night because I felt like riding. I explained later that it meant more to me to know how comfortably I could day trip to theirs.

Working on the bike. That really hurts. Not so much wrenching stuff as leaning over parts of the bike fiddling. It’s ok if I can sit or lie down and work beside the bike, electrical gremlins under the seat are really annoying and a recipe for backache. I don’t do all the work on the bike myself, but small jobs that can be left halfway through and don’t require any great feats of strength will usually be done by me. Loads of electrical gremlins on the 535 that mostly require a bit of patience and logic.

I am a masochist

Don’t you have to be really strong to ride a bike?


Unless you do dangle yourself off the bike like the MotoGP rider you wish you were, or have a massively overpowered bike and no throttle control. Steering takes a really gentle push on the bars in the opposite direction to the direction of turn, and the lean of the bike does the rest. I have never had a wrestling with the bars experience on a road bike. It’s a bit different off road, particularly at low speed.  Braking requires a controlled grip, occasionally quite firm, but infrequently. I don’t think I’ve ever problems with my right hand from braking. My back brake is a drum type, and it’s fairly easy to stand on if required.

That leaves the gears, selection is foot operated and reasonably light touch is all it takes, clutch is hand operated, and not a particularly hard squeeze, but motorcycle drive trains aren’t like cars, neutral is a pain to find on a sequential box, so the bike stays in gear unless it’s being stopped or started. The clutch is (usually) a wet multi-plate designed for controlled slip, slow speed manoeuvres (like crawling along at walking pace) require the engine be kept spinning quickly (for gyroscopic stability and increased torque) and the road speed be controlled by slipping the clutch. Long periods of heavy traffic or low speed manoeuvre training will cause the muscles in my left forearm to ache something horrible. Taking breaks when required and avoiding heavy traffic can mitigate this a lot.

It helps if you have the strength to pick one up if you drop it, but picking up a bike is fairly easy if you you know how, even if it’s 350kg or more of overweight american icon. Backing a bike up a hill is an arse, and you quickly learn to not get into the kind of situations one needs to back out of. Parking wise it’s a ton easier to back down a slope and ride out, or ride up a slope and back out, or find somewhere level to park. If the bike’s broken down then the RAC exist so pushing bikes doesn’t need to happen.

Lifting my luggage onto the bike, that’s probably the biggest feat of strength I perform, followed by getting my leg over the bike. If those look like a problem, I don’t ride.

Working on the bike is a different matter. Some bits of wrenchin’ require a feat of strength to assemble or disassemble a part, or serious application of cunning. I prefer the latter, picking the right size spanner, using my weight rather then my strength (especially with bolt cutters) and improvising with the available tools. Doing the fork seals, it was apparent that neither I nor my mechanic were strong enough to compress the springs whilst the other pried out the retaining ring, so ratchet strap was used.

Of course every biker would like you to think that he or she is the toughest thing around, and Not To Be Messed With, so few will admit this, and most will suddenly find superhuman strength in order to protect their two wheeled life partner.


How it all began

I thought I would start keeping a record of my experiences riding bikes. I encounter so much ignorance about what it takes to ride and how it effects me that I am going to set the record straight.

First up I have ME, Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, often called Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. It can be horribly painful and is quite capable of immobilising me if I let it. “It’s like flu” or “So you’re tired all the time” don’t come close. There are days when walking to the shop for some milk leaves me so achey nothing else gets done.

Getting around is a serious problem, the amount of walking and standing around involved in getting a bus or a train means I am frequently exhausted by the time I get to my destination, then I have to return when the timetable says so. Or not if the bus or train is somehow late or non-existent. Moving a week’s shopping is a nightmare.

In the summer of 2011 I decided to take my compulsory basic training (CBT) and get about on my own power. I had enough money to buy and insure a bike and for the basic training. A car was right out of the question, maintenance costs, insurance cots, and driving lesson costs all too high. Two years down the line I have one of the last licences isued with a 33bhp restriction for the first 2 years, and have owned 3 bikes, my current ride is an old Japanese V-twin, passed my test on the second 125 having written the first one off.

But I have my independence.