While sympathising no end with Bro. Smith's approach to deadline pressure, Random Lines’ preferred approach to the same dilemma is to fire up the bike and to ride as far as possible away from the typewriter.
I've found time and again that in the absence of writerly inspiration, a good blast on the bike provides at least a reminder of what the typewriter is there to muse upon, and often the exercise throws up a lot more. There's nothing like a scorch along a racer road to blow out the cobwebs, and rare is the occasion that a bike ride fails to illuminate some fragment of Motorcycling/Life's Rich & Varied which can't be exaggerated into a halfreadable column.
Random Lines needs that regular dose of road food as well as its random assorted deskbound stimulants (all donations promptly and gratefully consumed) to keep its divergent stream flowing from the right place instead of pissing in the wind.
As a matter of fact, that's what I've been up to today – enjoying a hearty thrash along the Great Ocean Road's edited highlights together with two companions. Despite a persistent ringing in the ears and a numbness about the head after a day inside the helmet and out of it, a euphoria burns within. For today the improbable scenario of repeatedly wasting a Ducati V-twin aboard a manic MZ 250 unveiled itself before my very eyes. In fact I feel like I've just won my first GP. Where's the champagne?
What do you mean you don't believe me! It happened, I tell you!
This Day of Days began with the aim of trying out T's new toy, a 450 single Ducati trail bike which he's transformed from crash case minus front end to bizarre enigma sporting a Pantah front end with twin Brembos and an 18-inch spoke wheel (Guzzi hub), sticky Phantoms, and 12-volt electrics.
Having jostled the bike down two flights of stairs from the flat where T had thoughtfully chosen to do the rebuild, we turned to the elaborate ritual of starting the thing. T was already suffering a sore ankle after the big single turned on him during a futile attempt to kickstart it up in the flat, so I scored the job of pushing.
Success! I caught my breath as T blasted the Dunstall-piped single up and down the street (a dubious exercise seeing as the bike was unregistered and the local police station was a couple of doors away).
Anyway, in the space of ten minutes the lusty single managed to shake loose six bolts from their lodgings, of which we could find only three. About this time Fitzgibbon arrived on his Z500 Kawasaki, and T decided to take the 860 for a ride, leaving the 450's GOR debut until later when it was known to be more intact.
The monotonous road to Geelong was . . . monotonous. Kilometre after kilometre clicked slowly by. A tough headwind required a down-on-the-tank-bag approach to MZ progress. I stuck behind a 120 kmh semi for a while, till a strong gust dumped a shower of organic fertiliser upon me.
Fitzgibbon's riding style at least provided me with an amusing diversion during the highway slog. An irredeemable Pom, Fitzgibbon always seemed utterly terrified of enjoying himself in anything but the most awkward of circumstances – a condition typical among that nation of manic repressives and closet masochists. He rode sitting bolt upright with arms rigidly extended in a style I somehow associate with '50s BSAs, windshields, lap rugs, and pudding basin helmets.
Through the open sections at the start of the Great Ocean Road the going was still pretty relaxed (with the exception of Fitzgibbon, whose posture seemed to stiffen even more), but as tighter corners presented themselves I noticed a kind of itch in my throttle hand. It had been some time since my last blast on a real rider's road and I wanted to ease myself back into it, so I held behind the Duke and examined T's approach to things.
What I saw using most of the road ahead of me brought a nauseous gravity to my stomach and incited a riotous urge for underdog retribution. All the years I'd known T I'd had to suffer tiresome accounts of his Ducati exploits, but because I only had a 250 at my disposal I'd never suggested a ride since I figured the performance disparity between an MZ and a Ducati V-twin were far too great.
There was something gravely insensitive about T's cornering approach and general lack of smoothness, the sight of it was making me sick. Having established that any of several scenarios would allow me to ride the MZ past, under, around, through, or over this unsightly obstacle, I took the next opportunity to do so and worked away a healthy half kilometre buffer before backing off.
Allowing T to catch up, I held just enough ground ahead to let him suffer that feeling of being not quite close enough to pass. Hopefully all those disparaging remarks T had made over the years about my modest MZ would feed back in a tape loop inside his helmet, adding to the frustration!
Arriving at Lorne my companion was clearly shaken, proceeding to jabber on with nervous energy across any topic which came to mind, except for motorcycling and his humiliating defeat. I casually mentioned that the next section to Apollo Boy was what put the Great into Ocean Road, suggesting we ought to turn the wick up a bit to make the most of it. This must have had an unsettling effect, for T promptly disappeared into a bakery and consumed two pies and a sticky bun.
"Ducatis aren't built for this tight stuff", T remarked with a mouthful of cream bun. "Fast sweepers are what they're made for. Actually this front end just doesn't feel right. It seems it wants to skip all the time. The tyre pressures are probably all wrong". He let a bit of air out of the front tyre.
Fitzgibbon eventually appeared – as stiff as an English upper lip and as white as an English suntan. He appeared to have scared himself. "The bike didn't like the corners, he explained. "Damned thing wanted to go straight on."
After a smoke Fitzgibbon appeared to calm down and loosen up. Inspired by the scenery he took his Super Eight movie camera out of his Belstaff pocket and suggested shooting some road footage. Great, I thought – I'd often longed to put together a motorbike road movie, something that caught the feel of spearing through the Oz landscape, the verve and tenacity of racer-road cut-and-thrust, the loneliness of the long distance rider, the awesome presence of lean and hungry Ducatis chasing the sunset.
The grand vision of a stoic MZ carving through GOR wasn't quite what I’d had in mind, though I'd expect it'd have certain aesthetic appeal. The intrepid Fitzgibbon intended to shoot the footage with one hand and handle the throttle/brake with the other. All very well except that the Z500 had this minor affliction of popping out of gear without warning and losing all drive.
“Why not hop on the back of the MZ and we'll get some wonderful shots of passing the Ducati at 90 kmh round a 35 kmh cliff top corner, panning in to show that I still have an extra 1000 rpm left to go on the tacho,” I suggested. Fitzgibbon stiffened abruptly and turned a paler shade of white.
Under strict instructions to ride slowly so as to stay in frame, we set off ahead of Fitzgibbon's awkward struggle to shoot the Canon while gunning the Kawasaki. Showing innate understanding for that element of documentary truth that is inscribed on any piece of film, T bolted to the lead. I dawdled in front of the camera bike for a few corners, hoping not to forget my lines as Fitzgibbon captured my performance.
I got the sense that this was not quite the GP camera bike angle that I'd hoped for, so I made a special effort to poke my knee as close as possible to the ground while being careful not to tip the bike over through lack of speed. This approach, incidentally, is one I picked up doing photo sessions for test bikes in bike magazines. Anyway, I soon grew bored with this, but remembered to turn around and wave to Mum in case she was watching before exiting frame in search of the lost Ducati.
T must have either taken our earlier encounter to heart or else he'd picked up a bit of cornering technique by following the MZ. Whatever, he seemed to have improved his slack act and was beginning to give the 860 its head. Having at last caught him up, I found that following a Conti-ed Duke on song through the good bits of the Ocean Road could be an agreeable exercise after all. Bit by bit the agile two-stroke niggled away on the inside, on the outside, nipping alongside the Duke until seen and then easing back.
This activity had two desirable effects: firstly it began to increase speeds to true race pace, and secondly, partly as a result of the increased speed but also because of my niggling presence as if about to pass, I was able indirectly to steer T's efforts onto more or less the correct Ducati line. T must have sensed the difference a bit of smoothness could bring a to things for he began riding with increased speed, confidence, and style, both setting up and getting through corners more effectively.
Soon enough I figured it was time to move and sailed past on the outside as T dabbed the brakes into a tight, blind, downhilI bend. For a moment this felt like a very Sarron type of gesture, except I stayed on the bike. Happily, T managed to stay more or less in contact with the Zinger in flight, so I'm sure once the 450 is happening then forays together to GOR, Reefton Spur, or Gippsland rider roads could become a regular and enjoyable thing. On the return run I rode at Volkswagen pace with Fitzgibbon for a while and even he was loosening up towards the end of it – albeit with a degree of caution unheard of in this country.
This was the first time I'd run the Zinger on the GOR, and on the ride back I couldn't help thinking about the joys of small-capacity motorcycling. You have to really ride to keep a 250 motoring; there's simply no room for slackness, but a rider's input and concentration is rewarded by a sense of directness in the riding process that is so often missing aboard a more flexible, forgiving, and powerful bike. The trade-off is of course in outright performance, but what you lose there you pick up in life expectancy.
For all the joys of wringing the goods from my past Ducatis and big performance testbikes, perhaps my favourite all-time ride was a race along GOR from Port Campbell back to Geelong with fellow bikescribe Grant Roff. I was on a CB250N of all things, and Groff had a GSX250. Each of us was pretty evenly matched both with machinery and in our capacity for inspired lunacy on two wheels given the right circumstances. Anyway, the point was that The Ride transcended the rather pedestrian means.
No matter what might come between us, we'd shared a Richly Affective Ordeal where complete trust had to be confided upon the other's obvious insanity; we'd ridden close to the point of no return (actually I think we might have passed it on the wrong side of the road) and ended up in Geelong, laughing at our folly, much to the chagrin of the officer writing our speeding tickets.