WHAT TIGGERS LIKE BEST - First rides - Lindsay Heyes, 2nd January 2000
Novice biker, male, 47 years old. Once had a moped, provisional license and spots. Rode a B.S.A. 350 (or something) for a few days with the army because some Rupert had a wet dream about recce rides by night (no roads, no lights, no sense, no license). If we ever managed to surprise Soviet troops they'd've all died laughing. Had nightmares about the 'cking gear switch having changed sides during my Direct Access course in December '99, so intended to sue M.O.D. for post-traumatic stress disorder if I hadn't passed my Riding Test first time.
1999 Triumph Tiger 900. Mods include a Scottoiler, Baglux tank-cover and security. A white-van man delivered it, all sparkling new, just before Christmas. I have no idea why Hilary said I could have it. Has she increased my life assurance, or is a Tiger the going-rate for a vasectomy nowadays? Anyway, after months of sniffing saddles in showrooms, I got my leg across a Tiger. Sexy styling. Orgasmic ergonomics. But gosh, the dosh... .
Caberg J1 flip-front lid with Fog City double-glazing; Prexport waterproof boots; Weise gloves; and Garty's old Motoline Bodyguard jacket and trousers. I'm delighted with all of it, but must get rid of the spare tyre.
Two days after passing my test, the great Garty regaled me with tales of derring-do in the BTB.C, and rashly lent me his Africa Twin for an hour. I was terrified of dropping his pride and joy, but didn't need the bicycle-clips after all. A big trailie was obviously better than any Fazer for a 6 ft. 2 in. 16-stoner with slipped disks, so I put out feelers with dealers, expecting to settle on an old Transalp. Ziggy at Fowlers came back with a heavenly deal on the Tiger, my dream-machine. Come the test-ride, I was hooked in the first ten metres, and a few miles around Bristol at rush-hour just confirmed my feelings.
Three weeks later, Tigger sat in my garage, waiting, out-eager, for the snow and ice to melt. On my brother's birthday he went mountain-biking with Garty in the Brecon Beacons, so we arranged to meet. I rode out from Ross-on-Wye, taking the old roads which were once the A40, feeling the counter-steering, testing the throttle and brakes. Running-in at 3,500 revs, I could do about 60 m.p.h., fast enough for someone who had only ridden for an hour on anything bigger than an ER-5. I filled the tank in Monmouth, getting the feel of my mount on the very roads on which I had taken my driving test a bare few hours' riding earlier. I took the twisties towards Raglan, then the A40 to Abergavenny, Crickhowell and Brecon. Oh - not the A40 you drive today, but the A40 of my childhood, before the dual-carriageway was built beside it. It was raining, the road was flooded in places, the hairpins at Bwlch were icy - and it was g-r-r-r-reat! I passed the lay-by where I had always been car-sick as a kid (synchronising vomiting with my brother, sister and the dog), but this time I was grinning. We met at a nice pub, too late for lunch, but what the hell... 50 miles on the clock meant 100 miles by the end of the day, and that meant being able to spin up to 5,000 revs on my next ride. I couldn't wait to get back.
I rang Garty on Millenium Day to 'tice him out. Riding into Hereford, I found that 5,000 revs is about 75 m.p.h., but it's a sod to overtake because when you drop a gear to pass someone doing 65, you go straight to 5,000 revs, so it takes an age to pass anyone. Garty kept waiting in lay-bys; I felt guilty. We stopped at Rhayader for a coffee before giving some twit in a Discovery the chance to try and kill me at the market-cross as another driver waved him on. Tigger growled menacingly to scare them off, then we loped into the mountains, into the Valley of the Red Kite. I was 15 years old when my father last took me down these wild roads. Single track, with passing places, spectacular vistas, mountain torrents, rare red kites (we saw two), and common-as-muck sheep. One ewe fell in love with Garty, but when he rejected her obvious charms she threw herself into his path. He avoided her with great dexterity, leaving only a black streak and a Samaritans' calling-card flicked deftly onto the tarmac out of consideration for her welfare (or perhaps respect for her mother).
We wound our way to Abergwesyn in fog and drizzle. Mountain roads is what Tiggers like best - hairpins, hidden dips, rockfalls, pot-holes, floods washing-over gravel and mushy, oily pine-needles through the woods. I was learning fast - speeds of approach, working the gears, sparing the brakes, sensing wheel-slip - and out-eager Tigger handled it all smoothly, following Garty's fast-disappearing track in the wet. Car drivers treated us with respect now, pulling over to let us pass, or waving as they came towards us. Stone-walled country lanes took us out of the bleak mountains before we sped back to Hereford and Ross-on-Wye on trunk roads. Faster now. Suddenly, I felt that I could overtake. What had seemed to be wobbly steering at high speeds was now rock steady. As we headed home for tea, Garty's skill at overtaking took him well ahead, but I could delight in my own progress. Night riding was much better than I expected, Tigger's lights burning bright / Through the shadows of the night. And now I have exactly 300 miles on the odo, which means 6,000 revs on my next adventure - 85 m.p.h. . G-r-r-r-reat!
Safety first - always check that your wife's car has no electrical fault which will prevent it from starting and make sure that the leak in the airing-cupboard has not worsened overnight before departing. Take a mobile so that you have every opportunity to call home in-between your wife's frequent use of the 'phone as she tries to track you down. Always wear C.E. body-armour with back protection and ear-plugs on your return in case the reason for your vasectomy has been screaming for an hour or so while your other children argue with each other. Treat spouse's cabin-fever with Galaxy or an after-market equivalent.
Make no mistake - big trail bikes are FUN, even when you're running-in through rain, fog and winter chill. I live in the Wye Valley, with its steep hills, unmetalled roads and hairpin bends linked to sweeping trunk roads - not a place for race reps. Tigger is beautiful, comfortable, well-balanced, banks with the ease of a Tornado jet, delivers three barrels-full of power as smooth as a bucket-full of frogs, and growls very attractively. Your mother wouldn't like her. I still can't believe what Tigger can do in the wet, so she must be a real goer in the dry. Don't be afraid if you are a novice - avoid sudden movements and Tigers behave like pussy cats - but you need a mentor. Garty made my intro to big trailies a pleasure.
Now I know what the Big Trail Bike Club is all about - and I want it again. Again, again, again, again...