Vintage writing from motorcycle journalist, Mark Williams
Being a meticulously slung–together selection of Mark Williams’ columns in various magazines that should’ve known better from 1971–2020… forty-nine inglorious years of controversial views, wild claims and mindless nonsense on matters motorcycling
Author image: Alex Ramsay Illustration: Hunt Emerson
I can fairly be accused of occasionally wandering off-topic with my columns, and this one was certainly near the edge. However it was all true and was the product of a much-needed holiday after four exhausting years starting up my own company, re-launching WhichBike? as MotorCycle International, acquiring Motorcycle Enthusiast and preparing to publish Used & Classic Bike Guide edited by the estimable Frank Westworth, mentioned herein and, extraordinarily, still a good friend.
The recent burst of activity in the upper echelons of the whacky world of motorbicycle organs might deceive a bored and lethargic public into thinking that the leisure hours of biking’s men of letters are spent in exotic climes aboard equally exotic motorcycles (or in MotorBicycle Preview‘s case exotic motorcars).
True, some of us are regularly eased into our skin-tight, freebie Kushitani leathers by simpering bimbos and the liberal application of Baby Oil, all in readiness for a quick thrash down to Juan Les Pins for a little foie de gras and a crate of Bollinger. And equally commonplace is the preponderance of ‘plane tickets that arrive on senior magazine editors’ desks in an effort to persuade them to hop off to Bali for a quick look at the Micronesian motorcycle industry and to be fascinatingly photographed on the beach in their shorts and smiles for the benefit of grateful readers back home.
Even a humble soul like Mr Editor Isitt spends three or four months a year working on his tan on a Greek Island or the East African Coast, but for a distressed mogul such as myself, time and the purse strings are tight, which is why the sum total of my exotic motorcycling activities this year looks like being a long weekend on a moped in the Balearics.
I tell you, there’s nothing more relaxing after a year piloting the leaky craft of destiny through the treacherous seas of high interest rates, disconsolate staff and uppity printers than wheezing along at 20mph on a freezing night aboard a 50cc Derbi enduro. Especially if your riding companion is a spotty 16-year-old who’s just taken great delight in leaving you miles behind on a bona fide moped, and so you’re now lost as well as cold and mildly stoned.
There’s not much streetlighting in Formentera and the only road of any substance on the island, although virtually straight as a die on the map, is in fact bedeviiled by sudden, vicious turns that are usually unsignposted. Which might not have been too bad if the Derbi’s headlamp had been anything more than pathetic and I’d been able to recognise the turning to San Francisco. (Honest. And to think that Big Frank was singing the praises of a dusty, two donkey hamlet on a Mediterranean island all these years).
The previous evening mine hostess had lurched us all off to the island’s only happening-acid-house-bullfight-disco bar in her topsy-turvey Tonka Toy (which for some reason bore stickers that read ‘Suzuki SJ410′), but as I was well shit-faced at that point I couldn’t remember the exact turning and all Spanish dirt roads look the same to me. So I took what I thought was the correct turning and, sure enough, there were a few houses either side of the track. Trouble was that the candlepower of the Derbi’s headlamp was roughly equivalent to its horsepower, i.e. next to damn-all, and the same goes for its suspension. So if you were a nocturnally grazing Balearic goat on December 30th last, the fool falling off the Derbi was me.
The previous morning we’d had a little trouble with the throttle which, I later surmised, probably had a knock-on effect on the engine’s unwillingness to pull in the gears and thus spin the dynamo (surely those things don’t have magnetos, and they certainly don’t have batteries?). The appalling bandit who’d hired out the moped and this grim apology for an enduro bike had neglected to secure the throttle cable with anything firmer than a small twig (I kid you not), which meant that the first time a red-blooded tarmac stripper such as myself grabbed a handful of go-gas, the twistgrip made like a yo-yo and the cable went AWOL.
After trucking the thing back to the shop in the ‘jeep’, a new(ish) cable was fitted which was clearly too long and, thanks to advanced Derbi engineering there was no means of adjusting the slack. I also suspected that the crankcase seals were also as sloppy as Joan Collins’, er, syntax due to the lack of air filter and the quality of Spanish petrol, a combination of maladies which resulted in the Derbi’s extreme reluctance to move in a forward direction unless propelled by foot.
Yet somehow when it was daylight and, unhindered by the blunt edge of alcohol, I was just pottering around the boondocks near our villa, this didn’t seem to matter too much. Whilst wheelies weren’t exactly a snap, I was able to regain at least a glimpse of my glorious youth and the thrilling exploits of the all-conquering WhichBike? Enduro Team… providing my spotty friend didn’t zip by on his single speed moped with a humiliating smirk on his dial.
In fact it was on one of these relaxed sorties that I discovered the true reason for the continued existence, if not buoyancy, of the Spanish motorcycle industry. No, this is not because the absence of mandatory helmet legislation and the most rudimentary of licensing requirements encourage all and sundry to take to two wheels, nor is it because the climate favours wind in hair, bugs in teeth etc., etc. The real reason is that Spanish ‘bikes are bloody awful, but bloody cheap. Which is why I found sundry dead Bultacos, Montessas and Ossas littered along the bay behind our holiday retreat.
Experienced, talented mechanics such as you and I would have been able to restore many of these 50-250cc ‘strokers to their vibrant, adrenalin-pumping glory with the mere application of a crowbar and 15 gallons of WD40 (salt spray is a ready hangman), but the laid-back Spanish obviously just leave their dead bikes under a bush or on the beach when they break down and walk back to town to buy another. I honestly can’t understand why else there would be so many of the things lying around the place… unless they’d all been hired from the same dealer who’d supplied the Derbi.
And if for any strange reason you should be reading this, Pedro, it wasn’t me that left it propping up a wail with the front wheel and a cunningly re-shaped set of forks; someone must’ve stolen it just as we were running for the ferry back to !biza, taxi drivers and civilisation. All I need now is a proper holiday so’s I can recover from this grim automotive experience: I reckon a couple of weeks spent camping around the picturesque Durham slag heaps on a CX500 should just about restore the bloom to my cheeks and the fire to my veins. Sounds like something I could blag through the Used & Classic Bike Guide... now where’s Frank Westworth’s phone number?
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