Ever since I got my full bike license a few weeks ago I have been wrestling myself into the dirt just about every day agonising over whether to buy a shiny new big bike right away, or do the practical thing and wait until next year before upgrading. Eventually, my impatient excitable half, or rather 9/10's, got the better of me and I booked a test ride on a Buell Lightning CityX XB9SX, one of the main contenders in the ultimate purchase decision. After barely 6 hours sleep and several pints on Friday night, I awoke like a kid on coca cola and a stray diet pill on Saturday morning to make the journey to Warrs Harley Davidson in Chelsea for my test ride. After signing my life away, I was on the road and immediately struck by just how impressive this bike is. At 984CC's producing a formidable 84bhp, this bike is not for children or beginners. The salesman told me warningly before I left the showroom to let her tyres warm up a bit before putting the hammer down. His advice was noted and after about 20 minutes pottering around watching scooters overtake me, I’d had enough and let gravity exert its influence on my right hand, a motion which simultaneously injected about as much adrenalin into my bloodstream as fuel into the cylinders. Talk about letting loose the hounds of hell, I finally understand what all this American Thunder fuss is about. It truly is a machine that commands respect from bikes and cars alike. Rolling up to traffic lights is like being mounted on a great white gliding through a shoal of minnows. Scooters flee in terrified panic, motorists’ eye the new-comer wearily from the safety of their metal cages and bigger bikes make space in a way that shows respect. This bike is raw power and fun and it was with a great feeling of dejectedness that I handed back the keys, remounted my scooter and rode off, mortal and minnowed again. I thought about that experience all weekend and started making calls to arrange insurance on Monday, determined to be back on a Buell by the next weekend. My enthusiasm was short lived though. The Buell, for whatever reason, is classified as category 15 for insurance purposes. This, combined with street parking and a 3 week old full license, ended up securing a premium roughly equivalent to half the purchase price of the bike. I could effectively buy a new one every 2 years. Practically speaking... there's that pesky 1/10th putting in 2c again... the Buell, despite its massive appeal, is not a practical bike in the way a BMW 1200 GS is. There is no possibility of luggage anywhere on the bike and passenger space is severely limited, making biking weekends a virtual impossibility. For now, the jury is out on this one. I have a test ride of a BMW 1200 GS booked for this weekend at BMW Park Lane. Who knows, it might be even more impressive.
Finally, after two unsuccessful attempts at cracking a pass on the UK motorcycle license test, I have prevailed. Henceforth, I am no longer required to ride around with those prissy giant red 'L' plates stuck all over my nice shiny black Vespa. More importantly, I can now lift a passenger and the way is at last open for the purchase of a proper motorcycle, a BMW 1200GS.
I want to say a big thanks to H (for Haden) at Elite Motorcycle Training who coached me through every aspect of the test, always in a patient and positive manner. It felt real good ripping those 'L' stickers off my bike.
This past bank holiday week, Laura, I and 7 others took our collective selves over to the Italian Riviera for a week of proper hedonistic living-it-up. Never having been to Italy, I was very excited to finally be visiting the land of leaning towers and it was with no small amount of excitement that we departed the UK via Heathrow on Friday evening. After a brief stopover in Frankfurt and nearly missing our connecting flight due to, well, sheer laziness really, we arrived in Nice, France where we would be spending the night before driving over the border into Italy towards our final destination of Rapallo.
In my experience, a vacation is usually filled with various logistical challenges and we had out fair share the moment we got off the plane. We booked a hotel near the airport in Nice for the night we arrived, but upon looking at the booking confirmation, we discovered that nowhere upon it was the name of the hotel printed. No matter, the address was there and so we set off, bags in hand, across the airport car park, grass and adjacent highway to our hotel. The details are a little fuzzy from this point on, blind rage does that, but as an exercise of my consumer rights, I’ll just say this; never book anything through AirportHotelGuide.com (not linked because they don't deserve higher page rank).
The next day we headed back to the airport to pickup our rental car and once again encountered adversity. The line for collections was roughly equivalent to the number of Liverpool FC fans in Nice at the time and it was some hours before we were on the road in our little Fiat Panda, sounding like a truck with its 1.3 litre multijet diesel engine. After a brief stop in Monaco and a few other spots along the Cote d’ Azur, we eventually hit the highway and experienced psycho Italian drivers first hand. Speed limits mean nothing to the Italians who seemingly believe that just because all roads once lead to Rome, they now own them all and therefore have a birth right, ratified by the pope in Rome and sanctified by God in heaven, to ride their chariots, mostly 1.3 litre Fiat Panda multijet diesels, like demons escaping from hell down the motorway. So after a few close shaves, some obscene hand signals and aggressive use of the horn, we arrived in Rapallo, our final destination and a charming little coastal town about 8km away from the famous town of Portofino.
From that point on, the universe must have decided we had paid our dues and just about everything went right. The villa was awesome, the weather was great, and Italy was everything I ever hoped it would be. For the first time in a long time, this vacation actually felt like a vacation instead of a temporary reprieve from the grind of every day London life. With everything left behind, midnight swims, G&T’s at 11AM, sun tanning, ocean swimming and generous amounts of fine Italian cuisine were the order of just about every day. In short, Italy was awesome and a destination I shall definitely return to one day, hopefully not too long from now.