Just nipping out to buy another RC30, dear
SOME people collect stamps, others collect beer bottles. Some are even lucky enough to own a few bikes. But there’s one man for whom only the very best will do – that’s why he’s got a collection of almost every road-going version of a World Superbike racer you can buy.
We’re not just talking about a Ducati 916 and a standard Aprilia RSV Mille. Oh, no. When James Thomson goes bike-buying he wants to get as close as he can to a genuine works racer – every time. That’s why, as well as a 916, he’s got a £20,000 996 Foggy replica. And instead of your run-of-the-mill RSV, his collection includes one of just 150 RSV SPs made worldwide for race homologation purposes.
Most of us would sell our souls to the devil for just one of these rare and exotic machines. Visit Thomson’s garage in Kent and you have to wonder who Thomson traded with. Press the button to release the electric up-and-over double doors of his garage and you’re confronted with a veritable grid of immaculate race replicas, standing silently as if waiting for Carl Fogarty and Troy Corser to take them out on a race track where they belong.
If you’re not sitting down as you read this, I suggest you do so now before I give you a quick rundown of just some of the 23 bikes nestled in this dream garage. Ready? Here goes…
Of the WSB replicas, there’s a Yamaha R7, a Kawasaki ZX-7RR, a Honda RC45, three Honda RC30s and a Honda VTR-SP-1. There’s more. Thomson doesn’t just collect
road-based racers. He loves all bikes and has bought a shed-load of other machines, either because he wanted them as a youngster or just because he was in the right place at the right time.
Among these are a 50th Anniversary Honda FireBlade and a Honda CB1100RB, a Yamaha R1, Yamaha R6, Yamaha FZR1000 and Yamaha RD500, three Suzuki GSX-R1100s, two Suzuki Katanas (remember them?), a Suzuki RG500 and a Kawasaki GPZ900. Now take a deep breath before you hear the value of the collection. It’s hard to be totally precise because demand affects prices a lot, but Thomson has actually paid more than £220,000 for his bikes!
Right now you’re probably thinking one of two things. Either: " Fair play to the bloke – if you’re going to collect something, you might as well buy bikes rather than antique Edwardian footstools or something. " Or: " What a spoiled brat wasting all those good bikes by keeping them in a garage when they could be ridden – which is what they were made for, after all. "
Well, put yourself in Thomson’s shoes. Sure, he’s lucky enough to have built up his own extremely successful construction business and he’s got money to throw around. If you could afford to, wouldn’t you stock up your garage with the very best sports bikes money can buy? We’ve all sat in the pub and written on the back of a beer mat what bikes we’d have in our dream garage – it’s among our favourite games. This guy has just gone a few steps farther and actually made it happen.
Those of you who are still jealous (and who wouldn’t be?) will probably be madder still to learn that many of these bikes have never even been run. In fact, many can’t be ridden because they haven’t so much as been started up and turned over!
So what possesses someone to fill their garage with exotica such as this when he has little or no intention of even riding some of the bikes he owns? One way to look at it is as an investment. Art collectors pay millions for a Van Gogh or a Monet. Although they’re an investment, they’re still a pleasure to look at while you own them. The same goes for Thomson’s bikes. But then, you can’t ride a painting, can you?
Thomson says: " I keep telling my wife the bikes are an investment for our future and our kids, but at the end of the day, I just love bikes. I can’t really think of any other reason why I keep buying them. "
But Thomson’s wife doesn’t exactly discourage him. When he went to look at an Aprilia RS250 at a dealers, his wife spotted the Foggy rep he now owns. Being a bit of a Ducati fan, she wouldn’t let him buy the Aprilia and he went home with the Duke instead.
Thomson says he didn’t make a conscious decision to start the collection – it just sort of happened. " I’d always had a couple of bikes, starting with a Suzuki AP50 when I was 14, " he recalls. " My first road bike was a Honda SS50 but I didn’t start collecting seriously until about five years ago, when I was in my late 20s. "
Like any other collector, Thomson says he’s getting a bit obsessive about completing his line-up. He’s desperately trying to get hold of a Bimota SB-8K like the one ridden by Anthony Gobert in the early rounds of this year’s championship, even though the team has now withdrawn with funding problems. The Bimota factory has also gone into liquidation, but Thomson says he’s been promised a bike and will fly out to Italy to try and secure it soon.
The serious collecting started with an RC30, the first of three he now owns in various states of newness. It’s a runaround bike which he also does track days on. Oh, to have an RC30 as a runaround. Then he wanted a " clean " one and bought an almost-new model before hearing about a complete minter which he just had to buy, too.
The mint model still has the original tyres and the plastic covering on the frame. There’s not a single mile on the clock – and it’s destined for the bedroom! Thomson says: " I’m in the process of devising a pulley system to get it upstairs and it will be mounted on a mock podium with lights on it in the bedroom. " Understanding wife or what?
Thomson can’t remember exactly what he paid for each RC30 but reckons it was between £12,000 and £14,000. He adds: " People can’t believe it when I turn up at track days on an RC30 – they think it should be in a museum! "
Surprisingly, that’s where it – and all Thomson’s other bikes – may end up. He lives his life in complete paranoia about bike thieves and takes extensive measures to avoid falling victim to them. His garage has an alarm which is connected straight to the local police station, and there are closed-circuit TV cameras which permanently monitor the premises. If he thinks a car or bike may be following him on the way home he either speeds up and tries to shake them off, or he rides straight past his turn-off and doubles back later. But the pressure’s getting to him now. He says: " I’d sleep a lot easier knowing they were secure in a museum. It’s not the money, because they’re all insured, but it took me years and a lot of hard work to get some of these bikes – they’re almost irreplaceable. "
Out of all the machines in his collection, the RC30 is still Thomson’s favourite bike. He says: " They just ride so well and the one I use is better than most. I’ve got HRC suspension, a
jack-up kit and an ignition advancer – it’s wicked. "
But he can’t tell what the RC45, ZX-7RR or Aprilia RSV SP are like to ride because they’ve never even been started up, let alone ridden. He admits the temptation to ride them can be immense, but as taking them on the road would devalue them straight away, he has to resist.
It’s pretty tough getting your hands on any of these limited-edition specials and Thomson has put a lot of effort into building his collection. Now, though, things are easier because dealers get in touch with him. He says: " Any time a dealer comes across something special he’ll call me because they know I’m always on the look-out. "
Thomson already has his name down for an MV Agusta F4 should the Italian firm ever build one for racing homologation purposes. He’s also after a mint Yamaha OW01 and a Ducati 888 to add to his WSB collection. And he’s about to place an order for a Benelli Tornado, too.
In case you think there’s an obvious bike missing from the collection, Thomson didn’t buy a Suzuki GSX-R750 because the firm hasn’t made an SP version for the road, so he isn’t interested.
One of the toughest bikes to get hold of was a new Kawasaki ZX-7RR. Thomson spent months looking for one but had no joy. Kawasaki in Japan even promised to make one for him after he hounded them through his contacts, but it never materialised. He says: " They didn’t want that much to make one – I think it was around £12,000 – but it just never happened, so I started to look elsewhere. " He eventually found one in the pages of MCN Bikemart after years of trying and stumped up a whopping £22,000 to an ex-racer who happened to have a minter. It’s still got the plastic seat cover in place.
The R7 was a pretty tough bike to get hold of, too, as they were really only meant for race teams. Thomson used his contacts in the British racing scene and managed to get his hands on one, also for the princely sum of £22,000. He says: " I was initially told I’d never get one but I did a lot of name-dropping and came up trumps. " He hasn’t ridden his own R7 but has ridden someone else’s – although he won’t say whose because they don’t know about it!
Thomson sounds like a pretty tasty rider, too, in case you were wondering. Apart from track days, he takes part in the occasional race on his R6 when business commitments allow, but although he confesses that he used to be a bit of a wheelie merchant, he says his road riding has calmed down now.
" I was pulling a monster wheelie past a local cemetery on a Yamaha EXUP, " he recalls. " I put it down a bit hard and cracked the front wheel really badly. The headstock bolt also flew off and went right through my helmet. So I only pull wheelies by mistake these days! "
And he’s not averse to getting his hands dirty, too, as the tools strewn liberally around his garage testify. But sometimes he’s so keen to get going on a project that he doesn’t think of the consequences. He says: " I once built a Yamaha RD350LC from parts in my kitchen, but when it was ready I couldn’t get it out of the house. So I had to strip the whole thing back down again and rebuild it outside. "
Thomson puts around 2500 miles on the clocks of the bikes he does ride each year. It may not sound much but, as he points out, that’s quite a lot of mileage in total when you’re riding up to ten different bikes. And some of that mileage is, not surprisingly, spent travelling to World Superbike races to see the full-on racing versions of his private collection being ridden by the top stars in the business. Thomson often rides to Assen in Holland or Misano in Italy with up to eight friends to watch the racing.
Ducati owners tend to shout for Foggy, Aprilia owners support Corser and Yamaha fans cheer on Noriyuki Haga. Nice and simple. But when you own versions of most of the bikes you see on the grid, who do you cheer? As you might expect, Thomson doesn’t really have a firm favourite but he says: " I’ve met Corser a few times and he seems like a nice bloke. And I once had a ten-minute conversation with Haga before I realised he couldn’t speak a word of English. I thought he was being a bit quiet! "
It’s not just WSB racing that Thomson loves – he’s a big fan of GPs, too, and tries to get to at least one a year. So has he ever thought of getting his hands on a 500GP bike? " I looked at an old Suzuki RG500 Mk 5 which was going for about £6000 and I must say I was tempted. But it would be kind of hard to complete the collection – getting my hands on an NSR500 could prove difficult. " Even someone with Thomson’s powers of persuasion and impressive financial clout can’t have everything.
One of the best things about collecting specials, according to Thomson, is that you have plenty of time to save for them. He put his name down for his Aprilia RSV as soon as he heard orders were being taken, but it was still nine months before it was actually delivered.
But sometimes even when you place an order early it’s not enough to secure a bike. Sometimes fate plays its part. When Thomson tried to get his hands on a limited-edition 50th Anniversary Honda FireBlade, he drew a complete blank. Then one day the phone rang and it was one of many dealers who are in the habit of calling Thomson when they come across special bikes. Yes, there was now a 50th Anniversary Blade available. How? It had been delivered for a customer who had been on the waiting list – but he’d just dropped dead! Thomson was straight down the dealer’s.
As I’m getting ready to leave Thomson’s luxurious house, I have one last lingering look inside his double garage. Even it isn’t big enough to house his entire collection – some of his bikes are stored at mates’ houses. I realise that, even though I work for MCN, I’m unlikely ever to see such a collection of exotica in a private garage again. On a World Superbike grid or in a museum maybe, but not in private hands. And the sight of all those gorgeous bikes brings a smile to my face. To many it probably seems completely over the top. There may even be a case for calling Thomson eccentric. Or he may just be stashing valuables away for a rainy day. But whatever the reason for this captivating collection of two-wheeled rarities, if we were all honest with ourselves – and we had the cash – we’d probably all have a garage just like this. Wouldn’t we?
MONEY WELL SPENT
HERE’S a full list of Thomson’s bikes and what he says they cost him.
1 Aprilia RSV1000SP £22,765
2 Ducati 996 Foggy rep £20,000
3 Honda RC30 £12,000
4 Honda RC30 £12,000
5 Honda RC30 £14,000
6 Honda RC45 £14,000
7 Honda SP-1 £9999
8 Honda CB1100RB £4000
9 Honda FireBlade (50th Anniversary) £11,000
10 Honda XR400R £4295
11 Kawasaki ZX-7RR £22,000
12 Kawasaki GPZ900 £4000
13 Suzuki GSX-R1100 £4000
14 Suzuki GSX-R1100 £4000
15 Suzuki GSX-R1100 £5000
16 Suzuki Katana £5000
17 Suzuki Katana £5000
18 Suzuki RG500 £3000
19 Yamaha R7 £22,000
20 Yamaha R1 £8599
21 Yamaha R6 £6499
22 Yamaha FZR1000 £5000
23 Yamaha RD500 £3000