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Blog: Kerrang's Luke Wilkins on bikes

Published: 26 March 2009

Updated: 19 November 2014

Subject: Suzuki “Gladius” SVF650
Miles: 356
Furthest Place ridden too: Luton
Oddest place taken too: Portway (Birmingham Bee’s Training players are just odd)
Top Speed attained: Ahem.....70!

So welcome to the first in what I hope will be an entertaining series of blogs about the next few weeks of my life and my exploits on various types of two wheeled beauties, well I hope I get a whole series out of this that is, I’m not really that bothered if it’s that entertaining.....because I know I will be having a lot of fun!

Firstly let me clarify, when I came up for the idea for this blog, I would like to say it was my truly altruistic side coming out, my desire to share with you the Birmingham Mail and MCN reader the delights and wonders of a rock DJ/rugby player/bike fanatics life, and the joys of the various bikes I will get to ride on the series, but somewhere, deeply seated at the back of my mind, there might have been a tiny bit of what scientists call the selfish gene guiding my hand, after all, who could turn down the chance to ride a brand new motorbike (and some retro ones thrown in as well I hope) every week as their sole form of transport. That’s a key point by the way, I will be using these bikes come rain or shine for a whole week, as you can’t truly get a feel for a bike until you’ve tried to negotiate Brummingham’s Spaghetti Junction with your cricket gear hanging off your back while being cut up by a bus, in the rain..........yes those buses love it on there, not that I would know of course, just what someone once said to a street.........somewhere.

So how did I first get into bikes? Well it all started with an unhealthy obsession with anything mechanical as a child, where I had a propensity to take lots of things apart, but not necessarily but them back together again........well not many working anyways. This extended to me being given a Tomas 50CC moped from a close family friend when I was 14, although when they dropped it off I did here the oldest of her children mutter something like “good riddance to the Granny racer!” At the time I just assumed that was to the large amount of the grey rinse brigade who could be seen riding around on these kind of things at the time, you know, the ones with pedals..............where have they gone, I use to always see about three on the way to school in Epsom, was that an epicentre for these devices, some kind of peddle moped Mecca?? I remember there was a shop in Carshalton that specialised in bits for these kinds of scooters; it’s where I got all my parts! Any way I digress massively, I was soon to find out that its nickname as the “Granny racer” was actually due to a faulty power valve (a curse of my two stroke life) that meant if it got a bit oiled up, and you were going up a bit of a gradient, you had to give it full throttle just to try and give a hobbling granny beside you a good race (this is on foot mind, the one on the electric mobility scooters were dots by now!), inevitably finally succumbing to their extra pace as they got a final burst on due to the bingo hall coming into sight, proving the promise of getting “House” and actually maybe being able to have the heating on for one night is one hell of a motivation for an octogenarian, compared to an embarrassed kid desperately trying to make his bike reach the top of the hill without having to get off and push.
Anyway, I took that Tomas apart and learnt many wonderful things for a teen boy, like how not to put springs back on an automatic clutch, but it was to be when I had returned from Uni at the grand old age of 20, after a brief experiment riding my hall flatmates Honda Bros 400 in the car park with him holding himself off the ground facing me on the handlebars while I was doing 40mph around campus (He was a Zen mountain climber and race car engineer, ‘nuff said), that I was to feel the hand of fate brush me towards two wheels.

I took a job for Surrey County Council, and when I turned up at the Chertsey Offices having got the train, I was duly asked “Where had I parked?” I knew something was up. In fact I hadn’t had a chance to take my driving test yet, having spent my parents wonderful gift of money in a savings account for driving lessons on my 18th birthday party that very night trying to persuade a girl that I was in fact a Latin movie star named Carlos Fandango via the commonly known method of drinking a little bit too much fizzy pop (I believe this variety might have been called “Lager”????) and pulling off 1980’s break-dance manoeuvres in the local discotheque............very badly. Needless to say, the job could only cover expenses for fuel not for rail travel, so I was pretty much given two weeks in which I to get on the road, as the boss could only cover for me for that long! (Sounds like Mission wasn’t). This ruled out a car, as it took about a year to get on the waiting list for test at that time (In my day..............Grrrr), so my dad persuaded me to go for a 125cc scooter and my CBT, the only problem being my dad and I went out to buy said scooter, and could only find a pink 50cc number that was camper than Christmas. We didn’t have a lot of cash, but my beloved father took pity on his son’s masculinity and decided to take me to one more garage, where he knew they had a Suzuki RGF125cc, in full Lucky Stripe colours. Well I was in love, and although it meant my parents having to dig a bit deeper to lend me the cash, I was on the road after cruising through my CBT........well apart from that first moment you get when you go on the road and the instructor is screaming in your ear to “Go a bit faster!!” and when you enquire Why?” because your sure you’re living dangerously on the wrong side on the 70mph speed limit he answers “Because your going so slow a car may come round a corner and run into the back off you!” and your deflated ego allows you to glance down at the Speedo and see your doing a granny teasing 12mph!
I loved that RGF125cc, I made up stories that it had been a track bike, that I had bought it and converted it for the road to give it some masculinity, and to make up for the fact that all my friends called it the hairdryer, due to that delightful lawnmower/strimmer-esque noise two strokes make. That didn’t bother me though, as I just loved the fact that even though I was getting passed by VW Beetles, when you got the revs up into the 10,000rpm range power band, it felt like you were flying and boy could that thing handle, on the account of the fact it weighed about as much as an empty packet of corn flakes.
Unfortunately the engine parts seemed to be made of similar material, as numerous power valve failures, and the obligatory offs you have to have as a rider, including my first one in my first week, and a power failure on the Hogs Back at 1am in 1 foot of snow on the way to stag do, no doubt stories that will come out over time, meant that after 4 years on the thing, I had to give it up and move onto a more practical Hyosung Comet. Yep a Korean yellow thing that had a Hornet frame with a 4 stroke single cylinder engine that had about as much grunt as my 15 year old blind arthritic dog. Admitted it was nice to leave behind the whine of the 125cc Ring ding ding ding ding two stroke, but the lack of high revving power meant that you had to be going downhill with a following wind to get any real feel of acceleration. So then I turned 25 and after a chance encounter with a motorbike freak Freight Handler from Heathrow at Kingston Crown Court (we were both there on jury duty I will have you know!) when he let me take out his Honda 1000cc beast for a spin, I thought, you know what, let’s do it. So I went out and booked my direct access, and never one to shirk a challenge, I booked an intensive week’s car driving course the week before as well. Thanks to some great instructors, I passed both within that week at the first attempt (somehow!!) and went straight out and got myself a Kawasaki Ninja 400cc, which became my pride and joy!
I rode that bike everywhere, but for the first time I had a secondary mode of transport as well in the shape of a hideously pimped out Vauxhall Nova with an exhaust the size of Mexico and a rear spoiler that had to carry warning lights for airplane collisions. So for once I became acquainted with being a fair weather rider, and wow did that feel better than slugging about in the freezing cold and rain. But circumstances changed, and I moved to the Middle East to start a radio station in Jordan (as you do) and so the bike remained garaged and upon my return, after a brief flirt with it, practicality, and more importantly lack of moneyality meant that I had to sell her. And so I have been without bike until I came up to Kerrang here in Birmingham and those lovely people, Gary and the team at Streetbike, donated a brand new Yamaha R6 for me to use, and having got all the bands that have appeared at Kerrang over the last year to sign it, auction it off for the Teenage Cancer Trust.

The auction is something that has come about through some top work behind the scenes at Streetbike, Kerrang and more latterly the Mail and MCN, plus thanks to some enormous generosity (and even bigger capacity for putting up for my nonstop, nonsensical raving about bikes) from all involved.
You will be able to bid on the bike, which I have enjoyed so much over the last year, but really only just run in at about 700 miles, on eBay in the next few weeks with the lucky winner being presented their prize at MCN Live up at Skegness on the weekend of the 24th to the 27th of April. It really is not just an amazing machine, but a piece of rock and roll history, with bands from all over the world such as Mindless Self Indulgence, System of a Down and Scars on Broadway, Feeder, We Are Scientists, Madina Lake, The Ting Tings, Kids in Glass Houses, Biffy Clyro, Cage the Elephant, The Subways, The Automatic, The View, Reef, Glasvegas, The Levellers, Travis, You Me At Six, The All American Rejects and The Rifles having signed it to name but a few, and you also will get a nice class case with all the pic’s of the band signing the bike too, framed...............sweet!! You can also see those pic's here:

 Plus it’s all for an amazing cause, which you can find out more on here:
So then, wow, enough background, onto my first bike in the series now that “Maddy” (the R6...........’cos she is kind of mad!) is heading off to one of you lucky lot, and the one that the guys at Streetbike (check them out here gave me was the brand new Suzuki SVF650 Gladius, or “Gladys” as she has become affectionately known. The first thing that strikes you about Gladys, apart from that eye catching magenta (not pink!) and white paint job which didn’t bother me because I used to have to wear a lycra rowing one piece in those colours for Uni...........sorry for the mental picture but they were Loughborough’s colours, is that there is not a straight line in sight, instead she is all curves and exposed chassis, evoking images of the Ducati Monster from the side. The single unit headlamp gives her a cutting edge look to go with the chic, and the overall effect, while taking me a bit of time to grow to love compared to my more usual fare of........well faired bikes, definitely sets her apart. Oh by the way you will realise by now that I refer to all mechanical objects by ladies names, this is in no means a rubbish attempt by me to go all Jonathan Ross-ish and be sexist, it is strictly following in the finest nautical tradition of always naming your craft.........even our Playstation 3 in the flat has a woman’s name, one day I might remember what it is.
So with me liking the looks next came the move away from my racer (and lawnmower) engines of the past and my first chance to properly get to grips with the DOHC fuel injected V-twin, lifted from the faired SV650, and given a few tweaks. It’s obvious this bike is designed at the new breed of rider, who in the current hard times might be tempted to trade in his 4x4 gas guzzler and switch to a more economical form of transport without the wish to end up on the underside of a lorry, who wants to opt for a bike that while being fun, will not rip their heads off, or a whole in their wallet. I also think this bike might appeal a lot to female riders, as not only has it got some fashionable touches like the upwards shortened exhaust, some interesting paint jobs, and a brochure hinting at such, but it is very easy to ride and feels incredibly light and accessible.
Don’t make that let you think that she is boring; in fact the V Twin delivers an immediate punchy power that is much more on tap in the low revs than the high revving power of a 4 cylinder sports bike. It’s this torque-y acceleration that can catch you out, because it redlines at 10,000rpm, instead of say my R6’s 16,000rpm, you don’t at first realise the speed your doing, because you don’t have to wind it up to get a response. A couple of times I looked down at the digital Speedo to see I was in second, but flying at a speed seemingly disproportionate for the effort exuded. That’s another nice touch, the layout of the dials and indicator lights make everything very straightforward, and it has the fuel reserve light with counter that activates when you get low, a lifesaver when you’re as forgetful as me, all the lights and trip meters you could want, and a gear indicator which will prove handy for those who have just started riding, and may even help a wisened old biker like myself.
That’s where the beauty of Gladys lies, for a fair weather sports biker like me, who has to get leathered up, wait for a still breeze of less than 2.4mph and a humidity level of 42% before I feel totally confident on the beast that is the R6, it was so nice to have a bike where I felt with just boots, jeans, bike jacket and lid, I could go cruising to my heart’s content, or commute through the hearts of Birmingham’s narrow streets and communities during rush hour. That I did too, finding that the more upright riding position allowed me to easily swing in and out of traffic, and on the longer runs, like when I took her down the M1 to Luton for a TV meeting............wells let’s just say she had enough top end speed to keep me happy, even if I was grabbing onto the handlebars with my teeth for dear life.........I knew there was a reason bikes had fairings! But she stood the test of getting me to rugby training during rush hour and even made popping to the shops easy and fun.

So in other words, what Suzuki have made is an Italian looking bike, with the reliability and practicality of a bike from Japan, and it just works, sure you’re not going to take it on a track day (although fit a race can on it and I bet it would make a lush noise, although the muted thump of the V Twin grows on you!), but for commuting around town, and for a bike that doesn’t require you to spend 90 minutes before hand watching Top Gun to get in the “Zone” before you make peace with your God and hit the road, it is definitely worth looking especially at if your new to, or returning to the world of biking, or simply want something to help you do you’re bit to save the planet one emission at a time, even if you then go and board a CO2 spewing Boeing 747 to Australia for a day see your aunt Gladys!

So that’s week one done, next week’s blog won’t be so epic/boring (delete as appropriate) as I won’t have to set the scene again, and here is what the lads down at Streetbike have treated me with for next week, the Yamaha FZ-1....and wow if the ride home was anything to go by, she is going to be fun!!!

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