YHA February: Hartington Hall Part One – The knacker’s yard.

February brought my second YHA trip, this time with my bike forum buddies – We’d arranged to meet up in Matlock to pass Marvin the Monkey to his next host, I was due a youth hostel visit, and there was one right next to where we needed to stay.

Now, to clarify matters – On the 1st of February, I passed my full bike test. After a year of complete devotion to working on this and driving myself to exhaustion, this was a big thing for me. So after passing the Mod 2 on the first try (Oh how I will miss the Gladius! Sweet, nippy, powerful little machine that will sit up and dance with barely more than a thought!) and saying a somewhat tearful goodbye to my instructor, I was elated and excited to get the EN500 out on the road. I rode home on the GZ, and in jealous protest at feeling like it was being replaced in my affections, it threw its brake light, putting itself out of action for the duration.

My first tasks as a fully-fledged Idiot were banal ones; Getting The EN to the garage for a brake service (The front caliper was bent and the hoses were pissing brake fluid), and taking Dearest’s VanVan up for an MOT. So both bikes went out, and both bikes came back, and I went over to Best Friend’s house on the trike as a pillion.

The EN is a very different beast to the Gladius, and clearly not even the same species as the docile, breathless GZ. Bringing it home from the bike office, it bucked and fishtailed and screamed, threatening to drop me on my feet or skip up the exhausts of the cars in front. After the first hundred miles on it though, I felt like it was mine-and-me, as a good bike should, somewhere between a deep friendship and being a limb. It’s strong, it accelerates inexorably with a gentle whirr of liquid-coolant and a hum of high-revving parallel-twin goodness, it’s comfortable and sturdy and gentle, now that I understand how to talk to it, with that reserve of high power sitting always a hair’s breadth away, ready to pull me out of danger or to let me relax a little when cruising at seventy instead of constantly shepherding an engine that’s right on its redline. I fell in love, all over again, excited to learn where the new machine would take me. So I took it for a real ride – Washburn, Summerbridge, Greenhowe, Skipton. Thankfully I had Best Friend with me on the trike as a support vehicle, since the problems appeared almost as soon as I went out. Eight miles out, I had a little power loss and then a sudden uncontrollable acceleration. I pulled over intoa pub car park, explained the problem, and then kept on going. A hundred yards outside of the pub, it ground to a complete halt. I flagged down a passing tourer, who raced ahead to catch up to the trike, and pointed him back up the hill to where I was, just out of sight.

Trike returned, and together we shepherded the EN into a sleepy housing estate. A few roadside diagnostics (Are the carbs drawing properly? Is the air filter intact and clean? Rev up and drop through the gears to check for stalling or racing, poddle around the estate a few times to see if it does it again) and we were satisfied to ride on thinking it was just a one-off incident. We rode up to The Sun at Washburn, for a delicious plate of chips and microshandy, and a lovely chat with all the other local dog owners and bikers, including a handful of One Percenters who were all delighted to see a pair of mad old vintage machines on the road enjoying the weather (The EN500 is 27, The Trike is 20, one is an icon and the other is increasingly scarce and cult). At this point, we deliberated; Do we carry on, or do we call it a day and go on. I looked out at the glorious cold sunlight with the hint of spring in the air and the smell of fresh grass and sheep, weighed up the chances of running into trouble, and said; “Yeah, let’s ride on”.

The leg of the journey up to Summerbridge was so fast and clear, it was like a dream. It was why we ride. Broad, twisty roads, golden-green fields full of young lambs springing into life, red kites hanging in the still air under a blue sky, every other machine on the road seeming to be a bike or a classic car, all driven impeccably. The bike lost power once, but then started up again with no real issue, so we agreed to turn in to the next pub (Our planned next rest point) to sort things out. We stopped at a pub on Greenhowe Hill, where I encountered another biker from the Homeland; An older gent on a 1200 Sportster who had lived most of his life half a mile from where I grew up. In the words of Best Friend; “It was lovely to see, that spark of recognition from both of you… Then the Geordie accents got thicker and thicker and faster and faster until all I could tell was that you were both happy and nostalgic. But I couldn’t understand a word.” For my part, I was so happy to have felt that kind of kinship again. I feel very much like a stranger in my own homeland a lot of the time, so it’s good to see that other Geordies still see the Tyne in my blood.

It was on the way out of the second pub that things got unfortunate. Passing Bedlam, there were a few more sudden accelerate-then-grind-to-a-halt moments, including on a steep downhill. And then they got more frequent. At each stop, I was increasingly morose, exhuasted, sore and demoralised, and without Best Friend’s help, I’d have almost certainly just dropped her and phoned for breakdown recovery. By the time we were back in the City, we couldn’t risk the ring-road because at every traffic light, every junction, every couple of seconds, the bike was stalling and refusing to restart, even with her enrichment circuit fully on, as if she was dead cold. In the end, I was having to launch her hard on the back wheel from every stop, since letting her revs drop meant she’d die on the spot and probably not restart. I locked her in for the night, climbed onto the pillion of the trike, and went back to Best Friend’s house for a carb clinic. We knew where the problem was going to sit, we just had to hash it out.

The next day, I want home, and the EN was collected in the garage’s van, which took her away with all the solemnity and urgency of an ambulance. A day later, they phoned back – Problem solved, her carb boots were loose and they’d put them back on. I came out, picked her up, got her back as far as the bottom of the valley, and the problem started again. I shepherded her home, the garage apologised, collected her again, and she’s remained there ever since.

The night before heading off to Hartington, I charged up the GZ’s battery and replaced his rear bulb. In the morning, ready to leave, I discovered that even with the battery allegedly charged, he wasn’t going anywhere. So, Dearest being Dearest, offered me the VanVan for the weekend, a bike that I adore and have always wanted to ride for more than just the odd pop to the garage. And I had, after all, MOTed it the week before, I had earnt the right to take it out over the Peaks and really violate it.

The VanVan got as far as the garage before the battery died. A quick perk with the jump leads from Best Friend’s car, and I was on my way South…

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