I had a bizarre dream yesterday about riding a horse down the central motorway. I can’t remember if in the dream it was also a bike, or if it turned into a bike (or if a bike had turned into it) but it was a horse – And of course, this got me thinking about the eternal horse-bike comparisons. You care for them. You spend long hours with them, travelling, otherwise alone (I powerfully suspect that a modern Aslög, invited to meet Ragnar “Neither alone nor accompanied, either fasting nor eating, neither dressed nor undressed” would arrive with a motorcycle, a cup of tea, and wearing full leathers but no helmet). You feel like they have a lot of personality but, as with a horse, a lot of that personality is what you project onto them, or expect, or is a non-human behaviour given a human motivation (I insist that my beloved GZ, which hasn’t been able to be moved due to an electrical fault since the day that I passed my full test, is sulking). They’re valuable, beloved companions to their riders even if to a total stranger they’re “Just a means of transport”. They range from barely-clinging-to-life and worked to the bone, to pampered near-pets, to the core of their owner’s livelihood.

The big place where the comparison breaks though, is maintenance. Obviously, you have to keep both of them in their favoured environments (Actually, warm and dry with low salinity and not too much ambient dust or spores is ideal for both, as is giving the option to take the weight off their heels, in the form of soft straw or artificial bedding for a horse or a paddock stand for a bike, and a fleece blanket to prevent scrapes and surface chill and moisture for both of them… Hm) and you need to fuel or feed both of them commensurate to how much work they do (With the horse obviously doing work just to keep respiring – A horse’s engine basically constantly idles – and the bike should either be left with a full tank or winterised so that it doesn’t rust up) but actual maintenance – Vet med or service and repairs – is totally different. On a horse, leaving it with a problem is cruel. On a bike, as long as you don’t try to ride it, and it’s kept in those ideal conditions, it won’t get worse.

I’m not saying that every part of a bike has already reached the minimum of molecular complexity and thus the heat death of the universe – You can, literally, make matters worse – but you probably can’t do it casually, if you’ve taken the time to read ahead in your Haynes manual and apply a bit of common sense. Bikes may have diaphragms that can perforate and crush washers that can deform and fuses that can pop, but most parts of the machine, once taken off and cleaned and bent back into shape, are pretty durable and as long as they’re not either deliberately broken or corroded beyond use by time on the road, they can be fixed. If the worst comes to the worst, they can be replaced, piece by piece, either from the factory as a legacy part, or as parts from a donor bike. If you (and I know people who have found this) tighten up the mixture screw in a carburettor the whole way, you’ll only have to replace that screw. If you go off half-cocked and try to ride it after you’ve done this, you will literally blow the carbs off the engine and probably destroy either the carbs or the engine or both.

Effectively, if you have a problem, you notice the problem, and you fix the problem, you can’t go wrong. If you need to stop in the middle of disassembling the entire machine, you can just throw a sheet over it at night and leave it for weeks at a time, provided you’re in a relatively clean, dry, temperate environment.

Working on a bike, the worst that can happen is that you have to replace a component. Blow a fuse, shear a screw – You’ll be able to buy new ones. Strip the thread out of a socket – You can do amazing things with blobs of hot metal and the appropriate tap. Even go as far as fouling up the inside of a cylinder – It’ll take skill and money, but you can re-bore it and keep the engine block. My own EN was condemned in 2002 with a structurally corroded frame – Fifteen years later, given a strip-back, structural welding, a few new support bars, and a nice glossy black powdercoat, it’s thriving. It sat SORNed for at least two years at some point. You can’t SORN a horse. At worst, the component will be a large one – Like an engine, or an entire wiring harness. There are people who’ve brought bikes back to life from nothing more than an empty frame, a photograph, and a collection of classified ads in their local bike magazine. There are bikes where every component has been changed enough times that they’ve been handed a Single Vehicle Assessment form and told to re-register as a new vehicle.

As one of my machines is currently sitting awaiting a cure for carb icing (The effect of the venturi and the resulting vacuum, along with rapid heat transfer, in producing ice crystals under certain atmospheric conditions would be fascinating if it didn’t also cause my bike to drop to one cylinder at high speed and make a noise like tinsel being used as a carwash) and the other is awaiting a pickup so that I can work on it in the warm and dry, it is extremely reassuring to me.

Somewhat relatedly; It irks the shit out of me that in British English we only have one word which can in various dialects be used to mean bikehouse, bikehospital, bikegreengrocer, bikepetshop and bikehotel (That’d be a garage, a mechanic’s workshop, a petrol station, a showroom or a used bike dealer, and an underground multi-storey car park, in the dialects that differentiate). So basically, I can get my bike out of the garage and go to the garage on the way to the garage, then garage it there whilst I go to the garage to look at new bikes, then ride it to a garage in the city centre for a cup of coffee before going home and putting it back in the garage.

Totally unrelatedly – I’ve not slept for fifty-odd hours. Bugger insomnia.


As (some of) you know, I am a bit of a closet numismatist. What, in proper numismatic parlance is called a “change checker” – I won’t run out and buy coins, but I like to have a look at what’s in my pocket and odd coins – mis-strikes, rare designs, fakes – really interest me. And thus, obviously, in the UK at least, the love of my life is the round pound coin. (My favourite coin out of all the world’s currencies of all time is… debatable. Possibly the old 5 yen piece, with the calligraphic lettering and the gear, grain and ocean design).


And the round pound is about to no longer be with us, pulled from circulation on my birthday.


[Image: WIN_20170409_222456

[Image: Pound coins in a tray laid out in vertical columns. Left to right; The four union badges, the four floral designs, the four city crests, missing Cardiff and Edinburgh, the four bridges, the four animal symbols, the four crowns]

I’ve not managed to collect every year, but I’m only missing three; The city badges of Edinburgh and Cardiff, and the 2016 unique crest, which was only ever available in collectors’ sets anyway. The only other design which was only minted in one year is the crowned royal shield, which I have (top left in the picture) and which I found in my piggy bank when I was about five, and have hung onto ever since, through twenty-odd house moves. That was the coin that got me really interested in the physical properties of coins, and into the idea of collecting them as objects. I remember the animals series being new (And why oh why couldn’t they have been properly consistent, and had a single lion for England, a unicorn for Scotland, the dragon as-is for Wales and the stag for Northern Ireland?) and being tremendously excited about them because they were so different from the crowns, which were the only other ones in circulation at the time.

The bridges series to me are pretty much mentally synonymous with going to university, since they were first released whilst I was there, and their choice for England was the Millenium Bridge, over the Tyne (And I am nothing if not proud of the North, I know people who worked in Wallsend to assemble the pieces, the parts were made in Manchester, and Europe’s largest floating crane was piloted by a Geordie to lower it into place, with a tolerance of less than three inches to make it line up properly. Crucially, locally, the bridge represents Newcastle and Gateshead being joined, in an era when it looked likely that Newcastle would proverbially move to London and leave Gateshead to flounder).

The cities are the odd ducks – I rarely see them (or saw them) in circulation, since they were released whilst I lived abroad and they seem to have been snapped up by collectors far too quickly.

The flowers are probably the most ridiculously beautiful coins in circulation today. Naturalistic, clean lines, lots of open space and beauty, it’s a shame that they won’t get a very long life as coins (And it feels a massive shame that the mint just plans to melt down the ones it takes back).

But anyway, pound coins. And then there’s the non-legal-tender pounds; The ones from the various overseas bits and dependencies and places that few British schoolchildren can be certain are definitely “British” or “Not British”.


A much less good photo because my hands are shaky;



[Image; Pound coins, slightly blurry. Top-bottom left-right; Isle of Man triskelion, Guernsey ship and crest (as in, it’s got two tails, no head), Isle of Man St John’s Chapel, Isle of Man mobile phone, Falkland Islands crest, Jersey “The Resolute”, Gibraltar Neanderthal skull.]


For possibly obvious reasons, I don’t expect that I’ll be able to get a pound coin from every territory that uses pound coins, and certainly not one of every tails design. As much as I would like to. I love the Neanderthal skull one, and the mobile phone – Both of them basically saying “Hey, you know what we do here? SCIENCE.” And the Guernsey with two tails is incredibly useful for winning coin tosses with.


I also have a slack handful of interesting fakes which I’ve drilled holes through both to see what they’re made of and to wear them as watch fobs. Some of them have lead cores. I’ve not yet found one of the vaunted plastic ones, but I have got a rather beautiful and crisply minted London badge which is completely black with tarnish after only a couple of years of circulation, and a couple with amazing hand-lettered edge inscriptions.


But, basically, this is just me doing what I do best; Obsessively cataloguing a thing that I like.


I might come back and bore you all to death with Japanese coins at some point too.


Anyway, short version – If you find a Cardiff or an Edinburgh in your change, or even a really interesting fake, give me a shout…

Not enough prayers to Vulcan

So, my beautiful secondhand (Thirteenth hand) Kawasaki EN500 has now been in and out of the garage on and off for six weeks.


Part of me is pleased that the problem with it is completely stumping the professional mechanics, since it means that I wasn’t just stupid and shortsighted when I couldn’t spot it on my own. Part of me, obviously, wishes that it was something incredibly simple that I just overlooked and that they could have fixed in a second.


Part of me is pleased that the problem is only apparent once the bike is hot and being ridden hard, because there’s no way I’d have spotted it in my first test ride so I’m not just stupid for buying it. Part of me wishes it’d been incredibly obvious, then I’d not have bought it and not be having this problem.


Part of me is very happy that I have a rare, beautiful, strange, old bike, with a lot of character, and that even if I sell it after a couple of months, I’ll still at least have briefly owned a fire-breathing sweetheart. Part of me wishes that I’d bought one of the fifty million 535 Viragos still pootling around the b-roads of England, because I’d not be so attached to it, or if I was attached to it, it’d be rare that I found a problem in it that I couldn’t fix.


So now, with the bike back at the garage for the fifth time, having needed a pickup, running lean – a problem which could seize up the whole engine, causing a disaster that would write off the bike, destroy the engine and probably throw the rider if the bike was in motion at the time – and with a problem in either the pulsar coil or the carburettor, I’m stuck in a conundrum.


My other bike, my trusty and beloved GZ125, isn’t starting up. Some sort of electrical fault has killed its ability to ignite, so it’s been sitting under a tarp since the day I passed my bike test, waiting for me to find the time and the energy to fix it.


My partner’s bike, which I’m also insured to ride, a sweet and nippy Suzuki VanVan, has no battery, and needs a new battery purchasing before it’ll start up.


Currently, I have literally no means of transport, other than begging pillion rides off my best friend.


How long do I wait, and how much money do I throw, before I call it a day on the EN500 and sell him as a project? Time is ticking down.