There's a good chance you're reading this on a smartphone or something like an iPad. How fantastic is that? Forgive me for still being amazed by this sort of thing, but it is completely mind-blowing. I recently worked out that there's more processing power in my pocket today than there was in the whole country when I was born.
The internet: it's the greatest single advancement that humankind has enjoyed in my lifetime. The world's people and their thoughts are all within arm's reach, always. And it's perfectly accessible. A smartphone isn't bag-of-chips cheap, granted, but when its price is measured against what it can do for you, nothing comes even remotely close. Not even chips. And these things are improving so quickly that your new one is outdated by the time you've finished unboxing it. It is the greatest triumph that manufacturing science has yet given us.
But not far behind, I'd like to suggest, is the 600cc sports motorcycle. Sports bikes have become unfashionable, usurped by adventure bikes and super scooters, but I don't think we should write them off just yet. The 600cc sportsbike is, to my mind, the perfect consumer good, because everything about it - price, size, weight, performance, appearance, proportions, sound, usability, capacity, chassis technology - resolves at a sort of nodal point of motorcycle desirability that makes me fizz so fearsomely I'm consumed by a baboon-like urge to mount it and be off. The gods will it.
Mine's a Honda CBR600RR, but that's a detail. Any offering from the Japanese big four, or Triumph, or the Italians, will do, and as long as it was built in the last decade, because these things haven't advanced that much owing to the decline in sales. They may disappear entirely soon - the CBR certainly will because Honda can't see the point in spending the cash to upgrade the engine to meet Euro4 emissions laws. But no matter; I've already got mine and if I could get it up the stairs I'd keep it next to my side of the bed. You should have one too.
Here is the whole mo'cycle, parked in the office. Note Hammond's hat and experimental space shuttle in background.
For the money - possibly just a couple of thousand pounds second-hand - no machine will tap into your sensory receptors like a 600cc sportsbike. No boat, no car, no manky kit-built light aircraft. It's performance envelope is as crisply defined as the edge of a broken pane of glass viewed under a microscope, and it will respond to inputs - from the controls; from your mood even - so willingly, so immediately, that to say 'you almost wear this bike' would be a hackneyed disservice to the breed. You absorb a 600cc sportsbike into the stuff of your being, and riding one is as endlessly astonishing and enduringly satisfying as having genitalia. I'd ride mine naked to wring every last ounce of man/machine interaction out of the relationship, but the gravel rash could be hideous.
Hang on, you may well be saying. Why not go the whole hog and have a litre-class bike? 'Why didn't you just buy a Fireblade?' is a question I'm often asked. But a Fireblade, apart from being more expensive, is a deadly serious motorcycle. The CBR600RR is proper enough whilst remaining a toy, a divertissement; something that could be described as 'crafty' if it were a smoke or 'cheeky' if it were a glass of wine at an inappropriate time of the day.
I'm also told, usually by bike journalists, that the shortcoming of the 600 class is that it has to be worked hard to give of its best. Is this an issue? We love the flexibility of a supercar engine after enduring the mealy-mouthed narrow rev-range of a plodding diesel, so taking the Honda up to 15,000rpm is a delicious indulgence. And anyway, the bike journalists are wrong, and merely posturing. The CBR is brisk enough at low revs, really quite startling in the mid-range, and quite hard to compute beyond that. To be honest, on the few occasions I open it right out, I pretty much soil my German beer-drinking trousers.
But that's OK by me. It lets me know I'm still alive.