If you are extremely poor, then I can see why a small motorcycle makes sense. It sips fuel like a vicar sips his tea and at night, you can remove the engine and use it to pump water into your house from a muddy puddle in the road.
But James May and Richard Hammond are not extremely poor and they both live in England – albeit only just in Hammond’s case – where water is available from a tap. So they have no excuse.
And yet May seems to own about a hundred of the damn things, and Hammond has several thousand, none of which ever work.
I flew with them last week from London to Chicago and on the eight-hour flight, I watched the new Star Trek movie, I read some of my new Jack Reacher book, I had some lunch, I prepared for the forthcoming Grand Tour show in Nashville and I got 40 winks.
They did none of those things. What they did was spend the entire flight reading two extremely boring magazines about motorcycles. In fact, they spend well over half their lives reading bike mags and I just can’t understand it at all. Because how on earth can anyone fill a whole magazine with stories about bikes? And even more amazingly, how can they do it again a month later?
I suspect it’s a bit like horse racing on the television. They tell you it’s the 3.20 from Ascot but how do you know? All the courses look the same and so do all the horses? You could be watching a race from 1976.
I suspect that’s what’s going on with bike magazines. It’s just the same stuff printed over and over again and no-one’s noticed. It must be, because what is there to say?
Saying you like one bike more than another is like saying you have a favourite milk bottle. The only styling is to be found on the petrol tank, so when you hear two bikers arguing about which one has the better looking bike, that’s what they’re bickering about: who has the most attractive petrol tank?
Can you honestly think of a more boring discussion?
Somehow, they find other things to argue about as well. With Hammond and May this involves communicating using almost nothing but letters and numbers “ZZRGT” “Nah 650RR” “ZPT1000” The ZR is better”. “Not as good as the “T400ZZ”. And so it goes on, and on, until the next edition of Old Man’s Bike is published and they can rush off to read the same stories they read last month about petrol tank styling.
Sometimes, they put down their bike magazines and stop talking in letters and numbers and go for a ride. And I really don’t see the point of that because it’s very very dangerous.
What’s more, they don’t actually go anywhere. They just whizz off with their motorcycling men friends, have a bitter lemon in a pub, and then whizz back again.
I do find that odd. Because think about it. It’s a weekend. There’s tons of fun stuff to do but a biker will slip into a pair of leather trousers and spend the morning staring at another man’s leather clad bottom so he can stand about at a pub called the Donated Spleen, drinking Britvics and arguing with strangers on other bikes about petrol tank styling. And which musical they like best.
When I raise these points with motorcycling friends, I am invariably told that bikes are extremely exciting because they are so fast. But the truth is. They’re not.
On the roads round where I live in the Cotswolds, the damn things are always in my way as they crawl round the corners. It’s even worse when I get off my tractor and into a car.
A machine that comes with something you don’t get on a motorbike. The most important thing. An ashtray.