Birds on wires. How do they do it? How can something as fat and dumb as a pigeon approach something so thin and, er, wirey as a wire and decelerate from 20mph to zero, grip the cable and not end up spinning round and round? It makes no sense. And how do the 30 or so I’m looking at now stay on there when another one lands, especially on days like today when the wind is blowing 40mph sideways?
Motorcycling is so involving. You don’t think these thoughts in a car, probably because you are a spectator, not a participant. Motorcycling puts you there, on the wire, kinda. Today is one of those rides where the mundane (morning commute, 7.30am, heavy traffic) becomes memorable. Riding the autumn’s first storm is challenging, but thrilling too. Eyes wide, nerves jangling, sports touring BMW feeling like a cat on a tepid tin roof. Every movement more subtle, that delicate mix of throttle, balance and light-speed thinking that transform half-awake Steve, sleep-walking to work into smooth, slick, almost-an-expert Steve-plus that mostly comes out when survival is more important than ‘wish I’d had that last pee before leaving’.
‘Do you think you should go in the car today?’ It’s a long time since Julie asked me that one. It’s the first storm of autumn, there are broken trees all over the morning telly and wobbling, weaving trucks filling my field of view. Thing is…I like riding in bad weather better than I like driving in any conditions and today I’m in one of those funny moods where anything seems like fun.
So, me and R1200RS are tucked in, at, er 59mph, on a long straight road, overtaking endless lines of cars and trucks in one, slick manoeuvre. Including a weaving, texting, Citroen ‘Expert’ van. Who buys a car called an ‘Expert’? Is it part of a family including ‘Novice’, ‘Mediocre’ and ‘Guru’? And how many other words are there that end in ‘wat’ Sorry... distracted, pay attention Rosie. Mostly because today, we are doing all this at 25 degrees’ lean angle. To my right (west) the sky is black, to my left (east) it’s bright blue with the low morning sun doing its best to still be summer. At the back of my mind is the memory of a mate who passed away five years ago this week. Appropriately, me and Des’s shared history include a whole load of daftly inappropriate rides, usually in bad weather, punctuated with garbled, silly fuel-stop conversation, and that sense of invincibility that old riding mates share.
Today’s buddy is metal and plastic. The instant shift between wet roads, damp ones, wind, rain and then sunshine is challenging the BMW’s safety algorithms. But I’ve come to trust it and just get on with plotting a course through the traffic.
Usually this trip only becomes memorable when I do something daft to make it so, but today, I’m bristling, waiting for the next rabbit punch of low pressure meteorology. I can feel my heart pounding, almost a dull ache as adrenalin and blood cells fight for space in a clenched everything – should I be worried? It’d be hard to feel any more alive.
Some perspective here. This isn’t Florida and this certainly ain’t no hurricane. I might be sounding flippant while the other side of the world is still searching for bodies. Sorry, didn’t mean to. But this is one of those systems that’s sharp enough to be exciting, but nowhere near dangerous. I’m excitable, not stupid. And this is the kind of day when every journey should end with a warm fire, a cuddle and a packet of chocolate biscuits. I don’t have either, but switching on the heated grips creates a passable impression of an autumn glow.
And the bike is awesome in these conditions Stable, planted, secure, predictable, but still with that midrange punch, still with that ability to flick in and out and still with a whole load of electronic safeguards to give me a chance when I forget that it’s wet down there.
That’s it. Journey over, how to finish a story about riding to work in a storm? No idea, so how about…
Engine: 1170cc liquid-cooled flat-twin
Power (claimed): 125bhp @ 7750rpm
Torque (claimed): 92lb-ft @6500rpm
Transmission: Six speed, shaft final drive with BMW Gearshift Assist
Frame: Steel trellis
Suspension: (F) 41mm inverted telescopic forks with semi-active electronic adjustment
(R): monoshock with semi-active electronic adjustment
Brakes: (F) Twin 320mm discs, four-piston radial calipers and cornering ABS; (R) 276mm disc, two-piston caliper, ABS
Tyres: (F) 120/70-17; (R) 180/55-17
Seat height: 820mm
Kerb weight: 238kg
Fuel capacity: 18 litres (4gallons)