It’s been a couple of weeks off from our near-constant road duties producing Café Racer for HD Theater, and already, the memories of a year spent riding, wandering and working on a TV crew are starting to flood back. We were on the road for part of 2008 and 2009 and most of the 2010 calendar year, so it’s easy to forget some of the funny, weird and downright memorable events that occurred but, alas, did not make the final edit.
One of the memories that causes me to laugh out loud involves our visit to East Sussex, England to the bucolic compound of Dave Degens, a man considered the godfather of the Triton special. Dave is known as a somewhat difficult man to get to know, and as one of my heroes- he did build a café racer in his garage that defeated the factory roadracing teams at the Barcelona 24-Hour Endurance Championships back in the day- expectations and apprehensions were high.
Well, Dave turned out to be both accessible, warm and funny, traits that emerged even more fully when the shoot was over and we embarked to a tiny little 18th Century pub nearby. Dave regaled us with stories from 60 years of motorcycle riding and café building and his mates Eric and Steve kept our glasses filled and our eyes watering with various tales of life on two wheels. Dave explained that one day while serving in Her Majesty’s Armed Forces in the late 1950s, he often challenged himself and his Triton to make the 40-odd mile trek from his military base to his London home in ever-quicker times. “One day, I roared through Trafalgar Square and there were all these people cheering and waving at me. I thought they were cheering for me and it turns out I’d written into the middle of a Ban The Bomb march, and they were all chanting slogans!
Even weirder was the crowd gathered in the pub that day- one fellow kept stumbling amongst the trio of parked motorcycles outside, stopping by occasionally asking questions to Degen’s crew whom he obviously knew. After watching the man down several high-alcohol pints in the span of just a few minutes, I asked who he was. “He’s the local taxi driver. You’d be smart to only ride with him before mid-day,” Degens said.
Ah, the British, they certainly know how to live!
Other memorable occasions came when Test rider Blake Kelly and I rode from London to Liverpool for a visit to this year’s Isle of man TT Festival. Blake had never visited this veritable motorcycling heaven, and after four TT’s, I figured it was time to share the magic with another dedicated enthusiast. The experience was, as always, amazing, with beautiful scenery, incredible, speed-limit-free mountain roads, friendly locals – many of whom drink like our friend the taxi driver- and more sportbikes than you can shake a radar gun at. Naturally, it pissed down rain for the entire 200-mile ride from London to the ferry port in Lioverpool, stopping only when we slung out wet exhausted butts into our seats on the boat.
The days at the Isle of Man are an incredible mix of doing laps along the 38-mile, 225-turn TT course, stopping for fish and chips at a quaint pub, a few more laps and then riding like mad to find the best vantage point for viewing the day’s races. Standing a couple of feet from a superbike roaring past at 170-plus MPH is one of life’s must-do experiences and even after five TT’s it still caused a chill down the spine. Blake was gobsmacked to say the least, and I was surprised to hear this former stunt rider and AMA racer proclaim, “you’d have to be crazy to race here. I’d never do it!” We saw a 3-D film crew making a film about the TT that’s said to be headed to Imax theaters sometime soon and it was a blast to meet competitors who all seem friendly and eager to mix with spectators- try that at a Moto GP round! On the way back, the skies cleared and we found a toll road going South back to London- we pegged the two Triumph triples at a steady 110 and after a few miles of getting into a comfortably fast rhythm, we were having the time of our lives as we diced with blacked-out turbo Bentleys who hogged the fast lane and whizzed past our motorcycles like we were in reverse. As we rode on, I noticed the distinct smell of burning plastic. Looking ahead at Blake’s Street Triple R, I saw that the bag he’d slung over his tail section had been cushioned by a hotel hand-towel which caught fire, roasting his luggage, and, if I hadn’t frantically signaled him to stop, his rear end as well!
As we beat the burning towel and luggage out on the roadside, a British police car slid to a halt beside us- and the officer informed us, in typically polite understated tones, that we were in violation of British law, having stopped on a dual-carrigeaway. “You should have made it to roadside services before stopping,” he said flatly. Maybe his squad car had never been on fire at 110 MPH before…
– Mike Seate