Bored With Mountains – Let’s Have Motorbikes Instead!

19 01 2012

Thought I’d put out a different subject of post for a change – I’d written this originally for the magazine of my bike club and, as I think it’s quite amusing, thought I’d put it on here. I notice other walkers sometimes have posts on other subjects on their blogs anyway. This is about my Army days and motorcycling in the 70s… The photos on this are largely awful as they’re scanned from ancient prints.

During the mid to late 70s, I was an Army gal and, despite it being against the rules, lived off camp in a caravan on a local croft with my then boyfriend Roger on the Scottish islands of the Outer Hebrides. We also shared the caravan with a couple of his biking friends – great fun but quite a squash!

Between us caravanners and my friend Isobel (who lived on camp), we had the following bikes: Roger had a Suzuki TS185 trail bike, ‘Millie’ (named by me not him of course!), Chris had a Norton 650, Steve had various old English metal from Vincents to Velocettes, and my friend Isobel had a Yamaha 80. I generally shared Isobel’s Yammy 80 and ‘Millie’.


Carol-the-squaddie on ‘Millie’

Due to the general laxity of road law on the Hebridean islands in those days – the only crime which was taken seriously was drink-driving (there was plenty of that from the locals) – you could more or less do what you liked. What we liked ranged from doing well over a ton on the Norton 650 over the straightest causeways between the islands, to riding 4 at a time on the Norton (I used to sit backwards, Chris drove, and Isobel and ano sat sideways 😉

We used to ride a lot on the airport when it was shut – Sundays and evenings – you could get some great speed up down the runways. That was where I learnt to ride – L tests were hilarious, consisting of requests from examiners such as: “pretend there’s a stop line/roundabout/traffic light” or any other such non-existent thing. There were some amusing evenings on the airport, including one night when our rather huge friend who worked for RCA joined us – he must have been around 30 stone and a generally big guy. He opted to ride Isobel’s tiny Yamaha 80 and disappeared down the runway. From our viewpoint at the end, all we could see was a huge blob disappearing at speed down the tarmac – he came back to find us all collapsed in hysterics…

We also used to scramble Millie on the sand dunes – this resulted a lot of air-filter and general cleaning afterwards to remove the sand.

There were also lots of rough ‘peat tracks’ going behind the mountains which we used to off-road on. I was generally useless off road as, if I came to anything slightly scary, I’d slam on the brakes (I’m a biking coward too) – on loose stuff that generally meant falling off. Roger was really good off-road however, in fact once, when we were taking turns on one of the rough tracks behind the mountain of Rueval, he disappeared for a short while. I was surprised to hear him calling me from a distance and looked up to see him on top of the hill on the bike – definitely didn’t have a track up it as I’ve walked it since!

The most hilarious bike-related thing I ever saw was Isobel trying to bump-start her Yammy 80 one day… she ran off up the road beside the bike and, when she’d got a bit of speed up, let the clutch out. The bike’s engine kicked in as hoped but, unfortunately for her, due to her being slightly behind the mounting position for the bike, she ended up winding on the throttle as she pulled on the handlebars trying to catch up and jump on. The bike roared off accelerating furiously… of course, the further behind she got, the more she wound on the throttle. She was only a little lass with short legs but they were a total blur as she disappeared round the corner behind the bike. Somehow she came back riding it but again I was collapsed with hysteria!


Isobel on Yammy 80

I remember at one point, while I was being taught basic bike maintenance by Roger, I felt sorry for several bikes around camp which were fairly abandoned and in a sorry state. I spent a lot of my spare time with chrome cleaner and suchlike tarting them up a bit, then finding their owner and a buyer and getting them rehomed. One such bike was a really nice BSA 150 – got a good home… We also found a Matchless 350 wartime Army bike in an old crofter’s shed but he wouldn’t part with it, even though he wasn’t using it.

Roger left me with some tools when he got posted, one of which was an old style (non-clicking) torque wrench with a needle-scale on the top for tightening the cylinder head bolts. One day, I’d done my first lone de-coke and was tightening the cylinder head. I was observing the scale and couldn’t see how I was going to get the needle all the way round to the 19 for the required 19 foot-lbs torque. I kept going until I reached the 2.5 reading and then decided it was time to phone-a-friend. I was just going to go off to the phone when I suddenly noticed the gauge had ‘x10’ marked on it! I’d been trying to tighten the cylinder head to 190 foot-lbs! Luckily, as the engine hadn’t been started and warmed up, all was okay fortunately.

The roads were pretty tricky as they were mostly single-track with passing places apart from a couple of the causeways. That meant that really, oncoming cars should wait in the passing places but the locals always figured there was plenty of room and just met you on the narrow bits. I didn’t really bother too much about this but remember getting a huge rollocking off Roger while I was learning and had him on the back. I zoomed along the road to the pub with him riding pillion, totally ignoring oncoming cars and squeezing past them at speed. When we arrived at the pub Roger had a face like thunder. “What is the widest part of a bike with a pillion passenger?” he demanded… “Ummm… the handlebars?” I suggested – “NO! my KNEES!” he thundered. I was supposed to be chastised but somehow found it really funny – he wasn’t amused at my laughter!


Roger with Millie

Another problem with the roads was that, as they are laid over boggy ground, they are very humpy and you can guarantee that over any hump there would be a sudden bend – you just didn’t know which way it would go. That caused quite a few falls at night including one where Isobel appeared back from a ride with broken teeth! Gales are a constant feature of the outer islands, in fact the wind rarely dips below about 60mph all winter. This necessitated very slow riding over the exposed causeways (no sides) – usually in about first gear.


Tricky Roads on the Islands!

We used our bikes for everything, including going shopping to the NAAFI shop a mile from camp. The favoured method of carrying our shopping bags back was on each handlebar and stuffed down our fronts. Roger once had a huge empty box he wanted to take back to the caravan and we puzzled about how to transport us both and the box on a bike… I suggested he sit inside it. It looked hilarious as my pillion passenger was then just a box with legs and the top of a red peaked helmet peering out the top – I couldn’t ride straight for laughing at the faces of the locals as we passed by.

Roger and I only had one accident each on Millie. He once went home on leave and left me Millie while he was away. The first day I decided to ride to work as it was a Sunday so there was no transport and I had some scientific equipment to check up on. About 2 miles into the journey I was going round a corner and suddenly found I was going down the road on my front with Millie beside me and a horrible scraping noise (there’d been an oil patch). I found at that point that boobs do have a use for women after all – they keep your face off the road! 😉 Millie slid slightly further than me but ground to a halt just short of a bend. I’d been trying to get up while I was still sliding but eventually realised I had to wait until I stopped first – I then leapt to my feet and ran towards poor Millie and tried to lift her up. Due to really bad technique, although she’s only 15.5 stone, I couldn’t lift her… that was until I noticed a car approaching the other side of the bend and I knew he hadn’t noticed me. Suddenly I hauled her up and off the road – just in time… The damage was a broken footpeg which my local friend Angus welded back on, a split exhaust pipe which another local guy brazed up but, worst of all, a split petrol tank – hmmm… I was really upset and rang Roger at his parents to tell him what I’d done but he was fine with it – he just wanted to know I was okay – awww!


Me and my scientific equipment (‘Waverider’ logging equipment – scientific experiment to explore the potential of wave power in the 70s)

His accident was when he got knocked off by a crofter turning right across the road and ‘not seeing’ him (as happens so often). Roger had just set off for work and came staggering back in. I asked what had happened and, when told, ran out to see how Millie was! He was a bit put out to say the least…

As I get very attached to my vehicles (they’re people to me), I ended up forcing poor Roger to sell me Millie when he got posted off the islands (I still have her now 33 years later). I was very friendly with the RAF officers on camp (they were young, good-looking and great company) and when I went home on leave, I used to garage Millie with one of them as he had a garage at the Officers’ Mess. Roger had given me the tip that, if she wasn’t going to be used for a while, to pour a little 2-stroke oil down the sparkplug hole. For some reason (I probably hadn’t done it before I went away), I thought I should do this when I got back so wheeled her out of my friend John’s garage. Of course, as I’d just poured oil down the bore, I couldn’t shift the kick-start so he offered to have a go (he hadn’t seen what I’d just done). He gave the kickstart a really forceful kick but it didn’t move at all (I’d effectively increased the engine compression dramatically) and very nearly broke his ankle!

Unfortunately, I hardly ever get out on my bike nowadays as I’m spending most of my non-working life driving (by car as I have to take lots of gear) up to Scotland every month on walking trips to complete ‘The Munros’ (all the mountains over 3000 feet). So poor Millie spends a lot of the year languishing in a heated garage with Robert, my 1975 MkIV Cortina 2.0 S – at least they have plenty in common so probably chat a lot about the good ol’ days when I had time to ride/drive them all…


Millie Posing


Robert (Don’t tell me “your Dad had one of those” – I’m sick of hearing it! 😉 )

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20 responses

13 08 2015
the Severe climber

That was a fun read – thank you.

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13 08 2015
mountaincoward

Thanks – those were very funny (as in enjoyable) times. Can’t beat being in the Forces for having a laugh!

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7 12 2012
Chris Whittington

Hi Carol, I believe we know each other from our time on Benny, i was Christine Wilson then, an E.A.G.

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7 12 2012
mountaincoward

Hi, I was a Radar Op so mixed more with them than the EAsG on the launch areas – but I was great friends with Irene Ashbridge who was an EAG at the time – do you know her? Are you on Forces Reunited at all?
Carol.

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7 12 2012
mountaincoward

Hi again Chris, looked you up on Forces Re-united and sent you a message on there 🙂
Carol.

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8 12 2012
Chris Whittington

Hi Carol, tried to reply to you but am not a full member, is it possible for you to message me at email below. Thanks x

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8 12 2012
mountaincoward

I will do – when I’m home from work – not allowed personal e-mail here!
Carol.

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27 01 2012
colin

An excellent read carol. I have had many bikes in the past mostly middle weight 550/650 so I can empathise with the falls. So many funny escapades. loved it. 🙂

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27 01 2012
mountaincoward

Hi Colin, we need to read about your Army exploits now 😉
Carol.

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25 01 2012
David Seòras

nice post and interesting tales…
I have several blogs that I read regularly and only a small percentage of them are about hills… I’ve never been a big bike fan myself but love your Cortina!!

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27 01 2012
mountaincoward

Thanks David… I have to say I prefer cars nowadays to bikes – or perhaps I should say car-driving to biking. I still love my bike but I don’t seem to enjoy motorcycling like I once did – I think the weather’s at least partly to blame for that!

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24 01 2012
Susie

Fascinating post Carol! Loved all the photos and the tales of misadventure, even if much of the engine talk is a foreign language to me.

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20 01 2012
Paul Shorrock

Great post, and so what if it’s not about mountains!!

I had bikes from being a teenager (started on a Suzuki 50 SuperSports!!) and just before goinb car bound at 21 I had a Norton 350cc Navigator – single cylinder and vibrated everything loose!

Returned to bikes in my 30’s with a Honda CX500 (bags of character but handled like a tea trolley on acid) a Kawasaki GT550 (shaft drive – solid, reliable and, er…. reliable!) and finished on a Yamaha XJ900 Diversion (a great mid-weight ‘mile muncher’ – super touring bike)

Got a Campervan and a Landrover Freelander now, and no time/room for a bike. Loads of bike gear in the attic, though – you never know!! 😉

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21 01 2012
mountaincoward

Hi Paul, I was hoping a non-hill post would go down okay! That Norton sounds like the baby brother of the 650 we were riding. Millie’s a single-cylinder 2-stroke and she vibrates like hell – so much so that I’ve had to put tap washers instead of metal washers under all the bolts as I got fed up of going back up the road for bits of bike when they vibrated off! I had a Honda CB500T for a while – a real beast which weighed 50 stone – the engine and gearbox, at 10 stone, weighed more than me – it scared my mother to death. it was a bit of a lump and I wasn’t sorry to sell it.

I’d love a campervan – must save up but probably too near to retirement now so really need my remaining money.

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20 01 2012
Scotlands Mountains

Brilliant stuff Carol.Never knew you were a hot biker chick 🙂
The Cortina brings back a few memories for me as well.Mainly of the expensive repair variety.!
I was only ever on a motorbike,as a pillion passenger, twice.Once to the Alps and once back home again.Never again.It was a BMW 100 RS ( ? ) a big fast touring thing.Brian had a rucksack on back to front,I had mine on normally and all the climbing gear was in the panniers.Tent and other stuff were draped over the rest of the bike.Probably illegal nowadays 🙂

PS: Unable since last night to post a comment on your blog with Firefox.Using IE to see if that works..

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21 01 2012
mountaincoward

Hot biker chick! LOL Maybe was once but unfortunately no longer…

My Cortina has only ever really cost me in welding (and thousands of pounds worth of that) as the MK IVs were real rust boxes. For a while the car had no value at all but, now there are only twelve 2.0 S ones left, apparently he’s shot up in value now. But mechanically, he’s been a superbly reliable car (apart from having a slight engine fire once a couple of years ago – that scared the hell out of me!) and has cost very little otherwise.

I think if my first biking trip was pillion (which makes me nervous) to the Alps, it would have put me off for life too!

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20 01 2012
bob

Good to see and read about your wild times as a youth Carol.I know what you mean about Islanders and drink.About 10-15 years ago the local policeman of a remote highland beat retired to be relaced by a young whizz kid from Inverness.Within four months half the population of the area had been done,including some top names.. squires and big land owners and clients….He was swiftly transferred back to the city.

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21 01 2012
mountaincoward

LOL to the over-zealous policeman – I can imagine that didn’t go down well. We used to get that every time we got a new Camp Commandant. They’d try to turn the place back into a ‘proper’ Army camp until everyone ignored them and the other officers advised them they were best to let things run as they were for a quiet life.

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20 01 2012
seekraz

What fun memories!

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21 01 2012
mountaincoward

Yeah – Army life was great in the 70s – peacetime more or less everywhere (except Northern Ireland of course but I never went there). You can’t beat the Army for comradeship and fun though 🙂

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