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A New Addition

Spring is sprung, the grass is riz, I wonder where the bikers iz….

I don't know about you, but this is the time of year we in the Northern Hemisphere think about dusting off chunky boots, seeing if the leathers still fit, pulling on a helmet, pushing the starter button and getting out for the first run of the year. For me, it was on Mothering Sunday, and I was on board my new bike, and the latest addition to our seemingly ever-growing stable. I'd sold The Peanut last October, knowing that I wouldn't be riding during the winter months (and also that the ever-growing stable needed the space…) I didn't want to automatically go for the same make and model as a replacement, so I spent some time poring over various bike mags, and going to a few showrooms to sit on various models. I was very tempted by the new

Suzuki Gladius
, which seems to be aimed squarely at the female market. This is no bad thing: more and more women are becoming bikers themselves rather than just being pillions, and the greater variety there is in terms of engine size and height, the merrier! It's still a very macho world which seems to accept unquestioningly that bigger is better.

But I wasn't convinced. The riding position was slightly forward, and I still like being quite upright. So when a bike the same as my old one, only a year younger, factory lowered and with ABS, came up for sale, I bought it.

There are a number of different ways of lowering a bike's height: the simplest is just to replace the seat, and most models will be able to take a number of options, including various different specialist seats that are available, some with gel inserts to make them extra comfy for long distance travelling. Another method is to use something like Kouba links, which shorten the distance on the shock absorbers. The front forks can be lowered by the same amount, so that you're not reaching up high to hold onto the handlebars. This method has the advantage of being reversible, e.g. when the bike is sold, but because it's messing with the geometry of the bike it can mean that the angle when on the side stand isn't very great (therefore it's not as stable), and pulling it up onto the centre stand can be a 2 person operation. The final option is "factory-lowered". This means that the lowering has been carried out by the manufacturer. It's not reversible, so you're stuck with it like that when it comes to selling, although with the increase in female riders there's more and more of a market for lowered bikes.

So there was my new bike in the garage: a 2007 black factory lowered BMW F650GS. First I had to give it a name. The people I'd bought it from just called it "baby bike" as it was the smallest one in their garage, but I wanted something a bit more imaginative. (It's not like boats by the way, there's no bad luck attached to re-naming a bike, and many have no names at all!) A sticker on the windscreen proclaimed "profoundly disturbed", so my first choice was Loki. But Dai opined that a god of mischief was perhaps not the wisest of choices for something I want to keep me safe. I did suggest Obama, but instead used the ZUC registration as my inspiration and called it Zucchero, Italian for sweet, and the name of a fine blues-rock singer. Remember his duet with Paul Young, Senza Una Donna? Have a listen out for his latest song, Una Carezza., which I think is rather lovely.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, Mother's Day was sunny if not warm, with a stiff breeze blowing. I struggled into my Draggin Jeans and my textile jacket, cursing my inability to shift those extra pounds, zipped up my chunky boots, made sure my visor was clean, and pulled on my white helmet. I was feeling distinctly nervous, and running through my head was the sequence of moves in minute detail that I would need to change gear — clutch in, kick down to first, clutch out slowly while revving the throttle, foot up onto peg— and trying not to think about how I'd lift the darn thing if I did drop it. I started the engine. It throbbed into life straight away, with the lovely chitty-bang-bang tickover that single cylinder engines have. Critics decry the sound as being agricultural, but I like its sturdy chuckle. I nodded goodbye to Dai, and took a very short trial run just round the Square. It's slow speed riding that's the most difficult, so I relaxed as I managed to go round those corners in first gear at barely 5 mph, without any sign of wobbling. A quick check-in back at the house, and I confirmed my route with Dai as a safety precaution, and made sure I had my phone with me.

Out onto the road. I was probably very slow getting out of the first junction, but there was no-one behind me, so I opted to wait until the road was clear in both directions, just in case I'd make the turn too wide. Up the hill, and I pulled the throttle back and kicked it up through the gears, and was soon sitting at 60 in 4th with no difficulty whatsoever. I felt a huge grin spread across my face. I turned off the main road and came back home down a few windy side roads, to make sure I could handle awkward junctions.

My first impressions of the bike are that I love it! The gear changes are much smoother than my last bike, as are the brakes (which I'd always found a bit "snatchy" on The Peanut). The black looks superbad cool, and the factory lowering makes it a perfect height! This one's a keeper.

Shiny side up!

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