Friday, February 12, 2010

Master of the Clutch

I still get goose-bumps on the back of my neck each time I read this story. If you don't like motorcycles, don't let the title or the photo put you off. This story is as much about drive, determination, perseverance, trial and error, and striving hard to succeed – as it is about motorcycles. The joy of achieving something important to you stays with you for life - mine did!

Holy Eucharist was concluded by the choir walking to the back of the church that Easter morning. I had led the procession as the Head boy. I went outside fully dressed in my surplus and cassock rather than go straight back to the change room. There was no traffic excepting a lone Triumph Bonneville approaching from the west. The solitary rider waved as he went past me heading to who knows where. I was transfixed. I had to get myself a motorcycle come hell or high water. It was 1958.

I fell in love with a new Francis Barnett 175cc single-cylinder two-stroke in the motorcycle shop in King street, Leigh. It was dark green and white and I had made enough money for the down-payment delivering newspapers everyday after school, including Saturdays. I arranged for her to be delivered to my home in Atherton on Saturday morning. Everything was set. My mam had bought me goggles and a used helmet; I had got myself a learner's permit with two red “L” plates and I had even made space in our garden shed to keep her out of the rain - but the bike never came. The shop had been very busy that day but promised delivery within the hour, and they did.

A motorcycle mechanic delivered my Francis Barnett accompanied by a second rider on a BSA Rocket for the return trip. I was over the moon. I knew how to ride it. My only concern was how to operate the clutch but my friends had told me it was dead-easy. They had told me to kick-start the engine, pull-in the clutch, engage first gear, let the clutch out slowly until I could feel her pulling forward - and release the clutch. What could be easier? It was a no-brainer! ...and I believed them!

I followed my instructions to the letter. I felt the clutch start to pull my motorcycle gently forward. My friends had been right! It was dead-easy! I released the clutch lever and I stalled. Bloody Hell! No problem, I'll get it the second time but the same thing happened. I tried it for the third, fourth, fifth and sixth time but I always stalled the motorcycle. What on earth was I doing wrong?..., this shouldn't be happening? It was now lunch time. I went through the process step-by-step over and over again in my head while I ate my bacon butty and drank my cup of tea. I had to try again.

This time, just as I started to release the clutch I saw a piece of debris on the road so I put on a little gas and held my clutch partially, but not fully released, until I manoeuvred around it. I was moving slowly and I hadn't yet stalled. Then, I continued to slowly release the clutch lever fully and away I went. UREKA!..I hadn't stalled. Up-shifting from first to second to third gear was no problem. I repeated the process for the reminder of the day. I was not about to lose my newly acquired skill.

What a great feeling! ...I had succeeded!..I had overcome! ...I am omnipotent! … I am now and for always ...“Master of the Clutch!” ….England's motorways await me.

Originally written February 9th, 2009

1 comment:

  1. The Francis Barnett shown is not identical to the one I owned - but close. Mine looked almost the same but mine was all green with a green & white petrol tank.