Single Track Mind 2010 Round Up

January 5, 2011
Frank Melling
Frank Melling
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Our Memorable Motorcycles expert, Frank Melling also is the organizer of the British vintage motorcycle extravaganza known as Thundersprint. Melling began riding five decades ago and remains as much in love with motorcycles as when he drove his first bike into a cow shed wall aged ten. In the last 50 years, Melling has competed in every form of motorcycle sport and now declares himself to be too old to grow up and be sensible.

Jorge Lorenzo
Lorenzo celebrating one of his victories during his MotoGP title run. Trivial when compared to our man Melling, who has decended from Sinai with his proclaimations on the 2010 motorcycle riding season.

This is a sad time for me in the motorcycling calendar. Every year, all the other editors get to play with the “Best of …..” whilst, like some homeless Victorian orphan, I am left out in the snow to starve and die, with only a threadbare STM blanket to keep me warm.

But are we dismayed? Holler: “No!” Are we overwhelmed with the immensity of the task facing us in terms of reviewing the whole of motorcycling in just one column? “No Sirrrr!” And are we likely to treat this job with the dignity and seriousness it deserves? “Hey Mom, I can see a flock of purple pigs flying in formation with Santa’s reindeer…”

So, to the most important motorcycling news of the year. Yes, there’s all the trivial stuff like Jorge Lorenzo winning MotoGP and a load of brand new and exciting bikes. Everyone is looking forward to a truly memorable season ahead for both MotoGP and World Superbike but what about the really big news story? I mean the one which made headlines throughout the world. Namely, I crashed the family’s G.50 at Donington.

I had been riding like a fat, bald, wrinkly old race God all day and lay in a stunning third place, in the over-55 class of the British Classic Championship. With less than two miles to go, the oil breather pipe split and the rest, as has been noted by many other observers, was history.

Another well known adage is that your life flashes before you during a big accident. Being a G.50 owner, I got a different video. Crunch – that’s the gas tank needing repair – $1000 sir! Whap! There goes the handmade footpeg and another $200. By the time that the Classic Racing Motorcyle Club’s hyper efficient corner workers had reached me, I was whimpering on the ground just one stage away from death – with the thought of paying for the G.50’s re-build!

Even though the original plan was to pull in after a few laps  the G.50 was running perfectly and before I knew it I was passing people.
Classic racer as tragic figure – Melling before the fall. His dilapidated collection of bones and flesh survived somehow, but his fragile mind was nearly overrun by the sight of his beloved Matchless G.50 scraped across the tarmac.

As things turned out, the damage wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been. The lock-stop had bent because the fork triple clamp whacked it so hard. This meant stripping the frame back to the bare metal and having the nice people at Harris Performance put it in their jig and check it for damage. When it was declared fit and well, Harris’ clever craftsmen fabricated a new lock stop and bracket and we were back to perfection.

Since the frame was now sat in its bare metal, I had it powder coated, and then it was back to the womb of Fred Walmsley, who built the bike originally, for a full re-build.

The G.50 is a genuine, thoroughbred Grand Prix bike and, somewhat unfortunately for peasant owners like us, requires GP quantities of money spending on it. For the last three years, the bike has been impeccably reliable, and a veritable rocket ship, but three seasons of racing is a long time to go without ever having a spanner laid on the bike. Now, it needs a major service and it is time to put my left kidney on eBay; start wearing girlie frocks and seek clients for fun nights out amongst the sailors coming into the Liverpool docks and checking if the local burger joint wants a short-order chef. Two months from now the bike will be finished and I’ll let you know how much of my body I have had to sell.

The problem is that I am missing the G.50 with an intensity which is difficult to articulate. Every single day I yearn to be riding the bike again – and I do mean physically ache with longing.

I have been riding bikes since I was ten years old – and that’s a long time. From those 50 years of road riding and racing one would think that it would be difficult to have a clear favorite but, in way which surprises even me, the G.50 is a light year of ahead of anything else in my affections..

The boy Melling dreamed of being a GP racer Jack Findlay on the McIntyre G50.
The boy Melling dreamed of being Grand Prix racer Jack Findlay on the McIntyre G50.

Over the years, I have worked with many great riders but I always struggled to understand why the classic GP stars of the ‘60s consistently told me that their favourite ever racing bike was a G.50 – until I rode one myself. Some of these superstars had raced for the factory teams of Honda, Yamaha and Suzuki at their height and yet the bike which brought tears to their eyes was a basic and unsophisticated single-cylinder motorcycle with two valves and a chassis designed in 1943.

Here’s why. Two years ago, I was riding in the last track session of the day at the legendary Spa Francorchamps GP circuit. The evening was warm and the scent of the pines lining the track was heady and perfumed. The penulitimate corner at Spa is Blanchimont: a compound left of maybe a mile in length. On the best of best days, I can just, but only just, take this corner at 7200 rpm in top gear – something in the region of 120 mph. So there I am, nothing more than a humble club racer, with my head buried in the gas tank, the rear end just hanging out the merest hint, whilst the world’s best motorcycle takes me over the bumps and curves in a magic carpet ride of motorcycling ecstasy. It’s a privilege afforded to very few – and I feel almost embarrassed that someone so far down the riding ability scale as me, should be one of those sharing the experience.

If there is one bike in the world which comes near to the mythical two wheeled horse, it’s the G.50.

Matchless G.50
The Matchless G.50 survived, though its monetary demands for restoration reveal its former Grand Prix pedigree.

Regardless of your age, if you ever come into a shed full of money – currently, that’s $50,000 – then make sure that your first purchase is a G.50.

I always fail at New Year’s Resolutions. That’s why I still need to lose another 12 pounds of flab after a year of enthusiastically not trying and my desk will, almost certainly, be no tidier next year than it is this. However, there is one promise to myself about which I am desperately serious. It is this; I am going to try to use what power I have more wisely – and less visibly. I need to relate a short, but true, parable to illustrate why.

Just before Christmas, our local village had a Christmas parade for the benefit of the kids and local residents. Since crime in our village amounts to sighing loudly if someone pulls out of the tiny parking lot in a hurried way, the Police weren’t expecting many drive by shootings or turf wars between rival gangs of Christmas Fairies.

Even so, the Authorities deemed that everyone had to be protected from the pair of pet reindeer who were drowsily pulling Santa’s sleigh and saved from being deafened by Santa “Ho, ho, hoing” at 105dba. To this end, known, reliable citizens – cue drum roll for Carol and I – were drafted in as marshals.

It was at this point that a very, very, very odd thing happened. We were given a high visibility vest each and told to patrol next to Santa’s sleigh and prevent “incidents”. A roadside bomb, perchance? Maybe a drugcrazed Elf with an M16? An alien whose SatNav had inadvertently directed him to the top of a reindeer’s antlers? The actual nature of the incident, or incidents, wasn’t specified.

scorpion commander XDR jacket
High visibility is a good thing on the road. Yet our man Melling found its powerful aura too seductive to resist abuse.

Carol remained calm and as laid back as ever but I suddenly felt a need to tell people to stand-back-and-take-care. Like the One Ring in “Lord of the Rings”, the HIGH VISIBILITY VEST infected me with a severe dose of “mis-use of power” madness and I found myself turning into some sort of control freak. Look at me, oh watching peasants, I am a mighty pan dimensional super being because I have a YELLOW VEST!!!! Quail and tremble at my very presence because I have powerrrrrrrrr.

Fortunately, this evil behavior was completely aberrant. In the crowd, I saw Trish from our local butcher’s shop who commented that the VEST made me look even fatter than normal and, clearly, this was enough to consign the Tabard of Evil directly to my pocket.

With the vest gone, I walked along in the parade with our Collie bitch Meg, helped find the parents of a temporarily lost child; told a Christmas story to a little one who was getting cold, tired and therefore tearful and generally reverted to the well intentioned, and rather kind, classic racer that I am.

So, may I make a plea for the New Year? When you exercise control or influence over the lives of others – and everyone does to some extent – please use your power – regardless of how much, or little, it may be – gently and wisely. If you have a uniform, or worst still a HIGH VISIBILITY VEST, then be extra careful to make sure that your authority, and influence, results in the world being a happier place.

I hope that everyone has a great new year with the best riding ever.

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