Single Track Mind: Behind the Scenes

April 10, 2012
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.

If you have read Road Test Editor Adam Waheed’s update on Social Networking, which you should because it is jolly informative, you will see that henceforth everyone at MCUSA will be sharing our innermost thoughts with you through Twitter, Facebook and now Instagram.

MCUSA using Instagram
MotoUSA now posts all the cool vintage looking photos on Instagram, because they’re too cool to go anywhere else.

This was probably the most exciting news I had read for years and, as someone who only migrated from a manual typewriter to an all-electric one last year, I felt really state of the art and very 20th century. As an aside, Adam didn’t explain what an iPhone is so if any reader can help me understand this term, I would be very grateful.

However, to get back to the point at issue. I actually received an e-mail from the Boss of All Bosses Ken “Hutchy” Hutchison. Once my daughter had switched on my computer, what complicated things these black boxes are, I was able to read that The Great One had instructed me too to share my innermost thoughts and feelings and to take you, the reader, behind the scenes of Single Track Mind.

My first attempt at personal revelations didn’t go too well. I sent a trial piece to Ken confessing that Carol had caught me in our bedroom last week playing with intimate things and making passionate sighing noises. And no amount of persuading and begging would persuade her to keep the second-hand G.50 piston in bed with us.

No, Ken explained, it’s not that sort of intimate which is now editorial policy. What is needed, ordered my master, was the story behind the story.

I recently competed in the British Classic Championship race and finished on the podium in third.
Congratulations Frank in filling MCUSA’s Englishman quota. Here’s a bottle of champagne and a wreath – now get to work!

Well, if that’s the brief – here is the real reason for the existence of STM. Like every other organization in America, MCUSA is audited by State and National Authorities to ensure that policies of social inclusion are rigidly followed. I’ve seen the paperwork, and believe me it’s an awesome job. There are quotas for every conceivable category of needy person and the whole exercise was in danger of bringing MCUSA to a grinding halt until Ken had a brilliant idea. Why not cover every base with just one single employee? Yes, with me, and me alone, Ken was able to tick a vast range of boxes – and vastly reduce everyone’s workload at the same time.

For example, the need for a proper representation of ethnic minorities at MCUSA. I’m English and so clearly put a large tick in this box. Just how incredibly rare a minority my race is in Oregon was proven when the very kind State Trooper both let me off a speeding ticket when I failed to realize that the speed limit changes dramatically between Nevada and Oregon – it really does – AND didn’t shoot me full of holes when I got out the car and ambled across to his patrol vehicle for a chat.

Incidentally, should you try to play the same, “I’m English and therefore very stupid” card with a State Trooper I would urge you to practice your accent and demeanor before commencing the presentation. MCUSA’s Managing Editor, Bart Madson, did attempt the very same ruse, in almost the same patch of empty desert, and got smacked heavily with a large fine, a surcharge on his car insurance and the promise to turn him into a colander if took one step further.

A genuine belief that leaving your car, smiling and then offering to shake the Officer by the hand is the correct way to commence a conversation is an essential prerequisite – albeit a very dangerous one.

We entered the event at the Anglesey race circuit with the intention of playing with the most beautiful race bike in the world - a 1962 G.50.
Racing motorcycles that are rolling relics… Not a job for the young, full-head-of-hair types.

Then there was the “employees with Mental Health problems” quota to be addressed. This box fitted me like a glove. What degree of insanity is needed for a fat, bald, wrinkly ancient to be racing a 1962 Grand Prix motorcycle? And if further evidence were needed, how about spending a fortune on a new six-speed gearbox during the winter just to be marginally quicker off the line?

Clearly, I also fill the Help the Aged slot wonderfully. Not only I am old enough to be the father of most of MCUSA’s staff but as each new fetus joins the team I am becoming old enough to be their grandfather.

And do they respect my age and wisdom? Not for one nanosecond – or is that nacho second, because I always get confused with the measurement of time and the rather delicious Mexican snack. Just look at MCUSA’s “Best of…” awards. Every year, I bring my perception and sagacity to bear on the task and declare the best motorcycle in the world to be the 1962 Matchless G.50 – which it demonstrably is – and every year the truth is rejected. How biased is that?
However, not only have I fulfilled all the normal minority quotas I am also heading up MCUSA’s challenge to be an environmentally sensitive and a truly “Green” company. This is harder than it seems when few of us at MCUSA are fans of diesel motorcycles and, for some strange reason, feel that a day at the race track on a quick bike is somewhat preferable to assessing the merits of the latest lean burn 50cc scooter.

One of the very few negative points of our Matchless is that it has horrific oil consumption. This needs some further explanation. The bike has no oil filtration at all and the only lubricant which works successfully in these ancient, but still highly stressed, race engines is castor oil.

As I have noted in the past, castor oil is the nectar of the Gods and I would urge any lady who might be past the first flush of maidenly youth to rub some bean oil behind each ear, and on the right wrist, if she wishes to form a relationship with a gentleman of a certain age. Rock up at an AHRMA meeting clutching a copy of the history of Manx Nortons, wearing a “Gary Nixon” t-shirt – and with dab of castor oil as I have directed – and you will be in danger of being crushed in the rush of ardent suitors.

The Rune proved to be a challenge for the Honda engineers who had an interesting set of requirements and full plate when it came to turn this style based concept in to a functioning bike.
Matchless G.50
Frank swears the Matchless is far more fuel efficient than the Honda Rune, without detailed fuel re-imbursement reciepts  we’ll just have to take his word for it.

Every time the G.50 is run it needs its 5 pints of oil draining and this means a considerable quantity of lubricant piled up at the end of the season.

Now a less environmentally aware person might consider the waste oil to be nuisance. But, with the need to build MCUSA’s Green credentials, I came up with the perfect solution. Central heating oil in Britain is now so expensive that it is almost cheaper to buy a copy of “Popular Mechanics” and follow their plans for building a nuclear power station in your backyard. Therefore, during the winter we have been turning increasingly to our old fashioned, wood burning fire.
This is all very good in a limited way, providing plenty of heat and, since we re-cycle the scrap wood from our land, it’s also effectively free fuel. The problem is getting the damned fire started first thing in the morning. This is a slow, laborious and boring task – or at least it used to be until I invented the “Matchless Explod-olog Instant Fire Lighter.”

The core of the idea is very simple. You take a five gallon drum of barely used castor oil and immerse a quantity of logs in the golden liquid. After four months of marinating, the logs are ready for use. Pop one in fire place, cover with conventional none “Explod-ologs,” light and stand back in amazement as two feet high flames roar up the chimney. No more waiting around for those pesky logs to get going: the “Matchless Explod-olog” does the job in a nacho second.

In fact, the current “Explod-olog” is the result of a winter’s careful testing. The Mk.I version saw even better performance but got me two nights sleeping on the floor in our lounge because Carol accused me of trying to burn the house down. Initially, the logs were immersed in a 50/50 mixture of castor oil and stale race gas and believe me, did those suckers go! Truly, “Burn Baby Burn” should have been the anthem for this product.

A secondary, but immensely important, benefit is that your log fire now produces a full-on race bike smell from the chimney. Now you can stand in the garden, downwind obviously, on those freezing winter nights and see not Santa, Rudolph and the team galloping across the starlit sky but a gaggle of G.50s, Manx Nortons and the odd Gilera 4. That’s not merely cool – it redefines a new value for absolute zero.

The patented Melling Explodo-log  a creative way for the amateur racing mechanic to bring shop odors inside the domestic confines and heat the home.
The patented Melling Explodo-log, a creative way for the amateur racing mechanic to bring shop odors inside the domestic confines and heat the home.

Clearly, even the revised version is dangerous, stupid and you should not attempt, for any reason, to replicate, or use, the “Explod-olog” at home – even though they do work a treat.

Special Note: No Animals Were Harmed in the design and production of the “Matchless Explod-ologs” – with the exception of the severe backache caused by Carol Melling’s cruel banishment of the inventor to the living room floor.

I should add that even though I am more than extremely proud of my Green credentials, and I hope to bring you more environmentally friendly ideas during the year, I did draw the line at one of my classic racing colleague’s ideas for re-cycling at a recent funeral we attended.

The funeral was a celebration of a really nice old gentleman who was a keen classic race fan – not a rider but the sort of stalwart who turns out in all weathers to support racing. This gentleman had suffered a fall two years ago and, being 94 years old, he had broken his thigh. He was a tough character and happily had his leg pinned with a long length of the highest quality titanium rod and was very proud to show off the x-ray of his metal support in race paddocks.

We all shed a tear and then Mike, who was sat next to me, said: “You know at cremation, they take care to make sure there’s nothing which isn’t biodegradable – you know, like Peter’s titanium pin. I wonder what they did with it?”
As I said, almost everyone has a limit – and I had just reached mine.