I’m currently, halfway through listening to Eric Idle’s autobiography in audio book format, and it is read by the man himself. The fact that he is reading it, means he can bring the words to life in a way no other could, particularly when he is doing old Monty Python stuff. The now, internationally famous song, which he calls ‘Bright Side’, is the one used at the end of the film, The Life of Brian. It is apparently, the number one song played at funerals in the UK, and it is also usually used by people who have just had something unfortunate happen to them. Quoting or singing the sentence ‘always look on the bright side of life’ is the first phase of acceptance of something and a step to get the positive out of the situation. This is pertinent for my recent experience below.

It is January 1st 2019. The sun is shining and making the blue sky over North Yorkshire, a bit more blue. Not quite ‘San Diego blue’, but quite blue. The York motorcycle club always hold their New Years Day trial in an old, disused quarry, which is about 6 miles (10km) from our house. I am going to ride over there on my vintage, 1978, Spanish, Bultaco Sherpa 350. It is a great bike. It is my plan to not actually enter the trial, but follow as a ‘moving spectator’ by riding around the quarry to watch the different stages. I pull the Bultaco out of the shed, oil the chain and then top it up with some pre-mix (petrol and oil). I remove the filler cap and shake the bike to see how much fuel is in it. It is empty, which is a bit weird, because I never leave a bike without any fuel in the tank. I proceed to fill the tank to the brim, put the filler cap back on and push the bike into the yard so it looks nice in the sun, just sitting there quietly. Whilst stepping back to look at it, I notice fuel dripping fast from the tank and around the fuel tap. I investigate with several cloths as the flow of fuel is increasing. I notice that the original plastic fuel tank has split where the fuel tap enters it (see pic below). This is very weird and I haven’t come across this before. I get into action and drain all of the fuel from the tank back into the jerry can which it came from about 5 minutes ago. For some reason, the 1978 plastic has decided to split after 41 years of use. This is mildly disappointing, but hey, ‘always look on the bright side of life’. I do, and decide that I will pull out my trusty mountain bike and ride there instead. I can travel about 5 of the 6 miles off-road, and using bridleways (routes for cycles, horses, and sometimes trials bikes and 4×4 vehicles). I get changed and cycle off to the old quarry.

See the split in the plastic where the fuel tap enters? New tank required.

I arrive at the quarry entrance, ride down the track to where I can hear trials bike engines of all types and am confronted by 4 men and 3 BMW GS1200 motos. There is one seemingly stuck in the mud and in the middle of the track. It is the massive adventure version of the famous 1200 GS and all 4 men are trying to get the thing out of the mud, and very unsuccessfully. I cycle around them and wish them ‘Happy New Year’. I could have sung ‘Always look on the bright side of life’, but it didn’t seem appropriate. Nobody was smiling and there were a few red faces with the exertion. I get into the quarry and cycle over to one of the stages that is quite technical. I know this because I have done it during a previous visit on the Bultaco. The whole quarry is filled with vans, land rovers, tractors and brightly coloured trials riders. There are at least three generations of families competing. Where I’ve stopped to watch, a young girl of about 12 is shouting down the line of waiting riders to get her Grandad’s attention before she heads up this technical climb. Once his attention has been obtained, she sets off up the steep climb and nails it beautifully. She stops at the top and looks back, smiling at everyone below. There is immediate applause and ‘good lass’ (this is Yorkshire remember) comments emanating from the bottom. There are about 20 riders waiting to to do the same and the age range is about 10 to 70, and both men and women. It is a right royal family moto day out, and the sky is still blue, amazingly! I am at the bottom of the climb and take a photo looking over the handlebars of my mountain bike, of one of the riders going up this short climb. It does look like I’m about to follow him up. I don’t, and ride on to watch other stages.

I spend about an hour watching the different riders, of different ages and skill levels, on different trials bikes, all tackling the technical stages, against a blue sky, and then I retrace my ride along the muddy bridleways back home.

Whilst riding back, I got thinking about the way that this trial will be reported. A few years ago, it would have been reported in the local newspaper, maybe the weekly national off-raid paper and maybe in a magazine. Today, our moto and mountain bike world has changed. Magazines are not on newsagent shelves anymore. Some are e-magazines only, and by subscription only. Some are now internet sites or hosted on Instagram and FaceBook. Some are blogs. This changes the way we operate as well. It means our attention span to take everything in is about the size of a Gnat or Mosquito. To prove this, most people apparently, don’t look at more then 3% of a websites content anyway. There is a big debate about magazines (or books) being better than internet sites. With a magazine, you can hold something tangible in your hand, but then you end up with a pile of them you’re not sure what to do with. However, you can pick up an old magazine and rewind and enjoy the past. Do you ever go back through your subscription library to re-look at previous editions? Probably not the same as you would with a real magazine, like ‘Real Classic’ for example. A magazine devoted to vintage motos and always has useful workshop stuff in it. I don’t think the debate is around which one is best. I think that it is up to each individual to manage and balance the richness of information and formats. I get a few of the 21st century ‘zines’ and love them. I call out ‘Sideburn’ and ‘Shredder’ as examples. These are small size format, well written and illustrated productions that inspire and make me want to get out on two wheels of some sort. It is a step away from the shallow ‘Likes’ and Instagram type of world that we appear to live in today. Magazines also used to be the place where you could buy stuff. They were like catalogues, and that’s changed too. The moto and cycling press all sadly criticise the closure and death of the High Street bike shops, but at the same time, will let you know where the best e-com deals are to be found, which means you’ll never go to your local shop to buy stuff. It’s confusing for readers and a contradictory message. The scale of e-com deals and opportunities is 24/7 and cannot be escaped, and it drives a constant shopping culture. This is a pressure cooker about to explode. My wife has a theory and observation that people are changing fast, and are moving away from ‘buying stuff’, to wanting to ‘experience stuff’ instead. More riding and less buying? This certainly seems to be the case with the millennium gang.

Instagram versus Zines? No contest. Just balance the two together. It is a vibrant world.

There is a small hill leading into our village from the east side, and a massive one on the west side. I’m riding in from the east, and as I get out of the saddle to pedal up the climb, I feel the absence of air in the front tyre. Bugger! The front tyre goes flat as I head into the drive. Lucky? Probably. I park the mountain bike next to the Bultaco, which is still in the yard and smelling delicately, of fuel. I remove the flat-tyred front wheel and place it next to the Bultaco’s front wheel. I have two bikes which aren’t going anywhere, fast. Now I need to spend some cash on a new fuel tank for the Bultaco (Inmotiontrials.com), and luckily, I can get one exactly the same with the printed logos on it. Hurrah! I also need to replace that inner tube in the mountain bike, which is an easy one. In addition, I’ve had a great day out and I do like fixing things, so I’ll get cracking, and sing the words that Eric Idle put together in a song, “Always look on the bright side of life”, and look at this as a ‘beginning’ and not ‘an end’. FYI – The bonus of an audio book is that I can listen to Eric Idle relaying his life to me whilst I’m fixing bikes. Ha!

Update – Inmotiontrials.com or read as: everything for trials bikes vintage and new-ish, did exactly what they promised (and always promise in my experience) and got a new tank shipped to me in 24 hours, and the Bulto’ was ready for a ride out really quickly. The Cannondale had its puncture fixed and both are good to go! It is always good to look at the bright side of life, and have a happy ending!

The new tank is fitted and the old one will go on the shelf in the shed with all the other offerings to the gods of speed

All photos by the author