This post was triggered by the smell of a motorcycle, a special motorcycle, and one which then got me thinking about my most favourite smells in life. However, the first words hit the iPad screen whilst I was on an aeroplane and someone sitting in the vicinity of my seat made one of the worst smells possible, which is the smell of someone else’s fart. Not great, but at least I can now talk about the other end of the smells spectrum. The smells that I love, make me feel great, nostalgic and sometimes, very hungry. I’ve probably missed a lot of great smells out, but these are the immediately memorable and special ones.
Having spent my formative years on the north east coast of the UK, I’ve spent enough time both in and near the sea. All seas and oceans have a specific smell and the North Sea smells distinctively of salt, seaweed and whatever else is in it. The moment I step out of the car at the coast or get within a couple of miles of the sea on a motorcycle, the smell fills my nostrils or helmet with that very specific smell. It’s really great, especially on a ‘fresh’ (this a polite, Northern way of saying ‘bloody well bracing’) January day with an onshore wind. Of course, lots of seas around the world smell special, but the North Sea is one of my favourite smells ever.
Dutch Stroopwafels and a good cappuccino
Anyone who is Dutch or has been to the Netherlands, even just through Schiphol Airport, or even knows someone Dutch will have tasted these amazing caramel filled waffles. It’s very easy to wade through a whole box of them on my own, even if they are super-calorie rich. To get the best smell out of one of these delights is to put it in the microwave for 30 seconds on full power. The heat melts the caramel a bit inside and warms the waffle. This is how the factory smells inside apparently (Mmmmm!). The smell of caramel and the waffle mixture is heaven in the nose. It tastes magnificent as well. The second smell is that of a great cappuccino coffee. The two together provide a blend of caramel and coffee, and the sensory experience all-round is amazing.
This one may be a bit random, but you know when you take the bike for a new tyre, some shops or tyre dealers just smell of amazing rubber, which obviously comes from the tyres. Tyre sniffing isn’t everyone’s idea of a good time, but for me, it takes me back to the old bike shops that had tyres hanging from the ceiling or in racks and it was the dominant smell in the place. I know that there isn’t actually much real rubber in a tyre anymore, but modern tyres do still smell a bit rubbery. Finding a New-Old-Stock (NOS) tyre from last century usually provides great smelling rewards, unlike the smell of burning rubber when someone is doing a burnout.
Back on the food again, and when I mean French bread, I’m not referring to any old baguette. I’m talking about going to a French or Swiss-French boulangerie or patesserie, and coming out with several types of amazing breads from a croissant to loaves like the classic Mi-Blanc. If bought early enough in the morning, say from 6.30 to 8.30am, they will still be warm, which emphasises the smelling (and eating) experience. Absolute heaven!
Old books and magazines
Anyone interested in classic motorcycles will also have one or two old books, magazines or manuals as well. Anything from the 1970s or before is going to smell of great vintage paper and print. I guess there is also the years of other people’s fingers on them as well, so the paper will have soaked up whatever was on their hands or will pick up smells from the place they were kept in. This could be a smokey room, factory or damp garage or shed. Anyway, a good smell of an old book is a good start to the read.
Onions, garlic, olive oil and chorizo sausage
I had to add a photo of this to bring on the near-smell experience to the text. The onions and garlic and good quality chorizo are all just added to a frying pan with some good olive oil and left to cook on a medium heat. The smells that usually go up the extractor fan are phased. Firstly there is the smell of the oil, then the onions and garlic join the smelling party and finally the chorizo, which is best if it’s a good quality smoked variety of the famous cured sausage. As the chorizo cooks, it also releases its own orange coloured oil into the blend and this is where there is a monster-sized crescendo of smells which hit the nostrils. This alone on pasta is amazing and sometimes great with a little chilli as well. Note: if you can smell the chilli or it makes you cough a bit, you’ve probably added too much and it will probably be a bit too spicy.
It was my 1978 Bultaco Sherpa T 350, to give it its full title, that got me onto this favourite smells thing, because it is the only motorcycle that I’ve ever owned that smells really great. Let me explain. Apart from being a design classic with that strong Catalan-manufactured motorcycle heritage, it does have a very specific smell after it’s been used and put back in the shed. During the course of about an hour after it’s been put to bed, the whole shed smells of it. It’s a welcoming smell, and one that says ‘there’s something nice and warm in here in this shed’. If I go in when it’s dark, leave the lights off and just smell it, there’s also a warmth to the smell from the quietly cooling engine. This may sound a bit romantic and it may sound complete crap, but it’s true. It is one of the best smells ever.
The trick is to describe it to you, which is really tough. To try to replicate the smell into words, I’ve ridden the bike, put it back in the shed and sat near it to see what words come to mind, just like a wine taster might with a glass of wine. I don’t think I can provide a ‘connoisseur-wine-Bultaco-aromatic-smell’ description, but here goes anyway; It smells warm, like anything metal does when it’s hot. It smells of the 3 different (2T in the petrol, gearbox and clutch) oils that are in it. It smells of the paint that the engine has been painted with. It smells of years of use. It doesn’t smell of petrol. It smells of the rubber straps that fit between the cylinder fins to reduce the noise. It’s a weird smell that a four stroke engine wouldn’t have. It smells organically of the dead leaves and mud caught forever in the bash plate under the engine. Just like in a Police identification exercise where the criminal is being identified through a one-way glass window, I could pick out my Bultaco if I was blindfolded and put in a room with several hot-engined motorcycles. A bit weird? Probably, but it is one of my all-time favourite smells. I wonder if I’m the only one with a great smelling motorcycle?
All photos by the Author