And now, we're back to bikes!
It has become pretty clear that the Vmoto Stash electric motorbike I write about here is not going to happen any time soon - if ever - and I still have strong suspicions that they're going to cheap out on the power of the motor, so I've pretty much given up on it.
Recently I found myself watching a video of someone on an ICE bike, and a thought suddenly dawned: why, exactly, have I convinced myself that I can't handle a clutch and gearbox?
And I realised that there's absolutely no good reason. Shifting gears on a bike is actually pretty simple in principle, and I think that my prejudice against it stems from my first CBT when I did get tangled up, and the bike got away from me a bit.
No harm was done, I coped with it well enough that the instructor actually made a point of complimenting me on my handling of the situation.
But it got into my head: I went straight into Full-scale Overthinking It Mode (it's just something I do...) which completely distracted me from just shaking it off and getting on with the job.
Over time, a little issue developed into a major hang-up, and here we are.
But no, I say. A thousand times no!
I've given myself a good talking to, and I've decided (gulp..!) to have a crack at gears - not least on the basis that if the chavvy little shitstains who blast up and down the road I live on with impunity on their poxy, totally illegal (and probably nicked), shonky off-roaders can change gear, I'm fecking sure that I can!
I'm extremely tempted by BMW's offering in this space: they do what they call CBT Plus, an enhanced CBT over two days, which includes (and this is genius, IMHO) time on a rolling road, so that the student can get to grips with changing gear without the risk of throwing the bike into a lamppost.
That, right there, is just the kind of thing I need in order to get gears out of the Mental Blocks folder in my head, and into my muscle memory.
But then, I thought, what if my local riding school could do a two day CBT deal, and let me just trundle about on their training ground for a few hours the day before the CBT proper, clicking up and down the gear box, just so that I can get over that hump?
OK it's not a rolling road, but getting used to the clutch and gears before things get "official" would still help immensely. It's a weird fact about CBTs that you're actually taught very little - just shown things once or twice, and then expected to get to grips.
So I've pinged them an email and hopefully their reply will give me some options: a couple of trips to Bedlington (the school is only about 5 miles away from me) will be a lot easier than having to get to Teesside International Airport (which is where BMW does its courses) for a couple of days - it'd be trains, buses, probably a hotel - and I'd prefer the more convenient local option.
My dear friend Chris, who rides, has very kindly offered to stick his bike - "Ruby", a Honda CB750 from The Olden Days - on its centre stand, getting the back wheel off the deck so that I can get some gear-changing practice in.
It's a clever and very welcome suggestion. But no sooner did he offer than the selfish bugger fell off a ladder,
possiblybreaking his ankle; so the notion has gone straight from "great idea" to "not happening any time soon..."
Absolutely no consideration for his friends...
Just kidding. Get well soon, Chris - you clumsy sod!
In any event, this - finally - feels entirely doable. And when I've done it (assuming that in the meantime I don't decide to go straight into DAS and miss out on owning and riding a 125), I'll be jumping on this little thing, the catchily and intuitively named Zontes ZT125 U1:
Remarkably well appointed and built by all accounts ("Made in China" really isn't a punchline any more - there's agreement across the board that these bikes would pass for Japanese in material and build quality terms), this little 125 delivers fantastic bang for the buck at around £3499 on the road if you shop around - and £1k less than that for a really good used one.
Compare that the the £15k plus that I was prepared to spend on a Zero!
The reviews are consistently very positive.
It's very comfortable; it rides really smoothly for a single cylinder machine thanks to good design and engineering of the engine, which includes a balancer shaft, and it will sit happily and comfortably at 60+ mph all day. I'll rarely want to do more than that, but if I did it will hit (an indicated) 70+ mph if needs be.
The clutch and gears are routinely picked out for praise in reviews for being wonderfully light, crisp and accurate. It has ABS - Bosch ABS, mind - and Bosch fuel injection; the tyres and brakes are excellent.
And it's although it's not ridiculously small like some 125s, it's not so tall that a shortarse like me will struggle - one reviewer (5' 7" - slightly smaller than me - with the same 30" inside leg measurement) was able to flat-foot it with slightly bent knees, wearing thin-soled race boots.
It's just "adventure bike" enough to allow me to play in the loose stuff and the clarts a little bit when the mood takes - checking out unpaved tracks in the Northumberland hills with my camera gear, for example; or even just getting me to the car park of my favourite local fishing club water, which is down a kilometre of ridges, ruts, puddles, mud and very loose gravel.
I've seen videos which suggest that the bike does in fact acquit itself surprisingly well on unmade trails. Obviously this is at the milder end of offroading - more "softroading", really - but that's as much as I'd be looking to do anyway.
With 100+ mpg realistically achievable and a 2.75 gallon/12.5 litre tank, c. 300 miles between top-ups isn't impossible, so longer (if not actually long - I don't see the NC500 in my immediate future) trips are going to be an option.
I might even get back down to my favourite corner of North Yorkshire again with some fishing tackle, as long as I can find a sensible route that avoids motorways.
And assuming that Woodlands is less shite than it was on my last trip...
Back to the bike's bits. It has keyless go; an automatic electronic steering lock and immobiliser; backlit switchgear:
tubeless tires (very clever, on a bike with spoked wheels - it's the same approach BMW uses, with the spokes attaching to a flange on the outside edge of the wheel, so there are no holes in the wheel rim for air to escape through); handguards; accessory bars and crash bungs; it even has a slipper clutch!
And yes, I think it looks bliddy fantastic.
So: I gave electric bikes every chance, but unavailability and/or uninsurability have pretty well burst that bubble, so as long as I do my bit at the CBT stage, this is how I'll be getting around in future....