Two Saturdays ago I went to look at a bike. Look that is, not buy. I was given dire warnings by M'dear what the consequences would be if I came home with another chunk of machinery. So I set off to Brechin to look at a BMW Boxer, advertised in the Courier, and which sounded promising. But then how many promising things have I ever chased up from small ads, only to be disappointed. My Saturdays are a trail of dodgy cars, tired motorbikes, iffy guitars and heaven knows what else that seemed such a good idea at the time. But then if you don't look, you don't learn, and there is always the faint possibility that this time is that undiscovered treasure that we all dream of. 999 times out of 1000 it's a pile of junk, but there is always the hint of a gambler in all of us spurs us on to just one more try.
So this is Brechin then, I faintly recognise it but can't specifically remember being here before. Find the chap's house which backs onto a car-park for the heroically titled Brechin City Football Club. Mr Downie turns out to be a retired bloke, "wha's ridden bikes a' his days", instantly likeable. We trot over to a wee wooden lock-up in a corner of this car park to look at the bike. As he opens the door an I catch a first glimpse of it, I feel a certain twinge. Not the blinding flash of light you would get if you had found Tutenkhamen's tomb admittedly, but something tells me that this is worth more than a casual look.
He drags the bike out and I get a proper look. It's a R65LS, 1984, A reg, orangey-red over black and it has something about it that looks kosher. It's by no means concours condition,. but there is an integrity about it, I think this bike is beginning to talk to me, it just hasn't said much yet. He fires it up and it runs reasonably well, a sweet engine but with a bit of a head cold, it coughs and fluffs a little. I sit on it and it feels good, very small compared to my K75s, but it has a certain delicacy. Hmmn. I could like this.
I do a couple of turns, carefully on the unmade surface of the car park, and the bike feels good. We put it back in the garage, and blether about bikes in general. I know that I should thank him for his time, make my excuses and leave. After all I am NOT here to buy another bike. Eileen would go bananas. But there is something about this wee bike that I am reluctant to walk away from just so quickly. During our conversation his wife calls to him twice to say that there are other callers on the phone enquiring about the bike. The price seems about right, he wants £1,500 (negotiable of course, we are both Scotsmen!) and I've seen much bigger piles of scrap for sale for more money. I decide to keep him engaged in conversation awhile yet. He suggests a cup of coffee, cos it's bright but damned cold out.
We adjourn to the kitchen for coffee where Mr Downie, sensing a captive audience, re-appears with a couple of old photo albums. He proudly shows me all the bikes he has owned, going back to before the war, and the one thing I notice is that he has precisely one neat black and white photograph of each one. This is the thinking of my parents, prudent wartime thinking. When I take photos, I work in multiples of 24 or 36. But to Mr Downie, one photo is enough, why take more? I am to notice this again, as when I meet Mr Downie a week later, he produces a small but expensive camera and takes just one shot. But I'm jumping the gun here.
OK I know I'm only here to look, but somehow this bike is worth more than once round the car park. "Can I take it for a proper run, my helmet's in the car?" So 2 minutes later I'm out on the road, it's cold and it's windy and this is an unfaired bike, but I'm putting in seven of the most enjoyable miles I can remember in years. By the time I get back I just know that I want to own this bike. So I'll be deeply unpopular, so I have no visible means of fiscal support for this plan, so I don't need another bike. So what! Life is too short to worry, it's only money, my bank manager has plenty, I'll just use a little more of it. Do it. Do it now before someone else shows up and beats you to it. Just do it!
So I did.
Friday 26th Feb 93 will always be a very significant day for me. It is my birthday. My 40th birthday to be more precise, and it is the day when I pick up my first BMW boxer. I have watched the weather getting steadily colder all week since I did the deed, but the Friday dawns clear and cold. Let's go get it.
Eileen and I arrive late morning to find that Mr Downie has gone out, back soon, but he has left the papers and the keys with his wife. I roll my new bike out of the wooden lock-up and it won't fire. The battery is flat. Terrific. Not a good start. Eileen nearly does herself an injury shoving the damned thing up and down the car park. I get it to fire, but it dies again, and by this time we are both too pugged to shove it any further.
Eventually Mr Downie and his son show up and he is incredulous that it won't start, it's never happened to him says he. All of a sudden I get a chill thought ... am I being had, is this thing a pup which will cause nothing but trouble? Too late now, my cheque has been cashed. Messrs Downie produce some jump leads and in no time the little Bimmer chugs to life, and we are ready to set off. It is just as I am making to leave I notice the Minox, and one other shot joins Mr Downie's album.
The next ten miles were terrific, the bike was running sweetly, the sun was shining and here I was on my 40th birthday present to myself. Best of all it was a Friday, I was having a day off work while every other sucker was slaving over a desk. Life should be so good more often. Best of all we were due to have lunch in one of my favourite establishments, JG's Diner at Finavon, after all it is my birthday so I get to choose, much to Eileen's disgust.. (These days I only really enjoy eating-out at either transport caffs or courtesy of David Wilson at the Peat Inn. Only the extremes are worth paying for these days, everything in-between is mediocre.) After a plateful of pie and chips with a mug of tea (yummy!) we went back out to finish our journey home, as by now it was getting very cold indeed. Key in ignition, turn, "Ga-dump, Ga-dump ...Ga-du....." The bike is as dead as a doornail. Just brilliant!
\There was no one around to help, so it was off with the kit, and into Forfar with Eileen in the car to find a garage, buy a set of jump leads (as if I needed them, I am now the proud owner of 3 sets of bloody jump leads!) and back to the bike, just as the snow started! With freezing hands and getting wet and cold I finally stirred the beastie back to life, and muttering dark things about charming old codgers from Brechin, I togged up and set sail, determined not to stop till I was on my own driveway. This was not quite proving to be the day I had hoped for!
So now it's ten days later. My immaculate bargain bike intially proved to have a lot more wrong with it than I had bargained for. Only one knackered mirror, a split in one silencer, a leaking brake system, and lots more little gremlins. Oh sod it, should I just run an ad in the paper and get rid of it? For whatever reason it won me around to keeping it, and so armed with a list of the necessary bits, a telephone and my flexible friend, I leafed through the various suppliers of Boxer bits. The first surprise was how immensely helpful all of these people were, either having the bits or willing to cough up another number to try. At the end of a morning I knew immensely more about air cooled twins than I did before I started, and over the next few days intriguing boxes of kit started arriving via Postman Pat. Oil filters, gaskets, brake overhaul kits, mirrors, pannier frames, more catalogues. Wonderful!
Then it dawned on me. I hadn't just bought a ten year old bike, I'd bought myself an entry ticket to a real live cult. Air cooled twin Bimmers may be sneered at by the morons that publish "Nerd Bike" et al, but just like train spotters and Star Trekkies, there is a big quiet network of serious Bimmer-heads out there and I had inadvertently networked myself right in there. The fact that the 65LS is one of the more unusual and rare members of the species was an added bonus, like being the first twitcher of the year to spot a greater crested mufftail. Hey, I could get to like this.
So the last week has disappeared in a flurry of late nights in a cold garage, happy as a pervert in Madonna's wardrobe; dismantling, fettling, cleaning, polishing, adjusting, re-building, tuning and generally re-acquainting myself with the joys of mechanical repair. The brake hydraulic system has been stripped and rebuilt, blown bulbs replaced, stainless fasteners polished, filters and plugs changed, bits taken off just to see how they fit, and anything that could be cleaned or polished getting some elbow grease! With every night the bike has looked a little better, run a little better and generally become more and more mine. It has in short been Hunterised.
And this weekend I set forth for my first spot of Boxering. Not yet perfect 'cos I am still waiting for my stainless steel silencers and with one dodgy silencer the bike is a bit loud, but none the less running sweetly. Saturday was a trip to Edinburgh and a mosey round the bike dealers and bookshops. A glorious day, only spoiled by me running out of petrol. Idiot! Ever noticed how few petrol stations there are in a city centre. Fortunately I ran out near "Better Bikes", and shoved it into their yard, borrowed a can and legged it to the nearest gas station. Thanks guys. This indiscretion apart, the little Bimmer is a joy in town, weildy and torquey it fair beetles through the gaps, where my K has me panicking about it's slow speed stability. Sunday was cooler and I set off for a short local trip, too cold to go far, an hour tops I told Eileen. Five hours, 120 miles, Dundee and Kirriemuir later I chugged to a halt again in the drive, cold but exhilarated. What a great little tool. I had of course sought out a few biker pals en route and was reassured by the favourable comments my little twin had drawn. A most satisfying weekend!
After this immersion in Boxerology for the last couple of weeks I had even begun to start talking of parting with my K. Maybe all the traditionalists were right after all. Who needs fuel injection, ABS, water cooling and big fat radials on a bike. We rufty tufty bikers only need the basics.
Putting the boxer back in the garage, I noticed my K75s glowering at me, ignored in favour of this ancient little upstart. There was 45 minutes to go before I had to report in for dinner (this is Sunday after all) I wondered what it would be like to ride the K again after my conversion to elemental motorcycling. Dig it out and warm it up, Christ it's heavy! A quick blat to Cupar and back should do, 20 miles before munching time. Go!
Within 200 yards I'm amazed. Within a mile I'm in love all over again. By Cupar I'm beaming and don't want to go home. The boxer may be fun, but this baby is SERIOUS. It is so comfy, it is so smooth, it is above all so FAST. I had plain forgotten what a fabulous bit of kit it is. And because of the boxer I can now appreciate it all the more. Out of Cupar, Traffic Cops pulling into the station for their tea, oh goody! Past the 30 sign and give it the gun. Magic!
What, sell my K? No way (unless the interest rate rockets again!) Sell my R65? I don't think so either somehow.K versus R? Pointless argument. If you can afford it, get one of each (and cheaper than a K1100!)
First Published in the BMW Journal