Roland Brown is a world class swordsman, entertainer, poet, scientist, boxer, ladies' man and motorcycle journalist. Only one of those is true.
The most memorable road-testing moment of 25 years in this job wasn't riding the Desmosedici or Rossi's M1, but heading through the gates of Norton's dilapidated Shenstone factory to start a scoop test of the rotary-engined Classic. In those depressing, pre-Triumph days, Norton seemed like the only chance of revival for the British bike industry, and the 588cc, air-cooled Classic was surprisingly good: smooth, pretty quick, and with sound handling despite its old-fashioned twin-shock chassis. Norton quickly sold the limited run of 100 units of the Classic, and developed it into the Commander tourer as well as the rotary racebikes. Shame Norton's revival soon collapsed.
As I'd never been to Japan, it was a real thrill to fly to Tokyo to test the all-new CBR600F and CBR1000F at Suzuka in December 1986. The trip itself was a disappointment, as the Japanese work ethic meant we spent most of the time being bussed between hotels, racetrack and factories, with no chance to explore. But Suzuka was awesome; atmospheric as well as scarily fast and difficult. And the new CBRs, with their 16-valve inline engines and jelly-mould styling, were quick, smooth and capable, especially the smaller one. Even so, few people predicted the CBR600F would become the world's most popular bike, comprehensively justifying Honda's decision to end their love affair with V4 engines.
My scariest motorcycling moment of 1987 came while testing the humble Enfield Bullet 350. The 1950s-designed Bullet was freshly imported to the UK from India with updates to the paintwork, electrics and brakes - or so I'd been told before setting off from the importers in Croydon. But when I got to the end of the road, the near total lack of stopping power meant I very nearly shot a Bullet-shaped hole in the back of the photographer's car. The rest of the ride was spent trying to avoid using the Enfield's feeble yet still excessive 18bhp. The lollipop lady who stepped into the road while I approached at less than 30mph never knew how close she came to being flattened - I pulled up with millimetres to spare.
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