Whitham takes us by the hand and leads us through the streets of Huddersfield. Four battered middleweights, a bag of chips and a Fanta, please
"When I were training as an engineer, just after I left school, I had these safety boots, the kind with the metal protective bit on outside. All the girls used to hang outside the chippy, so I'd come steaming down this hill on me Fizzie, flat out at 40mph with my toes scraping on ground, sparks everywhere. Fookin' mint."
That is just a small taster of what life was like in Huddersfield in the early '80s, James Whitham's formative years. And now, despite travelling the world racing in GPs, World Superbikes and World Supersport, Whit still lives about a mile outside his hometown in the gritty north.
A while back I had been chatting with James and referred to Huddersfield as 'the lint in the UK's belly button'. "Yeah some parts are proper shit," he agreed. "Most of the industry is shut down, but Huddersfield ain't that bad really. Just outside he town you've got some great roads, the moors are top for bikes. Come up and I'll show you."
And so here we are, stood in the rain, eating chips covered in gunk that looks like something hacked up by King Kong.
"I thought mushy peas were green," said Niall after seeing what James was eating. "Sod that, I'm having curry sauce."
The day hadn't got off to the best start. Arriving the night before, Oli and I had been talking about how beautiful the area was and how good the roads were. The next morning I couldn't even see the hotel car park because of the mist and rain.
"This has set in for the day," reckoned Whitham. "Never mind, I'll show you where I used to hang out. It's in town so at least we can get a brew to warm up."
Bikes ready and waterproofs on, Whitham stared at the Bandit: "What engine is that? Looks like an '80s GSX-R motor, I've stripped so many of them damn things." The Bandit's engine is a very close relative of the old oil-cooled GSX-Rs. It certainly hasn't changed much since the original 600 Bandit's launch in 1995. All Suzuki has done for 2005 is add an extra 50cc and stiffen the chassis a bit. Not exactly keeping up with the water-cooled, sportsbike-engined competition, but it is about a grand cheaper.
Over by the also-revised Hornet Niall was making odd cooing noises. This actual bike is going to be his longterm test bike for the year, and it's the first time he's seen it in the flesh. "It's quite classy, isn't it?" he said, eyeing the inverted forks, high pipe and bronze paint while shielding the key from a circling Whitham.Class is something that Honda has always engineered into the Hornet. This year it gets new inverted forks to fend off the attack of the Z750, Bandit and FZ6, pus a bit of weight is saved by replacing the fuel tap with a digital fuel gauge.
Watching out for the cobbles, which Whitham described as 'the most slippery things in the world,' a soggy band of bikers headed into Huddersfield.
After a moment of excitement when we stumbled onto the set of Heart of the Matter (it's Yorkshire's equivalent of Eastenders, but less depressing), we found Whitham's childhood chip shop, ate mushy peas and hid in a café until the rain passed. Which it didn't. Wet roads aren't a lot of use for either testing bikes or photographing them so, after deciding that the Fazer looked good but the Z750 was the most handsome of the bunch, we called it quits for the day.
The next morning things were looking up. It wasn't raining any more and the roads had dried, so it was time to explore James' 'magic triangle,' - his local scratching route and the best roads in the area.
Continue the 2005 Middleweight Nakeds Test - 2/2
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