Once a year, at Shrove-Tide, Ashbourne becomes the Wembley of the Peak District.
For it is then that a game of 'traditional' football is played. Two teams of 'Uppards' and 'Downards' kick, grab and run with a leather ball stuffed full of sawdust. The only rule is that the ball has to be grounded at either of the two goals, which are 3 miles apart along the valley where Ashbourne lies. Play starts at 2pm and continues until 10pm unless a goal is scored after 5pm. Hundreds take part and to describe it as rough would be an understatement - it is a moving brawl which continues through the roads of the town, across fields and even along the bed of the local stream. The violence of this game is countered by some of the most beautiful scenery in Great Britain.
It's here that we're heading to, to start our test and this promises to be just as tough as kicking the shit out of a bag of sawdust for three miles, as we aim to test the cream of motorcycling twins - BMW's R1100S, Honda's VTR1000F FireStorm and the Aprilia SL1000 Falco.
Alex reckons the Peak's roads will offer a stern testing ground for these machines, as well as offering us some nice pubs and 'co-incidentally' we're just half an hour away from Frog's loved-one, who he will be staying with for the duration of the test, while me and Gus slum it in a local B&B.
To stay my anger at this blatant misuse of power, I nabbed the keys to the VTR on my way north from the TWO orifice.
The Honda VTR has been around for a while now - since early 1997 to be exact. At launch, many found it to be a good, worthy bike, a soft Honda take on the twin theme. Having had one for a year myself, I agree. It's a Honda so you get an excellent behaving motorcycle, the worst it will do is splutter and cough a bit when cold, but that's it. It's a Honda twin, so Honda engineers wanted temperament over temperamental. It's hardly changed over the intervening years, save for a slightly bigger fuel tank (up three litres from the original 16) and a new dash. As I head towards our meeting point at Ashbourne, at the south of the Peak District, It's all becoming familiar.
It's a comfy bike, the VTR. It's sort of a different view on the VFR theme, but with two cylinders and a dash of practicality taken away. That means it's nice and narrow - like a vee-twin should be - and with plenty of low down poke. In fact, it seems that low to medium poke is what this bike is about, as you don't get that big chunky top end pulling power on motorways that you get with a big-bore inline four, or even perhaps the Falco (more of which later) Instead there's an initial rush of torque from as low as 3,000 revs that seems to slow up as you hit 7,500 revs. What you do appreciate is the way the power is delivered, it comes at you in a perfect 45 degree line... no lumps, bumps or gristle - guaranteed.
One thing that is different over the old VTR I had is the dash. The old one had the normal speedo, tacho, trip meter and fuel light, but it seems Honda has gone some way to making the bike a little more practical with the inclusion of an LCD dash which gives you engine temperature, two trips, a clock and (at long last) an LCD bar type fuel gauge. Fuel was the original bugbear for the circa 1997-2000 VTR owner. Ride it hard and those big 48mm Mikuni carbs were drinking more than a Glaswegian half-hour before chucking out time. You could get as little as 70 miles showing on the trip before the reserve light came on and even then you'd get a best of around 17 miles 'til it was empty. For this year, along with the new clocks, you get an extra three litres of space for the old fossil fuel, but, even with the extra tankage, by the time I'd trundled into Ashbourne I was registering just 88.4 miles on the trip and that final LCD bar was hovering un-nervingly in the red reserve zone.
Over the next few days the best I could get 'til reserve was about 100 miles - which simply isn't good enough. Checking your speed is a little difficult, too. The speedo is laid out at an angle, so that at 60-70mph the needle is pointing straight down, and if you're looking at the road ahead, it only skirts into your peripheral vision when the needle starts to point to 12 o'clock, which is an indicated 170mph! It's a minor annoyance, although with a little more time perhaps you could get used to it. One excellent feature is the mirrors, which show plenty of the road behind, even with my flabby elbows covered in a bulky jacket. They even vibrate less than those on my FireBlade, which is a bit strange as this is what should be a 'vibey' vee-twin.
Scooting around some picturesque Peak scenery was a joy on the VTR, until you hit some big bumps. You can feel every one of those precious yen that the Japs didn't spend on the suspension as the forks hit the stops as you try and negotiate a small pothole in the road. Brakes ain't the best, either... they look similar to the excellent Nissins found on the FireBlade, but don't feel as good, they're okay, but not brilliant. I know I'm having a little moan now, but I was still loving the VTR. Despite the soft suspension and weaker brakes, as long as you keep your eye open for cow shit, potholes and damp patches, you could ride that lovely low-down torque curve and make those dry stone walls evaporate into a grey blur in your mirrors. You could argue that the VTR is the less involving ride here. You get off it and find it hard to conjure up an impression of the bike. Only when you really think about it do you come up with the simple fact that it's so damn easy to ride.
Evidence to this fact came from Frog: "I've forgotten how easy these things are to ride." See?
Evidence for me came in the form of a left hander we were using for pictures. Jason - as usual - was up to his nuts in cowshit half a mile away with a huge lens, as we barrelled into the corner. With excellent visibility ahead I could cross on to the other side of the road and lean the FireStorm over just enough to get my knee down. I thought that wasn't bad going for November, although I don't think I could have done it on any of the others, such is the 'ease of use' of the big VTR.
Continue the Peak District test
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