Second bike doesn't mean second best

A single bike in the garage isn't enough for some of us. But think beyond the winter hack, the 'shed' and the humdrum commuter

Do you have more than one bike in your garage? Tell us about them below...

There is of course no definition of a second bike. It is merely a statement of fact; a second bike is just that, a second bike. Implicit, though, is that there's a first bike too. Only you have to ask: which is the first and which is the second? How can you qualify it? Truth is you can't. But the owner can. Only he can say, "this is my first bike, this my second."

And only the owner can explain the basis of his ranking. Yet in compiling this feature one thing we have consistently found is that to be identified as a second bike is not to infer secondary importance or inferiority. Far from it. In fact from our interviews we found the contrary to be the reality. Second bikes attract all manner of responses from the spectrum of emotional attachment, from being objects of desire through to being lifestyle choices or statements. And on more than one occasion we found the second bike brings with it friendships or attachments. More than just being a mere motorcycle, an object, the second bikes were typically catalysts to activities or relationships that would help define their owners.

Not all second bikes start life as second bikes, of course. Mike Jones's 1975 CB750 was once his first bike. Bought when he was 19, the CB then nine years old, it would for a decade be his first bike. Having started his biking life with an RD250 the CB750 seemed a huge bike at the time, "a monster", but with the passing years it appears to have shrunk somewhat, as Jones admitted. His current first bike, a CB1300, stands far taller, weighs much heavier. Currently the CB750 is off the road, as it has been for three or four years now.

"Nothing's going to happen to it in the near future either, until I get a house with a garage," says Jones, the CB750 currently residing in his dad's shed alongside the mower and barbeque.

"But I love the old thing, I'll never sell it. And I'd like to restore it given half the chance. I've replaced the rims with ally ones and laced them up with stainless spokes, and done little bits as the need has come along. I'd love to get a set of original pipes for it as well, but the cost is prohibitive. I'd like it to look original, it's such an iconic bike."

It was also, before being his, his mate's late father's bike, and so the attachment with it is shared by more than the one household. Jones spoke of the two mates maybe one day sitting down with the CB and restoring it to its former glory.

Nick Manning's attachment to his Yamaha R1 track bike is also shared. In fact the bike was first bought by his good mate Daniel Barge, who recalls a slightly fraught run last winter up to Scotch Corner to meet a Scots vendor in a lay-by, whereupon a deal was done for the 1998 sports bike turned track hack.

"It was an eBay find, although I didn't bid. I just called the man, arranged a price, doing a deal for cash," says Barge. "And I wanted it to have a V5 as well, for the occasional road ride."

Manning, Barge and another mate had previously discussed the idea of sharing a track bike, only there could be no agreement as to what they should buy aside from it being a litre bike - as that's what the group were all riding on the road. So Barge took the initiative, laid down his own money and then offered the thirds shares to his mates. Nick and another mate took him up, £750 apiece had the trio a slice of serious track action.

Having been track riding on their immaculate Suzuki GSX-R1000 and Benelli Tornado, Barge and Manning, respectively, found the R1 took their track enjoyment to a new level.

"We've got the spares, clip-ons, levers, fairing panels, and it's fairly heavily crash-mushroomed up, so it can take a slide up the track without too much drama. Whereas before we always rode with crash concerns in mind, now we're enjoying the riding more.

"And the bike's set up for the track as well. It really is so much better than our road bikes on track - although it's too lively on the road. The funny thing is it's pretty standard. But it has got Öhlins fork springs and a race shock and we buy second-hand race tyres for it. It's surprising the difference that makes."

Acquaintance also led Richard Berns into his unlikely purchase of a Harley-Davidson special. Berns is a City lawyer, for years a devout car man with a passion for yachting. But with a pressing need to reduce his commuting times he ventured into motorcycling. That was only five years ago. It was meant to be just a matter of a BMW C1 scooter (as suggested by a friend), but that didn't appeal to Berns who found a Hornet took his fancy instead. Which was followed by a VFR. And then through one of his more colourful clients, Ricardo, came his two Harleys.

Ricardo had a bad habit of taking mobile calls during his meetings with Berns and it was one of these that revealed that he owned two Harleys, a Road King and a special chop come café racer. Following a small (amicable) negotiation over legal fees, Berns now owns both. Berns loves the Road King, which he's taken touring, with his wife, to Tuscany and to Barcelona, but finds the special really hits a certain, previously suppressed, free-spirited vibe.

"Ricardo is part Romanian, part French, part Italian, so he's a colourful character. And he's about 58, so his youth would have been in that era after Peter Fonda's Easy Rider, so maybe that was the inspiration for the special. He had it built in 1994, it's based on an '88 FXRS but there's plenty of S&S and Arlen Ness parts in there.

"It's great for short trips as its not that comfortable but great fun to ride. It's speed, it's noise, it's hard and it's unforgiving."

And he's planning to ride it down to Spain next year. From what was meant to be an expedient means to an end, Berns has found a whole new way of life.

Travis Martinson's second bike wasn't so much a new way of life, but a new way of health. When he first ventured into dirt biking Martinson weighed a not inconsiderable 21-stone. He bought a Honda CR250 to compete in motocross but came up against that perennial problem - the juniors. They come out of the schoolboy ranks super-experienced and so dominate local amateur adult motocross. So Martinson bought a 1999 KTM 300EXC and converted to enduro. Surrounded by plenty of like-minded mature riders the endurance element of the sport had this deputy headmaster hooked and, in the pursuit of decent results, he proceeded to shed the pounds. Or rather stones, some six of them.

"I was 21st 7lb when I started dirt biking and got down to 15st 7lb. The riding gave me the focus to get fit. I started running to improve my fitness for the racing and from that I've now run a marathon too."

The KTM did for a while pass as his road bike as well, but with the need to fit competition tyres - and to portray some semblance of conformity at school - a ZX-9R has made its way into the garage. The Kawasaki is good, apparently, for parent approval - and the odd track day.

"I couldn't be without bikes and when I was down to just one, the KTM, I found it difficult. I'm the sort of guy who could have 20 or so, for all different occasions. But I have constraints. Money, career and family. And the size of the garage.

"I'd like a new KTM 200 but that's money, so it'll be a new chain and sprockets and a repack of the exhaust
on the 300 for next season."

Mark Phillips bought his RG500 for the same reason you or I may do so. Because of what it is: the ultimate development of the two-stroke road bike. Back in the day when so many of us craved a 500GP bike for the road (as against a MotoGP bike as we may or may not do now), Suzuki came closest to allowing us to realise that dream with this incredible 500cc square four two-stroke. It looked the part, it sounded the part and in 'factory-fettled' state was good for 150mph - which meant it good as went the part too. Its impact on the dreams and aspirations of a generation of bikers is not to be underestimated. As with the CB750, it's an icon.

"I was a huge fan of two-strokes and in the 80s this was the ultimate expression of the two-stroke. It was my dream bike and I said then that one day I'd have one.

"When I bought this one I was in two minds as to whether to buy a complete original or a modified sort. But it's surprising just how well this one goes - it has an RGV front end and brakes and Metmachex swingarm. It handles well.

"It's been off the road a good two years now, but the engine's been fully rebuilt by Stan Stephens. In the spring I'll sevice the forks with new springs and a revalve, then it's a matter of £800 for a new set of exhausts and probably the same again for a repaint. I've got two kids at university at the moment so money's an issue."

In the meantime he's using his number one bike, the latest GSX-R1000, for his daily 120-mile commute: "Maybe not an ideal commuter, but not bad as it goes. I got it because I wanted to see what all the fuss about."

Alan Sharr's Suzuki GSX1100EF is the closest machine here, in concept, to what the Visordown office envisaged a second bike to be: a winter hack. Something to save the number one tool from the merciless ravages of ice-melting, alloy eating, metal rusting road salt. It's perhaps a measure of today's biking market that this was the hardest second bike to find.

"It was too much of a bargain to miss, £300 - I got the wife to chip in with it too, as a birthday present. I actually had a ZX-7R as a second bike but it was too good for winter riding, so I got this off a mate.
I had to change the plugs, the air filter, basically do a full service, as it hadn't been going for three years, to make it a runner. But it's been good, right up to two weeks ago when it started running on two.

"I use it to commute. It would take half an hour by car, just 10 minutes by bike. But I couldn't say it's a fun ride. The forks are 'loose', the brakes definitely aren't modern, but the acceleration's good.

"It's also kind of like my street fighter. It takes me back to an earlier age, when I wanted to make a street fighter of my Kawasaki GPz750 Turbo that I had then.

"I can't say I'm emotionally attached to it, but I'm grateful to it for saving my Blackbird from the bad stuff. And I'll keep it forever. I've got a Bimota as well, but that only comes out when the long range forecast shows a dry spell right the way back across the Atlantic to America."

So, second bikes - can we define them? Not really. For Richard Berns and Mark Phillips their second bikes are flights of fantasy, or perhaps a latter day living of a dream denied during their youth. Nick Manning and Travis Martinson find their second bike allows a release from everyday ties, be it racing enduro or pushing ever harder on track days. And the second bikes have a positive effect therefore on their lifestyles, fulfilling Manning's need for speed safely and legally, and life-saving fitness (for that's what it is) for Martinson - something his wife and daughters no doubt appreciate. And for Mike Jones and his mate his second bike is a link to the past, to a patriarch now departed and a youth remembered. But a second bike can be a humble workhorse too, as Al Sharr's GSX proves. Even then, there's emotional attachment.

A second bike is not just another lump of metal in the garage. Historic icons, mementos of a cherished youth, essays in escape, bonds of friendship, vessels of good health. Second bikes are good for the nation. We should have more of them.