Friday, January 27, 2012
#84 Aural Sex (December 2008)
Most of us can put our finger on the exact moment in time when the motorcycle ‘bug’ bit us, whether it was some formative childhood occurrence, or maybe stumbling across “Sons of Anarchy’ on the FX channel… ok, maybe that is pretty unlikely, but you get my point. For me, it was The Sound. My big brother had a friend that was perpetually working to get his bike back on the road. It was a Royal Enfield Continental, a 250 single with clip-ons and a huge headlight and gold painted tank.
The looks didn’t really appeal to me at the time and to be honest, I didn’t see why he was bothering with such an archaic motorcycle. This was also the same guy that sold me my first ever bike, a 1968 Suzuki T200 “Invader” two-stroke twin. I bought it from him for £60 as an alternative to riding the bus to work daily. It was fun enough running the smoky twin around the streets, it was advanced enough to have a separate oil tank for the two-stroke oil (which was an advantage over my friends who were relegated to riding BSA Bantams) but lacked anything resembling character. One day, he called me up and announced he’d finally got the Enfield running and wanted to go for a ride. When I arrived at his house, he was stuffing metal pot-scrubbers into the megaphone silencer (muffler) so as to tone the sound down a little. Several mighty leaps upon the kick-starter later, the beast roared to life and we were off. I remember the sound of that bike as if it were yesterday and not the mid-70’s, the resonance of the muffler, the pleasing over run when he shut the throttle, the heatbeat-syncronizing idle at the intersections...
This incident immediately and forever made it crystal clear to me what a motorcycle should sound like. Soon after, I dumped the Suzuki for a Ducati Monza 160 single, which didn’t sound quite as nice as the Enfield, but was certainly pleasing to my ear. Over the ensuing years, I found more bikes that sounded great to me, the BSA 500 DBD Gold Star has an incredible sound, The Vincent twin, the Triumph twin and numerous others have grabbed my attention over the years. I never heard a straight piped Shovelhead until I came to the USA in the early 80’s. I was camping at a party somewhere when someone down by the lake fired his Shovel up. The uneven cadence and tone reverberated off the lake and seemed to surround me, another moment I won’t soon forget.
Likewise, the disappointing sounds remain, just about any Japanese V-Twin sounds better with their stock exhaust than open pipes. The Yamaha XS650 has an unpleasant tone for me. A V-Rod with custom pipes sounds... wrong.
Sure, it’s all subjective; a Knuckle, Pan or Shovel all sound great, the Evo and Twin Cam sound OK. The flathead 45’s sound sorta lawnmower-ish, but the (real) Indian 80 inch flathead sounds great. The incredible BSA Gold Star was a 500 single, but the Buell Blast 500 single isn’t even in the same league.
You know it when you hear it, one bike will sing to you and make your nipples hard, another will just make you wince like fingernails on the chalkboard. Aint it great?