Society & Culture

Motorbikes, Cockatiels, and Cups of Tea

wefwfdqwdqwAs a kid, I remember how my Uncle Dave would come over to our house every year at Christmas with his shaggy beard, looking a bit like a slightly disheveled Santa on his day off, and with one or two presents for me and my brother. He’d stand at the door insisting that he couldn’t come in because he had to get back to the farm, but he’d end up chatting with Mum for hours on end anyway, letting all the heat out. Mum would tell him to come inside, to which he would insist again that his visit was just a short one, but eventually he would wave goodbye and ride off on his CBX back to his farm until next year.

Not seeing our relatives too often was pretty normal for our family, I suppose. But Uncle Dave isn’t like that annoying aunt, or distant cousin, you haven’t seen for years and whose name you can’t seem to remember, which makes you start to question whether they are in fact a relation of yours. No, Uncle Dave is more like that relative you genuinely enjoy seeing, but whom, like a special suit or party dress, only comes out for weddings, funerals, birthdays, and Christmas. Even so, he is anything but forgettable.

After this year’s Yuletide visit, my parents and I decided it was time to turn the tables! We would take a family outing to Uncle Dave’s farm in Norfolk. On an overcast and chilly Saturday morning in January, we all climbed in the car and set off for the middle of nowhere. I didn’t realise at the time, but I guess I should have known, that while the weather was a bit dreary, our visit wouldn’t be.

When we got there, Uncle Dave gave us a quick hello and told us to head inside while he went out to grab some milk. As we were making our way to the house, I noticed my Uncle’s motorbike in the driveway. But then I saw another, and another, and another, scattered around the lawn. I knew he had a bike, but what were all these other ones doing here and where had they come from?

When we stepped into the house, we were confronted, or possibly serenaded, by a lively cockatiel, whose name I still don’t know – Uncle Dave didn’t introduce us – but who clearly had the run of the house. We ducked and dodged the bird and found our way to the kitchen. Uncle Dave came back with milk in hand and offered us a cuppa.

A few minutes later, he handed us a few “posh” cups and saucers, which he’d just bought for special guests and special occasions. After supping and chatting for a while about how everyone was and the journey up, curiosity finally got the better of me and I asked him about the motorbikes.

The one in the driveway was his favourite, a Honda CBX 1050cc. He rides it all the time. Then I asked about the others and he said, “Which ones?” Well, the ones out there, on the lawn. I replied. “Oh those,” he said, “I thought you meant the ones in the shed.” You mean there are more? “Yes, I’ve got about 28 bikes.”

28?! Why, where, and how do you have 28 motorbikes?!

He shrugged his shoulders and said he just liked them. A man of few words, I realised I was going to have to dig a little deeper. After a few more questions, he opened up a little. Turns out, he’s been collecting bikes for more than 40 years.

“So how many have you had then?” I asked.

“Maybe 500. Give or take a few.”

I nearly dropped my “posh” cup and saucer.

“Come on, I’ll show you.”

We finished up our cups of tea, donned coats, gloves and scarves, and followed Uncle Dave to these hidden beauties. First, he told us a little bit more about the CBX and how he classes this bike as his most reliable ride. As he said this, he popped the key in the ignition, but it refused to start. He smiled and admitted that he may have neglected his favourite for a week or two.

After this little bump in the road, he showed us the Kawasaki Z900, that is, the beautiful, sleek beast that Mum vouches is hers, or wishes that it was!

I pulled out my phone and began snapping away. As Mum, Dad and I were busy chatting about the Kawasaki, Uncle Dave began hauling things out of a little wooden shed to reveal another three motorbikes. With the clutter removed, we had a brilliant view of the Benelli 500 Quattro. Uncle Dave then told us that he has another Benelli stored away in yet another shed, the 750cc SEI 6, which is one of his favourites.

Peering deeper into this Aladdin’s cave, I saw what at first just looked to me like a chunk of metal with wheels, but it turned out to be a replica Honda RC166. Uncle Dave said he was in the middle of building this spectacular machine out of Honda parts and components.

“There were only six authentic RC166s built in the world,” he said. And it was then I began to get a feel for how much this one meant to him. As a professional tinkerer, it’s clear Uncle Dave loves a challenge, and what a challenge this would be. He went on to explain that because it was made up of six tiny cylinders, four cams, and 24 valves the size of pencil erasers, the RC166’s complexities would make it the ultimate challenge. He added that two of the original RC166’s sold for 2 million each and a replica (if built correctly) could sell for around half a million!

“So how long will it take you to finish?” I asked.

“Ask me when it’s done,” he replied with a smile.

It was time to move. We were barely half way through his treasure trove. When I asked him whether he had any plans for the other bikes, he scratched his head and said, “Not really. Whenever I get time off from the farm, I do take them out for a ride though.”

A burning question was where he got them all from, to which he replied, eBay. Prodding him to reveal more, he confessed that he’s travelled the country, buying them from all over the place. Scotland, Wales, and Cornwall. For a man who hardly leaves the farm, he’s pretty well travelled!

As we headed to a large makeshift shed at the bottom of the garden, Uncle Dave revealed a weakness Japanese and Italian motorbikes. His favourite brands being Honda, Kawasaki, and Yamaha but, he said with a chuckle, that as long as a bike has six-cylinders, he’s a happy chap. When I asked why he liked these brands, he shrugged his shoulders again and told me that he just likes them. Fair enough. Does it matter if you can’t say why? Isn’t the liking enough?

Then he unlocked and ushered us inside the shed. And there they were. Dozens of bikes. I was lost for words. I’ve never seen as many bikes in one place in my life. It looked like the storage room of an auction house! Some were in mint condition and others were waiting for new batteries, but most just needed a good clean up and a touch of TLC.

I wondered how much all these bikes were worth and he reckoned that after all the modifications and repairs, most of his bikes were worth more now than what they were worth when he bought them. He originally paid £1500 for the CBX, and after getting it into shape, it could be worth around £7000, nearly a five-fold increase in value.

“That’s a pretty good return on investment then.” I suggested.

“Yeah, not too bad.”

“And what about keeping them all safe?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well… you know, thieves.”

“This is the middle of nowhere and they’re all insured and locked up.”

Fair enough.

Being too polite to say himself, but knowing that Uncle Dave had to get back to the farm, Mum said, “Come on, it’s time to leave your uncle to the farm.”

We said our goodbyes, even to the cockatiel, and headed home. On the way back, I thought about Uncle Dave and his hidden collection and wondered how long it would take him to finish the RC166. I’d like to see it when it’s finished.

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