I bought my NSU Quickly from another boy who was a couple years younger than me. He had advertised it in the Plymouth Herald newspaper. I guess he was looking to upgrade even before he was old enough to ride one.
I wasn’t old enough to ride it either, when I bought it. So it got the same treatment as all my old bicycles. I stripped it down and painted it and serviced it and generally licked it up a tad.
It had two gears, which you changed on the handlebars, like a Vespa Scooter, and a proper clutch. It had 26 inch wheels and a tiny drum brake, which was useless! Because it had a front brake lever (right hand side of the handlebar) and a clutch lever (left hand side), and because it had pedals, then the rear brake was arranged so that you had to pedal backwards to activate it.
I got it ready before my sixteenth birthday. My friend Steve, also had a moped, a Puch Maxi, which he wasn’t quite old enough to ride either. One day we decided to go for a little ride around the grounds of near-by Saltram House. We weren’t legally allowed to ride on the road but we figured that as Saltram House grounds are private then we only had to go the short distance from my house to Saltram without getting caught! Well the inevitable happened. My front brake wasn’t fixed properly so I was wobbling a bit going down hill, with this ridiculous pedal-back rear brake, and a passing patrolman pulled me over.
He said “I’m coming around to talk to your parents this evening.” So I had to explain to mum and dad what a fool I’d been. In those days, you had to go to court, even for little things like this. My dad explained to the magistrate that I wasn’t a bad lad and that I was too eager to get to ride my bike, which I had lovingly restored my self, and bought with my own money etc. But honestly, PC plod was trying to throw a “dangerous driving” at me. The judge sided with me, thankfully, but he was bound to fine me for being under-age and no tax or insurance. I remember waiting in the car, before the court case, with my dad. He knew I smoked, although I never dared to at home, and gave me a woodbine. He normally smoked roll-ups from “A1” tobacco (I still have one or two of his baccy tins around somewhere).
After the court case, back in the car again, and another woodbine from dad, and he said “I thought I’d had it, with my new car, for a minute or two.” Mum and dad had been putting money aside for another car (not a new one), a bit better than what we had. That was a Morris 1100, which dad had bought from new in 1964. I still remember the registration number: ADR 841B). We eventually moved up to a Morris Marina 1800, 1971 vintage.
So the fine was £12, about what I’d paid the other boy for the moped. A few weeks later, when I turned 16, my new provisional driving licence arrived in the post. It came complete with three penalty points already 🙁 .
Come my sixteenth birthday, I was all ready. I was properly taxed and tested and insured. The previous school summer holidays, my older brother, Tom, and I would cycle all the way from our home in Plympton to Bovisand beach, or even as far as Wembury, and go for a swim in the sea. This was around six miles, each way. As I had to get up around six every morning, to do a newspaper delivery round, you can imagine I was pretty knackered by the end of the day. Getting a little moped to potter along on was, therefore, a godsend. It became quite a popular outing. Even later on in the winter months, after I’d left school and started my apprenticeship, when it was too cold to swim, groups of us, old school friends, would go for a little ride out to Wembury. We’d stand around and natter, and smoke rollies.
We met Mr Wakeham, our old Art Teacher from Plympton Secondary school, there one day. Mr Wakeham lived in Wembury village and had to commute to Plympton every day. I liked him at school and he coached me to draw a massive, head and shoulders, charcoal, drawing of a male gorilla. This stood for months in the foyer of the school and was a major talking point during one of the schools open days. This day he said to me “Where are you now?”, meaning where did I get to after I left school. Anyway, I said “We’re parked up the road by the church.” I was a bit daft back then 🙂 .
Our Little Accident
One time Steve, Tom and I decided (well Steve decided really, let’s blame him) to go to Looe, in Cornwall. This was a little ambitious for my NSU, Steve’s Puch and Tom’s BSA Bantam. We got as far as Trerulefoot, on the A38. Tom and I were following Steve, as he knew the way. Steve went straight on from the roundabout there, down a country road, instead of taking a left (on to the A374). He realised this a few hundred yards further on so he stopped. Well, he stopped after going around a bend. Tom came around the bend, saw Steve stopped in the middle of the road, swerved to avoid him, caught his foot on Steve’s number plate and promptly fell off. I was a bit slower than Tom. I came around the corner, daydreaming about something or other, as usual, and ran smack into the back of Steve’s Puch. I somersaulted over the handlebars and landed in the nice soft hedgerow. But I had knocked Steve flying. So there was Steve and Tom rolling around on the ground nursing their cuts and bruises. Steve said, amidst the groans, “I stopped to tell you we went the wrong way!”. I was perfectly alright, apart from a few twigs in my hair and clothes.
I had, however, completely buckled my front wheel in the accident. Tom suggested that we have a word with the people in a nearby farm we passed and ask if we could leave my bike there and I could ride home on the back of Tom’s Bantam. Anyway, the farmer and his wife and their sons, similar age to us, invited us in to get cleaned up. So that’s where my moped stayed for a couple of weeks. A couple of days after we got back I went to see an old fellow called Mr Olette. I knew he had a few old NSU Quicklys and always seemed to have a cobbled together one, to ride about on. So I asked him if he had a spare front wheel. When I called around, he and his family, were having their supper and he came to the door, still munching away. He really wasn’t interested in my problems and said sorry he couldn’t help, and closed the door. Well, I was desperate. So I knocked again and told him the little story and offered him £5 for another wheel if he had one. Five pounds was a worthwhile amount back then, in 1973, so he showed me around to the back of his garden and, with some effort, pulled a rusty old wheel out from some bramble bushes. This was going to have to do. So I cleaned up the wheel as best I could, mum and dad phoned the farmer and his wife and off we went in the car. Mum and dad sat with them chatting while I changed the wheel over, including the tyre! I rode the bike and mum and dad followed me home in the car. “You were going along pretty”, she said later. Yeah, they went well, for what they were and went on for ever NSU Quicklys.
I remember my friend, John Richards, telling me that he had a similar, welcoming, experience at a farm. He went to University in London and rode back to Plymouth, sometimes, on his Triumph Tiger Cub (200cc four-stroke). He used to take a few minor roads to avoid the fast traffic. One time it was really getting late and it was very cold. He stopped at a farm and asked if he could sleep in their barn as it really was too cold to travel on, on a motorbike that night. Again, the farmer and his wife had grown up sons of their own so they looked after him. He had a good supper and a warm bed that night. I seem to remember John saying they topped his tank up with petrol and gave him a jumper too.
Accident on Plymbridge
I used to work at the Engineering Industrial Training Board (EITB) in Estover Plymouth, adjacent to the Wrigleys chewing gum factory, for the first year of my Tool and Die Maker Apprenticeship for Tecalemit Engineering. Well I say “work”, we were actually “trained”, but we had to start at 8:00 and keep going all day.
I used to ride the NSU moped to and fro, from Plympton to Estover. You used to be able to go via Plymbridge, which is now owned by the National Trust, and cross the little bridge at the bottom of the valley. Well the front brake on this NSU was absolutely useless. The wheels were 26″ diameter and the drum itself was about 5″ diameter. So you can imagine the turning-moment on this little two-shoe drum brake. It just wouldn’t slow the bike down a steep hill on its own. You had to rely on the back brake as at least you could put a bit of force on that. Trouble with that was you also had to be in gear in order to turn the pedals to the horizontal position, so you could put some force on it. If it slipped out of gear then you couldn’t turn the pedals and if you were going too fast then you couldn’t get it back into gear. I learned all this one day, going down the steep hill towards Plymbridge.
Boy, was I scared. I’d already come off of a push bike on ice on this road a month or two before and was scraped up by a lovely lady nurse, who was the mum of, Sandra Lock, one of the girls we knew at school. This day, on the moped, I ended up hurtling down the hill towards the narrow bridge. There is a little dip in the road before you get to the bridge which, thankfully, arrested my progress slightly. But when I got to the bridge itself there was a car already on it, comming in the opposite direction. Muggins got himself wedged between the car and the wall on the side of the bridge. The driver shouted “Stupid boy!”. Cost me £10 for his paint job, but again, I wasn’t hurt, thank the Lord.
Loose Gravel on Jenny Cliff Coast Road
Even when I had only had the moped on the road a few weeks I managed to fall off. Good job there weren’t so many cars around then. And most of the car drivers had had a motorbike themselves before driving a car, so had some empathy with young motorcyclists.
The picture shows the Coast Road near Jenny Cliff. (Turn to the right, in the picture, to see one of the many interesting old coastal defence forts, dotted around the south Coast near Plymouth)
I came around a sharp, left-hand, bend in, what was then, a narrow road. On the corner was loose gravel. But as I had come around the corner, I was suddenly distracted by the grand view of the sea and Plymouth Sound. And, being a bit daft as a sixteen year old, I forgot myself for a minute and turned the throttle the wrong way, so I then had to brake as hard as I could and managed to lock the wheels, that then slid out from under me.
I was wearing these really nice Levi stay-press trousers, which I had bought in a sale in “JC’s” a local Plymouth fashion store. I managed to ruin these, had a few scrapes to my legs, but otherwise was fine.
But just think, if I had been riding one of those 250 cc, 70 bhp Kawasakis? No, mopeds are good enough to cut your motorcycling teeth on, then move up gradually.
The Need for the Right Protective Clothing
I really do believe now that one needs proper motorcycling clothing. Tough leather or Cordura trousers are an absolute must.
My wife and I witnessed a young motorcyclist get struck by a car on Davenport Street, as we were waiting at the junction of Westport Lake Road, Stoke-on-Trent, in 2009. Seems he was overtaking, going quite fast, a car that had stopped to let someone out in front of us. So he was on the wrong side of the road and glanced this car as it was comming out the junction. Anyway, the car had plastic bumpers, which shattered and the rough, sharp edges then chewed a huge chunk out of his ankle. As a result of this, he lost his foot. This might not have happened if he had been wearing proper motorcycle boots, instead of trainers.
The accident might not have happened if he had been more aware and had been travelling slow enough to read the traffic situation. I have nothing against motorcycles filtering, I did it myself all the time, it’s one of the reasons for riding a bike, to beat the traffic, but you do need your wits about you.
Had my seven accidents plus. Slippery roads, with no grip on them.