The Red Fastback
Some women never leave you, and nor do some bikes. The memories that come flooding back when I look at a Norton Commando anywhere I see one, are really powerful…….. so much that they sometimes really surprise me with just how strong they are.
I saw a Red 750cc Norton Commando Fastback parked up the other day, and right off I was in a right old nostalgic state…… Couldn’t leave it and kept walking back to it. A bright red Fastback …… she was one of my young life’s “Firsts”
I wanted to take it home sooooo much. Wanted to feel her under me again, wanted to touch her, feel her throbbing between my legs like only a Norton Commando can. Wanted to run my hands over her polished alloy timing chest… trace the word ‘Norton’ so beautifully cast into the alloy like I used to do when I was polishing my old Fastback all those years ago.
Wanted to get on it again, and feel that moment when I bought my first one from Bridge Garage, in Exeter. It was an identical Red Fastback. She was beautiful and I fell for her the first time I saw her, crammed amongst all the other second-hand bikes in their showroom, all looking like the ownerless, abandoned and forgotten souls that they were, all wanting to be owned and loved again.
I bought her without a second thought.
I was twenty and still pretty raw to ride a bike like her. She’d been around the block a few times and was the biggest, most powerful bike I’d ever ridden.
I rode her away from Bridge Garage and up onto the busy flyover roundabout. I pulled her over and just sat there tight to the curb with all the traffic going by. Her engine patiently ticked over, heaving on the rubber mountings in that lovely Commando “rubbery” way they all did, and it was a moment I’ve never forgotten. She was quietly waiting for me to do what I wanted to her, anywhere, any time, any place. Quietly chuffing away through her unique ‘peashooter’ silencers in her special way, and seeming to say;
“I’m ready when you are, sonny boy, take your time”.
She was so latently mighty, so brutal, and I felt afraid of her but somehow not at the same time. I can remember quietly saying to myself “What’ve I bought? What’ve I done?” I’d just part-exchanged her with a nearly new Bonnie, ….. the iconic 650cc Triumph Bonneville, …..but this thing felt like I’d moved up into the Big Boys league ……… Like , really, REALLY moved in with them, and right at that moment I found myself wondering if I was up to it. I was a nutter and I was good, …..bloody good, …..but was I good enough for this?
She felt like such a handful. She was tall, her wide seat splayed my legs apart compared to the Bonnie which felt much smaller. She was heavy and just exuded badness, the likes of which I’d never felt under me before. She made me wanna scowl at the world. She was like the sort of girl you just wouldn’t want your dear old Mum to see you out with. She was going to do some real BAAAAD stuff with me. She knew it and so did I. She also seemed to me sat there on her back to know it was my first time in the big league, and that I was sitting there not knowing quite what to do with her. I could sense that she just wanted me to let her clutch out again and ride her, and somehow I knew she’d show me the way.
I can remember how she felt as I thought to myself, “OK, I’ve bought it, so there’s no way to back out of this thing now,” and gingerly eased the clutch lever out. I eased it out a bit too quickly, though and she grunted and shuddered under me as the revs dropped too low. I felt her threatening to stall but gamely refusing to at the same time. I automatically gave her a touch more throttle and she barked softly and suddenly lunged forward. I grabbed the clutch in again and slipped it for longer the next time.
I rode her through the Exeter traffic, and it was a real steep learning curve. Lots of lunging forward shutting off, then another lunge and so on. A good bit untidy until I got the measure of her very tall gearing. She was so high geared compared to the Bonnie and so you just had to slip the clutch all the time and daren’t let your hand off it once it was really in. She would run away with you if you didn’t snatch the clutch in quick enough when the traffic slowed. Run you into the back of the car in front, real easy. As soon as the clutch bit, she just surged forward with hardly any revs on. She was saying “If you think THIS is hot, wait until you really wind me up and let me go”, just like the Bad Girl she was. I couldn’t wait to get out of town and get some room around us.
Finally, we got out onto the lovely open road, and in a few miles I was giving her all the beef she could feed on and at the same time trying for all I was worth not to wind up throwing her down the road. Sure, I was overcooking it all over the place and had some real near misses but I just didn’t care, in the way you don’t when you’re so young and invincible. I was laughing at her way of being so fast without trying at all. I remember that the most clearly of all; laughing aloud as I rode all that hot sunny afternoon.
This was different from the Bonnie. That was fast, but this girl was REALLY fast and she took no prisoners. This was what I’d always wanted. This was what I’d always thought it would be like in all the hours I’d spent as a kid sitting on Dad’s BSA B31, wearing his leather flying helmet and goggles, and dreaming of riding like a God. Now here I was, doing it for real on a top-end bike. She was a Superbike of her day and that afternoon I knew nothing was going to be the same again. One of those moments in life and every bit as memorable as making love to a girl for the first time. A moment in a life when everything changes and an innocence is lost forever.
It was beautiful, that first ride and I think it was the first time I ever felt a bike really looking after me. No matter what I did wrong, she seemed to just show me how to get out of it. Like an experienced woman making love to a young boy, she gently showed me the way to please her, and the more I pleased her the better it got. She’d been around the block a few times, and there was a soft power in the way she handled under me. I loved her from those first few miles, and I never stopped loving her. She made me feel just so proud to be on her back and I rode her all day into dusky moonlit darkness. I just couldn’t stop. I laughed a lot that afternoon and evening, and I never felt prouder before or since in my whole life.
Well, I did, but that was when i married my wife. Yup, it was that good.
When I went to bed that night, I was different. I was finally the Greaser I always wanted to be at last. Head to toe in black leather, a white silk scarf made from genuine coffin liner and walking so tall. I knew for sure that no one was going to mess with me again, and no one ever did.
Anytime I want, I can conjure up that first hesitant moment on her back. Sat quietly on the flyover there on the cusp of something so new. Listening to her ticking over patiently. Blipping the throttle and feeling the huge shudder under me from that lovely big-twin motor spinning up. Seeing that pretty Red Fastback the other day, was a shock from how strong the feeling was still. It really took me by surprise.
Like turning a corner, seeing a first love again and feeling the breathless surprise of her, and it being like first time you ever saw her all over again.
© Kevin Udy 23/03/05