This is "Novemba-Papa-Yankee" A moniker that is the first three letters of her registration, in the phonetic alphabet; which is quite apt. November is the month of my birth. She was acquired in fond memory of my grandfather, 'Pops', who died earlier that year, and, she's a Yankee, having been grey imported from the US. It's also a bit appropriate, because, when I got her, I was working as a bona fodi 'rocket scientist', and she IS a BIT of a rocket ship! She was also cleared by military air-traffic control, and THAT was how they described her!
Err..... well, you see we were doing some testing at this air-field, and at lunch time, to get from one side of the site to the canteen, you had to cross the run-way. And they had timing gate on the strip, so there was a sort of 'unofficial' drag competition! She ran to 138mph........ with panniers attached!
This page has been up a long time, and was basically the owner's review I wrote on the bike back in 1999, published some-time later in the Used Buyer's Guide.
That has been moved to the general articles section, as Big is Beautiful, having discovered in my archive of silver halide negatives, the pictures I ACTUALLY took of her, the day I bought her! As well as others from some the adventures I had on her, when she was in commission. So, this 'Blog' has sort of been revisited with the archive stuff.
However, while the heading says 'From the Archives' I do still own the bike! She was laid up in late 1999. She had developed a death rattle and was due an MOT, and with marriage, a new baby, and another on the way, pennies weren't in abundance. I always intended to get her fixed up 'for summer', just not specifically which one! I did, in 2004 pull the engine out to delve into the source of that rattle. Unfortunately divorce intervened, and she got put in a shed, that fell on her, and lots of stuff that was all neatly organised in stak-a-boxes ended up flooded with rain water, and she's REALLY in a pretty sorry state. But I promised to to a proper restoration. Trouble is, she is really beyond economical repair, and it will be a labour of love, if I ever get round to it! As of now (New-Year 2011) I am working my way up to it, doing the Little-Dream 125's and the DT!
But I digress. I acquired the old girl in the summer of 1997, after promising myself a 'big' bike, ever since university, but work, pay-rises and abominable insurance premiums forbade it for a good five years. Until I had had enough, bit the bullet, took out a bank loan and went hunting.
I was actually looking for either a Kawasaki GPZ900R or a Yamaha FZ750 'Genesis', both bikes with reputations for renowned reliability and impeccable handling.
So I bought a Honda VF1000F, a bike with a reputation for eating its own cylinder-heads and cam-train, and handling like a barge!
Well, actually, it's reputation is exaggerated. The Bike only had a three year model life across variants, and in total, the UK got less than 1000 of them. I think that at last count there were only about 300 84 models ever registered, and of ALL the VF's ever registered with DVLA, last year (2010) only about half a dozen were actually taxed and on the road!
With so few bikes made, its curious as to how SO many people can have such authoritative first hand experience of their handling and reliability.... truth is, MOST don't, and its all hear-say.
But I digress again! Thing was, the mid-90's was a time of resurgence in the motorcycle market. New registrations in the UK had been in decline for quarter of a century, as the baby-boomers to whom the motorcycle had been a cult icon of freedom and rebellion, grew up or gave up, in the face of cheap cars and draconian anti-bike legislation. In the late eighties and early nineties, motorcycling in the UK was almost extinct, but co-incidentally, those baby-boomers who had forsaken the pursuit towards the end of their youth, were starting to have mid-life crisis, and on discovering the prices of classic cars like Jenson Interceptors, TR6's and MGB's, remembered the bike-licence they had forgotten they had, and in the mid 90's, started buying Harley's, Ducati's and Hinckley Triumphs instead! Biking was being 'saved' by the wannabees! But who cares!
Only trouble was, in the resurgence of the 1990's, after a quarter century of decline in new bike sales, there just weren't enough second hand bikes for all the buyers out there. The grey-import business was in boom, and most bikes being offered were Japan market 400's or American Market 700's. Good UK bikes were few and far between; prices high, and buyers eager. Finding a relatively 'safe' bike like the FZ750 or GPZ900, was difficult. There were bikes out there, but I'd get MCN on my way into work on a Wednesday the morning, fresh off the news-stands, and by lunch-time I was being told the bike had already been sold.
It was a seller's market, and dealers could stick almost any old tat in the show-room and demand top-book prices for it. It would sell. Bargains were hard to find, and simply a 'good-deal' pretty tough.
Anyway, I came across an advert in Bike-Trader, pretty much our only source of second hand ads back then, apart from MCN. The 'internet' in the 20th Century was a very different and MUCH less commercial place, and it wasn't in every-household. Only reason I was on it, was because I was working for the military and studying part time in IT.
But, back to this ad. It was for an American Import FZ700, that's a sleeved down early '80's version of the FZ750, for the US-Market, when they still had Import-Restrictions on bikes over 700cc's to protect Harley-Davidson. Basically the same bike, and virtually identical performance.
Book price on a UK FZ750 was around £1500-£2000. FZ700, was marked up at £1500. For the sake of 50cc's, I expected to get a top-book condition bike, that had never seen a British winter or salted road, for bottom book price. As did every-one else!
So it was rather surprising when I called the dealer and made an appointment to go view on the Saturday morning. Remember, most ads I called, I was told, within hours of the paper hitting the news-stands. Anyway, Bike-Trader hit the stands on a Thursday afternoon and, I called hoping to see the bike Friday afternoon, having got the paper at Lunch-time, and hoping that a 12.oo finish on Friday would let me get in before the crowd. But, I was told by the very laid back salesman that they were still unloading the crate, and the bikes wouldn't be ready for viewing until Saturday, and they only opened the unit for viewing on the week-end anyway.
I drove up, and was admitted to a very dark and gloomy old warehouse in Newcastle-Under-Lyme, JAM-PACKED with bikes. Most were indiscernible shadows, and peering into crevices revealed some interesting finds, like a mint XT550, but the FZ700 did not need an assistant to pull it out for me to look at.
No, painted in a most lurid luminous yellow and black in some kind of Kenny Roberts tribute paint-scheme, it SCREAMED its presence out of the gloom. It was horrible! It was most certainly NOT the mint Californian Garage-Trophy I had hoped for, and to be honest, I didn't look much closer. Seriously, the paint scheme was almost atomic, and hurting my eyes! I turned away, and saw, looking a little jaundiced in the glow from the FZ, the VF.
This mildly interested me. I had found one a week or so before at Sheldon Motorcycles, when I went to look at a grossly over-priced GPZ900 and a pair of potential alternatives in the form of California import GPz750 'uni-trak's. One a regular example, the other the famed 'Turbo'. The standard GPz, was nice, but again, seriously over-priced. The Turbo, was a lot more attractive and attractively priced, the only down-side being it was in the unpopular silver livery, which had suffered some rather severe panel damage, which I was 'assured' was simply from 'crate-handling' on the trip over the Atlantic. But I didn't have that much confidence in the dealer, because they had also shown me a VF1000F.
That WAS a genuine UK bike, and they assured me it was a genuine low miles machine, with 28K on the (cracked!) clocks, that had never been dropped or crashed, despite the 'Honda' logo on the badly touched up and obviously filled tank, painted in what looked like Tip-Ex! A crease in the forks under the bottom joke, obvious by the rust leaching out of the split chrome, denied their claims just as readily. It was also over-priced, like everything in their show-room. But, despite all that, I just couldn't get over how UGLY a machine it was!
So what struck me when I looked away from the lurid Yamaha, and my eyes settled on the VF, apart from its size, (Honestly, it sat a foot higher than anything else in the show-room!) was that it WASN'T ugly! This bike looked, dare I say it, quite 'pretty'!
The American market VF1000F got a different set of cloths to the UK 'Euro-Sport' version, and a name, "Interceptor". And with a slimmed down tail, it really made it a different bike, asthetically. So I had a closer look, to spot the differences, and it was, mainly just the body-work, and the wheels, which were cast alloy, rather than the UK models pressed sheet 'Com-Stars'. So I climbed on it, and that was it! It just 'fitted'. The seat height, the reach to the bars, everything just fell into place for me.
So I started negotiating. They wanted top-book price for it, and weren't too flexible on that. But, this WAS a top-book bike. Californian import, this bike HAD been a cherished garage trophy that had never seen a British winter or salted road.
So, for a price pretty close to what they were asking, a deal was struck, which included having the bike serviced, some small faults put right, like the play in the rear wheel-bearings and the sloppy brake pads replaced, and a new back tyre, and being supplied, taxed, tested and ready for the road, the following Saturday, which was when these pictures were all taken.
Very top picture is as she was wheeled out of the work-shop and handed to me with the keys. Beneath is my Uncle Roddy, who's chauffeured me up there, trying her for size, in his Randolph aviators, posing as Tom Cruise in 'Top-Gun'. Sorry, Rod, wrong bike. That was a GPZ900..... and you aint no Tom-Cruise, I'm afraid! I suggested he took it for a blast, while I suited up, but his comment was "No way. Solo's are TOO dangerous! and I couldn't trust myself" From the chap that dragged me up Solihull High Street with my helmet scraping tarmac, wheelieing his XT500, to impress a couple of school-girls, before I'd got on properly! Oh, and forgetting I was on the back of his CBX750, when he decided to try and race a Sierra Cosworth....
Next photo, looking at the front of the bike, with me sat it, is out of sequence, and taken a little while later, at the petrol station, but the one above, is me finally suited, and ready to go.
So, this next pic, is my VERY first ride on the bike, out of the car-park and out onto the road.
On a 120bhp, 150+mph motorcycle, for the VERY first time.
I was filled with more than a little trepidation, as well as excitement, but shear fear, was probably the dominant emotion.
It had been five years since I had ridden regularly on the road, and that had been on an AR125!
I ought to point out that the early 90's were a nightmare. The 'Norwich Union' had tried to withdraw from the insurance market, the industry in crisis due to Thatcherist 'De-Regulation', and with three theft claims against me, despite a clean licence, at under 25, NO-ONE would give me a 'sensible' insurance quote. Honestly, Kids you think its bad now. I was being quoted £800+ for a Honda CB250 'Super-Dream' worth £250! Back then, there was virtually no-one that would insure an under 25 on anything, and those that did, offered ridiculous quotes, which was why I had gone back to trials riding, and restoring.
Other uncle, Fred, had had the wheeze of restoring old bikes, and building a collection, as his mid-life crisis in the face of the price of a Jenson Interceptor, so I hadn't been off bikes completely, but big difference taking out a Morini 3 1/2 for a Sunday afternoon 'tootle' to THIS!
THIS WAS AWESOME
Yeah! OK, so I'm doing about 25mph and wondering where the heck I am, where the heck I need to go, and what the heck I am doing on this THING! Which, granted, even by the references of the day, wasn't THAT awesome... but lets not belittle it.
It WAS and still would be a fast bike. 120bhp, is still more than all but the latest hot-snot sportsters, and twice what your typical 500 or 600cc street-bike delivers. And 150+mph, is no slow-coach. It's well over twice as fast as you can legally go in this country, and while modern 'big-legue' bikes, in the last fifteen, twenty years, have incrementally pushed the performance envelope up towards the 'double-ton', the Super-Blackbird and the Hyabusa, really set the (now often governed) cap at 175. At a push, this thing can nudge the needle north of 160. By modern standards, its still a fast bike. Back in 1997, it was a very fast bike. Back in 1984, when it was built, it must have been utterly AWESOME.
So here I am on my very first ride. And it IS awesome.
In 1969, the Honda CB750, set a new standard for modern motorcycles. It did not re-write the parameters of performance, its 750cc inline four cylinder engine, with just under 75bhp was not hugely more powerful than its contemporaries. It didn't raise the stakes for top speed, either. It did about 110 real world miles an hour, the BSA Rocket III was actually faster. And it certainly didn't set any standards for superlative handling, many riders claiming that the 'old' Bonneville would leave it behind in the twisties, But it did set new standards for user friendliness, and accessibility. It was a sophisticated bike, and it was affordable, but electric start, disc brakes, it was easy to ride.
It wasn't until the Kawasaki Z1 of 1973, that the limits of the performance envelope started to get shifted, and that bike's 90bhp, and 130mph speed, really started to raise the game.
But as the bikes got bigger and more powerful, they also got heavier. And when ever tightening emission controls, and the race for even more power saw bikes have to go water-cooled, they got EVEN heavier still!
The little Honda CB125 I'm messing with at the moment, was, in its day, (1982) criticised for being 'heavy'. It weighs in at under 250lb, but for a lightweight, that is a bit heavy. My old AR125 tipped the scales at a nadge over 200lb. That's a bag of cement or a sack and a half of spuds lighter! The Honda CB750, weighs in at just over 400lb. That's almost twice the weigh of the CB125. Its definitely twice the weight of a CG125 or my old AR. This is considered a 'bit' heavy for a big-bore motorcycle, its as heavy as a lot of litre bikes, and actually a few pounds heavier than the water-cooled VFR750, and of the improvements in motorcycle construction that have come about in the last twenty years, the most significant has been weight reduction.
The book specifications for the Honda VF1000F, proclaim it has a mass of 540lb. That's HEAVY..... ma-an! But, actually.... its worse than that, because, even though folk were used to 'heavy' bikes, and getting used to them getting even heavier, that was pretty porky, and Honda's marketing men, shaved nearly 60lb off the quoted specification, by providing the 'Dry Weight' rather than the 'Kerb Weight'. Dry-Weight is how heavy the bike is, in the shipping create when it leaves the factory, with no oil in the engine, no water in the cooling jacket and no fuel in the tank. On an air-cooled bike, its normally within 10 or 15lb of the 'Kerb Weight', which is how much it weighs with oil in the sump, and water in the radiator, and normally, half a tank of petrol. The VF1000F, with its BIG V engine, takes a lot of oil, and a lot of water, and with a five and a half gallon tank, a LOT of petrol. And the Kerb-Weight on one is actually close on 600lb. It weighs more than an original Honda GL1000 'Gold-wing' and almost as much as later fully-faired versions!
This thing was THREE TIMES as heavy as anything I had regularly ridden on the road before! It was half as heavy again as ANYTHING I had ever ridden on the road before. It was also at least half as powerful again, as anything I had ever ridden on the road, if not double, and as my last regular road bike was a restricted 125, TEN TIMES more powerful than my last regular rider! That was AWESOME.
It also has a very high seat height, 31", one of the reasons why I felt so comfortable on it when I tried it for size, having a 34" inside leg measurement. (Donna looked at the pictures and actually commented that I make it look 'small'!)
I mean look, 34" inside leg, 6'2" frame, and I'm barely 'sat' to sit the saddle, and that fairing is three quarters the way up my chest. This is one BIG mother of a motorcycle, HEAVY as heck, and with an engine that's threatening to rip my arms off as soon as I open the throttle!
Yes, I was scared. It was AWESOME!!!!
And it wasn't just the size, the weight and the power that were scary. I still had a very big bank-loan to pay off! And 'family' to convince that a motorcycle ANY motorcycle, wasn't going to kill me..... let alone one THIS big or THIS fast!
So, after a tentative toddle round the block, to the petrol station, to fill it up.... took more than my bloomin CAR, it did! off for some adventures. First stop my mothers. We'd had to drive past her house in Stafford on the way up to get it. She'd be annoyed if I didn't stop in on my way back.
Only trouble was, they'd moved into a bungalow outside town, while the insurance company was having their house under-pinned, and I hadn't been there before! I wasn't sure if the excuse "Well I couldn't find the new house" would wash very well, and besides, mums worry, so I decided to pop in, because she'd worry less if she'd actually SEEN the thing. And, she does like bikes. She actually convinced me to get the AR125, and argued down my Dad's objections, eight years earlier.
This little 'oik' in these pics is my littlest little brother, Paul, who wasted no time clambering aboard for a ride round the village. I have LOTS of pictures of children sitting on my VF1000! It seemed to hold a strange fascination to them!
It received a warm reception, all told, though mother refused a pillion ride, as she was atiting for an operation on her foot.
The ride from Newcastle to Stafford was slightly more eventful. I took Stoke's infamous D-Road out of town, and opted for the motorway down to Stafford, rather than the A34.
The first slip road, judging traffic off the round-about and trying to get a gap onto the duel-carriageway? Yeah! Nerve wracking.
It went where I pointed it well enough, but boy was it a handful! All that weight was bad enough, but it was the torque reaction from that motor that took some getting used to!
The engine braking on it in the lower gears was pretty fierce. Rolling off the throttle in first was like riding into a blamange wall!
But opening it again, as cack-handed?!?
YES! bit 'fluffy' picking up from low revs, but once it started to spin, it pulled like a freight train.
And it was doing so, as I started to filter into the traffic on the D-Road from the ramp..... when it came on the cam!
One second I'm looking at a large gap in the traffic, between a family saloon car and a tautliner lorry. Quick shoulder check as I merge, and as I look round again, I'm nearly climbing onto the load-bed of the lorry!
This thing PULLS!
Actually, its quarter mile times were pretty impressive in its day, and its one of the bikes strongest points when you get used to it. It doesn't have the peak power of other bikes its age, but what it does have is ALL where you can best use it, in the mid-range, and it will surge forwards at a touch of throttle in almost any gear. But, 6000rpm, it comes on the cam, and REALLY starts pulling.
So, letting it have its head, on a wide, open stretch of by-pass, to get used to it, I was rather perturbed to get a clank, and a wobble followed by a scraping noise! I rolled off a little, and returned to 'sensible' speeds, then pulled into a lay-by to investigate. Seems that the centre stand dog-leg, was fouling on the after-market super-Trapp exhausts, and hanging low.
Remedied at my next stop on the way home, my Gran's, where I used a bit of scaffold pole out of my Grandad's tool-shed to bend it out a bit, so it retracted to the stops. And the ride back to Stratford down the twisty A34, was more rewarding for it!
So, that's when, and how, Novemba-Pappa came into my care, on Saturday, in August, 1997.
And this is a picture from it's VERY first outing, that very same week-end. I had booked two days off work, JUST to go play on her, and decided to head down to Somerset & Wiltshire, just for the fun of it. So, there she is, parked up out-side Wookie Hole caves..... JUST before I dropped her!
Jup, notice the disc lock..... remember, I'm the chap that 'discovered' that particular device, and with Roddy, put the very first one on the UK market...... Yes. I did.
Took that photo. Clumbed on, jammed key in the ignition, thumbed starter, engaged first, and got one half a wheel-turn before the disc-lock jammed against the calliper, and me and 600lb of behemoth Honda went over!
Yes, this is one MOTHER of a heavy bike! Especially when you are underneath it!