When the bouldering can’t get any worse, I count my chickens and decide to go home. But before that, I have one small thing to do. I have to take the battery out of my Ten.
Unchartered territories, black magic and all that is dodgy, here I come.
It’s dark outside, cold, my fingers are numb from crimps that crimped a lot yet didn’t lead me anywhere. And I have to remove a thing full of acid and volts and crocodiles with my bare hands. Then take the deadly zoo home with me on the Tube. A biker in full gear with a battery in one hand and his stinky climbing shoes in the other. I’ve seen better sights.
The guys at MECW have kindly agreed to keep the bike overnight. When they looked in my eyes, they must have seen the big plasterboard going: I AM DEFO NOT PUSHING MY BIKE IN THE 10PM NOVEMBER DRIZZLE FROM MILE END TO CANADA WATER, AND WHOEVER SUGGESTS OTHERWISE WILL SUFFER A SLOW AND PAINFUL DEATH.
Having borrowed a few tools and a torch from the route setters, and carefully recited Fabrice’s advice in my head regarding which of the black or red cable to disconnect first, I set to work. Strangely, after 5 minutes of life and death stuff, the battery is free.
My Ten is as dead as can be, even deader than 5 minutes ago. All the moron deserves. If it hadn’t cost me my R, I’d actually consider testing a few medieval torture techniques on it.
The next day, I call around asking if shops have a battery charger in stock. Fabrice’s sensible advice yesterday was that I charge up the battery, put it back in (oh my god, again?!), then ride the Ten home where it will wait until he returns from España.
Reluctant to go back underground, I dust off my pushbike. The shop I’m headed for is in Shoreditch, just up the road from the Bar Kick, where I play fuzzball with Fabrice once in a while.
Gosh it’s slow! A few times I try to open the throttle. Doesn’t work. Even more often, I look in the absent mirror. Oops. Once my body has finally realised I’m on a push-bike, powered by legs, it quite enjoys the ride. The only problem is that, being used to 30mph, or 40, or 50 (er), my brain hasn’t caught up with my body yet and I can’t help but go all out. I know it’s a bad idea, but it’s not an idea, it’s a compulsion.
Very soon I’m panting like a choking elephant, my thighs burn so much I feel the heat in my face. And I’m still on Jamaica Road!
Regardless, I soldier on. Cross Tower Bridge. Up past Jack the Ripper’s street, past Shoreditch Tube station, the Bar Kick and, mercifully, I stop at the Honda dealership. I chain the pushbike up, walk in. ‘Is the parts shop downstairs?’, I ask. ‘Yeah mate’.
With sweat dripping all over me, and my breath as short as a broken fingernail, I proceed to walking down the stairs. And I very nearly collapse on the first step: my left thigh gives way, and I have to hang on to the handrail for dear life to avoid making a complete fool of myself. A Mister Bean moment if ever there was one.
Back at home, I read the user manual, plug in the charger in the wall, and to the battery, then Alex and I leave for a day out.
Sunday passes. Frankly, I don’t feel like seeing the sorry face of my motorcycling nightmare just now, so I let it be. In the rain, the snow, sandstorms and whatever else London wants to throw at it. I couldn’t care less today. If I had the energy – which the bicycle ride burnt expertly yesterday – I’d even give it two fingers. At least one.
Dragging myself to the battery charger, I check whether there’s a switch that says ‘humans’. I could very well do with charging up today. Cycling is dangerous, I tell you.
Monday morning, sunny. I Tube it to Mile End. Screw the battery back in place. And pray to all that is not wicked and likes me that when I turn the ignition on, the Ten starts. None of that whirring sound of Friday mate. If you don’t want to finish your miserable life as sushis for metal workers, you’d better fire up.
It does. Phew. For a split second, I doubted whether my authority had come through clearly enough in my mental message. Apparently so.
I ride home with one eye ahead of me on the road surface, the other on the battery icon on the dash. Still black. Not orange, not orange please. Once, a car next to me puts it indicator on, which I misinterpret as an orange-glowing battery fault light (why, I wonder?). I am that close to swearing the mother of all swear words.
Fabrice has had a bad time in Spain. He didn’t crash, and his bike didn’t die on him (so why on earth does he complain?!). But one day he had motion sickness on the track. The next it rained. All that time, I am thinking that my Ten is the single most treacherous thing I have ever bought. Even more than the rotting Camembert of 1997.
Before my BMW, I had never bought anything second hand, for fear of being lied to and sold a faulty item. The R1200R completely changed my view of the used world. But then the Ten came along, and I was back to my earlier misgivings. In fact, they were even stronger: now I had first hand experience of the second hand market.
I was hurt. Not so much because of the money wasted, but of the lingering doubt that my man-to-man, life-defining chat with the dealer had counted for nothing. A fellow biker needed his most honest help, and he spat in his face. Sold me a cry-baby of a bike that can’t tackle a wee slide and dies on Whitechapel Road on a sunny day.
I knew that if I asked myself what was wrong with the bike, I’d have answered ‘the bike’. But I’m wiser than I think I am, and I don’t. Fabrice’s word is the small thread that keeps the Yamaha this side of things in the matter-anti-matter debate.
On the Thursday, Fab comes around. He gets the most amazing gizmos out of the trunk of his car, and tests the battery. At rest. Then with the engine on. It is not charging. The longer the engine runs, the emptier it gets.
Through a logic that evades me, he therefore decides to check the rectifier. A small grey box with grooves along the sides stuck on the opposite side of the bike. I feel like telling him he’s being stupid and ridiculous, but then he starts explaining the underlying logic of it all: how volts and the other thing are like water in a pipe and the rectifier acts like a sieve or a funnel and should be able to scratch the back of the battery’s knee when the ignition is on. It makes instantaneous sense. It makes sense because it makes sense to him. Fabrice is God. No point doubting, or even trying to understand, God’s word. It’s his word, that’s enough.
Yes Fabrice. Oh yes.
He still thinks I follow. I must have a clever-looking face. Well, that’s a start. Or else he’s just a chatty character with an unhealthy predisposition for teaching.
When I finally start to think I actually get something about this most unusual astrology called mechanics, how the rectifier works in partnership with the battery and so on, Fabrice demolishes it all by turning the engine on WITHOUT the rectifier being connected. From this point on, I don’t trust anything he says anymore.
Well, I do, not just his explanations. Either he explains badly or I’m beyond salvation.
At the end of all this, the verdict falls: one of the six pins in the rectifier is almost loose. They are all quite corroded, as is the connector. This is were Fabrice lets me in on a secret: having discussed my case with his friend Mike, they have discovered that one of the Ten’s common faults is corrosion in the rectifier. It’s a manufacture fault, whatever that means, whereby the design of the electrics and the bike mean that water seeps in the rectifier through the badly insulated connector.
3000 miles and the reliablest of all reliable bikes suffers corrosion at its very heart? I feel like fainting and falling straight onto an erect screwdriver.
Fabrice then proceeds to explaining to me the birds and the bees story of the manufacturer’s fault. Lots of words ending in Martian.
But I don’t care that he’s talking druid to me. All I have in my mind is the Heideggerian concept of fault-origin-found-fingers-crossed. I like the sound of that.
The next day I call the dealer. He’s happy to take a look at what the problem is, and tell me if it’s covered under his warranty. I bloody hope so, I’m not crossing the whole of London to find out he’s ripped me off twice.
But I want to believe that all’s well that ends well now. It never worked before, but you never know. Mel Gibson’s Maverick is my inspiration as I ride towards Shepherds Bush.
And it WORKS. For the first time in my life, the card I flip over with my eyes closed is the one my hand needed. The one and only. The dealer, after trying to wriggle out of his warranty, reluctantly agrees to replace the faulty rectifier of the reluctant Tenere owner.
Thank fucking Jupiter for that. Thank also Fabrice. I will burn incense to him in Laos. Oh yes. Maybe even a Tenere.