My motorcycling career started at age 16. My brother had a Tiger Cub, WPC 704, that he bought from a cousin. As soon as I could, I got a provisional licence and 'L' plates, and started to ride it.
In those days, no formal training was required. I got the technical stuff about clutch, gears etc from my (very patient) brother. Roadcraft was left to what I'd learned from riding a bicycle, and a rapid "on the job" learning curve. I did also read the highway code.
Very soon afterwards, I took my driving test. This consisted of riding round a block a couple of times while the examiner stood by the roadside. The emergency stop was tested by his stepping into the road as I came round. He lived, so after a few questions on the highway code, I was able to throw away the 'L' plates. In theory at least, I could have immediately started riding the most powerful bike available. Of course, I had no real income then, so I stuck with my brother's Cub.
Eventually he got a car, and I inherited the Cub
Click here to view the Triumph Tiger Cub Instruction Manual (I regret I've had to take this from public view) (here for viewing instructions)
At the time I was going to university in London, travelling daily from home in South Croydon. My mother insisted I went by train ("The roads are far too dangerous" she said). But whenever I could I sneaked there on the Cub.
Somehow I survived. Although I fell off a few times, the only other vehicle I came into contact with was a car that I was swerving past, my clutch lever caught his rear lamp lens. No damage was done, but he did bawl me out somewhat. Quite justified.
Learned a great deal. Although the Cub handled easily, it wasn't the best for rough roads. This mark had almost no rear suspension, so standing on the footrests was a frequent requirement.
I can remember a couple of incidents. On one occasion I was taking my mother on the pillion. Turning out of a junction, the bike slid out from under us. On picking everything up, I found the rear tyre had punctured! Luckily no harm done.
Another time, I was coming towards a T junction, slowing down. The next thing I new, the front washed out completely and dumped me unceremoniously on the road. I felt stupid, then saw a motorcycle policeman parked on the other side of the road (he'd been at a police telephone box - remember those? You'd recognise them as a Tardis now). My first thought was that he would say I was driving recklessly or something, but he had actually seen what had happened, as was only concerned that I was OK. I never did find out why that happened.
A friend who had a Velocette (fishtail exhaust) and I used to ride out to as far as we dared go in a day, the furthest was to Wales (only a hundred miles or so each way, but mostly country roads). We would cope with the things that went wrong, mending punctures by the roadside, doing up screws or nuts that came loose, putting in oil to replenish what was lost! His favourite request at a petrol station was "A gallon of Go and a pint of Glug please".
Many a time I returned home with a slipping clutch or knocking engine. I spent hours stripping down, replacing the cork clutch inserts, or big end bearings. I spent a lot of time cleaning crankcase joints, I tried every sealing compound available (I remember Red and Blue Hermatite in particular), I used Triumph gaskets, cut my own out of gasket material. I could never stop it leaking oil!
The rear brake started to snatch. A groove in the frame took a peg in the brake back-plate. Because the groove was worn, when the brake was applied the drum rotated a little, enough to pull the brake on hard. I never managed to fix this problem, so the back brake became unusable!
We always had one or more cats at home. One particular kitten needed to go to the Vets. It travelled without apparent harm in a cardboard box balanced on the Cub's petrol tank several times.
Once in the Vet's waiting room, a German Shepherd came up to it (it was sitting on my lap), and an inquisitive sniff by the dog resulted in a spitting bundle of fur, using a heavily clawed paw, swiping at the poor dog, which (to general amusement) ran and cowered under its owner's chair. I always liked that cat.
One day I went to the Triumph dealer, wanting his opinion on a knocking sound (big end bearings?), and as I got near, the knocking got quite vicious. When I stopped and looked down at the engine, I could see the whole cylinder was loose on the crankcase. It had cracked and was held together by the rear only, and I could see it moving at every stroke.
Luckily I was at the best place. The dealer happened to have a Cub engine that had been on a bike in a fire. Apart from some blackening, it was in good condition, and a much later one than the original.
I swapped engines on the kerbside there and then. There were a few problems to solve, such as the primary gearing and chain sprocket were different, but nothing insurmountable. This did lead later to my making a poor choice of primary gearing, 1:2 resulted in a bent gearbox input shaft.
A while later, I was offered a "new" frame. It was one that had had its engine stolen, and apart from bent mounting lugs, was in good condition. It had swinging arm suspension, and a properly functional rear brake, so I scraped together the necessary readies and got it. After this, riding was noticeably more comfortable.
My next modification was the fitting of competition cams to the engine. I don't know how much extra power these gave, but the exhaust note certainly had a much greater urgency.
It was shortly after this that I had my only real brush with the Law. Coming home one day, I was enjoying myself, riding enthusiastically through the suburban roads. I pulled up outside home, and took off my helmet. Up came a police car (a black Wolsey - remember those?). One of its occupants got out, and said
"Do you know how fast you were going?"
"No", said I, truthfully.
"Well, we couldn't keep up with you".
After a little more "discussion", he asked if my exhaust was standard.
"Yes", said I, truthfully, not telling him about the cams!
"Well, watch it" was his parting comment.
The Cub soldiered on for a few years, but a re-bore and new piston that was very tight reduced my patience, and after getting a job and some income, I bought a car. That brought my motorcycling era to and end - or so I thought for 36 years.