Richard Hammond

Hammond on his new hobby

Richard Hammond on: his new hobby

There's an exercise you can do to gain a better understanding of how someone can look at the same thing as you, but see something completely different. It's all about appreciating another person's viewpoint and having sympathy with their take on life. Obviously, I wasn't paying too much attention when a mate explained it to me - it got a bit boring, and I wanted to talk about my new BMW R1200RT - but, in essence, it's about a car crash and how a witness on one side of the road sees a modest, well-turned-out hatchback, let's say a Honda Civic, and assumes the elderly, careful driver was caught up in an accident, while an observer on the other side of the road sees the same car - but on that side it's dented and scratched - and they assume it was the driver's fault, because he's clearly a young hooligan. I dunno, there was probably more. But, like I said, I wasn't really listening.

However, I fully understand how we can jump to the wrong conclusion when we see something happening on the road. Anyone driving between Gloucester and Ross-on-Wye in early January may have been treated to the sight of me by the side of the road crouching in the rain next to an old motorcycle and a pile of spanners, staring intently at a piece of wire in my hand. They may have assumed that I was having a terrible day. OK, so no one thought it was bad enough to justify stopping to offer to help, but, nevertheless, I could feel that assumption being made in the cars splashing past as I surveyed my 1927 Sunbeam and tried to make a plan.

But those passers-by would have been completely and utterly wrong in their assumption. I was having a brilliant day and one of the best, if shortest, motorcycle rides I have ever enjoyed. I had set out to make the trip from home to nearby Ross-on-Wye, a mammoth four miles. But it turns out, on an 86-year-old bike, four miles is space enough for four breakdowns. At the moment in question, I was engaged in the first of these and had yet to work out a method for dealing with it.

The bike had died, simple as that. It had felt like one of those natural deaths, the kind we prefer to envisage for ourselves one day: the result simply of old age and weariness. The bike had slumped and sagged, coughed its last and slowed to a halt by the side of the A40. And it did feel like a real death, probably because, when it's working, it feels especially alive. There is much to be done to keep it happy, constantly advancing and retarding the ignition to cope with the different workloads demanded by every hill and turn. Every five miles or so, the rider must look down at a sight glass on the right-hand crankcase to make sure oil is dripping down from the tank and being introduced into the crankshaft from where it will, its lubrication achieved, drop out onto the road. Fail to make this check, and the consequences are dire.

This was not the fault today, though. This felt altogether gentler, a sort of grateful embrace of death. I had ruled out an electrical issue. There's only one wire on it, the high-tension lead to the spark plug. The headlight and tail-light are lit with a match, and you keep the indicators in the sleeves of your jacket. It must, then, be fuel. The on-board selection of Whitworth spanners (3) and screwdriver (1) were plenty for the task of undoing stuff until I found out where the fuel problem lay. And it lay at the fuel tap. With the pipe removed and the tap on, nothing came out.

At the bottom of the old green pocket in which the tools were wrapped, I had found a six-inch length of single-core copper wire and had wondered what it was for. Spotting my puzzled expression, passers-by might have thought I looked like a chimp examining a stick before stuffing it into a termite nest. And that's what I did. In a blinding flash of inspiration, I rammed the wire into the end of the fuel tap and was rewarded with a gush of petrol. Clearly, the tank was clogged and this had blocked the tap. Fuel pipe back on, tools rolled up, bike started and on my way. Stop a mile on, repeat process, and so on through a further two breakdowns before arriving in Ross. Return home - via three more breakdowns - flush tank, strip and clean carb, float bowl and fuel pipes, and replace tap with a new one. Bliss.

I think this was to do with expectations. I'm not a natural hobbyist - I prefer to be busy doing stuff. But anybody busy doing stuff and anxious to get somewhere to do it is not going to travel on an antique motorcycle. The exercise here, then, was to ride the bike. I was being a hobbyist. Who knew? 43 years old, and I've got a hobby: breaking down.

Richard Hammond, Column, Honda, Civic, BMW

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