Our long-term Honda VFR1200F has been called into action for some winter commuting to London. James Baggott reports
It's two hours before dawn and close to freezing. A meeting in London has presented me with two options – take the train and join the miserable, coughing commuters on an over-priced metal tube that is unbelievably not on strike, or chance the incoming winter storm and take the motorbike.
Now, January isn't your usual biking month, I'll admit – and with every news outlet predicting a snowy onslaught, you'd think that despite the grumpy commuters, the train would be the preferred option.
But not today. Today is different. This morning I'm up for a challenge, an adventure and a battle with the buses. Choosing a bike is a lifestyle choice – it's not always the most sensible, but it's often the most fun. And today I want fun.
Our Honda VFR1200F long-termer is a spot-on commuter. Comfortable, quick and stable, it forgives your morning fuzz, letting you ease into the ride. I'm wrapped up like a skier – five layers to keep out the frost – only the breeze whipping up through my helmet giving me ice cream brain freeze to remind me of the temperature.
Quick, lithe and agile, the VFR dispatches the dual carriageway in record time, the clever DCT automatic gearbox letting me forget about changing cogs on the way. Before long I'm bisecting Guildford, and what feels like minutes later I'm slotting myself into the building traffic in Wandsworth.
There's something about riding a motorcycle in London that's so very special. It's the flow, the nipping, the tucking, the ducking and diving. Squeezing through almost-not-there gaps to sliding to the front of queues; there's a rhythm to it, a beat – all driven by the desire not to stop, or be left at the back of the queue.
London riding is about forward motion. Feet-down waiting is for losers – unless you're at a red light, of course – instead, you search for the gaps and time the lights.
As the high rises climb and the choke of the town grows stronger, riding becomes a ballet of bikes – I'm joined by fellow two-wheeled commuters, all searching for those same chances to nip to the front, all loud exhausts and edging ahead.
I find a parking slot in Westminster ahead of my meeting easily enough – at 6.30am I'm one of the first to arrive in town, it seems. Sadly, I failed to clock the need to pay for it, though - the days of free bike bays obviously disappeared when they opened up the bus lanes for bikers. Give with one hand, take away with another.
By the time I'm done, the rains have arrived. What's falling as snow further north is pouring out of the sky in London, pooling in potholes and bouncing off car roofs.
It's positively torrential. Despite five layers of clothing, 50 miles in and the water has found a way to penetrate to my skin. My scarf is wicking drops down my front and I can feel my chest dampen and my very bottom layer succumbs to the damp.
In terms of wet rides, that one was possibly the wettest. Even managed to soak through five layers... pic.twitter.com/jToy72Ggy2— James Baggott (@CarDealerEd) 12 January 2017
Visibility is so poor, I can see a mere 50 metres in front of me. The spray from traffic is like a sheet of water, constantly coating my visor in a film of fog that makes working out where the road becomes a ditch nearly impossible. It feels like I'm using the force to keep it in a straight line.
The gritters are out too – the ice is coming – and they're pebble-dashing my bike as I crawl past. I can taste on my lips the layer of salt they've spread across the tarmac as I follow a van that looks like it's floating on a pond-like motorway, throwing up litres of water into my face. Even the white lines have disappeared under what looks like an inch of standing water.
Thankfully, the Honda's heated grips are parboiling my fingers, and they're suitably toasty. What's more, despite the near inch of water I can feel pooling in my boots, and the drips slowly penetrating my most waterproof of jackets, I'm still smiling.
Commuting on a bike isn't always this tough, it's not always this challenging, but it's not always this much fun either. Granted, on a train I wouldn't have got this wet, and I wouldn't have been forced to walk barefoot through the office while my socks slowly dried on the radiator either, but I wouldn't have got to my destination with the sense of achievement I have today. And that's what makes commuting on a bike so special.
Steamy... pic.twitter.com/0ysUzqSGEG— James Baggott (@CarDealerEd) 12 January 2017
FACTS AT A GLANCE
Model: Honda VFR1200F GT DCT
Engine: 1,237cc, V4
Power: 173bhp, 128Nm
Top speed: 165mph