Posted On 14 May 2024
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This entry is part 21 of 25 in the series AusMotorcyclist Issue#31


Over several Millennia, if not for billions of years, the normal course of Evolution has seen many basic design changes taking place, either through necessity or simply because an original design didn’t quite work as well as it might. Throughout the eons the changes in many of those original designs have happened to two legged animals like us; it has happened to internal – infernal? – combustion engines; it has happened to motorized transport designed for two wheels or four; it has happened in buildings and it has happened even more dramatically in the designs of aircraft, essential life-saving drugs and other medical supplies.

Because of the practicalities of their uses cups, saucers, plates, saucepans and motorcycle handlebars have remained pretty static in their design for ages, and currently show no signs of being re-designed in a big way for any reason; even for the sake of change itself. It must be admitted, however, that the shapes and sizes of these essential devices have subtly changed often enough – and not always for the better; especially with regard to some ape-hanger motorcycle handlebars!

And now there has been a very subtle design change in one of the most basic components of our lives, the ubiquitous polystyrene drink container – or at least its tightly-fitting lid. You may all have enjoyed slurping a Hot Chocolate or Cappuccino through the spout attached to the lid of one of those (mostly) heat-proof take-away coffee containers, which have proved to be very handy devices indeed.

The spout was placed atop the lid so that it may be shoved between one’s pouted lips, allowing one to safely quaff a bracing draught of the cup’s delicious contents. It also assured the slurper that none of the contents of the polystyrene container could erupt from its constraints to piddle down the front of one’s shirt, or drip gleefully into one’s cleavage; depending upon the gender of the coffee drinker.

The lid was a very handy, in fact essential, device, for it not only assisted in keeping the contents of the container hot, it also stopped the ingress of bird droppings, dust, small leaves and cigarette ash, any and all of which one might encounter if sipping one’s coffee from a lid-less container al fresco. It also stopped – or at least slowed down – one’s luncheon partner from digitally sampling some of the chocolate-coated froth which sat atop the steaming brew, and which so often made up most of the contents of the little container.

There was another, and possibly unintended, feature of the lid’s functional design, for its application disallowed the casual coffee drinker from ascertaining the depth (amount) of coffee within the container, in direct relation to the amount (height) of the froth located directly above. Perhaps there should be legislation passed regarding the ideal ratio of froth to coffee, for these have been known to vary enormously between one establishment and another. To date, as far as is known, there isn’t any form of ratio control; one day, hopefully, there might be, for I believe that Archimedes (or was it Pythagoras) once postulated a theory about the ideal ratio of one to the other, and this lost equation may one day be re-discovered, to the benefit of us all.

Be that as it may, the mug’s tight- fitting lid once employed a 5mm hole on its upper surface which was cleverly designed to overcome the air lock which would normally occur the instant one would suck on the little spout with some enthusiasm. You see, a small vacuum would be created automatically if that little hole was not present, and this would seriously interfere with the smooth fl ow of liquid one might usually expect to receive upon employing the technique which we all perfected in babyhood.

Ah, but the position of that 5mm air-bleed hole, brilliant though its concept was, often resulted in a really nasty surprise for many an unaware coffee drinker.

Lips are great for framing rude words to shout at people who incur our displeasure, for whispering sweet nothings into the ears of one’s adored, gently blowing air into the same orifice for some reason, nibbling the delightful creature’s swan-like neck, and other worthwhile pursuits: they are also intended to be a great judge of the temperature of hot liquids. They are, however, rendered useless for the latter pursuit when a spout of any description is thrust recklessly between them and a steaming liquid is then sucked through it, thus by-passing the lips’ thermometric function.

In this scenario, if the liquid is too hot for comfort, the first indication of this occurs when the back of the tongue and that odd, dangling little uvula are suddenly scalded. This is usually followed, very shortly thereafter, by the swift removal of the container from the orifice, followed almost immediately by a hoarsely-shouted, one-word description of a fertilizer the Chinese have been using with great enthusiasm for centuries.

The next (logical) reaction is to blow forcefully into the lid’s spout in an attempt to cool the liquid, whereupon that air-bleed hole, which was placed directly opposite the spout, would see the sudden emission of a large quantity of milky froth attended by an unexpected, high-speed jet of hot steam pointing directly between one’s eyebrows, instantaneously stamping a large, and seemingly indelible, red spot at the point of impact. The victim of this fiendish design fault would immediately assume the appearance of a high-caste Hindu, with that large red dot suddenly adorning – in fact dominating – the area between both eyebrows. The victim of this outrage might appear to be a rather pale-skinned Indian on occasion, to be sure, but the likeness of a high-caste Hindu would nonetheless be obvious.

It also hurts like Hell, and usually results in the coffee, along with its container and offending lid, being flung savagely into the nearest rubbish bin.

Fortunately, the message has dawned loud and clear, for the newest generation of the lids of takeaway coffee mugs now employ a tiny air-bleed hole which is all but invisible, and is often placed slightly to one side, instead of being directly across from the little spout. There are, in fact, some latter designs which have small slots in the lid where once that offending little spout stood proud, but many of these are less than ideal.

It was way back in the not-so Olden Days, when coffee mug lids still employed the over-large air-bleed hole, while sitting in a local coffee shop digitally dabbing some spit as a soothing lotion upon a Large Red Spot which had suddenly erupted between my eyebrows, that I espied a bright red ST2 Ducati screeching to a halt at the traffic lights just outside the establishment.

The rider, a pale person of very small stature, was unfittingly dressed in nothing but a pair of skimpy shorts, a loosely fitting, black mesh tank-top, long gauntlet gloves, oversize helmet and – to my horror and dismay – bright red thongs! The rider blipped the throttle constantly, the crackling exhaust note at high engine revs rattling the windows while causing large ripples to suddenly appear in the visible contents of many a porcelain coffee cup.

Mercifully, the lights changed to end the machine’s agony (and ours as well), as the bike suddenly shot off to slide sideways into a parking spot just outside the door of the premises. I noted a large red P-Plate dangling from beneath the machine’s rear number plate as the tortured engine was finally silenced and the tiny rider lithely slid off the saddle, propped the bike onto its stand and strolled casually inside, while glancing about and nodding patronizingly at the establishment’s clients as though seeking a welcoming face.

Whether or not mine was a welcoming face I still cannot say but for some obscure reason the rider sauntered over to my table, laid the large gloves upon it and removed a helmet which, because of the pint-sized rider, appeared to be as big as a ten-gallon fuel tank.

When the helmet was finally wrenched off (without springing the sides out to give the ears an easier time, I might add) a lion’s mane of bright red hair was suddenly released to spring out and frame the tiny, elf-like features as though by a giant, carrot-coloured halo.

The rider, without any preamble, demanded, “Look after me lid, will ya, mate?” It was certainly more of an order than a request.

The voice was surprisingly high pitched, as if the shorts were much too tight. Or was the rider, I mused silently, a jockey who had spent much too much time being pounded about on one of those tiny, tablespoon-sized leather devices they refer to as ‘race saddles’. Perhaps, I cogitated, for there was little evidence to point to the rider’s gender, was this person in fact a pimple-titted female?

The latter, I felt, was probably correct, in view of the chronic shortage of ballroom in the near skin-tight shorts (as a point of interest, there is no ballroom within St Mary’s Cathedral either, for those who may have an interest in the place, but have never viewed its plans).

The rider sauntered over to the counter and returned with a fruit juice and a custard tart – I confess I had hoped it would be a coffee in a container like mine – to fl op down and smile at me as though we had been friends for years.

With justifiable pride, the high-pitched one nodded in the direction of the Ducati just outside the window. “Nice bike that” I was robustly informed.

“Goes like a rocket.”

“Yeah, I know,” I informed the little one. “I’ve ridden one. Gave it a squirt at Eastern Creek for a few laps some months ago while the blokes from Two Wheels were there on a photo shoot and I was reporting on a 350cc Aer Macchi/Harley for the Classic Motorcycle magazine. It goes well; handles even better. Stops pretty hard too. How long have you had it?”

“Cuppla munce ,” I assume was the reply, as it was incoherently filtered through a mouthful of custard. “Into bikes a bit are ya?” the rider intoned shrilly, brushing some errant crumbs from the black-mesh tank-top with a smooth, sinewy hand. The tank-top still showed no sign of a minor bulge, much less any sign of cleavage, but I remain convinced that my companion was a trim, sylph-like female.

“Ridden a few,” I answered casually, as I slipped with some subtlety into Lecture Mode. “Shouldn’t you have some protective clothing on?” I lectured.

“I’d hate to slip off a motorcycle with that much skin showing.”

“Nah, I don’t fall off motorbikes,” came the answer. “That hasn’t got much going for it.”

“No, it hasn’t,” I replied. “I don’t fall off motorcycles either. At least not on purpose. Neither, I suggest, does anybody else; at least as far as I know.

So tell me where’s your – er – Gold Seal Guarantee?” I asked, a warming to my favourite subject.

“What Gold Seal Guarantee?” the little one asked.

“The Gold Seal Guarantee that you will never fall off a motorcycle. Or accidentally nudge the side of a bus.

Or run into the rear of a Taxi which has suddenly stopped to pick up a fare, or run into the bushes as you come out of a corner which suddenly – and unexpectedly – tightens on the exit. Now, should you possess such a Guarantee, perhaps you should carry it with you at all times!” “I haven’t got one of them,” my companion squeaked reproachfully.

“No-one’s got one of them. They can’t guarantee that. Look at those blokes in the GP races, mate. Best in the world.

They fall off now and again.”

“Exactly so,” I said triumphantly.

“Best in the world, and even they fall off now and again.”

“Yeah, but look how hard they ride,” came the swift riposte. “Flat out everywhere. That’s why they wear them leathers. They expect to fall off any time.”

“Precisely, and that’s the point,” I lectured on, winking conspiratorially.

“But remember these are expert riders who know the track they are on. These riders practice for days before an event. They’re all going in the same direction. There are no dogs running onto the roadway. There no half-blind idiots backing out of their driveways.

There are no clowns running red lights, no cars suddenly changing directions without using a warning blinker to signal their intent. There are no pimple-faces youths with no road sense driving sports cars they cannot handle.” I nodded sagely. “It does make a difference, as I’m sure you will agree.”

“Course it does, but you gotta look after yourself out there,” my companion replied, nodding at the road outside.

“Keep outta their way. That way, you’ll be all right, yeah?”

“That’s right,” I was forced to agree.

“Don’t try to share your little bit of road space with anyone else at the same time, and they can’t run into you, or vice versa. But you can slip off a bike for a large number of reasons if you aren’t careful. And if you do, any small – or, in your case, large – area of exposed skin will be ground away on the road surface, you can be well assured of that!”

The little one nodded for a few seconds, almost thoughtfully, at the sage advice. Then, as if on cue, a rasping sound suddenly rent the air.

It came from an Ultra tune repair shop across the road.

“Hear that?” I questioned, pointing to the mechanic who was wielding the fiendish device. “That’s an angle grinder.”

“Oh, yeah, an angle grinder.”

“Tell you what,” I said flippantly. “Why don’t you trot over the road and have that guy run the grinder up and down the outside of your right leg from ankle to hip? Then over your ribcage on the other side. Then perhaps from shoulder to elbow on the left side for good measure.”

My companion looked at me goggle eyed, as a small trickle of fruit juice trickled unseen down the front of the tank top. “What the Hell would I want to do that for,” the rider squealed incredulously. “What do ya think I am?” The person shuddered at the thought, and at the sight of a shower of sparks which sprang noisily from the car the man opposite was busily assaulting.

“I thought you might like to know what it feels like to slide down the road at speed dressed as you are,” I said in the tone of a Pompous Ass. “The quickest way to find out (and the safest) would be to back up to that angle grinder and find out for yourself.”

“Bet that would bloody hurt, wouldn’t it?” asked my companion as we both winced at the sights and sounds of the shower of sparks which sprang from the tortured metal opposite.

“Yeah, it sure would,” I replied, shifting smoothly from Lecture Mode through Pompous Ass to Old Fart. “I know, because I’ve done it. Not often, mind you, and many years ago at that.

And I’m never going to do it again!” The young rider opposite (whom I still can’t call ‘he’ or ‘she’, despite my suspicions, because I still don’t quite know the rider’s gender) nodded a few times as though digesting the sermon, and then emptied the juice bottle to a gulp.

“Well, gotta go. I’m goin’ home to get into me jeans and jacket. See ya around. And thanks for the advice.”

“Hey, I didn’t want to tell you what to do,” I offered sympathetically. “No one ever offered me any advice when I started to ride motorcycles all those many years ago. Other than my dad, of course, and as you know their opinion doesn’t always count for much.”

“I dunno,” replied my tiny friend. “But I tell ya what, you learn more listening to a Third Party than you do at home.’

The Ducati rider smiled at my frankly surprised face and strolled to the bike, pulling on helmet and gloves in a couple of swift movements. The air was again rent with noise and the windows rattled in reply to only one blip of the throttle as the rider took off much more soberly.

But my bubble was swiftly burst a second or so later with a 20-meter, low altitude wheelie as they shot off and left us all gasping.

Just minutes later the rider came back again and rode past at a much more fitting pace to hold a thumb on high in silent greeting.

For some unaccountable – if gratifying – reason I felt good about that.

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