I first rode pillion during the late 1970s on the back of my boyfriend’s CZ 250 then GT 380. Riding pillion on a Laverda Mirage reminded me of those times. Since then we have married and as husband and wife have continued to enjoy many happy biking hours. Over the years we have owned a series of motorbikes often alternating between Harley-Davidsons and BMWs. We have happy memories of warm summers, empty roads and the exhilarating sense of freedom that only a journey on a bike can bring. Some of our favourite rides were the little-used roads of North Northumberland and the Scottish Borders.
My husband recently had a total change of direction and bought a 1980 Laverda 1200 Mirage. During the summer I rode pillion on a short evening ride around Northumberland. I found that I could mount and dismount easily because the height of the bike was much lower than what I had become accustomed to. We took the Laverda on a test run through the Northumberland lanes and stopped at a pub for something to eat. There was plenty of room in the saddle, I wasn’t squashed between the top box and rider backrest. The Laverda pillion position was very comfortable but I did fee a little vulnerable. I held on to the grab rail behind me to steady myself against the acceleration while the classic Italian bike negotiated the quiet roads.
Riding Pillion on a Laverda #Classic Bike
The unencumbered pillion position added to the sense of freedom it made for a much more reactive ride. I could use my judgment to move accordingly, shift my position and lean in as maneuvers dictated instead of being held in place wedged between the driver backrest and top box. We took it easy pottering easily along the lanes while the drone of the cylinders reverberated off old stone walls. It was a lazy summer evening and the uniquely unrestrained Laverda sound suggested a sense of urgency that we didn’t really feel. This was very different compared to a pleasantly burbling Harley Davidson, or, a quietly purring BMW engine. The Laverda pulled like a lion on a leash. When we had to stop at junctions the engine growled as if it was irritated at the inconvenience. When we accelerated carefully up the road it felt like a wild cat on a relaxed run, fairly happy but nowhere near satiated.
By the time we got home I was hooked and looking forward to a longer ride. The following weekend my husband suggested a ride down Swaledale in the Yorkshire Dales. We planned our route from Newcastle Tyne & Wear over the moors to Stanhope and then on to Middleton in Teesdale and from there to Swaledale. We decided to make an overnight stop and booked into a hotel to make a weekend of it.
Edumdbyres and Stanhope
Packing was effortless, with one small tank bag there really wasn’t much to carry. The key was managing with very little. It was warm and sunny when we set off and I braced myself easily against the ride. When we passed through Edmundbyres it was late afternoon. The sun had moved to the west and threw the lacy shadows of trees across the tarmac. We leaned into a bend and I caught a glimpse of the road ahead. Long and empty it snaked invitingly up onto the moors. On either side, pale blushes of purple heather were coming into bloom. We growled over the warm moorland with the thrill of the ride ahead of us. The hot smell of bracken and sheep wafted by.
Down through Stanhope and a quick ice cream by the Ford on the river. Then up and over into Weardale. We stopped again to lie in the sun and swap the Laverda noise for the rushing rumble of the river. The toolkit came out here and an adjustment was made to free off the back brake. When we had had enough sun we mounted (easily) again for the last few miles.The rush of air through my helmet was welcomingly cool as we rode down into Middleton and Teesdale.
Middleton and Teesdale
We pulled up outside the Teesside Arms Hotel. Middleton in Teesdale has its origins in farming and lead mining. It boasts two watermills and the first Coop was opened here. (history In a nutshell). We enjoyed a drink in front of the hotel then parked the bike up for the night and went for a walk.
Back on the Road
The next morning we were back in the saddle. Leaving the small Teesdale village we found it was not possible to take our intended route because of road closures. We took a series of alternative roads which took us along the A66 for a short distance. A thick fog came down and roadworks turned the dual carriageway into one lane. We came out of the fog at Bolton. Behind the trees, I glimpsed the ruined outline of Bolton castle as we cruised on towards Swaledale.
The Mirage slowed to a stealthy prowl as we climbed up onto the moors at the head of the valley. The fog was back thick and clinging to our visors. When I lifted my visor to see better it built up on my face and dripped down my cheeks. The uneven rotation of the engine took the wildlife by surprise. Birds flew up off the moor and veered suddenly away from the bike. Not to mention the damp sheep that bolted in alarm when we passed.
We came out of the fog and saw that the road was narrow hemmed tightly on either side with dry stone walls. Dry stone barns spread out over the fields in typical Yorkshire Dales fashion. Two minutes later the fog was forgotten. The sun was out and a warm breeze ran with us down the valley. We rode down the dale all the while the Laverda vibrated and the background drone of the cylinders rang in our ears. The miles ticked by then merged into one another and finally lost their definition altogether. There was only the two of us with the wind, the road ahead and our tyres spinning over the tarmac.
The stripped back mechanics of Italian classic design
We had a quick stop for a cup of tea at Keld then continued on through Mucker. Somewhere along the road, I remember the sweet smell of cut grass. By the time we passed through Reeth I had grown accustomed to the raw sound of the engine. Out of the village and a steady climb. We thundered over a cattle grid (the suspension was deep and easy) and opened the throttle, once again the engine roared over the open moors. The crankshaft worked its magic as the stripped back mechanics of classic Italian design chased the miles down through Yorkshire. Open moorland and good vision at last. The lowdown guttural resonance reverberated through the saddle. Immersed in the bike, if we had not exactly tamed the beast at least we held some respecting level of control.
Another stop in Leyburn to ease our aching muscles and on again through the sunny lanes, lunch at Crathorne and then the last leg of the journey home. We kicked the sun with our heels. We were tired by this time but exhilarated by the ride satiated at last!