On the face of it, it seems that project Donkey is nearing completion. There's still a list of jobs to do, but mostly it's trivial stuff like putting the fairings on, making and applying decals, and making the starter motor a bit more reliable than it currently is. I've designed, manufactured and fitted new footpegs because they're silly money to buy and I've already spent over a hundred quid on new brake parts and fork seals. This was supposed to be a cheap project, and I'm determined to keep the cost below five hundred. Might have to bust that budget slightly by fitting new tyres but they can wait until after the MOT as they're still legal - just a bit old so the rubber's going a bit hard.
All this leaves me with one burning question - do I give it to the boy when he turns sixteen next February?
It's a tricky one because I know he can't wait to ride it, and it'll be way cooler for a sixteen year old lad than your average Chinese scooter (not to mention somewhat faster).
And therein lies the problem. Youthful exuberance coupled with all the mechanical sympathy of a retarded chimpanzee and an understanding of the concept of gearing on a level displayed by the average foetus doesn't sound like a combination well suited to a fragile machine like this. Let's face it, the chances of him making it through the first month without blowing it up or throwing it down the road are slimmer than a shrink-wrapped supermodel. Even if he managed to avoid doing that, he'd probably get tugged by the old Bill for riding a bike he's not strictly speaking licensed for because it's not restricted to 30mph and although anyone sensible would make sure they didn't exceed that speed if there was a copper about, there's little chance of any youth considering such things when the thrill of being faster than your mates is always going to be the most important factor.
The other day he came home from school and decided he wanted to fire the old girl up (as you'd probably expect) and made a complete hash of it. Seeming to think that it was necessary to wrench the throttle back and forth whilst cranking the engine, he proceeded to make himself look very silly while completely failing to start the bike and just flattening the battery. This was the point at which my doubts really kicked in. Here's a boy who has never managed to get to grips with gears on a bicycle and has a habit of thinking he's going to be the world's greatest at everything until he actually tries it and ends up getting hurt.
And he's not alone. The average sixteen year old thinks they're immortal, and giving one a motorbike is like putting your child in the bath and giving them an electric toaster to play with, and yet there are so many of them out there dicing with death on our overcrowded roads with absolutely no fear (or sense) you'd think the mortality rate would be significant, but thankfully most seem to manage to stay alive somehow. The majority abandon their moped as soon as they can drive a car, but a few continue along the motorcycle route. For some a moped is just a means of transport, and for others it's the start of a lifelong obsession.
The year spent on a 50cc moped is one that can be used as a mild form of entertainment to those who might be watching. The sight of an adolescent hooligan on a scooter can make you cast your eyes heavenward in despair, especially when they're hunched down behind the headlight with their feet stretched out behind and doing their best to rip the throttle round another quarter turn past the end stop in a vain attempt to gain an additional 0.2mph. Bless 'em.
The lack of fear exhibited by these delinquent Rossi wannabe's can be an impressive sight though when they're ripping their way through traffic in the city. Nobody with an ounce of self-preservation would try and do the things they do, and yet they get away with it and live to see another day. Mostly, anyway.
I knew two lads at school who didn't make it past sixteen due to motorbike crashes, and a guy in my apprenticeship year (still sixteen) had a car pull out on him at a roundabout causing him to shatter both legs as he went over the bars on impact.
These things do happen and that's why I suspect my boy will end up on the same kind of cheap Chinese scooter that his mates will probably have. Something that won't exceed 30mph and doesn't have manual gears to confuse him. I know many would say not to let him have one at all, but the independence of your own transport is a valuable step in life and as a motorcyclist I understand the lure of the whole bike thing.
My mum wouldn't let me have a moped, and I already had my car license before getting into bikes.
She still worried about me when I went out on my bike, and looking back she had every reason to.
I'll just have to do my best to teach the boy the right way to do things so that he stays alive, and keep my fingers crossed that he actually listens and makes it home at the end of each day.
As for Donkey, I guess I'll just have to have a little play with it myself from time to time to remind me what it's like to be a young idiot.