I WAS gobsmacked the other day when a friend and neighbour was showing off his brand spanking new Triumph Rocket 3 R motorbike.

It was a gleaming brute of a machine – and its engine capacity was a staggering 2.5 litres!

That’s considerably more cubic capacity than all but the poshest family cars and it shows how much Triumphs have come along since my brother and I had one each back in the 1960s.

Those were the days of mods and rockers, and we were very much rockers.

It was every rocker’s dream to own a 650cc Triumph Bonneville, the acme of British bikes – but neither of us could afford one on our starvation wages as a trainee reporter and Schiffli Shuttler in a Macclesfield silk mill respectively.

He came closer than me by becoming the proud owner of a Triumph Tiger Cub, a modest machine with a single cylinder 200cc engine, and a top speed of around 50 mph.

However he loved that machine so much he even wrote a poem about it, called “Bonny Baby Bonnie” which I am sure he still has somewhere.

He probably wishes he still had the bike, for these days they change hands for around £4,000, rather than the £15 he paid for it.

It took me several years to work my way up to my first Triumph, a 1957 Thunderbird 650cc twin, and what a beast it was.

It came from a friend of my father’s, who said it was fast but a bit quirky.

He was right in all aspects, for it roared along at close to 100mph given a following wind, but the seat had a disconcerting habit of tipping backwards at speed, leaving the rider staring at the sky rather than the road ahead for many alarming moments.

It was a tricky machine to ride, especially in snowy weather, because the brakes used to freeze up.

I recall coming to one busy junction, pressing the rear brake – and nothing happened, other than me sailing out into a maelstrom of fast moving, horn blasting traffic, which somehow parted like the Red Sea to let me through physically unscathed, but mentally scarred.

I decided there and then that the Thunderbird was not for me, and wished again I had taken better care of my first big British bike, a Matchless G12 650 of impeccable grace and appearance.

I had passed my test somewhat fortuitously on my 250cc James Commodore – the biggest bike a learner was allowed to ride – for I mistook the examiner’s instruction to take a left turn, and instead of heading down a leafy lane, I shot down the back alley separating a row of mill workers’ cottages from the outside netties, draping myself in wet washing as I did so.

When I caught up with the fuming examiner, I assumed I had failed, and relaxed for the rest of the test, so much so that he reluctantly gave me my pink slip!

I couldn’t wait to swap the two stroke James for a proper bike, and managed to purchase the Matchless for £30. It had a sidecar attached at the time of purchase, but I sold that for a fiver to a neighbour.

The Matchless was big, black and beautiful, and the future Mrs Hextol and I bought matching gold crash helmets to take to the road, and scream past Mods on their little toy scooters, as well as racing other rockers on the rods to Blackpool, Morecambe and the resorts of North Wales.

It really was a fabulous machine, with a deep crackling roar from the gleaming Siamese exhausts. Foolishly, I unscrewed the original fuel tank badges and got my artistic sister to hand paint the tank with huge white Flying M logos.

It looked magnificent, until I rode the bike to Rhyl, and found all the paint had come off on the inside of my jeans!

Whenever I parked it I would return to find it surrounded by admiring leather-jacketed hordes, and would swagger through them to start it up.

That was the plan, but the Matchless was a pig to start.

There were no electric starters in those days – it was kick start only, and I would be exhausted before it would agree to start.

I had it for about a year, before the engine blew up one day on the Chester bypass in a shower of con rods and other bits and pieces.

My failure to put any oil in cost me the bike of my dreams!