I spent some time with a custom bike builder yesterday. We spent most of the day pretending to talk about bikes, when we were actually jabbering about watches. It provided me with the food for thought I need on the ride home. Are bikers horologists in waiting? Is a nice watch or bike an appreciation of the intricate engineering, or just a chance to show off? Finally, if there could be such a list, what are the five best watches for a biker?
Are bikers born to be watch lovers?
I know a lot of people that can tell the time and I know a lot of people that can ride a bike. I can genuinely say that every biker that I know over the age of forty, either already owns a desirable watch, or is very much aware of which one they want next. Some of them are quite ostentatious, Rolex Daytonas and Hublots are like busses in the race paddock. Others (and the ones I appreciate) are the subtle choices. Vintage Omega Speedmasters and Chronomatic Breitlings from the 1970’s are in there as well, they’re just harder to spot. I’m not just talking about the race paddock, next time you’re at a bike meet, take five minutes and check out what people are wearing on their wrists. As long as you manage to not look like a wrist-addicted weirdo, you’ll see that there are more considered watches out there than you might think. I think in general, bikers are watch geeks in waiting, but the two don’t seem to blend perfectly until the owner is slightly older. Maybe when the amount of miles that can be covered in a minute become less important than the amount of minutes available to slow down and enjoy every mile.
Is it just showing off?
I think that depends entirely on the watch. I’ve got friends who know everything there is to know about watches produced in Russia in the 1970’s. You could walk past those things a thousand times and never look twice, but that’s exactly what the owner intended. I once spent twenty minutes watching reaction to an OWO1 Yamaha at a track day. Most people didn’t look twice, but the reaction by those that knew what they were looking at was very similar to my childish grin when I spot a watch that I like. On the flipside, in much the same way that I get tired of listening to the fastest man in the paddock gobbing off about his super trick XYZ, only to wobble out in the slow group and be overtaken by his own shadow, I have little interest in people trying to show their wealth on their wrist. A blue dial ten-year-old Omega Seamaster does not make you successful, neither does that quick-shifter and those custom design tyre warmers.
A watch fan can spend months hunting down that perfect example, and the joy in finding one, regardless of whether it cost a hundred quid or a months wages, is largely exactly the same. So, if you’re a biker in the market for a watch that shows some consideration to time, as well as some taste, what do you buy? I’ve listed the five watches I think every biker should spend some time looking at.
1 Zenith Captain Central Second
You’ve probably seen a Zenith without even noticing it. Felix Baumgartner wore one during the Red Bull Stratos mission, freefalling from space at 830mph, it was a Zenith that he chose (was paid to choose) to strap to his wrist. Whether he was paid to or not, when Felix needed to check what time he had to top off his caffeine levels with a can of sugary goo, he did so using a Zenith El Primero Stratos Flyback Striking 10th. Zenith used to provide movements to Rolex, who I’m sure you’ve also heard of. My pick of their range is the Captain Central Second. Uncluttered and classy, it doesn’t scream look at me and that’s a good thing. It works for us because it’s slim. At just 8.1mm thick, it’ll slip under a pair of gloves and a jacket without bulging your wrist out and cutting off your circulation. Expect to pay £2500 for one if you hunt about for the best deal possible. I’d ditch the Alligator strap and go for one on a bracelet, it wouldn’t detract from the quality purchase, more importantly it wouldn’t smell like a camel’s pocket after a summer of riding.
2 Casio F-91W
There’s a lot to be said for a watch that costs less than a packet of cigarettes, but is accurate to within ± 30 seconds a month. If you use the alarm once a day and you check the time using the light once a day, the battery is expected to last seven years. This is the kind of watch you can strap on and forget about. Scratches knocks and dings will have little impact on it thanks to that robust Japanese rubber and plastic combination and even if you do break it, replacing it wouldn’t exactly have the credit card fraud department on the phone. The Foxtrot nine one whisky is so ‘anti watch snob’ that it has developed a bit of a cult following among watch snobs. Think of it as the CBR600RR of the watch world, no matter how popular they are, you’ll never struggle to find an affordable one worth buying.
3 Christopher Ward C60 Trident GMT.
The eagle eyed among you will spot the obvious similarity between this and a vintage Rolex GMT master, as the C60 was indeed based on the 60 year-old Rolex design. The key difference here is the price, £685 will bag you a brand new watch that has been designed by an Englishman (no prizes for guessing his name), uses a Swiss movement, looks great without making any kind of statement and is a watch that gives no real clue as to your salary. CW watches are growing in popularity and prices are following suit, buy one now and you never know, you might even make a few quid on it in a few years time. Picture this as the Alpinestars of the watch world, it’s not the price tag that makes it cool, it’s just cool.
4 Weird binary watch from Hong Kong
I bought one of these on eBay a few years ago. Two reasons helped me decide it was worth a punt. The first was the design, anything that looks like a set of clocks on a bike has to be a good thing. The second was the price, which I think was £4.99 plus postage from Hong Kong. It arrived, I put it on and it worked. Winner. Everyone that saw it wanted one. The binary element added new confusion to figuring out what time it was, but once I’d figured it out it was really easy to use. Obviously not the watch to choose if you’re meeting the Queen at Boxhill for a royal ride out, but a nice way to tell the time. When my modest watch collection was stolen during a burglary a few years ago, I was just as disappointed to see this had gone, as I was the vintage irreplaceable stuff that cost me proper money. Somewhere, out there, a thief is impressing the shit out of his petrol head mates with my old watch.
5. Graham Chronofighter 1695 – Steel
If you’re the kind of biker that wants everyone in the room to know that you’re considerably wealthier then them, shame on you. That said, in the interests of finding something to put in the list that ticks that box, I’ve gone for this. Any watch manufacturer that has ambassadors like John McGuinness and Cameron Donald on the books is worth a look. Graham watches are big, in your face and about as subtle as strapping a badger to your arm. My pick of the bunch would be the steel Chronofighter. A classic date, time chrono piece with stacks of heritage, expect to pay from £3000 up. George Graham (who founded the company) is credited with designing the first chronograph movement, the first stopwatch and a load of other cool watch stuff that’ll just get boring if you’re not into horology. Anyway, if you’re looking for a watch that says you’re a fan of speed and you’re not worried about it fitting underneath a pair of gloves, get your inheritance sized wallet out.
If you’re already a watch fan and, like me, you spend too much time looking at them online, you might as well look at them here, at least if you buy one you’d know that the money is being well spent. Watches of distinction are a team sponsor for the Suzuki World superbike team.