Better days

I am sitting holding a leather jacket while the man it belongs to does something daring. This makes me laugh. It’s the kind of thing I imagine a Pink Lady might do for her favourite T-bird. It’s not what I do. I rebuild carburettors, scour North Wales for spark plugs and drop the needle in the throttle to stop my engine running lean.

It didn’t help. Last weekend I came home from Welshpool in Biker Paul’s car while the Jawa went back to Wisbech with a wrecked gearbox. I no longer own it. It has gone back whence it came, for £1500 less than I paid for it. Add to that the £800 quid it cost me to ferry it up to Scotland and back down again, about a hundred for miscellaneous repair parts and a big tin of Jizer to degrease the baffles, two pounds twenty for the jar of Nutella and 50 quid in fuel and 2-stroke that I filled up with but didn’t get to use for the Welsh National Rally and the tiny number of trouble-free miles it covered seem like an extremely expensive luxury.

I am a bit bitter.

It doesn’t help that I am back in Wales this weekend for the Wartburg-Trabant IFA Club’s Eastern Bloc Vehicle Weekend. The first one of these I took part in was based around Lacock and was Scabbers the Trabi’s only happy outing before his long and painful expiration.

As the Jawa has now followed in Scabbers’ tyre tracks, this year I have come to Llangollen in Hortense, who is trying to blend in with her 602cc engine and lack of top speed. Just to rub salt in the wound, the hotel we gather in for Friday night’s meal is about 400 yards from the hill on which the Jawa’s gearbox gave up.

To be fair, if you are feeling sore about the failure of your Eastern Bloc vehicle, there is no better company to be among. Markus the Barkas didn’t make it at all, having broken his clutch cable over the Bank Holiday. Wilfred the Traction Engineer had to rebuild his top end over the winter after discovering that the Tramp had eaten a piston ring. The Ural pilot sat next to me at dinner had to learn how to set up and time his ignition rotor. Cheerfulness in the face of adversity is the secret. Beer helps.

It was a beautiful sunny weekend and AdventureDog and I assumed our traditional seat in the right hand side of the Tramp for Saturday’s train adventure and road run. With a short pause to reattach the exhaust and a second brief halt to change a spark plug after one of the cylinders stops working. Perhaps my expectations of Jawa ownership were too high.

Why am I holding a leather jacket? Because on Sunday morning we had an excursion across the Pontcysyllte aqueduct. The lad who opens up and sells the tickets also races grasstrack and does first aid at race meetings. He had a cautionary tale about a sidecar passenger who fell out when the outfit flipped over during a race and was found walking back to base with a broken leg. “It’s only a flesh wound,” I said. Without breaking stride he said “Tis but a scratch” and carried on with the story.

On a glorious sunny day, sitting in a canal boat crossing one of the wonders of the industrial world isn’t really challenging enough for the adventurous two-stroke traveller. MZ Tim said, “can we walk back?”

No problem, said the crew.

I thought about it. I have climbed the Diamond Tree. But no-one wants to see a grown woman cry. Dog and I stood on the towpath so that we could say we had done it but returned to the safe haven of the bows of the narrow boat and sat there trying not to look down. We took our jacket-holding duties seriously and handed it back in the sunshine at the Jones the Boat basin.

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Filed under Friends, ifa, jawa

Floating

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I try to keep the list of ‘things I don’t want the landlady to know about’ fairly short. I don’t drink in the house very often, I haven’t had any gentlemen callers ( though I should perhaps add that they haven’t exactly been forming a queue) and I haven’t sat on her sofa in my pants to watch Strictly.

I am not sure that this adds up to enough in the ‘virtue’ column to make up for ‘arsing about with petrol on her garden furniture.’ Close to the spot she likes to stand for an after-dinner ciggy. But last Friday was dry, clear and still, while the forecast for the weekend was crap again. And, based on prior experience, I had about two hours before she came home. Fortune favours the brave and all that….

Checking the float on a 2CV carb is simple. Whip the top off, turn it upside down, and check that the dimple in the middle of the float is 18mm plus or minus 1 above the edge of the carb body. If you’re feeling thorough, check both floats and average it out.

Checking the Jikov 2829 CE requires a Nutella jar, a ruler, a length of tubing, a syringe, a permanent marker and some non-latex gloves. I couldn’t find my syringe so I had to nab the landlady’s Highland Spring bottle from the draining board. I hope she isn’t still looking for it.

Eat the Nutella. (I had to skip this step as it isn’t Fat Club compliant and spoon it into a tub instead.) Mark a line 10mm from the lip of the glass. Balance the top half of the carb on the jar. If you left the fuel hose on the tap go and fetch it and attach it to the carb. Using the syringe, feed the carb with petrol until the valve closes. Wipe up the petrol you spilled on the table before it melts it. Realise that over-enthusiastic syringing has resulted in overflow, giving a false reading. Syringe the petrol back out of the Nutella jar and try again. Keep trying until the valve closes just as the petrol hits the line that you drew.

Worry about meniscuses and other visual tricks.

Decide that time is short and you are close enough for jazz.

Assembly is the reverse of disassembly. Though without dropping any screws down holes this time. David Angel at F2 sends brilliant step-by-step instructions, though not for the fainthearted. I don’t think Haynes has ever suggested I should roll a rubber hose back like a condom before fitting it, but it did the job beautifully.

By 5pm on Friday I had a bike that started and ran. Which was a significant victory. Since then I have mostly been trying to set the air mix screw, with limited success. I’ve watched a lot of YouTube videos, mainly by a chap called Mustie1 who is fettling a barn find Jawa at the moment. I need him to stop fannying around polishing the paintwork and show me how to tune the carb!

I also found a brilliant description of the process on the Yezdi and Jawa Club of Chennai website.

“select a place far away from the city or your residential area so that you do not disturb the tired, sick, disgusted, old people or babes (babies) living in your colony. You are likely to be shooed away from them when you are at a critical point. You may choose a place near your girl friend’s house just to impress her! Put the bike in main stand and get hold of your screw driver. That is all you need, together with your eyes, brains and ears.”

Yesterday I thought I had this cracked. I headed to a local beauty spot where one of this year’s RBR landmarks is located. I selected a place far away from my colony and adjusted the screw until the engine had a cheerful sound and the throttle response was quick without hesitation, deviation or repetition.

Today we were idling like a dog again. But yesterday was beautifully sunny and today was grey and damp. Maybe that makes a difference?

Who knows. After all the surgery I feel it’s now time just to start riding and see what happens. What’s the worst that could happen? Well, I could melt my pistons, lock the engine, crash and die. But I’ve done that once before (the melting part, not the crashing and dying part) so hopefully will feel it happening while there’s still time to pull in the clutch.

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Filed under Garage stuff, jawa, Sidecar

Baffling

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I am buying a house. I owned a house until February last year and I sold it. So buying a new one makes me sad and angry, mostly with myself. And scared, because I don’t want to be taking on a mortgage at this point in my life but prices have gone up and my savings have gone down.

Four days of fettling a motorcycle in the rain have helped to remind me that having your own house is A Good Thing. If this had been my house I’d have put the outfit in the conservatory, put Planet Rock on, and had a lovely time. If the landlady had gone away for Easter I’d have been tempted to do the same. But no, she had the audacity to want to stay in her own home for Easter so I put my kagoule on, tried to find a spot for my cup of tea where it wouldn’t get diluted, and cracked on.

First, the dribbly exhausts. The internet is full of advice on having to take cutting wheels to welds and perform tricks with mole grips to get baffles out. I am here to tell you it’s much easier than that. Undo the 7mm bolt each side of the tailpipe and pull. Inside there’s a collection of objects d’art and two rubber rings, in my case, dripping with oil. Better get a bucket. And some degreaser.

It is much harder than I expected to get degreaser these days. Homebase don’t have it, the Brown Overall Emporium that had my Lomax bolts didn’t have it, and Halfords only do it on pre-order. Even my longstop local car accessories place only had a tiny tin. Has it been banned for our own good? I bet Shetland Janitorial could have helped..

So that was Good Friday. Degreasing, in the rain. After a bit of a James Herriot moment with my rubber-gloved hand inserted up the bike’s rear end I decided to take the pipes off for better access and to give a good clean to the surfaces where the collars meet the head, because David Angel says if these are dirty the seal will be poor.IMG_0598.JPG

Easter Saturday was more degreasing, cleaning of heads, refitting of shiny clean pipes, and then the game of trying to get the baffles back in. You can take them out in pieces but they need to go back as one unit. Have a guess how many tries it took to figure that one out….

2 days down, one job done. I ponder whether TV shows like Shed & Buried raise unrealistic expectations about how long jobs should take but decide that no, I’m just brick slow. My excuse is that I’ve never done this before. Next time will be quicker.

Another cup of tea, and then time to tackle the carb. I have a new float valve to fit and a set of gaskets in case I tear one. I’ve been eyeing up jars in supermarkets because the internet says that a jar with a 7cm neck is the right size to check the float height. And it needs to be really shallow to save me from having to take the whole carb off. Fortunately I work in a university town so roaming the aisles with a ruler and muttering doesn’t attract comment. Or security guards.

Taking the float bowl off, I dropped the screws. No problem, I thought. There’s a kind of shallow dish on top of the engine – the one that filled with fuel when the carb overflowed in Sainsbury’s car park – that will catch them.

So why did I only recover three screws?

Because it’s a shallow dish with a hole in one side that leads down into the engine assembly.

Much despair.

I could buy another screw. But that would leave one inside the bike doing god knows what damage.

There is only one thing to do. Get out the Big Screwdriver and take the side cover off. Underneath is something that I think is the ignition module, something else that I have no clue about, and a shiny carb screw resting gently on a ledge. I retrieve it and back gently away.

Panic over, and game over too – one of the floats is half-full of pale yellow liquid, like a Fanta bottle on the central reservation.

I’m cross because I’m the world’s slowest mechanic and losing screws down holes is really not cool.

But I’m also happy because I was right – the float wasn’t floating properly.

But I’m cross because I wasn’t confident enough to back my hunch and order a float at the same time as the new valve, so now I am stuck for the rest of Easter. And I can’t even pig out on eggs because we had a stern lecture at Fat Club – one large egg has as many calories as two bottles of wine. “Would you sit and drink two bottles of wine to yourself?” asked the leader. Most of us nodded, to her disappointment.

The exhausts look shiny though.

 

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Arse

“My bike is louder than your bike!”

The smalls next door decided to have a sweet shop at the end of their drive this weekend, which was rather unkind at a time when I am strictly bound to the rules of Fat Club.

As I fitted the sat-nav mount to the handlebars of the Jawa they tempted me with less of a siren call, more of a bellow. “Would you like some sweeties?” I’m very glad that it was them offering me sweets and not the other way round!

As AdventureDog and I had a hard weekend of sidecar voyaging ahead, two small bags of cola bottles seemed a justifiable purchase. Larger small carefully tweezered them from her stash into a bag. “What were you doing last week under your car with a chainsaw?” she asked.

I don’t remember doing anything under my car with a chainsaw, but I was hacksawing the exhaust off. I explain, briefly. Meanwhile small small has run off to get his biker boots, for he is one of those tiny motocross riders with no fear, and wants to show me that not only is his bike louder than mine, his boots are better and he goes faster.

I have no doubt.

But it’s OK, because this weekend is about distance, not speed. I was fitting the sat-nav because for the first time in three years I was going somewhere on a bike that I hadn’t been before – the starting landmark for the Round Britain Rally.

Because the bastard snow has kept us within the city limits for far longer than planned, I was quite worried about the  160-mile round trip to the ARSE, the Annual Rally Start Event, when our furthest voyage has been the 13 miles to the Long Itch Diner. Or perhaps the abandoned run from Fife to Dundee last August which ended up on the Proprietor of the Northern Rest Home for Distressed Machinery’s trailer.

So Saturday’s mission was to double that with a trip to Jack Hill’s Cafe, one of my favourite biker stops, and if all went well, make it back to Asda in time to take part in the Coventry Riders Action Group Easter Egg Run. I love a good egg run and I haven’t done one since I lived in East Anglia.

Of course it was raining on Saturday. Just like the good old days. I’m impressed that my personal weather system has waited the four years I’ve been away from motorcycle touring. It joyfully precipitated upon me all the way down the A45 to Jack’s, where I had a cup of tea instead of a fry-up, and AdventureDog gave me the face because he didn’t get any bacon.

Slowly, the niggles are being ironed out. Having 40psi in the rear tyre instead of 5 certainly improves the handling. Backing off the rear drum adjusters released an extra 5mph – may not sound that impressive but when you’re struggling to get up hills it makes a big difference! And all my bad habits are being shown up. On the 125 I brake into a corner and coast round. On an outfit that drifts you out into the oncoming traffic. Get your braking before the corner – biker 101. I may even have muttered IPSGA to myself.

Damp but happy, dog, chair, Jawa and I made it to Asda in time for a coffee, a chat about the insanity of the decision to charge bikers £12.50 a day to ride in London, and a rapid turnaround to head out on the egg run.

“I’ll keep it fairly slow,” said Baz, in the briefing. There must be a local definition of slow I’m not familiar with, I thought as we hurtled along the back roads around Wolvey and back to Broad Park House, a centre for children with learning disabilities. They were so excited to see the bikes and the best thing about the day was that everyone was happy to let the kids scramble into the seats, toot the horns, and generally have a whale of a time, even the chap with a gorgeous BSA and vintage sidecar who would have been quite justified in saying no. With three kids in the sidecar and two on the bike, they looked like they were ready to hit the road and have the best adventure ever, but for dog and I it was back to the cupboard via the petrol station to get ready for our Sunday run.

I have done 360-mile days, I have ridden from Lands End to John O’Groats (more than once) and I’ve even done one Brit Butt (Lite version) but for the last three years I have only ridden the three miles to work and back. Everything else has been done sitting on my arse in the Lomax, and one of the lessons of Saturday was that my riding fitness has withered away. It is OK, I tell myself. When I got my first big bike after learning, I was daunted by the thought of riding from Buckinghamshire to Sheffield, where then-hubs was working. I printed out out maps, wrote myself some tips, and survived.

On Sunday I packed a flask, a bacon sandwich, and a reminder that this wasn’t about heroic stamina, it was about getting started. And my raincloud had decided to take a holiday so it was a lovely day to bimble south, stop to do my velcro up again (it’s given up any kind of grip), stop to let the dog have a wee (should have gone before we went), stop for a coffee (roadside coffee always tastes better when you’re sat on a bike), have a go on the motorway (not a great idea), stop to check whether I’d filled the 2-stroke tank up (yes), and finally make it to the ARSE.

Touring on a 350cc outfit is slow.

It got slower on the way home and when I pulled in to the petrol station I discovered oil all over the crankcase. 2 for 2, I thought, and went home sad. But people who know 2-strokes and Jawas better than me say it is just dribble from the exhaust. So Easter is looking like this:-

  • remove, clean and refit exhaust headers
  • de-gunk the silencers as far as possible without setting them on fire or filling them with caustic soda.
  • clean and refit the carb

I hope Jesus would approve. After all, it is a resurrection of sorts.

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Filed under Riding, Round Britain Rally, Sidecar

Happiness is…

…driving to the park on Sunday afternoon in a 2CV with a new exhaust fitted, which has restored her mid-range verve and really, really reduced the engine noise.

Getting there was painful though. The parcel finally arrived on Monday morning – it must have been first out of the gates when they were unlocked. I also got a cute biscuit to say sorry and DPD would do better next time. Their apology game is strong. It didn’t count for much when I was lying on the landlady’s drive in the snow on Saturday morning grinding two rusty bolts off the rear exhaust hangers, though.  I looked like Joey wearing all of Chandler’s clothes (except his pants) in Friends but still lost touch with my fingers after just 20 minutes thanks to Son of Beast from the East and the sub-zero temperatures it brought.

I really like the biddy next door. She has an amazing garden full of bird feeders and beautiful plants, and she didn’t complain at all when I was fettling the Jawa and making a ridiculous amount of noise one weekend.

“Have you got everything you need?” she asked, as I was taking a break from swearing at the tenacity of the bastard rusty bolts.

“Well, I could do with a burly bloke. Or an angle grinder…”

“Hang on,” she said, and went off to see what she could rustle up.

20 minutes later she returned. “Will these do?” she asked, brandishing a pair of bolt-cutters that were more than half her size and would be the envy of any London moped scrote.

We compromised on the loan of a hacksaw.

 

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In which the universe has another go at finishing me off

If I had written this last night it would have been called “Red Sky at Night – Highwaylass’s delight” and it would have been a cheerful reflection on an evening ride home after a successful sidecar voyage to the far distant territories of the Birmingham suburbs.

But I’m writing it tonight and it’s called ”I’m shit out of luck, still.”

Last week the 2CV exhaust sheared off about two thirds of the way along its length. I’m already a week late going to Wrexham to collect a 2CV engine for the Lomax (snow stopped travel), and now I don’t have a car. I put the screws on a friend and he agreed to be chauffeur yesterday – then it turned out that the seller wasn’t going to be around to do a handover. So I had a free Saturday. If DPD had done their part, I would have spent the day fitting a new exhaust and all my mobility problems would be over.

Friday came and went with no parcel. After half an hour on hold I got to speak to a human who muttered something about the parcel not having been scanned out and he would upgrade me for free to Saturday morning delivery.

Saturday morning the tracker was going backwards – on Friday my parcel had “arrived” at Hinckley. On Saturday morning it was “on its way” to Hinckley. 20 minutes on hold to speak to a human who said no, don’t expect it today – it’s probably locked in a truck. Actually I’m imagining it swirling round and round some mythical maelstrom, unable to acheive escape velocity. It’s now supposed to be arriving tomorrow. I’m not holding my breath. It’s incredibly frustrating not to be able to talk to anyone prepared to give me a straight answer about what has gone wrong, and when I might actually get it.

Anyway, I was determined to make the best of it so instead of wrestling the exhaust,  Saturday saw dog, Jawa and I having a fun day out with no mechanical failures.

And today is the start of the year – the Round Britain Rally pre-ARSE ITCH, at the Long Itchingdon diner. After a foggy start the sun came out, we trundled down at a fair clip navigating the bends like someone who knew what they were doing, had a cup of tea, met old friends, and then it all went a bit wrong.

Piling back towards Cov we stuttered to a halt. OK – just need to switch onto reserve. But that’s just 100 miles from 15 litres of fuel. Is that about right for a 350cc engine with a sidecar and a fat bird?  And it seems that running dry has led to shite being sucked into the carb – 2 miles down the road there was a catch and a stutter, as if the engine was about to sieze, 8 miles down the road we could barely stagger round the Sainsbury’s car park, and then when parked up I discovered the carb pissing neat petrol all over the hot engine.

Brilliant.

Thank god for Twitter. Hit it with a hammer, said @midlifeclassics and @scunjee.

I know that it’s teething problems and to be expected. But I just want to go on a run and not have something die, blow up, risk spontenous combustion while I’m buying potatoes, or sieze.

And DPD if you’re listening, I really, really want my fucking parcel tomorrow.

 

 

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Filed under 2CV, Riding, Round Britain Rally

Dude, where’s my car?

I have spent two days rebuilding the Lomax. I was supposed to be in a luxury dog-friendly hotel in the Malverns, thanks to a Christmas present from a generous friend. The 2CV had other ideas and shed its exhaust before we got there. While annoying, I take this as vindication of my diagnostic skills, because I have been certain for about 10 months that I could hear an exhaust leak but couldn’t find one. Should have looked at the back of the torpedo…

So instead of checking in, on Sunday afternoon I was trucking back to Coventry with the lovely Lukas from Poland. We had a chat about how to pick a good Ural, how to make it better, what kind of top speed a 2CV with a working exhaust would do, and how terrifying it is to take on a mortgage. About 10 miles from Coventry he asked “And what do you think about Brexit?” Given that my last three recovery drivers have been from Eastern Europe and have all cheefully scooped my temporarily-expired machinery off the road and taken us home, I was able to tell him quite truthfully that I think it’s a bloody stupid idea.

But I didn’t come here to talk about politics….I came to talk about the Lomax. Last May all of its oil fell out as we were coming over the Lecht home from an excursion to the North Coast 500 and the engine has never been right since. Then I went for an MOT and the crack on the number plate wasn’t the only one the tester picked up – he also spotted a large crack in the chassis. **DANGEROUS,**  said the failure certificate, just so I was clear. No, he couldn’t weld it. Try the boys behind the log heater shop in Tayport. No, they couldn’t weld it either, because it was right underneath the fuel tank and they didn’t want to set themselves on fire.

The Proprietor of the Northern Rest Home for Distressed Machinery said he would do it. I paid a man with a recovery truck 170 quid to move the Lomax even further north for its surgery and in the end all of the insides had to come out and the body come off the chassis so we could get the fuel tank out. Welding done, the body went back on and then it got dark, I went back to the forest, and about a week later, went back to England.

The Proprietor and I met a little over five years ago. We were on for a while, then off, then friends again, but like the  engine it was never quite the same and now he seems to have moved on for good, with a request that the Lomax be removed from his front garden by the end of January. I organised an overnight dash with a big truck and a borrowed burly chap, and I asked whether he had ever got a chance to refit the insides. “It’s all there,” was the slightly careful reply.  It turned out, in the sub-zero small hours of a Scottish winter, that yes, it was all there, just not attached. Some tears.

Since January the poor thing has been hiding behind the garage in my landlady’s garden because I have been scared of the rebuild, and thinking about it made me sad because it felt like such a demonstration that something that had been good, in parts, was now very firmly over. Also it has been snowing. But rebuilding can’t be ducked for ever. A couple of weeks ago I cut the new carpet and made holes in the right places, and on Monday with the sun shining it was time to get stuck in.

Monday was scraping, de-rusting, treating and painting, and trying to work out which bolts went where. Some of them were too mangled to re-use.  Tuesday began with a search for four M6 x 130mm coach bolts, the moral of which is go to your neighbourhood Brown Overall Store first rather than last. But if I had followed this excellent advice Dog and I woudn’t have had fun in the sidecar touring the building supply depots of Coventry. Then it was swearing, cursing, wrestling the steering wheel back in, reattaching the gearshift, and putting the drivers seat back in. And tea. Lots of tea.

AdventureDog came out for a look around Third Tea and there was much excitement and tailwagging as he jumped in to inspect progress. He’s coming round to the sidecar but he does love his Lomax.

 

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Have a little patience

Finally! After the dark, the first signs of spring are here. Not the daffodils spearing up through the verge ready to get widdled on by the dog (sorry, daffodils) and not the fact that it’s daylight at home-time. No, spring is on its way because Saturday was the RBR awards dinner.

This year (and last year, but I couldn’t go last year, because Scotland) we gathered in The George Hotel, Lichfield, in a blue, vaulted room lined with slightly dodgy paintings (“Look,” said Jenny. “That chap’s feet are floating above the grass.”)  The Wingman isn’t allowed to come and it’s a bit too cold for him to sit in the car so he stayed at home to watch the Olympics. The good news was that despite me changing the fuel line and cleaning out the carb on Saturday morning Hortense still made it. The bad news was that I stabbed myself in two fingers with the end of the choke cable doing the job and they still bloody hurt.

“We’ll do this in reverse order and start with the Finishers,” announced Dave the D. Yes, that was me. I had the fewest points of all this year’s awards guests. That’s what happens when your Lomax dies in June and your job only lets you take days off if three other women agree you could have those days. (And that, dear reader, is why it isn’t my job any more. Three women with a veto on my riding time!) I got six landmarks out of more than 50. But they were good ones, in the remotest corners of the Highlands.

Now I have to scrape together as much patience as I can muster because the 2018 list won’t be released until March 11.  A few years ago Graham began auctioning preview copies for those whose pockets were deeper than their patience – an innovation which has raised nearly £4,000 for the Air Ambulance. I bought a preview list one year – but these days the moths are in charge of my wallet so I am just going to have to wait.

Still, that gives me three weeks to fix the Lomax….

 

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“Is there a technique to pushing this button?”

I have the flu. Too unwell to do anything that requires serious concentration, well enough to be bored stiff. To add insult to injury I have the flu in someone else’s house, because I am still a lodger despite trying to buy a house a month for the last six months.

What can an ill person do when they’re trying to be unobtrusive, and especially when their landlady’s electrician bellows ‘so what’s your lodger like, then?’ from the other side of your door.

Headphones seemed a good idea. So did podcasts. Armed with a list of recommendations from twitter friends, I figured I’d start with a dead cert – Chasing the Horizon, featuring Sam Manicom.

You probably already know that Sam is one of the friendliest stars in the overland galaxy. He gave me great advice when I was planning my Australia tour, and while he’s always ready with a welcome and a word when I see him at shows and events, I feel guilty because time chatting to me is time not making new converts or selling copies of his books.

So what a treat to be able to listen to Sam in conversation with Wes Fleming for just over an hour. Gently self-deprecating, Sam drinks tea and tells stories against himself – no Lone Hero Triumphing Over Adversity ego here!

Wes is a great host, and guides the conversation from the day Sam turned up to collect a brand-new Libby and was stumped by the absence of a kick-start – a feeling I remember well in making the shift from my own kick-start L-bike to a 600cc four-stroke with twin exhausts and an electric starter! – to his recent crash and broken arm.

Without being preachy, Sam reminds us that every ride is a good ride, and everyone on two wheels is part of the brilliant biker community.

I love that a man who has ridden quarter of a million miles still sees value in an everyday commute or a ride to the shops. If riding is feeling like a chore at the moment, or if you’re struggling on your L-plates and wondering if it’s really worth it, I thoroughly recommend finding a comfy chair, a cup of tea, and giving Sam and Wes 60 minutes of your time.

Find Chasing the Horizon here: http://www.bmwmoa.org/page/podcast

And Sam here: http://www.sam-manicom.com/

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All isn’t quiet, on New Year’s Eve.

When I was about twelve my best friend and I went on a bicycle adventure to visit her nanna in the next town. I’m pretty sure we cycled up the disused railway track, so we weren’t in peril from inattentive drivers. It was a magnificent, Enid-Blyton-style adventure and we probably had cake and lashings of ginger beer at our destination before returning home, triumphant.

To receive a bollocking from my dad. What was I thinking, going on a journey on a bicycle in inadequate mechanical condition? Slightly baffled pre-teen me was puzzled by the revelation that bicycle maintenance was one of my chores, and also couldn’t see anything particularly wrong with the bike, apart from a slightly wonky front light, which we didn’t need as we weren’t cycling in the dark.

Parade duly pissed on, I gave up bicycle adventures.

But I pondered the lesson anew while I waited in the rain for the recovery wagon a couple of weeks ago. If I had packed a can of WD40, we would probably have been able to get going again – a point proven by my trip home from Birmingham after Christmas, when we coughed majestically to a stop in the slush and quick deployment of the Smart Straw on all the under-seat wiring saved the day. If I had packed my waterproofs, I’d at least have had a less uncomfortable wait. And if I’d done my pre-trip maintenance, like my dad told me to, it might not have happened

My excuses are legitimate. I live in a spare room of a Rather Naice House. I have already created puddles of castor oil and Kurust on the front drive after some emergency 2CV maintenance. While the outfit would fit quite nicely into the conservatory, which would be an excellent winter fettling venue, I fear my tenancy would not survive. Also it’s dark when I get home from work.

But in these #twixmas days (now rebranded Chrimbo Limbo) I am at home in daylight and can get the toolkit out.

Electrical problems are a bastard and can only be resolved by being methodical. It’s really quite soothing. Cup of tea, camping chair, can of contact cleaner, big roll of kitchen towel, vaseline. It’s also a chance to get to know the bike, which I should really have done back in July but I was too busy learning how to ride it.

Everything under the seat is dirty, wet, and some connections are a bit loose. In the interests of checking my work as I go, there’s a fair amount of starting up and revving what is, if truth be admitted, a noisy, smelly 2-stroke.

On the fourth round of test firing, next door’s front door opens and the neighbour pops her head out. She’s an older lady and spends a lot of time in her garden. I cut the engine and wait for the smoke to disperse so that I can apologise, before realising she’s giving the thumbs up.

“Well done you! Great to hear it running properly.”

We have a chat about engines, cars and 2CV gearlevers. She recommends WD40 and Jizer as the two fluids a woman can rely on and gives me a couple of shop towels from her stash.

Never judge.

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