Happy New Year, 2022!

Time, wrote Douglas Adams, is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so. And when you think about it, the New Year is a pretty arbitrary way to slice up time. The solstice makes more sense – an actual, objective moment of change – the shortest day, the longest night. But the difference between 31 Dec and 1 Jan, other than a lot of fireworks and the chances of a hangover?

Well, this year it was the difference between endless, incessant rain and blue skies.

And when the sky is blue we ride motorcycles.

It’s about six weeks since I’ve been out on a bike, because of a lot of boring and complicated things including a left knee the size of a football. It’s longer than that since the MZ has been out. It did very well, though the Africa Twin and Trevor the Triumph were rather champing at the bit as we hit our maximum speed of about 48mph up a steep bit of the A5.

As the Wingman is now in the beyond, Badass Pooh Bear has taken his place in the chair. He is less motivated by bacon and seems phlegmatic in the face of rain.

We ate bacon sandwiches cooked on a Coleman stove and talked about plans for the year ahead. I cannot think of many better ways to spend New Year’s Day.

And as for resolutions? I am resolved this year to do more of the things that bring me joy.

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Happy place – Sunday at the NEC

Thanks to the kindness of friends, I have been to the bike show! I wasn’t going to go this year because I haven’t published enough recently to qualify for a press pass and I hadn’t won any tickets.  But covid-19 struck down a friend-of-a-friend and I was the beneficiary of their misfortune.

Since my most recent attempt at off-road riding (back in October) ended with me faceplanting in the forest I’ve had a very tetchy and lumpy knee.  A day walking round the show was going to be sufficient of a challenge for it, so going to see our local 70s rock cover band the night before and giving in to the urge for a spot of flailing around on the dance floor rather sailed straight past “unwise” and landed on “bloody stupid.”

I packed ibuprofen, stick and stretchy knee support and looked longingly at the mobility scooters.

But I wasn’t there to give in.

I was there to look at bikes and possibly buy a pair of fat bastard sized winter trousers, because the problem with duffing your knee in, just when you were literally getting back on your feet after a third-degree burn (also self-inflicted) is that not being able to walk anywhere for 5 months means you’re shopping in the plus-size aisle.

I did a quick count on my fingers and I think this year is 16 years since my first visit, when I was a VIP thanks to the job that I was in at the time. This year I was just a punter, grumbling slightly about how much things have changed. It was good to see all the electric bikes, because whether we like it or not, they’re going to be playing a big role in years to come.  I’m less keen on the current fashion for adventure bikes to have great big lardy front ends, and they all seem to have shrunk in the wash – if I have to shop in the men’s aisle for fat bastard trousers long enough for my inside leg I want a bike that I’m not scrunched up on.  The only one that’s still tall enough that I can put my feet down with straight legs is the Ténéré 700.  So I shall be saving up. As I doubt Yamaha will want a W650 outfit in part-ex…

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My own private gulag

Ummed and ah’ed a bit about writing this because essentially it’s just a massive moan, but it’s a moan that reveals some really troubling attitudes so I’ve cracked open the Kronenbourg and I’m going for it.

This morning I went to a Motoring Event billed as the past, present and future of vehicles. Let’s pretend that you don’t know who was organising it, otherwise we’d have to get into right of reply and that would just get tedious.

Why did I go? Because I got an email asking anyone interested in displaying a vehicle to get in touch. I thought an Eastern Bloc sidecar would be an interesting addition to the vehicular gallery, given how sidecars were low-cost family and trade transport at a time when cars were only for the top brass. I got my joining instructions and I rolled up this morning, before 8am, on a day when the skies were grey and the forecast was Deluge.

The cars were being lovingly greeted and arranged in the prime spot on the plaza.

“Where do you want me?”

“Oh, bikes usually go over there by the steps. Just head over there and one of the men will come and talk to you.”

Over by the steps? That’s where bikes park when they’re just …. parking.

I learnt many useful things from Big Chief Polar Bear and one of them was “if other people are being vague, do what you want to do and they’ll probably just agree.”

So I parked about halfway up the plaza, next to a big sign so it was clear I was part of the event, and near a handy concrete feature that I could sit on if I got tired.

Then a nervous chap in hi viz shuffled up, presented a bucket and asked for my donation.

This was the first time it was mentioned that this was a paid-for opportunity. I had been promised a voucher for a free pastry if I bought a coffee. At no point was it suggested that I would need to make a donation for the privilege of getting up at 6.30am on my weekend and freezing my tits off. I expressed this to him, more or less in these words, and he shuffled off again saying “thank you for the feedback.”

More cars came in, and were lovingly arranged.

I remained on the edge of the plaza.

Now, I accept that I am unusually prone to feeling unwelcome. But politically, this was really bad. An event promising to showcase the future of transport has excluded bikes from the main display and left us “over there by the stairs.”

I accosted a BeardedBro in another hi-viz, while a vintage chap on a Triumph put–putted over to join me.

“Oh,” said the Beard. “We always put the bikers on the edge. You’re our security. If people get funny we say behave yourselves or the bikers will sort you out.”

Let’s unpack that.

The problem with that statement isn’t just that bikers aren’t part of the transport mix, not welcome to line up with the other vehicles on the plaza. (Well, eventually it was conceded we could shuffle over once all the cars were in. Like an afterthought).

The problem with that statement is that Progressive Beard Dude thinks we’re just thugs.

I fixed him with my best beady glare and said “Don’t you think that’s a bit of an outdated stereotype?”

“Oh no,” he bearded back at me. “One of my friends is a biker and he doesn’t mind.”

I bloody mind.

Later on the Mayor turned up in his official car. He was met by a rush of hi-viz organisers and ushered straight past the four bikes – two of them built just up the road – to admire the cars.

Maybe I had missed something and it was just a car event? But I sent a photo of the outfit to be sure they knew what I was offering to bring. There was an opportunity there to say “actually this is just for cars but we do plenty of other stuff where bikes can come along.” But they didn’t.

And they didn’t say they’d be asking for money either.

So I finished the coffee I’d brought with me in my thermos, got a push start from the vintage chaps, and huffed off home.

No-one, at any point, said “thank you for coming.”

So I shan’t bother again.

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A brief word about E10

Don’t.

OK, that was probably too brief.

I like to be a good citizen. I recycle, I buy second-hand (when I’m not shopping in skips) and I don’t have children, which apparently makes a big contribution to reducing the strain on the planet.

So when the E10 announcements came out I checked my vehicles – MZ, are you having a laugh, Citroen 2CV, not listed, W650, not compatible, Triumph – compatible.

So I filled up the old girl with a tankful. Big Mistake. Huge.

I was out yesterday on a run with a few friends and I genuinely thought I had a blockage in my fuel line. Symptoms – wouldn’t pick up cleanly in any gear when rolling on; wouldn’t idle – if left without revving, would splutter to a halt in about 10 seconds.

So I started looking for E5 to start filling the tank with something more to the bike’s liking, and friends, I can tell you now that “widely available” is already a lie.

By the end of the day we’d burnt through most of the E10 and the idle is just about back to normal.

But I’m pretty devastated. That’s three motorcycles that are now on the fast track to obsolescence, and my car.

How does it benefit the planet, and its limited resources, for these four beasts to go to the scrap yard, and for me to scrape together the cash to replace them with something new?

It bloody doesn’t.

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“Did you tell them about the tiffin?”

Last night I made a teenage boy’s dream come true.

Not like that, you perverts. (TM @motonutjob)

By riding in a prom escort.

There are many advantages to being old. The first is that no pictures of my youthful indiscretions, from terrible haircuts to the aftermath of a bottle of mezcal, are on the internet.

(A brief diversion into the mezcal story. Wibbly sounds, wavy screen. Welcome to 1989, when a thrifty university acquaintance was notorious for shirking his duty to contribute to parties by bringing this revolting bottle, which may even have had a worm in the bottom. See, I have brought booze, he would say. It’s not my fault if no-one drank it. Then he would reclaim the bottle at the end of the evening, take it away, and bring it back to the next one. After a few episodes of this I spiked his guns by drinking it. Friends, it is a miracle that I am still alive.)

The second is that Prom was not a thing when I left school.

It seems that making an entrance that will be talked about for years to come is the goal, and the pressure of that must be extraordinary. The young lad’s mum explained that in recent years someone arrived in a tank, and four girls chartered a helicopter.  This particular young man had been promised a Ferrari but the offer fell through at the last minute.

If you can’t arrive in a Ferrari then arriving at the head of a motorcycle club run is, it seems, an acceptable substitute for the “will everyone be talking about this tomorrow?” test. But that’s not an easy thing to organise at short notice.

MCs aren’t everyone’s cup of tea but it’s times like this that I think show the community in its best light.

At 6pm, a handful of us “99 per centers” were waiting with mum, dad and offspring, cheerfully chomping on some truly excellent rocky road, and having a lovely chat but you could see that dad was anxious that 2 sports bikes, a Ninja and a ropey old Triumph weren’t quite the dramatic force he’d hoped for.

At 6.25pm the roar of open pipes preceded the arrival of about 8 of one of our local Outlaw-affiliated clubs.  Looked the part, sounded the part, formed up around dad with son riding pillion, in splendid vintage gear, and about half an hour later the Spectacular Entrance of Prom Requirement was duly made.

An hour out of my evening, but hopefully a life-long happy memory for one teenage boy and his family. Isn’t that what biking should be about?

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I’ll be looking at the moon

He died.

We didn’t have the luxury of time after all.

On Saturday evening he took a nasty tumble and all of the pharmaceuticals the vet could provide weren’t touching the pain so there was only one choice left.

If you’ve followed his adventures here, and he’s brought even a tenth of the joy to your life that he has brought to mine, then I am glad.

If I write about new trips without him please don’t think I have forgotten him. He will always be with me in spirit, and what a spirit it was.

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There are storms we cannot weather

I was going to write a couple of happy posts about how brilliant it was to be out in the sidecar with my Wingman camping in the sunshine.

But on the way home from Wales I had a sinking feeling that all was not well with the hairy boy.

I’m prone to “borrowing trouble” so convinced myself that I was just catastrophising and all was well, he was just a bit tired after three lovely days with new things to sniff and widdle on.

But on Friday, halfway up the country to an MZ Club camp in the Forest of Bowland, when we stopped for a photo he was singing his unhappy song. And when we got to the camp he was a miserable and grumpy hound.

Of course I felt like shit. By being so slow on the uptake I had inflicted pain and discomfort on an elderly, arthritic dog, and worst of all, he would have to go through it all again to get home.

In my defence he used to love riding in the chair and he used to love camping and scavenging bacon off friends and strangers alike. So I had been really looking forward to us being able to resume.

But the sad truth of doge life is that the year and a half we have been in lockdown is more like five years for him.

And the bitter reality is that with the help of friends I built a magnificent camping rig and the Wingman is now too frail to enjoy it.

Of course I can give up sidecar riding. I can even give up camping if I have to. But what’s been on my mind all weekend is what they tell you about how to judge whether your dog is suffering – if he stops enjoying things he used to enjoy then he’s one step closer to the trip over the rainbow bridge.

I am grateful for the luxury of time. Too many friends have lost their beloved dogs suddenly. But I lack the courage to make the call. We will go back to the V.E.T. for a painkiller review and have some gentle rides in the 2CV over the next few weeks, and then take stock.

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I saw your husband with the dog in a sidecar the other day

Now this declaration came as something of a surprise to me because I haven’t had a husband since 2010, and I’m fairly sure he doesn’t have a key to the garage. In fact, after the divorce went through he got married again and now lives in Tom and Barbara bliss somewhere near Bristol growing vegetables and planting trees. As his life is devoted to minimising his carbon footprint I’m fairly sure that he’d rather cut off his right hand than use it for the sin of opening a throttle.

About a week later another of the dogwalking ladies said something very similar – “your dog was out on a motorcycle the other day.” As if he’d sneaked down to the garage, kickstarted it and hit the road without my knowledge. Changing gear without a clutch paw would have been a challenge but the Wingman is a sagacious animal and if there were sausages at the end of the ride he would have found a way.

And it just makes me a bit sad.

When I did have the husband and lived in London men used to walk past me washing the GS down at the garages behind the flats and say “blimey, I wish my wife would wash my bike.”

20 years on and people are still making the same mistake – riding motorcycles is something men do. Or dogs. But definitely not women.

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Eye eye!

At the risk of tempting fate again, it seems we are in the fine-tuning stages of the Big K (swiftly touches wood just in case).

I’ve rotated the cow-horn bars a smidge (that’s more than a baw-hair but less than a tad, for those who were wondering) and can now see behind me in the mirrors, which is progress.

I’ve fettled the front brake caliper and fitted a power cable for the sat-nav.

This was all in aid of heading north yesterday for what would have been our first camping trip.

But last Friday, the last day of our compulsory-bonus-post-Easter-annual-leave, after my happy day in the garage doing all these little tweaks, I suddenly felt like I’d been kicked in the kidneys and had to take to my bed for a week.

So no camping. But the goal remains plenty of touring miles this year and that means sometimes it is going to rain.

In the Lomax the Wingman and I had a well-developed system where I put bike waterproofs on and he huddled under his half of the tonneau cover. I needed a similar plan for keeping him dry in the chair.

The Velorex came with a pram hood that didn’t quite fit, so I consulted David Angel and after following his instructions it fit a bit better but one of the grommets pulled out of the material and a couple of the others looked a bit sketchy.

This Would Not Do.

One of the lessons I learnt from the Proprietor of the Northern Rest Home for Distressed Machinery is, if in doubt, go heavy-duty.

I bought a set of stainless steel, fanged, 5/8 grommets from J Clarke Marine – great website, easy to order, usually turn up the next day. But while the pack of grommets was about a fiver, the Special Tool to fit them was 70 quid.

“Look for a cover maker or a sail maker near you,” said the helpful chap on the phone. Three times, because I was caught out by his splendid brogue and failed to tune in quickly enough. Sorry.

I emailed a few likely candidates, and P and B in Northampton came up trumps. A young man with a big hammer interrupted something important with sails to knock them in for me for less than the price of a pint.

I fear I am not likely to ever be an actual customer of theirs but if you are a sailing type, do please consider giving them some of your business. They seem like good people.

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Happy place

A little late – the Round Britain Rally started on Sunday, though “started” may be overstating things as the coronavirus restrictions on travel were still in force. Except in Wales. Lucky Welsh! – but I’ve finally got all my landmark locations into MapSource and onto the Garmin.

Yes, that is a Windows 7 logo on the laptop. I like MapSource. I don’t like BaseCamp. I’ve tried it, but I can’t get the hang of it. I keep the laptop for this One Job. But every year it gets a little bit more difficult to use MapSource for RBR planning. Until recently you could drop your Waypoint in MapSource and then fly to it in Google Earth to check that it was in the right place. For nearby LMs it’s overkill but for something in the remoter parts of the Highlands it takes a bit of risk out of the journey. Except now you can’t. Google Earth 7.1 doesn’t work at all any more, and the last version that talks to MapSource has had Streetview withdrawn.

This feels just petty spite.

So instead of getting stuck in to plotting, I had to spend several hours installing, deleting and reinstalling Google Earth 7.2 until it decided to work. I got very used to seeing this message.

Of course, all this technology isn’t really necessary. I have the grey hair now and the lack of knowledge of who any of the celebrities in I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here are and sometimes I revel in my Old Gimmer status and think about how much the world has changed, even in my motorcycling lifetime.

My first rally was 2003. I don’t think Google Maps existed. There was StreetMap, which just showed roads, and there was a brilliant Ordnance Survey site called GetAMap which sort of still exists but you have to pay for it and that was great for memorial cairns, chapels and other things that there are OS map symbols for. My phone was a Nokia 5510, which could send text messages – actual text, no emoji. My rally route book was full of printouts and photocopies of maps.

These days I do my research, write down the OS grid reference or the postcode, feed them into the Zumo, and job’s done.

Is that progress? I suppose it depends if you see the point of the rally as the riding, or if the research is part of the challenge. I think I miss the days when, for the really obscure landmarks, you might end up telephoning a local Tourist Information office, or emailing a local history group to ask about a memorial plaque.

But it’s important not to look back with sadness for things gone but to look for happy memories too. The LM list – top secret so I have redacted it in the spirit of the Scottish Government’s evidence to the Fabiani inquiry – changes every year but Britain isn’t so big that the same places don’t pop up on a slowly- turning rotation.

In these days of no travel it is a privilege to think back to miles ridden on sunny roads, or bloody damp ones ending with a borrow of the tumble dryer in Scrabster’s Seaman’s Mission. And in these days of isolation it’s also wonderful to be able to think of the RBR friends I have ridden some of them with.

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