Category Archives: Lomax

How do you steer this thing?

Me, for most of the last six weeks:

“is it ready yet?”

“is it ready yet?”

“is it ready yet?”

“is it ready yet?”

The loss of the Jawa outfit left me confined to the car for any social trips involving AdventureDog. This was not good. The Lomax had gone off to the doctors at the end of April for a new (new to it, at least) engine. The Lomax Doctor’s other half then underwent massive surgery. I’m not completely heartless. I wholly and completely understand – though in a purely theoretical way, being now permanently single – that caring for the sick must come before transplanting engines.

But you have to understand, I go more than slightly mad if I can’t get out.  The dead Jawa meant I missed out on the VMCC Dorset weekend, which I had been looking forward to since the spring. I stayed at home and cut down the foliage in the back garden. I didn’t go to our local biker meet, because I don’t want to look like a wannabe when I have been riding almost half of my life.

“is it ready yet?”

Hope to get onto it next week.

“is it ready yet?”

Starting tomorrow.

“is it ready yet?”

I passed the time getting the Triumph ready to return to the road. Though I can’t velcro the Wingman to the seat, we are on the path of  getting a chair attached to it to convey him about. I have a deposit on a subframe, which is needed to provide the anchor points, and an offer of a Watsonian Palma. So it seemed wise to get the bike taxed and MOTd, with new plugs, fresh petrol and a change of brake fluid.

“is it ready yet?”

engine is in, just reattaching all the bits.

“is it ready yet?”

We’re just trying to do the MOT now.

So Friday was super-exciting. Not only did the Triumph start, more or less first press of the starter, but the Lomax came home.

This morning I took the Triumph for its MOT. I have been riding tiny bikes for the last three years. The Triumph is a heavy bitch. I tried to turn left, she totally ignored me and sailed across the road to the opposite kerb.

Fuck, I thought. I know it’s been a while but have I forgotten how to do this?

I kicked the tyres a bit in case one of them was flat.

No, I was just rubbish.

We tried again and made it to the MOT shed without further embarassment. We came back the long way, so that I could get into third gear. I think it is three years since I have travelled at 60mph on a motorcycle. The bike with no name does it without breaking a sweat. When we are post-dog there will still be roads to ride. And though the news seems uniformly dreadful at the moment, a day is still improved by riding a ridiculously beautiful motorcycle in the sun.

 

 

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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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This is what anticipation looks like

It is May.

I have had strep throat for 2 months. (“That’s a bit American. We call it tonsilitis,” said the annoying GP.)  It has seen off two sets of antibiotics, though why the NHS decided to give me the same drugs twice is a puzzle.

So alternate therapies are needed. I am sitting with a turquiose towel wrapped round my throat. I will leave you to work out why with the aid of google. And I am going to the far north. In a turquoise Lomax, which will be helpful for my karma.

Helpfully, it’s not as far north as it used to be, and I can get there in a long weekend instead of 10 days. (Coincidentally, the length of an ineffective course of penicillin.)

It is May, and in May it is traditional for me to ride from Land’s End to John O’Groats, though the last time this happened was 2011.  There is a run happening right now, organised by the intrepid Nathan Millward. He probably doesn’t remember but he was brilliantly helpful to me when I was planning my WA ride, so any adventure led by him is likely to be a good one.

Lands End was too far for me to go to join in, so I am sneaking in at Durness on Friday night and doing the final stage. I am wholly inconspicuous so I expect to get away with it.*

 

*This may  be untrue.

 

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Drive It Day

IFA Club friends were having a lovely time in Lincolnshire. Last year’s Lacock run was immense fun, and in fact the only full excursion I had with Scabbers before his health failed him. He’s now gone to live in East Kilbride, and, rather in the manner of sponsored children in Columbia, every now and again I get sent a photo and an update. He has been fully fettled and took part in the Scottish IFA Drive-it-Day today. I’m glad he has a new lease of life and is in really good hands.

I was hoping to get out with 2CV Ecosse but Hortense has not been terribly well since the mice moved in. And, much as I want to meet new friends now I live in a new place, old friends were visiting, and deservedly took priority. They wanted to re-enact Chariots of Fire on the beach but we paused for a quick photo-shoot on the way.

 

 

 

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I am become death, the destroyer of rats

If you don’t like Brexit come to Scotland, the First Minister said. I like to be early, so I arrived in Scotland at the beginning of February. And things started to go wrong.

Cheer up, friends said. It can’t get any worse.

Hold my beer, said Scotland.

I unzipped the Lomax cover to go to work, because the flat back tyre took a while to replace and it turned out that Hortense’s starting problems were due to one of the brushes in her starter motor being mostly missing.

As was the Lomax seat.

A quick google of the difference between rat shit and mouse shit (size, colour and pointiness are the clues to look for)  suggested that Rattus Norvegicus was to blame and I trotted off to the Brown Overall Emporium to investigate their array of lethal options.

I live in the forest and I own a dog. I also read Mrs Frisbee and the Rats of NIHM at an impressionable age. I don’t want to kill rats. But they can’t be scoffing my car seats. So I compromised on plastic bags of poisoned grain that I could leave on the seats for rats who got the munchies and I hoover like a bastard before the dog gets in.  They have been back but so far they have taken the bait not the faux leatherette.

Rats did not eat my car when I lived in the city.

 

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Sometimes looking cool is better than being comfortable

l1060667c“You two are brave,” said the bloke getting out of the daffodil yellow Lotus Europa lined up next to us at the Bicester Heritage Sunday Scramble. That we’d followed in from the M40. In the rain.

It had perhaps been a little optimistic to take an open-top car 40 miles in January to a classic motoring event. Hortense would have qualified just as easily for the special Old Stuff parking zone, with her roof, heater and windscreen wipers, and we would have been less damp and cold. But she is my daily drive and so it would not be as exciting.

It would also have been OK if Temporary Wingman had realised that it was a Lomax day, that when I said we’d take Hortense if the weather was bad a forecast with a mere 30% chance of rain didn’t qualify, and so he should have brought his bike gear. A one in three chance – not bad odds. “No, it means that it will rain for one hour in every three.”

Oops.

But in four weekends time the Lomax is going to have to migrate to Scotland and I needed a test run, as our last outing was the run home from Orkney in September. Temporary Wingman, who we shall call Daniel Cleaver for now, for reasons you would understand if you saw him, did seem rather hopeful when the starter was turning and the engine was dry, but when I build engines I build them properly and with a cloud of white smoke there was no turning back. Other than to remove the battery charger and try reversing again.

l1060670cYou know you’re heading in the right direction when you have to give way to a beautiful big Bentley at the roundabout and line up behind it to get your barcode scanned. The Scramble takes place at the former Bomber Command base of RAF Bicester, now home to lots of specialist motoring and aviation heritage businesses. If I want to get Hortense’s front seat covers repaired, there’s a shed for that. And one for radiators, and one for race tuning, and a whole hangar full of cars draped in calm grey covers. Impressively, Mr Cleaver and the other chaps lined up by the viewing window could identify them all by the shape of their rears.

Highlights for me? Other than having someone to look at stuff with who doesn’t get distracted by sausages, it would have to be the beautiful early H-Van, hopefully not destined to become a crepe wagon, and a spectacular German race car called Fafnir. Oh, and the small boy who said “Your car is cool” as we set off for home. In the sunshine.

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Testing times

P1050752The Lomax passed. This was good. We went back to my Class 3 tester who understands ‘unusual’ cars and I sat smiling anxiously in the corner labelled ‘MOT viewing’ until the man in the overalls muttered ‘yes that’ll do.’ We had a chat about proposals to increase the gap between MOT tests and the problems caused by continuous insurance enforcement when your vehicles are in boxes. I drove home happy in the knowledge that I had two legal vehicles. Except I didn’t. I was looking for something else and found the MOT for my daily ride. I also found that it didn’t fall due in October. A new test was required with some urgency.

That’s OK, I have the Lomax.

Oh no I don’t.

Wingman and I Lomaxed to the New Forest and used 500 ml of oil getting there and 500 ml getting back. Bugger, I thought, and posted on Facebook that the rear seal must need replacing.

Wait, said Practical Ed. Have your rings failed, thus increasing the crankcase pressure and pushing oil out of all available orifices? (I don’t think he said orifices but it is a magnificent word).

Small sinking feeling. That day I was trying to overtake a BMW on the A14 and had a small overheating moment…Hortense showed no ill-effects from similar but her engine is old and baggy.

Compression test. Large sinking feeling.

So today we are taking the heads off again, because no summer is complete without this job.

The 125 passed its MOT, so I still have one means of transport. Mr Spon Gate shook his head sadly when I explained that I also have a Triumph but I use it less now I have a dog. His conclusion that I have collapsed into an erratic middle age was confirmed when I went for my wallet to find it was at home.

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Þæs ofereode, þisses swa mæg!

image

Handing over the Relay Ride mascot at Matlock

Two things happen to me at times of stress. I go temporarily blind, and I swell up like one of those killer Japanese sushi fish.

So imagine me, if you like, peering at the screen through the flashing zig zag lines of an ocular migraine, and struggling to reach the keyboard with my T-Rex arms stretching round the enormous bay window of my belly. As it is nearly 9pm at least none of you should be put off your dinner by this vision of blogging glory.

Why so stressed? The Trabant has lost control of its bodily functions and pissed its brake fluid all over the drive. The 2CV’s steering has been destroyed by the professionals I entrusted it to, a fact I discovered while driving 3 hours to a work engagement on Saturday morning.

So if I need to go anywhere on more than 2 wheels in the near future I shall be travelling by Lomax. The Lomax is bodily sound but cost me 400 quid and three days in Norfolk last week to get new kingpins and wheel bearings installed. I persuade myself that I can at least feel 400 quid’s worth of improvement. I can’t fit my beautiful new cycle wings to the Lomax because they are a different shape from the old ones and the brackets need attention with a BFO hammer. At times like this I need the Proprietor of the Northern Rest Home for Distressed Machinery.  He is good with hammers and other blunt instruments. He was going to come for a visit but I was in Norfolk.

I hold this against Norfolk. I also object to the fact it rained solidly from 7pm to 10pm every evening, which meant AdventureDog and I got rather fed up of looking at the inside of the tent.  And the campsite being twinned with The Arse End of Nowhere, I couldn’t even get Planet Rock to divert us from the sound of the rain.

Before Norfolk called, although it wasn’t wholly a bad thing as it meant I could bag three landmarks and have a few beers with camping friends on Saturday night, we had a brief tour of parts north. This was much drier and involved a visit through the looking glass into the world of family domesticity that I lost somewhere along the road.

I was late to my rendezvous on Monday because I was in the Lomax. Like Dolores van Cartier, it is a conspicuous person. I parked it near a canal junction to catch a landmark and caught the attention instead of a pair of New Zealanders on a tour of the Potteries. It seemed an odd place to be touring, but they were having a good time and were off to Glasgow next. I had to dash their hopes that it might stop raining. The hydrologic cycle will not be denied. The rest of Monday was making apple pie and cake, laughing at inappropriate fart jokes and drinking proper northern beer in a proper northern pub while Dog watched the football.   I fear he may have returned to his roots and be supporting Portugal.

Tuesday morning was trying to stay out of the way of the chaos of getting three small people to school and two large ones to their jobs. We had two landmarks to bag and a lunch date at another lovely pub, this one by a river in Yorkshire. And then two other small people needed to be driven noisily, but not too quickly, round their estate in a Lomax because they had never seen one before, before the day’s journey finished at an amazing dog-friendly hotel near Bakewell.

hotelI seem to be spending a lot of time in Bakewell this year. it is the home of the fabled Trabant graveyard, where Wilfred the Traction Engineer and I went on an American Pickers style adventure in June looking for useful parts while fending off the humping guard dog. Cerberus had nothing on this chap. I decided to stop there on Tuesday evening because on Wednesday I was doing a leg of the Relay Ride, a fundraiser for the Blood Bikes.

I was to meet my handover at Stoke on Trent railway station. This would have been easier if the rendezvous hadn’t been at 9am on bin-lorry day, and if the station hadn’t had three car parks. We found each other eventually and headed over to Matlock, self, Dog and Mascot in lead, large Harley Davidson riding shotgun. Landrover and horse trailer in front proceeding with extreme caution down double-white-lined roads. Blood pressure high!

Handover at Matlock safely achieved, my escort said “DId you know you’ve got no brake lights?”

As a question, when you’re just three weeks away from an MOT. that’s about as welcome as “Did I mention that I had genital herpes?”

So my plan for the rest of the day had to get scratched in favour of heading home and getting the multimeter out.

It turned out I had no brake lights because of this ->wire

So I haven’t had any for quite some time.

This is the peril of riding solo. I must get Dog trained up to do pre-flight checks.

PS We found an amazing road across the corner of the moors towards Bakewell. I threw the Lomax through the corners and giggled like a loon in the evening sun. The sat nav didn’t want to lead me to it. I think someone has bribed Garmin to keep the lovely, lonely tarmac a special secret known only to cyclists and sheep.

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We’ve got ourselves a convoy (not really, officer)

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The Lomax meets the Lancaster. Photo by Pete Kent

I’m a very law abiding person but I feel terribly guilty whenever I see a police car. My sins have found me out and they are coming for me. So itwas a nerve-wracking moment when a panda car (they’re not called that any more, are they!) pulled into the car park where the Bomber County Cannonball had assembled, in thwarted hope of an ice cream, to have a word.

I don’t think we were doing anything illegal – but in a week when Harlow Council had been awarded an injunction banning groups of two or more motorcycles travelling in convoy, it’s difficult to be sure.

Whatever was said seemed to do the trick and he trundled away. Maybe he just wanted a closer look at the cars. It can’t be every day that a Ferrari, a Porsche, a Caterham, a Lotus, an MG that looks like a shark and the magnificent Chavalier are seen in rural Lincolnshire. Oh, and the Lomax.

I was supposed to be at a gig but had to cancel for political reasons. Clearly this was a sign from God, as Neil Motospeed sent out a tweet about the run at the same moment I was wavering about rearranging my leave. Still spaces left on the Cannonball, he said.   Sounds like fun, I thought. Sounds possibly like the Lomax might not be the right vehicle though..

Not at all, said the Cannonballers. Come along.

So on a sunny windswept Cleethorpes promenade, I introduced the Wingman, stuck my Cannonball stickers on the car, so that the police might more easily identify us, and got cut up at the first roundabout by an old bloke who had no understanding of the Highway Code.

It’s a few years since I’ve had to concentrate quite so hard on my cornering. During the One of Our Old Farts is Missing Tour I spent my days frying my brain and my tyres trying to keep up with Graham, and I was only giving away 150cc (and about 50 years of riding experience).

In Lincs, even with both hamsters running full pelt I’m guessing the Lomax was a good 1200cc down on the next smallest engine on the run. We could keep in touch through the corners but as soon as the roads opened up the big beasts would roar away. It was fun trying though, and we covered the beautiful bends around Cadwell Park that we used to play on with the HRT crew.
Bomber County Cannonball 2016
The morning was all about the twisty tarmac and the bright blue skies. Just before 1pm we pulled into East Kirkby Aviation Centre, where the NX611 Arvo Lancaster ‘Just Jane’ lives – not just to look at it but to line up in front of it for a monster photo-opportunity and also to see its engines fire up for a taxi run across the airfield. It’s impossibly moving to hear the engines start and to imagine a whole squadron of them heading up into the dusk. The average age of a Lancaster crew was 22 – some were as young as 16. These days we don’t trust lads that age to be in charge of a motorcycle, which doesn’t feel like progress.

From the museum the Cannonball headed more placidly towards the Pyewipe Inn and a celebratory dinner. Sadly the Wingman had to wait in the car but he seemed quite happy chilling out in the garden beside the canal with the occasional treat.

I’m always proud of AdventureDog, who made lots of new friends and wore his doggles for a few photos – but at the end of the day I was also proud beyond measure of the Lomax. We’d run with the big boys and not disgraced ourselves. It’s probably the hardest day’s driving it has endured since the rebuild, and it was absolutely flawless.

*Both of the awesome photos on this post are by Cannonballer Pete Kent. See the rest of his Bomber County Cannonball pics on Flickr.

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You’re a bloody idiot

wales copy copyIt seemed a bit harsh. The bloke in the blue car who’d chased me down the M6 and wound down his window to deliver his verdict hardly knew me. I didn’t think I’d done anything particularly idiotic – changed lanes, discovered the  one I was in was about to dump me off the motorway into darkest Birmingham, changed back. Maybe he was fulfilling the role of Caesar’s slave, because frankly I was feeling pretty immortal.

There are few things as good as driving a car that was a basket-case when you first got it, hearing its barbaric yawp from the engine that you rebuilt,  and knowing that you and your doggy sidekick have got three more days of road trip ahead – and a weather forecast promising lots and lots of sun, which is unusual for the Welsh National Rally.

As already noted, this was my first solo run – though it isn’t ever really a solo run, not even a little bit. Steve and Jim, the Twins-soon-to-be-separated-by-a-CrossRunner were at the bunkhouse already, so Thursday night was fish and chips and a pot of tea. On Friday they were off towards St Davids, while AdventureDog and I were heading down the border towards Hereford and then heading into the mountains for what should have been a five-landmark day. The satnav foiled this plan by deciding, after I missed my turn to a landmark in the valleys, to shrug its electronic shoulders and decide we had been close enough, no need to tell me. Well done for trying. I didn’t notice for another half an hour. Bloody annoying but a good lesson for the Rally – always go point-to-point, don’t trust the technology! And the consolation prize was a drive down an amazing twisty road across a miniature moorland which I had no idea existed in this former mining heartland – stunning views interrupted by the occasional heart attack when a local came bombing round the hairpins not expecting to find a small blue roller skate in the middle of the road.

wales1 copySalt was rubbed firmly into the wound when I got back to the bunkhouse and the Twins pointed out that the back road from my final landmark to the one I dropped for lack of time was about 10 miles up a goat track, not the 40 mile detour that the Garmin wanted me to take.  It has turned into some sort of nanny, making its own decisions for me. ‘Not that way, dear, it’s not safe for you.’ It needs a telling!

On Friday evening the rest of Team RBR turned up – JD, and the Bell brothers, standing in for dad. Maps were checked – my tatty paper Wales Touring maps from my first RBR in 2003, Jim’s laminated A4 cards with route info and a photo of each target, the Bells with an amazingly detailed plan of attack and a GoPro.

We set off on Saturday morning. I got lost trying to find the petrol station, which wasn’t the best of starts, but it did mean my arrival at Castle Caerinion was perfectly timed to get my card stamped and get going.

I wanted a Dragon this year – I had worked out that to do the extra four locations added only 40 miles or so to the route, the sun was shining, and I would never have such a good chance again. But time gets away from you so quickly. This may have been because I spent the first half of the rally going up the goat tracks just for the entertainment value. On my second road I rounded a bend to find a BMW pilot covered in mud from knees to neck and his partner helping him fetch the bike out of the hedge. ‘It gets worse,’ they said. ‘You’ll be OK though.’ And it’s true – roads I wouldn’t dare on the Triumph are a breeze on three wheels. Shakey looked a bit alarmed when we headed sideways in a three-wheel drift towards the fence but it ended well.

At 4pm we were still somewhere the wrong side of Machynlleth. But there was only one WNR location and one Dragon left and the sun was still shining .We pulled in to Dinas Mawddwy, which sounds like one of P Diddy’s aliases, to be greeted by thumbs up and cheering from a group of blokes outside the pub. Cool. I stopped 200 yards further down the road to dive into the ladies. Not so cool. But they did give me directions to the Merion Mill, and that was my silver in the bag. The miles to the last reservoir were some of the best of the rally – empty roads, late afternoon sunshine, a happy dog under blue skies – perfection. And then the last miles back to Castle Caerinion were under a biblical thunderstorm with thunderbolts, lightning and torrential rain. Still, if you are gong to be soaked, far better to be soaked at the end when you can gain bragging rights but go home to dry out!

Standout memories of the day? A big cheery wave from JD who was heading south while I was heading north to the Dinas Dinlle airport. No, it’s not a Morgan. Finally escaping the 20-mph sightseers and powering round the sweeping curves of Snowdonia to see the granite soaring skywards. Incredibly polite Americans asking what on earth I was driving. A much-needed Mars Bar in the Co-Op car park. And my fabulous new coaster! Same again next year?

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