Category Archives: Riding

Beginners Mind

So we start again. Reuben from OLAS Motorcycle Transport dropped off my new Jawa outfit last night and tonight, with tax and insurance in place, AdventureDog took his new seat and we wobbled off down the road. In defiance of advice from the three chaps from the MZ Club who allowed me to gatecrash their breakfast on Sunday. They said “For God’s sake don’t go on the road.” But it’s a quiet road and it’s mostly straight, so not too many people were endangered. Today’s learning task was to get used to stopping and starting.

I do wobble to work most days on my little 125, but that doesn’t seem to count psychologically as riding. Tonight I zipped up my boots, put on my ancient blue Triumph jacket – bought with a bonus 15 years ago – and felt like a proper biker again.


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Old School: meeting Jupiter

They say you shouldn’t meet your heroes. Most of mine are dead, so it’s not a dilemma I face very often. I have stopped entering those competitions where you nominate your ideal dinner party guests because no-one seems to agree with me that Nina Simone, Ayrton Senna, Che Guevara and Teresa Wallach would sparkle over the canapés.

In the small days of December when I was desperate for a distraction from packing up my life into another array of cardboard boxes, Coventry Transport Museum tweeted that Ted Simon would be visiting the city to launch a new exhibition and would be giving a talk about his travels.

Faithful readers will know that Ted Simon is the reason I still ride. They may not know that I missed out on seeing him a few years ago, when he launched the Ted Simon Foundation. I promised then that I wouldn’t let the next chance escape. But I have no Serious Motorcycle at the moment. In the winter half-light I puttered down to the Museum on the 125, and locked it up out of sight of the array of Large Gnarly Beasts that proper bikers arrive at such events on.

It is a popular internet trope that bikers would rather be on their bikes thinking about church than in church thinking about their bikes. On this occasion, we got to do both, because the venue wasn’t the museum, it was the beautiful medieval chapel round the corner. Which was suitably adorned with a large number of copies of Overland magazine and a large Triumph. And Ted Simon, seated near the altar, suave in suede, yellow socks, and reading glasses.

I have the very greatest admiration for anyone who sets off on a Big Trip. I have had the chance twice and bottled it both times. A dear friend has just set off. His biggest worry was that he wouldn’t achieve escape velocity, that responsibilities here in the UK would keep him tethered. But he fully expects to be able to come home, should he so choose. Ted reminded us that he set off, “on, as my girlfriend called it, ‘your fucking mission’” fully at peace with the idea that he might die on the road – “but somewhere along the way you have to throw your life into the hands of chance.”

These days, Ted concedes, “the idea of going round the world isn’t very dramatic any more. People are doing it all the time.”

But there are still roads to conquer. “Riding a motorcycle around the world is a political act,” Ted said. “We must take an interest in the world around us. It’s not where you go, it’s what you find.

“It’s about self-awareness and improving other people’s understanding of the world. Pick somewhere your imagination draws you to and go there.

“Find out what is really happening. Find out what it’s really like, come back and tell other people. Counter the impressions given by TV. It’s a liberating thing to do.”

For Ted, travel is a personal as well as a political liberation. “When you travel you are free to be whoever you want to be. We can free ourselves of the everyday contortions of trying to live up to other people’s expectations.”

What does the successful round-the-world traveller need? A bike, “the smaller the better,” and “an abundance of curiosity.”

I have the bike but I lacked the courage. Maybe it will be third time lucky for me. After all, another world is possible. And Ted said that journalists make the best travellers because we are scrappy, resourceful people. There is still hope.

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Random Act of Kindness

This is an easy one. A long time ago, when I was married and the internet didn’t have pictures and came down a phone line, I bought my very first motorbike. I bought it from a bloke in Surrey. He’d passed his test on it and had moved on to bigger things, and it was going to help me wobble round cones and parking lots until I passed my CBT and then a 2-day Direct Access course, because it was a lot easier to get a bike licence in the 1990s.

How does a non-rider get a KH100 round the M25?

These days there are many firms that will move a motorcycle around. Back then there was spoint, a member of my online riding crew called cix_bikers. After muttering that “I could piss that far” he hitched a trailer to his car, stuck the bike on the trailer, dropped it off in Buckinghamshire, had a pint, kipped on the floor and buggered off before breakfast.

I put my new helmet on, wobbled off to work and crashed on the way home. You learnt by experience in those days!

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#BBBC Day 4: Annual Mileage Challenge

This is easy – or, perhaps, more difficult.

I don’t set myself a mileage challenge. I have places I want to visit, and I do the miles necessary to visit them.

As this is a very short post, here is a link to another post about miles.

This post is part of the February 2017 Brave, Bold Beautiful Blogger Challenge by desert-campingToadmama. Find out more here: Brave, Bold, Blogger Challenge.  I really enjoyed #29in29 and know that I need a kick up the arse to start posting again.

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Back at the NEC

I am big. It’s the show that got small.

Though in fairness it probably hasn’t. It’s just that there wasn’t very much to grab me this year. I am not in the market for a new bike, and barring a lottery win or the invention of a pillion pal for dogs, won’t be for some years. I don’t need a new lid. Well, actually, I do need a new lid but I’m not prepared to risk a repeat of the Getting My Head Stuck in an AGV experience. And I have Big Hair today. I am too fat for any new clothes and I would have bought a courier bag but there didn’t seem to be much in the way of luggage or touring gear this year. Maybe I missed it.

What was strongly in evidence was encouragement and advice for new riders, which was great to see. Those of us who got a full licence after 25 minutes of lapping the town centre without falling off are a dying breed. We need to help new riders through the insane hurdles the government has inflicted upon learners in the name of safety or riding will go the way of the sedan chair.

More than 30 years ago I had a poster of a Kawasaki on my wall and a glossy A5 booklet about learner-legal Kawasakis and the Star Rider training scheme under my pillow. So it was with nostalgic joy  I discovered that Kawasaki has launched Kawasaki Rider Training Services this year, a one-stop shop from total novice to full licence, via a UK wide network of approved training schools.  There’s even a discount for NUS card-holders.

I also had a lovely chat with Duncan Gough, who is an expert on travelling in Spain and has written a small book on travel writing. I always have in mind when I set out that I will do some sketching along the way but never do. So I shall take Duncan’s advice: “All you need to do is make a start.”




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ChotGq7WkAEuS30.jpg largeThe Lomax is fettled, my toolkit is ready – though in an IKEA tupperware box, not a fabulous oilcloth tool roll – my maps are prepared and I am ready to set out for Welshpool tomorrow afternoon.

If the weather is good I will go out on Friday and bag RBR landmarks. If it isn’t good I will lounge ar0und in the Severn Bunkhouse or possibly walk up the road to the pub.

I have tried to plan for fixing things that I know to have gone wrong with the Lomax in the past. This has included the condenser failing in the points box, and bits of the exhaust dropping off. So I have gaffa tape and cable ties, that ought to do it.

I never used to be able to take part in the rally because it was always the same weekend as the Thundersprint. These days Frank is writing truly excellent books and not organising sprint races in an M&S car park so I am free to roam the Celtic fringes. Sadly this means I don’t get to enjoy my annual reunion with Nikos .

Proving that it is never too late to teach an old dog new tricks, this year I am flying solo. Well, solo in human terms, for the WingMan will be with me. In previous years I have done the run with Badders and Self. This year they are both working so I have had to work out my own route, and if the exhaust falls off again, do my own repairs. I am being brave and undaunted by the prospect.



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Isn’t this where we came in?

I have a 3.5 mile commute to work. Our office is at the very back of an industrial estate with one road in and one road out. Well, there are two roads out but one of them is barred by the business that straddles it and you can’t use it without a pass. Bastards. But I digress.

In the past few weeks we’ve had more than one evening when the exit road is at a standstill thanks to roadworks, broken down buses, or that Highways Agency favourite, ‘weight of traffic.’

I walked home in the rain. I asked what kind of numpty drives to work and sits in queues when they have a motorcycle licence. I headed for ebay. And lo – a red Suzuki of slightly uncertain paperwork had my name on it. It was in Nottingham. I have a 2CV with a towbar, and the phone number of a trailer hire company. I went to pick up the trailer with my two forms of ID. They went unchecked. ‘You don’t look like a trailer thief,’ said the chap. ‘And let’s face it, you won’t get very far.’

I had a cup of tea with the owner, his wife and his son. This was his last bike and he was giving up riding. I promised him it was going to a good home. He helped his son push the bike onto the trailer and I strapped it down. I’ve seen it done plenty of times but this was the first time I’ve ever tied my own bike down. I’d probably have hummed a Rolf Harris song if it hadn’t become morally impossible to do so.

We bounced off over a million and one speed bumps and ventured onto the M1. Hortense is indomitable and quite enjoyed her new role as ‘toy hauler.’ Even better, when I got home the bike was still attached. But that presented a whole new problem. With perfect timing, my new neighbour popped out of his house to put some cardboard boxes in the bin. He seems a good bloke and was not at all put out to be asked to help his neighbour wheel a motorcycle off a trailer. In the rain.

When I started riding I started on a red Kawasaki which looked very like this one, though it was a 2-stroke. It swiftly became a rebored 2-stroke. Oops. And when I get on this bike to ride to work, it’s like getting on a time machine. Hello 1996! There’s no pressure to be good, or cool, or fast. We trundle up the outside of the queue, stop at the lollipop lady, and do lots of lifesavers. Best of all, it costs less than a fiver to fill up. Happy days!

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Lady motorcyclists on a quest to discover ‘real beauty’

My heart sank a bit. The photo in the news story announcing the link-up between L’équipée Girls, Marie Claire and Dove showed a fully-made up lady rider in a snood so big it would have flapped up and covered her face – which was behind an open face lid with bubble-glass visor, so that we could truly appreciate her beauty.

But I looked a bit closer at some of their photos from their ride in Brazil and they’re real bikers. Last year they rode the Himalayas. When not posing for publicity pics they’re in overalls and boots. Clearly they have been getting fashion tips from Austin Vince.

It’s a shame that it’s still seen as subversive to suggest that not all bikers are bearded, fat and hairy (just me, ha ha) but it’s great to see more bikers in mainstream media.

Guy Martin’s recent series exploring India was compelling TV. Paul Hollywood even posted a pic of Mary Berry on a Ducati on his twitter feed recently.

Slowly we’re taking over….

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I have missed this.


Last Saturday RescueDog put on his doggles, I put on my Penelope Pitstop helmet from Midlife Classics, and we headed to Cambridge Services to join the muster for the Allied Memorial Remembrance Ride.

Saturday was Armed Forces Day, which confuses me. I thought Remembrance Sunday was the day on which we make particular efforts to remember our military, what they do at the request of our politicians, and what the cost of that is. Politicians wrap themselves in patriotism when their poll ratings start to slip, so it is perhaps no surprise that in the UK, Armed Forces Day was introduced by Gordon Brown in 2009. Perhaps it is also for people who don’t feel comfortable with organised religion, given that Remembrance Sunday is focused on the church.

I am a pacifist and a cynic. I think the number of wars that have genuinely been required to defeat unquestionable evil can be counted on Shakey’s legs. I think that if politicians were the ones who sent their sons and daughters to the front line, instead of the Royal Family, they would be a lot less keen on “boots on the ground.”

But that doesn’t mean I can’t line up behind the bikers of the Royal British Legion, and appreciate that I am free because thousands of good people are dead.

Last month I drove from Laon to the German border along the D18, the Chemin des Dames. In 1917 half a million men died here, fighting for possession of the ridge. It seemed impossibly trivial to be driving across the same ground, in my comedy French car, with my Portuguese dog, for no better purpose than to drink German beer with friends.

But back to Cambridge services! A cheerful day for a very serious cause. Because of the teething problems with the Lomax, and Shakey’s ongoing habit of being stung by large bees when in open-top cars, we’re a bit behind with getting out and about, so this was our debut.

We may have caused a small stir. An Italian tourist and a small boy wanted their photos taken with us and there was a significant amount of peering and muttering.

It is always a joy to ride with a police escort on the roads you ride every day. Red light? No problem, bikers – on you come. I thought we’d go the way I normally go to Madingley, which involves a duck across the A14 and some extreme filtering down the back roads past Madingley Hall, but no – we went right into Cambridge, down Castle Street, and back out again past Churchill College to the American Cemetery.

There was lots of waving and thumbs up from the tourists on the open top bus, the students who were graduating, and the locals who were out and about. There was also an elderly couple who had brought their folding chairs to sit by the road and their Union Flags to wave. I hope we gave you a good show.

At the cemetery, the pastor spoke to the theme of the Sermon on the Mount, while young cadets stood to attention and old soldiers held the Royal British Legion flags.

3,000 graves, and the wall of the missing commemorating another 5,000 US servicemen and women whose bodies were never found. It can be difficult for our veterans to get to Normandy to remember their fallen friends. How much harder, then, for the US veterans to get to Europe. I had not realised until this visit how important it is to be able to say yes, the Star Spangled Banner is still flying over the land of the free, even if it is struggling slightly in the downpour.

I’m glad it was raining. Hardy lady bikers are supposed to be in control of themselves, so it was a good disguise. When I was at school, learning about the war, it was something fought by grown-ups. Now I am middle-aged I look at the stories of the dead and the missing, and they are not much more than boys. Most of them, these days, could be my sons.

One of the very famous set of 12 Epitaphs by John Maxwell Edmonds, used on the Memorial to the Battle of Kohima in India, says:

When you go home, tell them of us and say
For their tomorrow, we gave our today.

Can anyone’s tomorrow be worth that much death?

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Ride to Work Day


It is Ride to Work Day. Since every day is Ride to Work Day for me I have decided to celebrate “Park Like a Twat” day instead. The sound of plastic crunching is quiet but expensive.

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