the things we do to pass the time…

Lockdown continues and with it the pointless rage at having fettled a long-range sidecar outfit only to have all non-essential travel banned. Still, hope springs eternal and there was one job left to do – patch up the seat covers.

The seat base was only suffering split seams so some heavy duty EvoStik (the sort that comes in a can) and some PVC sail trim sorted that.

The back, however – oh dear. Seams as far apart as Donald Trump’s foundation and his hairline. A total replacement was called for, but a new seat cover is the best part of a hundred quid and has to come from foreign parts. Who knows how long that would take in the New Normal?

It is a make-do-and-mend sort of bike, so could I copy the cover and make a new one from scratch? Where do you even start with the quilty bits?

Fortunately for me the ludicrously talented Lilibobs has been learning upholstery and renovating all the interior in Margot the Trabant. I’d say Margot has turned from drab to fab, but she was never drab in the first place.  From standard to outstanding, maybe?  So upholstery is clearly something that a (wo)man can do.

I asked a few questions.

It turns out that the quilty bits are called “tuck and roll.” Now I thought that was an aikido move, but armed with that information it’s only a short step to YouTube tutorials and a new seat cover. I feel I should point out that the seats Lilibobs made for Margot are impeccably finished and fitted, while mine is a bodge.

Still – first attempts and all that.

And much to the joy of bikers in England, our lockdown rules have been relaxed to allow “driving an unlimited distance” to enjoy activities like “relaxing in the park” and “having a picnic.” So in addition to a comedy seat cover I’ve also attached a picnic basket. Meet the Kawasaki W650 Coronavirus Special.





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Lockdown diaries

We’re now in the 6th week of coronavirus lockdown. I spent two of those flat out with something that may or may not have been Covid-19 but as the UK wasn’t doing widespread testing then I won’t know unless and until antibody tests become available.

Petrol is still cheap, the roads are still quiet and the sun is still shining.

I chafe against the restrictions but I abide by them.

What do we do when we can’t ride bikes? We can look back at previous rides, and I had a lot of fun at the weekend doing #lockdownlejog on twitter revisiting some memories from the 2008 Six Points Ride, the 2010 Lifeboats Ride and the 2011 Air Ambo ride.

I have always thought I had a bad memory but it turns out that’s not really true, I have moments of absolute clarity. I can remember as if it was yesterday rolling into Devizes camp site in 2011 to be greeted by Biker Paul say showered in cherry blossom and looking like Huey from the Fun Lovin Criminals. Or in 2008, roaming Dingwall looking for a dinner and meeting a tweedy lady weeding a flower display.

“Where’s a good place to eat in Dingwall?”

“At home,” she said.

She may have been right but we went to the National Hotel and had a dinner that couldn’t be beat. So much so that it became tradition and we went there again in 2010 and 2011.

And we can fix bikes. I have installed the TS150 I bought to commute on a week before we were all sent to work from home into the sun room and look forward to getting it into good shape, should we ever be allowed out again.





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Going Nowhere

It’s a bright, sunny spring morning in April. I should be chucking the Wingman in the sidecar and heading to Derbyshire for the 2020 Round Britain Rally ARSE.

But I’m not. Like every gathering of more than 2 people, the ARSE has been cancelled to help limit the spread of the coronavirus.

It has to be done. But as a person who has designed her whole life around fixing shonky bikes and riding them to places to meet friends, I’m suffering.

(I do know that I am making this complaint from a place of great privilege. I’m still getting paid, I’ve got a comfortable house to hunker down in, and I’ve got no children to protect from this awful disease.  It could be a lot worse.)

But to be going nowhere – that’s a terrible thing. The roads are almost empty, petrol is less than a pound a litre, and the sun is shining.  It’s like one of those cautionary tales about being careful what you wish for – somewhere out there Brendan Fraser asked Liz Hurley to make the world a biker’s paradise but didn’t specify the ability to get out there and use the roads!

Is there are way to turn Going Nowhere into a positive? It’s a challenge. It’s hardly a positive phrase, is it? A career can Go Nowhere. A relationship can Go Nowhere – hmm, perhaps I have more experience of this than I thought!

Therapy? even wrote a song about it, and here’s the key line: “But it’s what’s inside you’ve got to rearrange.”

Under lockdown I’m staring down the twin barrels of Time On My Own and Time At Home, two things I have avoided for about 20 years.

I’m mulling over radical action. Maybe the way to cope with this is just to become another person. Someone who doesn’t ride bikes and so doesn’t mind a life within four walls. Someone who – horror of all horrors – stays in one place.

It’s all gone a bit medieval. We’re fighting a plague that we don’t properly understand. We’ve all become anchorites, self-isolating in our homes, or serfs, unable to leave our villages without the permission of the authorities.

Am I cut out for serfdom? It doesn’t really appeal. Maybe I should dig out those Robin of Sherwood videos and mentally prepare myself for outlawry instead.







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There is a light that never goes out…

For some reason unknown to Western capitalist running dogs, you can take the keys out of an MZ but leave the lights on. So a few weeks ago when I was in a rush to get to a meeting at work I accidentally did this and came back to a flat battery.

Put the Optimate on it in the garage, came back a few weeks later (I know, but it was winter and I’ve done my time riding in the cold and the wet) and it was flat again. So I brought it into the kitchen (the battery, not the bike) and put it on the car charger.

Built its strength back up, put it back on the bike, this time it held its charge but the red light that warns you that your revs are too puny to run the system wouldn’t go out.

I treated the bike to a new battery just in case.

Thanks, said the bike, but I’m just going to carry on with the warning light.

Now, it seems to me that you should be able to run a bike with a flat battery even if you can’t start it, but it’s different for MZs. In a rare burst of good luck, the new battery had just enough juice in it to get back to the garage and I thought I would see if the headlights brightened when I revved the engine, because I have a vague memory of that revealing whether or not your charging system was shot.

Turned the lights on and the engine stopped.

Yes, we have a problem.

My grasp of electrics is about the same as the Wingman’s grasp of particle physics. I know that a circuit has to go power – switch – component – earth, though sometimes on the MZ it goes power – component – switch – earth. If the circuit isn’t working you have to check that the fuse isn’t blown, that the wires aren’t broken, and that the thing that is supposed to be working isn’t borked.

If that’s a light it’s easy. If it’s a thing with six diodes on it, not so much.

What a man can do, remember?

I have a multimeter, a wiring diagram and the might of motorcycle Twitter behind me.

How to keep your Volkswagen Alive For Ever” recommends that before starting a new task you should grok the scene. Robert Heinlein is rather out of favour these days, but that’s no reason not to take the advice.

The charging circuit includes the battery, the generator, the regulator and the rectifier. The regulator and the rectifier are under the seat. Like Ant and Dec, one of them has a large shiny dome and I’m never quite sure which is which.

The Blue Book has three pages of instructions on what to test if you’ve got a red light that won’t go out. The Haynes manual has the same but their tests require you to “unsolder” several components – I have a soldering iron but not an unsoldering one, so I am not keen on this!. The Blue Book’s tests just need a bulb and crocodile clips. And by fortunate chance (and an afternoon in a Trabant graveyard having my leg humped by a Jack Russell) I have an actual IFA test lamp. I dig this out in the hope that the bike will feel more inclined to co-operate with the testing equipment of its people.

Electrical fault-finding needs ample supplies of tea, a good desk lamp and a notebook. I’m trying to learn to love it as it’s nice to do some work on the bike that doesn’t leave me clarted with shite or bleeding.

I got to play with my brucie bonus caliper, which would have been better if I’d remembered how to read the vernier scale and hadn’t had to resort to just putting the brush on top of the ruler part to make sure it was longer than 9mm (dear reader, it was.)

I got to refresh several fuses (never mind stockpiling bog roll, I’m going to have to clear Halfords out of 15amp blade fuses if this needs doing again).

Apart from me short-circuiting things several times, nothing actually seemed to be broken.

And then it just started working again. Wiggling the Regulator (or Rectifier) about resolved some sort of earthing problem and that was us.

I’m a great believer in quitting while I’m ahead. Yes, it would be good to understand a bit more about what was wrong and why it’s not wrong any more but I’ll just make sure I’ve put the Communist Test Lamp into the tool kit and keep a scan of the test pages on my phone

Hasta la Victoria Siempre! ( to mix my marxist metaphors).

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I didn’t need those knuckles anyway – Kawasaki W650 air box refit

What does the modern woman do on the extra day that science has gifted us to keep the calendar in order? Well, I did offer to propose but no-one was available so I ended up doing what I do every other weekend of the winter – wrestling with a rusty heap in the garage.

I pine for the days when I lived in a house with an integral garage that housed the boiler and a radiator. That was the first year I rebuilt the Lomax and it was not only warm and comfortable, it opened onto the kitchen so top-up brews were only a few feet away.

Now I live in a house with a concrete sectional garage at the bottom of the garden that lets a lot of water in under the door. I need to buy a rubber threshold seal but I also need it to stop raining long enough to let the glue set so that one’s parked until spring.  A bit like the bikes…

What’s the task in hand? I have a Kawasaki W650 and sidecar previously owned by one of my very best friends. He converted it to pod filters but I’m a traditionalist and I do like things to be stock so I thought I would convert it back thanks to a fortuitous find of a complete air box on Italian eBay.

It arrived a few weeks before Christmas and a few days before Christmas I took a closer look, psyching myself up to get stuck in after Boxing Day.

Not quite complete after all.

Missing – one 8-inch long plastic rod. That has to come from Japan, about three weeks after you ask for it. And if you have a bike on which someone has removed the Kawasaki Clean Air system then you need a 50p rubber bung for the hole in the top. So I ordered a rod and a bung and some new seals and some clips and a side order of patience.

There are some good resources about how to remove the air box – and I’m going to give a shout-out here to Captain Jake’s brilliant photo guide. Note this small, helpful sentence

“As you wiggle the airbox back into place, you’ll have to mush the rubber cone to get it around the air horn of the carburetor. I started mine with one finger.”

Worst. Job. Ever.

I started on the right hand side at the end of January. The right-hand half of the airbox butts up hard against the battery carrier, so you can’t ease it rearwards to make room. And when you push the box into place, half the horn gets caught inside the carb.

I soaked the rubber horn in hot water. I applied red rubber grease. I applied washing up liquid. I soaked it in hot water again because it’s cold in the garage and the effects wore off pretty quick. I modified a plastic picnic knife from IKEA to try and hook the folded side out over the bellmouth.

I undid the clips on the carbs to try and shove them towards the bars a little. I tried to evolve an extra hand and a couple more thumbs.

I had more tea.

And then at the hundredth attempt the rubber squished in without folding under and all I had to do (hollow laugh) was squish it onto the end of the carb.

Victory was mine.

Rinse and repeat…..

Here’s the game for the left hand side. You’ve got to do it sitting in the sidecar. You’ve got to slide the left-hand box over the two plastic rods, that you now know take at least three weeks to come from Japan so you DO NOT WANT to fucking break them. And the rubber on this side is rock hard with age. Yes, you could order a new one from the very lovely chaps at Cradley Heath Kawasaki but spring is coming and you just want this job done.

Wiggle the box over the rods, get the rubber stuck. Wiggle the box off the rods. Wiggle the box on the rods, get the rubber stuck.

Get the butter knife and the washing up liquid.

Get the hair dryer.

It reminded me of two things. The first time I tried to replace the driveshaft rubbers on the 2CV, and disappointing sex. Every time – it would almost, almost go into the right place and then just slip away.

The answer to “how do I get a rubber gaiter onto a 2CV driveshaft?” turned out to be “put a pointy cap from a roll-on deodorant over the end of the driveshaft to give the rubber something to slip over.” And the answer to “how do I get the bastard rubber bastard over the bastard carburettor end without the bastard getting bastard stuck” turned out to be “cover the end of the carb with a piece of plastic cut from a milk bottle until you’ve past the danger point and then pull it out slowly.”

So now you know.





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Hammer to fall – auction house brucie bonus!

I don’t get lucky very often. And sometimes I take decisions that don’t quite work out. I put some absentee bids in at an auction about 90 miles away from home because I wanted the MZ ES150 they were selling and fancied my chances. And it would have made sense to make a 180 mile round trip to pick up a motorcycle and a box of random shite.

So when they emailed to say the bike had been withdrawn from auction I should have nixed all the other bids too.


On the Monday after the auction they called to tell me I was the fortunate winner of a box of studs and bolts.


So I went to get it, because a winning bid is a contract, and I met up with BikerPaul for tea and crumpet on the way home, so it wasn’t a total wreck of a day, but by the time the petrol had been included and the tax and fees it was a 50 quid box of bolts.

In the evening I finally had a look to weigh up the true extent of my folly and among the stainless studs there was a shiny silver lining – a Sheffield steel Moore and Wright vernier caliper. Now I know you can buy digital ones for about 7 quid but it looks like this style sells for more like 70.

It was rusted solid, of course, but that’s only a matter of patience and penetrating oil.

And there’s something rewarding about bringing old tools back to life. I don’t know whose garage was being sold off in lots but I hope they will be happy for their calipers to make MZs run better.

22 Feb 2020

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It’s Blue Monday, the most depressing day of the year – according to a slighty shonky equation developed by the lovely Andy Green for a PR client more than 20 years ago.

The thing is, it doesn’t matter how many po-faced comment pieces get written debunking the claim, we still embrace it because it feels true. The dog days of January are bloody awful, especially for bikers. I know a few hardy souls are out and about and looking forward to the Dragon Rally but I have an arthritic dog and no heated grips and we are confined to barracks until it warms up a bit.

And that’s not good for my mental health. I’ve had a bit of a cry today already because I am so very tired of it all,  of the feeling of being on edge like I’ve broken my NHS specs at school and am dragging myself home for the bollocking. I’ve lived like this for twenty years and it’s getting too much. At least the Wingman is pleased to see me and doesn’t shout at me for being careless.

How can a biker best beat Blue Monday? With some planning – the anticipation of remote roads and blue skies. OK, maybe that’s a bit optimistic as I’m planning a trip to the Outer Hebrides!

I used to love planning a Big Trip – back in my married days I did all the work for our trips to Cuba and Syria – but the next two blokes I was involved with said planning was uptight and you should just go with the flow.

I don’t need to make them happy any more. I need to make me happy.  And I say that planning is half the fun.

So I am planning my trip, all the way to Lewis. The Wingman and I shall be going there in June, in a sidecar outfit. If he’s not up to it we will go in the 2CV which will be a different kind of adventure. But I think he will be fine.

I have been to Orkney and Shetland and Skye but not further west, to An t-Eilean Fada. I’m a little bit daunted as I am out of practice with long runs – but the Wingman and I took the Lomax to Sanday, just 500 miles from the Arctic Circle. We have nothing to fear. Small steps add up to long journeys.

My first challenge is to pick my ferries, as I’m told you need to book these in advance. Once these are pinned down the rest will fall into place. I’m watching lots of subtitled programmes on BBC Alba and have already got the stones at Callanish on the list.  Tips and advice welcome as ever!



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Advent Calendar finale – the three wise men!

We three kings of Orient are,
One on a motorbike, one in a car,
One on a scooter,
Blowing his hooter,
Following yonder star.

The Sound of Music is on the telly, I’ve had smoked salmon for breakfast and there were two hundred people in Sainsbury’s this morning at 6am – it must be Christmas Eve, and time to open the last door in the Advent Calendar of overlanders!

I’ve been swithering all month about who should be at the top of the tree (is that mixing my festive metaphors? Maybe a bit) and in the end I decided it couldn’t just be one writer.

Get out the gold, frankincense and myrrh (it’s a balm! What does he want a bomb for?) because it’s time to bring on the Three Wise Men. Only one of them has a beard and I’m not sure if any of them has ridden a camel, but they have all travelled afar, and returned to inspire the rest of us to give it a go.

Yes – it’s Ted Simon, Sam Manicom, and Austin Vince.

I’ve chosen them not just for their fantastic books but because each has done so much to encourage other riders to follow in their wheeltracks, whether on a Mini Mondo tour of the Pyrenees, as a Jupiter’s Traveller, with the offer of a stay in Ted’s own home for help recounting the journey after its end, or through talks and tours with ready advice and help in person and online.

I’m afraid I don’t have a copy of Mondo Enduro to include in the photo as it was lent to me by @BiviBag_ADV to distract me during one of my periodic episodes of putting a bomb under my life to see if the pieces would fall into something that worked better – the book did the job but it’s still to early to tell on the life changes.

I’ve seen Mondo described as “the last great analogue adventure” and I think that’s a brilliant summary. It must be difficult for people who’ve grown up in this connected world to imagine how it was possible to travel without mobile phones to keep in touch with each other, internet access in the palm of your hand, and social media to share the journey as it unfolds. Read Austin’s book and find out!

Sam’s three books take you along with him on his travels but that’s only the starting point for all the ways he encourages other riders. He probably won’t remember me nervously sidling up to him at the Ace Cafe and asking for tips about riding in Australia, but he took a few minutes to share some advice, and I bought a copy of Under Asian Skies only to discover that his experience of Australia started with a crash, which was a little daunting! I hope it won’t embarrass Sam if I say that I really look up to him for his determination to be positive in all situations and his incredible kindness.

And Ted Simon – for better or worse! – taught me that riding a motorcycle wasn’t about how fast I could go but about what I saw on the way, and what I found out about myself and the world I’m riding in.

Happy Christmas!


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Day 23 of Advent – Christmas Eve Eve! Four women.

“The chance kindness of strangers is seen by a fortunate few, and we were fortunate enough to find it, again and again.”

Books don’t just take us to new places. They give us a chance to see the world through someone else’s eyes. And for that reason I wanted to include some non-UK/US writers, who travel with a whole other set of cultural baggage, in this advent calendar.

And I really wanted to read something by a rider from India, a country which is often presented in overland literature as a challenge to be overcome rather than somewhere with its own thriving motorcycle scene.

Twitter introduced me the brilliant Bikerni, the all-female motorcycle club who ride for the joy of it and also to empower women, and from Urvashi Patole’s tweets I heard about last year’s four-woman expedition from India to the Mekong, taking in six countries and 17,000km in just 56 days.

Two books have been written about the trip – one by Jai Bharathi, the expedition leader, writing in her mother tongue of Telugu, and this one, by Piya Bahadur, in English with a regular infusion of Hindi slang.

Like The Perfect Vehicle, or even Zen, this is more a meditation on what the trip meant to Piya than a straightforward travelogue. Like many women, she lacked confidence in her riding skills and was unsure about committing to the whole ride – until with helpful bluntness her teenage daughter called her out: “are you afraid you can’t do it?”

“I realised how the world we dwell in is so small and how easy it is to create echo chambers. The challenge really is to embrace the unknown and the unfamiliar.”

Piya finds the ride liberating, encouraging, and thought-provoking, and her book brings us along with her. There’s so much in it that I recognise in my own riding life – even they way that at her lowest points it’s other bikers that provide encouragement and support – not just the other women on the expedition but bikers from the places they are riding through who come forward to support the travellers. At the end of a particularly challenging day with another 3 hours of riding ahead, “meeting the headlights of riders from Imphal on the dark highway was a relief and the rest of the ride was rejuvenating. It was a warm welcome to Manipur indeed, not by a gang of motorcyclists, but by a brotherhood of bikers united by their love for the road.”

It’s a joyful book and I have really enjoyed reading it.

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Day 22 of Advent – Around the World With Motorcycle and Camera

“Something had to be done. It was not to be stood any longer. There was no thrill in our work. Murder, reports of mental hospitals, Miss Leg, Miss Stocking, Miss Universe, and so on. It just couldn’t be borne any longer.

“That’s the reason for the wish to get out of it. There is more beauty than badness on this earth, in spite of sensational news, conferences, fears, atomic bombs!”

Not the snappiest of titles but an accurate summary of the book! Now this is another little bit of a cheat because I actually haven’t got very far into this one yet – it’s my Christmas present to myself because it’s quite rare and so was quite a lot of money, and our intrepid travellers have only made it to Persia at the point of writing (though I did skip ahead a bit for review purposes!)

It’s another time-travel special – Eitel and Rolf Lange set out from Germany in 1953, just eight years after the end of World War 2, on their “Green Elephant” – a 600cc Zundapp and sidecar.

Eitel was a press photographer before the war and though with peace came a return to his profession – “Rebuilding, Siamese twins, weddings of princes, jails and so on” – he had a long-held dream to make a world trip once in his life, and announced one morning to his son and his wife that it was time to make it reality, to go and see the world for themselves.

Eitel has a dry sense of humour and a deadpan writing style. He doesn’t shy away from the possible challenge faced by two Germans travelling through post-war Europe – on the need to hurry through Italy and Greece, he writes “for Germans [these countries] meant a memory of the travelling agency ‘Adolf Hitler’ which had forced thousands to die here.”

The trip takes Eitel and Rolf to Japan where they visit Hiroshima and talk to survivors of the atomic bomb. That part of the book is truly extraordinary and very moving. Eitel describes their meeting with the mayor of Hiroshima who tells them: “World politics should be made from here. From a big hall with a big window, so all the big people could see what our age of science can bring upon us, if we do not understand how to live together.”

For me this book is a glimpse at a time that is glossed over in our histories. We like to celebrate the end of the war, and maybe we’ll think of the Japanese civilians who were killed in a new and horrible way, and we nod to agree with the argument that this was necessary to prevent further bloodshed. Rolf and Eitel are travelling through a world trying to rebuild itself and trying to find better ways of living together. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the book and I know it will give me lots to think about.

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