Tag Archives: motorcycle

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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"Did you find her by the side of the road?"

Bec’s mesh jacket doesn’t fit. This doesn’t come as a surprise to me – she’s about 5 10 with a small waist, I’m 6 foot and go straight up and down, except on bad days when I go out in the middle – but men seem to see a smaller version of me than the one that exists in reality. I have a small pile of unworn t-shirts bought for me by the ex, who thought I was about a size 10. I think his subconscious was buying them for his lost love, who was tiny and half Chinese. But I digress.

My Triumph jacket with the liner out has been too hot on, I think, one day in 15 years of riding in Blighty. I though it would do fine for Australia. What it actually did was boil me in the bag like Batchelor’s Savoury Rice. On safety grounds alone I persuade myself that I ought to buy a new jacket and gloves, for dehydration and thermal overload proved just as distracting and unpleasant as being too cold. Adrian and Becs take me to their favourite gear shop on the way to Innaloo to collect the GS.

The Motorcycle Pit Stop is in North Perth. It looks reassuringly like a bike shop in Blighty, with the used bikes lined up in a row out front, the dayglo colours of dirtbike polyester to one side and the road-riding gear to the other. If this was a shop in England most of the gear would be about keeping warm. Here it’s the opposite problem – there’s perforated gear, thin gear and gear with integral Camelbaks. But wouldn’t that get really hot really quickly? Maybe you stick a teabag in there too and brew up on the move.

The girls’ gear is pink and has butterflies on it. The jacket I end up with, on the grounds that it fits and is affordable, is manly blue with white flashes. I remind myself that, if I want to wear a jacket that fits where it touches, then lurking in a cupboard at home I have a made-to measure jacket with a purple dragon on the back. And when I’ve lost the next 2 stone I’ll measure the same as I did when it was made and can start wearing it again. Though not in Australia. I think half-inch thick cowhide really wouldn’t be very practical in 42 degrees.

Adrian introduces me to Karen, who owns the Pit Stop and is struggling with a EPOS card reader which is dialling her fax machine in preference to the bank. This sounds like a good plan to me. I could fax her a picture of 200 dollars. How do I know Adrian and Becs, she wants to know. I am not sure where to start the story, and am distracted by the realisation that the shaggy cushion on the counter next to the card reader is in fact a small hairy dog. It sleeps peacefully until Adrian mentions that Becs, who has done her time on a 250, might be in the market for something bigger. The words “new bike?” wake it up in the same way that “brew?” galvanises a lethargic Yorkshireman. When it realises that a sale is not in prospect today it goes back to sleep in disgust.

I have a Dri Rider jacket and summer gloves. All I need now is a bike and I’m sorted.


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Omnia sol temperat

Rental bikes don’t come cheap. In order to get my money’s worth, I need to have around £100-worth of fun every day. What does that look like? About 25 pints of beer? I have downed that many in a day, but it was a long time ago and I’m not sure it was fun even then. Maybe it’s more like a ticket to a West End show, a meal before it with friends and a couple of drinks in the interval. Every day for the next ten days. I can live with that 😉

This Bandit is a sweet, sweet bike. I feel rather closer to the ground than normal, but I can finally do all those things I’ve practised on Norfolk airfields including the feet-up U turn, though I have not yet ventured one on full lock. No point tempting fate, and I’ve already heard the expensive crunchy sound of plastic on tarmac twice this trip, both times my camera slipping off the bike seat and hitting the deck. Why so many U-turns? Because this bike doesn’t have a GPS. I have a good map and the number of roads available to choose from is closer to Caithness than Camden, so I think I will be OK – and in a slightly Spartan way I think it’s good for me to practise the discipline of looking at maps and trying to remember them rather than just blind following.

For New Year’s Day I rode up the coast, past the dog-walkers, joggers and surfers who were out and about. I’d say “making the most of the sunshine’ but this is one of the big things you have to know about Australia. You probably know already, but it’s different when you’re feeling it for yourself. It’s always sunny. Every day. This creates a very different head-space. If this were a summer morning in Blighty I’d be thinking, “Oh, sunny again, great! Wonder how long it will last?” Like hungry people or binge drinkers, there would be a feeling of needing to grab it all before it’s gone. Here there’s none of that panic. The sun shines, you put on your protection and go out and have a ball, and you can do the same again the next day. It creates relaxation.

The other thing about Australia that you might know in your head but not in your spine is how big it is, and how thinly spread the people are. I followed the coast to Yanchep, where there’s a National Park with koala bears. Tourist photos in the bag, I headed back into farming country to New Norcia via Mogumber, These towns are marked on the map….Mogumber is a railway crossing and a tavern. New Norcia is a very odd collection of Benedictine monastic buildings. Between them were miles of warm, well-kept tarmac roads with bugger-all other traffic. I realised that carrying water isn’t necessary for comfort and feeling a bit thirsty. It’s because if I have a problem in a place with no mobile reception I’ll be waiting a very long time for someone to come along.

So: New Year’s Day was all about hot, red roads, the brilliant colours of the roadside flowers, flashes of bright red and green from the parrots as I scared them up from the verge, and one-horse towns. I stopped into the Mogumber Tavern for a cold drink. A cattle dog inspected me on the porch – I passed and got a wag of the tail. Inside an old guy with legs as leathery as his thongs said “G’day! How ya going.” It’s a fantastically warm greeting and “Very well thank you, how do you do?” seems inadequately British in response. He wished me an increase in happiness and I sat at the bar in my un-natural fibre mesh jacket feeling very out of place. I’ll do better next time…I’ll leave the jacket on the bike! (and I’ll practice “How do you do? ” in my best Betty and Phil voice. I’m a tourist, I might as well sound like one!)

Today I start south 🙂


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Round Britain Rally – Scotland Report Part 1

I’m riding north on a road maybe three feet wide, sprinkled with sheep, bordered with heather to the right and a steep drop to a burn on the left. You might think the M25 requires concentration – right now, that would be peanuts compared to this rural ribbon. Wisely, my sister has opted to follow me. She gets to dodge the sheep that I’ve disturbed with my triple Triumph heartbeat. I get to dodge the local farmers in their cars, slingshotting the corners with gay abandon. In a National Trust garden, you might think it a cycle path – and criticise its narrowness as ungenerous to wheelchair users. Here in Scotland, it’s the road to Innerwick, and 40 points for the War Memorial to the Men of Glen Lyon. It’s my biggest challenge this trip – not quite a road of bones, but a road of baas.

We started with a panic and ended with a puncture. I like to start my trips at sparrowfart, when the sun is newly minted and the roads belong to me. I find it far too stressful to start at mid-day, which is where a promise to a friend to cover her Saturday morning commitments left me. The problem with being flustered is that I choose to make progress rather than stop and fill up when I know I should – when the trip counter is hovering around the 100 mile mark and I pass a petrol station on the wrong side of the road. No, I think. Too much of a faff to stop now. I’ll press on and there’s bound to be another chance before I get onto the motorway. Except that there isn’t, and I’m coasting along the motorway craning my neck for a glimpse of the Humber Bridge, where I know there’s a Jet station and a Little Chef. I spot it, but it’s tiny and a very long, long way away. I pray to the gods of fuel-air mixture, tuck in behind the Norbert Dentressangle lorry in hope of a tow and rein back to 56, which must be the most fuel-efficient speed as it’s the one they quote in all the ads. And we scrape in on fumes. Hurrah!

Overnighting at the Beverley YHA, I find myself surrounded by lycra-clad cyclists. They like museli for breakfast. I leave them to it and head off in search of my bikers reward – fried, scrambled and toasted – and find it with a view of Robin Hood Bay on the outskirts of Scarborough. Because it’s a sunny Sunday, the power rangers are blasting up and down with their race pipes – I nod cheerfully but with inner condemnation for annoying everyone within 20 miles, they ignore me for not having matching bike and leathers. But I have a quest! and soon I turn right off the main road and head for the coast – Jaw Bones Corner, Bempton. And RBR rule 3 comes into full play – it may be a road that normally sees two tractors and a german cyclist in the course of a week, but the minute you get a camera and a sign out, it’s rush hour. This remains true for the other 5 landmarks in the bag today, my favourite of which is the Loraine Cross, next to which someone has kindly built a craft centre and cafe. The bloke selling woolly socks is missing a trick, he has shepherds socks, ramblers socks and wellington socks, but looks bemused when I ask for a pair of motorcycle socks. He would have had a good year!

Bank Holiday Monday also starts blue and clear – the Bank Holiday Drizzler is obviously not yet a Scottish tradition. I am joined by my sister and we head for the Isle of Whithorn via the Hizzy cairn. Hizzy’s memorial is in a beautiful spot, but it is still a sad reminder of a life cut brutally short. We are all pagans now, it seems, the cairn garlanded with gold chains, gifts and letters from pilgrims who have come to pay their tributes. The Rhinos at Lincluden look enigmatic, perched on a rusting container and staring out across the concrete Dumfries savannah. Heading towards Whithorn, we meet Scottish Hospitality at its Bank Holiday Best – “2 coffees please” “We’re closed.” At 3.30 on a bank holiday? You must be kidding! I must have looked particularly distressed as the young guy behind the counter smuggled 2 paper cups outside and let us sit on the bench out front – which only served to lure other hopeful thirsty tourists to pull in and try their luck. I forced payment on a proprietor desperately trying to lock the door and we headed down to Wigtown, where the B & B I booked on the internet looked like it had followed the cofffee shop’s example and quit for the weekend. In some trepidation we pushed on down to the very bottom tip of Scotland – the Celtic saints certainly knew how to pick a splendid view for their self-build, St Ninian is said to have chosen a spot where he could see 5 kingdoms – Wales, Ireland, Scotland, Man, and the Kingdom of Heaven.

The internet is a marvellous thing but it does lull you into a false sense of security. The hotel’s website promised an in-house bookshop (Wigtown is Scotland’s equivalent of Hay on Wye – but with rather fewer restaurants); a bistro; and wonderful views of the bay. None of these things manifested themselves during our stay – the boundlessly enthusiastic new proprietor hadn’t got her restaurant certificates yet so it was Bed; and we were in the top floor with Velux windows offering a fine view of the sky. But there was a big bath, 2 fluffy bathrobes and slippers, which is all 2 girly bikers need of an evening. And the moon was so bright it cast a moonshadow, which I have never seen before, being an urban girl. Very exciting!

Our luck with the weather ran out for the return leg from the West Coast – the Kingdom of Heaven fell rather closer to the road than previously, and once again I ended up soaked to the pants because of my refusal to concede that yes, it is actually raining and yes, I should stop and put my troosers on. We squelched into the Moffat Woollen Mill – on the brink of closing at 5.30pm – and dried ourselves out under the hand driers. When we came out, the sky was blue, the sun was shining and we came home along the A708 Cappercleugh road, manifest proof that on the 7th day God wasn’t resting, she was out on her trailie carving the curves into the Borders.

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Good in parts

Washing the bike after our monsoon endeavours, I realised that the chain was baggier than an old lady’s underpants, and would probably ping off the sprox if I didn’t get it sorted before heading to Scotland for a few landmarks more. Adjusting the chain is one of those jobs that I know how to do in theory but don’t dare take my spanners to, on the grounds that if I get it wrong my back wheel will fall off. I developed a cunning plan that made it essential for me to ride to work before stopping at Metropolis on the way home for them to do my dirty work.

Riding to work means it’s time to play the parking lottery – made more hazardous by the decision of a film crew to set up on the spaces I had in mind for trying first, but my third-choice spot came good with a broad sweep of tarmac sullied only by two scooters. Within 30 seconds a horde of suit-clad scooterdrones appeared like wasps round pimms to fence me in on all sides – for once my timing was perfect!

Sadly riding home was not perfect, I hate it when I ride like a muppet. 10 years of practice and I’m still emergency braking to avoid the back of the cement lorry, bullseyeing every pothole and rolling off the throttle mid-bend. I thought experience was meant to bring expertise 😦

At least the chain was smooth.

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Kill Spills 617 Ride

The 617 Ride leaves London, in a day-glo police sandwich.

This video shows the ride as it travelled up the M1 towards Donington Park, ready for the track invasion.

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It’s such a perfect day..

Sometimes, when they get bored of freezing us, drenching us, or throwing fuckwit cagers at us (presumably shouting ¡Olė! as they watch us dodge left and right, duck through the gap and escape), the biking gods make up for it by arranging a perfect riding day. Today was this decade's … proper Goldilocks weather, not too hot, not too cold, but just right for riding in summer gloves without the heated grips on, and in a long-sleeved t-shirt without being desperate to throw caution to the winds and go Greek; a Round Britain Rally route with a landmark every 40 miles, and no "short walks" involved (Dave the Disorganiser may have been a mountain goat in a previous life. His idea of a short walk has been christened "motorhiking" by John GoodWill); co-operative fellow travellers moving to the left not in order to get a better run-up before taking me out but actually making space for an overtake (apart from the one guy in Donington who was swerving to the left only because the other hand was off the steering wheel giving me the finger. Yes, I was a bit slow through the roundabout because I didn't know which exit I needed, but if you hadn't been so close on my arse that you could read the size of my knickers you wouldn't have had to brake quite so suddenly).

It feels like it has been raining since the Kill Spills rally, so it was with little hope that I watched the weather forecast for this weekend – but the scarily enthusiastic late-night weatherman in the trainee's slightly too-shiny suit did not lie. I make a note to pack sunglasses not sub-aqua goggles.

This fabulous blue sky is one of the five primary colours of the perfect English ride  – the others are fluffy white clouds; dark green trees; bright green grass on the verges and the really rather lovely slate grey tarmac favoured by English local highway authorities (sadly overlaid in some places by yellow rumble strips that shake your teeth out and, in other spots, by beige profiled overlay designed to make you feel slightly queasy in corners. At least, that's what it does to me).

The first part of the day is a straightforward push north up the A1 with detours – in Hertford, Samuel Stone looks rather like he is hailing a taxi (to get him away from the horde of bikers, we presume). Sutton's Medieval Packhorse Bridge is rather larger and more impressive than the usual "three slabs on a pile of rocks" that has been the norm thus far; while St Peter's Church in Oundle has a sign pointing to it from the town centre, making things good and easy (RBR for beginners!)

Heading past Peterborough a small tragedy has occurred – Wansford Little Chef is no more. It's boarded up and has already grown a coat of graffiti over its slightly battered 1930's modernist exterior. I've eaten a lot of Olympic Breakfasts here because it's the perfect distance from London, if, like me, you like to start at sparrowfart and get out of the South East three hours ahead of the rest of the traffic before stopping for coffee and cholesterol.  It's also a Control for the National Rally, a cheerful BMF branch camping out in the car park ready to stamp cards and offer you a fly-encrusted sponge for your visor. One more nail in the coffin of back-road biking – if you can call the A1 a back road!

Heading up to bag  Matthew Flinders in Donington, the Fens stretch away on each side of the road, flat, open and mostly covered in what looks like cabbages. This means lots of tractors, and where there are tractors there's heroic overtaking by people who don't seem deterred by an on-coming motorcycle. Fortunately the roads are good and wide, and my repertoire of Italianate hand gestures is coming along nicely.

Captain Flinders sports an impressively large telescope (arf arf), while the Old Windmill at Bateman's Brewery also stands rather proud from the surrounding flats, making it impossible to miss (and easy to photograph).

From here it's a quick blast down the A19 to Kings Lynn for the Greyfriars Tower, "as featured in Restoration" – and opposite the police station, so no driving onto the pavement to get a better shot this time; and then another simple hop down the A10 to the William Harley Memorial, which is a fantastic piece of public sculpture. Can't show the memorial till the rally is over, so here is a photo of the other direction!

As a Brucie Bonus, because I got a bit lost coming out of Littleport and missed the turn back to the A10, I fetched up in Ely on a route which took me right beneath the walls of the cathedral at sunset. Mellow sunshine, mellow stone, mellow rider. Makes a nice change! 

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Attack of the Green Eyed Monster

Just finished reading Lois on the Loose, about Lois Pryce and her trip down the Americas. She’s a great writer in the Ted Simon mould, writing about the people and places that make up her journey as much as the miles – and doesn’t mind telling stories against herself.

Love this opening:-

“Rolling off a boat on a motorcycle into a foreign land is one of the most exciting experiences I know. No matter where it is in the world: freewheeling down the ramp, the metallic clank that marks your arrival, and your first glimpse of a strange land. Everything looks different, sounds different, even smells different – you feel different.”

Makes me want to get the tie-down straps out and head off to Dover….

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Photos from Greece

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For once the rain failed to fall!

have been rained on and frozen so often in past weeks that I'd almost forgotten how good it is to ride in the sun.

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