Finally I’ve put together a short summary of the first part of this trip I took in the summer. The second part will come along soon.
Its a real achievement – at last I have some motorcycle gear that fits properly. I think I have been getting skinnier in recent years so I had one more reason to sell my BMW Rally 3 suit, bought in the first flush of excitement at GS ownership but now slightly flappy and ahem… inappropriately branded. I began to think that it had a quasi-military look with its yellow flashes and BMW roundels on the arms. I wouldn’t feel comfortable spending the evening in the pub wearing it as motorcycling magazines are fond of saying – both because of its huge armour and the style just mentioned. It has been a great combo and has seen me through very many miles of riding in hot weather and in cold (Norway snow), well designed and well made – no complaints and a moment of sadness to see it go. But I really wanted to reinvent my riding and something more understated was definitely desired. There’s no shortage of stuff to be purchased of course but always a sucker for branding and endorsements from Youtube riders, I aimed at something made by Klim, though perhaps I should have spent more time researching less popular brands.
Nevertheless, Klim Carlsbad jacket – size Small and the trousers – 30″ waist which are really difficult to find but as a stroke of immense good fortune Adventure bike shop in Suffolk had some returned by a customer who could not squeeze himself into them – result. They fit perfectly and are black, like the jacket. I wore them on the train up to collect my bike and did not feel conspicuous or uncomfortable, just noisy as I walked. Swish swish. I’ve just worn them for the first time on a ride from Cambridge down to London.
Pluses: they are a great weight, have two good cargo type pockets which will be where I put keys, they are the only trousers that I don’t get my toes stuck somewhere invisible trying to get into them so another result. They accommodate big boots really well. The knee and hip armour is not huge.
Not so goods: they have a kind of webbing across the inside of the crotch behind the zipper which I presume helps their waterproofness – but it makes it awkward to wee and not so easy to do discretely in those lay-by standing behind the bike pretending to look at a map urgent moments. The flaps at the end of the legs have nice zips and press studs in three tightnesses – but they are toward the back of the legs instead of at the side so awkward to reach.
The jacket: Is also good.
Pluses: a good weight – it was 12 degrees c when riding from Cambridge to London in November and my chest was a little cold with all the vents closed so it promises to be good in hot weather on trips to warmer climes; the armour, like the trousers is not huge so will not take up so much room on the floor of my minimalist tent where lying down room is at a premium; lots of pockets both inside and out – on the road developing a muscle memory about where to reach for particular things saves anxiety and energy. And there is a small pocket on the front for an SOS device inviting the purchase of one more piece of kit. Clearly there’s lots of ventilation available – I can’t wait till summer to try.
So, how do you pronounce Klim? I wish it was with a short i – but I think its meant to sound like ‘climb’. which is strange. Their stuff is made in Vietnam (one time enemy of the US) like Mosko Moto’s stuff. All I can say is that they have strong needles in Vietnam. And that they are pretty good at needle work.
Kindle version, I think, is here.
It was partly good reviews on the Amazon site (though I returned in early 2011 and found a great many very negative reviews) that made me buy this book and partly a holiday to Croatia in 2008 (one of the places visted by the author). The holiday and the travelling (sleeping on a bench at Gatwick on the night before the really early flight to to Split) turned out to be tedious, in fact a holiday from hell for a number of reasons I won’t go into so the book became a trusted and fond travel companion.
Others have said they laughed out loud at this book and I did too – at about 2am at Gatwick for example. I think the funniest parts are where the going is toughest – in Finland where we hear about the seductions of the Leprosy museum (or was that in Norway?) At first I was uneasy (to coin a phrase) at the mid-life stuff because it created one of those all-too-easy-to identify-with personas that in some ways can be unhelpful (like grumpy old men) but as we hear, near the end of the book, about another reason why the author visited some of these countries and some of these locations, I found myself very moved. I wouldn’t be suprised if many readers of this book have experienced some of the same life events as the author and can identify with the desire to revisit locations that have, to put it simply, bad memories.
I really recommend this book. It is intelligent and hugely funny in places and has redoubled my determination to take my bike to some (definately not all – Albania for instance) of the countries visited by Mike Carter. (2021 – I’m considering Albania and other Balkan countries…)
Many reviewers on Amazon call the author a big headed buffoon whose trip and bike was paid for by the Observer newspaper (how do they know that?). I don’t agree (well, I can’t comment about who paid for the trip because I don’t know). If you get into the zone of his self-deprecating but not entirely original humour, the book is really enjoyable. Some reviewers complain that he’s not ‘a proper biker’ which begs the question of when can you call someone riding a motorbike ‘a biker’. Some have suggested that he made up half or even all of it. I do doubt that but I must say I did wonder whether he embellished quite a few of the encounters he recounts. But the geography is real and I’ve used it as a reference for my upcoming trip around Norway – the highlight will be the trip to the Leprosy museum. I just hope its raining when I get there.
Finally, I wish the book had included a map of the journey.
Available from Abe Books here
This had to be the book for me: written by someone with a love for bikes and literature (like me) – and the snippets I had read on the net were excellent: ‘It wasn’t a mid life crisis that got me on the road, but mid life money’ (well something close to that). This book has lovely aspects – that self-deprecating, unassuming Canadian tone (it reminds me of the (now defunct – whatever happened to it?) One Wheel Drive people on YouTube), some insights into the personal politics of major literary archives, some fascinating information about T E Lawrence, some nice moments of humour. However, somewhere in the book Ted says he is looking for a way to link biking and literature but he can’t find it. And for me this is the book’s weakness – his sometimes laboured attempt to find unthought of connections between these two worlds and sensibilities. And trying to wind these two together seemed to result in a book that did neither very well. I also had the feeling that there wasn’t quite enough material for a book and that Ted had dived into some subsequent research to fill out various parts (mind you, knowing that 11 North Americans are killed every year in incidents involving vending machines is priceless). For me the nicest part is near the end when the author hobbles back after breaking his back in two places in a bike accident. We’re prepared for the ultimate anti-climax – that he decides never to get on a bike again – but instead in a couple of sentences we see him reunited with the beauty of his Ducati Monster – and of course he has to ride it home from the mechanics – and at over 100mph.
I saved buying this DVD (I see I bought it back in 2010) till the evenings had got darker and my son finally left home leaving me to the guilty pleasures of watching motorcycle vids in the empty house. Overall, this is a powerful documentary. The Dakar is not for the faint hearted and you have to take your hat off to anyone who dares enter it, Charley Boorman included. The characters are nearly all men in this and they pretty much conform to a stereotype of driven, inarticulate (there is a huge amount of effing and blinding), self-obsessed and in the early episodes this gets annoying; for example how they seem ready to blame eachother when things don’t go to plan. But when they are in their element – actually roughing it on the race – they become more likable and admirable. The series is well edited, it keeps up the tension (without the stupid staged ‘fallings out’ of the Long Way documentaries) and the end is very moving. If you like this kind of stuff, you will love it. (I’ve recently copied it to my iPhone for those late evening winter train journies home after work).
If you don’t have it already its still available from Amazon here.
As a note from 10 years later, the Dakar moved to South America in 2009 after being cancelled the previous year because of an apparent security threat. From 2020 it moved, controversially, to Saudi Arabia.
The Africa Eco Race started in 2009 as a rally designed to return to the return to the spirit of the original race. Lyndon Poskitt has put a range of impressively produced videos of this race on line.
SC Projects are based in what, on Google street view, looks like an ugly building in an industrial estate on the edges of Milan. But their products are anything but ugly – and, as replacement slip on exhausts go, they are well priced even including the nearly £100 tax that we have to pay post Brexit. Their products look good and sound good – especially when you remove the sound-killing baffle. THanson shows his struggle, successful in the end removing his from the same model of exhaust that I have. The end result in terms of sound is impressive. My efforts with grips and my best efforts have so far not budged the db killer.
Now I have installed heated grips – fiddly but working and a One-finger clutch which also was fiddly but now is working nicely. The piece of work I had to pay for is cruise control – costing £460 at Orwell Motorcycles.
Cruise control and heating grips
We have had a shortage of fuel recently due to a lack of tanker drivers due to Brexit and probably a sudden increase in demand as people start moving after Covid. I could buy petrol just outside Colchester. It was a long day’s riding. I think I need to adjust the handlebars to dial out the right shoulder pain if possible.
In 2009 when I bought a 1200GS adventure, I discovered Touratech in the same breath. It was the obvious go-to place for accessories, and for me this was firstly luggage. Touratech were promoting a vision of the world, as Lois Pryce pointed out in one of her books, of squadrons of identically dressed middle-aged European men colonising Africa and other ‘third world’ regions, surrounded in the photos by young black boys admiring the German technology of their motorcycles (see the Touratech catalogues). It was a vision that was at best corny (and old-fashioned) and at worst contributing to a racist view of the world.
That was then – this is now. What came first? Me discovering that a 1200cc bike with metal luggage was pretty much unmovable when in narrow situations – or even on the stoney or sloping carparks of campsites – or the commercial promotion of ‘light is right’ from other companies like Adventure Spec and Mosko Moto? I’m not sure. Touratech, like most companies, was selling more than just products. It was selling a lifestyle or fantasy – of a certain way to be in the world with a motorcycle. Mosko Moto does exactly the same with their well-curated videos of the team off camping somewhere on their dirt bikes. Its quite a different style to Herbert and Ramona’s trips to test Touratech gear, its more down to earth, much simpler and they are a younger, perhaps more innovative, agile bunch.
Mosko’s luggage is, of course, ‘soft’. But its also cleverly designed. Here’s the tank bag. Many other tank bags are bigger and have one large compartment and maybe a couple of small pockets on the outside. The Nomax takes a different approach and splits the available space, which is not large to start with, into four narrow layers, the bottom-most being designed to hold a hydration pack – supplied with the bag. Where the spaces coincide with the owner’s intentions things work well of course. In mine I have one layer devoted to a clever new USB device that charges up to five different devices (batteries, iPhone), running from the single USB socket on the bike’s cockpit. If you have many small or flat items that you want to carry with you then this is perfect. If you want to drop your grocery shopping in there or want to keep your DSLR in it, you will be disappointed as neither will work. You need to think of another solution. But it is small which works well for me on a bike significantly shorter than my 1200GS and, in my view it looks good. You can buy a separate map holder, with transparent top (obviously) as my previous tank bags have had – this is almost their most useful feature because as well as maps and instructions you can keep a passport or cabin ticket there at hand. All my luggage shopping was delayed by post-Brexit fiascos so the map pocket did not arrive for my holiday. In fact neither did the map I ordered from Stanfords. The problem with it, now that I have it, is that it is too small to fit the A4 sized road atlas that so usefully fitted into my previous holder. So, again, I will need to think of another solution. Unlike Touratech who had the budget to develop luggage specifically for different motorcycles, MM have to design a fitting that is versatile enough to work with a range of bikes. I think this makes them a little more fiddly to take on and off – but not by much. Finally, their products are well made, using what definitely feels like high quality materials. The factory in Vietnam must have hugely strong needles in their sewing machines. Buckles, straps and velcro are supplied in generous qualities.
I bought this DVD from Nick Plumb himself, unassumingly serving at the Touratech stand at the MCN Motorcycle show at the Excel Centre in London in February 2013.
The cover says it’s the first in a series of three DVDs about off road riding and they get more advanced as they progress – I assume. (Its 2021 and I’m not aware that any others in this series were released.)
This one opens with a very short interview with Nick where he talks a little about growing up. He says he thinks his father was a biker but he’s not sure because, sadly, he left the family when Nick was 4 years old. His first experience of riding involved, he says, a brick wall. After hearing about his Dakar credentials (impressive), and that Touratech UK is a family business (also impressive), we then move onto ‘lesson one’. What I really like about this DVD, as an unconfident absolute hesitant beginner (and who still feels a bit like a beginner after 15 years of riding), is that he starts where I am. He speaks to my fear! By acknowledging that its possible to feel intimidated by the bulk of heavy adventure bikes even when just trying to park them or get on and off, he bridges a huge gulf. At the outset he shows you the simplest work with the bike, getting it on and off the centre stand, finding the bike’s balance point and moving around it holding it with one hand or one finger and then getting on and off it with the stands up and the bike just on its balance point. Also he shows how to push the bike along in gear while walking beside it. Of all the foundational techniques he demonstrates, I’ve found these really amazing for getting confidence with a bulky bike. At one point the bike crashes onto the floor – a great opportunity to demonstrate how to pick it up.
From then on the techniques get progressively more difficult, as you would expect, but I like the way he includes dealing with difficulties, so he acknowledges that things might not go smoothly and that the effect is that you can get more tired and stressed than you need on an already tiring ride. For example he shows that if you stall the bike climbing a steep hill, you need do absolutely nothing. The bike will simply stop and won’t roll back down because the engine has stopped. He shows you how to recover from this position.
The DVD is split into short sections covering particular skills and techniques. His style is engaging. There is no swagger and everything is shown very carefully, usually repeated in slow motion or from another angle. The DVD isn’t highly scripted but Nick is obviously really keen to communicate what he knows. He uses a number of nice new adventure bikes including a Ducati Multistrada, a Yamaha Super Tenere (the one he drops in the Touratech carpark) alongside a BMW 1200gsa and a couple of others. I wonder who owns them.
I would really recommend spending the reasonable £20 for this DVD, especially for beginners with large adventure bikes. Its available from Touratech here.
Ted Simon is generally credited as starting off the whole adventure motorcycling industry and certainly the making a record of it. Jupiter’s Travels was published in 1979 by Penguin. As it says on the cover, Ted Simon spent four years travelling the world on a Triumph motorcycle. He was a journalist employed and supported on the trip by the Sunday Times newspaper. He left London on 6th October 1973 for what turned out to be a journey of 63,000 miles. This was the same day, he notes, that the Yom Kippur war started, inauspicious but signalling the way his journey and the book criss-crosses with world politics of the period. Ted Simon writes with interest and insight into the cultures and lives that he comes across and becomes involved in across Europe, Africa, the Americas, Australia and Asia. He is politically and personally astute and inquiring. He also writes movingly about the inner life. Its my opinion that though very many books have subsequently been written about this kind of world-encompassing adventure, no one has come near to Ted Simon’s account.
The group of people who have become known as adventure riders come in many orientations I now realise. There is a spectrum from the athletes at one end who’s ride is all about endurance and technical matters to do with the bike and its preparation and at the other end are travel writers, people endlessly curious about the world, its culture and its people who have chosen to ride a motorcycle, maybe because it gives a unique access coupled with vulnerability and openness to people. There are some riders who are somewhere in the middle of course. There are some who seem more focussed on the non-human (landscapes, vistas, wild animals) than human culture.
Ted has written a number of books since this, Riding Home (or Riding High as it is sometimes called) includes further reflections on the same journey. But he has written about other travels, notably his ‘re-run’ of the original trip done 28 years later, starting in 2001 when Ted was 69. All the details can be found on his website and its possible to order his books and video from there too.
Ted turned 90 years old earlier this year. I like him because he makes me feel young.