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.
In August 2017 German maker of coveted motorcycle products, Touratech, announced it had gone into insolvency. The official reason was a problem when opening its new €10M factory and warehouse in Niedereschach, close to its existing premises that left it unable to satisfy demand and eventually unable to pay its creditors. But coupled with this bad news was the reassurance that a new owner would be found as indeed it was. The motorcycle travel community around the world breathed a collective sigh of relief.
But parallel to this story was the news, not quite so well-publicised, that its founder and its global face, Herbert Schwartz had been ousted from the company that he had founded, by its other directors. On April 1st 2018 Herbert posted a Youtube video of an English translation of an interview he carried out for a German travel magazine in which his anger and sense of betrayal about the whole affair is raw. The interviewer seems uncomfortable with getting to the point of asking about the bust up in the company. He does though, eventually, emphasise that Touratech and Herbert and wife Ramona Schwartz were synonymous and the public face of the company. Herbert explains that a software fault halted production and that they had over-diversified with a huge amount of products that no one wanted to buy. The board had conflicting views about how to proceed and he said this problem ‘pulled down the company’. He talks about having a personal liability for a huge debt. At the end of December 2017 it became apparent that Herbert had left because his email address had changed, says the interviewer. The new investor that came forward and saved the company did not want to continue working with Herbert so his contract was terminated. He tells how the administrator said that they did not need him any more ‘please hand over your keys and your phone and do not show up at the Christmas party’. His ‘baby’ of over thirty years has been taken from him, he says. ‘They could take my company from me but not my authenticity…’ The interviewer asks about any new projects and Herbert hints that he has something in mind and drops a few grandiose ideas but since then, three years later, nothing has emerged. Surprisingly, for such a prominent figure in motorcycle travel, the video has been little watched with just over 1000 views to date and just 14 likes.
In 2006 Herbert had met the woman, Ramona, who later became his wife and the two had two children quite quickly as he says in the interview. There must be tens of thousands of photographs of the two of them, and sometimes with their small children, dressed in Touratech garb and travelling the world. The catalogue from 2017-8 is full of them. But it was clear from Herbert and Ramona’s Facebook pages, soon after the company’s split that the two had also gone their separate ways. So 2018 was not a great year for them.
My motivation to write this has been a puzzlement that there is so little out there on any of this. Strange that a couple whose faces have launched a thousand motorcycle trips can just disappear from prominence with so little apparent interest. Also unknown is why the board and the new investor wanted rid of Herbert knowing that he was such a key figure for the company. I can only guess that he was difficult to work with, maybe never there to take responsibility, maybe with unrealistic ideas that had exasperated the others over the years. Perhaps we’ll never know.
My program of modifications to the bike is moving along rather slowly. I finally found the time at the weekend to complete the tricky install of the KTM heated grips and the new handguards – above.
I chose to buy heated grips made by KTM in spite of some other brands – Oxford – getting probably more glowing reviews because the ‘own brand’ seemed easier to fit. No scraping off the glue from the old grips and sticking the new ones on before the glue sets hard. This is a straight swap of the unheated pair – pretty straightforward. Working out how the small wiring parts are orientated inside the throttle mechanism was a little tricky but connecting to power was much more difficult. I thought that connecting to the auxiliary power leads hidden deep in the headlight body would be easier that trying to thread through some cables between the fuel tank and the top of the battery to the PDM60 I have installed under the seat. (one day at some point in the optimistic future I will remove the fuel tank and seat all these wires properly.) I have taken the headlight out before to fix up the GPS bracket and power – that I threaded through in the way I just described. For the life of me I just could not remember how to do it nor could I remember where I got the instructions from before. I felt completely blocked. Eventually I found the first few minutes of a vid from Rotweiler on fitting the RebelX rally conversion. This brought enough back to get going and I got as far as I had last time. But I realised that to hide the two large white not obviously water-proof plastic connectors and connect the two leads I would need to go further and take off the side of the headlight body. There are two Torx bolts – top and bottom on each side of this body. For the first time since working on the bike I came across a bolt that I could not undo – that broke my torx tool and then other tools just clicked inside the head of the screw without budging it. Time to stop before I wreck the head completely. I plan to ask the dealer to loosen it when they fit cruise control in a couple of weeks. (48 hours of WD40 later I have managed to get it moving – I am so happy!) Without undoing this, it (won’t) woudln’t have been possible to fit the new rally conversion that I plan to. In fact I wouldn’t have been able to continue with this job.
Back to Plan A making a connection to the PDM60 – and strangely once I had calmed down threading two more wires through the small invisible space behind the battery was easy and a trip out to Halfords to buy some spade connectors later and it was connected. I even managed to make some decent protection with some harnessing tape so all works and looks ok too. But it was a roller coaster of extreme focus and frustration getting it done. Looking back plan A was preferable all along. I have realised that all those who post up those helpful installation videos on YouTube must, of course, have filmed the second time (at least) that they complete the install. The first time, unless you are extremely lucky, would be full of hesitations, back-tracking mistakes and heading out to the shop for the part or tool that you don’t have.
The Barkbusters were delivered into my hands while I was working on this in the open garage. They looked great (and are made in Australia) – extremely solid but they tested my 3D imagination to work out which bits were right and which were left-handed and how the whole thing fitted. Again, walking away and then coming back a few hours later, things dropped into place nicely.
Coffee (it is tasting better each time I make it) and a bar of Lidl chocolate for breakfast. The weather is overcast but with some brightness. I’m packed up just waiting for my groundsheet to dry, hung in a tree branch and then will start the 3 and 1/2 hour ride down the A1 to Cambridge….
I’ve written this before but for me the A1 feels like a real road with a history going back a few centuries, with its coaching stops – Stamford is the one that comes to mind, and I am sure that sections of it have a Roman origin – they are so straight. The M1, on the other hand – and I mention it because a choice of how to travel from the north to London often presents itself – was developed in the late 1950s in an already industrialised country and needed to have no design features rooted in biology (perhaps apart from the service station toilets). The towns and stops on the old roads were spaced out by how far a team of horses pulling a coach could gallop in a day.
This felt like a long ride for some reason, longer than the miles (185 miles and 3 and 1/2 hours) would suggest. On my first stop for petrol after less than an hour, I was tempted by the Greggs counter serving pizza placed next to the cashier so munched half of it by the petrol pumps before getting back on the bike. It was delicious. Stretches of riding were exhausting I think due to massive wind noise – not from any defect of the windscreen (I hope), and cold – never quite cold enough to stop and get into more clothes though I should have – also heavy traffic and large trucks (there’s meant to be a shortage of HGV drivers at the moment) so that when I saw the sign for some welcome services north of Grantham I braked sharply to pull in and stop (another Greggs). My hearing was frazzled once inside the service station with voices bouncing off the walls and ceiling. It was distressing and something I hadn’t experienced before.
The trip as a whole and the ride down have made clear some areas for improving the comfort of this bike. And discomfort for sure is unsafe as your attention goes more and more toward some pain, or other distraction.
Heated grips – a cheap intervention which would help, I realise, even in summer. Oxford make good ones. (KTM’s look as thought they would be much easier to fit.)
Cruise control – not cheap and needs to be a dealer job. My right arm and shoulder were painful and I sometimes waited till there was no traffic behind and did some arm twisting exercises, slowing down rather rapidly. This is a real definite. I did not use it that much on the Beamer but I think there is scope for it.
New Bluetooth headset – one built for the nexx helmet I use which has built in indents for it.
Lighter disk lock and lighter compressor – I left both these items in Cambridge rather than carry them down. They are both heavy. The Cycle Pump US made compressor is really hard core but I think for something I’ve never ever used on a trip, something smaller and lighter may well be sufficient. There seem to be options.
An earring that doesn’t catch the helmet every time I stop and remove it – every trip I take my ear ends up red and sore.
Other bike mods:
Lower pegs – may increase comfort a little
Rally front – maybe better wind protection but really for the style improvement
Hand guards (Barkbusters) – same as above. Not expensive.
I’m not sure about a seat. This seems an impossible thing to successfully shop for because you would need to try a new seat for a day to see if it really was more comfortable – and they are not cheap.
Final thoughts about this trip
This is the second year running that I have deferred a planned – and partly paid for – trip to Spain and stayed in England. People say how beautiful and under-appreciated our country is – and it is true, I enjoyed some amazing rides and scenery. But there is something undeniably exotic about spending a night or two on the open seas and riding off into a new climate, new landscape and an unfamiliar language, unsure exactly how things work, even simple things. Added to that, once you are off our little island into Europe the land stretches all the way to Magadan without interruption – only borders to negotiate. Apart from Baxby manor, the campsites I chose, though mercifully free of white mobile homes, were OK but a bit bleak, in that typical English (and definitely Scottish) way once the weather is damp. I plan to book my Brittany ferry to Spain before too long and hope that by summer 2022 there will be few Covid-19 restrictions.
The bike has been good though I have not even pointed it off road which is meant to be its strength. I really need to put that right – somehow.
There is one thing that makes Lone Rider by Elspeth Beard an unusual travel book – it was written, or at least published, more than 30 years after Elspeth returned from the travel described. And, now that I think about it, there is another thing that makes it unusual, though by no means unique – it is written by and about the travels of a woman. And you are reading this review, and I am writing it, because we are interested in travel by motorcycle, and this particular journey took the rider around the globe – quite an achievement.
Elspeth left London in 1982 for a journey, in a Westerly direction, around the world. (Most UK based adventurers head off east nowadays). She was 23. Unlike many other motorcycle travel writers she gives a detailed back-story to her growing involvement with motorcycles, her faltering architecture studies, her family, and her love life. In a nutshell most people, including the narrow minded and sexist motorcycle press at the time did not believe she could do it or were simply uninterested. I hope it is not unkind to describe her family as eccentric, in that classic English eccentricity. She writes about her psychiatrist father’s eye for a bargain – one example is the hundreds of tins of canned food from which the labels unfortunately parted company, causing family suppers, as she says, to be rather pot-luck affairs. They lived in Wimpole Street in the west end of London – unimaginable that a family would live on that opulent street of private medical practice and corporations today.
I can’t help myself compare every motorcycle travel book I read to Ted Simon’s iconic Jupiter’s Travels which was first published (unbelievably) in 1979. Ted is considered, interested and engaged in the places and with the people that he meets and their politics large and small and also writes with insight about the inner life. A tall order to match. Lone Rider, fascinating though it is, started off feeling like a series of anecdotes stitched together. But quickly, alongside the enjoyment of reading about motorcycling, came another not so easy theme that recurred throughout the book and most of the travels – what today we’d call sexual harassment by men in practically every continent, some more persistent than others, and all distasteful and scary to hear about. Another well-known woman motorcyclist Lois Pryce also writes about this but I’d say generally got off lightly compared with Elspeth Beard, as far as we can tell from her books (maybe what writers chose to include and what to be silent about varies).
Elspeth also writes with honesty. She writes about the series of must-see destinations that turn out to be disappointments or spoiled by the behaviour of locals. In fact there are quite a few countries that she has actively put me off ever visiting. Then, early on in the journey, in a hostel in New Zealand, she describes going to bed with what she believes is bad indigestion and waking up in hospital having had a miscarriage. So, if these are anecdotes, they have an awe-inspiring seriousness. Later, in Asia, after two serious road accidents, she teams up with a Dutch man and a romance develops, though the man in question turns out to have what, again, we might call today, fragile mental health. At the same time and, it seems, all the way from India across many countries, her trusty BMW R60/6 is disintegrating, continually breaking down and fixed up more and more precariously. It seems unbelievable that she – and it – made it home to London, arriving outside her parents’ house in the middle of the night in November 1984. Any further details would risk spoiling the, I have to say, rather sad and moving post script to the travel.
Do I recommend this book? Unreservedly. Why did the author wait 30 years to publish this? I have no idea. I expect she has been asked this many times as she is a regular speaker at motorcycle travel – ‘adventure’ – events. Perhaps to lay some ghosts.
This book by Ted Simon, and the journey that it describes, fits chronologically between his well-known account of his ground-breaking motorcycle voyage around the world and the repeat of that journey that he started as he was turning 70 years old. Here, Ted has left his motorcycle parked at home (when he lived in California) and set off on a 1500 mile walk (he takes some trains and busses too) through Germany, Poland and Ukraine to Romania where his father and his father’s family came from. The subtitle makes it clear that he is searching for traces, both physical and in his own imagination, of his father. His father, a sometimes orthodox jew who migrated to London in the 1930s, left his mother, and Ted, when Ted was 8 and had died many years before this journey.
The book, for me, started off badly – but I have to say it improved till by the end it was Ted at his profound and moving best. It’s Ted’s feet that disturbed me, though his sketchy account of his tense three’s-a-crowd type relationship with fellow travellers Manfred and partner (of the long-suffering kind) Ginny was not comfortable reading either. First the feet. Ted writes that he was hoping that his body, which he acknowledges was no longer in the flush of youth, would rise to the challenge of a thousand miles of walking but instead during the first morning’s travels his feet became excruciatingly painful and continued to cause distraction and trouble for many weeks. I share the hope that my body will also rise to any new challenge I present it so the news that this may well be vanity was not something I wanted to hear. Especially at the beginning of a story. Second, and this will be the last criticism, the unconsidered plan of heading off on this voyage of personal discovery with your partner and best mate, who do not get on with each other, fell apart. First Manfred stormed off and then Ted appears to unceremoniously send his parter away so that he can savour the journey alone. And suddenly she is gone from the narrative. Romantic relationships do not seem to be Ted’s priority. That’s plain from the way that women in his earlier books have only a shadowy and often negative presence. But his honesty about both has to be appreciated and makes a good foundation for the rest of the story. In fact, he makes it plain that he has not grown up with a model of a sustained loving relationship.
Travelling at a few miles per hour instead of 40 or 50 or more slows down his interactions with people and atmospheres and slows down his writing in an illuminating way. He sets out his modus operandi for travelling quite plainly. In a new and unfamiliar place Ted selects someone and throws himself on their hopeful cooperation. This takes an openness and not a little courage. He always hopes for the best from people and this openness, that we saw in Jupiter’s Travels, nearly always pays off and the exchanges, relationships, experiences and often deep insights into people’s lives is at the heart of travelling for Ted Simon. (Some motorcycle travel writers seem more interested in simply how many miles they can cover.) He describes many times how total strangers take him into their homes, though they are usually extremely poor and pressed for space and resources, and show him hospitality. It is very moving. And Ted is both curious and generous in his views and his descriptions of those who have taken him in. At one point he says that part of his travelling philosophy is never to spend his way out of trouble.
One of the funniest aspects of the book is Ted’s accounts of encounters with individuals where there is virtually no common language. He describes how he has to guess at what is being said and meant and often this is to do with vital instructions about how to travel or how to navigate some important piece of bureaucracy. He describes, for example, his long conversations with railway workers in a signal box in Ukraine as forming great bonds of closeness without any actual meaningful communication. He understands a sense of being wished well by strangers.
In the background to this journey is the unfolding horrors of war in the former Yugoslavia and Ted is clearly very disturbed by this barbarity in the heart of Europe. His thoughts about it pop up from place to place and are rather unedited, often a little incoherent which probably reflects the situation itself, or rather the impossibility of responding rationally to its horror. The journey was taken in the early to mid 1990s at a time when the fall of Soviet Communism was recent and the countries of the former Soviet block were plunged into the worst of economic states. I kept wondering whether things are still so tough in these countries now, twenty five or so years later.
Of course, at the heart of the book is Ted’s inner journey (as it is in all his books) and in this case it takes the form of his reflections on his early life in post-war Britain and his jewish heritage and identity. He recounts scenes from his boyhood, his few memories of his father, and speculates on where his father came from in terms of his religious background and practices. He searches out jewish communities across Romania for traces of him and in fact finds mention of him in one small town’s records.
The gypsies in the title refer to Ted’s thoughts about the gypsies he sees in Romania and one particular instance on a train platform. He understands them as uninhibited, unrepressed and free individuals in contrast to the burdened souls of both his jewish father and Lutheran mother. He wishes he could be a bit more gypsy and a bit less jewish/Lutheran I think. Personally I’m not sure I found this ‘othering’ of the gypsies convincing but I can see that it is a genuine response and a way to take thinking about family, destiny and identity forward.
If you are a fan of Ted Simon and have read his accounts of motorcycle travel, and are perhaps wondering whether to read this more pedestrian story, I would recommend it. The voice, of course, is recognisably Ted’s and its a rewarding and enjoyable read, highly moving in parts and usually highly insightful.