LiteLock bike lock

Finally, after supporting this on Kickstarter in the middle of last year, this innovative lock for my motorcycle has been delivered. As the project got more and more delayed, communication from the company was not that brilliant with very irregular updates and assurances to those who had invested in the development of the lock. I ordered the longer version to make attaching my bike to some fixed object. It is surprisingly not light and too large to fit into the bag that came with it. I was expecting it would be useful to bring along when travelling but I think it will be too big and heavy to take on trips though fine for home security and for short trips. Here it is:

Nice colour though
It doesn’t curl up much smaller than this

The Road Gets Better from Here: A Novice Rides Solo From the Ring of Fire to the Cradle of Civilisation (Perfect Paperback) by Adrian Scott 2008

Available from Abe Books here.

This is probably the best motorcycle travel book I have read. It manages this impressive feat in a number of ways. First, the story it tells is one of incredible toughness – both physical and mental on the part of the author – in the face of a bad accident on day one of the trip. The worst start any biking traveller could imagine. Less than ten pages in and the narrator is sitting by the side of a remote road eating a mess of his mangled food, mixed with gravel, nursing a broken ankle on the easternmost tip of Russia.

What follows is three months of usually gruelling riding. Also moving is the sense of humanity we get at just about every turn of the journey. Scott is taken in by incredibly generous and hospitable folk throughout, people who have unimaginably tough lives, living on very little by Western standards, with almost unbearable occupations, but who share what they have with him – and with real pride and nobility (usually).

Adrian Scott’s writing is impeccable. He must have spent hours each day with his notebooks. He describes, for example, the nuances of changes in facial structure of the people he meets as he journeys westward across Asia. His accounts of architecture, particularly of his extended stay in Samarkand, are vivid and detailed. He is a traveller who has done extensive research before he left (or maybe he added it afterwards – I doubt it somehow) and his book gives us detailed but readable political and social histories of many of the newly independent countries he visits. He also seems to have taken the trouble to learn Russian in preparation. His intelligent but deeply-felt engagement with the cultures and individuals he comes across puts this writing in a different class to some other authors who seem to have gathered a few superficial impressions more for merchandising reasons than to do justice to where they have been.

But the book has some oddities. First, we are told nothing about the traveller/writer. Even by the end of the story, we don’t know why he undertook his journey, what he did before he left – was he a journalist, an academic, a traveller – or how he got home? We are given absolutely no information apart from the fact that he is unnaturally tall. (As evidence of this, a small cover photo appears to show his head wedged against a ceiling somewhere.) And for the biker reader, he assiduously avoids telling us the model or make of his bike though we get plenty of fascinating detail about his relationship with his much patched together vehicle. From one of the photographs you can make out it’s a Kawasaki. And the photographs, as well as the map of the journey (the Silk Road plus) are very low quality, though strangely this adds to the believability of his story. They are often very moving, showing people in pretty grim circumstances.

So what did he do next? I have no idea. Web searches turn up nothing and the book doesn’t seem to have nurtured a cult following though in my mind it deserves to, no less than Ted Simon’s first book (OK, Ted did it thirty years before). In fact this possibly cheaply produced book (it could have done with some editing – its full of typos) is refreshingly free of celebrity endorsements. For anyone interested in travelling, biking or Asia, this is an absolute must read.

Review TCX Drifter boots

I bought these from what is quickly becoming my favourite supplier of motorcycle goods, Sportsbikeshop and I’ve worn them on one two hour in-the-rain trip to Suffolk.

Sizing: reviewers are advising prospective purchasers to go for their usual shoe size when buying, unlike Alpine Stars for instance where you really have to buy one size up. So, I went for Euro size 45. In the house these were certainly not sloppy. My left toe (half a size bigger than the right) was pretty snug against the toecap – but comfortable. I’d describe the fit as rather narrow or you might consider it a supportive design especially around the ankles (more on ankles later).

Buckles: there are three buckles that, once you’ve worked out which way the clasps move, and adjusted the length, are surprisingly smooth to use. Along with a small area of velcro near the top, they give a very secure feeling. I see they are replaceable but I’m not sure of the material.

Comfort: like most pairs of new shoes, I think there is a brief honeymoon where you are astonished that they do not hurt or dig in. During this time they feel super comfortable. But then, somehow, you start to notice the pressure in unpredictable places. So after nearly two hours of riding and some walking comfort, these boots suddenly became exquisitely painful mainly around my ankles where it felt like some of the protection had decided to make its presence felt. This led to some desperate leg manoeuvres on the bike as I got nearer to my increasingly longed for destination. I am hoping that this will pass. It might be that I had crammed, successfully I thought, my leather trousers into these boots.

Looks: maybe this should have come first. I think they look great. A year or so back I would never imaging wearing brown suede motorcycle boots but these have changed my mind. See this web page for some beautiful product shots of these boots.

Build quality: these are very rugged. Everything is double stitched and the protection feels strong. I can see that they are not as tank-like as my Alpine Starts old Tech 3s but they are an improvement on my disintegrating Spada cheap boots which I bought these to replace as those head into the bin. They are made in Romania which is refreshing when everything seems to have been made in China.

Waterproofness: during my 100 mile plus rides the heavens opened. I did not notice my feet being wet or cold so I presume their waterproofness, aided by a part elastic top, is pretty effective.

Overall: I will be very happy if the pain I felt after a day’s riding eases off. This kind of pain that only sets in after a couple of hours of riding is a killer. It adds to fatigue and just makes you want to stop riding. My otherwise lovely leather trousers from Hideout Leather are the same. After a while the armour on the left knee becomes really uncomfortable and distracting. I have some good quality textile trousers on my shopping list and these might solve both problems.

return journey via A1120 – the tourist route

Reviewing Mosko Moto Nomax Tank Bag

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.

Review BMW Sertão

The only chance I get to ride bikes other than my own is when I have a service and SBW Motorrad lend me one of their fleet of newer, nicer, shinier Beemers. Yesterday I was given an G 650 GS Sertao for most of the day. Probably because I don’t get out enough on bikes, this little beauty was disorientating to ride off from the showroom and I hope no one watched as I paddled off high revving and unsure what to do next. Its small and shorter than my 1200GS, of course (though the seat height is similar). It also has ‘normal’ indicators which seemed surprisingly natural – its what I learned on after all. Even with ‘ordinary’ rather than my usual huge enduro boots there is very little space between footrest and gear changer. Eventually I used the side of my boot to shift. But this added to the fact that first gear is very low (great for hill climbing I suppose) meant that starting off – from lights, roundabouts etc. is awkward. Once, however, you manage to get up into second things start to change and this little one cylinder motor puts on speed surprisingly quickly and with a satisfying thumping kind of tune. Talking of thumping, the bike also exhibits a number of different vibrations. There’s one through the handlebars and another via the seat which, if you happen to need a pee, adds a touch of urgency. Once you get up to speed (60 is comfortable – 80 is entirely possible and quite fun), you notice how good the wind and weather protection on the 1200gs Adventure with its huge screen is. Within a few minutes I was freezing on this bright November morning riding north on the A10 toward Cambridge. Then the fuel warning light comes on – there appears to be no fuel gauge – I stopped in a layby looking for one. What’s a welcome change from the bike’s beefy big brother (or sister) is that, once you are off it, it is so easy to push around – at the petrol station for example or nearly into my front garden but the gap in the wall is just not quite big enough.

On the way back to Hertford I took the twisty route through Fowlmere, crossing the A505 then headed for Braughing. Unfortunately it was already getting dark, but the Sertao was fun, great through corners and nice and bouncy even on tarmac.

What I liked: easy to handle, accelerates surprisingly well after you get used to the gearshift and looks absolutely beautiful.

What I didn’t like: useless wind protection, vibey, awkwardly placed gearshift (maybe this can be adjusted), very low first gear (probably fine for offf-roading which I didn’t do).

I couldn’t resist taking some pictures:

 BMW Sertao

BMW Sertao

BMW Sertao in exotic landscape

BMW Sertao