My first motorcycle trip – 2008 four nights in Germany

Monday 28th July 2008 Day 0 Cambridge to Harwich: Mileage on day 1: 68.7

A trace of the whole trip (plus some stray routes in the UK)
Just about to leave

After months of planning I finally sail from Harwich tonight over to the Hook of Holland and then the rest of the week biking in Germany around the Mosel area. I have spare lightbulbs, bandages and a folded triangle that sticks out the back of my luggage. Accommodation is booked and the daily rides are not ambitious – the first day is about 350k though and rain is forecast for tomorrow. I also have a Garmin GPS which I tried out on holiday in Spain last week and I have learnt that it can really help in situations where you are totally lost – though it did give a few odd directions, like the wrong way down a one way street. So baring breakdowns (I have Cover) and accidents things should go well. With a good book – Austerlitz by Sebald (in English) which I have lost – and a pack of Camel, this should be enjoyable.

At the last moment I bought a rain suit from Cambridge Motorcycles as a talisman that might stop it raining while I carry this around. Surprisingly it fits, rolled up, into the minimalist luggage I own. I leave the house at about 6.30pm and already my GPS is trying to send me on some bizarre route out of Cambridge and I ignore it for the first time on the holiday. I am headed for the 11.45pm ferry at Harwich. I have my trusty new Triumph tank bag and, strapped onto the passenger seat, my old two-story tank bag with my clothes, spare bulbs, padlock in case I ever want to leave my helmet with the bike and even the hazard triangle it seems you are meant to carry in Europe squeezed into it. I have a pair of Crocs and some food and water as well as documents in the front.

I started planning this short trip months ago. The first challenge was buying a bike that would not be a strain to ride at speed all day. Even driving down to London on the M11 and back on my old Bandit 600 left me with painful wrists as I tried to hold on against the raging Essex wind. After four months of investigating and looking on Ebay I bought this Triumph Sprint ST 955i with 3000 miles on the clock. Luggage was more challenging – or rather more expensive than I could afford, so hard luggage will have to wait. Instead I invested in a Garmin GPS as I realised without someone with a map on their lap in the passenger seat next to me, finding anywhere would involve endless stops by the curb and a huge amount of wasted time.

The ride takes me out of Cambridge over the Gog Magog hills, via Haverhill, where I fill up with £15 of petrol, and beautiful winding country roads down to the A12 at Colchester then on to Harwich to catch the Stenna ferry to the Hook of Holland. It’s a beautiful sunny evening and still light when I arrive at Harwich to check in behind a German couple on an old BMW.

We chat later about their holiday in the UK. I also talk to another couple who live in Amsterdam on an older Honda with 16000 miles. He’s American and she is an English concert pianist. Also friendly is a Dutchman on a bright red Honda CBR who though young is a veteran of channel crossings as I find out later. He says he has ridden more miles on the left side of the road than the right. Three other young guys arrive on brand new but miniscule 125s and are photographed presumably it’s a jaunt for some biking magazine. I try to get in the background.

Eventually, after waiting for 72 cyclists, we are beckoned to drive up the spiral ramp and on to the boat. The Dutchman has taken his bike on this ferry many times and has his own equipment for lashing it down. I am completely hopeless at it and can’t even work the ratchet on the ties, so I get generous amounts of help and advice on this i.e. tie the bike down by its handle bars being careful not to damage any of the cables. If the handlers insist on tying the bike down over its seat, trap your gloves under the tie first to avoid damaging the seat.

I can’t believe that this is the same ferry that I was sick on every summer as a boy going to Germany for our family holidays. You barely realise that you are on something moving at all so vast and smooth is this vessel.