October 11, 2000 GMT

Get cut up on the autostrada by a hearse at 120kph. These roads make me appreciate how well Britain regards safety. Green for go, explains my Italian friend, red for stop—if you want—and flashing amber for whatever.

I keep dropping the bike. Each time a bit more of my number plate cracks off. None of the international borders has been a problem, but my luck won’t hold forever. I have only three digits left. I go to a print shop. When the guy hears the problem he drops what he is doing and puts a new one together in a couple of hours. A handmade number plate from Rome: my first custom part. Illegal, but mine was broken wasn’t it?

My first breakdown. The bike not me. Somewhere after Napoli the bike begins to make strange noises from under the seat, like it’s trying to start all the time, even though the motor is running. I get to the service station and find the mechanic. He does his best, but it’s a motorbike. He does cars. At this point back home the guy would point to the yellow pages and go back to his achieving his bosses’ targets. Not here. He starts the bike, opens up the back door (illegally letting me off the toll road) and gets a mate to guide me to the local bike shop. Not before arranging to pick me up later to organise a hotel.

The bike mechanic—‘el pirato’—soon sees the problem. The starter motor has packed in—maybe something to do with the acid that has been pouring out of the battery. Knew I should have learnt how to fill it. Apparently just leaving it for several weeks across Europe while high-speed driving in Summer temperatures has the effect of losing water. And this is a bad thing. Now I know.

As well as a free ride to the hotel and negotiation in Italian for a discount, the mechanic picks me up in the morning and takes me back to the bike. El pirato takes a starter motor off a brand new Transalp sitting in his showroom and puts it in mine. The cost is about forty quid. This is crazy. This should take a week, cost a minor limb and involve experts sucking teeth while shaking heads over folded arms. Instead I am back on the road in under 24 hours. What is it about motorcycles? People seem to realise that travelling on them is a kind of higher calling.

I realise that setting off across the world on a motorcycle I will have to rely on others’ help a great deal. So far so good. That freedom thing people write about is kicking in. All the world seems before me. Arsenal are playing in Prague tomorrow evening. I could go. I won’t. I don’t like arsenal. But to be able to. There’s the thing.

Posted by at October 11, 2000 10:52 PM GMT

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