September 14, 2009 GMT
Last Entry in this category, 'UK Preparation'.
The day of departure has arrived after living in oily overalls for what seems like a couple of years. Probably it has been a couple of years.
Preparation is done, luggage is loaded, trial runs undertaken.
Final configuration is here:
The last run round the block yesterday.
Today we start tentatively. Very tentatively. A toe-in-the-water trip to Calais for our first overnight stop.
Plenty of time - minimum stress - not far to ride.
Dover here we come!
So, a rundown of the final week with thanks to all who made it a great send-off.
To all at the family fairwell and trip conference on Monday.
A London event on Tuesday by the Scott Polar Research Institute made a nice break from all the oily rags.
Thanks for all the good wishes on Wednesday at one of the biggest reunion clubs going, The TV Network Club.
A couple of beers with old-time Wimbledon Club members on Thursday, who I think gave a vote of approval for my bike's preparation.
And a brilliant breakfast send-off on Friday by the Crystal Palace Early-morning swimmers, complete with a very slick and appropriate music and visuals accompaniment.
After five days of that, and no work to speak of, this last manic weekend in the garage was a weekend not to remember. Spanners spun and flashed, oil gushed and panic reigned.
Now we hope all is calm On The Road (again).
Posted by Ken Thomas at 08:47 AM
September 02, 2009 GMT
Give Me My Eleven Days Back!
What I omitted to say, when deciding on the 14th September to start this trip, is that my calendar is a little bit second-hand - Ancient even.
Here's the page for September:
Yes, it's for 1752, but I did say it was old and has been recycled a lot.
Today's the Second, so tomorrow's the Fourteenth and we depart on the great adventure.
Hope everyone is ready.
It's lucky that my modern hi-tech pocket diary thingy reminded me to check my old calendar, and also reminded me that in England, in 1752, the Julian Calendar was replaced by the modern Gregorian Calendar, and 14th September came right after 2nd September.
Riots ensued in London and rowdy mobs demanded, "Give us our eleven days back!" outside the King's residence.
So if, on the Dover Calais ferry tomorrow, you hear "Give Me My Eleven Days Back!" echoing up and down the decks, then please buy me a beer.
Hogarth's painting of a protester on the Dover ferry, 14th September 1752, with his placard inscribed "Give us our Eleven Days."
Posted by Ken Thomas at 01:08 PM
August 17, 2009 GMT
Biting The Bullet
Went to the dentist the other day. Was due a checkup anyway, but common advice is to have your teeth checked before a long trip to far-away places.
The man with the big drill and pliers persuaded me to have the remains of a tooth removed. A large piece had broken off of it about 8 years ago.
“A direct off-road route for bacteria straight into your jaw!” he said.
So he wriggled and jiggled with his pliers, surprisingly gently, and announced, “All done!”
Unbeknownst to either him or me, the tooth had broken into three pieces. The bit remaining in my jaw was split in two all the way to the base, so came out easily.
Wonder how that happened?
Anyway, his conclusion was that any passing bacteria had had a full-blown dual-carriageway route into my jaw, so removal was a job well done.
So, it was just as well that I had bitten the bullet a few days earlier, and decided to rip the gearbox out of my TTR. Barely six weeks before departure. As I rose from the torture chair I surveyed my dentist’s operating area, and tools area, so that I could clean and arrange my garage similarly before starting this most major of motorbike heart surgery.
I had been agonising for almost a year over the tiny, but relentless, increase in gearbox whine. Was it really getting louder or was I paranoid? I hovered between the two. My old Serow had a gearbox whine, but it was constant and went on for thousands of miles, between the Artic Circle, home, and the south of Spain. Never giving trouble.
My old Ducati 900SS Desmo also had a whining gearbox, slightly more sinister-sounding, so years ago I whipped it out and replaced the top gear pinions. I never took too much notice of those Ducatisti who insisted that only a Trained Mechanic could work on those engines. Especially, after having had Trained Mechanics work on my Ducati during its warranty period, I arrived at Brands Hatch one day (after a service in the Hands of a Trained Mechanic) to find half the oil merrily pumping out of the oil-cooler union, which said Trained Mechanic had failed to tighten.
The gearbox job on my Ducati was successful, even in my archetypal back-street garage with no electricity, and the repaired machine carried two of us to Istanbul and back in double-quick time and many more journeys subsequently, including many (uneventful) laps of the Nurburgring.
So I stopped agonising, tidied and cleaned my garage, removed TTR engine from frame and removed gearbox from engine. All straightforward.
Fifth and sixth gear pinions were well and truly ‘shot’. But more worryingly, the threads on the output shaft, for the sprocket nut, were also ‘shot’. Or flattened, to be precise. Someone must have used a six-foot pole to tighten that nut at some time in history.
Own up now, whoever you are…….
Lots of zeros after the pound sign loomed, but a second-hand bottom-end was for sale from a source that seemed to have a good reputation. And the innards from that, now in my garage, all look OK.
So here we are:
Replacement gearbox shafts on the operating table.
Pages from MotorCycle Monthly spread out to prevent the spread of MRSA.
NHS Hospitals, please note.
And the patient, still on the ward:
Honda Dominator behind keeps the patient company, but confuses the picture.
Yes, this is a TTR with no engine.
The surgical team (me) now only awaits the delivery of oil seals, gaskets and circlips to enable reassembly to commence. So please, Mr Yamaha, if you read this, get your deliveries to Whyteleafe as soon as you can. Tomorrow would be excellent.
Posted by Ken Thomas at 07:23 PM
July 26, 2009 GMT
Isle Of Man Part Two
I’ve had a kind request to reveal the full story of our visit to the Isle of Man International Six Days Trial many many years ago. Which would link in nicely with all the debate on the HUBB about soft luggage v. hard luggage, and the danger of the former bursting into flames if too close to the bike’s exhaust.
Well, it’s not only soft luggage that can have that problem.
You see, a few days after our escapade up to the top of Snaefell mountain, we were poodling about the tracks on our trail bikes somewhere up in the north of the island, where we encountered quite a lot of river crossings.
The Isle of Man is quite a rainy place, all year round, so the rivers are healthily full and fast flowing, witness the number of watermills there. Indeed, the largest working watermill in the world, at Laxey, gathers the huge quantities of water running off of all those bogs up the sides of Snaefell to turn this behemoth at a magnificent speed of three revolutions per minute, originally to pump yet more water out of the old lead and copper mines below.
At the time of our trip to the Isle of Man, simple trail bikes with Villiers engines were not the most waterproof of devices, and magical potions like silicon sealers were completely unknown.
All we had to keep the water out of electrics and engines was……. Plasticine.
And a pretty good job it did – for about two and a half days.
But it was about eight days after re-Plasticine-ing my engine that we were splashing through deeper and deeper rivers. Until, in the middle of a particularly fast-flowing one, I and my Greeves wandered off of the line of the ford, dropped about a foot and a half into the flow and came to the same sort of steamy halt as a few days earlier halfway up Snaefell.
Except the engine stopped dead as well.
Never to fire again until safely back home in south London with new crankcase seals fitted.
The river had fought its way past those Plasticine seals to the electrics, and to the primary drive, and invaded the crankcase seal with fatal results.
Luckily, one of our party, Geoff, had the good sense not to believe in two-strokes and rode a good solid BSA 350cc 4-stroke trials iron. This was, he was confident, capable of towing me and my Greeves up the mountain road over Snaefell and back to our hotel in Douglas.
Except we had no tow-rope. Nor string nor even strong thread. But we did all have Belstaff jackets and trousers which, as everyone knows, come with belts strong enough to tow the Queen Mary.
Graciously, everyone donated theirs to this great cause, for which I am eternally grateful, and we set off up the mountain road at a slow pace, not to put the line of belts under too much strain.
None of us had panniers, so the idea of something burning on an exhaust couldn’t have been further from our minds. And even further from my mind as my exhaust was stone cold.
But halfway up the mountain road I noticed a strange misty smoke coming from Geoff’s BSA, labouring just ahead of me. I assumed it was a spot of oil burning in the engine, not uncommon under load and Geoff’s bike was under considerable load, hauling him, me, and my Greeves up the mountainside.
His brother John saw this from a different angle, being just ahead of me and alongside the tow-rope of Belstaff belts. Suddenly he accelerated ahead to reach Geoff, who stopped, showing immediate concern at something happening on the right hand side of his bike.
Then the flames appeared. Geoff leapt up into an entertaining German thigh-slapping dance and I couldn’t quite tell if he was trying to fan the flames or beat them into submission.
Anyway, his burning trousers were extinguished and cigarettes were lit, and we had an immediate inquest.
No one had a belt on their jacket; and when you don’t have a belt on your jacket, your trousers also get a bit blown about in the wind.
Geoff’s bike was working mightily hard, and the exhaust had reached a mighty high temperature. His Belstaff trousers were made of cotton and wax, just like a candle, and had become stuck to the hot BSA exhaust right by his right leg.
And sadly we had nothing to cook on the resulting flames.
Well, Geoff managed to beat the hell out of that fire and rig something up to keep the remains of his trousers out of danger – but it was not only them that were under strain. We still had some way to go and I don’t remember now how many of the belts broke on that journey, requiring regular stops to knot the broken ends together. I think it was all of them. Whoever said that you could tow the Queen Mary with a Belstaff jacket belt – well – never buy a second-hand motorbike from him!
So, we may have rescued our boots from the bogs of Snaefell, which tried unsuccessfully to suck them off our feet and into oblivion, but we all ended up beltless, and more seriously for one of us, trouserless. For which, again, I am eternally grateful.
So, HOW do you decide what to take on an adventure trip for spares and emergencies??? I’m going to add extra Plasticine to my list.
Posted by Ken Thomas at 05:18 PM
Out, Damn'd Spot!
My memory being like a happily gurgling drain, it's no longer capable of handling this adventure. Toooo many things to remember and to think about.
So I'm employing what might be called the 'Classic Expedition Planning Method'.
Everything that needs to be done or remembered is written on a huge wallboard, all instantly visible without having to turn a page or press a button.
Everything that needs to be taken on voyage is laid out on the floor, all instantly visible without having to rummage through tons of other stuff.
My great idea of having a big box in the hallway and just chucking everything in it that sprung to mind has been a miserable failure.
For instance, I'd realised that I couldn't find the spare handlebar levers - anywhere.
"Are they in the box I wonder?"
After chucking everything out, there they are, right at the bottom!
- Chuck everything back in.
"Hold on, I didn't see the spare spokes in there!"
Chuck everything out again. No, they're not in there.
- Chuck everything back in.
Where are they? Three hours later, there they are, still on the shelf in the garage.
As Mrs Macbeth said, "Out, damn'd Chuck! out, I say!"
So, here's the new 'Voyage Situation Centre':
and the Cape Town Inventory:
Stuff Required On Voyage.
Right now there are 50 days left to departure, and 79 items pending on The Wall. And the bike's in bits - I'm fitting a new starter clutch. So must get on......
Posted by Ken Thomas at 04:27 PM
July 05, 2009 GMT
Good News And Bad News
We’ll have the good news first.
At last, we have a new arrival in our little paddock.
After much searching and viewing and rejecting and searching again, Beau has just chosen and brought home his bike for this great trip.
A nice little TTR250, as planned, that looks ready to take on everything that Europe, Asia and Africa can throw at it.
New and Old Owners engage in a spot of horse-trading, behind the horse.
And the Deal is Done.
So, as of now, we all have transport.
And the bad news:
This means, sadly, that Beau’s attempt to cross the Sahara Desert riding a drum kit is temporarily postponed.
But fear not! One day in the future you’ll read about it here, first………
Now, to allow this new acquisition to be fully prepared for the journey ahead, without me interfering and proving that too many cooks – etc
, I’m disappearing for a break from all this oily workshop stuff. On a little adventure motorcycling trip of my own.
To the glorious beaches of the Baltic coast of Schleswig Holstein:
Riding – not a drum kit – but this:
My faithful old Dominator, ready to go.
I have to go right now, as McCrankpin has just told me that Caroline is about to pinch the box off of it, and Beau has his eyes firmly on the panniers.
See you in a couple of weeks. Photos to follow.
Posted by Ken Thomas at 10:48 AM
July 01, 2009 GMT
The Horizons Unlimited meeting at Ripley the other weekend was a brilliant affair, a chance to do a minor dummy-run on all the equipment and systems.
Firstly the luggage. I wanted to take all that I would be likely to carry on the Africa trip, so I loaded it all up.
I left out a few items, that I hadn’t yet had time to acquire, or sort out the best way to carry. But that didn’t amount to much.
When loading was complete, I had:
- all camping and cooking gear,
- most tools,
- a lot of spares,
- clothes (too many for three and a half days),
- ten litres of water (well, what if there was a drought in Derbyshire??),
- music system (MP3, mini speakers, 12v adapters),
- and quite a bit of unused space.
Then a phone call, from Caroline.
“Could I take my spare tent as well. Caroline and Beau might find it handy if their tent proved to be too small to house all their boots and jackets and helmets and stuff?”
And, “Could I take my old (and large) sleeping bag as well. ‘Cos Beau hasn’t had time to buy his own yet?”
I loaded those onto the bike. But I still had unused space. Maybe I have a Tardis here.
Well, I had run out of time to look around yet again to see what I had forgotten – I must have forgotten something – so I filled the rest of the space with four pint bottles of best Kentish beer and a bottle of English red wine from Brighton, and set off for The North.
And my conclusion is that the TTR’s luggage-carrying set-up is about right. It certainly seemed to be over the Ripley weekend.
And Caroline’s Serow
Secondly, the off-road capabilities of me and the bike. I was looking forward to the off-road ride-outs, a feature of previous HU meetings, but it seemed on the Thursday evening that no local ride-leaders would be attending. And I didn’t know the area nor had any maps, so couldn’t really go out on my own.
But on Friday morning a local hero turned up to lead a ride, and off we went.
It (and he) was the star turn of the weekend. We bounced and jolted and jumped and slithered and slid around the lanes of Matlock and Bakewell. It was the first time I had ever been off-road on the TTR, and the first time on any bike for maybe five years. I left all the luggage-carrying stuff on the bike (box, rear panniers, tank panniers and tank bag), and a few things inside like tools, spares and cooking gear.
And it all went wonderfully well. I surprised myself at some of the terrain we tackled successfully. And even more when, having dropped the lot on some tricky deep ruts, I could pick the whole thing up on my own. So quickly in fact, that I overdid it and the bike sailed right over and fell down into the mud on the other side. So in one little fall I got practice in picking it up from both the left and the right. Not bad.
Little Yammy amongst the Big Bruisers…..
Ah! THERE it is!
So I returned from The North with quite a bit more confidence that this bike and rider may well succeed on the trip south.
Packing up for home
Posted by Ken Thomas at 05:17 PM
June 10, 2009 GMT
"The mode of locomotion should be slow, the slower the better, and be often interrupted by leisurely halts to sit on vantage points and stop at question marks."
Carl Sauer, the president's address to the Association of American Geographers. Montreal, Canada, April 4, 1956.
Very nice quotation that. It seems we should expect plenty of interruptions on our journeys. Ted Simon says that too.
And question marks.
Well, there’s not much adventure-motorcycling going on here at the moment, unless you count in one night’s camping on the south coast in brilliant weather.
So I’ll offer no excuse at all to make some more outrageously rambling observations on question marks raised by the twin subjects of Africa and motorbikes.
Thus, the idea of those leisurely halts to ponder question marks in Africa and the Sahara makes me ask whether it would be useful to join The Sons of the Desert before departure.
What do you think?
Oliver Hardy always seemed to take leisurely halts at question marks as he ambled with Stanley through their memorable pre-war black-and-white film comedies. And in 1933, they were both members. So I wonder if a valid membership card might help with the notoriously bureaucratic land-entry into Egypt, and the journey across the Sahara.
But unfortunately, there is no Sons of the Desert tent in North Africa. The nearest is the Block-Heads Tent in Prato, Tuscany. And our route takes us nowhere near it.
So I don’t think membership would be of much use. Perhaps I’ll take the DVD of Sons of the Desert (Laurel and Hardy, 1933) instead.
Here's another film question-mark I'd like to stop at; it's recently sprung to mind:
I would guess most people reading this have seen that wonderful film, The World's Fastest Indian. It jointly ties with On Any Sunday as Best Biking Film Ever.
Does anyone remember the cigar-smoking character that introduces himself at the salt flats while Burt Munro is having a spot of bother with the scrutineers?
His name is Rollie Free, who was a real life bike rider and speed record holder. He achieved a Land Speed Record on a British Vincent V-twin some years before Burt Munro.
In a rather unique manner.
He made a number of conventional runs, just missing the record by fractions of a mph. So in a moment of eccentric creativity, he stripped off all his clothes, put on swimming trunks and a rubber hat, lay flat on his bike like a plank, and won that Land Speed Record.
As far as I can find out, history doesn't say how the scrutineers handled that one.
There's a pretty famous photo of his run that crops up in motorcycle history books now and again, showing Rollie Free in swimming trunks on his Vincent, building up speed. You can find it here: http://www.myvincent.co.uk/people/rfree.php
So the question I have is, did the director of The World's Fastest Indian intentionally insert a very pertinent statement about our modern times into that scene? The scene where Burt Munro is being terminally harangued by the scrutineers for not having a leather jacket, nor leather trousers, nor parachute, nor boots. Whereupon, at that very moment, along comes Rollie Free who achieved a Land Speed Record of 150mph at the same salt flats wearing just his swimming trunks.
If it wasn’t intentional, it was still a pretty sublime bit of health and safety satire, to be thrown at people who say what a dangerous venture it is to ride around Africa on a motorbike.
And the Sons of the Desert?
For those who don’t know, it’s the name of the world-wide Laurel and Hardy appreciation society. (Don’t call it a fan club).
The local branches around the world are called Tents. There’s not one in Egypt, nor anywhere else in the Sahara.
So I’m tempted to place this question on the HUBB, under ‘Trip Paperwork’, to supplement all those other questions about aiding and easing tricky border-crossings.
Or maybe ‘The HU Bar’ would be more appropriate.
“Would it be helpful to pin my Sons of the Desert membership card into my passport for crossing the Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopian borders, and also when applying for visas for those countries? Has anyone tried this? Did it help or hinder?”
. . . . . . . Another fine mess of a blog posting . . . . . . .
P.S. Not much preparation work happening at the moment. The I.O.M. TT is on the TV!
Posted by Ken Thomas at 02:13 PM
June 03, 2009 GMT
No, I’ve never heard of him, and no relation either.
I was pondering the question of carrying water on the journey in Africa. The ideal method would be a 5-gallon earthenware pitcher supported comfortably on the top of the head, with a large square of colourful ethnic fabric twirled and twisted into a circular pad to cushion it. Such an elegant and traditional way of carrying life’s basic necessity, and used an awful lot in large parts of the world. It would be just fine, except the crash helmet always seems to get in the way.
So I was looking around for what’s available when your head isn’t, and came across the Kriega and Ortleib catalogues.
An Ortleib 10 litre water bag fits neatly into a Kriega US10 tail pack, which in turn fits on the top of my NonFango topbox using the straps that come with the US10, plus a reinforcing strap over the top.
10 litres of water. Don’t yet know if it’ll stay there on an African dirt road.
We’ve just returned from a camping weekend on the south coast trying out this arrangement, just a short trip on tarmac, and it all worked OK.
Anyway, I saw the Kriega Haul Loop
(which is a front grab-handle) on a website and remembered that the Yamaha Serow has always come with a front grab handle as standard, but not the TTR.
I think it’s a pretty useful device. In the Kriega publicity there’s a dramatic illustration of one being used in anger
which brought back memories of a major expedition I undertook in the early 1970s.
This expedition involved the organisation of multiple modes of transport, all needing to connect punctually to ensure that our adventurous group arrived at ports of departure in time for our pre-arranged sea-crossings. It culminated in an exhilarating and punishing ride right to the very top of the highest mountain of the country of our destination. And a front grab handle, pretty well unknown in those days, would have been worth its weight in gold on that climb.
It was 1971, and we four members of the Wimbledon and District MCC departed Fulham for Euston. Fulham was affectionately known as 'London SW Zinc' back then. You could get anything you wanted made for your motorbike there, always in zinc. Completely rustproof.
At Euston station we rode our 1950s and 60s trail bikes straight into the guard’s van of the 08:16 London to Liverpool train. In those days such things were possible in Britain; parking your motorbike in the guard’s van of a convenient train going your way to save you the trouble of actually riding there. (Except Sundays on this occasion, the day of our return to London. Engineering Work has always been a wonderful feature of the railways, and forced our little expedition to rent a van for the trip back home).
Arriving off the train in Liverpool we hit the road again, all the way to the sea port for the ferry to the Isle of Man, and that year’s International Six Days Trial. By the time we arrived at our hotel in Douglas we’d clocked up at least eight and a half miles for the whole journey.
The ISDT of course is a six-day event, but some days we skipped spectating and did our own thing, and on this particular day we decided it would be pretty good fun to ride off-road all the way to the top of Snaefell, the highest mountain on the island. Indeed, there is no road to the top of Snaefell, only a light mountain railway line that circles around its steep slopes. And a footpath. We’d heard that riding up there wasn’t a simple task, even that some attempts end in dismal failure. But it’s all grass as far as we could see and looked fairly smooth so we thought it would be no problem at all. And anyway, we had magnificent, or magnificently old, British Greeves trial bikes! That had done eight and a half miles all the way from London to Douglas!
My Greeves, near the end of a Lands End Trial in the late 60s.
7690 PF, where are you??
So we set off from somewhere near Laxey, on a straightforward track that took us up to The Bungalow, which is the highest point that the public tarmac road reaches. The mountain train to the top also stops here. We crossed the road and the railway line and continued onwards and upwards, the actual summit still out of sight. After a quarter mile or so, heading straight for where we thought the summit would be, two things happened.
The slopes just below the summit came into view. Or at least, the dense clouds that covered those slopes. We weren’t worried about that, we’d seen a mountain train leave The Bungalow heading for the top so we knew that the tea house up there would be open, warm and welcoming.
Then, the nice tussocky grass that was pretty wet and bumpy but otherwise gave enough grip to make progress up the slopes, suddenly became floating grass. It was floating on huge peat bogs. In pretty short order the sump of my bike was skimming the bog, then the wheel axles disappeared and forward progress came to a halt.
The bike was upright with me on it, in gear, engine running, rear wheel invisibly turning, and stationary. Boots full of water.
I looked around to see what the others were doing and noticed that a little way ahead the fairly steep slopes became incredibly steep slopes, and the rest of our little group were in the same difficulties as me. Except Jeff.
Jeff was an expert competition trials rider, on some fancy Spanish trials bike, but more importantly than all that was about six foot eight inches tall. And had hardly noticed the deep boggy mud we’d hit until he realised he was riding on his own.
My memory of that is seeing Jeff walking down towards me as I realised that I couldn’t get off my bike towards the left as the ground rose too steeply on that side and my bike and I had sunk too far into the bog. So I let go the bike and slid off to the lower ground on the right, whereupon I sunk into the mud until my eyes were at the level of the petrol cap.
“Get on it and go!” hollered Jeff. I wondered if that was a joke. He approached some more, started sinking into the same bog as me, realised it was no joke and retreated promptly.
“You’ll have to push!”
Another joke I thought. I could hardly reach the handlebars, they were up above my head, and any pushing would only push the bike further over into the bog.
Then another difficulty overcame us (except Jeff, that is). As we looked around at each other, in various states of submersion, engines still running producing huge steam clouds that floated off towards the real clouds, we realised how funny our situation was and could do nothing but burst into gales of disabling laughter.
Jeff stood and watched, growing impatient, frowning. He was doing fine, his bike still on the ground and not in it, and he just wanted to reach the mountain-top for tea. But he couldn’t get any nearer to us without sinking into the mud himself. So he made himself useful, in true Captain Mainwaring style, by shouting orders at us in a vain attempt to stop the laughing and get to his cup of tea.
“Pull on the front wheel!”
All that happened was the wheel turned.
“Pull on the handlebars!”
The bike fell further over.
We ignored him and somehow organised ourselves to pull one bike out at a time. Here another serious danger arose.
To make any progress we had to get our legs and feet out of the bog and up to surface level. And importantly, with boots still attached.
That was difficult. As well as pulling the boots to the surface, the weight of the water inside each one also had to be pulled up, and Jeff had no advice to help us there. All we knew was that if anyone’s foot became detached from boot whilst still two foot down in the bog, the boot would be lost forever, leading to a pretty interesting ride back to the tarmac road and the hotel in Douglas.
(McCrankpin has to confess here, that in the same Isle of Man the previous year for the TT, somehow or other the tarmac road came between his left foot and the boot it was in, turning the boot into leather scraps. And at the same time his bike came between his right foot and the boot it was in, transforming that into shreds as well. He didn’t want to end up boot-less on the Manx roads two years running, thank you very much!)
So it was here that the value of a front grab-handle became clearly apparent. But I never saw one for sale in those days, not even a zinc one in Fulham.
I’m not too sure how we managed to get out of that bog, but I do remember that the only thing to pull on was the front wheel, with the spokes seriously in the way, and most pulling only resulted in the wheel turning. Here’s a photo taken down near Laxey, not of us, but gives an idea of our situation. Except the slope was much much steeper. (Any photography would have been impossible even if we’d had cameras, and I don’t think anyone did).
In the absence of grab handles, other methods are sometimes necessary:
We resorted to using four pairs of hands and feet per bike, and got them all onto firmer ground and up to the summit tea house.
Jeff had no sympathy whatsoever.
“Those bogs were dead easy to see! You must all have had your eyes closed!”
Maybe we did. With his guidance we had continued to the top with no further sinkage nor loss of boots.
“When you get bogged down a bit, just use your feet and throttle and get some weight off of the front wheel!”
We stood him up, we all stood next to him in line, and got him to admit that the tallest of us was a foot shorter than him, and would he shut up please? Last one back to Laxey buys the beers……..
So with those memories prompted by the Kriega advert, McCrankpin decided it would tempt fate too much to depart without one of their front grab handles fitted.
The camping weekend was a straightforward affair, and didn’t test any of our gear to the standards needed for Africa. But helped with familiarisation.
We also had some success with a pair of ex-military gas-mask bags that Caroline bought for tank panniers for her Serow. After she bought them we realised that neither the original Serow tank, nor the Raid tank, were of a shape or size that would take any sort of pannier. But I remembered the pictures of Lois Pryce’s Serow in her book, so at the campsite we tried hanging the gas-mask bags either side of the headlamp.
Bingo! There’s something about that Serow headlamp and front mudguard arrangement that makes a pair of military bags fit precisely eitherside of it, tucked neatly underneath the indicators, with the few yards of straps that the bags come with holding everything nice and securely. And front grabhandle still accessible.
Caroline and Beau arriving back home from the campsite, panniers still in place, and full of heavy books that Caroline happened to have with her for the weekend. (Don’t ask!)
Posted by Ken Thomas at 04:12 PM
May 25, 2009 GMT
Fattening The Serow
A lengthy project, spanning too many weekends, has just come to a conclusion. A successful one we hope but only time and the African terrain will tell.
After a mixture of iron-fighting, plastic-fighting and even timber-fighting, Caroline's Serow now has a Yamaha Raid petrol tank, increasing the capacity from eight litres to almost 17 litres. Maybe still not enough for this journey, so I'm sure we'll carry an extra can or two somewhere along the route.
The Fatted Serow
The tank wasn't too difficult to fit, just needing the front rubber mounting moved a bit. Strangely, the Raid tank is shorter than the Serow one, yet has twice the capacity. So 'fat' is definitely the best word to use to compare the two.
But the original Serow seat doesn't fit too well with this tank, and the Raid one is wider so may be more comfortable.
And that's what took most of our design and construction effort. We needed to re-form all the seat mounting-points to take the new seat, with a new rear 'mudguard' constructed from some sheet aluminium to keep the mud where it should be and the water away from the air intake and electrics. The base of the old Serow seat performed this function but the Raid seat on its own doesn’t.
The whole thing turned out to be fairly neat, and the arrangement's strength and rigidity will be tested in real life sometime next year, all being well.
In the meantime, Caroline's husband Beau is a regular pillion passenger, so his weight, and local potholes, will provide a good preliminary trial.
Posted by Ken Thomas at 10:34 PM
May 21, 2009 GMT
Wimbledon & District M.C.C.
No, it’s not Tennis and it’s not Cricket. And it’s been a long long time since I ever had regular contact with the Wimbledon & District Motorcycle Club, but I still see a few old-time ex-members down the pub now and again. I’m sure one of them plays the trombone…..
Anyway, the Club is giving me a problem.
I’m one of the proud owners of the solid steel, heavily chrome-plated, enamelled, individually numbered machine badges that were made back in the 1960s.
A Very Nice Badge
I still vaguely remember all the financial analysis carried out by the club and solemn questions asked before we took the plunge and ordered a batch, at huge expense. We examined the fiduciary implications of that expenditure three times more thoroughly than any bank ever examined sub-prime mortgages before they bought eleventy-eight billion pounds worth of debt that the borrowers could never repay.
And the problem the club gives me?
I’d really like to fix this badge to my TTR250 for the Cape Town journey. Somewhere where it’ll have pride of place. But it’s heavy. And just about every bit of bike that something can be attached to, will have luggage of some sort attached to it.
And what’s more, it might disappear, or be otherwise removed, and I definitely wouldn’t want that to happen.
So what to do??
If Rustus McCrankpin still writes his advice page in the club magazine, ‘The Windmill’,
I’ll ask him. Maybe he has a column on the internet now.
Posted by Ken Thomas at 09:11 PM
May 15, 2009 GMT
More Luggage Art
The box I'm planning to bolt onto the rack is an old NonFango plastic one. I have a newer version NonFango box on my Honda Dominator. It used to be on my Ducati that took us to Moscow and Istanbul carrying luggage for two. Also to the Pyrennes and Spain, to Paris, and to Lisbon, all with luggage for two, and to North Cape and 3000 miles around eastern Europe carrying luggage for one.
It also hit the road rather heavily and nastily in Norway. And it still does good service on my Dominator, completely undamaged, and now fifteen years old.
I’d like to say here, that luggage for two means luggage for me, and a teenage daughter……. and that, be in no doubt, is a LOT of HEAVY luggage.
So I think these NonFango boxes are pretty strong. And light. I saw an older version recently advertised second hand. It looked good, and its construction and attachment mechanism appears even stronger than my newer one. So it's now on my TTR.
It’s also slightly smaller than the newer box, so will enforce a discipline of not taking too much stuff on a little bike.
I’ll fit soft panniers, haven’t decided which yet, am hoping to find some Andy-Strapz, and already have tank panniers fitted from Aerostitch. These will carry the heaviest stuff I think.
The front mudguard and headlamp shroud have been strengthened, so I aim to distribute luggage all over the bike in an artistic manner, in order to keep to a minimum the weight on that rear subframe.
I'm using the bike fairly regularly at the moment. So to test things out, it's carting around half a dozen house bricks plus some tools in the top box, half a gallon of water and scuba diving weights in each of the tank panniers, and about half a gallon plus another house brick in the tank bag. Plus other stuff in two old rear panniers I'm currently using. We'll see what that lot does on the green lanes around Guildford some time.
I've also had a rucksack and an old rear tyre strapped on the bike for some recent trips, to see how it all works out. OK so far. I'd like to be able to take a new tyre with me as far as Egypt to save the fuss of looking for a good one there.
A spiral of rubber gas pipe pop-rivetted to the right-hand side cover keeps some air between the silencer and the pannier, which seems to work OK. I recently carried a dozen best Waitrose beefburgers in that pannier for an hour-and-a-half journey and they hadn't cooked by the time I arrived. Still pretty cool in fact.
The rack needs to be tested to see if it can be used to lift the weight of the bike off the ground - or will the zip-ties, or the rack itself, break? From what I've read about wallowing around on the dirt roads of Africa, and embarking the ferries, the moment the bike needs lifting, dozens of willing hands will grab at any part of it that's accessible and carry it off to wherever it has to go. In exchange for some cash, of course. So whatever they're likely to grab hold of needs to be strong enough to lift the bike off the ground. Well, I tested that as much as I'm able, and all is OK.
I also have to make a special local weight allowance. Because, everything loaded onto the bike here at home will weigh more once it's reached the M25 and turned towards Dover.
That’s right. In the late 1950s the UK Geological Survey
drilled a bore hole on the edge of the village, 1,539 metres deep, just to see what was down there. They were hoping to find something to explain why the force of gravity in Whyteleafe is unexpectedly lower than it should be, making everything weigh less here than it does a couple of miles down the road!
They found an unusually thick layer of Jurassic limestones, and you'd be amazed at how much that messes up your gearing as you ride out of the village.......
Checking September’s route out of town.
Departing Whyteleafe. Borehole near the electricity sub-stations under the trees. M25 beyond the distant tree-line. Everything gets heavier from here on.......
OK, so the increase in weight is about a milligram, - or less. But there's always the straw that breaks the .........
Posted by Ken Thomas at 10:53 PM
May 08, 2009 GMT
Down the pub the other evening, a couple of friends asked why I've fitted a trombone to the front of my bike.
"What trombone, where?"
".......... Oh that! You hum it, I'll play it!"
Fitting the large tank and a screen to the TTR required the front brake hose to be re-routed in front of the headlamp shroud/number plate thingy, and it occurred to me that it's now more exposed to damage from passing branches, or a spill. I found that 22mm white plastic pipe fits neatly into the re-located nylon hose guides to protect (I hope) the hose. And when fitted in place, with the hose inside the pipe and free to slide up and down with the suspension, it all looks rather odd. Which I like. And now that the chaps at the pub tell me it looks like a trombone, that's even better. So I found an aerosol tin of brassy-gold metallic paint left over from an old over-mantle mirror restoration job, and squirted that at it for added effect.
Whether or not it'll be any good at protecting the brake hose is another matter.
Whether or not it'll play a tune is also another matter. So I fitted a pair of those super-loud Motrax multi-coloured Hootaz as well, to the engine mountings just under the front of the tank.
So we now have three-piece brass and reed ensemble to accompany the Yamaha drums across the Sahara.
Posted by Ken Thomas at 02:38 PM
Long Way Down
I see there are 'Yoga for Motorcyclists' sessions at the Horizons Unlimited June meeting in Ripley, and I'd recommend them to anyone. If you associate yoga with 'happy-clappy celebrity' nonsense, you should go along and see and do the real thing for yourself.
I’ve been practising yoga for more years than I can remember, about eighteen I think.
It started purely out of curiosity, and I tried a few different teachers before finding one who, for me, treated and taught the subject seriously and skilfully. I’ve been a twice-a-week student ever since.
Yes, some teachers I’ve come across do treat the activity like a happy-clappy ego trip, but there are plenty of good ones worth looking for. In the classes I go to there is no clapping, but plenty of creaking and groaning.
I find it impossible to answer the often-asked question, “What benefits have you gained from it?” Because it’s impossible for me to know what my bodily frame and engine would be like now if I'd never started the activity in the first place. But I’m absolutely certain that it would not be possible for me to still be riding my Aprilia RSV1000, knees in armpits, chin on tank, arms outstretched to infinity, had I never started those classes eighteen years ago. No doubt about it.
An important aspect though, like any exercise, is that it has to be practised regularly and properly, which needs a lot of discipline. And for me, that discipline comes from attending my twice-weekly class.
But what happens during long absences from home on extended trips?
Exactly. - Not much yoga. And I’ve been wondering how I’ll keep any practice going on this long trip to Cape Town.
Well, I’ve found a partial answer.
I bought some new boots for the trip.
I’ve been trying to decide what sort of boots to buy for quite a while, and was convinced that traditional motorcycle boots would be the wrong choice. They are no good for walking in, and I didn’t want to take one pair for riding and another pair for everything else.
Then a short while ago I found a forum on the HUBB discussing that very thing, and all the participants seemed to be agreeing that a non-motorcycle, waterproof boot is the best for a long journey, as you only need the one pair. So after much shopping around and trying on different types, I bought these:
They are tall and waterproof, good for biking, and have proper laces to grip and support the ankle, good for walking.
But lacing them up! What a task!
It’s a Long Way Down to reach those Long, Long Laces.
For the boots to fit snugly, the first four holes-worth of laces have to be pulled reasonably tightly, and held tight while they are engaged into the awkward first pair of ‘quick-lace’ hooks at the side, then carefully and firmly laced around the remaining four pairs of hooks, and all held in place while being tied.
Now, these boots hold your ankles so firmly that there is only one way
to reach all the way down to your feet for that tricky lacing job.
It’s called Uttanasana:
So I’ll be practising this everyday between London and Cape Town. I’m sure it’ll be taught, after careful preparation and warming up, at the Yoga for Bikers sessions at Ripley.
Head high, straight back, shoulders down, extend out of the hips, straight legs, bend forward at the hips only, keep head in line with spine, let spine lengthen and top of head hang down to the floor, relaxed back, fingers alongside toes, nose between shins.
And hey presto! It’s easy to pull and juggle those three yards of laces! With a little bit of a warm-up stretch first for preparation, I’ll have a short, but effective, yoga practice each time I put those boots on.
So there’s another benefit of yoga. As well as keeping your frame straight and wheels in line, you’ll also be able to lace up your German Army Commando boots when you’re old enough to have your free bus-pass.
Posted by Ken Thomas at 01:50 PM
May 05, 2009 GMT
I would guess that lots of present-day bikers inherited their biking bug from one or other of their parents, probably their dad. The same with me...... So this is a bit of an indulgent look at his story.
Mine was born in 1924, becoming a legend in his teens with his regular weekend bicycle rides from his home in central London to Taunton and back. His older sister had married a boyfriend from the town and moved down there. So Dad decided that visiting her would make ideal weekend trips when his shift work at the local mortuary allowed.
Then war broke out and Dad volunteered, but within a week or so his porkie pie about his age was discovered. So he carried on the cycling trips to Taunton until he reached eighteen and joined up again.
Unfortunately, after two years of training and within twenty-four hours of being sent to the front line, in Italy, half his leg was shot away and he was invalided back to Blighty to face more than a year of recovery and convalescing.
Over the years I made two motorbike trips to the scene of this event, near Florence. One on the 50th anniversary, one later with Caroline, now on this African trip.
Initially, he was considered 100% disabled, later reducing to 90%, but either way, pedal-cycling was out of the question - for quite a while anyway.
So it was that a BSA Bantam joined the family, around the time I was born.
Dad seemed to have a natural ability to service and repair the bike. His father earned a living as a London fireman, and part-time watch repairer - a pretty odd combination - but my Dad had often observed at close hand the intricate and delicate work required in mending those timepieces (and maybe in extinguishing fires as well). And I suppose repairing a BSA Bantam is similar, (to watch-repairing that is), just on a different scale.....
I used to ride on the back of the Bantam at a pretty young age, four I think, and remember wondering how on earth we stayed upright with only two wheels, as well as being even more mystified about what exactly a gallon or so of smelly liquid did inside that engine. Just HOW, exactly, did it produce all that noise and super-fast movement? What could possibly go on inside there? Dad was my hero just for being able to control it all.
And not a crash helmet in sight.
Then my brother arrived - and so did a bigger bike with sidecar attached. All the rage in those days. Another BSA, an M20.
The effect of riding this, I think, gave my Dad a taste for bigger and grander bikes, so after another year or so he bought, brand new, the bike that he was to keep and cherish for another 18 years, the grandest sidecar bike of them all, a Panther model 100, with Canterbury double-adult sidecar.
Family and friends were amazed. Here was Dad, with only, really, three-quarters of his right leg intact, taking on a brute of a bike that needed the strength of two men to kickstart it. But Dad quickly learnt 'the technique', and anyway, we lived on a hill handy for bump-starting.
Additionally, routine maintenance was made a little simpler by the fact that the Panther's engine turned at a speed not dissimilar to the innards of the watches that my Dad used to observe being repaired by his dad.
Many were the mornings that Dad would act the part of sea captain as the family departed on some outing or other - "All aboard!" - as Mum and little brother filed into the sidecar and I would take the prized pillion seat. Then he'd be an aircraft pilot, with “Chocks away!” as outfit and family started to roll down the hill, followed by "Contact!", loud enough for all the neighbours to hear, as he let out the clutch fifty yards from the bottom. A lumbering lurch to the right, and the Panther's steam engine (well, that’s what it seemed like) chugged into life, gulping in huge quantities of air through the open carburettor intake just ahead of my right knee.
The fascination of only having two wheels was gone, but it was still a mystery to me what it was that that smelly petrol stuff did inside that massive engine to produce all that noise and enough power to drag all the family along at breakneck speed.
Over time Dad gave this magnificent machine more and more work to do. Pulling all four of us all the way to Devon, with two tents, cooking gear, bedding and clothing stowed in a box trailer towed behind. On one of these trips, complete with trailer, and with Dad's right hand taking a particularly firm grip on the handlebar, he shouted at us all, above the wind and engine noise, to crane our necks and look at the speedo. We'd reached the amazing speed of SIXTY MILES AN HOUR!! No one I knew had ever travelled at that speed. I thought to myself, I bet none of my friends even know that that speed exists!
And not a crash helmet in sight.
Headgear always comprised, for Dad, a cloth cap made rainproof by years of being handled by oily fingers. For Mum, a headscarf, not made rainproof. And for us children, nothing.
Riding the pillion of this machine was a magical experience. Dad's back, right in front of my face, made him loom large in my mind as well as in my sight. After all, what WAS he doing? All his actions were hidden from view, his hands could have been playing a piano for all I knew. But somehow, pulling on those levers, pressing those pedals, twisting the handlebar grip, sent us flying along in a crescendo of incredible sounds. The wind in my hair, a bang every lampost, air sucking into the engine past my right knee, the whirring and clunking of the chain by my left ankle, the hum of the tyre on the tarmac, the creaking of the suspension, all amplified by the soundboard effect of the wooden sidecar against our left elbows. Add the sight of the road whizzing past below my feet and we have a cacophony of experiences that could never be explained or rationalized, and could have only one effect. Sometime, I would have to do all this.
One day, we reached the limit of our outfit's heavy-haulage capabilities. In those days, in our sort of family, cars were fairly rare, and motorbikes only slightly less so. And Dad's Panther outfit was the only powered transport that existed in our extended family. So there was always a big demand for rides. This occasion was a grand family party at my Grandparent's house in London, and all the children, cousins and friends were clamouring for a ride to Hyde Park via Big Ben and Trafalgar Square. Standing up in the sidecar. The best way, the only way as far as we were concerned, to see London in those days. Dad calculated that he could fit five or six of us in the sidecar with one grown-up, and an uncle and one more child on the pillion behind him. Thus we were all squeezed in.
As if setting the organ stops at St. Paul’s, Dad carefully positioned the air, ignition, and decompression levers (no hill here for bump starting), followed by the customary shout of "Contact!" Then an almighty lunge on the kickstarter such that, aided by the weight of eight or nine passengers, the gearbox nearly hit the ground. And the great engine sucked, fired, sucked again, and was away.
All us children were immediately fascinated by the rhythmic mystic music of this amazing contraption: "……suck-squeeze-bang-blow-suck-squeeze-bang-blow......"
Then the loud dull "clunk" of Dad levering first gear into place, the rattle of the clutch, the gentle rise in the engine's pace, a few inches of slow forward movement, and........
Kerrrrashhh!!! as the floor of the sidecar, with half-a-dozen children standing on it, collapsed onto the road.
Like most sidecars I think, this one had two little leaf springs at the rear, and the shackles attaching them to the floor had succumbed under all the weight, allowing the whole sidecar to drop onto the road.
Well, Dad always carried a ton or so of tools, also in the sidecar, so a few minutes of manipulation with a crowbar soon had the suspension righted, and the leaf springs bent to a sharper angle to cater for the extra, or maybe extraordinary, weight. This time, as Dad gingerly let out the clutch, and a couple of willing helpers gave the outfit a gentle push, we travelled maybe a couple of feet, hopefully, before....... the sidecar shook and juddered again and came crashing to the ground.
In the end only seven of us got to see Big Ben and Hyde Park that day, much to Dad's disappointment.
Other memories include Dad reaching the limit of the outfit's braking capabilities, easy to do I guess. In heavy traffic somewhere in north London, a coal lorry in front of us stopped rather quickly. In those days it wasn't always a good idea to stop quickly. I was standing in the front of the sidecar, felt a violent swerve to the right, and the top of the sidecar screen hit the coal lorry. The result was a bit of a shocked me, and lots of wood, splinters and perspex all over the place.
But it did enable Dad to give me a lesson in sidecar repair, carpentry and simple upholstery.
Then there was the North Weald Air Show, sometime in the 50s. The good old Panther had hauled the whole family to the perimeter fence, where Dad had found a gap in the hedgerow just big enough to squeeze the outfit into so that hardly any of it was still on the road. We could see all the action, without the need to pay the entry fee to get onto the airfield. In all the time that Dad had those outfits, I never saw him pay for parking. Wonder what he'd make of it now?.
But he had reckoned without the enthusiasm of a young police constable, who, seeing all the No Waiting signs, and without waiting for any word of an excuse, slapped a parking ticket into Dad's hand and told him in pretty stern terms to move the bike, or else..... Oh dear, bit of an expensive embarrassment, that.
Everyday, Dad used the outfit to travel to work. Usually six, sometimes seven days a week. For a few years the round trip was about twenty miles across London. Then work moved and the round trip doubled. All weathers, all year. So the bike did a LOT of mileage, and servicing and repairs became fairly regular. Consequently, the position of Chief Assistant Mechanic-in-training fell to me. About ten years old. And at last I learnt exactly what it was that all that smelly petrol did inside the huge wheezing engine. So did my Mum, and younger brother, as engine repairs took place in the front room, or kitchen, or both if the crankcase had to be split. Well, we didn't have a TV, so what else was there to watch?
I still clearly remember one day bursting into the frontroom to find Dad on his hands and knees, looking as though he was eating the carpet. Seeing the huge Panther crankcase with that great piston wobbling at the end of the con-rod, occupying most of the frontroom table while Mum was trying to serve up dinner, gave me cause for concern as to what was on the menu. But it quickly became another practical lesson in motorcycle maintenance, accompanied by a certain amount of zen - no, a LOT of zen, on the part of Mum. The subject this time was how to use a magnet to locate tiny steel parts (a circlip) lost in the pile of a carpet, then how to fit the clip into the piston without it pinging halfway across the room again, followed by lowering the massive cylinder barrel over the piston with two hands, manipulating the piston rings with the fingers of another hand that Dad had conjured up out of nowhere like a stage illusionist, followed by Mum's sausage and mash for four.
When my Mum died, my brother knew her local vicar quite well, and had primed him. So it was very satisfying to listen to him at Mum's funeral, describing her special brand of patience that enabled her to happily prepare the family's dinner and tea around my Dad as he dismantled and rebuilt motorbike engines on the front room table. More tea Vicar?
Indeed, the Sunday joint occasionally shared the oven with Panther crankcases, as they were warmed up for the fitting of new bearing journals. Added a certain je ne sais quoi to the aroma of those meat juices.
But before my education into the secret workings of motorbike engines, Dad would play jokes that just deepened all those mysteries further. One day on a ride out into the country, the bike fell silent and drifted to a halt. Just the sound of the chain winding round and round the sprockets, slower and slower until we stopped. Dad looked seriously worried. He unscrewed the petrol filler cap and peered through the huge filler hole into the depths of the huge tank.
"Out of petrol!" he exclaimed, the look on his face becoming grimmer and grimmer. Discussions took place between Mum and Dad. What should we do? Would we have to push the bike all the way home? Would we get home by next week? Where would we sleep? How many days would it take to walk to the nearest petrol station? All the time Dad was shaking the bike, squinting through the filler hole, hoping to spy a hidden cache of petrol. I was worried. About eight years old and seriously worried.
Suddenly Dad's face lit up. "I know! This might do it, just to get us to a petrol station!" He pulled some peculiar faces, bent over the petrol tank, and theatrically spat into it. Can't remember what Mum said. Don't remember it being complimentary. Then, with much flourish, he meticulously set all the levers, air, ignition, decompression,
gear lever in neutral, handlebars pointing ahead. A powerful long kick on the kickstarter, and that magnificent slow hiss of sucking air, mechanical rattles and hidden explosions filled the hedgerows.
"All aboard! All aboard!" It was my turn to sit on the pillion. In sombre tones Dad explained to me, if the engine stopped again, it would be my turn to spit into the tank! Me! How could anything from me make all this noise and power and movement? "It'll have to!" said Dad, "Or we won't get home for days!"
I remember it being the most amazing thing I had ever seen. Not only did this monster work on that smelly petrol stuff you bought at the roadside, it worked on spit as well! What other miracles did life hold in store? What other magic took place inside this engine?
I still think one of the most magical rides you can do on a motorbike is to be about eight years old, on the pillion of a Panther outfit, Dad at the controls, roaring (literally roaring - those straight-through Burgess silencers didn't have much inside them) through the Blackwall tunnel as it existed in the 1950s. One twisty, dog-legged, smokey tunnel, two-way traffic, a 40-watt light bulb every hundred yards. And if Dad got the air and ignition levers right, a few almighty backfires in the depths of the tunnel enough to loosen those ancient grubby glazed tiles from the ceiling. Magic!
As my education into things mechanical progressed, Dad initiated me into the culture of the motorbike spares shop. Dark, smelly places, usually in Stockwell or Lewisham, greasy wooden floors, tea mugs lined up on the counter, upside-down pistons full of roll-up dog-ends. Tyres and tanks hanging from the ceiling, brake cables, chains, cranks and clutch plates decorating the walls. And no English spoken. It was all a foreign language. Earnest advice freely sought and given on magneto advance-retard, carburettor float height, leaky primary-chain cases, over-bored piston ring sizes. “Sixty clutch corks, two tappet-tube gaskets and a tube of red Hylomar please!”
Back home, if the weather was fine Dad would turn an upturned tea chest in the back garden into his workbench, and spend a couple of hours pressing dozens of corks into the perforated friction plates of the Panther clutch. Right on cue, Mum appeared with the saucepan of boiling water and all the corked-up clutchplates would be tipped in. I was rapidly learning that maintaining a motorbike required extensive use of kitchen facilities, and that lesson has stayed with me ever since……
“Makes the cork expand, holds them in place, and makes the clutch grip,” Dad explained. Fairly important if the clutch has to pull a sidecar, trailer, Mum, Dad, two children, tents, and camp kitchen for four, up Porlock Hill.
Then the homeward ride down the hill would have to be to considered, as Dad removed the wheels, dismantled the brakes, and carefully riveted brand new linings onto the brake shoes using a cobbler’s last for an anvil. Yes, the same cobbler's last that he used the day before to repair his own shoes. In the back garden if the weather be fine, or the kitchen if it be rainy. And finally, old clutch corks and worn brake linings were carefully collected together and placed in “the spares box” with tons of other old parts, chains, bearings, pistons, valves, cables, spark plugs, nuts and bolts. “You never know when one of these may come in handy in an emergency!” Surely, every spark plug that Dad ever bought in his lifetime was in that box.
Visits to a Motorbike Spares Shop meant stopping at a place on the way, also smelly, usually on a main road, greasy wooden floors, tea mugs lined up on the counter, upside-down pistons full of roll-up dog-ends. Tyres and tanks sitting in a corner, brake cables and chains on the edge of a table. And no English spoken.
The motorbike cafe.
This one was Ted's, on the Southend road, next to the Roundabout Pub. Both now buried, like so much of 1950s culture, inside a huge concrete pillar underneath an M11 slip-road. Dad would drink his tea, and me a Tizer, while he talked magneto advance-retard, and clutch corks, with whoever would listen.
By the late sixties I too was on motorised two wheels and had progressed to the popular Japanese machines of the day. Dad marvelled at the electric starters, indicators and twin-leading-shoe brakes. Why, these bikes even had an ignition key! But he, and Mum, were firmly wedded to his 1954 Panther. Lucky for me!
I had bought from a dealer a 305cc Honda, a wonder of a space-rocket machine in those days. But it had broken down, and needed to be returned to the shop, quite a distance away. No problem! In double quick time Dad had removed the double-adult sidecar from its chassis, parking it temporarily in the front garden. (I had also learnt, over the years, that gardens are as important as kitchens in the art of motorcycle maintenance.) A plank was lined up to wheel the Honda up onto the chassis, a couple of ropes tied around, the customary “All aboard!”, “Chocks away!” and “Contact!” and the Panther hauled us all smartly back to the dealer. I remember Dad wandering around the modern Honda showroom like Queen Victoria's Albert might have wandered around the international space station. Both the English language, and the language of the Spares-shop, failed him.......
A year later, the lure of the race track caught up with me, and I took the plunge, competing on a 450cc road-going Honda. I was happy to ride the bike to the tracks, but Dad insisted, removing the sidecar each weekend and carrying me and the Honda to the various club race meetings.
In eighteen years of hauling the family, and other bikes, up and down and around and around the country, with never an AA or RAC membership in sight, Dad’s Panther only broke down irreparably on the road once. A broken exhaust rocker on the Hastings road. I remember Dad spreading his extensive tool kit all over the road, and the contents of all his spares boxes (“You never know when you may need one of these in an emergency”), determined to find some makeshift way of getting us home. But on this occasion, his motorcycle maintenance training, inherited from his father's watch-repairing, failed him. Had it happened a couple of hours earlier, maybe the nearby garage would have had a welder still on duty with the ingenuity to join the broken pieces together. We’ll never know.
Then 1973 arrived, and compulsory crash helmets. Dad had never worn one, nor had any of the rest of the family when riding on the outfit, and his leg was giving trouble anyway. So that was the end of his bike riding, but not of his bike licence. He bought a Reliant Robin and used that as his transport for the rest of his days, Fools and Horses or no Fools and Horses. He even acquired a secondhand bicycle and took up some gentle cycling again to keep his leg exercised during those car-driving, or Reliant-driving days. And yes, on at least one occasion, the Reliant gearbox found itself in a hundred pieces being repaired on the kitchen table.
Posted by Ken Thomas at 03:22 PM
April 27, 2009 GMT
Delayed in Romania
As this Cape Town adventure is still five months away (only five months??? Oh s*^#*!!), and recent preparation only comprises ordering a new starter motor for the TTR (an acknowledged weak point), here's a brief account of part of our previous trip to Istanbul by Ducati 900SS. A sort of reflection before heading off across the Bosphorus again.
Having only three weeks for that trip, we used the Ducati's fleetness of foot to make a fairly rapid traverse of Europe to reach Turkey. Rapid, that is, until arriving in Romania.
We spent the first night in Frankfurt, the next in Vienna and stopped in Budapest for a third. But reaching Bucharest in one day from there was too far, we needed an overnight stop about halfway, where there is very little on the map. It was the early days of the Internet but bingo! We struck lucky with a hostal in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains, with a page in English on their website. We made a booking by email. On arrival we found a very pleasant-looking building set on steep wooded slopes in the village of Sovata, Transylvania. The Teleki Education Centre.
But we encountered an immediate problem, there was nowhere flat and level enough to stop and get off of the Ducati. We circled and shuffled around a bit like a fussy dog sniffing the ground restlessly looking for a place to lie down. There was tarmac, on a slope of about one-in-four, or soft mud that took my feet up to the ankles. We had to take care not to venture into some wet and weed-strewn dead-end from which it would be impossible to reverse a sports bike carrying two travellers and twenty-five tons of teenage-daughter-type luggage. The only possibility was to stop on the tarmac road outside the hostal, in the middle away from the steep camber, completely blocking it. But everywhere was deserted, not a sign of life, so that would probably be OK.
It took a while to find any sign of life inside the hostal. And longer to find someone who could understand us and summon the director. We heard his raised voice rejoicing something or other as he rushed into the tiny foyer, grabbed our hands and shook them vigorously. We were, he explained with much joy, his first ever guests who had booked through his brand-new website, and what's more, we were English!
"And tell me, is that a motorbike you arrived on?? Amazing!"
We removed all the luggage - what a relief! - and I climbed aboard the bike again to find somewhere to park. Immediately, the director was sitting on the pillion seat behind me.
"There!" he shouted. "Go up there, you can park at the back."
He pointed to a mud track that went up the side of the hostal, where the ground rose steeply, reaching the level of its third floor. It must have been one-in-two, with recent rainwater still trickling down it.
He shouted excitedly, "You can do it! There's space for the bike at the top!" bouncing up and down on the pillion. Well, I nosed up to the track, but there was no way this bike was going to get up there with a rather large director chappie on the pillion, or even without.
He was thoroughly crestfallen and disappointed. We found a tiny piece of level tarmac opposite the building that would do, and I thought maybe he would rustle up a motocross bike for our trip up to the backyard of his establishment. It wasn't to be, but he did rustle up something far better when we eventually departed.
Back inside, he explained that the hostal was full, but as we were his first internet guests, they'd moved people around to give us a nice room. And it certainly was nice.
But the place was deserted!
"Yes. They are all out. This is a teachers' hostal, where teachers come for holidays from all over Romania and neighbouring countries. They stay for free, and we arrange lots of activities for entertainment and for refresher-training."
"Here, we specialise in Natural History and Biology. I'll show you our classrooms, you're welcome to attend the classes if you want, but they will be in Romanian. Do you speak Romanian? No? Oh, what a pity! Never mind, there are plenty of other things to do here."
"The teachers here at the moment are from southern Romania, and from Serbia. You know, there are bad things happening there just now so they come here for a break. Many with their children. And all these different people - they get along together wonderfully........ it's just that the politicians ........."
At that point, he needed a rest from speaking English.
So he fed us, gave us a tour of the classrooms, and installed us in our room.
"How long will you stay?"
What a question! Should it be days or weeks? Although we only intended one day.
"Well, we're sort-of in a hurry. But, we'll let you know. Is that OK?"
"No problem. Stay as long as you like."
One night turned into three nights, particularly as we were invited by the teachers to join their Sunday barbeque up in the mountains.
An old but substantial Romanian coach arrived early in the morning after an equally substantial Romanian breakfast. The underbelly of this coach was like a Tardis, as an unbelievable amount of luggage was thrown into it. Box upon box of provisions, crate upon crate of beer and liquor, massive bbq grills, numerous jerry cans and strange machinery of some sort or other.
With much groaning and labouring the coach departed up the hill out of the village. The tarmac soon ended and we were on a steep forest dirt-track that over the coming miles became narrower and narrower through denser and denser forest. Until eventually no further progress could be made.
Everyone alighted and queued at the hatch of the Tardis cargo-hold, to be handed whatever they were capable of carrying.
There were some particularly hefty chaps amongst our party, who were handed the jerry cans and the strange machinery swathed in oily rags. And off we all set, on foot, up hill through the forest, about forty of us. Caroline and I teamed up with one or two teachers who spoke some English.
Eventually we could make no further progress through the dense confusion of standing trees, and fallen trees blown over in all sorts of directions and angles. Walkers were spreading out all over the place, keeping in touch with each other by means of a Romanian version of yodelling, looking for ways through the melee. But there were none.
Our English-speaking companions explained that there had been a hurricane across these mountains many months earlier.
"Like the one you had in England a few years ago. No one clears the roads and paths, only groups like us when we come up into the mountains. So now, we come up here each week to clear some more path and today, if we're lucky, we hope to make a path all the way to the open meadows at the top where we always used to have our barbeques. So now the fun begins."
At that, the hefty chaps with the strange machinery on their backs revealed themselves. Under all the oily rags were truly industrial-sized chain saws. Their colleagues who had been hauling the jerry cans provided the petrol.
After about fifteen minutes of intense noise and sawing, our path was no longer blocked by a mess of fallen trees, but by a thick fog of impenetrable two-stroke smoke. No wind blew through this thick forest today to clear it, so everyone had a tea-and-alcohol break while we waited for it to drift away so that the forward direction could once again be identified, and further progress made with the chainsaw gang.
And so it went on for a few hours. Fifteen minutes of intense noise, fifteen minutes of intense drinking during which the spectators, like Caroline and I, helped to clear the sawn timber to one side.
We climbed up the slopes closer to the sky, more light penetrated the forest canopy, progress quickened, excited shouts of success echoed back towards us, and we broke out into a huge expanse of open, green and wild meadow-land with the most magnificent views you can imagine of the Carpathian mountains and lakes.
The mountain scenery, a little obscured by lingering chainsaw smoke.
It was barbeque time, and those jerry cans that didn't hold petrol were emptied in short order as all the beer was quickly distributed, while massive slabs of pork fat sizzled on the grills. Not much meat, but bricks of fat, maybe two inches thick, that grilled down to the Romanian equivalent of crackling, feeding flames that leapt high into the sky. "This is our wonderful barbeque delicacy!" our English-speaking guides explained.
"It makes all the work worthwhile..... well, this and the beer!"
Many cooks make good crackling.
Unfortunately the party couldn't continue for very long. The trek here had taken quite a while and we needed to find the coach again before nightfall. Bouncing and jolting back down the hillside, a raucous singsong filled its cosy interior. One of the teachers took up a baton and a position next to the driver and vigorously conducted the entire coach in fine style, even bringing in soprano and tenor virtuosos for magnificent solo pieces. "This is Hungarian..... this is in Romanian...... this is a very popular Serbian folksong," our hosts explained....... "You must know the words to this one! Everybody does!"
Caroline and I pondered the offer of "you can stay as long as you like." But Istanbul beckoned with fewer and fewer days left, so we had to tear ourselves away.
And then we experienced even more of the sort of serendipity that occurs when you get yourself out of Europe, or at least to its far reaches.
We loaded the twenty-five tons of teenage stuff back onto the Ducati, taking care that no chainsaws had accidentally got into our luggage. The director asked where we were headed to next.
His eyes lit up.
"Where are you staying?"
"Don't know, we'll find somewhere when we get there."
His eyes lit up some more. "Hold on."
He grabbed the phone, spun the dial and launched into an animated conversation in Hungarian.
"There! The guest room at the Hungarian Embassy is free, I just booked it for you. Here's a little map, and I'll write down the name of the manager. Ring the bell when you get there and he'll look after you. There's a garage for your bike. I always stay there when I visit Bucharest. I'm Hungarian you see, like lots of people living in this part of Romania."
So that was Bucharest fixed!
Next stop after that? Somewhere on the Black Sea coast of Bulgaria, and then Istanbul. So don't spare the horses, driver, after our unexpectedly extended stay in Sovata.
If anyone out there wants to enjoy a stay at this place, find it on the web at http://www.tok.ro/toksite/english/engintro.htm
But take care the Director doesn't leap straight onto the back of your bike before you've fitted the knobblies!
Posted by Ken Thomas at 09:51 PM
April 17, 2009 GMT
Did anyone see that press release from Aerostitch in the US?
I bought their tank panniers and other stuff through their website, so now I receive the usual regular sales emails.
Well, they've just announced the arrival of.........
............ the *must-have* bikers' bling of 2009 .........
the Remote-Controlled Zipper!
Yep. Need to open your zip for some reason? Then take the remote in your hand, push the button, - job done!
Can you imagine that?
Somewhere out in the blue yonder after a few hours in the saddle, you have urgent need to undo a zip. Where's the remote? Down the side of the sofa??
You left it in the campsite tea-room 230 miles back up the road........
This comment that I just heard from McCrankpin sums it up:
"I have journeyed through the galaxies........ I have traversed the heavens............. I have seen the wonders of the universe........... But TELL me, WHAT will they think of Next?"
After receiving their emailed press release I've spent hours (well, 16 days actually) looking for this on the Aerostitch website, so I hope I'm right when I say they probably don't have it in stock yet, as it's still quite recent, dated 1 Apr 09.
Posted by Ken Thomas at 10:59 AM
April 15, 2009 GMT
The Art Of Motorcycle Luggage Handling.
There's a very active Yahoo group for TTR250 owners, and a frequent topic of discussion is luggage racks, how to make one, where to find one, how to attach it. There are as many different ideas as there are owners because there are virtually none you can buy ready-made for the TTR. And yes, I think the carriage of luggage on a motorbike truly is an art, witness the outrageous things carried on little mopeds all over Southeast Asia.
And the story once told to me by a close friend's Dad, that I'll never forget, about how us novices made too much fuss about panniers and top boxes and suchlike because in his younger days he'd carried home from work a couple of 'surplus' office armchairs strapped to his back (one at a time) riding his BSA motorbike from Victoria to his home in Fulham, London.
Now, the rack already fitted to my TTR is not strong enough for this journey, I don't think it will last much time, and everyone who sees it agrees. That fact has been very close to my thoughts ever since I bought the bike, in the hope that a solution will present itself.
The issue here is, it is the neatest, most elegant, most well-made, and most ingenious rack I have ever seen. And my engineering training informs me that something that has been constructed neatly, elegantly, ingeniously and well should also be intrinsically strong.
It was made by the previous owner, from 15mm copper water pipe and Yorkshire soldered fittings, and filled with two-part epoxy resin. It's attached to the bike by large cable zip-ties in three places. Even that is an engineering elegance - "four legs bad, three legs good." A three-legged table never wobbles. So it must be possible to make this thing suitable for its journey down the length of Africa, even if it may never look so to conventional eyes.
Two factors have occurred to me when I have stood in the garage, more than once, staring at the rack wondering what to do with it. It’s large and neat and I really don’t want to scrap it, the only alternative being to have a conventional rack specially made. And I’m also sure this rack of copper tube is lighter than a conventional steel rack, a huge advantage in my book.
You may think – "an awful lot of fuss (and words) over a rack!" But, with any luck, for over a year, this rack will carry my whole world. Everything I need, and probably a few things I don't. When I did a year round the world in 1999/2000, the same thought struck me about my rucksack. It would hold my entire material needs for twelve months, it would be my home, so it’s IMPORTANT! And my choice was successful. It still serves me well, and those who still borrow it. The secret for a good long-lasting and abuse-proof rucksack, is - NO zips. I saw many a fellow backpacker, hurriedly stuffing everything into his/her rucksack ready to catch the plane/boat/bus, screech in horror when two foot of zip suddenly became four foot of useless trimming around a large hole. One consolation: in the backpacking world this happens to more than a few people, so everyone around readily wades in with spare bags and carriers and safety pins to help the unfortunate traveller make the flight.
So back to the rack. Two further issues had sprung to mind whilst looking for an answer.
No. 1. Making the rack stronger means also making it heavier, well, usually. And I was determined to keep things light. The rack sits on the rear subframe which on most bikes is not particularly strong, mine included. But Engineering tells you that strength is also about distributing load and stress evenly through the construction. A classic example of this is the lightness of modern steel bicycles achieved through butted tubes, where the strength of the tube is distributed along its length to match the way that the rider’s weight, and road shocks will also be distributed. Thus I decided that if I abandon the zip-ties and attach the rack more strongly to the bike, in a fall the attachments will survive but the rack will break. So best to leave the zip-ties in place. If the rack gets hit in a fall, it’s likely the zip-tie attachments will fail reducing the chance of the rack breaking.
Another thing I want to do somehow is to arrange for the weight of the rack, and the box on it, to be supported by the pillion part of the dual-seat, not the rails of the subframe. The pillion seat has the strength to support a passenger, the rails of the subframe the strength to support the number plate and a piece of wire for the tail light.
No. 2. The French writer, architect, philosopher and WWII pilot Antoine de Saint-Exupery once wrote: “Perfection is reached, not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away.” (Computer and telephone designers should remember that - and maybe the writer of this blog - are you listening, McCrankpin?!)
Well, the passage of time must have joined up those two sets of thoughts, because the other Saturday morning I awoke with the solution floating around in my head. I'll saw off the front attachments of the rack, held with zip-ties to the two grab-handles, and move the whole thing forward to rest on the rear part of the seat. Simple!! And having sawn off those two attachments, there will definitely “no longer be anything to take away” - there will only be one attachment remaining! So perfection will have been reached. Definitely. It will even be lighter!
I’ll hold the front of the rack to the seat with a suitable strap of some sort. With any luck and a following wind, if the rack gets hit in an accident the front fixing will move, preventing irreparable damage, and the rear attachment, still with zip-ties, may break but can easily be zip-tied together again. On rough terrain, road shocks and jolts should be partially eased by the fact that a lot of the weight of the rack and luggage will be on the padded seat, reducing, I hope, the chance of stress fractures in the copper tubes. These are reinforced internally with the epoxy resin anyway. There’ll also be reduced weight on the subframe, allowing it to support the number plate and piece of wire with less trouble…….
Of course, I don't really know if any of that will actually be the case on this trip, that's in the future and we cannot know it. Only time will tell. And crossed fingers.
When I came to do the work, this idea developed a little. Instead of sawing the attachments off, which I might regret if the idea fails and I need them again, it became obvious when I started the job that it would be far better just to remove the grab handles that the attachments rest on.
That allowed the rack to rest on the pillion seat, with some old 4mm inner tube protecting the seat cover, and I could also move the whole thing forward to get more weight on the seat.
Then there was a bonus of being able to use the front attachments to hold the front of the rack down on the seat.
The whole thing is still held in place with zip ties, and at the front these are quite thin ones. If/when the rack gets hit, if anything's going to break I want it to be the ties, not the rack.
We'll see. This is what it looks like, with a base-plate for a box attached:
(Also, rubber gas hose pop-rivetted in a spiral to the side cover to act as a heat shield for the soft panniers).
And removing the grab handles saved more weight, as they are a lot heavier than the copper rack attachments.
Now, I'm pretty sure there's nothing more that can be removed from the rear of the bike, so according to Saint-Exupery, perfection has been reached.
Posted by Ken Thomas at 06:02 PM
April 08, 2009 GMT
The Motorbike In The Ground
Since I started learning Spanish many years ago, I've always thought it a wonderful language, full of romantic quirkiness. My bachelor Spanish teacher (in Spain) would emphasise to us foreigners, with some glee, that the Spanish for 'wives' was the same as the Spanish for 'handcuffs'.
1. Spouse, wife, consort. (f)
2. Manacles, handcuffs.
- "Poner las esposas a uno" - to handcuff somebody
Then, after he asked me, "what is your job?" he explained again with great glee that the Spanish for 'retirement' is 'jubilación', as in 'jubilation'! That did it for me, Spanish was going to be my language!
Especially when later, in Guatemala, still at Spanish school, there were a couple of minor earthquakes. The Spanish for that? 'Terremoto'. Literally, 'the motorbike in the ground'!
So I was interested to hear on the sad news this morning, Italians talking about the recent earthquake there, using the same word, 'terremoto'.
Be careful of nearby buildings when riding that motorbike!
Yesterday I fitted the electrics necessary to power one of those small 12v tyre inflators.
But the one I've bought may not be suitable. It's small and in a plastic housing, but looking inside, the pump itself (piston and cylinder type) is completely open and next to vent grilles in the box. So will quickly seize up with sand and dirt, I think. So I've ordered another one that looks like a small model airplane motor, dozens of them are sold on ebay. Maybe that will have some sort of filtering around the pump.
When running off of the TTR battery with the engine running, it draws 7 amps, 84 watts.
I managed to find a spec for the alternator, 13.5amp output, and the rectifier is rated at 10amp capacity. So it should be OK.
But the standard UK-import TTR has the lights on all the time, and I think it will be necessary to have the lights switched off when running one of these tyre pumps. So I’ve fitted a light switch, which wasn’t easy as the feeds to the headlamp bulb, the tail light, and the instrument lights are all separate and in different places in the loom. There’s an excellent set of instructions for wiring up a switch on the www.TTR250.com website.
Lastly, have just looked at the calendar. The 14th September this year, I’ve just found, is a Monday. Just as it was in 1964 when McCrankpin started work. Gives me greater hope…..
Posted by Ken Thomas at 10:27 PM
April 05, 2009 GMT
PREAMBLES, RAMBLES and ROUTES
Over four years ago, BCE, I decided it would be quite a good idea to climb upon my motorbike one day, nip down to Dover for the ferry, and head off for Cape Town.
(Note: BCE – Before Charley and Ewan).
About a year and a half ago, that idea had distilled into a departure date, September 2009. It seemed, from reading the HUBB, that the English Autumn was the best time, weather-wise, for departing England for an over-land trip to The Cape of Good Hope.
So I needed to tell someone – that is, my two children, Richard and Caroline. Attempts to disappear without warning aren’t received very well and I guessed at what the responses would be when I broke the news.
Richard: “What????? Another crazy trip!!”
Caroline: “Can I come too?? Pleeeease!”
Well, my guess wasn’t quite right.
I told Richard. “What????? Another crazy trip!!”
I told Caroline. “Can I come too?? Pleeeease!”
But sometime afterwards, down the phone line, I heard this. (I was in Ottawa at the time, she in Toronto).
“Dad, errrrr, maybe you could get to Toronto a bit earlier....... it’s just that....... errrrr....... I’m getting married...... in two weeks time! His name is Beau. And, errrr...... by the way....... Beau wants to come with us to Cape Town. He’s having riding lessons and takes his test just after the wedding. So he’ll be OK. Can he come with us???? Pleeeease!!”
So there you have it. My solo adventure, over an unspecified timescale but at least a year, instantly became a party of three, with defined end dates for two of them who have jobs to do and livings to earn.
Caroline and I had done ‘trips’ before, chiefly to Ukraine and Russia on a Ducati 900SS in1996:
And also to Istanbul on the same bike in 1997.
I then took a three-month trip by Yamaha Serow to North Cape,
and Eastern Europe (Lapland, Baltics, Poland, Hungary and Home, 1999)
(Sobibor Nazi Death Camp)
This tour taught me that little bikes have quite some advantages over big bikes on long journeys where time is not of the essence.
With this in mind, in 2001 I thought I’d try an even little-er bike for a longer journey. I bought a bicycle in my cousin’s home town of Calgary, Canada, cycled up to the Athabasca Glacier, then headed south not knowing where I would go or end up. Four months later I found myself somewhat surprised to be crossing into Mexico having cycled into Yellowstone Park, across the Painted Desert, up to the Grand Canyon, and dodged the bullets at a re-enactment of the Gunfight at the OK Corral in Tombstone, Arizona. After leaving the Icefields Parkway, where no camping was allowed owing to bear activity (lots), I lived in my little tent for 101 consecutive nights between Canmore, Alberta, and El Paso, Texas.
Further research into little motorbikes, including Lois Pryce’s books, led me to select the Yamaha TTR250 for the planned Cape Town carnival.
(Bicycle used for the Canada to Mexico odyssey is just behind, still going strong)
I bought it in May 2008, took it to the Baltic coast of Germany for a summer visit, and have been tinkering and preparing ever since. It now looks like this:
(The very first Dress Rehearsal)
Caroline found my TTR too high, despite being lowered with a Kouba Link. She stole my Serow once, after I returned from the East Europe trip, and gallivanted off with it to Spain for three years, so she decided on another Serow for this trip.
Beau, new to motorbikes, settled for another TTR250. So we are almost equipped, if not yet prepared.
A question asked frequently is - what will be our route?
That's a bit of a moveable feast, but here goes: A basic knowledge of Whyteleafe and Africa is assumed here.
We leave Whyteleafe Hill, over the level crossing, and stop at the main Godstone Road.
Turn right here, then almost immediately right into the petrol station for the last fill-up in England for what hopefully will be a long long time.
At the cash desk we realise that Beau doesn’t have his baseball cap, Caroline has forgotten her camera, and I’ve left the gas on.
From the petrol station it’s left onto the Godstone Road, then almost immediately left into Whyteleafe Hill, over the level crossing, up the hill, and back home already……… We hope the neighbours don’t notice.
Now, we have everything - we hope.
Back to the Godstone Road, Caterham Bypass, M25, M20, Dover, Calais, Austria, Croatia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Aqabah, ferry to Sinai, Suez, Cairo, follow the Nile to the Valley of the Kings, Luxor, Aswan, take ferry across Lake Nasser, past Abu Simbel, to Sudan, continue alongside the Nile to Khartoum, Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, Kenya, Nairobi, Masai Mara, Kilimanjaro, Mombasa, Tanzania, Dar es Salaam, Maybe Zanzibar.
Then perm any route from.......
Hold on....... That reminds me!
I left the maps behind, in that waterproof plastic bag behind the front door.
………. left into Whyteleafe Hill, over the level crossing, up the hill, and back home already……… We hope the neighbours don’t notice. Again.
On the road again in Dar es Salaam, we perm any route from:
Malawi, Lake Malawi, Lilongwe, Blantyre, Zambia, Luangwa National Parks, Lusaka, Victoria Falls, Lake Kariba, Bulawayo ,Great Zimbabwe National Monument, Kruger National Park, Mozambique, Maputo, Durban, Port Elizabeth, Cape Town, Cape Agulhas. And hope we didn’t leave anything behind this time.
Then, we don't really know right now. Into the unknown: The Kalahari, Botswana, Windhoek, Namibia, how do you make God laugh? You tell him your plans!
The kick-off for this adventure is still five months away, and still a lot of preparation to do. I've noticed that most trip reports don't say much about the time leading up to departure, and while I was researching this trip, it was that sort of information I looked for. What did travellers do to their bikes? How? Where do you find out about red tape? And maps? What thoughts go through your head when deciding what to do to the bike and what to take? Apart from 'too much'.
So my next entries may become a bit of a ramble (like this one) about work on the bike, ideas about work on the bike, putting off work on the bike, tackling paperwork, sifting advice (there's lots of that), and chucking stuff in the big box I now have in the hallway as a repository for all things that come under the heading: "Think I'll take that." So far, it mainly contains mundane items like ball-point pens, elastic bands and paper clips. Necessary things that I have shed-loads of. But always, when I ride onto the ferry at Dover at the start of some jaunt, I find I don't even have a biro to write notes with, nor note paper, and have to purchase all that stuff on the boat that I already have huge supplies of at home.
Not on this trip, I hope.
Posted by Ken Thomas at 11:20 PM
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