Started December 2008-
I first rode a bike when I was about 20 - I was living in a village community in Berkshire and acquired an old Honda XL125 which I used to bang about the woods in until it fell apart. I didn't pass my test until a few years later - taking it on, of all things, a Jawa 350 fitted with a Velorex sidecar. I had this combination for about a year - I remember what fun it was in the snow! The test in those days basically involved riding round a block of houses a few times, occasionally seeing the examiner who was on foot, jumping in front of me at one time so I could show him I had mastered the emergency stop - luckily this was a modern Czech bike and even had a brake fitted to the sidecar wheel, although they were drums all round! I remember going to Cornwall once and having the brakes fade completely on Porlock Hill - I had to choose between a ditch and a stone wall at the bottom of the hill. It took ages to drag it out of the ditch. Later I was not so lucky - I decided to take the sidecar off, not a great move since pulling the sidecar meant the tyres were completely square and the frame was out of kilter, and soon afterwards I slung the bike down the road after coming out of the Yamaha dealers in Cardiff - the bike took out a stone gatepost and I can remember lying there and being berated by the owner of the house for the damage to his post. One thing I did notice on the Jawa was that other riders tended to ignore me, or even laugh, but I decided I didn’t really care – even then I was a very solitary rider, and to this day I have never enjoyed riding in groups.
I decided it was time to move up to a proper bike, and found a fine, low mileage example of a 1980 (W) Honda CX500 in a small dealers. I still knew absolutely nothing about bikes, but had owned several old cars and worked on them - this was to come in handy when I had to rebuild the CX after the camchain tried to rattle its way out of the engine. I also made my first long trip on that bike - I had a week off work and decided I was going to got to Skye - there was no bridge then so you had to go across by boat, so there was still some romance attached to the idea of travelling there. I spent the whole week riding the bike around Scotland, mainly without stopping anywhere, mainly because riding was the only time I could stop thinking about scratching all the midge bites. Nobody had told me about the dreaded Scottish midges and they just seemed a mild annoyance when I sat reading outside my tent on the shores of Loch Lomond on my first night in Scotland! But I enjoyed riding, I loved the freedom it gave me to go anywhere and just being able to get on the bike put me in another place where nothing else mattered. It is this which has always stayed with me - I have never really been into biking, never had many friends who are into bikes, or been interested in bike racing or meets - just riding is the thing that does it for me. I also did my first road rally – the National Rally in 1985 aboard that CX, completing the Gold course, which I repeated again in 1986.
In fact, I enjoyed riding so much that in the summer of 1986, when I got fed up working for South Glamorgan Social Services, I got a job working for a courier company. Wings operated out of a small unit by the back of the Welsh Opera Company. Each rider was given a number when he started - I was number 58 - by the time I left 18 months later I was the only person below about 120 . The high turnover of riders was partly because people started on unsuitable machines or with romantic aspirations of being able to ride their bikes all day or with unreasonable expectations of the money they could earn, but mainly because they did not realise how bloody hard it was as a job. It did pay well, but that was before you took into account the cost of fuel, servicing, tyres etc which came out of your pay. I was mainly doing long distance work - often covering between 1500 and 2000 miles in a week, which meant a service every fortnight, with a new rear tyre, and a new front tyre every month. When the snow got really bad I even bought an old XL185 with mudplugger tyres on it and rode that across Wales to deliver parcels for DHL.After the first winter of this I realised I needed to get a fairing - the clothing back then was not very sophisticated, no heated clothing or waterproof textile suits, and getting ready for winter just meant putting M&S thermals under my leathers and pulling on a Rukka rubberised oversuit and a pair of Derry boots. I still remember the pain of the chilblains on my fingers an
I had noticed that every other bike I had seen on the motorways in the winter was a BMW with a big fairing so went off to the local dealers, South Wales Superbikes in Newport, to look at a few. I came away with a mint red 1982 (Y) BMW R80RT. It was four years old but had only done 10k miles, and even had a radio-cassette in the fairing pocket, with speakers in the faring itself. Over the next year I added another 69k to the mileage, nearly all of it for work; The bike was faultless – less so the rider – I wore through the rocker cover on the right hand side (I remember looking down at some lights and seeing oil being pumped out of the cover each time the piston fired!), and managed to lose the fairing for a month when I came down on some ice. I took it off and carried on riding while I was being repaired, with the headlight and indicators gaffa taped on. I also bought a Honda CB550K, my first 4 cylinder bike, as a backup and hired it out to another rider. I remember this was stolen and stripped but found by the police – I collected it but then had to push it with a buckled front wheel and no brakes right across Cardiff to get it home.
The RT went when I gave up despatch riding and took a job in Bevans Motorcycles, a Honda, Suzuki and Vespa dealership in the centre of Cardiff, selling bikes and managing the workshop. Shortly after that I rode the 550K down the west coast of France to Spain and then sold it, complete with its modified alloy tank and clip-ons. I then had a Honda CBX750, followed by a Suzuki GSX750, a Honda VF500F, and a BMW R100RT for a while, but found I was not using them very much. Working in the bike shop meant I didn’t really need my own bike – there were plenty of new demonstrators for the weekend, including such bikes as the new Suzuki GSXR750, and a range of secondhand bikes from scooters upwards to use for the daily commute. As an aside I remember when the first Suzuki GSXR1100 came in – we did not sell Goldwings so it was the most expensive bike we had ever had in. None of us could believe anyone would pay over £5k (it was £5199) for a sportsbike! In the following few months Suzuki dealers could not get enough of them – perhaps I was not cut out to be a salesman after all.
I also got my first taste of riding on the track, as Suzuki used to regularly put on track days when they launched new bikes. I also did a couple of races on local tracks riding a Suzuki RG250 but it (and possibly I!) were not very competitive. The RG250 expired in the workshop when one of the mechanics removed the fuel tank – unfortunately they had a remote tap so you could not remove the tank without getting petrol everywhere, it was a very cold day and the paraffin heater was about ten feet away – the resultant flame that travelled across the workshop, and the following bang, were very spectacular, but it took several days to get rid of the foam from the fire extinguishers we had to use!
When I did leave there to move back to Cheshire, I bought a Honda XL600R we had rebuilt and rode that for a couple of years, including many trips to Nantes in France where my then girlfriend was studying. I also used it for a few trail bike endures, but it was really far too heavy for me, especially since it was kickstart only – indeed when I first had it, I had been thrown out of the seat more than once by that kickstart!
I went back to teacher training college and rode the XL until I had finished, whereupon, with the promise of a new job, I went back to the same BMW dealers and bought a 6 month old white and blue 1988 R80GS for £3600, trading in the XL after riding it for 24k miles for £1200 - £200 more than I had paid for it. The next day I packed up the GS and spent all summer touring Eastern Europe, going to Czechoslovakia, Eastern Germany and Hungary. The Berlin Wall had only come down that year so these countries were still very much as they had been under Communism – going from West to East Berlin was like turning a television from colour to black and white (you used to be able to do that too!). I managed to run out of petrol in East Berlin and had to push the GS back into the west to get petrol. The people were extremely friendly, once they realised I was not German – there was a lot of antipathy towards West Germans coming in with much more money and buying everything up. Most of the cars driving around were Trabants, with smaller engines in them than my bike!
I started teaching in Birmingham in the September – in November I woke up one day to find the GS had gone, stolen despite its locks from outside the house. When the insurance money came through it was snowing and I weakened, fed up with the hassle of commuting short distances and the way insurance costs had recently rocketed – I bought a car. It was another 5 years before I had another bike. In that time I only ever rode a bike to complete the Special Gold course in the National Rally for charity in 1992, borrowing a Honda VFR750 from my former employer at Bevan’s.
It was only when I started a new job 50 miles away that I even thought about getting another bike. Over the next eight years I covered several hundred thousand miles just going to work – as with despatching, I generally found that by the time I had ridden all week I was less interested in riding at the weekends, when I had to clean and often service the bike anyway. I had five bikes in this time,
I started with a silver 1979 (X) BMW R100RS and when that had gone round the clock and was worn out I bought a green and white 1989 (F) Yamaha FJ1200.
This FJ was not a great example, and it ran very hot, possibly because of the full fairing I had on it, but I liked the bike so after 40k on it I replaced it with another FJ, this time a black and gold 1988 (E) bike, it had the same mileage on it but was in much better condition.
I also fitted some Krauser panniers, a Baglux seat, Renegade stainless exhaust, Hagon rear shock, progressive forks, R1 brakes and heated grips. This one lasted twice as long, getting to 120k on the clock, including a couple of trips abroad and taking part in a few more rallies, including the Welsh Rally each year, before I sold it. In truth the bike still went well, but the handling was very worn, to the point that I felt like I had to fight it round every corner and following a friend on his CBR1000 round the Welsh Rally course made me realise its limitations.
I did replace it briefly with a 1987 Yamaha Tenere but found riding a single with no fairing for long distances was not something I was ready to go back to after getting used to four cylinder motorbikes - I was clearly getting soft as I got older!
Sometime in these years I also acquired a classic Italian bike - a 1978 Laverda Jarama (poor man's Jota!), which I rode for a couple of weekends before taking it apart with a view to rebuilding it. I only ever got as far as rebuilding the engine before struggling to get some cycle parts, moving house, getting divorced etc. The bike is still in parts in a friend's garage - one day it will see the light of day again!
I wanted a newer bike but didn’t have very much money for one after recently rebuilding my house so searched eBay for possibilities. The answer came in the form of another BMW, a blue 1997 (R) K1200RS. I knew nothing about this bike but I read up about it on the internet and it seemed like it would suit me. It was 7 years old, had only had 2 previous owners, had covered 26k, and had a full service history and a full titanium Remus exhaust system fitted, which seemed fairly good. The seller was a Honda dealer in Grantham, who had taken the bike in part exchange then managed to drop another bike against it so it had a round hole in one of the fairing panels where the other bike’s handlebar had pierced it. I bid it up to £2450, but the auction finished below the seller’s minimum price. I then received an email from the dealers saying they would sell it to me for this price – the next day I got the train up to Lincolnshire and rode it back after putting a new battery on it. Compared to the FJ it was a revelation, especially in terms of handling and power, but I did miss some of the old bike’s low down torque. The RS got me back into riding for other reasons than just work as well – I started doing more long rides just for the hell of it and would often go off and do a 500 mile round trip at the weekend. My main worry with the bike was how long I would keep my licence – it was just too easy to ride too fast, and I soon fitted an Inforad speed camera detector, but one journey back from Bournemouth saw me covering 180 miles in less than 2 hours. I also got the chance to ride this bike around a track, taking part in a day’s training on counter-steering and cornering at Bruntingthorpe with California Superbikes, courtesy of RIDE magazine.
The bike was not without problems either – I spent ages before I traced an overheating problem to a faulty filler cap, and then the clutch started slipping. This is not good on these – they usually slip because oil is leaking past the gearbox inner seal or engine outer seal, and the only answer is to drop the engine out of the frame and remove the gearbox. The BMW dealer wanted around £1200 to do the job – a friend who is a mechanic did it for me but it still cost me £700. Then the brakes weren’t as good as they had been – diagnosed as worn calipers, and the shocks needed replacing – I felt it was time for a change!
I thought back to that GS I had ridden round Europe on. They had become very popular, especially since Ewan and Charlie’s adventures, and this seemed like a good option which would help me to slow down. (I got my first speeding ticket on a bike in 20 years shortly afterwards, on the GS in Hereford!). I could not afford one of the newer R1200GSs but found a very clean R1150GS in Clarks, the BMW dealers in Rednal. They gave me £2200 as trade in for the RS which seemed like a good deal to me, against £5300 for the GS, a blue and white (my preferred colour) 2001 R1150GS with 16k on the clock. Being from a dealer, it came with a year’s BMW warranty and BMW breakdown cover. I did the deal in February 2007, rode the bike away and spent the rest of the day wondering what the hell I had done – in comparison to the RS it was noisy, rattly, vibrated and was slow. But gradually it grew on me and I soon began to find I could ride it anywhere, and certainly across country, as fast or faster than I could have got there on anything else. I again did the Platinum course of the Welsh Rally on it that year, finishing in the daylight for the first time, indeed I was home 2 hours away long before I would have completed the rally in previous years – the organisers didn’t believe me when I finished, convinced I must have done one of the shorter courses.
I also decided that I should take some advanced training – I had never received any instruction on riding a bike and realised that I was really still riding as I had done when I was despatching. I was obviously not too dangerous because I had only ever had one accident, being knocked off the XL while filtering along the outside of a line of cars, but I was getting older and my reactions were definitely slower! I had previously joined the IAM group in Coventry, but felt the way they ran training and the experience of some of the instructors did not inspire me, but I now, having moved house, joined the group in Telford. I was paired up with an observer, Paul Gater, who gave me lots of useful pointers and I passed my test after half a dozen sessions with him. I have since moved again, and joined the local RoSPA group to take their test.
Honda C90 enduro racing!
Through the IAM group in Telford I joined up with four other instructors to form Team Grim Up North. For a season we ran a Honda C90 in the C90 Enduro Challenge series which was run for a couple of years for charity. We started the first 4 hour race, on a grasstrack, with a bike which was simply a C90 with a small motocross wheel grafted on the front – but we still came 4th; by the final race of the season, on a full motocross track, the bike had changed beyond recognition, keeping only the frame, engine and leg guards as the regulations demanded – and we won the race, coming second in the championship. Unfortunately the series fizzled out after that, probably because of health & safety and insurance issues.
That summer my girlfriend, Stacey, and I decided we wanted to go on an adventure, and she agreed to go on the bike. This was pretty brave – she had only done one motorcycle trip before, on the RS to Wales in the October before – it had rained solidly for days and we had been soaked to the skin several times. We tentatively thought we could get to Morocco and on that basis borrowed a Lonely Planet guide, booked a ferry from Dover to Calais and loaded up the bike with panniers, topbox and a large tankbag with sidebags, containing a tent, sleeping bags, mats, cooking gear, food, tools, spare clothes, hair dryer, straighteners, makeup etc.! We had three weeks to go away in, and I thought we would do well if we made it as far as Spain. In the event we spent a week riding through France and Spain then crossed from Tarifa to Tangers and spent nine days riding around Morocco. We visited Fez and spent a couple of days in Marrakesh before riding up on some very interesting, and often difficult, roads into the mountains across the Tizi n Test, and then back along the Atlantic coast. It took us another week to get back home, hastened by rain most of the way through France.
Over the following winter I discovered long distance riding properly – searching the internet I came across an association called the Long Distance Riders and then the Iron Butt Association, and found you could get certificates and recognition for doing specific rides. I started in February 2008 by doing 500 miles within 12 hours for an LDR ride – I completed it in under 9 hours and felt fine, so I then did a 1000 mile ride for LDR, and then repeated it in April as an IBA SS1000, completing it in 16½ hours. I took part in the Welsh Rally again at the beginning of May, completing the Platinum and Dragon awards and becoming the overall winner (but I did not hear this until September). I also entered the Round Britain Rally and started collecting landmark bonuses for this – sometimes going out on days to collect a number from an area of Britain, sometimes getting them while doing other rides – I collected 9 while on the Welsh Rally and another 8 while completing the East Coast Challenge in Norfolk and Suffolk.
The rides I had done earlier in the year were part of a plan, which involved preparing myself for what would be the greatest challenge to date in my riding career – the Brit Butt Rally. This was the first running of this IBA event and I had been very lucky to get a place. I have written about it at length elsewhere, but suffice it to say I have never felt so proud as when I was presented with the winner’s plaque. Later on in the summer I also took part in the first Norn Iron Rally, and did well enough to finish as the winner of that event too. I spent a fair amount of time reading about similar events and devising ways of modifying my bike to make it even better for these rallies.
By the beginning of the summer of 2008 I had become rather addicted to this long distance rides and rally thing and wanted to see how many I could complete in that year – having already done the LDR500, LDR1000, SS1000, Welsh Rally, the East Coast Challenge, Brit Butt Rally and started the Round Britain Rally. In July I took part in the National Rally which had been cancelled the year before, taking part in the special tests and completing the Platinum award with my friend Pete Manancourt. I then completed an SS2000, riding 2040 miles in 42 hours via Lowestoft, John O Groats and Lands End – the weather was appalling at times and the friend I set off with, Pal Vandersteen, decided to call it a day after Carlisle. This ride also gained me an LDR1500 award for completing the first 1500 miles in 36 hours, and included riding an End2End ride from JoG to Lands End. I also took part in BIKE magazine’s Ultimate Rider competition, but only got as far as 29th out of the final 30 – drag racing was definitely not my forte!
Over the summer I had devised a plan which involved travelling north to visit friends in South Shields, picking up RBR landmarks along the way, then completing the Touring Award of the Scottish Rally, which can be started any time within a month of the rally date in September; then crossing to Northern Ireland to travel around the whole of Ireland, visiting all the locations for the Irish Photographic Rally, before going back to Northern Ireland to take part in the Norn Butt Rally. My long-suffering girlfriend therefore spent her summer holiday collecting receipts from petrol stations across Scotland and then searching for obscure monuments across Ireland – it wouldn’t have been so bad if so much of it hadn’t been under grey or rainy clouds! By the end of the summer we had visited 23 landmarks for the Scottish Rally; 24 for the Irish Photographic Rally; and 14 for the Round Britain Rally.