Look back on Laconia Bike Week, 2.

93rd Laconia Bike week. A tour of Boston. Then pick up my bike at MOMs in Foxboro and drive up to Ossipee Lake near Laconia.

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Boston and the ride up to New Hampshire.

Last year I visited my friend Matt who lives near Boston so we could travel up to Laconia Bike Week in New Hampshire. Matt and Cheryl invited me to a tour of Boston before we set off on our motorcycle trip to Laconia, and I was happy to see a few of the sights and attractions. We visited Faneuil Hall and the Quincy Market area which is a busy down-town historic indoor market that is particularly well known for food. I sampled a lobster roll from Ned Devine’s Irish pub which is at the back entrance to the market which was great.  We did the Charles River by Duck Boat, which are derived from World War 2 amphibious landing vehicles. The tour is very popular, mainly because the “conDUCKtors” that drive and pilot these vehicles, or vessels, give a comic running commentary while they point out the interesting attractions in the city. Our guy was Canadian, known as Tim Burr (as in when somebody shouts: TIIMMBEER, when felling a tree), and his gag is that he fell into the Charles River and floated down from Canada to Boston where someone on a DUCK boat pulled him out of the water, and he has been working the DUCK boats ever since. The boats are a great additional perspective from which to see the city.

It was time to take a look at the bike I was taking up to Laconia. I was highly impressed when I got to MOMS Motorcycles in Foxboro. This is a Polaris dealer through and through, and the first thing that impresses you is that there is a lot going on here. The parking lot is full of motorcyclesharley1, cars and people. As you walk into the shop you see new Indian motorcycles. A new Roadmaster with what I think is the most impressive paint job on the market was right next to the door. MOMS Foxboro are Eagle Rider agents, and I soon discovered that my bike that was held for me was the last bike available. The bike was a full dress Harley Davidson Electra Glide (FLHTK) from 2013 with a 103 cubic inch engine (1670cc), in an attractive black and silver livery. It weighed in at 857 lbs (398 kgs) which is massive compared to what I am used to. This model has ABS, cruise control, a smart security system, an attractive two-tone paint scheme, the tour-pack and a luggage rack,  and heated hand grips. I was looking forward to getting out on the road and seeing how I and this big girl were going to get along.

Matt and I set off on our road-trip to Laconia. It’s a couple of hours trip on I-95 or I-495 up to The White Mountain Range where I-93 becomes the most important highway. I have to admit that I was a little worried about how I would get on riding the Harley. I had tried Harleys a couple of years ago and while friends had told me about how comfortable these big cruisers are, I had had a different experience. I had found it hard to get comfortable riding cruiser-style bikes but it didn’t take long for me to realise that I was going to have no problem on this trip. Matt stopped after a short time in a gas station and I was grateful that I wasn’t the first one to start bemoaning the onset of old age, arthritis, and old injuries. Furthermore, I discovered that the older Harley that Matt was riding, a Heritage Softail, didn’t have a sixth gear and didn’t have electronic ignition so we were going to have very regular refuelling stops / rests. Matt’s bike only had soft bags and the Electra Glide I was riding had the full tour pack with hard cases and a massive top box.

Matt and I were born the same year, long before 6th gears, electronic ignition, World Wide Web or mobile/cell phones were known to the world. So to apportion all the responsibility for sore hips and backs on the bikes would be unfair.  At least we could laugh about our age and injury related issues, which we did quite regularly on the trip. When we got back on the Interstate I concentrated on getting comfortable and getting used to this big girl. It takes a bit of getting used to a bike that heavy and even when you are getting it upright from the side-stand you really feel it. The front of the bike seemed to carry a lot of the weight and that’s no surprise when you take into consideration what’s going on up there. There is a very large fairing which shelters the rider and a massive amount of equipment. There is a radio and large speakers housed in the fairing and lots of clocks and a considerable amount of chrome. It wasn’t long before I started referring to it as the Lincoln Town Car because of it’s size and weight.

On one of our stops for fuel Matt announced that he would like to visit a property belonging to a friend of his that was being renovated. We turned off up mountain roads and started searching for some familiar landmarks so Matt could navigate to the house. Straight up steep inclines with high trees on both sides with the finest switchbacks, hairpins, loose surface and subsidence known to man. Matt is an avid motocross man and if we had the motocross bikes I had seen in his garage this would be a great place to motorcycle. Let me tell you it was worth it. Matt’s friend’s property was on a high crest with a view to die for. In the middle of the White Mountain Range, there was a mountain peak in every direction you looked. The extension on the house was three stories, with picture windows facing in every direction, and a mountain to look at from each one. Over the next few days I hecropped 1ard about so many mountains that I can’t remember for sure which mountains I was looking at from the house. Mount Washington for sure, but there were many more. This whole area is known for it’s views and famous worldwide for fabulous scenery and the mountains and mountain highways and lakes. These are what make New England synonymous with Autumn beauty and winter holidays as well as summer visitors. It’s a backpacker, snowboarder and skier’s paradise in the winter and the summer visitors include mountaineers, hikers, water sports enthusiasts as well as a huge influx of motorcyclists for Laconia Bike Week. It was late evening when we reached the shores of Ossipee Lake and the gorgeous cottage we were going to stay in while visiting Laconia.

 

 

Suzie Stars in Dancing On Ice.

A scoot to Kilkenny, icy blast to Mount Leinster and a run to a bike show in Dublin before a date with a man with a scalpel.

About to suffer an absence from biking, I got out on the V-Strom in spite of very wet and cold weather.

I had a date with a scalpel wielding medic yesterday so, knowing there was going to be a period that I would not be able to take Suzie, my Suzuki V-Strom 1000 Adventure out to play, I took the opportunity to get out last week. My first destination on Thursday was  Gorey Business Park in Wexford, the South East of Ireland, to the guys in AMI (Adventure Motorcycles of Ireland). David had a few spare tickets for customers for the Carole Nash Motorbike and Scooter Show, in the RDS (Royal Dublin Society) Showgrounds, starting the next day, Friday. He kindly gave me my ticket and I had a coffee and a browse through the motorcycles on offer in the AMI shop, and as usual there were many fabulous examples to ogle.  After a chat with Derek, the Patriarch of the Ryanhart motorcycle dynasty, I headed off again on Suzie to Kilkenny.

One of my favourite short rides is to Kilkenny and a quick visit to Sullivan’s brewery Tap-rooom. I wrote about it in an earlier post about medieval Kilkenny (http://wp.me/p7IHqF-K2)sullivans and my feelings on their beer have been vindicated. There is a medal hanging on the beer taps indicating that the experts at the recent beer judging in the Alltech Dublin Craft Brews and Food Fair event, rated it very highly too. I ran into Ian, their Master Brewer while I was parking the V-Strom in the car-park at the rear of the premises. He is also an avid motorcyclist and we swapped a few war stories on our biking adventures abroad before I went in to order my pint of Sullivan’s Maltings Red Ale and Tikka Chicken Pizza. A pint and a pizza for 12 euros is good value in my book and the chef busied himself with their own wood-fired pizza oven making me a gorgeous crispy based offering. Ellen the bartender was kind enough to advise me to move Suzie into the covered area that is the walkway into the Tap-room to prevent it getting too wet. Which I gladly did because the rain was now teeming down. I had a  browse in their excellent wine and liquor shop at 15  John Street, before heading out on Suzie in the rain again.

A quick scoot to Borris, a small town in the general direction of home and I made the decisionninestones to go over Mount Leinster which had a little snow on it when I looked out my front door in the morning but I didn’t think that was going to be a problem. The rain was coming in heavy intermittent bursts but it wasn’t really an issue either. I made it up to the Nine Stones which is the viewing area at the bottom of the road to the Mount Leinster TV Transmitter mast or antenna, and took a snap with my phone showing a wet and misty County Carlow. I noticed that the gate to the TV mast road was open, which it almost never is, but knowing that the road is really only for RTE TV (national television broadcaster) personnel I wouldn’t be going up there. After all, it’s probably not allowed. And anyway there could still be ice and snow and the usual gale force wind so it would be dangerous up there. So, of course I set off up the road to the mast knowing there were a couple of places I could turn so as not to get to the icy, snowy and blowy bit. Which I duly ignored and got the full dancing on iceblast of the icy gale-force wind I was expecting when I rounded the last bend before the mast compound. Even so, it was hard to battle the wind, but at this stage you are totally committed, no turning back, with a nice covering of ice on the very steep narrow road and snow on the banks. The wind kind of picked me up and deposited me in the middle of the compound, wheels and boots sliding gracefully along in our version of “Dancing on Ice”. I think the judges would have been impressed. I was swiftly reminded why the RTE four-wheel drive vehicles have a little shelter built there to protect them from the large lumps of ice that fall off the mast and could easily damage a vehicle. It’s not a pleasant feeling thumping off a helmet either. I killed the motor briefly, and hanging on to the bike with my knees, I managed to retrieve my phone for another quick snap before the old adage: “discretion is the better part of valour” kicked in and I got out of there, rather gingerly.

The next day, Friday saw me heading off in nasty sideways rain. Real rain. If you get straight down rainDSC05578 in Ireland it’s not considered real rain. Straight down rain brings the comment “it’s a grand soft day” instead of a hard day with proper sideways rain. Straight down rain is kind of summer rain, but don’t let that fool you because summer is a moveable feast in Ireland that doesn’t follow any real seasonal occurrences or dates. I rode up to the RDS in Ballsbridge, Dublin for the Carole Nash Motorbike and Scooter show and luckily found a nice sheltered place to get the bike out of the nasty weather. The show itself was excellent. The AMI & Overlanders, Touratech Stand was one of the highlights and their customised black Africa Twin was a sight to behold. It’s theirs for the year for tours and demo rides and I hope I am back fully fit in time to get a jaunt on it before it goes on a holiday abroad. I am not sure DSC05599how to give you an idea of the scale of this event because it was way bigger than I imagined it was going to be. All the major manufacturers of bikes and suppliers of clothing and protective gear as well as many other organisations were present. There were lots of exhibitions too, custom bikes, vintage bikes and the myriad prizes, cups and medals, as well as the leathers of a certain Mr. Joey Dunlop. A Northern Ireland motorcycle legend, Joey Dunlop was voted the second greatest motorcycle icon ever by Motorcycle News, and many would argue should be considered number one. DSC05666Some living legends were called to the stage in the Main Hall and gave interesting accounts of their racing experiences too. Of course there was food and drink stands and at times when the rain eased off a little it was possible to go outside and see the stunt riders performing their skills in a fenced off paddock. I imagine it is more usual to see four legged steeds being lead around there because the RDS is most famous for equestrian events. I could have stayed ogling the bike beauties for days. All the best adventure bikes from Honda, Yamaha and many more as well as fabulous cruisers from Indian and BMW. Ducati, Yamaha, Harley, Suzuki, Triumph, Husqavarna, Royal Enfield and many more were also showing their fabulous wares. As well as the beautiful vintage Indian in the featured image, the modern “behemoth” Indian Roadmaster was spectacular, but all the manufacturers did themselves proud. Kudos to Carole Nash for a fine spectacle. And that was only Friday with two more days to go in what had to have been a brilliant weekend for all the motorcycle enthusiasts who attended over the weekend.

I met Colin, an old school friend, also a big bike fan, and we nattered away for about an hour and then it was time to gear up and head back out into the heavy traffic and sideways rain. It was a rotten dark, wet evening heading down the M11 on Suzie but it was worth it.  Now lying convalescing in my sick bed (read: being spoiled rotten with beverages and tasty bits) I know I will again be suffering some withdrawal symptoms (http://wp.me/p7IHqF-ST) and worse than the last time, because this time I have a bike in the basement but am just not allowed to use it for a few weeks, or maybe a week, or maybe… We’ll see.

Happiness is a girl called…Suzuki.

Getting in some trips on the new V-Strom 1000. Laurie loves the comfort…

The new V-Strom exceeding expectations.

My wife Laurie was not a fan of the seat on my Yamaha Fazer. It was a reliable bike and brought me on some long trips and back, safely without and issues, breakdowns or fuss. dsc05573-2When I decided to change, Laurie’s comfort was one of the highest priorities, and the V-Strom Adventure I got from the guys in AMI (Adventure Motorcyles of Ireland) to test ride, came first in her rating. It got an immediate thumbs up with a special reference to how comfortable the seat was. So, we picked the Suzuki V-Strom up, all shiny and new, in Gorey Business Park in the first week of January. To say the least, she is loving it. I think the number of miles we covered on it together has probably already exceeded the number covered on the Fazer.

Last weekend we did some nice miles, heading to Duncannon beach in Wexford, in the dsc05574South East corner of Ireland. It’s a lovely beach with great views of the Hook Pennisula and the Waterford coastline. It’s one of Laurie’s favourites, having spent all her childhood summers there. Duncannon has some great pubs and restaurants and we hookstopped on the beach, which is firm enough to drive on. The “Ta-Dah” moment in the featured photo is when Laurie found a suitable piece of driftwood to put under the side-stand so we could park up for a little while. We headed for the Hook which is another of our favourite stops. Hook Lighthouse is one of the oldest working lighthouses in the world. After a visit to the Lighthouse restaurant we were off again. Waterford City and The Copper Coast was next on our agenda.

We got new Scott jackets and pants along with Schubert helmets that are very comfortable and we are very happy with them. I am particularly happy with the communication system because I can’t hear a word she says. Probably down to my bad hearing. Perfect.

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Withdrawal Symptoms.

Withdrawal symptoms and loyalty to a great bike (or not).

No motorcycle in the basement where they should be at least one.

Happy Christmas and a great impending New Year to everyone, but I am suffering withdrawal symptoms. Self-inflicted of course. Not the usual, aftermath of Christmas type symptoms. From over indulgence in food and beverages consumed with the Christmas fare, and not even from visits to the purveyors of fine beers and liquors. In the form of the local publicans. No, none of the expected outcomes and consequences of the holiday period.

I sold my Fazer (1000c.c.) a few weeks before Christmas and now, strangely, the basement is entirely bereft of motorbikes. An unusual problem. It is usually a case of trying to squeeze between the handlebars of several bikes. I sold my vintage Z about a year ago and the Fazer has been sent on it’s way too. I sold it a few days after handing over a bundle of greenbacks, coinage or dough. Whichever is your favourite moniker for your hard earned funds, for a new bike. A new bike that I won’t get possession of until 2017.

Of course now, every time I have reason to leave the house I meet motorcycles and motorcyclists. When I was on my way home from delivering the Fazer, for onward transmission to it’s new owner, I stopped at a garage and met two fine gentlemen with the shiniest of shiny sportsbikes. Think Kawasaki with 1400 c.c. and BMW with a bloody jet engine. The riders told me they live in Dublin but originate from Russia. And isn’t it a fine day for a blast. Well it would be if you had a motorcycle. So that was a week or so before Christmas. Everyday since I have met buddies on cruisers or adventure bikes. Hasn’t the weather been really great? Nice to get out of the house after all that turkey. Get lost you teasing pain in the…

Sympathisers such as my wife say it won’t be long until there is a brand new shiny bike where the Fazer was. That is no consolation. None whatsoever. That’s like saying to someone that is going through a break-up that time is a great healer. Never say that to anyone who is going through a rough time. Well, I always believed that the Fazer and I would be together forever. dsc04838-2_liI suppose it’s not the first relationship that seemed destined to be forever that didn’t survive. Now every time I go through the basement of my house, which is very often, because I keep that other form of transport that I use, that shall remain nameless, outside the basement door, all I can see is reminders of what used to be. Helmets, open face and full face; bike jackets and pants, leather and textile; biker gloves, goggles, buffs, scarves, balaclavas, chain oil, tool sets and all the other accoutrements that a biker collects over the years. And most especially the vacant spot dedicated to and supposed to be full of bike. Or bikes. They are a reminder of my loss. So stop trying to console me. Specially on a day that everyone is saying is so fine, and the holidays are still here, if you are a normal person who gets holidays when there are supposed to be holidays. Even my brother-in-Law Declan told me he would probably ride up today on his Triumph America. Well guess who isn’t riding “bitch”. Walkers talking about walking. Runners talking about running. Even swimmers talking about swimming. Get thee behind me Satan!

Fazer and I had some great times together. In the featured picture I was on one of my blasts to Hook Head in the South East tip of Ireland. One of the oldest working lighthouses in the world. In the other image I had Fazer packed for a blast around Europe. Never once did it have as much as a slight mishap or leave me down in anyway. Totally reliable. Oh, what times we had. I am now the person that I have occasionally made a slightly disparaging remark about. A biker without a bike. And I am not in the least bit happy about it. Roll on the early days of 2017 when the folks at AMI (Adventure Motorcycles of Ireland) in Gorey can register my new purchase for me and I can try to start a new relationship. Oh what a coquettish, cheating, fickle person am I…

 

The Motorcycle Diaries.

Ernesto Guevara and Alberto Granado set off on a vintage Norton around the Americas. Book describing the formative journey.

An epic journey that awakened a Revolutionary.

It was while drinking sweet “mate” that two friends decided to set off on an epic motorcycle journey from Buenos Aires in 1951. They were sitting under a vine in Alberto’s place drinking mate and discussing recent events, including Ernesto having recently quit his job, as had Alberto, that the discussion turned to travelling to remote countries and oceans, that a decision was reached: “Why don’t we go to North America?”.  “North America? But how?” “On La Poderosa, man”.

That’s how the formative journey of the famous Revolutionary, Ernesto Che Guervara and his friend Alberto Granado was decided upon. La Poderosa was Alberto’s old and extremely unreliable Norton 500 that the friends started their journey on. It was destined to fail on them and after nursing it through Argentina and Chile and Peru, it was beyond repair. The friends completed the journey by raft, plane,train, truck, bus and for the most part begged and worked their way around the Americas, eventually ending up in Miami, before flying back to Argentina.

Ernesto was a medical student and Alberto a bio-chemist who had experience of working with lepers. The two doctors were moved by the abject poverty they witnessed on their journey and helped beggars and lepers along the way when they could. They were horrified by the conditions of the miners in Chile, many of whom “didn’t even own a blanket”. Guevara, who also suffered from asthma, commented on an old woman, dying from tuberculosis, asthma and a heart condition, “only a month ago this poor woman was still earning her living as a waitress…it’s at times like this that a doctor is conscious of his complete powerlessness,  that he longs for a change”

After their journey ended, Guevara returned to his studies, graduated as a Doctor and embarked on another journey around South America. In Bolivia he experienced the Bolivian Revolution and came in contact with a Cuban revolutionary, with whom he maintained contact.  In 1954 he saw the overthrow of the democratically elected government in Guatemala, by U.S. backed forces and then joined Fidel Castro to wage guerrilla warfare against the despotic Batista dictatorship in Cuba. The Cubans call all Argentines by the nickname “Che”, and “Che” Guevara was regarded by them as a military hero and leader, particularly when his leadership resulted in a massive victory and the end of the Batista regime. He was appointed to high position in the Cuban Revolutionary Government and represented the Country internationally on many occasions. He addressed the United Nations in 1964. He was eventually murdered by U.S. backed Bolivian Forces when he was captured while on a secret trip to promote the revolution in Bolivia.

The motorcycle journeys Guevara undertook, his first on a bicycle with a small motor attached, and the later one with Granado, on the 500cc Norton, bear no resemblance to the modern adventure motorcycling that is the biggest thing in biking in decades. It is an industry all to itself now. It’s all about the power of the bike, the suitability of the tyres. The best accessories and equipment so that nothing can go wrong. Alberto Granado had a slightly different take on their motorcycle adventure, when in 2004, he said: “The trip would not have been as useful and beneficial as it was, as a personal experience, if the motorcycle had held out. This gave us a chance to become familiar with the people. We worked, took on jobs to make money and continued travelling. We hauled merchandise, carried sacks, worked as sailors, cops and doctors”.

Review of the book “The Motorcycle Diaries” written by Ernest Guevara and published by Harper Perennial in 2004.

Long Way Round

Long Way Round; The International Best Seller by Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman. 20004.

Long over-due read. Why have I never read this before?

I had always intended to read this book. I had seen the series on TV and loved it. So why had I never read it? I can’t answer that, but a colleague recently gave me a well thumbed copy of the book and I wasn’t able to put it down. Not just because it is about motorcycling… well that too, but because it is a great read. Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman tell a story of a shared love of motorbikes that leads them to undertake an epic 20,000 miles, east from London, through Europe, Asia and North America. The book is a beautiful insight into a great friendship between the men and their families that started when they met in Ireland,  in Casey’s Pub in County Clare, when they both worked there. Both had moved their families there when they were members of the cast of a movie called Serpent’s Kiss. Originally a big bike trip had been McGregor’s idea and gradually it evolved from a trip to Spain into something much larger and infinitely more ambitious. The plan was hatched in a little workshop in London, surrounded by motorcycles and with maps laid out in front of them, to bike all the way from the Atlantic to the Pacific and then to cross to Alaska, travel down through Canada and on to New York. While many experts told them it was an impossible dream they refused to give up on it. Eventually the team they put together made it happen by sheer determination and dogged tenacity, knocking on the door of every potential sponsor, TV channel, production company and motorcycle manufacturer. The journey was filmed by a combination of the two friends carrying the necessary equipment to record their exploits, as well as by the support crew, which included a motorcycle rider who was also a cameraman, Claudio Von Planta. The support crew, which travelled in four wheel drive vehicles, included David Alexanian and Russ Malkin, the directors,  as well as another cameraman,  Jimmy Simak. Also Sergey, a former special forces soldier and a chain smoking Russian Doctor, called Vasiliy,  they brought along because some of the trip was so far from any medical assistance.

Boorman had first become smitten by the motorcycle bug when he met Sean Connery’s son, Jason. Connery had stayed in their family farm in Wicklow when his Father, John Boorman, a famous director, cast him in a movie he was making in Ireland, called Zardoz. Jason had a little 50cc monkey bike which he allowed Boorman to try out. Boorman promptly fell off but he loved it so much he eventually managed to persuade his parents to allow him buy a 100cc Yamaha trials bike. A neighbour had built a motorcross track on his farm where Boorman spent hours and hours learning the art of motorcycling. He had a lot of scrapes on his bikes, being stopped on the road by local sergeant with no lights, licence or any documentation to when he defied his parents and bought a bigger bike and promptly crashed into a fence with barbed wire right in front of where his dad was playing tennis.

In contrast, McGregor was denied permission to buy a bike, even when he was desperate to do so, having lost his first love to a boy who had a motorcycle. He passed his test after he had moved away from home and rushed to a bike shop to buy what turned out to be a dog of an old Moto Guzzi. But he determinedly  stuck with it, restoring it to it’s former glory. When he became a famous actor he was usually not allowed to ride his bike when on location. Production companies’ insurance agents were determined that no movie shoot would have to come to a halt because some idiot actor had just had a spill off a bike. McGregor dug his heels in when he was being sought for a role in Moulin Rouge, a movie being made in Australia. He and Nicole Kidman had the lead roles. He insisted on being allowed ride his motorcycle and packed up the bike and rode out into the outback wilderness, lit a fire and camped for the night.

The amount of equipment they carried on the bikes nearly scuppered the trip from the outset. A combination of the excessive weight and anxiety caused by the worries of the impending trip, caused Boorman, the more experienced of the two bikers, to drop the big 1150GS twice on the morning they set off. He had been adamant that KTM was the better choice of bike for the trip but KTM were convinced that there was a substantial risk of the trip being a failure. BMW, on the other hand came good for them and were pragmatic. Delighted to be part of it and happy for them to get as far as they could in the adventure. They didn’t worry about failure as long as they gave it a good go. The adventures of the trip included being stuck for hours upon hours at the Slovak and Ukrainian borders, having a gun pointed at them in Kazakhstan and finding themselves on the banks of a huge, fast flowing river in Siberia, where the bridge had been washed away. The motley crew suffered breakdowns, illness, insect bites, thefts and catastrophic frame breaks, all in the course of the adventure. Along the route they met some extraordinary people who helped them out or just gave them encouragement. Bikers rode along with them on some parts of the journey and at the end they were accompanied by a large group of bikers when they entered New York, surprisingly on schedule, after all their experiences.

The book is made up of sections written by both men from their perspectives on the journey. The two were determined to make the journey itself the most important dynamic, not the production of the documentary. The struggles, fears, doubts and points of view of each rider is set out in detail. The reader recognises the characteristics of each and lives through the personal conflicts that they deal with on the trip and also the coming  to terms with, and overcoming their individual conflicts, along the way. A lot of things are tested on the journey: motorbikes, equipment, patience, character, friendships and much more.  Mafia, corrupt officials, border bureaucracy, automatic weapons, terrible roads and other problems were encountered. In Ukraine they visited a UN orphanage and some other worthwhile children’s projects along the way. A natural suspicion of the motives of people they met on the trip had to be re-evaluated too.  The journey was cathartic for the two friends. While adventure motorcycling has always existed, it has certainly become more of a “thing” since this journey of adventure was aired. The term adventure motorcycling was apparently coined in the 1990s, but now adventure motorcycling and the bikes, clothing, equipment and accessories that go with it are the industry standard. Our two friends, I’ll wager, had a part in making that happen. I highly recommend you get a copy of the book and the book of the second journey, Long Way Down. Do so soon, because the series is likely to become a trilogy in the relatively near future.

My Riceburners

We boarded the Stena ferry in Cherbourg for the overnight sailing back to Rosslare. Declan, my brother in law and I had met up in France, in the Loire Valley area, and did some touring around together. img_0207We stayed with Alan and Sophie, friends of Declan’s, in  a lovely village close to Amboise, on the bank of the river Loire. Beautifully wined and dined by our hosts,  we had ridden up to within an hour of the ferry the evening before we were due to get the sailing. The next morning we had intended a quick stop at Mont Saint-Michel, but as luck would have it, there was a marathon taking place, so we could only see Mont in the distance. We headed for Cherbourg, and after a short wait, boarded the ferry. There were a lot of bikes there, and Declan’s Triumph America, 2005, was met with a murmur of approval, and some of the French guys came a little closer to inspect it. We met Pierre and Pascal, who were both particularly animated in their praise and interest in the Triumph. Pierre was a burly Frenchman with a big grey  moustache. He told us that he had a vintage Triumph that he had done a lot of touring on, but his current bike was a Harley, as was Pascal’s.  After a short conversation we agreed to meet in the bar, as soon as we were settled.

A short time later we joined the ancient order of froth blowers in the ship’s lounge and soon our new French acquaintances arrived. Pierre was sporting a very colourful waistcoat, not of the type normally worn by bikers and also had a very fetching, red leather handbag, with a strap, worn across his shoulder. “Declan, Pierre has a red handbag”, I said before he came within hearing distance. “He’s French” was the reply. Pascal and Pierre joined us and the conversation continued on a motorcycle theme. Declan’s Triumph America was, once again, the main topic, or at least Triumphs in general. I was beginning to wonder if all French bikers have a fetish for Triumph, or Steve McQueen, or was I missing something? What about my Yamaha? Quite an accomplished machine with a lot more of the continent under it’s belt than the Triumph. I have to admit that I am a fan of Japanese motor cycles, or to use the pejorative term: Riceburners, which is an insult to a group of motorcycle manufacturers, that grabbed a fairly dull industry in the 60s and 70s, and successfully produced the first superbikes, and have caused a revolution in every aspect of two wheel travel ever since.

When I was a young teenager, back when the earth was covered in snow and ice at both ends, forest in the middle bit, and the dinosaurs had only just faded into the annals of history, my method of transport was by means of a bicycle. When I came of age to become a motorcyclist, I visited a local shop that dealt in bicycles, and small motorbikes, to see what might be available. I always worked weekend and summer jobs so I had some cash saved. I had bought my first racing bike in this shop and now it was time to graduate to a bike with the added attraction of a motor. rd125I spotted the Yamaha RD125, a two stroke little beauty, in nice condition, with not too many miles. This was circa 1981 or 1982, I believe, and I made my purchase for the princely sum of £800 Irish pounds. The bike was probably a mid to late seventies model but it was perfect for my teenage needs. I bought a full face helmet and a leather jacket, a lá Marlon Brando style, and became a biker. Or so I thought at least. I went all over the country on this little bike and it always got me where I was going. The only problem I remember having, was on a return trip from Tralee, in the south west of the country, a distance of 125 miles (200km). I checked the two-stroke level, in the little bottle under the side cover, and discovered it was just empty. I was stranded for a little while, afraid to drive any further in case of causing engine damage. I found a little fuel station in the small town where I had stopped, called Cappoquin. There was a young guy, not much older than myself working there. He told me that he had heard that engine oil could be used, in place of two stroke oil, in the case of emergency. Not having a lot of choice, as it was Sunday evening and nowhere else was open, I took his advice and used some. It got me home the last 50 miles of my journey without any problem.

On the outward leg of the journey to the continent I had met up with Paddy Ryan on the ferry, and bikewe had travelled together for the first few days, but Paddy was heading towards Prague and I towards The Hague. I stayed with friends, Damir and Alisa, and their lovely daughter Uma, and then I travelled through Germany for a week, turned West into France, eventually meeting up with Declan in Amboise, France. We stayed with Alan and Sophie, as I mentioned earlier, and did some day trips close by. The Loire valley offers lots of treats, fantastic views and attractions to visit. The weather was showery but still very warm, so occasionally the wet gear had to be worn, which is always uncomfortable in the heat. That’s when the trouble began.We were scooting along on the autoroute when a shower started. We pulled in and donned the waterproofs and set off again. We were on the way to visit Chateau de Chambord, a beautiful French Renaissance castle, chambourdwhen I noticed the Triumph starting to slow down. Gradually it slowed to not much more than a crawl, but in the mean time the shower had dissipated. I noticed the Triumph give a few little chucks and then it started to accelerate again. When we stopped I asked what happened but Declan wasn’t sure. The bike had just lost power. I had a sinking feeling about it, but we enjoyed the visit to the Chateau, and forgot the problems with the Triumph. Not for long. After a coffee break at a rest stop, the triumph wouldn’t start. The ignition was fine but the starter button was dead.  I told Declan to hop on and put the bike in first gear. This was the first time I pushed started the bike for him. The first of many. Within a few minutes the Triumph lost power and gradually came to a full stop. Here we go. More pushing. Very little starting.

I had just spent three weeks riding around Europe on my trusty Yamaha. Up through Northern France, through Belgium and Netherlands. When I got to The Hague I had ridden all day in torrential rain. Just a few extra coffee stops to try to get out of the wet, but I had made my friends’ house, in the late evening, sopping wet. My gear had taken two days to dry while I was given the tour of The Hague. europe-2014-200Down through Germany with a stop in Neunkirchen for a few days, where my friend Thomas Schmitt had looked after me while I toured the sights within striking distance of the clubhouse I stayed in. Occasional rain and any other adversity was easily handled by my Yamaha Fazer 1000. But now, without even having had to check the tyre pressure on the Fazer on my European tour, just a spray of chain oil in the evening, I was the one pushing a motorbike. The Triumph had only crossed the channel a day or so ago and had done a few hundred miles at best. Declan said it was his bike’s way of telling him he had no business going out on a motorbike in the rain. I laughed. For a while.

And so it went on. Obviously an electrical problem. Two it seemed. The starter button just refused to work and the issue of losing power was a different problem. And of course the rain became more persistent. Every time the Triumph spluttered and stopped, or when we were setting off again after a break, I had to push. The heat was a killer. Full motorbike gear, waterproofs on top, and then push a heavy motorbike. Because of the need to keep the throttle open on the Triumph when it started, I found I had to run back to the Yamaha and try to catch up. And then, after a few miles, do it all over again. Eventually it happened. No matter how far I pushed it wouldn’t start. I was exhausted anyway and couldn’t push much more. Sweating so much I was wet on the inside as well as the outside. Declan was nice and relaxed, sitting on the bike, never having had to push. At a quiet rest stop, we wheeled the bike into the public toilets to dry out. It sat there for about a half an hour, with some bewildered looking French people doing a double take, when they walked in to the bathrooms. A Triumph Motorcycle there in the foyer area, looking like it couldn’t decide to go left or right, into the ladies or gents.

So now, sitting in the lounge of the Stena ferry, listening to the conversation about the Triumph,  I was a little peeved. Two Frenchmen, with American bikes, talking to an Irishman about the British bike he was riding. And me there, the pusher of said bike, being too polite to mention the escapades of the last three days. meThe conversation turned to the Harleys the French guys were riding, but at no time was there even a mention of a certain Yamaha. Maybe the problem is similar to what I have heard said about car drivers’ perception of bikes. A lot of drivers don’t even see motorbikes or pedal cycles. Maybe cruiser riders don’t see street bikes. Well, a lot of people didn’t see it coming in the 60s or 70s either, when the Japanese manufacturers went from making nice little motorbikes, like the Honda Super Cub (Honda 50) and turned their attentions to bigger machines. Honda’s CB 750 is thought by many to have been the first superbike. Except by Kawasaki fans. They know the first true superbike was the Z1. They might have been thought of as Riceburners in the early days, but when stalwarts like Norton and Royal Enfields, couldn’t compete with their reliability and went to the wall, there was a new found respect for the Japanese bikes. It was not so with my companions on the Stena boat. Just cruisers, Harleys and Triumphs. Ah well, all I could do was sit there benignly, blowing the froth off another one, and listen to the motorbike experts.