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.

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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.

Ted Simon’s Original Jupiter’s Travels.

“Those were the times when I felt full of natural wisdom, scratching at heaven’s very door. The days of Jupiter”.

An epic journey around the world that began in 1973 on a 500cc Triumph.

I have previously written about “Jupiter’s Travels In Camera” (here: http://wp.me/p7IHqF-FE),  in an article which concentrated on the 2013 book. In it Ted Simon published 300 images from his original epic journey which began in 1973. While they are a fantastic record of the places he visited and images of the people he met, it doesn’t explain why the original publication, Jupiter’s Travels, which included none of his photographs, was such a resounding success. Ted simon was an accomplished writer and journalist when he began this epic journey. He was German born but lived in Britain. After studying chemical engineering and doing his national service with the RAF, where he had founded a magazine for new recruits, he had been spotted by an editor who gave him work at the Daily Express. He eventually left to start a man’s magazine called “King” which only survived a few years. He continued to contribute to a wide variety of publications. The editor at The Sunday Times was a motorcycle enthusiast, just like Simon, which undoubtedly helped in persuading a serious broadsheet newspaper like The Sunday Times to become involved in this project. Harold Evans was editor of the paper from 1967 until the 80s and obviously had a great interest in travel. He founded the luxury travel magazine Condé Nast Traveler in 1987, but for the purpose of this article his most important attribute was his willingness to support Simon’s round the world motorcycle trip. A trip that was proposed before anyone had ever heard of adventure motorcycling and it was considered a crazy idea at the time.

The secret of the success of the book can be attributed to Ted Simon’s style of writing. His enthusiastic and artistic method of crafting his story draws the reader in to the point that the book is difficult to put down. He tells of surviving war, deserts, imprisonment and particularly his own fears, while telling interesting anecdotes of the vastly diverse people he makes acquaintance with along the way.  From 1973 to 1977 he travelled around the globe on a Triumph Tiger 100. A 500cc bike that was chosen for it’s simplicity as well as to try to bolster the failing British Motorcycle Industry. Simon’s story was broadcast through the pages of The Sunday Times at a time when Triumph was tearing itself apart, to be reborn two years later as a type of workers’ cooperative. It was Simon’s experienced penmanship that made the story of the journey so successful. It sparked an industry related to motorcycle adventure riding, and the accessories and equipment that a would be, round the world rider could possibly need, and all the blogs, websites and publications dedicated to motorcycle adventure riding that now exist. None of which existed when Simon was packing for his trip:

“I knew I had too much stuff, but there was no logical way to reduce it. Some of the problem was, of course, pure sentiment. How could I junk anything as unique and exotic as a mixture of cod liver oil and glucose”. Friends had told him this was an old naval remedy for tropical sores. “But generally I was on the horns of the knife and spoon dilemma; if you take a fork, why not a spoon, if salt then why not pepper; if you are going to ride fifty thousand miles on a motorcycle then at least you want to lie comfortably at night”. He didn’t have access to the ‘wisdom’ that’s available now on a myriad of websites and blogs. Where to find the smallest, lightest and most ‘eco-friendly’ tent, toothbrush, plate etc. etc. in the world. “Who can walk along the pavements of the City of London and seriously contemplate the prospect of being struck by a cobra. I suspended my judgement and went on adding to my pocket universe like an agnostic crossing himself before battle”.  How he chose his route too was as much a matter of sentiment. “Generally the great overland journeys follow the Asian land mass East until the traveller is forced to take to the water at Singapore. I chose a different way because I was powerfully attracted by the challenge of Africa, and in great awe of it too”.

Taking on this massive circumnavigation of the globe that saw him cover 63,400 miles (103,000km) dsc05444-2through 45 countries was not without trepidation for Simon. “People in lightweight suits, with interesting jobs and homes to go to, flaunted their security at me and I felt my gut scream at me to strip off this ridiculous outfit and rush back into that light and the familiar interdependence…. I was lost beyond hope, utterly defeated”. Equally he felt the rush of anticipation and excitement when he set off. “Within minutes the great void inside me was filled with a rush of exultation, and in my solitary madness I started to sing”.

How can I convey the beauty of the writing in this book to you? It’s impossible to pick out just one or two passages and say this is the definitive charm of Ted Simon’s writing. So I will just let you sample a few lines from the first page of the book and you can decide for yourself. “I let the bike roll off the asphalt on to the grass under a shade tree. The trunk of the tree was stout and twisted with prominent roots and a grey scaly bark. Drooping clusters of small dry leaves gave a medium shade. It was a common tree in India though I still could not remember its name”.  He had run out of petrol fifteen miles from the nearest village and waited in the shade of a tree. “I did not doubt that help would come, and with it most probably some unexpected twist in my fortunes. It had taken years to achieve that measure of confidence and calm, and as I waited I allowed myself some pleasure in knowing it”. Some unexpected twist in fortunes on this occasion was being guest of honour at a local wedding where he saw a mesmerizing dancer and was introduced to the name Jupiter in a bizarre and whimsical meeting with a “wise” man.

Many people say their lives were changed by this book and motorcycles don’t have to be your thing to enjoy it. Ewan McGregor attributes at least part of the inspiration for his and Charley Boorman’s journey as described in their book, Long Way Round to Simon’s Jupiter’s Travels. The pair actually met Ted Simon on their journey in Mongolia. Others have read it and only saw a certain negativity in Simon’s fears and the tribulations encountered on his journey. For example: “I was heavily inclined to expect the worst, and when a strange Agente came for me in the afternoon and took me down those grim steps to the basement I really thought the worst was about to happen. But it was only to have photograph and fingerprints taken”.  But equally there are descriptions of times of great contentment and joy. After particular difficulty loading his Triumph on to a ferry, the roof of which he slept on, he remarked about the beauty of his surroundings and the night sky: “For three days and two  nights I drift up the Nile along Lake Nasser. The sunrises and sunsets are so extraordinarily beautiful that my body turns inside out and empties my heart into the sky”. At times he comes to achieve real inner peace: “I needed no better reason for the journey than to be exactly where I was, knowing what I knew. Those were the times when I felt full of natural wisdom, scratching at heaven’s very door. The days of Jupiter”.

Ted Simon’s website is worth a visit. It gives mountains of information about his journeys: Jupitalia.com. The photos are from his publications or are of his books. Jupiter’s Travels was first published in 1979 by Hamish Hamilton Ltd.

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.