Back to Cambridge

Its Spring. The clocks have leapt forward, the sun is shining – weakly – and its time to bring my bike out of hibernation in London and ride it back up to Cambridge into my increasingly expensive to rent garage, where it will stay for the next 8 or 9 months – apart from when I’m riding it of course.

Riding and driving in London is not fun. Most other road users are fine but there are a few who are crazy or seem to be testosterone-fuelled idiots. Mainly, its just that there are so many other people trying to get somewhere. My route up the A10 is not as fast as the motorway but once past the M25 traffic starts to thin out and it turns into an enjoyable road past the turn for Hertford. The sun came out too. I’ve not been to Cambridge since before Christmas and it was nice to arrive back, each return and there is an extra block of flats and one more building on the Addenbrookes site.

My next major trip will be in mid-late July, after graduation, when I take the ferry from Portsmouth down to Bilbao again and spend a couple of weeks riding and this time tent-free, staying in hotels across northern Spain including near to the Bardenas Reales that I’ve heard so much about.

I’m still trying to solve the problem of decent audio on my recorded videos on the bike and wind noise seems to drown out my voice, even with the helmet vent closed and a new and better microphone. Here’s the trip in 4 minutes.

Box Hill by Motorcycle

The first piece of sunny weather and it was an opportunity to get back on the bike since before Christmas. Also an opportunity to test a new helmet cam, the Sony FDR-x3000. Its hugely better than the Contour Roam (Contour seem to have brought out a new camera – I thought they went out of business): it has better resolution and takes much nicer looking footage, is smaller, has a much better mounting system and I can plug a helmet mic directly into it. Probably the best feature is the remote controller with a small screen that mounts on the handlebars and saves feeling around in a gloved hand for an on switch somewhere on the side of my helmet. It was a test run so all didn’t go entirely to plan.

After reading brief recommendation I headed down to Box Hill in Surrey, just the other side of the M25 (which if you walk around I have heard you get a tour of London’s old asylums at a safe distance from the capital). I should have done more research because my webpage did not mention probably the main draw for motorcyclists which is the Ryker Cafe, run ‘by bikers for bikers’.

As said before, riding out of London in any direction involves many miles of driving through congested roads and then unattractive dual carriageway before getting to anything remotely rural. This time my journey passed nearly every Northern Line station going south towards Morden. But the more I do it, and the more familiar the route gets, the less I notice it and the quicker the journey feels.

The camera worked well, though just when I got to the picturesque, the never-ending circle of dots on the remote screen told me that the camera had already used its battery – of course I had a couple of spare with me. So I have fantastic footage of various tube stations in south London. Not having really looked hard in enough in advance I stopped at the worst possible establishment (there was a last space in the crowded car park), called Smith and Weston for an orange juice and a chance to search on Google for why my GPS was not working properly (clean the contacts someone wrote, even though they look clean – which I did and found it worked). My route out of there led me past two much more interesting looking stopping places, down through a couple of hairpins, and past Ryker’s Cafe with a carpark heaving with motorcycles of various styles.

The camera saves GPS data which I think you can only embed and render onto the footage using Sony’s movie making software which, apart from being able to do that, is not very good. Solution: save the file then import that into FCP to properly edit and the speed and other data remains on the screen.

The whole trip was just over 50 miles and was a lovely way to spend the first Spring-like day and the first riding day of 2019. Wimbledon was strangely deserted. Here’s a screenshot of the route.

to Box hill and back

Here’s the GPS track, strangely just for one direction (not the band):

Here’s the footage I took:

MCN Motorcycle Show London 2019

The MCN Carol Nash-sponsored motorcycle show at the Excel Centre in February comes as something to slightly brighten up a month that does not have much going for it. Even getting over there involves travelling on the still-a-novelty-to-me DLR, though I am gradually realising how well-placed London Bridge, where I live, is, certainly for travelling in an easterly direction.

I usually have some mixed feelings though. It is fun to sit on the amazing bikes and drink in their shiny beauty but sometimes motorcyclists in large numbers can make me feel alienated. One trick, that I learnt this time, is to arrive early because an hour or so after opening, the place is heaving. Was it my imagination or did everyone make a beeline, as soon as the shutters were raised, to one bike in the show, the new BMW R1250GS Adventure, sitting there in its mighty rally colours and golden wheels and black hubs.


And this one was fitted with a lovely Akrapovic can.


Not to mention the new fancy TFT highly coloured display where ordinary old bikes have a couple of dials with needles. Once on it, though, it was a case of tiptoes and memories of my years with the old-old version of this bike came back vividly as a kind of muscle memory: very hard to paddle it anywhere not just because of its weight but because of this height (should you be the kind of motorcyclist who needs to do that – backing into a parking space for instance).

On a nearby stand sat another model of the same bike and it was ignored by all (the paint finish was a little boring). Climbing on that was a completely different experience because, as the label confirms, it has a lowered seat and factory low suspension – extra cost £180 but would be worth it if I was in the market for this bike.


As I overheard someone say on the way in, the show can be overwhelming. Highlights for me, apart from the BMW stand, were brief visits to the Triumph (I used to have one), KTM (their bikes still look weird in an age of increasingly standardised looks) and Ducati (because their bikes look so beautiful, especially, of course, in red and are ridiculously fast).

But back to earth, my first purchase, and human contact, was at the EDZ stand, where I bought a merino wool base layer and discussed the care of woollen fabrics. Then there was the Michelin Adventure Stage with a schedule of interviews with the famous and not so famous. I wondered by first then spotted, sitting at a desk nearby, the unmistakable Ted Simon. Here is a link to his anticipation of the show. I made conversation with him. This is the second time I have met him. He seemed rather bemused by my attempts at conversation – I said I hoped he would not get bored sitting there for three days and he said he would because he had nearly finished reading his novel which he told me about and which I have completely forgotten detail of author and title. For some reason, perhaps knowing his German heritage, I recommended Gitta Sereny’s book about Albert Speer which I am reading and he seemed slightly interested, certainly remembering that Speer had spent time in Spandau after the Nuremberg trials. I told him that meeting him had made my day – which also seemed to bemuse him. After I had walked away I wished I had asked if I could take a photograph of him and I wished I had mentioned that we both had German mothers. But perhaps there was no call for that kind of assumption of a kind of familiarity.

Returning to a bench on the Michelin Adventure Stage, more to take off some hot layers, I was engaged by a couple of speakers talking about the benefits of riding trails alone and of riding in the moonlight and on small bikes. I was transfixed by the session on tyres and how to fix a puncture, with the technician from Michelin driving a nail through some new looking knobbly tyres on the presenter’s well-weathered round-the-world V Strom (I think) up on the stage. I realised by the end of it that I need to get a new tyre, as my ‘temporary’ repair from a few months back shouldn’t be relied on. And I will buy one of these repair kits. I found myself actually engaged and engrossed in a way I didn’t remember before at this show. When I left I wished I had been able to stay longer.

Haverhill to Great Dunmow in Autumn sun

One of the shorter rides in Biker’s Britain is a 16 mile dash from just south of Haverhill to Great Dunmow in Essex and not too far from Saffron Walden. Haverhill is about 20 minutes or so ride from Cambridge city centre and then its a right turn down the beautifully twisty B1057. After an annoying train and bus replacement journey up from London I headed off on this route, to avoid the sometimes aimless rides I find myself doing on these sometimes rushed fortnightly trips. On making that turn into the B1057 I immediately realised why this route is in the book –  it is full of unpredictable turns with generally good visibility and not too much traffic. In fact because I did the journey in the opposite direction to the guide’s recommendation,All the bikers I saw were coming toward me. I had no one driving a white van in front of me to slow things down and spoil and view and, more importantly, no one behind making me think I should go faster. Also heading toward me was the strong and dazzling winter sun which is the only reason I would do this route again from south to north.

About half way down is the beautiful Finchingfield, with its lovely sloping village green, packed full, on this perfect sunny Sunday late lunchtime, of travellers and parked up motorcycles, not a place I wanted to linger in but good to ride through slowly.

The ride home was via the lovely B184 to Saffron Waldon and Cambridge. My repaired puncture is holding up.

Riding after puncture repair

Last week I experienced a puncture on the motorbike for the first time (in ten years of riding). Flashing red lights on the dash was the first I knew about it as the bike, riding slowly in town, did not feel any different and it showed me the pressure dropping quickly: first 2.2 bar then under 2 and heading rapidly downwards. I am thankful this happened not at high speed, not in the middle of nowhere, not in a foreign country, but about half a mile from Sainsbury’s petrol station on Coldhams Lane – complete with its free airline. A huge sharp stone was responsible and once removed a loud hissing told me that a repair should be attempted. Never having used it before, I could not get my tubeless repair kit to work and called out the emergency service that I get free with my bike insurance. To cut a long story short an efficient and reassuring man with recovery van from SOS Motorcycles) arrived and plugged the puncture, talking me through how to do it (thankyou!). Next time I will have a more serious attempt to fix it myself.

It was a quick and uneventful ride back to the garage.

Yesterday I returned and took the bike for a longer spin and all seemed well. I wonder how safe it is to ride with this repair – how fast and for how long before I splash out on a new tyre.
It was a bit of a meandering ride and started a bit late, but also a chance to experiment with the helmet mic which seems to pick up so much wind noise. Judge for yourself whether it is any good. Among other Cambridgeshire villages, I rode through Soham, the site of the terrible murders in the early 2000s. It is such a small place. It must have had a huge impact on everyone who lived there as the story unfolded.

To change the subject, having resisted the un-aerodynamic GoPros for a long time, the GoPro Hero 7 cameras have caught my fancy. The trick would be how to mount them in an unobtrusive way.


aimless east anglia

Motorcycle trip to the southwest day 5 or is it 6?


Friday night saw heavy rain. Many had been waiting for it eagerly but not campers and particularly not campers travelling by motorcycle. For the first time in my camping experience I put on wet clothes in the morning. Somehow, perhaps because of the artificial clearing made from membrane and back chips that I was camping on (as opposed to sponge-like grass) , water ran or bounced into the part of the tent used for storage – of my massive and unfoldable bike gear for example. My weather widget told me to expect showers all day followed by heavy rain all the following night and the day after that. Coupled with some pulls toward home – carpentry work my study was about to be finished and in fact I could speed it up with a particular contribution, I decided to head back to London. As it happened it was a mostly sunny ride moving east. My strange GPS took me down some single lane gravel path which it claimed was the A3 in an attempt to avoid what it described as ’42 minutes’ of delays on the A303. We took a slow route home, turning north on the M25 and coming into London on the M4, then along the north bank of the river, crossing over at Vauxhall then back through Elephant and Castle. Here’s a picture of the whole trip.

I recorded lots of video that I will edit and add later.

map of route

Motorcycle trip to the southwest day 3

Friday 27th

I’m writing from under a tarpaulin shelter at the amazing Hole station campsite. You’d have to describe it as alternative and eco conscious. Campsites reflect the character of their owner, that is obvious. This is a woodland site, not a field in sight, and a working farm with a variety of animals some of them wandering around. I arrived here the day before yesterday and have three nights here. On arrival the owner gives you a map showing a circular stones path through the wood where there are about a dozen or so cleared spaces each with a tarpaulin shelter and an old car wheel where you can light a fire. You take the circular path and come back and tell him which vacant spot you want. Nearly all seem empty though we are fuller now. The buildings are clearly home made out of reclaimed timber, the toilets are composting and there are two small wooden cupboards where you can charge up your device.






They even serve breakfast and nice very hot coffee, though this morning I brewed my own espresso and ate it with a sticky bun. I am waging war with a squirrel and a mouse who have a sweet tooth and found a way to get at my food how ever I secured it. So I have brought a pannier down here and keep everything locked inside. I also have a collection of stones to throw at the very audacious squirrel. My bike is parked up by the farm and you bring your stuff down here in a wheel barrow. It sounds a little inconvenient but is absolutely fine and the site would have a different character if you could drive a car up to each tent.

The site is down a stoney drive offering a few minor wobbles and which is definitely first gear at least to my level of riding skill. The roads round here are lovely, sometimes with traffic but often not. Yesterday I took one of the Bikers Britain routes across Dartmoor which was amazing, with grazing animals of all kinds by the road, a mixture of gentle and tight bends and again sometimes a queue of traffic usually not. On the way back I dropped in at my favourite Waitrose and even searched out a camera shop that sold me a micro SD card for my helmet camera. There is something slightly euphoric about having enjoyed a beautiful ride and know you are heading back to cook something nice and have a good book to read. I am rereading The Emigrants by Sebald and looking out for how he writes. I can see some of the advice he has given to aspiring writers in his work, the inclusion of meteorological  detail for example. And the first two stories are about people who have killed themselves, reminding me of the stories I am writing and how one reviewer thought they were too downbeat.

This morning at 8 am while I was still in my sleeping bag it started to rain. Not very hard but enough to make me jump up to tighten up the guy ropes and move things away from the edges inside. So sitting here under the tarp, digesting my breakfast, each gust of wind brings down more water from the trees and there is a kind of shifting equipoise in the sky as to whether is is overcast or brightening. The forecast on my phone shows showers for the next three days and it flashed across my mind that I could leave early – a foolish thought. It is meant to rain in the middle of the day which presents a dilemma for riding. I was planning to ride north taking in another part of one of the routes up toward the north Devon coast but I am uncertain how to time it. Nice as it is I don’t want to sit here all day, and riding the bike is how I charge everything up that needs charging.

Today I had some great riding particularly on the north Devon coast road to Porlock, including some slightly scary first gear hairpins and I noticed some people two up with luggage on big adventure bikes heading my way and heading to go up those same bends that I had just come down. Exmoor really does meet the sea along this amazing road. Apart from that there was probably around 100 miles of twisty roads with rain on and off, tiring but getting into a rhythm. When the road was first wet I was nervous but eventually got into a more confident stride on  fourth and fifth gear bends, stopping again at my favourite Waitrose to buy some sea bass for supper which I’ve just had.

This campsite is filling up with people, much younger than the middle aged folk that populate the more conventional sites, like, I imagine the one I will be staying at from tomorrow, Rosebud Farm, with the very polarised reviews on the net. I really like this place and feel as at home as I probably can get (I do remember as a standout campsite San Francisco in the north of Spain which I might say is a favourite) in a campsite but I do not enjoy the constant battle with squirrels and mice for my food. Today I packed everything I thought edible in my metal panniers but cam back to find my small bottle of olive oil spilt everywhere with its plastic lid bitten through. Annoying. Tomorrow I will call early for breakfast here then pack up which I have the feeling will take a while.

This is also a holiday where I have been in constant touch with the house, getting update photos of the amazing carpentry work in my study at home as well as seeing the temperature on our Nest. It was just a minute ago 29 degrees while here I think it is around 20 or less. Yesterday was 33 in London. This is a real heatwave summer, like 76 which I remember vividly along with the troubling girlfriend that I had then.

Motorcycle trip to the south west day 2

Tuesday 24th July

With camping planning is essential because if you have forgotten one thing, life becomes awkward. Yesterday evening I was scrabbling round for things that should have been to hand like my washing up stuff. This morning I remembered where I had packed it, a sign of not having camped for a few years. I ate my one pan chorizo and pasta dish but forgot to eat the rocket. My top box is turned into a portable fridge with a bag of ice keeping my Chablis cool, along with a few other items. This morning I find it is full of water a testament to its waterproofing. I slept really well waking just once at 4.30 when I wrapped my t shirt round my head against the early dawn and slept again till about half past eight.  This site is very quiet apart from the distant main road traffic. No children being disciplined and yelled at to go to sleep (I did it).  I chose a spot that is shadey in the morning which is lovely.. the sunlight is just creeping on to my bike.  This morning I plan to try to follow one of the Bikers Britain routes, the conveniently placed Lyme Regis loop of 140 miles. The ride here from London was only 168 so I’m not sure how long this will take. One thing is certain is that I will get lost probably sooner than I think.

Later. I’m back from a days riding. I’m still not sure what counties I have visited. But I am sure that I got lost. I am not entirely to blame as a road closure in Crewkerne at a crucial place spelled downfall for the next leg of the trip and then having got back on the route another turning seemed completely invisible. But I resisted my temptation to give up entirely because when I was on the track, I could see why these roads have made it into the best routes book, they were stunning roads, perfect for bike riding. I even found and had lunch in the first cafe (I was the only customer with a manager whose conversation to his colleague was constantly downbeat) on the route before heading back on some lovely roads, via Tesco to top up with another bag of ice. The weather is a little humid but so much cooler than back in London. It’s 21 here but my phone tells me that it’s 29 in London.

Motorcycle trip to the South West day 1

Leaving untitled-1.jpg

Monday 23rd July 2018

Phew. I’m writing this sitting on one of my panniers outside my tent looking across the sunny valley in Dorset. So many of my posts start with a phew. Today it is the relief of leaving London. In fact I am still unwinding.

I knew it would not be much fun leaving London through the heavy traffic but before I had ridden 200 yards I ground to a halt as a dust cart and an articulated lorry jammed themselves in the tiny Elizabethan lanes outside the Rose Theatre. Then there were the duels with the nippy little cars full of young guys swerving in front of me then all turning round to stare at me menacingly till the lights changed and they zoomed off. Then Merton high street more stop than crawling for twenty minutes or more. The temperature was 30 degrees. Finally I seemed to turn onto a slip road and gather some speed on a dual carriage way, discovering I have more gears than two. Then the M3,  a service station where I park up behind some caravans and sit on the curb in the shade drinking chocolate milk from the bottle. Gradually I find myself in the country driving along beside Stonehenge. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it before. What a sight. And then I am in Dorset. But because I did not look at the map properly I was not sure where the GPS was taking me, mostly down the A303, not too busy and with plenty of places to zoom if you want.

So here I am, sitting on my pannier facing the sun with my motorcycle over to the left draped with my washing as usual on these trips. And it is 25 degrees or something like that down here with a welcome breeze that I don’t find in London. It has been a scramble leaving today, with a couple of other tricky chores to sort out at the same time as getting ready to go and with anxieties about the tail end of the renovation and a burglary a couple of doors away and a new washing machine coming with me not there to connect it up. But these trips simplify life: you find were you are headed for, put up the tent, go and buy some food and drink – in my case a handy Tesco about two miles away so that my pannier has become a portable fridge with a bag of ice chilling. A bottle of Chablis and some salad, have a shower then sit down. Phew. haven’t used my tent for three years but it is very familiar. 


Camping in the West Country

Tomorrow’s trip has crept up on me, my first camping trip for a few years, but in the UK so not so much to organise, just to search out all the stuff I usually take and load up for a hopefully not too tedious and wobbly ride out of London in a south-westerly direction. I have have four campsites in mind, three of them – adult only sites – booked. This summer has been really hot in the UK, for week after week, up to about 30 degrees in London and tomorrow is scheduled for a similar sticky heat.