New bike – not quite new era

I had wanted to achieve a major life synchronisation, the details of which I won’t go into now, save to say it might have involved a relocation, the building of a new, proper workshop and giving up working for a living. The other ingredient was buying a new, lighter motorcycle than the BMWs that I have owned and ridden on a range of journeys for the last 12 years. Once I decided to decouple, or rather syncopate these life events, I found the new bike and bought one pretty quickly. The relocation and the proper workshop will have to wait.
I spent probably nearly a year deciding on a small ‘dual sport’ light-weight off road based bike and settled on the light and powerful KTM 690 Enduro. I’d sat on one at a bike show (the last one before lockdown). I found it tall but was willing to take on the challenge and embark on the many mods to get it adventure ready. The bike has a fan base, many in Australia and the United States, and a huge amount of modifications from more comfy seats to larger fuel tanks are out there just waiting to be bought. But one video from Bulgarian travelling moto Vlogger Pavlin of the 690 and his uncompromising verdict that this was no way an adventure, or travel bike, suddenly made me realise this would be a mistake to trade in my capable Beamer for such a little thumping number, even though it had proved itself capable of making it from London to Sydney. Enter the bigger but not too much bigger KTM 790 Adventure, a mid sized twin cylinder bike. I also sat on this in

and outside the house here in London where I will work on it for a week or so before heading back:

I’ve only ridden it twice. The first time was the lovely route from Ipswich where I bought it, through Suffolk, Long Melford and Clare to Cambridge which was great fun. The second was from Cambridge to London to do some work on it – which was OK, though the approach to London is not that enjoyable and I somehow lost the A10 without a GPS. It is a very different ride to the BMW, much more involving, noisier. Its lighter weight (its meant to be about 190kgs compared with around 250kgs of the R1200GS) puts it the other side of a border between hefty and almost unmanageable to easy to move around, to lean up against a wall and to get on and off with the sidestand up – result.

Priorities for travelling – and 6 nights under canvas in the north of England are a few weeks away – are installing a GPS and some kind of luggage. I have a new Garmin Zumo XT (

Luggage is not so easy. Mosko Moto have run out of almost everything so I will improvise for my first trip.

Long Way Up review

In 2004 Ewan McGreggor and Charley Boorman, along with cameraman Claudio Von Plantar travelled on BMW motorcycles from London through Russia and North America to New York, a journey of 19,000 miles. The TV series, Long Way Round, and subsequent DVD releases are well-known within motorcycle travel circles as popularising ‘adventure’ travel as well as the model of BMW that they used for the trip. In 2019 the same team took – and filmed – another journey, this time northwards from Ushuaia through South and Central America to Los Angeles, where McGreggor lives. In the fifteen years that intervened a lot can happen. As W B Yeats asked, ‘Who could have foretold/ That the heart grows old?’ For me, what is most interesting about watching this series – officially on Apple TV but now leaking out into other places – is to see the effect of passing time.

Easiest to talk about first, is the tech advances in filming since the early 2000s. The vivid quality of the images, compared to the footage from Asia fifteen years earlier, is remarkable. And the editors have super-saturated much of the film (especially the sun-drenched intro). Three colorists are among the credits. So many scenes in this series remind me of the covers of travel guides – a deep turquoise sky and a glowing ochre earth. I remember the grainy helmet cam footage from Long Way Round with its ‘fighter-pilot’ voices. But now we have, of course, 4K quality from the on-board footage and the sense that Ewan and Charlie are speaking into our ears. The other advance is the use of drones. The drone footage, particularly from Peru, is astonishingly beautiful in this series. Drones (I presume) did not exist in 2004 – or at least were not widely used. So visually, this series is stunning.

Linked to this advance is the growth of YouTube records of so many similar travels by motorcyclists with far less financial backing and professional expertise at hand. Pretty much anyone who sets off for a ride on a motorcycle nowadays fits a 4K capable camera to the side of their helmet, and it seems every other motorcycle traveller has a drone packed away somewhere on their bike. And there is so much impressive drone-filmed work on YouTube. So the producers of LWU have a higher bar in terms of getting our attention and standing out from the democratised, amateur YouTube crowd. I think they do. The overall achievement is impressive and the story is well told with good editing. The directors know about adding tension and suspense particularly at the end of an episode, although this is a little predictable. The professional capability is unmistakable. And of course, the directors also have the celebrity card to play, and presumably its this that sold it to whoever financially backed this enterprise. This will be a must-see series for fans of Ewan and Charlie, who over the last ten years have responded to almost every social media post that the two have made with the question ‘when will you do a third trip?’ Motorcycle travel fans will also probably want to watch it, though may not make it to the end of the ten part series.

The other obvious feature of the passing of time is that all the protagonists now are bespectacled and grey haired and move through the world with slightly less ease, particularly the regularly injured and unhealthy looking Boorman. But what life-events have also added to that ageing? For the celebrity Ewan McGreggor this includes a recent much publicised divorce from the wife that he was keen to bring into their earlier Long Way Down trip through Africa. Charlie had, in the last five years or so suffered two major motorcycle injuries leaving him with a great deal of internal fixation and, I hear, one leg shorter than the other. And Cameraman Claudio left at home a wife slowly dying of Motor Neurone Disease. In an interview for an American adventure motorcycle channel he told, movingly, how when he returned home after filming this trip his wife was no longer able to speak. Knowing all this, one of the surprises of the film is that the effects of these life events are definitely out of bounds, apart from a few passing references to Boorman’s injuries. Perhaps a result of editing for an upbeat mood, we never see the avowed best friends have a conversation with each other about anything other than the practicalities of the journey or the beauty of the landscape – or sentimental comments about locals or about their own friendship. The friendship between these two is often presented as the heart of these series. Assuming that these two best mates actually do have proper conversations with each other about things that matter to them, I think other directors might have not been afraid of including some of that dialogue. Charlie Boorman is very frank publicly about his dyslexia and seeing at least two near misses on his bike in this series as a result of apparent inattention to other road users coming straight towards him(!), I wondered whether there is an element of some other problem that has played a part in his series of motorcycle injuries. During the film of his participation in a Dakar Rally, another rider describes him, in a moment of candour, as ‘a bull in a china shop’.  Charlie did not finish because of injury, along with many others of course. Perhaps, seriously, someone should be suggesting to him that he stops riding before its too late. In the early episodes he looks uncomfortable on his bike and tired. There are one or two lingering shots of him closing his eyes during a conversation or looking deeply exhausted. But a commentary throughout from Ewan seems to be intended to keep things chipper.

One focus of the series is on the practicalities and challenges of riding such a journey on electric powered bikes. In the cold of southern South America it is particularly difficult to charge them. I was impressed by the decision to take up the challenge of using bikes ahead of a future probably without internal combustion engines. I saw this as a genuine commitment rather than being faddish. The riding itself seemed relatively easy, certainly compared with LWR’s Mongolian and far eastern Siberian riding so the drama was mostly staged around whether the two would get to their destination before the bikes ran out of juice. Usually they did but sometimes they did not, bringing out some ingenuity. The investment of Harley-Davidson and Rivian trucks must have gained these two brands some welcome publicity though I doubt that this series will have the huge effect on brand specific sales that the previous BMW centred journeys did.

So overall, this was a visually impressive series with the crew rising to some difficult challenges with huge resourcefulness and confidence. It will please fans. But placed alongside other travel documentaries, editorial decisions make it feel superficial with some lost opportunities to move out of a kind of Boys Own comic style.

Ride to Steeple Bumpstead

The first of this Spring and Summer’s rides from Cambridge saw me trying to find the B1057 from Haverhill heading south. But I was thwarted by the ubiquitous white van so took a loop to find this lovely road to ride. I connected with the memory of looking up through corners to where I want to go rather than fixing my gaze on where I did not want to end up – i.e. the edge of the road a few yards in front of me. This looking toward goals rather than fixating on avoiding problems brings a much easier and more fluid approach to riding a motorcycle and to life.

Another post-work trip idea

This time about half the distance of Lake Baikal, a kind of Florence Nightingale pilgrimage in a clockwise direction around the Black Sea – though Ukraine to Crimea (I don’t think Ukraine allows border crossings from the areas currently controlled by Russia but Streetview, probably from a few years back, makes it look so peaceful), then the Russian part of the coast, followed by Georgia on the southeast corner and then Turkey along the southern coast of the sea, finally to Istanbul and a visit to the Florence Nightingale museum at the Selimiye Barracks – if this is still open. From HvH the round trip is about 5000 miles, according to MyRouteApp.

Home from Derbyshire

I’m home: Here’s the track of the whole trip:

After buying my beef for dinner, I headed off via a couple of diversions and a stop for petrol where someone in what seemed to be a huge white van (converted into a mobile home) reversed inches away from my bike. I made the decision that an extra hour or so (4 as opposed to 3) on the slightly less boring A1 compared to the thoroughly boring M1 was not worth it so headed off for home down the motorway. I made one stop at Watford Gap Services with a mass of humanity:

Motorway services do not show humanity at its best (though nearly everyone was wearing masks) but I found some shade next to a bush to eat more sushi.

After spending an age on the hot (it was 35 degrees) Euston Road underpass I made it home by 2.30. As a stand in for what would have been a more satisfying trip to Spain (I wanted to ride some of the TET in Spain) this short holiday was OK. For my next trip a new bike would be a good idea. Maybe by the time of my next trip there will be a vaccination against Covid-19 and the world will be breathing a slight sign of relief. At the moment most things seem uncertain.

More from Dale Farm

30th July

I just remembered looking at a YouTube vid of an intrepid Norwegian wild camper last night in my sleeping bag who says a luxury he takes on his trips is a filter maker for coffee. What a good idea. A simple small plastic version and a supply of filters would be lighter than my metal expresso maker. And make the coffee I like. It’s almost worth going on another camping trip to test it out. 

Later (pictures and vids to come)

My un-parking and setting off this morning was tricky, full of fear and stuckness and in the end I had to ask a passing camper (my quiet neighbour who happened to walk by eating an apple) to help me by pulling me backwards so I could turn round and get going. Looking at my vid I see that I was trying to move the bike for 8 minutes but was stuck! Oh for a light bike with a low saddle too. I’ve been worrying about it all day and what to do. 

Now, today’s events. The Ride Bikers Britain routes are quite good but getting on to them with my GPS is a bit hit and miss. I must go on a Garmin course so that I am no longer being hit and miss. Some attention to detail on this would really enhance the experience… and in terms of courses I must do more slow speed practice to boost confidence on the bike. I hate the phrase ‘all the gear but no idea’ but it might fit. 

Now today’s events again. Where was I? I selected (I thought) one of the rides, number 40, and headed off to Glossop. It was meant to be a circular route but I was taken onto the amazing Snake Pass on the way when I was expecting to come back that way. But anyway it is indeed a beautiful route spectacular in places. A fair amount of traffic but not too bad. Glossop or the slice I saw was ok but as I said before everywhere is crawling with people. But the riding was mostly fun and when the sun finally came out as it is now my slightly flagging spirits lifted. Once there I set the controls (not for the heart of the sun) for Ashbourne again where I knew there was somewhere with ample parking to shop for dinner. As I returned to Belinda parked carefully in the shade a couple pulled in next to me driving a bright red open top Morgan. I thought all Morgans are vintages but I found out that they still make them. We engaged in mostly car but also motorcycle conversation for quite a while before they left and I sat on the grass and ate some Co-op lunch – I think it was some sushi. 

On my return to this lovely campsite I asked our host if I could park somewhere flatter and I think he understood my problem. The solution which was very flexible of him was to suggest I part on an unused grassy flat terrace near the bottom with the proviso I’d have to move to another option if someone turned up late and needed the space. its a nice touch that not everyone would have agreed to. Luckily they didn’t so my manoeuvring and packing up and finally driving off in the morning went without panic on my part. I keep asking myself whether a KTM 690 would end up feeling just as heavy as the BMW once you’d got used to it – but its nearly 100kgs lighter. That’s two years travels in a row I have come away thinking about a lighter bike – after experiencing tricky terrain that is almost impossible to manoeuvre a big bike in.

The temperature had risen during the day and was mid to high twenties with now a fierce sun, so previously welcome the last couple of nights here when it was getting cold by 6 or 7pm, but this evening it became something to try to hide from. I’m reading Dhalgren, bought for me by my son. Its not exactly a page turner in the way that another science fiction gift from him, Snowcrash was, but is still good. Everything is so murkily described that it is hard to imagine the characters. I read in my sleeping bag till about 9 when, unbelievably for me, I closed my eyes. 

Friday 31st July

I woke around six, stirred by the cows talking to eachother, maybe saying ‘good morning, we’ve been spared for another day’. The beautifully restored and maintained and lit and cleaned amenity building was surprisingly busy at just after 7 – but waking early is the stuff of camping especially with crying tired toddlers of which there were a few with admirably coping parents (actually mostly mothers I think). 

I rolled off after buying a frozen pack of their beef in their little shop. I expected a smiling person taking my money and advising me on how to cook, but instead there is an instruction up on a blackboard how to join the site wifi and a PayPal address to put the money for any item into. And a large security camera pointing at you – so it is a kind of honesty principle but not quite. As I fumbled with my phone looking for my PayPal app, I noticed there was also a glass jar and a notebook – a much easier option for a slightly frazzled traveller (as I often seem to be when on the bike). I was wondering how many days it takes to properly relax and get over the tension about little things. So a fiver in the jar bought me a pack of beef (cut unspecified).

Arriving in Dale Farm, Derbyshire

I’m not writing much on this short trip. Partly because it seems so inconsequential compared to travelling to Spain and compared to my flickering dream of Siberia. I’m in Derbyshire now in the Dales in Dale Farm campsite a very different model to the large field with tents around the edge. Here the site is narrow sloping and terraced with a stepped series of generous grassy plots each for one large tent and car leading up to a broader field at the top where there are four plots under Ash trees and two yurt type tents just higher up. We say hello to each other here. I knew it felt comfortable after being here just a few minutes. Down in Cuckoo Farm it was very different with large groups of a couple of families in little inward looking huddles. 

Note to self for my fiction: describe someone’s books as an alternative to describing them. 

There are cows here who moo loudly causing me to ask the Internet “why do cows moo?” To find each other is one reason. Also the wash building is an amazing very recently renovated barn amazingly white and scrupulously clean and brightly lit. It could be an operating suite. 

detail of the washroom

Of course many campsites feature difficulties for parking and un-parking heavy motorcycles. And this one because of its slope creates the need for some careful heaving upright without dropping the thing on the grassy slope followed by also careful paddling backward across bumpy terrain in an arc to end up pointing in a roughly down hill direction. All leaving me tense and colouring the first part of my ride with thoughts that I am not up for this and wouldn’t get very far on the route to Siberia.

Up on my avenue there seem to be two tents of two women who could be friends, partners or mother and daughter. And one huge and fancy tent over to my right that appears to house one solitary female walker. Then there are the two yurts opposite with young nice seeming families in each. By chance my plot with its pub table where I am sitting tapping this into my phone gets the evening sun which this event is beautiful and warming. Yesterday when I arrived it was cold and threatening rain.

And then some hills beyond. Now that the sun is out I can say that this is a very nice site. 

It’s good to be secluded here as out on the roads there were huge numbers of cars parked along the roadside at every beauty spot and the nearby town is heaving with people on holiday doing staycation like me. The Bike book route was ok and nice in places where I got into the zone of riding fairly briskly through a series of curves with double white lines down the middle. But overall I found it not that impressive as some of their routes definitely are, in Devon for example. 

Technically the new tent is good. It’s small and light and is a keeper. It’s smaller and more cramped than my Vango (am I repeating myself?) the porch part especially. It came with two too few pegs. But it does the job nicely. The snazzy Thermarest is thicker and more comfortable than the standard orange model but is slightly too long for the small tent space. It’s slightly lighter and packs down to the same size so is also a keeper though – for another trip where lightness is important I may leave it at home. Keeping everything charged is tricky with a mixture of plugging as much in while I ride and using a power bank in the evening. But I seem always a step behind and something is uncharged that needs to be. It needs constant thinking about. And the Sony helmet cam eats through batteries – and its clever remote controller does too. Campsite bathrooms don’t seem to have sockets any more perhaps because everyone was charging up their phones and bills were starting to climb. 

Tonight it will rain but tomorrow will be bright and much warmer than today. Hooray. 

First day Rutland and Derbyshire 26th July

 

This was always going to be a substitute holiday it started with a journey across London up to the A1 a road that has a history that most of the motorways don’t. A big jam up to Apex corner where I think the A1 starts delayed my arrival at Stamford Waitrose where I had planned to fish for my dinner and breakfast. The ride up the A1 was enjoyable no delays and I could have made even better time that I did. Stamford is stunning I had forgotten. In the days of coaches, before cars when travel had to conform to some natural world constraints and structures, it must have been a stop from London where they changed the horses. 

Cuckoo farm campsite is about 15 minutes out of Stamford. Its pleasant with a wide view across some gentle hills. The place is super clean perhaps due to Covid and I am pitched on a slight slope next to a field with gambolling lambs. 

As I’ve mentioned here at least once before, I’m trying out a few new lighter things, this lightweight tent for example. Terra nova starlight 2. It packs much smaller and lighter than my nearly ten year old and much travelled Vango Spirit 2. But it is definitely more cramped with a much more slopy vestibule and less versatile door. So far it’s workable and definitely a worthwhile trade off for being able to leave one top box at home. It came with limited pegs so I need to buy some more tomorrow – actually two short by design – they weren’t missing. I should have brought more with me. if I had tried putting it up before I left as everyone recommends.  

My dinner was some nice steak cooked with garlic, red pepper and fresh noodles cooked while sitting on those versatile Touratech panniers. My nearest neighbours here are one or maybe two Eastern European families with much calling after running off children but it is a great advantage not to be able to understand their conversation. 

The other new kit is a Thermarest inflating mattress slightly lighter than my old fave but actually slightly too long for the tent. The wind is buffeting the tent and as usual children are still running around playing while I am thinking about crawling into my sleeping bag and getting my head down. 

Tuesday 28th July

It’s payday today. I’m sitting on my Touratech metal box wearing my cap and waiting to leave Cuckoo Farm Campsite. Yesterday rained most of the day but today I woke up to bright sunshine, so the ground was dry as was anything else available to perch on. I’ve plotted a route up to Derbyshire to my next campsite Dale Farm.