First ride in London as lockdown eases

On Sunday our bizarre prime minister announced some incoherent changes to ‘lockdown’ here in England (the other countries of the UK remain unchanged). Nobody knew what they meant apart from the need to ‘stay alert’. But it seemed that the motorcycle press and some usually cautious biking vloggers interpreted the change as permission to get back on our bikes.

I hadn’t ridden my bike since the beginning of February when, luckily (that word is an understatement) I brought it down from its (then) cold and power socket-less garage in Cambridge to stay in London for the few weeks that I was away in Australia, with the plan to ride it back up soon after getting home.

So, today I took an intrepid ride around my part of London and over a couple of bridges – Tower Bridge and Blackfriars, both of which look beautiful from a distance but rather pedestrian, so to speak, when you are going across them. I wanted to make sure the bike was still working and that I hadn’t forgotten how to drive it. Of course I got lost on the way to Tower Bridge as the GPX track shows only too well. The ride was only 6 1/2 miles and much of it was spent at traffic lights but it felt good, of course, to be riding in the sunshine in marginally quiet London traffic. I will take a longer ride in a couple of weeks and get away from the capital.

getting lost wasn’t my fault

One day I must add up all of the penalty notices that I’ve got after travelling through, usually London, but other places too. So about 10 days after this trip I got a fine for being somewhere where motor vehicles are not allowed, spotted by yet another automatic camera. I thought I’d check it before shelling out because I had both the timed GPX track and my video of the entire journey so I could go back to the exact spot that the letter identifies. And yes, they were right, at the time they said this was where I was going (just by the Bank of England), blissfully ignorant of the restriction. I think its because I very rarely drive around the city and am more usually on a bicycle where you can go anywhere.

Just coming up to the Bank

Week 6 of UK lockdown

This is the beginning of the sixth week of having to stay in the house, though for me its week 7 as I made the decision not to go to work a week before the government made it compulsory. The graphs of new deaths show the nation past a peak that occurred in around the 2nd or 3rd week of April. New cases seem to be levelling though what that means is uncertain given the low level of testing. It seems that the NHS was not overwhelmed and, overall, coped admirably, though first person stories from some of our staff who still do shifts in intensive care made it clear that some London hospitals were under heavier pressure than others, with one nurse to six ventilated patients in one unit. The newly built Nightingale Hospital at the Excel Centre, familiar to me only because of motorcycle shows, is getting ready to close and only had a few dozen patients – it was prepared for upto 4000 I remember.

So there is a sense that the worst of the clinical crisis has been averted. But the economic effects will be much more long-lasting. I heard on the radio today that the government are currently paying the wages of a quarter of the workforce. Now the problem is how to move out of this lockdown toward more economic activity. Even our local Borough Market faces that problem in microcosm. This Saturday noticeably more stalls were open, more of the ‘non-essential’ delis and artisan stalls. What’s not there are the prepared food stalls nor the hundreds of tourists. So, the market seems like an old-fashioned place where you go to find fresh produce once again. But how will they reintroduce the street food type stalls and will enough people want to buy from them to make it worth their while? And will more people make the whole market crowded and unsafe? On Saturday there was a slightly less nervous atmosphere down there – and on the streets, in fact in the afternoon at about 4.30 I walked down to Leyland on Southwark Street and as I queued outside to get in, it seems that this could be any sunny weekend afternoon, with people walking up and down and driving as usual. The Leyland worker organising the queue told me, while I waited, about his woeful experience of getting the virus, along with his wife. They both sounded very ill from his description and stuck for 5 weeks in a flat with only a balcony for fresh air. He told me that the characteristic total loss of taste was, for him, a ‘result’ because, he said, his wife’s cooking is terrible.

I think that there are more people now on the streets. Today there was a long queue to get into Tesco on Tooley Street, now my go to store for groceries and gin. The self checkouts are too small for the large shops that I and most people seem to be doing so you end up calling over the assistant to rescue you from till malfunction about 4 or 5 times before being able to pay. When I get home with the shopping, I spread it out on the garden bench and spray everything with disinfectant and wipe it down before washing my hands and putting everything away. It is tedious but could well be necessary.

Work continues on line but it seems to take longer to do anything though it is amazing to be in work and getting paid when so many people are not.

At the weekend, after trying to cook one more time on our old wok with the surface bubbled and peeling off, we bought a shiny new one which was delivered just as we were starting to cook dinner today. I say delivered, what I mean is discovered outside in the porch left some time during the day. We cooked some tasty tofu in harissa with a salad, partly from the garden, and rice from the trusty rice cooker. Eating during lockdown has become a prominent pleasure, as it has I think for many people.

Also delivered today was a lens from Ebay for using with the slide copier, also on order (another lockdown project is copying a hundred or so old family Kodachromes). Amazingly it can focus down to a couple of inches away from the front of the lens.

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Building work continues on the former Vinopolis site. After many months of groundwork the structure of the buildings is emerging fast. The continual noise is reassuring of economic activity continuing.

Route planning comparing MyRouteApp, Google Maps, Alltrails, and Basecamp

Planning a route in advance for successful motorcycle travel is always unfinished business – but crucial if you want to avoid ending up on mind-numbing motorways to get to a destination. Some clever marketing has brought a route planning website, MyRouteApp.com to my attention a number of times recently. And, by coincidence, I have spent a few evenings replacing very many links to the defunct Everytrail in my travel website with links to the company that took over from Everytrail – one by one – which is laborious. So I am looking for a site to not only plan and store my dreams, plans and travels but a stable site that I can link to in future accounts of those travels.
As an experiment I chose a journey that I am likely to take some day (when we are allowed out again) from my home to Harwich Quay. I tried planning the route in a few different applications. Google maps allows some flexibility in putting the route down in its map but doesn’t seem to allow export to a GPS – perhaps there is some plug in but I can’t find it. MyRouteApp has a range of avoidances and it does allow export direct to the GPS.

Alltrails (free account) doesn’t seem to allow options when setting a route e.g. avoiding motorways: also its not clear that its possible to export a route as a GPX to a device. Its great for archiving and linking to existing routes I’ve taken though, and placing the links in a blog. 

Garmin Basecamp: this application is much criticised and its not clear at all how it is calculating the route. In Google Maps and MyRouteApp I could avoid motorways but I’m not sure how to do it in Basecamp. It could well be my ignorance, but in this case I have the feeling that it isn’t. Export to the Garmin GPS from Basecamp is easy which is not surprising as its a Garmin product. Planning a route between two locations has always been a bit hit and miss to me in Basecamp. 
Conclusions: I am slightly surprised but with even a very quick comparison at planning the same route, it does seem that MyRouteApp does do all that’s needed: easy planning from one location to another (you just type in the address!), to include avoidances and to upload/export the result to a GPS device – and it lets you swap from a number of different maps (Open Street Map, Google, the HERE map used by Garmin and the mapping used by TomTom) which is very clever. None of the others seem to do all of these quite so easily. AND it has a ’share’ and ‘embed’ option for putting the maps of where I’ve been into my blogs.  I’ve yet to try this.

Day 2: Now I’m trying planning some longer routes – Hook of Holland to Lviv in Ukraine (about 1000miles) and Lviv to Almaty in Kazakhstan which is about 3000 miles – journeys that fit into the ‘dream’ rather than ‘plan’ category at the moment but that may migrate – who knows? MyRouteApp did both well see here for the second journey:

But what I don’t (didn’t when I first wrote it) know how to do is export the route intact to the GPS. The program works well to find the device and export it but it ends up as just a straight line on the device. Maybe its just a matter of adding lots of waypoints (which the programme allows you to do very easily) – and I think this is my ignorance not a weakness of the program. I need to sort this before forking out on paying the subscription, but I think I will go for it. Its my commitment to riding somewhere.  (An hour or so later…) I just paid 29 Euros so now am a member. Its the kind of company that you are really happy to support. And its a snip really.  Here is a webinar (they have really invested in instruction videos for this application which is impressive – its clearly a small outfit) how to export to Garmin  – and to avoid straight lines! https://www.myrouteapp.com/en/webinar/view?video=60&auth=lKIQ8R9U

TO EXPORT FROM MYROUTE.APP TO GARMIN: Open Apps on the Garmin – go to Tracks – select imported track Show on Map – check. Then select CONVERT TO TRIP (it will calculate).  Then open the trip (it will calculate again but quicker). I need to pin this instruction on my computer monitor.

The only thing is – nobody is going anywhere at the moment with Covid-19 lockdown and an uncertain summer ahead. 

Another three weeks

At the end of last week the government announced that the ‘lockdown’ here in most of the UK would be extended by another 3 weeks. There has been much pressure on ministers to start to talk about how the country should emerge from this, which sectors might be allowed to open first, but they resolutely refuse to even discuss it, on the grounds that it will dilute the message and the urgency to stay at home etc.

Perhaps it is not that good for my mental health but I have been reading about the 1918 so-called Spanish flu that killed what in today’s world population would be about 300 million people. The story and some old photographs are chillingly familiar – everyone in masks and the proposition that governments delayed action by initially refusing to name it and to discuss what was happening so shortly after the end of world war 1. The first hand tales of horror and shock at the speed of death and its sheer scale remain powerful and chilling. Also that flu, and others, had 2 or sometimes 3 waves before they died away.

So London is deserted – apart from a steady stream of joggers by the river which remains, in the sunny days at least, very pleasant, if odd, to walk by. Occassionally it has felt creepy but mostly it is just odd. Going shopping is constantly changing. It took maybe two weeks for everywhere – supermarkets and now Borough Market – to introduce social distancing with queues 10 feet apart and restricted numbers shopping. Once inside though it is hard to avoid getting closer and some people don’t appear to care. People are not relaxed enough yet to engage in banter in these stretched out queues but I am hoping that it will come. There used to be empty shelves – itself provoking anxiety – but now stocks have returned and my anxiety has gone down a little. Work is via Skype or Zoom and so is contact with our children as well as meditation and teaching from the Jamyang centre down near Elephant and Castle. In fact I do more of all of this now that it involves almost zero effort – not getting on my bicycle – and I am so at home with the computer.

We sit in the garden when it is sunny and warm, we garden quite a bit (Spring has come to the garden despite the virus), and cycle on the godsend exercise cycle (45 minutes) and lift some weights throughout the day. Shopping takes an age because of all the cleaning afterwards. So the days are full.

I am constantly wondering about the summer and my travel plans. The Youtube motorcycle travellers that I follow have one by one managed to scramble home and are wondering about how they will keep the views up along with their income, I presume.

At work two members of staff have died along with one student mental health nurse. My close colleague who had the virus now has pnuemonia – and she has also lost her mother. Sad times.

The story continues

As ever, there are contradictory strands in the quickly changing story of Covid-19. The speed of movement is one characteristic of events here and globally. There are inklings of a stabilising in the number of deaths here in the UK, but more confidently in some European countries, like Spain. In Austria they are even talking about easing restrictions on opening shops. And in China they seem to be in a phase of giving thanks to those who died and opening things up again, whatever that means in China. So while it seems we still have a couple or more weeks of this ‘lockdown’ the fact that some other countries appear to be emerging from this gives a sense of confidence that, while our intensive care units have yet to see the peak in admissions, on a broader perspective, there is some light in the distance. At the same time, working at home, which never felt that unusual, is feeling normal already.
We had a lovely sunny weekend and we spent Sunday doing some sustained gardening. lots of planting and absorbing the suns rays in our small London garden.

On Sunday evening the queen made a televised speech to the country, and to the commonwealth I suppose, which we watched on a tiny mobile phone screen. I don’t know who wrote it for her but I found it very moving. It was full of references to the Second World War, which she, of course, experienced, but with no actual mention of it. She even closed by saying ‘we’ll meet again’ (after the end of lockdown). Very nice. She said that this lockdown was an opportunity for those of ‘all faiths and none’ (very inclusive) to reflect, slow down and meditate. Politicians aren’t quite in a position to say that. She managed to encapsulate a vision of what it was to be British in a crisis: ‘quiet good-humoured resolve’. It was astonishing. And I am astonished that I was so captivated and moved by it. Perhaps it is the undeniable seriousness of the situation, despite the over-the-horizon glimmering of hope, that makes me susceptible to such sentiment.

The other news, of course, is that our new Prime Minister, recently rather reviled as a posh power-hungry opportunist made (a little bit) good by his serious handling of this crisis, has been admitted to just-around-the-corner St Thomas’ hospital with the virus. First they were saying this was ‘for tests’ but now we hear that he has been admitted to intensive care, ‘just as a precaution’. Probably it is, and he is being taken care of as no other hapless sufferer is. Nevertheless my mind raced to the possibility, ‘what if he were to die?’ That would be a dramatic turn not only for the desperate story of Covid-19 but, in the longer term, for the story of his yearning to become Prime Minister. Brexit seems so distant and irrelevant now. Be careful what you ask for.

Two (or three) weeks of lockdown in London

This Friday, today, marks the end of the second week of official lockdown here in the UK, though I added my own to the previous week, making this the end of three weeks at home for me. Bit by bit things outside the windows have got quieter. The sounds of nearby building – a new shopping centre for Borough market and the demolition of a huge building on Southwark Bridge Road – have, one by one, halted. There was a period when those sounds were sounds of reassurance, that at least part of the economy was still working. The construction on the shopping centre stopped first while the demolition kept going for a further week. Perhaps there was some safe point that they wanted to reach before closing the site. But photos on twitter of crowded early morning tube trains shocked politicians and others who thought Londoners were all two metres away from each other, so pressure grew to close all building sites to get rid of all the construction workers travelling to various sites. Office based workers like me can ‘work from home’ – many of us always did, but construction is a little more difficult to do over a computer connection.

Yesterday I heard the news that the elderly mother of a close colleague (had died after isolating herself and, apparently, stopping eating and drinking. My colleague has the virus so wasn’t visiting her mother. The brother of another colleague, himself 70 or very nearly, also died. Yesterday 569 people died who had the virus across the UK.

The first week at home coincided with some lovely weather and I spent much of it sitting on the bench in our small back garden in shorts working on the new laptop I’d been issued with, with a super bright screen. I still have the suntan. But since then the weather has turned very grey though, somewhat ominously, 20 degrees is forecast for Sunday, ominous with the fear that the break in the cold weather will send people out into too close proximity.

There are a few heroes about – one is the governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo. He’s been talking about how we emerge from this: do we emerge more thoughtful and compassionate or with bitterness and fear. He says it simply but it is a, perhaps the, most profound question about human life and growth. Here he is.

Going out to shop is a bit stressful and we are going down to the market later today, but keeping a distance from everyone and washing everything we bring back in the garden before storing it, especially the fruit and veg which is still in generous supply.

One good point is how imaginative we have got with our meals. We are resolved not to throw anything away and we’ve expanded the repertoire. We bought a rice cooker and now beautifully cooked brown rice is often on the table. I had not realised how tasty and satisfying it is. We also got a pasta roller that fits into our Kenwood mixer and have realised how easy it is to make pasta. Just by luck, well with perhaps some inkling of times to come, we bought a huge 16Kg bag of bread making flour about a month ago so that sourdough bread making continues here.

Another new experience for me is the live streamed meditations and prayers from Jamyang Buddhist centre in Kennington. Joining in with my laptop propped up on my waste paper bin has become a reassuring way to start my day.

Lockdown in London two weeks on

I came back from Australia on March 5th. The QANTAS flight from Singapore to London was cancelled, and we were booked onto a British Airways flight that left and arrived one hour earlier than the planned flight. We had a moment of panic that we were about to be trapped in Singapore but in reality no country seemed to be closing its borders apart from to people who had been in mainland China in the last two weeks. This meant a fast walk from the arrival gate to the new departure gate at Singapore. At the airport I noticed all the workers were wearing face masks. I don’t remember when I had last flown with BA – but it was quaint and old fashioned and the clients seemed to have fruity old fashioned British voices. Flight attendants were older, the food was slightly nicer and the measures of gin felt considerably more generous than QUANTAS. The large plane was about half empty so people must have been starting to stop flying by then. Arrival at Heathrow was 5.45am on Friday 6th March.

The following week I decided to avoid the train and travelled to work on my bicycle.

The Monday following that, the 16th March, we had a meeting scheduled but on Sunday afternoon I remembered that it was to be held in a very small room without window or ventilation, stuffy at the best of times – and 11 people were scheduled to attend. There must have been enough worry circulating for me to email everyone and say that I didn’t feel safe to attend and would be staying at home. The reply from the Dean of Faculty was – you are right, we need to cancel. I’ve since seen that the chair of that meeting is unwell and not replying to emails.

The week after that, the Prime Minister announced the order to stay at home. It seemed to take a while to have an impact so by the beginning of this week, the streets are very quiet, the roads around here less so. The trains continue to rumble relentlessly into Cannon Street. I see and hear them from my window. And busses continue to run with one or two passengers.

Borough Market is still open – at least the stalls we use, fruit and veg, the fishmongers and Ginger Pig butcher. Also Monmouth is still selling its lovely coffee beans.

Going shopping I find nerve racking but better now that shops have installed large perspex screens to protect the cashiers. Its hard to keep a distance from other shoppers though people seem to be taking that more seriously. Yesterday there was toilet paper to be found for the first time in about 3 weeks. Wine and gin is in reasonable supply. After shopping I take all the items into the garden and spray them with Dettol then take off my gloves and wash my hands.

Today over 500 people died related to the virus across the UK, the youngest to die was just 13 and he lived down in Brixton and died in Kings College Hospital, both very familiar to me and not far from where I live.

I have had a slight cold since Saturday but no cough and no temperature – I’ve been taking it a few times every day.

I am glad that before my trip to Australia that I brought my motorcycle down to the garage in London but it is sitting unridden down there but at least I know it is safe. The rental for the garage in Cambridge has gone up to £82 per month.

Planning a trip with Corona virus background

I started planning my summer’s motorcycle trip about a month ago – but now, even over the past 7 days, everything has changed and its not clear now how possible any travel will be by late July which is when I plan to leave. Initially I wanted to explore one of the TETs and decided on riding across the Netherlands to the start of the German TET. I read that much of it, strangely, is on sealed roads so it seemed like a good introduction, heading over to Poland where I have been intrigued to dip my toe. But I felt a little unenthusiastic about it and rethought. I started by asking myself what makes a good bike trip: this is what it is – its actually very clear.
1. good weather; it need not be hot and sunny but needs to be at least not raining

2. Nice places to stay, almost more than the actual riding. This is nice small campsites, tent only ideally, could be adult only which adds something civilised to the atmosphere. Need to check out Germany for these. I know they are to be found in France.    After one evening’s research Germany does not seem promising for these kinds of sites – like the ones I found and stayed at in France.


3. Some lovely small local roads to ride – need not be mountain passes. Getting there on motorways is fine and unavoidable. 
So having checked the weather across Germany, summer is quite a wet time of year and there is more rain in the South East down in Bavaria than in the north which is surprising so no clear steer here.
I am so glad I asked myself those three questions because I quickly, hastily maybe, decided to go to Spain and try to find and explore a small part of the TET there. I booked a crossing on Brittany Ferries last night (it was last night when I first wrote this) – not easy to line up the different sailing dates of the ferries as some some sailings appeared to be fully booked already and it is excruciatingly expensive. It looked like £680 but then I realised I had collapsed the trip down to only 6 nights away so I amended the booking back up to 11 nights in Spain. That shot the price up to an eye watering £788. I was feeling that I’d made a mistake but on reading just briefly some online discussion about TET Spain I am suddenly hugely excited. I’ve done the right thing to not go to northern Germany. I looked at one German campsite, recommended by a UK camping outfit but it was ghastly – I could see on Google Earth right next to a sewage plant and with terrible reviews – the owners spend all day smoking at the bar with the permanent residents. That, unfairly, put me off the whole country’s campsites. I have to say that I have never found a campsite in Germany as nice as those in France and possibly Spain. 
So – I need to do some heavy preparation for TET Spain – its good to have such a focus. One of the things I do will be to buy bifocal sunglasses to read my GPS! Why didn’t I think of it before? Another is recommended tyres.
Just downloaded an OSM for Garmin from here: http://garmin.openstreetmap.nl/

That was then, this is now. Brittany Ferries seems to have cancelled most if not all of its sailings and Spain is experiencing the worst Covid19 death rate in Europe apart from Italy. So it seems uncertain that it will be advisable to travel there by late July. If not I will probably, like many other people, decide to stay in the UK and try my new lightweight set up here.

Back to Cambridge and back in time with Garmin

Yesterday I took the super-convenient Thameslink from Blackfriars back up to Cambridge for a winter battery-charging ride on my motorcycle. In London the sun was shining but on crossing the border into Hertfordshire we were suddenly plunged into a frosty, foggy winter.

Cambridge was not as bad but once on the road the fog threatened and I tried to flee it, first toward Grantchester then out toward Linton. The frost warning on the dashboard told me to go home and have a cup of hot chocolate by the fire and the temperature was only 1 degree. It must be the coldest I have ever ridden in.

For a week or so the clock on the bike and the GPS have been one hour ahead. Then the tracks of last week’s rides seemed to have been lost. On getting home in the evening I could see that the day’s ride had been saved but dated April 2000. Trying to change Garmin’s time (it thinks we are in daylight saving – hence the wrong time) and the date (you can’t do it) led me to investigate and find the GPS week rollover bug. Its to do with the satellites and the epoch we are in. Posts from Garmin seem to basically say – we’re not going to do anything about it so buy a new unit.

New bikes and Motorcycle Live at NEC

I’m returning to London after a day at Motorcycle Live at the NEC Birmingham. Though I’ve turned up at the similar show in the Excel Centre in east London for quite a few years, this is the first time I’ve been to the larger event. These are always minor treats to look forward to in the winter months. I can imagine if it was held in July I probably would not bother to go. That said, for me the main pull is the chance to throw a leg across some new motorcycles, usually of bikes I would never buy like a Ducati Panigale, but this year some that I am in the market for, or rather will be next year. People do come away in droves from these events, with large carrier bags of gear bought at slight discount at the show, but I rarely do because the kind of equipment I decide I want (after painstaking research) is usually a little out of the mainstream to be hanging up in the racks of Infinity or other retailers – like the Klim Forecast rain gear which had to be imported from the Netherlands.

But back to the bikes. For a while I have been curious about getting a second bike, something far smaller than the 1200gs.

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And last year’s travels in northern Spain on accidental tracks and the more deliberate gravel road of the Bardenas Reales made me a bit more interested in the idea of off road riding. You realise there is a biking subculture of ‘light is right’ exiles from the large adventure bike community. Suddenly those ever-heavier bikes with huge aluminium panniers seem less cool and desirable. Light is right has its own market niche of course with apparel, soft luggage, preferred GPS models and bikes of course that seem to keep turning up on websites and YouTube. I made a shortlist of three: a Honda 450L, KTM 690 Enduro R and Husqvana 701.

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I had ruled out the Honda because, though it got some glowing reviews and inspired some rhyming couplets from Austin Vince (who was there in Birmingham in his overalls with his own muddy Honda – I’ve thought of things I wish I had asked him about), its range, its price of over £9000 plus the seat height (930cms) ruled it out for me.

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The KTM catches my imagination. It seems capable, and popular among those doing long trips with off road stretches. The Huqvana was at the show but it was intimidating and flashy. I could not imagine being seen with that bike. I would want the earth to open and swallow me up whenever I parked it. The KTM was extremely nice though tall – I’d want it lowered I think. I spent a lot of time sitting on it, looking closely at it and photographing various parts. But the surprise was the Honda which was a lower ride, with a slightly more comfortable seat than the KTM, though on paper, taller. I will look at its spec again when I get home. But compared to the gs – and to the Royal Enfield Himalayan which I also tried and was captivated by (it is completely unintimidating and costs less than £5000, you perch on top of these bikes, rather than sit in them. (Not to mention the BMW 310GS which I sat on and feels good but is a little boring).

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Also the larger KTM790, more of a conventional adventure bike, is lower-seated and much more comfortable. I’m not sure what scope there is for after-market customisation with the Enfield. There is a huge industry aimed specifically at customising or adventurising the KTM690 – which makes it much more of a fun option. I also tried the much talked about Yamaha Tenere 700 but found it bulky and more like a heavy adventure bike than the lightweight agile off-road gem it is meant to be.

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Also in the light is right department was the small Mosko Moto stall with some of their soft saddle and tank bags mounted, in a nice bit of marketing, on extremely dirty bikes. Touratech don’t seem to turn up at these events any more. I am not sure why. I always used to look forward to their latest catalogue. Now I keep my old copy safely – its the last one with pictures of Herbert and Ramona Schwartz.