200-mile motorway testride on a cold, wet and windy November day

Had events been different, I would have ridden to Calais on a warm and sunny June or September day on my R. Alas, it had to be done yesterday on the Ten. Average temperature 6 degrees, a sprinkling of sunshine but mostly cloudy, rain for 30 minutes. And very windy all the way.

I had crossed every possible parts of my body the two days before, hoping the constant downpour would stop, just for me. I was almost successful: when I woke up at 5.30 the sky looked sympathetic to my cause.

I wrapped up warm: leg baselayer, BMW denim trousers without the very cumbersome and chaffing knee protections for the bottom, tee-shirt, long-sleeve jumper and pullover, then my Triumph leather jacket and a rainproof on top. My Stylmartin leather boots down below. And Held winter gloves. Plus a scarf under my balaclava.

Given the positive signals sent by the late night sky, I kept my rainproof overtrousers in the topbox.

It was the first time I gave the Ten a go at ‘touring’ and motorways proper. Not that it matters much since where I’m going motorways are still a few decades away and I’ll probably be lucky if I once reach 50 mph, but then again an adventure bike should be able to tackle anything that comes its way. Including dreadful rides on a motorway. So here are my impressions.

It did alright. The handguards did what seemed to me a pretty good job: my fingers were pretty cold when I got to the Eurotunnel terminal, but there was no need for an amputation, so I though that was a success.

Wind protection was mixed: head and chest-wise, I felt less disturbed by turbulences than on the R with the BMW touring screen. Even at 100 mph. Having said that, I still had to stop after 50 miles to squeeze my earplugs in, as my left ear was starting to crackle and wheeze.

Where it was less good than the BM, though, is for the feet and legs. No surprise there: the German bike kept my feet nice and warm behind the flat twin and, the tank being wider, my legs were also more sheltered. But it was not unbearable at all.

I pushed the engine a little bit. 80, then 90, then 100mph. And it didn’t complain. Opening the throttle was never a test of my grip, but the lag was not ridiculously long either. Of course, I didn’t feel like quick overtakes were on the cards, and in that sense the Ten does offer a different riding experience.

Strangely, I felt less ill-at-ease doing 100mph on the Yamaha than on the BMW. Not sure why. Not in terms of comfort, but of general feeling.

People often complain about the five-gear-only gearbox. Yeah, you notice it. Once or twice I found myself looking for another gear. But then you learn that there just isn’t any other and move on. Where I noticed it more is in downshifting. On the R, I used to play with the gears a lot, and every time I needed an injection of speed I’d go down a gear and wring the throttle. On the Tenere, at first I was reluctant to do the same: because the 5th gear is so long I thought a downshift would bring the 4th right into the redline zone, especially past 80mph. Towards the end of the round trip, I downshifted at 70, and actually the 4th was just about 700rpm higher than the 5th.

The specs you find on the Internet say that the Ten maxes out at 120mph. I haven’t tested that. But at 95 mph I was at 5.500 rpm, and 6.000 rpm at 100mph. Since the bike redlines at 8.000, there’s still a bit of elbow room. Whether it suffices to take it past 120 mph, I don’t know, and probably never will. Max speed is not my cup of ristretto. On the German autobahns, I pushed the BMW – fully loaded with topbox, panniers and tankbag – to 140 mph, and it could have gone still. But the front had become VERY light, and the fuel gauge was burrowing its head ever deeper underground, so I gave up and returned to slightly friendlier speeds.

On my way to France on the train, I was the only biker in sight. And on the way back, same thing. Wonder why…

The weather in Calais was proper awful: sunny five minutes, then gale force winds and downpours lasting half hours. My dealings with the French administration – reason why I went – were equally bad. My application for a new driving licence is now in the hands of the gods, or someone in a préfecture‘s office, which is probably much worse. Que sera sera.

The return trip from Folkestone to London was hellish. Dark, very blustery, very cold, busy and partly rainy. I could have done without it: I got home pretty tense, completely exhausted and extremely cold.

What it told me mostly is that the BMW’s traction control and ABS gave me great peace of mind. Yob or not, I was being very conservative in the cold and wet and dark and windy evening, loitering quite far behind cars, reducing my overall speed and negotiating my changes of direction very gingerly.

Part of me thinks TC and ABS are for pussies. The part that likes life to be its true tough self. That likes people to tell things to my face and not in my back. You know, the part of Dennis Hopper, of Ted Simon, the part of the real men.

But part of me thinks TC and ABS are a goddam good addition. It doesn’t smell of testosterone and armpits, but fuck that, it gives enjoyment a greater arm span. Yeah yeah a computer steps in to compensate for your mess-ups, but if that’s a problem, stop flying, stop driving a car and give up on trains, washing machines and all the jazz. Go back to collecting wood and sticking your dirty hands on a cave wall.

If/when I get out of Laos alive and well enough to buy a new bike, it’ll be one with TC, ABS and whatever else safety aid I can get then. I’ll still have a willy and smelly armpits.

What about the Leo Vince then? Well, without my earplugs I could hear a nice machine gun every time I opened the throttle, even past 90 mph. That was nice. And drivers heard me alright, no doubting it. In the debate, I think that loud is better than not in terms of safety. I’d rather pedestrians and drivers heard me than not.

With the earplugs on, I didn’t hear much of the engine.

Would I throw my leg over the Ten as easily as I had done on the R for a 5.000 mile trip around Eastern Europe? Stupid question, insofar as I bought the Yamaha for bad road Laos. Clearly, I would never ever have got it had I stayed in the UK, Europe, or anywhere else with BMW dealerships and decent tarmac.

Oh there’s no doubt the Ten can do that sort of trip, but it wouldn’t be remotely as enjoyable as on the R. The thump of the engine becomes quite noticeable after a wee while. Not that it vibrates too much, but it does, and if you don’t feel it exceedingly in the hands, it’s in the bum, or in the general feel of the bike.

So yes – revelation -, a twin is smoother than a single.

I know I said the yob-side of the Ten (with the LV pipes on) makes it quite neat in town, and it’s true. But still, one can be a yob with a much nicer bike.

Frankly, it is beyond me why non-off-road riders would buy, let alone enjoy, the Ten. It is not meant as an insult, but I really fail to see what the bike has that other non-single trailies don’t, even the less than exciting Transalp. OK, it’s cheap to insure, and that’s good enough a reason, but then don’t say it’s the best bike you will ever have. It isn’t. It’s so crude my uncle appears poetic in comparison, it sounds bombastically terrible with the original pipes on, it’s not good-looking, it’s not especially comfy.

I mean, I’m still hoping it’ll do a great job in the dirt in Laos and that it won’t break down, leaving me marooned in some mosquito-infested jungle, or worse in the midst of stupid and drunk backpackers, but there’s no way I would have bought the Ten had any other sensible option been available.

A few days before yesterday’s ride, I entertained the romantic notion that I might take the Ten on our post-Laos posting. It would have proven so great in South-East Asia that I couldn’t sell it on. Denis, you’re having a fucking laugh! Cut the crap and face the facts: it takes a very unusual alignment of the planets to make the XTZ desirable, and hopefully such alignment will not be seen again as long as I can ride.

No single man, me am.

The importance of being a yob

In the hustle and bustle of contemporary life – with Facebook, BBC News at 10, work colleagues and tax returns – sometimes we forget what really matters during our time on this earth. We forget how much we love the person by our side, the simple pleasure of a rising sun, or the delights of being a yob.

I have been riding my Ten + Leo Vince for over a week now. And boy am I having fun.

It’s not a Ten anymore, it’s a new bike. I don’t care if the exhaust increases the bhp or not, what I know is that, as soon as Fab and I fitted the new pipes on, they spread like a good disease to the entire engine, frame and suspensions. Contaminated them with some miracle cure.

It was a pumpkin. Now it’s Cinderella. All things being equal of course.

It was a coughing old man. Now it’s a yob, out to have fun and wake the dead.

Or to kill the living. The thought sometimes creeps into the back of my mind that, one day, the spitting exhaust will kill an innocent bystander. Not that it shoots actual bullets, but the sound is so close to the real thing someone might have a heart attack as a result of my riding along.

Or a mentally unstable soldier discharged from Afghanistan may be convinced by the furious Leo Vince that he’s back in Peshawar, his unit under fire from blood-thirsty Talebans. Then he’d kill me, mistaking my helmet for a turban, or even a burqa. And I’d be on the 10 o’clock news, and we’d be back to square one.

Ah well, whatever will be will be. In the meantime, I don’t mind the Ten anymore. No: in fact, I am going to have to admit, reluctantly, that I quite like it now. All things being equal of course.

It sounds like I should have sounded in my yoof. It sounds like an insomniac Jeremy Clarkson whipping a psychotic elephant’s bum.

It sounds irritating, brash, useless, proud to be a cunt, like an idiot collecting ASBOs around his neck. All talk, little action.

But hey, I’m not letting everybody else’s impressions spoil my ride. I like my Ten + Leo Vince, I really do. Maybe because, unconsciously, I know it’s very much like me: loud and exuberant to hide poor quality that in fact hides great depth? Could it be?

What does it for me is that, now, the Ten is reminiscent of supermotards. My favourite style of motorbikes. At times, it sounds like one. As a result, I often find myself sticking a leg out in a turn. Not sure it’d do anything more than break in the event of a loss of grip, but it feels natural. And why not? The Ten is tall, narrow at the front, and it’s got a single cylinder.

Just like with the R + Remus without the baffles on, I do watch my wrist when within sight of the police. But I’m not scared: it’s road legal yobbing. Until they ask me where the catalyst is, of course. But hopefully we won’t get there.

Funny how just the sound of a bike changes it so utterly. I now feel good riding it, a thing I frankly thought impossible. I bought the exhaust thinking it would make the sound a bit more enticing, but it’s a revolution, not an evolution, and that’s been a great surprise. And strangely, I don’t mind that much being the street twat with the loudest pipes.

I was a bit embarrassed on Saturday night at 3am though, when I had to switch the bike on in a quiet street near Mile End Climbing Wall after a party.

And I had to warn a girl sitting on a bench just behind the Ten in Greenwich that she’d better move before I start it. She looked at me, puzzled, enable to gather my meaning. She still went. Lucky, because she’d probably have had her head chopped off by the angry yob.

Another reason why our straining relationship is showing signs of improving is that the Yamaha has not crashed or broken down since replacing the rectifier.

Hopefully it’ll keep the good work up, because on Wednesday I’m taking my first trip abroad with it. Abroad here doesn’t mean far, but still, I don’t fancy being stranded without AA cover on my way to Calais.

The bloody DVLA sent me all my documents back and refused to validate my DAS test pass papers and exchange my French driving licence because, they said, the latter was ‘defaced’. I’ve had it for 18 years and it’s been to countless countries, you morons, how can it be other than defaced? It’s still me!

Anyway, because of that, I have to apply for a new French driving licence, and of course the French can’t do things simply and I have to go back in person to the relevant office at least once (either when applying or collecting). You can’t possibly do that at the French consulate in London, oh non non. Even if you live in Melbourne or Patagonia or Vladivostok, you’ve got to show your face in France at least once during the process. How appallingly ridiculous.

The closest French sous-préfecture is Calais. To be honest, being still reluctant to entirely trust the Ten, I first looked into Eurostaring it. But it’s over 250 quid. The Eurotunnel costs 10 times less.

On me bike then.

After (thought) market

On this crisp afternoon, on the A20 towards Orpington, I feel unusually lighthearted and eager. For all I know, it’s the first time I’ve ever ridden the Ten without squinting at the very likely possibility of an oncoming disaster.

Also, it’s the first time I’m riding to Fabrice’s since saying farewell to the R that I don’t need him to repair something.

I only need him to help me fit stuff. That’s why I’m eager. Because I’m going to see him. To add the bits on the Ten that I received just a few days ago.

I’m not interested at all.

The handguards, we fitted just after he discovered the fault in my carpark. I had tried a few days before, but my tools had failed me.

I thought we were in for troubles when I saw the white sticker ‘Transalp’ inside the handguards. ‘Oh oh’, a little voice told me, ‘the bastards sent you the parts for another bike, the two-cylinder one that you considered as well before falling for the donkey Ten’.

As it is, the handguards fitted just fine. Bit of twisting here and there, but all very good-natured.

Very useful, I have to say, those handguards. Despite the cold weather, despite my 60-70mph, they are doing a great job at shielding my hands for the chilly wind blast. In town as well. They don’t heat up the levers, but they at least subdue one element in the winter equation. I also found that they keep quite a bit of the rain away, although I have noticed this only in London, and at speed on a motorway might be a different story.

So much the better for them. Next time I crash they will hopefully save my levers, and in the absence of heated grips until mid-January, when we depart for Laos, they’ll help me through the agonising pain of fast-freezing fingertips.

Back then, we had also fitted the rally front fender. The thinking behind this accessory is dual. First, in the event that I ride muddy tracks in Laos, the front wheel won’t get clogged up in brown pizza base, since the rally front fender is about 50 cm away from the tyres, as opposed to 3cm for the original.

Second, I find the Ten looks much better with it on than with the other one. It’s now a vaguely purposeful dog, not a flat-faced monkey.

All good, then, on the Tenere’s front.

In Fabrice’s trailer, wild expectations await me. The crashbars are nothing to drool over, which is not the case of the exhaust.

I remember very clearly the difference fitting the Remus pipe to the 1200R had made to how I experienced the bike, how I viewed it and appreciated it. Although the addition of the Remus was not a change of seismic proportion, it still improved it no end. I went from ‘what bike should I sell the R for?’ to ‘when is the next dry day?’.

The exhaust note was a tad deeper, there was no clunky sound at either rpm anymore, acceleration became musically enticing, in particular past the 5000rpm mark, down shifting proved desirable. No end.

Fabrice, who had already fitted the Remus, had first insisted I ride without the baffles on. I did so for three days. Three days during which I was on a constant look-out for police presence on street corners. The excessive crackling and exploding of the exhaust, especially on downshifts, put the fear of authority into me. And I didn’t enjoy it.

So, one morning, I took it upon myself to fit the baffles back in. I had toyed with the notion for the last 48 hours or so, anxious to put my mind to rest but fearful of losing too much of the musical improvement.

I shouldn’t have been: very much in line with the subtle refinement of the bike itself, the Remus with baffles on sounded way better than the BMW exhaust, yet retained a cool suited and moustachioed dude’s understated poise.

I got to Orpington without a hint of a problem. My enthusiasm probably carried the Ten and all its failings along.

We set to work. Or rather I did, because my team race mechanic got called into an impromptu meeting in his living room. Couldn’t find the right tools. My excuse is Fabrice’s got enough tools to provide half of London’s garages, and the avalanche of bits and pieces hid the one screwdriver I needed.

After keeping quiet for 40 minutes, I finally walked in the living room and dared ask. Thankfully, the chat was adjourned to make way for proper business. Christ!

When I got pointed at where the right tool was in the mountain, I was finally able to set my sights on removing the Yamaha exhaust.

That proved much more problematic that anticipated. The operation on the BM had been straightforward as can be: two or three screws, a few springs, and on it was. This time, we had to reverse-engineer about half the Tenere. Topbox off, pillion handles off, number plate holder off, top box rack off, plate off, rear light and indicators off too… Bloody hell.

Without Fabrice’s advice, I would have got stuck about 50 times. He can see things in front of him before they even start appearing at the end of my galaxy.

Once the way was clear, we released the Yamaha pipe. And catalyst. That was easy. And fitted the Leo Vince one. That was a breeze.

With no exhaust on at all, my mechanic had to turn the engine on. Of course. Young minds… That was frikkin loud, oh boy. Loud dragon-style, with earth-tearing screams and fireball-spitting.

But the real test had come, now that the Leo Vince was on. I let the honours to Fabrice.

Ohhhhhhh man!

Ohhhhhhhhh man!

The hair on the back of my back stood, I began salivating my blissful horror at the AC/DC tune. Ohhhh yea. Un-PC, loud, dirty, bare-chested, chavy and guitar-smashing – the music of hell with a legal sticker on.

However, I didn’t let it make me lose sight of the next step – the crashbars. With those on, I’d finally let the salacious prospect of riding around the world with Die Hard 1’s Bruce Willis trapped in a tin box with angry cobras and an atomic bomb sink in. Before that, I had a job to do, and a dinner to go to: Alex and her Brazilian counterparts in a Clerkenwell gastropub.

And it was getting on: 6.30pm already. Surveying the crash bars, taking a glimpse at the instructions, we gathered we had just about enough time to fit them in an hour. I’d be 15mins late, or thereabouts.

It was hard going. As with the exhaust, a lot of removing was needed before we could even contemplate appending the bars. The bash plate and all other plastic protective panels had to go. The working angles were not kind, the screws required a lot of brute force. Our backs and knees complained. And to think I’m only 36!

The hardest bits to remove were the two engine support screws, 20cm long devil-killing silver bullets which had to be replaced by a link plate allowing a zigzag around various cables and wires to screw in the bars.

7pm came and went. Then 7.30, then 8pm. I called Alex and apologised: I’d have to give the meal a miss. I sounded aching and sweaty enough that she didn’t argue.

The problem was that we quickly discovered Metal Mule crashbars didn’t fit with the original bash plate on. And, of course, their website didn’t mention anything of the sort.

Worse still, they didn’t fit with the rally front fender on.

Conniving money-grabbers.

I had no qualms about cutting off a bit of the bash plate.

But the fender was more problematic. I’d already noticed that my legs got sprayed with it on. The choice was either to revert to the original mudguard, or to chop off part of it.

The original guard was in my flat, and anyway I still didn’t like it. I elected to chop off the offending rear bit. The bit that shields the radiator. Not good. That’s why I suggested that, at a later date, we cut the front part of the original guard, give the leftover some height, and screw it back in.

While Ab Fab was cutting and smoothing, my task was to fit all that had been taken off back on the bike. Basically, build it back up.

And I did, without crying for help even once. Mighty pleased. How many manually-challenged PhD holders in Literature can say so?

The good and worrying thing is that I quite enjoyed that. Good because it looks like it could be a useful skill to have with the Ten in Laos. Worrying because I have now a hand in the nitty-gritty of life. Yuk. It’s not all ideals and ethereal concepts and metaphors and hour-long silly convoluted talks on nothing at all (trees in Proust, what Deleuze owes to marshmallows etc.) anymore, there’s also sticking my head in the butt of a bike, a real object that has the power to both enchant and kill me.

To my shame, I now read MCN religiously. Ted Simon’s Jupiter’s Travels in on my bedside table. I check the moto GP results, even watch a bit when I perchance upon a race.

I don’t spend money on photographic gear anymore, but on motorbike insurance, fuel, accessories, fines and repairs.

Doc, what’s wrong with me?

Okay, my head’s still partly in the clouds: after all was back in place, including the nicely newly cut fender and bash plate, I found two ni-lock screws stranded behind me. Important bits. Ah well, the road back to reality is twisty.

What’s the lesson here? Simply, that compatibility of aftermarket accessories shouldn’t be assumed – they are an afterthought for overthinking and gullible customers. That the descriptions of aftermarket accessory websites shouldn’t be trusted. That one who has a Yamaha Tenere should also get a Fabrice.

And that the Ten was seen grinning as it put one spanner in the works after another.

It’s as if the guy doesn’t like me. As if he’s taking pleasure in pissing me off, making me swear and giving me a backache. Problems after problems after problems. Must be a bloody teenager. A bloody Tenager.

I was home at 11pm.

 

Surfing the Internet yesterday, I was reminded of one big clue to the Ten’s dismal reliability record so far. It is assembled in Italy.

 

The bug

I knew two things about the Ten when I bought it: I hated it, and it wouldn’t stay in standard form for very long.

Even before I made the reluctant switch from European to Japanese, I had spotted aftermarket products. Strange enough, I had particularly spotted engine crash bars and handguards. You know, the ones that would have saved my clutch lever and cable and fairing in the very unlikely event of a fall.

‘Don’t do tomorrow what you can do today’, is the saying that kept hitting my brain Tyson-style as my Ten laid helplessly on the road, then in Fabrice’s trailer, then in my garage, then on Whitechapel Road, then at the MECW’s carpark, then at my garage again.

Yeah yeah, got it now.

So, a few hours after my first crash, I scoured the Internet once again, full of renewed energy for spending money in order to hopefully save some. And I ordered:

– Barkbusters handguards EGO VPS.

– Metal Mule crash bars.

– High rally front fender.

– Leovince SBK silencers.

Some from Triumphland, some from BMW country. Nothing from the empire of the rising sushi, strange enough.

The issue of side luggage is still undecided: soft, hard? It will have to change. The Yamaha topbox is just big enough for a flip-up helmet. The Yamaha topbox, by the by, in which one of the two lid-to-box link screws came loose (head shake).

On the R, I had about 120 litres of carrying capacity, what with the BMW topbox and panniers, + a fantastic Touratech tankbag. And it was just how much I needed for touring, whether alone or two-up.

I will defo get another tankbag for the Ten, with a map pocket up top. GPSs never worked for me. I got one with the R, which I never used.

I like maps. I like to get lost and ask for directions: I get to see unexpected things, I get to swear, I get to meet various people and experience kindness which GPSs completely bypass.

I like to unfold a map, stare at it blankly until 10 minutes later I finally spot the place where I possibly am. I like to run a finger along a twisty road, tap a city, a village, dip my toes in a river of paper.

I like to see age showing on a map. Ideally, my maps would get so battered and crissed and damp that they’d end up looking like a 13th century portolan map. Then I can sell it, be rich and dump my Ten for ten European motorbikes.

Let’s see which ones.

1) First and foremost, the Husqvarna Nuda R. With ABS… Testrode it twice, twice skidded at the lights. Amazing bike, feather-light, awesome sound, great engine. Rare on the roads.

2) The Aprilia Dorsoduro, in either cc. Lovely supermoto too.

3) The Triumph Scrambler. With Arrow pipe. Never ridden it. Was very close to during a group ride to Normandy on a charity event. I sat on it, turned the ignition on, and the alarm went off. It blasted for 30 minutes before one of the twenty amateur mechanic present found a way to disconnect it. Somehow, I didn’t feel like asking for the key again afterwards. Sorry again James.

Anyway the Scrambler is mighty cool, sounds yummy, and it ticks Alex’s retro look box.

4) The KTM SMT. A travelling SM. Tried it, was not especially taken by the sound, but it’s not often you can ride an SM with a hint of wind protection. And I like orange.

5) The Ducati Monster, probably 1100. Tested Fanch’s old 900 in Prague. Awesome sound, great character. Yellow or red. And let’s face it, without the Monster I’d probably still be riding a Honda PCX…

6) I’d have to go for the Triumph Sprint ST. Sports bikes, and sports tourers, are not right for me: I have a weak lower back, and the forward-leaning position, especially in town, is a killer. But god did I love the week I had on Matt’s ST! The guy had faith: he went away on holiday and wondered whether I’d fancy giving the bike a go. The triple engine was so frikkin good I had to go along with the bike’s running theme: three cylinders, three lights, three exhausts. So I shaved by beard and kept the sideburns and a thin vertical goatie. Oh yea. Even thought about marrying two other women.

7) Speaking of Triumph triples, I’d defo get the Street Triple. Never tried it either, but a small ST’s engine in a lightweight body and great sound? Bring it on.

8) The new MV Brutale 675. Slightly decadent, but I keep reading that it has the Street Triple beat for exhaust note. Mamma mia!

9) Close call between three Ducatis: the Multistrada, the Diavel, or the new Hypermotard SP. Okay, probably the latter.

10) And finally, for old time’s sake, a 1200R. With Remus Powercone exhaust from the off. Come see daddy.

Damn, I’ve just wet myself.

Are these bikes not slightly redundant, you might ask? 4 SMs, 5 nakeds?

I have no idea what you mean.

The world is my oyster (or the other way round)

Well…

What I mean is this: in 4 weeks of ownership of the XT660Z, I have learnt a life lesson or two.

The most useful, and most damning, is as follows: when you ride your Ten, always keep an Oyster card in your pocket.

And do not keep your laptop in your rucksack.

Yamah-ouch.

Rectifications

When the bouldering can’t get any worse, I count my chickens and decide to go home. But before that, I have one small thing to do. I have to take the battery out of my Ten.

Unchartered territories, black magic and all that is dodgy, here I come.

It’s dark outside, cold, my fingers are numb from crimps that crimped a lot yet didn’t lead me anywhere. And I have to remove a thing full of acid and volts and crocodiles with my bare hands. Then take the deadly zoo home with me on the Tube. A biker in full gear with a battery in one hand and his stinky climbing shoes in the other. I’ve seen better sights.

The guys at MECW have kindly agreed to keep the bike overnight. When they looked in my eyes, they must have seen the big plasterboard going: I AM DEFO NOT PUSHING MY BIKE IN THE 10PM NOVEMBER DRIZZLE FROM MILE END TO CANADA WATER, AND WHOEVER SUGGESTS OTHERWISE WILL SUFFER A SLOW AND PAINFUL DEATH.

Having borrowed a few tools and a torch from the route setters, and carefully recited Fabrice’s advice in my head regarding which of the black or red cable to disconnect first, I set to work. Strangely, after 5 minutes of life and death stuff, the battery is free.

My Ten is as dead as can be, even deader than 5 minutes ago. All the moron deserves. If it hadn’t cost me my R, I’d actually consider testing a few medieval torture techniques on it.

The next day, I call around asking if shops have a battery charger in stock. Fabrice’s sensible advice yesterday was that I charge up the battery, put it back in (oh my god, again?!), then ride the Ten home where it will wait until he returns from España.

Reluctant to go back underground, I dust off my pushbike. The shop I’m headed for is in Shoreditch, just up the road from the Bar Kick, where I play fuzzball with Fabrice once in a while.

Gosh it’s slow! A few times I try to open the throttle. Doesn’t work. Even more often, I look in the absent mirror. Oops. Once my body has finally realised I’m on a push-bike, powered by legs, it quite enjoys the ride. The only problem is that, being used to 30mph, or 40, or 50 (er), my brain hasn’t caught up with my body yet and I can’t help but go all out. I know it’s a bad idea, but it’s not an idea, it’s a compulsion.

Very soon I’m panting like a choking elephant, my thighs burn so much I feel the heat in my face. And I’m still on Jamaica Road!

Regardless, I soldier on. Cross Tower Bridge. Up past Jack the Ripper’s street, past Shoreditch Tube station, the Bar Kick and, mercifully, I stop at the Honda dealership. I chain the pushbike up, walk in. ‘Is the parts shop downstairs?’, I ask. ‘Yeah mate’.

With sweat dripping all over me, and my breath as short as a broken fingernail, I proceed to walking down the stairs. And I very nearly collapse on the first step: my left thigh gives way, and I have to hang on to the handrail for dear life to avoid making a complete fool of myself. A Mister Bean moment if ever there was one.

Back at home, I read the user manual, plug in the charger in the wall, and to the battery, then Alex and I leave for a day out.

Sunday passes. Frankly, I don’t feel like seeing the sorry face of my motorcycling nightmare just now, so I let it be. In the rain, the snow, sandstorms and whatever else London wants to throw at it. I couldn’t care less today. If I had the energy – which the bicycle ride burnt expertly yesterday – I’d even give it two fingers. At least one.

Dragging myself to the battery charger, I check whether there’s a switch that says ‘humans’. I could very well do with charging up today. Cycling is dangerous, I tell you.

Monday morning, sunny. I Tube it to Mile End. Screw the battery back in place. And pray to all that is not wicked and likes me that when I turn the ignition on, the Ten starts. None of that whirring sound of Friday mate. If you don’t want to finish your miserable life as sushis for metal workers, you’d better fire up.

It does. Phew. For a split second, I doubted whether my authority had come through clearly enough in my mental message. Apparently so.

I ride home with one eye ahead of me on the road surface, the other on the battery icon on the dash. Still black. Not orange, not orange please. Once, a car next to me puts it indicator on, which I misinterpret as an orange-glowing battery fault light (why, I wonder?). I am that close to swearing the mother of all swear words.

Fabrice has had a bad time in Spain. He didn’t crash, and his bike didn’t die on him (so why on earth does he complain?!). But one day he had motion sickness on the track. The next it rained. All that time, I am thinking that my Ten is the single most treacherous thing I have ever bought. Even more than the rotting Camembert of 1997.

Before my BMW, I had never bought anything second hand, for fear of being lied to and sold a faulty item. The R1200R completely changed my view of the used world. But then the Ten came along, and I was back to my earlier misgivings. In fact, they were even stronger: now I had first hand experience of the second hand market.

I was hurt. Not so much because of the money wasted, but of the lingering doubt that my man-to-man, life-defining chat with the dealer had counted for nothing. A fellow biker needed his most honest help, and he spat in his face. Sold me a cry-baby of a bike that can’t tackle a wee slide and dies on Whitechapel Road on a sunny day.

I knew that if I asked myself what was wrong with the bike, I’d have answered ‘the bike’. But I’m wiser than I think I am, and I don’t. Fabrice’s word is the small thread that keeps the Yamaha this side of things in the matter-anti-matter debate.

On the Thursday, Fab comes around. He gets the most amazing gizmos out of the trunk of his car, and tests the battery. At rest. Then with the engine on. It is not charging. The longer the engine runs, the emptier it gets.

Through a logic that evades me, he therefore decides to check the rectifier. A small grey box with grooves along the sides stuck on the opposite side of the bike. I feel like telling him he’s being stupid and ridiculous, but then he starts explaining the underlying logic of it all: how volts and the other thing are like water in a pipe and the rectifier acts like a sieve or a funnel and should be able to scratch the back of the battery’s knee when the ignition is on. It makes instantaneous sense. It makes sense because it makes sense to him. Fabrice is God. No point doubting, or even trying to understand, God’s word. It’s his word, that’s enough.

Yes Fabrice. Oh yes.

He still thinks I follow. I must have a clever-looking face. Well, that’s a start. Or else he’s just a chatty character with an unhealthy predisposition for teaching.

When I finally start to think I actually get something about this most unusual astrology called mechanics, how the rectifier works in partnership with the battery and so on, Fabrice demolishes it all by turning the engine on WITHOUT the rectifier being connected. From this point on, I don’t trust anything he says anymore.

Well, I do, not just his explanations. Either he explains badly or I’m beyond salvation.

At the end of all this, the verdict falls: one of the six pins in the rectifier is almost loose. They are all quite corroded, as is the connector. This is were Fabrice lets me in on a secret: having discussed my case with his friend Mike, they have discovered that one of the Ten’s common faults is corrosion in the rectifier. It’s a manufacture fault, whatever that means, whereby the design of the electrics and the bike mean that water seeps in the rectifier through the badly insulated connector.

3000 miles and the reliablest of all reliable bikes suffers corrosion at its very heart? I feel like fainting and falling straight onto an erect screwdriver.

Fabrice then proceeds to explaining to me the birds and the bees story of the manufacturer’s fault. Lots of words ending in Martian.

Sure.

But I don’t care that he’s talking druid to me. All I have in my mind is the Heideggerian concept of fault-origin-found-fingers-crossed. I like the sound of that.

The next day I call the dealer. He’s happy to take a look at what the problem is, and tell me if it’s covered under his warranty. I bloody hope so, I’m not crossing the whole of London to find out he’s ripped me off twice.

But I want to believe that all’s well that ends well now. It never worked before, but you never know. Mel Gibson’s Maverick is my inspiration as I ride towards Shepherds Bush.

And it WORKS. For the first time in my life, the card I flip over with my eyes closed is the one my hand needed. The one and only. The dealer, after trying to wriggle out of his warranty, reluctantly agrees to replace the faulty rectifier of the reluctant Tenere owner.

Thank fucking Jupiter for that. Thank also Fabrice. I will burn incense to him in Laos. Oh yes. Maybe even a Tenere.

Bullet-proof, hey?

It’s been four days since Fabrice and I bullied the Ten back into working shape. And every day that passes puts more distance between me, the Ramboy bike, and the life-threatening crash. Still, the days don’t pass fast enough: I am quite tense on the seat, eyes raking every square inch of tarmac for traces of kitchen grease, olive oil and candle wax.

Despite by best intentions, however, I just can’t keep off thomascrowning speed bumps and other obstacles, and once or twice I contemplate punching myself for being so pigheadedly silly. But my helmet is quite recent, the other one got stolen in my private underground car park over the summer, and I don’t fancy damaging this one more than it might have been during the 200 mph crash. Okay, 20 mph. Still.

See, ever since I swapped the R for the Ten, I’ve been quite active on the aftermarket accessories front. And I’d rather spend 300 quid on some Laos-oriented improvement than yet another helmet.

With this in mind, on this cold and sunny Friday afternoon, I whistle and jump on the eager Ten. Like Zorro. On we go. Today’s climbing centre is the one where it all started, Mile End Climbing Wall. The Rotherhithe tunnel is doing a good impression of a heart about to have a stroke, so I elect to not play any part in this and decamp to Tower Bridge.

Slightly ashamed by the agricultural cacophony of the Ten, amid all these tourists, I look down as I cross the Thames. Or is it to watch out for grease?

On Whitechapel Road, after filtering at the lights, I happen to notice that the digital screen has dropped the digital part: it is blank as a baby’s bottom. Now, I wonder, is it bad if I look at myself in the mirror and can’t see my face? I gather it is not a good sign. And sure enough, 20 seconds later the thumper starts coughing, hiccuping, even air puking.

It thumps so hard and weakly and inconsistently that, for fear of losing a wheel and god knows what else, I decide to stop here and there. Hic et nunc, as Julius used to say in these situations.

5 days after my first crash, the second one. This one is figurative, but it’s actually worse: it’s a metaphorical accident, a standing crash, the worst kind, the kind that happens for no fucking reason. The heart stopped. Not in the Rotherhithe tunnel, but right under my bum.

I’m starting to seriously question the general assessment that Japanese bikes are reliable. I mean, SERIOUSLY. The thing is a joke, but not a funny one. Like a French joke maybe – you know the kind. It’s one that makes me laugh with an undertone of voodoo and death metal and Hitler.

Who to blame, I wonder as I stand like a cucumber, my helmet in hand, in the bus lane? Nothing doing, the aggravating Japanese refuses to hear anything. Each turn of the ignition produces a whining sound under the seat, like a pack of lethargic bees trapped in a cybernetic straw.

In a moment of clarity, I decide that the dealer is at fault. He KNEW it. He sold me a dud. I took pains to explain to him that I was buying the Ten because it is a RELIABLE motorbike that I will bring to Laos where there is NO dealer, no TRAINED mechanic, and I need the bugger to not give me ANY trouble. Because trouble there means being reduced to the sorry state of a walking being. A scary prospect.

In a second moment of clarity, I decide that the first crash may have caused a slow-to-show malfunction. Which one, I have not a clue. But clearly my bike just died on me after riding it 20 minutes, and I’m as disbelieving as I’m pissed off.

Fuck. Fuck and double fuck.

Trying to figure out what to think or do as the dodgiest scooters whizz past – Chinese, Nigerian, French, even Japanese – an uncomfortable witticism flashes in my head: I bought the Ten to have a great adventure in Laos, and all it’s giving me is a shitty time in bloody London. Needless to say I notice the uncomfortable part much more than the witticism.

Honestly, I try very hard to find a solution that doesn’t involve my go-to man for all things motorbike. So it takes me a minute to finally call Fabrice. Poor guy. True to form, his first instinct is to jump in his car and rescue me out of my Japanese misery. But for the first time ever, he listens to me and stays home, where he’s got a bucketload of things to do before he departs the next day for Almeria and a few days of track riding. He’s got a BMW S1000, you see, them Germans actually work when you need them to.

Suddenly, on the phone to him, I have the idea of renaming my Ten: it is now officially called the Yellow Peril. Yeah yeah, not PC. I’ll be PC when the bastard stops being a cunt, that’s what. Give me a good reason, and I’ll be bloody polite. Until then, fuck off or get going.

After much deliberating, calling the dealer, thinking of getting AA cover on the spot (for 2 months!) and convincing Fabrice to stay bloody put, I decide to finish my journey on foot. With the unbelievable Ten in tow. Zorro on his zero.

As I start pushing, the epitome of kindness and you-don’t-know-how-much-I-wish-you-hadn’t-stopped comes to a halt by my side. A 60-something man, with a helmet on.

On a 1200GS.

I mean, how cruel can life really be?! A BMW, the same as my R but in trail guise, stops (at the man’s command) to enquire what is going on with my fucking reliable Japanese trail toy bike. God, if you exist I truly hate your sense of humour.

I thank him dearly for his concern, explain the situation quickly, and start banging my naked head on the nearest brick wall as soon as he’s opened the throttle again. Yeah yeah, go, you rich stuck-up German buying crowd follower.

Nice guy. Not enough though: you can’t do that to me man, not on a BMW. Anything but that.

Half and hour later, having lost a few stones in sweat, I finally push my bike into a stop at the end of the climbing wall car park. I squeeze it between a rubbish tip and the temporary cabin. Hidden from view. One way to see it is to say that potential thieves won’t see it. The other, and truer way, is to say that I’m so ashamed of this good-for-nothing twat that I’d like to forget it ever existed. Hide, Ten, hide.

I have one of the shittiest climbing sessions. I thought the anger would power me to onsight a few V13s, but I struggle on V3s and anger quickly turns to frustration to the-world-hates-me and finally to extreme tiredness with life and motorbiking and climbing and pizza-eating and even reading on the loo.

Fuck’s sake man. All because of the Yellow Peril.

28 days later (minus 3 weeks)

After a great bouldering session at the Biscuit Factory on the first Sunday since I bought the Ten, my wife calls me to say that she and her friends are waiting for me on the South Bank for a late lunch. I hasten to please and jump on the Ten.

Before Waterloo roundabout I turn right onto Cornwall Road, which leads me to Upper Ground. I’m doing 15-20 mph and turn into the 90 degree curve. And there, I start losing the back, then the front wobbles badly, and I end up low-siding. W-T-F!?

A few pedestrians stop as I lay, clueless, on the road next to my smoking Ten. ‘Are you all right?’ A car parks nearby and the driver helps me prop the bike up. Thanks guys, by the way.

For a while, the only thing that comes to mind is McEnroe. I can’t process information. All I can think of is John’s ‘you can NOT be serious!’. But there’s no umpire in sight, and actually all I can think of is more like ‘you can NOT be FUCKING serious!’.

I’m fine. I don’t have a scratch. My leather jacket is spotless. My jeans and gloves are smeared with some of the kind of kitchen grease that cause my crash, but apart from that they’re as new. Even my helmet is squeeky clean.

Sadly, as much can’t be said about my Rambo bike. The fucker is leaking cooling liquid, various parts of its left side are scarred, and the clutch lever and cable have snapped. The gear lever is also bent. A 15-20 mph low-side on a giant oil-covered frying pan and the rugged adventurer is good for the count? COME ON MAN! You can NOT be FUCKING serious!?!

I’m trying to be clever and think rationally: I was going too fast in that corner, I didn’t look enough at the road itself, etc… But, basically, all my brain screams at me in the background is: WHAT KIND OF RAMBO BIKE IS THIS SHIT?!

Being as mechanically-minded as a bar of camomille soap, I diagnose that the bike is dead. Rambo done for by a fall at jogging speed in the London jungle. So much for Laos then. Luckily for me though, I am lucid enough to call Fabrice, a friend who can do more with his fingers than type on a keyboard and pick bogies in his nose.

The man is resting at home on this cold Sunday afternoon, miles away in Orpington, and yet he insists on coming with his trailer. Being a nice man, I let him.

Fab's trailer

I still think the Ten is dead and buried when he arrives. But then he looks around, moves this and that, pulls here and there. Before I know it he has bent the gear lever back into shape and put the bike in neutral, which allows us to move it away from the side of the road, where it had been propped up.

He’s only been here a few minutes, yet he’s already worked out that the leak was not a leak, but an overflow of the cooling system in case the bike is on its side (well, at least THAT worked). I hadn’t noticed that it had stopped leaking a while ago. That’s a relief, I tell him.

Yours truly, the leak and the broken clutch lever

I was half-expecting him to then go on to explain that the snapped clutch lever and cable just needed a bit of oil and virgin’s wee to get back to normal, but unfortunately he confirms he’s not superman after all, and that I can’t ride it as if nothing had happened. The bike won’t go nowhere. I’m that close to telling him he’s disappointed me greatly. But hey, he’s a nice guy.

We push the Ten in his trailer, and away he goes with the only half-broken Rambo.

The next day I hunt for replacement parts, which I finally find at the dealer where I’d tested the Ten a year ago, and take the train to Orpington. It feels weird to use public transports again. Bus, Tube, train – yuk! Actually, it’s not that bad. Maybe even a bit better than I remembered.

After lunch at Pizza Express, we set to work, and for the first time in my life, and most probably my previous lives too, I do something mechanical. My hands get dirty with greasy stuff, grey with whatever is grey in and around cables and levers and engines, and after two hours of fiddling around, de-bolting and bolting back, pulling and twisting and squeezing, my Ten’s as new.

Fabrice even insists on polishing and spray-painting the scratched areas of the bike, despite my protestations that Rambo wears his battle scars and wounds on his sleeve. I’d never imagined Rambo at a cosmetic surgeon’s, but strangely he doesn’t point his machine-gun at Fabrice’s head, so once again I let the surgeon operate.

And this is how, proud as a peacock, I ride into the sunset, back to London.

I promise myself to start the process of getting Fabrice canonised the next day.

Unearthing the positives

Once you’ve made a decision, it’s no good regretting it. I’d decided to swap my beloved R1200R for the hated Tenere, okay, so stop whinging and crying you useless idiot.

To be fair, riding home from the dealer after I surrendered my BMW keys was not as appalling as I’d thought it would be. Clearly, the terrible impression the testride had made on me a year or so ago had worked small wonders: I was expecting I’m not sure what, something as pleasing as piles or a fishbone stuck in my brain. Well, it was not.

Don’t get me wrong, the Ten’s engine still felt like a third-world country tractor 25 years past its sell-by date, but it had more punch that I remembered (not a lot, but more than expected), the sitting position was quite nice, and I managed to outpace the 12-year-old girl on her pushbike at the lights.

A lesson then: always expect the worst of the worst, so that when the worst comes your way, it’s actually not too bad.

But my cunning plan to actually not look back too longingly on my R1200R was to take advantage of what the Ten had that the BMW didn’t. Simply put: its suspensions. Everytime I rode over a gravel or twig on the R, images of the Apocalypse materialised in my head. Not a nice feeling. Not that the suspensions were bad, but a beauty like that, you want to lay your coat over the puddle to help her walk across, don’t you?

I bought the Ten because it’s an adventure bike, and it can tackle off-road. No beauty in that: Rambo’s got to go, he’s rugged and actually likes cuts and bruises. I decided the Ten would wear no make-up, make no fuss and get on with things.

What this all means is this: I took on speed bumps at speed, stood up on the pegs, like a Paris-Dakar old hand. Oh yes. And it felt good. Oh yes. Speeding OVER the speed bumps instead of AROUND: that’s refinement for you, lawlessness taken full-on with rightful aplomb. I am the Thomas Crown of motorbiking. Oh yes.

If they live in a country graced by normal-ish roads and a number of adequate dealerships, I don’t wish the Ten on my nastiest enemy. But if they move to Laos? Well, let’s see.

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