One of ’em days


Once in a while, nothing really works for you. Without warning, without any rational explanation as to why, it’s as if you’d just spent the night in a bad luck bed and it sticks with you all day long.

For me, 28th December 2012 was one of ’em days. A weird succession of little mishaps and pixellation, surprisingly all relating to motorbiking. Or is it to Yamahing?

I was due to play tennis with Mike from my climbing centre, who lives in Bromley. Picked up the Ten and rode off. At the Lewisham roundabout, exiting on the A20, with light green for traffic, two late teenagers decide to cross the street. They’re a good 30 metres away, but as I ride towards them one of them slows down to a near stop, eyeing me down defiantly. His mate is safely on the pavement, and to avoid his cunt of a mate I brake hard and swerve.

Is it me ageing and I’m missing something there, or did he have a death wish, or did he just mistake the Ten for a bull even if he didn’t have a red jacket?

Whatever the reason, it transported me straight to Laos. In Laos as in China and most developing countries I have visited, traffic and pedestrians work to different rules. But for a donkey here or there in Europe, people and cars follow a set of shared standards, there are dos and donts. Out in Laos, my bearings will take a big big beating, and this idiot staring me down acted as a potent reminder: ‘expect the unexpected’ goes the expression, a cliche, but a useful one.

All my senses will have to be on alert from the very start, a bit like when I started biking back in 2010 on my Vanvan.

We had a great hit with Mike, and I can’t thank him enough for that. Also met his wife and kids, who all seem very nice, which one would never believe knowing the man (eh eh).

After a drink at his place after the game, Mike dropped me back off at the club’s carpark and I set to dress for the ride back. The Metal Mule panniers’ locks had been given me grief virtually from the moment I mounted them, and as I prepared to wrestle for another minute or so to prise the pannier open, the bloody key snapped right off. One half in my hand, the other stuck in place in the lock.


My winter gloves and balaclava were in there. So I rode home with bare hands and my scarf wrapped up tight around my neck. Thank god for the handguards.

Back past the Lewisham roundabout, having been followed by a fuzz car for a few minutes, I elected to turn right at a light. Which was the way I’d come. But just as I got into the road, I saw three painted white arrows pointing towards me on the tarmac, and only three lanes. Oops, wrong way then!

Just as I stopped and started backing off with a big apologetic smile under my helmet, I heard the police car siren. Cue the car in my mirrors. Oh dear…

I turned around, they turned around, and we stopped 20 metres further into a side street for a chat. Luckily they only told me where to go: no paper check (all my papers being somewhere in Wales at the DVLA’s offices), no glove check (in the out-of-bounds pannier), and no fine. I guess the fact I’d already started backing when they turned up put their mind at rest I was not a one-way-street thrill seeker.

‘Alright’, thought I, ‘they come in 3s don’t they’. I was wrong.

Pitlaning home to fetch my summer gloves and necktube, I parked by our flat. Returning with my gear, I tried to turn the ignition back on. And it wouldn’t. I just couldn’t get the key to hit ‘on’, it was stubbornly refusing the turn that wee bit more. So for the next minute or so I fought with the fucker, playing with the handlebars and the barrel until, thankfully, I was able to get back on.

Now I know they might also come in 4s.

Anyway it stopped there, the rest of the day came and went, blissfully uneventfully.

In 6 days’ time, I’ll be dropping the bike at the removal company HQ in Wembley. I’ll spend 3 months or so in a crate, and the next time I’ll see it will be in Vientiane, Laos. No doubt I’ll have a few surprises there, but we’ll see in due time.

In the meantime, I’ll have to get my brains in gear for moving around in that fabulous country.



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.

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