“No good deed ever goes unpunished”

This was the motto of a former boss of mine: a successful marine arbitrator with fingers in all sorts of other business pies, whose dubious associates and disastrous home life never failed to add a touch of levity to a dull day in the office.

Over the next few months, I expect this site might take on a new usefulness to Roynie and myself – as a pressure valve! Comment if you like, but sometimes it is just helpful to have a place to say the things you want to but, for one reason or another, cannot. The elephant in the room, if you like.

We  have become involved in a charity ride next summer.  There are, presently, just three riders and we each have a personal involvement with the charity, through a friend or family member. We also have the potential participation of a certain VIP, about whom I can say little (mainly because he may yet decide not to ride with us), but for whom Roynie and Jim (not “our” Jim, before you ask) are having to dust off their Sunday suits for a posh meeting in London.

The VIP – and the ride – are my fault.  The result of fools rushing in where angels fear to tread.  One day I got an email from my cousin suggesting that we might like to participate in a 6,500 mile round trip from Scotland to Russia and back and, without giving it much further thought, I said “yes”.  Potential costly mistake one. Then I mentioned it to a fellow motorcycle fanatic at our local sailing club and he suggested that said personality enjoys the odd boys’ bike trip.  Anyway, having sent him an email via a mutual friend, we were slightly relieved when he said “no”, and then slightly worried to receive a second email response, a few days later, saying “may be”. Potential mistake two. He doesn’t have a bike of his own so, while making sponsorship overtures to a well-known British manufacturer, in the meantime I have acquired an extra bike: a bright yellow, 2002, BMW R1150GS. Costly mistake three? I truly hope not.

The organiser, Jim, is a great guy.  He is a retired engineer with absolutely no experience of motorcycle touring at all and his longest ride to date has been about 400 miles from his Berkshire village to Scotland.  His chosen bike is a BMW F800ST (a sports bike). But, as John and I well know, lack of experience and unsuitable bikes are no barrier to adventure.  (Those of you who rode with us in 2001 will remember that the Triumph Tiger was John’s first bike, and previously he had only ridden about 300 miles in total on mine.) Unfortunately, having no experience of a ride of this distance/duration, and clearly having been watching too much TV, he decided we needed a support vehicle: a mobile “garage” in the form of a modified horse box.

Thankfully, I doubt there will ever be any need to vent about interpersonal issues on this trip.  However, the horse box is a different matter. And it is precisely because Jim has taken such a pride in doing it up and finding a driver to accompany us across fourteen international borders, that we find ourselves unable to suggest that his mobile garage might be a teensy-weensy bit of a liability.

The makings of a book?  May be.  Anyway, if you are of a masochistic nature and have a hankering to visit Europe, you could always link up with us (as Len has promised to do) somewhere along the trail. It might be a laugh.

If you want to know more about the mission or even donate to the cause, click here to have a look at our official website.

Homeward bound

It is now over a year since we left you all and flew back to London from Chicago.  My mum is doing great – cooking her own breakfast and pruning the roses in her dressing gown before her “carers” arrive to help her wash and dress and make her bed.  Not that she would ever say so, but John and I are definitely surplus to requirement.  Just as well, as it looks as though we may have sold our London house.  (Third time lucky?  Two previous offers have fallen through … Crossed fingers and prayers to St. Jude please.)

In preparation  for our house move, we are bringing the bikes back home to France.  It is the first long ride we have had since last summer.  Tonight I am writing from Limoges (if you stuck a pin in the middle of a map of France, you wouldn’t be far off).  John is snoring beside me.

We had intended to make it back to Montréjeau tonight, but the itinerary was fecked before we started.  We stayed last night with John’s mum, Betty, as it was easier to get to Dover from Coulsdon than from the Isle of Wight, for a cheap ferry crossing to Calais.  We were booked on an 8.15am ferry, which we could have made easily by leaving at 6.30am.  Unfortunately, Betty’s snoring woke us at 4am.  Having tossed and turned a bit, I got up and made a cup of tea for us both.  By the time we had drunk it, it was 4.30am and John had a brilliant idea, “Let’s leave now!”  It is a ten and a half hour drive from Calais to Montréjeau and, if we had caught an early ferry, we could have made it to our local auberge at about 9pm, in time for a pizza.  But there was no “early” ferry, so we just sat nursing a large coffee and a bacon roll until it was time to embark.

If we had ridden on, we could probably have made Montréjeau by midnight, but the auberge would have been closed.  As it was, after 400 miles, we started to flag at Orléans and decided to have a decent meal and call it a day at Limoges. We booked into a B&B Motel (€45 per night + breakfast) and had a nice bit of rump steak at the Courtepaille restaurant next door.  Slightly worryingly, it took a second bottle of vin de pays for John to notice that we could have paid €37 for the room, if we could have found a third person to share it with us …

The mind boggles. 

Good night.

Ooooooh Feck!!!

Here’s a little technical quiz for you.  John’s rear brake suddenly failed on the way up to London on Sunday.  Can you spot what might have caused it?!

Ooooh feck!

Luckily John didn’t have to stop too fast.  Still, one can’t help but wonder what happened to the missing section of brake line. He had ridden over 50 miles from Portsmouth without incident.  Then, suddenly ….!

Home is where the heart is …

John and I finally made it home to France.  Sadly, we’re only here till Friday, but it is good to be surrounded by one’s own stuff for a few days.  We’ve been talking a lot about last year’s trip.  It will be exactly one year tomorrow that I was last here, and walking in on Sunday evening was a bit like entering some sort of time warp.  There were all sorts of bits and pieces that related to the planning of our US trip, that we had left out when we packed the car.  It was a very odd feeling.

Anyway, seeing as so many of you will be at Del Rhea’s, do send everyone our best.

B x

RIP Elizabeth de Stroumillo


Elizabeth de Stroumillo, “Minky”, was a pioneering travel journalist and the mother of my best friend at school. She died in March, aged 83, as a result of being knocked off her scooter!  She and her sculptor husband, Phil Turner, took me in shortly after my father died, when I first moved to London.  They taught me the ways of the world and treated me as one of their own.  For this alone, I would be forever in their debt.

However, I can also tell you that without them, you, my friends, would never have met me and John. Minky and Phil were both keen scooter riders and it was they, to my own parents’ joint horror, who suggested that I should buy my first 50cc moped …  From these modest beginnings, a biker was born. RIP Minky.

“Me” time

I got a bit bored with the duck theme and thought the site could do with a bit of a makeover. I’ve gone back to the original theme, but let me know if you want your duck back. LOL. I felt we’d got a bit stale, so I thought I’d start this year’s riding season with a blog entry. But don’t feel obliged to follow suit. Some ride reports would be nice, but feel free to keep things going with the odd joke, or anything else really …

After a couple of months of nursing and housekeeping for mum, I was, in John’s words, becoming a “right moody bint”! I certainly felt overdue for some “me” time, so John and I caught an early ferry over to the mainland and went for a bike ride. The excuse, as if I needed one, was that we needed to flick the duster over our London house and collect the post. John generally goes up once a week, but our joint absence gave Mum the opportunity to “manage” on her own for the day for the first time in nine months. Anyway, I had booked a test ride …

Since our last American trip, John has been on about buying a Triumph Thunderbird for the next one. The Thunderbird does nothing for me, and John knows it. But he is determined to “buy British” and I suppose I ought to salute his patriotism – even if it does mean another trip punctuated with detours to uncooperative Triumph dealers. Talking to Willie over Skype a few weeks back, I said if John went ahead and bought a Triumph cruiser, I would be tempted to buy a well-known American marque.  I could then be sure of finding a dealer when I (inevitably) needed one and it would, after all these years, make sense of all those T-shirts! Willie didn’t take me seriously and, to be fair, I was half joking. But, as luck would have it, a couple of days later my copy of Bike Magazine dropped through the letter box … with a full page ad encouraging folks to test ride a Harley. Must be fate, me thinks. So I entered my vital statistics(!) on the Harley site and let it choose a suitable bike for me. And that, my friends, is how I ended up riding a Road King Classic … amongst other things.

The dealer is located in Guildford, so we were close to both highway and some really lovely country roads … and the weather was gorgeous. I only had the Road King for an hour, but I discovered plenty that I wouldn’t have guessed by looking at it – not all of it, I have to say, good. The bike got some admiring glances out on the A3 … and I got some bemused ones. Luckily, at 80mph (I didn’t know Harleys went that fast LOL), I didn’t have time to explain that the bike wasn’t mine. Like the Queen, simply smile and wave, smile and wave … Then again, if I’d thought about all those leafy lanes and picturesque Surrey villages, I probably wouldn’t have booked the ride at all. The first junction we came across was a mini-roundabout. Eek! Mercifully, the bike turned out to be a lot nimbler than the supertanker I had feared it might be. Suffice to say, I delivered the bike back to the dealer unblemished, with a numb butt and a very big grin on my face. May be, just may be …

Talking about our plans back at the showroom, John mentioned the Thunderbird (he couldn’t be tempted to try the Road King). All credit to him, the nerdy salesman (much more interested in promoting his own custom bikes than selling a stock model) directed us down the road to Bramley, where there is a very amenable Triumph dealer. And that, my friends, is how I ended up riding a 2300cc (140 in³) Rocket III!

I’m glad I pushed John into riding the Thunderbird. It was such a nice day and we were having fun. We rocked up at the Triumph dealer on spec and asked if he happened to have a Thunderbird demo that we could test.

He did, and we could.

Parked next to the Thunderbird, there was a Rocket III. “Now that’s a cool bike”, I said, “why not go for one of those.” “Too big”, said John, “and for France we would have to detune it to 106 bhp.” “Shame”, says I, “sounds plenty to me.” Seeing that John wasn’t interested in the Rocket, the salesman asked if I’d like to take it out. Is the Pope a catholic?! (On second thoughts, please don’t answer that. But you know what I mean.)

In the end, I rode both the Rocket and the Thunderbird, but I’ll stick with my opinion that the Rocket is a better bike. Mad, of course. But better. The (non-stock) gel seat and riding position were more comfortable for me than the Road King. My only quibble was that it felt heavy on the roundabouts (we have lots of “circles” in England), which seemed odd for something so powerful. Surprisingly, the Road King handled better. I wondered whether the tyre pressures weren’t a little low. The only thing I could compare the Rocket with was Doug’s Valkyrie, and there really isn’t much similarity. I remember the Honda as being much lighter and easier to ride. Even so, I think John may be a convert. We both agreed that, while the Thunderbird was more stable at slow speeds, it seemed a bit light at the front end. Odd. Skittish almost.

It is all rather academic anyway as, until we sell our London house, we can’t afford to buy anything. The dealers didn’t seem to mind, though we conveniently forgot to tell them that we would likely buy our next bikes in the States.