It’s always good to compare one’s motorcycle adventures with those of others. Sharing our personal experiences often highlights similarities and connects riders from all walks of life. Some riders keep their stories to themselves, others blog, a few manage the mammoth task of writing a book. Below are a three books I’ve come across recently and can recommend for some interesting biker reading.
by Elspeth Beard
In the early 1980s, Elspeth Beard became the first British woman to ride around the world on a motorbike. “Lone Rider” is the story of her epic two year trip that occurred at a time in which the internet, smartphones, and satellite navigation were unheard of.
The author describes her struggles from preparing for the big trip to hitting the road and making her dream happen. Poor health, accidents, cash issues and fatigue challenge Elspeth constantly on her journey but, none the less, she survives with brilliant resolve and stamina. The author also finds love on her ride around the globe and the book is partly about Elspeth’s effort to see clearly through the haze of youth and her jumbled emotions.
I think the book will leave a mark and resonate with many male readers. The crude descriptions of the drama a young solo female traveller has to endure in a man’s world are quite shocking and eye opening to say the least. Above all, I found the book a real page turner, something I found hard to put aside until finished. It’s a gripping account of a round the world trip on a seventies BMW airhead.
The Man Who Would Stop at Nothing
by Melissa Holbrook Pierson
John Ryan is the unwilling hero of US long distance riding. He was a well known member of the Iron Butt Association and a world record holder with a ride from Alaska to Florida carried out in less than 100 hours.
Melissa’s book is an interesting insight into the life of this extraordinary biker. John Ryan dedicated a huge part of his life to simply riding his Yamaha FJR 1300 around North America, joining dots on a map thousands of miles apart. His mission was to join those same dots in the least possible time, without excessively upsetting the law. As a result he defined the notion of endurance biking which of course entails minimal sleep, quick fuel stops, food on the go, meticulous planning.
John quite literally stopped at nothing and set the standards for endurance riding today. One thousand miles in a day was child’s play to him. A coast to coast ride took little more than two days. Attitude, mind set and will power were all part of this biking hero’s fabric. The author describes them well in her book
Melissa Holbrook also opens a window into her own personal experience of motorcycling. She has some interesting views on what motorcycles do for their riders. She also aptly describes the feelings bikers share when behind the handlebars of their very own machine.
Unfortunately I found the writer’s style hard work. Long, often convoluted paragraphs and the occasional use of slang sometimes make it difficult to quickly catch her thoughts.
by Lois Price
In these times of heightened tension between Iran and the US, Lois Price (an established British motorcycle travel author), offers a first hand view of the lives of every day people in the Islamic Republic of the Ayatollahs.
Lois sets off alone on an epic overland adventure into Persia on a Yamaha 250 trail machine from London. It’s 2013, she is full of doubt and fear fuelled by western propaganda. Abductions, bullying police, no rule of law are just some of the issues she worries about. Understandably, Lois questions the sanity of her mission, which is to simply explore Iran and discover her own truth about this isolated part of the world.
The book is a revealing account of the Lois’s trip. The people she meets, include taxi drivers, students even army generals. All help make her preconceptions of Iran crumble as she rides deeper into the country. Most of all, she finds Iranians overwhelmingly welcoming, eager to offer hospitality and shelter. Educated, fluent in at least a couple of languages and open to conversation Iranians consistently surprise Lois with support and kindness.
Of course it’s not all easy. Regime loyalists are everywhere and there are scrapes with authority Lois cannot escape. Furthermore, strict dress codes for women have to be followed just to keep the morality police at bay. There are also bored young men, high on drugs to be weary of at lonely fuel stops in middle of harsh desert routes.
I found the book interesting and it reminded me of my very own trip across Iran in 2016. Back then Obama had lifted US sanctions and Iran had agreed to the “Nuclear Deal”. It was a good time to travel.
Today things seem bleak to say the least and a US led strike on Iran seems inevitable. For this reason, before taking sides and supporting conflict, Lois’ book is a gentle reminder that one should never confuse a country’s government with its people.
Bikers all belong to one loving motorcycle family within which there are tribes, divisions and boundaries. So, we see sports bikers, touring bikers, adventure bikers, hog lovers, off-roaders and maybe a couple more categories, too. Each group has it’s own vision of what a motorbike should look like and what motorcycling should be. It’s no secret that sometiomes views clash with more than just the exchange of polite banter.
Also true is that some riders fail to figure out where they belong. They roam from one group to another, uneasy, confused and viewed with suspicion by friends, family and other bikers, as well.
There are also those, maybe the most troubled of all, who ride a sports bike or a Harley by day but secretly cherish a motocross machine they keep hidden in a shed out of sight.
Of course, none of this really matters. What counts is enjoying the ride regardless of what your bike looks like.
An Old Twin Shock
Motorbikes never interested me until the age of twelve. It was then that a school buddy of mine received a “hand me down” battered 80cc motocrosser from an older brother. As a result, I was at his home one afternoon, invited to check out his new two wheel marvel.
For sure, the old twin shock scrambler had seen better days. I remember it leaked fluids from tank and engine and stank of Castrol fuel mix. It had worn tyres, the suspension groaned, the handlebars were out of square. But, despite her shabby appearance, the note from the old girl’s exhaust made it clear there was life in the machine yet.
That afternoon I took my first steps into handling clutch, gears and throttle. I fell, got bruised and grazed. I tore my sweater and stained my jeans with oil, grease and mud. I lost control of the bike more than once and convinced myself the thing had a mind of it’s own. It behaved like cornered animal that just wanted to flee or be left alone. By the end of the day I was aching all over but none the less had a grin on my face. I was hooked, I was a budding biker, I had found my tribe, I was and off roader.
Over the years I’ve owned a few bikes and ridden plenty more. Some I liked a lot, others not so much. Of course, things change as you age but that off road edge has always influenced my choices of brand and style when it comes to motorcycles. Here’s a list of the machines that made the biggest impact.
After promising results at school I managed to persuade my father to shed some cash on my fourteenth birthday and became the proud owner of a second hand 50cc trials bike. Completely different to a motocrosser (and not much more than a moped), the Italjet was heaps of fun for a kid of my age and didn’t pass unnoticed with its wacky colour scheme either.
I rode the small bike for years and learned a thing or two about balance, clutch control and riding over obstacles though the lack of real power from the small Minarelli engine never propelled me to any competitive might.
When my working days arrived and after a spell without a motorbike at all, I hunted for a machine with some sort of off-road flavour. I hoped to find a decent second hand Kawasaki KLR 650 but then stumbled upon a rarely seen KLX, the KLR’s beefed up cousin. As soon as I saw the bike I knew it had to be mine. It was just over ten years old with less than twenty thousand kilometres on the dial, only one owner. The bike looked clean and I bought it on impulse there and then.
I loved the KLX very much. It’s torque, reliability and upright riding position were fun on any day. Once again I owned an eccentric machine not many people recognised. In fact, the only KLX 650C I saw on the road was the one I owned and kept for five years.
Of course, it wasn’t perfect. Vibrations at over 110km/h annoyed me at times and the big bore single craved for oil especially during the warmer season. But, it did the job and the bike also introduced me to the world of motorcycle travel. It took me to France, Greece, Turkey and to the dunes of North Africa and back, albeit only just.
KTM 525 EXC
My North African trip on the KLX fuelled an appetite for further off road adventure. Still with the Sahara in mind I went for the kill and bought a third hand KTM 525. I thought this might be the best tool for mud, white top roads and whatever off road adventure I fancied. It was however, a big mistake. The 525 was a beast of a machine with way more power than anyone, other than a professional, could hope to manage sensibly. There was no compromise with this Austrian behemoth. It was either a full white knuckle ride, battling to keep rubber on the ground or nothing at all.
Needless to say the 525 filled me with anxiety every time I rode her and in the long run, I avoided having anything to do with the bike entirely.
KTM 250 EXC
A second hand KTM 250 two stroke was a by far a more sensible approach to green lanes and track events. Above all, the engine was manageable, light and didn’t tire me the way the 525 did. Unfortunately though I found the 250 maintenance hungry. Piston rings, electrics, oil leaks, just got too much for me.
BMW F800 GS
The F800 was love at first sight. To me it remains one of the most appealing designs in enduro adventure bike segment. By no means perfect, the baby GS nonetheless ticks all the boxes for me adequately. It’s reliable, robust, great on fuel economy and can, within reason, handle most easy dirt tracks pretty well.
I’ve travelled extensively on the F800GS, all over Europe and Asia and have come to know the bike’s merits and flaws, well enough. The steering head bearings, the dodgy fuel pump and its flimsy front rim are its immediate issues. These, however are easy to fix. The F8 isn’t suited for long highway runs nor for sustained speeds above 150km/h, either. None of this bothers me. I believe the bike remains a good compromise as far as adventure bikes go. I’ve actually owned two of these and still ride one today.
What bikes would I like to own? Well, it’s an on going joke that motorbikes unlike a girlfriend/boyfriend don’t mind if you dream of newer models or skim through motorbike magazines. So… I like the Ducati Multistrada and although I’m not sure how this Italian prima donna handles it’s certainly a stunner in the looks department. We shall see, perhaps one day I’ll own one or maybe not. Maybe I’ll be enjoying something completely different instead, could even be something electric.