Saturday, 14 December 2013

Riding Solo

It's a bit lonely really, riding solo.

Don't get me wrong, motorcycling can be amazing regardless of the amount of people with you. But sometimes riding alone a lot can restrict the amount of fun you have, or for me at least anyway. For the past year or so, I have began to ride my bike alone much more frequently.

Personal commitments and full time jobs have now plagued our summer days, as the whole of S.L.A.P starts to... well, grow up. We can no longer be the sixteen year old's that scive college and go out for a blast on the bikes, coming back just in time for a few beers around a roaring fire. We've entered the real world.

The past few months have been particularly agonizing for me. Donnell crashed his Mt-03 back in June, causing him to be off the road. Alex has been hitchhiking around Europe. Jamie and Andy are both busy at their full time jobs, too exhausted to do much when they get home. I too, work full time and have moved out. This makes motorbike time very minimal.

The Mt03 crash aftermath
There isn't time to do anything anymore. I feel like time is just flying by and I'm stood still watching it pass. I occasionally go for a 20 minute blast to the local cafe and back but that's about it. What happened to the 'spur of the moment' day trips to Wales?

I find myself reminiscing about a time where I would be crouched over my tank, elbows tucked in, peering into my mirror to see if my mate was about to be overtake me. I remember the bursts of adrenaline when I would throw my little 125 into a sun soaked bend, just trying to creep an inch closer to Donnell's Rs. I miss the laughs you'd have when you pull over to take a few photos, the pissing around at traffic lights when there was nothing else to do.

Riding alone just isn't the same.

As amazing as my France trip was, on the journey home I felt like a piece was missing. In 500 of the 700 miles I did on my own that day, I had taken in so many memories and experiences but it felt like I had no one to experience these things with. I didn't have someone pulling up next to me, laughing about what had just happened.

A great trip but lonely at times
Although, riding alone isn't all that bad. Being alone can force you to go out there and speak to new people, it can get rid of the 'sticking with what you know' philosophy. For example, if you're in the middle of Italy with a group of people, you'll naturally stick together and stay quite reclusive. However, if you're on your own you are being forced to go out and meet people otherwise you'd have nobody to talk to.

Perhaps I'm just whinging, lots of people ride on their own all the time and they're fine. So I guess it's something I'll have to get used to and accept...

... but that long ribbon of tarmac can feel a bit lonely when it's just you on it.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

The best £300 I've ever spent

Back in April my neighbour sent his 535 Virago skidding down the road, denting the tank and smashing multiple parts up. He was absolutely devastated but was back on auto trader looking at another Virago. Over a cup of tea, he recollected his accident and shown me the bike. I had a quick look over it as he told me that he was planning to scrap it. Horrified, I told him that I'd take it off his hands for more than scrap value and repair it.

The Virago
A few days later I wheeled the bike across the road and into my garage, £200 down. Chuffed with my little battered bargain, I began to strip the bike down, preparing for a paint job. It proved tricky to take apart with so many bolts rusted through, random wires poking out of every dirty corner and a confusing switch that did nothing on the right side panel.

Cleaning and polishing became a new past time. I bandaged up the exhausts and replaced damaged parts with the wonder that is eBay, costing me a relatively low £25. With funds running low, I decided against spraying it so I built it back together.

Stripped down
After receiving my next payslip, I trooped down the local garage and booked the old Virago in for an MOT. I plugged it into a battery charger and left it untouched for two days.

On the day of the MOT I wheeled it out of the garage and hit the switch. Nothing. Tried again. Nothing. With only 10 minutes left before the test, my time was ticking. Over two hours later, I got it running after a tough bump starting session and quickly rode it down to the test centre before it shut up. After receiving much deserved piss-taking and banter, I left the bike with him.

The next day, I received a phone call from the bloke, telling me that the bike's battery is knackered. Flustered, I rushed to get a battery from a local scooter shop, then fitted it to the Virago. £33. The bike squeezed through the MOT and I left the industrial estate, beaming.

However, after just 2.8 miles, the smile was soon wiped from my face. The Virago started to splutter and die, making strange noises as though it was only running on one cylinder. I pulled over in Sainsbury's car park and started to fiddle with it. One minute the electrics were on, the next they weren't. After half an hour of tampering, pissed off, I resorted to calling the RAC.

A whopping 4 hours later, the big orange van turned up. A bloke jumped out of the van and checked the connections, discovering degraded wires and fuses. He replaced the fuses and gave me some advice on repairing the perished electrics, and then I was finally able to ride the damn thing!

And I've got to say... It's a hell of a lot of fun.

I might have had the weekend from hell but it was worth it for the fantastic, bitter cold, ten miles that I rode that evening. With around the 33bhp mark, the bike doesn't have mind numbing power but it sure does shift. With a spirited twist of the throttle, it accelerates strongly and the exhaust note is one to remember - it is gorgeous. When I'm riding it, I don't feel the need to race around like an idiot. I'm relaxed, doing 45mph and I'm still having fun!

With reams of gaffa tape and home made brackets, the bike is one true bodge job. But I just think that this adds to the quirkiness and character of this kooky bike. I've never been a huge fan of cruisers but this bike is a lot of fun. First impressions can be deceiving but so far, it's great.

I can safely say, that it's the best £300 I've ever spent. 

Friday, 29 November 2013

Thoughts on my next bike

I think my departure with my Sv650s may be coming soon.

I've owned this bike for 18 months - the longest that I've owned a bike. After a lot of Sunday scratching, trips to Wales and a journey to south France, I have loved and bonded with the Sv a lot but I have come to realise a crucial flaw...

It is not good for road trips.

I've had several 200 mile days and one 700 mile day and it's very fair to say that it is not comfy at all. The pegs are too high, the bars are too low and the clutch is quite heavy in traffic. This results in calf pain, lower back ache and a lot of pressure on your wrists. Call me a wimp if you will but It's really putting me off doing trips on it. I've looked into bar raisers and they cost close to £300 to raise them an inch which I can't really justify in case they make no difference.

Economically, it isn't bad but it isn't great either. Lately I have been getting between 40-50mpg and when I'm pricing up trips this is bumping the price up quite a bit - especially when I'm on a budget. The tank range is around 125 miles before the fuel light flashes which really is annoying when you're trying to make up a lot of miles and requires many fuel stops.

And finally, the luggage capabilities drive me insane. I have carried my camping gear on the Sv for three road trips. I use soft, oxford throw-over panniers and a Hein Gericke roll bag to carry my sleeping bag, cameras and tent. They're okay to use if you're going somewhere for a week and won't be changing campsite but if you will be packing and unpacking every day on a tour, you will consider just booking into a B&B. It's such a pain in the arse to strap and unstrap all of this gear day in, day out.

Don't get me wrong, the Sv650s is a fantastic bike and I have no regrets in buying it. However, as road trips have became more important to me than a quick blast on a Sunday, I feel that's it's time to ditch the sportsbike and get something better for trips.

It's time for the Sv650s to go... but what next?
My next bike must have reasonable comfort, hard luggage and good fuel economy. Off road ability would be pretty good too as a little mud track in the middle of a road trip to Scotland could be conquered, adding another dimension of riding to the trip, but this isn't totally necessary.

I know this specification sounds typically dull. Call me an old man if you want, but I'm putting my road trips above racing around.

So one of my options is to make a comfortable change to Sports tourers such as a 2003 Honda Vfr800 V-tec or a 2006 Triumph Sprint St. This would be the power option. With both bikes producing over 100bhp, I certainly will be able to cruise nicely on motorways and still have fun on the twisties. However, fuel consumption is not as good compared to little 650 singles and twins and comfort will still be quite compromised.

My other option is to get a slower, frugal, single cylinder bike such as a BMW G650Gs or a Yamaha Xt 660 R/X. A G650gs will tick all of the boxes in my specification and can return 65-70mpg, as well as being reasonably priced but will 47bhp be too slow?

Finally, my favourite idea is to stick with similar power to my Sv650 but in a more comfortable form. Such as the 2011-13 new Suzuki Dl650 Vstrom, this bike obviously uses the same engine as the Sv650/Gladius but has been made more economical and comes in a much more comfortable, touring-based package without sacrificing much power. Other bikes that fall into this category for me is the Kawasaki Versys, Honda Cb500x or a Yamaha Tdm 900.

Suzuki Dl650 V-strom... Courtesy of
If you've owned or ridden any of these bikes and you could give me any advice on what you think about my change, I would be very grateful. I'm quite torn and I really want a bike that will last me a good, few years and be up for a few, big trips.

Friday, 22 November 2013

What's the big deal with getting your knee down?

I've done it a few times. Perhaps not spectacularly, but my knee has touched the ground on several occasions. I used to be obsessed with it, although not quite sure why. Perhaps it's because whenever you see motorbikes on telly, they're racing around dragging their knees off bends and it looks cool. Well that's the reason why really isn't it? It's cool. I have to admit, it does look pretty impressive when you see some local nutter mashing their sliders up.

Our S.L.A.P nutter, Donnell on his old Rs125

Call me old and boring if you will but I seemed to have outgrown that phase and have begun to question what's the real point in it. I mean, is being a crazy, reckless rider the only way to gain any street cred from other bikers?

Don't get me wrong, I do ride fast and I love to crank my bike around quiet, twisty roads but I don't think an adrenaline fuelled ride should have to involve trying to get your knee to hit the tarmac, riding out of your comfort zone. I have plenty of fun riding at my own pace, in my own way. But maybe that's just me.

I feel that there's a sort of pressure to ride this way. What happened to relaxing, taking in the scenery and actually enjoying the fact that you're riding a bike? Not just so fuelled up on whether you're going to make it round the next corner or not. I'm not saying that we should all trundle around at 40mph but we shouldn't be receiving this pressure to drive like a maniac.

Riding within your limits makes your ride comfortable and fun. Riding out of your limits makes your ride scary and dangerous.

I'm not saying don't get your knee down, just don't die trying.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

How I almost quit motorcycling

February 2011. The lights turn red and I hit the brakes. Donnell pulls up next to me on his Motorhispania, revving the little yellow 50 like there's no tomorrow. A grin is hidden behind my black visor. I blip the throttle on my Hyosung Gv125 a few times, the four stroke V twin purrs beneath me. The exhaust of the Motorhispania next to me, crackles and pops, emitting a cloud of blue, 2 stroke haze. The lights turn green.

A regular day out on the bikes soon turned into a nightmare

The fading sun of a February evening lingers for one last glimpse, before eventually giving in to the inky black sky. I'm gliding through the lamp-lit streets. Donnell just in front of me, crouching over his bike, determined to lose me. Still smirking, I twist the throttle back again. I start to creep closer. Still accelerating, I look down at my speedo to see how fast I was going. I looked back up.

That's when it all changed.

My mischievous laughter turns into a yell of shock. Donnell's brake lights were on. He was slowing down, fast. With not a lot of stopping distance, I look to drive around him but I see an on coming bus. I have no choice but to slam on the brakes.  A blur of colour and light swirled around my eyes. I hit the floor hard and slid across the road, my head hitting the floor.

I was lay in the road for what seemed hours. Nothing was going through my head. I was just blank. I gingerly got to my feet and stared at my bike. Still, nothing was going through my head. I could see Donnell picking our bikes up. I rushed over to help but yet again, my mind was paralysed. I just stared. Donnell's faint voice began to grow louder and louder, shouting to flick my sidestand out.

Eventually, I processed what he was saying, putting my bike on it's stand. I sat on a nearby wall, shaking. Not quite sure what was going on, my mind was a total block. Donnell was still talking to me. I could hear him, but I couldn't take anything in. I simply stared at what was once, a great conditioned bike.

The next day I began to seriously consider giving up biking. I began to convince myself that they were dangerous. I tried to make myself think that they were a stupid, impractical idea. Despite the freedom and joy that motorcycles have given me over the past 14 months, I was forcing myself to get rid of my 125. I didn't ride my bike for a few weeks, it remained untouched in the garage. I had lost all motivation.

But then I began to think about Guy Martin, Connor Cummins, Ian Hutchinson... TT racers that had all crashed a few months ago. They're all now back on their bikes, racing again. I then turned my thoughts to my father, who had suffered a terrible motorcycle crash back when I was twelve. He too, was back on a bike as soon as he could and still rides today. Which made me think... What sort of big, girl's blouse am I?

Never give up on something you love

I felt ashamed of myself, and still do. I'd had a relatively minor slip, walking out unscathed and began to consider giving up. Why give up on something that has changed my life so much? Those weak excuses for not having a bike flew straight out of my mind and have not since returned to this day.

I jumped on my Hyosung and have never looked back since. And I know for sure, that I never will.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Why road trips are so important to me

The early morning fog lingers over empty roads, the resonating sound of birds chirping echoes through your ears and the icy, cold wind bites your cheeks. A mixture of wonder, fear and suspense fill your veins. You roll your heavily loaded bike out of the garage, checking your oil level, tyre pressures and chain tension. You start the bike.

You're ready.

A leg is swung over the bike, you hit first gear and you trundle off into the morning sun. Over the next few days you'll be visiting places you've never been before. You'll bond over a few beers at the end of a hard days riding. You'll have ups, downs and everything in the middle. But when you come out of it at the end; the ups will be cherished, the downs will be laughed at and everything in the middle will be remembered fondly.

That's a road trip.

One of our smaller road trips to Barmouth, but a magnificent journey never the less.

It's something I'd never even considered when I bought my 50cc. But as an anxious sixteen year old, I loaded up my little Derbi and as soon as the wheels rolled off my drive on that fateful day, I was converted.

A road trip by motorcycle is so much more involved than one by car. Motorcyclists are highly exposed to the elements. We get blown around by winds, soaked by rain and dried out by the sun, it's something that car drivers take for granted inside their little, heated box. However, I don't see this exposure as a curse. Surely, battling through the bitter weather and coming out of it in the end smiling would make you proud? To me, it's something you can fondly look back on in retrospect.

To all of those who haven't had the pleasure of embarking on a road trip, just jump on your bike and go. It doesn't matter how much you spend, how far you go or what bike you're on. Anything's possible.

Over three years ago, four sixteen year old lads with paper rounds scraped together £50 and took their little 50cc bikes to the Welsh coast. It's four days of my life that I will never forget. If we could do it, anyone can.

It wasn't a booze-up. It wasn't a holiday. It was a road trip.

Says it all

Thursday, 31 October 2013

The hunger for something more

Turning 16 in January 2010, I passed my CBT and quite happily rode around on it for 9 months or so. I cherished my little Derbi Gpr 50 nude, taking it everywhere from a trip to the shops, to a 6 hour journey to the Welsh coast.

My Derbi Gpr 50 nude on our Fairbourne trip

However, November came and I suddenly realised that my 17th was imminent.  I began to fantasise about a 125... My evenings were spent scrolling through eBay, looking at what I could and couldn't afford. Sooner or later, the Derbi's spot in the garage had been replaced with my 125 - before I was even 17!

January came again and I began to ride around on my Hyosung Gv125. A few months in, I began to ride much faster around bends. Consequently, this led to my low exhaust and foot pegs being dragged around every round-a-bout. Therefore, I sold the Hyosung and bought my Yamaha Yzf R125.

The R125 was probably my most favoured bike out of the five that I've owned; with the extra engine power and ground clearance, I began to race around, dragging my knees off bends. I took the R125 on day trips to Wales and once on a very wet road trip to Devon. But yet again, the hunger for something more was creeping in...

My Yzf R125 on our Woolacombe trip

I took my test not long after my 18th Birthday and had bought my 33bhp Suzuki Sv650s a month or two later. Now, the Sv650 has taken me to amazing places; a snowy, winter trip to Barmouth, a sun-flooded day at the horseshoe pass and an epic 1500 mile journey through France. Yet believe it or not, I still wish for more; a bike with more power, more comfort and more touring capabilities. Once again, my evenings are filled with eBay searches and reading the MCN classified ads.

My Sv650s on my France trip

My point is, in the days of my 50 and 125s, I was in such a crazy rush to upgrade to something more powerful, I was totally oblivious to the fact that I was having the time of my life. I now look back in regret that I didn't spend a bit more time with my little Derbi and my Yzf R125.

And now a message to all readers that are still riding their 50s and 125s; don't make the same mistake as me, rushing through the best time of your life wishing for something better. Just love what you have at the moment, because one day, you'll really miss it.

But a question that I will leave with you is this:

At what point will we ever be satisfied with the bike we've got? Or will we always have a hunger for something more?

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

What makes a biker?

Before I start, I would like to point out that my examples are all stereotypes and I realise that there are exceptions etc... But for the sake of this article, I'm going to use these stereotypes.

A 125 commuter travels to work and back everyday. Regardless of the weather, he wears his same textile suit or waterproof overalls and rides the same 40 mile round trip everyday. He never uses his bike for a nice ride at the weekend, it's purely a form of transport. He does approximately 10,000 miles a year.

courtesy of

A Ducati 1098 rider wheels the beast out of his heated garage, whenever the sun is shining and the roads are sure to stay dry. He wears one piece Dainese leathers, knox gloves, Sidi boots and an Arai lid. All of his gear is brand new, squeaky clean and matching the colours of the Duc. When he goes out for a scratch, he is back within an hour or two, cleans his bike and then wheels it away for the next time the sun comes out. He does around 300 miles in a year.

A Harley Davidson owner spends most of his free days polishing his Road King, buying extra bits to bolt onto it and when there's no polishing or buying to do, he flicks through catalogues and custom chopper magazines, reading about other people's different Harley's etc... He rides the Road King occasionally when the weather's really nice but most of the time it's sat in the garage being cleaned. He does around 500 miles a year.

courtesy of

There's a 16 year old boy on a Aprilia Sr50 scooter. He rides around his local town, never riding any more than 3 miles away from his house. He sits outside McDonald's and carparks with his mates, also on scooters, blasting out music on most nights. He wears no gear as he doesn't feel the need to and does around 2,000 miles a year.

The owner of a streetfightered 1998 Suzuki Bandit 1200 attends all the bike meets, goes out in most weathers and who's bike is a bit tatty and well used. He wears second hand leathers, a nitro helmet and in bad weather he wears hi-viz. He does annual bike trips with his mates and is prepared to go as far as his bike will take him. He is a member of several forums who all discuss bikes, he also makes YouTube vlogs and writes a blog. He does around 8,000 miles a year.

courtesy of

Now, out of those 5 examples, which ones would you call a 'biker'?

Do you need to ride your bike everyday to be a biker? Or can you wheel it out of the garage once a month and still be called a biker? Do you need to have a big expensive Ducati to be a biker? Or will a 50cc Scooter be enough? Do you need to be a part of the 'online biker community' over YouTube and forums to be a biker? Or can you ride solo everywhere and still be a biker? Are fair weather riders not bikers? What about the gear you wear, do you have to be fully kitted out to be a biker or will a jumper, jeans and trainers do?

Now that's a lot of questions. Technically, all of my examples are bikers. They ride bikes don't they? But is there a checklist out there which must be filled to become a true biker?

My personal view is that they all are bikers. Prejudice is an easy mistake to make, perhaps the Ducati rider has an important job which requires him to attend all sorts of conference meetings around the country so he simply doesn't have time to use it as much as he would like. And for when it rains, he probably just doesn't want his Ducati to rot away. 

As for the Harley rider, I think he's a biker. He obsesses over making his bike look the way he wants. Remember, biking isn't just about the riding, it can also be about the tinkering and the pride you hold in your bike. The commuter's a biker too, he relies on his bike day in, day out, riding in all weathers - that's pretty hardcore if you ask me. The bandit rider uses his bike frequently and loves it, he participates in all sorts of bike meets and in my book he is definitely a biker.

However, the tricky one is the young lad on his scooter. A lot of people would argue that he isn't a biker and that he just uses it for a bit of independence and a stepping stone for getting a car. But, isn't independence very relevant to motorcycling? That's what it is for most people, having something that is totally yours that can take you wherever you wish to go. I think he is.

So that's it. Everyone with a bike, in my point of view, is a biker.

But what do you think? Do you agree or disagree? Feel free to comment below...

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Do you need a big bike to be a 'biker'?

I distinctly remember two trips (of hundreds) to my local bike cafe. They were both inside June 2012, a month after passing my bike test. The first, I raced down the Bridgnorth road on my little Yamaha Yzf R125; polluting Shropshire's quiet, calm farms with the deafening exhaust note protruding from my Remus Powercone.

After fifteen minutes of 12,000 rpm,  I pulled up at the cafe on a fairly quiet friday afternoon, wearing my one piece Spyke leathers and my usual Shoei lid. I grabbed a usual cup of tea and went to sit outside to enjoy the glorious sunshine with my fellow bikers - or so I thought.

Myself on the Yamaha Yzf R125

I was ignored. I attempted to speak to the regulars and I got the odd mumble and a shrug. I tried to nod and say hello to the new people turning up and I still got nothing. Puzzled, I swung my leg over the little 125 and blasted off.

Two weeks later, I returned on my Suzuki Sv650s. Grinning behind my tinted visor, proud of myself for finally getting a big bike, I raced down the cafe on a sunny Saturday. I pulled up again, wearing the same gear, drank the same tea, on the same bench - and I was having people speak to me.

The weirdest thing was, was that nothing had changed - I had the same full leathers, the same tinted visor and was sat in the same spot. I didn't even have L plates on the 125 as I had received my full license. The only difference was having a bike with an extra 525cc.

Is this right though?

When you ride, do you nod to Scooters still? Do you nod to Harleys? What about Yzf R125 riders in full leathers? Or do you require a 'big fast bike' to receive any sort of recognition from the biker community.

It's a form of snobbery. And I don't like it.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Do you need an adventure bike to have an adventure?

Courtesy of
Looks cool doesn't it?

But is it really necessary to have a £15,000, 270 kg bike that has more whizzes and gadgets than the average spaceship? Do you really need heated seats, grips and clothing? Do you need ABS and traction control? What about electronic adjustable suspension? I mean sure, if you're into all of that stuff than fair enough, but is it really necessary? Could you live without it?

Will a 2013 Bmw R1200Gs get you to Vietnam and back? Yes. Will a 1987 Honda C90 Cub be able to cope with the same trip? Of course it would.

Obviously, the bike which you choose will adjust the difficulty of your trip. But it could also adjust the fun. For instance, you could tour the world on an R1 which will obviously not be as economical on fuel and tyres, it will be very uncomfortable and luggage space is limited. But would you have a hoot? Probably more so than some dull, lifeless, built-for-the-job workhorse. 

Then again, you could travel the world on an old 80s Dt125 and you'll be breaking down frequently and requiring rebuilds etc... You'll have a top speed of 65mph and will struggle up hills, but the delays and the hard bits are what make a trip memorable. Which brings me onto my next question;

'Is buying a bike made for touring the best thing to tour on?'

Maybe, depends on how tough you are. Can you handle having to travel at 40mph on a scooter in the bitter cold rain with no heated grips or big, wide fairing to take all the impact? Or do you find that idea a true adventure?

I'm not saying a GS or a Pan European etc... are dull, boring bikes. I'm sure there're owners out there that love them, and I don't have any particular hatred towards them. I'd just like to open the new narrow-minded view of 'I need a GS to have an adventure' a little bit further.

Because it's simply not true.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

I will become a motorcycle journalist.

Lately, I have been neglecting this blog. I was never 'full on' with it but over the past 12 months I seemed have to forgotten about it.

A few days ago, my friends and I started to discuss careers and plans for the future over a few pints down the local pub. It was then that I realised that I really am going nowhere with my life, going in and out of dead-end jobs. I've hit a bit of a brick wall.

I obviously have the ambition of becoming a motorcycle journalist and would thrive at the prospect of working for MCN or one it's sister magazines. About 6 months ago I applied to everywhere I could asking for help or work experience.

I had no replies.

And since then I have sort of given up. I know it was a pathetic atttempt and a bit of a long shot but I at least expected a reply and maybe some advice.

However, as i reached the bottom of my Bank's Bitter I began to consider starting all over again. Fulfilling my dreams and doing the things I want to do - Not working at minimum wage factory jobs scraping a living.

Naturally, doubts creep up on me. And I begin to think of my new plan as a pointless journey, but I shoved these dark thoughts to the back of my mind and reminded myself that this is what I want. I want to travel, to see the launches, write the reviews, and become a recognised member of the biking community.

I will not give up at the first hurdle this time.

I will not forget about what I strive to be.

I will become a motorcycle journalist.