khaylock: (gooseneck ST)
Warning! This is a vanity publishing blog entry. Don't blame me if it bores you rigid. This is as much for me to read back to myself in my addled dotage as it is for wider interest. If you stumble across it and enjoy it, though... please let me know!

Cheers,


Ken




I last visited the TT 12 years ago, in 1999. That's a whole year before I made my first post to this Livejournal! The Userpic above this entry is a frame from an on-bike video I shot riding over the mountain that year (that particular frame was grabbed at the Gooseneck)! I went, in 1999 as in 1998, with a large contingent from Team Waste. At the time it seemed to me that, utterly brilliant as the event was, the TT and indeed the island as a whole were in decline. In 1998 I stayed in a very expensive but nasty little flea pit hotel on the prom, 3 beds in a room, sharing with the late and hugely lamented [livejournal.com profile] twpd1964 having sailed to the island on the festering rust-bucket that was the Lady of Mann. By 1999, the minging fleapits had all closed down, but the Lady of Mann was rustier still and yet another year past the date when she was originally definitely going to be retired in favour of a halfway decent ship, and I found myself staying up at Hampton Manor with the rest of the denizens of Team Waste. From memory alone, I think Joey won a couple, despite losing a finger in a crash a few days before the TT, and unlike in 98, the weather was pretty wank all of race week, though since they did race in the rain back in those days, the programme went ahead in all of its dangerously deluge-struck glory.




In 2000 I decided to skip a year - Team Waste had seemingly collectively chosen to give it a miss en-masse, I was embroiled in buying a house with my then girlfriend and in any case I was sure there would be other opportunities. That and I was jaded from feeling distinctly like I was being ripped off by everybody from the Steam Racket to the farmer who charged me what I remember as a small fortune to park a bike in his muddy field at the Creg. Actually, the biggest bill, apart from the eye-wateringly rapacious Steam Racket, was paying what seemed like a Kings ransom to sleep for a week on a camp bed in a room full of sweaty farting bikers, which was objectively pretty poor value for money, even though I well understand the laws of supply and demand. Of course I missed Joey's greatest, and last triumphant huzzah, and then he was gone, and going back seemed less certain; how could it ever be the same again? The death of David 'DJ' Jefferies only served to underline that view, and then they started broadcasting Radio TT over the internet, at whch point I doubted that I'd ever be moved to go back in the flesh. The Greenlight Television produced TV coverage of the races, which always contrived to make them seem only slightly less interesting than paint drying even to a rabid fan like myself, hadn't changed since before I first ever went to the island, and in my minds eye neither had the seedy atmosphere of decay gripping the event and the place that I remembered from the end of the 20th Century. I imagined the paint peeling a little more each year, the visitor numbers gradually dwindling, the number of top flight racers wanting to come and give it a go gradually evaporating into the ether of history...

Of course the ITV4/North One Television coverage changed all that. This wasn't the same sepia-toned TT I remembered, with flatulent two-strokes being pedalled round the island by random once-a-year racers in 15 year old leathers. And the whole place didn't look like a faded seaside town living on past glories any more, either. Suddenly listening to the races on the internet and watching the now epic same-day TV coverage wasn't going to be nearly enough!

Last year as I watched the excellent TT TV coverage, and listened on the net, even before I headed off on my epic three week four and a half thousand mile circumnavigation of South-Western Europe, I already sort of knew that barring unforseen circumstances, 2011 would be my year for a return to the TT...

Pragmatically, after my past tribulations with organising biking holidays and then finding none of the people who told me they wanted to come with me turning up, I planned to go on my own. After all, that way there was nobody to disappoint me, and nobody for me to inadvertently disappoint. And that would have been that until late last year when during a passing IM conversation with [livejournal.com profile] motomuffin I mentioned that I was off to the Island 'next summer' for the TT, and breezily asked her if she was up for coming along.

Now, I've invited various people, her included, to come and participate in a couple of my crackpot adventures before now, because... well, why the hell not, the more the merrier, and specifically, how cool would it be, both hopefully for them and for me, if either [livejournal.com profile] motomuffin and/or [livejournal.com profile] lionstar actually came along on one of these trips? Especially if it was one of the trips where everybody else who said they were definitely coming a year earlier had just emailed me to tell me they were now washing their hair that week. But to be honest, the likelihood that she might suddenly decide to fly 2,000 miles+ across the world to hang out with some bloke she has only ever met on the internet and never even spoken to on the phone, and go ride motorcycles with him in a foreign land where they don't even ride on the same side of the road that she does seemed always vanishingly remote. For the TT trip, since I fully intended to go on my own, she was actually the only other person I invited along, with absolutely no reason to imagine for a moment that she might accept; when she said yes I almost fell off my chair!

That was pretty courageous of her. I'm not actually a crazed serial killer (as long as I keep taking the little pink pills, anyway) but she didn't know that exactly. Obviously this cut both ways, and I had to trust that she wasn't the Boston strangler, but I think she needed to be braver to accept the invitation than I did to make it. To be honest when she first said she was up for it, I was at once very pleasantly surprised and entirely skeptical that it would ever actually happen. It wasn't until around March this year, when I actually started trying to buy ferry tickets from the Steam Racket, and needed her to commit to coming before I splurged a small fortune on a ticket on her behalf, that it suddenly looked like it actually really was going to be happening!

Oh bloody hell... well, that certainly made things interesting! Up to that point, I'd been looking at grabbing my tent and doss bag and hitting the island on my BMW on my own, finding a camp site and just doing my own thing for a week or two. Now I had a guest. Which meant that winging it in my usual half-arsed way wasn't going to cut it. I should point out that I don't set out
intending
to make it up as I go along, but usually I put everything off until the last minute, organise nothing, and I'm left booking my accommodation for the first night of a holiday that has been in the planning for months from a lay-by on the afternoon of the first day of the trip... and so far it has always worked out just fine for me. But there was always that small finite chance that it wouldn't have. That my entire holiday might be spent sleeping next to the bike in a queue for a stand by ferry ticket or (insert equally awful organisational catastrophe here). But when you have invited somebody from the far side of the planet to spend a shitload of their money and to show massive faith in you by joining you on the implied promise of a holiday of a lifetime, suddenly the slightest possibility that that whole '7 days on the floor of the ferry port' scenario might unfold moves from the category of 'part of lifes rich tapestry' to the category of 'This simply cannot be allowed to even possibly happen otherwise I'll have to go and drown myself in the Irish sea to assuage the guilt'. The weight of responsibility for somebody elses 'vacation of a lifetime' hung heavy around my neck (Yes, it was a total pleasure, but nevertheless... the responsibility... Aiieee! It burns...!). So I really was going to have to get off my fat arse and get shit done now!!!

The first problem was simply logistical. Although we didn't have all the details nailed down, I reckoned it was pretty important that after flying in from the states she had at minimum an entire clear day with absolutely nothing scheduled whatsoever to begin to acclimatise and deal with the jet-lag. Also, since the original plan was that she would be riding my much abused TT600 over to the island, she would need a little while to get used to riding on the wrong side of the road etc etc. This left me a terrible dilemma. I could put her up in a local hotel in Carmarthen for a couple of nights, and explain that she couldn't stay at my place because there was no room for a spare bed in amongst all the junk, and that she might get cooked and eaten by some of the long lost tribes living in the piles of discarded fast food wrappers, junk mail, obsolete computer equipment and empty diet coke cans that occupied the floors to a depth of over a foot in many places. Or... I could clear the place up before she arrived and put her up in my spare room.

Being a coward, I preferred the clear up exercise to having to explain the disgusting mess, and booked myself 2 weeks off work and a builders skip to dispose of more utter crap than you can possibly imagine; This was no trivial undertaking... I was starting with a Land-Rover with a blown engine that had been cluttering up the driveway for several years, and moving on from there, one bomb-site room at a time, dawn 'til dusk!

There ensued a two week dawn to dusk orgy of clearance, tidying, cleaning, organisation, repair and DiY, punctuated with the arrival of various essentials (like a new bed and a mattress so that there would actually be a bed in the spare room, and a washer dryer to replace my dead one), plus runs to either the dump (to dispose of crap I couldn't put in the skip) or Tescos (to buy another new vacuum cleaner to replace the latest casualty of the clean-up from hell). To be fair, it would have had to be done at some point, I intend to sell the house in the forseeable future and 'has own ecosystem and lots of great archeology' is not a selling point with estate agents, but without the deadline imposed by the impending guest, it would still be waiting to happen, and I'd still be living in a house with crunchy carpets and entire rooms that are wholly inaccessible...

The skip arrives...

And this was just the start...

The contents of the garage either on the drive or in the skip

I was worried that the whole lot might topple backwards...

Of course in the middle of all this, in addition to the many false starts with crap online retailers who first could and then couldn't deliver things inside my critical two week window, I had a small motorcycle-shaped retail accident. I've been drooling over the Street Triple since I first rode one shortly after they launched, and again I needed little excuse to buy one (as I'd always known that I would as soon as I'd ridden one), but since I'd offered to provide a ride for [livejournal.com profile] motomuffin, and my poor old TT600 track tool was the best I could offer, it became a no brainer. As other posts in this blog have intimated, though, deciding to buy myself a Striple and actually successfully acquiring one are two slightly different things!

However, whilst looking for a cooking Striple, I came across an absolutely stonking looking early Street Triple 'R' for what appeared to be a bargain price, even allowing for the lack of service history. There was much beard stroking on my part and the car dealer I was buying it from was perfectly happy for me to go and play with it before deciding whether I wanted it or not, but in the end I took what might have been a crazy decision and bought the bike based on pictures and video clips, and had it delivered...

And then the new toy turned up...

Once the massive clearup operation was complete, the skip gone and the last run to the council tip with a land rover full of old car batteries, unwanted Hi-Fi equipment or dead vacuum cleaners made, I took it out for a quick test ride to see what I'd bought...



It was all there, and as nice as I remembered, but it did run rather like a bike that desperately needed a service. I did some digging to try and find out more about its history.

It had only had one owner and had been bought new from Metropolis in London in January 2009, taken back there for its 600 mile service and then booked in for a 6,000 mile service... an appointment that was then cancelled. And that was the last that Metropolis saw of it. When it came to me, it looked very much like it had been fitted with a brand new lock set and yet it wasn't flagged up as ever having been stolen; the used car dealer I bought it from had obtained it from an auction, so all the runes pointed to a finance company repossession. I called around every Triumph dealer in the south of England, trying to find anybody who might have serviced the bike, and none of them had seen it either, and yet it had a Triumph branded oil filter canister. Which meant that either it was being fettled by a Triumph dealer elsewhere in the country, or... it had somehow done 13,400 miles without so much as an oil change...

I gave it to my local fettler for what I suspected was a much needed 12,000 mile service, and he confirmed that it hadn't been touched a good many years. By the time it had been suitably caressed by Andy's spanners (including swapping a couple of shims around to bring the valve clearances back into spec), it was running much more sweetly, and my wallet was much the lighter. Since my BMW had chosen to eat its clutch a couple of weeks earlier, and then failed its MoT on a noisy front wheel bearing, and I chose to get the cassette gearbox that has been occasionally jumping out of first for the last couple of years replaced at the same time (50% paid for by BMW, but 50% paid for by me - and 50% of a fortune is... still a small fortune), the total bike-fettling bill was starting to look pretty mind-melting! Nevertheless, best to get the bikes well fettled before the trip, because that way they won't let you down on the trip, right?

Well... that was the plan...

Anyway, the bikes were sorted, the house was sorted, after much hassle and many phone calls a camp site on the island was sorted (after the first and second choices turned up full) and after several false starts, and calls to specialist insurance underwriters, a source of third party moto insurance to allow an American licence holder to ride a couple of British registered bikes on British roads...

Given the amount of time I gave myself to get all this together, it was still all an incredibly last minute exercise. The last couple of days before I picked up [livejournal.com profile] motomuffin from the airport was still a blizzard of dawn til dusk preparation.

I fitted a Powerlet socket to the Triumph, for charging or powering electronic devices...

I fitted a Powerlet socket...

...and stickered up both bikes for the benefit of somebody from the colonies to save them from the fate that has befallen me on the continent a couple of times - that terrible moment when you wonder why the oncoming traffic is on the wrong side of the road, then realise (as you take emergency evasive action) that it is you that is on the wrong side of the road, and then further realise that you just rode round a blind corner on the wrong side of the road and are lucky not to have been part of a catastrophic multiply fatal crash...

Stickers for the protection of a 'merkin...

Stickers for the protection of a 'merkin...

I also twigged that since both [livejournal.com profile] motomuffin and I are basically mainlining smartphone junkies, some kind of internet access option on the island could only be a good thing. I went with a USB powerpack to recharge the phone and a Huwei 3G MiFi widget. With her locked Verizon Droid thingy, WiFi (or the MiFi) was [livejournal.com profile] motomuffin's only comms option....

Techno Techno Techno...

...which I then needed to hack into and unlock so that it would accept the Manx Telecom PAYG SiM I had ordered online in advance...

Manx Telecom PAYG SIM

The final technological gizmo was a Scala Rider G4 Powerset. [livejournal.com profile] motomuffin suggested bringing her Chatterboxes across from the US, but I had a nasty suspicion that they would fall foul of the Wireless Telegraphy Act over here, possibly getting confiscated by customs on the way in, not to mention the risk that as radio equipment with lots of wires attached, they might attract the attention of the special TSA agents, the ones with the rubber gloves and the big bottle of ice cold KY jelly, at her departure airport. In addition, after the death of my last Scala Rider Bluetooth headset, I needed a replacement anyway. I liked the G4 spec a lot, particularly the updateable firmware, and so the eye-watering expense of the Powerset was... slightly less eye-watering to me than it might have otherwise seemed. Using one of them as a solo Bluetooth headset with built in FM radio, it did exactly what it said on the tin (I'm pleased to say). Time would tell how it worked as a bike to bike intercom...

My last contribution to the comfort and happiness of my pending guest was in the form of a tent, an air mattress and a sleeping bag. Our cunning joint travel plan involved [livejournal.com profile] motomuffin flying in to London Heathrow, carrying a Givi top case as hand luggage, with a bag in the hold containing her riding gear. This left no room for her curling tongs, eyebrow grooming machine or nasal epilator as it was - if she had needed to bring tent, sleeping bag and camp bed as well, she might have needed to wear the same clothes for the entire week as well, so I offered to lend her my spares. Camping gear, not clothes. My spare air mattress had held air for the two months leading up to our departure so that was that sorted out. My spare sleeping bag was... err... enormous, without a stuff sack. I wouldn't fancy carrying it on the back of the Striple. So when I saw some small, cheap, summer weight mummy bags in my local Aldi, I jumped at the chance to buy one. A quick look at the label said 'OK down to +2 Celsius', and this is summer, which means there was no way it would be that cold, so it looked like a no brainer. Sadly, lack of brain was an issue - if I'd read it more carefully I'd have seen that +2 celsius was the minimum temperature it would keep you alive down to. The small print, which I didn't actually read for some weeks, added that it was 'comfortable down to +15 degrees C...'. I'm not sure that 'Oops!' fully covers it...

Finally, tentage. I gave up using expensive lightweight hiking tents for motocamping a few years ago after a drunken biker fell on my hugely expensive unobtanium lightweight backpack tent at a rally and snapped a pole. While I was trying to obtain a replacement pole (at great difficulty and in the end expense) I bought a cheap dome tent to tide me over, and I've used it ever since, on the rare occasions that I stop under canvas in the UK on the bike. The expensive lightweight tent wore out and went in the skip some years ago, leaving me with only the one two-man sized tent (and a bivi bag and a wenzel biker micro tent, neither of which would be ideal for a week on the isle of man). So, my dilemma was... use my old reliable moto tent myself and buy another cheapie from Millets or Halfords for [livejournal.com profile] motomuffin? Or treat myself to a sexy new moto tent in the form of a Khyam Biker 'one-touch' two-man tent?

Since I was already spending money like piss, I decided that I'd buy myself the Khyam. Although if I'd realised how cavernously large it would be once erected, I might not have gone that way - despite packing quite small on the bike, it's like a small aircraft hanger, with an enormous porch area. Certainly if I was sharing the tent with somebody, the enormous porch provides a lot of weatherproof storage for even two big touring bikes worth of gear, and it goes up very quickly indeed, even allowing for a bit of jiggery pokery with a pole to support the porch. For me on my own, though... total overkill!

Another reason for going this way was that I "knew" my other tent worked well, and was waterproof. Why take the risk of buying something for [livejournal.com profile] motomuffin from Halfords for £25 and finding it didn't keep the rain out or whatever? Ah, the best laid plans... :=(.

Anyway, I was running around like a blue-arsed fly sorting things out at home even as [livejournal.com profile] motomuffin was boarding her flight in Boston. Finally I jumped on the BMW and headed for a hotel just next to Heathrow. I made it to the hotel at around 2am, and collapsed into bed, setting the alarm on my phone for 'too damned early'.

'Too damned early' duly arrived and I rolled over in bed, killed the alarm and fired up the 'aircraft radar tracking' app on my phone (no, really!), to find out how late the plane I was meeting would land, which would directly translate to how long I could stay snoozing in bed. The news from the app was that the plane was ten minutes early and already on final approach... bugger!

I ran through the shower and jumped on the bike, then hit the A4... ...and although I was less than a mile from the arrivals hall, suddenly time ground to a halt, as I got held up by every light, ended up in the wrong lane at every junction, speared off the wrong way on every poorly signed filter lane and at one point headed the wrong way round the perimeter road, unable to turn around! As the air in my helmet turned ever bluer inside my helmet, I eventually found myself in the central area, ended up in a car-park without motorcycle parking and then, finally... found the bike parking and abandoned the bike. By now I was convinced that poor old [livejournal.com profile] motomuffin was sitting forlornly in the arrivals hall, cursing me for being late, as I ran across the airport. I needn't have worried - Heathrow customs, immigration and the baggage handlers conspired to ensure that I was actually waiting at the arrivals hall for the better part of an hour before a fairly exhausted looking (but, he'd better add quickly, strikingly beautiful...) young lady emerged from the bowels of the T3 arrivals hall.

We made our introductions (it was not only the first time we had met but the first time we had heard each others voices) and headed back to my bike. First stop was the Ace Cafe for a proper english breakfast, and a bit of logistical faffing about with intercoms etc. But first, we had to get out of the Heathrow central area, without me killing my guest and passenger within 100 metres of her climbing aboard my bike for the first time (succeeded - just) and then get her across London to the Ace. Which meant introducing an American from a part of the US other than California to the concept of filtering (or 'lane-splitting' in 'merkin).

Perhaps in hindsight I should have mentioned what I was about to do before I did it - the loud squeal of surprise from behind me and the sudden rapid clenching inwards of pillion knees indicated that the experience of me nipping up between a queue of stationary vehicles to hit the front of the queue at a roundabout and pull away first came as something of a shock to the poor woman. I mentioned that it was perfectly legal and normal behaviour where we were, and that sitting in a queue of traffic when there was space to nip past just didn't compute, and I think having got over her initial shock she started to enjoy it. That and the jet lag (or possibly the happy pills she had taken to help her sleep on the flight) had a strange effect, I think... I glanced in my mirrors as we trundled up the Westway through solid traffic to see her cheerily patting the mirrors of cars and vans as we jinked between them! Most odd :-).

After a monstrous fry-up and a mug of tea at the Ace, and after [livejournal.com profile] motomuffin had bought a few souvenirs, including the obligatory T-shirt, we hit the road. Again. This time we were actually able to converse with each other, after a fashion. And I promptly ended up heading into town on the M4 rather than out of town, in a stunning directional fail. Once we turned around and headed out again, it settled down to be fairly boring trundle out towards Swindon on the M4. I don't think the steady 85mph cruise bothered my passenger much - US freeway speeds must be not far off that - but the comparatively icy blast (for her - I was between her and the wind and I was fine in a T-shirt with all my vents open; the advantage of being... well padded... as I am!) versus her vented leather was a different story, and we stopped shy of Swindon for fuel, a slash and a cup of tea, and for [livejournal.com profile] motomuffin to don a layer. For some reason, she didn't seem convinced by the potential benefits of my heated pillion seat (I think it might have been my earlier vivid description of the lovely warm feeling from sitting on it as being as if you had just pissed yourself on a cold day that may have taken her against it, I can't be sure).

We dived off the motorway and into Swindon, heading for George Whites. On the way there we passed through [livejournal.com profile] motomuffin's highway engineering kryptonite, the remarkably inoffensive in reality (and if you are used to this kind of thing) Magic Roundabout - I have no reason to doubt that she really did keep her eyes shut all the way through it. Before I even got there, though, I blotted my copybook severely - exiting a roundabout enthusiastically just off the motorway and with the ESA (Electronic Suspension Adjustment) still set in Normal mode rather than Sports mode, I managed to drag a pillion peg (and presumably the outside of [livejournal.com profile] motomuffin's left boot) up the Queen's Highway. I apologised profusely and tucked the relevant back into my pants where it belonged...

We stopped at George Whites because I thought it would be a nice place to grab a late lunch, and because it represents a scale of motorcycle emporium that I wondered whether [livejournal.com profile] motomuffin had ever seen before. The main dealership floors (two of them, both vast - one for Hondas and one for all the other brands they sell) were an aladdin's cave of kit and motorcycle models that she had never seen in the US, with nary a sequinned tassle or a bottle of branded aftershave anywhere in sight. She bonded immediately with the little CBR125 Honda (because 6 foot tall Amazonian biker chicks love 15bhp 125cc 4 strokes... apparently). But the real moments of open-mouthed shock were reserved for when I took her across the road to the enormous warehouse kit superstore, which was stacked floor to ceiling and beyond with... well, pretty much as much as you can imagine of pretty much everything associated with motorcycles apart from the bikes themselves.

George Whites Aladdin's Cave

George Whites Aladdin's Cave

George Whites Aladdin's Cave

George Whites Aladdin's Cave

George Whites Wall of Helmets...

Anyway, captivated by the 'Wall of Leathers' (see left hand end of warehouse in first image above), [livejournal.com profile] motomuffin was inspired to ask about a one piece leather riding suit. She has been muttering about buying one for years - I've told her the 'one piece race suits for road use' cautionary tale about the friend of a friend and the french squat khazi at the Bol D'Or (Don't ask - it makes 'Two girls/One cup' seem like pleasant light entertainment experience), and she still fancied a one piece suit, had done for some considerable time. But, she had always complained, she was a mutant. A human/oompa-loompa hybrid. Recessive Orangutang DNA surfacing. 6 foot tall, all in the thigh. Nothing off the peg would ever fit her, the knee armour would always be on top of her thighs. Only a US$2,000 one-piece made to measure race suit would work.

The fact that the first women's one piece race suit she pointed at fitted her like a perfectly tailored glove therefore did somewhat confuse her. So much that she only went and bought it. Baggage allowance, shmaggage allowance. Then we had the amusing task of working out how to bugee it onto the bike while still leaving room for both of us!

Photobucket

From there we hit the M4 again, then headed over the old Severn Bridge before executing a sharp right turn up the Wye valley towards Monmouth.

So far, so good, if a little boring. I could have stayed on the M4 all the way back to my lair but I didn't think my guest would fancy 4 hours of superslab on cruise control any more than I did, so I thought it might be better to go home the fun way.

So far, beyond a brief moment of high stress when I introduced her to filtering, my riding style hadn't apparently fazed [livejournal.com profile] motomuffin in the slightest. She didn't even apparently hate me for my emergency stop, 30 seconds after picking her up, to avoid being creamed by a taxi in the madness of Heathrow's central zone, and the unfortunate pillion-peg/ground interface moment had seemingly left her entirely unmoved. And of course, we thought we knew something about each other's riding styles and the commitment we both had to trying to improve our skills. I thought I knew enough about [livejournal.com profile] motomuffin's riding to be comfortable enough to offer to lend her my motorcycles, and I'd seen on-bike videos she had made. She, likewise, had seen videos that I had made, even when I was 'making progress', and had even commented that I was doing things in the places and at the times that she would do them in similar circumstances. But I really don't think that in the absence of a big speedo sitting prominently in vision, that video gives a good impression of speed at all. This became apparent the first time I pulled out to overtake a queue of dawdling 50mph traffic in a brief national limit, as she tensed up unexpectedly. When I hit the NSL north of Chepstow and that tight climbing left hander that marks the start of the fun part of the Wye Valley road, I accelerated from 30 up to a gently brisk pace and started threading my way up the road, concentrating on trying to ride more smoothly than I might normally aspire to be, for the sake of my passenger, and taking it a bit more gently than I perhaps would if I was on my own; I felt I was stringing the road together in a tidy, relaxed fashion. Rather than the perhaps 90 I might have topped out at normally (err.... kph, officer, obviously), I was peaking at around 70, which for those outside the UK is about 10mph over the NSL (National Speed Limit) in this country. I'd only gone about half a mile when a very animated [livejournal.com profile] motomuffin was reaching around me and waving at me to SLOW THE FUCK DOWN. The intercom had obviously decided to sulk at that moment so I had to guess at the vocals that accompanied the gesture.

Mortified, I asked her what was wrong and she explained that I was freaking her out. I slowed right down to about 50 and carried on, and she relaxed a little. A queue of cars built up behind us and started to pass us one by one, and in the next 30 limit I apologised and asked her what the problem was. When I explained that the limit was 60mph she was obviously shocked rigid - the same roads would be limited to 35mph where she lives. 50 for her felt like an exciting criminal enterprise, and me doing 70 obviously felt like dangerous suicidal insanity. What the fuck? 35mph? No wonder people ride Harleys over there - the vibration is the only exciting thing that happens, and it is probably an essential feature that stops Americans falling asleep! :-o

Anyway, once [livejournal.com profile] motomuffin realised that 60mph was just the prevailing speed limit and not a badly planned suicide attempt on my part, I was able to knock it up a bit and at least avoid holding up traffic, with the odd visit to slightly higher numbers on the speedo when overtaking traffic. Whether it helped or not, I also started giving a bit of running commentary as I rode to indicate that I was thinking about what I was doing well in advance and making hopefully intelligent decisions about when I opened the throttle, and when I closed it.

I'm sure I had mentioned that 60mph national speed limit on two-lane blacktop (70mph on divided highways) to her before, at length, but clearly the full import of that hadn't entirely got through :-).

By the time we stopped for a pee and tea break at the West End Cafe in LLandovery, I'd like to think that [livejournal.com profile] motomuffin had chilled out a bit and was getting more comfortable with the higher traffic speeds in the UK. After the final leg back to chez Ken in Carmarthen, [livejournal.com profile] motomuffin did a brief modelling stint on the Striple in her newly purchased Oompa-Loompa-derived one-piece leathers...

Motomuffin's new FT one-piece

Motomuffin's new FT one-piece

Motomuffin's new FT one-piece

Motomuffin's new FT one-piece

Mutants are getting better looking all the time, clearly :-). If Frank Thomas hadn't gone bust, they could have done a lot worse than pay [livejournal.com profile] motomuffin to model their riding gear for them!

We rounded the day off with a curry and beer at the New Sheesh Mahal down in town. and so to bed, since by now [livejournal.com profile] motomuffin was almost cross-eyed with fatigue!

The next morning I made her a brew and then chucked her the keys to the Striple, as we experimented with throwover luggage on the Striple with its high level pipes and for her, the whole 'riding on the left' thing. We also gave the intercoms a bit of a field test. She also gave her new one-piece a bit of a 'ride test' for the day. I'm not sure how she dealt with the practical challenges that wearing a one-piece entails, but given that she didn't end the day with a face like thunder and smelling strongly of wee, she obviously managed them :-).

Aside from talking to herself out loud to remind herself to e.g. 'Turn left, Keep left' at every junction, she took to the 'wrong' side of the road like a complete natural! Clearly there were some differences in our riding styles - for example, left to her own devices, she was topping out at about 50mph on the open road. I guess our mental speed controller does take a little while to recalibrate. A big problem I have found with riding 'sur le continent' is that whereas I'm perfectly comfortable having very solid scenery whizzing past my left ear at speed, as I move into 'position 1' / (i.e. the left hand gutter) when setting up for a right hand bend, having the same scenery on my right hand side was very discomforting and [livejournal.com profile] motomuffin reported the same issue but in mirror image. In addition, without the tradition of Motorcycle Roadcraft based advanced riding in the US, riders are apparently encouraged to hold a position within a lane, ideally somewhere around 2/3rds of the lane in from the edge, and not move around the road to gain advantage, which to be fair, at 35mph would probably be of very limited benefit anyway. I tried to encourage her to start making use of positioning for right hand corners and was partially successful, but I think she had a very great deal to think about while riding over here, and a riding lifetime of 'don't wander around your lane, people will think you are drunk' conditioning to overcome to boot. Apart from that, though, she was clearly a very competent, very smooth rider, far smoother than I am (not that this is necessarily difficult - my riding may have smoothed out since a Police Class 1 instructor called it 'safe but agricultural' over a decade ago, but I'm definitely more point and quirt than gentle caress, even at my silkiest...). I relaxed significantly, knowing that my bikes were in the hands of somebody who really did know what they were doing. Not that I didn't already know that
in theory
, otherwise I'd never have handed her the keys, but it was very settling to observe in practice.

Of course, the other essential skill practised in the UK and apparently barely required in Massachussets is overtaking. [livejournal.com profile] motomuffin lives and rides in a regulatory environment where double yellow 'no overtaking' lines are the default, and one must wait for incredibly infrequent government mandated 'passing zones' before passing a dawdling car or lorry, or choose to break the law every time one passes. Over here, double white (not yellow) lines are very sparingly used in places where it would be hazardous to attempt a pass, but not obvious to a driver or rider that overtaking would be hazardous. There are very many places that don't have a solid white 'no overtaking' central dividing line, but where overtaking would be obviously suicidal. Through junctions, round blind corners, up steep power-sapping slopes in an underpowered car, you name it, it's not proscribed by solid white lines. It is left as an exercise for the potential overtaker to make the decision as to whether, when and where it is safe to pass. Get it badly wrong enough and you may still attract a dangerous driving charge, or just end up dead, irrespective of the presence or absence of road markings proscribing the attempt. Welcome to the world of personal responsibility for drivers and riders!

Of course, a world where traffic moves incredibly slowly in long queues, and where overtaking is actively frowned on as an outlaw activity conducted in contravention of the law except in very rare circumstances, breeds a certain attitude to overtaking and the joys of sitting in the middle of long queues of dawdling traffic. No doubt if you are in the USA, you know that there is no escape from the trundling, fume belching, clutch slipping, blood-pressure raising convoy you are near the back of, and that even if you did pass the front vehicle in the queue without picking up 3 million traffic tickets, the speed limit is only 35 anyway and you might as well not have bothered. Whereas over here, you can look for good, safe overtaking opportunities everywhere, you can make safe overtaking opportunities by being in the right gear and poised ready to go the moment an opportunity opens up and taking it swiftly, and the quicker you can leapfrog your way up that long hideous queue of slowly moving traffic, bottled up behind a couple of tractor trailers and a dozen nose to tail blue-hairs, the quicker you can get past the front of the queue and onto 20 miles of almost completely empty twisty tarmac, courtesy of the rolling road block you have just passed, and where you can have a great deal of fun.

Then again, the problem with overtaking is that it is one of the most potentially dangerous things we do on the road, there's a lot to get your head around, a lot to go wrong (and an overtake that goes wrong usually goes
really badly
wrong!) and a lot to consider before you drop it a cog and nail it past the dawdling twonk in front, so when you couple all that with doing it all on the wrong side of the road, it is probably understandable that [livejournal.com profile] motomuffin didn't become a demon at slicing through traffic during her time in the UK. I was torn between encouraging her to develop the skill and not encouraging her to kill herself while trying to stretch herself :-/.

We stopped again at the West End Cafe for a brew and lunch, after first removing the smoking throwovers from the back of the Striple and stuffed them in the Beemer's panniers (Oops!), then I lobbed [livejournal.com profile] motomuffin the keys to the BMW and we set off back towards my place, this time via the moderately epic 'Black Mountain run'. At the car-park on the summit of the Black Mountain, after a brief pause for [livejournal.com profile] motomuffin to marvel at the view of much of South and mid Wales, we swapped bikes again and headed on down the other side of the mountain.

I filmed this entire ride, from the cafe to the far side of the mountain, but the first part was filmed on an iPhone in a cradle mounted on the bars, and as you can see the video suffered some horrendous electrical distortion, and some auto-focus generated silliness as well, which you may consider makes it unwatchable in parts, although later on as the road tightens up and thus slows down it gets much better...

Fortunately, the section from the summit downwards, with [livejournal.com profile] motomuffin back on the Striple, was videoed on my little Muvi helmet cam, and that is as clear as a bell - see the second video below!





My initial intention was for [livejournal.com profile] motomuffin to ride the BMW as far as the bottom of the Black Mountain road itself, just to get a feel for it, and then I assumed that the kind thing to do would be to have her pull over and let her take back the Striple for the ultra twisty stuff further up; for some reason I assumed she'd find the GT a handful. But of course, for every hour I've spent pedaling around the countryside at warp speed, trying to hone my skills at making fast progress safely, she has been equally dedicated at practicing hurling a dirty great R1100S round tiny car-parks, in and out of cones, until she could chuck it around like a BMX bike with total confidence. So when she didn't pull over after passing through Llangadog, I cringed... but as the video shows, the more nadgery and complex the road became, the more in her element she was, lobbing the big BMW up the mountain with practiced ease and apparently enjoying every serpentine twist and turn of the road. In fact I think her only complaint was that she wanted to look at the scenery up at the top, but she couldn't due to the fact that she would probably have ridden off the side of the mountain if she'd taken her eyes off the road for a moment!

Top of the world, Ma... well, top of the Black Mountain...

After dodging sheep on the Black Mountain, we popped in at M&P (the motorcycle showroom and mail order warehouse which has since burnt to the ground) and a car accessory shop, looking for asbestos tape to possibly prevent throwover panniers from bursting into flames on the hot exhaust (a project we later abandoned in favour of a big tank-bag and a tail pack). We finished up the ride with a visit to an off-licence that specialised in Single Malt whisky, where [livejournal.com profile] motomuffin spent less money than I was expecting her to, and then back to mine via a pause to pick up some traditional Fish & Chips, for bike loading, tent testing and general preparation before bed time.

The next morning dawned bright and sunny as we loaded up to head for Liverpool and the ferry, but it was late morning before we hit the road. My original cunning plan had been to head up the very entertaining A483 all the way to Liverpool, but the coincidence of the relaunched Builth Wells bike show and all of the enthusiastic police attention that would attract to the A483 both North and South of Builth, made the decision to switch to the coast road out through Aberaeron and through Snowdonia for the trip north very easy.

We had a fun ride, although the fact that this lovely, twisty, up and down stretch of smooth, grippy tarmac that hugged the Irish Sea coast for much of its length before it climbed into the mountains was actually a main arterial route did mean that there were some big rigs crawling along in clumps, with slow moving queues of traffic bottled up behind them, and [livejournal.com profile] motomuffin struggled to make progress through them in places. Or indeed to see why I might bother. It was certainly hard work, nipping past a car here and a van there on little short straights between corners, leapfrogging my way up the queues, although I enjoy the challenge, but of course the payback was that after a handful of miles of picking traffic off at every opportunity, I was able to pass the articuated heavy goods vehicle at the head of the queue and was staring down several miles of empty twisty road, although I hung back and waited for a while while [livejournal.com profile] motomuffin did the same.

We stopped for a late lunch at a nice country pub near Machynlleth...

Lunch at The Wildfowler Inn, Machynlleth

Then we pressed on, skirting the foothills of Snowdonia as we turned right and headed for Liverpool before we hit the mountains proper. Once again we hit a long queue of dawdling traffic, this time bunched up behind a shed-dragger, and whereas I was able to get past, [livejournal.com profile] motomuffin was stuck behind the accursed rolling road block, so I had a pleasant enough wait at the next junction, a few miles down the road until the caravan trundled slowly into view and we were re-united.

In due course, we hit Liverpool and headed under the Mersey Tunnel, then had much fun in the one way system while failing to get to the ferry terminal that we could clearly see as the clock ran down to our check-in time. Finally, we made it, joined the queue and shut the bikes down.

And that's where it first started to go a little bit to ratshit.

We were fine paddling the bikes forward as the queue for the check-in booths inched forward. And then as soon as we had checked in, [livejournal.com profile] motomuffin went to start the Striple, and... nothing happened! By the time she had alerted me to this, I had ridden further into the port, so she paddled the bike up to join me, which was clearly no fun for her. At this point the BMW was idling happily but the temperature gauge indicated it was running very hot, as its wont after a long hard run followed by idling at a standstill in a queue on a hot day. The Striple clearly wasn't having any of it, though I hoped it had just got hot and bothered, and so I decided to try and bump start it on the ramp down to the dockside, giving [livejournal.com profile] motomuffin the Beemer keys. I enthusiastically hopped on the Striple, paddled it over the hump and started rolling down the ramp, then dropped the clutch and bounced on the saddle. First time I mistimed it, second time a bloke from the ferry company jumped in front of me and forced me to abort the attempt, then gave me a hard time for having [livejournal.com profile] motomuffin's boarding card in the top of the tank bag and not my own. And where was [livejournal.com profile] motomuffin? Well, the Beemer had failed to start. It certainly does get hot and bothered and won't start on the key when it is excessively hot - I've not got to the bottom of why it does this, but poor old [livejournal.com profile] motomuffin was left now to paddle a whopping great K-bike over the hump and down the slope to join me, since I couldn't go back to help her. Once there we swapped bikes back again and when we were finally released by the jobsworth from the ferry company I was easily able to bump the GT - it starts beautifully without any bouncing on the seat required. However, the Striple really wasn't playing, meaning that poor [livejournal.com profile] motomuffin had to paddle the bike the entire length of the quayside, and then, all be it with the grudging assistance of Steam Racket crew, push it up onto the ship, and again I wasn't in any position to go and help her.

It was an extremely flushed, hot, sweaty and knackered [livejournal.com profile] motomuffin that joined me as we headed upstairs to find our seats in the slightly posh reserved 'Mannanan' lounge (which gave us mains sockets to plug a netbook in and charge up intercoms, dongles, phones etc and free drinks/snacks.)

Aboard the Mannanan in Liverpool...

As the fast ferry skimmed over the flat calm sea towards Mona's Isle, we convinced each other that the Striple just needed to cool down and everything would be fine.

As we approached the Isle of Man and prepared to dock, with a flourish I put my Manx Telecom SIM into my little MiFi unit, powered it up and... nothing! It kept trying to connect to the network, and then getting kicked off. This was less than stellar - no internet connectivity? How would we survive? Plus also, my careful, almost obsessive planning was already coming apart at the seams and we hadn't even set foot on Manx soil yet!

As expected, once we had docked, the BMW fired right up on the button. It's not liked starting when over-hot for any of the last 25,000 miles that I have owned it but it has always been fine when given a little while to cool down. Sadly, the Striple really wasn't playing at all. Gravity got it and [livejournal.com profile] motomuffin down the loading ramp and onto the dockside, but the dull click of a dead battery was all that greeted an attempt to start it. I offered to take the STriple and give her the BMW, which of course was now absolutely fine, but perhaps after being suckered that way in Liverpool, [livejournal.com profile] motomuffin insisted on paddling the Striple up the dockside to the terminal building, where a Steam Racket employee was shortly expected to appear with a starter battery pack in hand. Up being the operative word, as an ever less coherent [livejournal.com profile] motomuffin grunted and groaned the laden Striple up the slope, rejecting all offers of assistance, while I followed on the Beemer. Her noble, if masochistic effort was most impressive. When she collapsed over the bars at the top of the slope, she was in a group of three or four bikes exhibiting the same malaise. A quick touch of the booster battery and the Striple fired right up, so we quickly put the seat back on and headed for our camp site. Our last best hope now was that the battery was on its last legs, but that the charging system was in good fettle.

Heading out of Douglas, we joined the TT course at Quarterbridge, and headed for our campsite at Greeba. En-route, a small furry animal - possibly a ferret or weasel - had a very good go at killing itself under my wheels (I caught a glimpse in my peripheral vision, [livejournal.com profile] motomuffin saw it much better than I did). I'm not sure it would have even been noticeable if I had hit it - except as a nasty mess to clear up and/or a bruised shin.

We headed into Cronk-Dhoo Farm/Beaufield Park camp site, after only riding past it the once, and parked up at the top of the hill, but left the STriple running so that we could move it around in case it wasn't going to start again, and also to give it time to charge. However, as I blipped the throttle and played with dipped and full beam headlights, it was depressingly clear that it wasn't actually charging at all.

Buggerit. That was a downer!

We parked up and [livejournal.com profile] motomuffin went to sign in at the camp site office and pay the balance of the booking fee. At this point, a fairly frazzled and tired [livejournal.com profile] motomuffin suddenly perked
right
up.

What could possibly have had such a sudden & dramatic effect on her demeanour? Could it have possibly been the young, muscular and flirtatious German student who was on duty in the office when she went in to pay? The youthful, boyish teutonic beefcake with the dimples who I dubbed 'Günther', because it seemed like the sort of thing he probably would be called?

I've no idea. It's probably coincidental that she was staring at him in a slightly far away fashion. I don't have any pictures of the bloke myself, but [livejournal.com profile] motomuffin may have one or two (memory cards full of) photos, who knows? Günther was a recurring theme during our stay, with [livejournal.com profile] motomuffin staring in a slightly unseemly fashion whenever he was within eyeshot. She may have sighed wistfully on occasions as well.

We were directed by Günther to the top of a steeply sloping field, the bottom of which bordered the main road through Greeba, where we quickly threw our tents up and went to bed. [livejournal.com profile] motomuffin didn't even bother to inflate her air mattress, so intent was she on sleep. For my part, I raised my vast erection, and inflated my air bed, before settling down with the Manx Telecom user guide to try and persuade my MiFi unit to connect to the Manx Telecom network. Having failed, I went to sleep.




Tune in next week folks, for part 2 (well, next week or when I've written it!).

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