Magnets on my tank

My leathers are less sweaty than my textiles so I have worn them through most of this year. If it starts raining hard I need to get waterproofs on fast or it will be too late. On an overnight or longer trip I will have a lot of carefully packed luggage, and extracting waterproofs is a pain. On a recreational ride I don’t want a top box. A small tank bag is the answer. I had a little Frank Thomas one. It was terrible, determined to move about and come off. No Headstock strap and the magnets were really weak.

I bought an Oxford X4 based on BCF recommendations. The magnets are insanely strong, and on a removable board. There are Velcro straps so it can be used as a tail-pack if required. The zips have some kind of rubbery shroud so are water resistant. There’s a satnav holder, an A5 map holder that’s just big enough for my Philips Compact Atlas or directions printed on booklet mode. It has a headstock strap too. Most importantly, it stays put really well. Right now it’s carrying my waterproof overjacket, my waterproof trousers, my goretex winter gloves, visor cleaning kit, hand sanitiser, a spare buff, a pen, an tyre pressure gauge, my disk lock and (because I fail at packing) my ledergris and boot brush. My phone and wallet sometimes end up in the top section, and sometimes I use the map holder.

It stayed put during every crazy run I’ve made since I’ve had it and feels really well made. It is quite small at 4 litres, so consider a bigger one from the same range if you want something to carry everything. For the bits of tat that I want straight away, it’s perfect. Highly recommended.

All luggaged up

All luggaged up


Grand Tour

…in bite-size chunks

Where did Thursday go? That was the day of sleeping and otherwise not moving and general lack of function.

Rewind. It’s Saturday. Awake mid afternoon and the grand achievement of the day is fetching a pint of milk, some opportunistic bungees and selection of supermarket’s own brand meds and of course a toothbrush. Collapse on the sofa and watch last weeks’s Moto2.

Later that night I have more clothes than I need, blanket, shoes, tools and other key items arranged in carrier bags. My house-mate appears and wonders how I’m going to carry all that on the train. I stare at him until he works out that top-box and day-glo panniers are in fact motorcycle luggage. Creature comforts and all non bike stuff fits easily into the cavernous panniers, leaving the top box for tools, maps, thermal liners from my riding gear, bike cover, other ride related stuff, anything I forgot to put elsewhere, and a healthy dose of empty space. Housemate announces that he is Going To Bed, and I understand this to be a hint that I should cease noisy activities such as pacing up and down wondering what I have forgotten and more importantly what I can get away with not taking. I am shortly in bed.

6am rolls around before the lack of other people’s noise permits sleep, somehow my alarm is turned off rather than thrown at the wall and it’s nearly 11 before I am awake. Rapid shower, start grill, prod kettle, put thermal liners back into riding kit, pull trousers on, prod grill, pour coffee, check bike, strap luggage on. Cheeseburgers, breakfast of champions. Jacket, coffee, earplugs, helmet, gone.

The petrol station seems to have been the victim of people who cannot manage to wait for the flow of diesel to stop before returning the hose to the dispenser. I understand not squeezing the lever helps here.

An MCC has stopped for fuel here, they are not happy about the diesel thing but quite friendly. They appear to have several support vehicles loaded with kit, and have avoided loading bikes with anything other than the occasional pillion. All but one are gone by the time I start filling.

My last journeys towards York were to and from the riding test facility at Osbaldwick for my module 2 and the exploratory trip shortly before. Throttle wide open, hunched over the tank, going as fast as I dare in barely above freezing conditions, aboard a 125 that was allegedly capable of 65mph. As soon as I leave Doncaster the drizzle stops, the clouds disappear, and I find myself in overly warm kit, legs wrapped round a large source of noise and notably heat.

The A19 is a frustrating queue of cars too close to each other to make overtaking easy, held up by drivers cruising to the pub for breakfast, unaware of the fact the the 30 zone ended 5 minutes ago as they are still doing 40.

As the traffic breaks up I begin to make progress through it, I still have not got used to how quickly the 535 gets from 30 to 60 and thus past slow vehicles, and I know there’s more go at the twist of my wrist. Oncoming caravans all seem to have a power ranger astride a big sportsbike about to pop out from immediately behind them. It’s kind of tragic watching so much money being spent on bikes by riders intent on bending them.

The other side of Selby the traffic gets really busy, but most drivers seem happy to give an overtaking motorcyclist plenty of room, then I find myself behind a small police van. It is behaving oddly, like a friendly driver who doesn’t quite get bikes with a dose of pedanticity.  59mph and in control of the road where the good overtaking spots are and when oncomming traffic is favourable. 45mph and towards the gutter in the shit spots with hidden minor roads, or just as the upcoming curve or oncoming truck gets too close. I smell a trap and follow it as far as the A64.

The dual carriageway section is a high-speed traffic jam. I would rather not park that close, let alone ride head-down amongst a relentless flow of fully loaded and flat out Fiestas charging towards an afternoon excursion as if this were the last sunny afternoon ever.

A roundabout with traffic lights ends this madness. Only the approach to the roundabout is 4 lanes wide and every small car is in the wrong lane. Several bully their way past me on the roundabout. As a single carriageway the A64 is at least at upright speed, but nonetheless close, and the drivers of the small family cars that bullied their way past me aggressively block overtaking attempts. Evidently the dickishness of their driving is some kind of virility display, but ultimately futile. The sign for my destination appears, and appears to be a tight left into gravel strewn tarmac. Despite indicating early and flashing brakelights before slowing the bike down, my corsa-driving tailgater flies into a rage and beats up his horn button. I hate York.

claxIt is 15 minutes of wrestling for phone signal before I locate everyone else around the back of the site, I drag the luggage inside, and have just got the cover on the bike when the skies open with an almighty deluge. But I have coffee, and friends I have not seen in a very long time.

Tuesday. It is midday before I am functional, and I am grateful to be fed coffee and bacon butties. My clothes refuse to pack neatly, and the luggage is a wrestling match. I am grateful for the mini-compressor as the missing 0.5psi of air pressure is too much to bear. I take the liner from my jacket as the sun is ferocious. I finally leave at about 2pm, the A64 is much quieter.

Petrol station in York has been visited by the moron who should not be let near diesel pumps. A pair of riders on newish Fazer 8s are nearly taken out by tool driver, who carries on his phone conversation after he gets out and starts trying to fill his dirty white van. He is the kind of person that shouts down the phone. He does not work out why everyone in the petrol station is giving him some kind of stare.

The other side of York ring road is differently bad. A blonde in a Ford Galaxy with stuff dangling from the mirror and my car has eyes because I don’t use mine eyelashes is intent on driving 6-foot away from my rear wheel through roundabouts, not getting the hint of staying the hell away when I roll the throttle back on, and doing the same at traffic-speed once the lumbering idiotwagon has caught up. A dude in a Jaguar works out what is going on and moves enough for me to squeeze past, immediately taking control of the road again, much to the annoyance of the blonde psychopath, intent on following me through a bike-size gap.

The A59 is a scenic cruise and I resist the temptation to push beyond that, I take a wrong turn and end up in Ripley, only to discover the B6161 which is a well worth it, never completely straight mixing tight corners with long flowing sections and lots and lots of gradient. I spill out into Otley, beginning to ache and considering a comfort stop.  chevin

Up the Chevin we go, and I recognise what used to be a fantastic tea shop. The carpark is a dusty gravely mess and I am thankful for the easy handling of the 535. Of course the tea shop is now a restaurant and closed. I head on over the top of the Chevin find the pub at the top closed, and the road like a washboard. More so than I remember, perhaps I am just getting too achey. I get down the west side, and find an open pub, setting about a Pepsi with enthusiasm.

The last few miles of my journey take me through Menston and past where I took this site’s cover photo, it flies by, less daunting in the dry but bumpier than I remember and I am soon at my mother’s very stiff and quickly a heap in an armchair.

I am anxious to get home, so I leave the next day once my fiddling with my mother’s tech is done. In hindsight, twenty past five was not a good time to leave, the first ten miles are done in less than twenty minutes. The parts of the journey I have ridden before feel bumpier than I remember. I must be really achey. Then I hit Halifax, then Elland, then Huddersfield. there are some rapid blasts of dual carriageway between the traffic, and I can’t help thinking the road building has happened in the wrong place. I stop 80 minutes after I set off, having only completed 20 miles, at a Morrison’s of all places as it is the first place I see that has parking, coffee and a loo. The speed bumps feel especially evil. I wonder if I have a suspension problem with the bike, rather than just being achey. I kick a pannier getting off and notice how much it moves. I break out the emergency bungees and strap them down.

Comfort break complete, the traffic has dissipated a little, and seems heavier going the other way. The bike feels right now, and the roads smooth. Must have been the panniers. Probably yesterday over the Chevin too. There are lots of bikes in the oncoming traffic, which suggests I have chosen a decent road. Accordingly the A629 unfolds into a rapid flowing climb into the hills, punctuated by the occaisonal village. There is a smattering of slow-moving cars but the road is mostly wide with good opportunities to overtake, and I quickly find the roundabout near Penistone. I resist the temptation to turn right towards Woodhead Reservoir and turn left towards Barnsley. The A628 sweeps through a forest and the 40 boards are an unwelcome sight, but the corners are greasy and dark so this is understandable. Less than 40 minutes after I got moving again, I stop on the other side of Barnsley, another 20 miles covered, and change to my clear visor, and charge further down the A628. I meant to cut across from Goldthorpe to Conisbrough, towards my house, but there is a lack of signage. Rain hits just east of Goldthorpe, and I reclassify thoughts of cutting through Sprotbrough falls as some kind of recipe for dropping a fully laden bike. I am shortly at the house of the Henna-Haired Virago like some kind of homing missile. The bike is chained up and there is quickly rum. Actually going home can wait for another day.

I am considering the Woodhead Pass as a touristic diversion should I be feeling up to it next time I’m heading towards my mother’s.

Don’t you have to be really strong to ride a bike?


Unless you do dangle yourself off the bike like the MotoGP rider you wish you were, or have a massively overpowered bike and no throttle control. Steering takes a really gentle push on the bars in the opposite direction to the direction of turn, and the lean of the bike does the rest. I have never had a wrestling with the bars experience on a road bike. It’s a bit different off road, particularly at low speed.  Braking requires a controlled grip, occasionally quite firm, but infrequently. I don’t think I’ve ever problems with my right hand from braking. My back brake is a drum type, and it’s fairly easy to stand on if required.

That leaves the gears, selection is foot operated and reasonably light touch is all it takes, clutch is hand operated, and not a particularly hard squeeze, but motorcycle drive trains aren’t like cars, neutral is a pain to find on a sequential box, so the bike stays in gear unless it’s being stopped or started. The clutch is (usually) a wet multi-plate designed for controlled slip, slow speed manoeuvres (like crawling along at walking pace) require the engine be kept spinning quickly (for gyroscopic stability and increased torque) and the road speed be controlled by slipping the clutch. Long periods of heavy traffic or low speed manoeuvre training will cause the muscles in my left forearm to ache something horrible. Taking breaks when required and avoiding heavy traffic can mitigate this a lot.

It helps if you have the strength to pick one up if you drop it, but picking up a bike is fairly easy if you you know how, even if it’s 350kg or more of overweight american icon. Backing a bike up a hill is an arse, and you quickly learn to not get into the kind of situations one needs to back out of. Parking wise it’s a ton easier to back down a slope and ride out, or ride up a slope and back out, or find somewhere level to park. If the bike’s broken down then the RAC exist so pushing bikes doesn’t need to happen.

Lifting my luggage onto the bike, that’s probably the biggest feat of strength I perform, followed by getting my leg over the bike. If those look like a problem, I don’t ride.

Working on the bike is a different matter. Some bits of wrenchin’ require a feat of strength to assemble or disassemble a part, or serious application of cunning. I prefer the latter, picking the right size spanner, using my weight rather then my strength (especially with bolt cutters) and improvising with the available tools. Doing the fork seals, it was apparent that neither I nor my mechanic were strong enough to compress the springs whilst the other pried out the retaining ring, so ratchet strap was used.

Of course every biker would like you to think that he or she is the toughest thing around, and Not To Be Messed With, so few will admit this, and most will suddenly find superhuman strength in order to protect their two wheeled life partner.