How I Love That Bike . . .

14th September 2016 |


… and obviously I’m not the only one


Overland is one of those words used for promoting everything from socks to Santa, so you could be forgiven if you’ve missed Paddy Tyson’s Overland Magazine, for and about motorcycle travellers.  But you won’t be forgiven if you don’t at least look for it now. Paddy, who also has a quite difficult day job, gives birth to this glossy marvel every three months, and it usually sells out.
So, when HorizonsUnlimited were unable to hold their usual annual meeting in the UK last year Paddy thought he’d have a go, and it was a delight. Everybody asked him to do  it again, and this year it was even better despite having my picture plastered all over it. Obviously I had to go.
I flew to the UK from Montpellier because my plan was to come back with that scooter I used to roll around the British Isles in 2010 – you know, the one with two wheels in the front. I thought it would be great for nipping around the villages here in the south of France with a baguette across the handlebars, and a box of wine under the saddle.
I just assumed it would be good for a thousand miles to the south of France. I’m always saying you can go round the world on anything, but I confess I was a little nervous. Not about the bike, about myself. Some time, not too soon I hope, I will have to stop riding bikes. I have no idea how I will know when that is. I suppose one day I’ll  sit on a bike and it will just feel wrong. Last year I didn’t ride at all. The V-strom needed work, and I didn’t have time to deal with it, so now I couldn’t help wondering . . .
Anyway, I got on the scooter in Godalming where Stephen had sent it to be serviced, and it felt all right. After six years I couldn’t at first remember how it worked, but mercifully it came back to me and I got it to Paddy’s do where he put it on show with my other bigger bikes from 1973 and 2001.
I was never particularly sentimental about my bikes, not even the Triumph. Here and there in the world, women – it was always women -– would want to give it a name: The Bug, or The Trumpet, or even The Green Chainsaw, but I refused to indulge them. To me it was always XRW964M.
But I must admit, that weekend, seeing the Triumph standing there spotlit, I felt a tremendous affection for it. With light glancing off the leather tank bags and the green panniers it looked not just smaller but somehow quite remote from all those other larger beasts. It looked so much simpler and cleaner, before the age of decals. And so accessible. Yet it had done everything those latter day behemoths had done. And it is still the most comfortable bike I have ever ridden.

The meeting was wonderful. Everybody said so, and one big reason was the site. It was at Hill End, just outside Oxford, a piece of ground that has seen children enjoy the pleasures of the outdoor world for many decades. It used to belong to a generous benefactor who bought it in the Twenties and it gradually evolved from an occasional camp to a fully fledged centre for kids to experience nature.
It has often crossed my mind that many children of my generation would never have known the countryside at all had it not been for evacuation in the second world war, and those who found their way here were very fortunate. The manager I met, Selby Dickinson, was extremely glad to have us there, recognising that our enthusiasm for the world at large resonated happily with the fascination for nature that he and his helpers try it impart to children. Some of the older kids were there too, in green uniform jerseys, helping out, making very good coffee, and very obviously engaged in making it all work.
All in all it felt like the beginning of an institution, and I hope Paddy finds it possible to keep it going for many more years.
I had a wonderful break in the middle of m journey down through France. some American friends met me in Beaune, and through their connections with the wine trade, they got me in to meet one of the more elevated wine makers of Burgundy, and taste his ethereal product, but I’m back in Aspiran now continuing my efforts to integrate myself with the French bureaucracy. Well, it’s not so bad, and I shall be very happy to part of such a fine social welfare system.

Angel. Teresa and I are just back from a much smaller but very enjoyable meeting in the west of France, where John Whyman organised a HorizonsUnlimted meeting. It was to introduce a new French translation of Jupiter’s Travels. I’ll write more about it soon.