Back To Life

17th August 2017 |

People with long memories may recall that four years ago, in 2013, I rode my 20-year-old 650 to Greece and had a few minor mishaps along the way (see Greece: A slippery adventure). When I brought it back to the shop in Duisburg where Dirk Erker kept it and maintained it for me, it was a bit battered and the forks were noticeably skewed: Nothing to stop me riding the 3000 kilometres back quite comfortably, but Dirk told me, very firmly, that it was too old.
He didn’t want to work on it any more, it wasn’t worth it, he said, and I should get a new bike. Since he was the technical owner, and there was no way I could register a bike in Germany under my own name I had to give it up.
I can’t blame him. After all I was 82 years old, I’d had a harmless but silly accident along the way, and in Zagreb the bike threw a pint of oil on to the tarmac. I was riding on his insurance. Maybe he was just too nice to tell me he couldn’t risk sheltering a doddery octogenarian any longer.


How it was – eight years ago

Anyway I told a friend of mine, Doris Wiedemann, that there was this bike at the back of Dirk’s shop and that it only had 45,000 km on it, and that he was throwing it away, so one of her friends, Horst Anderten, who likes challenges, said he would see what he could do with it. And a few years later he wrote to me:

I removed the Cylinder, cylinder head with all the parts inside, camshaft, valves, shims, springs, decompression parts for the r/h exhaust valve, the piston with rings and so on. I found the piston rings a little bit stuck, after cleaning now free movement. Cylinder bottom and Cylinder head packings are new, Valves are adjusted, all parts cleaned and reinstalled, cooling fluid replaced. Now normal compression at about 8,0 bar. Whole bike cleaned and all parts ( which was removed by Dirk) reinstalled. Also new oil incl. filter, new air filter, new brake fluid and a lot of screws replaced, flashlight temp. fixed….. and so on.

My first thought was just to give the bike away. Then I wondered whether I might ride it again. I dithered. It’s very difficult, at my age, to know what’s realistic and what’s foolhardy. How do you know when you should stop riding? I have had many conversations about this. What are the signals? Reaction time? Physical discomfort? Eyesight? Temperament? All I knew was that when I rode that bike in Europe I had never felt so safe since I handed the Triumph back to Meriden in 1977. Finally I decided I had to ride it again. So I sent Horst money for the parts. The labour he said was for love and beer.
The bike ended up with Doris in Bavaria, and we hatched a plan. Doris would put the bike on her insurance, and then she would ride down to France with me and keep me out of trouble.
Her friends thought she was nuts.
“Just imagine the trouble you could have with an 86-year-old man on a bike,” they cried.
But Doris is a brave woman, with a very solid biking reputation, and she stuck with me, although to be honest we were both a bit nervous.
There was still plenty to do. It needed a tyre, a speedo cable, several rear spokes, a battery, and further efforts to untwist the forks before it could pass the German technical control. Doris and her friends put so much into this project I can’t thank them enough.
Then she took it out on test and it ran well. There was a minor hiccup which stranded her out in the country. Fuel wasn’t getting through. Her friends rescued her, and one of them reckoned he’d fixed the problem.
So I took a train – or rather six trains – to meet her, and three days later, on Friday August 11, we set off under cloudy skies for the south of France.
Quite soon, after maybe 20 km something marvellous happened. I discovered that I felt just as happy and as much in command of the bike as I ever had, as though we had never been separated. I felt forty years old.

Because I had the GPS  Doris was following me and she said she was surprised how well I was riding, and there was a stupid grin all over my face.
We took three days, stopping in Belfort and at a camp ground in Roybon. I couldn’t get over how good it felt, after getting used to the MP3 scooter, to be using the gears and to be leaning so much more naturally. It was a revelation.

Unfortunately the hiccup returned and stopped the bike arbitrarily. There seemed no rhyme or reason to it. The fuel would suddenly choke off and the bike would die. I found that if I took the tube off the petrol tap, letting fuel run out, and stuck it quickly back on again, the filter would fill up once more, but it was aggravating and messy. There was no sense to it and we couldn’t come up with a decent explanation.

I’m afraid we didn’t do well with the interruptions, and for once the journey would have been better without them. While i was enjoying my born-again biker experience Doris was feeling very exposed stuck on the side of busy roads and, as always with these things, the roads got hotter and the stops more frequent towards the end.
Still we made it and I at least had a wonderful sense of rejuvenation.

Sadly, it will be a while before I can ride that bike again. First I have to go through the French registration process, but I’ve done it once so maybe it will be easier this time. Wish me luck, please.

Can I remind you that I have books to sell?  I think I can honestly claim that they are all worth reading, even the one that isn’t about bikes.  The picture book is especially beautiful, having been art-edited by Yucel Erdem, and there aren’t a whole lot of them left. If you find my shop at all confusing, please email me:

I’m off to the first HorizonsUnlimited meeting in Switzerland next weekend, and the following weekend I will be at Gieboldehausen, a favourite German meeting of mine. I hope I see you somewhere. Enjoy the rest of the summer.