Monday, 25 May 2015

Sometimes, things don’t work out like you planned

The doorbell rang and the courier stood there, holding a shoe-box size package with my name on it. I knew what was inside.

I carefully opened the box and took out the contents. It was a wooden model of a scooter. Most people would not give it a second glance, but it meant a lot to me. This had been half-way around the world and held by many people who all had one thing in common. We all liked and respected the man this model had come to represent. That man was Bob, who also went by the name of BobScoot.

Like many, I first met Bob electronically, when he either found my own blog, or I found his. Soon, we starting reading each other’s writings and probably like many, I was drawn to not just what he wrote, but the way he wrote it. Bob poured his heart and soul into his blog. Interesting, funny, moving and always full of pictures both good and ordinary, his blog postings told us about the man, what he liked, how he felt, his travels, and of course the odd things peculiar to Bob, like his pink Crocs, plus his wish to nearly always include a picture of his feet.

Many people followed Bobs blog. He seemed to be at the centre of like-minded people who enjoyed writing about their motorcycle travels. He was the one person we all read about, as his words and pictures were eagerly read many around the world.

Bob often offered his help. I remember I was about to go on a long motorcycle trip and wanting to film and then edit some videos, then this near stranger called Bob who lived thousands of miles away in Canada, offered his advice which was very gratefully accepted. I think that was typical of the man – he helped anybody that he could. He certainly helped me on a few occasions.

Bob died nearly a year ago. It was sudden and a shock. No doubt it hit his family very hard as I think there was no clue he was ill. I remember hearing the news and sitting there numb, as a good friend had been taken from us. Bobs last post on his blog was very typical – on holiday with his wife Yvonne, he posted pictures and words about the two of them driving his Corvette around Kentucky. I really miss reading his posts.

I met Bob just once. When I rode around the USA I didn’t go near to Vancouver where Bob lived, but I regretted that and afterwards made a special trip, renting a bike in Seattle, and rode to his house. Bob and Yvonne were as kind as I had expected, showing me around, taking me to dinner, letting me stay at their house and genuinely wanting to spend some time with another road traveller. Bob did that a lot. I enjoyed reading about his meetings with other moto-bloggers all over America. Not only did Bob read others’ blogs, but he wanted to meet the people as well. What a thoroughly nice guy he was. I remember he laughed when I arrived in Vancouver wearing a copy of his trademark footwear – pink crocs. Bob and I walked around Vancouver both wearing our amusing pink crocs. I am not sure what people thought, but I can imagine!

So, in honour of the man by those that knew him, this model, appropriately called ScooterBob, has been travelling around the world and has been taken to various places to be photographed with and by the people that knew Bob. It is a terrific idea and I really enjoyed seeing the mementos that people have also placed in ScooterBob’s box.

It seemed obvious to me what picture I should include first on this posting – here I am with one of my bikes, wearing my pink crocs, of course…..

ScooterBob, just outside London
While I live near London in England, I took ScooterBob to St Tropez in France on a motorcycle trip as that seemed the right thing to do. We rode from London through France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland and back into France to reach the Mediterranean Sea. On the way, Sonja (who knew Bob as well as most as she also lived in Vancouver for a while) joined our group as we made our way through Germany. I had intended to post many pictures of ScooterBob in these countries, but as the title of the post says, sometimes, things don’t work out like you planned. Rather embarrassingly, I managed to accidently delete most of my photographs of the trip. Initially, I was horrified, but in hindsight, that is not a bad thing, as it has allowed me to concentrate on writing something about Bob and remember him, rather than show pictures of where ScooterBob was taken.

So, here are just a few pictures, that don’t do justice to the Bob who took such great pictures himself.

Bless you Bob, you are missed by many.

ScooterBob meets the Leading Ladies

ScooterBob with Sonja, myself, and some new friends.
This would have been a great picture.  Thanks to Sonja for snapping me, snapping ScooterBob
ScooterBob at the H-D rally in St Stopez, picture courtesy of Sonja 
ScooterBob is now travelling once more, on his way to Shelia.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Project Livewire Test Ride

I was very fortunate to be able to test-ride the new Harley-Davidson prototype electric motorcycle, called Project Livewire. Along with son Charlie, we had been invited to go to the Millbrook Proving Track to be one of the first to ride this bike in the UK.

Son Charlie, on the electric Harley-Davidson

First off, I have to say what an amazing experience it was riding this bike. It’s power and acceleration are amazing. 0-60mph on a motorcycle is pretty quick and the 300 volt battery certainly provides enough power to get you up to its restricted top speed of 91mph very quickly. The power is delivered very smoothly, with a constant rate of acceleration throughout the power range – it accelerates as quickly from 50-80 as is does from 20-50 mph – meaning you have to be prepared to hold on tight at any speed when you crank the throttle open.

Charlie setting off

The bike has no gears, no clutch, just a twist-and-go throttle that launches you surprisingly quickly. Of course, the bike is nearly silent, although Harley-Davidson have introduced some noise that is pretty reasonable at reminding you the motor is working hard. Having previously ridden somewhat odd completely silent electric motorcycles, this was a welcome addition.

The bike weighs 210kg or 463lbs, but it feels light and agile. It handles well and can certainly be thrown into the bends. We rode the bike for about 15 minutes and in just that short amount of time, it was easy to feel at ease with its handling. We were glad it was a gloriously sunny day which enabled us to enjoy the dry track to the full. We first took the bikes over Millbrook's Alpine course with steep inclines and both positive and negative cambered fast bends, before unleashing its power on the 2 mile circular speed track, where it was easy to ride the bike at its top speed quickly.

Range is the limiting issue with the bike at the moment. I am sure that Harley-Davidson will wait until the battery technology improves so that a 100+ mile range is possible before fully launching the motorcycle. That is, if they ever do. It is by no means certain that they will, but I for one would certainly be disappointed if they don’t.

Part of the purpose of the test-rides was for Harley-Davidson to solicit feedback on what riders thought of the bike and there was a good process in place to allow that to happen. Now, they wouldn't go to all that trouble if they were not going to take forward the manufacture an electric bike, would they?

My turn

What a bike! Would I want one? Err, yes! I know many will say this is not like a traditional Harley-Davidson and they want to retain their petrol-engined bikes and I would want to do that as well. But, this bike is so special, it will attract a new type of rider and certainly some of those who would like both petrol and electric Harley-Davidson's in their garage.

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Riding through Spain to the H-D Rally in Jerez in June?

If you are, you might want to consider this law regarding listening to music or communications systems, which includes motorcycle communications systems.

Basically, the use of any music or communication system with headphones or earphones is illegal. That means ear-buds for listening to music, or even speakers inside your helmet for talking to pillions or to other riders, is prohibited. You might want to consider this before riding in Spain.

This is the relevant part of the law, translated by Google…..

23514 Royal Decree 1428/2003, of November 21, by which approves the General Regulation Circulation for the implementation and development articulated text of the Law on traffic, circulation motor vehicles and road safety, approved by Royal Legislative Decree 339/1990 of 2 March.

Article 18, says: Article 18. Other duties of drivers. 1. The driver of a vehicle must maintain their freedom of movement, the required field vision and ongoing attention to driving, to ensure their own safety, the rest of the vehicle occupants and other users of route. For this purpose , you must take special care maintain proper position and that maintain other passengers, and proper placement of the objects or animals transported for no interference between the driver and any of them ( Article 11.2 articulated text). It is considered incompatible with compulsory attendance driving permanent use by the driver with the vehicle moving devices such as screens with Internet access , television monitors and VCR or DVD. Exceptions to these effects, the use of screens that are in view of driver and whose use is necessary for vision Access or down pedestrians or vision vehicles with rear camera manoeuvres and GPS device. 2. It is prohibited to drive and use headphones or earphones connected to receivers or sound players, except for the corresponding teaching and conducting aptitude tests open for obtaining driving licenses circuit two-wheeled motorcycle when so required by the Regulations on Drivers. Use is prohibited while driving mobile devices and other means system or communication, unless the development Communication takes place without using hands or use headphones, earphones or similar instruments (Article 11.3, second paragraph of text articles). Exempted from this prohibition agents authority in the exercise of the functions that have entrusted (Article 11.3, third paragraph of text Articulated). 3. It is prohibited in vehicles mechanisms are installed
or systems, instruments are carried or upgraded manner designed to evade surveillance the traffic police, or to be issued or made signs for this purpose, and the use of mechanisms radar detection.

So, the law is quite clear and you mustn’t do this.

A few years back, a friend and I were riding through Spain and we were using a bike-to-bike communications system to talk to each other as we rode. Early one morning, we were stopped by the Guarda Civil who, having seen the cables leading into our helmets, told us we must disconnect these and stop using them. They were very polite and told us it was illegal and didn’t prosecute us and we clearly were surprised by this unusual law.

Monday, 9 March 2015

He’s a talented motorcycle artist – and now I go behind the canvas to discover more.

I met a young artist called Albie Espinola last month and was blown away by his work. He is concentrating on painting riders and their motorcycles and he creates pictures that are very impressive.

I chatted with him and learnt how he has turned his dream into reality.

Aside from Albie’s artistic abilities – he’s also a dab hand with videography, as he creates time-lapse films of himself painting his works. Here are a couple of his paintings and some of you may recognise the rider and bike in the second video:

Born in London, Albie has been painting since he was a child. Now in his early thirties, his love for painting has led him to leave his job so he can pursue his dreams as an artist. Albie says: “Logically it’s a crazy thing to do, to leave a job but in my illogical mind, it makes perfect sense. I have brought two of my life’s passions together, motorcycles and painting, and now I’m working towards making a living out of selling my artwork."

There are seven layers of paint in an Albie Espinola painting. He tells me the basic composition is done using two layers of Gesso paint. A light wash of colour is then painted over the dried Gesso where he then uses 3 layers of oil paints to bring the painting to life. Each painting can take 4 to 5 days each to complete.

Albie currently rides a custom Harley-Davidson Sportster. He started riding on a Vespa ten years ago and then fell in love with riding motorcycles.

He found inspiration to paint motorcycles when he saw the work of Dave Mann, the California-based artist, who celebrated motorcycles and the biker lifestyle through his paintings. Albie wants to do the same. He says: “I love the narratives in Dave Mann’s pictures. People designed bikes based on his art and to me, that’s incredible.”

I predict Albie will become a famous motorcycle artist, so get in quick to get your own custom made painting. Before he puts paintbrush to canvas Albie personally meets with each of his clients, so he can get to you and your bike. He takes photos of you and explores how you want to be portrayed in your painting. He can travel to anywhere in the UK and hopes to make regular trips to the U.S. to paint.

Please visit to find out more about Albie and his artwork.  I predict he will become a very well-known artist.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Can You Go Touring on a Chopper?

This is a question I have heard people discussing recently, plus they were saying choppers look uncomfortable and are torture to ride.  I thought I would write about my views.

Yes, of course you can go touring on a chopper, if you build your chopper correctly. You have to think about suspension, handling, handlebar height and how to carry your gear, but it can be done.

Here is a chopper that has won a few custom bike shows. You couldn’t go touring on that show queen, could you!

This picture was taken for a magazine feature about the bike

Well, yes you can. This bike has been ridden from London in the UK, to the south of Portugal, to St Tropez in southern France and right across the Alps mountains (including Stelvio Pass and Grossglockner Pass) all the way to the Harley-Davidson Rally in Rome, and back again. I know, because I rode it to those places.

This is my custom chopper and the bike was built specifically to go touring on. This is how we did it.

Below is a picture of how the bike started out.  It was a  second-hand Harley-Davidson FXSTC softail. From this bike, we only kept part of the frame and the lower half of the engine.

How the bike looked before the modifications

We did these things…..

New springer front end forks, yokes etc
New wheels, larger, wider
Modified the frame to raise the top tubes and accommodate the longer forks
New rear fender
Stage 4 mods to the engine. It is now a 110 Cu Inch engine, or 1800cc
New exhausts
New hand made seat
New controls
New paint job
Extensive hand engraving
Plus lots more

Here are some build pictures….

This is the bike being ridden, in St Tropez...

Taken at the Harley-Davidson European Festival, St Tropez

Okay, so what makes this chopper be able to be ridden such long distances on some of the more twisty and challenging roads in Europe? Well, first of all, you need saddlebags, which have to be completely removed when the bike is being ridden locally, or put in custom bike shows. Here is the bike being ridden on tour and note the saddlebags and you can just see another bag behind me.

I think this picture was taken in Austria

The picture above shows the early saddlebags we fitted, but we soon went to the much larger stiff leather saddlebags. This video shows how we integrated fixings into the rear fender struts to allow saddlebags to to fitted….


Good suspension is vital for long-distance touring. But, it also has to look good. So, we went for DNA springers for the front-end. What is even more important to get right is the geometry of the frame right, so that the bike handles well. For this bike, we temporarily built the bike (held together with gaffer tape in places, I kid you not) so that we could check the handling before the bike was painted and engraved. Thanks to the guys at P&D, it was perfect and we didn’t need to change anything – their calculations and fabrication had been fantastic. Here is the bike in its temporary mock up form, just before we test-rode it.....

The bike ready to be test ridden

Handlebar height is crucial. If you get it too high, then your arms will ache. The rule of thumb is your hands should not be higher than your shoulders. Again, we got than just right.

So, can a chopper be used for touring? Yes, of course it can. Here is the proof…..

This is a video of the bike being ridden with a group of friends to Rome, including across the Alps. The roads get interesting from about 2:15 onwards. For most of the on-bike video shots, the camera was mounted on the chopper. From about 4:00 the video shows two of us, both riding choppers, on the 2,000 mile journey back to London. The route back included one of the highest and most twisty roads in Europe, Stelvio Pass (4:50). You will see a lot of snow next to the roads – this was in June!

This is the same bike, just before I set out to go touring in the UK, complete with a tent, sleeping bags and everything else I would need while camping…..

Well laden-down with gear

Then, when you have finished touring and camping, you can go for a ride with a few of your freinds.....  

What a great and versatile motorcycle!

Friday, 27 February 2015

Thank you Bike Safe. You probably saved my life today.

To my biking friends out there, always remember your life-savers when riding. I learned about always checking over your right or left shoulder before changing lanes from the Police on a Bike Safe rider course a few years ago. I try to apply it all the time and I am really glad I do, because without it, I probably would have been in a serious accident today. I was in London, pottering about on my motorcycle because I was early for a meeting. Riding along the Bayswater Road, I needed to change lanes as the car in front of me was about to turn right. Before moving to my left I looked over my left shoulder and thank God I did. There was a vehicle over-taking me on the inside, less than two feet away from me, at about 20-25 mph faster than I was riding. I was at about the speed limit, so this guy was, at best, being very reckless. Had I not done a life-saver, he would have hit me for sure.
He was driving a private hire taxi operated by a very well-known firm and I suspect he was rushing to get to his next job. Not clever. What was so crazy was he not only would have hit me, but probably would have tried to swerve to miss me, and run into people on the pavement. I pulled up next to him at the next lights and surprise, surprise, he was using his mobile phone. It was a really chilling incident, so please remember, that little effort of doing your life-saver, by simply looking over your shoulder, might one day save your life. I am sure it did mine today. Be careful out there!

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Do Harley-Davidson Riders Secretly Admire Sportsbikes?

To many who ride chrome-laden and heavy Harley-Davidson motorcycles, mixing with the sportsbike crowd doesn’t often happen. Sportsbikes are too fast, too dangerous and ridden by young guys dressed up like Power-Rangers. Similarly, sportsbike riders think Harley’s are slow and ridden by old men (and women too) who want to look like weekend warriors in lots of black leather.

Brothers, or distant cousins?

The two groups don’t have a lot in common. Or do they?

Both groups love the open road, riding with friends, seeking out new places and hanging about in biker-friendly establishments. Take the Ace Café, in north London, where one day the distinctive rumble of Harley-Davidson V-twins can be heard and the next, the high-revving exhaust note of sportsbikes dominate. The personal lives of individuals of both groups are often defined by the machines they ride and their like-minded friends. Most important, both groups love doing the same thing, riding their motorcycles.

Personally, I’d love to have a go at riding a sportsbike. I would like to appreciate the power, the handling and being able to take corners at a higher speed than I am used to. I don’t want to own a sportsbike as my middle-aged spread would look ridiculous in tight leather and I enjoy being able to tour comfortably while carrying lots of stuff on my bike, but still, I would like to try it. I don’t want to have gone through life without never having ridden a fast sportsbike. I don’t want to feel any prejudice I might have has stopped me from trying and understanding something.

I suspect I am not the only Harley-Davidson rider that feels the need to try a sportsbike at least once. I know many that love to watch motorcycle racing, especially the sheer power and speed of MotoGP.

How can any type of rider, not matter what they ride, not appreciate the sheer excitement of this…. (you have to click to watch it on YouTube).....

Many years ago, I regularly went to watch motorcycle racing, but a more recent visit showed me that things have changed considerably. I will be going again……

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Is Tour Route Planning As Good As The Real Thing?

So the motorbikes are put away, and many of us are sitting here in the depths of winter.  In some places it is cold outside and in others it is very wet.  People from more southerly areas are still able to ride, but for most, winter is a time for staying off the bike.

So, what to do?  If we cannot ride, we need to fill our time with doing other things.  Some fettle their bikes, some find other things to do inside.  I like to plan next summers bike trips and I am just coming to the end of that right now.

Maps are covering the floor and my desk.....

My laptop is on overload with routes.  Choosing the best roads to fit together into one great tour is the key....

But, the best thing is, I really enjoy doing this as it increases the excitement level and makes me feel that the tour is nearer.  So, for me, route planning really is nearly as good as actually riding the routes later.


Wednesday, 10 December 2014

What makes a great motorcycle road?

Like many, I have read quite a few lists of "Best Roads".  But, I have often wondered why people chose those particular roads, so I tried to work it out. Here are my thoughts about what are the ten things that make a road qualify as 'best' to a biker.

See if you agree.

Twisty? As motorcycle riders, most of us like bends. Riding a road with bends is normally much more fun and exciting than riding a straight road. There are a few exceptions where straight sections of road are good, but this is normally due to other factors such as scenery.

Some roads are excellent simply because of the sweeping bends they contain and the famous B500 road in the Black Forest is a good example of this. Due to the trees, the road doesn't have good views, but it is fast with many high speed twisty bends.  It certainly does get included on many peoples list of their own best roads.

B500 picture from

Scenery? Sometimes a road can be considered very good because of the scenery alongside it. Highway US 163 near the Arizona / Utah border in the USA is a good example of this. The road itself is dull, straight and not at all exciting, but the scenery is spectacular, making the road very good indeed.

The wonderful sight of Monument Valley

Distance? Sometimes a road can be considered as 'best' simply due to the distances involved. Take the Highway 1 in Australia. Often straight with long dull scenery, some would consider it a great road as at approximately 9,000 miles (14,500 km) it is an amazingly long road.  People travel from all over the planet to ride this road, drawn to it simply because it is the longest road in the world.

The longest road in the world, Australia's Highway 1

Flowing? Almost without a doubt, a good road must be free-flowing with almost no delays for stop lights, junctions or heavy traffic. That just doesn't work for us motorcyclists.  I have ridden the Grossglockner Pass in Austria on days with almost no cars and it was wonderful. Riding it on another day, with it being full of traffic, was a nightmare.

Nobody likes heavy traffic

Excitement? A road can undoubtedly be considered as best if it is exciting. The Million Dollar Highway in Colorado is a really good road due mainly to the steep drops-off at the side of the road.

US 550 in Colorado, easily worth a Million Dollars!

Weather? Can a road be considered 'best' due to the weather that can normally be found there? The only example I can think of is the road through Death Valley in California, where the temperature has an impact on the road and certainly on riding along the road.

Death Valley.  It is hot!

Destination?  I don't think a road can ever be considered as good just because of the final destination you are going to.  I tried to think of a destination that was good enough to warrant saying the road that takes you there is good.  I cannot think of one.  The only place that comes close is Key West in Florida, where the 127 mile overseas highway skips from island to island along the length of the Keys.  The road undoubtedly is very good, but the destination isn't good enough to call the road 'best'.

Florida's Overseas Highway

Experience? For a road to be included in someone's list as one of the best, that person must have experienced it for themselves and actually ridden it. It is no good relying on what somebody else says is good!

Reputation does not make a good road.  For example, many who have ridden the famous Tail of the Dragon road on the North Carolina - Tennessee state line say they are ultimately disappointed when they actually get to ride it. Over-rated is a word often attributed to this road.

Is the Tail of the Dragon as good as people imagine?

Surface? We have all ridden roads with a superb surface. Consistent, smooth and bump free are all qualities of a great road, but on its own, this doesn't really make a best road.

Sometimes a rough surface is memorable too and one of the best examples I have of this is Moki Dugway in southern Utah.  A steep gravel road with switchbacks!

Moki Dugway on a Harley

History? Perhaps the most appropriate example of history helping a road to qualify as best is America's Route 66. Many people have said this road is one of the best they have ridden, but for me, the actual road itself is very boring, except in a few short distances over its 2,448 mile length.  It is the history of the road that possibly makes it qualify as 'best'.

Get your kicks.....

Overall, it is unlikely however that the best roads can be chosen due to just a single factor. It is normally two or more factors in combination that help categorise a road as trust 'best'. Highway 1 in California is a good example of this where the twisty road combined with terrific scenery combine together to make this a best road for many. Stelvio Pass in Italy, considered by many to be one of the best roads in the World, combines twisties, excitement and scenery.

Stelvio Pass. The best riding road in the world?

Consider your best roads and see if how many of the above categories apply to them.  Try to think of why you think your favourite road is considered by you to be 'best'.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Average US gasoline prices plummet at the pumps, but do we see the same in the UK?

According to the Triple A website (American Automobile Association) prices at US gas pumps have fallen from an average of $3.27 a gallon a year ago to $2.76 today. That is a fall of $0.51. Even better, the fall for just the last month is huge $0.28 a gallon.

So, US gas prices at the pumps have come down by over 15% in the last year and 9% in the last month.

So why is this? Well the price of crude oil has fallen by 34% in the last year, so American motorists might feel a little aggrieved that the cost savings are not being passed onto them.

But what of the UK?

Well, in November 2013 the average price of petrol in the UK was £1.33 per litre and today it is £1.23 per litre. A fall of 7.5%. Wait a minute! A fall of just 7.5% when the price of crude has gone done by 34%? Yes, a larger part of what we pay in the UK is tax, but that shouldn’t matter. Either the government or the petrol companies are ripping us off and not passing on the benefits of falling crude oil prices.

Yes, I know we live in a free market economy, but this is ridiculous.