Monday, 17 October 2011

Adventure before Dementia

It was very foggy on Sunday morning when I awoke.

I was looking forward to joining the Chelsea and Fulham Harley Owners Group on their 'Last Gasp' ride out to the south coast. There might not be many other days this year for a long-ish ride, so I wanted to go if possible.

Hmmmnn, the thermometer showed just 4 degrees C (39F) but the forecast showed it would brighten up later. I thought of the song by The Clash, ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go?’

If I went, I would need to wrap up to keep warm in the first part of the ride, but that would mean being too hot later. I am going on a long trip next year on my red custom bike so I wanted to take that on this days HOG ride in order to get used to riding it long distances once again, but that meant I wouldn't have anywhere to stow my gear later if I took off my cold weather riding clothes.

My decision was to go, so I tucked into a bowl of porridge, brushed my teeth, threw an extra tee shirt on and got the red bike out of the garage.

Starting the bike was a bit of an issue due to the amount of moisture in the air which meant the two huge carbs were sucking fog into the engine. It was still early and I am sure my sleeping neighbours didn't appreciate me having to crank the engine a number of times before it burst into life, with the full force of the big twin cutting through the still cold air and shattering the morning silence. I tried to ride away as quickly and as quietly as possible, but of course, those things are not mutually compatible.

I nursed a spluttering bike through the country lanes, avoiding those stupid geese from the big house that are allowed to wander freely on the road. George and Mildred as I call them, really do not like the sound of my red bike and as they often do, they charged towards me in a frantic attack to try to scare away this noisy beast that dares to come near them.

I turned onto the motorway which resulted in two things, one good and one bad. To my relief, the spluttering stopped as the engine of the bike got hotter. To my frustration, I realised the jeans I was wearing, the thin gloves and the lightweight jacket were in no way going to stop Jack Frost from attacking me. Shit, it was cold and as ever in those conditions, it was a toss-up whether to ride fast to get there quicker but definitely colder, or slow down for a longer but slightly warmer journey. I looked at my watch and realised I was late and didn't have a choice. I opened the throttle more and the 110 inch / 1800cc engine blasted me forward faster as Jack did his work.

Thirty-three cold miles later, and after stopping to fill up with fuel, I rolled late into the London based Harley-Davidson dealer, Warrs. I was greeted by a grinning Rob Warr, who repeated the often-heard mantra "No brief, no ride". I know Rob well and have ridden with him plenty of times, including in more than one country. Knowing he was joking, I ignored his comment and sought out a warming cup of coffee instead. "Too late Gary, the coffee has all gone and we are leaving in a minute". I turned around and saw about fifty bikes, their riders pulling on helmets and gloves. I groaned inwardly with the realisation I would set off with the group on a seventy mile ride without a customary warming drink first.

I enjoy these Sunday morning ride-outs. They happen about once a month and other commitments mean that I usually manage to join about two or three a year. When I go on my own rides that I plan myself, that planning is done in a lot of detail although I acknowledge this is it as a trait that some find peculiar. I think I enjoy these Warrs ride outs because I don't have to do any planning at all. As we set out and fifty Harley's were thundering through the streets of west London, it occurred to me that I wasn't even sure where we were going! I was pretty sure we were going to be heading south towards the coast somewhere, but I was happy just to tag along.

The route was mainly on back roads, little travelled by many others on a Sunday morning. We took in Box Hill, the A272, Bluebell Railway country and we crested the South Downs to be treated with glorious views of the English Channel, glistening in the October sunshine.

Box Hill is different today than when I used to go there as a young boy on a family outing. I remember my Father driving us up the hill and admiring the splendid views of the English countryside from the top. Today, we rode into the car park at the bottom of the hill which is one of southern England's most popular biker meeting places. Our fifty Harley's created quite an entrance.

When surrounded by so many bikes in a car park, I usually spend time walking around to see what is there. Today was different as I had one important mission to accomplish - getting a coffee plus a bacon and egg sandwich. Yum.

Our ride leader for the day, Andrew Papas, guided us with ease along his pre-planned route and we arrived at our destination of the Roedean Cafe overlooking the sea. The sun had burned the fog away and it had warmed up significantly by the time we were drinking our afternoon tea as we watched boats slipping in and out of the marina below us at the bottom of the cliffs.

I did chuckle at a patch I saw on a fellow rider. It sort of sums up how I feel about me motorcycling at this point in my life. Whilst I hopefully have some time to go before this particular syndrome might strike, the slogan on the patch fits well with my current frame of mind. "Adventure Before Dementia" reflects the fact that my motorcycling is an adventure I want to enjoy while I can. Who knows what the future might hold and so being in my early fifties now, I want to make the most of whatever opportunities I can. Travelling on my bike is a big part of that.

At the Roedean Cafe, many including myself didn't want to hang around for too long though. A long 100 mile ride home faced many of us and we wanted to get back before the temperature plummeted. There was just time to ride into Brighton and to snap a picture of its pier.

Back roads were mainly abandoned for the homeward ride, which I regretted. Fast roads get you there quicker but are boring and on my custom bike, make my back ache. By the time I got home, it was quite sore from sitting in the same leaning-slightly-forward position for so long.

Overall, a really enjoyable ride of just over 200 miles. It didn't take me long to fall asleep on the sofa!


Radar said...


Had a similar experience a couple of weekends ago. Air was so thick and cold, we decided to stop for coffee and the bacon and egg sandwich MUCH earlier than planned (and stayed there longer too!). The first ride of the cool season always reminds me how easy it is to underestimate the importance of preparing for the realities of that particular day. Sounds like you will need to train for the longer rides on the red custom!

bobskoot said...


Now you're talking . . . I love bacon & Egg sandwiches, slightly toasted. It's not like you to be so late, what happened ? Need a new alarm clock.

I remember 20+ years ago my bike was fairly loud, so I often pushed it down the lane before I started it so as to not bother my neighbours. I didn't know the ones down the block so it didn't matter as much. Comming home I built up momentum and shut off the engine and coasted the rest of the way, "in silent mode".

next time bring a thermos with a hot beverage

Riding the Wet Coast

mq01 said...

brrrrrrrrrrr lol! bob no longer likes running cold either, i can only imagine your carbs giving all kinds of grief! hope you dont mind, i have to use "adventure before dementia". i totally agree with the motto.

SonjaM said...

Great motto, and you can't start early enough. I tend to bundle up too much, because I am scared of freezing up to a point were I can't handle the bike anymore. A Jeans in these temps wouldn't do it for me. It is leather until it gets too cold for that, then switching to my cuddly synthetic trousers that make me look like Michelin Gal.

Gary France said...

Radar - you are right about the first ride in the cool season and not being prepared. In my case, I chose to ride in inadequate clothes as I had no way to carry heavier cold weather gear later in the day when it warmed up. No panniers on my custom bike looks good, but it is impractical at times. Yes to needing more training for riding the red bike a long way.

Gary France said...

Bob - I hate being late, but it was entirely my fault.  I took too long to decide whether to go or not. Bacon and egg sandwiches are wonderful on a cold day.  No, any day!  I thought about rolling the bike down the slight hill I live on, but I didn't want to be slow moving on a very foggy road with the risk of not being seen.  I should have taken a thermos and if I hadn't been late, then maybe I would have thought of that. 

Gary France said...

mq01 - the big carbs on my bike look fantastic, but the problems they cause in the winter sometimes makes me wonder why I got them.  No problem about using the motto!

Gary France said...

Sonja - I am totally with you about worrying about freezing up to a point where not being able to control the bike properly becomes an issue.  When I got to the end of the motorway and reached for my clutch and front brake, it was hard to get my hands to work properly. That soon had me worrying!

RichardM said...

I like the motto and I think that there is no bad time for bacon and egg sandwiches. I think that I have more problems with hot weather than cold. I can't really remember a time when I was too cold but I can remember many times when I was too warm on the bike.

I'm amazed that you can get comfortable on your beautiful red custom. It looks like a long reach to the bars....

Geoff James said...

Gary - the motto is more appropriate for me than you I fear - excellent!

So your end point was Rodean! Is there still a private girl's school there? When I lived in the UK, our rugby club had an shall I put this delicately... bawdy rugby song about Rodean. I'm sure you know it :-)

Gary France said...

Richard – I would have to agree with you, there is no bad time for bacon and egg sandwiches, except perhaps at a Bar Mitzvah. I have been too cold on many occasions on my bike and I guess that is one of the problems with being an optimist. The reach on the red bike isn’t really too far – the bike isn’t as big as it looks. I will post a picture on this blog soon of me riding it, so you can see what I mean.

Geoff – Yes to the girl’s school still being there and flourishing apparently. Er, would the song start something like this?....

We are from Roedean, good girls are we....

Never heard of it :-)

bobskoot said...

Gary & Geoff:

curiosity killed the cat. I just had to find it . . .

now, could you hummm the tune so we can sing along ?

Riding the Wet Coast

Trobairitz said...

How did you fill up with petrol when your hands were cold? I have a problem with that when mine are chilly. Heated grips help a lot though.

It looks as though you had a great day even though it started off so close to freezing.

Love the picture of the pier.

Gary France said...

Bob - Spot on, that is the song.

Trobairitz - Filling up with very cold hands was not easy, but at least it took the chill away for a few minutes.  Heated grips are not really possible on a radical custom bike.  I do have them on my Road King though!

FLHX_Dave said...

Riding in cold ass weather earns you a higher place. It puts you in a different catagory than the rest. Good for you man.

I don't mind keeps me humble and aware that it doesn't take much to take me out of this paradise.

The Geese are fortunate that it's you coming down the road. That's all I can say about that. (Yes, I would try to evade...if safe to do so...heh. Does that make me an ass? Oh yeah...too late.)

Brady said...


Pretty much sums it up. You only get one go at it, and you'd better make it worthwhile. When I lived in Virginia and earned my way as a teacher, sometimes kids would walk up to me and say "You ride a motorcycle, that's dangerous!"

Obviously mom had had a few words with the boy.

"Yes, it is." I would say "It's also a lot of fun."

I may donate my liver some day, but until then I want to get something out of life.

Behind Bars - Motorcycles and Life

Canajun said...

Like others, love the motto - and the Brighton pier photo. We're into cool riding temperatures here now too, but unlike the UK where 0 is about as cold as it gets, we'll blow past that mark in about a month and won't see it again for 4 months after that when we pass it heading the other way. And after all these years I still manage to under-dress and freeze my ass off until the sun begins to warm the day a bit.

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Gary:

I have been demented since I was 17-years-old, and it has greatly added to my sense of riding appreciation, and has compelled me to try things that I might have given the pass, provided I was in a more stable frame of mind.

Regardng the geese, there is an interesting story written by PG Wodehouse where a swan, a close goose-like bird, was discouraged in its rushing by having a raincoat tossed over its head, and a boat oar thrust under its butt.

Finally, what is this reference to "carbs?" I cannot find it in the BMW lexicon. I started my K75 in the foggy mist yesterday, and some deeply buried circuit said, "Hmmmmm... Mist," and adjusted things accordingly.

Great ride report.

Fondrst regards,
Twisted Roads

Lady R said...

Getting caught in the cold is no fun. You at least came to the rationalization that your poor judgement is why you were cold. Better luck next time.

Deciding to purposely ride in it while dressed appropriately and still freeze your arse... that's when we question our sanity!

It took three weeks for me to talk Harley into riding our Glides from Montgomery, AL to Chattanooga, TN to meet his family for some vacation time during November a couple years ago. He kept telling me how cold it was going to be, but all I was interested in was the nice long ride on the Glides... to the mountains!

To make a long story short, I won. The ride up wasn't bad at all and I was very happy we chose to ride. The day we left from Chattanooga to return home, however, was 32 degrees F. That the coldest ride I ever survived! We made it, but we were pretty stiff! He teased me for days after that about how much I "owed him" for letting me have my way. Being a married and all, I'm sure you know how that game works. LOL!!

I love the motto also... "Adventure before Dementia". So fitting!

Gary France said...

Reply to comments on my blog.....

Dave - I don't mind the cold either providing I am prepared for it.  My black Road King has heated grips and these help a great deal fighting off the cold without having to wear extra thick gloves, which I hate. If it was nearer to Christmas I might not have tried to avoid the geese!

Brady - Absolutely right, we get one go at this life, so we all owe it to ourselves to enjoy it to the max.  As a kid learning to ride a motorbike, heck it was dangerous!  When I look back at some of the things I did on my bikes when I was young, it scares me.  Would I change it?  No way!

Canajun - I cannot imagine living where you do in the winter.  Four months in sub-zero temps is definately not for me.  At those cold temps, I cannot imagine under-dressing.  When I worked in Moscow, some days I would go outside and it almost hurt as I took the first lung-fulls of air.  Minus 27c was the coldest I ever got to and that was enough!

Gary France said...

Jack - I looked it up. “Every young man starting life should know how to cope with an angry swan, so I will briefly relate the proper procedure. You begin by picking up the raincoat which somebody has dropped; and then, judging the distance to a nicety, you simply shove the raincoat over the bird's head; and, taking the boat-hook which you have prudently brought with you, you insert it under the swan and heave.” The trouble was, I’d forgotten to take my boat-hook with me, prudently or otherwise, and darn it, nobody had dropped their raincoat, so I was in a jam.

As for the carbs, we didn’t have decades of experience and electronics knowledge behind us when we bolted the Mikuni carbs on the side of the engine....

Lady R – I cannot make my mind up about riding in the cold. Sometimes I am fine with it and at others, I don’t like it at all. I know about cold weather and partners. I convinced my wife taking our AC Cobra to Spain from London would be okay in April and the weather would be good enough as it doesn’t have a roof. We loaded the car and set out for the very long drive and the weather stayed good... until the end of the first day, when it snowed. We saw heavy rain and hail. It was freezing cold, but Jackie was very good about it, and we just got on with it for a few days in the bad weather until when we hit southern Spain and the sun came out to play.

Rick Parker said...

Great article! Very enjoyable read. It's fun to read about other HOG chapter's rides, and then to notice how much we all have in common wherever we may be. I felt like I was there with you as I read this!

Gary France said...

Rick – Thanks for visiting my blog and for commenting. I agree that almost wherever in the world a HOG chapter rides is, they are very similar.

irondad said...

So look at the bright side. I admit I also hate missing coffee. On the other hand, coffee in, coffe out, magnified by the cold.

I'd have been out in the middle of nowhere hoping to get quickly to the next convenience stop!

Gary France said...

Dan – Yes, been there, a few times. Whenever I go on a long ride in the cold, it is a balance – get warm with a coffee or risk needing an extra stop!