Tag Archive for ‘Tibet’

Chapter 28 – The UK revisited – on a KTM 990 SMT

The Summer of 2013

The Brits dominating the world sporting scene with wins in the Tour de France, The Lion’s rugby tour, Wimbledon, AND the Ashes…..  and glorious weather!!

Can it last? Of course not, English sport will settle back to its usual disappointing form, and the weather is bound to change.

But not in the summer of 2013…it could not have been better. The British people were in a good mood, they had pulled themselves out of economic recession and the sun was shining.

I rode three thousand miles across the UK and through as many of Britain’s beautiful national parks as I could on perhaps the best road bike I have ever ridden, the KTM 990 SMT.

Now we are talking. The ride now moves up to a new quantum level of beautiful. Fanny and I have ridden around the world and been privileged to see the Himalayas, Pyrenees, Alps, Guilin, Rift Valley, Qinghai Cederberg, Atlas etc... but West Scotland on a good day is second to none.

Modern travel... the superb Emirates Airbus A380.

On the way back to the UK on the superb Emirates’ Airbus A380.  Once I get to the UK I plan to buy a motorcycle. Renting a car is 20-40 pounds a day and to be honest I find driving cars extremely dull. Renting a motorcycle would be much more fun, but extremely expensive at more than 80 pounds a day. Public transport? Ridiculously expensive, unreliable and not very convenient outside the cities. Buying a motorcycle makes perfect sense, provided I can find a good one at a decent price. In actual fact, the overall cost is quite low and its the best way to explore the British Isles if the weather is good. I have reached my half century and so motorcycle insurance is also very cheap and easy to arrange. The question is which motorcycle do I buy?

Arriving back in Blighty ... looking unusually pleasant down there

Coming into land at Heathrow airport and England  looking surprisingly pleasant down there

Was thinking of getting something exotic for the ride.. like this Moto Guzzi cafe racer I saw in Hong Kong

Was thinking of getting something exotic for the ride.. like this Moto Guzzi cafe racer 7 I saw in Hong Kong

However, Fanny decided I should buy this KTM 990 SMT in Red Bull colours which I found on ebay and managed to buy on the spot after successfully negotiating down the price. This bike shares the same DNA (LC 8 engine, WP suspension, ) as my KTM 990 Adventure R. The difference being KTM have customed it to roads and unlike the standard Supermoto, for long distances.

However, Fanny recommended I buy this KTM 990 SMT in Red Bull colours that I found on eBay. This bike shares the same DNA (V- twin 1000 cc LC 8 engine, WP suspension, Brembo brakes etc) as my KTM 990 Adventure R. The difference being KTM have customized it to roads and unlike the standard Supermoto, adapted it for long distant touring.

TECHNICAL DETAILS OF KTM 990 SUPERMOTO T

ENGINE

Design 2-cylinder 4-stroke Otto motor, 75° V arrangement, water-cooled
Displacement 999 cm³ (60.96 cu in)
Bore 101 mm (3.98 in)
Stroke 62.4 mm (2.457 in)
Performance 85 kW (114 hp)
Cold start device Electric starter
Transmission 6-gears, claw-shifted
Engine lubrication Dry sump lubrication system with two rotor pumps
Primary transmission 35:67
Secondary drive ratio 17:41
Cooling Water cooling, permanent circulation of coolant by water pump
Clutch Multidisc clutch in oil bath/hydraulically activated
Ignition system Contactless controlled fully electronic ignition with digital ignition adjustment

CHASSIS

Frame Lattice frame made of chrome molybdenum steel tubing, powder-coated
Fork WP Suspension Up Side Down
Shock absorber WP Suspension Monoshock
Suspension travel Front 160 mm (6.3 in)
Suspension travel Rear 180 mm (7.09 in)
Brake system Front Double disc brake with radially screwed four-piston brake calipers, float-mounted brake discs
Brake system Rear Single disc brake with dual-piston brake caliper, rigid-mounted brake disc
Brake discs – diameter Front 305 mm (12.01 in)
Brake discs – diameter Rear 240 mm (9.45 in)
Chain 5/8 x 5/16” X‑ring
Steering head angle 65.6°
Wheelbase 1,505±15 mm (59.25±0.59 in)
Ground clearance, unloaded 195 mm (7.68 in)
Seat height, unloaded 855 mm (33.66 in)
Total fuel tank capacity, approx. 19 l (5 US gal)
Super unleaded (ROZ 95/RON 95/PON 91)
Weight without fuel, approx. 197 kg (434 lb.)
On arrival I went straight to Crawley to P&H Motorcycles to buy the bike. My friend Nick Dobson had already given it a test ride and inspection and I bought it on the spot, loaded my luggage and then started off on a tour of the UK. However after riding along the south coast of England and across Salisbury Plain to my sisters house in Netheravon, near Stonehenge the bike suddenly stopped in the middle of nowhere and no amount of tinkering was getting it going. I suspected the fuel pumps had gone...

On arrival at Heathrow I went straight to my bank to withdraw cash, and then to P&H Motorcycles in Crawley to buy this bike that I found on the internet before I left Hong Kong. My friend Nick Dobson had already given the bike a test ride and general inspection and after agreeing a price I bought it on the spot, loaded my luggage on the back and then started off on a tour of the UK …. all within a few hours of arriving in the UK.  It really is that easy.  However after riding along the south coast of England and across Salisbury Plain to my sisters house near Stonehenge the bike suddenly stopped in the middle of nowhere and no amount of tinkering was able to get it going again. I suspected the fuel pump had gone… The very “bling” Red Bull paint job must have been hiding some “issues” in its four year history.

Staring at the bike and chuntering to myself was not helping and so I wheeled the bike to a nearby farm where a very kind farmer put it in one of his sheds and gave

Staring at a motorbike that didn’t want to start and chuntering to myself was not solving the problem and so I wheeled the bike to a nearby farm where a very kind farmer put it in one of his cow sheds for the night and gave me a lift to Salisbury where I found a pub, drowned my sorrows with a few beers, and called my sister and my niece to come and rescue me. As I had just bought the bike the RAC vehicle recovery service on my insurance policy had not started yet. I could have pretended it broke down the next day, but dishonesty is not in my nature and so I would have to make another plan.

Ta ma de. My bike outside Midwinter's Farm on A30... fortunately the farmer was a top guy. Thank you.

The Red Bull KTM outside Midwinter’s Farm on the A30… Fortunately the farmer was a top guy and was really helpful.  A big “Thank you”.   At the time it “stopped” I thought I was heading to my sisters house in Netheravon. In actual fact I was on the wrong road and heading towards London. No GPS and clearly no sense of direction.   It was obvious that I had broken down by the side of the road but the other bikers, of which there were many that day, just whizzed by without stopping …. Having ridden around the world I can say this is not the attitude in other countries, where the general biking community always looks out for each other. In fact, all the way from South Africa to Turkey and even in China people always asked if we were OK whenever we stopped by the side of the road.  That said,   I am pleased to say things got much more friendlier the further north I went on my UK trip.

After being rescued by my sister and niece and getting fed and watered, I contacted P&H Motorcycles in Crawley and told them the bike that they had sold me

After being rescued by my sister and niece and getting fed and watered, I contacted P&H Motorcycles in Crawley and told them the bike that they had sold me earlier in the day had broken down and would not start and that I was stranded. They could not do anything that evening, but the next day theyvery kindly dispatched one of their recovery vehicles all the way to Wiltshire to pick me and the bike up.

We got back quite late and I am indebted to the driver who recovered the bike some 200 miles away. He was a very nice guy

I am indebted to the P&H Motorcycles’ driver who collected the bike and drove us 200 miles back to their garage in Crawley. He was a very nice guy and as we were chatting on the way back he asked me why on earth anyone would want to go to a foreign country with all the strange food, odd people, hassles and dangers?  I always think  that if you are asked such a question there is absolutely no point trying to explain and so the conversation was restricted to finding a very narrow strip of common ground and making obvious and safe observations …”This van goes nicely doesn’t it?” and “I think I prefer the chunky kitkats to the regular ones, what about you?”… etc etc…

I left the Red Bull KTM at the garage and then took then walked through the town looking for a place to spend the night before returning back to the garage to get the prognosis. Despite Crawley's magnificence and architectural splendour I decided to take the train to Brighton and find a back-packers to stay in.  The next day P&H Motorcycles confirmed that the petrol pump had died and it would take 3-4 days to get a new one and then a day or so to

I left the Red Bull KTM at the garage and then walked through the town looking for a place to spend the night before returning back to the garage the next day to get the prognosis. Despite Crawley’s magnificence and architectural splendour I decided to take the train to Brighton and find a back-packers to stay in. It was a good choice, although in the evening I joined a group of rowdy lesbians in a local pub and drank far too much Harvey’s bitter.  The next day I wandered around the streets of Brighton buying junk from pound shops and eating “festival food”… whatever that is… curry I think.  In the afternoon I took a train back to Crawley and P&H Motorcycles confirmed that the petrol pump had indeed died and it would take 3-4 days to get a new one and then a day or so to fit it. “You mean a week?” I suggested.. unable to hide my irritation. “Ummm .. maybe”, came the reply.  I  asked if I could have a KTM courtesy bike, but was offered a very dull motorcycle to use, the sort that I don’t bother read about and skip past in bike magazines,  AND I would have to return to Crawley in a weeks time to pick up the repaired (or not) KTM.  Given that the plan was to tour the UK, and my time was ticking away this wasn’t an option and so I asked for my money back… which they did …as a cheque.  This of course presented me with a clearing issue and I needed ready cash to buy another bike that day. But no choice, and so I went to the local HSBC bank (First Direct) and they very kindly gave me the cash without waiting for the garage’s cheque to clear… how’s that for service????   With the cash I started out with in the first place back in my pocket I then trawled the internet again and found a few bikes I liked in various parts of the country.  I was quite interested in a Honda Africa Twin (pictured above) which is a classic, but not in the same league as a KTM Supermoto… and the price the garage were asking for a 10 year old bike was way too expensive for what it was. I gave it a test ride, and iconic as it is I couldn’t see me having as much fun on it as a KTM, Triumph or even a Moto Guzzi.

The day was Triumph UK's open day and across the country every Triumph dealership was having a party and allowing test drives of all their models. My friend, Nick Dobson took me to several dealerships and we rode a few good bikes. I really liked the Triumph 800 Tiger, and it would have been a good bike for the UK tour, but there were none available in my price bracket, and I really do not care for the Explorer and the XC 800 is not what I'm after.

The “find another bike” day coincided with Triumph UK’s open day and across the country every Triumph dealership was having a party and allowing test rides on all their models. My friend, Nick Dobson took me in his car to several dealerships in Sussex where we ate all their food (a very nice hog roast) and then rode a few good bikes, including the XC 800 and the 800 Tiger. I really liked the Triumph 800 Tiger and it would have been a great bike for the UK tour.  The sales people seemed quite taken aback that someone actually wanted to buy a bike there and then. “Yes I want to buy a 800 Tiger….now… I have the cash in my pocket and I have insurance cover”.  Sadly, there were none available.  There was a  Triumph Speed Triple for sale and it would have been great fun…for all of about 100 miles until my backside and joints surrendered!!

The Triumph Tiger 800... a superb around bike with one of the best engines that there is on two wheels.

The Triumph Tiger 800… a superb all round bike with one of the best engines there is on two wheels. Sadly, none were available.  I would like to have gone British, but I think I’ll carry on with Austrian. I did ring up a guy who was selling a BMW F800GS and when I asked him why he was selling it, he said he was buying a new KTM 1190 Adventure and seemed very excited about it. Quite right.

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My bike. One of several KTM 990 SMT advertised online that I wanted, but the private seller of this one was overseas when I arrived in the UK.  I was particularly interested in this bike because it was in excellent condition, three years old, low mileage and had lots of extras, including Akropovik exhausts that I also have on my 990 Adventure R and know really make a difference to performance of bike and exhaust note.  Now that my trip was delayed this was now the object of my desire and so I went to the location that it was being sold from, the magnificent town of Slough just west of Greater London.

The view from my bed and breakfast in Slough was better than I was expecting to be.

The view from my bed and breakfast in Slough was better than I was expecting it to be.   I knew that most of the residents in the Slough area were recent immigrants to the UK and the Windsor family who lived in the big castle were no exception… Germans and Greeks I believe.

Take two...

Take Two…  I bought this superb KTM 990 SMT motorcycle in grown up colours from the very accommodating and patient Jon in Slough, all the documentation was sorted, it was loaded up with my things in a North Face dufflebag, and I had a bum friendly sheep skin seat cover over an already comfortable KTM ergo seat. The sun was shining, the birds were singing (well when I left Slough anyway) and so I aimed west towards Wales. Although first I would call in to Bristol and see my daughter Becky for tea.  I then rode over the Severn bridge and into motorcycling heaven. Wales.  The riding was glorious and I did sweeping classic “A” roads and also a fair few stretches of what should be called “Green Laning”.  I tried to follow, to the extent I was able, the Offa’s Dyke route that I hiked along a year ago that separates England from Wales. As I didn’t have a GPS  I relied on memory and that took me on some unsuitable single lane gravel tracks, but the bike handled marvelously all the same.  It really is as capable as a sports bike and I was able to ride as fast as I dare on an R1 or Fireblade… maybe quicker. I am familiar with the v-twin LC8 from my adventure bikes, but what makes this bike so special is the ability to be ridden like a crazy sports bikes scrapping the pegs around the corners and when you want like a placid, comfortable and smooth touring bike.  A gentleman’s hooligan bike or the other way round…. perfect. The Marchesini wheels are the same as those fitted to Ducatis and the tyres were the standard Contis that come with the bike. Sticky enough for sports bike handling and hard enough for touring endurance. Whilst not designed like the 990 Adventures for off road and gravel, the bike is strangely familiar and easy to ride. I only had a few surprises on wet sand and mud near farm entrances when I felt the front slip slightly, but my sand riding experience and growing skill kicked in and any bike will straighten up with good throttle control and looking where you want to go.  Pictured here parked up outside a very comfortable B&B that I stayed in in Hay on Wye (the UK book capital).

meeting

I met another KTM rider, John at a McDonalds in the middle of Wales. McDonalds across the world always has the cheapest and best coffee, you can keep an eye on your bike, and more importantly your luggage outside while you eat, you can use the restrooms to clean up, and they always have free WiFi. The only other places I (and especially Fanny) like to stop at in the UK are the layby mobile cafes for tea and a cardiac arrest breakfast. Fanny was actually online at the time I met John on the WeChat (like WhatsApp, but better) video on my phone and joining in the conversation and looking at his KTM from 8000 miles away. Modern technology, amazing huh?  After coffee we had a closer look at his beautiful KTM 990 Adventure and admired all the extras that he made himself such as fog lights, brackets and GPS mounts. It looked marvelous. John was getting ready to head off on a expedition with some British soldiers to India and so I wish them luck and look forward to hearing about their adventures when they get back.

Crossing the Black Mountains... Paragliders high up above Hye.

Crossing the Black Mountains in Wales… There were paragliders high up above me soaring the thermals at Hay Bluff.  I have also paraglided here and had walked passed this exact spot almost a year ago to the day when I hiked the length of the Offa’s Dyke from the south to the north of Wales. At that time I was in agony as my feet were torn to shreds by very badly fitting boots. This time I couldn’t be happier.  There must be a moral in this story somewhere.

Perfect biking country... high up above Hay on Wye

Perfect biking country and perfect weather… high up in the hills above Hay on Wye in Wales

Akropovik carbon fibre exhausts... very nice

Akropovik titanium and carbon fibre exhausts fitted to my KTM 990 SMT… improves performance, looks awesome and has a glorious exhaust note.

Dropping in for tea to see my daughter, Rebecca

Dropping in for tea in Bristol to see my beautiful daughter, Rebecca

Even though I packed my old adventure kit, the weather was so warm I was able to ride around most of the time in summer kit.

Even though I packed my old adventure kit, the weather was so warm and pleasant that I was able to ride around most of the time in summer jacket and cargo trousers. My waterproof Timberland hiking boots doubled up as excellent motorcycle boots. I had managed to buy a brand new Airoh Adventure helmet (my favourite) for a fraction of the UK price from a shop in Hong Kong and a new pair of gloves from China.

After Wales to Derbyshire to ride High Peak and the Dales. The authorities in the UK have gone mad against speeding. There are speed averaging cameras on many roads and increasingly police are tasked to enforce the Road Traffic Act speeding offences. Senior police officers like the anti hero Richard Brunstrom have earned themselves a chapter in books like Quentin Lett's "50 People Who Buggered Up Britain".  I agree that  speed restrictions should be enforced in built up areas zones and areas near schools etc... in fact even slower, but the practice of tricking motorists by placing cameras in remote places and where speed restrictions change is the epitomy of meallie mouthed -ness. I would not mind if the authorities applied the same rigour to fraudsters and crimes of violence and dishonesty ... but they don't.

After the beautiful biking roads of Wales I went to Derbyshire to ride the High Peak and the Dales. Like Wales nowadays, bikers have to be very careful as the authorities in the UK have gone mad against speeding and have a particular hatred vented towards bikers. There are speed averaging cameras on many roads and increasingly police are tasked to enforce the Road Traffic Act speeding offences .. quite clearly to bolster government coffers than protect life and property. Senior police officers like the anti hero Richard Brunstrom have quite rightly earned themselves a chapter in books like Quentin Lett’s “50 People Who Buggered Up Britain”.  I agree that speed restrictions should be enforced in built up areas and high risk zones near schools and pedestrian areas etc… in fact I recommend even slower.  But the practice of tricking motorists by placing speed cameras and radars in remote places and where speed restrictions suddenly change is the epitomy of mealie mouthed officialdom. I would not mind if the authorities applied the same rigour to fraudsters and crimes of violence and dishonesty … but they don’t. Bankers, politicians and lawyers steal billions from hard working people, fleece their savings and destroy their lives, but ordinarily law abiding citizens in high tech and safe vehicles get slammed daily for speeding and petty driving offences. This famous stretch of road near the Cat and Fiddle is a classic example. Completely unnecessary and ugly speed averaging cameras blight the landscape. Its a very stupid system because the equation …distance divided by time….  can easily be defeated by stopping and having a pee between the cameras and then accelerating back up to warp speed.

Going for a ride in Derbyshire with my  friend (from schooldays) Andrea and her Ducati Monster.

Going for a ride with one of my oldest friends… not that I am saying Andrea is old. far from it, she is exactly the same age as me and therefore a mere whipper snapper.  What I mean is we went to school together in Staffordshire back in the day. Pictured here on a sunny day near her home in Derbyshire on her Ducati Monster.

Derb

Derbyshire countryside.. very lush and green.

"Andrea... when you've finished polishing my bike ... a tea no sugar... oh and a biscuit".... what are friends for??

“Andrea… when you’ve finished polishing my bike I’ll have a tea …no sugar… oh and a biscuit”.  What are friends for, huh?

Spooky... how did they know I was coming.

Spooky… how did they know I was coming.

My goodness ... an Utley Store

My goodness … an Utley Store. Surely we don’t need any more?

Talking of Utleys.. the former Miss Utley ... Rachel and my niece, Jessie. And Bear the cat

Talking of Utleys.. the former Miss Utley, my sister Rachel….. and my niece, Jessie together with Captain Pugwash, which I believe is a sort of cat

Derbyshire into Yorkshire... beautiful roads and stunning scenery.

Derbyshire into Yorkshire… beautiful roads and joyous scenery.

One of many new friends I made on my trip. Riding a Classic Triumph Tiget which he had since new.  (Derbyshire ...High Peak)

One of many new friends I made on my trip. Riding a Classic Triumph Tiger 100 which he had since new. (Derbyshire …High Peak)

The real deal .. even down to the oil leaks

The real deal .. even down to the oil leaks

Arrivin

Arriving in Keswick in Cumbria, the Lake District.  I borrowed a very small one man tent from my friend Andrea so I would not have to stay in B&Bs and could free camp in Scotland. Here it is pitched near one of the many lakes in the area. While I was in Keswick I bumped into one of my Royal Hong Kong Police colleagues (still serving as a Chief Superintendent) who was riding a bicycle from Land’s End in Çornwall (the most south westerly point of the British mainland) to John O’Groats in Scotland (the most n0rth easterly)… about 1000 miles.

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Keswick… starting my hike up to the peak of Skiddaw (931 meters). Here in a small hamlet is an honesty egg stall… one puts money in the box and helps oneself to the eggs one has paid for… doesn’t one? Fanny and I saw such honesty stalls in Bavaria in Germany and I personally think this is indicative of the height of human civilization. When we posted the pictures of our trip in Bavaria on this blog we got comments from South Africa and China stating that in their countries the goods and money would be stolen and the table kicked over. Well quite. As I said……

Keswick from Skiddaw

Looking down at Keswick from the slopes of Skiddaw

Looking West towards the Irish Sea from Skiddaw

Looking West towards the Irish Sea from Skiddaw

Hiking in the Lake District

Hiking in the Lake District

On the way down ... a perfect day hiking in one of the most stunning parts of England.  Not high by Tibetan or even European standards, but clean, fresh, well looked after and thoroughly natural. A joy. Highly recommended.

A perfect day hiking in one of the most stunning parts of England. Not high by Tibetan or even European standards, but clean, fresh, well looked after and thoroughly natural. I had a picnic on the grass , did a spell of fell running and returned back into Keswick for fish and chips… Perfect.

Meeting Steve Wordsworth from Hong Kong in Keswick. Steve and I worked together in Royal Hong Kong police (he still does) and he was riding his bicycle from Land's End to John O'Groats.... which he completed successfully  a week later.

With Steve Wordsworth in Keswick, Cumbria (Lake District).  Steve and I served together in the Royal Hong Kong police (he still does) and he was riding his bicycle from Land’s End to John O’Groats…. which he completed successfully a week later.

From the Lakes I rode to Scotland and passed Glasgow to Loch Lomond

From the Lake District I rode to Scotland and passed Glasgow to Loch Lomond and Ben Arthur (“the Cobbler”)

Sun, warm water and pretty girls... yes its Scotland.

Sun, warm water, and pretty girls… yes it really is Scotland.

The guys I met at Loch Lomond camping by the water and enjoying the summer of 2013.

The guys, Paul, Pauli, Filiz and Taylor, whom I met camping by the water at Loch Lomond and enjoying the summer of 2013. You can’t have everything though, I guess. The water in Loch Lomond was so warm at the time that the champagne wasn’t cooling down enough. Shame. (Paul contacted us in comments)

Heading towards Glen Coe and skirting around the many lochs on the western coast of Scotland

Heading towards Glen Coe and skirting around the many lochs on the western coast of Scotland

Now we are talking. The ride now moves up to a new quantum level of beautiful. Fanny and I have ridden around the world and been privileged to see the Himalayas, Pyrenees, Alps, Guilin, Rift Valley, Qinghai Cederberg, Atlas etc... but West Scotland on a good day is second to none.

Now we are talking. The ride now moves up to a new quantum level of beautifulness. Fanny and I have ridden around the world and been privileged to see and ride through the Himalayas, Pyrenees, Alps, Dolomites, Guilin karst mountains, the Rift Valley, Kilimanjaro, the Serengeti, Masai Mara, Ethiopian Highlands,  Qinghai plateau, South Africa’s Cederberg, the Atlas mountains etc etc… but West Scotland on a good day is second to none.

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Breathe it in….

Camping in Glen Coe

Camping in the woods near Glen Coe

Glen Coe.... the area where the Skyfall

Glen Coe…. the area where the movie, “Skyfall” was filmed.

Glen Coe ...

Loch Leven near Glen Coe …

Glen Coe

Crossing Loch Leven, Glen Coe

What about bikes?

What about bikes?

Bobby and Willie who took me for a ride around the Ben Nevis area

Bobby and Willie (Yamaha XT 600 and BMW K1000) who took me for a very civilized (i.e. slow) ride around the Ben Nevis area.

Visiting the Bonnie Prince Charlie statue at Glenfinnan

Visiting the Bonnie Prince Charlie statue at Glenfinnan

Ben Nevis

Ben Nevis

The viaduct bridge shown in the Harry Potter movie near Glenfinnan

The railway viaduct shown in the Harry Potter movie near Glenfinnan

Saying goodbye to my new friends, Bobby and Willie with whom I rode around with for a few hours.

Saying goodbye to my new friends, Bobby and Willie with whom I rode around western Scotland and had a great day.

Making friends in the Highlands of Scotland

Making friends in the Highlands of Scotland

Riding through the Highlands in beautiful sunshine... reminded me of Tibet.

Riding through the Highlands in beautiful sunshine… this bit reminded me very much of Tibet. I rode up the twisty road at some pace and was surprised to be overtaken by a Swiss registered sports bike with a rider in full race leathers. When I got to the top I saw it was a BMW S1000RR…. OK… fair enough.

Taking ferry over to Isle of Skye with the other bikers. This biker from Durham, who lives on Skye introduced to me and gave me a can of  Avon skin cream all the locals use to ward off the scary Scottish midges.... its really does work. thanks..

Taking ferry over to the Isle of Skye with the other bikers. This biker from Durham, who lives on Skye introduced to me and gave me a jar of Avon skin softening cream that all the locals use to ward off the scary Scottish midges….Despite being an odd substance for a hairy biker to rub over his skin it really does work … and added a fresh fragrance to my normal smell of sweat and petrol. Many thanks.

Ferry to Isle of Skye with the other bikers. It seemed with the good weather a lot of international bikers (the Moto Guzzi belonged to a French couple) were touring Scotland. That said as I went further north I saw less and less people.

Ferry to the Isle of Skye with the other bikers. It seemed with the good weather a lot of international bikers (the Moto Guzzi belonged to a French couple) were touring Scotland. That said as I went further north I saw fewer and fewer people.

Camping on Skye

Camping on Skye

Pretty Scottish villages on west coast. An incredibly beautiful part of the world

Pretty Scottish villages along the west coast. An incredibly beautiful part of the world.

300 Scottish malts at a pub on Skye... now where do you start. Well, from the beginning is a good place ... hick!!!

300 Scottish malts at a pub on Skye… now where do you start? Well, from the beginning is a good place … hick!!!

I rode many miles along the sea coast and along the many lochs of west Scotland. Passing through picturesque villages and small towns all the way through the Highlands and to the north west point a

I rode many miles zigzagging along the sea coast and along the many lochs of west Scotland. Passing through picturesque villages and pretty towns all the way through the Highlands and to the remote north west point at Cape Wrath. I must say it was some of the best riding I have ever experienced. Very friendly and welcoming people and none of the English/Scottish rivalry we all come to expect. As difficult as it is to explain, Scotland actually seemed more “British” than England does.  In parts looking like Tibet and other times like Ethiopia. I am a big fan although I will still be supporting Ingeerland in the footie… someone has to.

Due to the Gulf Stream that course up the west of the British Isles some parts of northern Scotland that are not far from the Arctic Circle are quite mild. It is, however, safe to say that the weather isn't always as glorious and when I was there and can be decidedly wet and blowy.

Palm trees in Scotland!   Due to the Gulf Stream that courses up from the tropics to the west of the British Isles some parts of northern Scotland are far milder than one would expect given its proximity to the Arctic Circle. It is, however, safe to say that the weather isn’t always as glorious as when I was there and can often be decidedly wet and blowy.

The flower of Scotland....I remember as a small boy going on holiday to the Island of Luing off the west coast of Scotland near Oban with my friend, Joe Muriel and his family and some local bully boys grabbed us while we were playing near a small cliff and threatened to throw us into the sea if we didn't sing "Oh Flower O' Scotland".  After about 15 seconds of making up a song about some thistles we gave up and just jumped off the cliff in the sea. After we surfaced and started to swim away we cheerily told the local lads what we thought of their flowers accompanied by some good old fashioned hand gestures that were popular in English play grounds during the early 70s . Oh happy days... !!!

The flower of Scotland….always reminds me of going on holiday to the Island of Luing off the west coast of Scotland near Oban with my best friend and his family when I was a small boy. Whilst playing near a small cliff with a sheer drop down to the sea some local bully boys approached us and threatened to throw us into the sea if we didn’t sing “Oh Flower O’ Scotland”.  After about 10 seconds of making up a song about some thistles we gave up and just jumped off the cliff in the sea below.  After we surfaced and were bobbing about in the waves we cheerily told the local lads who were now high up above us what we thought of their flowers,  accompanied by some hand gestures that were popular with naughty boys during the early 70s.  Oh happy days… !!!

Lots of white sand beaches along the west and north coast of Scotland.

Lots of white sand beaches along the west and north coast of Scotland. The water looked crystal clear, and unlike beaches in China and Hong Kong, not a single item of litter or garbage. I did meet a lot of Chinese tour groups at the usual tourist spots like Glen Coe and Ben Nevis and they remarked how clean everywhere was. I couldn’t help respond in Mandarin that this was because “WE THROW OUR RUBBISH IN THE BIN>>>NOT IN THE LAKE >>>>>AAAAAHH MAAAAAA”

Its gets even more like Tibet ... mountains and big hairy things in the road.

Its gets even more like Tibet … mountains, valleys, lakes and big hairy things with horns in the road.

Fellow bikers from Canada... They had very nice kit... a BMW F800GS with all the accessories, great tent and good camping gear. Always something to learn from fellow adventurers.

Fellow bikers from Canada… They had a BMW F800GS with all the accessories, great tent and excellent camping gear.  Their navigation and photographic equipment was particularly impressive.  There is always something to learn and admire from fellow adventurers. Whilst chatting with them they suddenly got very excited and burst out, “Hey…you are the couple riding around the world… we read about you on ADV Rider…. where’s Fanny?” (scanning left and right eagerly).  I explained that she had to work and wasn’t with me. Absolute silence. They could hardly disguise their disappointment and turned around and sauntered back to their tent with their heads hung low and banged in a few more tent pegs. Now I know what Charlie Boorman feels like… “I’ll see you in the pub later shall I?”, I shouted over to them, but they mumbled something in French and didn’t look up. I thought of shouting back … can Fanny do a one handed wheelie in the sand? Noooo. But I didn’t .. petulance is an unattractive trait in a human being … even if I can ride better than her… so there.

I am still not entirely sure what these German tourists with a safari tent on top of their Landrover were expecting to see in north west Scotland...

I am still not entirely sure what these German tourists with a safari tent on top of their Land Rover were expecting to see or encounter in the Highlands of Scotland… a ferocious otter or a terrifying haggis. Anyway, they were well prepared.

Perhaps the Loch Ness sheep

Perhaps the fearsome Loch Ness sheep?

A ferry to Skye and a bridge back to the mainland

A ferry to Skye and a bridge back to the mainland. Some people told me they had seen some killer whales (Orca) further up the coast… but I never saw them. Riding along the single track roads required more attention to the road and hedgerows than staring out to sea.

I challenge any biker to show me a better stretch of road. Zero traffic, twisty road, perfect temperature , and glorious scebnery

I challenge any biker to show me a better stretch of road. Zero traffic, twisty road, perfect temperature, and glorious scenery.

Roads and scenery all to myself

Roads and scenery all to myself

This is what motorcycling is all about. Peace, fresh air, beautiful scenery and in the seat of perhaps the best road bike I have ever ridden... the

This is what adventure motorcycling is all about. Peace, fresh air, beautiful scenery, meeting friendly people and in the seat of perhaps the best road bike I have ever ridden… the KTM 990 SMT

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In Scotland there are no trespass laws and so provided you respect the countryside and the property of others you can camp where you like. Here I am camped at the most north west part of Scotland, enjoying the fresh air and sea views in complete peace. Earlier I went to a nearby pub for a seafood dinner and a pint of Scottish ale and listened to a folk band. Being so far north in summer it did not get dark until after 11pm. I will definitely have to bring Fanny and my children one day.

I then rode along the north coast of Scotland to the most northerly part of mainland Britain, John O'Groats. I then turned south and rode down

I then rode along the north coast of Scotland to the most northerly part of mainland Britain, John O’Groats. Funnily enough the rock structure looks like those at Cape Aguilas on the most southerly tip of Africa where Fanny and I started our Big Bike Trip expedition in 2011. After a brew and a Scottish cake  I then turned south and rode down the east coast of Scotland towards Inverness, rode along Loch Ness and then headed in the general direction of Edinburgh, passing through dozens of beautiful towns and villages and across glorious mountain roads.

Yous can take me BMW, but yous no be taking my KTM  ( William Wallace Memorial near Stirling)

“Yous can take ma BMW, but yous no be taking ma KTM” ( William Wallace Memorial near Stirling)

I continued riding through Scotland to the border with England and crossed over into Northumbria. Whilst I was there a British MP suggested that

I continued riding through Scotland to the border with England and crossed over Hadrian’s Wall into majestic Northumbria where the accent abruptly changed from Scottish to Geordie. Whilst I was there I heard the news about an ill informed and rather gormless British MP who suggested that shale oil mining using the controversial “fracking” method should be conducted in the north east of England because its barren and nobody lives there. Having ridden across this lovely part of England and met some wonderful people in Newcastle, Durham, Middleborough etc…and at the Wagon Inn in Westgate on the A696 I can refute this. Who votes for these idiots? Anyway, this picture was taken after I arrived at the Wagon Inn and asked if they knew where I could pitch my tent.     “In our beer garden”, of course” came the reply from the friendly landlord. Fantastic.  So after some beers I retired (staggered) to my garden retreat.

Not something you see everyday ... unless you live in Gateshead.

Not something you see everyday … unless you live in Gateshead. (Angel of the North)

Has to be done .... a road side fry up on road between York and Harrogate.

Has to be done …. a road side fry up (on the road between York and Harrogate). I wanted to see the Viking museum in York and then go to Betty’s in Harrogate for tea and a teacake. So I did.

Harrogate ... outside the famous Spa... or is it a Chinese restaurant... ?

Harrogate … outside the famous Spa… or is it a Chinese restaurant… ?

My KTM 990 SMT's status as best road bike I have ever ridden could be taken by this big boy.... the KTM 1190 Adventure R ... yours for 13250pounds.

My KTM 990 SMT’s status as best road bike I have ever ridden could be taken away by this big boy…. the KTM 1190 Adventure R … yours for 13,250 quid. I mean, who in their right mind would buy a BMW 1200 GS? ( golfers and lao touzi excepted of course)

I continued on the trip all the way through the Yorkshire moors, back to Derbyshire where I

I continued all the way through Northumbria,  the Yorkshire moors, back to Derbyshire High Peak where I did some hiking on Scarfell Pike.  I then continued on to Staffordshire to see my mother in Abbots Bromley where I grew up, then back south through the Black Country to Tewkesbury where the local KTM garage replaced the mirror I smashed in John O’Groats (bike fell over on soft ground while I was having a cuppa), then through the beautiful Coltswolds and to Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire where I stayed with my sister. The next day I continued to the South Coast of England through the New Forest and to the fascinating town of Old Hastings where I stayed in a superb Inn called the Jenny Lind (highly recommended). The next day a short ride to Bexhill on Sea (bike pictured outside the interesting art deco De Warr building) and got the bike MOT’d as it was just about to reach its 3rd birthday.  It passed after a 1 pound reflective button was put on the number plate…  Next stop… Hong Kong.

No trains either.... drama on the way to the airport as the train from Bexhill to Gatwick just stopped. Thanks to Nick for rescuing me and ferrying me to Heat

No trains either……..   A bit of drama on the way to the airport as the train from Bexhill to Gatwick just stopped and never moved again. The dozens of staff belonging to ” Southern Rail” in these daft t-shirts wandered about like headless chickens panicking, or lurked out of sight in cafes to hide from irate passengers. Wouldn’t happen if I was in charge.  Investigate what happened, evaluate best options and then clearly communicate plan to staff and passengers. How hard can it be? Anyway, a big thanks to my friend Nick Dobson for rescuing me from Eastbourne train station and ferrying me to Heathrow Airport just in time to catch my flight back to Hong Kong.

Fanny on KTM 690 SM in Hong Kong

Fanny on a KTM 690 Supermoto in Sai Kung, Hong Kong

Chapter 18 – 中国 Part 1

The planning for the China leg of our expedition was solely in the hands of Fanny (方怡. I had agreed that if she managed to arrange motorcycles and sponsorship to support us then I would fly out and be her wing-man and basically do as I’m told. A tall order granted.  I still had a few air-miles from the days when I actually had a job and used them up flying from London to Hangzhou (杭州) which is in Zhe Jiang province(浙江省), just 35 minutes by the 400 Kph train (高铁) from Shanghai (上海). Why Hangzhou? That’s where our new motorcycles come from.

I had done the London to Hong Kong flight many times and Cathay Pacific is an excellent airline. As usual, I spent most of the flight asleep. Before I boarded I did get stopped at Heathrow airport by security who were concerned about the fact I was getting on the flight in full motorcycle Enduro/Adventure kit. My bag was full of electronic gizmos and the security officer probably regretted asking me to take everything off as the rancid odour from my Alpinestar Tech 3 boots wafted around the x-ray machines. I apologised with embarrassment as people clearly started to notice and give them a wide berth.

A night time picture of China from space ….as we ride west the population decreases and the riding pleasure should increase

Twelves hours later I transferred onto a Dragonair flight in Hong Kong that took a further two hours to get to Hangzhou where Fanny was waiting for me. I was very happy to see her and we immediately switched to the Chinese channel.  Despite the fact that I had tried to keep up my Mandarin throughout the expedition there really is no substitute for actually being in China, seeing all the Chinese character signs and adverts and being forced to speak and understand it.

Fanny had arrived earlier by high speed train from Shanghai and booked us into a very nice studio apartment. Early the next day we were picked up by a limousine and taken to the Chun Feng Moto HQ in Yu Hang (余杭)where the bosses very warmly welcomed us, gave us a VIP tour and handed over two brand new motorcycles.

http://www.cfmoto.cn/onroad/details.aspx?productId=32

CF Moto 650TR and 650NX

Out and about in Hangzhou

Something for dinner… a centipede, scorpion or a tarantula?

Hangzhou 杭州, where Heaven meets Earth, allegedly.

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I was vaguely familiar with CF Moto because recently in the British motorcycle newspaper, Motorcycle News,  there was an article about the new CF Moto 650NK which was being imported into the UK for the first time. There was a lot of discussion (positive and negative)  about the first Chinese big engined motorcycles and the impact the Chinese are going to have on the motorcycle industry.  Up to this point the Chinese were only making, and making in huge numbers, scooters, quad biikes and small engined bikes below 125 cc and so a lot of parallels were being made with the Japanese motorcycle industry forty years ago and their subsequent dominance of the market.

Our bikes for China….CF Moto 650 TR

The bikes we were being loaned were not the 650NKs, which are sort of naked street fighter types, but the touring 650TRs.  Why Fanny had chosen CF Moto rather than a manufacturer that made enduro or adventure bikes was not understood by me at that time, but I was subsequently to find out that CF Moto had joint ventured with KTM to make 390 Dukes for the Chinese market.

I am not really a touring bike fan, had never owned one and the closest thing I had really ridden for any distance was a Suzuki GSXR 1300 Hayabusa which is more of a sports tourer and at the time I owned one in 1999 was the fastest production motorcycle in the world with a top speed above 200 Mph (310Kph).

Specifications for our CF Moto motorcycles at:

http://www.cfmoto.cn/onroad/details.aspx?productId=32

CF Moto 650 NK

Our proposed route through China was discussed and I looked skeptically at the bikes and wondered if they would handle the challenging road conditions in places like Xizang (西藏) and Qinghai (青海) and indeed anything remotely “off road”.  I would really liked to have ridden our KTMs in China and there would be many roads and places we would ride through where the KTMs would have been perfect, but for now that was just not possible and so I embraced my new bike with cheerful optimism.

I was very thankful and relieved that we were being supported by CF Moto with their extensive distributor and service network across China and so my worries about reliability and indeed suitability were somewhat allayed. Also, we knew of another expedition who were riding a mixture of bikes, including the 650 NK and 650 TR and they reported very favourably on their handling and reliability and gave us some recommendation about minor modifications and spares we should bring.

Last minute cramming for my China licence theory test

The bikes would need to be licensed, number plated and insured, which is a tricky process in China and involved Fanny, among other things, having to be registered as a Hangzhou citizen under China’s Hukou system. For me? I would need a Chinese driving licence that required going to the police station to register a residential address in Hangzhou, going for a medical, eyesight and hearing test, translating my UK driving licence into Chinese at an official Public Security Bureau centre, and since I wanted a permanent 6 year licence rather than a temporary licence, passing the driving licence theory test at an approved transport bureau center.  The first things we rushed about and got done pretty quickly, but the last I had to swot up and cram throughout the night to achieve the 90% pass mark.

PRC Driving License – very proud

我的新驾照

The test was trickier than I assumed as the questions in English were grammatically incorrect, ambiguous and very confusing and the only possible way to pass was to rote learn the answers from a bank of several thousand Q&As. The most difficult part was trying to remember the Chinese names of all the various government departments, the traffic officer hand signals and the bizarre 1st Aid questions and answers that bore little resemblance to any of the previous 1st Aid courses and exams I had done in the police in England or Hong Kong, or as a paragliding instructor. Do you really tie a tourniquet around someones neck if they are bleeding from a leg wound? You do in China, but I suspect probably to stop them claiming compensation for injury and damages in the future.

My first attempt at the mandatory 100 questions required me to guess the answers to at least 20 questions as neither the official text book, logic or common sense could help me and I failed with 87% and was majorly pissed off. Fortunately, I had time to resit the exam and despite completely different questions, I scraped through with exactly 90% and so with a huge grin I took my pass certificate to the Transport Department with Fanny and was issued with a shiny green PRC driving licence.

We were also being sponsored by “The North Face” who very kindly sent us a huge box full of top of the range clothes, shoes, sleeping bags, an expedition tent, high tech ruck sacks and new water proof duffle bags to put everything in. Yet again my big size 12 feet prevented me getting any shoes for myself, and I looked at the super quality ones Fanny had been given with envy. If only I had had such a pair when I did the Offa’s Dyke walk a month earlier. Oh well.

Out and about in Nanchang in our North Face gear

And so we were ready. We had lunch with the bosses and their support team who wished us well and sent us off to Nanjing (南京)so that we could run the bikes in with a 400 Km ride there and another 400 Km back to test the bikes and to get in two oil and filter changes before we set off. We were also having my GPS fitted and wired up… and just as well as navigating the first 400 Kms was extremely tricky as motorcycles are not allowed on the direct and easy to navigate expressways and so we had to stay on provincial and county roads which can, on occasion, be confusing and not very direct, especially as some of the Chinese characters of place names were not known to me.

It was on this initial ride I started to get used to the signage, the roads and became all to aware of the atrocious driving standard of local drivers. It takes a certain nerve, or perhaps lack of imagination to drive or ride on Chinese roads and for the first few thousand kilometers I had no nerve whatsoever and far too much imagination. I hate to think what my old traffic division police colleagues would have thought of Chinese driving. It really is awful. The worst driving standard in the world.

Fanny having her first ride at CF Moto in Hangzhou

Through ingenuity, a GPS bracket is made and wired up to electrics of the bike. Although the GPS can be quite inaccurate and misleading it is still very useful, even if used as a map or compass.  However, the maps are quickly out of date. On one occasion it showed us riding “off road” in a field when in fact we were on a super smooth twelve lane highway going into a Hunan city.

Fanny’s red bike and my grey one behind it.

My bike having stickers attached “Cao” (our mechanic, England, Hong Kong, South Africa flags (take your pick),  The North Face, Camel Toe, Kaapstad Adventure Tours and flags for all the counties we had been to so far. Thanks to Fanny.

Mr Cao (tone 3 I must add as tone 4 is a swear word) with his family and us at his garage in Nanjing where we had a service and fitted the GPS before riding back to Hangzhou

The bikes handled really nicely. Very pleasantly surprised at how balanced the bike was and how smooth the power delivery was.  With 75 BHP engines the bikes were powerful enough for what we needed them for and the riding position was quite comfortable. The gear box took a little getting used to but gradually settled in and eventually I could successfully locate neutral.  I would say the only shortcomings were the windscreen that directed the wind and dust straight into my face; the indicator switch that is just too cheap and vague; and by far my biggest complaint are the mirrors which are a cost cutting item too far. They are completely useless, made of cheap material and only give a vague and blurry “hall of mirrors” idea of what’s behind you, which may indeed be a good thing in China.

The clutch is cable operated rather than hydraulic and like motorcycles from an older generation needs some adjustment after initial run in to get just right. Other niggles are minor and really relate to the quality of materials and finish, like the seat which starts to get painful after 200-300 kilometers and the glove compartments, which although really useful and a good substitute for not having a tank bag, are not Honda or BMW quality, but then the bike is not Honda or BMW price and I would say overall is excellent value for money.

If CF Moto or another OEM manufacturer can produce some good after market parts and accessories to address these shortcomings they are going to be very successful. As for overall reliability? That assessment will have to wait for a few thousand kilometers more, but so far the bikes handle well on tar and on indeed on the many stretches of Chinese road that have no surface or are being rebuilt or repaired.

(Post note : many of the shortcomings were address in later models and the 2014 bikes are superb.  AND .. the bikes WERE very reliable and handled everything we rode over in China and Tibet)

I do miss my KTM though, it is a super tough bike, has immense character, very comfortable, can be ridden all day and of course off road or on gravel, sand, mud, or potholed roads, nothing can touch it. That said, we were both excited to be riding a brand new motorcycle and relieved that we have a network of CF Moto garages throughout China to help us if something does go wrong.

Fanny cruising along in east China

On the way to Huangshan

Not always easy riding but bikes are very well balanced and have good engines.

Being told we cannot enter an expressway forcing us to take a big deviation to our destination. Usually in China two wheels can go anywhere and do anything…but they are banned on expressways (Chinese motorways). Why? Probably because bikes are usually the vehicle of peasants and my experience so far is that 乡巴佬 don’t drive very well. However, times are changing and big modern Chinese bikes can now go as fast and handle as well as any other vehicles. My recommendation is this. The Chinese Government should stipulate that motorcycles with an engine capacity of over, say 150cc, are now treated like cars and not only allowed on expressways and in certain cities, but  should also comply with traffic laws like every other road user.

Crossing the many bridges over the lakes between Jingdezhen and Nanchang

Chatting with locals selling 莲子(lotus seeds) next to huge fields of 莲花(lotus)

Its over 40 degrees and so stopping by side of road to eat refreshing water melons 西瓜

Fanny, Flanny (his real name) and me having delicious Hunan food in…. Hunan of course…. the hottest food on the planet and where Chairman Mao came from.

Our bikes getting another service thanks to the Re Rong Motorcycle Club in Zhizhou — all BMW riders but we’ll forgive them for that

English or Chinese… BMW or KTM ….. beer solves everything.

Our new friends guiding us out of the confusing city. The guys are real enthusiasts and must be wealthy because each of their BMWs cost around RMB 350,000 (US$50,000 each) to purchase, licence, tax and import into China.

We passed by many rice paddies, tea plantations, terraces, vegetable and other crops…. this one looks like art work

Whilst the countryside is lush and charming, the towns and cities, which number into the tens of thousands and growing. are ugly, noisy, dusty, polluted and boring concrete jungles. Does China have any architects with any imagination or creativity.  A few and they work overseas.

Many of the roads are smashed up because the trucks are all seriously overloaded and drive recklessly. We have lost count the number of times we have been forced off the road by overtaking oncoming cars and trucks. Very stressful and dangerous, but everyone does it all the time.

We have learnt to follow the local bikers who know how to navigate around the obstructions and keep away from the danger. We don’t have bike umbrellas though.

These xiangbalao 乡巴佬 tractor things are everywhere belching out diesel smoke, causing havoc and cutting across the road. Who would give them the vote? I wouldn’t.

After all the awful roads we get to cruise on the awesome S201 through Guangxi 广西。I rate this 150 Km stretch of road from Quanzhou 全州 to Yangshuo 阳朔 as oneof the best motorcycle rides in the world. A real gem hidden in the middle of China.

We stayed in beautiful Xingping 兴坪… thought I had seen that view before

Its true… Southern Chinese 南方人 will eat anything…. leave a message if you fancy the special of the day… 凉拌狗肉。

I wouldn’t look so smug, Fido….when the chickens run out you’re next

3,000 kilometers, end of day 7… not a bad view. (兴坪, 广西)

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