It's funny the way the scales shift. In the last year I've taken to thinking of the SV as a rather sad, superannuated wreck-of-a-bike, with a noisy, not-too-wonderful engine and a tendency to deteriorate (forks, brakes etc) whenever the wind changes. Since getting her back from Bob, though, that noisy engine has begun to sound like a mature piece of machinery and I'm rediscovering (yet again) what a fun bike the old girl is to ride. God! You can stick her round corners and have a grand time on her.
By contrast, the Daytona has begun to seem like a disaster area on two wheels. The fairing that had been welded together so beautifully has begun to break up again, and she's now back in the garage for the umpteenth time with a new problem. OK, so she has a lot more power than the SV, is a smoother ride and has sharper steering, and this all this adds up to... What? I'm not sure. She gets me all whipped up - no doubt about that - but she doesn't have an ounce of the character of the older bike. If I had to get rid of just one of them, I know which one it would be right now. And as for the long term, the Daytona will almost certainly go in the autumn.
So that leaves me with the delicious idea of buying a new ride - an idea made even more delicious by the fact that I know that unless I get a very good deal, I can't really afford it. I'll be looking for a lightweight sports tourer. If I got rid of both of them at the same time I'd certainly think about buying one of the more recent SV1000S. I can't imagine any bike more perfect for my touring/fun/communing needs. Memo to me: must take another look at HU's "Gearing Up". This is a great DVD: a couple of hours of experienced riders discussing the pros and cons of what to buy.
As I pulled into the campsite for the Horizons event last weekend I saw a famous bike parked up outside the bar. To dedicated long-distance riders on all five continents (and armchair explorers like me) this great beast is instantly recognisable . It's a low-slung, coal-black Electra Glyde, covered in stickers from its nose to its tail and it belongs to Kay and Peter Forwood. It's just simply unique - the most well-travelled bike in all of biking history - it has to be!
Here it is.
There are officially, 193 countries in the world, and this hulking great pile has ridden through 193 of them. Remembering that those countries include Iran, Afghanistan and North Korea, you begin to get a sense of what is going on here. And when you consider, also, the fact that one quarter of the world's countries are tiny islands marooned in the middle of the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans, you begin to get the scent of a beautiful obsession.
I went to one of Peter and Kay Forwood's slide shows and got an eyeful of some of their travels. And if ever I assumed that they had restricted their riding to gentlemanly strolls along the world's tarmac highways, I was rapidly disabused of that notion. There were slides of the great hulking Harley slugging its way through fender-high mud in South America, slopping around in gigantic rut holes in Africa, over broken boulders and endless river crossing in Siberia and lord knows what else besides. This is a seriously well-travelled bike, one that has been baptised in every kind of elemental hell-hole between here and forever.
Here they are, the mad Australian couple themselves:
I took a peek at their bike's meter to see how many kilometers were on it.
I read 70,000 + kilometers. OK, impressive, but not that impressive - as I guessed, though, it's not the first time the bike has been round the meter. Even so, I was taken aback to discover that its barrels are rolling round now for the sixth time. So that's 570,000 kilometers to her credit. I was even more amazed to discover that only very recently have they had to replace the engine. Once upon a time, H-D built some seriously hardcore motorcycles! What happened? (I wonder what the SV will look and sound like when she's managed 570,000 miles of continuous riding - that's 23 times round the equator by my calculation).
Next to the Harley was Grant and Susan Johnson's ride, another grand touring bike, equally unmistakable and recognisable. Here's a shot for all you Canadian chauvanists.
I had a great weekend, meeting some of my biking heroes. That included the inimitable Ted Simon, (author of "Jupiter's Travels" and begetter, in the 1970s, of the whole round-the-world motorcyling phenomenon.) He made his trip before the computer revolution, before mobile phones and satellite technology, before the whole planet got connected up. That was a time when venturing into parts of Africa or Asia really did mean cutting yourself off from the rest of the world. In those days and in those places you were truly on your own. (Eat your heart out Charlie and Ewan).
In his quiet, authoritative way, he explained to a new generation of adventure bikers just what their journeying is all about, its personal significance and what it does to you on the inside. It does change you, there's no doubt about that. It is a powerful message.
I asked him to sign one of his books for me and I felt like a teenager again. Hell, I'm only fifteen years younger than he is and at my age you are supposed to be a bit more worldly than this. But I'd read his book when I was in my twenties and it had fuelled my dreams for decades. Now, meeting him for the first time, I couldn't help being awestruck by the man.
Austin Vince was there also: they guy who rode the Zilov Gap and the Road of Bones in Eastern Siberia some ten years before Charlie and Ewan attempted it. The bloke is a maths schoolteacher from Mill Hill (would you believe!) and is crazier than anyone I've ever known by a factor of ten. His wife, Lois Price, was also there. She is as crazy as he is and does her own thing, riding solo round the world. She's been an inspiration for many women bikers in recent years.
Simon Gandolfi turned up and gave a talk. I've just been reading his book, "Old Man on a Bike". This old geezer is priceless. He's 77 years old and has been adventure-riding round the world for several years on a 125cc Honda pizza bike. (It really is a pizza bike!) He's the oldest ten-year-old I've ever met, likely at any moment to plunge himself into fits of uncontrollable laughter. I was sitting in the front row and got a fit of giggles myself, listening to his silly stories. That set him off even worse and within moments the whole room was rolling helplessly in their chairs. Life is just one ridiculous pile of lunacy for this guy.
I also acquired a new hero. The highpoint of the weekend has to be a talk and slideshow by Walter Colebatch on his Sibirsky Extreme Project. His rationale for this incredible trip through Central Asia and onto to Eastern Russia was that, since Ewan and Charlie, everyone has been riding across Siberia following the Tran-Siberian Railway, wholly ignorant of the fact that there are other routes that need exploring. This bloke is in his thirties. He's not just a great adventurer, but an excellent photographer as well - and a very entertaining speaker. He doesn't say much, but everything he does say is worth listening to. Here's his website.
Unfortunately, the small low-res pics on the site don't do justice to his photography, which is often stunning, and he speaks more powerfully than he writes but, even so, you can get a real sense of the magnificence of the landscapes he rode through and the extraordinary challenge he had taken on. (If you are short on time, just scroll down the left hand side of the home page, stick on the Pamir section and boggle at the photographs.)
So, it was a great weekend. I got worse monkey-butt sitting listening to one amazing speaker after another than I have ever got from sitting on a bike. I heard two women wondering out loud how one hundred blokes could sit riveted in fascination for two hours while another bloke demonstrated six different ways to change a tyre in the Sudan with only basic tools; I learned loads of useful stuff from presentations on medicine and first aid for bikers; tips on packing; tips on essential maintenance, choosing bikes and gear, etc, etc, etc; and sat through loads and loads of stories of round-the-world biking. I met some great people; the weather was perfect; and the food was excellent (though, I avoided the roadkill cafe, especially the obscenely long queue one evening for sauted snails). The evenings were mild and I chatted around the bonfire to people gloriously mad enough to have ridden every kind of crazy road and track imaginable in the wildest parts of the world. Even if I spend too much of my life in front of a PC and not enough on the road, I'm really glad to know that such people exist.