14 Feb 2012

What’s all this, then?

There are several places I call home, having grown up between Canada and Greece, with a brief stint in Rocklin California.

So how did I end up in London? I suppose I got to a point in my life where I had nothing more to aspire to. I had a good job that paid well, a nice flat with a view of the mountains, lots of good friends and a new car. Everything was grand but the challenge was gone.

London was a natural choice as I knew quite a few people here and could speak in my native language. Back in the early 2000s jobs were easy to come by and I got my foot in the door working for the NHS as a PA and eventually working my way back into my chosen field of corporate communication design.

Living here has been a great challenge, but with the challenge has come even bigger rewards. For the first time in my life I feel as though I’ve earned my place.

Of course life has had annoyances as well—public transport, for example. Wait for a bus. Get on bus. Cringe as I'm relieved of more money for the journey than in any other city in the world. Squeeze in like a sardine. Attempt to keep away from the airborne mucus of the inevitable coughers and sneezers. Suffocate. Arrive at work (eventually) in a strop.

Photo: Honda SH125i • Source: Honda UK

There had to be a better way. So I went out and bought myself a Honda SH125i, took my CBT and two weeks later took my full road test. Somehow I passed first try, although with power and automatic gearbox restrictions on my licence.

Suddenly I looked forward to commuting. It was actually a pleasure to get up in the morning knowing I didn't have to get on a bus.

And I stopped getting annoying sniffly colds all the time.

Working at a hospital, I am by default exposed to more bugs and viruses than the average person so the fact I've rarely been sick in years is testament to just how dirty buses are.

About 8 months after getting the SH I got knocked off when a blind woman in a hybrid decided to overtake someone making a left turn. I was beside her at the time and she didn't feel the need to look over her shoulder beforehand.

Seeing her begin to turn the wheel, I slammed on the brakes but the edge of her rear bumper caught my pillion foot peg. Down I went, right in front of Fulham Broadway Station during the morning rush. Since that wasn't embarrassing enough, of course I managed to get my leg pinned under the bike with my knee pressed against the horn button.

Other than losing my biking virginity there was no injury and only £7 damage to the bike (new plastic bit for the foot peg). But the experience identified a need for me to get a proper bike—something with a bit more substance.

I hired a Honda Varadero 125 one weekend to learn how to operate the clutch and somehow rode it away from the dealership without stalling the engine. I spent the next few hours circling Richmond Park stopping, starting, braking and terrified but loving it.

The following week I booked in for an assessment at a training centre to do my Direct Access Scheme to remove the power and automatic gearbox restrictions from my licence. They had me ride round the lot on a 500cc Kawasaki and figured I needed 1.5 day's training with my road test in the afternoon of the second day.

Photo: Honda CB600FA Hornet • Source: Honda UK

In the meantime I put down a deposit on a 2008 Honda Hornet. Three days before taking delivery I stood my road test. It went well, although nearly cocked up the U-turn. Somehow didn't put my foot down (automatic fail).

I find this a curious exercise. Every day I've ridden a motorbike I've done a U-turn without a second thought to park up at home. But when the examiner had his judging eye on me, suddenly self-doubt set in.

As well, I was instructed to filter during my test. Although this is an everyday fact of life, it seemed somehow wrong to do during a road test—it proved uneventful, however.

With great relief I passed the road test. No more automatic restriction. No more power restriction.
I part exchanged the SH and rode home on the Hornet. Going from 14hp to 102hp in one shot is, to be honest, a terrifying experience. It's like going from a diesel Smart to a Bugatti.

Fortunately the Hornet is a very easy motorbike to ride. The centre of gravity is very low which makes it extremely stable and easy to turn. After a few days, I started getting used to the power and it began to feel very progressive and controllable. I became attached to my bike in no time.

The Hornet proved to be a cracking bike—absolutely fantastic in the city. It's light, manoeuvrable and quick. And less than £10 a week for petrol. In fact, to fuel and insure it each month cost considerably less than a monthly bus pass. This highlights how very, very wrong the pricing model for public transport is in London.

I travelled a couple times on the Hornet but this proved to be its weak point. No wind protection. At 70mph on the motorway the air pressure felt roughly equivalent to having my full body weight pressing on my head/chest. Anything more than a few hours was exhausting.

Intending to do a lot more travelling by motorbike, it was time to retire the Hornet. I started to research dual sport bikes and fell in love with the BMW F800GS. Two weeks later I visited Park Lane BMW and went for a test ride. An hour of negotiations later and I put down a £1,000 deposit on a 2012 F800GS Trophy.

Four years to the day I will bid goodbye to the Hornet, secretly hoping it will go to a good home and be cared for as well as I have done. It's strange how we become attached to an engineered amalgamation of alloy, plastic and rubber.

Will the F800GS find a place in my heart once the novelty wears off? Time will tell but for now you couldn't wipe the grin off my face.

9 Feb 2012


I’ve been reading all sorts of blogs and forums about overlanding by motorbike. With all the fantastic tips I’ve accumulated I thought I would give back a bit writing about my own travels.

The purists I’m sure will point out that touring Europe is not technically overlanding, particularly those who have trekked through Africa or Asia. But this is a start for me.

I’m picking up my new BMW F800GS Trophy at the beginning of March and am looking forward to getting out of London a lot more than I do now!

Photo: BMW F800GS • Source: BMW Motorrad

For now, my toolkit will be my BMW Assist card. While I am not averse to getting my hands dirty (my dad is a retired mechanic who taught me my way around anything with an engine in it), there simply are not too many places in Europe remote enough to worry to any degree about something breaking.

Most of the time I will be travelling two-up and I’ve taken a very considered approach to gear to keep weight to a minimum. I will publish information about this on my Camping Bits page.

As well, I will publish information on the bike mods that suit me on my F800GS Bobs page.

Feel free to get in touch!