Tuesday, 21 June 2011

If I knew then what I knew now... (Scott)

There is an old Faces track I like to use for conference final slide shows, Ooh La La (http://tinyurl.com/5r77l2l) which has the great line: "If I knew then what I know now" which is a good start to this final tale of naivety, near misses and boys own adventure.

So here goes.

SatNav is a good idea in larger towns. It's not just the losing time but the frustration which saps your will to live.
Rotterdam for example was truly awful both times. Apparently when lost Tim says even with a full face helmet I look grumpy and pissed off. Too right, it's an arse of a place to navigate. Maps strapped on the front rack are fine, but with a Vespa you end up having to switch off the engine as the vibrations at idle make it hard to read, so stopping every five minutes, off with the engine and gloves, 5 mins to find yourself, and then repeat is strength sapping.

An iPhone should never be used with international data roaming with Google maps. Hello £20... Good bye £20. We were a little lost in Parma (of the ham fame) so I quickly checked where we were, and how to get back on to our road. 4 minutes, tops. O2 are (or really remain) thieving bastards.

Pack wisely. We bought half of Halfords with us, which I don't regret. But we also bought too much security equipment, about 4kg worth each) which we could have left behind. I think I packed rather well the with rest of the equipment, but probably could have taken out 4 kgs of SLR camera and accessories. To get a camera out of your waterprood kit bag just takes too long to unstrap remove, take and then stow again. I needed just something small like a Canon Powershot G12 (http://tinyurl.com/5rvy25q) which has SLR control but in a compact factor which can fit inside your jacket.
Shame, we saw some awesome stuff, and the iPhones just didn't cut the mustard.

Get more than one pair of gloves, or silk glove liners. Tim had a pair of the black murderers' silk gloves on inside his motorcycle ones, which helped slide on his gloves beautifully. Mine were just normal winter gloves which officially stink now. They got so sweaty I couldn't get them on without a struggle at each stop. Vented summer gloves are a good idea too. If it had been cold and raining, which was entirely on the cards, my gloves would have been perfect. It wasn't and they sucked. Two pairs is best. I got some summer weight Bering ones since getting back, and they are lovely, but the vibrations are much worse on the hands, so taking two sets would have been better.

Remember the old project management rule of thumb. Work out how long and how much as accurately as you can, and then double the time figure and add half again to the cost, and you'll be on time and under budget. Hook of Holland to Dusseldorf in 12 hours, without SatNav, was a haul. We wasted at least 2 hours with not knowing where the hell we were. If we had any mechanical mishaps we would have been in big trouble. We should have allowed at least 2 days.

Pick your companions wisely (bromance alert!) Tim and I were a great pair, and managed to buoy each other when under stress or nervous. It's hard to know until your on the road, but I was very lucky with Tim. He might say otherwise especially with my snoring. At least when we go to India we will be able to afford separate rooms. One thing I was very sure from the start, was that if everything did go seriously tits-up for one or both of us, we would have been able to make a plan somehow.

Love your machine. I was quite taken with the PX at the start of the trip, and absolutely smitten by the end. If you start hating the equipment, it turns into a grudge match. 

Mirrors in cars and on bikes in Genoa are only to be used for personal grooming. They aren't looking for you. Stay clear!

Life in the slow lane is sometimes just rather lovely. Riding down through a stunning gorge at 70 kmh instead of 120kmh in a car is awesome, you see much more.

All the hand-wringing and soul searching we did prior to departure was of some use (though we sounded like a pair of moaning minnies) we had put quite a lot of thought into the trip and prepared quite well, we treated the journey as something which could go quite badly, but we had explored a lot of possibilities and I think put us on a good footing.

Don't be a dick and run out of fuel, if you are getting down on juice, and pass a town which is 200m in from the main road, drive in and refuel. I was lucky to run out on the forecourt of a gas station, but it was stupid and could have cost us an hour very easily if Tim had to go and get some petrol for me. And it would have pissed him off too I imagine.

Don't rely on credit cards, the petrol stations in Holland and Italy didn't like Johnny Foreigner Visa cards.

Try and have fun. It's all great in retrospect. The last hour of getting into Dusseldorf and nearly missing the train was truly awful at the time. Great now. Sometimes you are riding along, your hands are sweaty, your bum is numb, the other drivers are sub-moronic and your stress level is through the roof, however all of a sudden you remember that you are riding a Vespa to Italy, another PX rider waves as he comes past the other way, and you remember how awesome it is to be you at that moment. 

And finally. Beware. Be very aware that any trip like this is only going to make you want to do more. In New Zealand we call it itchy feet syndrome. You have to get out there again, soon. I do about 100miles a week round London. That's rubbish, I want an adventure. We went to a Classic Car & Bike show on the weekend, and I saw a couple of Royal Enfields. I am sold on them, and the trip to India  to Chennai and Pondicherry can't come soon enough. I'm back to studying the highway code and doing mock tests for my full bike licence (and having L plates still on is rubbish!) 

Thank you all for listening. Thanks to all the lovely people that we met, our bunk-mates on the Auto Sleeper, and everyone else that made this trip so awesome. And happy travels. If you have a scooter trip blog let us know and we'll add a link to it on this blog for you. Just go out and do it, and make sure you blog about it... soon!


Monday, 25 April 2011

Thank you (Tim )

Ive been home for 4 days now, and I still wish I was buzzing around the dykes of Holland but alas I must face the fact that this particular trip has come to an end.  However before I close this chapter of Vespa adventures I feel the urge to thank some people.

Lets start at the very beginning ("its a very good place to start").
I should thank Ashleys dad for insisting that Ashley get rid of the basket-case scooter that was eventually to become my own.  And thanks to Daisy for spotting the opportunity that she knew would keep her own dad entertained and out of mischief for months to come.  This was the start of a new interest in my life that I had never previously considered (and it makes me wonder what other interesting hobbies are there out there that I haven't yet considered or discovered)

Although this was a relatively short trip, it was nevertheless one that could not have happened without support and encouragement from our families.  This cost us time and money that we know could have been less selfishly spent on and with our respective families - so thank you families for sending us off without making us feel too guilty.  More specifically I would like to thank Laurie for all her effort in organising the logistics of ferries, trains, and hotels - without her enthusiasm for these details Scott and I would likely still be riding in circles wondering what to aim for.  And I would also like to thank Joanie for letting my friend come out to play.  I'd have been bored and lonely without him.

Both Scott and I were amazed and delighted by the numbers of people who were reading this blog.  What started out as a personal journal soon turned into a story to tell, and I thank all the readers for their loyal following and comments - especially to those 'strangers' we met along the way and who made the special effort to check in and wish us luck.
As the number of our blog readers grew, so I found I was beginning to become more and more appreciative of all the things we were seeing and doing.  Knowing that there were people ready to read our next blog post made me become more aware of all the details of our trip.  And for that I thank all our blog readers for increasing my own awareness and helping me see our journey in full technicolor

There were many individuals who supported and encouraged us along the way, and there are some who are even now encouraging us to go and do another trip; Thank you to you all, including whoever it is out there who makes the weather - you were simply marvelous; we never once got rained upon, and you made sure the sun was always warm upon our backs - Thank you :-)
And finally I want to thank Scotty.  For not moaning about my clothes on the floor, for not flustering whenever I got us lost and for not losing a sense of humour even when we were knackered.  We worked and played well together - lets do it again some day :-)

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Lessons Learned (Tim)

Some people think this trip was just an excuse for a lads week of fun and jollity, but they would be wrong (maybe).
This trip was a journey of discovery, An education at the university of life.  We weren't away from home for long, and we hadn't pioneered anything particular, but we certainly learned some things.

First and foremost - Vespas - they rock!  Before we set off, I'd heard all sorts of horror stories about their reliability and fickleness - I'd even brought 30 quids worth of spare parts and an extensive tool kit to take with me in preparation for regular breakdowns and daily maintenance.  However these bikes were so well behaved that throughout the whole of this 1000 mile trip, all I used was a spot of WD40 on a sticky throttle cable and a 99p posidrive screwdriver to take my L-plate off.  The only failure I had was when the 'Vespa' badge fell off in the heat of the sun.  I can categorically tell you, from extensive experience - Vespa PX's are very reliable machines!  Having said that, I wonder if, like taking an umbrella out on a sunny day, by having spares and tools available I was actually ensuring that I wouldnt actually need them.

Riding a scooter puts you in a unique class of travel - this is voyaging at a moderate pace (slower than a car or motorbike, but faster than a push bike or walking) and means that you can cover some distance and yet still always be present with the place and moment.  Avoiding the autoroutes meant that we were able to see so much more of real life in the towns and countries we rode through, and not having satnav meant we had to stop to read roadsigns and the village names.  These weren't places we were simply passing through, this was an endless stream of place to visit. We were on a tour.

And the people we met along the way were lovely.  They were interesting and interested.  I am sure this was due in no small part to the fact that Vespas make people smile.  They are a lovely shape to look at, and they represent freedom and fun.  People seem to look at them with a little sense of nostalgia, of their own youth and freedom - this was summed up beautifully when we couldn't get away from the elderly Italian man whom we'd stopped to ask for directions, and who wanted to look all over the bikes and tell us in relentless Italian everything he had to know about Vespas.

And what about the policeman who instead of telling us directions, actually gave us an escort to the station?  I am sure it was because we were sitting on the international symbol of friendliness and nonthreatening adventurer.  Would the German train official have let us board the train after the gates had closed if we were riding BMW K1600's?  Of course not.  It was because we were on what is the metaphorical equivalent of the Andrex puppy dog; cute, lovable, fun and forgivable even when we leave a trail of waste behind us.

Both Scott and I consider ourselves lucky people.  Not just lucky because we get to do this sort of thing, but people who have good luck on their side.  On this trip there were a number of times when we counted on our good luck, and we were always grateful for it.  Thats the thing; you have to acknowledge your good luck and regularly thank your luck stars.  Though I have to say I thought Scott was being a little cheeky with his guardian angels by running his petrol tank as low as he did that one particular day.
Despite some anxieties and worries along the way, our luck always came through and gave us plenty to celebrate and be grateful for.  If I was to do this again, I would pack less socks and more 'luck' - everything always works out in the end :-)

One of the lessons I hope never to learn the hard way is that of protective clothing.  Having enjoyed buzzing up and down the sunny Italian coast in just a tshirt and shorts I could become very tempted to discard my armoured motorcycle jacket and gloves in favour of the fresh air and freedom.  However I only have to imagine the skin of my palms peeled to the bone, and I shudder at the idea of not wearing protective clothing.  When I bought my current jacket, trousers and gloves it was mid winter here in England and I bought the clothing accordingly.  However now that warmer days are here these items are clearly inappropriate - they are heavy, thick, hot and bulky.  I still need protection, but i need summer protection.  I am determined to save some money and get myself a Tucano Urbano Cottage Jacket and summer gloves.  And I am sure that an open faced helmet for about town riding will be on the shopping list eventually

I think the greatest learning for me from this trip is just how important it is to have the right collaborator with you.  Scott and I knew each other fairly well before we set off, but we had no idea how we would cope riding and working together for 2 intense weeks.  In theory we would be fine, but how would we cope when we were tired or hungry?  Would we fall out with each other when one or the other got us lost?  What if one of us was considerably more untidy than the other? (we were going to be sharing a bedroom every night for 2 weeks - it could be a very unpleasant recipe for disaster)
As it turned out (and there is our luck again), we were to discover that actually we were very similar in most ways.  We had the same level of tolerance for uncertainty and the same level of energy for adventure and risk.  We never fell out with each other when lost and we never lost the funny side of Helmet jokes.
Rising to a challenge (even right at the start when Scott responded positively to the silly idea of riding a scooter to Italy) and egging each other on was critical to not only the success of this trip, but the fun of it too.

I've learned many things from this trip, but fortunately there is still so much more to learn, so I might just have to do something similar again soon

Boys understand (Tim)

Bloody hell - Scotty didnt once complain about my clothes on the floor, but I'd only been back home for 5 minutes..........

I miss Scott

Analysis (Tim)

Some road trip analysis;
  • Distance covered on the scooters (ie in the saddle) - 1124 miles.  Scottys total distance was a little less due to living a little closer to Harwich than I do.
  • Fuel consumed - 67.2 litres.  Thats about 10 petrol station stops, and at the outrageous Italian fuel prices of 1.55 euros/litre, that equates to about £100 of fuel. That's about 9 pennies per mile or about 21 miles for the cost of a gellato.
  • Fuel consumption rate - 76 MPG (miles per gallon) - Calculated over the whole trip.  Scotty appeared to be consuming fuel at a slightly faster rate than me particularly when motoring hard, but even so its a pretty good figure I think.
  • Top speed - We think our speedometers were fairly well matched and if they were reading accurately we were generally peaking at 50mph, though our preferred leisurely speed was more like 40mph
  • Worst daily average speed - 16.3mph.  This was on our 11 hour run down from Hook of Holland to Dusseldorf where we spent as much time reading maps/roadsigns/sun etc as we did driving.  Interestingly, on our return run (Dusseldorf to Hook of Holland) along pretty well the same roads, we averaged 19.7mph - which might still seem pathetic to you, but to us was a real result!
  • Best daily average speed - 29.3mph.  This was on my last day riding from Hertford to Birmingham.  I knew the route, I was confident of the bike, and I was in desperate need of a dentist appointment.  Of course another factor was that I didnt have Scotty with me but I simply refuse to accept that Scotty does anything other than 'propel' me
  • 2-stroke oil consumed - A little difficult to tell exactly, but I only emptied one of the two one-litre bottles of oil that I was carrying
  • Changes to my own body weight - Im not sure why this might be interesting or important, but it appears that I lost 1.8kg.  Im not surprised, its pretty well impossible to snack while riding and with a helmet on (perhaps we have discovered the next diet fad?)

oil leak update (Tim)

I hadn't been home 24 hours and I was desperate to get the bike cleaned .... and to inspect that suspicious oil leak.
I was surprised and delighted to find on removal of the gearbox oil filler screw that indeed there was no noticeable loss of oil - I managed to get a couple of squirts in, but that's all.  I wondered where that damp oily patch was coming from, and my conclusion is that it must have been a bit of blow through the clutch housing breather pipe when we were motoring hard to get to the ferry.  I shall keep an eye on it, but for now it doesnt appear to be a problem.

I think I could have made a quicker job of cleaning the bike if I had had compressed air.  The back end of the scooter was covered in a layer (thick in places) of fine grey dust. At first sight I would have said this was brake-shoe lining - but there was far too much for that.  maybe it was just a mix of exhaust soot and road dust.  Whatever it was, it brushed off easily before getting a soapy sponge onto it.
I took the racks off and stored them carefully.  I was planning to sell these on my return, but I'm afraid Ive caught the travel bug and I'm already dreaming of my next trip - so I will definitely be using racks again.

Other than adjusting the clutch cable and the front brake cable, there was nothing else that need to be done to have the scooter ready again for about town riding.  Brilliant!

Friday, 22 April 2011

The Berkeley question

If a man polishes his helmet in the kitchen and no one is there to see it - is it NOT funny?

It always was for me and Scott :-)