27 Jun 2023

Touring Ireland by Motorcycle

Why tour Ireland by motorcycle? Why not? I'm 52 years old, live only two hours from the port of Holyhead from where ferries leave for Dublin several times a day for a reasonable sum, and yet have never in my adult life been to Ireland.

So, why? I wasn't sure. We're taught nothing about Ireland in English schools. I've learned more about it from Father Ted on the television than anywhere else. The news has nothing good to say about the place. 

I'm quite happy to drive five hours to Calais to cross to Europe but never once thought about visiting Ireland. I suppose the main thing that made me not think about it was the rain. It does rain a lot.

And then I read a book called 'What Fresh Lunacy Is This?' which is a biography of Oliver Reed. The actor spent his final years in Ireland, in a small village in Cork. The depiction of the place interested me enough that I read some more about it, and then I bought a big paper map which I spread out on the floor and started planning a trip.

Four of us regularly travel to places on bikes. Last year we rode to the Pyrenees. We all agreed to do the Irish trip. I roughly planned a route and reckoned we could cover enough ground in four days.

So we all booked ferry crossings, and I planned the trip in more detail. 

When I route plan I set hard points and let us decide which way to go on the day. I plan options so we can make decisions on the fly. I booked three hotels - in Kilkenny, Killarney, and Ballina. And worked out mileages and waypoints.

We were set. Two weeks to go. And then one of us, my brother Colin, was knocked off his motorcycle by a driver who wasn't looking and appeared from out of a junction and into the side of him. He suffered a broken collar bone, every rib, scaphoid and kneecap.

In the hospital the extent of his injuries was identified. Luckily there were no issues with his spine or brain. He would heal. It would take a long time but he would heal.

We discussed what to do. Colin wanted us to go. One chap didn't want to go with Colin out of action, but two of us - Nik and me - decided we would.

NB - Little Col did come on the trip. Take a look at the photo at the very bottom of this article.

Day 1

Nik, arrived at my house at 7am. The ferry was sailing at 10.40am from Holyhead. We left at 8.15am and blasted across Wales and Anglesey on the A55 in two hours. We ate breakfast in a cafe in Holyhead and then halfway through a sausage I realised it was half an hour til sailing and we chomped what we could in thirty seconds, jumped on the bikes and headed for the port.

At 2pm we had unloaded and were in Dublin. The port is the same as any port in any city. Industrial and rather bleak. I wanted to see the GPO and Nik wanted to see Temple Bar so we headed into the city centre.

Dublin's roads are the most anti-motorcycle I've even encountered. Most roads have a wide lane for cyclists, and then another for buses, and taxis. And then another for everything else. So whilst private hire vehicles carrying civil servants on expenses, and bicycles have free abandon the motorcycles are stuck in a single lane so narrow it's impossible to filter past lorries ands coaches and cars. 

And it was hot. Very hot. On a motorbike you need a bit of speed to feel the cool air but for most of the time we were stuck behind some HGV. We stopped a couple of times to take photos, got separated trying to find Temple Bar, and gave up on the city.

To the countryside...

Dublin to Kilkenny is only 125km and just over an hour so we thought we'd head south  and stop somewhere for a cuppa. We duly rode southwards on the M11 for a while and then at a random junction left the motorway and had a look at the map. 

We skirted the Wicklow mountains and stopped in a small village called Churchtown for refreshments, and here it was we encountered our first locals.

We were sat outside and I spilled my tea on Nik's phone, and said 'Shit!' and a woman who had been talking to Nik got the giggles which were contagious and soon enough I was giggling and it wasn't long before tears were streaming down our faces.

Riding though the Wicklow area reminded me of South Tyrol in Italy. Green, mountainous and open. It had the look and feel of the place, only with worse weather.

We arrived at your hotel in Kilkenny and the receptionist said 'Is that you lads with the motorcycles. Oh I love fecking motorbikes and I got a 125 and me da' said you want a bigger fecking bike than that and I said I'd better fecking save up then'

She was a genuine delight, and helpful with where to eat that night. Not until I'd had my first Guinness though!

Day 2

It rained overnight and was drizzling as we packed up and headed out. This day was to be a morning on the motorway followed by an afternoon tour of the Ring of Kerry.

We took the M8 to Cork. Irish roads (outside Dublin) are generally quiet. Speed limits are about the same as in England and are usually adhered to. But there was no evidence of any speed cameras or police, so we thought it safe add a few kph to the limit as a good cruising speed.

We stopped at Sneem, absolutely wet through. It had drizzled heavily all morning. Not quite rain, not quite dry. But wet enough to make us miserable, and for our phones to stop charging. We took solace in a cafe, had some lunch and dried out. A bit.

After lunch we started the Ring of Kerry. The ring is a 100km route around the Kerry peninsula. It's world famous and takes in various sites such as the Skellig Isle, Waterville village and miles of rugged, beautiful coastline. It felt to me like Highway One in California - only more wet.

The roads were busier than any others we'd encountered so far in Ireland, and we saw for the first time something we'd see more of as we progressed - American tourists. They were there in coaches and rental cars en masse.

It was really quite a lovely place but the weather tempered the experience somewhat. At one point we parked at a statue of Mary high up on the cliff at Com an Chiste. It's advertised as a viewpoint but you could only see maybe 100 metres.

We stopped in a place called Rossbeigh to take in the views of the beach before the final hour's ride to Killarney.

Killarney town was larger than I'd imagined. I thought that out here in western Ireland the towns would be small and only populated by locals. How wrong could I be. The rain had cleared up as we walked to town and we ate in a place called Paris, Texas which did great food, and then moved on to a pub called Killarney Grand which did great Guinness and had an Irish band and we talked at length to a chef who was half cut. It was a good evening.

Day 3

The next morning we left early and the weather looked good. No rain forecast. A friend on twitter had recommended we try the Shannon ferry from Tarbert in County Kerry north to Killimer in County Clare.

The ferry crossing was fun. It took twenty minutes and was smooth. One coach, four motorcycles and bunch of cars. The lady who took your money for the crossing was another delightful personality, full of jokes and general happiness.

Once in Clare the trip stepped up a gear. 

The road east from Killimer is an R road, which is the Irish equivalent to the English A road. Only there was no-one on it. The limit is 100kmh but you can safely travel at more than that if you've your wits about you.

Then we decided to find the real Craggy Island Parochial House which is actually a large detached house in the stunning Burren National Park. The road there was an L road which is Ireland's equivalent to the unclassified road. It was narrow, had grass growing in the middle, and bumpy. Huge fun.

At one point we stopped in a place called Six Cross Roads, which was exactly that. A pair of border collies guarded a statue of Mary. I said hello to the collies and Herself and we headed north to Burren. The views were stunning with mountains rising up in the background and seas of rocky outcrops either side of the road.

My Triumph Tiger 900 Rally Pro was perfect on these roads. Stood up or sat down the chassis absorbed all bumps and the ride was comfortable. Nik on his Honda VFR1200 enjoyed them less so.

We found Father Ted's house which provided a frisson of excitement! I took a few photos and we carried on through the spectacular Burren National Park to lunch in Kinnane.

After a great start the day just got better and better. 

We passed through Galway and along the coast to Inverin where we turned north and through the mountains and lakes (Loughs) to Camus Oughter and on to our hotel in Ballina.

But pause, rewind. That afternoon's ride was possibly the best of my life. The dead quiet mountain roads were a revelation. This, in Galway and then Mayo, is where I found the Ireland I loved.

Vast open spaces. Not for the first time was I reminded of America. Western Ireland's roads are well maintained and very quiet. Sometimes they twist and turn and you can flip the bike from one side to the other - my brand new tyres were worn right to the edges - and sometimes they are long and straight and with rocky spaces on either side with mountains in the distance and a view to die for.

And then I started to notice the details. Ireland is a lush, green place. Emerald Isle indeed - must be the rain. And there are cows everywhere. Sometimes tiny fields in between houses will have three for four cows quietly grazing under leaden skies.

Not only cows but donkeys! So many donkeys. At one point on a particular lunar landscape of rocks and not much else stood a lone donkey chewing at a small patch of grass.

The houses tend to be detached and often single storey and line the roads with cow fields in between. White, cream or stone coloured they are rendered and surrounded by sturdy rendered walls often with decorative columns. Some may say this architectural style is twee but in it I saw a proud people who like to take care of their appearance.

As described elsewhere speed limits are generally adhered to, but sometimes drivers stay well under the limit, and find a long train of vehicles behind. It's not unusual to see twenty or thirty cars in a slow moving convoy for mile after mile.

It was fun overtaking them all. And when I did none of them reacted badly, like they do in Wales or England.

Day 4

Dark skies overhead but no rain. We had a few hours until the ferry so we decided to stay off the motorway except for the final section into Dublin.

I set the satnav for a place called Cavan and we were soon whisked into a biker's fantasy of completely empty, perfectly paved, roads. Sometimes miles long which allowed super fast cruising, and then mile after mile of twists and turns. Absolute heaven.

We came across a classic car show as they were leaving a village, and ended up in the convoy, being photographed and videoed by a clapping and cheering populace. Well I had to wave back didn't I?

And then we were on the N3 motorway, which turned into the M3 - though I don't know the difference. Part of this was a toll road and motorcycles were charged 80 cents which I thought very reasonable.

So it was we waited an age at the port for the ship that was late to leave and late to arrive in Holyhead. A two hour blast home and the trip was over.

Over four days we covered 1,000 miles. I know some people like to take life slower and to see more of where they are. But I like to stretch things out. Get into the groove, enjoy the road and see the sights, sounds, smells and action as I pass it.

I loved Ireland. I learned a lot about it and its people. I learned I knew very little about it before I went and that four days wasn't nearly enough to learn much more.

I will be back.

By Matt Hubbard

19 Sept 2022

The Pyrenees by Motorcycle, or There and Back Again

For an introduction to the trip - who, why, how - see this link.

The day before we were due to leave was one of excitement and nerves. I had bought and packed tools, a puncture repair kit, duct tape, zip ties, chain cleaner and most things required to get a poorly bike going again, should it be needed. We had all bought breakdown cover. Everything was booked and set and sorted. 

We were all experienced motorcyclists. And yet we were all as nervous as you would be heading into an important job interview. Whatsapp messages flew back and forth. Have you packed this? I'm planning to wear this, how about you? The weather looks iffy, what if it rains all the time? Are French toilets still a hole in the ground?

I've driven in France multiple times, including earlier in the year for Le Mans. Colin is well travelled but had only driven in France once before. Nik has been to a few places but had never been to France. None of us had ever ridden a motorcycle in a foreign country.

Even at fifty years old the anticipation of new experiences can make you feel a little lost.

However by the evening of the day before I knew I had prepared as well as I possibly could. I slept like a log.

Nik is a truck driver by trade and as such wakes at 5am. Despite us agreeing to leave my house at 9.30am he arrived at 7.30am. He'd been up for hours and wanted to get going. I had only just stepped out of the shower.

Colin arrived at 8.30am. If you remember from part one my back had gone ping and was causing me a huge amount of pain. Colin helped me pull my bike out of the garage and onto the road. We lined up the bikes for a photo. We all had satnav of some kind - Nik and I were using Google Maps on our phones, and Colin had a posh Garmin satnav (that proved to be pretty useless).

And at 9.03am exactly we were off.

I hadn't ridden my bike with panniers before. They stick out massively and I thought they would be like sails. But after a few miles on the motorway I didn't notice them at all. My back was causing me some gyp but I realised if I twisted and stretched a little, and shifted my weight about it would be just fine.

Our Eurotunnel train was booked for 4.50pm and at 3.30pm we arrived at Folkestone. For some daft reason the M20 had been reduced to 50mph for about ten miles, and lorries were guided into a separate lane and were limited to 30mph. However the weather had been fine and there had been no queues on the motorways and we had all enjoyed a good blast down south.

We were waved through check in and customs quickly and given a place on an earlier train, so at 4.10pm were were wobbling our way onto the last carriage of the train that would take us under the sea and into France.

It was hot in Folkestone and we'd all suffered in the sun whilst loading. The train carriage was empty save for our three motorcycles. It was also boiling hot but thankfully beautifully cooled air was pumped into our carriage.

The crossing was over in just a few minutes. We even had mobile coverage for most of the subterranean trip.

We departed Tunnel sous La Manche and were in France. Where they drive on the wrong side of the road. We had been telling each other repeatedly. WRONG side. Right side, wrong, wrong side.

We left the Eurotunnel complex and immediately filled up with fuel. It cost fifty pence per litre less than in the UK. We were ecstatic. I was even more ecstatic when I bought a bottle of Orangina, my favourite drink.

Our hotel was in Bolougne, a half hour ride from Calais. It was a lovely hotel but the French chap serving drinks was quite surly, and took great delight in underfilling our glasses, and became even more surly when Colin asked for his to be topped up. Well, what did you expect for eight euros for 500ml.

Dinner was a short walk away in the medieval centre of town. Which was a good job because my back was almost totally seized and causing me much discomfort. After some faffing about we decided on a typical French restaurant (they were all typical French restaurants) and enjoyed enormous steaks (pas de cheval s'il vous plait) and frites. I did all the ordering as my smattering of French was more than Colin and Nik were able. 

I had asked for a peppercorn sauce and enjoyed dipping bits of my pas de cheval in it. Colin and I both have a pathological hatred of mushrooms and he was convinced the sauce contained champignons. As we finished and the waitress was clearing our table Colin asked if there were any mushrooms in the sauce. Of course not, I said. Un peu, she said, which none of us understood. But we did understand when she held her forefinger and thumb slightly apart. A little...

Colin was victorious. I had eaten the dreaded trumpets of death - even if it was 'un peu'.

We slept well and I awoke at 5am in pain with my back again. I breakfasted early and found Nik outside, on his second Marlboro of the day. We both decided we should wake Colin and get going.

With clear skies overhead we hit the road. Our destination was a small town called Niort, 410 miles south and about two thirds of the way down the west coast of France.

It was a day of autoroutes. These roads are fantastic but expensive. The limit is 130kph, which is 81mph. Every now and again you stop at a toll booth, take a ticket and carry on. Then later on you stop again and put your ticket in the machine and it charges you for the distance and the class of vehicle. Bikes are the cheapest but if you go in the wrong lane (there can be twenty to choose from) it can charge you the highest rate - as Nik once found to his cost.

The sun beat down all morning and by lunchtime it was 30ÂșC. Even at 80mph you feel hot. It's like sitting in the blast of a hair dryer. You open vents and undo buttons and it's still hot. The heat makes you weary.

By 5pm we were all exhausted. But we had miles to go. We were all getting a little irritable. Nik had bought a new helmet just before the trip and the buckle was digging into his chin, leaving a bruise. 

We found a place to stop in the shade. He'd had enough of the buckle. I dug into my panniers and found the toolkit. In it was a pair of pliers with a cutting edge. We used this clumsy tool to snip away at the plastic that was causing him the most discomfort. Hurrah! It worked.

At 7pm we finally arrived at our hotel. Weary and still hot we piled into the bar for a beer like we'd hadn't drunk anything for an eternity. Damn it tasted good, even if it cost eight euros for 500ml.

That night we ate at an American style diner which was next to the hotel. Not very French but gloriously welcome after our long day on the road. The three amigos clinked glasses and exchanged stories of our adventures so far.

The next morning Nik and I awoke at 5am and were ready to go for 7am. Colin was still asleep so we bombarded him with Whatsapp messages until he arose, and as the sun rose over a new day we were loaded and ready.

Our destination was Pamplona. Viva Espana!

Day three was half autoroute and half mountain. By lunchtime we were off the autoroute and on to rural French roads.  The sun was really beating down and we stopped at a roadside diner for jambon and fromage baguettes with a cold Coke and a dose of welcome air conditioning. 

We headed towards a place called Saint Palais, purely because the roads looked interesting, and they didn't disappoint. The D933 takes you into the French Pyrenees and at some point it becomes the N135 and the Spanish Pyrenees, only you don't notice until you see road signs and numberplate and realise you've crossed into another country.

That afternoon I rode the best roads I've ever experienced. I was totally in my element. Hairpins and sharp bends on mountain sides. Despite riding an adventure bike loaded with luggage I was braking as late and hard and leaning as much as I dared in corners. And the corners just came at me, one after another. Sharp turn, tyres squirming, short straight, red line the engine and overtake a car or two, brake hard, shift weight a little to aid stopping and then turning. 

On and on they went until the most spectacular vista and an area to stop and take stock. We all stripped off coats and helmets, had a drink and larked around awhile, full of vim from the exhilaration.

The rest of the day continued in the same vein until we came down out of the mountains and into Pamplona's suburbs. All our satnavs said different things and we were all a little grumpy after a hard day's ride. We turned this way and that until we found the hotel. As with all of them I'd chosen it for secure parking and a decent bar nearby.

The area around the hotel felt a little rough but we headed to a restaurant the hotel receptionist had suggested and tucked into simple but delicious food, and cheap, cold beer. The Spanish people were welcoming and friendly but none of us could understand a word they said, though Google translate helped us out.

We sat in an outdoor bar in a town square and drank a few beers and by 10pm were all headed to the hotel and to sleep the sleep of the exhausted once again.

Up early and we spent twenty minutes trying to order breakfast. In the end we pointed at things and this seemed to work. I eneded up with a small egg and chorizo baguette and it was delicious. 

The day's roads were entirely amazing. We headed east out of Pamplona along an autoroute surrounded on both sides by mountains topped with thousands of motionless wind turbines. Within half an hour we had turned off onto a smaller road and stopped to take photos, including the one below.

Then we rode along a valley floor. Mountains miles away on either side. Hot in the sun and cold in the shade. I spotted a few red kites, and a golden eagle. Huge, spectacular birds. I felt honoured to have seen them.

The road climbed and climbed. We were heading for Lourdes, simply to take us south to north across the mountains. Small roads that in the UK would be B roads but with perfect surfaces took us higher and higher, with hairpins to enjoy. I was so focussed and at times had to tell myself to enjoy the view as much as the next corner apex.

By this point I felt invincible. Completely at one with the bike. My inputs were entirely unconscious. The bike and I were mentally entwined, elemental. I was in the zone and nothing, not even the relentless heat, could shake me out of it. 

We'd stop every so often to take photos and chat. The natural order of the ride was me first (partially because I was in charge of the route and partially because I like to ride fast), then Colin, and then Nik. We all understood that we'd stretch out along a stage, but that we'd catch up when a junction or turn off was approaching. 

We arrived in Lourdes hot and pretty worn out from the mental intensity of the morning's ride. We stopped immediately opposite the famous Notre-Dame de Lourdes and as we were on a hill none of us could put our side stands down - and a lady had shouted at me as I reversed to the pavement. 

Nik wanted to stop somewhere in Lourdes but I was really feeling the heat and the place felt like a religious Blackpool. And as it was so hilly there wasn't anywhere obvious to stop, so I rode straight through and on. This didn't go down so well. I should have stopped really, but..ah well.

From Lourdes we headed south and into the mountains again towards our evening's destination.

Vielha is a skiing village during the winter, and a popular tourist venue during the summer. There were no ugly buildings, only rather lovely chalet style houses and hotels. By this point my back was rather less painful so we walked a way to find a dinner venue, had a drink in one place that looked promising but the food was an unappetising looking tapas. 

Finally we stopped at a modern pizzeria and ate and drank well. And once again it was cheap. The differences between French and Spanish prices couldn't be more stark. In France a beer costs eight euros, in Spain it is three. 

We were now halfway through the trip and the next morning headed east and passed through more mountain roads that at times were covered in some kind of animal dung. We soon saw why. Pyrenees horses roamed free. Gorgeous creatures with distinctive sounding bells tied around their necks. We also saw huge flocks of sheep - often round blind corners. You'd see them and slam the anchors on, sit up and slow to a crawl whilst they passed, unphased.

By late morning we hit a border post. We had no idea why. I obviously hadn't researched this part of the trip very well because we were entering a sovereign micro state called Andorra. We didn't have to show our passports but several vehicles were pulled over for inspection and we were waved through.

At lunch we arrived at Lake Engolasters - the reason for our trip. A huge body of water and much busier than I'd imagined. Seeing it from an aeroplane it looked isolated, alone in the mountains. From the ground it is reached via a steep, twisting road lined with houses. We had hoped to lunch at the hotel just off the car park which overlooks the lake but it was closed.

We carried on through Andorra. It felt very strange. A busy city laid out along a winding road high up in the mountains. We needed food and stopped at a couple of places only to find them closed. We were also running late and had a long motorway run ahead of us. We stopped for fuel and bought yet more jambon and fromage sandwiches. 

The rest of the day was motorway. We passed back into Spain and then France and at 6.30pm arrived at Chateau de Lacan in Brive la Gallard. It was a lovely hotel in a suburban area of town. The only place to eat was a pizzeria, but the pizza was lovely. And the beer was eight euros.

The rest of the trip took two days. We covered 780 miles during those two days. Long and tough. The twelve kilometre tunnel under Paris was hot and humid. The channel crossing was a welcome break. Once in England the driving standards were noticeably worse than on the continent. In France people want to get along as fast as possible, and if you are not overtaking you stay in the outside lane.

It also rained on us for the first time in a week. On the content we encountered no rain, no traffic (aside from in Paris), no middle lane hoggers. On our journey back to Cheshire we encountered all three.

Indeed at points the rain was so intense it was difficult to see.

We arrived home late afternoon, seven days after we had left. The bikes filthy and our clothing wet. We were exhausted, but elated.

It had been a fantastically enjoyable trip.

By Matt Hubbard

14 Sept 2022

The Pyrenees by Motorcycle, or There and Back Again - Introduction

Last year my son and I flew to Mallorca for a long weekend. We enjoyed our days in the sun and flew home cattle class. Now the children are adults I get the window seat as I take far more enjoyment watching the world below than they ever did.

And as we flew across the Pyrenees I watched in wonder at the ribbons of tarmac linking isolated communities high up in the mountains. On first glance the landscape below was nothing but mountains, jagged and messy and wild. It's only when you concentrate that you see what humans have made in between the peaks. 

There was evidence of life everywhere, despite the seemingly hostile conditions. In between the mountain tops I would see lakes, and some had squared off edges that meant they'd been dammed and the water used for...what? Hydroelectricity or drinking water I presumed.

And then I saw one huge lake. It's shape unusual and interesting enough that I stared at it as we flew over and then when I couldn't see it anymore I made a vow.

One day I will visit the Pyrenees, and I'll find that lake.

On arrival at home I bought a paper map of the Pyrenees, laid it out on the kitchen counter and tried to find the lake. I hadn't taken a photo of it, and my memory is terrible, but I knew that when I found it I would know.

And I did. It took a couple of days but I found the lake. When I saw it I had a Eureka moment. 

After finding the lake my immediate decision was that I'd visit just after the summer holidays in 2022, and I'd go by motorcycle. At first I was happy to go by myself as it was a bit of a personal mission but when I mentioned it to my brother, Colin, he immediately said he'd like to go with me. 

And then when I next visited my cousin, Liz, and her husband, Nick, and mentioned what I was doing Liz immediately volunteered Nik. "It'll do you good," she said. 

So that was that. Three amigos on a mission to Spanish mountains. For whom the motorcycle bell tolls.

I love preparing for trips like this. I started working out places to visit, and to work out distances. It soon became apparent it was going to be a bit of a monster trip with some long motorway sections. We all agreed we would do it in seven days, not least because we're tight with days off and holiday leave.

We could have opted to take the overnight ferry from Portsmouth to Santander but I quickly discounted that. It would eat up 30-odd hours each way, cost an absolute fortune, and, frankly, was a cop out. This trip was going to be a proper adventure. An ordeal and a challenge. Not an easy cruise over the channel and a bimble around the mountains. I wanted us to really ride our bikes and test ourselves, and stay in interesting places along the way.

Colin and Nik both made it clear they were happy to leave all organisation up to me and would go along with my plans. They listened as I told them about the distances and weren't phased.

The first problem that arose was Nik's arthritic hands. He doesn't suffer badly but on a previous trip to Scotland he really suffered after a couple of days and could barely pull the clutch lever. Colin, more experienced in the motorcycle market, took him along to a motorcycle superstore and show him a Honda VFR1200 with DCT gearbox. This is essentially a manual gearbox with an automated clutch, just as in many modern cars. 

There and then Nik traded in his Kawasaki for a 2015 VFR1200 in blood red. After a couple of rides he was perfectly tuned to the strange auto gearbox, and quite happy with it.

Then, nearer the start of the trip, Colin decided he didn't like his bike - a BMW R1200RS. He'd owned it for some time but it had always produced an odd buffeting around the neck and helmet area that gave him ear issues. He'd tried earplugs and different screens but nothing made it better. I had a ride on it and the buffeting produced a negative pressure which I felt in my ears. With that confirmation he sold the bike.

Without a bike suitable for a 2000 mile plus tour he turned to a friend who was looking to sell a 2004 Honda VFR800, with full luggage set of panniers and top box. A price was agreed and Colin had as suitable bike.

I've owned a Triumph Tiger 900 Rally Pro for a year or so and knew it is what I would take on the trip. I have a top box but bought a set of panniers at great expense. 

Just a couple of days before the trip, and with all hotels and Eurotunnel crossings booked, maps marked up, communication headsets bought and tested, clothing chosen and readied, bikes serviced, extra undies and socks bought, I was sitting on my garage floor packing my panniers.

I turned to pick something up and felt an agonising pain in my lower spine. I tried to stand up, and couldn't. I rolled onto my hands and knees and hauled myself upright. I stood and took stock. I was in absolute agony, and it wasn't going away.

Something had gone ping in my back. Would I be able to even sit on a motorcycle, never mind ride it for nine hours a day, seven days in a row? 

I called my son into the garage for assistance, necked some painkillers, and gingerly lifted a leg over the bike, made more difficult by the huge panniers now bolted to it.

I could sit on it, I could reach the pegs and handlebars, but it hurt like hell.

I did some thinking. It took fifteen seconds to decide. I was still going on the trip. Nothing was going to stop me.

Part two available soon...

In agony, but able to sit on a bike

21 Jan 2021

Witnessing the aftermath of a horrific crash

 I left home early to get to Yorkshire in time for the survey I was due to attend. It had snowed the night before but though the garden had looked pretty in white at 11pm it had almost all melted by 7am. At 8am I was in my car, heating on, heated seat on, windscreen cleared. 

I reversed out of my drive and drove slowly down the road which was still covered with a patchy layer of white. It's a long cul de sac which sees little traffic, and slopes downhill to the end so whenever we've had snow or ice you have to be careful not to slide inexorably towards the scene of a collision.

Safely out of the village I hit the busy dual-carriageway A-road which took me eastwards. The sky was grey and the dirty water on the road was being kicked up by HGVs and large SUVs piloted by small people. 

Unavoidably two abreast at 50mph there were a few occasions when the sheer volume of spray caused by the intersection of juggernauts and Audi Q8s temporarily reduced visibility to nought. You hold your breath, slow a little - but not so much that the car behind panic brakes and causes a concertina crash - and cover the brakes. 

The journey continued in this vein until I reached the motorway. The M56 east and then the M60 heading past Stockport and eventually north around Manchester and towards the M62.

The skies were clear but the spray continued to impede vision. I would avoid the SUVs and HGVs wherever possible. Some people drive right in their wake, seeing nothing but giant tyres and a dirty cloud of spray. I hold back, wait for my chance to pass. Visibility is key in these circumstances. You need to understand what other drivers are doing, what you think they are going to do, where they are going, whether they are on their phone, in a temper, in a dream.

One large woman in a red Fiat 500 with wheel trims sat on my bumper for a mile. I could not move over due to traffic, would not speed up due to spray and could do nothing but keep my eye on her and anticipate what she might do and what I could do if a hazard ahead caused an emergency brake. Eventually I moved left and she passed, her eyes looking down at something on the dash instead of the road, to do the same to the next driver.

We were all happily moving along at pace when I saw a disturbance ahead and to my left. I was in lane four and something was going on. I could detect it in the micro-movements of vehicles around me

I slowed a little to avoid debris in the road, a piece of black plastic. Then an articulated lorry moved across from lane two and went to stop, blocking lanes one and two. Everybody was slowing. My mind was in emergency mode. Time slowed.

I saw a car, a white or silver Honda I think. Only its passenger side still existed. It had hit been hit at an almighty speed by something unstoppable. It was stationary and facing towards me on the hard shoulder. The HGV that had swerved had been blocking the road to stop traffic from getting close. This was deadly serious. Whoever had been in the Honda must be dead. I knew it.

Maybe five cars were stopped by now. People were racing to the remains of the Honda. There were enough on scene. Me stopping wouldn't help anyone. I carried on.

I couldn't get the thought of the Honda out of my mind. I thought about all the people impacted by losing a loved one. I thought about a pet dog waiting for its mum or dad to come home. I thought about children who did not yet know a parent had been killed.

I forgot the name of everyone I was at the survey with. I kept having to look at my notes. My brain was numb. I've never seen anything like that before.

I drove home in the afternoon in even worse conditions. The stupidity and arrogance of dozens of drivers in sleet and freezing rain amazed me. I beeped my horn at several who just drifted across lanes because they were on the phone.

And all day I thought of that Honda. 

I got home and checked the North West Motorway Police twitter account. They mentioned it briefly. People who had seen the crash were distraught. One lady and I who had seen it comforted each other. Another lady said her son was in the car and she was worried how he would be at school after having seen it. One man wrote "Went past just after it happened. Loads of public literally ripping the roof off the car. Hope everyone is OK."

Literally ripping the roof off the car.

As with everything I will eventually forget what I saw, but the family of the victim(s) won't. And neither will their pets.

By Matt Hubbard

10 Jul 2020

Automotive Simplicity

I've always valued simplicity in a car. Give me just what I need and no more. More equals weight and weight is bad. You have to put more effort into going forwards with more weight. You have to build bigger brakes and suffer stiffer suspension with more weight. This adds more expense, more complexity and yet more weight.

Yet complexity for the sake of complexity seems to be the way we are heading. As well as valuing simplicity I also value space, comfort and speed. I like a car to carry me emotionally as well as physically. I once drove a Toyota Yaris to Sussex and arrived at my destination brain dead. It was a hollow experience.

Balancing all these values brought me to buying a Mk7 Golf GTI. I've owned it a year and love its combination of speed, comfort and relative light weight. At 1400kg it's not too porky.

However I have recently discovered it is complex. Far too complex. We had packed the Golf for a long needed week in Cornwall. 250 miles and four hours. It would be a breeze. Adaptive cruise control set to 79 and a couple of editions of the Talking Sopranos podcast and we'd be in Perranporth in the blink of an eye.

Only it didn't turn out that way. Within half a mile of leaving home the coolant warning light came on. I got out, observed the trail of fluid we'd left behind and turned back for home.  I opened the bonnet and found that whatever fluid I put in the header tank was escaping at speed through an unspecified location amidst a mess of wires, pipes and something called camshaft adjustment actuators at the back of the engine. We unpacked everything from the Golf and repacked it in my son's Seat Mii - a sibling to the VW Up! - and set off for Cornwall.

I had previously ignored the Mii for anything other than local journeys. It is a fabulous little car. Small outside, spacious inside, comfortable and simple. The driver's seat has far less support than the Golf's, there is no cruise control, no arm rests, no cubby spaces for storage.

Yet the seat was comfortable, there was enough space, we crammed everything in the Mii that had been in the Golf. It cruised along at motorway speeds with nary a complaint from any occupant. My phone provided satnav and the Talking Sopranos podcasts through the car's stereo. It has electric windows, which I consider an essential, and it has heating and A/C, also an essential. What it lacks is cruise control. That's the only thing I really missed.

Despite only having a 1 litre engine with 60 bhp the Mii delivered us to Cornwall in a relaxed and happy state. The Golf would not have been any faster over the entire journey.

And when in Cornwall the Mii continued to delight. Its low weight means the suspension is soft and this was perfect for trekking round awfully paved roads and gravel tracks to find beach car parks. The car's small dimensions, neutral steering and light clutch made Cornish lanes easy to navigate and the tiny brakes were plenty enough to stop us quickly when faced with oncoming SUVs at mighty speed around blind Cornish bends.

And finally when we drove home I was quite tired after three hours driving so we pulled into Leigh Delamere services and my son was able to drive the rest of the way home. He isn't insured on the Golf because it would cost about a million pounds.

When we arrived home my mechanic friend came round and showed me his investigations into the Golf's coolant loss. It could be anything from a blown head gasket to a simple pipe failing. But because it is in a location surrounded by technological gubbins he would rather a specialist look at it. So I've booked a mobile Volkswagen specialist to come and investigate. The bill will potentially be ruinous.

I have learned over the course of the past week that despite the Mii producing around 170bhp less than the Golf it is far more its equal than I had imagined. You really have to drive the little car. You use the gears to overcome the lack of power and you hustle it round corners to keep the speed up. It is a fun car to drive and it engages you more than many a faster, more expensive, more luxurious, heavier and more complex car.

The Golf is still a better all round car than the Mii but not by the margin I expected. Once the Golf is fixed I am seriously considering swapping it in for a simpler, lighter machine. But it must have cruise control and electric windows.

By Matt Hubbard

23 Jan 2020

Cars - A Manifesto

The car is under attack. Politically, socially and environmentally it is hated by a certain type. A certain type that is vocal and has people in power and the mainstream media on their side. The bureaucrats, the cyclists, the zealots and the Followers Of Greta. People in positions of power look down their collective noses at the plebs in their tin boxes. Ordinary people should take the train they say. Ordinary people should cycle they say. Ordinary people belong on buses they say, as they tap their chauffer on the shoulder and are whisked off to yet another meeting about how to stop the masses thinking for themselves.

The printing press allowed people to be educated. Before the printing press only monks and scholars would read. Books were written but copies could only be created by hand, painfully slowly. Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press in the 15th century allowed information to be shared and ideas to be spread amongst the general populous. It provided for a step change in human evolution and ushered in the Age of Enlightenment which in turn provided the foundations for modern society.

Similarly the industrial revolution, the invention of the aeroplane and air travel, the creation of the internet and, of course, the automobile provided similar Gutenberg revolutions.

It was the creation of the automobile which allowed society to move beyond the physical restrictions of their origins. The farm and factory workers of the 19th century could only travel overland by walking or by horse for their work, to visit relatives, to explore the world outside their immediate environs. The introduction of the train in the latter part of the 19th century allowed for faster travel but it was incredibly restrictive in terms of where and when the trains ran.

Humans have to work around the train network, while cars work around the humans who drive them. Trains start and stop in predetermined locations at predetermined times - even if that is inconvenient. That has always been and is still the main issue with trains. I can drive the 20 mile journey from home to work in 30 minutes outside of rush hour and 45 minutes during rush hour. Using public transport would involve a one hour walk to the train station followed by a 53 minute journey on one train, a 16 minute journey on another train and a 10 minute walk from the station to the office. 45 minutes in the car versus 2 hours 20 minutes on public transport.

The car revolutionised society in terms of where we live, where we work, where we shop, the shape of our houses, the shape of our roads, the size and shape of our towns and villages. The car improved our lives beyond the imagination of the most forward looking Victorian. It changed how we dress, how we meet partners, how we spend our time, how fast we can access medical facilities. It made every single aspect of our lives better.

And yet we are told in the 21st century that cars are somehow bad. That cars are killing us. That we should move away from the car and into the various forms of mass transit that are provided for us by the benevolent state. Mass transit, don’t forget, that can’t even pay it’s own way. That is massively subsidised by people who don’t use it for those that do. Car drivers are paying for train users. The local butcher driving to work in a village in Lancashire is paying for the London banker, who earns ten times more than him, to take the train to work.

Why do the anti-car crowd adopt this mindset? It’s been coming for a long time. It wasn’t long after the invention of the car that someone was killed. In 1869 Mary Ward was riding in a steam car built by her cousins when she fell out on a bend and was run over. She died immediately. Nowadays around 1.25 million people per year die on the roads. In the UK it is around 1200 a year. This is a seemingly intolerable number, until you think about the benefits that cars bring to society and how many lives would be lost were cars not to exist.

Yet cars are becoming ever safer. Crashes become ever more survivable. In 1973 a journalist called Richard S Foster could see the direction that safety legislation was heading and wrote a short story called A Nice Morning Drive, published in Road & Track magazine. It was a prescient piece which described a society where cars had become 2700kg MSVs – Modern Safety Vehicles – which were designed to withstand 10mph head on impacts undamaged. The drivers of these MSVs become lazy and stupid and the crash rate increased by 6% every year, to which the legislators decided that shortly in the future MSVs would have to withstand 110mph head on impacts undamaged.

When asked why modern cars are so big and heavy a VW executive is reputed to have said that if you were to remove the entire safety and emissions components from a Touareg and place them on the floor next to it you would have something of the same weight and cost as a VW Up! Modern cars aren’t becoming MSVs, they already are.

Legislation drives safety regulations. It dictates the shape, height, weight and cost of our cars. It bulks them out and it beefs them up. Small cars have to be designed to withstand the impact of a 2.7 tonne Range Rover Sport. So they become less small and less cheap and more ugly.

All of this is done in the name of safety yet the humans who drive these increasingly huge and heavy cars receive no training and are not penalised for antisocial, dangerous driving. We are increasingly policed by camera and computer which catches only those who don’t pay their tax and drive a little too fast. Meanwhile the drunk, the drugged up and the frankly stupid get away with it.

In August 2019 Harry Dunn was riding his motorcycle when an American diplomat called Anne Sacoolas, driving on the wrong side of the road, smashed into him head on in her Volvo XC90 SUV. The XC90 weighs 2300kg and is pretty much the safest car on the road. Unless you’re outside it and have been smashed into by it. Then it is absolutely, catastrophically deadly. Sacoolas fled the country and escaped justice.

But what punishment would she have received? On 8 March 2018 the journalist Henry Hope Frost was riding home on his motorcycle when he was hit head on by a taxi driver called Tahir Mehmood who was driving his Toyota Prius on the wrong side of the road. Mehmood was found guilty and received a £670 fine and sentenced to 200 hours unpaid work.

The state controls every aspect of cars and car safety but allows complete idiots to drive cars on the public roads and when they kill other road users they get away almost scot free.

We need a government-led campaign of compulsory education and training. Driving should be a privilege enjoyed only by those competent enough to engage in it without endangering the lives of others.

And then we turn to the other issue of the modern age. The environment. Cars are bad for the environment, they say. Therefore cars should be banned. I tend to the persuasion that I will listen to arguments on all sides before forming an opinion. Some people are unable to do this. In the 21st century we in the West live in secular societies. Religion, which once bound the populace together and formed our structures, laws, meaning and entire reason for being, is gone.

Some people are simply unable to exist without a belief system that guides them, leads them and tells them how to think, behave and organise their lives. These people have been looking for a new Messiah and they have found one. In fact they’ve found several. The teachings of Marx, Greta Thunberg and political organisations such as the European Union as well as an ideological view of the world where people are designated good or bad by their race, sexual orientation, class, heritage and thoughts. Let’s call them Lemmings.

Let’s digress for a moment. Back to New York in the 1870s. Just as the car was being invented, but hadn’t yet become popular. New Yorkers were taking over 100 million trips a year by horse and by 1880 there were 150,000 horses in the city. Each horse would excrete 10kg of manure per day. That’s over 100,000 tons of manure and 10 million gallons of horse urine per year on New York city streets. Whatever we use for transport is polluting in some way. It is unavoidable.

Back to the present and in 2019 a man called Harry Miller was visited by police at his work place. He was told he was being investigated for transphobic hate crimes in the form of a tweet he had written which contained a limerick. When asked if this was actually a crime he was told it was not. The police then told his co-workers he was ‘dangerous’.

This Lemming mindset has infiltrated all aspects of the establishment. The police, the academia, the civil service, large and medium corporations, HR professionals, the press, silicon valley and the heads of all quangos and government organisations. And it is an inherently anti-car mindset. Cars represent freedom and individuality of the individual. In a car you can go anywhere you want at a reasonable cost.

The Lemmings do not like this. The EU bureaucrats, the Whitehall mandarins, the cyclists, the Cult Of Greta and the Town Planners say that cars emit so much CO2 that it is causing the earth to warm at an unprecedented rate and that because of that all cars need to stop polluting immediately or else the earth and all life on it will die (despite the fact that 400 million years ago CO2 levels in the atmosphere were five times higher than they are now).

And so the Lemmings who are in charge of writing the regulations that we must abide by have created a system of laws where in order to meet their stringent, legally binding, emissions targets cars are becoming yet more large, heavy, expensive and boring. And small cars are, perversely, persecuted even more so by the Lemmings and are being subject to such massive fines that each VW Up! sold in the EU in 2020 will be subject to a £2,400 fine.

So the buyer of a 950kg car with a 1.0 litre engine is punished far more than the buyer of a 2700kg car with a 3.0 engine, and a hybrid electrical system - which pays no fine because it can travel 30 miles on electric power.

Meanwhile standard petrol and diesel cars are becoming cleaner and cleaner all the time, without the ‘help’ of the State and its Lemmings. Each car would require less energy and less material to create were it not for having to fulfil safety and emissions regulations which mean that each car that is created uses a whole lot more energy, materials and rare earth elements.

It is as if they are doing it for political reasons rather than for safety and environmental reasons. The socialists in plain clothing who create our laws are moulding a society where the car is becoming so expensive, so vast, so ridiculous and so technologically advanced and therefore disposable (just like all other modern tech) that they can then criticise cars for being vast, ridiculous and polluting. They can demonise the car for being the thing that they created.

And think of all the other areas where cars have been marginalised. Town Planning creates towns and cities that are so car unfriendly that cars become stranded in islands, trapped between red lights, ultra low emission zones, single occupancy lanes and fast disappearing car parking spaces. New houses are built with too few spaces and more and more new houses are built with allocated parking. Allocated parking is a hideous modern invention which removes the car and the house from each other so that the car is emotionally removed from the occupant. It is out of sight and unloved. Bought as a commodity to provide cheap, convenient transport, then left out of sight and out of mind. It's almost as if this is done on purpose by the people who design our housing...

Private car drivers are being banned and priced out of towns and cities whilst the rich and the Lemmings are happy that the roads are quiet so they can let an Uber take the strain whilst a white van delivers their new kitchen, fresh scallops to their favourite restaurant and huge, polluting HGVs build the massive, dehumanising, concrete and steel skyscrapers which make metropolitan liberal elite even richer and happier.

So now cars cannot fit in standard parking spaces because they are too big and cannot be driven on roads in cities because for years transport planners have spitefully created a road network which penalises cars.

Reducing CO2 is a reasonable aim and one that can be achieved with proper planning and regulation but because those who have created the regulations hate the concept of the private car they have created a system which will destroy it if it goes unchecked.

CO2 can be reduced by making cars smaller and lighter and more efficient. Safety can be achieved by technology other than airbags and crash structures and more and more heavy steel. Carbon monocoques can protect occupants and education can prevent crashes from happening in the first place rather than making all cars withstand all crashes.

People will not be able to afford cars. They will not be able to insure cars because the car insurance industry is a corrupt scam. They will not be able to fuel cars because 65% of the price of fuel in the UK is tax, which pays for trains and buses. They will not be able to drive cars in places where they need to because they will be banned or priced out. They will not be able to park cars because they will not fit in the spaces available. Cars provide social mobility because they are cheap and convenient.

We are told electric cars are the future. But electricity storage is hopelessly backwards in terms of energy intensity compared to fossil fuels, and to hydrogen. Electric cars are even heavier than conventionally fuelled cars yet have tiny ranges and hopelessly long ‘refuelling’ times. 75% of the mass of the entire universe is hydrogen. And if used as a fuel it emits nothing more than water vapour from the exhaust pipe. Yet as a fuel it is marginalised. Hydrogen should be the future of transport but is ignored by the Lemmings because hydrogen is too conveniently ‘good’.

Motoring journalists are, one by one, being stricken with Stockholm Syndrome. They are starting to revere and praise the very thing that will kill off their profession - the electric car. They are given electric cars to test and they report back that this week's model is fast, refined and comfortable and, yes, the range is small and, yes, it takes forever to charge and, yes, a lot of the chargers don't actually work and, yes, costs twice as much as a petrol car and, yes, could be seen as impractical but as petrol and diesel cars will kill us all then we'll all learn to love them.

It’s a war being waged by them against us. By those with an ideology that favours their belief system – that of a weak mind – over yours and mine. They despise us and they do not want us to have the freedom that the car provides. They want to price and regulate the car out of existence for their own political ends.

For the first time in human history we are being told to go backwards. To devolve instead of evolve. To travel less and to do less. We are being told to take the bus when there is no bus available from where we are to where we want to be, and we are told to take the train when the train costs five times more than the car for the same journey.

But there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The people are fighting back. The people are getting sick of the bureaucrats and the Lemmings and the elites. The people are voting to rid themselves of the EU, to reject Marxism and to embrace a new, populist capitalism. We need to make clear to our politicians what we think. We need to keep a check on them and make sure that they continue to support the car. To spend billions of pounds on roads instead of railways.

The car is the device by which people were freed from the chains of poverty. And long may it continue. Because if it doesn't we will all be in trouble.

Footnote - The song Red Barchetta by Rush is based on A Nice Morning Drive

By Matt Hubbard

26 Sept 2019

A Tale of Golf, LSD and Chinese Rubber

A couple of years ago I owned a Golf R with the DSG gearbox. I sold that and bought a BMW for a few months as an interim measure, and then in spring this year bought a 2013 Mk7 Golf GTI with manual gearbox. The GTI is a Performance Pack model and comes with a limited slip differential and a few extra hp over the standard GTI.

It has 230bhp and 258lb ft of torque which is more than enough for a front wheel drive car. I've done several thousand miles in the GTI, and did Land's End to John O'Groats in one day in it. 852 miles in 15 hours. It proved itself fast and comfortable.

Despite being less powerful than the Golf R, and only being front wheel drive rather than four wheel drive I've enjoyed driving the GTI far more than the R.

The cars are almost identical inside, though the GTI has leather seats where the R had cloth. The ride is very similar - well damped if a little harsh on bumpy surfaces. Driving at pedestrian speeds you'd struggle to find any difference in the cars aside from the gearbox.

But put your foot down and the differences between the cars show themselves. The R was insanely fast and gripped like a limpet. It was fitted with Pirelli P Zeros and would corner well with little slip. It would understeer under power but this was controllable. I toured all round Europe in it and it was never less than fast and fun.

But when I first drove the GTI I realised what the R was missing. Soul.

The GTI has more power than grip available. This means you have to work with the car to apply the power so it's not lost through slip and spin. In the dry you can be quite rough with the throttle. It would wheelspin in first and second gears. In corners you could feel a tiny slip of the inside wheel before the LSD locked the axle and both wheels would pull at the same speed.

Combined with the precise manual gearbox it was an absolutely involving joy to work with.

Until it rained. In the rain it was a menace. And this was because when I bought the car it was fitted four brand new Chinese tyres, or ditch finders. And when the roads were wet their ability to clear water and find grip was found rather lacking.

In the wet you could spin the front wheels in third gear. I've had wheelspin, and sideways slip, on an open Scottish B-road at speeds in excess of 70mph. Exhilarating and scary at the same time.

It got to the point when it just wasn't funny. On a motorway roundabout I poked the throttle on a wet day and, because the locking diff did its stuff, both front wheels just span and caused the car to understeer halfway into the next lane.

So I finally got round to fitting some decent tyres and what a difference they made!

Last weekend the GTI was treated to a fresh set of Goodyear Eagle F1 Asymmetric 5s and, by heck, they're an improvement. It's rained almost constantly since and I've driven around 100 miles largely on the country lanes between home and the office.

In the wet the Golf is now an absolute joy to drive. You can feel and control sideways slip. It still spins and first and second gear but in third it holds on to the road. You have to ease the power on, be careful changing from first to second and concentrate hard as you reach the red line - a small crest or patch of shiny surface can cause wheelspin.

But it's predictable now whereas with the ditch finders it would just be hopeless. In a corner when you push on the power you feel the LSD engage and you use it's action to pull the car round the corner. It'll still understeer if you're brutal with the throttle but that's the point. It is involving and you have to use your skill and ability as a driver to get the best from it.

The R is sold as a more prestigious model than the GTI but the R is digital whereas the GTI is analogue, and I prefer analogue.

By Matt Hubbard

3 Jul 2019

Why You Need A Motocross Bike As A Second Bike

Us bikers are never happy with just one bike. We covet our bikes in a way that car owners rarely do.

Some of us ride regularly for work and for fun, others for weekend scratching, and some even ride motorcycles for a living. Bikes are becoming ever more specialised. Yes you can buy a bike that will cover a lot of bases but it’ll be compromised in one way or another.

I love my Triumph Tiger 800 XCX. For me it’s the perfect do-it-all bike. It carries luggage, is comfortable, has cruise control and heated grips and looks fantastic. I use it for work and for pleasure.

But it would be no good on the track. It has enough power but its weight is too high, its suspension too squashy and its brakes would start to overheat after a couple of laps.

For track use you want something a little lighter, lower and with better brakes. More power would be helpful but its more important that the bike has a good balance. On my one and only motorcycle track day I used my Triumph Street Triple 765 RS.

The Street Triple is a beautiful looking machine. It sounds good too. For that day on that track I felt amazing. Man and machine in perfect harmony. Whilst out on track I couldn’t have been happier. I could have run on and on for hours more.

My only concern was how much it would cost if I crashed it. The 765 RS is a ten grand bike and you aren’t insured on track.

I eventually sold the Street Triple because it was too focussed, too hardcore for the road. I didn’t find it comfortable in terms of the ride and riding position. In certain circumstances it was absolutely amazing but for more than fast road riding or track time it was too narrow in scope for me.

After the track day I went on a completely different kind of motorcycle experience day. I attended an off-road school. It was the Yamaha off-road school in Mid-Wales.

These bikes aren’t sleek and low and powerful. They are tall and narrow and run comparatively small engines with just a single cylinder, a handful of horsepower and knobbly tyres.

And they’re an absolute hoot to ride.

You still have to wear specialist clothing such as boots, helmets, gloves and suits, all of which you can buy from 24mx. The gear all has a purpose. Motocross boots are rigid and prevent you damaging your foot in one of your frequent spills. The clothing also needs to protect you from the elements because motocross riding is messy and muddy and wet.

The fun in motocross comes from the type of roads, trails and tracks you ride on. I’d never ridden off road before but by mid-morning was riding my 250cc beast around a forestry track that was so churned up it looked impossible to walk over, never mind ride a bike through.

You stand on the pegs and mostly ride at low speed, using extremely fine throttle, brake and clutch control. The bike’s front wheel is narrow and tall and spoked for strength. You can aim it at impossibly steep inclines and the smaller, fatter rear wheel will drive it forwards.

Unlike on a track bike if you do crash a motocross bike it will probably be at low speed and the likely damage will be minimal. In fact it would be amazing if you didn’t crash on your first few tries at it. You’ll pick yourself up, analyse what you did and try not to do it again.

Motocross is so much fun that were I to buy another bike I’d seriously consider one over a track focussed bike. You can buy motocross bikes for the road so that as long as your nearest green lane or off road track is not too far (they’re not very comfortable on a long journey) you could ride there.

By Matt Hubbard

2 Jul 2019

Land's End to John O'Groats In One Day In Three Epic Cars

I had been driving for three days non-stop and had covered 1500 miles. On that third day I had left the northern coast of Scotland at 9.30am. I only crossed back in to England at Gretna at 5.30pm. I was completely worn out but still had three hours driving that day, and four more hours the next day...

Scotland is huge. Far larger than you imagine. I've visited it many times and you can get really lost in the place. You do see other people but not very often. Unlike most of England northern Scotland is not flat. In fact it undulates quite a lot.

The result of this is that the roads are half empty and twist and turn with the scenery. And because Scotland is an exposed, windswept place and wasn't part of the UK when the Inclosure Acts were in place farmers weren't forced to create small fields with high hedges around the outside.

And this means you can see where you're going. Which means that driving round Scotland for fun is a really enjoyable experience. If that's your kind of thing.

I don't need much of an excuse to head to Scotland for a drive. And neither does Hannah, a friend who would visit regularly in her Porsche, and then decided she would actually move there earlier this year. So she sold her house in the Home Counties and bought a converted church in Moray.

We had both previously driven from John O'Groats to Land's End in one day and thought it would be a good idea to do the trip again, but the 'proper' way round and in the summer. And this time we would do it in convoy.

So we set a date - the last weekend in June - and asked if anyone else would like to do the trip with us. One person answered the call. A chap called Pete, from Hull.

Hannah organised the accommodation and I organised the route (it wasn't hard, there really only is one way to do it) and we drove down to Cornwall. We met Pete and headed to the excellent Old Success Inn in Sennen Cove for dinner and a pint. We all gelled and discussed the day ahead.

I suggested we start at exactly sunrise - 5.16am - and attempt to get to John O'Groats before sunset at 10.24pm. We all agreed. With an early start ahead of us we headed for an early night.

Land's End

Through thick fog the three of us met at the Land's End visitor centre. We took a photo at the famous sign post and drove the cars around to the front of the centre, under the big sign, for photos and the start.

All three of us are petrolheads and our cars reflected this. Hannah drives a Porsche Cayman GT4, Pete a BMW M2 and me a Golf GTI. My GTI is a 2013 model with 230hp and a limited slip differential. The other two have a lot more power and are rear wheel drive!

I've owned the Golf since March and have really grown to like it. The LSD makes a huge difference and the power feels plenty for a front wheel drive car. The dealer who sold it me fitted it with brand new tyres which is great but they are a cheap Chinese brand which are not great. They're fine in the dry but in the wet are about as effective as Diane Abbot in a maths exam.

At 5.16am precisely we started. We were all absolutely buzzing. Despite the fog visibility was reasonable and we enjoyed careening round the Cornish lanes. Within a couple of hundred yards you are on the A30 but at this point it is a single lane and very twisty. I led and drove as fast as felt safe.

After the rush of the lanes we arrived in Penzance. At this early time the roads were almost deserted and we made good progress. I was in the lead and was taking the racing line where possible - white line to white line, cross the middle line where visibility allowed - to keep efficiency up.

We passed urban areas of Cambourne and Redruth where the A30 is more dual carriageway than motorway with roundabout after roundabout. 

That this trip was a convoy meant I had others to keep an eye on but it was apparent after a very short amount of time that Pete and Hannah were expert drivers. We were flowing well. We all indicated when necessary, kept appropriate distance without lagging too far behind and had good lane discipline. 

I had created a 22 hour, 291 song playlist and as we hit the open countryside - hardly visible in the fog - Gimme Shelter by the Rolling Stones was playing at max volume. My eyes were on stalks, checking for any hazard. 

Hannah was running in the middle of the pack and her GT4 looked epic in the mirror.

We had been messaging each other before the trip on WhatsApp and I thought I'd see if we could use the app to make a three way call. It worked and we chatted away about the roads, how happy we were to be finally underway after talking about the trip for months and about when we'd need to stop. 

None of us had set off with a full tank of fuel. From full my Golf will has a range of 400 miles on a good run but the Porsche and BMW would only manage 300 miles, and probably less at a decent pace.

As we passed through Cornwall and into Devon the fog lifted and we were greeted by fantastic views and open roads. We decided to by pass Exeter services, which are bloody awful and very expensive, and stop at the next.

Which turned out to be Cullompton. We fuelled up, bought food and drinks and left again at 7.20am.

I have never in my life travelled the length of the M5 and M6 without being stuck in traffic at least once but the next few hours were a dream. We saw other cars but the roads weren't busy. Amazingly the other driver's lane discipline wasn't too bad either.

We continued driving in tight formation, taking it in turns to lead, to be in the middle and to hang at the rear. Both the M2 and GT4 looked great in my mirrors and through the windscreen.

I was still on a high. Energy levels right up there. The road beneath my wheels was rendered smooth by the Golf's chassis. Music pumping. Big smile. Moving high and moving fast. Machines clean, so sweet and mean.

The sun was out and parts of Europe were enjoying the hottest day on record. England was warm but not scorching. I sat low in the seat, enjoying the buzz. Sunglasses. In the zone. Keep us on the road.

We chatted some more. Hannah and I knew each other only through social media before the trip. We'd spoken and messaged but only met once, at the Sunday Scramble at Bicester. Neither of us had met Pete in real life before the trip.

So we talked and talked. About our jobs and cars and life. Pleasant and enjoyable. Good company and good cars.

Charnock Richard

It was 11.15am and we had travelled 371 miles. The cars needed fuelling and we all needed a stretch and a refresh. We parked up and rolled out of our cars - Pete and I almost literally. Hannah, who's car was the most extreme of the three with bucket seats and harness seat belts was much more limber.

We swapped stories of what we'd seen and how we were doing and how we were all amazed at how little traffic we'd encountered.

It was good to walk around awhile. I bought a sandwich and we were robbed blind at the petrol station (£1.49 a litre!)

And then after just a short stop we were off again.

And after a few minutes we stopped. There was a crash on the M6. Arse. Hannah and I were using a satnav app called Waze which didn't suggest any alternative but to sit in the traffic but Pete was using his BMW's satnav and it reckoned we could save twenty minutes by turning off, so we did.

We followed a few local roads and then were stuck in urban dual carriageway hell. It took fifteen minutes to get out of a particularly busy junction, along with half the M6.

But then we found a quieter route and trundled through a place called Bamber Bridge which had some fairly interesting shop names. We all giggled at the Exotic Sunbed Lounge, guffawed at the Pump and Truncheon pub and laughed at the Blonde on Top - a hairdressers.

After a queue to get back on the M6 we were finally back on our route and up to speed.

Lancashire turned to Cumbria turned to the beautiful Lake District. And then we were in Scotland. The scenery didn't change dramatically. The motorway is a thin ribbon of tarmac cutting through massive, open, rolling scenery. Green from plenty of rain and just enough sunshine.

Happily the sun was out for us. The weather had been kind. After the fog burned off in the early morning we had only seen sunshine. But as we stopped again in Hamilton there were warnings of rain ahead.

It was 2.30pm and again the cars needed fuel and the drivers needed a break. We had covered 551 miles and were all beginning to feel a little weary.

We had continued to talk during the trip and all of us felt like it was the evening, even though it was early afternoon. It was almost a surprise that it wasn't. It was a kind of jet lag caused by a very early morning and nine hours on the road.

We got going again. Almost 300 miles to go but miles covered on Scottish roads. Our blistering pace would be slowed a great deal. Our sat navs said we would be at John O'Groats by 8.10pm - almost six hours away.

It is around Stirling that the motorway finally ends. It peters out from three to two lanes and the blue signs stop and the green ones start.

And then you are on the A9 and in average speed camera hell. The scenery is great and the road quite lovely but the average cameras castrate what could be a good drive. Drivers on the A9 don't think. They just comply. Cruise control set to 60 or 70 depending on whether it's single or dual carriageway and drone on and on and on.

Finally after two hours of this rubbish we were free. We passed through Inverness and our pace picked up.

Our energy levels picked up too. I had listened to an audiobook through the speed cameras but that was turned off and huge slabs of Metallica pumped through my speakers as Pete took the lead and I gamely followed, Hannah's Cayman in my mirrors.

The weariness and aching bones were gone and we developed a second wind, invigorated by the scenery, the roads and the Scottish air. We passed through a town and saw several people wearing kilts and tam o'shanters. Hannah and I argued on the phone whether a chap we had seen was a full ginger or a strawberry blonde.

The M2 and Cayman GT4 sounded awesome. I could hear both of them under acceleration. Throaty, growling roars. They also handled better than my Golf. They cornered flat and true whilst I had to be creative with the width of the road and aware of my grip levels.

The road became more winding and challenging. These were the drivers roads we had been seeking, We stopped for a break and photo op on the Dornoch Firth Bridge and that would be the last time we would stop. It was 6.30pm and we still had almost two hours to go.

The rain which had been threatening decided to set in. Sometimes drizzle, sometimes heavy. It affected our visibility and our grip levels. Hannah's rear slid a little and my front end slid a lot as I powered out of a corner and the tyres lost grip.

Teeth were gritted and eyes were on stalks. The drive was good and the cars looked, felt and sounded amazing. I don't think we could have picked three better cars for the job.

As the miles counted down so did the anticipation. We drove fast and we drove well. Everyone within their comfort zones. Everyone enjoying themselves.

John O'Groats

After a particularly intense final half hour we were finally there. John O'Groats. We parked up right next to the sign and hugged and high fived and jumped around. We took photos and savoured the moment.

And then it was over. We had driven 842 miles and we had arrived at 8.08pm, more than two hours before sunset.

We three had essentially been strangers before we started but we had bonded during our trip and after we dumped our stuff and met in the local pub for pints (and wine) and dinner we felt a mutual sense of satisfaction. That we had done something adventurous and extraordinary.

The next day we set off to our various homes. We met for coffee in Perth, hugged again and went our separate ways.

I decided to add an hour or so to my journey and avoided the dreadful A9 and took the incredible Old Military Road through Braemar where my car received a damn good thrashing and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I drove the entire day and arrived at my brother's house in Cheshire at 8pm.

As I said at the start Scotland is huge.

When I finally arrived home on the Monday I had covered 1655 miles, been in the driving seat for 30 hours 17 minutes and averaged 34mpg. And made two good friends.

By Matt Hubbard