Life on bikes

Any bike will do. Just get on it and adventurise

Next up in our season of ‘You don’t need an adventure bike to have an adventure,’ Marc wonders about the whole adventure trip thing and invents a new word.

A few months ago I sat on a bench watching the bikes roll in at Weston Bike Night when an older guy sat down and started talking at me. ‘Look at those wankers! Fucking satnavs! Bunch of pricks!’

He was pointing at a posse of big BMW adventure bikes that were parking up. I asked what he rode. He’d filtered down 20 miles of the M5’s notoriously aggressive stop/start August traffic from the other side of Bristol on his MSX125 Grom, the smallest bike it’s possible to ride on a motorway. The thought terrified me. Compared to that, cruising around on a GS 1200 didn’t look quite so adventurous.

Adventure bikes and their owners occasionally have an image problem. My mate Zed says ‘There are two sorts. The first are really going off road and travel a lot. And then there are those who have the money to just buy a badass big bike that makes them feel that their dick elongated while riding.’ Zed don’t mince her words.

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There is a perception that owning a big adventure bike that’s never taken off road makes you a middle-aged wannabe. All the gear, no idea, as they say. The media pushes the image of actors and posh boys touring the world on big expensive bikes, getting into all sorts of hilarious laddish scrapes. And people buy it.

Companies promote tourism on bikes enabling people to explore places they can’t get to by other means, and the bike industry meets that demand by churning out ever larger, more impressive and expensive bikes, accessories and clothes. Adventure biking’s a big industry in its own right. The projected message is ‘get off the beaten track, be an individual, find yourself’.

Trouble is, most people work in shops, offices and factories these days and are tied down by responsibilities. Sure, who could resist the idea of escaping out into the wilds? I see loads of them around. Wherever you go in the world you can find a couple of big trail bikes parked up covered in luggage and trophy stickers. Say what you like about the Long Way Round, it has certainly kicked off a big growth in bike travel. But there are a lot of those bikes that never get ridden in the rain.

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Some people sell their houses and fuck off on a round-the-world solo trip, camping, meeting people, exploring, getting their hands dirty and taking everything the planet can throw at them. Others go on planned journeys in civilised, well-equipped convoys with support crews from one five star hotel to the next. It takes all sorts.

Most of us though are stuck with bills to pay, cats, dogs, budgies or even families to feed and jobs to worry about. Some of us only manage a week’s touring once or twice a year. But those trips are the highlight of my year.

To me the notion of ‘adventure’ means attempting something risky, difficult and challenging, otherwise where’s the excitement and sense of achievement? That feeling can be found closer to home; you don’t necessarily have to heave twenty grand’s worth of bike with six configurable riding modes and a sheepskin seat cover over a mountain (let’s add in a war zone for a laugh, too) to feel like you’ve achieved something worthwhile.

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If you’ve never been out in the wilds on a bike before it’s worth the effort and it doesn’t have to suck up tons of time or money. It’s not necessary to go round the world you; can just get out of town for a Sunday afternoon once in a while.

bike to go on an adventure
© Flickr – Henri Bergius – Once again, we posit no bike is too small for an adventure

Whether it’s taking a moped round the Lake District or an old enduro over Salisbury Plain. Or go exploring further afield, ride a Vespa round European cities or like Nick Sanders an R1 round the world and through the Gobi desert, you can get out and explore, get soaked, find places you didn’t know about, break down there and meet interesting new people. Mechanics usually. It’s not the bike that’s the most important thing it’s the journey. It’s just a matter of scale and how much difficulty you want to face.

The essential thing is making the decision to get up and go. There are plenty of websites and groups that can advise on routes, organise trail riding trips, or you can go it alone. Buying a BMW isn’t essential. Use whatever bike you have or get an old bike and adventurise it.

I’m sorry. I just need to go and slam my testicles in the kitchen drawer for inventing the word adventurise.

While I do that, check out this young lady’s knobblies. Perhaps not to everyone’s taste but a great example of a bike adapted to suit the kind of terrain she’s riding. And she’s living up to the ‘adventurer’ job description. And there’s some great advice here ‘Pick a bike that you love’ Genius!

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The only practical advice I can personally offer is, if you go off road you probably need ground clearance and appropriate tyres. If you’re going far you need a real paper map for when you fall off and smash your smartphone/sat nav and a cheap, tough bricky’s phone in case you need to call for help. Take a puncture repair kit and some way of inflating a tyre, and I’d be irresponsible if I didn’t say take a first aid kit.

bike for an adventure
©Marc Ryan – Tiger spotted in Somerset countryside

I have to own up and admit to having a Triumph Tiger 800 complete with cases and sat nav. I am therefore an ‘old fuck’ according to my younger sports bike riding friends. I told my non-biking workmates it was the two-wheeled equivalent of a Range Rover, it has all the off-road capability but spends most of its time parked across three disabled parking bays outside Sainsbury’s. I was joking. I can’t afford to shop at Sainsbury’s.

I haven’t been around the world on it and probably won’t. But I do go exploring England and Wales on the weekends, either by ‘just popping out to the shops’ and covering about 300 miles before remembering what it was I originally went out for. Or just riding in a random direction until I’m lost and then using sat nav to get home. Compared to other bikes I’ve had I’ve found that I tend to go further, and further off the road, on the Tiger thanks to its dual purpose nature. So I find myself in some out of the way places, if I had a tent or bivvy bag in my panniers I wouldn’t have such a need to get home the same day, so that’s on my shopping list. Next year I’m planning to get over to Ireland and maybe Europe, but while the weather’s ok I’m still out here getting lost.

Lost and muddy. Proper adventurist, me.

Get yourself sorted:

OK, so we cheated here and despite this being part of our ‘You don’t need to have an adventure bike to go on an adventure’ series the author does actually have an adventure bike, but that’s not the point. You don’t need an adventure bike to go on an adventure. Look out for loads more on this theme in the coming weeks and months.

On the other hand, if you want to read about a great adventure bike, read this: Does buying a GS mean you’ve given up? Spoiler: no.

 

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Ride like you are going to be hit anyway

The Author

Marc Ryan

Marc Ryan

A bike nut since he was 17, Marc was forced to lay off the bikes for over 10 years, on doctor's orders. Finally given the nod he thought he'd ease himself back in gently on an XL 250 but promptly bought an SV650 which made him shit his pants for the first month.
He also writes his own random meanderings at his own blog, http://isontheroad.wordpress.com