This, like many others, is a post that came out of an extended journey on two wheels. I got thinking about miles covered, places seen and where it all began.
It was back in 2002 when I got my second bike, which was also my second that I’d bought from new. Back then I had more money than sense. Having written that, even now in 2020 the balance hasn’t quite reached equilibrium. It was my second bike, but my first that I could conceivably ride longer distances. It was significantly more powerful (650cc) than my first (125cc) bike, a beast that I now fondly recall wouldn’t climb the hill at the Bloomfield Interchange without a decent tailwind.
The new bike made me think of going to far flung exotic places I’d never been to before on two wheels, like Galway and Mayo. I remember feeling how every road travelled was a new addition to the mental map I was building up and so I had to ride them to add them to the inventory. At that point, I didn’t know that GPS would become a thing on motorbikes. I’d often disappear on the bike for the day, only to come back to my mother who’d have a worried look on her face, wondering where I’d been and why I’d been out for so long without calling. I had no excuse of course, the swish Nokia 6310i I was sporting at the time had weeks of battery life. It was the same then as it is now, I get caught up in the ride and forget everything else around me.
Photos below are from June 2003, when after a particularly stressful episode with another human being, I hopped on the bike and disappeared to west Cork for nine hours and several tanks of fuel. The amount I discovered that day blew my mind and it’s probably why west Cork is still one of my favorite destinations. Photos are of my first discovery of Sheeps Head, boats in Baltimore harbour and a particularly fresh faced 23 year old version of myself, somewhere between Durrus and Schull.
I’ll spare you the long, meandering tale about getting yet another bigger bike and touring France on it in 2004 or 2005. Although the important detail here is that France was toured without seeing very much of France. It wasn’t until I returned years later that I discovered there is such a thing as not being on the motorway. As you’ve seen from numerous posts here, France is stupefyingly beautiful once you get off the motorway.
Then unfortunately we enter the dark ages. The several year hiatus from about 2006/2007 to 2011 when I was bikeless. By January 2011, although living in an apartment in Dublin city without fully secure bike parking, being bikeless was no longer an option.
Highly suggestible as I am, I was taken in by BMW marketing and a general sense of “you too can have amazing adventures” when I saw two famous people going around the world on bikes that were far too big and heavy to go around the world on. On the back of that, I went and bought a GS adventure from a very organised man in his 50’s from Howth. The first day I had it, I rode it to Newry to replace the very worn out bike gear I had carted up from Cork for the occasion.
The touring commenced. Weekends around Wicklow, photo rally stops in every corner of the country and the now regular two weeks in France. It was just further reinforcing my love of being on the road. I loved the hell out of that GS. It was an absolute tractor and heavy as a warship, but we did amazing things together. It brought me into the Alps for the first time. Then to the Dolomites. I can barely put into words the depth of my joy at seeing the roads in the Alps for the first time. The bike was great at the slow technical stuff but it shook like it was going to fall apart above 70mph on the motorways. More touring and longer distance was the way the wind was blowing, so it regrettably had to go. I replaced it in 2014 (just in time for the honeymoon) with the 1200 RT I’ve still got today. A friendly guy from the midlands bought the GS, then contacted me afterward to say “it has some real trouble getting past 100mph on the motorway”. I can only assume that was indeed the case, although I was never brave enough to attempt to push it past 70.
I spent some quality time putting miles on the RT around Europe and at home, but I think the GS bug was still in me. I always thought I’d have one again. So in late 2019 I decided to go for it and put down a deposit on a 1250 GS adventure. Picked it up in mid-January and it amazed me how much it’s like no time has passed since January 2011 and the ride to Newry to buy a new helmet. Although apparently I have lightened up the Instagram filters since then. The new bike is naturally better in every way than my old tractor, but the feeling is the same. If it wasn’t single digit temperatures when I bought it, I’d probably have ridden to Scotland that first day.
That feeling of wanting to explore every tiny country road came flooding back instantly and I’m currently rebuilding my mental map of west Cork, piece by piece. It’s also heightened the feeling of just wanting to ride to spend time on the road, not the end goal of reaching the destination. Don’t be too surprised if there’s another post in April about riding to Belgium just for a waffle. Although it’ll be the alternate route to Belgium via Bordeaux, Nice and Switzerland.
There is a takeaway from this, which I suppose you’ve earned after the rambling above. I’m going to try to phrase it in a way that doesn’t make me sound like a complete know-it-all asshat.
I hear it from people I talk to sometimes when they tell me they’re dying to get a bike and do that ‘once in a lifetime’ trip. Or they’ve already got a bike, want to travel but are too afraid of the unknown. It’s confidence that I think I had once, back in the early 2000’s and I’m now trying to build back up. That being, don’t be afraid to get on the bike and just go. Doesn’t matter if it’s Clonakilty or Croatia. But maybe don’t buy a bike on Monday and set off for Croatia on Tuesday. Baby steps. Nobody came out of the womb a battle hardened bike touring genius.
If you have an accident, break down or need help, (as long as you’re not an asshole) someone will always be around for you no matter what language barriers exist. Maybe don’t make it a ‘once in a lifetime’ trip. You don’t need to put that kind of pressure on yourself. If you’re planning your first tour, don’t pay too much attention to the people that reply to your plans with something like “jeez, that’s an awful long way. You know you could fly there, right?”. Or even “I don’t know how/why you do that, bikes are so dangerous” followed by a few minutes of them telling me some gruesome biker death story they read in the newspaper. I’ve had both of the above in the last few months when the subject of summer holidays comes up and I tell people I’m going to the Arctic Circle on the bike this year.
As with many things in life, you either get it or you don’t. If you’re the one that gets it, don’t worry about the people that don’t. Finally, the big one that I need to get tattooed on the inside of my eyelids – “the world is small and full of mostly decent people”.
Not too preachy I hope.