So I did it. I bought a new (secondhand) bike. Feels risky.
Only time will tell if it becomes something I regret. So far so good.
If past experience is anything to go by, the amount of adventure to be had on a motorbike tour may be tied to how manageable your bike is.
Strapping stuff to a bike and taking off was something introduced to me at an early age. The ride to my high school was a 16 mile round trip. I felt like a pushbike could take me anywhere.
And it did. As a kid, the family holiday involved a tour of Normandy and Brittany on pushbikes. Everyday a painful adventure and almost enough to put me off cycling for ever.
My first motorbike meant pain-free instant freedom. Found in the back of my friend’s dad’s garage it was a derestricted 70’s Suzuki AP50 in Baja blue. It belonged to his dad and if you fed it enough oil it would do just over 50 mph. It was meant to tide me over while I got my car licence but instead it gave me the bug.
Motorbike riders could go places cars couldn’t. And they all nodded as they passed each other. Just having a bike allowed you entry to this club. Even the regional biker gang The Outlaws would stop to chat.“That was my first bike”smiled one guy with a tattooed face and handlebars taller than him.
It felt like I belonged to something bigger than me. Not The Outlaws. They were a scary bunch. I mean bikers in general.
A kid I’d beaten in a street race offered to buy my Suzuki for more than I’d paid. The deal was done in a carpark. I later heard that the engine had seized the following day. He’d forgot to feed it oil.
I bought my second bike from a back-patched biker at a party. A not entirely pain free all black Honda CM125 custom. It had leather hanging from the handle bars. With leather tassels also hiding the L-plate I felt confident getting in some motorway miles.
It was such a comfy ride that I once suddenly woke up on the bike having dreamt I’d hit a brick wall built across the motorway. It was 4am on the way home from Rock City. And I was on the motorway. That was the last time I ever fell asleep on a bike.
Later, after a car cut my bike and nearly me in half, I would find out it was two stolen bikes welded together. The police took the bits away. I still have my scratched leather jacket and the memory of the speeding drivers face as I momentarily entered his car through the side window.
After a short break where I mostly drove a Peugeot 205, I had a Kawasaki Z400, a Suzuki Bandit 400 import, a Yamaha XJR1300, an LML Star Delux (Vespa clone) and a BMW F650 GS. Following this was the bike I’ve had the longest, a 2008 Triumph Scrambler.
In Southeast Asia I rode a Honda Dream C100. India I rode a Rajdoot (Yamaha RD350) and briefly borrowed a BMW R90. In Turkey a Yamaha DT 125 and in New Zealand VT750s. Then for the last few years in the US I have rode a lovely Triumph T120.
The most fun and adventure I’ve had has always been on smaller more manageable bikes. Smaller physically not just engine size but the two are often the same. The 90, the 125, the 250, the 350 and weirdly the T120.
A pushbike can go anywhere but you need the time. A powered vehicle can get you into and out of places faster. Something in between these two would be the perfect choice. As Austin Vince said “What you want is a bicycle with the power of a BMW GS1200”.
So why have I just bought the Triumph Tiger?
A few reasons. But mainly because out of all the bikes I rode the last couple of weeks this was the best allrounder. It might be we become a one car family soon and I’d happily ride the Tiger any distance all year round.
I feel the Royal Enfield Himalayan would be the most fun for long distance touring, but I’d need at least a month. No, the Tiger is the bike for these narrow windows of time. These moments I have to snatch between being a stay at home dad and all the things I do for money.
Whether it be a quick trip across country at the weekend or a fast first leg to get out and explore some corner of Europe… I feel the Tiger can handle it.
It’s got a smaller engine than my Scrambler and physically bigger than I like. But I can still just about pick it up should I drop it. And I likely will.
When I popped into the Triumph garage where I’d initially borrowed an 800 for a test ride, they seemed disappointed. I foolishly thought they’d be pleased to see me returning on a Triumph. After all the bikes I’d tried I had stayed ‘on brand.’
But they had pushed me towards this years 1200cc. This appears to be what the industry thinks is the perfect size for an adventure bike. And here I was, full circle, but now on a second hand fully equipped Tiger 800.
I have no idea how me and the bike will get on over the next few thousand miles. All I know is that I did not succumb to the offers of ‘unbeatable finance’. I bought my bike cash at a decent price with money I’d saved up for the tax man.
Some might think this a reckless or potentially hazardous action.
Isn’t that one definition of adventure?