Mince Pies and The Smoke

A small delay between posts as in truth I didn’t manage to get much riding in over the Christmas period with having family and friends around for the festivities and in the process consuming too many mince pies and red wine.

However on my first week back to work I did manage to get a ride in as I used the Tiger to commute into a meeting I had in the Docklands.
Being a fairly easy part of London to reach from Kent, provided you go out of rush hour, I thought I’d put the bike to good use and also avoid a trip on the train.

I was still a little nervous about the trip though, as having driven it several times in the car to the general area at least, I know what carnage can be had on the M2, A2 and through the Blackwall tunnel. Added to the fact that I didn’t know where I was going having never visited that office before I did have a little trepidation about the trip but I put my sat nav to good use for the first time and it worked well with the Nolan NCom receiver I have in my helmet.

It was my first real motorway blast since the day I brought the bike home and whilst the speed is a bit of a thrill I’ve decided that motorway miles are boring! I did have a bit of a moment too which didn’t help in the fact that I got hit by a huge gust of wind around three quarters of the way in which came as a bit of a shock to the system and certainly made sure I was concentrating.

As I approached the Blackwall Tunnel up the A2 the average speed cameras that they’ve now got in place meant that the fun police were out in force but I still reached my meeting with an hour to spare, far quicker than I’d have been on public transport.

I was glad of the large side cases and top box on the bike as I looked for places to store my gear whilst I went to my meeting and just about managed it but it was a bit of a puzzle worthy of the Krypton Factor trying to fit my size 11 boots in. I did manage it in the end though.

On the way home I decided to get clear of London then get off the motorway when I could taking a combination of A and B roads to end up on the Lower Rainham Road. This way back was a far more smile inducing route and despite being slower I still got home before it got dark and the evening rush hour got into full swing.

Despite it being a chilly day my clothing did a really good job of keeping me warm. I’ve an Oxford Montreal 3.0 jacket and trousers which I’ve found really warm so far, they’ve not really been tested in a downpour yet though, a pair of J&S Accessories own brand touring boots and a pair of Oxford gloves. My fingers were a little chilly, I need to get some heated grips fitted asap.
Hopefully I’ll have some more interesting riding to tell you about in the coming few weeks.

Bird Sh** and Sunday Dinner

So I said in my opening post that my duties running the boys around were complete. I was wrong. Saturday was spent at another wet and (very) muddy rugby club with the youngest, although I do really enjoy watching him play. He has just started playing adult rugby as he now qualifies being 17 years old and has managed to work his way up from the 5th team to the 2nd team in the short few months he’s been playing. Saturday was his debut for the 2’s and they were playing at an unfamiliar club to him so I was asked to be dads taxi again. The weather was so awful Saturday that I wouldn’t have got the bike out anyway but I could’ve got on with some jobs indoors which would save me earache on Sunday when I did get the bike out.

Glad I wasn’t playing in that!

Sunday’s weather was a little improved. It was grey and overcast with quite a strong southwesterly wind blowing which made for some interesting moments on the more exposed stretches of road but soon enough I got used to the gusts and just rode into them a little. My mood wasn’t improved though as when I took the bike out of the garage and put it onto its stand on the driveway to return to shut the garage door a seagull decided to deposit it’s breakfast right down the side of the nice shiny petrol tank.

As I came off the island on the old Kingsferry Bridge road I performed my first A road overtake since getting the bike. A car was doing 40ish in the 50 limit so with nothing coming I gave it a bit of right wrist and shot past him when the road was clear. I’m obviously getting a little braver. The whistle of the triple is a pleasure to hear when you open the throttle so with the noise and the thrill over the overtake I settled in for an enjoyable ride.

I had no plan in mind as to where I was going, just a rough direction to head and see where the mood took me as I want to explore some of the towns and villages of Kent and surrounding areas that I’ve never been too.  So I headed towards Faversham down the A2 before joining the A251 down as far as Challock and then turned left infront of the Halfway House and onto the road towards Canterbury.

I turned off at the picturesque village of Chilham before then heading for Wye where I figured I’d have a refreshments stop. 

I stopped at a lovely pub called the Flying Horse in the middle of Wye  with Sunday dinner service in full swing but I didn’t partake, I’d stuffed myself full of bacon, sausange, beans and tomoatos before leaving the island, plus I’d have felt like a right Norman No Mates sitting there eating Sunday lunch on my own when everyone else was out with their family. It did smell good none the less and will most likely return at some point with an empty stomach and no doubt the wife and at least one boy in tow as they never turn down a decent meal.

The New Flying Horse at Wye

I’d taken my camera with me intending to get some nice photos but the sky had turned much greyer and was threatening a downpour so I never actually took it out but there some nice places around Chilham and Wye, the River Stour runs right through, which I’ll revisit on a better day to get some photos to replace the stock images that the wonderful world of Google has helped me out with here.

The beer garden at the New Flying Horse on a sunnier day!

From Wye I headed for Ashford where I knew I could pick up the A251 again to head home via a quick picture stop at Eastwell Manor. I tried my best not to get in the way of the wedding that was on so only had time for a quick snap and on my way again.

I enjoyed the ride back up the A251. It’s a decent length rouad with plenty of twists and turns although my cornering at the moment is tentative at best. I could sense the guy in the VW golf behind me thinking what’s he doing as I slowed for the bends and then accelarated away from him again as the road straightened out.

My route for the day

It was then back up the A2 and home (with another overtake thrown in, it’s becoming a bit of a buzz now) and a stop to refuel before putting the bike away. I averaged 69mpg which I thought was OK for the trip and covered around 65 miles. I forgot to zero the trip so will have to trust Google on that one.

It’s a done deal…with a hiccup or two

So it was with great excitement that I caught the train over to the other side of the estuary. Arriving pretty much as soon as the dealership opened at 9.30.

The deal was soon done on the bike, some clothing and a helmet. I was like a kid on Christmas morning and virtually bounced out of the showroom for the salesmen to show me round the various bells and whistles on the bike. I must admit I was too excited and it all went in one ear and out the other if I’m honest, I just wanted to get on and ride, but that’s what the owners manual and the internet are for isn’t it? I’ll work out what all the buttons do later, as long as the basic controls are understood then we’re good to go.

Finally time to swing my leg over and get going, hurrah! The Tiger is quite a big bike and with the luggage on and with my inflexibility it made for not a pretty site. I certainly don’t think I’ll be entering the qualifying for the next Olympics gymnastics competition, I think Louis Smith can sleep easy for now! But I was on, key turned and start button hit. The lovely low grumble of the Tigers engine beneath me felt and sounded fantastic.

Almost home….a quick stop on the sea front for the obligatory photo

I did think about plotting a nice back lane route back from deepest darkest Essex but not knowing the area at all I stuck with going for a potter around the glitsy streets of Southend first to get use to the bike a bit and then blast down the A13, round the M25 and onto the A2 and M2 to get onto more familiar territory.

That was the plan at least. 

There were a couple of small glitches along the way. Firstly as I pottered around Southend I decided to stop on the sea front for a short while to calm my excitement down a little and to have a good look around to admire the bike without feeling self conscious having the salesman hanging onto my coat tails. 

That’s when the first glitch to my plan struck and it was almost disastorous. As I stopped and put the side stand down I musn’t have kicked it quite far enough forwards, as I stepped off to the left the bike started to follow me as the stand folded itself back into it’s closed position. Fortunately I managed to adjust my stance quickly and just about managed to catch the bike before it toppled over. I’d forgotten how heavy a bike can be, this certainly gave me a reminder and my smile would’ve taken some finding if I’d have dropped it at my first stop! 

So first disaster averted I decided to brave the A13 and get back to the right side of the water. I took it nice and steady after my long hiatus from riding, I’m sure a lot of the car drivers thought what the hell is this fella doing sticking around the speed limits and not filtering through queues but small steps while I build confidence and get to know how the bike behaves.

I reached the junction of the A13 & M25 and had to stop at the lights on the large roundabout. That’s when I had my second mishap. As the lights turned green I thought I’d get away nice and quickly to get out of the way of anyone trying to kill me but got it all wrong and stalled. Back into nuetral and start her up again then get going just slightly embarrased but no, my embarrasment was complete when I couldn’t get the bike going again, it seemed the battery was completely dead. Worse still I’d forgotten to put my phone on charge overnight and my phone was dead too. My smile was certainly elusive at this point. I fired up the sat nav to find out where the nearest civilisation was and found that I was about half a mile from Thurrock services. So I pushed the bike to the side of the road and parked it up ready to trudge to the services. A guy in a car stopped at the lights and asked what the problem was and as I explained he asked if I’d like a lift. A very nice man, a biker himself and said that similar had happened to him before. I think he was just trying to make me feel better but it was very good of him, and if by some off chance he reads this thanks mate, very good of you.

So my good samaritan dropped me at the services and I bought a mobile charging thing to bring my phone back to life and made a call to the dealer. They said they’d arrange for the AA to come get me and we’d get it sorted. I wandered back to the bike feeling frustrated and a little annoyed with both myself and the dealership for not keeping the better in decent condition. 

I’d taken the sat nav off the bike and put it in my pocket and as I got back to the bike 10 minutes later I thought I’d give it another go to see if it would turn over this time. It just about did and I was up and running again. At that point the AA phoned me to say they’re on the way. So again with an element of embarrasment I told them that they were no longer needed and got on my way again.

I later tested it and it seems to affect the bike when the sat nav is on the bike as it starts, now that the battery has fully charged up it does start but it grumbles a little with the nav in place as to when it isn’t. Lesson learned for the future.

The rest of the ride back was uneventful and I made a little detour down to Faversham, just because I could, and back up the A2 to Rainham and stopped for a very healthy breakfast at the Tuck Inn before I completed a lap of the island and tucked the bike away into it’s new garage feeling a little more content.

The Journey Begins

It all started after a big argument with my wife. I’m 49 years old, have a lovely wife and two boys one of which is away at university and the other one is just finishing his A levels. I live in a nice house in Minster on the coast of Kent and work for myself as an IT contractor. Our argument made me realise that the once happy go lucky, do anything for a laugh, get up and out person I was in my youth and twenties had disappeared. That person had been replaced by a crushing bore who’s only purpose in life was to work, pay bills, do work around the house and ferry the boys to and fro.

However, the boys are now both driving. As mentioned previously the eldest is away at uni so we don’t see him much as he’s loving life down in Sussex. The youngest is now driving too so I’ve been made redundant from part of my perceived role in life.

A few days later my wife sent me a photo of the four of us at a Saracens rugby game (I love rugby, probably more of that later) where the three of them had big cheesy grins on their faces and I looked decidedly down in the dumps.

Our argument made me realise that I’d lost my smile.

Then came the epiphany.

I had to do something. I had to get off my backside. I had to get out and find my smile again. But what to do? In my youth I played a reasonable level of football and coached my eldests sons team up until he was 15. When I moved south I played rugby for the club down the road from our house and absolutely loved that, I enjoyed it far more than the football as the social side is much better and there’s nothing like putting in a decent tackle to releive the weeks work stresses. But I’m 49 years old. I’m too old for contact sports. I was playing semi regularly up until around three years ago but too many injuries started taking too long to heal so not a good idea to make a comeback.

For the eighteen years we’ve lived in Minster I’ve wanted to buy myself a motorbike. I used to own bikes when I lived up north but not owned one for the 25 years I’ve been down south. There were several reasons why I’ve never done anything about this in those 18 years. Amongst them the wife’s dislike of motorbikes, my need to give all spare cash to the family and a lack of time are all contribute to the fact that I haven’t done anything about scratching that particular itch. Until now that is.

I’ve been “window shopping” for quite some time on the likes of Autotrader and MCN but that’s as far as it went. The realisation that I was stuck in a rut and had lost my smile finally gave me that kick up the backside. For once in my life I was going to be extremely selfish and just go and do it. You only live once after all.

So what to buy? My previous bike history started back in the 1980’s with a DT125. Back then just about everyone seemed to learn on the little Yamaha trailie. After a good while of hooning around on that (it only had two speed, full throttle and stop) I managed to blow up the engine. I then moved onto a RD125 before getting a Honda CBR600. Again the ubiqutous choice at the time. I was at the time working for a company formally owned by Robert Maxwell in Derby. It was taken over after he went for an unplanned swim in the middle of the night but things didn’t go to plan and I was made redundant. That lead me to move south and start working for myself. I moved to central London and used the tube as my form of transport so that was the end of my biking days, no way was I riding a bike through the crazy streets of the capital. I then met the wife had some good times, moved first to Bexley and then down to Minster. The kids arived and you know the rest.

I decided that I wanted a bit of a do it all bike. I’m far too old for a tupperware rocket. I don’t think I’d be able to move for days after being hunched over the petrol tank. I wanted something that would work for a Sunday blast, commute to the station on, something I could potentially do some serious miles on, just to get out and go somewhere for a weekend or longer, so the ability to carry luggage, decent range and a comfortable riding position were big considerations.

I loved the idea of getting a Triumph, just for the brand. And for a long time I was hankering after a Sprint GT. But the fact that it’s a litre bike put me off a little after so long away from riding and the fact that they’ve stopped making them now made me concerned about the availability of parts and accessories should I feel a need for them.

Sticking to the idea of Triumph I got chatting to a guy who owned a Tiger 800. He was so evangelical about it that I decided that I should take a look. I found one for sale in a Honda dealership in Southend, which Autotrader said was the closest one available to me being only 7 miles away. What Autotrader doesn’t realise is that there’s rather a large expanse of the Thames Estuary getting in the way and rather than a few minutes Southend is a good hour and a half away from home.

However the bike looked perfect, 2 years old, 6 thousand miles on the clock. Full Triumph luggage and even a Sat Nav thrown in. After a conversation with the dealership I managed to get a £500 discount off their price which paid for my clothing and helmet. Happy days, I was now the owner of a lovely shiny blue Tiger.

Through this blog I plan to share my search for my smile. My motorcycling adventures and hopefully a bit of fun along the way. Be nice to have you along for the ride.

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