A CHANGE OF PACE
Following the two-week off-road trip around France and Italy I wrote about previously, I fancied a change. Enough standing on pegs, rattling over the lumps and bumps of tracks and trails. I had an urge to ride on a bike which steers in a manner that does not require wrestling with handlebars, as the tall skinny front wheel heads in a vague manner around corners. I wanted to experience smooth tarmac.
Charge up the battery on the 40-year-old Moto Guzzi 350 Imola. I bought the bike when someone I knew was returning to New Zealand after living here for some years. She had hoped to do some biggish trips but work and life got in the way. Her departure date was approaching rapidly and I told her that if it hadn’t sold, I would take it off her hands. I was sure I could soon pass it on. The other reason for getting it was to wind up a friend who is an old Guzzi aficionado. He has a preference for old but big Guzzis and has tended to look down his nose at the more diminutive models. He also kept one of his bikes in my lock up, so I parked the Imola in there and waited for the inevitable, predictable reaction.
My mistake was riding the thing. It is such a contrast to the KTM 640 and takes a little getting used to. But the taut handling is immediately impressive and along with the linked brakes, one feels confident in the bike's ability to corner well and stop. It does go pretty well too, but it is necessary to rev it harder so that it feels comfortable for someone used to a torquey single. However, the little V twin seems to thrive on keeping the revs up. It has six gears and I have to say that top gear is somewhat optimistic most of the time. If you click up to sixth at about 80 it will hold and even accelerate, unless there is a hill in sight. But all in all, it is great fun to ride, as you need to think a bit about what you doing. One might say it is a fully immersing activity…..or you might not.
I had been invited to a gathering of the good folk who have been involved in marshalling at the Dawn to Dusk Enduro and the Valleys Extreme race. It was held on the site where the events take place, so some off-road riding would be available as well as the extreme socialising. It would be rude not to go. Usually, the KTM would have been put in the van with all the riding gear, but not this time. Apart from wanting a road trip, the KTM had not been touched since the last trip and needed some TLC. It would be by far the longest trip I had attempted on the Guzzi.
There was no desire to head down the M4 and back, so an alternative plan was formed. Leave London Friday morning, head to Bristol via a circuitous route to stay with friends. Next leg, on to the site on the mountain (large hill) above Glynneath in South Wales. Sunday, move on to Oswestry in Shropshire to bother some other friends, then head back to London on Monday. Again the plan was to avoid motorways, sticking to ‘A&B' roads.
I met up with Milky on the A31 near Winchester. We tacked our way across Wiltshire stopping in Devizes for lunch. Onward to Bristol via the traffic-tied Bath, we stayed with Tony and Finghein, a father and son team who have taken on an enormous project, refurbishing a three-bed semi into a small mansion. It will have taken three years in all. The resulting house is very impressive and with the end in sight, they must be hugely relieved. We went out for some food and a couple of drinks in one of the busier parts of the city.
Next morning we continued west. A short blast along the M4 across the older Severn Bridge to Chepstow and then wiggling our way across South Wales. Somewhere up near Merthyr Tydfil we found ourselves on the A465 Heads of the Valley road. There is a large road expansion project aimed at easing the regular congestion. With an amusing twist of irony, signs are telling the world that the project is funded by the EU. Hope they get it finished quickly.
The afternoon and evening spent at Walters Arena, aka the ‘Site’, was very amusing. Over the years we had spent many weeks preparing for and marshalling the Dawn to Dusk enduro. The event started as a 12-hour race bur morphed into a 3-in-one race with a 6 hour and the ultimate 24 hour added. It was good to see familiar faces that had been missing from my life for a while. The site is dramatic and unique, an ex open cast mining site that has been reforested. It is a maze of tracks and trails that criss-cross the site and, unless one is very familiar with the site, getting well and truly lost is almost inevitable. There are a good number of steep up and down bits, so care needs to be taken.
After some excursions around the arena on someone else's off-roader, it was time for food, drink and serious, sensible conversations. Unfortunately, I don’t seem to remember the content of those conversations but I’m pretty sure they were sensible.
I don’t know why but it took a while to get going on Sunday morning. Probably the altitude. Once the wheels were rolling and the fresh air permeated my head I got into the swing of things as I headed around the bends in a northerly direction towards Oswestry. The town is just about back in England and the ride there was great. A mixture of twisty stuff interested with straighter valleys enabling some reasonable progress. Quite a few bikes about as it was a bright Sunday. Most were not returning the waves or nods that used to be the norm. Sportbike riders seemed to be the friendliest. I stopped at a garage by Welshpool and got chatting with a guy on a 60s Lambretta. He was en route to Wigan, returning from Barry. He had a spare alternator and set of clutch plates, pre-soaked in oil, just in case. He hadn’t needed them and his scoot sounded crisp. It is good to be prepared. I had the number of the recovery company and kept my fingers crossed.
My reason for being in Oswestry was to visit Lizzie and Brian. Lizzie is the sister of a very dear friend Jerry, who died eighteen months ago and who we all miss a great deal. We had become friends during Jerry’s illness and the time for my visit was well overdue. Brian is a retired GP who is the doctor of the local football team The New Saints. They are the top team in the Welsh Premier League, or at least that is what Brian tells me. When he comes to London he will come to Millwall to see what proper football is like.
After a lovely afternoon and evening, from which I do remember the conversations, it was time to head towards home. It turned out to be quite a long ride as there were a fair few cars on the road and the Guzzi does not accelerate so quickly at 50or so. It takes a while to build up the momentum, by which time a corner is approaching or there is a vehicle coming the other way. Maybe I should just rev it harder. However, I reached south-east London by late afternoon, having stopped a few times for fuel and food, but also to give my legs and bum a stretch. I had done a little over 600 miles. Not bad for a 40-year-old 350. The only thing that had gone wrong with the Guzzi was that a footage rubber had disappeared - unreliable Italian rubbish! It had been great fun, now I have to decide whether to keep it or sell it………….
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