Saturday, June 11, 2011

8th /9th /10th June

8th June
Arrived with Philippe late yesterday afternoon, having had quite a struggle with Batty's clutch all afternoon.
As always great to catch up with old pals and great to re acquaint with Mdme Chandless. A welcome whiskey was thrust into my hand and the day's recovery began.
P and I headed off to his local Cous Cous restaurant and gossiped furiously about you lot.

Generosity comes in great waves, as I am finding more and more on this trip. Batty had to be partially stripped to find out what the problem was. Uncle Philippe was called and his garage was made available for the task.
The problem quickly became clear as  one of the engine panels was removed and the pushrod between the clutch lever and the clutch mechanism was clearly knackered. The pushrod wasn't hard enough for the job, no sniggering at the back. For those with a technical interest, this rod has to be hardened at both ends to allow for the ball bearings at each end to push against without wearing it. For some reason this had not been done during production, so Henry has sent a replacement overnight by UPS.
The up shot of this is that the poor Chandlesses have had to put up with this traveler another night. He has has had to endure delicious breakfasts, lunches and dinners. Comfortable bed, great wifi and broad and stimulating company. This is traveling in style and I am so lucky that this problem happened with such friends at hand.
The best part is that Philippe is going to join me for a day and a night on my way to Switzerland. A tent has been bought and once his mighty BMW machine learns the way of Batty's Zen like  pace I am sure they will run sweetly together.


24 hrs after the problem was identified, it was solved. UPS arrived on time, Harry for once did not muck up his mechanics, and Batty rode out of Grenoble with a perfect working clutch.

In the morning,  in a Patisserie getting a little something for Batty's hosts, I was struggling to ask the shopkeeper if she also knew where a florist was 'près d'ici',  she gave me a long very fast answer that whistled over my head. Then she laughed at my doubtless look of hopelessness, said ' Alright love, I am English' much to my delight and frustration. .... she had had me and said she didn't know whether to own up or let me practice my lost cause French. A jolly moment or 2. Still couldn't find the damn florist, even with directions in English. It is a frustration that people don't give you the amount of time or the distance when giving directions. It is probably my poor retention and imagination, but without these dimensions I find it difficult to gauge directions. That said the great thing about getting lost, is the unexpected.
Philippe and I rode off into the Alps on stunning roads. On the way out of Grenoble an egg was thrown from a 3rd storey window at the car in front, a direct hit. Just as this happening was sinking in, I was the target  and another direct hit on poor old Batty. Shocked and bemused I pulled over and ranted at what to do with Philippe. We left it and as I calmed down saw the funny side, and even had to admire the shot. I am sure there are a couple of kids very proud of themselves. Batty needs a wash now. Just between you and me, I think I did the same when young and it was great sport.....all I pray is that those little tikes are at the receiving end of a direct hit later in life.
Looking down on Grenoble

Up at the first Pass

P chatting to  chap at a Cafe, whose son was v keen

I started writing down the roads that blew my mind in terms of the beauty and just amazing for biking, but it was a list that just grew and grew, there are just hundreds of these ear-poppingly heavenly roads.
Philippe had to return to Grenoble at lunchtime and that was a sad farewell. He and Madame had treated me like family for the last couple of days and it was greatly appreciated.

I made my way to Lausanne in Switzerland to see Bella and Humphrey. I am spending a couple of nights with them, before leaving for Italy on the 11th.

It has been a great ride from the UK, both in people, places and experiences. A better warm up I could not have wished for and now this phony war-like part of the trip  is ending. Gone will be the familiarity of  companionship,  delicious home tucker and regular comfy beds that has spoilt me rotten over the last 2 weeks. I am in the right place and pointing in the right direction for some earnest journeying to begin.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


4th June.

Spent 2 happy days with Charlie Haydon, with the great bonus of Pat May arriving for the weekend a couple of hours after me. He had been threatening to come along, and delighted he did. The three of us go back to our late teens, when the world seemed resolve around bikes, girls, parties, booze and the odd other stimuli. The order of importance fluctuated, but in essence that was it. Why it seemed complicated at the time I am not sure, but it was a lot of fun. 30 years on life revolves around, oh, bikes, girls, parties, booze, family for some, business / work, mortgages, pensions and health. More complicated maybe, but somehow less stressful.
Yesterday we went to the coast and enjoyed moule fritte at a seaside shack, which with a bottle of local cider was a fabulous dejeurne. We stopped at a US world war 2 memorial and graveyard site.

There was a very old American chap who looked at least 90. Difficult to imagine his emotions, we assumed he had to be there to see the graves of his fallen brothers. On bidding him good afternoon, I got a rather lost look, a poignant moment. On the way hope we delved into how long that memorial would be there for, prompted by the much stated 'never to be forgotten'  type plaques.

 Leaving Charlie's in the rain

5th June

This morning the plan was to have a look at and clean Batty's injector, before leaving at noon.  I had gone back on to almost pure veg oil and it was a mistake as they had coked up.

A 10 minute job, but typically in Harry's world of maintenance things go a little wrong and I dropped a washer down the injector hole. Luckily with Charlies' kit and steady hand it was recovered. The upshot was leaving an hour late. Pat joined me for the first hour on his Triumph before setting off for the ferry home. It really tipped it down for most of the run and camping was looking challenging. Luckily it cleared up by the time I got to looking for a camp site at 6ish. 

I am writing after my first camp supper on the first night alone, 150 miles down the road. I have about another 350 miles to go before hooking up with Philippe Chandless. I plan to do it over a couple of days.

As ever wanting to plug pals businesses on this blog, Charlie runs a great self catering holiday cottage  setup and for £400 per week a family can come an enjoy the remoteness, beauty and tranquility of Normandy only a couple of hours from the ports.
Pat has a property search business in Devon and after 20 years in west country property has a knowledge and insight that is difficult to match.

6th June

Tipped it down overnight, but my Big Agnes tent lived up to it's promise, however my boxers and socks (they like to be washed daily) did not dry on the line alas.

Beautiful  run to near Vichy.
Spotted that the clutch cable was beginning to fray at the lever end. Thought this could be part of my clutch worries, that I have been adjusting most days a quarter or half turn. Now there is no adjustment left on the main adjustment. Replaced the cable, which took about 30 mins and then vigorously oiled the other cables on the bike, I should have done this more regularly, lesson 105 for the trip.
Henry is sending out a couple of replacements along with some hopefully remedial solutions for the clutch adjustment, which won't involve too much mechanical work, fingers crossed. 

Having rather slated the Garmin satnav earlier, I have to take it back, certainly in part, as it has taken me on some absolutely stunning roads. By selecting the no highway and autoroute option, I have travelled along just fab roads. There have been a few single track roads, but 95% have been 2 and there is hardly any traffic. Just perfect for my 30-50mph speed range and lorry avoiding quest.

The day carried on with a broken speedo cable, and on going clutch problems, so much so that it was easier to stall Batty at lights and then find neutral, before restarting. Henry has sent an instruction on possible things that may be causing the problem.

Friday, June 3, 2011

First few days, Spain and France

30th May....notes from the road...not great English, but a bit of a record...

Left ferry at Santander at 1pm and took a great road to Vitoria, through hills and valleys.

Started raining heavily and even had sleet/snow up on the high ground. Finished up without the energy or inclination to camp, so the 3 of us have bunked up in a functional hotel called the Duque De Wellington.....  Some beer and plate of food restored our rather soaked spirits. Our spoken Spanish is poor, but the Basque folk are very welcoming and their/our investment in their roads is first class.

We are getting Garmin weary having been sent around the houses, there are probably tricks to learn, but as yet they are causing more frustration than direction.

31st May..... crossing the Pyrenees

We covered some beautiful roads today and the joy of 2 wheels and scenery forgave any rain and shitnav angst.

Great but wet crossing of the Pyrenees. Batty loved the corners.

The bikes are running well and the few tweaks made are just fun and all part of the adventure.

More rain, but waterproof kit doing a great job,  my 25 year old walking boots are giving me the driest feet of the three of us.

Joined by Brendon today, a Brit who now lives in Massive Central. A fun man and rides a very swift 350 Bullet.

We camped by the Garron surrounded by Vineyards. Henry created a mind blowing curry...both in deliciousness, but even more so in spiciness.

1st June. ...on the road to Limoges

Yesterday Batty recorded 136mpg. By far the best and what I was hoping for. Will now start putting veg oil back in and see how we do.

Loads of wind. Found it a bit of a struggle going at 40-50 on the main roads with huge lorrys passing at 55 and cutting one up on occassion. Henry has a new Diesel engine just coming which he is about to test on bikes like Batty and it is 30% more powerful. This is quite a tease as I think if I could do 60mph comfortably, then it would make quite a big difference on Western roads. When I am by myself I will aim for slower roads and pull over when big trucks come up behind. There always remains an option to fit a bigger engine in due course...given a bit of airfreighting and lifting...we will see.

Roger has been beset with troubles on his bike (a 525 Lightning) the battery was knackered and then various brake switches had given up. Now that they are all fixed, things will get better.
He, like us all, fantasize about a new bike when one has trouble, only to forgive all when one's old friend returns to normal and the love affair carries on.

He and I found a lovely campsite near Bellac whilst the other 2 had a successful mission getting Roger a new Battery and supper.

One bit of sad news for the trip, via text from Uzbekistan, is that Mette, who was going to join in Turkey can no longer make it. A great shame and I was thinking of putting out an SOS lest anyone wanted to join me, but then took the view that it was an opportunity to push through Turkey and Iran a bit faster and try and get to Nepal for early would be better weather wise alround.

Brendon was chef and delighted us all with a fine pasta ensemble. Another evening of beer, g&ts and wine.

2nd June. Parting ways

Farewell fellow Bulleteers, as we part company, they to the Rally south of Paris and I for a long over due visit to Caroline and Brian, Emily and Harriet near Poitier. Henry, Roger and Brendon have been great companions and I enjoyed joining them on their run to the rally hugely. Not only was the company extremely generous and fun, just the immersion in many matters Royal Enfield has swelled my knowledge of the bikes no end. Batty and I look forward to joining them in a couple of years time.

Caroline  and Brian are nearing the completion of the restoration of a very fine town house in L'Isle Jourdain. The kitchen produces amazing things, and this is a very happy non camper today.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

If I had known 2 months ago what I know now...

WARNING, this post contains absolutely fascinating and brilliant information for those interested in engines running on vegetable oil. For those whose fascination is not so could skip it, I am sure later posts will be softer and more human feeling stuff...all those good byes etc....

When I set out on this adventure, I was persuaded from my own research that running a diesel engine on vegetable oil would be fine, maybe a few starting problems when cold, but otherwise just as normal diesel fuel. The truth is that this is the case in part, but after 2000 miles of trials I was suffering from increased starting problems and lack of power. This was coming to a head about a week ago and I was beginning to despair for the venture as a whole. My mind was racing for solutions, such as mixing petro diesel with vegetable oil and therefore compromising much of the essence of the journey.

A week ago I was having lunch with my cousins in Kent, and this anxiety came out. Then Andrew suggested that I spoke to Paul Day who they had been supporting in his business venture. Andrew described Paul as a scientist who was developing products and systems for running large-scale generators and engines on bio diesel and the like.

This led to me visiting Paul at his office and workshop near Sittingbourne on my way home. As a backdrop Aquafuel  have been awarded many times for their innovative and successful development of  engines and power sources in both environmental and highly efficient ways.

After a short meeting it soon became clear that I was heading for a serious problem, which would have probably meant the engine failing in a few thousand miles. The thing about vegetable oil is that it is much more corrosive than petro diesel and also because of its viscosity, ignition relies on the oil being hot and fluid enough as it enters the combustion chamber to fully ignite.

So there are two things that needed to be dealt with. The first was the rapid deterioration of normal engine oil when using vegetable oils,  almost immediately apparently there is much greater wear on the engine components as well as congealing around the piston and rings. This has been overcome by using an incredibly high quality oil that is only available, at the moment, for use in large-scale plant. This oil is so robust that Paul thinks that it will take me halfway around the world before I need to change it. He is looking into this further, and has said that he will be able to courier a supply to me when the time comes.

 The second problem is how to get the bike to start on a fuel successfully without it coking up the injectors in the cylinder head.
The solutions are either:
 - to have a dual tank, one being for regular diesel or bio diesel, which one would start the engine on and once hot, switch to vegetable.
-  to have a heater that will bring the oil up to full ignition compatible temperature
-  to mix in 25% diesel fuel with the vegetable oil.

Had I known this I would have had a combination of the first two solutions, all of which Paul would have helped develop scientifically.

So it looks like I'm going to have to use 25% diesel fuel. This is sad but unfortunately the ticket is booked and I'm leaving in two days. It would not have taken much to have changed it and it would have been a matter of a few hundred pounds to have made the bike almost 100% vegetable oil fueled.

I might look into having a tank made with one part for vegetable oil and a much smaller compartment for bio diesel, this would save the day a great deal.

I went back to Aquafuel yesterday and I spent an hour or two with David, who is an engineer working with Paul. He showed me what was involved in cleaning out the injectors, which will need to be done every 2000 miles approximately to keep it running well. I learned so much about the engine in those few hours that my confidence in this element of the journey is 10 fold by comparison to what it was before.

As a further bit of most unexpected and extremely generous sponsorship, Paul has waived the charge for their very valuable time setting me up, wishing me every luck along the way. I am very very touched by this and I know Batty is loving her new oil  and will run forever.

It has made me think that there is a business opportunity to be had providing a solution to the problems that Paul has solved. It would involve the small unit supply of the special oil in 1 L containers, a heating element system for the vegetable oil, and possibly a dual fuel switch and tank for motorcycles.

Thank goodness for double glazing...

Tucked up in a goose down sleeping bag with a very comfortable integral sleeping mat, secure in a fabulous 2 man tent, rewarded this soon to be tent dweller with a great nights sleep.....Right up until the planes started coming over at 6am, drowning out the busily chirping black birds and my friendly robin who always says hello, when I go into the garden. I had forgotten one of the main reasons for getting the house double glazed was the dawn to dusk aircraft...the sooner Heathrow moves to the Thames Estuary the better for many Londoners.

I have not sought any sponsorship for this trip, but have been knocked out by the generosity of Big Agnes who make the tent and sleeping bag that I am taking. George Bowie, my fellow EO forum mate, has set up a new business, Nine Point Nine, supplying those who want the best kit for all things out doors. His offer of the kit turned into Big Agnes saying that they would supply it for free, if I let them know how it performs on the trip.
5 stars so far. The products are very light and seem super tough. With Big Agnes coming over to the UK, the likes of Eurohike will have to be upping their game to compete, and by some measure.
I am not a great Tent expert, but my brother George is as about as expert as you get, having run the south west's premier marquee company for the last 20 + years with his wife Fiona. A big shameless plug for The Devon Marquee Company.

Monday, May 23, 2011

My new bedroom

I am testing my new tent tonight. Not very adventurous being in the garden, but then better to do so than hundreds of miles away.

Big Agnus is the brand of tent and it took just 10 mins to put up, and that included reading the instructions. It is a great tent and I have my pal George Bowie to thank.

I will post tomorrow on how I slept and also how this last 10 days have been, pulling all the last bits together for the trip, all the good byes etc.


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Best turned out bike on the road

Yesterday found us down near Brighton fitting the new panniers, they are made by Metal Mule, and are beautifully finished an extremely strong and practical for my needs. Paul and his colleagues were fantastic in helping me set it up and in fact are going to refine the Top box fittings furthermore over the next week. 

It is apparently the first time the boxes have been fitted to a Royal Enfield, and Paul has taken particular interest in this venture, and sees more and more overlanders electing to use more classic bikes to add greater dimensions to people's journeys.

You may notice that there is a sticker on the back of the top box of the logo. I have had many printed both of this size and smaller, 2 inch diameter to stick around the world as I go. A quick plug for AA Labels, who have been both excellent in turnaround and in quality. Whilst I did plan to get some stickers for the boxes, it was my flatmate Paddy ClanWilliam who suggested getting the smaller labels for the trip. Paddy is a veteran overland motorcyclists of some 10 significant journeys, here is a link to his more recent one . With all his knowledge and experience he is an excellent friend to have in the house whilst preparing.
 This is a photograph of him cracking open a bottle of fizz when I first got Batty home.

700 mile test run

Before Batty and I leave, the plan is to have covered about 2000 miles on trials. I left on Saturday morning for my cousins Charlie, Sarah  and Arthur who live near the Humber in Lincolnshire, it is normally a 200 mile run, but with the satnav set to avoid motorways etc it turned out to be more like 250. With a vicious headwind, it proved to be quite a test for Batty's 10 hp engine, which is good for 50 mph on the flat, but sometimes this was down to 40 mph. About seven hours we arrived having wiggled up through  the  Fens and enjoyed seeing a lot of the country which motorways deny you.

Charlie, Sarah  and Arthur had laid on a bit of a gathering of Lincolnshire pals and it was lovely to see  them all before going. Some great photos were taken but alas, l managed to delete them as I downloaded images from both the camera and my phone at the same time. So annoying……but a lesson learnt. Found them.....

The trial continued the next day, having changed oil with Charlie at the 300 mile mark,  dropping in on pals, Mark Watkinson (of logo artwork fame) and and Dan and Henrietta Black before heading to Ely  where I stayed in a local pub  and was a tourist for a few hours.

The strong winds did not give up and the next day I eventually got home at about nine o'clock in the evening having stopped to see Giles and Ali on the way south.

Batty was fantastic and very comfortable to ride, although I'm sure I will get a lot more saddle fit, I don't think many bikes offer the comfort of that big seat and the general riding position. Although weary after long days, I was not stiff of limb or swore of ass.

After consultation with Henry of price part, my concerns about only doing about 80 or 90 miles a gallon on vegetable oil are not founded, and I am assured that it is a matter of adjustment before we see the mileage up to the 150 mpg territory.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

My Princess

Prince William isn't the only chap with a new Princess, yesterday I met for the first time my new bride for this journey. Batty is everything a man could want in a companion; Not too fast but will always gets there, beautifully proportioned and built for comfort, loyal and reliable, and unlike Kate Middleton she will always obey (well that's my understanding anyway).

The first ride had a bit of an abortive start, in that the battery turned out to be duff and after 20 miles would not start having filled up with a gallon of vegetable oil. Back at Henry's garage he quickly resolved the problem and had me off again after an hour.

Henry had set the bike up with diesel oil, so my first few miles were on that forbidden fuel. However now she is full of vegetable oil and running very sweetly. Luckily for me I was able to purloin 20 L of oil from Galapagos, which is one of my favourite hostelries in Battersea High Street. Elaine and Steve, who run it, have been very supportive and were very generous in allowing me the oil at cost price,   about £1.10 p per litre.

Here is a video made by Peter Gray. He brilliantly drove me down to collect the bike. As you can hear got terribly excited about the bike and is threatening to get one himself.