Spot the Difference – Win Kriega!

krigIt’s Christmas time in general and competition time in particular here on the AMWebsite.
sry-coverThis year our friends at Kriega have stepped in and are offering the pick of 8 items in their gift range below for the lucky, lucky winner.
Two runners up win either a Kriega T-shirt or a Kriega Buff Neck Tube and every winner also gets a copy of my Street Riding Years book.


Your task, should you choose to accept it, is to Spot the 9 Differences on the righthand 9side of the image below. Nine things on the right of the red line have been modified, compared to the near identical image on the left.
Click the image below to open a much bigger version then, using your skill and judgement, spot as many differences as you can and email them in. If you find more then nine you’re looking too hard.
This competition will self-erase on Christmas Day. Winners and answers announced soon after.

More about the tyres in the image

Good luck!



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ROK Straps – why they work

ROK_LogoWhite_x100‘Click – Yank; Click – Yank’.
That 5-second procedure is all it takes to securely mount a tailbag or duffle to your bike. The click of the plastic clips joining; an optional yank on the strap’s loose end to tension it against the elastic.
It ought to be obvious and it’s not ROKet science, but watching some riders faff about mounting or removing tailbags by other means makes me realise how brilliant two-part ROK straps are.

bungBefore ROK
Back in the Flintstone flintmotoera but after the invention of string, bungies were the next best thing; a bunch of cheap elastic strands encased in a jaunty woven nylon sheath tipped by two coiled metal hooks. Bungies were such a hit they spawned the daredevil activity of bungy jumping. B-u-u-u-u-n-g-i-i-i-i-i!
BungyBut even back then we knew bungies were a cheap and nasty convenience, and sometimes it was the bungy jumping back at you. Because they were way too stretchy you had to tension them to the max to eliminate movement of anything heavier than a copy of MCN, and there was no adjustment other than knotting them [forever]. Add some UV, rain, more UV plus persistent over-stretching, and over the years several unfortunates have suffered nasty eye injuries from a stray hook recoiling into their face at 350mph. It’s said that was the motivation behind the invention of ROKs in Australia back in the 1990s.
Regular adjustable webbing straps are far less dangerous of course, but fail to account for a loose bag’s tendency to ‘shift & shuffle’ on the back of a bike – something which tensioned elastic reliably eliminates. And you effectively needed double the length of webbing to loop across frame loops and back. Forgotten straps and bungies fell by the wayside or got snagged and shredded in your rear wheel.rok.jpg
Stiff elastic + clips + adjustable strap + tethering loops = ROK Strap
ROK Straps come in two parts: a shorter sheathed section of thick, flat rubber producing minimal recoil. It clips to a regular webbing strap with an adjustment buckle and best of all, both chunky sections roksend with a sewn loop to thread through itself round a subframe or rack tube. Result: all pieces of ROK Strap are always attached to the bike (but remove easily) for lashing down bike loads quickly and reliably.
At the end of a long ride when you can often be weary or forgetful, just click your two straps apart, lift off your bag and stroll into velvet-lined riad for a poolside aperitif while others are still fumbling with buckles or stumbling around clutching their eye. It can be that simple.
An inch-wide, 1.5 metre long pair of ROKs (left and below) cost about 15 quid, thinner ones go for under a tenner.

ort - 3

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BMW G310GS in Morocco – 2200km review

Read the original April test ride for more detail

310r - 18

In April 2018 a couple of us tested two brand new but modified rental G310GSs in the High Atlas, alongside one of the aged XR250 Tornados they were replacing.
A few months later I’ve now had a chance to ride for a month with- and on more rental GS310s, effectively covering 11,000 rider kilometres, with me accounting for 2200km. Here’s what we found.

In a line
Enough poke and agility to be a fun canyon bike and, all things considered, satisfactory on the dirt,.

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• Indian build still keeping up
Efi motor fuels smoothly at all altitudes
• Great brakes and easily switchable rear ABS
Mitas E-07/ Metz Karoo 3 do-it-all tyres better than stock Anakees
19″ front wheel ideal road/trail compromise
Suspension surprisingly well damped
• Chunky looking subframe should manage loads fine
• Very good economy – averaged 90 mpg (75 US; 31.8kpl; 3.13L/100k)
• Range from the 11-litre tank well over 300km, or about 200 miles
• Hallelujah, a near-proper toolkit!
• Useful dash data too, scrolled or edited with one button
• Yes it’s 169kg wet (claimed) but like they say of a GS12, it carries it well
• Thin seat lasts a couple of hours
• Tank panels too wide for comfortable off-road standing
Over geared; could easily lose a tooth off the front sprocket
• Some bikes had starting issues at <5°C
• Still stalls occasionally when pulling away or cold
• Mirrors blur above 90kph as vibes set in
ABS malfunction with spoke-wheel conversion (non-factory mod)

310r - 11

Now with 10,000km on the clock, give or take, the bikes I used on my tours had loosened up noticeably since the new 310s we tried in April. Selecting neutral is still difficult from a standstill, but at higher or lower revs, they pulled better and felt less harsh.
310r-1The first 310 I used was a spoked conversion with a brand new Metz Karoo on the front and a worn E-07 on the back. Once the  Karoo’s unnerving edginess quickly wore down, or the Moroccan 310r - 19backroads we ride, this (or similar) is a much better tyre combination than the stock Anakee road tyres. No surprise there: on your typical gravel-strewn, bendy Moroccan mountain road, the Michelin rolls sideways over gravel patches, where the widely blocked Karoo or 07 find grip sooner. And once aired down to 2 bar (28psi), on full dirt the blocked tyres obviously provided more reassurance.

This time on both 310s I used I bothered to jack up the rear shock at the end of day one. The job’s easily done with the under-seat toolkit: pull off the LHS side panel with a 5mm hex key and with the C-spanner I cranked up the shock to max or one below. With my 100kg-in-kit and 10-kilo load the bike rode much better over lumpier highway bends and on the dirt – occasionally bottoming out where you’d expect it to. You can’t adjust the forks but, like the F700GS I also rode for a week, for a budget bike BMWs stock set up was much better than many Jap bikes I’ve owned.

310r - 6

This time round I meddled with the dash too. Besides rpm, gear position, fuel level and time of day, you can scroll through read-outs for: odo, 2 trips, engine temperature, date, current and average kpl and remaining range. The only one I miss there is ambient temp, but I didn’t have difficulty reading it as I did in April. It was the way with many of the GS’s small irritations we registered back then: after a while you just get used to them.
310r-9A good example was the wide tank – or tank casing (left) which helps bulk up the 310’s look. Many riders found it annoying when trying to stand up and get their weight forward, and (depending on your footwear) the narrow footrests don’t help. Or so I thought, but after a couple of days I didn’t notice or just gave up standing up as the bars were a bit too low and anyway, I’m a bit lazy. 310seater
A couple of riders could have used the 15mm lower saddle option and others, like me, could have done with bar risers. Comfort wise, the secret with all duff saddles is get off every hour, which I Morocco we end up doing. Failing that, standing up into the 90-kph breeze is all you can do. The screen too looks ineffective, it’s just a layer of the front cowling but it works as an air lip, jetting air up without the in-your-face plastic which, BMW say, newbie riders don”t like. I used mine to lash down waterproofs and can’t say I noticed the wind blast, but I rarely exceeded 90kph (55mph). In the rain of course, no air-dam effect will keep it off you. I’m sure the usual aftermarket suspects have released full height options.

310r - 4One thing that really needs changing is the tall gearing. The rental agency told me it runs a 19T on the front – unusually large. Most others say stock is 16T and that a 15T works much better. As it is, a 310GS is over-geared and won’t pull to the red line in top. I briefly clocked 140kph with a few hundred rpm left (claimed top speed is 144kph/89mph). So dropping a tooth may allow it to rev out at the top end while making the GS hopefully less stall prone and more manageable at low speeds. Many times riders would stall and stall pulling away from cold. It could be unfamiliarity with the low-down gutlessness not helped by the short range of clutch movement, but lower gearing would surely help.

Problems with our G310GSs
• A couple of the bikes with the wire wheel conversion had malfunctioning ABS: the ABS ring sensor was probably slightly mispositioned.
• One one wet morning and on a couple of chilly <5°C mornings, a couple of the bikes wouldn’t start straight away. One guy ending up jump starting, needing to get into 4th gear. To be precise, if you didn’t get the engine to fire up first time, it took a minute or three to catch, initially misfiring before firing properly. Switching off to possibly reset something, and ‘no throttle’ seemed to do the trick.
• A couple of times my engine coughed once under light load. Never had that on an efi bike.
The agency has reported no issues with breaking sidestand mounts and we didn’t notice worn cush-drive rubbers.

Perhaps because it’s trying to disingenuously capitalise on the reputation of the bigger GSs by brand association alone, the 310GS isn’t a bike riders warm to. The buzzy engine lacks grunt and like any machine tbis size, needs to be wrung out to get a move on. On my previous tours riders often came back looking for something like the 250 Tornado, they’d just ridden (often ending up with a CRF), but none of the mature riders expressed the same interest in adding a BMW’s mini GS to their fleets, far less a sole bike. Try one out on a flat open road and – like any road bike of this capacity – you’ll be underwhelmed unless you’ve only ever ridden smaller machines.

310r - 12

But on the 1100 clicks we cover over a week, its no exaggeration to say we swing through thousands of bends, and up in the mountains, through the canyons and over High Atlas passes, the 310GS is all the bike you need. It’s not fast enough to get you in trouble, it’s not heavy enough to get out of shape, and it has enough braking, grip and chassis stability to keep you on the right side of the Armco.
On the trail the stock tyres will hold you back, as does the weight and modest suspension travel. But ridden within these limits and your own ability the GS manages fine on gravel tracks and briefly rough sections, while still being a fun backroad bike. Asking round the dinner table on the last night, we all agreed the G310GS scored a solid 7/10.


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Trail Biking Tours in southern Morocco


mememAn easy introduction to small-group, back-road trail biking in Morocco suited to seasoned riders with little or no off-road riding experience. Your time is maximised by flying in and renting a bike before crossing the Atlas mountains for an 800/1100-kilometre lap of southern Morocco. Using my nearly 40 years of riding experience in North Africa and the knowledge based on writing Morocco Overland and the Adventure Motorcycling Handbook, we take relaxed, dirt-road excursions of 2-3 hours. That may not sound much but with the scenery, deserted roads, great food and cosy lodgings, it all adds up to a memorable mini-adventure which will leave you satisfied rather than exhausted.

Start/end Marrakech
6-day Easter 2019 tour £750 + bike rental + flight
7-day autumn 2019 tours £860 + bike rental + flight
Dates and availability
Read the FAQs

What a brilliant trip that was. A great balance of challenge and relaxation. RS
We would like to thank you for a beautiful trip that will remain in our memories forever. RBE
Interesting mix of people + your amazing quiet knowledge of the area made it all feel so easy. JT.
Thank you so much for all your help and guiding. The tour has been an indelible memory for me. JK
You’ve ruined green laning in the UK for me now ;-) TY
Great mix of rough and smooth, with a dose of true Moroccan culture. [And] the biking – just right. Loved it. BR

If you’ve been there and done that, southern Morocco holds no great challengeBut just as it was for me back in 1982, first rides to North Africa can be a shambles. I came back 82-cassisfrom that trip having not seen or done half as much as I could have.
Today, I still hear of first-time visitors stuck at the border on cumbersome, overloaded machines before getting shafted, ill or breaking down while tackling over-ambitious itineraries while the days slip away. That can be all part of the adventure if you’re young, carefree and happily naive. For everyone else, a short, guided tour can be a great primer to genuine adventure motorcycling or just a great biking holiday.

New bikes • New routes • New lodgings • New 6-day Springtime

For 2019 we’ll be renting the new BMW G310GS I’ve adapted my proven formula so the riding is more suited to these bikes. I’ve again upgrading some of our amazing lodgings and have refined the routing so that there’s always an all-sealed option in the event of bad weather or other set-backs.a310-15-1

Also, because the new G310GS is more road-oriented than the former, clapped-out XR250s, the difference between the 310s and say, a G650GS single or the F700GS twin is less pronounced. Therefore, although the default bike for this tour is the 310GS, these heavier but less revvy bikes are now suited to the tour, assuming they’re available and you feel you can handle the extra weight. Seat heights are not so different. They cost between 25% and 55% more to rent than the 310GS but are quite a few years older and have much higher mileages. Things like ABS and a full dashboard may not work. Read my recent report on doing the lap on an old F700GS.


The Tour

You fly to Marrakech and check-in to a modern hotel where we all meet on the first evening for a meal and briefing. Next morning it’s a 4-minute walk from the hotel to organise the bikes. We then set off for a 100-km ride to a remote lodge in the High Atlas and next morning continue on a, loop following deserted backroads and spectacular mountain and desert pistes, right up to the very last day returning over the Atlas to Marrakech.tour-2019a

As importantly, we use ambient lodgings, ranging from simple Berber home-stays to impressive kasbah-style boutique hotels on the longer tour, enjoying the hosts’ warm hospitality and freshly prepared food. Many riders often regard the food as a highlight of the tour.


My knowledge of Morocco gained from researching and writing the Morocco Overland guidebook means barely a day or a mile need be M3-coverwasted getting to the places overlooked by most tourists, tours and other guidebooks. When things go awry and delays crop up, as they do, I know the region well enough to reschedule the itinerary at the drop of a valve. On this trip we’ll barely see other tourists and when we do stray into their territory the whole circus can be quite a shock.

This tour is not a hardcore off-roading, dawn-to-dusk challenge.
It is a laid-back but adventurous backroad trail and road ride through southern Morocco’s mountains and deserts.
Please re-read the red out loud to avoid disappointment.

However, you still need to be:
• experienced and level-headed to ride competently on winding mountain roads where anything can lie beyond the next bend
• fit enough to handle a couple of hours off-roading and
flexible enough to accept the vagaries of back-country travel in North Africa.

Sound like your sort of thing? Then read the FAQs carefully and check out the gallery below or here and here.tour2019d

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Quick review: BMW F700GS 1100km test

700 - 7In a line
Economical and easy-to-ride and big twin on road or trail, only held back by the staid image.

• Still running well at 110,000km
• 19″ front wheel ideal for road and trail
• Suspension surprisingly good at sustainable off-road speeds
• Great economy – averaged 81 mpg (20kpl)
• Torquey boxer-sounding motor has all the power you need
• Really notice the benefit of a low centre of gravity, especially on the dirt
• Yes it’s 209kg wet (claimed) but like a GS12, it carries it well.

• Seat (low version) is as bad as the 650, if not worse
• Long wheelbase and low CoG? [+ road tyres] can make turning hard
on dirt switchbacks
• Tall first gear for off road (as with most road bikes)
• ABS and gear position indicator didn’t work
• No screen to speak of
• FSH-type owners mean used prices remain annoyingly high

700 - 4

A few years ago I rode a brand new F650GS SE down to Morocco, covering around 4000 700specsmiles updating my guidebook. The ‘SE’ was a fully accessorised and snazzed-up version of the regular 650, just before that model got renamed the 700GS to help differentiate it from what became G650GS single.
Six fifty or ‘700’, the actual engine is a detuned \ 798cc as used in the pricier and flashier F800GS. These parallel twins were launched in 2008 with an Austrian-made motor, soon followed by a well-documented slew of teething problems. The 800s were finally replaced in 2018 with the F750/850GS. The motor is now made in China but final assembly remains in Germany.
I reckoned that for most the 650 twin made a much better travel bike over the 800. It was lower, more economical, more torquey and has tubeless tyres and a 19-inch front wheel, while still having great suspension and more than enough grunt to get the job done. After a week on a bike with over 110,000 rental kms on the clock, I feel the same about the 700 for all the same reasons. I’d take this bike over an 800 any day, not that that’s stopped them being far more popular travel bikes. Image is a big part of the adventure too and, hampered by its ‘entry-level’ stigma, the 700 looks boring alongside an 800GS.

700 - 1

Guiding a group of 250s and 310s, I wasn’t pushing the 700’s limits on the road. Most of the time the throttle was barely open, resulting in fuel consumption in the low 80s mpg (68 US; 3.4 l/100km; 29kpl). I know I’ve been going on about 270-degree parallel twins lately, but the 360°-cranked 700 – cunningly acoustically tuned to replicate the sound of a GS12 – was easy to ride on the road or the dirt. I never had reason to go over 120kph for long, but I’m sure it would make a great road tourer once you sorted out the seat and fitted a worthwhile screen. Back in 2012, the 650 was an effortless ride back to the UK across Spain.

700 - 2

The bike I was using was fitted with a low seat and had picked up a few minor faults over the years: the ABS didn’t work and neither did the gear indicator on the dash. Out of Marrakech there was a bit of misfiring, possibly because the throttle was barely open. It cleared up and never came back. But it came with a centre stand and the heated grips still worked. The tyres were plain old Anakees which slipped a little across road-surface gravel and held me back from swinging around too freely on the dirt, but as long as things stayed dry they were as predictable, as other bikes used out here with road tyres.
Like the 650 I found the 700 a hard bike to turn on dirt switchbacks due, I think, to a combination of long wheelbase and low centre of gravity, where leaning the bike has less effect on shifting the CoG. At any other time I appreciated the long, low-slung bike; it helped the bike track straight in soft sand – again as I  recall from the 650.

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The 700 supposedly had less torque and more power than the 650 I used, but I felt little difference. It’s still a great motor for my sort of backroads- and easy trail riding. First gear was too high off course (I specifically got my 650 cogged down a tooth on the front) but the low-rpm grunt of the engine and smooth hydraulic clutch made feeding in the power easy at just over walking pace. It was never uncontrollable unless you wanted a bit of wheelspin. I doubt I was ever using half of the available horsepower but it’s good to know there’s plenty there for a long ride home.

700 - 3The suspension is nothing flash up front: an unadjustable fork, but the spring rate and damping seemed just right on the roads and the pistes. It goes to prove you can make a plain fork effective out of the crate without needing to offer expensive adjustments. Same with the back, although this bike had an Ohlins with a HPA, but who knows how old it was and what it’s been through. I never felt the need to adjust the preload, easy though it would’ve been. Occasionally both ends bottomed out which shows the full range of travel was being used.
I really did marvel at how this unprepossessing old tug managed the rough pistes – better than my Rally Raid CB500X and last year’s XSR700 Scrambler.

700 - 5The low seat – probably under 800mm – was as bad as the 650’s, if not worse, due to scant padding, but standing up wasn’t noticeably hard and it certainly eased getting on and off. I can’t say there was any intrusive vibration through the worn-out grips or pegs and although there was no screen, I never sustained high enough specs to make that a issue either.

After a week and 1100 clicks on the rental-ravaged 700GS I found myself on ebay looking used prices. I have to admit that engine, suspension and comfort the 700 felt as good if not better than my similar XSR700 and a lot more gratifying to ride than the CB-X.

700 - 8

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Tested: Ortlieb 30L Travel Zip review

ort - 2Tested: Ortlieb 30L Travel Zip

Where: Morocco

Cost: 105 euro from NL

Weight: 990g (unverified)

In a line: Road or trail, river or sea, plane or train, the Travel Zip is a handy, waterproof day or overnight bag.

Ortort30slieb’s 30L Travel Zip Waterproof Duffel is a versatile bag you can use for sports, weekend outings or business trips. The extremely durable and abrasion-resistant Cordura fabric is waterproof, dirt repellent and easy to clean.

What I think:

tik• Light, airplane carry-on size (unlike Duffle, see below)
• Submersion proof Tizip (unlike roll-tops)
• Zip is less faff than roll-tops
• Easy clean PVC body
• Nifty but small outside mesh pockets. Another one inside
• Clever carry handle set up


• Discontinued. Hard to find new
• Pricier than roll-tops
• TiZip may require cleaning and re-greasing once in a while

ort - 1Review
It took a bit of searching to track down Ortlieb’s 30-litre Travel Zip (search in NL shops) – I get a feeling the handy Travel Zip may be discontinued. But in the minimum size of 40-litres, the current Duffle Zip (right) duffleis too big for my needs, even if it’s only a little more expensive.
And although they’re simple and bombproof, I’ve become less of a fan of the roll-top Rack Packs since I’ve needed bags like this for paddling. The submersion-proof TiZip offers useful emergency buoyancy if my packraft gets attacked by a school of irate swordfish.
ort - 4On the back of a bike an immersion-proof seal is not that critical unless you’re enduring monsoonal conditions, but the simple zip opening is less faff then the roll-up and clip-down of a typical roll-top.
In Morocco the Travel Zip was big enough for my overnight needs once tools and other quick-access stuff were stashed in my old Touratech Tailbag, and mucky spare oil, a one-piece wet suit and spare inner tubes were lashed around the 700GS and 310GS I used.
A waterproof Tizip adds quite a cost and complexity to bag construction, but with the wipe-clean and easy repair PVC body, the bag has an airtight seal. I can vouch for that because after zipping the bag closed in the desert, by the time we reached 2000 metres it was bloated out from the lower air pressure.
It’s only a bag: you put things in, carry it around, and then take things out. But I like the clever hard-handle carrying arrangement, rugged-enough build and most of all, the easy opening. The small exterior pockets may prove more handy in a boat than on the back of a bike, and crgr-waterthere’s no harm in the other pocket inside. For a dry-suit zip, the TiZip runs smoothly after a wipe of silicon grease out of the box, and this ease of access in a big improvement over the same-sized Watershed ZipLoc duffle (right) that I used for years. The Watershed fabric is way tougher, but used as a boating day bag, doing the seal up properly as the next rapids approached became a pain. For a boat or a bike, I’m sure the Travel Zip will do me nicely.

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Bonneville ’78

An illustrated and lightly massaged excerpt from The Street Riding Years
View the 1978 Gallery


Triumph Motorcycles are doing all right, particularly77-unionwith  the parallel twins on which the company made its name. But forty years ago success wasn’t a word you associated with Triumph, or much else manufactured in a Britain blighted by industrial unrest. The late seventies may have seen an evolutionary spike in motorcycle development, but the British bike industry had been crippled by a complacent, post-war mentality and no longer ruled the roads.
z900    Meanwhile the modern motorcycle era was taking shape, exemplified by Italian V-twins and Kawasaki’s sexy Z900s. Acquiring a full bike license at just 17, I could let rip on any of those; bikers could then have their cake and eat it – usually served by a nurse with a limb in plaster. Only my £20 weekly wage kept me in check – well for another year at least.
    What then, would be my first proper bike? The big Zeds apart, I mindlessly subscribed to the pejorative ‘UJM’ (Universal Japanese Motorcycle) tag: reliable, fast but bland. BMW produced 78-bmwmeisterexpensive, well-engineered flat-twins ridden by smug, know-all beardies, not dashing young blades like me. Harleys were largely scoffed at in the UK while Italian bikes were gradually consolidating their glamorous image, outriding the best of the Japs so long as the electrics held out.
    You might think the Brits only had nostalgia and heritage on their side, but there was another less tangible attraction that over-shadowed merely riding what your dad rode. In ’78 the surviving flagships from Triumph and Norton were still something to aspire to, virile survivors of the Jap invasion with something your yen couldn’t buy: lashings of ‘character’. Proper bikes of the era possessed this love-hate quality, paraphrased by TV comedian Dick Emery’s catchline: ‘Ooh you are maddening bastard, but I love you’.
78-comando    There was something about the understated charisma of Triumphs and Nortons that was unrelated to blind patriotism. I’d never really fancied a T160 Trident, but in black and gold, Norton’s 850 Interstate Commando looked like a rumbling bundle of motorcycling bliss. Commando – what a great name for a British bike! What red-blooded young seventies male wouldn’t want to be associated with a plucky wartime saboteur, crouched in readiness with his77-nortonape Sten gun. The same could be said of Triumph’s Bonneville, by this time only 20 years old and assembled in Meriden by a loyal and motivated workers’ co-operative where fitter and director all earned the same low wage. Sure, both these bikes were dinosaurs on their last gasps after the Japanese meteor impact changed the motorcycling climate for good. But they still managed to exude a rugged pre-PC manliness that left a seventies teenager starstruck.
    In the spring of 1978 I ordered a UK-spec T140V in burgundy for £899. What I actually got was a blue, US-spec model with a few bits loose or missing, and “mate, you can take it or leave it”. Despite the efforts of TV consumer champion Esther Ranzten, American levels of customer service were still some way offshore.


The US model came with a smaller teardrop tank and high bars – foretelling the naff ’mock chopper’ trend that was just round the corner. But high bar or low, the T140V displayed an attribute I’d not experienced on my execrable MZs: torque, or low-down pulling power. I don’t think I ever became immune to the loin-stirring, smile-inducing shove persuasively unleashed between 2500 and 3000rpm before the vibration really set in. The Triumph had another sort of pulling power too. Girls quite possibly gave me a second look as I torqued along in my Fonze-like, high-bared pose.
    After three-too-many MZs, riding the Triumph was like being carried out of the castle’s dungeon into a field full of buttercups on the shoulders of the town’s fairest maidens. Suddenly I knew what biking was about – the surge of a powerful engine, the throb from the pipes and the actual stoping power of hydraulic disc brakes.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA    With my new-found status I eagerly bought into the ‘Brit biker look’: open face lid with flat-glass Stadium goggles. A cream silk-like scarf just like Biggles or Douglas Bader fluttered jauntily from the top of a nylon Belstaff Trialmaster jacket. My outfit was topped off by gigantic gauntlets resembling something you might attach to a cow’s udder.
Kick-starting the Bonneville demanded an exacting ritual. Turn on the fuel taps and ‘tickle’ or prime the carbs by pressing on tiny plungers. Once petrol was dripping onto the gearbox, you turned the ignition key then pressed the kickstart against the engine compression. Swing it back up and you were now ready to enact a triumphant lunge by coming down on the kick-
starter with all you had.


It was a mechanism perfected over the eons so there was no risk of overdoing it, but any pussyfooting resulted in a knee-snapping backfire. This beast had to be grabbed by the mane and wrestled into life. I never failed to get a thrill from starting the Bonnie, and so long as you lunged down with gusto, it worked every time, hot or cold, rain or shine.
    In 1978 one in three new 750s was a Triumph, but unfortunately I’d bought mine during a there-month ban for riding on a motorway with L-plates stashed in my pockets. Like many others at that time, I carried on riding discreetly, cunningly taking the back streets to sixth-form college.tri-cenotaph
    Once my A-levels were done78-tiger I enjoyed a fabulous summer’s riding with a mate on a similar 750 Tiger, visiting the climbing crags in the Weald, Peak District or the famous Llanberis Pass, then down to the Gower and back via Avon Gorge for more of the same. Near Shrewsbury one time the battery exploded, but it was all part of the adventure – a carefree interlude between school and further education or work.
    And once the exam results came in, work it was to be – no further education for me. At that time the back of Motorcycle News was packed with adverts for despatch riders – an exciting way to pass the time until I worked out what I really wanted to do. One phone call and I was in business at Capital Couriers in Kentish Town.
    Why was Kentish Town in North London, miles from Kent which is south of London? As I was soon to learn, the capital was not an intuitive city to navigate. At that time my knowledge of tri-monopolyLondon’s streets was based on the Monopoly board game – the expensive dark blues, greens and yellows were posh areas in the West End. The cheapies like Pentonville, and Whitechapel? Out east somewhere.
    Armed with my Monopoly mind map and a good sense of direction, I collected my very first job to Chiswick in west London by the Thames. That’ll be easy: south to the river and simply follow it upstream, a foolproof strategy refined along the banks of the Nile by the likes of Burton and Speke.
    That might have worked had the Thames run as straight as a Roman aqueduct, but rivers meander and roads followed the Thames only intermittently. Some two hours after what should have been a twenty-five-minute ride, I timidly delivered the package with no word of complaint. That came to be the abiding paradox of messengering: clients were paying twenty times the cost of overnight postage, but most of the time few gave a toss on prompt delivery.
    At Capital I made friends with Nick on a CB750K6, descendant of the revolutionary 1969 superbike that had brought about the current megabike frenzy. Nick and I soon engaged in a ‘Brit Shit/Jap Crap’ banter that ran for days at a time, but always with a twinkle of affability. Of course I was only partly joking. At that time I was besotted with my Bonneville, but that wasn’t the only thing. One morning I bounded up the stairs of a redbrick Edwardian block off Oxford Circus. A pretty receptionist was just tidying up some photocopies.

Ooh, are you the bike? Won’t be a minute,’ she said with a smile, glancing over her shoulder at the skinny bloke at the Xerox.
‘Are you new? I haven’t seen you before.’
Her optimal blend of nice hair, posh accent and comely figure produced a pleasing, knee-weakening effect.
Yes, last week. I just started,’ I spluttered.
Ooh. What sort of motorbike do you ride?’
Triumph Bonneville. Seven-fifty.’
Oh,’ she replied, touching her lip with a light gasp and which I unhesitatingly interpreted as dazzled admiration.
    I reached out for something to hold on to, but then Xerox bloke chucked some documents in front of her in a huff and broke the spell.
    ‘Ah, finally. Thank you, JEFFrey.’ With a shuffle she slipped the documents into an envelope and handed it over with another smile.
There. Don’t ride too fast now. See you soon!’

Sadly, I was never to collect from John Princes Street again, but my faith in the Triumph’s magical charisma was enshrined. Another time while leafing through my A-Z an Australian tourist asked to take my picture.
My son back in Melbourne will love it. He’s always wanted a real motorbike.’
    And another day in Victoria Street I came trotting back to the bike to see a pinstripey old chap stooped over the Bonnie’s Smith’s speedo.
Oh, do excuse me. I was just admiring your superb motor cycle. Does it really do a hundred-and-sixty-miles-per-hour?’
tri-bonrecord    Non-biking civilians who didn’t know a pushrod from a pram responded to the Bonnie in a way no other bike of mine ever inspired. I put it down to a warm nostalgia for British engineering in its gentlemanly post-war apogee: sporty, but never aggressive or ostentatious. And the appeal was international. In the sixties three out of four new Triumphs went triumph-parasite-motorcycle-dragster-1to North America. After all, the Bonneville was named after the Utah salt flats where in the fifties American daredevils had set land-speed records on Triumph twins.
    One evening at Colindale Blood Bank I had a chance to enact my own speed record. Handed a padded case with ‘Urgent – Human Tissue’ emblazoned across the top, the woman asked
How long will it take to get there?’
Er… Children’s Hospital, Great Ormond Street? About twenty-five minutes?’
Oh,’ she said with a frown. ‘Well, please be as quick as you can.’
    Crikey, this was urgent. Was some child actually haemorrhaging on the slab, nine miles away? I thought for a few seconds, then kicked the Bonnie over and flicked the headlight on full. Tonight the Highway Code was being temporarily suspended.
    With a squeal from the K181, I roared off down the Edgware Road for Staples Corner, hitting sixty-five along the North Circular before slicing through the traffic for the roundabout under the Brent Cross flyover. From here the Hendon Way was always a reliably fast run apart from the lights. I screeched in then pushed out past the cars. Cross traffic swept from left and right, but once a space opened up I launched myself across the red light and belted on towards Finchley Road.
    This stage was dicey, with heavy traffic and at least half a dozen lights before Swiss Cottage. So where necessary I skipped round the traffic islands, pulled up on the reds, watched for a gap, then gunned it. Around Regent’s Park I kept it down to 55mph: we all knew that in a ‘30’, 40-ish was the working limit. Stray beyond that for too long and things happened too fast or fines involved a ban.
    The Bonnie’s side-stand scraped hard towards Hampstead Road, ETA just a couple of minutes now. Down the side of Euston Station – watch out for taxis! – then barge onto the busy Euston Road and heave over to the right for the turn into Woburn Place. Once barrelling towards Russell Square I ran all the reds like 78-ogrisomething out of Ogri, then mounted the pavement for a pedestrian passage that led directly to Great Ormond Street. Tourists froze, startled by the revving Triumph’s full beam and my determined glare. With the tormented engine baking my shins, I sprinted down to the hospital, grabbed the blood, leapt the steps in a single stride and landed at reception like a hyper-caffeinated cat.
Hi. Got some blood from Colindale.’
I checked my watch. Fifteen minutes and as many reds. No bad.
    That memorable cross-town blast was typical of the ‘you’ll-never-take-me-alive’ immunity we despatchers felt from the Law and the laws of physics, engendered on this occasion by a well-meaning if missplaced sense of entitlement. And it was why we were to become notorious and targeted as London’s dormant economy began to recover.

78-toff-security-bike-1978An article appeared in Bike magazine about Security Despatch, one of the big players, based in trendy Covent Garden,. It depicted SD as an exclusive club of louche, articulate dropouts, and the antics and attitudes of this maverick band of bikers sounded a lot more glamorous than crumby Capital Couriers, opposite a pub with lunchtime strippers.
    Now with a bit of experience, I signed up at SD, my T140V slipping in well with the other unconventional machines. SD wasn’t for those bib-wearing saps at Mercury; it drew on a pool of free-styling, hard-charging dissenters committed to expressing their individuality and belief in personal freedom.
    hj-seddonbikeShaun ran a Z900 with a raucous four-into-one; swaggering Tim rode an R80 with a Windjammer fairing, GDR escapee Klaus ran a bat-shit R90 proddy racer he campaigned on weekends and the late eccentric, Maurice Seddon, part-timed on a bonkers BSA older than me and which powered his hand-made electrically heated silk underwear.
    At the Friday evening spin-down wages were paid, spliffs rolled and beers cracked open. The throng would offload their week’s burdens, query payments and then head for the pub, milling among the smartly dressed trendies we’d soon be calling yuppies.
     Considering the use it was getting, my young Bonnie was doing a lot better than I had a right to expect and had never let me down, hard though that is to believe. I didn’t run it hard as the grin-factor was all about exploiting that low-rpm torque – high speeds were unpleasant.
My ride home to mum’s included a grippy left-hander at the bottom of Brixton Hill. Even after a long day in the saddle, I’d always do my best to line myself up to hit it ahead of the pack and shower them in a long trail of sparks. Banked over far less than I imagined, the Triumph remained planted like a chubby genie on his magic carpet. Shifting into fourth for the charge up to the lights by the prison, it was a great way to sign off the day.
    I joined SD in early winter when the students and fair-weather dilettantes had scarpered like rats from a shipwreck. There was loads of work and soon I was regularly earning over £250 for a fifty-hour week. With all this money and learning the craft, it seemed a waste to throw it all away and do what, exactly? Unemployment was rising, and with Thatcher’s imminent ascendancy, was about to go off the scale. So I decided to turn pro and knuckle down on a more conventional machine (what a mistake that was). The Bonneville was too good for all this rushing about, and the hefty kick-starting ritual was losing its shine when done forty-four times a day. 

I sold the Triumph to another young pup enamoured by the the cult of the Bonneville. Years later I saw it parked off Fleet Street and gave it an affectionate pat on the tank, like McQueen caught in the wire at the end of The Great Escape. Then, as now, I recall the reg’ without hesitation: WHX 791S. Can’t say that of the dozens bikes I’ve owned since. Rock on Triumph!



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