Monday 19 August 2013

Africa Twin - The Trip Home

Well, the trip home from Italy went off smoothly. The bike had been laid up for nearly five years and had been re-commissioned in a bit of a hurry, so when I set off I was a bit apprehensive about things going wrong. However, after a couple of hundred kilometres my confidence in the bike was restored.

Mercenary Garage Africa Twin - The Trip Home
I love this bike!

There was a lot of corrosion. Normally I wouldn’t be too bothered about corrosion but the wheel rims have started to rot. Generally, aluminium is resistant to corrosion and it makes me wonder if those DID rims have magnesium in them. I’ve seen other Honda rims stored outdoors corrode in the same way – Maybe its moisture that causes this or maybe it’s cat-pee… I dunno. In any case, the wheel rims need to be replaced.

The front brakes turned out not to be a problem at all. I removed the front left calliper in order to render the machine driveable. The right calliper was inclined to stick and drag if I used it, so I just stopped using it. The Africa Twin has excellent engine braking and a particularly good rear brake, so not using the front wasn’t really a hardship.

My main cause of concern was the tyres. Firstly, they’re five years old and have been stored outdoors in a sunny country. Secondly, they were nearing the end of their useful life when I stored the bike. But I reckoned that if all else was well, they were probably good for another 1000 miles. The tyres did turn out to be problematic, but not the way I had expected…

I used to run Pirelli MT 21s on my old XL 600/720. They’re a road-legal enduro tyre and on-road, they’re reasonable civilised and off road they’re incredible! Also, they’re not particularly expensive. The drawback is, on the road they’re very noisy. It depends on the road surface and the speed, but very often I’d be hooning around on my XL without a care in the world when all of a sudden I’d hear a wailing siren and become alarmed that I was about to be pulled by the cops. That police car siren noise was coming from the tyres. This happened again and again and I never got used to it.

On the heavy Africa Twin, they make a variety of noises again, depending on road surface and speed.

  • Sometimes, they make the police car noise – Alarming!
  • Sometimes they make a screech like an engine seizure – Very alarming!
  • And sometimes, they make a noise just like a Stuka dive bomber – This is a very fucking alarming noise if it’s a Stuka making it. If it’s coming from your tyres, it’s just very irritating and you eventually just have to slow down to give your brain some respite. It makes you feel sorry for Stuka pilots who had to put up with that noise, day in, day out, bombing the shit out of people...

When the tyres were new, I don’t remember this being a problem. I clipped along through Spain at about 130 km/h, all day, no problem. And off road in the desert, the tyres performed faultlessly and never caused me a thought. If I was going to the desert again, I’d have no hesitation using them again. But for a bike predominantly used on road… I don’t think so.

So, I was on a sort of Euro-touring buzz this time and the almost dead, noisy Pirellis were at odds with that somewhat. The trip turned out to me much longer than the thousand miles I was anticipating and so the last couple of hundred miles (across the UK, in the rain, in the dark) was completed on tyres that weren’t fit to hang off the side of a trawler.

The other source of irritation was the GPS. I didn’t have proper European maps loaded into the unit and so it was operating on the fairly rudimentary European map that came installed on it. And this operates in a slightly different way than I’m used to. Instead of saying helpful things like “In 100 metres, turn left” it says ambiguous things like “Continue 75 kilometers, then turn West”. This may not seem ambiguous, but when you’ve just run out of tarmac and onto a dirt track, it does make you wonder…

In the UK (It has the proper UK maps installed) it did a very annoying thing. The M6 motorway had a junction closed and I was forced to divert. And the GPS brought me back to the previous junction, back onto the motorway and up to the blocked junction again. And despite my best attempts to break out of the loop, it did this three times! That was over 60 miles and an hour and a half, wasting time and petrol and depleting my energy and my almost dead tyres. Like the lady said – “Aint no-one got time for that!”

In the end, I just ignored the GPS and went into Birmingham City and out the other side before letting the GPS take over again.

I’m pretty sure I’m not the first person to experience this and I suspect Garmin have some way to deal with this programed into the unit. It’s on my to-do list to find out what that is…

Despite these small irritations, it was a very enjoyable trip. I traveled through the Italian alps, across Switzerland, across France and across the UK. In Italy and Switzerland, people seemed to be a bit disdainful of the rusty, ratty old Africa Twin. In France and the UK people seemed to really like it. There was a kid on a supermotard in rural France got real excited about it and rode along with me for a bit pulling wheelies and shouting 'Dakar!'

The last portion of the trip from Dover to Holyhead, I did overnight. I don’t generally like riding motorcycles at night, but sometimes on moonlit nights, I have this romantic notion that it must be nice to drive all night. I’ve been thinking this for years but I’ve never done it.

So when I arrived in Dover about 7pm, it was raining. I really didn’t fancy camping in the rain and so decided I was going to stay in a motel. Motels aren’t picky about check in times the way campsites are, so I thought I might as well get some miles in until I got tired. So a hundred miles later when I stopped to tank, I was  enjoying myself and I didn’t feel like going to bed. So I decided to just keep driving ‘til I got to Holyhead, then get a couple of hours sleep in the car park before getting the first ferry back to Dublin.

It’s an interesting way to travel. Once I got passed Birmingham the motorway was almost empty of traffic. It’s a curious, solitary feeling but by no means unpleasant. And the people working in the service stations at night seem to enjoy having a chat to break the monotony. 

So all in all, it was a good trip. The Africa Twin is a fantastic bike for a trip like this and I absolutely loved it. Unfortunately, the AT needs a lot of work so it’ll be a while before it’s on the road again. I’ll probably do a separate post about this sometime in the future…

Mercenary Garage Africa Twin - The Trip Home

Mercenary Garage Africa Twin - The Trip Home

Mercenary Garage Africa Twin - The Trip Home
The Moto Guzzi Museum in Mandello del Lario. Closed for the tourist season...

Mercenary Garage Africa Twin - The Trip Home
Lost in the Italian Alps (or maybe Switzerland, who knows...)

Mercenary Garage Africa Twin - The Trip Home
A cool start to the morning

Mercenary Garage Africa Twin - The Trip Home
Early morning, Italian Alps

Mercenary Garage Africa Twin - The Trip Home
North Eastern France - This was an epic road!

Mercenary Garage Africa Twin - The Trip Home
Evening, France. The heat is very tiring.

Mercenary Garage Africa Twin - The Trip Home
Late morning, France. Not too hot, so good driving.

Mercenary Garage Africa Twin - The Trip Home

Mercenary Garage Africa Twin - The Trip Home
Lost near Calais

Mercenary Garage Africa Twin - The Trip Home
Sunrise, Holyhead

Mercenary Garage Africa Twin - The Trip Home
If you think this is bad, you should see the front...

Mercenary Garage Africa Twin - The Trip Home
Back home after nearly five years.

Pictures of the original 2008 trip can be found...

Part 1 is here... Sahara Trip, Christmas 2008 (Part 1)
Part 2 is here... Sahara Trip, Christmas 2008 (Part 2)
Part 3 is here... Sahara Trip, Christmas 2008 (Part 3)
Part 4 is here... Sahara Trip, Christmas 2008 (Part 4)
'Stuck' is here... Stuck

Terms and Conditions

Some safety stuff… I do not recommend driving on bald tyres in the spirit of adventure. I had originally intended to get the ferry from France to Ireland. Later I made the decision to cross the UK instead, increasing the length of the journey by half, to a point where the tyres became unsafe. That was just stupid.

Driving on bald tyres causes the handling of the bike to deteriorate – this has obvious safety implications. However there is a less obvious but bigger danger; getting a blow-out and crashing.

When I was a courier, it was widely accepted that punctures only happened just before you were about to replace the tyre anyway and they usually happened when it’s raining – the universe is just mean like that. 

This is true (the bit about the punctures, not the bit about the mean universe). Tyres are more likely to puncture when they’re worn. There’s less rubber there, so it’s easier to penetrate the tyre. And tyres are also more likely to puncture when it’s raining. The water acts as a lubricant, again making it easier to penetrate the tyre.


I would like it noted that I expect my misadventure in GPS-land are down to my own stupidity for not learning how to use the thing properly. If this turns out not to be the case, expect a big long motherfucking rant about GPS design soon.

#AfricaTwin #RD04 #Mercenary #MercenaryGarage

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