During the summer I was invited to join a group motorcycle tour and I jumped at the offer, as I wanted the chance to find out where the packs of fully laden, state of the art adventure bikes were going after chugging up the M4 & 5 to Wales, and what they were getting for their money.
Arrangements were made, and a few emails bounced back and forth between myself and the operator, with co-ordinates and maps attached. The maps, I was informed, would not be required due to the use of a “marker system”- an arrangement which would involve a rider from the front of the group, behind the lead rider, waiting at each junction until the tail rider approached, they would then join the back of the pack. A system, that at a glance seemed to be a bit of a chore.
On the day of departure, with my panniers fully loaded, I fired my BMW F800r into life and headed for the M5 and the first meeting point at a hotel in Whitchurch. As I rolled up the drive on to the pot-holed car park, I was immediately hit by the glare of fresh paint that adorned the array of the new bikes and equipment gathered in the car park along with more Rukka clothing than you could shake a stick at, It all seemed a bit ostentatious and my stomach sank as I automatically weighed, measured and found wanting, the well-heeled company that I would have to endure over the coming days as the poor relation. As my visions of this middle-class folly slowly unfolded into daily jaunts into the mountains, cappuccino stops, four star hotels, a nice bottle of red and a carpetbagger steak with garlic butter, all while the fully loaded, quarter-tonne machines stood on guard in the car park, waiting patiently for their owners in the morning to finish their eggs and salmon to romp back down the twisting lanes and mountain passes in search of the next cappuccino destination.
And in all honesty I enjoyed every minute of it, it was a holiday and as for the group, I was so wrong, my knee jerk self-righteous misgivings couldn’t have been further from the truth, with everyone on the tour being very grounded, warm and friendly, good people just out for a bit of fun and even as the Welsh rain hammered down on us hour after hour, day after day, spirits remained high, everyone helped each other and we all had a fantastic time, eating, laughing and definitely drinking too much and each morning we awoke to a fresh new day of well-planned routes down the wet and twisting Welsh roads and flooded mountain passes, I even came to appreciate and enjoy the benefits of the marker system!
However, and as much as I enjoyed myself, on my return I couldn’t quite console my miserable deflated wallet at having had to shell out £500 on one weekend in the Welsh mountains and lying in bed with the thought of this sliding back and forth in my mind, I started to contemplate what I could have done with that £500. I started to convince myself that I could probably buy a bike, the insurance and tax, pay for fuel, equipment, and accommodation to do a trip myself. A big ask maybe, but certainly a poke in the eye of consumerist attitude that we are nurtured into and spoon-fed by business, and to add to the flavor of the trip it would be a bit of the back to basics ethos that’s seems to be gaining momentum with some in the biking community in which people are turning to smaller, more basic machines that are reliable, fun, easy to handle and work on.
I enthusiastically started on my new found mission by trawling the social media sales pages for a bike, but nothing seemed suitable or was just too expensive. Then, after a couple of weeks, up popped a 2014 Zontes 125cc Tiger, a bike that looks sneakily like a copy of the Yamaha SR125. It was advertised for £300, it had nearly 14,000 miles on the clock, a short MOT and some minor mechanical faults like a spongy front brake, a bent foot peg, movement in the front stocks bearings, but the engine was sound and the faults all seemed superficial, and nothing a day or two on the tools would solve. A few messages later and a cash offer of £250, coupled with the seductive lure of same day cash and collection, the bike was home with me all within just a few hours.
The following weekend the spanners were out and after a long, wet Saturday of twisting and turning, bashing and bending, the bike was MOT ready. I jumped on the internet and taxed it for £20, insured it for the grand sum of £67 and booked it in for a MOT (Editor’s note: A UK road worthiness test) on the Monday morning for the sum of £29.
A few hours after dropping the bike off for its MOT, I received the joyful news that the bike had failed the MOT! So the following day and after fitting “more yellow” indicator bulbs (£3), I was presented with the bike’s MOT certificate with the bonus of no advisories. I picked up a new (nearly new) LS2 helmet, a jacket that did not really fit and pair of gloves all sold as a set on a charity auction site for £30 making my total spend £399, leaving a lump in my throat at the whopping £101 remaining for my entire journey!
For the journey I first considered a little bit of dirt bag biking – the open road, a rough plan, and at the end of the night, a small bag of shopping from Aldi, a tent with a nice sea view, or at a push maybe a nice little campsite. Bloody fantastic! But the downside is the extra weight of all the camping equipment and extra weight means extra fuel and extra money. That with the cost of the camping gear, along with the difficulty of drying your gear if it gets wet, as I planned to travel in mid November, and not forgetting the ever present danger of being eaten by a pack of rogue badgers, and the fact that I wanted the journey to be as appealing or as close as I could get it to the Wales weekend so I opted for what I think is one of the best travel accommodation options, the good old back packers hostel.
I re-discovered backpacking hostels a few years ago, when I reluctantly re-checked myself into one in Amsterdam, having done that some years earlier and ended up bedding down with two mates and 37 of Amsterdam’s homeless. Hostels, on the whole, have moved on, with some sporting single rooms, hot showers, a drying room for your kit, a kitchen and a bar serving food, with a hot breakfast available in the morning, all from £10 per night (in a dorm), with the added bonus of only needing to carry the minimal amount of gear that for me would consist of wash kit, two underwear, two tops, a multi-tool and a roll of gaffer tape for any mechanical or medical emergencies all strapped to the seat in a black bin bag.
So for my first journey planned for November, and with my budget in mind, I decided that I would ride south, staying overnight in Portsmouth and the following morning I would catch a ferry to the Isle of Wight, an island off the south coast of England in the English Channel. I would circumnavigate the 380 sq km island along coastal roads, spending one night on the island and the next day I would ride back to the port and catch an early ferry back into Portsmouth and bash out a long ride home, a perfect first journey for anyone…