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I’m sure we have all heard the urban myth about the squaddies wearing night vision goggles while driving a sports car with the lights off to avoid detection. The story goes that a lone policeman is watching the road with a radar gun and the gun goes off and reads some silly speed but the policeman can’t see a car. It happens a few times until they finally catch the person and find out that they are using night vision equipment (if you still aren’t sure what I’m rambling on about read this).

Well I’ve been thinking about this myth a bit and I think it might be possible to do on a motorbike, so in the name of science and quality investigative journalism I’m going to give it a go. Of course I’m not going to ride about on public roads with the lights out. That would be illegal and wrong but luckily I’m on a farm which means I’ve got a bit of land to scream around on where I won’t endanger members of the public.

The next problem would be getting hold of some night vision goggles to wear. Not so, I picked some up on Ebay a couple of years ago for more than I care to mention (lets just say that the Daytona fund would be looking a bit more healthy if I hadn’t) and so I have some military-grade night vision goggles.

The Night vision goggles and a cup of tea, what could possibly go wrong?

The Night vision goggles and a cup of tea, what could possibly go wrong?

I’ll need to wear a helmet when riding the bike and I’ve got an old one knocking about that was my dad’s and has seen better days. It will provide the mounting for the goggles, or at least will be modified a bit so the goggles fit properly.

A slightly knackered old helmet

A slightly knackered old helmet

So there you have it, everything is in place for some real scientific testing.

The goggles give you slight tunnel vision so I think that is something to overcome, but I don’t think it will be too hard once I have them focused. I should point out that I will be practicing first on a bicycle before I go anywhere near a motorbike and even then it will be low speeds only

Oh and don’t try this at home.

Given that the Stinger is far beyond my abilities to repair I’ve decided to start fiddling around with the 185 ER motorcycle to see if I can bring it back to life. I don’t know an awful lot about motorbike repair let alone restoration so this is going to be a learning experience but that’s just all part of the enjoyment, right?

When the bike was discovered we tried kick starting it but it was having none of it. Mostly because something is very wrong with the throttle, it’s jammed and no amount of twisting will get it to move so freeing it up was my first task.

Look at the state of that, just look

Look at the state of that, just look

To add an extra layer of fun to the project I had to find the tools before I could use them. I suspected that everything I would ever need was probably in the workshop it was just a matter of locating it. I was right, and hopefully while I do this I can slowly sort out where things go.

After a bit I’d managed to track down the jam to the bit of wire that leads onto the small bit that looks like a miniature dustbin, or the carburettor as it’s known. The lovely chaps on the Classic Bike forums suggested I just spray that with WD40 and see if that can un-gum it. I’ve given it a good coating so we will find out if that has worked in a day or so.

The top is half off the carburettor in this picture so it looks a bit weird.

I’m going to try and keep to doing the absolute minimum to the motorbike until I’ve got the engine ticking over otherwise I may end up spending a fortune on something that doesn’t even run. While this may be an important part of classic motorcycle ownership I’m not quite ready for that. 

If you are going to ride a motorcycle off road you are going to need some serious boots. Even though you will probably be travelling at lower speeds than you would on a road the chance of twisting your ankle or doing some other unpleasant thing to your foot is much higher. Even an fairly innocent action like putting your boot down for a just moment to steady yourself at low speeds can end up in a nasty injury.

It was because of this I invested in some very serious boots before my first adventure ride. I was told by the instructors that I had to wear motocross boots because of the high level of ankle protection they provide, normal road boots just wouldn’t cut it. Water proofing wasn’t an issue as they said that nothing will help when you end up walking through a river so just take lots of spare socks.

When I explained what I needed the boots for the chaps in my local Hein Gericke store suggested some TRG Cross boots. I’d not worn a motocross boot before so I was a bit taken back by the lack of flexibility in them, I could hardly move my ankles at all which made me a bit concerned about if I’d be able to change gear while wearing them.
The boots before the course

The boots before I went riding in them.

The plus side of having your ankles are so cosseted is that they are incredibly well protected, which is perfect for adventure riding. I was told that if I wore the boots around the house for a day before I went out riding it would be equivalent to the movements of thousands of miles or riding and they would become a bit more supple.  So by the time I got to wear them on a motorbike they felt far more natural. They still were a bit like something Robocop would wear but at least they were nice and snug.

Gear changing proved a bit interesting at first, but once I got a feel for the shape of the boots it was fine. The chunky soles mean you can use the edge of them to move the gear lever up which helps if you are still struggling with the lack of ankle movement. I gave the boots a really hard time, they were walked through rivers, stamped in bogs, jammed under bikes and even used for a bit of running and they were brilliant.

The boots after a few days hard riding

The boots after a few days hard riding

Even though they aren’t listed as waterproof you will be fine in a light shower or if you have to put your foot down quickly in a puddle and if they do get wet they dry out pretty fast. They even have a nice leather bit on the inside so you don’t scratch your bike.

After a weekend in them my normal road going boots felt about as armoured as an old sock and so I suspect in the future I’ll be wearing these TRG boots for more than just adventure riding.

The boots were £129.99 and you can order them here.

If you liked this review you can read about my review of the Hein Gerick Tuareg jacket and trousers (pants if you prefer) or read about my first adventure ride here

I’ve had a dig through some old emails from my dad when he went into a bit more detail about the motorbike and I thought I’d share it here. It really gives you an idea of what a special motorcycle this is.
A nice close up of the front end.

A nice close up of the front end.

‘The Cylinder head is from a 350 Matchless or AJS, also 50’s, which with its smallish valves gives high gas speed at low revs, which is why it pulls like a train. Point is no one valued 350cc bits and pieces 15 years ago – they all wanted 500cc stuff – so these bits were cheap and relatively plentiful. A “proper” 500 alloy competition engine was worth probably £ 1500 and I built the whole bike, everything, for less than £600 as I recall. And got, with the crank/piston relationship a full 500 anyway. The 85mm stroke flywheels make it rev like mad if you want. Ignition is a Chec PAL speedway bike magneto which I converted to manual timing control with my home made (about 20 attempts) back plate to carry the points. Very Trick.

Gearbox is a standard Burman type fitted to millions of 50’s road bikes, but with lightweight Norton clutch and shock absorber. Chain cases made from bits of Villiers cases all welded up by a pal of John’s who welds up nuclear subs. John welded up the oil tank from alloy too.

Back wheel from a 1956 James road bike with new rim, BSA brake back plate and linings. Severely modified and rebuild-able rear shock absorbers. Front forks from some 1970’s obscure British firm, possibly REH, with again my modified internals and damping, front wheel from auto-jumble. The Petrol tank is made for choppers in the 70’s with a lot of welding up.

The motorcycle in it's natural state, covered in mud.

The motorcycle in it's natural state, covered in mud.

And so on. I can’t think of much else except that it was made to compete in Pre’65 trials which I did a lot, including some of the major national ones, and it was always accepted as being in the spirit of the game, even if not totally authentic. I can’t remember how much it weighs, except that I used to be able to pick it up, and its wheelbase is much the same as a Tiger Cub’s, which was reckoned to be the yardstick, if you like teeny gurly bikes.’

Read an earlier post about the bike here

I had a dig around in the shed because I’d been told that the entire Stinger motorbike was there I just had to find it. Well after a bit of falling over and some light swearing when I dropped a plank on my foot I found the parts.
The front part of the bike, well most of it.

The front part of the bike, well most of it.

The front wheel and shocks weren’t looking at their best but they are there, and you can even see the tax disk holder if you look carefully. Spurred on by this I continued searching through the boat shed and found the iconic exhausts and petrol tank from the Stinger.

The distinctive tank and exhausts
The distinctive tank and exhausts

Even the soft lighting from the window can’t completely hide that this motorcycle needs a lot of work. Has anyone else restored a wreck like this? How much time are we talking?

I was digging through some old albums of my dad and I found this excellent picture of him scrambling on a Matchless motorbike. Does anyone know what it is?

My dad scrambling on an unknown bike

My dad scrambling on an unknown bike

It looks like a 500cc bike, but I could be wrong. The engine shape is pretty distinctive, so I’d imagine someone out there will know what it is.

It might be a G85 or a G50, but the exhaust loops around to the wrong side, but my Dad may have modified it. He was pretty handy in the workshop which you can read about here.

So can anyone out there on the internet solve this mystery?

Okay, let me start off by saying this is an off-road review of the F 800 GS, I did get to ride the motorcycle around a bit on some roads but that was a fairly limited experience so I can’t really talk about that yet. I’m going to try and do a road review in a bit but I’ll have to sort out a loan of a motorcycle with BMW and various other things like insurance.

I managed to get a flat tire, but it was fairly easy to change.

I managed to get a flat tire on the first day, I'm still not sure how.

The first thing you notice when getting on the F 800 GS is that it is fairly tall, so I wouldn’t recommend it to shorter riders. It’s not stupidly tall but if you are riding something off-road you want to be able to stamp your feet down if you need to. It’s also a pretty heavy motorbike. You don’t realise it at first because the handling is so good but when you drop it a couple of times (like I did) it soon starts to get heavy. It’s 185kg dry and a reported 207kg ‘road ready’ with a full tank which is a lot to lift in the mud. Interestingly the bike has a maximum load of 443kg so in theory you could use the F 800 GS to carry another F 800 GS if you could sort out the bungee cords to hold it on. That’s pretty cool when you think about it and gives you an idea of the grunt this bike has.

This power is a bit of an issue until you get the hang of it, the controls are so sharp that if you go over a bump or a rock your hand may jerk around the throttle and the bike will go screaming off into the distance, possibly with you hanging on. I got caught out with this a few times until I got in the habit of riding in a higher gear and feathering the clutch to take the edge off the engine.

The bike is designed for people who really know what they are doing off-road so I have to admit the first day on it was a bit of a struggle. It was exhausting trying to control the bike over hills and things, it was just so eager to go and since a mistake was typically rewarded by having to pick the bike up again I was not a huge fan by the time came to go the pub. After chatting with the instructors about the bike over a pint (read about the course I was on here) they said you had to bully it a bit to get the best out of it and so that is what I resolved to do the next day.

The F 800 GS sporting optional water carriers.

The F 800 GS sporting optional water carriers.

With the advice I’d been given repeating in my head I set off on the second day of riding and tried to be a bit more bossy with the bike. I didn’t quite understand what this involved at first but the F 800 GS has so much oomph in every gear that you can just chuck it into things and it will sort itself out. I just had to have the confidence to do that. The Eureka moment for me was during a hill climb where suddenly the vast amounts of power on tap became a huge asset and from then I was completely sold on the bike.

I could happily scream up and down hills in second gear, third with a bit of a run up and any really tricky tracks (the sort that would trouble you on foot) were resolved by just keeping the throttle open at a reasonable rate in first and using the clutch to control the speed. Even though I’d just adjusted my riding style a bit it felt like a completely different bike, an excellent bike, a wonderful bike.

The F 800 GS is a great machine, one that can handle almost any terrain and after you have been on it a bit other off-road bikes either seem a bit breathless or sluggish. It really is something really special so special that I think my dream garage may have to be changed a bit to make way for a new member.

Here is the official BMW F 800 GS website, and click here to read more about my time at the BMW Off-Road skills course in Wales.

 

My lid was starting to pong a bit so it was time to give it a good clean. After a bit of searching on the Internet and talking to some friends it seems that you can take helmets into the shower and wash them that way even if it seems a bit wrong. The advice was just to wash it carefully with shampoo and then let it try out naturally over a few days.

Even the cats thought it was a bit whiffy.

Even the cats thought it was a bit whiffy.

 So I took it into the shower and started scrubbing it down, this was going well and then I noticed that the lining came away so it could be cleaned seperately. What a prat. If I’d read the instructions for my helmet I would have known that. There was even a little white tag inside the helmet saying ‘removable lining’. Double prat. I think the reason I didn’t read the instructions was what would they say? ‘Step 1 – Place on head, Step 2 – ride’ 

The offending lining

The offending lining, just after being removed.

Anyway the lining has now been handwashed seperately and the helmet has survived it’s trip to the shower so it clearly is safe to take helmets into the shower to wash them. Another mystery solved.

If you are really concerned just phone up your dealer and check with them. Just so you know, if you tell people you are washing your helmet* be ready for all sorts of sniggers and silly giggles, especially if you mention it got a bit smelly after riding hard.

Oh and I washed my Hein Gericke Tuareg suit in the washing machine and it’s fine. You just have to remove the armour before you chuck it in. Yes for some reason I’m able to read the instructions on a jacket but not on a helmet.

*In Britain at least it’s slang for something rude.

I thought I’d do a quick report on the Tuareg suit I recently aquired, this review is based on two days of hard riding in Wales, in a range of weather conditions including sideways rain and boiling heat so I think it’s a fairly good test. I even fell off a few times so the armour got a bit of a going over as well.

The suit drying out after getting soaked, the next day it was bone dry.

The suit drying out after getting soaked, the next day it was bone dry.

The suit is composed of three main components. An outer layer which isn’t completely waterproof but seems to hold off light showers and splashes, some lovely chunky armour and a warm and waterproof inner lining. The outer layer has a load of pockets for storing small important things and includes a few handy vents that can be opened for extra cooling. On the back there is a quite large pocket mounted low down which I found perfect for stashing maps and my license in. The build quality is excellent and there are lots of little touches that make you realise how much thought has gone into the suit. The trousers are just as well made and the knee armour feels especially secure.

I spent most of the weekend wearing the trousers with the lining in, to try and stop getting completely soaked when riding through rivers but I wore the jacket without the lining to stay cool. I was fine in this combination in light showers but when it really started to rain I chucked in the waterproof lining and I was instantly snug and dry. It’s a great bit of kit, my only niggle is that you have to be a little bit careful when opening and closing the poppers that hold the lining in. They are designed to be a lightweight as possible so they don’t get in the way but this means they seem a bit fragile. You don’t have to do them all up if you are in a hurry, I got caught in the rain and just zipped the lining in the front and left the poppers alone.

I’d say the suit gets a bit thumbs up from me. It’s going to become part of my winter kit, who am I kidding it is my winter kit. It’s lovely and warm, dries out really fast and it impresses girls who see it because it looks so serious. Yup, so I’d say that is a success. It would be suitable for a serious adventure rider but it would work just as well for a commuter who only rides to work but has sparkle in their eyes that hints of the Dakar.

The Tuarag jacket was £299.99, the trousers (pants for my American chums) were £129.99

Http://www.heingericke.co.uk/

Click here to read a review of the boots I used with the suit

Like almost every other man alive I watched Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman ride motorbikes around the world and thought, ‘cor I’d love a go at that’ so when the opportunity arose to be trained to ride off-road with Charley Boorman I couldn’t resist.
The BMW off-road centre in Wales was set up eight years ago by Simon Pavey and the sadly departed John Deacon, to teach novices, and Jedi (Ewan and Charley did the course before they set off) all the skills they would need to ride motorbikes around the world. Simon really knows his stuff when it comes to off-road riding; he has competed in the Paris Dakar rally six times. All the instructors on the course have at least some Dakar experience so you are in good hands. 
Rows and rows of lovely bikes

Rows and rows of lovely bikes

You can hire out almost everything you will need – apart from a helmet but I decided to get my own gear as I’d been warned how hot you get and I didn’t want to spend a couple of days bathed in someone else’s sweat. I got slightly over-excited and so got hold of a top of the range Tuareg suit – I’ll have reviewed it here.

On the F 800 in the Taureg suit

On the F 800 in the Taureg suit

I was riding around on the new F 800 GS which has only recently been launched and is a bit of beast. There are a range of bikes you can ride (650s and 1200) but for off-road beginners like me, there are more suitable bikes. It’s an amazing bike, but as it’s so responsive I found it a bit of handful to begin with.

The first day started with us filling out extremely long disclaimer forms and then being assigned our bikes. We would have a short, slightly nervous ride to the site on roads and then the proper training would begin. The site is amazing, it’s an old quarry that has been landscaped so we had 4000 acres of muddy paths, gravel roads and streams to ride around in and we didn’t have to share it with anyone else.

We began with familiarising ourselves with the bikes, we had to walk around them holding on with only one hand to get a feel of the balancing point and the weight. Then we practiced picking the bikes up when they were on the ground – something I’d be doing a lot over the weekend. This training course is quite different to other off-road courses in that they make a big thing of really teaching you skills. So we worked through a series of excises like turning in the tightest circle possible and how to slow down properly on mud so we could handle the bikes off-road. The breaking was excellent fun because before we were shown how to do it properly we had to practice doing it wrong and then learning to control the bike. I’ve never done so many skids and wheel spins in a short amount of time.

Charley appeared at this point to help out and almost immediately someone flew off their bike because they got distracted. The chap and the bike were fine (although the 1200 lost it’s windscreen which I thought was a vast improvement) and so teaching resumed and we started working on some more advanced, alien techniques with Charley helping out. We were standing up on our bikes at this point – it feels weird at first but it makes it much easier to balance and gives you more control.

The first big step was being taught to steer the bikes only using our legs, something I didn’t realise was even possible. And then once we had got the hang of that we had a ride around with our hands in the air – only using our legs to manoeuvre. Riding at 40mph on a gravel track with your hands in the air is a bit terrifying to say the least.

After a morning of skill based work we started on our first ride around the site. Gary (one of the instructors) took us out in a group of six and we would follow him and try not to fall off. I fell off a lot. I could have been auditioning for BMW bike diving team, but I didn’t hurt myself, or the bike and I loved every minute of it. I couldn’t believe some of the tracks we were managing to ride along. At about 4pm the riding stopped for the day and we were physically and mentally exhausted. It was definitely time to go to the pub and swap stories.

All the instructors joined us in the pub as did Charley. Everyone was really jolly after having such a fun day, Charley said this was entirely normal for the course ‘The lovely thing about helping teach here is that everyone is so happy and then people go away and realise that there is a whole world out there to explore.’

The second day began with a couple more advanced techniques, like stopping the bikes on hills you couldn’t even walk down and then more tricky rides around the site. I was feeling far more confident at this point and I started to really understand and enjoy the bike. The F 800 GS is an amazing bike, absolutely amazing but you have to have the confidence to bully it a little bit and then it really comes alive. We also had a chance to ride around on the other bikes on the course so I had a quick lap on the F 650 XChallenge, F 650 GS and the infamous  R 1200 GS. Compared to the F 800 GS the F 650 GSs were a bit more nimble but didn’t quite have the same responsive grunt that I’d come to love on the F 800 GS and the R 1200 GS felt very strange but stable. On the first day I wasn’t a big fan of the F 800 GS but by the second day I’d got the hang of it and now I’m a huge fan.

Other people on the course were also amazed by how far they had come. Paul, a lecturer in Scotland had been riding for 35 years had learned things and even Elvin, a Policeman from Northern Ireland who also is an observer with the Institute of Advanced Motoring was picking up new skills.

Simon explained that this was one of his favourite aspects of teaching ‘People are always amazed by how much they have come by the end of the course, and then they go and use these skills in the real world. We train people up and then a few months later we get an email from them saying that they are in Ulaanbaatar (in Mongolia).’

Near the end of the course Gary offered to take out a brave group on a really tough ride to test out their new skills. Testosterone got the better of me and I volunteered to join them. Out of the thirty people on the course only four people dared to go on this ride. It was really tough work, everyone else fell off their bikes at least once including the instructor but it was the moment when it really clicked for me and I fell in love with my bike – when I had to hand it back I had a manly tear in my eye.

The group who dared to go on the final ride

The group who dared to go on the final ride

The course ended with us getting certificates and people talking about what they were going to do next – almost everyone was planning to go off exploring around the world. If you are even slightly tempted to do any off-road riding go on this course, the level of instruction is amazing and no-matter how long you have been riding you will learn some useful skills. So who else is up for a jolly around the planet?

The two day beginner off-road course costs £449 – Http://www.worldofbmw.com – 08000 131 282.

My Tuareg suit is from Hein Gericke – www.hein-gericke.co.uk

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