A new falcon in the garage

Well, I went and did it again! This time I traded my beloved, nearly new Enfield Himalayan for a 1973 Moto Guzzi Nuovo Falcone (NF). Why on earth did I do this? I was really happy with the Indian bike, had put more than 10,000 kms on this past year, and wasn’t even thinking about selling it. And now I have a bike that is almost a half- century old and one that is rare enough to make looking for spare parts more than a slight adventure. And still, I didn’t really have to toss the idea around in my mind for too long before deciding to make the swap. The Falcone is such an unusual and yet (supposedly) practical classic that I was instantly interested in it, even before taking it for a test ride.

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The Nuovo Falcone was originally designed for the Italian military and police, and that version, usually in olive drab or dark blue, is by far the most common. At some point Moto Guzzi decided a civilian version (the Civile) might be a good idea, but only 3000 of them were sold before the model was discontinued in 1976. The last bunch were even painted a sand color (and called the Sahara) because the company had found a certain amount of leftover camoflage paint from the war, and wanted to make use of it. I find the Civile looks much faster than it actually is, but since I haven’t ridden it more than 50km (it’s winter here!) or gone more than 80 kmh yet, I may be wrong. I think once I get used to it, it will be a delight to ride, especially as the Himalayan taught me that going slow can be very enjoyable. Getting used to it, however, will require learning to use a shifter on the right and a brake pedal on the left, drum brakes both front and rear (which do seem to work very well) without any ABS, a clutch lever made for “real men” and pulling in the decompression lever before I hit the starter button (the starter is also the generator, which is a bit unusual). I’ll have to be patient, and keep in mind that this old tractor was hardly state-of-the-art when it hit the market in 1969. I’m hoping I can do much of the maintenance work on it myself, and as the Italian electrical system is already acting up (no headlight!), there’s no time to waste.

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Look at that head! The horizontal, 500 cc single-cylinder engine was the last one offered by Moto Guzzi before the company switched over to their famous two-cylinder V-engines. The thumper has heaps of torque and is easy to work on, but the valves apparently suffer from poor oil circulation, so some modifications may be necessary. The leg shields, which can be removed in the summer, are handy as well!

The bike came with a full set of tools, including some special wrenches and sockets needed to get the huge flywheel off, a great Harro Elefantenboy tank bag (always wanted one of those!), two well-used fiberglass Craven panniers and a fairing that includes a brand new windscreen. The seller (or in this case “trader”) was interested in parting with the NF because he wanted to reduce the size of his collection, and was, as he stated, going through a phase “of trying to be sensible”. He also wanted a Himalayan because he’s planning a long trip around the Baltic Sea in 2020, and felt it would be easier to find Royal Enfield spares for a nearly new bike than ones for an old Moto Guzzi. He had put a lot of work into the NF before he decided to sell it, and my first ride pretty much convinced me to make the trade.

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The Craven Comet panniers fit the bike well and are a very nice hand-made pair of fiberglass boxes held together with stainless steel bands. Made in England since the early 1950s, this pair is well used but still very functional, and each one will hold 25 liters of gear. New panniers, along with spare parts (locks, lids, bands, etc.), are still available from the manufacturer at reasonable prices.

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Harro’s giant (35 liter) tank bag is a real classic as well and fits the NF perfectly. The lower compartment is full of tools while the upper one expands like a ballon to hold a huge amount of clothing, etc. It has a large map compartment and two sturdy leather straps to keep it firmly in place. I’ve been interested in getting one of these for years, but had abstained as even used ones are quite expensive. This one is in good shape, and only needed a new foam rubber base, which is available from a company that still produces the bag, which has been made since the 1960s (https://www.rennweste.de/). I believe the bag was originally made for Zundapp’s KS601 “Green Elephant”, hence the name.

Do I miss the Himalayan? Absolutely. I would love to have keep it, but have to be “sensible” as well (if getting such a strange old bike can be called that!) and keep the fleet from expanding too much. A friend also reminded me that getting another Enfield would be easier than finding a Nuovo Falcone, which is a logical argument. I look forward to doing some long trips on the Falcone as well as to the challenge of keeping her running well.

 

Human Nature

“I reflected that it seemed to be in the nature of human beings to spend the first part of their lives mocking the cliches and conventions of their elders and the final part mocking the cliches and conventions of the young.”

― Michael Chabon, Moonglow

 

 

 

Maps

IMG_20190831_163159533.jpgI was approached by two bicyclists the other day while stopped at a red light. It was starting to rain and they weren’t sure which road to take to get to their final destination. I pulled to the side and took the map out of my tank bag to show them. I was greeted with surprise: “Look, he’s actually got a map, and a waterproof one at that! Wow!” I pointed them in the right direction and headed off on my way. As I was rolling home, I thought about the look on the bicyclist’s face when he saw I was using a map. Was it that strange? He was fairly young, so maybe the idea of not relying on GPS was new to him. I don’t have one mounted on my bike, and as I love  maps, use them to find my way. I do have a smartphone for when I really get lost, but luckily seldom need it. I’ve thought about taking the plunge and getting a Garmin or TomTom, but really haven’t felt the need yet. I always travel with a tank bag, and these generally have clear pockets on top for maps, so that’s the preferred method. I enjoy getting away from electronic gadgets while riding, so I don’t have an intercom and don’t listen to music while underway. I can’t talk on the phone either, and there’s no USB port. The Enfield does come with a compass though, which tells me both where north is, and which direction I’m riding, so I always find my way home. This will have to do for the time being.

A timely quote

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad / Roughing It

Riding into a storm

I went out for a short ride last Sunday evening, ignoring weather predictions about possible high winds and rain. The day seemed just perfect for a bimble, and I needed a little riding to clear my head of all the various thoughts swirling around it.

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The weather was perfect for most of the trip, with nary a wind to stir up ripples on a lake near the village of Dobbrikow. Brandenburg may be flat, but it does have its own special beauty! After admiring the view, I took a small road through the woods, heading west, trying my hand at a few short off-road sections and enjoying the ride.

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The sun was still shining and traffic was almost non-existent when I entered the woods. Three riders did cruise by at what seemed like a slightly excessive speed, but I thought little of it. Upon arriving at the western edge of the woods, however, I was faced with this:

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Beautiful light, but it was getting darker by the moment. Big piles of dark clouds quickly blotted out the sun and marched across the open fields. I put on my rain jacket as I headed in their direction. The storm broke just as I hit the main road, and fierce it was! I headed past cars that had pulled to the side of the road, but the bike felt stable despite the cross-winds, and I gingerly headed into the next town to find some shelter. Just as I found an empty bus stop in Beelitz, the storm ended as suddenly as it had begun. The rest of the ride home was fairly dry, and although my shoes and pants were soaked, I quite enjoyed it. There were a few downed trees (ABS to the rescue once again!), and the roads were full of leaves and branches. It felt like a bit of an adventure, right on my own doorstep. I later found out that a small tornado had hit a couple of nearby villages, damaging quite a few houses. My guardian angel was definitely watching over me! And next time I’ll pay more attention to the weather forecast.

New tires

I decided the Himalayan’s original Pirelli tires were getting too worn out and a bit square, and started looking around for a new pair. The MT60s had done a good job, getting me safely through a winter’s worth of riding and into this season’s first journeys, but they are quite street-oriented, and I wanted something with more bite when riding off-road. I was also somewhat disappointed that the original tires had held up for less than 9000 kms (5600 miles), especially considering the bike is relatively light and not exactly a monster when it comes to power, with all of 24.5 horsepower.

There are plenty of tires of various manufacturers that fit the bike’s 21″ rim up front and its 17″ rear, but I narrowed it down to local favorites Heidenau K60 Scouts (made in Germany!) and the Czech Mitas E07s. In the end I decided to go with the Mitas, as they are universally praised as fantastic 50/50 (percentage of use on/off-road) tires that last a long time and handle a variety of conditions very well. They are also quieter than the Scouts, which can be quite loud on the road from all accounts, and to top it all off, the E07s are less expensive, so in the end it was a no-brainer.

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Can tires be beautiful? They definitely have a certain “chunkey” aesthetic, as far as I’m concerned, and they fit the agricultural nature of the bike just fine.

The E07s have a good deal more profile than the Pirellis, but that doesn’t seem to affect the bike’s performance on the street too much. The Enfield feels very much as it did with the MT60s, except when I leave the road, where the new rubber provides much better grip on gravel roads and in the sand. I do notice a bit of noise at around 60 kmh (36 mph), but that quickly fades away as I get faster. The Scouts, on the other hand, seem to be a good deal louder, and a friend who uses them on his BMW is not amused with all the “singing” his tires do at a variety of speeds.

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I recently put over 1000 kms (600 miles) on the tires while riding past golden fields of grain in Poland, and was very pleased with them. They are well-suited to the rough riding conditions we encountered in that country, as is the Himalayan, for that matter. I haven’t gone off-road that much yet, but when I do, I’ll have the right tires for exploring old paths across fields and through the woods. They might not be up to the demands of the TET (Trans-European Trail), but then I may not be either!

For an interesting review that certainly influenced me in my tire-buying decision, take a look at Bret Tkacs link:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YnEcI3F_pqE