What’s important, and what’s not

“First and foremost, all of us have to do whatever we can to protect one another. In society I mean. This should be the case all the time in life, but in this moment I think it matters more than ever. I’ve said before that football always seems the most important of the least important things. Today, football and football matches really aren’t important at all.”

                                                                                                                       Jürgen Klopp

Never were wiser words spoken by a football/soccer manager! I’m not the biggest fan of the current Liverpool manager, but there’s no denying he is very good at what he does, and it seems like he’s no dope when it comes to philosophy either. His words have made me reconsider one of the things I like to do most when time allows, i.e. motorcycling. Considering everything that’s going on right now, it just isn’t (or shouldn’t be) a priority to hop on the old beast and go for a ride. Doctors are telling riders to stay off the streets so as not to cause any accidents and injuries, as the hospitals really are full enough right now. I’ve heard some riders complain about this, and go out anyway, but they’re skating on very thin ice. This is a siuation very few of us have been in before, and no one knows how it will end. Take it seriously.

I do try to remain optimistic, however, and in my mind’s eye I can see my friends and I chugging along a narrow, shady, tree-lined Brandenburg “Allee” on our way to one of the area’s innumerable lakes for a cool swim. Better days will come. Until then, it’s time to hunker down and take care of each other.

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The weather is warming up, but the old goose will have to wait a bit to hit the road again.

 

 

Tough times

The Coronavirus pandemic has changed almost everything in our lives these past few weeks. Nothing is the same, and I can’t seem to satisfy my need for more information about what’s going on, about what’s been decided. The news of the past 24 hours is really from yesterday,  though, as everything changes so rapidly. Germany may soon go into full lockdown mode, as has happened in other European countries. All of this is hard to get my head around, and I’m happy I can still get out for the occasional ride to forget about all the misery and uncertainty for a while. Michael, on his old BMW, feels the same. It’s good to feel the wind in your face and listen to the sound of the old one-cylinder engine chugging along, to smell the fresh aroma of the pine forests that whirl past and try and remember which side the brake is on, which side is the shifter. Who knows when the next restrictions will limit our abilty to move around even more. Sure, it’s all necessary, but it’s mighty scary nonetheless.

NF and BMW

Winter riding and other activities

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I’ve been out riding a few times lately when time and the weather has allowed. Not much traffic on the rural roads south of the city these days. Still no winter to speak of, but it is often cool, wet and windy, so my trips have been relatively short. Still, wonderful to be able to get out on two wheels in February. This is the third year in a row with mild winter temperatures, and it doesn’t leave much doubt in my mind with regard to the big picture.

At any rate, I’m getting more and more used to the old Goose, and she seems to run well. I still hit the shifter sometimes when aiming for the rear brake, but it hasn’t been as bad as I thought it would be. I’ve even had been in a couple of situations where I had to stop in a hurry and the old drum brakes have worked as well as other riders said they would. I wanted a “practical” oldtimer, and so far this has proven to be the case.

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On the Kawasaki-side of things, it was time to get the two carburettors cleaned, as the old girl was really starting to run poorly. The last time the bike was at the mechanic’s, he mentioned dismantling the two Vergaser, as the Germans call them, and putting them in an ultrasonic cleaner overnight. In the end, he (MTH in Berlin) also put in a new set of gaskets and had to replace the fuel tap, as the old one was leaking a bit. It wasn’t exactly cheap in the end, but what an amazing difference it makes. The bike feels smoother and accelerates quickly from much lower rpms than it ever has. I should have had this done long ago! And speaking of “having it done”, I decided at some point that I really don’t like working on this machine, as it is much more complicated than old Moto Guzzis or BMWs, and my mecahnical abilities are limited. It would have taken me ages to get everything taken off, especially because the carbs are attached to the cooling system (something to do with preheating the carbs) and are not easy to get at. The mechanic took everything apart, cleaned the carbs, rebuilt and adjusted them and had me back on the road in less than two days. As this is my main private means of commuting (weather permitting), that was important. And I guess it’s not too much to expect to have the carbs cleaned every 19 years!

Aside from routine maintenance, we’ve put a fair bit of money into the Plum (her name due to the dark purple color) in the last couple of years (new tires, steering bearings, chain and sprockets, rear shocks), but she’s in great shape now and runs like a top, and all in all is still a relatively cheap means of transport.  Now if I could just do something to improve the front forks, and maybe get some spoked rims on her…

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I also changed the bike’s blinkers. The photo of old and new doesn’t really do the swap justice, but I had always hated the huge, ugly orange blinkers that looked like they belonged on a much bigger, older bike (in fact I think they were used on a wide range of bigger Kawasakis during the 1990s). I know its important for other drivers to be able to clearly see me when I want to turn, but I just couldn’t get used to these big, clunky abominations, and felt they broke up what were otherwise quite nice lines on the bike. I found some smaller blinkers at a local parts place for a fair price and replaced all four of them a couple of months ago, and am happy with the result. The new ones are still bright when activated, but detract much less from the overall aesthetics of the bike. Might seem a bit unnecessary, but I  read somewhere that replacing blinkers is one of the first and most common modifications owners make on their motorcycles, and the HUGE variety of available replacement parts seems to support this. For instance, Louis (“Europe’s number 1 for motorcycle clothing and technology”) has 165 articles on offer in the “Universal Motorcycle Turn Signal” category. You name it, they have it. Want classic bullseyes, mini-blinkers or high-tech LEDs? No problem. Just scroll down the page and get your credit card out!

The death of a should-have-been legend

I just read that Winifred Wells died on the 1st of February, and wanted to put a link to a story about her on here. She was truly a motorcycling pioneer who must have had amazing amounts of willpower to do what she did, which was to cross Southern Australia from coast to coast (and back!) on a 350cc Royal Enfield Bullet in 1951. She rode the 5,500 miles alone in only 21 days, crossing the Nullarbor Plain in the middle of the blazing hot summer. Her exploits are not well-known outside of Oz, and apart from a few Enfield enthusiasts in that country her story is not widely known either. It’s time that changed.

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In this photo taken on her dusty return to Perth, from where she had started. She looks like she’s ready to go again.  And it was not to be her last trip, either: She and her father circumnavigated the entire continent on two Bullets a couple of years later. I find her story inspiring for a number of reasons, but especially because almost no one expected her to be able to make such a strenuous trip on her own (which is obvious judging by the expressions on people’s faces in the photo). In the end, she proved them all wrong. Her trip is also a great example of the fact that you don’t need a big, modern machine with tons of gear to go travelling. A well-maintained bike of any kind and good planning will generally see you through. And, as they say, the best bike for the trip is the one you already own!

Here’s the link: https://www.oldbikemag.com.au/winifred-wells-first-lady/?fbclid=IwAR05NlH1Bsfb5XMTksSfG-Mc_3jTw2Qv5CykZXLFYbbHAD9q1H7tSuqC6QQ

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 balloon 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.

 

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.