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.


In this photo taken on her dusty return to Perth, she looks like she’s ready to go again.  And it was not to be her last trip: She and her father later 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 it’s a great example of the fact that you don’t need a big, modern machine with tons of gear to go travelling. As they say, the best bike for the trip is the one you already own!

Here’s the link:

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.


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.


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.


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.


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 ( 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.



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.


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.


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:


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.