Musings, Riding

MMC Musings in Cotswold Life

When I popped an e-mail over to Cotswold Life offering them a few snaps and some airfieldy musings, I didn’t really think they’d publish them.  But they have.  May edition and a whole double page spread too.  I’m delighted.  It’s so good to see some of these old WWII bases getting the sort of recognition they’ve deserved for so long.

Big thanks to Candia and all the team at Cotswold Life.

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Musings, Riding

A spring evening’s bimble, being scared and perspective.

I fancied a ride this evening.  It’s spring.  It’s light.  It’s Wednesday.  It’s been a bitch of a day in the office.

That’s good enough for me.

I had to drop our entry fee for the Village Quiz in at a neighbour’s house so thought I’d call by on the Ural.

As I set off, there was still enough light not to worry the eccentric Ural electrics and the lanes beckoned.  The edges of the sky were just starting to crinkle and dim, but that was it.

Living in Bampton has a tendency to resemble The Archers from time to time.  This was one of them.

I arrived on Helene’s doorstep just as another neighbour and fellow rider, Reece, got there too.  Both of us clutched our Quiz cash in our hands. I knocked.  We exchanged bike chat as we waited for Helene to answer the door.

After a few minutes, Helene flung the door open, clearly somewhat flustered.  There she stood, in her nightgown with a towel around her head, Continue reading

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Riding

It’s not Urals that are unreliable. It’s their owners.

It was the rain that did it. That, and me buggering off for Christmas, leaving the Ural alone, outside under its cover. By the time I’d got back, half the UK’s annual rainfall had found its way into the carburettors. The Ural has two, one for each cylinder. Most of the water was, of course, in the left carb. “So what?” ask readers unfamiliar with combos imported into the British Isles. The left carb is wedged between the sidecar and the bike. Getting to it requires the skills of a contortionist India-rubber keyhole surgeon, a long-handled screwdriver and patience. By the Law of Sod which so carefully governs our lives, this means the left carb is always the one to fill with water, go out of balance, acquire a mouse nest in the float bowl…

But, actually, it’s all my fault. And it shows precisely why Urals are not, as some believe, rolling manifestations of unreliability. Instead, it illustrates that there are only unreliable owners.

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Thing is, modern stuff and Urals are fundamentally different. Modern stuff is all about sealed units, electronics, modules and zero interaction. You get on a modern bike, thumb the starter and it goes. No fuss, no bother – and absolutely no need to interact with the machine. The mechanics powering its engine and drivetrain are as much a mystery to you as the interior of your microwave.

A Ural is different. And that means Ural owners need to be different too. Starting procedure… if you have any mechanical sympathy at all, you’ll turn the engine over a couple of times with the kick-starter, just to give the top ends a fighting chance of getting a bit of oil heading their way. Then you’ll need to open the enricheners on the nasty, cast-in-purest-cheese Pekar K68 carbs. Of course, you’ll already have checked their float bowls are free from water, remember? Then, clutch in and hit the starter. This assumes you’re not one of the significant minority of Urallists who eschew electric starting.

And that’s the point. Urals are about interaction, about knowing how, about getting involved with the machinery. And that’s why they need the right sort of owners. Anyone who thinks they can just get on and ride an older Ural like a Modern is in for a very oily, spanner-related wake-up call.

My pal Alex’s new Triumph horrified him by being supplied with just a 5mm allen key. That was it. But it has more computers powering the fuel injection system than ran the whole of the Soyuz I mission. And you’re not allowed near any of them. In fact, modern bikes discourage interaction of any sort apart from the throttle-twisting kind.

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That’s fine, although I’m old fashioned enough to think that if you’re going to trust your neck to something you should understand how it works and be able to fix it. A Ural comes with a tool kit that’s comprehensive enough to rebuild the engine, fix the cycle parts and probably construct a Bessemer converter with what’s left over.

If you jump from a Honda to a Ural, and treat it with the sort of neglect Hondas lap up, it WILL be an unreliable heap. That’s because a Ural needs maintenance in the same way a Honda needs petrol. It’s part of the ownership experience.

Maintain a Ural, tinker, fiddle, get to know it and it will be (as mine has been) stone reliable. It will get you home – always. That’s because you’ll know what to do with the countless little things that niggle on a Russian machine that defines the concept of simple mechanics.

That means you need to be a certain sort of person to own a Ural for the long term. The sort of person who has a set of metric feeler gauges and knows what they’re for. Who understands, at least broadly, how a carburettor works. But most of all, who takes to heart the WWID technique of maintenance and repair.

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WWID stands for “what would Ivan do?” Ivan being the mythical, Everyman Russian Ural owner with basic tools, no training, but a self-taught understanding of how mechanical things work. For example, Ivan would cheerfully use a strip cut from a drinks can as a shim. As Pirsig points out, it’s perfect shimstock – and Ivan knows it. He knows when to step back, put down the spanner and think. And his life is richer for it.

So when someone takes a pop at ‘unreliable’ Urals from the electrically heated saddle of their new K1600GTL, I’m happy to smile. That’s because I know that if their self-levelling headlight circuit develops a fault, their entire bike’s systems will shut down in self protection and they’ll be trailered home. If my Ural’s headlight fails, as it did a couple of years ago, there are only two options – the bulb or the fuse. Takes two minutes to sort either and get on with riding. I like simple. Simple’s best. Ask Ivan.

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Riding

The smell of coffee, jasmine and two-stroke oil.

As I sit here, waiting for my molten-hot Turkish coffee to cool to a temperature that won’t induce third degree burns, I’m watching my teenage years ride past. More accurately, it’s the smell of the passing two-wheeled scenery in the fluorescent lights from the restaurants that’s most evocative.

Mingled with the coffee and the heavy evening jasmine is the sharp-edged aroma of two-stroke oil. I’m straight back to the evening in 1985 when I handed over £80 in hard-earned waiting-table fivers and got, in return, the keys to a metallic red Suzuki A100 that was my introduction to motorcycling.

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Talking Turkey with a Vespa.

It’s 30 degrees in the shade here in Turkey, and they don’t ride in leathers.

They don’t ride much in the way of big bikes either. The largest I’ve seen has been a lone R1200GS. The rest? Much, much smaller. 125 is the norm, with everything from obscure Chinese reverse-engineered CG125s to the occasional Jawa.

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But almost everyone rides. I’ve seen 9 year olds gunning faded and scraped 50cc Motobecanes that must have been shipped here in 1959. There are leathery-tanned old guys with half the family plus shopping and a gas cylinder on a Honda Melody. And there are teenage girls looking cool-as on their no-licence-no-tax electric bikes, mobile phones clamped to their ears.

No leathers, no gloves, no helmets. Heat stroke is a certainty, a crash a mere likelihood. Theft isn’t much of a concern. Keys left left in so long they seize in place. There are bikes propped up everywhere and they’re the staple way of getting around and transporting anything you like.

All you do is ride the wrong way down the one way street (ideally with your girlfriend/boyfriend/wife/husband perched casually on the back), bounce up the pavement, flick the stand down and walk away.

Alternatively, stop in the centre of one of Dalyan’s main streets, park up and chat to your pal as the last-legs Renault 9s and shiny white Tata Fiat clones weave slowly around you.

A We-know-bestminster parking stormtrooper would be filing a personal injury claim for ticket-elbow in about three minutes – just before the local population quietly explained that we don’t do it that way here and isn’t it time for an apple tea or two?

But some things are absolutely no different.

I watched a lad on one of the comparatively rare Vespas this morning. Standard-issue kit of flip-flops, sun-faded t-shirt, shorts and a grin. He was on one of the stretches of Tarmac, and, as it opened out he did likewise with the throttle. Pulling back on his battered moped’s bars, he executed a series of perfect, ski-style carve-turns, the tyres digging into the soft bitumen as he swung the bike from side to side. As he rode, swooping, towards me, I could see his smile of pure joy on his face. He passed, with a yelled “merhaba!” and a gravelrash-risking, casual wave. I waved back with a grin just as big and watched him snake his way up the mountain road out of sight, still flicking his machine from side to side.

It really doesn’t matter what you ride.

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Musings, Riding

RAF Kelmscott and summer silence.

The airless reception area with its cheerful, exhortative corporate posters made me think of communist Russia. Dark wood. Grey, worn carpet. Grey fluorescent lights. Every so often, there would be a sharp, electronic bleep and the door would get pushed open. A grey-suited figure would scuttle past and the door, on its spring, would creak slowly shut. I thought affectionately of WD40.

Waiting on the single, plastic seat so kindly provided for visitors, I thought too of the sunshine I’d left behind as I picked up my visitors’ badge at Reception. I resolved, as soon as I got home, to get the Ural’s keys off their hook and out into the evening lanes.

By the time I’d dug under the wire and out of Stalag Corporate, the sun was thinking about a stiff G&T and putting its feet up. But, at this time of year, the shadows seem longer and richer in the evenings. And Continue reading

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Musings, Riding

The kindness of strangers

The GS has been playing up for a while. Matt and Stuart at North Oxford Garage have been fantastic – and patient – trying to diagnose an intermittent but vicious electrical problem where the bike simply refuses to start. It’ll crank – for hours – but won’t fire. It’s been back three times in all, and apart from the first bill (heavily discounted I suspect, given the time Stuart spent) I’ve not paid a penny. So it was time to say thank you.

I’d raided the Oxford Wine Company for a crate of Shotover Brewery’s “Scholar” and thought the least I could do was head it Matt and Stuart’s way. The Ural needed a run, and I thought it would be suitably inappropriate to park it outside the polished temple to techno-transport that is North Oxford BMW. So I loaded the beer into the sidecar, put the key in the ignition and turned the petrol tap. Continue reading

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