Category: The Bikes

My bike chose this moment to develop a slight problem, the choke stuck in the ‘Off’ position. Of course, rather than be annoyed, I was immediately thankful for small mercies as that is much better than it sticking in the ‘On’ position. I have dismantled the left hand switch and choke lever mechanism and that moves freely once disconnected, as does the choke mechanism underneath the fuel injectors, so it must be the cable. Unfortunately the cable is difficult to get to without taking the tank etcetera off, so as I can operate the mechanism by hand and starting is not a problem, I decided to leave it until a more convenient time.

Since before we left the UK Sarah has said that she wanted to have one expensive coffee in Monaco, so we set off from Asti towards the South of France.

There were loads more lovely twisty roads, which we enjoyed immensely, but after lunch I realised that either I was really off my game or that the handling on my bike had deteriorated. I eventually realised that my rubber mounted handlebars were moving slightly and quickly stopped to sort it out. We had taken the handlebar clamps off when working on the bikes before leaving England and one of the nuts had come loose. Unfortunately it was a size of spanner that I didn’t have with me. I spoke to a guy who was chopping wood outside his house nearby, he disappeared inside and lady luck was definitely with me when he came out a few moments later with the correct sized spanner. After a couple of minutes I had tightened the offending nut, checked the others, returned the borrowed spanner with thanks and we were on our way again.

What an improvement in the handling. It must have been gradually loosening for some time but so slowly that I didn’t notice until it got to a significant level. It just goes to show that having worked on something it is worth not just doing the double check once you have finished, but a triple check after riding for a while.

We had a fantastic ride, with some amazing scenery and mountain roads, and took the tunnel back into France. We didn’t see any border control and continued to the village of St. Dalmas de Tende where we stopped for a break. It was 5pm and we decided that this would be a good place to stay for the night.

We wanted to stretch our legs and so went for a walk through the woods along the banks of a nearby river. It was lovely with the sound of the water running over the rocks, and so picturesque.

A sign warned us to be careful about wild animals and snakes but neglected to mention the crowd of hungry mozzies who were queueing up to have a feast at restaurant Tony!

At least I kept them from biting Sarah.

The Moto Guzzi factory opens its gates for a tour of the museum every weekday at 3pm. Our friend Nich arrived at the campsite, unloaded his bike and we made the short ride to the factory in time to join the other Guzzisti waiting outside.

We had our obligatory photograph taken outside the gates and then went into the factory.

The museum is on two floors and contains a large number of Moto Guzzis from the very first one built by Carlo Guzzi to modern machines, although there is a bias towards the older machines. Unfortunately for us our guide only spoke Italian, but we all enjoyed the tour and our only complaint was that it was too short at just over an hour.

Spot the Wed-n-Fled sticker

Very shortly after buying the V7’s we had decided that we needed some windscreens for them, as riding an unfaired bike at motorway speeds is tiring and in the rain is a much wetter experience. Paul at Speedaway motorcycles had been trying to get us a pair of screens but not been able to locate any suitable ones for us before we had left the UK. Having checked with Paul by text that he had not had any luck since we had left, we decided to try some of the local Guzzi shops. We went to Agostini’s,  the official Mandello Moto Guzzi dealer, and of course had to add a Wed-n-Fled sticker to their Guzzisti visitors board.

Agostini’s had five genuine Moto Guzzi screens in stock and also some pattern ones. He couldn’t understand why we had had any difficulty obtaining them in the UK although another shop I spoke to did say that they had heard that there were difficulties getting the screens in the UK. After a quick session of holding them up to the bikes we decided that the genuine Moto Guzzi ones were worth the few extra Euros because of their shape, quality and excellent dedicated fitting kit for the V7 Classic. We negotiated the purchase of two, which got us a decent discount and free fitting.

Agostini Mechanic after staying on to fit our screens

I had also been looking to replace the standard crossover pipe in the exhaust which runs under the gear box. The problem is that it is huge and restricts access to the gearbox oil drain plug. I saw that Agoistini’s had had a batch of much narrower crossover pipes made in stainless steel with the correct fitting for the exhaust lambda sensor. A bit more haggling and a pair of those was also added to the list, again discounted and no charge for fitting. Time was getting on and the shop was due to close but the parts guy had a quick chat with the mechanic in the workshop, who agreed to fit both screens and crossover pipes whilst we waited in order to save us having to come back the next day. Excellent service.

As soon as we rode the bikes it was immediately apparent that the screens were very effective and had been well worth buying. I also thought that the bikes sounded and felt a bit crisper with the new crossover pipes on, but that may well be wishful thinking.

I later visited another bike shop called Stucchi, where I discovered that they had made the crash bars and racks fitted to our bikes. They were very helpful, getting an employee who spoke English to come down from the office to serve me. I was able to get a pair of genuine side panel stickers for my Le Mans, without having to spend an arm and a leg.

Afterwards I popped into another shop called Vallassi (I think) which transported me back in time to an old british bike shop called Autocycle in Bilston. I used to regularly visit Autocycle as a 17 year old, as I had a 1967 Triumph Super Cub (a Tiger cub engine in a Bantam chassis) that I needed to keep on the road! The owner Chris was an eccentric, and the first time I visited his shop he very politely asked me to wait whilst he took a .22 rifle from behind the counter and shot a huge spider on the opposite wall. He apologised explaining that ‘he had been after the bugger for weeks’! Chris had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the hundreds of parts on the wooden shelves in his shop and Vallossi’s appeared to be just the same sort of shop with shelves of gear box parts and crankcase studs all sorted and labelled. A slice of history.

We had a second chance to visit the Guzzi factory when the Valais Moto Guzzi Club and the Leman Moto Guzzi club of Switzerland turned up in Mandello for the weekend. They had arranged a special visit on the saturday morning and we were invited to go along.

It was excellent. We had plenty of time there and the Italian guided talk was being translated into French for the Swiss so we were able to understand at least some of it.

Two of my favourites were the 3×3 tracked pick up that Guzzi built for the army and the bike that they built with skis for a record making visit to Alpine refuges in the 1930’s.

We also saw examples of the original V7, which our bikes are a modern interpretation of.

Sarah enjoying the original V7 special

I have to say that ours are proving to be an excellent choice so far. They are using a bit of oil but I spoke to a Moto Guzzi mechanic who said that they will use progressively less oil over the first 10,000 miles as it takes that long to properly run them in. He also insisted that we use 10-60 oil not 10-40 oil as the engines do run hot.

I only had model airplanes hanging from the ceiling in my room as a kid

Okay, so, we had set off but we still needed to get power take offs fitted to the bikes, fit a Sat Nav and sort out and fit the comms system. This meant that en-route to the ferry port it was necessary to pay another visit to Tich at TWS wiring services in Swindon, this time for him to wear his proper job hat of electrics guru.

Essentially Tich makes wiring looms and sorts out electrical problems for anything from a moped to an aeroplane. He likes to work on bikes and trikes and is currently completely rewiring my 30 year old V50 Moto Guzzi to include upgrades to modern components and modern Guzzi switchgear.

He has made an independent fused wiring loom for each of the V7’s to run completely separately from the original wiring loom in order to supply power to the Sat Nav and to three separate din power sockets, one under the seat and two waterproof ones on the top yoke by the handlebars. He has also made leads that can plug into these sockets to convert to a standard cigarette lighter power output socket, and other leads to supply power to various pieces of equipment that need power or charging whilst we are travelling.

The wiring is hefty enough to handle plugging the 150w dc to ac converter I had bought into the cigarette lighter socket. This provides a mains type plug socket that any piece of UK electrical equipment up to 150 watts can be plugged into and run, although 150 watts would drain the bike’s battery in very little time!

Together (well I made the tea) we fitted the din power outputs and loom, the powered cradle for the Sat Nav to Sarah’s bike and the coms system to both bikes. Excellent, job done and Tich has made a very neat job of it with everything neat and all properly heat shrink wrapped.

Whilst we were at Tich’s getting the pannier frames sorted he agreed to carry out some modifications to the bike’s stands for me.

All ‘Proper Adventure Motorcycles’ have a plate attached onto the bottom of the foot of the side stand in order to increase the surface area and to help to stop the stand from sinking into soft surfaces. Touratech make beautiful bolt on billet aluminium ones that are rather out of our price range so Tich just used an angle grinder to shape a piece of steel plate, which he then welded onto the bottom of the standard Guzzi side stand. Superb, it looks the part and does the job at very little cost.

Tich then welded a shaped plate onto the mainstand so that when it was in the up position whilst the bike was being ridden it would prevent any rock or tree root from catching on the stand’s cross brace. He also extended the plates on the ends of the legs of the mainstands so that they flow into the leg rather that sticking out downwards like hooks that were just waiting to catch on stuff when we go off road.

It may seem silly given how cheap and easy these two mods were to do, but I am very pleased with them and I smile every time that I look at them. I suppose that it’s because they are real modifications to the bikes themselves in order to improve them for the use that they are going to get in the years ahead. Also, if I’m honest, it’s also the customiser coming out in me. These are now two unique V7 Moto Guzzis and I do like to ride something different 🙂

600 miles – That’s when the first service was due and marked the end of the initial running in period. Speedaway motorcycles serviced both of the bikes by prior arrangement whilst we went and sampled the local delights. I thought that I would treat Sarah and so, no expense spared, I took her to a proper Black Country fish and chip shop in Blackheath with eat in tables. I know, I know, but sometimes extravagence is justified where your beloved is concerned!

Of course I went for Faggots, Chips, Mushy Paes and Gravy. Sarah, being somewhat more refined, ordered Fish and Chips and was offered mushy peas and gravy to go with it. She politely declined, which so suprised the woman serving us that she had to double check, “Are you sure? They’re included!”. It’s fair to say that Sarah wouldn’t eat mushy peas, or a blob of purest green as she refers to them as, even if she was starving. She’s also not convinced about the idea of gravy with fish…The food was very good and the service excellent.

We returned to Speedaway motorcycles and Sarah’s bike was ready, resplendant with it’s heated grips and KTM hand protectors, but mine was not. A small oil leak needed more time to identify and resolve and so I was loaned the same white Moto Guzzi V7 that we had ridden as a demonstrator. It later transpired that a clamp joining a breather tube had been slightly squashed at the factory when the starter motor had been fitted and that this was allowing some oil mist to escape. This was easily fixed and I was soon reunited with my bike which now also had it’s heated grips and hand protectors. The hand protectors are obviously there to protect my fingers from impacts when off roading but I have found that they also keep a surprising amount of wind and rain off my hands. Not so good for keeping cool in hot weather but a boon when it’s cold or wet.

So what were the bikes like to ride now that they had been serviced? Well I have to say that mine is noticeably smoother. Even at just 600 miles the engines and gear boxes were bedding in well and loosening up nicely. It was great to be able to go that bit faster and even though we continued running them in over the next 400 miles the job was easy.

We’ve got the bikes!

Things have been really hectic, what with picking up the bikes and doing loads of last minute stuff for our wedding, and I’m afraid that I have been crap at updating the blog. Sorry.

Picking up the bikes was exciting and I have to say that Speedaway Motorcycles have done us proud. Their service and very helpful attitude was beyond all of my expectations. Well done guys.

We have got lots of modifications to the bikes in the offing but now that we have got them we have decided that we want to get some miles in on them and run them in first. This is for a number of reasons not least being that nether of us wanted to delay riding them. So immediately after picking them up we set off for Oxford in order to visit friends and did a couple of hundred miles. I had to come back on the Monday morning to go to work but Sarah stayed on until Tuesday. Unfortunately for her it rained on Tuesday and she discovered that her new waterproof trousers weren’t. I know that they were fairly cheap but they ought to do what it says on the tin the first time that they are worn. Me thinks that she will be taking them back to the shop very soon!

With regards to the bikes. Initial impressions are great and we both feel that have made a choice that is good for us. Running in is always tedious but is worth it in the long run, particularly given the miles that we are going to be putting on these bikes, sometimes in very difficult conditions.

More to follow soon… honest 🙂

The new bikes are here!

We are very excited, we’ve met our new bikes! We went over to Speedaway Motorcycles on Saturday to go over a few details with them and make sure we were on track to pick up the bikes later this week. We knew the bikes had made it to the importer so were in the country, and were chuffed to bits when they told us they were already with them and in the store. We rushed through, and there they were, all shiny and new, and very nearly ours! Call me sad if you will, but I’ve said hello, and may have stroked my new (and only!) Moto Guzzi just a little bit when no one was looking. My first new motorbike, and the one that I will be spending my life on for the next few years – I’m allowed to be a little sentimental about that, now, aren’t I?

So here they are, the black one is Tony’s and the white one is mine – his and hers 🙂

I’m a very happy man. We have just put a deposit down on two new V7 Moto Guzzi’s. Speedaway Motorcycles in Blackheath have done us a good deal, so buying two bikes does have its benefits even if it is quite scary. They are coming with the optional main stand, crash bars and rear luggage rack. Speedaway are going to fit the hand protectors from a KTM, which are available in black as well as orange, together with heated grips. They are also going to see if they can source a re-usable air filter to replace the standard paper one. One less thing to carry.

We have also decided on our luggage. After some discussion we are going with hard panniers made by Stahlkoffer who are based in Stourbridge, West Midlands. The guy behind Stahlkoffer is called Bernie and a nicer, more helpful bloke you couldn’t hope to meet. He drove over to Speedaway to meet us and to show us his very well made aluminium panniers and mounting system. He looked over the V7 and we discussed fitting them to the little Guzzi, which shouldn’t be too difficult.

So all in all a great day and major steps taken forwards, and only a month to wait for them to arrive from Italy!

What bikes are we going to go on?

It’s only a short question. A mere 8 words. But it’s the question that has been zooming around and around in my brain, and the longer that it doesn’t get answered then the more insistent that it is becoming.

We have been racking our and friend’s brains, looking at manufacturer’s web sites, scouring bike magazines and most recently visiting bike shops and arranging test rides.

A friend has a Yamaha Tenere 660 which is a solid proven bike that has the Yamaha lowering kit fitted, but I can still only barely touch the floor so it’s out.

Tony with the BMW Adventure

Benhams BMW in Wolverhampton were very helpful and we test rode their new Gs1200 and Gs1200 Adventure. The Adventure has all of the mods that we could need and has a gigantic petrol tank so fuel range would never be a problem. On the road it felt rock solid and dependable, was great to ride too, but again it’s quite tall. Touratech do make a lowered seat which would address that…however…it’s very heavy – 259kg and that’s without any luggage! Wheeling it around was difficult enough on tarmac. Sarah didn’t know if she could cope with pushing it on grass, let alone mud or sand, and seriously doubted that when fully loaded she could pick it up. I had to agree.

Pure Triumph in Birmingham were also keen to help and answered loads of questions whilst letting us sit on several bikes. We took the Triumph Scrambler out and both liked it, but we both agreed that we would have to change the high level exhaust pipes as they get hot and felt in the way. It has an optional main stand and bash plate, but is still quite heavy at 230kg.

Speedaway motorcycles in Blackheath let us ride the Moto Guzzi V7 classic. Now I have to be honest here, I have a soft spot for Guzzis. I have been riding them for years and, having bought a couple as projects and totally rebuilt them, I know them quite well. I knew that I would love the little 750. Pretty, nimble, sure-footed, practical, low seat height, shaft drive, easy to work on, economical, etcetera….I could go on and on…But I didn’t want to be selfish and push Sarah down the Guzzi route unless she was convinced that she would enjoy riding them too.

She set off and I waited with bated breath. Would she like its character or hate its idiosyncrasies? I waited some more but no Sarah on the little Guzzi. The guy who had booked the next test ride slot turned up a little early and still no Sarah. Then I heard that unmistakable V twin exhaust and there she was,

That was fun!

with a great big grin on her face. She had been enjoying herself so much that she had missed a sign and got lost in an unfamiliar area. I was chuffed to bits. She liked the Guzzi. Big Grin.

We went away and have been thinking about it, after all buying 2 new bikes is not something that either of us has done before. In fact I’ve only ever had one new bike and Sarah has only bought second-hand till now.  However we have decided that we are going to go for the little Moto Guzzi, something that I am very pleased about.

So why the Guzzi then?

It is big enough and powerful enough to cope with big roads, luggage and the miles that we are going to do. It is also small enough that we can get our feet down easily so we will be less likely to drop it when the tarmac runs out. Also the light dry weight of 182kg is going to make picking it up after dropping it, and getting it into things like hotel lobbies for secure parking much easier.

Another major bonus is that I know Guzzi’s quite well and what goes wrong with them. The V7 is very similar to my 30 year old V50 and so I have no worries about doing any mechanical work on them. The V twin design means that you can even adjust the tappets without taking the petrol tank off. Guzzi’s are also quite robust and if anything over-engineered.

As they are road bikes we are going to have to make some modifications, but there is a factory option main stand and the standard fuel tank should be okay – at 17 litres it should give a decent range because the V7 is quite economical.

Lots of thinking, planning and sorting to still do, but I’m really glad that we have picked our bikes, and that it’s the lovely little Moto Guzzi.

Deciding to ride around the world on motorbikes was the easy part. What has proved far less easy is choosing The Bikes to do it on! We started out avidly reading all the books and articles we could get our hands on. We picked the brains of various folk who’ve been on long overland trips. We’ve been out test riding various options. It would appear that there is no perfect bike for the trip – everyone has their own opinions, favourites and views, and of course everyone’s journey is their own.

It’s fair to say that we are in a complete quandary! Everything we’ve thought of is a compromise of one sort or another. How much road riding will we be doing? What about when the tarmac runs out and we’re on dirt or mud tracks? How much luggage can we carry? Will we be able to pick the bikes up when we drop them, as we’ve been assured we most definitely will?

We started off really not wanting to be Ewan and Charlie clones on BMW GS’s. Tony was keen to stick to his beloved Moto Guzzi’s, maybe even setting off on a pair of 30 year old V50’s that he owns. Small, light, reliable and easy to fix are all big plusses. Old, high mileage, on road design, and spares issues are the down side.

So we thought we’d take a look at the BMW’s after all, as they do seem to be built for the job. First off we test rode the GS800. A good bike, but too tall (we’re not!), not a particularly comfortable seat, chain drive, and most importantly, Tony just didn’t feel at home on it. Next we thought, to hell with it, we’ll give the GS1200 a go, as we’d seen one out at a friends and realised how much lower than the 800 it was. Bizarre with it being a bigger bike overall, and worth a go. That and the fact that every one of our friends that we spoke to who owned a GS1150 or 1200 absolutely loved them. It was a lovely, bright and sunny week back in October 2009 – you know the sort, of the warm Indian Summer variety. Every day that week except the day that we had booked the test ride – that day it absolutely tipped down! We were soaked by the time we’d ridden the 20 or so miles to the BMW dealer. Tony went out first, seemed to be gone for ages, and came back dripping but with a big grin on his face. I went out and did the same – rode nearly 30 miles around the back roads and up the motorway and felt like I could just have kept on going! A good omen – we both felt very at home on the thing, and as if it would really look after us. We were still a bit high up and couldn’t get our feet flat on the floor, but there were options to lower the bike enough to take care of this. I was still concerned about the sheer size of it though – how would we manage with them when we were off road?

We decided to think about our options for a while, partly as we just didn’t have the dosh to buy them then and there anyway – we had other vehicles to sell before we’d be in a position to shell out that kind of money, and October was not the best time of year to be selling bikes, even if they had been done up to saleable condition. We were also concerned about the cost of the bikes which would have a huge impact on the cost of the Carnets for the bikes (the bike “passports”), as this is based on the value. Hmmm, time to take stock and think…