Fuel Consumption

Here are the actual fuel consumption figures for the Tiger the trip (click for larger view). There was a gap in Iran where I was unable to find out how much fuel I was getting (it was rude to ask when you get it for free!). These are real-world figures with the bike fully loaded plus rider. As you can see the figures are sometimes higher and sometimes lower depending on speeds and terrain but average for the recorded distance was 103.58mpg (imperial)

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Back home

So we are back home and deluged with the day to day stuff that does not seem so important anymore. It took a full 20 minutes to get the bonnet open on the car to connect the battery charger. The worse news was the brake fluid had all managed to leak out of one of the rear calipers while we were away so some repairs are necessary. Still has some MOT left though so good to have transport at least.

The bikes managed to arrive at London Heathrow but I immediately wished we had stayed there to get them instead of arranging road-freight. What I had not figured was that they needed to go through customs even though they are both UK bikes. I quickly discovered we needed an agent to do this so I went ahead and appointed DSV air&sea since DSV road were bringing them back home from London. Big mistake that turned out to be since they could not work out how to handle it and got themselves convinced they needed the Carnet which by now was safely tucked up in Donaghadee. All the while we would be paying around £80 a day storage fees. Nice.

I did a quick (10 minute) search on the internet and found the correct forms myself. Unfortunately we could not submit them ourselves and would need an agent to do so. By now I was loath to phone DSV back to tell them how to do their job and then let them charge me for the privilege so I handed it over to HWFS who (after I completed the forms) had it done in 20 minutes. Know for next time!

A few days later the bikes arrived at my parents house. They were perched precariously on the tail-lift coming out of the lorry but made it down ok somehow. There was some damage to my box but the bike was ok inside. It was nice to pull them out and put them back together again. Suraj did a good job in packing them. A few hours later we rode them home. The option of leaving them in Nepal had occurred to us, though with Helen’s health still being uncertain we didn’t know if, when or where we would continue our trip. Truth be told I was also unhappy at the idea of not having the bike nearby – that’s the curse of building the bike yourself.

It was surreal riding the bikes on familiar roads again. Over the past 5 months we had ridden into countries where the scenery changed gradually. Squat toilets started to appear in Turkey, drier desert conditions in Iran (and the most friendly people imaginable), poorer roads in Pakistan and even worse in India. Then suddenly *shazam* we were back were we started. 24 hour electricity, good roads (even though people here don’t think so), clean air and the majority of people didn’t drive out in front of you. Hardly anyone beeps the horn either – weird. I felt like we were doing something illegal travelling at a whole 40mph on the dual carriageway where the limit is 60. A powerful diesel bike makes more sense here than in Asia where you never get to stretch its legs I guess.

More specialists were consulted for Helen and appointments made. The outcome is basically that no-body seems to be able to give us 100% confirmation of what’s happened. Helen is feeling a lot better now and the doctors seem to think it was all related to having a tummy bug for so long. So for now we have to wait for at least a few months and see how it goes. It gives us a chance to earn some more money in the meantime at least though its difficult to concentrate now. Peoples gossip about what’s happening on EastEnders or whatever seemed utterly drab and pointless before we left – the trip has done nothing to cure that. The only respite seems to be planning our escape…

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Pack up lets go!

So with the decision made that we needed to come home that just left the logistics of doing it. Unfortunately for the motorcycle adventurer this is a lot easier said than done. We were very fortunate to be in Kathmandu where there are good transport links and plenty of cargo agents. We had already been in contact with Suraj at Eagle Exports and thankfully he could arrange transport for the bikes to London instead of Bangkok. Due to the Carnet documentation we could not leave the country before the bikes were sorted out. On a personal level we wanted to make sure the bikes were well looked after since they had looked after us for 5 months. I was just glad that we were not in this position in India.

Another tense couple of days were spent waiting for the insurance company to confirm if they would make or cover the arrangements to get the bikes back since we could not leave before then. Invariably they eventually came back to say it was up to us to organise ourselves. Without wishing to delay things further we went ahead and booked the bikes onto airfreight and organised for us to fly the next day. Suraj did a great job organising all the right people to be in the right place at the right time and have it all done in 24 hours.

The air cargo depot was a hive of noise and activity when we arrived. People were loading all sorts of oddly shaped packages into various bays. We grabbed the bay at the end and the carpenter arrived to start setting up the crates. Luggage removed the bikes were wheeled onto the base of the crate. I removed the front brake calipers and then 6 or 7 guys appeared from nowhere to lift the front while I removed the front wheel. The bike was then set down on the forks and a special clamp built around the front axle. With all the chaos happening around us I was glad to have an agent working for us that knew what to do. With the bikes placed in their coffins we were left with nothing to do but return to the hotel for our final wait.

Our flight for the morning was cancelled. We were due to leave early and catch a connection in Delhi but the airline had attached a note to the booking that basically we didn’t have enough time to make the connection. Luckily the insurance company had picked up on this and changed things for us, otherwise we’d have been in Delhi airport for a lovely 24 hour connection. Nice.

So we climbed into a taxi with hand luggage only and headed through the Kathmandu traffic for the last time. Silence fell on the car as our driver battled his way through a billion small bikes and cars in his trusty Suzuki Maurti. We’d become used to this place and the everyday traffic mayhem. Somehow we could both sense that the great adventure was coming to an end and we watched our surroundings intently as we saw it with fresh eyes. We passed through confused security into the airport since we had no tickets or big luggage. After a problem with carrying the pac-safe on as hand luggage we had to check in one bag with it plus some clothes. Even more surprisingly it arrived at our destination too.

We flew via Doha in Qatar. We saw oil rigs working offshore with their gas flares glowing in the dark. The airport seemed sprawling and ultra modern, with more than enough electric to light the place up despite seeming to have hardly any passengers. The runways seemed to have more tarmac than the whole of Nepal. The contrast of ultra modern buildings in the inhospitable desert was like Las Vegas only with oil supplying the money instead of gambling. We stood dazed in the duty free shop, having not seen anything so modern and shiny for months. Strangely neither of us missed it and it seemed somewhat emptier and less interesting than it did when we left home (although we always hated shopping anyway).

So that was it, the adventure was over (for now). It took less than 24 hours of flights and connections to undo what had taken 4 and a bit months to cover 10,000 miles. Needless to say the journey was less eventful…

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Comin’ home ma!

You may have noticed there have been no updates from us in a while. Unfortunately it looks like we have to suspend our trip at this point for reasons beyond our control. Hopefully, this will be a temporary break and we will be able to resume the trip at some point soon.

Thanks to everyone who has followed our progress and given supportive comments over the past 5 months. It’s always been great to know you have been along with us. I’ll fill in the missing last month or so as soon as we get a moment.

Keep in touch!

Neil + Helen

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We left Tansen fairly early. With Helen not feeling well again it seemed to heap a sense of more urgency and stress on me that we should try to clear the rest of the road up quickly and get to Pokhara.

The road that followed was amazing. The google map on the satnav wrongly showed the next section being straight for about 60km and I had to stop to check directions with some people after we were about 5km off the displayed road. But yes, we were still on the right road and it was thankfully not straight. There was about 90 miles of it and our average speed dropped to around 20mph so it still took us around 5 hours. It was mostly smooth tarmac formed into bend after bend after bend. There was barely a 500m straight piece of road for the whole day. I was enjoying leaning the bike into all the turns, pushing my luck occasionally that there might be gravel around the next one.

We passed buses and waved at people who smiled back. Schoolgirls giggled and schoolboys cheered. The sun shone down and the temperature was a pleasant 20ish degrees. It was almost impossible to believe everything coming together so beautifully compared with the roads we had ridden on for a month before. I looked down at the dashboard and saw the key in the ignition in the on position, right where it should be, the bikes proper state – not parked up in the cold waiting for something to happen. She was built for exactly this kind of day and seemed to relish chewing up the uphill turns and dispatching buses and lorries with torquey ease. It was one of those epiphany biking days that happens so rarely, only this time I recognised it at the time.

By the time we got to Pokhara my arms were even starting to get tired from having put the bike through about a billion turns, something that’s never happened before. I was tired but happy. Helen was feeling a little better but had been unable to fully enjoy the road. As we sat by the lakeside, bewildered by the hundreds of hotels and restaurants, a guy pulled up on a bike and started asking where we were going, trying to get us to go to his hotel. He asked what our budget was and we replied 500rs (about four quid something). To our surprise he accepted this and off we went. We rounded the day off with a steak at the New Everest Steak House (sorry Jonny I couldn’t wait), our first proper feed of decent meat in months.

We got up early the following morning to head up to the world peace pagoda which overlooked Pokhara. Helen was still not feeling great as we climbed aboard my bike and headed back out the road to the path up to the pagoda. There were 2 paths but the first one turned bad straight away so we opted for the second one. This one started out as tarmac but then disintegrated into sandy gravel path. Undeterred we attempted it anyway, 2up on a fully loaded bike. We got about halfway up before I thought better of it. I tried to park the bike at a curve and ended up dropping it twice, first on one side then on the other. The second time was particularly hard to pick up since the bike was lying on a slight downhill into the turn.

We walked the rest of the way up and took some pictures. Some young guys in uniform arrived off a bus, probably army cadets or something. Helen was still feeling unwell so despite her reluctance agreed to go see yet another doctor. This time the hotel guy recommended a good private doctor who took the case seriously having seen the antibiotics she had taken and even examined her as well. He decided to admit her while some samples were taken and start on a course of 2 IV antibiotics.

Over the next three days Helen became more and more bored, not liking being on the other side of the bed and occasionally tweaking the IV to run faster or slower. As I lay there watching the drip slowly feed into her arm I couldn’t help but wonder if it could be adapted into the perfect chain oiler, complete with flow control.

On one day we had a gap between IV drips and the doctor said we could go out for an hour or so. We did NOT use this opportunity to go to a bar to sip coke where we did NOT meet a nice Ozzie guy called Nathan who ran a bar which he had built himself called “Bullet Basecamp“. Had we been there we would have seen the inside all decorated with bits of scrap bikes and cars welded into furniture and a pool table perpetually surrounded by plucky kids. Imagine what it would have looked like Helen sitting in a bar, sipping coke, with the IV connection still in her hand..(ahem)

Anyway, after a couple of days the results came back that Helen had a strange strain of E-coli and also Giardiasis which were not sensitive to any of the antibiotics she was given for the last 6 weeks but hopefully covered by the IV ones she‘d had in Pokhara. There was some relief for both of us at least knowing what the problem was all along and hopefully it was sorted. We went to the Gurkha museum still wondering when or if the insurance company were going to confirm they are paying for all this.

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We opted for the wriggly mountain road to Pokhara which worked out approx 60 miles in a straight line, but more like 120 miles by this road. Tansen closer to the border than Pokhara but we were slow in leaving, since we were tired from India the day before and just getting accustomed to the change in country so we headed there anyway. As we rounded one corner we were met with the sight of an Italian couple 2 up on an 1150GSA. We stopped to chat and talk about where we had been and where we were going.

Turned out they flew the bike into Kolkata and rode into Nepal. They were headed back into India and then on to Varanasi, Agra and Rajesthan. They found the traffic and roads so far tough going which didn#t bode well for what lay ahead of them. The man was impressed by Helen riding her own bike and seemed to be wondering why the woman didn’t want to ride one herself too. We had a bit of craic with this for a while before wishing each other well and heading our separate ways. I noticed they had patches on their bike gear for TDF in South America. Given their experiences here I thought the conditions in SA must be pretty good and would like to go there one day.

We made it to Tansen Srinagar hotel around 3 which left plenty of time to admire the views and have some dinner. When we went to leave in the morning Helen did not feel well again…

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We had aimed to stay in Gorakhpur but with the late start and tough roads we only managed about 60 miles before it started to get dark. This was not helped by a long painful detour in Mau because I missed a turn. We had about 1000 rupees left and not enough fuel to go the whole way to the border anyway so we started looking for somewhere to stay. We stopped at a petrol station for a break and asked the guys there if there was a hotel nearby. They were really nice and helpful and explained there was one 4km up the road. It was less than 1000 rupees meaning we could also eat something.

It turned out we had been extremely lucky to find the place because in the morning we noted there was not much else in the way of hotels along the road and it still took a good 2 hours to reach Gorakhpur. Thankfully we got cash on the way which meant we could go straight through but we still managed to get lost and ended up on a busy detour though not as bad as Mau. As we approached the border the roads gradually became less busy and better surfaced. A young girl served us some crisps and biscuits at a roadside shop and was pleasant and polite. She was stunned when she realised it was a woman on the other bike.

The border was simpler and a lot less organised than the ones we had been through so far. There was an immigration office and customs office on the Indian side. A guy came up to us trying to tell us what to do and was not wearing any ID or uniform so I ignored him and went to the customs office with uniformed police outside. It turned out that the first guy was not a fixer and seemed to have something to do with the immigration so after some confusion we moved the bikes back down the busy road. It occurred to me if we had ridden fast enough we could have crossed the border anyway though then we would not have had the carnet stamped out which would have been a major problem later.

The immigration guy asked why I didn’t trust him and I explained we had problems with fixers at other borders and he was not wearing uniform etc. After he reassured us I went to complete the immigration forms and he explained the process and then mentioned a 100 rupee fee for each bike. I lost the rag and politely but sternly told him I would not be paying any fee and he immediately backed down, switching instead to helpful money changer.

After immigration was completed we got the carnets discharged while having a chat with a nice customs guy who had travelled a bit in Europe so knew some of the places we had been. I noticed one guy sitting in a back office whose sole job seemed to be playing with a pen on the table. I guessed that someone had to make sure it was done properly.

We crossed the open gates into Nepal and drove slowly along unable to spot immigration or customs offices. We parked the bikes up and found the customs where a helpful guy pointed us over to the small immigration office hidden at the back. We filled out some forms and noticed we unfortunately only had enough USD for a 15 day visa which left things a bit tight. At least we could extend it if we needed to. A passport photo was needed and that was all. Then we copied our new visas and photo pages and went over to customs where again everything was smooth. I asked the customs guy what we had to do next and he said we had to go get the customs officer signature “and then we gotta go man… visit Nee-paaal”.

As we rode out of the customs area I went slowly onto the shoulder to avoid a particularly nasty speed ramp. I was encouraged to see that I got reprimanded by a pedestrian who waved at me to go on the road. It seemed that there are slightly better driving standards here already.

Helen found the tourist office who suggested some hotels nearby with parking. We rode slowly about 4km and found the first one. A simple comfortable room for 1000rs a night, happy days. Tired but happy we fell asleep easily, now in our 13th country.

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The hotel was quite pleasant with a big central courtyard to park the bikes and a nice friendly receptionist guy called Sundip from Nepal. He seemed to silently understand the hectic nature of India and what we must have been through and was reassuring and informative about Nepal without trying to sell us anything, I liked him immediately.

Helens bike had worn the brake pads down to the metal at the back and scored the disc slightly. One pad was worn much more than the other which is never a good sign. I dismantled the caliper thinking perhaps the seals were full of dirt but soon realised one of the sliding pins was welded into the carrier plate with corrosion. a rickshaw took us to a couple of poorly equipped garages who didn’t understand the problem as they were used to drum brakes. Eventually we ended up at an engineering place who had a bench vice and I explained what was needed by demonstrating with a big hammer. The guys got to work and freed up the pin and applied some grease as well. The reason the pin had seized was a rubber boot was missing, obviously from some bad maintenance by the previous owner. Always the risk with a second-hand bike.

Since it took most of the day to fix the brake we went to see the Ghats at night. We took a boat trip along the ganges and lit some candles to put in the water like good little tourists. It was quite peaceful though we were aware this is one of the most polluted waterways in the world and didn’t fancy falling in. After we had enough of the evening ceremony we headed back and I took a turn at rowing. It was a mix of fitness and technique required, neither of which I had so I was glad to hand the oars back to the owner.

Helens bike had the problem that it was cutting out and not idling well. She had noticed it first in Lahore but it had been getting worse along the way. This didn’t help over the rough roads in slow traffic where she couldn’t put her feet down and had also just lost use of the rear brake. It meant coordinating front brake with throttle (bearing in mind her smaller hands) and keeping the bike moving. It made lots of black smoke too which is strange on an injected machine. Craptacular. I also noted that the waterpump was leaking yet again.

I called our parts man Alan at BMW for some advice and had a chat with the workshop guy. It was not great news, they suggested perhaps the idle control actuator was the problem but that it could be anything at all. If we put a new actuator on it would need to be calibrated on a GT1 computer, none of which seemed to be anywhere handy in India or Nepal. Of course it could be something different altogether and we would not know unless it was plugged into the computer. I had no waterpump parts left for the bike either, foolishly believing that 2 spare pumps was surely enough. Posting stuff to India would mean waiting and then dealing with the bureaucratic machine that is Indian customs.

I did some research on the internet and found a few things that could be the idle problems. I decided to clean the throttle body, check the air intake rubber for cracks and reset the ECU. We spent about 2 hours in the morning looking for a simple spray can of carb cleaner, getting directed from one shop to the next. Eventually we wound up at the Bajaj garage right beside the hotel and of course they had the stuff we were looking for. After we had established what I wanted it took a full 10 minutes for one of them to get off their arse and go get it for me, preferring instead to sit around and look at us while doing very little work.

So I spent a full day stripping the bike down to work at it, with an audience. Occasionally one would get bolder than the rest and come right up close for a look. I got kind of used to it after a while because although it was annoying they didn’t ask any questions so I could ignore them and work away. At one point some guys setup chairs on the lawn beside me to watch too, it seemed I was a tourist attraction, perhaps i should have been charging – foreigner 10rs, Indian 200rs would redress the balance. I would not have minded so much had someone offered a cup of tea or something for the entertainment being provided.

I pulled the airbox, battery etc off and disconnected the throttle cable and fuel line from the throttle body and took it off. It was a little dirty inside so I emptied the entire 500ml can of carb cleaner through it, paying particular attention to the idle valve. Quite a bit of gunge came out so I kept going til it ran clear.

After I reassembled everything I checked the battery connections for tightness and checked the wiring loom near the rear preload adjuster and found 2 wires with worn insulation. I judged one to be ok with a wrap of tape but chopped out and soldered a new piece into the other one before taping everything up again. After this was done I reconnected the ecu, meaning its trim values should be reset by now and put the rest of the plastics on. We turned the bike on and gave the throttle a few complete turns to calibrate the throttle position sensor. I turned the bike on and held the starter button til she fired with no throttle. We let the bike warm up til it was hot and shut it off. Time would tell if this did the trick or not though it did seem to be running better already. The waterpump would just have to wait til Nepal as we could not find the right size seals anywhere in Rewa or Varanasi.

When we got up to leave Varanasi it took us a while to get packed and get breakfast. Then I discovered the battery was low on my bike, probably due to the very cold weather here and with the bike having been standing for so long. Some things were tried but the thin wires kindly rustled up by the hotel were nowhere near up to the job of cranking the big diesel engine. In the end we got the loan of a battery and a couple of car earth straps from a garage and that got it going. I paid the garage guy some rupees then the rickshaw guy got in on the act and wanted more money than would have been reasonable otherwise, cashing in on my misfortune. Nothings for free in India and by now we were both growing pretty tired of it by now.

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Khajuraho to Rewa and Varanasi

Over the next couple of days we saw the temples complete with some interesting carvings and I managed to get my hair cut. This time it was by a barber who told me he had 19 years experience. This seemed pretty true since he actually did a good job using only scissors and a comb. He finished off giving me a cut throat shave (with a brand new blade) and a head and shoulder massage, All this for about 3 quid!

We were delaying leaving because we knew we had a couple of long days ahead. Fortunately we didn’t know the half of it.

We dragged ourselves out of bed early to head towards Varanasi. I looked up on the internet and found the last hotels on the road were in a town called Rewa. National Highway 75 started out good, with fresh tarmac winding its way up through the hills of the Panna nature reserve. We were finding ourselves dodging monkeys in the road and passing deer and antelope.

The road soon disintegrated. Some parts were smooth with random potholes trying to take us by surprise (and occasionally succeeding). In towns it tended to deteriorate further into rocky gravel with little sign it was ever tarmac apart from the obligatory well preserved speed ramps. The bikes were taking a pounding and I wondered how the rear shocks would hold up. A few towns along the way had deep potholes filled with murky water. There was no way to tell how deep it was or any way round it so through them we went, hoping for the best. It took a good 5 hours to complete the 200km journey.

We stopped at the first hotel we came to. It looked nice though the water was only lukewarm and the room was freezing with mosquitoes thrown in for good measure. just the sort of motivation you need to get going first thing in the morning. They did however let us park the bikes in the basement which had been converted into a banquet hall complete with a carpeted floor. We still found the switches had been fiddled with overnight and mirrors adjusted. The ride up the carpeted ramp in the morning was challenging and reminded me of Saveh in Iran, only without the bashing of stuff at the top.

The crap roads continued all the way to Mirzapur, despite being a main road as marked on the map. We competed for space with lorries swerving into our oncoming path to avoid potholes on their side. The 200km journey took us a full bone shattering 7 hours. Anywhere we stopped people came from nowhere to simply stand and stare at us. It was impossible to get a reaction or conversation with anyone apart from the only occasional “how much it cost“. India was really becoming invasive and getting under our skin.

To avoid riding through the middle of varanasi we took a minor road out of Mirzapur and cut up to the motorway. The minor road was a little better condition than the main road had been and the motorway had a blissfully smooth surface but with the usual impatient small car drivers causing mayhem everywhere.

I had gps co-ordinates for a hotel but we found one road blocked with roadworks. We took another branch road and got back to the road we had wanted. As we followed the road we came to an army camp that the road went straight through. Locals were riding through the gates on small bikes so we approached. I asked the guard about the road but he unhelpfully waved his red stick in a circular motion indicating we should turn around and just go away. I was trying to ask for alternative directions and taking my helmet off when he turned and walked away. Frustrated tired and hot we simply drove straight up to the gates playing the dumb tourist card and flanked by several small bikes. The guards had no time to react at we rode straight through and into the camp. The road continued on through the camp and out the other side where we exited through a pedestrian gate along with the local small bikes. Finding the hotel from there was a breeze.

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The Bikes

It occurred to me that I have not written much about the bikes in a while so time for a wee bonus post.

Everywhere we go the bike is key. It takes us to the new places while demanding relatively little in return except for somewhere safe to park and a little fuel. Like a faithful friend it stands in the cold overnight, ready to go again in the morning. We are not crammed onto a bus and shipped round like cattle, milked for money like a lot of other folks (although sometimes its appealing). The bike can (apparently) be shipped on a plane which means not having to turn back just yet.

Steve McQueen is once quoted as saying that driving a car is like watching a movie, while riding a bike is like being the star. It puts you right in the environment, good or bad. If its sunny you are warm. If it rains you get wet and if its cold you wish you‘d fitted heated grips before you left. Everywhere you stop people ask what the story is, sometimes its good, occasionally its tiring. You can‘t hide inside and lock the doors, like it or not the bike really puts you right in the middle of the scene.

For me, riding the diesel bike is that little bit extra special. I look down at the dashboard and cannot believe it sometimes. As the odometer clicks over 8000 and then 9000 miles away from home its hard to believe that I am sat here riding past elephants, camels and monkeys on the bike I built in the garage. The only one of its kind, I have to allow myself a wry smile when most people don‘t even realise. I recall all those nights that Jonny came down and helped me put it together and here it is now in India, the very same bike.

Touch wood, Inshallah, good karma and all that, the tiger has held up to the punishment ok so far. Its been dropped, scraped over ridiculous speed ramps and roads, run over by the police and thrashed in hot and cold, wet and dry. It still sounds like an Ulsterbus Goldliner, chewing up the tarmac with repetitive, ruthless efficiency. A fuel filter in Newcastle and a fuel pump in Turkey were needed so far, hopefully that’s all. I really wish I had the chance to change the sump before we left but in the end ran out of time. I worked out the average fuel economy just before Iran was 102mpg (imperial) and on one tank managed 120mpg average. I worry a little about the fuel quality we get but cannot do much about it.

Helens bike has taken the punishment very well but has needed the water pump replaced twice now. This is a frustrating weak point on such a great machine otherwise. I was considering replacing the mechanical pump with one of the electrical ones I have spare with me but I am not sure how well it would work. Its also not idling particularly well but I‘ve no idea why. Valve clearances are the next thing to have checked, but it might be bad fuel or anything.

Our driving has changed a lot too, Helen is now very good on the rough bits of road, perhaps because she can‘t stop to put her feet down. Riding through large deep puddles and over gravel and sand she seems to take more before she gets tired now. Not bad from someone who had only ever ridden to Cavan before we left. My own driving has taken on a more vocal angle with the horn being blown at anything I don‘t like the look of and I wonder what it will be like driving at home now. Little did I realise that the little bit of off-road experience we gained with David in Turkey would be used so extensively.

A bike is a toy to many, but a lifestyle for a lucky few.

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