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Bike Profile - Posted 21st May 2010

Harley-Davidson MT350
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Rowena Hoseason has always wanted to ride to the Shetland Islands. A 30bhp, 350 single is obviously the perfect motorcycle to take on a 2000 mile road trip...

The land of my fore-fathers is calling! I'm probably bringing down the curse of the ages by talking about this before I've safely been there and back, but if all has gone well then by the time you read this I'll be en route from Bude in Cornwall to my family's ancestral stomping ground in the Shetlands Isles. Land's End to John O'Groats just seemed too -- ahem -- easy. Nothing particularly easy about the Shetlands, especially as my folks hail from one of the smaller islands, Yell, which appears to be closer to Bergen than it is to Aberdeen.

There's a legend that Sjovald and Aasi of Gotland (stick with me on this; we'll get to the point in the end) lost a scrap with the Germans back in 1140. Sjovald and Aasi scarpered to their summer fishing grounds in the Shetland Isles, taking with them goods, chattels, long-boats and all. Then followed a fair bit of begatting, which used to be recalled by verbal recitation until that sort of thing went out of style, and written records pick up the thread in 1500 or so. Another Sjovald (not particularly creative on the name front, my family) was born around then, and some three generations later Christianity must have taken a hold because one of the sons was called Hosea. That fairly soon became a surname in the accepted modern format, hence Hoseason. And yes, we are all related. And no, I don't have any shares in the holiday boating business…

So the idea for a road trip took place last winter, when my initial quandry was about which bike to use. The journey, according to googlemaps (which have as much credibility with me as the tooth fairy does), and avoiding motorways is around 880 miles each way. The stupid computer suggests that it would take one day and two hours to drive. I'm allowing three days each way for riding, and three days in the middle for ferries and faffing. So the bike needs to be able to maintain a steady 55mph, with the option to crack on at up to 70mph for short bursts if I have to make up time. The chosen bike needs, above all else, to be reliable because I really don't want to spend time by the side of the road awaiting the arrival of the big yellow van. Plus, in some of the areas I'll be riding there may not be much in the way of petrol stations or a mobile phone signal…

My options originally involved:

Frank'S Mk3 Commando. The electric start 850 would have been ideal for the trip, but it's not yet back from Norvil Motorcycles who are giving it a 21st century make-over. So that's my first choice down the pan…

BMW F650. I discounted the Bimmer on the grounds it would just make everything too easy. I probably could do the trip in one day and two hours on this bike, and that's not really the point.

Douglas Dragonfly. For: splendid reliability, comfort, cute wickerwork hamper for my luggage. Against: it's slow. Weedy braking. If I take the Fly then the next issue of the magazine may be somewhat delayed!

Triumph T100C. A definite maybe. Bit concerned about whether it'll cope with the vibes for 2000 miles of open throttle and the high pipes make luggage something of a faff. I don't have a whole lot of spare time for fettling along the way, and am a bit concerned that the 400 mile first day could be asking a bit much of a bike which normally does just a 50 mile round trip to the shops…

Harley Davidson MT350. The Rotax-engined development of the Armstrong, still in military livery and with socking great panniers. It ain't classic by any stretch, but it is old. And indefatigable.

Please try not to notice the top-secret installation shown at the top of this picture. Thank you... Harley Davidson MT350

So inevitably it came down to the MT350, previously featured here and known to all and sundry as 'Snarley'. When I first laid paws on the demobbed 350 they were rare little beasts indeed, but hundreds have subsequently been sold off by NATO. The MT Riders Club (www.mtridersclub.co.uk) now has over 500 members and mustered a very impressive array of 40 or more bikes for this spring's Stafford Show. Perhaps the best way to describe the MT350 is 'reliable but slow' which is reflected in the club's opinion that MT350 riders tend to be smug, but late…

Panniers. Luxury... Harley Davidson MT350 taking part in the Virtual Norton Challenge

I've been gradually fettling and prepping Snarley since winter; using it every week for local rides and going flat-out to the bank and back once a month, a 150-mile round trip. This is in the hope that it anything was going to break, it would break within shouting distance of home and not in the Scottish hinterland. The MT will achieve 65mph, gradually, but it's far happier cruising at 50 to 55mph. It'll travel around 120 miles before paranoia demands a fuel re-fill, and needs a cup of oil between services.

Is that a spoon next to the filler cap?... Harley Davidson MT350 - Old clutch cable left in place alongside new replacement

I imposed upon the good nature of Kenny the spannerman at Ace Motorcycles (www.acemotorcycles.net) to go through the MT, seeking things which might conceivably go wrong, and he fitted new brake pads, did the filters, and lubed and adjusted everything. Frank emerged from the depths of the shed, triumphantly waving a new clutch cable, so we fitted that - and left the old one, still functional, in situ, just in case it might come in handy. (I note that I haven't got a spare throttle cable, however. Hmm).

That tree was just a sapling last time she cleaned the Snarley...
Rotax Related on Right Now......

A quick trial run with the super-bargain-from-Stafford monster tankbag revealed that it sticks to the tank perfectly well, but has a habit of activating the bike's black-out switch, plunging me into darkness at inappropriate moments. That shouldn't be too much of a problem, cos where I'm going the sun don't set much at this time of year…

Keeps the battery topped up but impacts on ride comfort... Solar batter charger

I've also failed to get a spare ignition key cut. So I really must NOT drop the key over the side of the ferry. Not that I intend to drop the ignition key over the side of the ferry, but I didn't intend to drop the key to my GPz1100 through the slats of the pier at Southend, either…

Squaddie-proof instrument panel and switches... No spare key, but there is a spare spoon. Obviously.

So the next time you hear from me I will, hopefully, be considerably further north. The RC readers on Shetland have been extremely kind and promise to be waiting on the docks when the ship hoves to at 7am on Saturday morning. Even the weather forecast looks reasonably good (by which I mean that it's not promising snow or hurricanes). Maybe I'll be able to collect some volcanic dust while I'm up there!


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