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12th June 2013

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End 2 End Slowly, Part 1

Phil Speakman joins the classic motorcycling equivalent of a slow boat to China: a leisurely ride from one end of the UK to the other, aboard his 38 year old MZ 150...

Roger Bibbings, the 'evil genius' behind End 2 End Slowly first approached me to purchase some spare parts for his MZ TS150. I'm the proprietor of www.themzshop.co.uk and it initially seemed like Roger was placing an ordinary order for the usual stuff needed for routine maintenance: new points, condenser etc.

Then Roger explained that he was not intending to fit them, instead planning to carry them with him in case his machine required running repairs. Not an unreasonable assumption for any motorcycle, but probably a wise precaution when you consider that the MZ TS150 which he was planning to ride had spent twenty years of its life lying completely neglected in a hedge. It was still wearing many of the original consumables with which it left the MZ factory!

Roger Bibbings, an MZ TS150 and the open road...

E2ES was Roger's ambition for a group of riders to ride small, low powered motorcycles from Land's End to John o' Groats via A- and B-roads where possible. His intention was for us to ride during Red Cross week, raising money by sponsorship for the Red Cross whilst we did it. Of course, just getting to the starting point at Land's End and returning home again from John o' Groats, would mean that most of us would be completing the entire journey twice. After a surprisingly brief discussion with my partner Amanda, I'd also signed up for his curious little adventure, roping in my 1975 MZ ES150/1 as my travelling companion.

Gradually others joined us and amalgamated into a loose confederation of unlikely long distance tourers:

  • Jack Ellis and Kieran Whitrow , two workmates from the Manchester area who were planning to ride a 1980's Yamaha Townmate 80 and MZ TS250/1 Supa 5, respectively

  • Journalist Peter Henshaw would be navigating a Fuji Robin powered Royal Enfield diesel

  • Cameraman Hume Fairholme would pilot a Honda C90

    Between us, it's doubtful we'd be able to muster enough collective horsepower to worry any half decent superbike, but that's not what End 2 End Slowly is all about. Its ethos is encapsulated in the motto which Roger, who quite appropriately works for ROSPA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents), has had engraved onto a small plaque which is fixed to the headstock of his BMW R80.

    Award winning, no less... MZs on now...

    It says 'Festina Lente, which roughly translates as 'Making Haste Slowly.'

    However, nobody had bothered to inform my ES150/1 of this viewpoint, so we set off at 8am on a bright May Sunday morning with the intention to ride to the youth hostel at Land's End in one day. From my home in St Helens, Google Maps informed me that it would be a trip of some 371 miles. That's a decent enough distance to be tackled on my Triumph Tiger 955i, let alone on a 38 year old, single-pot two-stroke commuter.

    But you see, it's not about speed or power. Instead it's more a question of patience and perseverance, but more importantly, it's really all about just keeping going. This was brought home to me many years ago during a similar trip to a Jawa/CZ Owners' camp, situated to the south of Marlborough. As I climbed southwards out of Frodsham towards Delamere and my intended liaison with the A49, three blue and white Suzuki SRAD 750cc missiles growled past me and quickly disappeared over the crest of the hill. Wishing them well, I motored along on my ES150/1 at a steady 52mph, taking the opportunity to enjoy the views over the Cheshire Plain complete with its working monuments to Edward Lovell, the radio telescopes at Jodrell Bank.

    Once past Whitchurch, much to my surprise, those very same riders barrelled past me at speeds well in contempt of the speed limit. Again on the A417, south of Leominster, we renewed our briefest of brief encounters with their now traditional overtaking manoeuvre. Before we ended our relationship after a fourth and final assignation, with my little MZ having beaten them to Gloucester.

    Today, I was following the same route south to Gloucester, unfortunately without the enjoyable companionship of the above Tortoise and the Hare fable. My ES150/1 was lightly loaded with a minimum of luggage, all housed within the OEM MZ panniers and frames. These were manufactured by the East German Pneumant factory, famous for their indestructible but unfortunately non-grip tyres.

    Once past Whitchurch, much to my surprise...

    I'm always happy to sing the praises of the ES150/1 as a tough, capable and nimble little machine. There is, however, one fly in the ointment which cannot in all honesty be overlooked. The ES has a desire to shake its head when heavily laden. It's something which the rider has to be aware of, should one-handed riding be required for more than a few seconds. It's purely a quirk of the Earles forks fitted to the ES150s. I've never experienced it with the larger 175 and 250cc Trophy machines, just with the tiddlers, though I do know others who have. So, despite my love of the Earles forked ES150/1, the headshake when heavily laden problem forces me to concede that Roger's later TS150, with its telescopic forks, is a far better machine for heavily-laden touring use.

    At Gloucester I opted for the M5 option as a way of bypassing the Bristol bank holiday weekend traffic, upping my cruising speed to 55mph. By 6pm Exeter was well behind me and I was on the final leg of the journey, buzzing down the A30 to Land's End. As suggested by Roger, I followed the signs for Land's End airfield and soon found my way to the Youth Hostel, despite a brief wrong turn up a farm track and into a rocky field. I finally arrived at 6:45pm, with just enough time to spare for introductions and a shower before we settled down to a very welcome 7:30pm feast of bangers and mash followed by treacle tart and custard.

    During the course of the evening, I got to know my travelling companions, none of whom I'd actually met until that evening and one thing was clear. They all seemed keen on being very early birds, agreeing that we should make a 5:30am start the following morning,their thinking being that we could get the photo session at Land's End over and done with before the crowds arrived, so we could be on our way by 6:30am. With a very long day planned for tomorrow and after the ride I'd had, I was happy to be in bed by 10:30pm.

    What, we ask ourselves, are they all looking at?...

    Next episode: the run itself starts, and the group sets off. Slowly. Sort of.

    You can support Phil and the E2Es team by making a donation for Red Cross week, via: www.e2eslowly.org/#!donate/c1vnr


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