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15th April 2009


Erzgebirge and Beyond - Part 3
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Of Bascule Bridges, Barges and Windmills that aren't. Phil Speakman heads for home on his MZ ES250/", taking in the Oostbloktreffen on the way...

After saying my farewells to Lothar and Gabi the previous evening, I found myself leaving Dresden on a midweek morning, heading Northwards towards Berlin. I have a theory about visiting major cities, which is this.

If you want to visit one, fly there or take the train, but don't take a motorcycle. Motorcycles can be a liability within a major city centre, usually a worry and securing safe parking in order to ameliorate that worry can be prohibitively expensive.

I recall a perfect exemplar of this from a few years back, when a group of eight of us rode into Prague. After staying a couple of nights in a large hotel chain, they decided upon checkout that each member of the party owed them 15 Euros per motorcycle, per night, for the use of their underground car park. That worked out; at that time, as over 200 for the two parking spaces we had occupied. Needless to say, one ticket for one night was purchased and eight motorcycles rolled under the raised barrier in close formation, displaying total contempt for their extortionate demands.

I'm not saying that doing this is the best way to ingratiate oneself with ones Cayman Island registered hosts, but it did allow us to leave with considerably heavier wallets which to me is far more important that the self interests of an inner city hotelier.

In wishing to avoid Berlin, I headed towards what I considered to be the easiest route past that great Metropolis, via the Northwest inner ring road. With most of the traffic these days favouring the autobahns, the many old roads that radiate from the city centre, as spokes from a hub, are quiet and share a common feature harking from Europe's Napoleonic era. The highways are furnished with an arboricultural parasol which shades the traveller from the intense summer heat that the flat plains surrounding Berlin are subject to. Having conquered the Prussian homelands, Napoleon Bonaparte decreed that his troops should be afforded the luxury of marching in shade. Those Plane trees that provided me with dappled shelter from the bright sunlight on my journey towards Berlin were originally of his planting, or so the tale goes.

Read on for more details... Axel Fey's home-built Bison V4

I stopped that night in Neubrandenburg, an unusual place with an old walled town centre, encompassing nothing more than uninspiring post war blocks of flats. Indeed, the highlight of the evening was the B&B owner's enthusiasm in seeing my MZ Trophy, which, after its daily wash down from a plastic bag full of luke warm water, shower gel and underpants, he insisted should share a secure garage with his BMW motorcycle.

Heading eastwards the following morning, I made a short and pointless diversionary looping trip towards Szczecin in Poland and back again. Being so close, it seemed rude not to pop in and say "hello" to another country. Once this was accomplished, another box ticked (so to speak), I headed north once more towards the popular National Park tourist areas of the Mecklenburg Vorpommern Baltic coastline. I spent a lovely sunny day exploring the islands, the weather was good, as was the scenery, but there was something not quite right. It wasn't the bike that was at fault. Apart from requiring a new plug at Sosa, it had been fine. No it was me that had the problem. I was bored!

Bored of my own company that is, bored of having nobody else to interact with on a daily basis, other than brief exchanges with petrol pump cashiers and hotel proprietors. After admiring the impressive structure of the bascule bridge over the River Peene at Wolgast, I made an executive decision, dug out my phone and made a call.

Read on for more details... 900cc Soviet PKW motor squeezed into MZ TS250 frame, forks... and brakes.

A fellow MZ club member texted me the details I needed and with a new challenge ahead of me, I fitted a new battery into my MP3 player and sang along with Kate Rusby as I headed ever westwards until a sore backside and the failing light of early evening told me it was time to stop.

By the end of that long day in the saddle, I was a good 30 miles of so west of Rostock and nearing the western border of the former DDR. I'd stopped in a small town with a pretty little market square encompassed with small local stores and a bar offering accommodation for 40 Euros. I asked where I could put my motorcycle, but the owner waved his hand dismissively, as if to insist it would be fine out front.

I wasn't keen on this and explained it was an "Oldtimer motorrad", at which point one of the locals at the far end of the bar got up from his stool, and headed to the door to take a look. As he passed me, I explained it was an Oldtimer MZ motorrader, at which point the remaining half dozen drinkers and the landlord stood up and to a man they headed outside to take a look. I was both delighted and astonished at their enthusiasm for my old MZ and it soon became clear that they didn't wish to see my pride and joy left in the square overnight either. The landlord nipped off and after a brief wipe down, my ES250 was safely parked up in a back garden behind the local pharmacists, secured behind a robust locked gate.

It's a Dnepr, and it's green. That's all I know...

Towards the end of a second long day in the saddle with the ever present Kate Rusby accompanying me as a virtual pillion passenger, I finally found myself off the motorways and steering North Westwards towards the picturesque Friesland town of Dokkum. A pretty little town surrounded by canals and swing bridges which has carved itself a niche as a popular tourist destination. Just to the north of the town on the very edge of the sea defences was the Seedykstertoer Campsite (they have a disused grain storage tower, now converted into a lookout tower, from which the campsite takes its name) where the 4th Oostbloktreffen was being held.

I'd secured 3 nights accommodation in the centre of town, having politely declined the very kind offer of a room in the organiser's home. Sometimes, after a day spent with company, I like to be able to shut myself away in peace and quiet, maybe to read a book, listen to the radio and generally, just be, for want of a better explanation. I find that I can do this easier in the anonymous environs of a hotel, thus enabling me to enjoy the communal events all the more, when I'm feeling in more sociable mood.

There was an attendance of perhaps 30 machines at the rally, mostly Dutch or local Frieslanders, but with a few others attending from as far afield as Denmark and Germany. One chap; Axel Fey, was attending from the former DDR on his home built Bison. Powered by a V four Soviet 900cc PKW motor which had somehow been shoehorned into an MZ TS250 frame and forks, the front wheel had been taken from a Hungarian Pannonia and the rear swing arm, wheel and shaft final drive, were an ingenious combination of Russian Dnieper and Simson AWO425 Sport components.

All the way from Denmark...

Three young lads had ridden from Denmark on 2 MZ TS150's and an ES150, requiring them to be up, packed and gone by 6am on the Sunday, just so they could be home for work again on the Monday morning. Dedication indeed !

Arriving on the Friday afternoon, there was a busy weekend of activities to look forward to, the first of which being a trip the following morning to an agricultural museum. Here the excellent multilingual guides brought to life the stark reality of the harsh conditions endured by Frieslander chicory farmers as they eked out a subsistence living from these wild windswept lands. Even more surprising was the realisation that their extremely basic existence didn't really improve noticeably until after the second world war.

Though it was early summer, the weather here was cold with an incessant raw wind suggesting that life here in winter would be a miserable existence for agricultural labourers. The wind also made riding interesting. The large profile of the front mudguard, Earles fork carrier and the headlamp unit of the ES makes for a considerable sail area for crosswinds to act upon. Often riding to and from the farm's campsite, I found myself banked over at a considerable angle, just to keep the bike riding in a straight line. All the time I was intently watching out for the start of hedgerows, anticipating the still air that would be found on their leeward side, requiring me immediately to relax my counter steering technique in order to prevent both man and machine heading immediately for the nearest drainage ditch.

So flat, you can see the curvature of the Earth...

It will come as no surprise therefore when I inform you that everywhere one looks in this region, wind farm electricity generators endlessly revolve far above ones head. Being fascinated by all things mechanical I was looking forward immensely to the opportunity being afforded to our group on the Sunday. We were being offered the privilege of climbing to the top of one of these windmills and we were assured that once up there, the generator's canopy would be slid back allowing us spectacular unhindered views of the countryside from 250ft.

That afternoon, we took a guided barge tour of the inland wetlands to enjoy the local wildlife and scenery for a couple of hours. There was even tea and cakes laid on as part of the trip. The sun shone, the temperature rose and at such a low level, the wind disappeared entirely, giving us a wonderful balmy afternoon messing about in a boat, watching birds, spotting flowers and observing amorous dragonflies. It was as perfect an afternoon as I've ever experienced.

On the Sunday morning, we started the day with a ride out along the dykes that prevent this entire region from disappearing under the North Sea. Much of the land is given over to grazing sheep, cattle and a local breed of sturdy ponies. The ride came to a halt at what for me became the highlight of the weekend. A visit to a 150 year old windmill, or in the interests of accuracy, maybe that should be a wind pump? After all, no flour milling had ever taken place inside this remarkable machine, being equipped instead with a huge Archimedes screw as part of the essential network of pumping stations controlling water levels in that region.

You knew there'd be a Pav trailer along eventually... Jawa 500 OHV combo with Pav trailer

The sheer scale of the construction of this enormous apparatus left me in awe. We were allowed free reign to explore all three storeys from top to bottom and then, once we'd set the sails to face into the teeth of the gale force winds, the brake was released, the sails gathered speed and the screw was engaged. Water flowed, lots of it, very quickly, very quickly indeed.

There were no barriers, no safety ropes; nor guards in place to protect us whilst all about us, great balks of timber, enormous shafts, formidable spindles and great iron banded toothed wheels rumbled and groaned. The threat of messy nineteenth century wind powered dismemberment, span, wheeled and enmeshed itself all around us.

On the very top floor, where the main horizontal drive shaft entered from outside, I found myself rooted to the spot, observing the phenomenal power in action. I was all too conscious that I had to be fully aware of the proximity and geography of every individual piece of engineering surrounding me in the tight loft space. One ill considered move could conceivably see me being posted home in instalments, accompanied by assembly instructions in an envelope marked, "for the attention of the funeral directors".

On the ground floor, the screw turned, drawing the stagnant water upwards and filling the air with the sulphurous stench of decay. Once in the fresh air again, the lagoon that we were pumping from, maybe 60 feet long by 20 feet wide, dropped in level by a couple of feet within a matter of minutes. The capacity for work of these fantastic contraptions is an absolute wonder to behold. I urge everyone, if you are ever proffered the opportunity to see one of these devices in operation, seize it without a second thought, you will not regret it.

View from the dyke. Where's the sea?...
Simsons on eBay.co.uk

Unfortunately, due to the gale force winds blowing that afternoon, we simply couldn't scale to the top of a wind generator, as it simply wasn't safe. Instead we had to content ourselves with having a look around the interior base of one of the towers, with ascent limited to us being allowed to climb to the first level only. Maybe the opportunity to climb to the top one of these formidable machines will present itself to me in the future? I certainly hope so.

On the Monday morning, I took things easy, leaving the hotel late in order to travel the 100 miles or so to Rotterdam Europoort for the 9pm overnight sailing to Hull. I soon found myself chatting with many of the TT bound motorcyclists booked onto the ferry, sharing tales from the 2500 miles I'd covered over the previous fortnight.

One thing that never ceases to amuse me is people's reaction when I tell them where I have been and they look at my Trophy and ask "on that ?"

Yes, of course "on that". Do they seriously think I'm hiding a Pan European just around the corner or something? One bloke even reckoned he wouldn't even consider taking his brand new CBR600 on such a wildly irresponsible journey, claiming that he'd need a Goldwing before he would even consider riding such a distance. How does such a person ever manage to get out of bed in the morning, I wonder?

I honestly believe that as classic bikes go, I can't think of a better machine for long distance touring on, than an ES250/2. By now, my machine was ready for a new chain, the old one having developed a noticeable tight spot since Mecklenburg. I'd also invested a brief 20 minutes in the hotel's garage at Dokkum, nipping up the headstock bearings. But other than that and a new plug at Sosa, the bike had performed perfectly. So much so, that I'd already decided that it would be the bike I would be riding to tour the length of the Mosel Valley with, a couple of months later.

But that's another story.

Another day, another body of water to cross. This is at the Bascul bridge... Phil Speakman's MZ ES250/2

For information about the 2009 East Block Rally from 22nd - 24th May, visit: www.seedykstertoer.nl [Sorry about the short notice! RM]


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