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9th June 2009

Skint in Scotland, Part One
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In the spirit of austerity era motorcycling, Elizah Wolfe takes a Royal Enfield Bullet on a cash-strapped tour of the Highlands...

I spent the day sitting about, eating ice cream and consciously NOT stripping down my bike, despite knowing that I should. I'm relaxing because I feel like I've been beaten up underwater. In reality my beating was provided by ten days in Scotland on my Indian Enfield Bullet.

'Oh what a whinging git!' I hear you cry. But wait, for ye know not the travails we faced…

In February a friend and I decided to spend our summer holidays (yes, we're students, but I have a beard and don't spout existential philosophy, so it's OK) motorcycling around eastern Europe. There were only a couple of problems with this fabulous idea, the first being a general lack of cash, and the second being my friend's (I shall call him Lance Corporal McCavity, or Cavity for short) lack of motorcycle or license. We decided to ignore the first for now, and solve the second with a hasty CBT and acquisition of a 1983 Honda CB125RS, for the princely sum of £310 from eBay.

Our problems began immediately. The bike had no MoT, the tank leaked, the electrics didn't work and the fork seal had gone. Literally gone, and left a viciously corroded hell hole in its place. I shan't bore you with the detail, but fun was had by no one.

They're smiling; must be at the start of the adventure... Elizah (left) and McCavity

The bike was fixed (kind of) and a 'test run' up to Scotland over the Easter hols was planned to check the bikes' performance under load. Panniers were needed, especially after my last trip where I used old rucksacks tied on with climbing rope… which led to a nasty rear wheel skid after a slight 'entanglement issue'. So Cavity's sister (who works at a train outfitters) was sent in on an undercover 'borrowing' session to acquire some sheet aluminium. Luckily she was questioned by some of the blokes in the machine shop, who after learning of our plight (and eyeing up McCavity's sister…) offered to knock us up some boxes on the spot. Success!

I fled up north to begin the lengthy task of recommissioning my aging, abused and decrepit Bullet. Four days of budget tinkering (read; application of duct tape and tie wraps) concluded with the bike running perfectly (sort of).

My Bullet is a 1960's model I think (from the front mudguard?) but was imported in 1981. It now has an engine, front wheel and primary side from a 1985 bike, after I cartwheeled it through a stone wall at considerable speed a couple of years ago, smashing the primary case, alternator, clutch basket and bending the crankshaft. Not to mention all the sticky out bits, foot pegs, handlebars, gear and brake levers, exhaust, number plate and headlight (you get the idea).

It's 1960/81/85...

We were all set to go on Monday morning, Cavity arriving via a Punto (Honda hanging out of the back) due to his unwillingness to ride from Birmingham to Lancaster alone with only two days motorcycling experience. However, a bunch of yobs with bricks on the Sunday night saw the end of the Punto, delaying his arrival up north to 6pm on Monday night.

We departed immediately, in the rain, bikes piled high with camping equipment and acoustic guitars (we planned to busk for petrol/food money, and rough camp in the woods) though busy teatime traffic. Some wobbling occurred…

Alas, we only got as far as Arnside (just south of the Lake District) that night, and camped on a hill. In the rain. We rolled the bikes into a ditch to keep them out of sight from the road and set up for a very cold wet night. Luckily, we had cider to see us through!

The next day we headed north as fast as our trusty steeds would allow (about 35mph) through the Lake District, across to Cockermouth and up to Carlisle, where we stopped just long enough to load up with more wine and cider, before heading along some amazingly windy B-roads to the Galloway Forest National Park, where we set up camp, and began the lengthy process of getting blind drunk and calling people to let them know that we were still alive.

Within half an hour of climbing into our tents an incredible storm blew in, complete with lashings of rain. A peek out of my tent revealed the huge trees to be swaying dramatically, and, coupled with the already fallen trunks lying all around, this sight did not improve my already sagging hopes for a safe night. No sleep was had by either of us, and when, at first light, McCavity shouted 'Elizah! Elizah!? My freaking tent's collapsed!' I decided it was probably time to rise, despite our lack of sleep. Upon exiting my humble abode, said tent set off for pastures fresh and was blown off into the woods, complete with sleeping bag, mat and bike helmet.

After hurriedly collapsing camp, we headed off down the muddy forestry road we had ventured up yesterday, now a gushing torrent of mud and branches. A tricky ride, on fully-laden bikes with worn road tyres.

Everything was soaked, and Cavity, new to this style of 'holiday' elected that we sleep in a hostel. I challenged this decision from a financial perspective, but threats were made, and a hostel chosen, just a little further north in Lanark.

Big hill, small bikes...

The rain was heavy, and with the bikes too heavily laden to achieve A-road speeds, we followed the twisty Bs, incredible views, but some 'interesting' tarmac conditions and some downright hairy bends. I was leading (because I have more experience in navigating) when I realised McCavity was no longer in my mirror. I stopped, and, the road being completely empty, waited. After all, the chap's new, maybe he's just taking his time…

Sixty seconds passed. 'He's binned it' I thought, and span the Enfield around. No sign around the first corner. With a sheer cliff face on one side and a massive drop on the other, I began to worry. Still no sign round the next corner, and I was getting ready to pull over and steel myself for a look down into the valley for the body.

Luckily the next corner provided a view of a muddy and bloody Cavity pulling his motorbike from a pile of mud and shale, contents of pannier boxes strewn across the road.

Long-suffering 125 Hondas

Thankfully he was unharmed (mostly); just gravel rash on knees and shins and a battered shoulder, but after a bit of a sit down he was ready to hit the road again. The bike wasn't too bad either, bent handlebars and pannier frame, one less mirror, and an indicator that was easily re-attached with duct tape, and it fired right up on the twentieth or thirtieth kick, good old Honda!

As we drew close to Lanark, the weather picked up, but my bike decided that only so many wounds could be patched with duct tape, and started jumping out of gear, creating a few heart topping moments around tight corners, when consistent engine braking suddenly became an unreasonable request. As we reached the town it became almost unridable, jumping straight out of first upon acceleration, provoking many expletives and the need to waddle it up to speed before clunking it into gear. Amazingly we arrived at the hostel unscathed, and only had to wait a couple of hours in the rain for it to open.

McCavity was panicking, 'We're doomed! You'll never fix that, and I can't ride home alone, death will surely pounce!' I remained unflustered. 'I'll worry about it in the morning. Now, first things first damnit, we need more cider!'

Well rested, the following morning I began my investigations on the pavement outside the hostel. The little arm thingy that pushes the rod that runs through the gearbox to the clutch needed the locknut tightening, so the clutch would disengage completely, but despite me getting it right the bike still jumped out of gear.

Next, the primary side. Through the inspection plug I perceived that the chain was far too slack, at least an inch of free play, when there should only be about 6mm. Thinking that the extra lash might jar it out of gear I asked McCavity to head into town to buy a measuring jug and some automatic transmission fluid, and proceeded to drain and open the primary side. My attempts to catch the fluid were quite, quite unsuccessful, leaving an unsightly and blood-like pool of deep red oil below my stricken bike. Fitting, really. I tightened up the chain tensioner, and awaited my oil.

Alas, no improvement. I sat and cogitated. McCavity sat and panicked. I called my long-suffering and ever helpful local mechanic, who suggested it might be the little springy bit that holds the selector fork in place. I stripped the outer gearbox cover off -- and he was right! Although it wasn't loose, it had fallen out completely, and taken some threads with it. And the little bit on the end of the spring had broken out of its channel and was hidden, out of reach inside the box. Luckily, the ever-handy Swiss army tweezers came to the rescue, and brute bodgery with mole grips 'repaired' the springy bit long enough for me to hammer it back into the hole.

Success! It stayed in gear, if being a little stiff. We sped off, desperate for a bag of chips after a cold hard morning, accompanied by a hideous grinding noise from Cavity's tacho drive, now going the same way as his speedo, mirror and indicator.


Next time: what else could possibly go wrong…?


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