Planning is for sensible people. My own planning has consisted of putting a few waypoints into Google Maps and having dinner with a motorcycling living legend, who specifically advised me not to overplan.
I am very lucky that several of my friendships have outlasted distance and time. Some have survived year long and even decade long gaps. Beloved friends live in Amsterdam, Berlin, Prague and Lyon Elsewhere too, but these guys drew the short straw by being on the route. Another friend is completing a PhD in medieval combat and has persuaded the French authorities to let him fight thirty French guys in full 15th Century armour over the course of a weekend at the chateau in Castelnaud la Chapelle to demonstrate the findings of his research. He has a spare bed in the room at his inn. A hotel with parking in Hamburg is booked: my partner will coincide with me there on a train journey from Denmark and Sweden down to Hanover. Apart from that it’s wide open. I’m hoping that the cities and villages I roll through will present me with a hostel or B&B when I decide to stop for the night. We’ll see.
The most important thing is, of course, preparing my cherished steed Veronica. She is a Honda Shadow VT750, the Spirit C2 model from the late noughties although she could pass for a bike from the 60s or 70s. My main concern is punctures: Veronica is a big cruiser and the gear required for a roadside tyre change is not realistically transportable. We put on new tyres: an Avon Cobra on the front and an Avon Road Rider on the rear. The Cobra, using sports bike technology in a cruiser tyre is incredible: the grip and cornering ability is twice what it was compared to the Bridgestone Exedras I ran for the last 10,000 miles or so. Inside are heavy duty inner tubes, and in them is a substance called Linseal, which the British military use in off road vehicles to prevent punctures. If the stuff works as claimed, it’s pretty amazing. Apparently a Land Rover can run over a bunch of huge nails and just carry on as normal. Veronica also got new front brake pads, a new clutch cable and an oil change, both engine and shaft. The battery is charging fine, it should last the 3,000 mile trip comfortably, we hope.
The work was done by one of my closest friends, Karen and her team at Zenith Motorcycles. She is a remarkable person. Karen is the only woman who owns and runs a motorcycle garage in the UK. Last year, she won the prestigious Britain’s Biking Hero award for her incredible community and road safety education work. I trust her and her team with my life, literally, and without her support and encouragement I would not be undertaking this trip.
Over the years Veronica has had a few bits added to her: a Memphis Shades bullet fairing with is OK but not as good as a windshield, a USB charger for the satnav, some heated grips and some Highway Hawk engine bars. A leather tool roll which hangs on the front actually contains a scrunched up bike cover.
A helmet bag which attaches to the passenger seat contains two spare inner tubes, the uncroppable Almax 16mm chain and a Squire lock, two disc locks one of which is alarmed, the old clutch cable and a basic single barrel foot pump from Halfords. There are also some cable ties, gaffa tape and electrical tape, a small toolkit and a Swiss Army knife, a small can of WD40 and all the stuff the French specifically and ridiculously force one to carry: spare bulbs, a collapsible warning triangle, breathalyzers. I’ve also got a sticker to attach to the headlamp which changes the angle of the beam to suit right sided traffic. The panniers are for my own stuff: a couple of shirts, two sets of EDZ base layers, a few pairs of motorcycle socks and pants, a couple of shirts and t shirts, a pair of jeans. There are also a dozen cereal bars, two bottles of water, some baby food pouches, a couple of bits of fruit. And the medicines: painkillers, indigestion relief tablets, a substance named “Wound Spray”, a few plasters. A toothbrush, some toothpaste, deodorant, alcohol hand gel, insect repellent, sun block, a razor and some vitamins will hopefully keep me resembling a human at least some of the time. Glasses, contact lenses and a cheap pair of shades from Boots which make me look like the Terminator are necessary too as are earplugs. Some euros, some Swiss franks, wallet, passport, printouts of ferry tickets and insurance, a photocopy of the bike registration document.
My gear is simple but good: a Marushin lid with a 5/5 SHARP rating, Rokker revolution jeans, waterproof, good looking and with D30 armour, a Richa leather jacket with the usual armour as well as a Knox back protector. The gloves are Knox too. I have very basic and light waterproofs from Decathlon and (again pandering to French laws) a hi viz vest with the letters RARC emblazoned on the back. On my feet are cruiser boots made to look like combat boots, waterproof hopefully, but I’ve also got a few plastic bags to put on my feet in case of torrential rain.
Finally there are the electronics: heeding Ted Simon’s advice there is a very small laptop for keeping notes, a charging block, my old iPhone, a TomTom (440 I think?), and a Drift Stealth camera packing a 32 gig SD card. The camera attaches to my helmet. A couple of charging cables and European plug adaptors complete the rig. The TomTom has the addresses of my friends in it and a couple of other waypoints too.
I think I’m ready to roll.