London, UK. 20th October, 2016
It was nice to be home but it didn’t take more than a few frosty mornings to remind me of why I like Australia; nor to remind me of where I felt I should have been. My journey to the warmth of North Queensland was on hold for a while. Instead, time to contemplate; time to plan; time to replace; eventually time to return. How soon? Very hard to say but I hoped not much more than three months or so. Well, the route that took me from arrivals at Heathrow back to the departure lounge at the same airport proved to be a sinuous one.
One of the main things that had been on my mind as I rode across the outback on my return to Brisbane was whether or not to buy a new bike, and what to get. Doris’ troubles had put me in the frame of mind to replace her, but with what? Research had made it clear that no similar bike is now sold in Europe. Emissions regulations and the marketing department’s insistence on Rally Raiders had killed off the lightweight dual purpose bike. A radical option would be to buy a Suzuki DRZ400 in Australia, ship it back home and then register it. That may seem a very odd thing to consider but it would have resolved the problems related to traveling with a personal identity from one country and a bike registration from another. So, having dismissed all other options I decided I had no choice other than to buy the bike I really wanted anyway, the CCM GP450 Adventure. Once I’d eliminated all other possibilities I had no choice, I’m pleased to say. The truth is, I wanted one! Like a young man swooning over his first hot rod, I was hooked. Have a look at their website to see why. ccm-motorcycles.com.
Within ten days of landing the deal was done. I spoke to Cliff, at the Adventure Bike Shop in Suffolk (adventurebikeshop.co.uk). Not only is he an authorised dealer for CCM but I’d dealt with him previously and I knew I could trust him. After all, he and his wife had also ridden overland to Australia. He’d walked the walk. He had a test bike in stock so I arranged a ride.
It was noisier than I expected, a busy sounding engine. Made by the Taiwanese company KYMCO, this 450cc engine had been used by BMW, KTM and Husqvarna at various times. BMW dropped that model and it seems likely CCM bought a surplus batch as the engine had BMW embossed on the engine cover. It certainly went well and had the often desired extra power that Doris lacked. 40bhp compared to 33bhp. With its 125kg dry weight and modern suspension, it handled well too. It was a little tall for me but there were factory options that would deal with that. I liked it so I bought one. The test ride had confirmed the impression that various internet and magazine articles had already given me. Was it worth coming home for? Only time and distance will reveal that.
The bike was registered from the 1st November and I went up to Suffolk to collect it on the 2nd. After getting off the mainline train at Marks Tey I took a noisy old diesel/electric out to Sudbury. I realised we were traveling through Gainsborough Country, a gentle landscape with old country houses nestling in the folds of the low hills. It all looked typically English. Up to that point coming home had left me feeling quite despondent. All of a sudden I felt glad to be back. It was a sudden feeling and was rather welcome too. As we passed through one station I noticed a museum collection of old rolling stock and an original signal box. This is a part of England I haven’t explored much and the desire to do so was quite strong. So I will – one day.
Cliff had fitted various extras at my request, such as the essential heated hand grips, spotlights and a modern electronic ‘fuse’ box. Business completed, I donned the riding gear I’d brought with me and the new crash helmet I’d also bought from Cliff, and set off for home.
It was bloody cold, but I enjoyed the ride and began to learn the new bike and how it handled. My initial impression of noise didn’t change but it certainly went well although I knew it was quite low geared. I definitely needed to change that. I had a few other additions in mind, just to get it ready for long distance travel, but I had plenty of time to organise that as Doris wasn’t due back into the UK for a few weeks yet.
Doris. Now there’s a tale. I had left her with the Aussie shippers who said she’d be on a boat to Tilbury by the 25th October, and would arrive on 16th December. I naively accepted that as fact and felt it would give me enough time to transfer panniers and other gear from her to the CCM, and then maybe get it on a ship to Australia by mid-January. But I reckoned without the inconsistency that shipping companies are renowned for. Because the original boat didn’t have enough cargo to make the trip to Tilbury worthwhile Doris was delayed for over a week and didn’t arrive until 21st December. Of course, Christmas then got in the way and I didn’t collect her until 29th December. Nearly two weeks later than anticipated. Fortunately the agents were very efficient and they dealt with the customs clearance, meaning all I had to do was collect the bike. Gary, my neighbour, loaned me his bike trailer and the rest was easy.
By this time I’d sourced some luggage mounting plates from Zen Overland (zenoverland.com). These are beautifully made flat aluminium plates which bolt on to the rear luggage rack and side pannier rails and will provide a secure platform for my panniers and large holdall. Zen are experts at making bespoke metalwork in small production runs, and they are well worth what I paid for them. I’d already visited them at their base in Wells, Somerset, just to check the plates out and try them for size.
It was on the way back from there that I had my first ‘off’. As I rode from Wells to Calne, planning to visit my niece and her family, it was dark and wet. I came to a mini roundabout, indicating to turn right, and an elderly woman decided not to bother waiting for me to complete my turn. Instead she pulled out, forcing me to brake sharply. She braked too and a very low speed collision took place. No big drama really. I was pretty much stationary, and so was she, at the point when I collided with her front wheel, laying the bike over in the process. No injuries and no damage to speak of. Just the handlebars twisted round and a slight scratch on the end of the twist grip. She was very apologetic, was quite shook up but was relieved when I contacted her a couple of days later to tell her I wouldn’t be making a claim. It could have been far worse and I suppose that as the bike was now ‘christened’ there would be no need to have another one!
I needed to put at least 500 miles on the bike before I could get the first service done. I made arrangements to take it back to the factory in Bolton for this job and also ordered a couple of upgrades. One of these was to fit a hydraulic adjuster to the rear suspension, making pre-load adjustment far easier. The second was to fit a Power Commander. This upgrade to the engine management system has the aim of smoothing out the low running as well as the general power delivery across the whole rev range. Fuel injection on single cylinder bikes can be notoriously difficult to get right, mostly because of the emissions regulations. CCM also offer one which boosts power output and it includes a different, and noisier silencer. Not to my taste at all, thanks. The last thing I need is more noise. Many riders like the idea of noisier bikes. I think they feel it boosts their ego somehow, and makes some kind of statement. There is also some kind of myth about how ‘loud pipes save lives’, a belief that other road users will be alerted to the bike’s presence and therefore act more safely. This is complete nonsense of course, and the effect is likely to be the opposite by increasing confusion and raising aggression. Apart from anything else, a loud exhaust is very, very wearing and would make long journeys a literal pain. For my part I believe it’s best to ‘go quietly on your way’, ride defensively and not see other people as your enemy.
Eventually I’d put enough miles on the bike to make the journey to Bolton for the first service. It usefully coincided with a visit to Manchester for some birthday celebrations – mine and my son’s. A very nice family time before turning back to more practical agenda items.
The CCM factory is relatively small and each bike is hand built. CCM (Clews Competition Motorcycles) have always specialised in off road racers, specifically enduro and motocross. They developed a very strong, and light, bonded aluminium frame, tried and tested on the competition bikes. This frame is at the heart of the GP450 Adventure and, along with KYMCO’s small engine, is why the roadside weight of the bike, with its 20 litre tanks full of fuel, weighs only 140 to 145kgs. No-one else makes a comparable bike. It’s even lighter than Doris, a terrific achievement.
I found the factory and was introduced to Mick, the mechanic who deals with customer’s bikes. It’s very unusual for a manufacturer to do this, it’s normally the dealers’ job. But CCM offer a repair service and I needed to go there to get the upgrades fitted too. Mick was happy to let me watch him and one reason for this is so that he can impart his wisdom to the riders, many of whom will want to service their own bikes. There’s nothing that quite beats receiving knowledge from the fount of wisdom and it proved to be a very useful session. Mick also took steps to lower the bike a bit, thereby improving the riding experience hugely.
Upgrades installed, oil and filter refreshed, I set off back south. Seven hours and 330 cold miles later I reached Newquay, Cornwall. “Where?”, I hear you gasp. “But Geoff, you live in London!” Well, that’s true, but I’d been asked to give a talk to a Forces training course down at RAF St Mawgan and had agreed to do it the next day. Staff Sergeant Nathan James had read about my adventure up in Cape York, had friended me on Facebook and when he realised I was back in the UK had contacted me to ask if I could give a talk on one of his training courses. He teaches survival skills to teams of inter-force personnel and he likes to get people down to describe the mental challenges of being in a life threatening situation. I saw this as an interesting challenge so was happy to ride to Cornwall and give it a go. I got a nice room for two nights, good food in the mess and access to very cheap beer too. What’s not to like? The talk seemed to go down well, so it was a worthwhile couple of days. They even presented me with a small survival kit, the message being to make sure it’s with me when I go off a-wandering. I was also able to call in to visit my friends Sam and Birgit, in Exeter, on the way home.
All of these events were taking place around December time, so as well as bike fettling I was visiting friends and enjoying a very good Christmas with my family, the first in three years. When you have children that’s the kind of thing you miss when on the road. It was all the better for being unplanned too. In fact during the time I was at home I was able to visit many of my far flung friends and siblings. There’s six of us all together and we’ve spread ourselves around a fair bit, as far as Aberdeen in fact. But in particular I was very happy to be able to spend plenty of time with Jan, ‘the girl I’d left behind’. As well as general socialising, we went to see The Motown Story, a hugely enjoyable musical all about Berry Gordon’s trials, tribulations and successes. The music, singing and dancing were superb. It never ceases to amaze me how these shows manage to capture the feel and style of the times they reflect. Brilliant!
In among all this fun and frolics I still managed to keep my eye on the ball of getting the CCM ready for shipping. With Doris now safe in my garage I got on with fitting the panniers to their new home and finishing off the various changes and upgrades to the new (as yet unnamed) bike. In an attempt to reduce the overall noise I bought some stick-on sound deadening foam and stuck it to the inside of the front two fuel tanks. (The bike has one under the seat and two either side of the engine.) This seemed to quieten things down a bit, I’m pleased to say. I completed two days of back-to-back riding around Kent and Sussex so as to run some before and after tests on the power commander unit. I’m pleased to say that it delivered on its promises of smoother running and better power delivery. It even improved the fuel consumption – by a whole one mile per gallon! I made some improvements to the quality of the electrics to the the rear lights by fitting waterproof connectors to the wiring. Riding on salted roads had very quickly destroyed the unprotected originals, a disappointing lack of quality control, in my opinion. While I’m on the subject I’ll comment that this brilliant bike is let down in some areas by underdevelopment and a lack of finesse in the finishing. But its strengths far outweigh its weaknesses, so I’m not going to launch into a whinge-fest. I’ll be riding some hard miles once I get it, and me, to Australia so you can read about how it stands up to punishment in future blogs. Other owners have also ridden some tough miles, notably in Africa, and have been delighted with its robustness. I had occasional problems with Doris too, so it can be said that these come with the territory – in every sense.
So as I write this I’m 37,000 feet above the sea, on the way back to Australia. I’ve been at home for exactly five months, far longer than intended. I was fearful I’d get comfortable and indolent but once I’d passed my bike into the hands of Roddy at Motofreight (motofreight.com), the die was cast and my journey had effectively resumed. I’m doing it the easy way by flying in to Sydney, where I can catch up with friends and be a tourist for a week or so. Then, likewise, in to Melbourne, where I’ll collect my bike before heading north. Even so, I feel a mixture of fear and excitement. Fear that I may have lost the traveling urge; the need to see what’s over the next horizon and to wonder who I’ll meet in the next town. But I’m exited to find out how my new bike will perform; how quickly I’ll get used to being on the road again. I know that I’ll be happy to be away from the TV, the constant news cycle and all the debilitating nonsense of Brexit and Trump. Back to the real world; the narrow focus of food, fuel and where to lay my head for the night. The journey begins once more and I’m in the mood for adventure.
A few of the bikes I saw at the NEC bike show, November and the ExCel bike show in London.