40 DAYS OF MIS­ERY

Ben Win­der learns the hard way that mo­tor­bikes and moun­tain bikes don’t mix

Mountain Biking UK - - NEWS -

Pho­tog­ra­pher Ben Win­der dis­cov­ers the hard way that mo­tor­bikes and moun­tain bikes don’t mix, as he swaps his van for a moto with a cus­tom bike rack and heads for the moun­tains of Europe.

My 16-year-old self dreamt of strap­ping my moun­tain bike to the back of a mo­tor­bike, the free­dom and pos­si­bil­i­ties. But my par­ents stopped the idea in its tracks (rightly so). A van was a more prac­ti­cal so­lu­tion as I grew older, so I con­verted a camper, which took me all over Europe as I fol­lowed bike races with my cam­era, and my dream lay dor­mant. Ear­lier this year my van broke down. Struggling to find an al­ter­na­tive that was within my bud­get, the mo­tor­bike dream was re-awo­ken.

I’m cur­rently liv­ing in the French Alps, so I imag­ined rid­ing coun­try roads in warm weather and camp­ing in amaz­ing lo­ca­tions. A lit­tle 125cc was all I wanted – some­thing cheap, fuel-eco­nomic and in a low in­sur­ance group. I’d strap my bike to the back and con­tinue to fol­low moun­tain bik­ing around Europe. A deal was agreed with BTR Fabri­ca­tions to build me a bike rack in ex­change for pho­tograph­ing Burf’s (one half of BTR) wed­ding. I flew back to the UK, took my mo­tor­bike test, found a bike for £600 and con­vinced a friend to take me to Read­ing to pick it up. BTR built the rack in an evening and the fol­low­ing day I set off to France.

Bap­tism of fire

Four hours into the jour­ney, my rose-tinted glasses had rat­tled off. It’s a long way from Wales to France. On a mo­tor­bike it seems even fur­ther. I made it to Calais on the first day and stayed in a ho­tel, with the in­ten­tion of cross­ing the en­tire coun­try the fol­low­ing day. The route plan­ner made it seem pos­si­ble, so it was with con­fi­dence that I started the jour­ney south. I’d left the Alps dur­ing a heat­wave but the weather had now turned cold and rainy, so I vi­brated my way down through France, dou­ble-Buffed and ther­malled and wa­ter­proofed up. I was soon soaked and freez­ing, and had to stop at pub­lic toi­lets ev­ery 50 miles to warm my­self up un­der the hand dry­ers.

It was at 8pm that things re­ally turned sour. The rain grew colder and colder un­til it even­tu­ally be­came snow. Still four hours from my house, I needed to get out of the weather. There was a glim­mer of hope 20km away, in the shape of a ser­vice sta­tion. I rode those 20km at 10mph with my gog­gles off, be­cause they were freez­ing over. Cov­ered in ice from my zips to my Buffs, I made it to the hand dryer, and slept in a quiet cor­ner un­til morn­ing. I woke up to find to my re­lief that the snow had turned back into rain. A few more hours and I made it to my house and a hot shower.

But this was only half the jour­ney – now that I’d col­lected my bike, the real ad­ven­ture could be­gin. First, though, I was des­per­ate to go for a ride, so I headed down the road to ‘1,000m of loam’. This track is al­most inac­ces­si­ble and its where­abouts are only known to four peo­ple. Steep, tech­ni­cal and, most of all, flowy, it was the per­fect re­ward af­ter the mis­ery of the pre­vi­ous two days.

Not-so-plain sail­ing

Af­ter a quick test ride of the mo­tor­bike with the bike at­tached, I was feel­ing con­fi­dent. It felt weird but I could man­age it, I thought. Ha. My fully-laden maiden voy­age was to Lake Garda in Italy, and my gear – cam­era equip­ment, clothes, ham­mock, sleep­ing bag, rid­ing kit and bike – was hor­ren­dously bal­anced, with all the weight be­hind the mo­tor­bike’s saddle. Imag­ine some­one bounc­ing on a tram­po­line be­hind your back wheel – that’s what it felt like. This meant the front wheel picked up un­der ac­cel­er­a­tion and over lumps in the road. Rid­ing at slow speeds, it oc­ca­sion­ally wob­bled un­con­trol­lably.

When cor­ner­ing, the weight was a mas­sive is­sue, and con­trol­ling the mo­tor­bike re­ally took some muscling around. Not only that, but the moun­tain bike turned into a sail un­der any slight breeze, which was be­yond stress­ful. And it wasn’t just a prob­lem when the wind was blow­ing – tur­bu­lence from other ve­hi­cles in front of me caused se­ri­ous wob­bles and ev­ery time a lorry passed on the other side of the road, the bike would be blown a few feet to the side. This was the big­gest is­sue.

Sec­ond chance

Bike rid­ing was the sav­ing grace. I stopped to ride the rocky, tech­ni­cal tracks of Garda, the steeps of the Alps and the fast, flowy trails of Punta Ala, and these mo­ments of nor­mal­ity be­tween the epic jour­neys saved me. Muscling the mo­tor­bike around gave me arm pump, and in Garda there wasn’t any let-up, with some of the rock­i­est and long­est de­scents I’ve rid­den. I was feel­ing pretty beaten-up at this point and re­gret was creep­ing into my mind.

But then, in Tus­cany, I fell back in love with the bike and the idea. Given a lift down in the back of a van (cheat!), I used the mo­tor­bike for short trips and got to ride my moun­tain bike ev­ery day, on unique and fun trails with ul­ti­mate flow that ended at the beach. Go­ing for a swim ev­ery evening, my arm pump was soon gone. Head­ing north, back to­wards France, I spent a night in a ham­mock with an amaz­ing view – this was ex­actly what I’d dreamt of, even if the ex­pe­ri­ence was some­what short-lived.

The crack

With all the bounc­ing around, a se­ri­ous amount of weight on­board and an untested bike rack, the in­evitable hap­pened – the rack cracked. I did the rounds of the lo­cal (30km away) garages and at the fourth at­tempt some­one helped me out and fixed it. But this in­ci­dent had put the fear in me and I re­alised it would be pretty cat­a­strophic if the rack to­tally snapped while it had my bike and all my gear loaded on it.

Af­ter a hefty day on the ’ped – 10 hours to be pre­cise – driv­ing north through Italy, dis­as­ter struck again when the en­gine cut out. On the side of a busy road, I tried ev­ery­thing I could (mostly just hit­ting the bike with a ham­mer!). Then I pushed the bike to­wards a small group of houses, drip­ping with sweat. Some kids came over ask­ing me what I was do­ing, and led me around all the garages in the town. The me­chan­ics at three just said, “No”. At the fi­nal garage, they took a quick look and said, “Finito”.

Later that evening, camped by a river, I re­alised I had break­down cover with my bank. When I called them in the morn­ing to see if they could do any­thing, it turned out that they could. I was towed all the way back to France! The bike is now out­side my house, still bro­ken down (the two near­est mo­tor­bike garages both have two-month wait­ing lists). I’m ve­hi­cle-less, but very re­lieved that I don’t have to ride the bas­tard thing any more! Mum, Dad… you were right.

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