Travelling to the coast

The Kawasaki ER5 and myself, though we did not know it, were in for quite a day. I stared the day like any motorcycle enthusiast by completing all other chores and reasonability’s promptly by 08.30 thus making sure I had the day clear to ride my motorcycle. So with the dogs panting with flecks of dirt in their gums and the washing put away I headed to the garage.

It never ceases to surprise me how small and unassuming an ER5 can look a garage. It would not be too hard to confuse it for a large bicycle in the right light. The machine is basic and as I put it together myself I spare ten minutes to go round the bike before setting off. For my own sense of safety this is more than a visual check. I go around with a socket set checking all the brake, wheel and steering fixings, tension of the chain, tyre pressures and that all the lights are working. Satisfied that it was in good enough working order I suited up and set off.

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It was a Sunday morning so I did the neighbourly thing and pushed the bike away from the house and near to the road for the start up. The ER5’s bicycle qualities were apparent again as I reached the top of the road with no effort and bought the engine into life. The fuel tap was set correct and the revs fell to an idle before I pulled away. The sun was out and the wind was up as I read a road closure sign on my planned route. I always challenge these signs by going as close to the closure as possible before diverting. I rode through ten miles of signs warning of a road closure I needed to take any action. Fortunately there was space for me and the bike along the path. I got off and pushed it past laughing workmen and mounds of rubble. It was a pitiful road closure and the workers knew it so they didn’t mind we walking through.

I met up with the other riders and we headed off into the countryside. Riding around the English countryside is fought with possibilities of dismounting a rider. Therefore when banking around a corner I am always waiting for one if not two of them to crop up. The ER5 responds well to being pulled around by the scuff of its neck. It commends you of hanging off the side of the machine and punishes for a static riding stance. My speedo continues to be inactive so speed is guesswork and reading road conditions and corners is a must. I ride giving myself a wide margin of error. The front finds grip by shuffling through the asphalt and the back remains planted for power. The feeling is unnerving at best and heart sinking at worst.

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The convoy is heading through tight and twisty back roads, which suits the bike well. Revving out the engine is a joy and using combined engine and forced braking is rewarding. Always fixed on the limit point of a corner the machine darts well to the near side of the curb when on coming traffic threatens your days riding.

We upset horses, over took tractors and blasted cyclists for about 90 minutes until we stopped for fuel. With these roads, speeds and conditions it was agreed that we should stop more often. The chill of the wind was rising and being directly in it I knew my concentration would soon suffer. The group were riding well together but with a motley crew of machines and abilities we were disjoined. All knew each other well enough to know that we could ride at our own pace and catch up at the next junction.

I went on a short ride once with a group I did not know who were keen to travel at 100 mph in a 50 mph zone at all times. Not only did the speeds scare me but I was soon left behind and lost. The group I was with today were not like that and they did not put themselves or others at risk willingly.

The roads, scenery and traffic were repeated for another hour before we stopped again. We did everything we could to avoid all major roads and find quite roads that we could destroy the tranquillity of with our obnoxious exhausts. Upon entering the new forest we were restricted by ignorant drivers and over cautious speed limits. With loose ponies and donkeys on the carriageway, cattle crossings and micro climates on the roads progress slowed to a depressing drip.

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Car drivers were continually surprised to see us coming up behind them. In hindsight it is no surprise, as the speed limits of the roads and traffic condition do not call out ‘motorcycling mecca’. But we were on a mission to the coast.

With the smallest, least powerful and lightest bike as well as having the most experience of filtering for once I was a leading the convoy. Through busy towns, cramped streets and one-way roads to the seaside the ER5 was in its element. Another 30 minutes or so and we made it to the coast. I looked at the sea for minutes and decided to head home. The others wanted to stay for food and a rest but I was eager to get back. We had already been on the bikes for six hours at this point and had had lunch at a garage (life of a biker) so just wanted to get back.

The joy of motorcycling is exactly this. We can travel together but independently. So I said my goodbyes and headed back. On the route down I and the others were following the leading rider with his satnav so five minutes on my return journey I had made a wrong turn and was heading west instead of east. With my wits in tact I worked it out and started to head in the right direction – proud at my ability to read road signs.

The weather was fair but I was getting cold. As the ER5 is a ‘naked’ motorcycle six hours of riding compounded by being out in the elements and in the wind all day was taking its toll. I knew my reactions were slower and my fatigue was becoming a real danger. I wanted to take the main roads home just to get back quicker. We had taken six hours to get down to the coast but I knew I could get back in just over two with less stops by barrelling down the motorway at 70 instead of 30-40 on the country roads.

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The bike performed well all day, did not feel stretched and I was happy to be aboard. It was the mutt amongst the other rider’s machines but held its own charm. All that wistful charm disappeared when I had been on the motorway for 10 minutes. My ear buds were snug in my ears but the wind and engine noise was booming. Trucks or cars that passed me by carrying a strong tail wind would unsettle the bike. I sustained 6000 revs in top gear that appeared to be about 60-70 miles so was confident I was making good progress and the bike was not stressed.

It coughed a couple of times but never gave me any cause for concern. As I was thinking about the noise in my ears I missed my exit so had to take a longer route home that was more complicated. Diverting round added about fifteen minutes to my ride and spat me out about twenty minutes from home. The sun was on the base of the horizon and dwindling. The sound of the engine was now a nuisance and my butt was painful. Knowing I was near home and coming up to nine hours on the bike (11 since I left home) I remembered a passage from ‘Riding with Rilke’ by Ted bishop. His journey took him across America on a Ducati monster 600. I felt a distant kindred connection with him being on a mid capacity naked motorcycle going long distances. He writes how the last twenty minutes of a long ride is very different on a motorcycle than in a car.

Not protected from the elements and your concretion having to always be sharp that last push when you are almost home is tempting but can be damaging. So I stopped. I stretched, thought about buying a touring motorcycle and remounted the bike. As I pushed the start button nothing happened.

The lights were on but no one was home. Not a thing. I signed a deep breath cursing that I had stopped and checked around the motorcycle. I knew I was tried so I was sure I was missing something obvious. The kill switch was not engaged, the kickstand was up and the clutch pulled in (not that the bike would not start without these things but good to cover all bases) I was in neutral, choke was open (though it may not have needed it) and I pressed the starter to a faint tick and nothing else. In a hail Mary of hope I pressed the button again and it fired into life. No idea why but it worked fine after that. I guess it was just protesting that it had been on the motorway for so long.

I am now the 12th owner of this ER5 so cant imagine what shit it has been through and now I pull this stunt. It was right to set me straight and was wise to pick a moment when I would listen. The rest of the journey was taken carefully and I was happy to tuck the bike away in the garage. Getting home late it took me another two hours to warm up even after a shower, I was tried dirty and my mind was fried but dam it I was still smiling.

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