1975 Moto Guzzi 850T stripped for action

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Lands End Trial 2012 – glory postponed, again

Or … ‘In praise of the good people of Barbrook, Devon.’

What are these? They are the end of my Lands End Trial, that’s what they are.

At some hard-to-determine time between 3am and 6am on Saturday multiple punctures brought my LET 2012 to a complete halt with just two sections and two tests under my belt, and eleven more to go.

I’d had to replaced my rear tube within a quarter of a mile of Bridgwater Control. The rough stuff was still 30 miles away, and I had done nothing more exciting than accelerate gently away from some traffic lights. With no sign of a nail and so little provocation, I should have realised then that the puncture might point to something seriously amiss inside the rear tyre. But, having wrestled the tyre on and off single-handed using six-inch levers, I just took a deep breath and got back on.

By the first section, Fellons Oak, I was already almost two hours behind schedule. Last time (in 2010) I’d made a complete hash of this section by forgetting the restart. This time it went perfectly, or so it seemed from the saddle.

The new route box worked fine … as long as it wasn’t properly dark. In and out of the street lighting everything seemed to work well, but once in the deep darkness of the woodland around the first special test I realised that I had created just as big a problem as last time, only the opposite. In 2010 I had too little light, now I had far too much. The box was so bright that every time I glanced down it ruined my night vision ahead for what seemed like half a mile. By the time we were up on the moors, shrouded in mist and light rain, I was reduced to riding one-handed, using the other to shield the glare from the LEDs.








At the Barbrook control I was exactly 2 hours and 2 minutes late. The time-keepers gave me 30 minutes to gather my wits before Beggars Roost. By turning the white LEDs upside down, the route box now glowed gently blue while the Laverda’s beautiful tank was bathed in bright white light. A picture probably visible from space. If this didn’t do it I would simply disconnect the white LEDs.

Beggars Roost rises up out of Barbrook. As you wait your turn the slope is so steep that it’s a struggle to stop the bike from slipping backwards even before you move forward to the start line. Obviously what happened next can be explained primarily in terms of the competence of the pilot, but perhaps we can leave that to one side for a moment. I realise now that I had made a couple of rookie errors that were about to make BR very hard indeed and to conspire to rob me of my dignity.

Firstly, fearful of another puncture, I had left too much air in the rear tyre: 11psi instead of 5-ish. Secondly, fearing the effects of long road miles on a low geared 35 year-old two stroke, I had raised the gearing slightly to calm things down at road speeds. Now as I tried to take away I was having to use too many revs in the slippery conditions and was finding nowhere near enough grip with my over-inflated rear – or at least that’s what I thought was happening back there.

Many thanks to the marshals who helped me pick up my bike – twice within the first five yards. But worse was to come. At the top I found the rear flat as a pancake once more. My problem hadn’t been too much air after all, but too little.

After 15 minutes of agonising I walked the bike the mile or so steeply downhill back into Barbrook. My race was run – or so it seemed. I’d already used my spare tube and hadn’t thought to bring a  puncture repair kit as well. Almost immediately I was offered help in the form of some extra tools, a spare pair of hands and a bicycle puncture repair kit (a thousand thanks Phil.) With the bike back on its side and the wheel out we tried repeatedly to stop the leaks, but after an hour and a half had to accept that the tiny patches and old glue would never hold – or might we not yet have found all the holes! All the bikes had now gone and the cars were arriving in numbers. Perhaps they would have a puncture repair kit man enough for the job? A bit of pleading along the tea and buns queue produced patches (many thanks whoever you were) but no glue, so we set to using a fresh tube from another cycle repair kit. Someone suggested putting the tube inside the tyre before inflating it (to give it more of a chance to set) so I did, thus ensuring another 15 minutes of fruitless hard labour when it failed, immediately. At 5am a light but relentless rain set in. I should have done four more sections by now and be filling up at Goosham..

Woe is me.

I am on my knees, again, gazing disconsolately at my Laverda, lying on its side on the grass, it’s rear tyre open to the world and two tubes which will not mend sneering up at me. How am I even going to get home? Then a voice from above: “Need a hand?” The voice belongs to Chris Jenkins, who, along with his brother, competes in long distance trials (though not this one) and so has a fine collection of spare tubes and (oh joy!) proper long tyre levers. As I sipped tea brought by a kindly marshal Chris had the pleasure of installing two tubes in my jinxed rear wheel (yes, the first one got pinched by a lever in the fitting) and as the birds started to wake up I dragged my tyre to the air line at Barbrook filling station for the last time. Half an hour later I was packed up and waving goodbye to Chris, his brother and his mum. Great people all.

The trip home which was mercifully uneventful given what I found inside the carcass when I removed the tyre in the dry and with good light.








Two M8 washers must have come off the rim locks last time the tyre was changed and got left inside. That must have been before I bought the bike as I’d never had cause to remove the tyre until my first puncture at Bridgwater. As long as the tyre was fully inflated for the road the washers were pressed tight enough against the tyre carcass that they could only do their evil work very slowly. But as soon as we were down to off-road pressures the little blighters were free to roam about wreaking havoc.

Old hands will say that I should have checked inside the tyres as part of my routine prep of a new machine. Half an hour with tyre levers in the comfort of the workshop would certainly have saved an ocean of grief by the side of the road in Bridgwater and Barbrook. Needless to say, I have had my rear tyre on and off several times now as ‘practice’, and as part of my prep for the 2013 LET I have just had the front tyre off too for a precautionary look-see. Oh, and I’ve bought a cracking puncture repair kit.

Roll on LET 2013.

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Mystery oil leak on Spada

Well, not such a mystery really. The original pipework feeding oil to the heads has called it a day. The perishing is obvious, but what you can’t see is that every hose joint is loose as well. Time for some lovely new braided hose.


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Laverda 2TR – preparing for the Lands End Trial – Part 3

As a first time competitor in a long distance trial and a complete off-road novice, the one thing that baffled me beyond anything else (beyond single digit tyre pressures even!) was how the hell I was going to read (and manipulate) a route card that runs to 20 pages of A4 whilst nipping around the lanes of Devon and Cornwall in the dead of night. If you’ve looked round the paddock at an MCC event you will have seen the extraordinary ingenuity and engineering that goes into solving this problem. Some use full-on, Dakar-style, power-wound, metal route boxes, factory-made by people like Touratech. Others even use sheets of A4 hung round their neck in a plastic wallet. But most use home-made route boxes and the receptacle of choice is almost always the good old, air tight sandwich box.

With a few weeks still to go to the 2010 Lands End, and a patently useless traditional route-finder thing sitting on my desk (it would take about three sheets of A4 at a time and there seemed no earthly way to illuminate or weatherproof it), I was fortunate to be put in touch with multiple MCC gold medallist Richard Harvey, and he let me copy his highly effective snackbox-based technology.

I used my first effort in the 2010 event. Luckily for me I hitched up with an experienced rider who led me round (many thanks again Nick Ellery), because my route instructions proved impossible to read on the move in anything other than daylight. Odd that. It had looked lovely in a darkened garage! Problems were three-fold: font too small, illumination too weak ( a rear LED bicycle light), and the cover was, in reality, too opaque to read through.


















My “new and improved” effort has concentrated on improve readability with three key changes: the box is bigger so the print can be larger; I have replaced my adapted LED cycle light with super-bright LED strips (from Maplin – thanks for the tip, Rick Howell) ; I have removed the central part of the lid of the box and replaced it with optical perspex glued in place with RTV silicone sealant.










And here’s the finished article, fitted and ready to go.










She’s a beauty!

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1975 Moto Guzzi 850T arrives for restoration

Last summer we took delivery of this true moto simpatico. Our instructions were to revive, restore and upgrade – to prepare for future touring. Now that the rebuild has begun in earnest, it’s time to start to tell her remarkable story. She is a much-loved, well-travelled and very tired old girl. Bought new in Johannesburg by her one and only owner, her first job was to carry him and his new wife home to England – overland from Botswana and East Africa, via India, Nepal, Kashmir, Afghanistan and Iran, and stopping off at the Guzzi factory in Mandello along the way.


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My dad.

This is a man happy to have put his side-valve days behind him. A demobbed War Department Norton 16H, repainted civilian silver in his mum’s Pimlico basement, had taken him courting. But now a Triumph Speed Twin would carry him and his new wife around London … and far beyond. Four sons still lie in the future – poor sod – but here he is about to head home to a gorgeous wife on the bike of the moment, Edward Turner’s masterpiece. Does it get any better?

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Cafe Le Mans

With the Spada Royale now ready for long distance duties, and the timely appearance last summer of a lightly-used aluminium tank, the fates had begun to tell me that it was time to crack on with my plans for a Le Mans II-based cafe racer.

I bought my Le Mans about 15 years ago as a non-runner. The taxman had just taken my Ducati 900SS from me (along with our two-up tool, a BMW GS1100), and buying the Guzzi took every penny of what little I had left. Non-runner or no, it seemed like value for money. It was, after all, a round barrel Guzzi Le Mans! How great was that? I was fulfilling a boyhood dream with this thing. And it came with a small mountain of ‘spares’ which included no less than three crankshafts. More of all that on another occasion, but suffice it here to say that there were good reasons for her status as a non-runner, and it would take a lot of money and a lot of work to make her well again.

Fast forward four or five years and here she is in her new incarnation, dressed like a Mark 1 (silver and black livery notwithstanding). The rearsets and the fairing were among the ‘spares’. The lovely aluminium front mudguard came courtesy of John Williams. The exhaust system is by Keihan. And all the very expensive new engine internals that you can’t see came from Wessons (Brian where are you?) and Spares GB (and Mo where are you?).


For a while I had a Spada as well so that we could travel comfortably two up, and we took it round France and Spain almost without incident (if you exclude the crash). Here’s Spada and pillion at Jerez for the GP in 2000, and me with her on the hot, dusty road.








In due course the Spada went to pastures new but I soon began to rather miss the kind of touring we’d done together, with that lovely visceral connection you make with an old bike and her mechanicals over a long journey. Soon a trip to Netley Marsh found me staring at some amazingly cheap Guzzi bits – a Spada tank and bars, and some stainless mudguards – and there and then I hatched a plan to refesh the Le Mans as a T3 lookalike.

And this was the result.

But with the arrival of our new Spada Royale, we have come full circle. We hardly need two tourers and I really miss those head down/bum up blasts past RNAS Culdrose and on to the Lizard that were such a delightful part of owning my Le Mans when she was still unadulterated by comfy seats, low pegs and high bars.

So what next? Well, I’ve made a start and here she is. More on the detail later, but I’ve already ridden her and can report that she is indeed a mighty hoot!



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Gaffa tape – the universal palliative?

Well I still can’t say for sure that it would be any help with, for example, a headache. But even I, Gaffa tape’s most enthusiastic promoter, have been startled by recent developments in its application for medical purposes.

A friend of mine, a gifted craftsman in iron, copper and wood, is notorious for inflicting self-harm in the course of practicing his art. He recently arrived here with another enormous gash in his hand. A less creative man would have taken it to casualty. He had neatly mated the edges of his wound with good old GT. More suture than sticking plaster. It healed a treat, which is fortunate because he soon had several more deep lacerations to strap up.

Then a friend and fellow Guzzi nut from Devon (he of the police V50 featured elsewhere) revealed that when he took his painful foot to the doctor, and a splinter of glass or metal was suspected, his GP did book him an X-ray three weeks hence but also suggested he try an alternative remedy in the meantime: foot soakings morning and night plus the day-long application of Gaffa tape in between (to coax the shard to the surface, apparently).

I don’t doubt that unusual applications of GT abound across the globe. I was once told of a chap who would renew his girlfriend’s ‘Brazilian’ at low cost using GT. Or was that a limerick? But for the stuff to be ‘prescribed’ by a registered medical practitioner? Surely this takes us to a new dimension!

But then I saw this and was reminded that there is indeed very little that is truly new under our sun. If you’ve watched On any Sunday you may recognise this poor quality screen capture.








For everyone else: it is the broken leg of Amercan motorcycle racing legend Dick Mann, wearing a Gaffa tape cast so that he could carry on doing this sort of thing.

There’s more photos and a very nice interview with the great man here.







By the way, none of this eulogising of GT and its wondrous versatility means we condone this sort of thing.



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Sad news about summer wasps (Vespas)

Given how wet it was last summer, we saw quite a few wasps here in 2011.

It started with Vespa Bianco (VB); a lovely white GTS300 Super, in for an oil and filter change.


Then its stable-mate, Vespa Nero (VN), an equally well-loved GT200, arrived for a full service and a bit of a spruce up. (Picture shows VN washed and ready for collection.)

Both bikes were beautifully kept and a credit to their owner. I know some folks think scooters ill-suited for long-haul travel, but these have been buzzing backwards and forwards to Italy for years and they have never missed a beat or given cause for osteopathic intervention.

But now we have had some very sad news. Vespa Nero (VN) – unlikely hero of the autostrade and the A303 – has met with an untimely end on the mean streets of a Roman town, Aquae Sulis.

As the shadows lengthened in West Cornwall it was time for wasps to return home for the winter. We are told that the journey was pleasingly uneventful (and dry), but within a couple of hours of arriving VN had been kidnapped and mortally wounded by a band of marauding teenage vandals. VN’s battered body was found ripped, broken and abandoned in a children’s play area. Nearby, empty swings creaked their mournful and rusty refrain as a breeze blew stiff and chilly.

Vespa Bianco is said to be inconsolable, rattling around that big old garage all alone. The owner, twisted by bitterness and misanthropy, is reportedly trawling the bars of Bath seeking vengeance; hoping to catch sight of the rare and distinctive Fiat-branded waterproof taken from the cavernous and endlessly practical cubby-hole under VN’s sumptious saddle.

VN was insured, but the policy does not cover a broken heart. How could it?

The police are believed to have their best men on the case – working in shifts – but there is, as yet, no sign of a culprit, or the Creedence.

If you have any information – or if, perhaps, an uncouth character in a Bath pub has offered you contraband ’60s rock music (on eight-track cartridge), or some unusually chic waterproofs – please let us know. We will pass any ‘leads’ to the officers running the 24-hour incident room.



On a happier note, here is a pair of strangely comic pictures of the Vespa teams efforts in the 1951 ISDT.

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Of brake light switches and MOTs

With the Laverda mechanicals all sorted out I turned to the electrics, anticipating what would surely be an easy MOT. The horn had by-now given up the ghost, but that was no big deal. Simple pattern replacement sourced for a tenner; beautiful original stored for future diagnostics. New old stock CEV headlamp with lovely fresh silentblocs, bought from the wonderfully helpful and resourceful Laverda spares wizard, Wolfgang Haerter in Canada, plugged straight in and should make quite a difference in the pitch black of Dartmoor. The old lamp’s mounts were badly cracked but a bigger concern was a reflector which was surely absorbing more light than it projected.


The brake light would not be so simple. The bike must have one for anything other than a daytime-only (ie, no lights) MOT. MCC scrutineers are well within their rights to take a very close look at your MOT certificate, and a daytime-only test would be unlikely to impress them overly just as dusk descends on a Launceston car park at Easter. I quickly discovered that the wire taking the power to the switch was broken, but that was far from the end of the mystery.

Closer inspection revealed a somewhat Heath-Robinson mechanism with the switch plunger (which makes or breaks the contacts inside the switch) was attached not to the pedal by a spring but to the brake rod by a length of old bath-plug chain. On the bench the old switch looked just like those found on endless Japanese motorcycles by which a press on the footbrake pulls a sprung-loaded plunger, which then makes a contact inside the body of the switch, and directs power to the stop light bulb. At rest the switch is off; under tension it is on.

But then I noticed that, as fitted, the switch was under tension with the footbrake off, and that applying the brake released that tension. In other words the exact opposite of a ‘normal’ brake light switch.

I’ve decided to do away with this approach, renew the stoplight wiring, fit a microswitch from Maplin to the underside of the front brake lever and track down an NOS switch at my leisure. More on the microswitch soon.

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