Finally, it feels like spring... and where are we? Teetering on the brink of lockdown. Brilliant...
First, sorry I've been quiet for a while. Getting back into the country and getting back on my feet has kept me busy. Within two months of getting off the plane I'd managed to get a new house and a new job - and boy am I glad now that I decided to go into full-time employment rather than hang out in a groovy freelance capacity, hoping to build the route business up in a rush. This isn't going to be the summer to try a new touring venture... though I've planned some cracking tours for people that'll still be great once the C19 crisis eventually dies down.
Meantime, I celebrated getting the Kawasaki Z1000SX back from Australia by treating it to a comprehensive service - valve checks, new chain, the works. I'm still reeling from the bill, but the bike's purring like a cream-fed cat so it was absolutely worth it. I'd got about 19,000 miles from the chain and sprockets despite the intermittent care, attention and lubrication it received on the Big Stupid Trip of a Lifetime. It should have been changed about 3000 miles earlier (or lasted another 3000 miles with proper care and adjustment).
I pressed the SX into commuting duty - which felt like harnessing a race horse to a milk float, but was better than sitting in the car for my daily grind to Norwich for the new job. In fact, it made even the wet weather a pleasure: the sense of completeness I felt getting back on the big Kawasaki was like getting a leg out of plaster; I'd just been hobbling up and down the A11 without it. I also managed a few longer runs to Globebusters HQ, as I'd signed up to join the guiding team for a trip to Morocco.
Part of the prep for this involved heading over to Ledbury to do an outdoor first-aid qualification (every member of the Globebusters team has to be properly trained). It was much more in-depth than the first-bike-on-scene training I'd had as a road tester. I'm almost itching for a chance to splint someone, strap them to a back board, stop a spurting arterial bleed and then jump-start them with a defibrillator...
The course was held at the industrial unit of Cool Covers as, along with me and Louis, boss-man John was a new member of the Globebusters team. Before I set off home, John kindly gave me a Cool Cover for the SX. It's a simple but well-fitting cover made of a dense mesh. It doesn't add noticeable height or bulk to the seat but does feel much more non-slip. The structure lets air circulate beneath your bum, keeping it cool – and that is noticeable. Handy in this weather, it also means you don't sit in any water pooling on the seat when the heavens open: it all drains off through the mesh of the cover. I have to say, it's a really good thing.
While we were on the first aid course, the reality of the damn virus struck: no travel between Spain and Morocco; then Spain closed its borders. That was the trip cancelled. Boo!
And now I'm working from home, so the commute is considerably shorter... but there's even less riding. Double boo!
Still, this weekend's beautiful weather was too good to miss. I took the bike down to my girlfriend's on Friday night and on Saturday, before the in-house babysitter had to go to work, we snuck out for a short spin. It was the first time Ali had been on the SX with the Givi topbox and it improved the experience no end (though getting on and off took a bit more concentration). I have to admit, the first few miles on the bike felt odd with a passenger after riding it solo across the US and around Australia. It was though absolutely brilliant to get out together on two wheels, even if was only for a relatively short ride.
I've seen a few posts going around on social media with people saying they'll hang up the bike keys until the virus is under control, because they don't want to stretch the health service when they crash. I understand the honest desire to do the right thing there, but I have to say that if you're that much of a risk then perhaps you should question whether you were safe to be riding in the first place. If you're not that much of a risk, why post something like that? It's no skin off my nose what you do, but I don't think the virtue-signalling on social media is necessary or productive (in fact, I suspect it'll goad some irresponsible riders into getting out even more).
As long as the government advice is that riding is a suitable self-isolating activity (which it is at the moment) then I will keep enjoying the bike. Obviously, nobody goes out with the intention of crashing, but I am making a very deliberate point of not pushing the boundaries. I'm treating every ride like a RoSPA demonstration ride: working the system, keeping to speed limits, stretching myself to read the road and plan my ride in the very best way possible. In other words, I'm riding normally (okay, apart perhaps from the speed... though the experience of riding in Aus makes me less inclined to speed anyway now). Also I'm keeping my gloves on when filling up and if I can't use a pay-at-pump machine to avoid other people, I'm paying contactlessly.
I treated the bike to another – to my mind – essential service: a coating of ACF-50 from All-Year Biker. Our local installer Martyn came out to my colleague Ian's driveway, to clean and protect my Kawasaki and the brace of KTMs ridden by Ian and his wife. It's amazing the difference it makes to the bike, having it properly treated like this. I'm confident that, as long as I can enjoy it, nothing spread on the road is going to rot or ruin it. I can wash and go, knowing the ACF is keeping corrosion at bay.
Now we just need the virus to be tamed so we can all start enjoying some proper trips. So please, let me add my voice to those encouraging proper self-isolation and social distancing, even if enjoying a short local ride. The stricter we are with it now, the sooner it'll all be over and we can get back to normal.
And remember, now wash your hands...