Last year I headed out on the motorbike across north Wales with the intention of camping in the wild, or at least a so-called ‘wild camp site’. I loaded up the bike with my tried and tested Tatonka Narvik 2 and Exped Downmat and hit the road.
The set up has worked really well for me for a long time – it’s done a run to Russia, a journey across Morocco and parts of Australia, and more laterly an off road run from the Med’ to the Atlantic across the Pyrenees.
However, it seems turning 40 has had an impact on my ability to put my pants on whilst being lying on the floor! The last trip left me distinctly uncomfortable and so I started to look for a tent where I could at least sit up, and who knows – perhaps even stand.
The tent market has come on a lot in the last 15 years and there are several options for tents that you can stand up in and pack up / are light enough for good moto travel. The most popular (if bike rallies are anything to go by) is the Lone Rider MotoTent. So much so with BMW GS riders that I was starting to wonder if they came as standard issue with new bikes.
It’s a great design, tried and tested over the years and offers a super generous sleeping space with room to park your bike.
I first looked at something like this at a Horizons Unlimited meet back in 2011 but at that point didn’t appreciate that standing up inside a tent was a useful feature. I also couldn’t square the pack size and weight for what the tent gave you.
Little has changed in the last 12 years and I decided to go looking for something more modern, lighter, and with a smaller pack size.
I turned to cycle touring companies and discovered the great range of tents offered by Big Agnes and was even more delighted to find that they had a tent that offered a place to ‘park your bike’. I’ve never understood why people want to park their bikes in their tent – but I do understand why people want to stand up. I’m not sure why the manufactures don’t advertise that rather than the ‘parking’ feature.
The Big Agnes Wyoming Trail 2 is designed for cyclists rather than bikers but it offers a super lightweight and small pack size that is not that much bigger than my previous tent. I’ve had to move from a 60 litre tail pack to an 80 litre to accommodate that and a new Helinox bed, but that small pack and weight increase had an enormous impact on comfort on the road.
Big Agnes claim this is a three season tent, but I would say it is two season with a third if there are no strong winds. On a recent trip to Salisbury Plain the winds were up and I couldn’t erect the tent. I tried facing it into the wind, away from the wind, alongside the wind – all to no avail. In the end the front of the tent collapsed and bent two of the rear poles and snapped one of the front poles.
This actually highlights three big positives for Big Agnes.
1 – The poles are small and super light.
2 – The customer service when things go wrong is exceptional.
3 – Everything is repairable.
When I got home from the failed trip in Salisbury I contacted Big Agnes who shipped out replacement poles (for a very small fee) from the US without any issue. Initially they shipped the wrong poles… but they fixed it ASAP.
I love that the design of this tent is to be repairable. Everything can be repaired or replaced. It’s a testament to the quality of the materials and design that despite bending poles and snapping one I was able to repair them with the provided sleeve and some tape and continue to use the tent on several trips before the replacement poles arrived.
The tent goes up very straightforwardly and I can do it on my own in about 5 minutes. It takes me 15 mins to get my new set up sorted, including the new cot, seat and table – all of which pack in to the tail pack.
The sleeping space is definitely for one person. There is no way two adults can sleep in the inner without being incredibly friendly. However, the porch size is enormous.
I have never been what you may call a tidy camper…
… I tend to spread out. So the ability to have a porch that contains this has really helped me keep my things in one place! It also gives me a place to be when it is raining and this has extended the times of year I can go away. The cot, mat, and sleeping bag also keep me toasty.
This tent has allowed me to continue camping – in a good deal of comfort – well into my middle age and has extended my ability to camp throughout the year. I’ve had a blast with it over the last year and I’m looking forward to more exciting adventures with it again next year.
Small pack size
Huge porch area (more than high enough to stand in)
Comfortable sleeping area with rear exit for night time toilet trips
Great customer support
Repairable / easy to source replacement parts
Easy to erect on your own
Not great in strong winds
Poles will bend fairly easily
Not a two person tent
A struggle to call it a three season tent
I’ve had to work quite hard to come up with the cons list, you get what you pay for so I’m comfortable with the price. I’m not 20 and wanting to camp whatever the weather these days so the high winds element is neither here nor there. I’m not sure I’d be willing to trade off the weight / size for stronger poles and I camp on my own (or with my son who sleeps in the porch) for the most part.
As ever YMMV, but for my money this is a great moto touring tent that is ideal for those of us looking for a little more comfort, but still wanting to keep the pack size and weight to a minimum.
I’m just back from a few days off road riding on Salisbury Plain. It’s been an age since I was last there – and when I was last there I was rough camping wherever I could find a space. Always happy to find a hedge, but most often I would find a place to pitch my little one man tunnel tent (green of course) out of sight.
But those days are long behind me and these days I like to get a bit more comfort when out and about. My best mate Stace had already made the switch from a down mat on the ground to a cot – and then to a hammock – switching as the environment demands.
When I visited him last year he was using his Helinox High Cot One as his main bed as he was mid-move and was split between two places. He waxed lyrical about how comfy it was… so of course I had to give it a try.
He combines his cot with an exped down mat. It is super comfy and I couldn’t let him outdo me on the camping gear front could I?
So now I have one as well. I went for a super simple green High Cot One. I went for the high version as it adds almost no weight and the extender bars fit within the standard cot bag – but importantly it makes getting up (and down) so much easier – especially for that 3am wee (mid-life comes to us all).
I’ve taken mine a little further however and, just like Stace, I added an exped downmat to the top and then wrap it with the Helinox fleece sheet (which they call a ‘cot warmer’).
This creates an amazingly comfortable bed which is lovely and warm and soft. A far cry from a hedge in a field – but as one very wise camping gear supplier once said to me ‘any fool can be uncomfortable’.
It fits beautifully in my Big Agnes Wyoming Trail 2 and adds very little in terms of pack size and weight to my setup. In fact my tent, sleeping cot, table, sheet… everything I need for my camp easily fits inside my trusty Ortlieb 89l Rack-Pack, which means I can get to my camp site, drop my camp and be away very easily.
Ultimately I could have a camping set up that was lighter and took up less space and weight – but at some point comfort becomes more important than showing off how tough you are. I love my new set up and I’ll be writing about the Helinox One Hard Top Table very soon.
I’ve been riding motorbikes since I was 17. I know that those of you who have come to know me over the last five years or so may be surprised to discover that before I became a Priest my socials (and indeed this blog) was wall to wall bikes and adventure travel. I vary rarely wrote about ‘work’, but did create a lot of content about motorbikes, travel, and adventure (with some cooking thrown in for fun).
My first bike was a CZ125. My father bought it for me when I was in Caerphilly (two valleys over from home) doing my engineering apprenticeship with GE Aircraft Services. It cost £800 and my dad bought it for me because I was stuck in Caerphilly and we had just lost my step-mother to a heart attack. It meant I could get home to him most days and help where I could. It also meant freedom.
In those first early months the bike meant I could be there for my dad, but perhaps more selfishly it meant I was able to be in control of my own life.
If I wanted to run down to Cardiff to see friends, no problem. If I wanted to nip up to see my grandmother in Brynmawr, no problem.
If it was all a bit too much I and I wanted some time to myself, no problem.
It was that final use that really cemented the motorbike into my daily life. The ability to exit whatever situation I was currently in and just go away. It didn’t matter where, but it did matter that it was just me and my thoughts in my helmet.
The utter concentration riding a motorbike means you have to enter into a state of ‘flow‘. The CZ was a sod of a bike to ride. In many ways it was the perfect machine to take me away from it all. Not because it was fast, not because it could take me huge distances, but because it required every ounce of mental focus I could muster to keep it on the road (and I didn’t always achieve that).
In those early years of biking all I cared about was being on the road. The bike was a tool and one I didn’t look after properly. I blew it up less than a year after I had it because I didn’t maintain it properly – so the next bike – an MZ125 was cared for rather more carefully.
In many ways it was the maintenance of this tool that took me away from it all, that taught me the discipline of maintenance in my daily life. I understood how important riding was to me, but not why, and now I understood if I didn’t look after that tool I would loose it.
Without meaning to I’d discovered that my own wellbeing and mental health was something that required constant care and maintenance.
Then came the big bikes. By this point I’d left engineering to pursue nursing (long story), had moved to Birmingham via Swansea and was now in Nottingham (and London) with my wife who I had met whilst presenting the weekend breakfast show on Bridge FM in South Wales. (Never has so much been glossed over in such a short paragraph).
The first big bike was a Honda CBF600.
To ride this machine I’d needed to undergo new training and get a new licence. It was hard work and I failed the first test. But this machine was different to all the others that had gone before it. For the first time it didn’t feel like a tool I was deploying to escape, but a part of who I was.
I’d learned how to keep a bike on the road, how to maintain it, how to ride it – but now I had to learn how it could help me stay on the road, how it could help me maintain my mental health and how it could help me learn how to navigate an increasingly difficult and complex life.
Catherine and I had moved to Nottingham after I had got a new job with the BBC in London (I’d previously been at the BBC in Birmingham). Catherine was applying for jobs in London but they were not materialising and I was trying to live in two cities at once. Commuting on a Monday morning and Friday evening back and forth and camping during the week in a miserable bedsit in Muswell Hill.
The bike became the thing that held everything together. It was on one hand the easiest way for me to get in and out of work and back and forth to Nottingham. On the other hand it continued to be my tool of escape; but now that escape was twofold.
Not only was I able to spend time alone in my helmet (many hours on the M1!) I was also able to go further afield. With the new 600 engine a run out to France was entirely within my grasp and it was at that point that I discovered the joy of planning.
Now my bike could help my mental health as I commuted, and took weekend trips with a tent, as well as being able to expand that sense of wellbeing by planning trips away on the bike.
It may well be that I was planning trips that I would never take, but the action of sitting in the living room with an enormous map of Europe plotting trips and figuring out how long they would take, how much fuel I’d need, where the best place to camp was… extended that sense of wellbeing and joy.
All this planning inevitably led to planning extraordinary trips. Morocco and Russia were the first two insane ideas, both of which happened. In planning those trips I also discovered another great upside of riding a bike – a pleantiful and ready supply of fellow blokes who have discovered this amazing hobby already.
The best bit of discovering all these brilliant blokes was that the only thing they cared about was bikes… not where you’d come from, what job you did, or how much money you had.
If you arrived on two wheels and could talk about motorbikes then you were mates for life.
It was in this period of my life that I made two of my best friends. Patrick and Stace. I joined a bikers group in London called londonbikers.com and we’d organised a curry out at Brick Lane.
I didn’t know many people at that point but I found myself sat next to Patrick and opposite Stace. I inevitably started talking about my plans to ride as far east as I could in three weeks and Stace and Patrick both agreed they wanted to take part. It was your typical drunken curry with delusions of grandeur… but the odd thing was… we actually did it.
The trip was plagued by delays and fallings out. We argued with each other. We shouted at each other. Our bikes broke down. There were crashes. It was far from an ideal trip away with your mates. The difficulty was we’d ploughed too much planning into it and the trip had become something it could never be.
What we learnt on that amazing journey was that our bikes are tools to get away from things, of freedom, of time alone in our helmets – but they were not magic wands to solve the issues we were running away from. We had to tackle those head on.
Patrick and Stace remain two of my closest friends. Despite the fallings out and the arguing and things going wrong… perhaps because of those things.
The planning for that trip started a habit of my planning and running away. In fact in 2008 I did the ultimate running away trick and emigrated to Australia to work for Lonely Planet – leaving Catherine behind in London.
The moment I landed I bought a new motorbike so I could get out exploring and over the next two years I jetted around the world riding my new Yamaha XT and where I couldn’t take that I hired bikes.
A few years later I came back to London and Catherine and I moved to Bledlow in Buckinghamshire where we spent a good deal of time trying to figure out who we were and what was next. It was time to stop running away, and much as we’d had to on the way to Russia, actually deal with the issues in front of us.
That was hard and painful. I was without my bike (it was on a ship heading to the UK from Australia) and in more ways that one I couldn’t run away any more.
The running away aspect of biking may have been taken away from me, but the lessons I’d learnt about maintenance and planning now needed to be deployed in the real world.
After six months the motorbike arrived from Australia and our lives where somewhat calmer. Catherine and I had settled into village life and I’d returned to church after a period trying to be a Buddhist.
It turned out that going back to church in our little village started a chain of events that brought me to discerning a call from God to become a Priest. That journey took the better part of seven years and in that time the bike had gone back to being a tool that enabled time in my helmet to reflect and heal and was no longer being used to run away.
Then came Edmund, my little boy.
To start with I was determined the the birth of my son wouldn’t change a thing. Edmund would be strapped to the back and off we’d go on adventures! But I hadn’t considered the huge impact his being born would have on my riding. My confidence was shot, when I slung my leg over the saddle all I could think of was Edmund.
I still rode, but now only when I really needed space and time alone. It was almost like going right back to the start of my relationship with bikes – it was a simple tool that had some wonderful side effects.
As I entered theological college at Ripon College Cuddesdon we were encouraged to strip away all aspects of our lives to date. This ‘formation’ was designed to enable us to discover exactly who God had called us to be. Put away all worldly things and concentrate solely on God.
It sounds great, and in many ways it was, but this concept only works if you enable people to pick up those things that have sustained their lives to date. The thing about grown ups is that we’ve often figured out what enables, supports and enriches our mental health – and to remove all of that without encouragement to re-engage or find new ways to do so is at best, unhelpful, and at worst down right abuse.
I found myself riding less and less as the all encompassing world of the church surrounded and took over. In the end we decided to sell the motorbike. I can still see it going off on the bike of a trailer and to this day regret it.
But, scroll forward a couple of years and I found myself in London after a fairly horrid time in Hereford in my first curacy. Never was good mental health more vital in my life and never was I further away from it.
That was until I found myself outside Stanmore tube station waiting for Catherine to pick me up after meetings in town.
Under the arches was a tiny bike shop. And outside the tiny bike shop was a shiny 2005 Vespa 125. I bought it there and then on my credit card and rode it up and down the little private road outside with a huge smile on my face… at which point Catherine and Edmund discovered me!
I rode the little machine home with a very cheap helmet and gloves and stored it around the back of our tiny little flat in Belmont. I’d take it out most days and it was 100% fun. I couldn’t really maintain it as such, there was no way I was going to be planning great big trips on it, it was pure joy.
I re-discovered the thing that had kept my mental health in check and in balance for the better part of 17 years… motorbikes.
At first the Vespa was all I needed, especially as we entered the first lockdown and there was little opportunity to go very far. But as the world re-opened that travel bug and long trip desire started to re-appear and I found myself riding the very underpowered Vespa 150 miles to Walsingham for the Priest and Deacons retreat.
This was perhaps not the best idea I’ve ever had. But, I found myself once again riding for four or five hours at a time with just my thoughts and I in my helmet.
I came to terms with some things I couldn’t fix, I put aside things that I had held on to too tightly, I embraced things I didn’t want to embrace.
I returned from Walsingham and was determined to replace the Vespa with something that would enable that kind of space and fun once again.
To my surprise the opportunity to do so came not very long after my mammoth journey to Norfolk in the form of the 60th Anniversary Blessing of the Bikes organised by the ’59 Club at Westminster Abbey.
My friend Dan and I found ourselves invited to the run out from the Ace Cafe down to Westminster Abbey by Fr. Andrew Gough – a long time member of The 59 Club. Fr. Andrew thought the club needed a few more biking vicars and we were pleased to oblige – although I stuck out like a sore thumb on my bright red Vespa!
On the ride down I had been following a bike I’d not seen before. It rode ahead of me through the traffic and for a big bike was doing so with ease and style. The engine noise was stunning and it moved with such grace and poise. I fell in love with the bike as I followed it and told Dan I was going to buy one! I didn’t know what it was or who the rider was… but I wanted that bike.
I headed home and without discussing it with Catherine arranged a test ride. I did what all self-respecting bikers do and rang my best mate Stace up and we arranged a date.
I think the smile on my face after just 30 minutes with the bike tells you everything you need to know. The test bike was missing the front screen and the dealership I was testing it with had no idea what it was or how it worked (they really just sold scooters and Aprilia had sent this big bike). Whilst we sat having a cup of coffee half way into the test ride I rang another dealer who I’d spoken to previously and paid the deposit on a brand new bike.
The Vespa went up for sale and the Tuareg was on its way.
Interestingly, with Edmund much older, I wasn’t facing the same crisis of confidence and all I could think about was sharing this wonderful life on two wheels with him.
Catherine was less impressed with that idea and we agreed we’d wait a few years for Edmund to be a little taller and little more sensible before I started taking him out on rides.
That went the same way as many promises made by men to their wives about bikes and within the year Edmund is on the bike – albeit only for very short journeys.
Since then Edmund and I have been to our first motorbike festival and have more planned. We’ve started planning trips together and I once again find myself pouring over maps planning journeys that may, or may not, happen.
The bottom line is I’ve re-discovered the single best way to keep myself mentally healthy. Swinging my leg over a motorbike and heading out into the sunset. The best thing is… I’ve figured out how to do it with my son.
So to all of you who’ve got to know me in the last few years when motorbikes were a minor part of my daily life… now you know why they’re so important to me and why you’re seeing quite so much of them on my socials. It’s a return to my standard place of being.
If there’s one thing I’ve learnt in all of this it’s to trust what we discover in our lives helps us along. To embrace it and to never allow an outside influence take it away from you.
Here’s to many more years and miles on the saddle!
It feels like an age since I last wrote a review on this blog about actual bike stuff… but I’ve been so impressed with a pair of boots that I have to sit and share why I think they’re so good.
I bought these TCX boots whilst my new Aprilia was having its first service. I was hanging out at the retail bit of On Yer Bike up past Aylesbury – always a dangerous exercise for my wallet – and after a summer of bouncing around the city with my good old Dainese boots (great for commuting, less good for short runs in heavy traffic) I wanted something that was a little more versatile and would look better with my new riding jeans.
To be honest I wasn’t expecting to find anything. I’m a size 12 (UK) and have big calves. The reason I was still using my nearly 20 year old Dainese boots (despite hole in the bottom) was because they were just about the only comfy boots I’ve ever found.
I wandered to the back of the shop and looked at all the very lovely shoes, boots, trainers and other quite stylish motorbike accessories and asked the chap if they had anything in a size 12. To my absolutely shock he said he thought he had pretty much everything in a 12, what did I like?
I spotted a pair of stunning brown boots with armour in the right places, a solid sole and laces (would they fit around my calves?) He nipped out the back and came back with a pair in less than a minute. I tried them on and fell in love.
Why the instant reaction? These boots are COMFY. They don’t feel like bike boots, they feel like high end street boots. They’re snug in all the right places, they sit beautifully on my heel and run up the back of my calf like they were custom made.
The laces allow a degree of flexibility, with tightness and space around the upper part of my foot, and the back has a little loop in exactly the right place to pull them up and over your foot when putting them on.
They’re stylish enough to pass for standard boots, so when I’m dashing into town wearing my bike jeans and jacket, I don’t look like I’ve just completed the Dakar. They’re light and breathe well and have been a fantastic pair of summer boots.
But what about the weather? What about winter?
I’ve worn these over a winter in London and through rain, wind, and icy temperatures.
Most recently I wore them on a run up to Walsingham (c150 miles, 3 hours ride) in temps of about 1c-5c. My feet were warm throughout (I suspect more down to the knee length walkers socks I was wearing) and only towards the end did I start to feel cold creeping in. The leather does a good job of keeping icy winds out allowing good socks to do their job of keeping your feet warm.
In rain my feet have remained dry on a 1 hour run, but I suspect they’d give in at some point – I’m not sure I’d wear them for a known wet run of over an hour – or without some sort of waterproof outer.
On the recent run up to Walsingham I used them as my only shoes throughout – wearing them everyday as walking boots and you wouldn’t have known they were actually motorbike boots. I walked several miles each day and my feet thanked me for them.
In short I can’t recommend these boots enough. This new range from TCX are not just pretty to look at, not just great motorbike boots, but are also fantastic boots full stop.
As I watched my XT660 be taken away on the back of a trailer in 2016 I instantly knew I’d made a dreadful mistake.
I wasn’t riding like I had been – that was mainly because my son had been born at the end of 2012 and my time at home was suddenly far more precious. The bike was sitting there gathering far too much dust and so had to go.
Barley three years later I was coming home from central London on the tube and popped out at Stanmore. Catherine was due to pick me up in the car but was running late. I spent the time looking at some bikes outside a little garage under the arches and before I knew it I’d bought a fabulous little red Vespa.
I’ve been riding that all over the shop for the last three years and have been having a blast. My latest big run was up to the Priest and Deacons retreat in Walsingham, Norfolk. It was on that ride that I think I knew in my heart that it was time for another big bike.
As we rode into town I sat behind an Aprilia Tuareg 660 – the brand new mid weight adventure bike that is causing a storm in the adventure travel market.
It was solid on the road and was clearly happy in the traffic and the stop start avoidance of a large number of bikes on busy roads.
I got home and immediately googled the bike to discover dozens of reviews that confirmed my observations on the road and went further to say it was brilliant in the dirt and amazing in the twisty a-roads.
Speed forward two weeks and after much agonising (and negotiating) I’ve put a deposit on it. It’s due with me in the coming weeks. I had a test ride last Saturday and it produced the biggest smiles I think I’ve ever had on a bike.
I can’t wait for it to arrive and a new chapter in my biker life to begin.
Since I’ve been bombing around the world my Casio Exilm Z850 has been a constant companion. I rate it really highly (must write a review soon) – it’s constantly dropped from the height of my motorcycle tank bag, it’s been soaked by sea-water on at least two occasions and still it ‘just gets on with it’ and takes photographs that when I got the camera I thought were awesome and now, think are pretty good.
Some background – when I was in school I desperately wanted to be a Photo Journalist – I worked for the local paper for free and I badgered my Dad until he bought me an Olympus OM-10 from the local second hand stor
e – complete with ‘manual adaptor’. It had a light metre inside but other than that I was totally on my own. After months of paper-rounds and being paid to take my friends band photos I managed to scrape enough money to ‘upgrade’ the the Olympus OM-2n .
It made a big difference to my shots, as did the purchase of a 2x adaptor and, at great expense, a 75mm Olympus lens. I held onto the dream of becoming a Photo Journalist right through my engineering apprenticeship (where the camera managed to earn me some money on the side in Caerphilly town centre of a Saturday morning) and right into University in Swansea, where finally, the dream died and I sold the camera for much needed rent money.
Since then I’ve had a succession of crap compact cameras that just didn’t cut the mustard. The Casio has rather re-ignited that old desire to take wonderful photographs and I find myself slipping it into manual as much as the fully automatic settings – I’ve even bought an old Konica Minolta 35mm SLR to mess around with (it’s been out of the bag once).
My composition needs a little work , I need to get my head out of snapshot mode, but I feel the old juices still flow and can’t wait to get back into thinking through a shot properly before I take it. So now the tough part – I need a new camera.
Decent video mode
Solid lens support
Easy to charge (I’m running this from the motorbike / powermonkey)
Easy to transfer images (no propritary connectors – worst case – SD cards are good)
Let’s ignore the money side of things for the moment and work the ‘perfect world senario’.
What do you suggest? I have a totally open mind and no legacy kit to support.
I wrote a short piece over at journeytorussia about how touched I’ve been by the donations we’ve received for Everyman. The thing that has struck me has been the amount of money people have parted with – Everyman is an amazing charity that makes sure people know about Male Cancers and the more money we raise, the more awareness we raise the better.
The donations that have really struck me though are the little ones, the one that really made me smile and get a really warm fuzzy feeling was from a young chap on ebay who I bought a camping shovel from – when we completed the purchase he looked at our website and decided to donate the profit from the shovel purchase – how cool is that!?
So first off I want to say thank you to everyone that has donated, and secondly I want to point you in the direction of another justgiving page – that of Patrick’s latest adventure – The Longest Day – John O’ Groats to Lands End…non stop and in under 24hours!