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Motorcycling Hero

Meeting my heroes

They say you should avoid meeting your heroes – but adventure bikers have never left Doctor Sprocket disappointed.

There is a legend of a Glaswegian welder who habitually spent the traditional Trades Fortnight holiday touring with only a Pac-a-Mac, one bottle of red wine and a spoon. I admire this level of self determination; the kind you need to ride your bike somewhere seriously remote (e.g. Arbroath). I’ve met maybe a dozen adventure motorbikers whose sheer mileage leaves me awestruck. Only three have been chosen here and in no particular order. If there’s a theme, I guess it’s that they could each be exporting self determination – in a small fleet of supertankers.

Louisa Swaden (The Existential Biker)
I met Louisa at a talk she gave in 2019. It was about overcoming fear, so I plucked up the courage to talk to her. I’m not much given to tearing up at Powerpoint presentations, but hers had me wishing I was still wearing my smoked visor. I think it’s because she reminds me of what my mum should have been doing, instead of being married to my dad. Her message was, you are responsible for your own happiness. So no pressure, then (!)

There aren’t many motorcycle land speed record holders who can write a string of blog entries with titles such as: Imagination, Italian Job, Japan’s Microseasons, Klaverjassen, Machiavelli, Maslow’s Pyramid… I particularly like the fact that she’s widened the idea of ‘motorcycle adventure’ to much more than eating testicles in a Mongolian tent.

Ian Coates
I watched Mrs Spark listening to this podcast on a train in Germany. The other passengers would have been a seriously tough crowd on a good day, but they were visibly unamused as this green-haired Aussie rocked in her seat and kept bursting out with laughter. I thought it might be an overreaction or a seizure – until I actually met Ian. I recommend you attend an event where he is speaking and he’ll give you a summary of his 14 years riding the globe… in marginally less time than the trip itself.

I really respect the fact that Ian has navigated the world using the map at the back of a schoolboy’s pocket diary. “I eat out” he announced. That’s going to be expensive, I thought, but I wasn’t coping with the Hebden Bridge accent – it was ‘owt’ – meaning that even roadkill was on the menu. How can anyone be so relaxed, when following an international itinerary consisting of ‘turn left when you get to the sea’? This adventuring relies on Ian’s wife who appears periodically bearing various Honda spares – like engine blocks and swing arms.

Austin Vince
At Overland a couple of years ago, I sat down at the back of a windy marquee and watched some high-energy maths geek compering a quiz that seemed to have been going on for several days. He was handing out £20 notes and wearing a 1960s race overall inflated with high-pressure enthusiasm. I later discovered that this was The Austin Vince – of Mondo Enduro fame. My chief memory of that filmic adventure was him and his muddied buddies standing under a wet bridge in Siberia, in their underpants, without food or shelter… and yet oddly undaunted. Maybe they teach that can-do attitude at Sandhurst, but I suspect they pre-select people who already have two Tesco-bag panniers full of it. Anyone with a secondhand bike, a plastic sheet and some beer money can do an around the world trip, Austin assures us.

The spirit of that Glaswegian welder lives on.

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