While wandering through the Adventure Section at the MCN show I came across the section of muddy well used bikes, the “inspiration section”! Amongst the modern adventure bikes there one which stood out to me the most – a 1950’s hardtail Harley Davidson!
The man with the dream was Gareth Jones who in 2014 completed a 12,000 mile solo trek around Africa. Gareth bought the bike in 1999 and started touring around Europe and Morocco testing and refining the custom Panhead so that it was in perfect condition for long distance riding. Most people would find a ride to Spain on a classic bike a long trek, but Gareth would probably view a trip to Spain as a mere warm up!
Gareth was there and kindly took the time to chat to me about his adventures. My first query was to do with the fact that the bike was a hardtail! Gareth insisted that the bike handled just as well as any other bike and it was a pleasure to ride. The bike has a sprung saddle and a nicely padded saddle which made a significant difference to the comfort. As far as handling goes it was superb until it started to bounce, but then that applies to any motorbike. I do not have a lot of experience with hardtails so it was fantastic to hear someone only preaching positives about the hard tail, but also having the miles to prove that he knows what he is talking about!
His luggage was kept to a bare minimum, as Gareth said you are there to ride a motorbike and therefore there is not a lot that you need, he kept to the very bare necessities and still found that he had too much and consequently sent a load of items back home part way through the trip. Certain parts were carried as finding classic Harley parts in rural Zambia or Africa for that matter would be a challenge to say the least!
His bike performed superbly the whole way with only basic maintenance and small adjustments required. During the preparation for the trip every piece of the bike had been touched or adjusted in one way or another so Gareth was well acquainted with the running of the bike which no doubt would have been a huge help. Certainly the simplicity of older engineering must have also been a benefit when it comes to roadside repairs. If your ECU fails you on your brand new BMW or any other problems with the multitude of gizmos on board then you could well be in a bit of a predicament!
Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman would be jealous to learn that Gareth made a conscious decision to not set any deadlines or routes in stone. Viewers of Ewan and Charlie’s Long Way Down trip through Africa will recall how the constant deadlines caused a huge amount of stress on the whole team and had a serious negative impact on the trip. Gareth’s approach was extremely simple, but probably took a lot of confidence in many respects, but fantastic way to approach such an adventure!
Gareth couldn’t have been more complimentary of the people he met in Africa, he never had any of the issues that are so commonly spoken about. He rode with an open face helmet which he felt made him more accessible when encountering people and broke down any initial barriers with a visible smile. I suspect the older looking bike and its uniqueness also helped as it could be viewed as being less pretentious looking than a brand new BMW.
Any adventure travel on any means of transport is fantastic but Gareth has really set the bar in terms of custom motorcycle riding. Check out his facebook page below and keep an eye open for his book which is soon to be released!