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Winter Challenge Ride 2012

Winter 2012

Have you seen the seat Triumph put on the Bonneville T100? I have variously heard it described as a plank. It is not a seat you would sit on and look forward to spending all day on, and certainly not if it was the middle of February with the temperature hovering the more welcoming side of freezing. In the light of today’s experience, I must revise my opinion of that seat and congratulate whomever it is at Triumph that designed it – s/he could tell BMW a thing or two!


It was not my intention to attempt this year’s Winter Challenge on the Bonneville. I had spent the day before getting the GS ready, changing the oils, checking tyres, valve clearances, and putting the battery and heated seat back on. Everything seemed fine yesterday, but after I had rolled it back down the alleyway from my garden and onto the drive and had loaded up the panniers, the GS refused to start. It was struggling to turn over which seemed to point to either a dead battery (despite being sat inside on the Optimate for the last few weeks) or an issue with the starter motor. For now I had to decide whether to give up on the attempt or go to Plan B. Plan B involved wheeling the Bonnie out, trying to fit the GS’s handlebar muffs on to it (unsuccessfully), transferring the Garmin 2610 and sticking a spare waterproof and clear visor in the bag on the rack (it does not hold much more) before setting out, just over two hours after I had intended to (okay. I had also got up late – the twins had chosen this day of all days not to wake up until after 7am, unheard of!).


My schedule was to visit five of the landmarks on the Sculpture Trail – Shrewsbury, Crosby, St Helens, Lincoln and Leamington Spa. Autoroute had calculated the whole trip at just over 400 miles, and a 7am start should have seen me getting to the last landmark at around 2.30pm – leaving at 9.10am would make this around 4.40pm, with the finishing time of nightfall coming at 5.18pm – not a lot of room for losing time, especially since I had not calculated any rest stop in to my route.


After getting my start receipt, I spent the first leg, the 30 mile ride to Shrewsbury, reviewing all the things I was missing not being on the mighty GS. Actually I spent most of the time realising how damn cold I was already, mainly because of all the things I was missing, like the handguards, handlebar muffs, heated grips, windscreen, leg shields, cylinders to keep your feet warm, the heated seat I had been looking forward to trying out, as well as the connections for the heated vest and inner soles I had had to remove and replace with an extra fleece and second pair of socks. Then there were all the other things which made riding easier, like the cruise control, speed camera detector, second satnav, backrest, and panniers with all the tools, puncture repair kit and compressor. And finally I worked out that while the GS’s 45 litre tanks would probably only have needed filling once all day, I was going to have to stop four times to refuel the Bonnie’s little 13 litre tank, which was going to eat into my small spare time window. On the plus side, it was a clear day, bound to brighten (and warm) up, and I had a whole day out to ride my bike and see some new sites, and if I did not get all the way round, so be it, but I could at least have a go.


I got straight into Shrewsbury and found the landmark, a sculpture erected in 2009 to celebrate the bicentenary of Charles Darwin, a son of the town. Called ‘Quantum Leap’, its shape represents part of a DNA double helix – the molecule at the very centre of the evolutionary process, An interesting sculpture, but one which there has been a lot of local protest about as the final cost to the council had more than doubled, ending up costing them over £1 million pounds, more than the Angel of the North. There is a small park around the sculpture next to the River Severn and as there was nobody around I pulled off the road and rode down the path so I could take my photograph underneath the arch of the sculpture.

From Shrewsbury I headed north, through Cheshire and Wallasey and into Liverpool via the Mersey Tunnel. In Crosby I stopped by the beach in order to visit my second sculpture, Anthony Gormley’s ‘Another Place’. Across the wide expanse of the beach there are a hundred identical bronze sculptures, each a life-size cast of the artist’s body. I had timed my ride to ensure I was here within a half hour or so of low tide so was able to see most of the sculptures standing out from the sand. I took a photograph of my bike at the end of the car park and then made my way across the sand to place my placard around the neck of the first statue.


My third sculpture was a very different piece of work – standing 65 feet tall ‘Dream’ is on the top of old mine workings south of St Helens and adjacent to the M62 motorway – in fact so close to it that after my second fuel stop, my satnav took me onto the motorway and tried to convince me I could just turn off the motorway and visit it. After going off at the next junction I made my way back and rode around the hill until I could find somewhere to photograph my bike and the sculpture – not easy because you cannot get that close. The best view was probably from the bridge over the motorway but I only saw that on the way out and couldn’t be bothered to stop again.


I was conscious that although I was keeping good time I was going to have to stop for a hot drink and some food before I crossed the Pennines. If I could keep to the same speed I had calculated for my trip, I could just afford to stop for half an hour. I decided I had to stop so pulled into Birch Services for a coffee, burger and quick rest – it felt good just to get out of the wind and stop moving for a while.


The temperature did fall as I got higher and crossed the Pennines – the hills around the motorway were still covered in snow and there was a steady sleet-like rain for about thirty miles. I was now half way through my route and I felt fine – the ride was reminding me of the eighteen months I spent as a despatch rider in the 1980s – I started on a similarly unfaired Honda CX500 and heated grips and clothing did not exist in those days – I cannot remember how I lasted doing it for so long.


My fourth landmark was in the centre of Lincoln, a sculpture entitled Empowerment which hangs over the River Witham. Designed by the artist Stephen Broadbent, it takes the form of two aluminium-and-steel human figures reaching to each other across the water. The design is intended to echo the shape of turbine blades, in recognition of Lincoln's industrial heritage. Getting into Lincoln was a real pain as traffic going into the city was very heavy and I was trying to rush as I had missed a turn off the A1 after stopping for fuel again.


I headed straight out of Lincoln and set the 2610 for the fifth and last sculpture of my ride, 90 miles away in Leamington Spa. According to the GPS I would get there at 5.06pm. Long lines of contraflow on the A48 soon set this back to 5.12pm. At the beginning of the day it had seemed almost unbearable to hold 70mph due to the cold and wind – either it was a lot warmer now or I had become acclimatised to unfaired riding because I now found it no problem to maintain this speed (and higher) on the last motorway stretches. This helped me get to my destination at 5.10pm, just giving me time to get my photographs, run across the road to Spar to get my finish receipt and get back to the bike just before the satnav changed to night setting. Phew!


This last sculpture is called ‘Spring’, holding multiple meanings and designed by Oliver Barratt, and is another controversial sculpture. I sat for a while looking at it and thinking about all these pieces of public art. I am presently involved in the design for a new school and one of my responsibilities is for managing the public art part of the project, which amounts to 0.6% of the project or around £360k. The most important part of the process to me has been the engagement of our students with the artists and different processes. I wondered what the people walking by thought about this sculpture in the middle of their town square and whether they had any involvement in its creation, or felt any connection to it.


I looked up and realised how dark it had become. I had another 50 miles to go before I would be home and completed my journey and had another, fourth fuel stop to make on the way. In the end I covered 420 miles in just over 9 hours, and that seat – I never thought of it once!