Two wheels to a distant sun

Motorcycling at this time of year doesn't have to be chilly. Tim Luckhurst dons his helmet
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Indy Lifestyle Online

The homeless of Archangel may disagree, but motorcyclists know that nothing chills the human body as intensely as winter riding. When my children ask me to describe experiences of extreme discomfort I do not recall reporting jobs covering wars and revolutions. A ride from Edinburgh to Cambridge two-up on a 250cc Honda in the first week of February 1982 remains stark in my memory. We had to stop to sit on radiators for 15 minutes at a time just to control the shivering that prevented me controlling the bike. On arrival my passenger took to her bed for a week claiming mild hypothermia and an intense antipathy to motorbikes.

The homeless of Archangel may disagree, but motorcyclists know that nothing chills the human body as intensely as winter riding. When my children ask me to describe experiences of extreme discomfort I do not recall reporting jobs covering wars and revolutions. A ride from Edinburgh to Cambridge two-up on a 250cc Honda in the first week of February 1982 remains stark in my memory. We had to stop to sit on radiators for 15 minutes at a time just to control the shivering that prevented me controlling the bike. On arrival my passenger took to her bed for a week claiming mild hypothermia and an intense antipathy to motorbikes.

The improved quality of motorcycle clothing has changed things. There are now touring outfits that can keep a rider tolerably warm even when there is snow on the ground. Electrically-heated kit will do even better. To demonstrate what is possible Rod Chapman, editor of Motorcycle Sport and Leisure magazine, made a New-Year resolution to ride from Cambridge to Inverness this month. He says "Challenges like this remind me how great it is to be alive; remind me that there's something beyond a day-to-day routine."

If you admire stoicism and can find pleasure in wet, greasy roads infested by cars with filthy windscreens and drivers rendered inattentive by the blast from their air-conditioning, this is the ideal approach. For less masochistic riders there are better ways to ensure that the months between November and March are not devoid of motorcycling. You can take your machine to a warm country or hire one and fly out to join it.

Among the most adventurous fly-and-ride options are Blazing Trails' tours of India on classic 350cc single-cylinder Enfield motorcycles, in areas not affected by the tsunami disaster. In the winter, riders can make 14-day, 1,500-mile trips through terrain that includes forested hills, dry upland plains, beaches and wildlife reserves. Average temperatures between January and March range between 88 and 90 degrees.

The drum-braked, kick-started, right-foot gear change Enfield may look like daunting mounts for such serious touring, but Steve Keay of Blazing Trails insists they are appropriate. "For the terrain they are perfect. If they break down they are simple to fix and the local people have everything you need to do running repairs." Every tour is accompanied by medical and mechanical backup and luggage is transported on the support vehicles.

Blazing Trails holidays appeal to riders with full licences and a minimum of two years riding experience. Overnight accommodation ranges from coconut shacks and tents to modern hotels. Steve Keay says "This is for riders who want to get away from mass market tourism." Parties usually consist of between fifteen and twenty riders. In the summer months Blazing Trails runs still more adventurous trips through the Himalayas on 500cc Enfields.

But escaping the British winter on two wheels can be easier than a fortnight in the saddle of a machine designed shortly after the Second World War. H-C Travel ( www.hctravel.com) specialise in motorcycle touring and rental in the USA, Canada, Mexico, New Zealand, Australia and India among others.

For trips of less than three or four weeks it is usually cheaper to hire a bike. The managing director David Grist explains: "The complexities and costs are not always prohibitive but the hassle is not what you want on a holiday."

The smaller company Motoexpress offers standard and bespoke touring holidays in Spain from February onwards (www.motoexpress.co.uk) using the Portsmouth to Bilbao ferry service and their own truck to transport customers bikes to Catalonia. John Sinker of Motoexpress says "It's all about convenience."

Harley Davidson owners can take advantage of a similar scheme to ship their machine abroad. More popular is the Harley Owners Group fly and ride scheme that allows HOG members to hire bikes across the southern states of the USA throughout the winter months. An antipodean scheme is available from dealers in Brisbane and Sydney Australia.

Triumph Motorcycles operate a similar arrangement through their Riders Association of Triumph. and BMW offer similar possibilities through their World of BMW Tours.

Road Trip USA, based in Bend, Oregon, has an established reputation for organising motorcycling tours of the Pacific Coast, American Southwest and the Rockies. A wide range of European, Japanese and US bikes is available to hire. Riders interested in self-guided tours in the USA and Canada should visit www.flyride.usa.com . The German based motorcycle touring specialist Edelweiss Bike Travel (www.edleweissbike. com) has experience of organising motorcycle touring and travel on four continents.

If the idea of spending hard earned cash to ride on warm dry roads sounds too decadent, it is worth considering the safety perspective. Riders who make regular outings are substantially less likely to have serious accidents. It is an excuse worth advancing to a concerned significant other.

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