Test Riding the New Softail

Motorcycle manufacturers are a funny bunch. By and large they stick to the tried and trusted, at least for those that they view as their dedicated customers.

Every now and then though one of the manufacturers produces something that is either so radical that it’s pure genius, or it leaves you pondering what on earth they were drinking or smoking when the new creation was first committed to paper!

On the “Genius” side a few that sprung to mind and from a quick trawl of the motorcycling Internet, we have:

In 1935, Italian marque Gilera shoehorned a transverse four-cylinder engine into a motorcycle frame, when just about everyone else was making two-cylinder machines.

The following year BMW produced the first telescopic front forks.

1969 saw Honda produced the CB750, basically the first production superbike universally available and the first to have disc brakes and for me a real big step change. – But then I like Honda’s!

1976 saw Yamaha fitting cast alloy wheels to a production road machine for the first time.

In 1980 it was the Kawasaki KZ1000 leading the way with fuel injection.

I’ve tried really hard to come up with big innovations that Harley Davidson has made….

Nope I can’t think of any, but to be fair the Harley Davidson Motorcycle Company do one thing very well indeed; they make bikes for specific customers, “Harley Customers.”

OK, I ignored the V-Rod muscle bike, which was made in partnership with Porsche and had a dual-overhead-cam 1131cc water-cooled engine; it didn’t really break any new motorcycle ground, but bear with me!

All of this is probably why when Harley Davidson does change something we all tend to rock on our heels a bit. A few years back H-D introduced the 103cubic inch engine and on Touring models included liquid cooling for engine; to be fair it was only for the exhaust valves, but still a bit radical for some Harley customers as unlike the V-Rod this was an engine in a mainstream bike, not a niche machine.

In 2016 the next new thing was the 107cubic inch “Milwaukee Eight” engine with four valves and two spark plugs per cylinder, oil cooling and fully counterbalanced; only the eighth “Big Twin” engine since 1909, Harley know how to live on the edge!

I had the opportunity to test ride one of the first “Milwaukee Eight” bikes, a Street Glide, back in October 2016, you can read about that here.

First impressions were that I liked the new engine, finding it very smooth and certainly not lacking in power, but it wasn’t really very special sitting in the frame of a big Street Glide!

Fast forward to the end of last summer and we hit the release season for 2018 bikes.

Harley Davidson did something, for them, that was radical, very radical!

When the 2018 models were announced a whole line had been deleted, the much-loved “Dyna” models were no more. In addition the “Softail” range were, well, different; actually they weren’t different; they were a whole new design.

Harley Davidson introduced the Softail frame in 1984 and designed it to look like the retro rigid-frame bikes so beloved of the custom school. The bikes had shock absorbers mounted underneath the gearbox and a clever swing-arm that absorbed bumps in the road.

Riders tend to be a bit polarised about Softails, you either love ‘em or hate ‘em; my beloved “Harls” is a Softail, so you can figure where I stand!

“Harls” all Softail, all motorcycle!


The new Softail line launched with eight models and two engine options, the 107cu Inch and a really beefy 114cu Inch, that’s respectively 1753cc and 1868cc.

I must admit that early last Autumn I took a sly look at the H-D 2018 catalogue, the new models looked interesting and I made a mental note to investigate when I had time.

Then I went to the Motorcycle Live exhibition in Birmingham in late November.

Spinning round in the middle of the Harley Davidson stand was something that caught my eye…another new Softail model – The Sport Glide.

Now for the life of me I can’t figure out why Harley Davidson would, with a big fanfare, introduce a new line and produce all the glossy 2018 model catalogues only for a few weeks later to roll out another model of the line and one that wasn’t in the catalogue?

I’m mighty pleased that they did though!

There’s an old saying in engineering and design, “If something looks right, it probably is right.” To me the Sport Glide certainly ticks that box!

The new 2018 Sport Glide.

There was only one problem, the bike at the show was the only one in the UK and further supplies were not expected until January 2018, plus the total UK allocation was only around 250 bikes, Hmmm. I got in touch with my local Dealership, Plymouth Harley Davidson and issued strict instructions that when they got their hands on a Sport Glide to let me know!

Now the guys and girls at Plymouth Harley Davidson are a good bunch and sure enough at the end of January I got the call, a Sport Glide fitted with the 107 engine had arrived and was being prepared for the road – would I like to test it? Do Bears poo in the woods? Darn right I wanted to test it!

To add icing to the cake, it was suggested that I also try a different Softail model that was fitted with the 114cubic inch engine, just for comparison.

Those folk at Plymouth Harley Davidson must really like me, because on the day I turned up for my test session on two brand new bikes the weather was filthy, but “Hey, no problem Dookes go ride and enjoy!”

First up was the 114 engine Fat Bob.

2018 Fat Bob


Now this isn’t the sort of bike that I would normally go for, a naked “Street Fighter,” but wow, was I glad that I did!
With it’s brutal lines I suspect that this bike is aimed at the younger end of the Harley market, but in my late fifties I don’t see many Harley riders younger than me; hey ho!
The 114 engine coughed into life and a deep aggressive growl emanated from the twin exhaust pipes, this already was sounding like fun!
The pipes are interesting 2 into one and back to 2, I’ve never seen that before, but the look great.
Up front is an LED headlight that looks straight out of Star Wars, really aggressive yet soo cool!
Throwing my leg over the bike and settling in the saddle it was surprisingly comfortable. I toed the shifter down, selected first gear and pulled away. The bike nimbly responded to the throttle and within a quarter of a mile I was already thinking to myself, “I like this…. a lot!”
I turned onto the nearby A38 trunk road and filtered into the mid-morning traffic. Once I had settled into the feel of the bike it was time to see what this bad boy could do. I gave a slight twist of the throttle and wow, in came the power accompanied by a deep throaty roar from that fancy exhaust system; my smile became a big stupid grin!
Actually the power delivery was, to be honest, a tad too aggressive on the greasy wet road and with no traction control I had to be a bit careful not to have the back-end misbehaving, but hey I guess that is what this bike is all about.
Turning off the trunk road and onto some twisties, I was very pleased to feel how nimble the bike was through corners, even with that big fat front tyre. It’s brakes are
Good, with twin front discs and ABS as standard, it’s shame that they are not linked to the back ones though in my opinion.
Then we get to the ride, oh my, it’s a dream. That new Softail chassis is sublime!

Riding back into the dealership it was time to swap, the Sport Glide was outside waiting for me.

At first glance the difference between the two bikes is like chalk and cheese, but that’s only a veneer. Underneath, apart from the Sport Glide having a 107cubic inch engine they are pretty much the same bike.
The exhaust is a straightforward 2 into 1 and the front wheel has only one brake disk. It’s got a small “bikini” faring and a pair of medium-sized hard panniers, all of which can be quickly detached if wanted. I found the small faring quite adequate at diverting the wind off my chest, but if I ever own one I’d probably swap the standard 1.5” screen for the alternative 5.5” option.
Performance wise it’s another gem, though unlike the 114, the power delivery is much more precise and enjoyable. Which also means that you are not so likely to get stung by the lack of traction control! Now please don’t think that the 107 is lacking in power, oh no not at all, it’s got plenty of grunt but just delivers it in a more refined way.
I do feel that only having a single brake disc on the front wheel is not the greatest idea from Harley Davidson on a bike that weighs in at around 330kg.
Cornering on this little beauty was lovely, even better than the Fat Bob, though with a lean angle of only 27º before the pegs start to hit tarmac, you do have to be a bit careful!
The Sport Glide, like the Fat Bob has a six-speed gearbox. The front suspension is non-adjustable, whilst the rear now has a spring pre-load adjustable shock.
If you are like me, a dedicated touring motorcyclist, you’ll like the new Holdfast detachable latch system that Harley has fitted to this machine. I allows you to easily quickly add a Tour-Pak top box and other touring type accessories.

So there we are, two very different, yet essentially very similar motorcycles.

I really couldn’t tell you which one I liked most; they both have a certain “Wow” factor and both for different reasons.

Looking back on the test ride and with the benefit of a few days to mull it over, I think I’d probably have to go for the Sport Glide.

Why? Well, as sexy and bonkers that the Fat Bob is, I think I’d get fed-up with it after a while. It reminds me of a big black horse I once owned; sure you could ride him all day and have the time of your life, but drop your guard for one second and he’d take over; these days I like things to be a tad more relaxed!

On reflection though, I really believe that Harley Davidson have, at last, produced something different from their norm and will probably reap the benefit for doing that. Could we not have linked brakes and twin front discs right across the range, even as an option please?

With thanks to all at Plymouth Harley Davidson for making the two bikes available and not being too upset when I brought them back absolutely filthy!

“Get you motor runnin’ head out on the highway”

Catch you soon

Dookes

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Taking The Bus

Dookes H.Q. is situated on the edge of Bodmin Moor, an area of high granite moorland covering 80 square miles of North East Cornwall.

There’s only one slight problem, it’s a bit remote. Not exactly “Off Grid” to use a trendy term, but certainly a bit rural, we call it “Out in The Sticks.” Most of the time this isn’t a problem, but occasionally it can be a bit awkward, like today; I had booked my car into the local garage, eight miles away, for a service and Mrs Dookes was working 60 miles away at the other end of the county. Not good planning.

Let me be very clear, I love where we live and I’m not moaning!

I had three options:

1. Borrow a “Courtesy” car from the garage.
2. Book a taxi.
3. Catch the bus.

One thing about living in a rural area like ours is that you can easily slip into a sort of “bubble” existence and traveling everywhere by car only heightens that feeling of isolation; you look out at the world rather than being part of it. Another issue is that us rural dwellers often moan about the lack of services that townsfolk enjoy, like Post Offices and Public Transport. Often though the problem lies in us not using what is provided, the old “Use it or Loose it” conundrum!

Having spent a career running public transport services, on rails, I hang my head in shame to say that in sixteen years of living at Dookes H.Q. I’d never used our local bus. This is a service that is viewed by the good members of Cornwall Council to be of sufficient social necessity to warrant it being subsidised.

So with all things considered, I took the decision that today I would ride the bus!

With three spaniels barking to greet the dawn and eager for their breakfast, most days at Dookes H.Q. start pretty early. It really wasn’t any hardship therefore to drop my car off at the garage just after eight o’clock, which was great as I had time for a leisurely double espresso and perusal of the newspaper before catching the bus outside a local supermarket just after nine.

I found the bus waiting at the pick-up point, it’s engine running and the driver busily mopping the floor. The previous trip had been collecting up school children from the surrounding areas and their muddy shoes left evidence of the rural nature of the catchment area.

Just a little bus!


This morning I was the only person joining the bus at the start of it’s journey.

It turned out that my jolly driver, Julian, was originally from Romania. I more friendly person you couldn’t wish to meet. He explained that he was an economic migrant looking for better opportunities for his family, his wife was a school teacher and they had two children – I found all that out before we had even got moving, it was a glimpse into life on the little bus!

We looped around town to our next pick-up stop; road-works with temporary traffic lights played havoc with Julian’s schedule, but he kept smiling.
“Try driving in Bucharest,” he grinned at me, “A million times worse than this!”

I don’t doubt it.

Leaving the town centre there were just three of us on the bus. Julian, myself and an elderly lady who was travelling to an outlying village to play table tennis!

The three of us happily chatted the miles away, as the morning sun rose higher in the blue winter sky. As the route looped around a number of villages it drove home to me just how many widely splintered communities this little bus served. Small numbers of people joined as the bus made sporadic stops, sometimes in villages, sometimes at scattered farms. The atmosphere on board was like a friendly club; everyone knew each other. Well except for me, I was like the new boy in school and came under friendly scrutiny; this was quite a microcosm of the local society!

It’s tight on these rural lanes!


Sadly my destination point hove into view and Julian slowed the bus to a halt for me to disembark, where had the last hour gone?

I waved farewell to my travelling companions and set off to walk the two miles to Dookes H.Q. where the first Snowdrops are now in bloom, perhaps Spring is just around the corner.

Snowdrops

On such a lovely morning it was a joy to meander back to home along the lanes, it gave me time to ponder the service that such buses provide to rural communities.

Near Dookes H.Q.


With the exception of myself and one other chap, everyone else riding this morning was a senior and therefore in receipt of free bus travel. It was clear to see that this little bus not only provided a vital lifeline to the communities that it served, but it enabled people to access amenities that otherwise may be beyond their ability to travel to; it provides a real social need. In addition one little bus this morning kept a dozen cars off the road and that’s good for the environment as well, everyone wins!

The thing is though, these services are audited for the number of people riding and if those numbers fall to far, there is a real risk that the route will be cut or at least severely reduced.

I made a promise to myself to go ride the little bus again and get others to do so too.

“Use it or Loose it!”

Catch you soon.

Dookes

And Now For Something Completely Different!

A few years ago I took the somewhat, for me, momentous decision to retire early.

Since leaving a high-flying position the railway industry I had been running a grain storage cooperative for a bunch of ingrate farmers and had grown fed up with the job. I had a brilliant working relationship with the Company Secretary, he was fantastic to work with, but the politics of Directorial self-interest, coupled with what I believed to be a general air of Board incompetence which was holding the business back, finally got to me; I’d had enough it was time to move on!

I was fortunate to be in the position of not having to work. My pension plans had worked nicely for me, true Mrs Dookes and I weren’t going to be the next millionaires on the block, but we were OK. Who wants to be the richest corpse in the graveyard anyway?

One of the things about me is that I stew over things, I call it mental processing, but Mrs D calls it worrying! Faced with what was a pretty fundamental life decision I was frankly a bit bewildered. What the hell was I going to do with myself?

Now Mrs Dookes is a wise little bird…
“Don’t worry, everything will be alright,” said Mrs D and she promptly packed me off on a motorcycle trip!

I set out to explore the Größglockner High Alpine Road, Monza Racetrack and other parts of the Alps on Baby Blue. To be honest I was looking for a bit of head-clearing.. Click here to see more of that trip.

On the Grössglockner, sunny but cold.


Part of my planning was buying that brand new Harley Ultra Limited as a retirement present to myself, so I had put some thought into things!

It was whilst I was away, in Pavia just South of Milan if I remember correctly, that I got a call asking me if I was interested in helping out with English Heritage? EH is the organisation that manages the National Heritage Collection of England’s historic buildings and monuments which span more than 5000 years of history.

I had a blank page, so the answer was yes, with conditions. I wasn’t retiring to go back into full-time work. I wanted space to do other things that interested me, plus having more time for family and friends, not to mention riding motorbikes!

As a result I’ve two and a half years of fun playing around a number of amazing historic places and yes time for other interesting things…which leads me to the point of this post!

Just before Christmas I was talking to my good friend Alan, he runs his own stained glass business called Angel Stained Glass; you can get the link here.

New windows designed by Alan.

Alan gets involved in all sorts of interesting projects and by the very nature of stained glass windows much of them are in historic buildings, such as churches.

Poor Alan was a bit under pressure. Christmas was fast approaching. Christian churches as you may know, get very busy at that time of the year with all the carol services and suchlike, the pressure was on to get two projects finished!

Being the sort of chap who both likes a challenge and to help out a mate, I volunteered to give Alan a hand, plus I knew that it would be an interesting thing to do.

Which is how, in the week before Christmas, I found myself basking in winter sunshine, sitting forty feet up in the air on scaffolding outside a church in Cornwall’s County City, Truro. I was happily helping to repair a series of Victorian windows. My job was to check each tiny piece of glass was snugly held by the lead beading; any that were slightly loose needed attention with “lead cement.”

That’s me on the other side!

The name “Lead cement” is a bit misleading, it’s actually a type of black oily putty that is worked between the lead and glass to secure it all together, keep everything watertight and add strength to the panel. Working with the black gloopy stuff is highly satisfying and quite relaxing; well it is to me anyway! As an added bonus, when you are working on site with the windows you are right up close and very personal with the architecture. It’s quite a privilege to be able to touch things that normally you have to crane you neck to even see!

I’ve come to the conclusion that Alan’s line of work consists of three facets:
• Artistic creativity, particularly in the case of new windows.
• Diligent patience and sympathy with the materials.
• Hard, yet careful, physical work when moving the delicate leaded panels.

There is another factor though, that’s absolute total satisfaction and pride in the job when it’s finished; because its going to last another 150 years!

A few days later we were in the small but delightful Cornish village of Quethiock, population 429, with it’s medieval 14th century church dedicated to St Hugh. No sunshine to enjoy this time, but to work in such old and historic surroundings more than compensated.

The windows that we were working on had originally been made in the 1870’s by the then vicar of the parish the Reverend William Willimott. Some of the pieces of glass were medieval fragments that had been reused, whilst the good Reverend stained most of the rest in a wood fired kiln that he built in the Vicarage garden!

A window depicting St Hugh himself in Quethiock church.

“Willy” was by all accounts a pretty gifted chap, because not only did he make stained glass, but he also restored the church almost single-handed. He made wood-carvings, floor tiles and painted ceiling panels and murals whilst also attending to his Parish Duties. Oh yes, I nearly forgot, he was self-taught too!

The ceiling panels painted by Rev Willimott.

It was therefore pretty humbling to know that the last person to have handled the glass that we were refitting was the illustrious Willimott himself; talk about reaching across the years!

Anyway, we got the work done in time for the church to be readied for the Christmas festival and I have to say that I was humbled to have been involved; thanks Alan.

It certainly made a change from motorbikes, steam engines and all the other things that I get up to and don’t mention in this blog. All of which I wouldn’t be able to indulge in if I was still on the treadmill of full-time employment!

Mrs Dookes was correct. – Everything is alright!

“All right now, baby it’s all right now.”

Catch you soon.

Dookes

“The Riding Season Is Over” – Oh Really?

There are times in my motorcycling life that I find the need to do a little bit of explaining…

The title of this blog is “Hogrider Dookes.”

This is because:
a) I ride Harley Davidson motorcycles.
b) My name is Dookes.

Simple…well yes, so far, but as regular readers, the “Blogonaughts,” may recall, I like to class myself as “A Motorcyclist who happens to ride Harley’s” and not a Harley Rider. There is a big difference.

Back in November I visited the “Motorcycle Live” exhibition in Birmingham, this annual event is the biggest motorcycle show in the UK and goes on for nearly two weeks. All the major manufacturers attend, along with countless aftermarket suppliers and trade stands, it’s a fantastic event for anyone with a passion for motorcycles. I had a super day looking at everything from the latest things on two wheels to clothing, luggage and other accessories. True I did have a sit on one of Harley’s 2018 models, but then I also sat on Honda’s, Ducati’s, KTM’s, Yamaha’s and even a Royal Enfield…eclectic, is probably the best way to describe my taste.

Royal Enfield at Motor Cycle Live.

Then, just before the nonsense of Christmas and New Year, I found myself chatting to one of the Road Captains from our local Harley Owners Group Chapter; the subject of the exhibition came up in our conversation and I enthused about all the different bikes I had seen.

“I’m not interested in other bikes, just Harley’s.” Was the somewhat scornful response. Fair enough, point taken, said individual then went on to tell me that his own bike, an Ultra Limited Low, had been put away for the next few months as “The Riding Season is over until Spring.”

The thing is, he’s not alone. Lots of motorcyclists pack their bikes away in the Autumn and hibernate until the Spring, maybe Harley Riders more than most.

I guess that’s what I mean about being a Motorcyclist who happens to ride Harley’s and not a “Harley Rider.”

You see, I ride all year round and I’m in a silly way I’m bloomin’ proud of that!

True, sometimes a four-hour ride equals eight hours of cleaning and polishing afterwards, but it isn’t half worth it! Take the situation just before Christmas for example.

For a few weeks we had been enduring our usual share of Cornish winter gales; loads of rain, high winds, hail and just a dusting of snow on the high moors. Then the wind dropped, the sun came out and the temperature plummeted.

What better thing to do than to hit the road on two wheels with a motorcycling pal for company?

My artist mate Mark is always up for a ride at the drop of a hat and like me isn’t too bothered by winter weather. Mark rides a solid Honda CB1200, a real no-nonsense bike that suits him down to the ground and if I’m honest a model that I really like too, but which one of my two-wheeled ladies should I take?
Well, I did consider Baby Blue so that I could hide from the cold behind her big faring, but as Harls was already pretty filthy from me riding around in the week before I settled on her. Anyway, my heated jacket and gloves would keep the cold out!

High on Dartmoor and just a little dirty.


For some reason, probably just because we could, we decided on the delights of the high ground of Dartmoor on the border of Cornwall and Devon. Only a few days earlier the moor had been lying under a light blanket of snow, but now the roads were clear if a bit wet from running-off water, the sky blue and the air crisp. This was motorcycling for the purist!

Highway to heaven.


I think that I’ll let the pictures do the talking…

Views like this are always better on two wheels.


On the way back we called in on the local Harley Dealership, Plymouth Harley Davidson, ours were the only two bikes in the parking lot.

In the showroom, salesman Kev grinned at me.
“Hi Dookes, I see the 12 month riding season is still open then?”

It certainly is Kev, it certainly is!

“Bleak winter sunset with sky of lavender…”*

Catch you soon.

Dookes

* Images In a Moment of Time, Ryan Richard Nych

Solstice Bells

“Now is the Solstice of the year.
Winter is the glad song that you hear.”

It doesn’t take much to make me happy, which might seem a bit strange for a chap who owns two big Harley Davidson motorbikes, but it’s true. Today, for example, is one of those things that no-one can own, hold or claim; it’s the Winter Solstice and I’m a very happy Dookes as a result!

It’s probably fair to say that this has become my favourite day of the whole year!

In our Northern Hemisphere it is the shortest day, when the Sun barely shows itself above the horizon and then for the briefest possible time! Sunset today was just before 16:00hrs!

Stennes Sones Orkney


The Solstice marks the turn of the seasons when the days begin to grow longer and the warmth of Summer begins its long return journey.

It’s also the real beginning of Winter.

I written before how the relevance of this turning point has become stronger for me as I have grown older; I understand the ancient people who venerated the turning seasons and the Celestial Calendar.

It appears that since the dawn of time our forbears have found reason to celebrate a festival of light in the depths of the darkest day of the year. So why not have a party to celebrate the ending of one celestial year and the beginning of a new one?

Sounds good to me, but then I am a Welsh Wizard/Dewin Cymreig!

Let’s not forget that many other cultures and religions around the world also celebrate festivals at this time of the year and have the rebirth of light firmly as their focus.
The Christian Church has celebrated the birthday of Jesus Christ, Christmas, on December 25th since the 4th Century when Pope Julius I chose the date in an effort to replace the Roman Feast of Saturnalia. In several languages, not just English, people have compared the rebirth of the sun to the birth of the son of God.

It’s also interesting to reflect that the origins of many “traditional” Western Christmas decorations such as the Yule Log, Tree and Wreath can trace back to pre-Christian times.

Familiar decorations of green, red and white cast back to the Wiccan traditions and the Druids. The old Pagan Mid-Winter Festival of Yule also included feasting and gift giving, doesn’t it all sound very familiar?!?!

When I was younger we always did the usual Christmas decoration stuff, including a highly non-authentic artificial tree! My late father did little to dress the tree, but had his own take on the whole decoration thing that he insisted on doing himself; every year he would garland the house with boughs of green holly and evergreen, it was only then that I truly used to feel that things were being done properly. I suspect that my Celtic blood has a lot to do with this and I still carry on that tradition today in Dookes H.Q., I adore the house smelling of pine and other evergreens! image

Many Pagan religions had a tradition where it was customary to place holly leaves and branches in and around dwellings during winter. It was believed that the good spirits who inhabited forests could come into their homes and use the holly as shelter against the cold; whilst at the same time malevolent forces and spells would be repelled.

Mrs Dookes enters into the spirit of the season with her splendid handmade evergreen wreaths. This reflects another Celtic tradition, the wreath’s circle has no beginning or end and the evergreen represents life in the depths of winter.

Whether you are celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, Yule, The Solstice, Dongzhi, Yalda, Saturnalia, Malkh, any other festival that I may have missed, or just looking forward to having a restful holiday, have a truly wonderful time and maybe spare a thought, or penny, for those less fortunate.

Thanks for joining me for the ride this year, it’s been a ball and I hope you will saddle up with Harls, Baby and I in ’18 for more two-wheeled adventure and opinion!

“Praise be to the distant sister sun,
joyful as the silver planets run.
Ring out, ring solstice bells.”

Catch you soon.

Dookes

With grateful thanks to Ian Anderson and Jethro Tull for sharing the Solstice over many decades!

Liebster Award

Way on back in the earlier days of their blog my dear bogging friend Lili, of fantastic cakes and rock climbing fame nominated me for the “Liebster Award.” I was pretty chuffed at the time (Chuffed = British slang for pleased) and duly did what was required of me and posted a response as required by the award; you can link to that here.

Fast-forward to the present and out of the blue that USA based Scottish Photographer, Blogger and International Chocolate Connoisseur, Alba has challenged me with another “Liebster.” This is of course both very cool and a bit humbling; after all it is an acknowledgment by another blogger that you must be doing something right, therefore thank you Alba!

As part of the deal with the award I have to answer a series of questions set by Alba; so here goes, this should be fun!

1. Why do you blog?
I started blogging as a way of recording some of the motorcycle tours that I do. I used to tour around and send friends emails to let them know where I was and what I was up to. It just sort of seemed the logical thing to progress to, I hate “Face-Twit” and blogging enables me to capture thoughts and moments that I can look back on and relive the moment. It has also enabled me to develop some posts into magazine articles, which is pretty cool!
The blog has developed into something more than just being about touring on motorbikes and I’m pretty pleased with that. In the not to distant future I’m looking at overhauling the site, changing a few things around and maybe going “Premium.” So I may need the considerable skills of Alba in the field of Website development!

2. If you could visit anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
I’d like to be able to visit anywhere in the world that I wanted to and have the freedom and peace to be able to do that without the restrictions of Politics, Fanatics, Race-hate, Dictators and Wars…
…as John Lennon said “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.”

Broadly though, I’ve pretty much gone everywhere that I really want at the present, my only current “Itch” is to go to Nordkapp/Northcape in Norway, it’s the most Northerly point in Europe. I would naturally have to go on a motorbike.
Why?
Well, because it’s there of course!

3. Star Wars or Star Trek?
Star Trek. No doubt at all.

4. Favourite Movie?
Diamonds are Forever.
Pure escapism James Bond before it all got too commercial.

5. Favourite Book.
Tricky this one.
I’ve a number of railway and engineering technical tomes that I really enjoy dipping into from time to time, but would be far too boring (and specialist) to recount here.
Fiction-wise I like Ian Fleming’s “Goldfinger” and I had a lot of fun retracing some of the route described in the book on one of my trips a few years back.

In the footsteps of James Bond.

If you click here you can read about it, there’s more than one post though!

6. Favourite Song
Thunder Road by Bruce Springsteen.
“Mae Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau,” the Welsh National Anthem – I have tears running down my face every time I sing it at a rugby international!

Do you like to Cook and what is your best dish?
Yes, I adore cooking. Best dish, well I make a pretty ace Game Pie!

My Game Pie.

8. What makes you laugh?
I’m very British when it come to my sense of humour, so I love irony and satire. I like laughing at myself too!

9. Most embarrassing moment?
With skin a thick as mine, embarrassment doesn’t come into it!

10. Singing or dancing?
With my Welsh Blood, naturally it’s singing!

11. T.Rex or Dragons?
Hmm really tricky.
I loved T.Rex in those far off Glam-Rock Days of the 1970’s; Marc Bolan was just fantastic and amazingly it was 40 years ago this year that he died in a car crash.
Dragons live in my beloved, magical, Welsh mountains…if you know where to look! The Red Dragon/Y Ddraig Goch is found on the flag of Wales.

The Welsh Dragon at Mametz Wood, The Somme.

I’ve got one on each of my bikes too, Dragons that is.
I’m going to have to say Dragons…!
Did you know that T.Rex made an album called “Futuristic Dragon”?

There you are then, I hope that answers your questions Alba.

Now at this point I’m supposed to come up with my own string of questions and pass it on in a chain letter sort of way, but ‘cos I like breaking the rules I’m just going to suggest a few sites that I follow and are well worth dropping in on!

Two Wheeled Life

Midihideaways

Old England to New England

Finding Myself Through Writing

Louise’s World Travels

Aging Gracefully My Ass

My Ride Blog

Motorcycle Rambler

My Own Private Idaho

2 Wheel Travellers

If anyone feels like having a go themselves and linking me in on their answers here’s a few questions from me:

1. How do you decide on a subject for a blog post?

2. What has been your own favourite blog post.

3. Vinyl or digital?

4. Have you ever been surfing? (No not the internet – real surf, as in the Ocean!)

5. Where are you planning to go on your next adventure?

6. If you could go back in time to witness something in history what would it be?

7. Have you ever seen a ghost or UFO (or both)?

8. Rolling Stones or Beatles?

9. Most precious item that you possess that has no monetary value?

10. Who do you most admire and why?

11. I have a spare pillion seat on the back of my Harley, where shall we go?

Catch you soon.

Dookes

A Golden Anniversary – Or 50 Years of Roller-Coaster Emotions!

Sport is a funny thing and one way or another is pretty much guaranteed to polarise people.

With Sport you generally find that there are two kinds of folk; those that are largely indifferent and those that are passionate about it.

So cards on the table, I’m definitely one of the latter!

Which is a bit strange really, as pretty much no-one else in my immediate family is at all sports orientated…that is except my late Uncle Pete. He was like me, sports mad!

In his younger days Pete played football, lots of football (that’s soccer in some parts of the world!) and he was by all accounts pretty good at it. Good enough to be in the squad of a professional football club; until sadly a knee injury cut short his playing career. Ironically if he had the same injury today he would be fixed up and playing in a matter of weeks, such are the advances that sports medicine as made.

Uncle Pete was also my Godfather and he took things seriously enough to not only take me to buy my first pair of football boots, but also to my first football match – a very lowly non-league affair. The seed had been sown though and I began to hanker after going to a “proper” football match, a league game!

That’s how, exactly Fifty Years ago, my late Father took me and a few of my young friends to my very first “proper” game.

Watford F.C. v Grimsby Town

Football and indeed football grounds were very different in those days, particularly in the third tier of the English Leagues. The home of Watford Football Club since 1922 was and still is, Vicarage Road Stadium. To be honest, calling the place a “Stadium” in 1967 was tantamount to breaking the laws of Trade Description; glamorous it was definitely not!

In this aerial photograph from the time you can see that the ground was shoe-horned in between residential suburban housing and to the extreme left Shrodells Hospital. I remember queuing to go through the rickety old turnstiles on Vicarage Road itself, that’s the road cutting across the top of the photo. We stepped onto the banked concrete terrace behind the goal at the Vicarage Road end and I fell in love with the place!

At the far end was the “Rookery Stand,” that’s the light grey shed-like structure at the bottom of the picture, actually it was simply more terracing with a roof over it! To our right was the Shrodells Stand, which had some seating and on the opposite side of the pitch stood the grandly named “Main Stand” that also was about 50% seating. From that dear reader, you may be able to deduce that the majority of Vicarage Road Stadium was for you to watch football standing up and largely without any protection from the weather. Happy days!

For some reason we made our way to the area in the bottom corner of the photo, between the Shrodells and Rookery Stands. This was football at it’s most basic, the area was simply a compacted bank of ash, but it was magical.

In those days the pitch was only loosely described as grass; it appeared to be around 60% mud, 30% sand and possibly 10% grass/weeds, but to my young eyes it was the original field of dreams. As the sun dipped in the early winter sky and the simple floodlights came on, it got even more magical.

The game itself was a thrilling affair to a first time supporter, as I was suddenly becoming. Little did I know that the peculiar thing about supporting a team is that it gets into your very DNA. You share the euphoria of great victories and promotion with the despair and depression of defeats and relegation. All this was still in the future though…

Watford went on to win 7-1! Could it ever get any better than that?

Well, yes it could, but it would take nearly 15 years when eventually my beloved “Hornets” as Watford are known, eventually won promotion to the top-tier of English football, the old “First Division.” The next season, 1982-83, they finished runners-up; still their best ever finish.

I still have the programme from that match and it’s interesting to look at the team line ups for that day 50 years ago. Playing at full-back for Grimsby and wearing number 3 is one Graham Taylor, at that time a young 22-year-old. The same Graham Taylor who later would become manager of Watford, guide them to successive promotions and the glory days of the early 1980’s and subsequently manage the England national team. Sadly Graham passed away suddenly earlier this year.

Over the years though it’s been quite a roller-coaster of emotions. Yes there have been incredible highs, but oh my, those low points have also been very dark places too!

Today Watford F.C. play in the Premier League, the highest level in the English football league system and the team squad is drawn from a wonderful mix of nationalities. The club was founded in 1881.

These days living 300miles away I don’t get the opportunity to visit Vicarage Road very often, but I diligently follow what my beloved “Hornets” are up to every time that they play.

Yesterday then was the 50th anniversary of my very first Watford F.C. experience.
The Hornets hosted Tottenham Hotspur and the match ended in a 1-1 draw.

Vicarage Road Stadium today is truly worthy of the name; it’s a wonderful amphitheatre with an all seating capacity of 23,700 and great facilities, quite a change from the days of standing on a mound of ash!

Vicarage Road Stadium today; from roughly where I first stood 50 years ago! Photo by Jbb503

Why back in 1967 did we go to watch Watford F.C.?

Well I told you my late Uncle once played for a professional football club…

Guess which one????

Yep, Watford!

As for me; well I never really was much good playing football, except as a Goalkeeper and you don’t need many of them in a team.
With my Welsh blood, it was always going to be rugby that I embraced and excelled in. I played for a number of clubs, at a reasonably good level, before finally hanging up my boots in my mid-thirties after 24 years of playing the game!

Catch you soon.

Dookes