When it comes to travel, nothing beats a road trip and by road trip, I mean a journey where the travelling is an end in itself. For the past twenty years as a standup comic I have spent my life travelling often the same bit of motorway, which for many becomes the reason for chucking in live touring. The lever of television on the doorstep, often a short chauffeur drive from home becomes more appealing. It’s for this reason I have a passion for motorbikes.
It all started as a teenager twenty years ago, when I moved to London, I bought a 50cc pizza delivery bike. So the love affair began. Ordinary trips were transformed from dull traffic jammed routes to mini-adventures. Over the years I have tried to tour as much as possible on two wheels. The bikes have got bigger and the journeys longer. On one Australian tour a couple of years ago, I clocked up 26,000 km going between 80 live tour dates.
It was also twenty years ago, that motorbike manufacturer Triumph re-launched. A real British success story. Over the last two decades, they have gone from strength to strength producing half a million new bikes, so when they approached me to ride bike number 500,000 it made perfect sense. So was born the idea for a standup on a sit down tour. I would ride the half a millionth bike, a one off custom painted Speed Triple around Britain. As a means of really making this a trip with a twist, I decided instead of using guidebooks, I would be guided by my Twitter followers (over 130,000 by the end of the trip). My destinations each night were pre-determined by Best Western, who kindly put me and my team up in their unique hotels, the length and breadth of the land.
The journey began at Triumph’s Hinckley factory. Not many road trips literally start with following the vehicle being built around a production line. Seeing the bike being built is something quite magical, from inanimate object to a moving mechanical wonder. At this point I am beginning to think I might bond with the bike but the reason I need to stay impartial to this bike is that at the end of the road trip, the plan is to auction it off with every penny going to Riders for Health. This brilliant charity provides simple off road motorbikes to health care workers in remote African communities, who couldn’t reach these areas without transport. This is a special bike for lots of reasons.
As we are filming a documentary about the trip, I am joined by two travelling cameramen and my mates, Garrett and Billy who are on Triumph Tigers. It turns out, people are more than happy to join our band of tweeting travellers as the journey gets going. Fuelled up and ready to go, we form a vague plan to head east, then south, travelling clockwise around Britain, ending back at Hinckley a week later.
Day 1: The tweets are flying, it seems that most of Britain wants me to either call in for a cup of tea or they are away and would like us to let ourselves in and complete their unfinished DIY. We set off towards Bury St Edmunds. The main theme that kept coming up was Ye Olde Pork Pie Shoppe in Melton Mowbary, the home of the pork pie. Off we went armed with a postcode and pig fat dreams. As we squeezed our way down the high street past a row of mobility scooters: a great photo opp for fully kitted out bikers. A market trader shouted, “Hey Ross, what’s with the motorbike outfit?” Where do you even start? I informed him I get dizzy in markets and need helmet and protective clothing incase I fall. The worrying thing is he seemed happy with my answer! At Ye Olde Pork Pie Shoppe, I am given a demonstration in pie making from a genuine pie man. As I leave loaded with pies I thank the Lord I am not called Simon. A tweet has come in to say we can do a parade lap around Snetterton.
Before setting off again, I check the tweets and the major attraction that keeps coming up in every other tweet seems to be Britain’s smallest pub in Bury St Edmunds. We head off and before too long, we are hopelessly lost. At a garage a young lad, enquiring if I am late for a gig, offers to lead us there and in no time we are enjoying a drink with the barman and the one other regular. In a pub, come cupboard under the stairs, finishing our drinks quickly before someone wants to put their vacuum and brushes back in their rightful place.
By 9pm we arrive at the BEST WESTERN Priory Hotel in Bury St Edmunds and we’re greeted by a very friendly chap who lets us use the bedroom closest to the car park to store the kit in overnight.
Day 2: Our next couple of stops continue the pub theme, it seems the people on Twitter, now think we are on a pub-crawl. We head down to meet Steve Parrish and his girlfriend Michelle at their pub, The Queen Adelaide near Royston. The former top bike racer and teammate of Barry Sheene, turned Truck racer, turned commentator, is everything you could want from a racing legend. He truly inhabits the image of an old school racer, clearly a hooligan at heart, he is well known for his practical jokes and regales us with stories of blowing up toilet blocks, doing stunts with hire cars, racing buses and planting explosive bags of flower in his mate’s car. We are also joined by Danny Webb, one of Britain’s best young MotoGP riders, we head south and end up calling into the Bulldog Triumph dealership in Reading to pick up an off road jacket.
We arrived in Bournemouth to a welcoming reception and a great night’s sleep at the BEST WESTERN Connaught Hotel.
Day 3: We start our journey towards Wales. Along the way we stop into Thruxton circuit who had arranged for me to ride a Tony Scott prepared Triumph Thruxton. It would have been amazing as one of the corners is called Nobles! Noble rides around Nobles on a Thruxton at Thruxton. Sadly due to the lashing rain, the whole experience was low speed in zero visibility. Can’t win ‘em all.
We then out of the blue called into one of our Twitter folk. We were on our way to Wales following a tweet to meet the guys at the Welsh Air Ambulance when a tweet came in from a bloke working in a pet shop superstore in Bridgend. As it was sort of on our way, we popped in unannounced. I often take my toddler to these stores telling her it’s a mini zoo, a cheap and effective day out for all. After a tour of the store, we said goodbye to a confused staff, after all, we had burst in with cameras and surprised them.
Cracking onto Welshpool and the air ambulance, we stopped at a garage of a mate of mine who swapped the road tyres on the Tiger XC camera bike for knobbly off road tyres and I spent a couple of hours playing around the side of a Welsh mountain. It was at this point I realized we could have some travelling time visiting the air ambulance boys if I had just ridden off the edge. Ever the one for practicality, we swapped the tyres back and set course for the airport. The Welsh air ambulance provides cover for those bits of Wales that are not served by hospitals. Keen to show us what they do, I found myself being strapped into the helicopter. I noticed Martin, the pilot, had the distinctive 99 number on the back of his helmet, a nod to his hero, MotoGP rider, Jorge Lorenzo. If I have learned anything from this trip it is that you need to think carefully about being flown by a MotoGP inspired helicopter pilot, at least the motorbike racers can only go forward, left and right. After five minutes of expert flying/showing off, the idea of riding a 150mph bike on the twisty roads seemed less exciting. That soon changed back on the ground as we headed for Chester. The tweets were pointing us to what would turn out to be the high point of the trip, in the form of a simple candle shop. Sadly, we would have to wait until the next day to visit, so in the meantime, I tweeted to say I would be under the ornamental clock in Chester if anyone wanted to come and say hello. When I got there 100 people were waiting and we passed the time playing practical jokes on passes by who didn’t expect such a big crowd to be working together. A couple of lads started freaking out when the whole street fainted in front of them. Pretty warn out at 8:30pm we arrive at the fantastic BESTWESTERN PREMIER Queen Hotel in Chester. Eating in the Grill restaurant a very talented pianist, guitarist and singer was performing. I tweeted where we were and the best friend of the musician, Ron, tweeted in to ask if I could say hello to the musician from him. I duly did.
Day 6: But what of this candle shop? This was no ordinary candle shop; this was candles plus, run by no other than Bob Carolgees of ‘Spit the Dog’ fame. Bob had grown tired of the constant travelling and after hearing about a major American scented candle company planning to launch in the UK, he set up his candle emporium. Some retired performers wouldn’t take kindly to some young comic turning up on their doorstep unannounced. But Bob was lovely, showing us around the shop he said the words, which made my week, “Shall I get the lad”?? Bob shot off home and five minutes later returned with Spit the Dog. For some, travel is about museums, amazing views, ancient ruins or mountain-top temples, but for me, it doesn’t get better than standing about in a candle shop chatting to Bob Carolgees and Spit the Dog. We could have stayed all day, but we had a long ride to Scotland, through the Lake District and by the time we got to Edinburgh it looked like we had run out of time to follow up on the Twitter ideas. There seemed to be quite a few telling us about a bizarre Wild West town that had been built in the back ally of a normal residential street. This was around the corner from our hotel for the night, the BEST WESTERN Bruntsfield Hotel so we decided to give it a go. Sure enough, through an archway, someone had constructed a mini Wild West town complete with Saloon and Jail, all of which house small businesses. Later we enjoyed a great meal that night in the BEST WESTERN Bruntsfield Hotel restaurant.
Day 7: It seems that once you get over one hundred thousand followers on Twitter it starts to become like a search engine that thinks for itself and it was what happened next that showed the real power of the internet. We rode from Edinburgh to the Northumberland town of Alnwick. The plan was to meet with a handful of bikers to join us on our ride to Newcastle, where the Triumph dealership was hosting a BBQ for us. As it came close to leaving the castle, it was clear we had more than a handful of bikers. The ride took a couple of hours as I led a procession of nearly 300 bikes down the coast, across the bridges and through Newcastle. If you are going to bring city traffic to a standstill, that’s the way to do it. That evening the whole team (joined by my mum!) enjoyed a warm welcome, a great curry and well deserved rest at the BEST WESTERN Ryokan Hotel
As we arrived back to Hinckley, I had indeed become attached to the bike. We had clocked up over two thousand miles and even though the speed triple is not an out and out touring bike, it is an awesome machine. I had loved every minute of it. I just had to tell myself that when the bike is auctioned, the proceeds could provide up to ten bikes for Riders for Health workers in Africa, so giving it back is a good thing. That said, I might just join in the bidding on July 1st at The Goodwood Festival of Speed.