A Bike Named Bertha

Bernard SmithHow do you pick a bike that will become your home for a long, long, time? Can there ever be a ‘special’ bike, one on which everybody agrees is the ‘best’ one for such an undertaking?

In short the answer is no.

It is a fact that you can travel the world on anything. It all depends on what you have and what you need. As Cathy always says, there are ‘needs’ and there are ‘wants’ and they do not involve the same thing.

A Bike Named BerthaIn the end however, our choice of bike turned out to be surprisingly simple.

We could have chosen to throw £10,000 of the budget at a new bike (with associated huge increase in Carnet cost). Instead, we chose my 18-year-old BMW R100RT, thus saving the money for the journey; after all £10,000 is a lot of living.

When we thought about it in this way, it was not so hard to decide.

What followed was months of rebuilding, tinkering, putting together list about lists concerning spares.

The eventual list comprised:

  • A full set of cables
  • Two gasket kits
  • Spare bulbs
  • Work shop manuals
  • HT leads
  • Carburettor diaphragm
  • Spare jets (for altitude)
  • Two oil filters
  • An ignition system trigger unit
  • A black box – the brain of the electronic system
  • Ignition coil

Inside BerthaTurning to the bike itself, a new clutch went into it along with new brakes. Both cylinders had every gasket and seal renewed as my hands hardened and my fingers ached and grew muscles. Let us not talk about my knees as I worked on the bike; they had definitely seen better days.

In my darker stress-filled days (which happened a lot at the time) I did wish we had chosen the shiny new option. In some ways, a sensible person would have used a ‘tricked out’ bike lovingly handed over by a factory-trained mechanic. In this fantasy world, they would even have given me a phone number to call in case I was having problems. Me? I bought two workshop manuals and several tins of WD40.

Working on Bertha“It’s only a five minute job, I’ll be finished soon” was often heard from the garage but needless-to-say, it took far, far, longer than five minutes. Even one snapped bolt could take forever, or so it felt. Such was the result of our choices.

At long last my hands healed with new skin over the scraped knuckles as my nails grew again where I had ripped backwards on stubborn bolts.

Pristine and shiny, the bike slowly reassembled and for all the people out there who will ask the usual question the answer is no.

There was not a single bit left over.

New tyres duly fitted, the Ministry of Transport Test sat waiting for us a one month before departure. Yes, it was like waiting to see a dentist or being in the maternity wing at delivery time. It was like penalties in a cup final and no, in much the same way I couldn’t watch. Eventually the testers returned to tell me it had passed and I punched the air, much to their bemusement. Thinking back now, so it should have – never had I slaved on anything so completely over so long while being ensconced in my alternative universe of ‘the garage’.

Hepco and Becker LuggageThe 45 litre panniers (Hepco and Becker Expedition Series) and a huge Hepco & Becker Exclusive 45 litre back box then appeared by courier. I must admit, looking back now, that the panniers were huge and I think I should have gone for the smaller 38 litre ones. As I was to find out, the more space you have, the more you fill it up. At the time however, it was too late after impetuous fingers had ordered them on the internet. The panniers were unlined when they arrived and the local camping shop gave up (for a price) two thin sleeping mats. Returning home, we had cut them up and impact glued them into place. I’ll never forget Cathy chasing them around the floor as she acted in the role of technical director for how not to ‘bodge’ the job. It is one of life’s little memories.

Nearly two years passed as everything came into place and the bike we had long named Bertha rolled out from the garage to begin her journey. Like everybody else, all we could do then was to keep our fingers crossed.

Bernard Smith