A motorcycle parked in front of a tent on a pleasant green campsite

Home Travel StoriesThe Netherlands 2016


By Ren Withnell


So we're off. It's 1030 Thursday the 9th June and we have until Friday evening to travel from here in the north west all the way to Harwich, south east England. The morning is bright and sunny although the forecast involves some rain, gosh darn it. With trepidation and excitement in our hearts we make our way with ease through Cheshire, over The Cat and Fiddle Pass, through some light rain into Derbyshire and on towards Alfreton.

The Cat And Fiddle Pub between Buxton and Macclesfield. Presently closedEeeee...remember when it were open and we could get a brew?

The sun is hot in the sky once more when we're slowed on a road that is being resurfaced. Being a lesser road this is being coated with sticky bitumen and those blue-grey stone chips that so many bikers fear. "Tink tink ta-tink tink", the sticky chips rattle off my exhaust and engine. As we ride by the workers the tarmac is still fresh and hot and the number of sticky stones rattling their way through the front mudguard is astonishing! I've ridden through many such resurfacing jobs yet this one with the scorching midsummer sun seems particularly sticky. Take it easy Ren, take it easy.

With much relief we come off the slithering gravel and onto proper tarmac once more, just as we get into Alfreton. I think we have time to stop at Tesco to grab a drink and maybe a sandwich? With the remaining stones still clattering off the hugger I turn into the car park and check my mirrors to ensure Sharon is still behind. I see her drop her bike.

Blast! Silly girl, she's overloaded the 125 and can't handle the weight. She's been riding almost 3 years she should know better by now. I thought we were past all this nonsense. I put my bike on the stand and walk over, I needn't have bothered as a kindly selection of locals already have her back on her feet and the bike is almost upright once more. Thank you Alfretonians, thank you so much.

Oh no! Oh poop. Oh damn. Oh heck. Oh what in the name of Beelzebub am I supposed to do now?The front brake lever has snapped at the adjuster.

The Keeway brake lever with a red line showing where the lever has brokenThe lever broke where the red line is. This rendered it unusable.

Immediately I realise this is a game changer. I don't have a spare, neither does Sharon. I can't gaffer tape or super-glue the lever back together, it is a safety critical item that should never be bodged. It is incredibly unlikely there is a Keeway dealership in the area and even less likely they'll have a brake lever in stock. I have from now, mid afternoon on Thursday, until 2100 tomorrow to source a replacement brake lever, fit it and then ride the remaining 200 miles to Harwich. This is looking impossible from where I stand right now.

Sharon is shaken and upset. "You go on without me...I'll get the RAC to take me home...What the hell happened...I'm so so sorry...I'll be fine...just do the trip on your own..." and so on and so on. No Sharon, I'm not done yet. Anyhow I am trying to adopt a better and healthier mindset. Let me explain.


I've never been an easy traveller. Going any further than my local area does not sit easy with me as I am a natural worrier. What if the clutch cable breaks? What if I get a puncture? What if I get sick? What if there's a problem at home? What if there's a problem at work? You get the idea, if you're a worrier you'll understand. I envy those people who seem to be able to adopt a "we'll cross those bridges when we get to them" attitude.

Having had the pleasure of meeting quite a few real genuine bona-fide world travellers recently and hearing their stories and how they overcame their problems I am trying to rationalise my thinking and alter it to suit. I have of course been worrying about this trip to The Netherlands and I finally realised there are a million reasons why it could all go wrong. From the sublime simplicity of forgetting my passport right through to acts of terrorism on the ship, I must accept there are endless chances to spoil any undertaking.

Once I accepted the potential for problems my mind found it that bit easier to accept that I cannot control everything. Yes, do make sure the motorcycles are prepared, do make sure you have your passport and other paperwork, remember to take the tent, make a mental note that you did indeed turn off the gas and lock the front door. These things are within my control and are easily predicted and planned for. Beyond these things there is little I can do. 

If there is little I can do and if I am to undertake this trip I must accept the risks. Right now there is a risk we may not make it to the ferry on time. If we do not make it to the ferry on time then we will have wasted £280 worth of tickets and not be going to The Netherlands. However we both have over 2 weeks off work and it would be a shame to waste them. We could tour England, I already have a comprehensive list of places I would like to see and this could be an ideal opportunity to see them. That thought cheers me up but I am not defeated yet.

The Solution

Over a brew in Tesco's cafe the mood is subdued and Sharon is still in "you go on without me..." mode. I get online using my tablet and search for motorcycle shops. There is a custom shop nearby but they sell things for Harleys and big Jap cruisers, not 125 items. I call them and they do stock a couple of levers but they've never even heard of a Keeway let alone have parts.

Having owned two 400cc grey imports and several other less popular motorcycles one thing I do know is that many parts are interchangeable in some order. I also know Chinese motorcycle manufacturers don't reinvent the wheel, they simply copy it. As such I leave Sharon to her ruminations and hop onto my bike in search of the shop. I hold out very little hope but it is better than sitting around looking miserably at each other.

Custom Cruisers UK (http://customcruisers.co.uk) is a small place rammed full with bits of chromium bling for your easy rider cruiser. It's all "live to ride, ride to live" and tassels and embossed leather. Among the screens and saddlebags I find 4 or 5 brake and clutch lever sets. Hmmmmm. The Suzuki Marauder might fit but I'd need some washers to space out the pin...The Harley one is nothing like...nah, that won't do...oh...hang on. Let me see, the shape of the pivot end is a close match...the thickness of the pivot mount looks OK...the pivot pin hole looks the same...I...well...perhaps... Hang on it's a Kawasaki VN750 lever! 

After much ummming and eerrrrring I decide this is my best shot. At £25 for the pair it's more than I want to pay but they have it, I need it, so pay I must. Oh lordy, have I just wasted £25 on some shiny levers that won't fit? If so my next shot is Clay Cross Motorcycles and that's a few miles away. I hope to god it fits. Outside I talk to a chap on a Harley and tell him our tale of woe. He wishes me well as I set off back to Tesco and the despondent Sharon.

IT FITS!! It pops right in there and works just fine. Who'da thought that a Kawasaki 750cc cruiser shares the same brake lever mounting configuration as a cheap Chinese 125? OK so it is shiny and fat unlike the black sleek original but it fits and it works. We are back in business and we are in the game once more. As we load up the Harley rider I talked with at the shop arrives at Tesco. Lenny has come along to offer help, we don't need it now but how delightful is that! Imagine - if the new lever hadn't fitted a local biker like Lenny could have guided me to other local shops, maybe helped with tools or even just made us a brew at his place. We thank him, his offer is one of genuine warmth and kindness.

The shiny replacement lever. It's silver, fatter and wider but it works
Just needs some leather tassels on that bright chrome lever sweety.
Lenny the Harley rider in AlfretonLenny - if you know this man please pass on our eternal gratitude. Many many many thanks.

Sharon, while moping around waiting for me, has come to the conclusion the fall was due to the remaining stones still stuck to her new tyres. Is this possible? We covered perhaps a quarter mile maybe more on good clean tarmac before the spill outside Tesco. Looking at her tyre I can see quite clearly she is right. There are still many stones left both in the grooves and on the tread faces. As soon as she leant the bike off the upright position and asked the tyres to take a lateral grip the stones rolled, acting as marbles across the smooth tarmac and leaving her sliding rather than turning. 

the stones still stuck to Sharon's tyre even after the spillThese are the stone chips still on the tyre AFTER the crash and riding on good tarmac. 

The Rest Of The Day

Sharon is riding a lot more cautiously now, it's a little frustrating but totally understandable. She's had her two-wheeled world turned upside-down, felt as though she'd ruined the whole trip, broken her pride and joy and had to face the indignity of going home on a RAC truck. Fair play to her though, she's back on the road, back in amongst the traffic and we are still rolling, it's not over yet.

By the time we reach our destination for the night she's settled down and is back up to speed. The Anglia Motel provides us with a bite to eat, a patch of grass to camp on and some very light rain. It has been a hell of a day with many emotions both good and bad. I feel pleased with myself for 2 reasons. Firstly because I managed to find a brake lever, but hey that's just luck not skill. Secondly because I didn't fall apart, throw in the towel, spit my dummy out or go into a blind panic. Even if I hadn't found a lever right away and had to give up getting to The Netherlands we would work something out and spend the next 2 weeks looking around England. 

The most important thing is that we are both alive and both healthy.

Prologue - The Netherlands 2016 Why are we going Dutch? What's that peculiar box on Ren's bike? Why are we taking our 125cc motorcycles? Is there even a plan? Find out more...
Disaster The first day of our trip is not the start we would hope for. Yet with some luck and the desire to improve his mindset Ren manages to keep a calm and positive outlook.
Crashing Out To The Netherlands This is Sharon's take on the first day of The Netherland's trip. Oh the best laid plans of mice and women.
No News Is Good News It's an ordinary day of ordinary travelling for our dynamic duo. Sometimes a lack of excitement can be a good thing doncha know.
Helter Skelter Sharon covers the second day of the trip to The Netherlands. She moves from discomfort and bruises through nervous and fear to luxury and comfort. All in one day!
Hades - I Mean Amsterdam Ah The Netherlands, fields of flowers, windmills, tranquil canals and leisurely cyclists. Or is this what the tourist office would have you believe?
Crying In The Rain And Laughing Gonkeys Sharon's first time motorcycling on foreign tarmac is a baptism of fire. What on earth is a laughing gonkey anyhow?
We Are Tourist So what is Ren's take on the popular city of Amsterdam? Will he survive the bicycles? Is he a wild traveller or just a tourist?
The Lost Experience Once again Ren's expectations get the better of him. Once again Ren gets completely lost. Once again the rain is coming down. Is there any hope at all? Actually it's not all bad.
Smiles In The Rain The friendly Dutch folk mean that a rain filled day can still be a worthwhile day.
Bicycling De Hoge Veluwe Will today be a tortuous day stuck in the tent waiting for the rain to stop? For the sake of Ren's mental health let's hope there's some good weather.
Urk? Is That The Sun? A break in the weather brings a positive feel to the day along with pleasant places, friendly faces and new acquaintances.
A Big Dyke With Edam What is the Afsluitdijk for? Why would you name a town after a cheese? All these questions will not be answered by reading this.
Edam, Marken, Tourists and Symmetry Ren and Sharon visit a town named after a cheese. Why would you name a town after a cheese? Weird folks these Dutch.
Curious Distelloo Sunshine, philosophy and an alternative kind of campsite.
Drowning In Zierikzee Philosophy, friendly people, terrible rain and salvation all in one day! Not bad really for pair of wastrels on 125s.
Exploring Zeeland We're chilling out and exploring Zeeland 2-up on a 125. Is this the Dutch Riviera?
A Short Hop To Oostkapelle How do you get lost in 15 miles on a route you already know? How do you upset a German camper? How do you do all this and remain content in yourself? It's called getting old.
Dodgy Dutch Drivers Their last full day in The Netherlands sums up the whole Dutch experience. "The nicest bad drivers you'll ever meet".
Going Home-ish It's time to leave The Netherlands and return to good 'ole Blighty. There's some shocking news that might change things for the future though.
So, What About The Netherlands? After 2 weeks of riding around The Netherlands on 125s what does Ren think of the country now?

Reader's Comments

Tony said :-
Thank heavens it was only a brake lever, those low speed spills can be the worst. I'm thinking sprained wrist or twisted ankle, generally something that swells in the glove or boot and makes riding really painful or impossible. That part was luck. As far as sorting a replacement sounds to me like you took control of the situation and sorted it. I'd like to think most of would have stopped and offered assistance, his name just happened to be Lenny on that day so 10 out of 10.
Excellent post, keep it coming.
28/06/2016 03:52:20 UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
You're so right Tony. One thing I tried to express to Sharon at the time is no matter what happens regarding the trip the biggest single priority is that we are both alive. She did have a most impressive bruise on her leg and a few pulled muscles but as you say she could have easily sprained an ankle or broken a bone.

Luck is a peculiar thing. Looking back now we were lucky in that it could have been a total disaster, but when you're in that moment you certainly do not feel lucky. When I had my big crash some 14 years ago now so so many people told me I was lucky to be alive. I can see that now but back then when I was unsure whether I'd even walk again let alone ride a motorcycle I did not feel lucky.
28/06/2016 04:40:36 UTC
Ian Soady said :-
Glad to hear it was no worse and well done to both of you for fixing and carrying on. I know that feeling of trepidation well, and also how a fairly minor incident can come close to destroying a whole trip.

Speaking of gravel, the only time I've ended up in hospital due to a bike incident was coming off my Commando many years ago on fresh stuff such as you describe. I was carefully rounding a blind corner of a very minor road (Icknield Street) only to come across a car reversing. A handful of front brake saw me underneath the Norton, and foolishly I wasn't wearing boots. I felt OK apart from a huge scrape on my ankle and a bent footrest so made it back home OK.

A few days later I woke in the early hours of the morning with an excruciating pain in my chest and with every breath it felt like daggers going into my lungs. Fortunately an ambulance arrived very promptly and whisked me off to A&E where it transpired that the scrape on my ankle had caused a blood clot which travelled to my lung and caused an embolism. Could have been very bad......

A much later experience was in France where they tend to use the stuff very liberally. I was nervously tiptoeing along a D road on the Tiger at about 30 mph when a young girl on a scooter came hurtling past, helmet on the back of her head and sleeves flapping in the slipstream. Talk about feeling inadequate......
29/06/2016 11:05:53 UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
There but for the grace of God Ian. A blood clot from what at the time probably felt like a rather minor crash. It makes me want to wrap up in cotton wool and tell the nasty world to go away. We are vulnerable creatures.

I know the feeling of inadequacy too. While I gingerly teeter through the oil and diesel soaked roundabouts on my way to work it's not uncommon to be passed by youths for whom the laws of physics seem to not apply. I reassure myself that they too will discover the hard why as I did when I was young.

Living is inherently dangerous, all we are doing is procrastinating the inevitable outcome. I guess the best we can do is enjoy life as much as we can before Mr Grim catches up.
29/06/2016 01:35:36 UTC

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