Make Do and Mend

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You're not a proper trail rider until you've had to bodge together an improvised fix to get get you home off the trails. It's one of the most exciting parts of the ride, pooling the collective engineering ingenuity of your riding group to save the day.

Not only is Southern TRF member Ian Talbot-Jones quite good at the improvised fix, he also teaches it as a profession. We caught up with him to find out how you ignite the trail riding spark in the next generation of riders.

TRF:

Hi Ian. I know it's the end of term so thank you for making a bit of time to chat. I imagine you are looking forward to some time off away from the kids! You are a teacher by trade, I wonder if that's influenced your approach to the films that you make, the fact that you are passing on your knowledge and experience to other riders who are looking to learn about adventure bike riding?

Ian:

The art of teaching is about keeping an audience’s attention and hopefully stimulating their minds to learn.

When surfing the Internet I’ve always been drawn to films with a dialogue or narration. My attention wanders quickest when watching unedited helmet cam footage and I find subtitles can distract from the moving video footage. Perhaps I simply enjoy being stimulated through both images and sound - video and audio?

Until my most recent video I was using only one very poor quality video camera with neither “High Definition” nor “Wide Screen” facilities. In addition, my ride footage and locations are of no special interest. Therefore if my videos were to attract an audience they needed to offer some information or present an opinion. My videos therefore have become loosely educational and without any conscious choice, they tend to mirror my day job.

TRF:

Having watched your films, I wasn't surprised to discover that you are a Design and Technology teacher. A lot of what you do on your bike is less about what you can buy and more about what you can make. How did you learn how to do all these modifications?

Ian:

When interviewing for a Teacher of Design, a standard question would be to ask for examples of products that illustrate good design.

When asked, I could offer the 1990, Philippe Starck, Juicy Salif, cirtic juicer or the Marc Newson, Lockheed Lounge, chaise longue also from 1990.

(HOMEWORK- Use the internet to research these two classic designer products – What material do they have in common? Make a list of this materials properties!!!)

Instead, at interview my example of “good design” has been the humble cable tie. Designed in 1958 by Thomas & Betts, or to be more precise, the later one-piece, nylon design of 1968.

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You're not a proper trail rider until you've had to rely on a cable tie to get you home

The cable tie is an extremely functional product used for numerous applications from routing electrical cable, through to restraining political hostages. It is extremely economical in both material use and manufacturing time, it requires no energy to use, has no maintenance issues, will function for decades and has remained unchanged for over half a century.

Clearly there is no “cable tie” motorcycle; perhaps if there were it would be a bicycle; but that is a different subject!!

I require a motorcycle that I can ride through Europe on the road loaded with camping kit, but also ride on the dirt trails from dawn to dusk, I have chosen to ride a Suzuki DRZ400S. It is a simple, basic, no nonsense design that still runs with a carburetor and manual fuel tap (petcock).

As can be seen in my Dual Sport Modification video I thoroughly enjoy fabricating some of my own motorbike accessories and components. Like many, I was brought up by “war baby” parents with a philosophy of self-sufficiency and “make do and mend”.

When a problem arises, my Product Design background and easy access to manufacturing facilities within the school workshop have made such fabrication tasks relatively easy to achieve.

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How many motorcycling stories will begin in this classroom?

My students also enjoy seeing real life examples of design & making and are genuinely interested in seeing the creation of items that have a real life purpose and will make my motorcycling life more enjoyable.

TRF:

Of course, the prepping is only one part of the story, it's the riding where the fun really begins. You are fairly new to the TRF. What attracted you and has your membership been what you had hoped for?

Ian:

Having purchased my DRZ in January 2015 I consider myself very new to off road motorcycling.

As a student in the 1980’s I had a Suzuki ER50 moped. After perhaps two trips into the local woods, it was found to be far too under-powered and was sold to a Hells Angel for his son.

I dreaded the first serious downpour, as it had a hole in the engine casing, which shorted the points and I was expecting a “visit” from the local Angels.

My next dirt bike was a Honda XL250, bought the day before a week’s trip to the West Country. I had nine points and was awaiting a court appearance, so had to restrict my speeding!

The XL had a dinner plate sized rear sprocket and revved out at about 60 mph. It was no match for a Kawasaki KH350, a Yamaha RD350 LC and an old Triumph Bonnie and spent its time in laybys cooling down.

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Yes, these classic collectable motorbikes were disposable student hacks in my day!

After retaining my driving license, the XL was turned into a feet first chopper with a 12 volt, Honda RS250 engine transplant.

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Next came a Yamaha XT600 and a trip to Turkey, crossing the Bosphorus River and reaching the Asian continent. But still no off road use - dual sport road tires and a wet campsite being scary enough on a luggage loaded XT 600 with my inexperience.

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No shirt, dungarees and a bum bag. That's one confident rider!

I knew I needed help and the TRF was the logical source of UK, trail riding knowledge and support.

I’d been aware of the TRF for some 30 years since I was a student, but always thought the TRF was full of old men. Perhaps the TRF membership has changed? Or perhaps I’m now one of those “old men”?

I joined the Southern TRF whose monthly meet is 5 miles from my home and the Wiltshire TRF as I work in Wiltshire. What an inclusive, welcoming and supportive group of enthusiasts!

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Proper bikes, proper attire, proper riding company with the TRF

Perhaps I asked the right questions? Perhaps I was sufficiently enthusiastic and hungry for information and knowledge? But what a great source of advice; I was offered detailed information on bike preparation, riding kit, maintenance/breakdown kit, mapping and suggested routes.

For every member who said riding alone off road in the Pyrenees was irresponsible, three members gave me real, significant and practical advice.

I need to recall my first TRF ride…. It was late January; having collected my DRZ by van I’d ridden the bike for under 20 miles and met the Southern TRF lads, for the first time, in a secluded layby on the A32. Being a teacher, thoughts of the advice I’d given countless times about meeting people who you’d met online rang in my mind.

Introductions made, pleasantries exchanged and polite comments given about my 2400 mile, showroom condition DRZ, my total lack of off road experience established and I was asked for my next of kin contact details. It was politely explained that I “would” fall off my bike during the ride and it was all part of the fun!

Suffice to say within 5 minutes we were descending a shady hill, looking left to a gap in the hedge which was to be my first off road experience. Thump – Crash - Slide – My first lesson learnt! If there is a possibility of black ice, don’t grab a handful of the front break. Broken leaver, bent footpeg and scratched plastics, would I really be able to ride the Pyrenees off road in seven months?

TRF:

Your films have a certain quality to them, they are fun and informative but don't feel too polished. Is this something that you have done on purpose?

Ian:

My videos have received numerous positive Youtube feedback comments for their unpolished down to earth quality; perhaps much like my motorcycle choice, preparation and riding gear.

This amateur style of video is not planned, but simply a product of my lack of knowledge, technical film making skill and low quality video equipment. I try to film on location during my trips; when traveling solo doing some filming help to remember the sights that you would relive with your travel partner over a drink some months later.

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Not a single child in sight. Proper 'me' time

Working as a teacher surrounded by people all day, there is very little “me” time.

The opportunities to hide behind a computer screen and daydream for 15 minutes are very few and far between. I therefore choose to travel alone. I enjoy the quiet time with my own thoughts, the total freedom to change my plans, the opportunity to meet new people, who would not approach a couple or group and the feeling of self reliance having to use your own initiative to solve a problem.

 

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