Cotswolds Trip - December 2019
A fun, but testing, bike trip to the Cotswolds in winter. My first real road trip on 2 wheels.
The halfway point on the 4 hour backroad route
Outside The Rectory Hotel in Crudwell
In November 2019, my girlfriend and I planned to travel to the Cotswolds in December for a pre-Christmas escape. Our destination was The Rectory, a beautiful and contemporary, relaxed country house in the heart of the Cotswolds. Now, to help give you an idea of what we were getting ourselves into, the weather forecast said it would be -1 degrees celsius and very wet. I’ll forgive you for thinking we would be travelling in the comfort of a car because we actually agreed we would take the Scrambler.
Yes, we must be mad.
If you take the motorways and A-roads, the journey isn’t that bad and would take just over an hour. We had other ideas though and would instead be taking the B-roads resulting in a long winding journey totalling 4 hours.
By that point, I had had the scrambler for a good seven months and used it for the daily commute into London and weekend rides. The regular journey from my home in Bromley to Julie's house in Sunningdale, which involved the M25, was probably the longest ride I had to do up to that point; the journey ahead was definitely going to be a shock.
I had started to grow my wardrobe of motorbike gear but was still missing key items; Julie was even worse prepared. To give you some idea, I only had summer gloves, as did Julie, but I was fortunate enough to have heated grips. As for jackets, neither of our coats had thermal inner layers. From the photos, you can see that I was wearing my Barbour coat and it was great in the rain but offered zero in the way of warmth.
As it wasn’t a motorcycle jacket, I had to wear my Knox Urbane Pro for armour. Layered alongside a thermal base layer, a thick long sleeve shirt, a jumper and a thicker jumper, I could have quite easily have been mistaken for the Michelin man. Amazingly, it did the job, but the same couldn’t be said for Julie. Although she wore lots of layers on both her bottom and the top half, she had her arms around me, which meant her hands were taking the brunt of the cold icy winds. We’ve all been there and know that cold hands lead to you feeling cold all over.
Once I filtered my search to accommodate this need, everything pointed to Malle London.
The Malle Pannier bags on the motorbike
Other than the motorbike gear, there were other hurdles we had to overcome, such as baggage space. It had never been an issue for me before as I usually relied on a backpack, but for two people going away for a few nights, it wouldn’t do. Surprisingly, many brands offer panniers for the Ducati Scrambler, but the one thing they all had in common was the need to attach the supports to the bike’s frame. Sure, you could remove them again with the right tools, but it was a nuisance. Once I filtered my search to accommodate this need, everything pointed to Malle London.
The beauty of their design is the panniers attach to a module which is secured under your seat. This means when you’re not using the panniers, all you do is remove the seat, and the module slips off. Within seconds you can revert your bike to its original look which is great when you want to take a few unscheduled snaps en-route.
Instead of having two of their large Moto-panniers, I opted for one and chose their hybrid tank/tail/pannier as a second bag. The main reason for this is because the Zard exhaust on my bikes right side is too high. Had I gone for two of the larger bags, I would probably be riding with a burning fireball halfway into the journey.
The night before we left was ridiculously cold. I woke up the following morning to find ice had formed all over my bike. Julie started considering whether we should scrap the plan all-together and take her car, but I got her to see the fun side. I won’t deny that I knew we were in for an adventure. We began our journey with all our belongings for the next few days neatly arranged into the panniers and backpack. Rather than Google Maps, we were using an app called BikeNav to direct us. Not too long before our trip, the Bike Shed gifted a year’s subscription for the app to all their members. The timing was spot on!
The app allowed you to choose whether you wanted to travel to your destination in the fastest, most direct route, or if you prefer the winding scenic route with some less extreme alternatives in-between. For this journey, we, of course, chose the windiest route. More about that later.
Five minutes into the journey, my handlebar indicator dislodged and started flying around the place; not ideal. We found a hardware store and bought some brown (they didn’t have black) duct tape and made the necessary repairs. Since this trip and reading other people’s stories, I advise carrying cable ties and duct-tape as you never know when your bike will throw a tantrum, or when parts will randomly fall off.
Although it was brutally cold, the rain forecast was wrong, and we actually had beautifully clear skies.
We made a few stops here and there to change GoPro batteries, stretch the legs and warm our gloves up on the engine before continuing.
The Rectory Hotel, Crudwell
By the time we arrived at the Rectory, it was pitch black. Julie’s priority was to run a hot bath, whereas I made course straight for the bar and ordered myself a gin martini. With the majority of people in their dinner attire, I certainly looked out of place in my motorbike gear, helmet in hand, but needs must. I, eventually, climbed the stairs to our room and passed out for 30-minutes.
After a delightful stay with copious amounts of alcohol and country walks, we had to be out of the hotel by 10 am. We figured we would go back a different way than we came, and wanted to make a couple of stops along the way, most notably Bibury.
Now Bibury is one of those villages that wouldn’t look out of place on a Lord of the Rings Shire set. Beautiful stone houses covered in moss, a slow tranquil river flowing nearby, narrow lanes, a little pub and church. You get the picture. There is a famous row of houses that pretty much dominate all the photos you see on the internet. I was no different, I wanted a shot of them. To mix things up, I wanted my Ducati to feature so I did something very naughty and rolled it across the stone bridge whilst Julie snapped away on her camera. I got a lot of interesting looks, but no one interfered and told me to do one. 5-mins later, we were on our way and we left their with the sound of the Zard echoing off the walls. That bit probably annoyed them.
Once again, we were fortunate with the weather, and although it was baltic, we weren’t wet. As the Sixty2 is a ’16 model, the fuel gauge hadn’t yet been introduced (in fact come to think of it I feel it’s only the 803 and 1100 that have fuel gauges now). The tank holds 14 litres which equates to around 140 miles on a good day. I knew we were nearing the limit where the fuel light springs to life, so we kept our eyes peeled for a petrol station. We saw a sign for petrol and food and imagined it would be a Little Chef or similar, but our jaws nearly hit the floor when we saw it was an American themed diner. Both Julie and I are vegan, so we didn't get our hopes up. Julie jumped off to check the menu and left me to park and grab the panniers. When I turned around, she was jumping like a crazy person. They had vegan burgers and hot dogs, among other plates of heavenly food. We went in, ordered as much as we could and a few vats of coffee alongside to warm our bones. It was exactly what we needed.
The remainder of the journey was a pure delight as we travelled back with warm and full bellies.
I was genuinely blown away by how well the Scrambler performed throughout the entire journey. Sure, we weren’t gunning it at 70/80 mph on motorways and were instead keeping it around 50 on the back roads, but it didn’t show weakness at any time. We adjusted the mono-shock before we left to accommodate the extra weight as we knew the roads weren’t going to be smooth. There were times when we needed to get passed cyclists and tractors, and the power was there exactly when I needed it. Drop it down a gear, and off we went. The thought of making a journey like this on a Mutt, more specifically my Mutt, is out of the question. I lost count of the number of hills we had to ascend, and the Sixty2 with its 34 Nm of torque at 8,000 rpm ate them for breakfast. There’s a shallow hill up the road from where I live, and the Mutt had trouble getting up that so had we taken it on this journey, we would have been pushing most of the way.
I had lots of solo trips planned for 2020, along with a couple of two-up trips with Julie, but due to COVID-19 all of these were put on ice. Here's hoping 2021 will be considerably better so I can get out there and share all these amazing adventures with you.
Thanks for reading.