A ride to the Cotswolds
Updated: Oct 31, 2021
A fun but testing bike trip to the Cotswolds in winter. My first real road trip on two wheels.
In December 2019, my girlfriend and I decided to visit the Cotswolds for a pre-Christmas escape. Our destination was The Rectory, a beautiful and contemporary, relaxed country house in the heart of the Cotswolds.
To help give you an idea of what we were getting ourselves into on our trip, 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 Sixty2.
I know, 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. Instead, we had other ideas and would 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 on 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 essential 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 Julie wasn't quite as fortunate. 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."
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 that you secure in place 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 excellent 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 sits too high. IF I had gone for two larger bags, I would probably be riding with a burning fireball on the right side of the bike halfway into the journey.
The night before we left was freezing. I woke up the following morning to find ice had formed all over my bike. Julie started considering whether we should scrap the plan altogether 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 neatly arranged into the panniers and backpack for the next few days. 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 its 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 roads with some less extreme alternatives in-between. For this journey, we, of course, chose the windiest option. 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.
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.
"Although it was brutally cold, the rain forecast was wrong, and we actually had beautifully clear skies."
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 most 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 a church. You get the picture. There is a famous row of houses that 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 there with the sound of the Zard echoing off the walls. That bit probably did annoy them.
Once again, we were fortunate with the weather, and although it was frantically cold, 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 an American themed diner called Mollie's Motel and 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 mph 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 past 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 the journey on the Mutt was ridiculous. 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 COVID-19 cancelled all of these. 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.