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Steeple Bumpstead and how to tour Europe by motorcycle

23 March 2013

England has many strangely named villages, Giggleswick, Updown, Each End, Cow Roast, Crackpot, Netherthong, Nobottom, Dull andTwatt, just to name a tiny few. Steeple Bumpstead is just another, but it is significant because it is where we purchased a motorcycle to tour around Europe. As a foreigner this is a slightly tricky exercise to get set up, but once you do, you are on your way. So how did we do it?....read on


What is Steeple Bumpstead and what is has to do with motorcycling? A few years back my wife and I decided it might be good to travel around Europe by motorcycle. This sounded like a fairly simple task, but if you don’t live in Europe how do you get hold of a motorcycle at a reasonable price? Renting is rather expensive, much more so than a motorcar, so hiring for more than a few days is not very attractive. We thus came up with the idea of buying a used motorcycle in the UK, travelling around for 3 months and then selling it. Sounds simple enough! We did eventually work out how it can be done, and it’s not too much hassle if you know the ropes.

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We purchased the bike privately from an owner in a place called Steeple Bumpstead (Essex), a rather curious name!


The prices of bikes in the UK can be readily found on the internet, but but be aware that many have already been sold, some even 12 months earlier, with the advertisements just not taken off the web! I resorted to a print version of Motorcycle Trader and just two days after arriving in the UK, found a seven year old Honda Deauville with only 12,000 miles on the clock.

Advice on what to look out for regarding statutory requirements and dubious ownership can be found at https://www.gov.uk/checks-whe n-buying-a-used-car. It is best to get a bike that is already registered and has an MOT (Ministry of Transport roadworthy certificate). The bike must have an MOT before it can be ridden. Some bikes might have a SORN (Statutory off Road Notice) which means it is currently not taxed for riding and thus may require an MOT before it can be registered for riding.


If you ask the UK DVLA (Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency) about the process of purchasing a vehicle as a foreigner you will get a complicated response referring to various forms that might need to be filled out. But really all you need to register a vehicle is a UK address that you can use. We opted to register the bike in someone else’s name and address, even though they didn’t have a motorcycle license. The transfer itself is simple, just a matter of visiting a local DVLA office with the registration/transfer papers signed by the previous owner. If you purchase a bike with MOT and a tax long enough for your journey you are 3/4 of the way there. If you purchase a bike without MOT and tax it becomes very difficult.


The key thing to be able to sort out is Insurance! In the UK a vehicle cannot be registered (taxed) without insurance. The only problem is it is impossible for foreigners to get insurance in the UK, so while you can purchase a bike you will be unable to get the statutory insurance and therefore ride it!! It’s crazy but true! So you need to get someone else to tax and insure the bike, then your good to go in the UK. Before you can ride in Europe you must have public liability insurance. The only places I could find that provides this service are Stefan Knopf (http://www.knopftours.com/Web-Site/Hello.html) in Germany and Motorcycle Express (www.motorcycleexpress.com) in the USA. Both are able to provide Greencard insurance to ride throughout the EU, excepting for the country in which the bike you are riding is registered. If you would like to know any more about setting this up send me a message via the Meet Murray page.


What to pack? As little as possible is the answer. The less weight the less trouble you will have. It’ll be easier to park, use less fuel, be less likely to break, and be easier to pick up when it falls over if it is lighter. It’ll also be easier to carry your luggage up all those stairs, and easier to find what you actually need. We were on the road for 3 months and had one small pannier each for personal gear. Aside from the Draggin jeans, long sleeved T-shirt and MotoDry touring jacket I would be wearing, and wet weather overtrousers, I took

  • one pair of jeans
  • two long sleeved thermal T shirts
  • two long thermal bottoms
  • one lightweight long sleeved shirt
  • one pair of lightweight trousers with zip off legs
  • two spare pairs undies, three pairs socks (a woollen pair were excellent)
  • lightweight rain jacket
  • polar fleece
  • sandshoes
  • travel towel (one between two)
  • toiletries
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Other than my riding clothes, this is all of my other clothes and possessions for 3 months


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Catching the train through the Eurotunnel is easy and a quick way to get to the continent from the UK


The whole lot fitted into a supermarket shopping bag which went into the modest size pannier. My Rossi Roadster boots were absolutely brilliant, and the only things that proved to be truly waterproof and surprisingly comfortable for walking. It all worked well, if I did the trip again I would pack the same, except drop one pair of the long johns and try and squeeze in a summer riding jacket if I could, as our touring jackets got too hot on a few days.


Just to check that all our gear would work OK and to ensure there were no problems with the bike or us, we did a short shake down trip of three days in the UK before we headed across to the continent. It turned into a very pleasant surprise, the rural UK roads are awesome for riding.


The channel tunnel train from Folkestone (UK) to Calais (France) is a quick and cheap way of getting your bike over to the continent. It takes about 30 minutes, you stay with your bike, and just ride straight on and off the train and you’re on your way! Book beforehand during busy times of the year. Our additional riding kit (spare gloves, extra layer for warmth and rainproof overtrousers) were kept in the topbox, along with a map of Europe, a cup, knife, fork, spoon and one plate, plus today's lunch (typically cheese, salami, tomatoes (bought fresh daily) and some form of bread). We focused on keeping the topbox relatively light, and again the less you have packed in the easier it is to find stuff and to repack it.

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My "GPS", a few waypoints to keep us on track courtesy of some tape and a marker pen.


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Ferries are a good way to cut across regions or just to island hop.


We went to Europe from April to the end of June, before the peak season. This had the advantages of it being relatively easy to find accommodation as we went, rooms were cheaper, restaurants were not too crowded so we got great service, and the roads were all pretty quiet. On the downside it meant that it would be cold, wet, snowy or icy in the mountains for the first two months. Thus we generally avoided mountains for the first two months, and indeed we headed to southern Italy and Croatia until the end of May and only then up into the Austrian Alps.

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We tried to avoid the mountains in April but one or two of the passes still had ice on the road. Not ideal riding conditions!


Ferry crossings are also available between countries, and within countries and these were generally easy to use. Being outside of peak season tickets were cheaper and berths readily available. Picking up a ticket on the day seemed to be easier than trying to book ahead during this time. The Aferry website is quite a good source of information on possible ferry crossings.

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We had a brilliant time with no dramas. We fell off once in first gear going through a mud hole on a short cut behind a hospital, but didn’t need the hospital or any bike repairs.


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We met other riders along the way who were always very hospitable and led us on great local rides. And we enjoyed some awesome roads and scenery throughout the 13 countries we visited.


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Minefields, not straying too far from the edge of the road in Bosnia!


We sold the bike for £400 less than we paid for it, a tiny cost considering we did 15,000 km in the 3 months. It was so good we’re doing it all again, this time we’ve picked up a Triumph Sprint. So if you’ve ever dreamed of touring Europe by motorcycle, but you don’t live there, it is not that difficult to set up.

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