Got an old British bike? Check. Read ‘Jupiter’s Travels’? Check. Must be time for an extraordinary adventure, then. Goat Maison’s Dominator took him halfway around the world…
What’s a Norton Dominator 77? They hardly ever mention them in the classic press. Try asking somebody and they’ll probably tell you that you’ve got it wrong and that it’s actually a 7 because there’s no such thing as a 77. Bollocks! This 77 was made in 1958 and has similar cycle wear to an ES2 of the same year with an engine that is the same as a Dominator 99. So it’s a swinging arm pre-featherbed 600 twin. You could say that it’s an honest gentleman’s bike with zero pretensions and a competent behaviour. It cost me £300 back in about 1980 and was a slightly sorry looking runner. It got me to work at the music shop in Harrow each day and at eighteen years old I was thankfully through the ‘falling off often’ stage. Earning just £28 a week, I paid for it in instalments.
Back at the sillier age of 17, I had read Ted Simon’s ‘Jupiter’s Travels’ and was mightily impressed. I was going to have a go at that, and my half-formed brain conjured up images of riding a chopper through India or Mexico with me as Clint Eastwood. As the brain evolved slightly, I became interested in ‘normal’ bikes and decided that the Norton would do the job of taking me around the world. With a new job at a recording studio in Wembley I achieved a massive hike in earnings and managed to pull in £50 a week plus overtime.
Somehow I managed to save several thousand pounds and rebuilt the bike for the task ahead. Iran was gripped by religious fervour, Afghanistan was full of Russians and ‘Midnight Express’ was a recent film. The Iranian embassy granted me a 10 day transit visa and I was ready to quit my job and hit the road.
May 1984: Five years of ‘planning and preparation’ and one Sunday morning at the ripe age of 22, I was ready to leave suburban Hatch End and head east on the new M25. I wasn’t sure exactly where the M25 was, but I found it. Somewhere near Potters Bar, I saw a ‘mod’ with a red scooter and his girlfriend who were broken down, so I stopped to help. When I got back on the Norton, the clutch wouldn’t pull in. Five years of ‘planning and preparation’ and I managed to get just ten miles down the road!
This is the point where the trip really started.
I spent the evening under a lamp post outside the Dover youth hostel as I didn’t have the right spanner for the job. I rode the next morning along the coast to Deal (for no particular reason) still clutchless and stopped at a bus repair garage to ask it they could lend me a socket.
They told me of an old man called Jewis Oliver (or something similar) who could help and that I could find him if I went ‘down this lane and into another and you’ll know it when you see it…’ I did, and knocked on the door to be directed to the shed by his wife. He had a prewar BSA on the bench and a back garden full of old cars.
The Norton’s clutch pushrod had gone soft and needed hardening at one end which he was glad to do. One hour later I was steaming out of Dover, watching the white cliffs disappear.
Through Europe I went, sleeping in the woods or at campsites, with a few minor adventures here and there. In Northern Yugoslavia (now called Slovenia) I had my first puncture. It was very hot and up in the mountains there were no facilities as such. Along came a farmer called Karol who had fought with the British in the Second World War. With his help we spent an hour or so (two attempts) fixing the hole, but I was too late to get to a bank and it was Friday. In Yugoslavia you could not even buy petrol without first buying petrol tokens. I had a hungry weekend in Yugoslavia. They cook pigs on spits that you can smell for miles and the hungrier you get the better they smell. I did manage to get by with some small amounts of currency and headed south.
Titograd is the most depressing of the old-style communist cities outside of Russia that I’ve ever seen, with its smoky cloak of dull grey concrete factories and its sinister looking policemen. The road headed inland through mountains and around lakes into a landscape that was truly exotic. A speeding Mercedes came around the corner and threw up a stone the size of a tennis ball. It missed my face (and dental equipment) by inches.
Inches are the distance we are from oblivion at any given moment, although we seldom realise it until things like this happen.
Kosovo looked very medieval and hour after hour I saw thousands of smiling peasants wearing bright multi-coloured clothes and head scarves in the fields who would stop working to wave to me as I went past. Now I know what royalty feels like. I was waving for a couple of hours and my arm went numb.
By the evening, I was in Greece.
Next installment: Goat travels from Greece to Turkey and then crosses an invisible line into a much wilder world…
Pictured above: Before or After?