The End to End Run

In 1984 I did John O'Groats to Lands End on my bike. The following article was published in Superbike Magazine in the November 1984 issue. If you work in the law enforcement community, then you can assume that it is a work of fiction....


It all started after seeing a small column in the September SuperBike. Apparently Laverda RGS-mounted Tony Goulding had travelled from Land’s End to John O’Groats, a distance he measured as 930 miles (more later), in 11 hours 58 minutes (an average of over 77mph). Being a bit of a long distance, high-speed merchant myself (SuperBike published my letter recounting my 1130 mile trip from Venice to Huddersfield in one day), I decided that this was the sort of jaunt for me. What’s more, I decided that this was the sort of jaunt that SuperBike might be interested in too. A phone call later and it was all on.

The first problem was going to be petrol. My steed (a much loved and thrashed seven-month and 15000-mile old Kawasaki Z750 Turbo) has a meagre 3.5 gallon tank and under full throttle this equates to a range of only just over 90 miles. Considering some of the more remote parts of Scotland which I would be travelling through there was a real danger of running out of gas. So a two-gallon can was purchased and bungeed onto the pillion seat. Next I needed a route, so a couple of evenings were spent in with maps, tape measure and pocket calculator. The result was a schedule listing places and possible petrol stops, and the expected distance and time of arrival. The schedule assumed an eleven hour run.. That way I would break the record by a decent margin and also have a bit of time in hand if anything went wrong. The biggest surprise from looking at the maps was that motorways covered less than half the distance (only about 400 miles).

Thus armed I headed north with a couple of friends. The idea was that we would spend a couple of days touring round the Highlands and then I would do the run while in Scotland. First stop was Sharples Service Station in Bolton where a pair of Metzelers finest were fitted and some super-trick 5W50 Mobil Rally Formula oil replaced the usual black muck in the crankcases. While the front wheel was out we found that the brake pads had seen better days too. Steve of Sharples laid me a wager – he would sell me a set of pads at trade and if I broke the record he would tear up the cheque. What could a boy do? Incidentally, while the tyres were being fitted Steve showed us around their stock and boy have they got a lot of tyres, Steve reckons to have every Metzeler made in stock, so if you’re having problems getting tyres, give him a bell.

At Inverness I waved goodbye to my friends and covered the last 130 miles to John O’Groats alone. It was wet but by now I had resigned myself to doing some of the trip in the rain – it was, after all, late September. John O’Groats was cold, wet and deserted - the tourist season was over. I managed to find a bed and breakfast proprietor who was willing to get up at 5.30 am and then paid a brief visit to Dunnet Head, the most northerly point on the British mainland. Then it was a bite to eat, a last look at the map and an early night.

I woke at 5.30 am to my first big mistake. It was still dark. I had some breakfast, but realised that my intended time of departure of 6.00 a.m. would have to be delayed until 6.15. Many thanks to the proprietor of the Caber Feidh guest house for getting up so early and witnessing my time of departure. Out on the road I was feeling good. The roads were wet but the rain had stopped, and anyway the Scottish roads receive so little traffic they’re clean of oil, diesel and rubber. I found that I could go almost as fast as if it had been dry. Part of the reason for this was the ME33 Lazer front type which is by far the best wet weather tyre I’ve ever ridden on.

By my first petrol stop I was making good time, five minutes ahead of schedule. I was lucky to find a garage open just as my main tank started to run dry. By the time I got to Inverness I was ten minutes ahead of schedule and the A9 turned into a fast piece of dual carriageway. I wound the throttle open and kept the speedo between 100 and 120. A brief stop for petrol at Dalwhinnie and I was in Perth, 250 miles on the road in just over three hours – 35 minutes ahead of schedule. This was beginning to look good. Another petrol stop and then the M9 and M80 around Stirling. These were despatched quickly, but on the fast A80 dual carriageway to Glasgow the bike started to give its first protest. A weave which had first reared its ugly but mild head on the A9 started to need a firm grip on the bars and a blind faith in recent advances in Japanese frame technology. Past Glasgow and onto the A74 towards Carlisle the problem got no better. At the next petrol stop I was still 30 minutes ahead of schedule so I paused to check tyre pressures and consume a Mars bar. The pressures were OK but back on the road I soon realised that the weave was still there too. The A74 was particularly bedevilled by road works, necessitating some hooligan type overtaking manoeuvres. Carlisle and the M6 soon arrived and I tank slapped my way down the fast lane towards the next petrol stop. This could get dangerous I thought, eyeing the rapidly advancing armco. I still had time in hand at Killington services so I whipped off the side panel and checked the pressure in the Uni-trak. The pressure was OK but the shock felt hot to touch so I figured that 450 miles of hard use had overheated the damping fluid. This suspicion was backed up when I ran into some heavy rain soon after and the weaving eased off – the water must have cooled the shock down.

The motorway was pretty crowded and my passing light came in for some hard use. If anyone refused to move over I eventually gave up and just overtook on the inside. I had hoped to maintain a high average on the motorway, and I started to lose time as I passed through the industrial north. It was about here that I passed a couple of other big bikes in the rain – if the GPz900R and GS1000 pilots are reading this now they’ll know why the guy in yellow waterproofs on a turbo was in such a hurry.

More petrol at Sandbach and I came across my biggest worry – police. Fortunately they weren’t interested in me – the heavy rain had caused a few of our dozier citizens to develop lemming fever and drive into one another. Still, trying to follow a police Range Rover at 95 without being noticed ain’t much fun – fortunately he soon turned off. By the time I got to my next petrol stop at Strensham I had lost of lot of time and was now 10 minutes behind schedule. The M5 is only two lanes here which slowed me down still further – I wonder if overtaking on the hard shoulder constitutes dangerous driving? When the third lane started again the traffic cleared and I decided to make up some time. So it was 130 plus as much as possible. The petrol gauge started to plummet and then it lied to me by telling me I had half a gallon left while the bike went on to reserve. I pulled into Brent Knoll services only to realise that it was in fact a "rest only" service area. Thank God for the spare can. I topped up the two gallons from the can and pulled into the next services 20 miles down the road. More problems – the service staff were changing over and I had to wait for five minutes before the pumps were switched on. Only 30 miles to Exeter and then I was on the fast A38 to Plymouth. I knew I would make it now – I was ten minutes behind schedule but there were only 150 miles to go. I lost a bit of time in traffic in Plymouth, made my last petrol stop and then headed for the last 100 miles. The weather was good now and I carved through the Friday afternoon traffic with relish – this was more like it, motorways are OK for covering distance but pretty boring even at 140 mph. Checking my clock (in the fairing) I realised that I wasn’t going to beat 11 hours but I was going to get close. The Redruth bypass had been freshly resurfaced with grit but I got to Penzance 15 minutes behind my eleven hour schedule with ten miles to go. As long as I didn’t crash I couldn’t fail. I flew along the last stretch of A30, always one of my favourite roads, and almost arrived at Land’s End on my ear by leaving the braking just a touch late with the relief of having made it. I rushed up to a tourist getting into his car and persuaded him to sign his name to my arrival at 5.29 p.m. So there I was – 884 miles (by my tacho) in 11 hours, 14 minutes – an average speed of 78.7 mph and an average fuel consumption of around 29 mpg.