There’s no doubt about it, winter has us firmly in its icy grip. Whether it be the cold, dark, rain, snow, or fog – most of us will be making our excuses and riding less than we otherwise would, or not at all. It is the time of year for planning adventures, and preparing our bikes for the arrival of spring. However, not all of us are the type to hibernate. There are those amongst us who battle on right through the year. There are even some who search out the snow and claim it as their own. The natural habitat of these legendary few is wide and varied: some seek out the wild places, hiding amongst the countryside hedgerows; some heed the call of the mountains; whilst others are to be found on the inside lane of the motorway, braced stoically against lashing rain at 45mph.
Wherever they roam these titans deserve our respect, none more so than Rob Claire from the ‘Great Fun on Small Bikes’ Facebook group. A man who needs only a tiny bike and a cheap tent to shrug off the worst our winter can throw at him. Having seen just a small sample of Rob’s adventures, we thought we’d better catch up with the man himself.
Hi Rob! Please tell us a little about yourself.
Hi! My name is Robin, I’m 36, and I’ve been riding bikes since I was 8 years old. I’m actually the third generation of my family to ride bikes. My dad is even still riding at 82. My first bike was a Yamaha TY80 trials bike, and my first road legal bike was a Honda C50.
What bikes do you own and ride?
I have a 1975 BMW R80 that was my main mode of transport for five years, a 1974 Honda C70 (with a 12v C90 engine) which I’ve modified for touring, a 1962 Honda C200, a 1975 MZ es250 Trophy, two MZ etz125’s, and a Honda Varadero 125. I’ve owned over two hundred bikes so far. I have a particular passion for small Hondas, and I’ve had more than fifty cubs! I do all my own maintenance and I much prefer the used (some say worn out) look.
What is it that draws you to small bikes?
I love the fact that you don’t need to be riding at 90mph to scare yourself, and the challenge of doing big miles on something that was designed for popping to the shops. Their manoeuverability on and off road is great, and travelling at a slower pace means taking in more of the details as you ride. Smaller bikes are cheaper too. Personally I wouldn’t pay more than £800 for a bike even if it were perfect. Spare parts are cheap, and filling both of the tanks fitted to my C70 only costs £8. The small bike scene seems particularly open minded and welcoming. There’s really no ego and nothing to prove on a small bike.
What has been your best moment on a small bike?
That’s hard to choose! I did the 1100 miles of JOGLE (John O’ Groats to Lands End) on a 50cc bike in seven days, along with sixty other 50cc bikes. I did 800 miles in four days as part of the 2018 Dragon Rally on the Honda C70, including 320 miles of motorway riding from Kent to North Wales – the look on the faces of all the GS riders when the C50 made it to the top of ‘The Struggle’ in the Lake District was priceless.
If you could own any small bike, what would it be?
I’d really love another 4 speed Simson S51 and some of the more obscure Eastern Block mopeds. I’ve also been lusting after a winged wheel motor to fit on to one of my vintage bicycles. I could go on! It’s a disease isn’t it…?
What’s your favourite piece of riding gear?
That has to be my Aldi thermals. They’ve seen me through eight winters now! I buy most of my gear second hand or from the army surplus stores. They’re particularly good for boots and oil. I use lots of oil!
Do you have any favourite riding routes?
Some of my favourite roads are around the Hoo Peninsula in Kent, and the road to Mallaig if you’re catching the ferry to Skye.
I took a special trip in February of 2018 in memory of my friend Steve, and to raise money for St. Christopher’s Hospice who cared for him during his battle with cancer. Steve had planned the route himself but sadly never made the trip. The route took in some of the best little roads in North Wales from Bala Lake and over the mountains to the Hirnant Pass. The scenery and the snow were spectacular and we managed to raise over £650 for the hospice. That was a really special trip.
Finally, do you have any advice or tips for other small bike riders?
You really have to own the road and avoid staying to the left, and don’t be scared of motorways either. I actually find them safer than busy single carriageways, as there are safer overtaking options for everybody else. Also,
a TTO cylinder head temperature gauge is the best addition I’ve been advised to make. It really helps you to know what’s going on with your engine.
If you enjoy riding smaller bikes, or simply want to join in on all the action from the comfort of your sofa – join the ‘Great Fun on Small Bikes’ group on Facebook or subscribe and follow us on Youtube for regular video updates. All are welcome.
Credit – John Hanson.