Update on CBR125R … bicycles, panniers and wild camping

I can’t believe it’s so long since I last wrote here. I knew it was a fair while, but not best part of four months! I never said how the Honda CBR 125 turned out for me, or even whether I eventually took delivery of it.

Going back to the garage about the squeak!

Going back to the garage about the squeak!

I did, and to be honest it’s been a bit of a let down. I’m beginning to enjoy it in recent months, but only on fairly short runs, and there was a long time when I didn’t want to bother with it. While I was still waiting for it to arrive I began doing up my push-bike, and by the time it did I would have preferred not to have bought it at all.

It’s ok I suppose, but the main thing about it is that it’s not really for me. All my careful deliberation on the theory of what sort of bike I wanted was pretty well wasted time, mainly because I’m getting on a bit and am more susceptible to aches and pains, especially from chills in the breeze whilst riding in slightly awkward positions. I couldn’t take it for a test ride, of course, which might have flagged the problem up, but I soon found that the racing style – a relatively hard and narrow seat combined with low bars – meant that I was quite uncomfortable after only a few miles, both in the deriere and neck area.

The latter was certainly made worse by a cycle trip on my push-bike, carrying an insane amount of gear in four panniers, tail pack and handlebar bag, 35 miles up onto the North Yorkshire moors (via White Horse Hill, which took me about an hour to push the thing up!), and back the following day. It was my first cycle-camping trip since I was in my twenties, and I caused myself such dreadful pain in the neck that I phoned “her indoors” with about the last 12 miles to go and got her to pick me up in the car. Even so, my neck has been really bad since then. I have got to keep it warm if I go out on either machine now. I’m doing some remedial yoga to help keep it loosened up as the Autumn comes on.

Other things that got me down about the bike were that the rear tyre is more worn than I realised and the bike squeaks quite a bit as it rolls, noticable at low speeds. I rode it down to Castleford to ask for some advice, but they said that both were fine – loads of tread left and some bikes do squeak like that, but it’ll probably go off in time; it’ll be the brake pads just slightly touching the discs most likely… I’ve noticed that I can stop it sometimes by putting the rear brake on for a second, as though it’s that it doesn’t quite disengage sometimes, but I still feel that this must be a fault – I just haven’t had time to find out more about it yet.

In terms of the looks of the bike and my general ownership of it, things have changed now. It turns heads occasionally, and I do love the thing, but I also look at Van-vans and suchlike with envy and wonder what it’s like to pootle about on those sedate things with their soft, wide saddles and fat tyres and slightly more upright position.

A trip up to Pateley Moor

A trip up to Pateley Moor

The CBR is fairly nippy, but needs to keep buzzing at moderately high revs to have any kind of decent torque, which is another thing I dislike. I remember by old CB125 and how you could open it up with the engine barely more than ticking over and it would accelerate doggedly, sounding strangely powerful for a small bike. The CBR isn’t as whiney as my Suzuki GP100, but probably doesn’t quite pull as much of a punch either, as that was a 2-stroke. It will do about 60 comfortably under normal conditions, and I’ve had it up to nearly 70 (indicated, which is probably nearer 65 in truth) with a following wind and a downhill stretch.

It’s this racing style I wasn’t used to, and I decided on it partly for the experience – so if nothing else I can now say I’ve had one and don’t like them all that much. Chugging through traffic, it is harder work than other bikes I’ve had. Of course, I’m still not used to it yet, having only put about 400 miles on the clock so far, but I don’t feel balanced as I come to a stop and set off, either. People keep saying that it’s a great bike to do your test on, but I can’t see how. I need to do some more practice at low speed – I expected to get the hang of that much quicker, and still wouldn’t really say I’m confident I could do a 180 in the road without putting my feet down at some point. I got used to slow turns on the learner bike in a few minutes!

So I’ll probably get round to doing my test in coming months, maybe next Spring, and then find something very different for my “proper” bike.

Well, you've got to take one of those shots, haven't you?

Well, you've got to take one of those shots, haven't you?

On the other hand, I’m starting to feel rather attached to it in the meantime. I also have plans to make good use of it – oh, no, I’ll probably be naming her next! – as the colder weather comes on. I’ve done a couple of wild-camping trips on the pushbike over the summer, and hope to continue to do some more. However, while cycling in the cold isn’t too much of a problem, camping in the cold could mean taking a heavier-grade sleeping bag and more clothes, and the shorter days limits the distance I can go, particularly with my neck problem. I realised the other day that using the motorbike could solve both of those problems, allowing me to go further and carry more gear without strain.

Again, of course, the CBR isn’t the most sensible bike to put luggage on (and a bright orange one isn’t the best to do “stealth” camping on!), but I’m planning to make a frame that I can put the larger of my cycle panniers on. I’ve looked at a lot of motorcycle panniers online and in the shops that are “suitable” (sort of) for my bike, but I don’t think they’ll hold much compared to mine, and are short in the vertical direction, which is also a pain for the shopping trips. I realise this is to keep them above the up-swept exhaust, but I’m going to mount them higher (sacrificing the use of the pillion seat, of course), which should allow them to fit. I may put an extra metal plate above the can if necessary, too. The frame, which I intend to make from something like ply wood or strong plastic and attach vertically either side, will also allow fitting points for a tail pack. I can then buy, or fashion a rucksack into, a moderate-sized tank bag. If I need even more stuff, I could carry a small rucksack, but I don’t like riding that way.

But one of the little moments of realisation that came to me was that motorcycling in the winter I will need my thickly padded waterproof one-piece suit (one that is large enough to go over other warm clothing and afforded me the nickname “Michelin Man” in the sixth form), and that means that I’m already carrying about all the insulation I’m likely to need for the night. Embarrassing as it may be, I’m planning to get into my summer-grade sleeping bag with it on, or even dispense with the sleeping bag altogether.

Wild camping (or “stealth camping” if you will), particularly by pushbike, has been a bit of an obsession with me for a few years, but it’s taken me all that time to get organised, buy equipment, adapt my cycle and find suitable places to go. In recent weeks I’ve been prepared and finding places has been the limiting factor, other than the weather. The motorbike has been a great boon in that. I’ve been able to nip up to the North Yorkshire Moors or the Dales and quickly scout around in a tenth of the time it would take by pushbike, even without luggage.

Up on Pateley Moor

Up on Pateley Moor

Pretty, isn’t she? Name suggestions, anyone? Sorry about the state of the pics, by the way, but I left my camera at home and just used my phone.

Well, that’s about it for the CBR news. It’s still squeaking, but not quite as badly. I haven’t had any major problems so far. The other day, after overtaking, the gearbox seemed to slip between the gears for a moment and the engine ran wild until I closed the throttle and shifted again. I guess that’s all it could be, and it is something I’ve had happen several times on other bikes, so I’m not too seriously worried, but it’s something to keep an eye on. It’s something else for the guys at Castle Motorcycles to tell me is perfectly normal!

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2 Responses to Update on CBR125R … bicycles, panniers and wild camping

  1. Bruno says:

    After reading your search & aftermatch.
    I would have recomended a Bsa Bantam B175. or an honda XR200
    Looks good, low mpg, fun in the woods too, …

  2. lettersquash says:

    Cheers Bruno, thanks for posting. Unfortunately, I was limited to 125cc machines to do the UK bike test. You can learn on a bigger bike under a different scheme, but that’s not the way I wanted to do it.

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