Tyres. Good tyres are a beautiful thing. I dream of soft compounds, of steep contours, of jagged knobs that tear at the ground. And when I have good ones, I protect them fiercely. Back when I’d switched to knobbies on the 690 to ride Laos and Cambodia, you’d find me at the beginning of every stretch of bitumen airing up the tyres with a bicycle pump to make them last that little bit longer. At the beginning of every stretch of dirt, I’d be sweating inside my goggles as I let them down with one fingernail.

Love thy tyres.

Anyway, it is in the name of hard enduro that I found myself doing something which I never do – riding a scooter. Yes, I know that scooters are the work horses of Asia but no, I have never been able to trust them. Those tiny wheels? Those little brakes? No clutch? Every fibre in my being protests. But in the name of tyres – ah, the things we do.

* * *

It all started with a KLX230, a CRF450RL and hard enduro. Now, rumour has it that these are not hard enduro bikes, but it would seem that we simply cannot help ourselves. My friends and I are like delinquent children. While the Gas-Gas EC300s wait and wait for new Nikasil coatings, it seems that we are somehow incapable of staying on the easy path. And so it happened that we were riding through the forest outside Pai when we came to an intersection in the single track. My friend looked at the detour and said, ‘I think I’ve been here before…’ The new path went straight up the mountain and I, not helping at all, suggested that ‘it might be fun’.

Anyway, that’s how we ended up spending an hour and a half zigzagging tortuously up a stupidly steep hill, one far too steep to ride straight up. It was a constant exercise in controlling bikes that wanted to nothing more than backflip and throw themselves back down the mountain. It was hard. And my goodness, it was fun.

As we gasped for air in the dry heat, my friend clarified his memories further: yes, he’d definitely been here, with his hard enduro friends, riding the Gas Gas two stroke, and even then he’d fallen down many times. I watched him wrestling the CRF450RL up the mountain – big and tall and heavy – and envied him not all. Sure, my KLX230 is small and cheap, but today the emphasis was on the small not the cheap.

We made it up the hill and I was pretty stoked with myself. What I’d done today, I couldn’t have done a year ago. My riding is improving, little by little.

I was basking in the reflection of this private glory when my friend on CRF450RL made it to the top of the hill and told me that we’d better abort mission and coast all the way back down again: his clutch had started to slip.

So abort mission we did. We rolled back down to Pai. My friend had a truck to rescue the bikes, but it was 60km away by road. My bike was completely fine, and theoretically I could have ridden it to fetch the truck, but… I have Michelin Enduro Medium tyres. Do you know how much they cost?? Do you know how much easier they make my life on the side of a mountain? These tyres are to be cherished and babied.

And that’s how I ended up on $10 rental scooter, kitted out in full enduro gear, riding the Mae Hong Son loop all the way to Tam Lod.

I am happy to report that all bikes were rescued, all scooters returned to where they came from, and everyone lived happily ever after. Well, everyone and everything except for the clutch on the 450RL, which I feel kind of bad about: it is my well founded suspicion that using this bike to tow the KLX230 out of the mountains a couple of weeks ago was instrumental in that clutch’s untimely demising. Sorry bike.

* * *

The sensation of doing stupid things on motorcycles with friends and backup available still feels revelatory to me. For so long, I traveled alone and could rely only on myself. That means a constant niggling in the back of your mind – like a rat chewing quietly at the edge of your confidence – which always reminds you: be careful or you might get stuck and die.

I still love traveling alone, but it stopped me from improving my off-road riding. It kept me imprisoned within my pre-existing skill zone, a place where I felt confident enough to manage risks alone. Now, with backup – and with people who can teach me – what was once impossible is coming within my reach. When I get back on the road with my KTM, traversing country after country, my zone of exploration will have expanded further into the backwoods, into the remote villages, into beautiful places I could not have reached before. I can’t wait.

9 thoughts on “For the love of tyres

  1. Jay Coffman says:

    Great story as always. Your analysis of riding alone as opposed to riding with friends made me think. The vast majority of my riding has been alone. It’s a bit strange because I’m pretty much outgoing and love being around others but riding I like to have complete control over where I go and when. But I do realize that I have not progressed with my riding skills because I do not push it when I’m alone and far away from any help. That’s probably OK but it doesn’t help me improve. Got to think on that more. Glad you’re getting both alone and with others so you can push yourself (and sometimes learn from their mistakes rather than just yours.

    1. BikeHedonia says:

      It can be difficult to find people that you really mesh with as riding companions, for sure. I also like to be in control of what I’m doing – I’ll accept a challenge but at the same time don’t like being pushed too far beyond. That just leads to anxiety and when I’m anxious, I can’t ride to save my life haha. So it’s a tricky thing trying to find people who can teach you, support you and promote your learning without creating counterproductive pressure. Sabai sabai.

      1. Geoff Keys says:

        Great post, as always Grace. I too much prefer to ride alone. But I’ve given up on hurling myself across hillsides. I was 70 last birthday and have a smashd up elbow after an accident in Laos. So am I allowed to take things easier now and still be allowed to be in your company, digitally? Please advise. 🙂

        1. BikeHedonia says:

          Geoff my friend I think all which that indicates is that you are wiser than I will be for sometime yet. 😉

  2. Alexandros Voreopoulos says:

    Grace, I admire your psychological and physical strength, I follow your stories because they are very beautiful written, yours stories are an inspiration!
    Reach Paris means drive Iran then Turkey then either Greece or Bulgaria.
    I am a Greek leaving half of my time in Kavala, a city in the North of Greece and the other half in Sofia, capital of Bulgaria.
    The road will be bring you to both of these places if you want, which are amazingly beautiful!
    Count on this, you have a friend there, a place to stay, beautiful off road tracks, blue Mediterranean sea to explore and good friends to meet.
    Looking forward!

    1. BikeHedonia says:

      Alex, thank you so much for this lovely message! Indeed, I am hoping to ride both Greece and Bulgaria. It sounds wonderful – off road tracks and the Mediterranean… ah, I can’t wait. I will send you an email when I’m a little closer to your part of the world. Thank you again and I am so happy to hear that you are enjoying the stories. 🙂


      1. Alexandros Voreopoulos says:

        Wonderful! The plans where to ride and where to sail are already formed in my imagination, depending on the season of course, temperatures here may vary a loooot!
        Enjoy and take good care of yourself.
        There are two friends on this route who may be of good help if necessary.
        Ehsan is my mate in Yazd Iran, the other one is Ali in Konya Turkey. Let me know if the road brings you there so I can warn them!

        1. BikeHedonia says:

          Thank you so much for this! I will note their names on my map and let you know when I get up that way. May you always sail with fair winds. 🙂

  3. I conceive you have noted some very interesting details , thanks for the post.

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