Since they burst onto our TV screens almost 10 years ago, The Hairy Bikers have ridden a variety of machines into our living rooms, prepared some very tasty looking meals in beautiful locations and then ridden off into the sunset.
But the one thing they never seem to feature or talk about is the bikes, so when I got the chance to have a chat on the phone with Dave Myers, I thought it would be a great opportunity to ask him a few questions about a life on two wheels. So loosely using the ten questions from TRD’s ‘Rider’s Lives’ as a basis I set about finding out what makes Dave tick.
TRD: Why don’t we see more of the bikes on the various Hairy Bikers series?
Dave Myers: “It’s an odd one really, I’m an avid biker, but it’s a really hard thing to translate to a populist audience. We’re motorcycling in some of the most wonderful places in the world, but if you hold a shot [of a bike] for more than 15 seconds – which may take two or three hours to traverse – you’ve lost the audience. There’s no communication between myself and Si [King – the other Hairy Biker]. We’ve tried all sorts of ways of making it work with intercoms and stuff, but it’s just never natural.
“And even though it’s a programme about bikes, it always seems to get cut out. That’s a part of life really, we always say to the BBC there’s three million people with motorbike licences in the UK, but they say there’s an awful lot more people who are cyclists but we’re not doing a programme about that either!”
A perfectly reasonable explanation then. I explained to Dave that The Rider’s Digest is read almost entirely by people who are interested in motorcycles, to which he enthusiastically replied “now’s our chance!” Next I asked Dave what his first motorcycling experience was:
”My father used to go to work on a BSA Bantam, when I was about two, three years old I used to toddle down to the bottom of the back street, he’d be there coming home from work, and he’d let me sit on the tank holding on to the handlebars and pretending to ride the motorbike up the back street, so in actual fact that was the first motorbike. The first bike I had myself was when I was a student, I bought a Cossack Ural Mars Mk III, with a sidecar.
“The idea of that was I’d go straight to a 650 with a provisional licence, and I could take passengers so my mate could go in the sidecar. It was mad in those days, you could ride an unlimited capacity bike if it had a sidecar, you couldn’t take a passenger on the pillion, but you could take one in the sidecar, and they didn’t need to wear a crash helmet.”
And they were harder to ride too.
“Well the Cossack was harder to ride, it was an absolute pig of a thing. I was at Goldsmiths (College of Art, South East London), so I had this flat in Asylum Road, Peckham, and the dealer was in Dalberg Road, Brixton. The bike was just left there (at the flat) with the keys. I had my provisional licence, and we literally just fired it up and rode it round and round Peckham, and the second day we rode it to Brighton, we had mates who were at college there. It got us there and back, which was a minor miracle really. That was about the only trip I accomplished on it without the RAC. I think I was the reason that the premiums went up!
“People tend to think with Si and I that it’s a manufactured thing, but we’ve just always had bikes. With me, it came through my father. My dad was of the generation where when you got your first driving licence you simply applied for it, there was no test. He said that he never thought that he’d ever afford a car; a lot of working men were the same. They aspired to own a three wheeler, because you could drive it on a motorbike licence.
“After the Bantam, he got a Norton Dominator, but he didn’t have it for long, it kicked back and did his Achilles tendon. It was a catastrophe really, for him as a motorcyclist and us as a family, because we ended up having to sell the bike while he was off work on the sick; once he’d done his Achilles tendon he couldn’t kick the bike over, so he got one of the very first electric start Puch scooters – a Puch Alpine it was – which now are quite collectable.
“I remember my dad got busted because my feet wouldn’t touch the running boards at the side, which apparently is illegal. He had these ‘L’ shape brackets made up so my feet would go in these little stirrups on the back of the scooter. We used to go all over the place, so I haven’t had a time when I haven’t had a bike.”
Deviating from the Riders’ Lives questions again, I asked Dave how they chose the bikes he and Si rode in the various ‘Hairy Bikers’ series:
“They’re all hired, we have to not show favouritism to a particular manufacturer because it’s the BBC, which gives us the freedom to ride different makes. It sounds a bit ‘old gitty’ but as time goes on the first priority is for a good set of panniers and heated grips, and then beyond that we’re not too fussed really! We’re very lucky, we get the chance to ride anything.”
I noted that initially they seemed to ride the ubiquitous BMW GS:
“Yes, we had a lot of the BMWs; BMW were really good to us, in the early days they were the only ones who would facilitate any kind of help anywhere in the world, and they were also able to supply bikes. So say if we were filming in Namibia, they had a dealer in Windhoek; they would rent us a press bike.
“The exception was Argentina, that was a really difficult place, what with import tax, and we ended up on two ten year old Honda Transalps, which were incredible fun, both off road and on the highway. They were great bikes; it’s funny, but when you get a relationship with a motorcycle – unless it bites you – you do end up falling in love with it a bit you know?
“We’ve had everything, from a 125 Minsk in Vietnam, Enfields in India; we had Ducatis, Yamahas, Moto Guzzis, and then when we did the Food Tour of Britain – fifteen thousand miles one winter – that was the Rocket Threes, and that was like that because it was a tour of Britain and it was the flagship British bike really at the time.
“There’s always a kind of logic to how we picked a bike, when we did the ‘Bakeation’ series in Europe we rode KTMs; we were going through Austria and I love the KTM, it’s the only bike I’ve bought after a series, I loved it, I’ve still got it.”
I mentioned that Bakeation was being repeated at the moment.
“It’s quite nice, we get more repeats than a bad pork pie!”
I asked Dave if he and Si King actually ride the bikes between locations, being a bit of an anorak I noticed that on the Bakeation series they would set off from one country wearing open face lids and arrive in the next one wearing different gear and full face helmets…
“What we do is we always take a full face and an open face, a lot of the time for the camera it’s better to wear an open face. We’re sensible bikers of a certain age, if we’re doing a motorway run we’ll put a full face on, or if the weather’s howling with rain I’ll wear a full face, generally we take two, and it’s the same with kit.
“In a hot country – we had problems with the BBC in Asia – I’d always wear a helmet and gloves, but I wanted to wear jeans. They wanted us to wear full safety kit, it was 39 degrees and 100% humidity, it was quite hard work really, but we always take a range of gear, which is why we always want a bike with panniers.
“Obviously we have a camera van with us, we can put helmets in there, but things to do with the bike – day to day things – we always take a rucksack with our notebooks, and books with our recipes in the top box, and then we’ve got light boots and heavy boots, a roll of spanners and tie-downs. We like to be self-sufficient for that.
“If it starts to rain, we just pull over and put an over suit on, it’s as simple as that. That’s why it chops and changes really.”
So you don’t ride out of shot, put the bikes in a van and jump in a limo then? [laughing]
“Oh god no, no, but sometimes actually, when we were doing the ‘Mums Know Best’ series, we would have one episode with three mothers from three different places, but they’d be in the same area, so we’d pick the bikes up in that area, and then we’d go home or do something else and the bikes would go on to the next area. But really, for the trips as you see them in the programmes we’d be riding the bikes.
“Bakeation. That was the most amazing motorcycle journey, we rode seven thousand miles that summer, from Kristiansand in Norway all the way to Spain via Romania, Hungary (not forgetting The Netherlands, Germany, Slovakia, Austria, Italy and France among others) and the bikes were transported once, because we didn’t have time to ride them. That was from Romania to Austria, the rest of the time we did all the miles ourselves. With the overseas ones we like to pack the bikes and go.
“The next trip we do will be to the Baltic, and the nice thing about that is that we’ll start off in Newcastle on the ferry, go to Amsterdam and start the series in Poland, then Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, St Petersburg, Moscow, then through Finland, Sweden and Denmark. There’s a great bike ride there.
“And the great thing about that one, is that it’s achievable from your front door. I’ll go over to Kingy the night before, and we’ll get the bikes on the ferry, have a few pints and then in the morning you’re in Amsterdam. Moscow’s not that far, that’s what I love about it, once you get your head around it. It’s like, you know, you set off from England, with gentle riding you’d be in the Sahara in three days.”
What is your current bike?
“I used to have six or seven, I’ve whittled down to four. I’ve just bought one this week actually, so I’m on four at the minute. I’ve just bought a GTR1400 Kawasaki, I tried one a while ago, a press bike somebody had, and I did enjoy it, they described it as a cross between a spaceship and a sofa. I’m going to do some touring with my wife this summer, she’s missed out on the bike; we’ve been away every summer. This year Si’s been on the sick so we’ve got a bit more time [Ed‘s note: Si King is currently recovering from a brain aneurysm], so I just thought with the GTR1400 it would be perfect for the pair of us. We’ll do some touring in France and Switzerland, then down to Italy I’ve got the KTM 990 Adventure, which I’ve got nicely set up with Akrapovics, spot lamps and crash bars. I took that to the TT this year, its good fun.
“I’ve got a custom bike that Hawg Haven made in Norwich, it’s like a street-fighter version of a Brough Superior, which even four years on from being registered it’s still a work in progress.
“I’ve got a Moto Guzzi California Vintage, that’s a 2005, I bought it brand new. I did quite a lot of my courting on that, my wife was on the back; she’s Romanian my wife, so we’d kind of meet up in Milan on the Guzzi, so we call that one ‘Gina Lollobridgida’. We can’t get rid of Gina, it’s one of those sentimental bikes.
“I had two sports bikes, which I got rid of, I simply wasn’t using them enough. I had a Hayabusa which I bought two years ago, and I sold it last year, and I worked out that I’d done 300 miles on it in a year, which is criminal really.
“And before the diet – we did the ‘Hairy Dieters’ series where we both lost weight; we’d got massive – I’d bought an MV Agusta F4.”
I commented “beautiful bikes”…
“It was beautiful, but not when you’re eighteen and a half stone it wasn’t, (laughing) you kind of sit on the front, you’re like a croissant on the F4! I might be alright now I’ve lost a bit of weight, it was the most beautiful bike, it had titanium exhausts, and it was nicely set up. It was the winter, and I kept it in the kitchen, and a friend came to dinner, and looked at it longingly, so after dinner I fired it up and blew all the leaves off the house plant!”
What bike would you most like to ride/own?
“I’d like a Vincent Black Shadow, I’ve seen them, I’ve looked at them; I had the chance of one once when I didn’t have any money. It’s a proper piece of motorcycling history, and I love the fact that it was the fastest motorcycle in the world. It was also a motorcycle that a bloke could go backwards and forwards to work on. I’d love one of those to have and to keep, but I think I’ve missed the boat now because they’re so expensive.”
What was your hairiest moment on a bike?
“Well, there’s one that we managed to keep out of the papers really, it was the 2006 TT, on ‘Mad Sunday’. I had a Benelli Tornado, which I loved and I’d just run in, it had done 1,700 miles, and I came off. I wasn’t on the course. I’d been round a couple of times having a fine old time; there was a lot of idiots there, and I’m too old, I should have known better.
“I’d been to Peel for a couple of kipper baps and a pot of tea, and on the way back to the course I was in the middle of the road, and so was a scaffold truck. I’d come round Devil’s Elbow and I hit him. I wrote the bike off, and apparently I wrote the scaffold truck off. It was 50/50, it wasn’t all my fault; it was just one of those things really.
“I got a helicopter ride to Noble’s Hospital and there were seventeen of us in orthopaedics that day. It was quite an extraordinary and eccentric place to be. The first question was ‘what was your bike?’ There were people there in plaster, every bed had shredded leathers underneath and a crash helmet on the side. It was like a field hospital of idiots! I broke my wrist and my shoulder. I learned my lesson really, it was an accident, but actually, had I been more aware it was avoidable.
“Si and I over the years have learned to ride so defensively. No matter how fabulous it feels you’ve still got to be aware, you’ve still got to give that extra 20% caution. There’s no point in going to the white line in the middle of the road because there might be someone else on it, and that somebody else might not be as agile as you.”
What was your most memorable ride?
“There have been two that stick in my mind really, one was in Argentina. We left Buenos Aires and we rode through the desert down to Patagonia, it was a wonderful place to ride.
“Buenos Aires is brilliant, with the wide roads, the people are cool, but you get out of the city and you see the farms where the Gauchos are. The roadside food stops are brilliant; the seafood, the steaks and the people, and that was one of the ones where Si and I had a long distance to cover, about seven or eight hundred miles, and we just arranged to meet the crew in two days’ time. They filmed us going out into the Patagonian Desert, and when you’ve filmed one bit you’ve filmed the rest.
“They’ve actually got countdown markers, like ‘bend coming up in three miles’ you get so absorbed into a straight line. We were on these Honda Transalps, and they were gorgeous little bikes. We had a top box on with a jerry can of fuel in, and that was about a prepped as we were. It was absolutely glorious, just stopping for coffees, or a steak; that was magic.
“And I think going to the Sahara, the road from Marrakesh to Merzouga, you know, the Paris-Dakar rally, one of the stages there; literally where the rolling sand dunes start. When you get on top of the Atlas Mountains you’re in the snow on the road from Marrakesh, but then on the other side of the mountains the road to the Sahara; through Ouarzazate. Again, it’s glorious.
“You’ve got to watch out for livestock on the road, but the roads are alright; you can see for absolute miles. But there is something about riding from England and letting that front wheel get stuck in the sand in the Sahara. There’s quite a lot of bikers do that. In Merzouga there’s one big hotel, it’s rather lovely, with a swimming pool, and there’s always some bikes that have made that pilgrimage. I think it was Ted Simon that started us all off really.”
What would be your ideal soundtrack to the above?
“At the minute, Aerosmith. I went to see them at the O2 World in Berlin on 9th June so I’ve got a bit of Steve Tyler going on in my head. A bit of AC/DC; rock and roll – I love my rock and roll. Some riders wear a Walkman under their helmet but I can’t do that. I sing to myself though!”
What do you think is the best thing about motorcycling?
“There’s a bit of the ‘cowboy and his horse’ thing about the motorbike. It’s when you get somewhere and you feel you’ve arrived; there is a sense of freedom. There’s a feeling of camaraderie, and there’s a relationship with your vehicle that you don’t have with a car. I like my cars as well, and I’ve got a nice car, but it’s not the same as a bike.
“The funny thing is, I’ve had some epic trips with Si, around Europe, and then last year in Japan and all over, and I’ve toured with my wife in a car. And it’s interesting, she wasn’t a biker born and bred, but she wants to go away on a bike, which I think is great.
“She said she’s got time in her head to think and relax; she smells everything, and it’s like when you stop in Italy and you have an ice cream. You’re hot, and you’ve got your jacket undone with the arms tied round your waist. You’re sweating cobs with the ice cream, and the bike’s ticking away. You’re aware of the landscape and the scenery, and you feel good because you’re physically riding it. I feel I’m a much better motorcyclist than a car driver, because you ride the bike, that’s how you get a relationship with it, you get to know it. It’s the whole package really.”
What do you think is the worst thing about motorcycling?
“Well the weather, for one thing. As you get older there’s no getting away from it. Si and I have done so much of this, where we’ve finished filming and we’ve had to get the bikes somewhere, and we’ve just had to ride them for two or three hours in freezing rain in the night. You get home and get into the shower and when the hot water hits your feet, your feet ache.
“The worst fear is car drivers that are unaware. The only accident that Si has ever had, and funnily enough of all the places around the world it was when he was on his way to film in Newcastle, literally in his home town. There was a lady in a Renault Clio who knocked him off his bike. She was still in her pyjamas, she’d just dropped somebody off at work and was half asleep. He said it was just that feeling that it was inevitable, and not being able to do anything.
“If you’re careless on a bike, you hurt yourself, and you can kind of sharpen yourself up. But in a car you’re unaware potentially of the damage that can be done really.”
Name an improvement you’d like to see for the next generation?
“I don’t know really, there’s that many restrictions for motorcyclists. I’ve just come back from the TT, and the motorcycling scene and the people, it seems like it always was – with the enthusiasm and the camaraderie. Motorcyclists now are certainly playing the game as far as drinking and driving are concerned, so that’s a huge improvement, people are not riding their bikes drunk.
“I’d like to see more motorcycles on the road really. I think it would solve a lot of problems. It’s amazing actually, the cycling lobby seems to have such a big voice now in London with Boris Johnson. I’ve never been an active member of the lobbyist motorcycling groups, like MAG, I think there’s definitely a place for them to preserve our hobby and pastime, and as two fifths of the world realise, it is a useful form of transport.”
How would you like to be remembered?
“Oh, just as a bloke that had a go really. I’ve been lucky enough to do the dreams, and sometimes the nicest thing about our programmes – you look at our shows, and it’s like going away with your best mate. It takes you out of yourself and you learn a bit, and if people remember that about me I’ll be well happy really.
“Some of the time we pinch ourselves. In the early days we were filming in Mexico, and it was like Mexico’s Grand Canyon. The crew wanted a sweeping shot of us, so they got on the radio and said ‘we’ll be about twenty minutes setting up, it’s a long panning shot’, and we were standing there on top of this canyon, on this gorgeous road, and the eagles were soaring beneath us. I’m with my best mate, and you have a smoke – I don’t smoke, Si was smoking then – and a bar of chocolate, and it’s quiet for twenty minutes. It was like ‘my god, it’s the best job in the world!’ Sometimes we can’t quite believe it. And we do look skywards and say ‘thank you very much!”
With the ‘Riders’ Lives’ questions done and dusted (and then some…) I asked Dave what was next for the Hairy Bikers.
“The Baltic. We like the big road trips; the viewers do too. There’s a place for that, and a place for the studio cookery stuff – which I must admit we enjoy – if we get one of those in the winter, thank you very much!
“But The Baltic’s the next, and then we’ve got ideas beyond that. We’ve got a title; we’re thinking about Australia – we’ve come up with such a good title; we’ll do ‘The Hairies Down Under’ (laughing) I mean, that’s just begging to be made isn’t it really?”
To close, I talked to Dave about Si and asked how he was doing during his recovery from the brain aneurysm:
“Yes, he’s fine, he’d had a bit of a setback, but we’re blokes, we just get on with it really, he just needs a bit more time, but he’ll be right. It’s one of those things. We’re lucky enough now – I’m doing a few bits and bobs on my own, but we can postpone the series until next spring, and give him a chance to get really fit. That seems to be the sensible way to do it.”
I asked Dave to give Si our best wishes and thanked him for talking to The Rider’s Digest.
Previously published in Issue 187 of The Rider’s Digest, which is available to download right here absolutely free.