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Motorcycle mayhem: the Isle of Man TT
Each summer, the tranquil island in the Irish Sea becomes the home of one of the most exciting road races in the world, as Richard Holt reports.
The Isle of Man is a self-governed tax haven sitting midway between Belfast and Blackpool. For most of the year, it is a sleepy, picturesque island where children are entertained by tales of Celtic folklore. But for two weeks at the end of May and the beginning of June, motorcycle mayhem is unleashed.
The first Tourist Trophy race took place in 1907 around a 15-mile course on the island's public roads. In 1911, it was expanded to the Snaefell Mountain Course, which is just under 38 miles long. The first long-course race was won at an average speed of just under 48mph. The current lap record is held by TT legend John McGuinness, travelling at an average of 132.7mph. McGuinness is the unmistakable star of the TT, who, as well as holding that lap record, has 23 wins to his credit, fast closing in on the late Joey Dunlop, who won 26.
If you don't think it is possible to be frightened by your own laptop, go to YouTube and search 'Isle of Man TT'. Watching from the vantage point of a helmet camera as the bikes tear around the course totally recalibrates your perspective on what it means to drive fast on a public road.
The TT is a time-trial race, with the bikes starting at 10-second intervals - so they are racing against the clock, not each other. Of course, over a race of up to six laps, those starting intervals can be breached, so riders frequently encounter each other on the challenging street circuit.
The race is widely accepted to be one of the most dangerous in the world. If you fall off a bike on a racing circuit, the environment is designed to give you the best possible chance of sliding to a halt, bruised but not broken. The TT course, however, is lined with buildings, trees and stone walls - none of which is designed to forgive.
More than 250 people have been killed since the race began - mostly riders, but also a handful of race officials and members of the public. But the danger does nothing to deter competitors and tens of thousands of spectators from making the trip to a race that inspires near-mythical levels of awe as the ultimate test of skill and bravery.
There are five major classes, Superbike, Senior, Superstock, Supersport and Lightweight. The Senior race is the final one of the competition, as well as the inspiration for a Belstaff coat that dates back to the golden age of British motorcycling.
Belstaff’s Senior TT Competition coat was first produced in 1933 to meet the extreme physical demands placed on it by a motorcycle industry producing ever-faster machines. It was available in either heavyweight black rubber-proofed ‘beaverteen’ or a deluxe model in double-texture waterproof cashmere.
The company that would become Belstaff was started by Eli Belovitch in 1909, just two years after the first Isle of Man TT. During WWI, Belovitch supplied capes, tents and groundsheets to the military. When hostilities ended, he put the expertise learned during the war to use for the growing army of motorcyclists and other adventurers who needed protection from the elements - something that the company continues doing to this day,
Richard Holt writes about motoring for The Telegraph
In collaboration with the Details Magazine Content Studio, Belstaff took to the road with Hollywood stunt double Riley Harper to capture the controlled adrenalin required to perform his thrill-seeking moto moves.
Harper travels the world flipping over cars, gunning motorcycles and taking chances - or doing, in his words, 'things that to me are normal, but to most people are a little dangerous'. A proud, fourth-generation Californian based in Los Angeles, he is following in his father’s footsteps - or rather, petrol fumes - and fulfilling a vocation by performing stunts.
'I wake up every day and push the limits, it’s my reason for living.'
The Legend of Lawrence
The start of a new year always means the potential for adventure and discovery. No man has adventured further than TE Lawrence, whose intrepid spirit is celebrated here by Rob Ryan
It is the time of year when we look to the coming 12 months and begin to plan our trips away, perhaps conjuring up something that will challenge us and rise above the humdrum. But what if behind you lies the adventure of a lifetime, impossible to top? This has long been a problem facing those who find fame early in life. Take TE Lawrence, who, as well as being an explorer and archeologist, travelling in some of the world’s remotest regions, had led the Arab Revolt in 1916-18 against the Ottoman Empire. The image of this slight, blond man in flowing robes at the head of a daring camel-mounted guerilla army caught the imagination of the British public and he subsequently had unwelcome adulation thrust upon him. ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ was sickened by war, suspicious of his celebrity status, but, even in peacetime, still craved the excitement and adventure he had experienced in the desert. He found it in motorcycles.
T E Lawrence on his Borough Superior Motorcycle
TE Lawrence on his Brough Superior motorcycle chats to George Brough, the creator of the motorcycle widely considered the world’s first super bike
Post-war, he enrolled anonymously in the RAF, and in 1922 he purchased the first of no less than eight Brough Superiors he would own. He waxed eloquently about the thrill of riding such a machine:
“Another bend and I have the honour of one of England’s straightest and fastest roads. The burble of my exhaust unwound like a long cord behind me. Soon my speed snapped it, and I heard only the cry of the wind, which my battering head split and fended aside.”
Lawrence donned Arab garb during his World War I campaign because Bedouin robes were ‘cleaner and more decent in the desert’ than a khaki army uniform. However, for his rides in the UK his tunic of choice was a Belstaff ‘colonial coat’, a very modern-looking (the company has in fact produced an identical replica, the Roadmaster) jacket of triple-layered cotton, with patch pockets, belt and a stand collar. Belstaff has long been the choice for adventurers and travellers of all stripes and this jacket was intended for those making for hostile climes and in need of a versatile, wind- and waterproof garment. Lawrence was not leaving the country, but he was venturing into extreme conditions – he frequently topped 100 mph on his bikes and boasted about losing any chasing policemen on forest roads.
T E Lawrence in Lawrence of Arabia
Peter O’Toole starred in David Lean’ Lawrence of Arabia, the story of TE Lawrence’s life. Image courtesy of Rex
He would have worn the coat to ride his beloved Brough SS100s, Georges II, which he bought in 1924 - the year Belstaff was founded - to George VII, the bike he died on 11 years later (George VIII was still being built when he crashed near his Clouds Hill cottage in Dorset).
Exactly what happened to cause that accident on a long, straight, if undulating, road on the morning of 13 May 1935, when Lawrence was just 46, has never been fully determined. But Lawrence died - six days after the crash - as a result of doing something he loved: riding a powerful motorcycle. ‘A skittish motorbike with a touch of blood in it is better than all the riding animals on earth, because of its logical extension of our faculties, and the hint, the provocation, to excess conferred by its honeyed untiring smoothness.’ That ‘provocation to excess’ might well have proved his undoing that morning, but, 80 years later, the legend of the fearless, blue-eyed adventurer who conquered the desert lives on.
Words: Rob Ryan
Robert Ryan is a writer for The Times and Sunday Times and author of Empire of Sand, a novel about Lawrence before Arabia
Che Guevara and Belstaff's Revolutionary Waxed Jackets
Words: Simon de Burton
Che Guevara on a pushbike
Gael Garcia Bernal in Motorcycle Diaries
When the young Che Guevara set off to explore South America on two wheels, he carried few possessions, but undoubtedly one of the most important was the Belstaff waxed-cotton jacket that offered him protection from both road rash and the weather - and, very likely, served as an impromptu pillow during nights beneath the stars.
Che's adventures with his friend Alberto Granado aboard the faithful Norton motorcycle named La Poderosa II (The Mighty One) are well documented in the 2004 biopic The Motorcycle Diaries, starring Gael Garcia Bernal, but there's a fair bit of history, too, in the humble fabric that made up the future revolutionary's outerwear.
Waxed cotton, you see, dates back to the 19th century, when the weather-resistant properties of oil-soaked flax sails used for clipper ships showed the potential of 'proofing' cotton with linseed for use in the garment industry.
Gael Garcia Bernal in Motorcycle Diaries
Che Guevara on a pushbike
However, it wasn't until the early Twenties that a few pioneering companies - Belstaff among them - perfected the art of 'waxing' cotton so it stayed waterproof for long periods, didn't discolour and remained soft and pliant in cold weather.
The discovery was especially welcomed by the growing army of motorcyclists, not least in rain-lashed countries such as Britain, where a snug-fitting Belstaff, belted at the waist and protective of the neck, became the default choice of gear for riders who were desirous of being both practical and stylish.
And it wasn't long before the ultimate specification that prevails today - two long breast pockets (one slanted for carrying maps); two deep side pockets; buttoned cuffs and a zipped and buttoned fastening - became what we have come to know and love as the 'Trialmaster' jacket.
Its name derives from its popularity with motorcycle 'trials' riders, whose sport took them across windswept moors, through swollen rivers and up desolate tracks - meaning they needed a jacket that was warm, water-resistant and thornproof but also supremely comfortable, with capacious pockets.
Belstaff Men and Women Waxed Jackets
One such contest, the Exeter Trial, has been going since 1910 - and, being of a masochistic nature, I'm looking forward to taking part in the January (yes, freezing January) 2015 edition of this gruelling, long-distance event, which runs through the night and covers a 300-mile route using some of the West Country's most historic - and roughest - byways.
An important part of my preparation will involve the ritual 'rewaxing' of the Belstaff Trialmaster I bought second-hand back in 1982 - and have worn ever since. It's a strangely gratifying process, partly because it restores the Trialmaster's full protective powers and partly because every application of Belstaff's special 'reproofing' wax adds another layer of patina and, somehow, a little bit of history.
And for those who want to go the extra mile, Belstaff's latest leather garments are also designed to be maintained in the same way. Perhaps I'll treat myself to one - even if Che might have considered buying a new jacket every 33 years to be an act of bourgeois extravagance. Unless, of course, it was a Trialmaster.
Simon de Burton writes for The Financial Times, Brummell and The Quarterly
MR DAVID BECKHAM
Sport’s biggest style icon chats to Mr John Lanchester about fatherhood, football and his starring role in Belstaff’s short film Outlaws
Words by Mr John Lanchester
These days, Mr David Beckham describes himself as “a driver”. He is only half joking. He takes his children to their four different schools every morning, picks them up every afternoon and cooks them dinner most nights. Appearing on Mr Jimmy Kimmel’s television programme, he claimed that “I’m literally an Uber driver”. I told Mr Beckham that, with two teenagers of my own, I sympathised, but at least we should be grateful that our children can’t summon us by app. He laughed and said: “It would be game over”.
However, Mr Beckham doesn’t have an Uber driver’s typical CV. In the first decade of this century, the president of Real Madrid football club set out to assemble a squad of “galácticos”: football players who were so famous that they would be recognisable not just anywhere in the world, but throughout the entire galaxy. (I’m using “football” in the global sense of the term to refer to the game that in the US is called “soccer”.) The idea was that you could get into a taxi anywhere in the world, from Beijing to Johannesburg or Sydney to Oslo, and the cab driver would be able to name five or six players from the Real Madrid team. Once the policy was announced, it was clear that Real Madrid would eventually sign Mr Beckham as he was already one of the most famous footballers, and most recognisable faces, in the world.
He moved to Madrid in 2003, and since then his celebrity has only grown. It helps that he is as good looking today, at 40, as he was when he first started playing for Manchester United in his late teens. It also doesn’t hurt that he is married to Mrs Victoria Beckham, the former Spice Girl (Posh Spice) turned respected fashion designer. Some observers have given her credit for his interest in fashion, but the fact is that Mr Beckham’s engagement with style predates their relationship. The earliest photographs of him in youth football teams show him as the one with distinctive – usually spiky – hair. The Class of ’92, a documentary about the 1992 Manchester United youth team showed him customising a sponsor’s donated car and being teased about it by the other players, and he clearly did not mind. He likes things the way he likes them.
Footballers are conservative and conformist about their style – the “banter” culture of the dressing room puts a heavy premium on not being different. Mr Beckham never subscribed to that. I asked him where this passion came from.
“I don’t wake up in the morning and think I’m going to wear this today, I just go out in what I feel comfortable in”
“I actually don’t know,” he said. “My dad definitely wasn’t into style. He was dressed all right, but he was never into fashion, even though he was a mod back in the day. He had an amazing Vespa that got nicked outside my gran’s house. But I don’t know where it came from. It was there even at a young age. I was a pageboy when I was really young, and I had a choice of whether to choose a suit or knickerbockers - and I chose knickerbockers.”
Those knickerbockers were not the last time Mr Beckham made a distinctive or controversial fashion choice. He has gone out in public wearing a sarong and he has 40 tattoos; several of them visible when he is fully dressed. His beard, which is neatly trimmed on the day we meet, has at times a lavishness that is part-hipster, part-Duke-in-exile. By his own admission, when he was in Spain, “I kind of had a mullet going on”. As he himself says with a grin about his sartorial choices, “It’s not always been right”. He clearly – and robustly – doesn’t care and isn’t going to stop. “I don’t know… The style thing, it’s not something I do on purpose, I don’t wake up in the morning and think I’m going to wear this and this today, I just go out in what I feel comfortable in.”
“With the way men dress, there are rules… but rules are made to be broken and I think I’ve done that over the years”
I’m reluctant to leave it there, because his appearance has done a lot to make him what he is today. Most men who are famous for style or fashion have a look; a distinctive way of dressing. Mr Beckham doesn’t as he, himself, is the look. I mention to him the idea that male dressing is based on rules, expecting him to not agree. He half-does and half-doesn’t.
“I think it’s important for people to have their own sense of style – a personal style. I think there are certain rules, especially when you’re English, because you’re brought up on ‘this is how a gentleman should dress’. If you’re lucky enough to be able to afford it, you can go to Savile Row and have a suit made, or you can go and see how people dress. We’re brought up around that. I think we’re lucky to have that. In that sense of fashion, and the way men dress, there are rules. But I do also think that rules are made to be broken and I think I’ve done that over the years, in good ways and in bad ways. But I’m having fun and I wear what I like to wear: I don’t get told what to wear. It’s always important to have your own mind.”
His interest in style is apparent in what he’s been doing on the day we meet: taking part in a fashion shoot to accompany the release of a new short film, Outlaws, made in partnership with Belstaff. The film is written and directed by Mr Geremy Jasper. The executive producer is Ms Liv Tyler, partner of Mr Dave Gardner, Mr Beckham’s closest friend since their days in the Manchester United youth team. "Cinephilic" Mr Porter readers might compare Outlaws to Ms Marianne Faithfull’s film Girl on a Motorcycle, except with Mr Beckham wearing the leathers. Mr Harvey Keitel plays a maniacal film director who is bent on revenge, Ms Katherine Waterston is a trapeze artist, and there are conjoined twins, evil bikers, a bearded lady, and much footage of Mr Beckham zooming across the Mexican desert on one of his beloved motorcycles.
The news about Outlaws, and the fact that Mr Beckham is appearing in Mr Guy Ritchie’s upcoming film about King Arthur, has led to excitable speculation that acting is his new goal in life.
“Acting is not my new career, it’s just fun, it’s not something that I’m training to be better at”
“I saw an article the other day that said this is my new career, and it’s really not,” says Mr Beckham. “It’s something that I’ve dipped myself into from time to time, but I only did it for a friend, Guy” – Mr Guy Ritchie. “I did a small bit in The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and I’ve done little bit more for him in [Knights of the Roundtable:] King Arthur, and then obviously there’s what we’ve done with the Outlaws. But it’s definitely not my new career, it’s just fun, it’s not something that I’m training to be better at.”
That’s a revealing way of describing an ambition – something you train to be better at. Not many celebrities talk like this. Mr Beckham’s air of glamour might make him seem a show pony, but his football was based on high work rate and long hours of off-screen effort. A large part of his fan appeal was, and is, in that combination of his looks and talent with his appetite for hard work.
Mr Beckham retired from football in May 2013, after a spell at Paris Saint-Germain F.C. Most recently retired athletes have a loss around them and it is there, very faintly, around Mr Beckham, too. He and his advisers have prepared thoughtfully for the transition, though, and he is clearly busy. He has business and entrepreneurial projects; he has a plan to start a major league soccer team in Miami. He works hard for 7: The David Beckham UNICEF Fund, a charity initiative that grew out of his work for UNICEF, focusing on projects in seven global areas where life is especially difficult for children. Mr Beckham calls this his “main focus” now – I’ve already heard from a source at UNICEF about how much work he does for now.
But it’s impossible to miss that the central focus of Mr Beckham’s life now is his own children. His face changes when he talks about overhearing his son’s Brooklyn’s art teacher praising him (“all of a sudden, I realised I had to walk away, I was getting emotional”) or how Cruz said: “Daddy, can you teach me how to make a croque-monsieur?” When I ask him whether he teaches his boys about style, he instantly says: “They teach me now.”
This might seem a matter of importance only to the Beckhams, but there is more to it than that. Mr Beckham is in essence a shy and private family man, who also happens to be one of the most famous men in the world. That combination could be his real legacy. Fatherhood has changed. Fathers have to do more than they used to. There aren’t enough role models for this modern kind of male parent: the hands-on one who bears his share of the ordinary daily work of parenting. We need to see more of that – I mean to really see it – in the lives of the rich and famous. Mr Beckham, who is one of the most admired, best-looking and richest men in the world, can’t think of anything he’d rather do than spend time with his children. It is, unarguably, a good look.
Groundbreaking expeditions and epic road-trips are a time-honoured Belstaff tradition founded by Che Guevara, Steve McQueen, and most recently Ewan McGregor and David Beckham. Now Californian Chris Burkard takes up the mantle of defining the spirit of two-wheeled adventure today, chasing the perfect shot around the globe in a ‘personal crusade against the mundane.’ Usually found surfing the Artic with camera in hand, Burkard came back to his home state to capture friend and fellow adventurer Eric Soderquist riding with Belstaff along the Big Sur.
Surprisingly for a West Coast native, Burkard feels most at home in remote, dangerous and often sub-zero locations. Quitting his job aged 19 to become a surf photographer, he quickly found the regular surf spots and their tourist comforts monotonous. “I began craving wild open spaces, so I set out to find the places others had written off as too cold, too remote, and too dangerous to surf”, he admits. Burkard has since made a career conquering all weather conditions to capturing the beautiful challenge of adventures into the wilderness.
"Amidst the harsh conditions, I stumbled onto one of the last quiet places - somewhere I felt a clarity and connection with the world."
Exclusive prints from Burkard’s Big Sur trip are currently on display at Belstaff flagship stores in London’s New Bond Street, New York, Munich, Milan, Glasgow and Manchester, through August to September.
HAPPY FATHER'S DAY
Just in time for the Oscars, Belstaff is releasing a capsule collection of leather jackets inspired by its designs worn on film. From the ’30s-style bomber worn by Leonardo DiCaprio in The Aviator to the parka Angelina Jolie sports in The Tourist, the brand’s outerwear has had its fair share of screen time in the past decade. Catch all of the brand’s film highlights and the pieces available for purchase in the slideshow.
Those looking to shop Brad Pitt’s Benjamin Button jacket, take note: The re-creations of its on-screen styles are already in Belstaff stores. Additionally, visitors will be able to see custom Belstaff creations for films in their retail locations, including the leather jacket Robert Downey Jr. wore in Iron Man and Christian Bale’s Batman bomber. James Dean fanatics will be pleased to know that the label is also giving away a single creation inspired by Dean’s Rebel Without a Cause moto jacket to a lucky visitor.
What is the one defining characteristic of the world's great explorers? Something that they all have in common? According to modern-day adventurer, writer and motivational speaker Alastair Humphreys, it's that they were all 'ordinary'. Whether you’re talking about Sir Walter Raleigh or Sir Ranulph Fiennes, every great adventurer was a regular person who simply made the decision to do something daring.
'Some of the most extraordinary journeys were undertaken by very ordinary people.' Humphreys explains. 'The only difference between those people and those who haven't done big trips is the choice. The difficult part of most adventures is getting to the starting line.’
Alastair Humphreys exploring Greenland
Greenland Expedition. Image credit: Alastair Humphreys
Although Humphreys might not rank himself among his travel heroes, it was the likes of Patrick Leigh Fermor, Ernest Shackleton and Laurie Lee who inspired him to take the road less travelled. 'My escapades began because I loved reading stories of travel and adventure. Britain has this incredible legacy of explorers, which inspired me to dream of writing a book myself. I think the writing side of travel and adventure is my first love, really.'
Finally deciding to stop dreaming and start doing, Humphreys embarked on his first journey in August 2001. But to call that first expedition 'big' is quite the understatement. Aged 24, Humphreys set off from his parents' house in the Yorkshire Dales on a bicycle weighed down with supplies and a change of clothes. He didn't return for over four years. Admitting that he embarked on the kind of trip he 'assumed would fail', he persevered on his round-the-world journey, through the stifling desert in Sudan, through Argentina’s arduous Aconcagua mountains and snow-covered Siberia. His extraordinary journey took him 46,000 miles across 60 countries and five continents.
Alastair Humphreys hiking to Laugafell
Hiking Laugafell, Iceland. Image credit: Alastair Humphreys
What perhaps separates Humphreys from his contemporaries is a truly nomadic spirit. Throughout that first epic journey - which cost him only around £7,000 - he carried all his belongings on a bicycle. No television crew or entourage accompanied him, he usually camped out under the stars and occasionally relied on the kindness of strangers. 'I really like the simplicity of adventures,' he says. 'Part of me would like to collect beautiful things from around the world, but that's not really compatible with my life – cluttering it up with stuff. I'm filling it with memories instead.'
He documented his journey through photography and blogging, later publishing a two-part book on the expedition. Once home, the inevitable ‘what next?’ question soon arose, but his experience only gave him the impetus to do more. Throughout the last decade, he has forged a career out of adventures, writing - he's published seven books, including a children’s series - and giving motivational talks. He has travelled across Iceland via pack raft, walked the length of the River Kaveri in India, and rowed across the Atlantic with three complete strangers. 'I love doing stuff I've never done before,’ he enthuses, 'starting from scratch and building up confidence in order to do the journey. I've really tried to make myself go and do something and not worry about failing – I worry instead about getting old, then looking back and regretting not doing it.'
But Humphreys' most epic experiences eventually turned him on to the idea of 'downsizing' his trips. 'I noticed people started talking to me as though I were an adventurer and they were a normal person, which struck me as weird and quite uncomfortable - because I am a normal person,' he explains. 'It made me realize adventure is often seen as an inaccessible thing for normal people to do.'
To prove that anyone can go on an adventure, Humphreys decided to spend a year exploring the Great British landscape through mini-excursions, such as swimming the Thames, or camping on a hill during the spring equinox. He named these experiences 'micro-adventures'.
Alastair Humphreys swimming the Thames
Wild swimming. Image credit: Alastair Humphreys
'A micro-adventure is just an adventure,' Humphreys explains. 'The only difference is a micro-adventure is shorter in time. It doesn't cost a lot, doesn't require much expertise and you don’t have to live in the Himalayas to be able to do it. Micro-adventures are achievable within the constraints of busy people's lives.'
If you work 9 to 5 and feel there aren’t enough hours in the day, Humphreys insists you are the perfect candidate. So convinced is he of the attainability of these excursions that, as well as publishing a book on the subject, he has dedicated a section of his blog to spreading the word. Full of month-by-month ideas, videos and tips, his blog has inspired a community of fellow micro-adventurers to document and share their experiences.
'It's been really rewarding for me to see lots of normal, busy professionals getting out and having little adventures – and seeing the impact it can have on their lives,' he says. 'My mission for this summer and onwards is to try to get more people to do something they've never done before, out in the wild, close to where they live.'
Well, what are you waiting for?
Alastair Humphreys spoke on behalf of Belstaff’s Adventure Talks at the new South Kensington Club.