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  • Motorcycle mayhem: the Isle of Man TT

    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

  • 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

  • Belstaff Explorer

    ALASTAIR HUMPHREYS

    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.

    southkensingtonclub.com

    alastairhumphreys.com

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  • Barbour Honors Steve McQueen on his 85th Birthday.

    Steve McQueen: The Legend Lives On

    On March 24th we are celebrating a day which would be the 85th birthday of Steve McQueen: the actor and motorcycling legend that inspired a collection for Barbour International.

    Date
    March 23rd 2015

    A true icon for motorcycling culture, Steve McQueen has long inspired the Barbour International brand - with a continuous collection showcasing his legacy each season.  With 24th March marking what would be his 85th birthday; we are celebrating the life of a legend who shaped the popularity of Barbour International.

    Although McQueen leapt to fame as an actor in some of the biggest movies in Hollywood, he was well known for his love of adrenaline filled sports – in particular motorcycle racing.

    “I’m not sure if I’m an actor who races or a racer who acts” – Steve McQueen

    Steve McQueen’s association with Barbour dates back to 1964, when he famously raced in one of the most iconic off road motorcycling events of the time: the International Six Days Trial.   ­­­On route to the trials (which were held in East Germany) McQueen and the rest of the US motorcycling team stopped off in London to pick up a Barbour International Suit for the race.   A race that required each rider to cover 200 miles a day, the ISDT was noted as one of the most challenging in the world.  Steve McQueen and the US team were among the first to recognise the waxed Barbour International Suit as the best defence against the huge amounts of rain and mud encountered during the race.

    With Steve McQueen an idolised figure worldwide, the Barbour International suit became almost standard choice for many racers over the years – with 70% of participants wearing Barbour International during one year.

    With the success of the International Six Days Trial as inspiration, in 2011 we combined McQueen’s effortlessly cool style with the spirit of Barbour International to launch the first Steve McQueen Collection.   The collection has continued each season and is now in its 5th year of acting as tribute to one of our most famous and influential fans.

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