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Wednesday
Jul042012

Lone rider

WORDS SIMON DE BURTON

Motorcyclist Ted Simon’s latest book sends one lifelong fan on a journey of reminiscences about his biking guru

Ted Simon has travelled the world on his motorbikeAnyone who is remotely interested in getting away from it all by motorcycle will probably have heard of Ted Simon. I first encountered him at the 1978 Earls Court Motorcycle Show as an impecunious 14-year-old. Tired of gazing at the latest, glittering ‘rice rockets’ from Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki and Yamaha that I never believed I’d be able to afford in a hundred lifetimes, I wandered off to the low-rent area around the edge of the exhibition hall, where

I discovered a lone, curly-haired man sitting behind a trestle table piled with books.

Beside him stood a travel-stained Triumph Tiger motorcycle fitted with a set of bashed-up metal boxes that were decorated with a hand- painted map depicting the journey from which Simon had just returned. Around the world. He had been away for four years, covered 60,647 miles on the road and 17,655 by sea, rail and ferry, and then written about his odyssey in a book called Jupiter’s Travels, which he was offering for sale at the show.

The fact that no one else seemed especially interested enabled me to strike up a conversation with Simon who, despite the fact that I lacked the £7.95 cover price, happily answered my barrage of questions about the bike, the journey, the adventure and anything else that seemed remotely relevant. I left the stand with the official Jupiter’s Travels press release (signed) and a head full of inspiration – but had to wait until Christmas to get the book.

Jupiter’s Travels went on to become the overland biker’s bible and even kick-started Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman into organising their Long Way Round trip that encouraged thousands of people around the world to take up long-distance motorcycling.

But Simon has always been my biking guru, so it was with great delight that I met him again in 2001 when, at the nicely run-in age of 70, he decided to circumnavigate the globe once again. As part of his send-off, I interviewed him for national newspapers – and, of course, got him to inscribe my copy of Jupiter’s Travels.

Simon completed his second biking odyssey in around three years and wrote of his adventures in Dreaming of Jupiter, published in 2007. Now, he has a new book, Rolling Through the Isles, an account of his journey around Britain by three- wheeled Piaggio scooter in the summer of 2009.

In it, he revisits the old haunts of his youth: the home he shared in Swiss Cottage with his German immigrant mother; his primary school in Chelsea; Trench Hall in Shropshire where he was a wartime evacuee; Barrow-in-Furness where he held down his first job in journalism. The locations are hardly as exotic as those in Jupiter’s Travels, but Simon, now 81, is such a great writer, so observant and so open-minded that, just as he made me want to motorbike around the world 34 years ago, so he has made me want to saddle-up and explore Britain.

For now it’s a temptation I’m going to resist  but when he visits England from his California home this month to promote the book, I’ll be riding out to say hello. Wherever he is.

Rolling Through the Isles (Little, Brown, £20); also available as an e-book. For more on Ted Simon, his books and his charitable foundation, visit jupitalia.com