Touring England on Royal Enfield Motorcycles, Part Eight

What we've learned along this wonderful ride has made us better motorcyclists.

International road signs
Road signs and traffic signals can be confusing in any country. Study them online ahead of your departure and avoid making mistakes.Photo: Justin W. Coffey

"You can do whatever you want on a motorcycle…" Unbeknownst to him, our friend Linton's words ominously foretold our future on Britain's tangled roadways.

What I’ve learned on every trip we’ve taken aboard a set of motorbikes is that you don’t really know what you’re doing until you’ve done it, several times. And flying halfway around the world with our gear, limited luggage and helmets in hand only made it more complicated. We meticulously packed, analyzed, shed weight, then packed again only to shed even more weight and, well you get it. This is the beauty of motorcycle travel, nationally or internationally. It forces you to be clever and resourceful; to find multiple uses for any one item. To accept the fact that you may have to wear your clothes over and over, because it’s really not going to kill you. To decide, or actually make a concrete decision, about what matters to you most. Toothbrush? Yes. A framed picture of your dog Steve? Maybe, but no. Stylish evening wear? Since you’re supposed to be on a motorcycle “adventure”, absolutely not. But since comfort includes looking presentable (or at least unlike a hobo), being clever, again, comes in handy. But the tips and tricks and lifelong lessons I picked up on our tour of England extend well beyond packing and looking pretty.

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Omnibus in London
London, like any major city, has many obstacles to overcome as a motorcyclist, namely these massive people transporters and the careless drivers at the helm.Photo: Justin W. Coffey
Before You Go

Head to AAA – Make sure to stop by your local AAA and obtain your international driver's license; more importantly make sure they know it's to "ride a motorcycle." They need to make note of this fact on the IDL because without it, in many Western countries, you won't be able to rent a bike, let alone get away with riding it upon running into the Law. It's cheap and easy so you might as well do it. If you're the sort that likes a safety net, you can obtain some travel insurance at the same time. One stop shop.

Riding on the left side in England
Learning to ride on the right, er, left side of the road was one of the first lessons we learned.Photo: Justin W. Coffey

Research Your Route and Region – Simply learning the basic traffic laws like parking regulations or maybe which side of the street to cruise in whatever new region, state or country are all beneficial to your riding experience. At nearly the end of our trip, an English parking attendant in the town of Bath informed us that on Sundays, you can park against all curbs with or without a yellow line painted next to it for free, except for those painted with a yellow zig-zag. Had we researched this important information prior to our arrival, it would have saved us some walking. Road signs are also crucially important to understand in any country you visit. Some are obvious, but many can be confusing. Save yourself the hassle and do a bit of research.

England's Green Dragon
Not only the sign of a good time but often a wonderful place to eat and sleep.Photo: Justin W. Coffey

Yes, Plan Ahead, But Not Too Far Ahead – Download the offline maps offered by Google while you have Wi-Fi, then study them just in case. If you're planning to use traditional paper maps, keep these on your phone as backup. Or, like in our case, if you are navigating by phone and not GPS, having a route saved on Google Maps and downloaded directly to your phone can be a lifesaver.

Becoming a better motorcyclist
Ultimately, the lessons you learn from riding overseas will make you a better motorcyclist.Photo: Justin W. Coffey

In regards to accommodations, consider where you could stay, then hold off on making reservations. It's not a bad idea to find out about any upcoming (country/region wide) holidays or events occurring in each of your destinations on the date of your arrival, but as long as you can afford to spend a little more than expected if need be, you'll typically always find somewhere to stay the night, Balloon Festival or otherwise.

English countryside
The English countryside provided the perfect backdrop for our adventure.Photo: Justin W. Coffey

Lastly, consider the weather and how much of a beating you’re willing to take. Some people will pack a proper riding suit while others will opt for jeans and jacket. If you’re likely to choose the latter, be ready to get wet and don’t complain when you do. Likewise, if you bring nothing more than a full riding suit, be prepared to have people look at you like you’ve just arrived from the moon. Plus, hopping off the bikes and taking a stroll in weatherproof gear can cost in comfort after a few blocks. In either case, you’re sacrificing something; just be prepared to do so and don’t make a big deal out of it.

English pub
A traditional English pub. They may seem similar, but ask any Englishman and they’ll argue otherwise.Photo: Justin W. Coffey
When You're There

Budget Accordingly – Gas is no joke. It's everywhere in England, but damn is it expensive compared to prices here in the US! Food and drink are also expensive, so budget beyond what you might otherwise consume. It's easy to say "I can live on CLIF bars," it's another thing entirely to do so. Trust us! In England, Inns are typical and offer you the most bang for your buck. Skip the Travel Lodge and stay in something a bit more exciting. You'll also spend a lot less money and more than likely meet some amazing people.

English bap
This is what the English call a ‘Bap,’ what we might commonly refer to as a breakfast sandwich. Deciphering the menu is a critical part of traveling. Google helps.Photo: Justin W. Coffey

Become Familiar With Regional Food and Drink – English food is bland in many ways, but then again it can be incredible. Yorkshire pudding, chicken in cream, both delicious…or maybe we were just famished. Whatever the case, it's a good idea to know what you're getting yourself into. Food allergies aside (you're on your own for that), the English diet is definitely different than our American breakfast cereal background. Instead of Captain Crunch, be prepared to eat beans and toast in the morning, perhaps crisps (i.e. potato chips) and a pint in the afternoon with something far more substantial in the evening. Traditional and regional food is always a good idea, but you won't find great diversity outside of the big cities. Meat, potatoes and some kind of boiled vegetable… But after a few hundred miles and perhaps a few pints, you'll eat anything!

Warm Beer and Cold Cider – If you're planning to ride around England, be prepared to drink warm, bitter beer. That's all I have to say about that. The cider, however, is cold and strong and served in both dry and sweet styles. Just saying.

British pubs and inns
Pubs and inns make great pitstops. They also often have rooms for rent with traditional English food on the menu.Photo: Justin W. Coffey
Home Sweet Home

Coming home can be confusing. After riding on the wrong side of the road for weeks on end, navigating the traffic-filled streets of Seattle again can be a little exhausting. That, and the fact that the highways and interstates of America move at a much brisker pace, with semi-trucks hauling huge loads across state lines. All of this can be cause for concern. Ultimately, however, what we've learned is that at the end of an international motorcycle adventure you'll likely return home feeling enlightened. You'll negotiate your neighborhood with a new zeal, feeling as though you've conquered some beast across the seas and have returned triumphant, showing your friends and family what a multi-cultural motorcyclist is really like. In reality, though, you'll probably just pull out onto the wrong side of the road once or twice, perhaps exceed the speed limit on accident – measuring in metric, not miles per hour – and then you'll come to your senses. But that's the beauty of an international motorcycle adventure. It forces you to use skills you would otherwise allow to lay dormant. It heightens your awareness, increases your sense of surrounding and ultimately makes you a better motorcyclist.