Tom Mackay is a scottish rider who is currently on RTW with a Royal Enfield Himalayan motorcycle, whose plans were turned upside down last year by the Coronavirus pandemic. Travel restrictions made him spend 4 months in lockdown in Spain, but even so, Tom managed to travel 22,000 km last year, even if it meant many route changes. This changes brought him also to Romania, so we wanted to find out more about what were the challenges of this strange year and what was his whole experience regarding riding in Romania.
1.First of all, tell me a little bit about you Tom. When did you start riding motorcycles and how did you get stuck with this passion? What was your first motorcycle ?
I am from the city of Glasgow in Scotland and I started riding motorcycles in 1977. I am the type of guy who buys a bike and keeps it for years, so since 1977 I have owned only 9 bikes. I passed my driving test on the bike owned by my older brother, a Honda CJ250T, and then I bought my first motorcycle, a 1977 model Honda CB4000F. In 1979 I bought a Honda XL125 and although I only had it a few months I did do a lot of off road stuff with it before someone stole it. My first big bike was a 1981 Suzuki GSX750E, then a 1988 Yamaha XJ900F, 1993 CBR1000FM, 1996 CBR1000FT, 1999 CBR1000FV, 2003 KAWASAKI ZZR1200 and last but not least my 2018 Royal Enfield Himalayan.
2. Do you remember what was your first long trip on two wheels, what were your feelings at that time?
My first long trip on my bike was from Glasgow to the South of France in 1983 on my GSX750. It started off with a long ride (800km) to Dover and then the ferry was delayed, we did not get in to France until midnight. It was raining and all the petrol stations were closed. Looking for a campsite up a dirt track in torrential rain, I dropped the bike in thick mud. Soaking wet, covered in mud, we spent that night back in the ferry terminal. So my feelings at that time were of regret and depression. However, once the sun rose and the weather warmed up everything changed and since that day I always believe that if I am having a bad day, tomorrow can only get better.
3. I saw that you ride a Royal Enfield Himalayan. Why did you choose this bike ?
I am currently on a RTW trip which like so many others has been affected by Governmental reactions to the virus. I chose this bike as it seemed to be the only one that met all my needs in a bike for such a trip. It is relatively light, simple in design and therefore easy to fix, it has fantastic fuel economy (on any long trip fuel is the major cost), it can be ridden on paved roads, unpaved roads, or dirt tracks, and replacement parts are cheap. Yes, it does not have a lot of power but in my opinion that is it’s only negative, the other positives that I mentioned above far outweigh this.
4. What is so far your experience with the Himalayan in terms of reliability, maintenance, mechanical issues ? (it’s not a very common bike in Romania)
I bought the bike in August 2020 at 18 months old with 2,500 miles (4,000 km)on the clock. The bike now has 25,000 miles (40,000 km) on the clock and it has never broken down or failed to start. I do all my own maintenance including tyre changing. The rocker cover developed a slight leak at 11,000 miles (17,000 km) and at the same time that I fixed the leak I changed the brake fluid as the bike was 2 years old. The OEM chain had to be replaced at 15,000 miles (24,000 km) but other than these issues I have had no other problems. I change my oil every 3,000 miles (5,000 km) and oil filter every 6,000 miles (10,000 km). I am on my second set of tyres and still on OEM brake pads and air filter. Next time that I am in Romania I will be more than happy to let you ride my Himalayan so you can do ride report on it.
5. Although 2020 was a very difficult year for everybody but especially for the moto travelers community, still you did a lot of riding. You started from Spain, towards Gibraltar (I might be wrong, I made this assumption based on the photos from FB), than back north to Portugal, Spain, France….crossed through Europe, Romania and ended up in Turkey and after that, you went back to Poland. What was the plan with this trip, if it was any ? How many miles did you covered during this trip ?
My plan has always been a RTW trip. In August 2019 after buying my Himalayan, I left the UK and went to Spain before heading for Poland to overwinter in Krakow. For personal reasons I had to return to Spain in February 2020 but instead of being able to continue with my trip I got caught in Spain on the first lock-down in March 2020 and then I could not leave until July 2020. The total distance that I covered from August 2019 to February 2020 was 8,500 miles (13,000 km) and from July to November 2020 it was a further 14,000 miles (22,000 km)
6. What challenges did you face along the way? Did your schedule or route got changed by the traveling restrictions ?
As I mentioned, I got caught in the lock-down in Spain for 5 months and my plan was to continue heading East to either Ukraine or Turkey to the Stans but the border restrictions stopped that idea. Then I tired to visit Ukraine via Poland in September 200 but it was closed due to the virus. This made me head south to Hungary and in to Romania, so in a way it did cause me to change plans and route. I am never set on one route over another and I do not plan ahead very much, I like to take things as they come but I am still mindful of visa requirements etc. without getting too worked up over such things. I tried again to visit Ukraine in November 2020 but this time the Moldovan border guards sent me back to Romania, as the border was closed to anyone but Moldovans or Ukrainians so then I went back up through Hungary, Slovakia and back to Krakow that way.
7. What would be your personal top 5 favorite places where you rode your motorcycle during this trip ?
The French Alps, central Spain, Transylvania, Portugal near the Spanish border, and the Mediterranean coast of Turkey .
8. And since it isn’t all about riding, sometimes touring on a motorcycle is about discovering remote places or historical tourist attractions, what were the places that you enjoyed most on the way and you would recommend others to visit ?
Without doubt the numerous Roman and Greek archaeological sites in Turkey. These are so much more accessible and better preserved that those that I have seen elsewhere in Europe. Most of them were shown to me by Nate Allan who I met in Istanbul. [TRIPS][INTERVIEW]Nate Allen doing a RTW on his special prep BMW X-Challenge
9. Another thing that goes hand in hand with travelling and especially travelling on a motorcycle is meeting new people. Do you remember any funny encounter on the way ? I saw you also met Nate in Turkey.
I have been travelling on bikes for years and I always meet new people, whether it is a fellow biker at a petrol station on the road, or someone at where I am staying that takes an interest in my bike. One such occasion was in about 1986 when I stayed at a small hotel near St Fleur in central France. I agreed to the room price etc but when I asked if the owner had anywhere that I could park my GSX750 h thought for a moment and then directed me to the rear of the hotel. Once there he opened a set of doors leading in to a room on the ground floor of the hotel and told me to park the bike in the middle of the room. I did as he asked and thought nothing more until I went down to the restaurant for dinner. There in the middle of the restaurant floor was my bike, everyone seated at tables arranged around it and no-one appearing to care or notice, it was quite surreal.
I met Nate Allen through Instagram and we met by arrangement in Istanbul. Nate is a first class guy and helped me get back in to off-roading, something which I had not done in about 35 years. He was also very knowledgeable about a lot of the back roads and archaeological sites in Turkey. I really enjoyed my time with him and a Norwegian guy Stefan Olsen who was on a BMW GS1200 and I wish I had more time to spend with them but I had to get back on the road in order to see more of Turkey and to get back to Poland before the winter.
10. I saw in your pictures that you do most of the riding alone, why did you decide to go alone, wasn’t that a little bit dangerous ? What were the most dangerous situation that you were in during this trip ?
I am not a man who particularly likes riding in groups, the few times that I have done it I did not like it. Groups mean detailed planning and set destinations etc. Being on my own allows me the freedom to change my route or destination at will without having to worry about anyone else. I like the solitude that riding alone gives me and as I said before, the occasional meetings with others on the road is enough to stop me from being lonely. In my opinion the biggest danger that a solo biker can face is having an accident in a poorly populated area. This danger can largely be eliminated by riding in way as to minimise the risk of this happening, e.g. more carefully than you would in an area where there are more houses near to the road. The most dangerous thing that happened to me on this trip was while riding through roadworks in in Poland I drove over a raised kerb covered in mud and the back end fishtailed for about five seconds nearly throwing me off the bike. Somehow I managed to stay on but I needed a strong coffee and a cigar after that hairy moment.
11. Since we are a website that promotes motorcycling tourism in Romania, we want to know how did you like Romania? What was your experience with our country, in terms of interaction with people, nature, landscapes, roads?
Romania is one of my favourites amongst all of the countries that I have visited on my travels. I spent a total of about 10 days in Romania but that was not nearly enough. During my time in Romania I stayed in Timisoara, Brasov, Bucharest, Constanta (twice), Braila, Suceava, and Satu Mare but there were large parts of the country that unfortunately I had insufficient time to visit. Everyone that I met was very friendly and made my visit extremely pleasant, in particular one local guy who maintained a sausage and cheese stall half way down the Transfagarasan that I stopped at for some food.
12. And speaking about roads, which were your favuorites , here in Romania ? I saw you also ridden the famous Transfagarasan…
Yes, I rode the Transfagarasan which I found very similar to some of the Alpine passes in France and Switzerland but the only aspect of that road that I did not enjoy was the crowds of people and tour buses at the summit. My favourite Romanian roads apart from that was my route from Suceava to Satu Mare via Sighetu Marmatei on the 17 (E58) and 18 near the border with Ukraine. This route had it all, twisty bends, spectacular scenery, picturesque town and villages with lots of options to stop for coffee along the way.
13. Since one of the most common reasons or better said the best excuse for many not to leave on this kind of journey is the budget. Did you made an estimation of the amount of money you spent? Or how did you plan or estimated to have enough money for the trip ?
As I am in the very fortunate position of being retired from work and having an occupational pension which takes care of my financial needs on the road. As I am on an RTW trip, I sold everything that I owned in Scotland before departing, so I have no house there now, I am truly a nomad. This also means that I have plenty of time and as long as I watch my spending, I always have sufficient funds to keep travelling without having to worry about getting a job to supplement them.
14. If somebody is thinking about doing this kind of trip and is currently doubtful, what would you advice them?
That is a hard question to answer properly. When I was younger and still working, my job did not allow me to take more that three weeks vacation in the summer months so any trips that I undertook on the bike were limited by this. While I would have loved to have taken my RTW trip then when I was in my twenties, it was impossible unless I quit my job. Staying in my job for 30 years meant that now when I am older, I have the time and funds that allow me to do it without worrying about either.
For a younger person who wants to do an RTW trip on a bike, I would say that the most important factor is having sufficient money to finance the trip. However, once you are older like I am now, the most important factor is your physical condition because your ability to do a simple task like picking the bike up when it falls over diminishes with age.
Overall though, my advice to anyone who is doubtful about doing such a trip is this. If you can do it then do it, because if you don’t do it you will certainly live to regret that you did not do it.