Back Street Heroes
For seven years he fought for bikers rights in the corridors of power in Brussels, establishing the European rider movement as a respected political lobby force. Now FEMA's General Secretary Simon Milward is off to live a personal dream.
Why we asked him. They referred to my solo round the world ride covering about 60,000 miles and 60 countries on a rather special motorcycle.
For years I never thought I could justify such a wild escapade. Then all of a sudden it made complete sense and I found plenty of excuses! The simple one is that I want to! Or there are rational ones like needing a break from the grey suits or philosophical ones like checking that all things are possible.
The final decision came as I lay in a hospital bed in Brussels waiting for the remaining pin to be extracted from my three week old broken collar bone (damn priorite a droit again). This was June 98, just three weeks before Ixion's FEMA fundraising track day and MAG's Mallory Park do both of which I was determined to have a bash at. The first pin had half-extruded itself a few days earlier, and this one was going inwards nudging up against the old windpipe.
What could I do? Life is worth living and soon I would soon be 35. Thankfully FEMA's Executive Committee responded favourably to my request for a 21 month unpaid holiday. One advantage of living in Europe's capitol is the ability to choose the best aspects of the different national cultures... Eric Thiollier from Paris will bring some je ne sais quoi to FEMA's lobbying activities, and with Bob and Christina will make a great team. I'm just a bit worried about returning and being unable to find where they have moved the office to!
I'll not be able to resist some riders' rights work (or it is just another excuse...). So I aim to establish biking contacts in places from where the road-riders are absent at world bike forums: South America for example and Japan where I've also requested a meeting with representatives of the Big Four to discuss current global issues. Just imagine, hardly a corridor of power in sight and sitting behind handlebars not a computer! (OK, occasionally a palmtop, does anybody work at Psion?)
After farting around for far too long over which bike to take, a point of endless discussion among travellers even though the world's been done on a moped, I settled for the spiritual approach.
The bike is a John T (or hopefully will be by the time you read this), hand-made in Devon at Newton Motorcycles. John's trade is engineering freedom and his specialisation is frames: he always got at least one NABD machine on the go. For me personally riding a John T is special because his family got me into biking in the first place.
Besides, I need something strong, simple and easy to repair (I'm OK with one size spanner fits all!) so purpose-built will be best. Hopefully we're on schedule for a 4 December UK departure at Bridge Garage/Exeter Surplus in my home-town. Everyone's welcome.
What could such a 'Simon-proof' machine look like? Wait and see. One thing is for sure, the Millennium Motorcycle will win no prizes at all for beauty!
The planned route is a bit different too. Bernd Tesch, the German world motorcycle adventure travel specialist, happily informed me that it was the most difficult in terms of access.
Take China for example. Successful entry there unlocks the route north to Mongolia and Lake Bakal (the deepest lake in the world) before I'd turn East for Valdivostock beside the Trans-Siberian Railway. Failing that I'll do a lap or half of Australia.
Organisational things include visa planning, a nine-month vaccination course, dentist, developing a 'to take' list, sponsors, money organisation, en-route communications, photographic and my girlfriend finished with me! Sad but never mind because MAG Insurance came up with the medical/travel cover and carnet guarantee, perhaps even worldwide third party (that will be a first, I hope I don't have to test it...)
Mainly thanks to my Mum I decided to do something more generally useful with the trip. With the help of some great internet people (take a bow Mike at ScottishMall and Uschla) and the goodwill of companies, organisations and individuals we are raising cash for two health aid charities. They are Medecins Sans Frontieres providing emergency humanitarian medical aid in war-zones and Riders for Health, which educates African health workers in running "zero breakdown" motorcycle fleets for mobile nurses.
Want some of the action? Share this dream! Virtually come with me. Help health aid too! For a tenner minimum (many people are giving 20) you get a unique highly collectible (of course) Millennium Ride metal pin and all the gory details by regular en-route email updates. Cash will be shared 50/50 between the charity of your choice, and the fuel bill which is estimated at 4000 pounds. Thereafter everything will go to the charities. The BMF has provided a credit card/Switch facility, and companies interested in world publicity should get in touch now!
It's also nice to know that FEMA member organisations are taking an interest. MAG Belgium's idea was to take bets on how far I'll get with profits to humanitarian aid! John, about the bike...
Six months to go and counting, I'll let you know how I get on.