The Great Mile Motorcycle Rally
The Great Mile is a 1000 mile, 72-hour motorcycle rally, from the northern tip of Scotland to the southern tip of Cornwall for custom, classic and cafe racer motorcycles. We spoke to Mr Ricky Phoolka about the event and his epic journey across the British Isles.
Mr Ricky Phoolka is a Creative Director working in London, exploring what it feels like to be a human being in a digital world. His multi-media approach spans animation, film, interactive media and web to make visceral, colour driven, emotive culture. He recently embarked on an adventure for ‘The Great Mile’ Rally, riding from Manchester to the top of Scotland and back down to the southernmost tip of England; Lizard point covering almost 2600 miles. We were fortunate to get to interview him and hear about his gutsy adventure.
How did you find out about ‘The Great Mile’? And what was it about?
I was planning a trip to the Swiss Alps when I came across an article about The Great Mile. It was the first time anyone had ever organised such a long rally, running through the most beautiful and unique landscapes in the British Isles. ‘The Great Mile’ is a 1000 mile, 72-hour motorcycle rally, from the northern tip of Scotland to the southern tip of Cornwall for custom, classic and cafe racer motorcycles. It was perfect - just what I was looking for. I was hooked, The Alps would have to wait for another year.
What inspired you to enter the motorcycle rally?
When it comes to motorcycling, I know when the urge is there nothing is going to hold me back. My heart rules my head. Although not always the best approach, with many possible setbacks, one thing is for sure; you never have a boring life.
The opportunity to go on an amazing adventure, photograph the wonderful scenery and meet and ride with other passionate bikers doesn't present itself every day.
No matter the bike - classic, custom or cafe racer - everyone was there because of a shared love for motorcycles. I wanted to be a part of it and experience all the British Isles has to offer.
Was this your first motorcycle rally experience? Have you ever ridden this far before?
I‘ve attended many competitive rallies in the past, but this was an adventure of a different kind. This to me was an opportunity to embark on an adventure, experience the different landscapes, ride amongst the coolest motorcycles and, most importantly, meet people and have a memorable experience.
I am lucky to be surrounded by many amazing places to ride, being based in the North West. The Lake District, Peak District, in and around Snowdonia and Wales are all wonderful places to bike and see the countries that make up the British Isles. However, as they are not long-distance rides, this was different. It was a great opportunity and challenge for me and my bike.
What were your preparations for the motorbike rally? And how long did it take you?
My preparations started a month before the rally. I started looking at logistics and devising a schedule and realised it was going to take me 9 days in total. I booked my holidays and planned out the journey:
Day 1 - Manchester to Glencoe
Day 2 - Exploring Glencoe
Day 3 - Glencoe to Inverness
Day 4 - Glencoe to Castle of Mey, the starting point of the rally
Day 5 to Day 8 - The Great Mile Rally
Day 9 - The journey back from Lizard Point to Manchester
All in all, I would be covering more than 2,300 miles. I was seriously beginning to have my doubts, nevertheless, I stuck to my plan - giving up was not an option. I had four weekends to prepare so the planning had to be meticulous. Each weekend I focused on one area - riding gear, bike mods, photography , and camping gear.
I planned to have two panniers on either side of the bike which would carry my camping gear, a duffel bag on top for my kit, and a backpack for my photography gear. The next big challenge was deciding how to secure the luggage to the bike. It didn’t help that I tend to over-pack, I was now carrying photo and computer equipment too. It took me about two weeks to research appropriate pannier racks and mounts. During the research, I came across Rok straps. At first, I wasn’t sure about them, but they proved to be very versatile. I used them to secure all my luggage including the panniers and my huge duffel bag.
Did you make any modifications to your motorbike?
My stock BMW R nine T would have been eligible, but I wanted to personalize it with a few subtle mods. I was keen on the bike to have a scrambler look yet maintain its aesthetic. It wasn’t very complicated - I fitted new TKC 80’s tyres and a new scrambler seat which really did change the look of the bike. New handlebars, along with new Magnamoto turn signals and a few accessories from Rizoma made for some cosmetic changes. One of the things that most concerned me was how the bike was going to handle, especially after having modified the handlebar and tyres. Luckily, I had a day off over the weekend before the rally to test the bike. It was perfect.
What was the idea behind the Instagram videos and photos?
It was simply to share my experience with my family. Two days before leaving I decided I was going to film my journey, capturing my experience with photos.
To begin with, I was contemplating creating cinematic style videos. However, I soon realised it was not going to be possible given the time and the long riding hours. To keep things simple, I decided to make a 10-second video, starting with the day’s journey, map and clips from my helmet cam and photos. It was effective and manageable given the circumstances, and I was able to edit and post the content every day. It also helped me to connect with fellow riders who were participating in the rally. There was a feeling of mutual appreciation of bikes and the ride. The positivity from fellow bikers was empowering and motivating, leaving me sure the decision to go on the ride was the right one.
Was it challenging to take pictures along the way?
It was challenging but also a great learning experience. When you have been riding for hours you just want to stop, have a coffee and then get back on the bike. When recording the ride with photos, you have to make selective choices about what you will capture. I would stop at a suitable location, remove my gloves, backpack and take out the camera. Then I would need to check the lens, the settings, set-up the tripod, shoot, change the view and shoot again.
Doing this constantly takes its toll. Tiredness and emotions can be overwhelming, and accidents can happen. One day I was taking a photograph of the bike in a field, and on the next click, my bike dropped. Thankfully the field softened the blow!
When it rains, taking photographs takes much more time. This can be frustrating when the only battery pack you have is dead and there is nowhere to charge it! Editing and posting were usually done at the end of the day. It could take up to three hours to go through the footage and edit, which was only possible if I found a suitable stop with wi-fi. Overall, I found the experience challenging but immensely gratifying
Did you meet any of the riders on the way up to Castle of Mey?
Most of the riders were having their bikes transported and flew directly to Inverness, but I hoped I would see or meet some riders. I had not come across a bike heading my way, however, there were many I nodded to riding in the opposite direction.
On my 4th day, from Inverness to Castle of Mey, I stopped at a cafe for coffee and breakfast, and to do my daily editing. Having finished, I rode on for about 20 miles and stopped at a red light, seeing two headlights flashing in my rear-view mirror. Hearing the blipping of throttles, I instantly knew they were heading for the rally. I felt a sense of excitement and let them overtake me. I had followed them for 30 miles when it started to rain. They pulled off to the side of the road to put on their rain gear, and I passed them and stopped about a mile ahead to wait. The bikers were Johnny and his father, a team also participating in the Great Mile. It was a pleasure to meet them and learn about their journey so far. We had a nice chat and rode up to Castle of Mey together, and were some of the first people to arrive.
Tell us about your team?
Our team was one of the twenty-three teams that entered the rally. There were more than 80 riders who participated. We were a team of four riders who had all signed up as ’Lone Wolves’. Team ‘Tribeam’ was formed and we hit it off right away. Rob rode a ‘95 Triumph Speed Triple, Jason a custom Triumph, Steve a classic BMW R80 and I rode a BMW R Nine T. It was a pleasure to have them as my teammates and together we had a truly memorable experience.
What did The Great Mile rally entail?
Each day the rally teams were given 3 checkpoints to guide them through the country. Every route was different. Ultimately the rally timing and the course the riders took were up to each individual team. The clock started when all riders had crossed the starting line, and stopped once the entire team had reached each checkpoint. At each checkpoint, the times were logged and compared against the average speed of the day’s course.
At the end of each day and at the final checkpoint, the riders gathered at the rally camp. We relaxed, drank cold beer, ate and talked about motorcycles. Dinner was served under canvas, which gave the riders all evening to socialise, review the day’s rally and plan the next day’s route.
The rally was not about competing, it was purely focused on completing the course and enjoying the ride.
The motorcycle rally started from Castle of Mey and was made up of:
Rally Day 1 (Thursday) - Highlands/Scotland Rally
Day 2 (Friday) - Scotland/England Rally
Day 3 (Saturday) - Wales Rally Day
4 (Sunday) - Devon/Cornwall, ending at Lizard Point
The average daily route was between 300 and 350 miles, more than 6 hours of riding a day.
Having ridden from the top of Scotland to the bottom of England, what were the stand-out routes and places?
Tongue Bridge to Ullapool - The A83 was one of the best rides due to truly spectacular scenery and wonderful empty roads. It loops around the top of Scotland where people are heavily outnumbered by sheep!
Glencoe to Bridge of Orchy - The A82 made me forget I was on a journey, as I was completely in awe of the dramatic landscape.
Ruthin to Machynlleth - The A5 -A470. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many motorbikes en route, a Mecca of motorcycles. It was a very scenic ride, which made the journey just as much fun as when I first arrived at the rally. There was a selection of mountain twisties, with stunning scenery around every bend and over every crest.
Dunster Castle to Princetown: Riding through the beautiful and rugged wilds of Dartmoor, the visibility got very poor we were surrounded by mist. At some turns, I could barely see beyond 10 feet. There was something very dark and mysterious about this place, making it an unforgettable ride.
What was the most exciting moment of The Great Mile rally?
There were so many thrilling moments, but the one that stands out for me was on Rally Day 2, just after starting. We had finished fuelling up and were making our way through the Glencoe Valley. I was riding at the back of the pack enjoying the ride and the spectacular morning landscape. I could see silhouettes of the other teams ahead in the distance. Rob was riding in front of our pack and overtook another team. I am not sure they took kindly to this, as they began to pick up speed and almost raced him. Jason and Steve were slowly making their way past the team in front. The pace of the bikes ahead had also increased. I remained at the back, hesitating to overtake in case I upset some of the other riders.
Just then, my teammates caught up to another team ahead. I was stuck behind eight bikes and needed to make a decision - overtake and catch up with my teammates, or ride behind the others and hope to catch up with my team at the next checkpoint? I decided to overtake the first bike then overtook another and another. I was soon beginning to catch up with my team, although they were still a fair distance away. Adrenaline was starting to kick in, and I was totally at one with the bike. Finally, after overtaking many bikes, I was behind Steve. I didn’t want to stop there, so pushed on ahead until it was only me and the empty road ahead. I was so lost in the ride that I only remembered my teammates when I was stopped at the checkpoint.
When the ride is going well it flows like a dance. I almost had goosebumps on that ride... in the same way as listening to Hans Zimmer’s epic soundtracks.
Was The Great Mile motorcycle rally everything you had hoped for?
Everything and more. What an epic ride! It was an amazing experience where I learned about perseverance, had adventures and made friendships. It was truly unforgettable, I met some amazing people who were all part of my journey. It gave me the inspiration to keep challenging myself and I hope to embark on another adventure soon.
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