The round-the-world motorcycle trip that inspired Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman to follow suit
While the 1979 Earl’s Court Motorcycle Show didn’t make much of a mark on exhibition history, big bike fans may remember it as the occasion when Kawasaki introduced Britain to the six-cylinder, water-cooled behemoth that was the Z1300.
As an impecunious 15-year-old with a year to go before the law would allow me near a public highway on a moped, the mighty Z was momentarily thrilling but totally irrelevant.
So, wandering dejectedly from the crowded Kawasaki stand, I came across a makeshift display in the low-rent area where a lone, curly-haired man was sitting behind a trestle table piled with books.
Beside him stood a battered and travel-stained Triumph Tiger 100, which, at the time, probably had a street value of £200 on a good day. Now that I could relate to.
His name was Ted Simon and this was the bike on which he had just spent four years riding around the world.
Back then he was a revolutionary: plenty of people used motorcycles for short-jaunt tours around Europe, some even fulfilled the dream of riding Harley-Davidsons coast-to-coast across America. But riding solo around the world, through its deserts, jungles and mountain ranges where Tarmac was often a novelty – it had been done, but not by many.
Simon’s colourful experiences along the way resulted in an account of his odyssey called Jupiter’s Travels, the book he was selling at Earl’s Court.
I still cherish the copy I bought from him on the day (with financial assistance from my mother – it cost £7.95) and the work has since become the overland biker’s bible, inspiring thousands of riders searching for more out of life to follow in his tracks – Long Way Round/Down/Up riders Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman being among them.
But the story didn’t end with Jupiter’s Travels because, in 2001, Simon set off to ride around the world all over again. Aged 69.
By then, I was a freelance journalist supplying articles to national newspapers, so it was with great pleasure that I arranged to re-unite with my long-standing hero in order to interview him for the Daily Mail.
I arrived at our rendezvous clutching my well-thumbed copy of Jupiter’s, which Simon dutifully signed. Despite the passing of 22 years, he was the same kind-eyed and affable man I remembered from Earl’s Court and, although we hadn’t seen one another during the intervening period, the fact that I had by then read all of his books made me feel as though I was meeting an old friend.
Simon completed his second round-the-world trek in two-and-a-half years and wrote of his adventures in 2007’s Dreaming of Jupiter. That was followed by Rolling Through the Isles, an account of his journey around Britain by Piaggio MP3 scooter in the summer of 2009 and, most recently, he has reprinted Jupiter’s Travelsin Camera, the story of the first trip told through his original, often stunning photographs.
We’ve kept in touch and, at the end of “lockdown one” in the summer of 2020, I had occasion to ride to Montpellier on my old BMW. I knew Simon was in the nearby village of Aspiran where he keeps a couple of rooms available – free of charge – for the use of fellow writers and adventurers.
He generously invited me to stay, and it was while we were chatting about how the world has changed since his epic ride around it almost 45 years ago that the subject of his age came up.
On May 1, 2023 he will be 92 years of age. And yes – he’s still riding motorcycles.
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