To Hell and Back - Derbi GPR50, Aprilia SXV, Quadzilla

A journey of pain, suffering and 573 miles to Cornwall on a temperamental supermoto, a 50cc sportsbike and an unstable quad.

The village of Helland sits in the middle of Bodmin Moor in Cornwall and is home to just 103 people. Apart from a bridge, an old arboretum and a posh manor house called Pencarrow which showcases a magnificent collection of antique dolls, there isn't much going on here. There's no pub, no village hall nor even a payphone.

It is, however, a long way from the TWO office and therefore presents itself as an ideal location to send the staff on a team-building day out. Nothing brings motorcyclists together like shared suffering, the rigours of a hard journey combined with terrible weather and running out of fuel are nourishment for the biker's body and soul. Apparently, we live for this sort of thing.

So we assembled the most unlikely collection of motorcycles known to man and sent them on their way. One bike with a tank range of less than 50 miles, one bike with 9bhp and one bike that wasn't even a bike. Everyone knows what it's like to do a really hard day in the saddle, but to ride the best part of 600 miles on such misplaced machinery was enough to force a sense of humour failure out of even the giddiest member of staff...

Derbi GRP50

Andy's 50cc Tale

"Fancy going on a roadtest mate? Don't worry, you'll be on a sports bike, probably the best bike in the feature."

Of course I said yes. An R1 would do me nicely, just the right tool for the job, I thought. I couldn't have been more wrong. What they neglected to mention was that using A-roads only wasn't the only catch, and we would in fact be making the entire 573 mile round trip on some unlikely machinery. Mine was to be a Derbi GPR50. All 9bhp of it!

So here we are at 10am on the morning of the trip, I'm in the car park looking at a quad, a supermoto and the Derbi thinking, I have definitely got the worst deal here. The quad has the comfort, the supermoto has the engine - and I have a leaf blower.  So I set off. It's raining. Joy. And my first fear is realised within the first mile: a top speed of 47mph. The title of this feature starts making sense.

The Derbi has only seven miles on the clock and from the moment it leaves the car park to the moment I pull up in Cornwall the throttle remains pinned. It takes all six gears to get to top speed and even then it drops to 35mph up hills. That said, it turns out the riding position is comfortable, and one massive benefit the Derbi has over the others is that it goes 150miles for just £9 worth of petrol. I only have to stop for fuel twice.

The first stop is Stonehenge to meet the photographer. Oli reports that the supermoto is struggling with fuel and has stopped, so he's way behind. Urry, on the quad, has just overtaken me (for the second time) as we pull into the meeting point after passing me earlier, only to stop with overheating problems. I'm taking from this some encouragement. All I need to do is to keep plodding on, and providing the engine doesn't explode, I could actually get to the destination first. Real hare and tortoise stuff.

GRP50 - 2

Half of the Helland trip is dual carriageways. All I can do is keep the throttle fully open and try to find a comfortable position to perch while the miles slowly click by. The other half of the trip is single lane A-road. These provide a little more entertainment, I can slipstream cars, lorries, vans (just about everything) and when the key moment arrives, slingshot past, downhill.

I can't explain how physically tiring the trip is. The boredom and the frustration I can deal with, but the wind and the rain and trying to get keep up maximum speed is seriously hard. It's turing dark as the Derbi and I make it to Helland. It hasn't exploded, but my head has. I pull into our hotel car park at 9.30pm and there's Oli the photographer. "Are the others here yet?" I ask. "No, you're first!" What emotion!

A deafening crescendo blasts from a hidden orchestra in my brain, and a satisfying shiver passes over my body. Maybe Rossi feels like this too? I've made it, and I've come first. Oli's next words cut like a needle being ripped off a record. "And you've got to do it all again tomorrow."

On the way home the next day I find I have a bond with my little bike. There aren't many bikes you can run at maximum revs for over 19 hours without them blowing up. No warning lights light, no unexplained vibrations or suspect noises come from my Derbi. The downside is the sheer lack of power, but there is something bizarrely satisfying about backing up long lines of traffic and slowing massive artics as you stuggle up hill. I mean, what else can you do?

I was nearly home by midnight the following day, the roads had dried up, and me and the Derbi were on fire cutting swathes of destruction through the backroads near Orpington. Teenage kicks? Nice.


Urry's Quad Horror

Stitching adman Andy Stevens up with the 50cc Derbi was a stroke of genius, but I wasn't exactly having the time of my life on this road-legal quad. The spray being flicked up from the artic's wheels made it through the thin protection of my lid and has now formed a foul tasting goatee on my face. Each new dousing brings an ever more unpleasant concoction of flavours that are waging an all out war on my taste buds. Diesel, mud, chemicals. After about 20 minutes of this abuse they all start to merge into one. Then, just when I think my misery can't be compounded any more, the quad splutters, coughs, then dies completely.

After five minutes I decide to give starting the quad another shot. First prod of the starter and the 448cc single barks into life and I flap around trying to get sodden gloves onto wet hands before it dies again. Parp, parp, parp, parp, with 40mph on the clock I'm already in fifth (top) gear. With 65mph showing Quadzilla is on the redline. Or at least the imaginary redline, with only a minimal LED display showing speed and a trip I'm only guessing as to the abuse I'm putting the poor quad through, but it's giving back as much as I'm dealing out.

From the off our relationship was rocky. Leaving Orpington in the rain I decided to cut through London to pick up the M3. Within two miles I was stuck in a traffic jam. Great, all the cold and wetness of being on two wheels, but none of the filtering ability. A quick U-turn (huge steering lock proving one bonus) and I headed towards the M25. Yes, despite looking like a yokel's muddy field transport this quad is 100% road legal and allowed on the motorway. Not that I'd recommend it.

Quadzilla - 2

Off the motorway and the A303 presents a whole new selection of problems. Suddenly I have to conquer corners. Not just gentle bends, I mean corners, as in roundabouts. The problem with quads is that they don't like cornering. No, that's a lie. They do like cornering, it's just that they aren't built to corner on the road. With a solid rear axle and no differential, quads are designed to slide. Turn, gas it and slide the rear. Which is all very well if you are in a field. On the road the level of grip is so high the rear won't slide, and the quad lifts its inside wheels as the high centre of gravity takes over.

Back on the A303 and I'm stuck in a queue again. Around Stonehenge the road is a single carriageway and something is holding up the traffic. I discover the cause. Andy, doing a steady 45mph. Laughing I storm past, turning an impressive 71mph. Two miles later the quad splutters to another standstill. Complete and utter arse gravy.

Which just about sums up my journey. Blasts of 60mph-plus speeds followed by 10 minute roadside rests as I let the bike cool down. Eventually I work out that by keeping the speed at bang on 60mph Quadzilla will see off its 100-mile tank range without enforced stoppages, but by this time it's 9pm, it's dark and Andy is already at Helland and in a pub (although later I am to find out that there is no pub, which improves my mood no end).

Having ridden over 500 miles on the quad in two days I'm not 100% sure these things should be road legal. I can't believe that you don't have to wear a lid on one, but it's the handling that worries me. Quads have too much grip and too high a centre of gravity to go around corners. That said, for showing off the quad rules - people openly laugh. And I simply can't believe how much abuse the engine withstands. It was on the limiter for seven hours and didn't explode. Amazing.

Aprilia SXV5.5

JB's Hammer Time

I roll out of the office car park, last to leave. It's 1.15pm. I'm leaving a good three hours after Andy, five minutes behind Urry. I reach the end of the road and the fuel light comes on. I stop at the first services and refuel. £4.90 later I walk back to the Aprilia, the pattern set already.

I set off down the M25. It's raining. We leave the motorway at Godstone and join the A25, to effectively sweep the route Andy's taking on the minute Derbi - he can't take motorways. There's no sign of him, which is good news, but just as I realise my '100% waterproof' trousers aren't, I spot the oil light is on. I ride on, waiting to see if it goes out again.

By Dorking nothing's changed, so I stop and start investigating. Resetting the ignition does nothing. I check the oil filler but see no oil and there's no dipstick. I fiddle with connectors. Still the oil light is on. I'm mindful that the rain that's saturated my trousers (so soon, too) may have also saturated the electrics. I call Aprilia UK and after discounting the first option - abandonment (I'd never hear the end of it) - we settle on a re-route to East Grinstead and Bikersworld for a check-over. 10 miles south the light goes out. Yeah, great. I slide off the A24 onto the A29, and pick up the A272 for a route west.

Then another light comes on. This time it's the fuel light (again). I've done 50 miles. Hmm. Some 12 miles later I've still not seen a gas station and I'm wondering how much reserve there'll be in a tank that goes to 'reserve' in 50... I reach Petworth only to find there's no petrol there. I have to retrace a mile then head north for four. I reach the service station. I pour in 7.5 litres into what is a 7.8 litre tank.

So, back to the A272 and the oil light comes on again, but by now I'm prepared to ignore it. By Winchester I'm refuelling again, but I'm cheered by the news that Oli, the photographer, is starting to lose his patience, waiting for me up on the A303. Andy and Urry have been and gone ages ago, he rants through his mobile. Nothing uplifts like a misery shared. Fortified, I'm going cross-country again, avoiding the A34 for no-name, no-number roads that curl through quaint towns like 'Nether Wallop' and 'Palestine' (eh?).

SXV5.5 - 2

I'm glad I rode the SXV5.5 at the official launch in Sicily as I know what a stunning supermoto racer it is. On a go-kart track, going no more than 60mph, this thing is both explosive, yet exquisitely precise. An incredible tool. As a tourer, it's not so good. Obviously the fuel range isn't terrific. But then that's a good 30 miles better than the seat range. I've brought a seat cover with me, but even that can't blunt the agony.

Once I'm on the A303 I settle in for the long haul. It's 5.30pm and as Oli says, I'm not even half way to Hell(and). 65mph is my cruising speed. I'm stopping every 40-50 miles for fuel and to force blood back into my arse cheeks. By Exeter the rain has stopped. Bliss. 20 miles outside of Exeter I spot what looks to be an abandoned quad in a lay-by. Ha! I slow to investigate and Urry's head pokes out of a hedge. The quad's overheated, he tells me. 10 minutes later we continue together.

On the tiny roads that lead over the moor to Helland, Urry, leading, finds he can't see. I take over and marvel at just how strong the Aprilia's headlight is. We reach Helland just 20 minutes behind Andy. He's beaten us! On the 50 - what a result. As it turns out, being that it's 10pm, all restaurants are closed, so it's the crustiest hotel sandwiches ever for us. My first food since a KitKat in Petworth. A uniquely ghastly experience from start to finish.

Hellish Conclusions

Hellish Conclusions

It doesn't matter what you ride, you can still have a hilrarious time with a bunch of mates on any kind of road trip, even something as daft as this. While we took it a stage further than most, the strangely-rewarding challenge of riding long distances against the elements will always remain.

The biggest surprise for all of us was the speed of the 50cc Derbi. It proves the old hare and tortoise adage. Despite being limited to a paltry 47mph Andy on the GPR arrived at the hotel first, because nothing went wrong. He didn't break down, run out of fuel, overheat or get lost. Andy's lowest point was on the return journey, four hours from home and passing Stonehenge. "I felt shit, everything hurt, it was pissing down again and I'd run out of things to think about, so I sat in the vacuum of my own mind in abject misery," he says.

Meanwhile JB discovered that supermotos are great fun so long as you don't have to ride more than 30 miles. "Worst bit? In a posh town called Petworth with 200 miles to go, soaked-through already, with a bike running out of fuel. I just got off and sat under a bus-stop in torrential rain and watched a fat slug mount a snail by mistake." The Aprilia is an incredible back road destroyer, but it is equally adept at destroying your own back passage given a long journey.

As for the quad, there is a good reason why you don't see these on the road that often. They aren't meant to be there. To consider riding a long distance on a quad you need a long talk with yourself. There was a point on the M3 when Quadzilla first overheated and refused to run. I  tried hiding from the rain, failed, called the photographer and swore, "job's screwed, mate. This quad is dead and I'm calling the AA." Minutes later it miraculously burst back into life. And you know what? The first pint of beer at journey's end never tasted so good.

Other Famously Horrible Voyages

  • In 1970 Dave Kunst decided to walk the 14,450 miles around the world with his brother John. He walked 20 million steps, went through 21 pairs of shoes and returned home four years, three months and 16 days later - alone. Unfortunately John was shot dead when they were ambushed by bandits in Afghanistan in 1972.
  • Stowaway Fidel Maruhi survived an ascent to 38,000 feet while hiding in a 747's wheelbay on a flight from Tahiti to Los Angeles for seven hours. On landing he was discovered and rushed to hospital with a body temperature of 26 degrees (it should be 37.) After spending four days in hospital with frostbite and hypothermia he was sent back.
  • In 1966, Englishmen David Johnstone and John Hoare decided to row across the Atlantic in a 16ft rowboat called the Puffin. They planned to finish in 65 days, but 106 days and five storms later they were still paddling. They lived just long enough to find out that England had won the World Cup before being drowned with 1,000 miles to go.