Royal Geographical Society lecture by Simon Harby OF

After Minute reading the President, Prof Sir Gordon Conway KCMG FRS introduced the Harbys very amusingly and commented on the large number of friends attending – the largest he had ever seen.

The lecture was shared with a little more than half being presented by Simon. Both were extremely professional in their presentations; no beating about the bush; they stuck to the nitty gritty of their story. It was not possible to get down many notes as the theatre was in darkness most of the time but the couple gave an enthralling presentation which held the audience spellbound: light guffaws and exclamations abounded round the room throughout the evening.

The majority of the lecture was about riding through Morocco, Africa, India, Burma, Thailand and Indonesia. They covered rather more than the circumference of the world – some 60,000 miles. Half a dozen short videos were included; the President apologised for the poor quality (like the mirage when going at speed in the desert) – the practice run had been perfectly alright.

Simon was inspired by Peter Ustinov. In the Tagant Desert, near the boarder of Mali, Simon hit a donkey at speed which was their only casualty so he had to go to Johannesburg to get a new machine; they used three bikes on the trip and their current two were parked outside the RGS entrance. Petrol prices ranged from 11p per litre in Indonesia to 95p in the UK.

In India they landed at Mumbai and went south then up the middle to Delhi. The thing most to be avoided there is Tata trucks; they saw numerous accidents including one stopping so short the body left the chassis. One scary bit 60 kms south of Srinegar in Kashmir was an explosion ahead in traffic and no sign of Suzi behind for some time. It turned out a Muslim shopkeeper had given her shelter. Simon recalled the British leaving India – “The most they lost was not India, it was the Himalayas” – ‘they are just wonderful’.

Passes had to be obtained for several countries – one occasion meant waiting three months for the Burma one

At question time there was a steady stream, most centring on the human and personal side of the expedition. In answer to the first question, the preferred place for Simon to revisit was the Himalayas and for Suzi it was Namibia; “It is full of variety and just so beautiful.”

The bikes carried reserve fuel tanks for up to 600km range. Suzi’s bike practice consisted of riding 2,000 miles on a trip to Scotland.

Straight after the lecture, I managed to have a brief word with Simon who said there is part of story on the OF Website and he is talking to the College on 13 March (now changed to 10 March); in a second chat I gave good wishes from Brian Rosen (S40-46) who had been a ‘bikey’ for 50 years and would have loved to be there but he lives near Lyon.

I then waited 15 minutes and managed to get a cancellation of a dinner place; they are only held after Monday member nights. By pure chance I was seated on the table with Simon’s sister, Fiona, who went to St Felix and had lots of boyfriends from Fram Coll. Her husband Philip is an architect and they live in the Close at Norwich Cathedral and their daughter Kate is awaiting to hear if she has a place at Norwich School for Sixth Form. It was thought Simon’s best friend from Fram was unable to be there as he has a young family. A friend, Nigel, had been a great support for the whole expedition and sent a replacement rear shock absorber to Delhi and a chum in Delhi couriered it to Baspa Valley on the Tibeten/Nepalese boarder.

Simon and Suzi Harby take a breather at the top of Kunzum Pass, Himachal, Northern India


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