The Sunday Social with George Clarke
George Clarke, architect and TV presenter, is famous for his amazing spaces and boundless positivity – but he’s also a complete motorcycle obsessive who believes that “Riding a motorcycle is the most beautiful thing in the world”. We’re with you George…
George Clarke quick facts
- Age 43
- Famous for Great TV shows on small spaces and ugly houses
- Number of bikes owned 3 right now, 20 since starting riding
- Crashes so far Oh god yeah, 4 ‘edgy’ ones, but loads more off-road
- Official: Norton 650 Scrambler in development
- Watch: GS Trophy gets a dose of girl power
- Poll: Was Lorenzo right not to pull over for Dovi in Valencia?
- MCN Fleet: New rubber for the X-ADV & new gear for me!
- Help us decide the best 2018 Suzuki GSX-R colour
So what are you currently riding?
“Parked out the front at the moment I’ve got a Triumph Thruxton R, which is my main urban bike which I use all the time, and is the bike I use to get around London. It’s got plenty of power and it’s nice and smooth. It’s quite a narrow bike, too – so it’s easy to weave through the traffic. I traded my Ducati Monster 821 in to buy the Thruxton. Ducati’s were my dream bikes in terms of looks, and even if I had to compromise a little on performance I was happy with that because they look so nice. I’ve always been obsessed by great looking bikes. The Thruxton R has been a bit of a game changer for me. The 821 was my daily bike, but I didn’t like all the plastic bits, and as soon as I put it next to the Thruxton R, I knew I had to buy the Thruxton.
“I’ve also got a Triumph Explorer XCA. I did have a BMW R1200GS, but I’d only had it four days before it got stolen. I was so f***ed-off. I’m super careful about locking my bikes up, but I’d left it outside the house for 3 or 4 minutes while I dashed into the house to put some extra riding gear on, and the thieves had obviously followed me through London, and saw me get off the bike and go into the house, and within seconds they’d broken the steering lock and it was gone. Bike theft is off the scale in London now, I don’t know what we’re going to do about it, but it’s got to be tackled. So anyway, I’ve replaced the GS with the Explorer for now because it’s just perfect for touring. I’ve just been away on it in the Lake District for a long weekend riding with mates and staying at my caravan.
“Lastly, at my house in Ibiza I’ve got a KTM 690 Enduro, which I use for riding around the hills on the island, and getting down to the beach when the roads are really crammed with tourists. It’s my holiday toy – and it keeps my off-road skills sharp. There’s a few routes that I know really well along the coastline, and I try and go out in the golden hour at the end of the day as the sun is going down, and I hug the coastline off-road on the dirt tracks. It’s one of the most perfect rides on Earth. I can just pull up, put the bike on its sidestand and sit there watching the sun go down. It doesn’t get any better – it’s one of my favourite biking moments.”
Which living motorcyclist do you most admire?
“I’ve never really thought about that. It’s a good question. I suppose it’s got to be Guy Martin. I know that’s a bit of a cliché, but he’s a fellow TV lad, too, so I should big him up.”
What’s your worst riding habit?
[Laughs] “Oh, I’ve got loads! One of my worst riding habits is attempting to do a jump when I’m riding off-road, then getting over the other side to find it’s a blind corner. I’ve done it so many times, and it’s just stupid. The number of times I’ve thought ‘this looks good, I’m gonna jump that’, then I get in mid-air and see that the track veers off. That’s always been a bit interesting – and I never seem to learn from it, which just shows my stupidity. When I’m riding on the road I’m pretty safe, because you have to worry about everybody else and what they’re doing – but when I’m off-road having a bit of fun I take a lot more risks and tend to push myself harder and do silly things.”
If you could have one riding super skill, what would it be?
“I’ve taken my kids a few times to see the big stunt shows, and seeing those guys hang in the air at incredible heights for four or five seconds is amazing. When I’m watching them, I try to imagine how it feels to be floating on air, to be riding the bike, but I’ve not got the balls to do it. That’d be my dream talent.”
When were you last scared on a bike?
“This is where I’ve got a screw loose. I very rarely get scared, and don’t tend to have much fear on bikes. The last incident I had where I thought ‘this could get a bit messy’ was on a trip in Morocco through the Atlas mountains, and I was coming down off a mountain pass. It was really slippery, and we hadn’t passed anyone all day, and came around a blind bend to be head-on with a minibus. I thought ‘I’m straight into that’, but I threw the bike down and got off, and just slid out of its way. The bike came off worse than I did. If I’d slid right, then I’d have gone off the edge of the mountain, but we slid about 25 yards to the left and walked away to tell the tale. That was one of those slow-motion moments. I’m not sure I was scared, but I certainly thought it could be messy.”
How many miles have you done in the last year?
“Not enough. One of the problems with my job is that every morning I’m nearly always at a railway station or an airport – and because of all the gear I need to carry, I just can’t do it on a bike. I’m filming almost every day. I guess I must be doing around 4000 miles a year on the Thruxton, mainly around London. The Explorer might do 7-8000 miles, but that’s about it.”
What five bikes would you put into your dream garage?
“Oh god, now we’re talking. I’d probably go for a 1969 Triumph Bonneville. My Thruxton R would have to sit alongside it. Then I’d have a Honda CBR1000RR Fireblade, too. I rode one in Japan recently, and loved it – I felt like I’d been miniaturised and put on a Scaletrix track. I think I’d have an Africa Twin in there, too. The last one is just for nostalgia – it’s not a great bike – but I’d have a Honda Super Dream. When I was living on my estate up in the North East when I was 11 or 12 years-old, some lads who had a garage about 50 yards from my Mum’s house had a couple of Super Dreams, and as a kid I thought they were so cool.”
What’s the highest mileage you’ve covered in one day?
“It was just under 300 kilometres, all off road in Morocco. It was seriously gruelling, with mountains, ravines, river crossings, the lot. It was the most diverse and longest day of riding I’ve ever done with zero tarmac. It was extreme – and nearly broke me!”
What irritates you most on a bike?
“How long have you got? I guess the biggest one is just people who can’t drive. It staggers me how some people pass their driving test. I think everyone should have to redo their test every five years. Some people are absolutely clueless. The worst ones for me are private hire cabbies in London. They don’t know where they’re going, and just follow satnavs. You get what you pay for, and I’d rather support the black cab drivers.”
You’ve got two weeks off: where are you going?
“The Lake District. I love the Lakes, they really pluck my heart strings. I used to go there a lot as a kid, and I’ve got my little caravan up there – the one I did for the first series of Amazing Spaces, Series 1. So I ride up there, then just ride the roads for days on end. I love it there at this time of year when it’s quiet, and the colours are autumnal – it’s a special place.”
Got one pearl of wisdom for new riders?
“Take it easy. The first big bike that I bought was the Ducati S2R, and I was slightly over-excited, and went far too quickly. Riding a bike is one of the most beautiful experiences in the world. You’re out in the elements, you’re connected to a really responsive machine – but you’ve got to take it easy. When you’re going fast you’re just connected to the bike, but when you take it easy you connect to the landscape, too.”
Ever fallen off in a car park (or somewhere equally embarrassing)?
Do you have one indispensable item of kit?
“Not really to be honest. For me it’s all about the bike, I’m not bothered about the kit.”
Which four people would you invite on a Sunday blast?
“I tend to ride on my own, usually. But I’d have to take Carl Fogarty, that’d be a good laugh. I would love to take Muhammad Ali, because he’s a legend and my biggest sporting hero ever – he’s so awesome. I’d take my mate Mark Radcliff [he’s not the radio DJ], who’s my biking mate. He’s such a good lad, he came with me to Morocco. And if we’re just riding off-road, I’d take Georgie, my eldest son.”
Do you have a tool you couldn’t live without?
“It’d be my Leatherman multitool. You can tinker with bikes, you can tinker on building sites, you can tinker with camera equipment. I’ve always got one with me, it’s a multifunctional tinkering tool.”
Do you adjust your suspension?
“No, I should – but I don’t. I don’t trust myself.”
If you could have one of your old bikes back, which would it be?
“I wouldn’t to be honest. I only look back and have fond feelings for bikes I’ve not had, but when it comes to ones that I’ve owned I’ve always sold them for a good reason, and moved on. When I’m done, I’m done – I’m always looking forward.”
What bike would you never buy?
[Laughs] “I’m going to get in trouble for this. I’m just not a fan of Harley-Davidson. I’m just not. I rode one in New Zealand, and it was a nice-looking bike, but I don’t like big, over-the-top ugly Harleys. The cool stripped-back minimalist naked ones are alright, but 95% of them are horrible. You might as well buy a sofa and put some wheels on it.”
Which road (or track) would you have built on your desert island?
“Probably the California coast road. While it’s not the most exciting road in itself, for me there’s just something fantastic about riding a really smart coast road with the sea one side and the land the other, and not much else around you.”
If you ruled the world, what new law would you pass?
[Laughs] “Oh my god – I could say something really dangerous, and get myself in all sorts of trouble. Erm. So let’s just say that anyone who steals a motorbike should never be allowed to see the light of day ever again.”