TOURING:On yer bike mate
HENRY Cole’s love of bikes has manifested in a plethora of TV shows in the last three decades.
Fans have grown to love his easygoing personality and his adventures on the open road.
He arrived in South Africa, again, to shoot three episodes for his forthcoming instalment of World’s Greatest Motorcycle Rides.
I got to meet this revered TV presenter on his 54th birthday, which he was most nonchalant about. He took a few minutes to try to mentally tally the countries he’s been to.
“I’ve been doing this for about 32 years now,” he says. “I’ve done about 40 countries. I prefer the feeling of being in a frontier country.” He reflects: “I have travelled to Croatia, former Yugoslavia and Latvia, for example. You feel the different culture here.
“They have a unique way of doing things. I learn little bits but I know I’m never going to get under their skin. That just means I have to return to learn more.”
“There are countries that are full of surprises. America is about Los Angeles, New York and the movies,” he continues. “But the majority of America is a very deprived and poor country.
“You ride across and you see things you wouldn’t believe is happening in this most capitalist country in the world.
“There are people living in caravans in the middle of the desert, with no running water. I know there are people living in much worse conditions around the world, but I’m trying to point out that you don’t get to see the real America.
“Hence why I’ve ridden Route66 three times. It’s 3500 miles long (5630km). Every time I see something different.
“I learn more about that culture. It’s the same with South Africa. I learn about the indigenous languages here. I try and speak some of them but I’m useless.”
Cole shares: “I love visiting countries that have often had a difficult past because all my true friends have experienced that - so have I with my drug abuse and that kind of stuff.
“If you are fighting or fought for something, then that makes you much more humble and caring. Slovenia is one of the most beautiful places I have visited.
“East Germany and Berlin have faced horrendous difficulties. Awful people have been in charge of them.
“But there comes a hope and enthusiasm for the future from the people that live there and that’s infectious to an old git like me.”
In general, Cole steers clear of places that have been commercialised as it dilutes the authenticity of the place.
When it comes to cuisine, if he’s working, he sticks to a plain-old cheese-and-ham sandwich and a bottle of sparkling water.
But if he is on holiday, he gets a bit more adventurous.
He admits: “I’ve got to put my hands up here. I will very much eat culinary delights (like street food), to a degree. When I’m working, play it safe. But, if I’m on holiday, I will sample the food of different cultures.”
Reflecting on some of his most remarkable road trips to date, he says: “I would like to say that every trip is unforgettable because I chose it.
“Riding in Italy is amazing. The centre of Spain, which is so gloriously rustic and beautiful, is unforgettable. Riding in France, Norway, Sweden, Finland and from Sydney to Perth.”
There are no airs and graces when Cole is on the road.
He minds his manners whenever he is in a new place.
The TV presenter explains: “I’ve ridden so much in France. People always complain about the French and I hear all this s**t.
“If you turn up and go, ‘I would like a packet of cigarettes, please’, they are just gonna look at you. You are not responding to their culture at all.
“But if you go, ‘Paquet de cigarettes s’il vous plaît’, they will ask you what brand you want in English because you are trying.
“You need to go into a country, humble. Take off your shades, be as polite as possible.”
As for his must-haves when he travels, he admits he takes the usual, a credit card and mobile phone. “And because I’ve stayed at some pretty horrible hotels, I carry my battery-operated clip-on bedside light. The moment it goes on, I can cosy up and feel like I’m at home. The other thing is instant coffee.”
In the meantime, he’s enjoying exploring more of South Africa’s picturesque routes before heading back home to shoot a few of his other TV shows, including a one-hour documentary on the history of Harley Davidson in Milwaukee.
The Saturday Star