World-conquering motorcyclist, motorcycle tour guide, police officer and all-round good egg BRUCE SMART
by Jill Boulton
Around-the-world motorcyclist Bruce Smart is one huge inspiration – not just to wannabe adventure motorcyclists like me, but to people in all walks of life. One day about ten years ago, as Bruce sat with his mum watching Ewan McGregor’s Long Way Round DVD expressing a wish to follow in Ewan’s tyre tracks, his mum told him to get on and do it. “Live your life”, she said to him. Sadly, Bruce’s mum died of cancer not long afterwards, making Bruce even more determined to take his mum’s advice. And the fact that he didn’t have a motorcycle or a licence didn’t deter him one bit …
Bruce, thanks for taking the time to answer my questions, of which there are many! You’ve packed a lot of ‘living your life’ into the past ten years. Your story is truly touching and inspiring, and your mum would be very proud of you. How do you think you have changed since that seminal moment watching Ewan McGregor?
Wow, that’s a great question! It’s hard to remember what I was like pre-Teapot, but chatting with mates they say I’m more confident and willing to try new things than I was before. I was never a shrinking violet, but I think I was quite set in my ways, certainly in my comfort zone for sure!
Since doing the trip I’ve realised I’m capable of whatever I set my mind to. If I want to do something, it’s only me who is going to stop me from achieving it, so I’m certainly more focused in life. I’ve realised what is important to me, and that is family and friends – and I include my good friends as family in that.
Do you think you have taken your mum’s advice – are you living your life every day, or was it just for the TeapotOne journey?
100%. It’s my mantra these days. I’m not foolhardy or careless by any means, but I definitely take the view that I won’t hold back on things if it’s something I want or feel strongly about. There’s obviously a time and a place, and practicalities come into it for sure, but if I feel strongly about something, whatever that may be, I’m very aware of the fact that this may well be my only shot to accomplish it so let’s get to work and get it done.
You’ve worked in many harsh environments and faced many challenges in your work as a police officer. Do you think your experiences helped you on your world trip, or did your trip help you in your job?
Both I think. As a copper your hazard perception is very finely tuned, you constantly assess situations and people, it’s your job. But I found this could be to the detriment of the trip in the early days as I’d err on the side of caution when meeting new people, not going with the flow and deciding to stay in my own safety blanket – it’s just normal behaviour I guess.
But very quickly I relaxed into the trip and just went with whatever came my way, and that’s when the trip came alive. I think if I were to have gone to Africa later on in the trip, instead of right at the start, perhaps it may have been different as I wouldn’t have been as highly strung as I was initially. To me, it was such a shock to the system, so far outside anything I’d ever experienced that it was just a sensory overload. My ‘hazard radar’ was going crazy and I couldn’t relax.
That being said, when someone puts a gun in your face and asks you for money, it’s fairly normal to feel threatened! There was a lot of that in Mauritania 😉
What were the low points of your trip?
Coming back after Mauritania and feeling like a total failure. It was horrific. But also after the trip was completed and I was home for good. Nobody really prepares you for that, life after you’ve accomplished your dream. What do you do next?! That was a horrible time and a very hard place for me mentally I have to admit. My wife was absolutely incredible and has been my rock throughout the whole trip.
And the highs?
There were so many, and continue to be with people contacting me all the time to say how they’ve been inspired to take on their own challenges in life after following the trip.
On the trip itself it was meeting all the different people along the way, it was really grounding to see how total strangers would open up their lives to me and welcome me into theirs, helping in any way they could. I hope I’ve taken that back into my own life now and can pay it forward as much as I can.
How did you adjust back to ‘normal life’ after your world trip?
I didn’t to be honest. I came home expecting to go straight back to work, but quickly found out I’d developed a heart condition on the trip (I had an erratic heartbeat). I was put on light duties and spent over a year just sat in an office. I’d come back after this trip of a lifetime with a mountain of debt to pay off – both in credit cards and in loans from my wife and family, and I’d gone from feeling like I was achieving something in life every day on the trip, to just sort of existing, not really doing anything or being of any use to anyone.
The medication I was on for my heart certainly didn’t help, but it took a long time and a lot of patience from my wife to get me out of that place. It probably took well over a year of being home before I felt like I had a purpose again and some direction in life once more. It’s weird to say that really, but I honestly think the hardest part of the trip for me was coming home.
One piece of safety advice to us ordinary motorcyclists trying to stay alive?
Ha ha, well I’ve not had the best of years as a biker, I’ve been knocked off three times already this year! I honestly don’t think you can ever really prevent it, but you can certainly minimise the risks. I always try to keep within the speed limits when in built-up areas, you just never know when someone is going to shoot out of a junction or just not see you and turn across your path. I always have loud exhausts and bright LED headlights on my bikes, but I still get people doing exactly that to me, almost every day on my commute.
I think things like the BikeSafe days or IAM Rider Skill Days are invaluable. They really aren’t what a lot of people may think they’ll be, they are very ‘real-life’ skills based, and the instructors are just normal bikers trying to help. I think the skills I’ve learned as a police driver are incredibly valuable to me as a biker, but they’re obviously not infallible as I’ve been taken off three times this year. But I ride every single day in every type of weather, so three accidents in about 300,000 miles isn’t too bad really!
Name your favourite pieces of bike kit you won’t leave home without. Apart from the obvious ones of course (helmet, gloves, boots, Visorcat … !)
Ha ha, I’m obviously going to say Visorcat but I really do mean it. To be frank, I thought Visorcat was a gimmick at first, I didn’t think I’d use it in a million years. But after testing it for a review it was clear that there’s nothing as good as it on the market and it’s now always on my glove whenever I ride.
Apart from that I’ve always got my phone on me and I’ve always got a puncture repair plug kit in my rucksack, with some cable ties, gaffa tape and electrical tape in there, just in case.
And what are your favourite pieces of kit for touring?
Well I need to take a fair amount of electrical kit with me when I tour as I always vlog the trips for my youtube channel (youtube.com/TeapotOneVids) so I’ve always got a DSLR, a few GoPros, my Drift Ghost-S, a Gimbal, mounts, Gorillapod, drone, laptop, hard drives etc. It sounds a lot but I’ve managed to pack it all away into a rucksack, tank bag and top box, including my clothes, so I’ve often got less luggage than the other folks on the trip!
What did you learn about yourself on your world trip?
I’m stubborn. I knew that before I went (my wife kept telling me), but I’ve realised that I can use that to my advantage now as when I set my mind on something, it’s happening. I’m realistic about things, but I’m aware of what I’m capable of now and realise nothing is out of my reach, it’s only me who will limit what I can accomplish.
Before the trip, I think I had almost labelled and boxed myself away as a certain type of person who was only capable of certain things and that was that. Dreams were exactly that. Now, they are targets.
And about life and the universe and everything … ?
There is NOTHING more important in life than looking after your good friends and family, helping others where you can, and accomplishing whatever your goals are in life – whatever they are. We only get one chance in this life that we know of, so get out there and LIVE your life!
For the unitiated, please explain Chicken Strips and TeapotOne. Presumably the Teapot moniker refers to the resemblance of certain Suzukis to a teapot? And chicken strips is to do with scrubbing in your tyres …?
Ha ha, erm…. no. ‘TeapotOne’ was the call-sign of an old mobile tea wagon we used to have in the Met police. If there was a large-scale deployment of officers, like at a demo, large crime scene or anywhere where lots of officers would be deployed for a long time, then they would send out ‘TeapotOne’. It just meant that you’d get a 10-minute respite off the front line to go and have a quick brew and a biccie, get your head together and then get back to the front line. They’ve got rid of it now due to budget cuts. As I was taking a career break from work, it just made sense to call the trip TeapotOne as I was taking a break from the job for a bit!
‘ChickenStrips’ is the touring arm of TeapotOne. We take people to the very best biking roads in Europe and give them a tour they’ll hopefully never forget and talk about for years! The idea of the name is that you won’t have any chickenstrips by the time you come back from our tours as the roads are so twisty and curvy!
What bikes are in your garage? And what bike do you want next?
I’ve still got ‘The Beast’ – the 2011 Suzuki GSX-R1000 I took on the trip and that’s it just now as my other bike has been written off. I was taken off the bike coming home from work in August by a SMIDSY and my shoulder was dislocated, amongst other things. That was a BMW R1200GS, yes I know, I couldn’t believe I ended up riding one either but it really is the best road bike I’ve ever ridden!
As soon as the insurance sorts itself out I’ll be getting another GS, but I’d also love to have a Tuono Factory as a toy. I want to test a few KTMs, the new GSX-R 1000R, and a host of other bikes too though, I‘m a bit of a bikeaholic to be honest!
What’s your next challenge?
I want to go back and do Ushuaia to Deadhorse as I missed out the very bottom and top of the Americas on my trip due to money and time constraints. I’ve no idea when I’ll do it but rest assured I will one day. I also want to go back and ride around Africa, but my heart isn’t in that yet.
I’ve no idea where this came from, but I also want to cycle around the UK for some reason?
Have you met Ewan McGregor?
Ha ha, nope nothing at all from either him or Charlie. I’ve met a lot of the other motorcycle overlanders though at events like the Overland Event, HUBB UK, the NEC and Excel bike shows etc. They are all really great people and very easy to chat to so just go up and say hello if you see them anywhere.
That goes for me too by the way. I really enjoy meeting folks so please just come and say hi if you see me, or get in touch through the various social media for TeapotOne – Facebook is probably the easiest way to get in touch with me, or through the You Tube channel. It’d be great to hear from you!
- Bruce and his friend Simon Clare run ChickenStrips, the home of epic motorcycle tours of the UK & Europe. Find out more at Chickenstrips.co.uk
- Live Bruce’s journey across the world through his presentations, book & DVD – see (www.teapotone.com).
- Bruce also produces weekly YouTube Vlogs every Tuesday at 8pm GMT – see (www.youtube.com/TeapotOneVids)
About the author: Jill Boulton is the managing director of Visorcat, the award-winning and patented wash/wipe visor device for motorcyclists that increases vision, confidence and safety.