Two-wheeled travel is a life of adventure for globe-trotting grandad

Two-wheeled travel is a life of adventure for globe-trotting grandad

WANDERLUST: Ken Regen travelling through the West Sahara

When someone’s Facebook bio describes them as “a professional adventurer” you know they’re going to be that bit special. And Ken Regen certainly doesn’t disappoint.

From taking off on a motorbike adventure the day after his 16th birthday and immediately after passing his test, to spending a month riding through Africa in his 70s, there’s certainly never a dull moment.

Ken, who was born in Warwickshire and now lives in France, thinks nothing of hopping onto his bike for an adventure. He’s been over in the UK for Christmas and says he enjoyed popping over to see friends while he was here – only his popping over to see friends involved a round trip of more than 800 miles to Scotland!


“I’ve always loved travel and adventure, but I started on the big long trips about 10 years ago,” said 73-year-old Ken, who also holds a HGV licence and his pilot’s licence. “Since then I’ve been to Africa, ridden 10,000km through Morocco, ridden through 11 countries to get to Croatia, the Czech Republic, Bosnia… I’ve had some amazing experiences.”

Grandfather-of-six Ken travels alone most of the time and says despite some of the remote places he has explored, he has never, ever felt nervous or apprehensive.

“All you need is a smile,” he said. “Most people are so friendly and welcoming – especially the Bedouins and the Muslims in Africa. If I get things wrong I just apologise and smile and it’s never been a problem.

“When I was travelling through Africa, I found that even though they have absolutely nothing, they are some of the most generous and happy people you’d ever meet. You could turn up at their home at midnight with no fuel and they’d find you a corner to sleep in then in the morning give you some breakfast, find you some petrol and see you off – and they won’t take a penny for it.”

BACK TO BASICS: Ken camped at Agadir in Morocco on his travels 

Ken managed to communicate with the many friends he met on his African travels using French, and said: “The thing with travelling alone is you’re not a threat. A man on a motorbike, well, it’s like a man on a camel. They take you in, they look after you.

“They make you tea, and the tea is so sweet it makes your ears hurt so you swallow it down as fast as you can – and then they top it up!”

He recalls riding his bike through the Sahara desert and meeting a man who had broken down. “He was there with his 50cc Yamaha motorbike, with a huge basket of almonds on the front and another on the back and was clearly heading off to market for the day but he’d got a puncture.

“I thought I’d better stop to help, but he managed to fix the puncture, and blow up the tyre again with hardly any tools – even carving off a bit of his sandal to use at one point – and he never ever stopped smiling. I thought he was brilliant.”

From his very first solo trip aged 16, Ken has never made plans where he is going, where he is staying or how he will get there, other than on his trusty motorbike.

“The day after I was 16, I passed my motorbike test, got my bag and a blanket, rolled it up, got my map and I was off. I had The Kinks’ Sunny Afternoon in my head as I rode away and I just followed the roads and ended up going through Bedfordshire, sleeping at mates’ houses until I got to Cambridge.

” It was such an adventure being so independent. But then we were used to being independent. As kids of nine, 10 and 11 we often used to disappear into the woods, make a den and camp out in it overnight – our parents didn’t think anything of it. It was just normal.”

MOUNTAIN JOURNEY: Ken in the Pyrenees

On another adventure to watch the Moto GP in the Czech Republic, Ken recounts travelling through Germany along miles and miles of top class autobahns.

“It was a 1,500-mile trip through France and Germany and it was so boring!” he laughed. “It was boring because the roads are so good. Four-lane autobahns that just went on forever.

“I remember passing the Audi factory and the whole area stank of oil. It’s such a big factory with all the smoke and smog – I wouldn’t want to live there!”

As Ken approached the Czech Republic he was shocked by the sudden change in culture. “It was like stepping back into the 1950s,” he said.

“I started travelling along the back roads and it was incredible. All along the fields, the farmers were using Massey Harris combines – Massey Harris was the precursor to the Massey Ferguson vehicles we see today, and I couldn’t believe these old machines were still going, being towed by tractors.

“In the corner of each field was a van full of tools because obviously these old vehicles were breaking down all the time and the farmers were repairing them as they went. It was amazing.”

When Ken reached the Moto GP, all he can say is: “Those Czechs like to party!”

He describes the event as a 24-hour party, with trailers pulling sound systems around the campsites at all hours of the night and day playing ZZ Top, Led Zeppelin and all the rock greats. “You had no chance of sleep,” he said. “But it didn’t matter – you just snatched a couple of hours here and there on the grass while you watched the bikes.”

He also speaks fondly of the food, recalling going into a food tent and watching the chef carve a hunk of steak from a huge side of beef on the side and weighing it before cooking it with some potatoes.

“They cut the steak and weigh it and that’s how they know how much to charge you,” he said. “You literally pay by weight, then watch him cook it. That’s your dinner!”

But the showers left a lasting impression, being open sided unisex cubicles with large water bowsers. “Men and women were just queuing up to shower and stripping off,” said Ken. “I kept my underpants on because I was embarrassed, but it was me who looked foolish. To them it was just normal, but I couldn’t do it.”

A more sobering trip was to Bosnia, not long after the war had ended. “To see all the churches burned out from the ethnic cleansing, all the wood was gone and just the stone was left, it was just awful,” he said. “The buildings were all riddled with machine gun bullets.

“But that’s what makes travel so life-changing. It’s certainly taught me that there’s not much worth getting wound up about. I’ve seen so much that nothing really winds me up now.

“If people are rude, if people behave badly just step back and count to 10 then let it go.”

And Ken has no plans to stop his adventures any time soon. When he returns to France after his UK break, it’s next stop Portugal!

Get all the latest news, updates, things to do and more from your local InYourArea feed.