The Achievable Dream 5-part series - the definitive guide on DVD for planning your motorcycle adventure. Get Ready! covers planning, paperwork, medical and many other topics! "Inspirational and Awesome!" See the trailer here!
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So you've done it - got inspired, planned your trip, packed your stuff and you're on the road! This section is about staying healthy, happy and secure on your motorcycle adventure. And crossing borders, war zones or oceans!
On the Road! is 5.5 hours of the tips and advice you need to cross borders, break down language barriers, overcome culture shock, ship the bike and deal with breakdowns and emergencies."Just makes me want to pack up and go!" See the trailer here!
Tire Changing!Grant demystifies the black art of Tire Changing and Repair to help you STAY on the road! "Very informative and practical." See the trailer here!
Ladies on the Loose! For the first time ever, a motorcycle travel DVD made for women, by women! These intrepid women share their tips to help you plan your own motorcycle adventure. They also answer the women-only questions, and entertain you with amazing tales from the road! Presented by Lois Pryce, veteran solo traveller through South America and Africa and author of 'Lois on the Loose', and 'Red Tape and White Knuckles.'
"It has me all fired up to go out on my own adventure!" See the trailer here!
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Ride TalesAn easy way to post your ride reports, whether it's a weekend ride or around the world.
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Day 1. I chose the BMW G650x Country because it's an awesome and reliable little bike and after Europe I need to have something capable of anything for a more heavy duty bout of abuse. I had to make numerous upgrades to make it work because no bike is perfect so, off the top of my head here is a rough list of extras...
Hagon progressive front springs
Wilbers rear shock
HID spotlights (cheap Halfords shell with cheap Ebay HID units forced in with a hammer)
Off-road only high-powered headlight bulb
Radiator guard (home made)
Accessory socket (Marine standard and proper sized)
Puig Screen (Aprillia Pegaso screen modified to fit)
Dirtbagz rear bags (lightweight, waterproof, come with nice frames which protect the rear end)
GPR Exhaust (no Cat, helps her breath a little better)
Airbox modifications. (plastic shield carefully removed and carelessly thrown into next doors garden)
K&N air filter
Auxiliary fuel tank. Gel-seat (fitted to stop the torture of the standard unit but only really dials it down a bit)
Tool-tube fitted. (it holds tools in a tube.)
Stebel Magnum air-horn (loud and annoying so I use it a lot)
LED indicators (never burn out and look better)
Garmin sat-nav. (better than Tom-Tom)
Auxiliary fuel bottles (two extra litres of spare fuel... just in case)
Gold DID X-ring chain and Steel sprockets (virtually indestructible and pretty too if you like chains)
Stainless steel bolts (everywhere. Tougher than standard and only three sizes used means I have to carry less tools)
Headlight hanger (Custom made and demonstrates a triumph of ignorance over being smart enough to know better. The new unit is 3mm alloy, far tougher than standard and is big enough to hold the twin HID ballasts. Also strong enough to support the screen.)
Sump guard (quality German item and a big improvement to the plastic baking tray that comes as standard)
Alloy side panel (I had some leftover alloy)
Oxford temperature guage. (Slightly less accurate than smelling your own armpits to determine the temperature)
Touratech rear luggage rack (had to be slightly modified to fit the seat)
Headlight guard (acrylic disc. Home-made. Rubbish)
High-level mudguard (does nothing but look good.)
Aprillia Pegaso Mirrors. (They fit the standard thread and are much tougher than the BMW ones)
Iridium spark plugs (slight improvement over standard)
New number plate hanger (the standard one just sucks)
My brother rode down to Dover with me so we stopped for a coffee and I missed my boat by a few minutes which cost an extra £10. Not ideal. I was aiming to ride to Nancy in France by this evening and crack on to Milan tomorrow to meet my other half around 9.30 when her plane get in. We're going semi-aimlessly touring about.
I met another couple of bikers on the boat, top couple on their way to Amsterdam so the crossing was a lot less boring than I feared. I started putting the address into my Garmin GPS and the bloody thing was having none of it. I bought a map on the boat and figured I'd keep trying. In the end I figured it was impossible to navigate in the normal way abroad so used the other mode to head out to Nancy. It took me right round Calais and back to the port. Another hour lost. I got some help from some English locals which, to be honest I didn't ask for or want but in the end I sussed out a route and got myself going. I followed it and took a brief pause to check the map and sure enough it was guiding me about a hundred miles out of my way. In the end I resorted to heading to Paris and following signs but there weren't any so by 11pm I figured it was time to give up on the hotel and find somewhere else which I did, in the end. It cost a lot more that way but I booked in at 1pm and I was knackered and needing badly to get my head down. The bike never missed a beat but is a lean-burn engine so she tends to run very hot so she needs an occasional rest just as badly as I do.
So tomorrow I have a lot of time to make up and the weather looks to be turning against me. I literally didn't have time to take pictures today and that was a shame because some of the roads were just brilliant.
It's a great feeling to wake up in a strange town and throw open the curtain after turning up at the dead of night. This is a nice little town with a great view from the hotel window. Paris was a real dive, grafitti and rubbish everywhere but it's not typical of France so far. The GPS is lousy but it did show me some lovely country lanes. Looking forward to hitting the road again today. To break with tradition I might eat something today....
Well yesterday was a nightmare but today was worse. I started esterday just outside of Paris and had to get to milan by 9.30. It was possible but let's be fair, it was never going to happen. I had some firm words with the GPS and we came to an understanding, it seemed to be fairly ok following major highways and I needed to use them to make up for the massive lost time the day before. With that in mind I set off for Troyes. It all went wrong straight away when the GPS warned me of an imminent turn off in 1.3km and then told me I had missed my turning. So I decided to let the pink arrow point me in the right direction and just head off into the countryside. I'm glad I did, the French countryside is amazing. It's like England only bigger, cleaner and just... nicer. The roads were well maintained, people are friendly and the driving standard was good. Paris was none of those things but then all major cities suffer from the rot of over-population. I made it to Troyes eventually and plotted my way on to Mulhouse. With my success at Guestimation-navigation I was spurred on. This next leg was going to be a tough call so I stopped for a sandwich, filled my tank and headed off. A big guy cleaning the car-park at Lidls came over for a chat. It was an odd chat but we both established that we spoke almost nothing of the same language but he still seemed intent to chat about it. The low point was when my camera made a break for it and crashed out onto the road. I went back for it and luckily enough it was ok... then a van went over and after that... not so much.
By the time I was outside Mulhouse exhaustion was taking hold. I was aching all over but the scenery was keeping it worth doing and I was making reasonable time. I stopped at a petrol station, topped her up and made some new notes on my piece of scrap paper which has become my prefered method of navigation. I had a chocolate milkshake and bought more water. The sugar helped to perk me up. I usually dont eat sugar so it does have an effect on me. On getting under way I felt ok. The saddle was killing me and that was refitted with a gel comfort-pack. In standard trim it would have flayed the flash from my arse-bones by now. Now it was just slowly sapping the will to live. I can go on without that.
Once you cross the Swiss border you have to wonder what just happened. I followed the signs and as you get closer you start to notice that a lot of German drivers start to appear on the roads. They are not as friendly or as well mannered as the French. French bikers rule. Every one waves, every single one. I was dead impressed.
I approached another toll. Went through without having to pay and then realised I had actually crossed the border. 2 checkpoint so far and nobody has looked at my passport.
Suddenly everything was different. The lazy, laid back friendlness was gone, the archetecture, cars, everything was different. It was an instant difference, like switching on a light. Switzerland was, at first very nice but then the ghost of a mountain appears shyly in the distance. Just a vague sillouette poking through the mirky light, still as white as the cloud with the edge of a shadow cast on the face but no mistaking this is something imposing and with a real presence a puny Human could never aspire to. Slowly the mountain becomes real as i barrel along watching my milage, my guidance arrow and the conditions on the road while this thing bears down on me as if nothing I thought was important really matters in the wake of this reality of nature. Suddenly you're surrounded by them, mountains everywhere, tall and austere with a fearsome beauty carved from the elemental force of nature. There are elegant and subtle wooden and red-brick structures everwhere but they are in harmony with the surroundings, living in the shadow of these giants like humanity is permitted to exist in its tiny, insignificant way so long as the planet permits it. It's humbling to see the sheer scale of this and it was like driving for 5 hours through a picture postcard. I had to quicken the pace, I didn't take any breaks as I was fighting to outrun the sunset. Eventually I couldn't but I outran the weather, clouds and greyness came and passed as I travelled across countries. That was fun to see.
Every time you pass through a tunnel you seem to go higher. It was a daunting experience for someone with a genuine dislike of heights and not knowing what to expect was unsettling but in the end the height is only enough to reveal glimpses of the spectacle of man trying to carve an existence in this inhospitable landscape. It was a truly memorable time and I'm glad I did it, even though it was hard. The weather cooled too. One minute my BMW jacket was fully vented and the next I was having to seal it against the dropping temperatures. Another memorable but difficult part was a tunnel over 10 miles in length around Gotthard. After the growing cold the heat and stifling conditions were making my throat tight and made difficult conditions outright dangerous. After you finally exit it's like walking out of the shower into a cold room but that was still very welcome.
Eventually it became warmer and villages became towns but by then my speed had crept up and my patience was waning. It was dark by now and I still had a lot of ground to cover. The Italian border had one officer waving everyone through without exception and I was in Italy. Three countries in one day.
Italian driving standards are poor. Everyone drives as fast as they can and their skills do not match their enthusiasm. Entering MIlan finally I was hot, tired and ready for bed. I had to meet my partner by 9.30 and it was already around 11.30. I finally found the airport and stopped at a random hotel to ask for directions. I had a feeling that there would be some disaster so on checking my phone I found a message telling me that my partner had missed her flight. I swapped texts while asking for directions to the hotel and found out that, in fact the hotel and airport were not in milan but 88km back in the direction i had just come. I also found out I had left my HID lights on and the battery was drained and the bike wouldn't start.
All part of the adventure.
I was lucky enogh to find decent people to help out and was presented with a set of jump leads. I stripped the HID power leads which were directly connected to the battery and she fired straight away. I left her running while I packed the gear and she was fine. You make these mistakes when you're so tired, I guess. I headed back out to the main road and found signs to this other airport and headed off. My tools headed off in a different direction.
By the time I stopped twice more for directions I found the hotel. My number plate was smashed. I had fitted a Motrax unit which shook itself to peices and wrecked both new Oxford tail indicators at £30 a pair. I thought it would be easier than making one myself... wrong. I bodged it back on and the rear is now made of cable ties, insulating tape and yellow bungie cords.
Today... well my other half turned up on a morning flight and it was revealed our second night was in Milan central. That meant a mad dash back to check out and 5 hours of following plain wrong directions to find this hotel... which is nice but lousy too. Milan is not a nice place. The fashionable facade is typical Italian thinking. The whole country is built on style over function. There is a typically low quality to everything, they want it to look nice and be bright and pretty but don't care about anything else. Italian cars and bikes are built on this principal but it's everywhere. The people too... Everything is polished and all done for show but get talking to them and they just can't do anything. Even guide you to a street 100 yards away. We met and chatted with a Portugese group who were looking for directions and saw others looking blankly at maps. The city, likewise is a stylish facade thrown haphazardly over a crumbling infastructure of aging decaying buildings and tired workers who just do not care. These are just initial impressions, of course.
We found it using my partners I-phone much to my dismay.
Thank you. I don't have a choice really, we're stuck here. Ok, we don't much like Italy but we like being here. We went out for food and my partner declared, "I want Pizza." She is Asian and speaks in definite terms and makes it sound like we have no choice. The world will end if Pizza is not fed directly into the moan-hole as fast as possible. I thought it best not to tempt fate so decided to get her fed. Anyway, we're in Italy (delicious food that's as healthy as chewing glass, see my previous comments). Actually, on an aside there is no obesity here, unlike my hometown, London. People are very, very healthy. My brother would love it, many MILFs. Lots of women with impressive bodies who turn around and it looks like their face is melting off.
So anyway... food, we went looking. nothing but graffitti and closed down business (like London). I got eyeballed by every man as we walked by. I don't know if it's down to the mixed race but that was actually my impression. Lots of Chinese people here and they're not seemingly well integrated. We found one Pizza, Self service... Now I didn't fancy making my own Pizza as I was so tired that if someone had given me a sheet of paper I would have slept under it. It was run by Asians. Traditional Italian food made by Asians. She thought it was great, "We're taking over your world..." She told me. It's a good job she's pretty or she'd be walking home.
In the end we only found one Pizza place and it was just a dingy takeaway. The food was good, no doubt about that but it wasn't what we've gone to all this trouble for.
Tomorrow we head to France. The rain is in hard tonight. It's meant to be dry tomorrow followed by more storms and the storms take no prisoners here. We're taking a long coast ride tomorrow to head down to Grasse. That is a longish trip but swallows a bunch of ground while the weather holds. Sunday is not so good but we've not got far to go.
I have sunburn and insect bites. Pics to follow but the hotel internet is really crap. Crap and expensive.
We woke up on the alarm and I debated if I wanted to partake of the free Italian breakfast or just lay in bed for a couple more precious hours. In the end my stomach won (as usual). There was at least one other English couple, I could tell from the pasty rolls of flab but hearing them speak in a low gutteral drawl as the clincher. An entire community of Indians had pretty-much taken over the breakfast bar like vultures. The hotel remained typical of Italian culture. nothing really worked but it looked good. This was extended to the food. My other-half fought off all comers for the last slice of chocolate cake and then took one mouthful and gave it to me. It was not chocolate or indeed cake. In fact nothing had more than a passing resemblance to food. If there are any Italians reading this then i apologise because I know you probably can't reply as your keyboard is a piano-black diamond-encrusted piece of art wrapped around a steaming pile of chinese dog-crap.
She wanted to see central milan. We did. It wasn't too bad, very big and typically poorly signed so my sat nav arrow guided us slowly out. Some of the streets were cobbled and gave my suspension a work out. With all the upgrades she took it in her stride but I had to pop my eyeballs back into my skull twice. Signs marked no entry were ignored by me and the police who watched me do it. In fact the only function the police appeared to have in Milan was to keep the sunglasses trade in business. When we finally escaped Milan we hit the motorway and proceeded to empty our cash reserves into the pockets of the Italian government at every toll.
At our first stop we had a coffee. I ordered Coffee, she had hot chocolate. They said no but offered Ca-Cak. I assumed Coco and asked if that was right. They agreed in the typically Italian way by grunting. My coffee was served in an egg-cup and hers was just hot milk. Mine was black and strong enough to run my bike on. The first sip was like it was made of pure evil milked from the nipple of the devil himself. After that i grew to like it. When we got out two Italians were laughing at my bike. One was on a Ducati and the other was on an Aprilia Pegaso Strada that had virtually rotted through. I laughed back. We all laughed and nobody had any idea who was laughing at who or why.
We plodded on into Genova. I wanted to cut off the corner and save some miles but the signs were't on my side. I'm glad they didn't.
5 miles out of Milan and the countryside began to take a grip. Slowly the city was repaced with large concrete carbuncles as industry supporting the consumerism takes hold of the region. Another 5 miles and that thinned out into farm.
20 miles out of Genova and a whole different Italy appeared. Ancient culture painted itself on the sides of mountains and the scenery grew to be spectacular, both man-made and natural. Genova was huge and painted on a backdrop of money. We didn't stay long, time was not on our side today. Just long enough to lube and clean my chain and make sure the bike was happy.
We carried on towards Nice. We just didn't seem to make time today. We stopped at the drop of a hat but even so...
We followed the coast road and it's clear it was designed for and by bikers. Motorcycle have been built just for this route, i'm sure. It was amazing and beautiful. Slightly irritating as we had to slow to every one of the many villages catering to tourists but still awesome. Pics were taken but nothing can compare to being there. It's worth the whole trip just to see this.
Finally we made our way to the autostrada for the final leg of the trip today towards Grasse in France. We made more frequent stops now as we were both getting tired. The saddle sore is getting worse and it was her first day on the bike today so she's beginning to feel it too.
The coast roads gave way to high mountain top roads battering us with the wind and we cranked on to make up some ground. We won an hour back from the sat nav on that stretch. Finally we descended towards the final toll at Monoco. I seemed to be the only bike filtering but we bardged our way angrily to the front of the queue.
We still had to sit and wait and the bike got very hot. Accelerated away she grumbled for the first time but we were 400m above sea level and climbing and I was accelerating hard 2 up with massed luggage. I stopped soon at a service station and let her cool. We had no more hassle from her after that.
Finally we made Nice but bad timing meant we got stuck in the crowds of a football match. The bike was getting very hot now so I filtered as far as I could and then stopped her. We went shopping for dinner but there was nothing left, the crowd had emptied the supermarket. By the time we carried on it was getting dark but we went looking for food. She wasn't sure what we fancied but I was getting dangerously tired. I took a bad turn and nearly went into a car so then i stopped and gave her a choice of whatever was in front of us. While eating I checked the maps for the last leg. Apparently 10 minutes into Grasse, another 10 to the hotel.
After a few wrong turns we followed signs to Grasse. Then the signs ran out. We were now at 10.15 and they close the hotel at 11pm. I asked directions and got a good idea where we were, apparently still a long way from Grasse, and this was after 20 minutes on a motorway. I plowed on quickly and finally the roads petered out to nothing, we were just heading along winding country lanes the went nowhere. I asked directions again, assuming I'd missed a turn to be told we were still 25 minutes out. With another 10 to find the hotel I now couldnt make it on time. In a surreal late-night dash i covered this 25 minute trip in 9. I cranked her up and threw her about like the little single she is, ignoring the weight and the fact we were on a mountain pass with no safety barrier at 750m above sea level. It was like a special unlocked mission on a bad playstation game. we belted along and it was the best fun ever.
But then disaster....
We were getting tired now. My eyesight was blurry and I was literally having to make a conscious effort to speak or drive on the correct side of the road. I needed to get to this hotel and get to sleep.
Suddenly we found the sign to Grasse... I had 10 minutes to find the hotel, all I needed if the advert was right, more than I needed if I could keep up my pace.
Grasse was right there before us and it was closed. There was a festival going on and nobody could drive through. I gathered this from speaking to people who couldn't grasp the urgency... I couldn't even find the phone number of the hotel.
Luckily I found a policewoman who spoke good english and she kindly radioed ahead and let us through the barriers although the middle of the town was still fenced off so we had to pick our way round. The hotel stayed open for us and we found it by more luck than judgement.
It's certainly proving to be an eventful trip...
And finally a word about my bike. Awesome. We all love our bikes but she is dealing with this like a pro. One minute we're making mountain passes, cobbled paths or fire-roads along the side of a river and the next we're up a mountain thrashing her like a sports bike after a 400 mile day. She's proving herself every bit the modern equivalent of the true spirit of the GS, the go-anywhere, do anything motorcycle. After today we're slowing down. We're moving too fast, filling our days with just too much blur and excitement. We're not really doing anything, we're just seeing it. Tomorrow we're having a nice easy day and then the day after, a slow ride into Spain and then a day off the bike. I'm putting an hour or two aside to go over her and make sure she's holding up as well as I think.
Tomorrow I need .... and lots of it...
We started out this morning in a hotel outside Grasse. Breakfast was an optional extra charged at £10 per croissant so the idea was treated with the contempt it deserved. Now i'm no fan of hotels and the tent and bags are packed and eager to be pressed into action but my regular internet searches show that it's about 2 or 3 euros less to camp and once breakfast is thrown in, which it usually is then we're out of pocket so we're hopping hotel rooms for now.
We left the hotel for fuel as the bike was thirsty and eager, well... thirsty at least. Today was something i have been waiting for, we were crossing into the Verdon region national park. We were only going as far as Manosque but frequent stops meant it was an all day business. Within minutes we were seeing ADV style bikes everywhere, all mint and shiny spending more time polished than in dirt. Shame but that's life. nice to see them anyway and we saw a lot. Within 10 minutes we found out why.
We climbed onto some mountain roads and just kept climbing and climbing. I have an aversion to heights and a slight dislike of death so my nervousness was piqued slightly. My sat nav has an altitude meter but the road signs warned of 800 metres, then 1000 and so on. We looked back and just had to stop for pictures. The scenery was simply breathtaking and the scale simply can't be captured on camera. Every second we didn't stop was a wasted photo opportunity and the scenery just got better and better. We were literally up with the clouds today and every picture looked like a postcard. This area had hairpin bends on every stretch and some caught us off guard but generally it was just simply the best riding so far. I'll add some pictures but they simply don't do this area any kind of justice. This experience has to be experienced, it can't be viewed or captured or described or imagined. There is simply nothing like being immersed in a gigantic, ferociously austere ballet of natural elegance and to feel truly that you, as a human are a part of something so vast, so old and so big.
We powered through villages at the best pace we dared. We had to stop once to let my partner put on her waterproofs but the few drops of rain quickly passed and we never really had anything more than a few drops of warning. As we went deeper the villages fell away leaving little more than a few ramshackle dwellings dotted around inhabited by brave souls who can survive without any human contact. The buildings that there were gave the impression of a person pouring too much salt on a meal and some simply spills across the table, a few random grains dotted about before they're wiped away.
We made our way through this stunning area towards a village, Castellmaine where we stopped for a largely unsatisfying lunch surrounded by all manner of motorcycles. Nobody seemed interested in talking but at least the French riders take the time to wave. Mine attracted some interest, I presume because it's heavily modified and dirty. My partner looked at some shoes in town today and asked how French people can afford to live. I guess that's an interesting question, this place is insanely expensive, even compared to London. I guess what you don't see through shop windows is the taxation, wages and rental costs which paint more of a rounded picture. Obviously they have more disposable income so the shop prices reflect it. I guess this is why there are so many brand new bikes on the road and people scoff at mine, a 4 year old machine built by my own hand.
We explored a bit but were both keen to travel on. As soon as we left we started ascending again, more mountain passes and they grew increasingly dangerous. No pretense at side barriers, just a sheer drop to certain death. One mistake and you were a dozen different kinds of dead. I think this fact was realised by my passenger who behaved herself well today. Some of the lanes were just so narrow that we couldn't stop and these were ones with the most amazing views.
The road signs let us down by GPS stepped up to let us know we were on the wrong lane. We've reached an understanding now and it's a useful tool if not as useful as advertised.
We finally found signs to Manosque and I just powered on at a decent speed. The scenery was thinning out now as we approached the only major town in the park. What would have been stunning anywhere else now looked bland and we were both tired.
I'm not sleeping. I have carpal tunnel syndrome, an incredibly minor ailment which has flaired up painfully. Not to bore you with details it means I need to leave caffeine and alcohol alone and drink plenty of water. I don't do that and it's usually fine but with the added stress, exertion, exhaustion and everything else it's started up in both hands. Two ibuprofen sorted it right out for now.
We found Manosque fairly easily after some hassle with no road signs and what road signs there were matching neither my map or google maps.
We got sent in the wrong direction to the hotel but found it eventually after the usual hassles.
Interestingly it wasn't a hotel but a sports centre with accomodation. It looks more like a hospital but full of children who smoke. The bike is safe and I have a bed and frankly that's all I give a shit about right now.
We went back into town for a meal. My god, everything was closed so we ended up at a little bar. She ordered what she thinks was fish and I battled my poor french and the waitresses poor english and ended up with some pasta. It was the best pasta ever! We tried each other's food (apart from the fish, I'm a vegetarian) and everything was amazingly good.
It was also great to get out on the bike without the luggage. She felt more like her old self.
Tomorrow we've decided to make a long haul trip to Barcelona a day early. My bum is going to drop off with the saddle sore and she's starting to feel it too. We were going to do the trip over two days but we;ve decided to suck it down and get most of the way there in one so we have two days off the bike to recover.
It will be a boring run but we need a few days off to stretch it out...
Today I have a little spare time where I’m not battling chronic exhaustion so I thought I’d blog a little bit about my equipment.
Everything I’m using was thought through and there is a reason for everything, even if they weren’t the best choices in the world.
My Jacket is a BMW Boulder, otherwise known as the poor-mans Touring jacket. Poor BMW equals expensive to everyone else and this jacket retailed at £300. It’s recently been replaced with the Boulder 2 which is a little bit different so some dealers still have the older ones. I was lucky enough to have an offer accepted on Ebay and got mine new from an over-stocked dealer for £150 which is a fair price. It’s got a tough outer nylon shell that’s fairly water resistant and a goretex inner liner. It’s a summer jacket really but so far I’ve dealt with 10 to 40 degrees and it’s never been uncomfortable. It’s just about roomy enough for a fleece inner and I have a waterproof jacket to throw over the top (army surplus breathable plastic suit). The armour is top notch and it has protection at the shoulders, elbows and back. It’s keeping me warm, cool and dry and is not restricting me at all. The main zip has snapped and the others are a bit fiddly but otherwise top notch gear and a great investment.
Trousers are Wolf Titanium Outlast. Not the greatest choice but they retail at £180 and I got them for £110, the limit of what I wanted to pay. They are a cut above most and I was impressed with the quality of construction when I looked at them. They look different somehow and more durable. They have an internal waterproof/breathable membrane like Goretex but without the cost and a winter lining. I’m running with the lining zipped in because otherwise they stick to you like glue. The lining is very thin anyway and I’m not hot in them. I was impressed from day one, there is no wind through them but they don’t get hot. The only snag is the sizes are generous and they are a bit big but that’s probably a benefit in keeping me cool and I’ve grown to like the way they fit now. Only other issue is that you struggle to take a leak.
Boots and gloves are easier choices. Boots are £20 Karrimore walking boots on sale in Bromley. They are doing the job, they give good ankle protection and are cool and comfortable... price also was spot on. Gloves are some old winter gloves that didn’t fit properly and I wore them once when my main gloves were wet through. The linings stuck and pulled out. I cut them out and now they fit brilliantly and are making good summer gloves. Price was cheap.
My Helmet is an Osbe adventure. Now it’s a good looking and well-made lid with Kevlar/carbon construction I got it cheap at £100 but it’s very noisy and the peak does nothing whatsoever. It’s starting to look tired now and I fancy an upgrade but touring kicks the crap out of your equipment and I’m dubious to spend out on a new lid when this one is decent enough. I don’t need the level of protection this one gives and replacing it with similar would be a waste of money. On a bike that does 70mph I’d be better off with a polycarbonate helmet that was just a bit more comfortable. I may change it out. I saw a very trick looking led on a German GS and it wasn’t something I had heard of. I will look into that when I’m in the land of big, ugly sausages and bigger, uglier women.
The rest of my gear is strapped or bolted to the bike. My sat nav is a Garmin Zumo 500. It’s the same as the 550 for less money and is exactly the same other than not having radio data updates which only work in the US. It’s water and shock proof (tested and proved) but European travel is limited. Granted it’s my own fault for not reading the instructions but I assumed it would just be a case of putting in the post code and getting navigation to the place, just like in the UK but in fact it’s much more tricky and the navigation is basic. Now I’ve turned off all the gadgets it’s like a useful modern compass and it’s telling me my KPH too which is a nice touch. It’s still better than a TOMTOM. I doubt later models are more advanced. I’m guessing for the sort of navigation I wanted I need to download new maps and pay for the privilege. I will find a way to do that without paying.
Luggage is Dirtbagz throwovers. They’re throwovers but they’re good quality. They’re heavy duty nylon and they have an inner rubberised coating so they’re even more durable and waterproof. They have heatproof panelling to avoid exhaust heating and plates to hold some degree of shape. They also come with metal support bars to rest on. Those bars are tough and have saved the bike from damage when she was kicked over in London by some unknown bastard. The bags seem excellent but I’m running a bungie around them too to support the weight, just in case. No trouble so far. I wanted metal so i could lock them but the alloy rear subframe doesn’t lend itself to the extra weight and boxes can be dangerous in a spill, especially off-road so this was a better solution all round, (cheaper too).
Upgrades to the bike were more costly. The first and biggest improvement came from a Wilburs rear shock. The showa standard unit is a piece of crap. They frequenlly pack up and bottom out, stressing the allow swing-arm. The Wilburs comes with a 5 year warranty and transformed the way the bike handles. They set them up for you and I’m a generously built guy in the first instance. Additionally I frequently carry a Pillion. My other-half weighs about as much as what happens when you dispose of a heavy curry the morning after a night out but I specified the weight of the luggage too. This all means it’s just a guess and it still handles brilliantly on or off road. I wanted to bring the front up to spec too so eventually went with Hagon progressive springs. I know some people think you have to swap out the forks but those people have more money than sense. I’m at home on a bike. I can push a sports bike to 180mph or throw a GS about off-road but I would never see the benefit of completely rebuilding the front end. I’m just not that good and outside of competition riders nor are most of us. The Hagons do the job. I noticed some difference. Not the same as swapping out the rear shock but some improvement nonetheless. I notice it more bumping it over stuff and I’m really glad to have these upgrades here now that the bike is loaded with heavy gear and two up. I wanted Hyperpro but coulnd’t get them in time. The ones I bought appear to be the same spec and were the same price. I doubt I would have seen much difference either way.
Other big changes were a new exhaust, K&N filter and Iridium plugs. All this freed up a little extra power and she has noticeably more snap than before. I didn’t do it for this reason, I did these changes for fuel economy and saving weight and I’ve seen a benefit in both areas. Exhaust is a GPR. Acceptable quality and one of only a few road legal cans you can get for these. The engine is a lean-burn type and runs hot so you can’t just stuff these full of metal wire, it will burn through it so this is a fairly high quality item but still heavy at roughly half the standard weight. It also doesn’t have a CAT which makes her able to breath.
The major weakness of the design of the bike, from my perspective is the small tank. It hold 9.5 litres in total, 3.5 of those in reserve. That still regularly delivers about 110 miles range without reserve. I fitted a 5 litre acerbic endure tank to the front. It’s meant to be bolted to the forks of competition endure bikes but I made a bracket that held the weight to a load bearing structure on the frame. The tank fits just under the exhaust at the front, right down on the ground. This means the extra weight is in exactly the right place to keep the handling sharp. The downside is the danger of damage in this spot. My answer to that is that these tanks are built to withstand a truck driving over them. Secondly if there is damage to them I only lose the front tank and keep on going with my main supply. No huge loss. It’s fitted to the breather at the back so the vacuum feeds the fuel directly, just the same as the costly X-tank which holds weight too high and in a weak place and upsets my luggage plans. The X-tank is over £500. Mine was fitted and functional for £70 and has boosted my range to around 200 miles before reserve.
The wind takes its toll
We had a long but fairly uneventful day today. We woke up to a decent morning, weather wise and began loading the bike. I wanted to get fuel and be on the road by 9. Today we were making a big push in towards Barcelona so tomorrow we have a very easy couple of days break. I rode off to the gate and the steering wouldn’t turn. It was too late and I was too tired to catch it so the bike fell over. None of the people around offered any assistance even though we were clearly in trouble.
It turned out to be the tank bag fouling on the headstock so I kept my eye on that. Luckily it happened pulling away and not later down the line at a decent speed.
We gassed up and hit the road. We found the motorway with no trouble and the signs were mostly pretty straight forward. We had a few tricky moments but nothing to worry about. We made a few stops but were making very good time. We took a coffee break just after the Lyon turnoff and I pulled away with the lock on and again, we dropped the bike. Again nobody helped or even seemed to care. I guess these are the French that people make jokes about because up to now I thought they were the nicest people we had met on our trip.
After Montpellier we got into trouble. The side winds were just awful. At one point we were being battered so hard I could barely make 35mph and still the bike was being thrown from line to lone on the road. At one point a truck rocked dangerously in front of us and caravans were weaving. This didn’t make anyone drive any better. French drivers still poured aimlessly out of motorway junctions without looking, spilling out like a drunk blonde at her best mate’s wedding. A few notable drivers were playing it really stupid, cutting right up to my rear. I have a temper and a few times today I came close to losing it. We were actually stuck in traffic today for several miles so we filtered and cut to the front to find the aftermath of an accident. We’ve seen several now but I’m shocked we’ve not seen many more. The French drive with total disregard and the Italians with enthusiasm far in excess of their abilities. Almost every car you see has some kind of damage.
Of course with this kind of battering we had to take fairly frequent breaks, usually every 50 miles or so. This slowed us down a lot and i worried what we were going to find up ahead as the map showed us only getting closer to the coast line and it remaining flat to the Pyrenees. Talking of the Pyrenees, they were looming up ahead, grim, dark and imposing and threatening a painful crossing.
At one of our stops a guy turned up on a BMW. We said hello and chatted in broken French/English. He assured us the wind drops ahead in the mountains which was a relief. His bike looked like an R1150 but was only an 800 although he assured us he was well rested and his arse was not as sore as ours. It is nice to make new friends.
The Pyrenees crossing was nothing to write home about. The weather was calmer, the border control was non-existent and we finally got some speed up and cracked on. On the Spanish side things were cheaper and fuel, even on the motorway was the same price as at home, at last. In the end though it was the tolls that annoyed us most. We ended up paying more today in road tolls than it cost us in fuel. The tolls here are insane. You ride out of one and you’re straight into another one. You can’t avoid them and there doesn’t seem to be any warning. If you’re trying to cover any distance then you have no choice anyway. Everything along the way is massively expensive too, hot-dogs were 4 euros and cans of drinks were 3. There would be riots in London if someone tried that although from what I hear on the news, maybe someone did?
Finally we entered Gerona to find that we did have a slight problem to deal with. My partner (for now....) had booked us a hotel but she had not saved the address, a map or even made a note of the name. We tried to find wi-fi but couldn’t and even when she did pick up some kind of signal she found nothing in her email box so we weren’t even sure if she had made a booking. Everything had gone ok up to then but we spent a long hour riding around using what tiny information we had to hunt down this hotel and eventually, against all the odds we got settled in.
Gerona is an amazing little town. It’s clean and tidy and the design is just friendly somehow. We went out for something to eat and it was just the best place so far. I hope spain has the scenery to match France because so far it’s ahead on points....
In other exciting news I saw 2 bikes like mine, BMW G650X-countries. They were riding together, one black and one yellow, both stock and both extremely clean. Nice to see a familiar face
Why not? I have owned over 50 bikes over the years, probably more and each has had its use. Lately I’ve become more interested in the adventure style machines over sports bikes. I tried a few and eventually i conceded that I needed a BMW GS because everything else was a bit crap. I bought one and rode it home from Newcastle to London overnight and went green-laning in the morning. It was amazing to ride and I was an instant fan. After a while it started to play up. Minor problems at first but then expensive and annoying things. In the end I changed it for a new F800gs which was faster (quicker maybe) and more fun. That got stolen but I was already looking to get rid of it as it had reliability issues of its own. In the end I got this one, just to get myself on the road really and to keep going out on the lanes. I was impressed straight away, it was quick and really good in the dirt. Far more lively than the 800. It was also economical.
I started planning this journey and looked hard into what bike I wanted. This one just kept showing itself to be the most practical and reliable thing out there. At only 53bhp it’s not fast but nothing on this trip has blasted past me. She is the most economical machine in her class and has legendary reliability with no known faults. BMW built the X-range to race in the Dakar after the F650gs was replaced with the parallel twin. They upgraded the rotax engine and built a bike round it for competition. That is why the bike has a tiny standard tank and lightweight rear subframe. When they sold them the bike was way over-priced and sold poorly, because of this lack of popularity they are now bargains!
The original GS boxer was a great bike. Built to be capable of going anywhere but they got bigger and have ended up as touring machines, bloated and over-complicated. This little bike is the true spirit of the GS name. It really can go anywhere and do anything. It’s capable off road and on it and can tour if you’ve got the nerve and can tolerate the pain.
In the end all bikes are a compromise. I considered the Yamaha XT660Z, the BMW F650GS Dakar, the Aprilia Pegaso Yamaha TDM, Triumph Tiger, Honda Dominator, KLR and a host of others. I bought and used most of them but none of them had the right mix. I didn’t mind compromising fuel capacity and other details I could fix easily, I just didn’t want to compromise build quality, reliability, weight and economy. Slowly I went down my list eliminating bikes. TDM too unreliable, not good enough on dirt, Yamaha XT engine too old fashioned, thirsty and poorly finished, BMW Dakars getting old and needing total rebuilds, Pegaso... just no... Don’t get me started on that one.
In the end the G650x has upgraded competition spec engine internals, a lean burning engine which gives excellent reliability, durability and economy with respectable power, a lightweight frame giving excellent handling on all conditions and an excellent engine management system that adjust easily to varying fuel, altitude, temperatures and performance requirements. Also the wiring is basic, no over-complications. The dash is actually fairly crude and luxuries are few. This is a bike, nothing more, nothing less. It has ABS which I don’t like (it’s a triumph of marketing over common sense) but that is the only optional extra on these and you can turn it off.
Some people like a bike with all the possible gadgets thrown in, I like a bike with nothing complicated to go wrong. I had to have my R1200gs recovered twice when gadgets failed me. The 800 was a lovely bike but seemed slightly flawed. In the end build quality became an issue with weeping rocker cover, severe stone damage to the bottom after some mild lanes and frame discolouring after using a mild degreasing agent to clean it. The little 650 just takes what life throws at it. It was kicked to the road in town once and laid on her side all day. No damage and she started first time. Some little git tried to steal her and smashed the ignition barrel. I repaired it and swapped out for a new one for £5. She was running the next day.
Out in Milan I left the lights on and killed the battery. I jumped it from a van and was on my way in 5 minutes. This is what I need from a bike. I need to know I can fix it as I go when things go wrong (and they will and they do.)
I’ve spent a lot of money on this bike but she remains a great canvas on which to build a perfect lightweight adventure machine. On top of an adventure bike I need a commuter, transport for two, a tourer, a green laner and a bike I can blast through country lanes on a Sunday with my mates. This bike is not the best for any of these but it does them all and that’s all I ask.
Good luck when choosing yours. What I suggest is to write a list of what you really need from a bike. Don’t be seduced by marketing or hype. The more stylish plastic, the less substance. A good machine does not need marketing, it will sell itself. Separate need from want and you’ll be off to a good start. There have been times where I’ve wanted a R1200gs out here but they’re heavy and unreliable and i know it would have let me down. I have the bike I need and while I’m sitting on the road for hours on end, alone with my thoughts I’m a lot happier not having to worry about what’s up ahead, knowing this bike can handle whatever the black ribbon throws at us.
Spending time on the road you have nothing to do sometimes except think. You’re alone with just you and the road and the endless possibilities of what you might find up ahead. Occasionally you have a nagging pillion but ignoring that, you have the noise inside your head, the howl of the wind and the pain in your arse. Having too much time to think I thought i’d express some of those thoughts.
I had a text from home telling me my town was on fire. I checked the news and sure enough, there it is... burning to the ground. It’s a bit surreal to see news from home when you’re so far away and to think, people were worried about my safety... On Facebook everyone is saying how terrible this is and in the hotel everyone is staring at me while the news is on. They’re probably wondering why i’m laughing.
Ok I see people saying they should lock up those responsible and i agree totally. The thing is I disagree with who is responsible. You don’t blame a baby for wetting itself, you train it to be a self motivated adult except this is not happening. In the 30s the US economy rolled over and died and the government foreclosed to the banks and sold the future labour work force into ownership of the financial sector. This is now happening again. The US is the poorest nation in the world, living in massive debt and plunging further into negative figures every day but their baseless currency, unsupported by secured reserves, is how they measure the value of the oil supplies. This is generating a global recession which is plunging towards a planned depression.
In the UK the situation is desperate. People cannot find work. Individuals who do are working at jobs far beneath their training and spending their lives in debts they simply have no control over or hope of ever escaping from. These days people accept that it’s a part of life rather than something that could have ever been avoided.
England is a jumbled bastardised society built on trade and consumerism. Standing is measured in the value of your spending. You are advertised at daily... earn... consume. You are a cog in a wage-slave machine that spews out human misery as a waste product. The UK is a grim place. People cannot afford to live well and have little control over their lives. It’s a police state, a nanny state where every aspect of your lives is guided and restricted, built on from a foundation of poor eucation.
Of course this kind of repression creates tension. They have created an underclass of people who know they’ll never work, they have no future, no opportunity. They have no aspirations, they spend their life in subsistence wages or on the dole, surviving day to day with no responsibility to themselves. We see this everywhere. These people have no hope and no control over their lives. What happens when you control human nature for this long and to this degree? Riots. Explosions of anger and hatred as these people exert some measure of control over their own environment. Look at the news, it’s the poorest places that are rioting, the places with the most unemployment, the least hope.
It is the government that’s responsible for this but not the puppets who appear on TV every day, it’s the people who control them, the ones who have designed this multi-tiered system of sophisticated slavery for the slaves to buy into and worship. The government should be afraid of its people, not the other way around. A government should be management, they should adjust details, make things work for us so our lives are easier not channel funds into their own company profits. They should not control us, they should not be constantly making new restrictions or raising taxes. They should be organising road signs and making sure businesses behave, that should be the limit of their “power”.
These riots are a venting of the frustration that this power struggle has caused. I don’t blame the rioters but I’m angry at the ones moaning because their local shop has burnt down. A shop is a shackle to a system of control. Think for yourself and free your mind and the control slips away. There is nothing in a shop you can’t go out and get or make yourself for a fraction of the cost with a little thought. They’re spoon feeding you like a pet dog, a perpetual puppy in an aging body but some dogs are born wild and eventually they will resort to their nature...
My only concern now is the aftermath. If this has been planned then new restrictions will follow. I hear this was started over a police officer shooting a man in self defence to later have it revealed the officers wound was made by another officer. I wonder how true this is but it sounds very plausible.
Don’t believe the news. Look at the trouble Rupert Murdoch is in, these are the kinds of people who make the news. Think for yourself and wonder what the story is behind this.
I guess I'm preaching to the choir. Nobody would travel if they were satisfied with life at home. This is something we do because we know there is something better out there....
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