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Today was an easy one. Woke up in the hotel to a breakfast we had to pay extra for. 6 different kinds of break and some fruit. 4 of the kinds were French and the others were just white sliced loafs of slightly different kinds. Not very Spanish. I’ve noticed in my brief observations that the health here is not so good as France. Obesity is taking hold here, there is a lot of overweight people where in France it’s very rare. Driving is ok. The French drive like they just don’t care, the Italians like they’re behind the wheel of a sports car. The Spanish seem to drive ok. When a car has caused me trouble then it’s always turned to be foreign, usually Italian.
We took a slow ride to Barcelona, less than an hour. We seemed able to cruise around 57mph with no trouble. Like yesterday there were warnings about the wind but nothing to worry about at all. The bike just sat herself at 57 and rolled along happily and I was more than happy to let her. I’ve given her a bit of a hard life lately so it was nice to take it easy. Tomorrow we’re just doing the tourist thing in town, we’re off in later to have a look about and eat some food. Nothing heavy and much as I love my bike I need a day out of the saddle.
Everyone is going crazy about the riots at home but a few people seem to have some perspective. I can’t understand a lot of Spanish but it was on the news and they were showing headlines with graphs. Even they were linking unemployment-recession-rioting so why are the people too stupid at home to see it? I’ve never been proud to be English because the population just seems happy to sit back and let the government wipe their shoes on them. Someone I know even said we need to give the police more powers when this riot was sparked by several abuses of police power. Insane.
It’s very strange to hear about news on your doorstep when you’re so far removed from home. My mum was worried about me going away, she feared for my safety. Now the shoe is on the other foot.
We’re planning to go on towards Madrid next and then a slow Pyrenees crossing before a dash towards Eastern Europe. We will see...
What a difference an afternoon makes.
I hate Barcelona. I hate it. We went in for something to eat. We followed signs tot he city centre. We sort of found it, I think but it was just like every other city centre, full of over-priced boutiques with under intelligent people buying them with money they didn’t earn for themselves. We headed off to the seafront to see something a bit more down to earth where two weary travellers with tired bums could eat a hearty meal while watching girls in bikinis... more me than her, that one.
We met an English biker while down a backstreet who asked us through his sweaty helmet for directions to the water. We told him we were lost too. He laughed and told us he’d be driving round for hours... an ominous sign. I managed to find the port with no real difficulty and sure enough we had something to eat and all was well with the world. The food was ok, nothing special but Spain has a charm of its own with amazing heat that still feels refreshing unlike the sweaty miserable sun of Italy.
Finally we headed back to the hotel. Then the thread kind of unravelled and we ended up covering 60 miles trying to escape the evil clutches of Barcelona where every street looks the same. A police woman sent me in totally the wrong direction at one point and I came within a gnats dick of a crash. I was admittedly driving a bit angry by then but we were heading downhill and the light changed to green. I accelerated to carry on and a girl on a scooter just sat there... still sat there, still sat there. I pulled in the brake and locked the front wheel, even with ABS it locked up and skidded all the way. Luckily I somehow managed to steer it just round her and the semi-oblivious tart shrugged and said a half-arsed sorry, little knowing she nearly had an enduro bike where her spine used to be.
All this put a downer on my day but then it’s just degrees of bad. I mean a bad day touring is still a great day in your life. It’s not like my car got written off, the sale of my house fell through, I rowed with my missus or I broke my toe...
We took a quiet ride into Barcelona and spent 5 hours walking around looking for.... anything. In the end we gave up and went home. Actually we did stumble across a nice little market and a few other things that made us smile. One of the best things about the place is the sheer volume of bikes and the diversity. With the climate bikes don't readily rust so there are some great machines dotted about. BMWs are very popular with the F650gs single being a very common sight but I've not seen a Dakar version yet. Big GSs are everywhere and so far I've not seen one with the kind of engine rot that's so common in the UK.
Big news today... I started the bike and noticed a puddle underneath. Water, clean water was pooling under the engine. This worried me greatly. I moved on to the fuel station which was next door and put a tankfull in. I noticed more water pooling in the same spot. I laid the bike down on her side and started looking for where it was coming from. There are no breathers there. My fan had not come on, the bike was barely started. I checked my water level... slightly low but blue from anti-freeze which confused me even more. More confusing still, pure water was leaking out of my sump plug at the opposite end of the bike to the rad.
It turned out that where I had parked was where they spray the garden in the morning with the sprinkler system. It was so hot here the water had simply evaporated but some had pooled in the shady spot under my engine inside my bash plate to roll out when I stood her up. Problem solved with some relief!
Good morning world. We're just sitting in the hotel lobby waiting for a burst of energy to get out onto the road. We've changed out minds about Spain. It's a nice country but wasted on the Spanish. They're not a nice people, now I know I'm basing that opinion on a small section of the population of a large place but the ones in Barcelona can piss off as far as I'm concerned. You ask them a question and as soon as they realise they stand to make no money from you they just walk away without another word. The driving is basically ok but they have a habit of wanting to pull off on an exit and so thrashing the crap out of their little rotbox car to pull in front of you first. The French seem oblivious as to the danger they cause like a blinkered horse and the Italians just don't care about anything at all, especially you. Can't put my finger on the attitude here, it's like there's always something to prove but it's not quite that. It's a selfishness to everything that happens here. Always "me first" which you don't see anywhere else on a large scale.
Anyway, expediency is turning us round to head up towards Poland. We're slightly bored with knocking about tourist trap areas and want to see something better so we're heading back. Tonight we're back in Girona (well just outside) and then we're heading over a different crossing of the Pyrenees so we see a bit more scenery and then heading towards Toulouse. It's a shame as the petrol here is finally the same price as at home but the road tolls are crippling. Food is slightly cheaper but has no unique identity of it own where French absolutely does. You can buy a sandwich at a motorway stop in France and it will be really good.
I walked down to the petrol station opposite last night but it was closed. I was lucky enough to see a French lorry driver knocking one out to internet porn. There's an image I just don't need in my head.
Ok, I’ve been on the road for a few days now and have covered a few thousand miles. I built my bike using common sense and logic but not personal experience so what lessons have I learnt and what would I change?
The biggest problems have been the seat and the navigation so far. Several bits have failed but we’ll come to those later. Starting with the seat... the standard unit was lousy. It was a nice seat to look at with a tiny layer of ineffective foam. There was free space between the cover and the foam making me suspect the seat unit was recycled from another bike which is common practice these days, a lot of parts are recycled from the HP2 such as pegs and headlight. In any case it was hell to sit on so I had it fitted with a gel pack. Instant improvement but not a big enough one for the use it’s getting. The seat stylishly tapers to towards the top meaning I’m resting my arse bone on it in only two places instead of spreading the load. This is causing significant pain (discomfort really, I’m just being a drama queen). She is uncomfortable on the rear but not in pain so it’s clearly the way I’m forced to sit on these two ridges. I plan to find out what base this bike uses and see if there’s a way i can modify it with a better, wider seat. Failing that I will rework it to make something decent out of a spare I was generously given by my brother... thanks bruv.
Navigation needs a total rethink. I’m using a map and a GPS which only has details of cities, nothing else. It’s working fine now I’m used to it but getting in and out of cities or finding specific places is proving very difficult. I need to put some more thought into that. What I want to do is build a decent mapping tool. At the back of my mind I want a Dell mini-9 netbook to modify. The Mini-9 was built to be stripped down and modified and has an SSD (Solid State Disk) so no problem with vibrations and lower power consumption. There are touch screen kits available and it can be made water resistant. I have an idea of the monitor up on the dash showing downloaded maps as I drive with open note documents to scroll through as I go. That in concert with the GPS system would be pretty foolproof... Bit of a pipe-dream but that’s my ideal-world solution. A second best would be to have a pocket organiser showing notes I’ve made/downloaded. I have one already so it’s just needing to be waterproofed.
I intend to rework the headlight/dash area of the bike. I made a whole new headlight bracket that handles the HID ballasts and spots. It’s clunky but it works. Even when fitting it I considered it a prototype, a test of material and techniques. My issue is that isn’t as resilient as I would like and doesn’t do everything I want. I mounted the screen to it and it’s exceedingly clunky and the screen has a very slight vibration that makes me wonder how tough it would be in a fall. I am leaning towards twin headlights. Now that would over-load my charging circuit but my headlight is so weak I have to do something to improve on it. So far driving at night has been problematic as a lot of roads have no lights, this will be worse on secondary roads or as I go further towards Asia. My ideal solution would be twin “dominator” headlights in black, wider apart than standard and mounted to an alloy and stainless rally-style cockpit. One would be headlight and dipped, just as standard and the other would be modified to be HID only with decent forward projection. My spots are great but they throw light everywhere (as intended, I figured those more to let people know I was there and to pick up details of signs or rocks on trails which they do brilliantly but the beam pattern is very wide and they’re not helping on unlit roads very much. Great offroad but not s good on an unlit highway and sadly that seems to be an environment I’m dealing with very frequently. I would sandwich a set of LED markers in the middle of the lights so during the day I can power down my headlight clustercompletely and let my charger have a rest. Running late I can use my HID which uses far less power and when i need everything, I have full spread of light. I love the way traditional and HID mix. They’re very different and anyone who says one or other is better is wrong (in my opinion.) You want both together to see everything on an unlit road. That seems to me to be the best solution with the lowest power drain and at the lowest cost output. Sure I could get a plastic fairing but I hate the way they look, I like the pared-down minimalist appearance of my bike. I like the dominator lights (the kind a lot of people call Bandit lights on account of how frequenrtly they’re used on crash damaged Suzuki Bandits, they’re the same overall diameter as standard and fit right on. I hear nothing but good things and although they’re not all that tough they are at least as good as standard. My plastic headlight is already looking very poor and throws next to no light. I can handle that on a G650, just about but can you imagine running that arrangement on a HP2 enduro? Highly unacceptable. BMW should hang their heads in shame.
The new look headlight will be heavy shaped alloy plates which I hope to augment with high-strength stainless steel which will survive any accident and support the entire arrangement. This will also give me a mounting-tree so I will fit my dash low, my GPS high and that still gives me space for other gear. I may still leave my GPS mounted to the bars, it’s given me no problems in that position and is clear and easy to read. This does free up some space high-up for a rolling-road or other mapping equipment. My mind is chewing that over already. I will keep with the screen I have but aim to straighten it up a bit and raise it a few inches, that should give me optimal protection and a good compromise between usefulness and being a sail to catch crosswinds.
The rear tail unit was a disaster. I’ve ridden a few thousand miles with it held on with bungies and cable ties. I will make a better job when I get home. I want to clean up the back end as far as possible. The number plate was somehow sucked into the rear wheel and shattered the mounting points of the Motrax universal tail tidy. Utter piece of crap, I would have been better off mounting it to a banana. In future I will have the plate mounted directly off the tail with the bare-minimum legal requirements and indicators mounted close in, preferable to the alloy rack. LED are tidier and lighter on power but these ones don’t seem very bright. I’ll probably go with “fairing mounts” at the rear to keep it as tidy as possible. Rear indicators are very important travelling in unknown territory so i’ll shop about for the best I can get. I hoped Oxford would be those. They have an air of quality to them and were far from cheap. In fact they’re not as bright as I wanted, not even as bright as the £10 for 4 I bought for a friend’s bike which are far better.
I’m going to simplify and lighten everything. She needs to be lighter. Already the G650x is one of the lightest bikes in their class but I want to save even more weight. I’ve cut a lot of fat off already but the front mudguard is going to have to go. It serves no purpose now I have a high-mount and the tank/bash plate protect from dirt so that’s now redundant. I will go over her and lose anything that is stylish and lacks a function or replace what I can with lighter parts. I made an alloy side panel for the left, it actually saved half the weight over the original plastic part so I’m sure there are other places I can do the same trick. I know it seems odd to add so much weight to the bike for this job then talk about cutting a few ounces but every little makes a difference. So far with the savings on exhaust, etc, I’m about even with the parts I’ve added to a standard weight. That is what I’m aiming at, keeping the weight as low as possible.
The tank (fake tank, airbox cover) is looking rough. I intend to paint it matt black. Simoniz (I think) Tough-black paint is excellent. It is chemical and knock resistant and just about as good as standard paint. I’ll sand down both the side panels and main cover and have the whole reworked in Matt black which will be a touch different and give her an update. I also want to build an alloy rack over the top cover. It doesn’t have to be very good, 2mm alloy will do, it’s just to help locate the tank bag as it slips all over the place and caused us to drop the bike. If I don’t opt to carry the tank bag the mounting will allow me to carry other items with a bungie such as water or a map. Either way that will help to protect the tank in future and save from any more awkward spills. The tank cover is only plastic so I can’t load anything too heavy up there so lightweight alloy will be more than adequate.
I’d like additional luggage points at the sides or at least some kind of radiator protection. There are several engine bars available but they’re costly, heavy and largely redundant. When the bike has been over only the bars touch the ground so all I’m looking for is a slim shield in case of an uneven surface impacting the side. I’m not sure how to achieve this yet but I will also like a flat surface for bungie points. I’d love to be able to mount thin wraps on the front sides to decentralise luggage. This isn’t overly important to me as with only one person the luggage I’m carrying will be fine where it is but spreading the load is good if it can be done right.
I want to move the airhorn slightly. It’s fine now but for more offroad use it will clog and in any case it’s in a vulnerable spot.
I’m glad the bottles are there. When we’ve trailed through the backroads of a national park with 200km between fuel stops I’ve been very happy to have 2litres of emergency fuel on the side. Other than that though, they’re remained empty and redundant. I’m seriously wondering if they’re worth the effort. I have been thinking about using the rack for water and storing just a single bottle of fuel in another spot as I seem to be slightly over the top. My main tank hold 6 litres plus reserve and the front auxiliary tank another 5. I have seen 200 miles on this arrangement with around 50 in reserve. This seems to be enough although when lost in town I’ve got that down to 160 miles. The throttle use offroad and in town is similar so for trail riding i’m realistically expecting the lower end of the range. For larger bikes with a bigger tank I would think that keeping the fuel tank half full and riding with reserve fuel slung low might be a benefit offroad. Riding a Triumph Tiger on trails was a wobbly experience with the mammoth tank slunk to the top of the frame. I’d have been happier with fuel slung lower.
The suspension is working nicely. The bike is handling the conditions well and the handling, while compromised with the load is still safe and predictable. Despite what some people say the standard setup would have done ok if driven below the bikes limitations. The upgrades, while fairly costly have made me a lot happier and made the bike safer and more reliable. If you have £500 to spend, spend it here. A decent shock and spring upgrades are well worth it. If you want to blow some cash then swap out the front forks but those of us in the real world, the way I went is good enough for 99.9% of us and would still be good enough for the rest who aren’t too badly afflicted with boys-and-their-toys-syndrome.
I will probably make an alloy guard to protect the front fuel tank. Not that it really needs it but more to help cover up the obvious fact that it’s there. It’s held up fine, so far but I will probably rework the mounting plate to make it neater slightly. I won’t replace it, just clean it up.I would be happier with some kind of guard over the filler cap to protect the hose but so much of the fuel and electrical system is already exposed that I can’t imagine this will be any additional problem not to have.
I originally wanted and paid for a Gel battery for the slight extra power and durability but on working on the bike I see a standard battery has been fitted during the last service. Otherwise I was happy with the work but I’ll be taking up this issue with the guy and get this sorted out. I know some people like to move the battery but the weight saving is minimal and I already have weight mounted in the low-slung position so there’s really nowhere to move it safely to. I’m happy enough where it is, I just want more durability from it. I may fit hard-wired jump points in case the battery dies but I’m hoping this is over-kill. It’s played up twice and both have been my fault. With wiring routed to the key this should no longer be possible.
I may move the fusebox up to the new main dash and have some kind of warning lights and kill switches. I would like the ability to isolate the ABS system directly from the dash. I know you have the bar button but it’s limited. I would like to simply kill the ABS on dash for extended stop-start trail riding. Similarly I would like to kill the accessories so a slightly upgraded power system may be on the cards. So far I have switches on the bars but they need moving up to the dash, as does the accessory socket.
These are my thoughts so far about building my BMW G650X-country “Adventure.” She’s good now but I want her to be right. I’m learning a lot from this trip and she’s close but we’re not there yet...
Not much to report today. My other-half is "not veery wheel" as she says it. That being the case she's upstairs sleeping it off while I was charged with the responsibility of leaving her alone. I took a ride for a couple of hours, nothing special but it was such a relief to get the weight off and just ride my bike again. The scenery here is great. I found a fire-roads but have no idea of the legalities of riding them so I gave in when i found a sign, just in case. Nobody I asked seemed to know either but my impression is that nobody would care one way or another.
We had no luck buying a travel charger to fix her camera so I cut a USB lead and made one using insulating tape and an Iphone adapter. It worked ok and charged her battery enough for a few days. I replaced mine with a very cheap camera which takes pretty poor photos. It will do till I get access to my own bank account, right now I had to leave with an expired bank card so we're running only on the cash we brought which is not ideal.
Universal truths to traveling.
Every hotel/motel/hostel will have a bathroom floor made of something impossible to stand up on while wet.
Every road you need to go on will be a one way street blocked against you
Google, maps and GPS will be fine until it really, really matters.
You will come back with half the stuff you went with and the missing stuff will be the stuff you need most. (Camera... tools.... wets....)
If you have it then you won't need it.
The thing you most worry about won't happen but something you never thought of that is far worse probably will.
No amount of preparation can prepare you for something you didn't know you had to prepare for.
Everyone speaks a little bit of English. Just enough to completely misunderstand what the hell you're trying to ask them.
Everyone is an arsehole in a big city.
BMW riders just don't want a conversation with you. Everyone else will be happy to chat.
Taking your partner on the road is a mistake.
You can never carry too much water.
Failure to prepare is preparing to make your life very, very stressful.
Well she's still not well. I was going to respect her privacy but I figured, what the hell. The reason for this blog is for the people reading it to learn from my mistakes so the fact is, it's her time of the month. She's normally fine with it but maybe a combination of the climate, food and seating position have made this one pretty uncomfortable for her. We were going to camp but we're in a low cost Etap hotel instead and booked into an F1 tomorrow night. Sadly tomorrow is going to be a long day, we're pushing now to Eastern Europe so we're riding from Toulouse to Lyon. Not a big journey but a dull one so a big effort.
Today was a fairly long ride but oh so worth it... From Girona to Toulouse. The GPS and google wanted us to backtrace our steps on the A7 autopista but we both fancied doing something a bit more ambitious. We decided to go inland and cross the Pyrenees a bit further in, almost into Andorra. We didn't know what we were going to find there so we just went to see what would happen. Coming over was great scenery but it was just a motorway so it was all very sanitised. This time we stuck to backroads and it was simply amazing.
We headed off from Girona with a fairly heavy heart. I liked it there and had enjoyed the break. Bareclona was meant to be a rest stop but was awful, really stressful and with her getting ill we took a few days there instead. I'm really glad we did, it's a great little town. Not big enough to get lost in, just easy to find your way about and it had just enough of everything we needed.
We headed out towards Banyola to Olot and onwards from there. It was so nice to get back on the road and even more exciting to be faced with genuinely no idea of what was up ahead. I knew it would be better than the road in, that was all.
The road to Rizolla was ok, nice scenery, lots of farms and fairly easy to navigate. We stopped for directions in Rizolla but it turned out to be Olot and we hadn't got as far as we thought. The mountains were looming large now and I'm poor with heights so it was a slightly anxious time. I know it would have been easy to avoid all this but where's the fun in that?
As we headed in the scenery changed and we started seeing these great little villages and towns with friendly people and great, clean scenery. Everything was so nice, no matter where you looked there was another great view.
We followed a wrong sign and it took us up... and up. The road was narrow, so narrow that two cars would have struggled to pass. At first I had rocks to the side of my lane but on the other side was nothing, no barrier, no boundry, just a drop onto rocks. I was starting to get a little nervous and then the lanes switched sides so the drop was on my side. I ignored it as best I could and focused on the road. That was a good iea in any case as hairpin turns were coming at me like spray off a wet lorry. One lapse of concentration and we were dead. Even she knew it this time and she started clinging on tight. I took a chance to stop at a rare layby on the drop-side of the road and checked a map. I was sure we'd gone wrong. We reconciled to continue in any case but then some push-bikers turned up and confirmed we were on the wrong road so with some relief we turned about and headed down. Now I'm not a nervous guy. I've thrashed an RSV Millie flat-out on a road and took on a gang of a dozen guys once armed only with harsh language but this made me sweat. I'm not good with heights but I'm proud to say I took it like a man but was breathing a sigh of relief when we made it down.
After that we found Rizolla and took a short break. The added benefit of this path was far fewer toll roads so the toll money was spent on chocolate cake and my other half fuelled herself up on that while running about snapping photographs like a thing possessed.
We then headed off. The map was tricky (large scale) and I couldn't make out where the border was but we hadn't made it there yet. Then we started climbing... An ominous sign approached, a yellow BMW GS on my side of the road... he wobbled back to his own side to pass and we carried on. I knew what this meant. We were coming up for a climb into the mountains, nothing else makes a man drive a motorcycle down the wrong lane of a narrow strip. We climbed fast, I watched the signs by the side of the road as they measured off the altitude to around 2km up and the road was still far from the peak of the mountains. I saw a floral tribute to Oliver at the side of the road and briefly imagined our name on one. Then another to David. The hairpins doubled back on themselves and opened out to unimaginably beautiful scenery. There was some traffic about but nothing to stop this being an amazing experience. We couldn't get pics of the really great stuff as there was nowhere to stop but it was an intense experience. We stopped at one pooint and a group of sportsbikes passed us but even they were sticking to the speed limits.
At one point there was horses just wandering around on the lanes as if this wasn't challenging enough. We then passed a field full of them and I knew she wanted pictures so we doubled back. I turned in a small clearing and it was littered with smashed bits of motorcycle screens and fairings where someone had failed to make a turn. Scary stuff to see but everyone up there was behaving and the wind was low so really the danger was mostly perceived. We took our time and I focused on what I was doing. The bike came into her own, the single cylinder engine had braking and torque so the tight corners where under good control. This tight hairpin lane went on for 40 miles! By the end I was just relived to see some flat ground. We pulled into a town, our mid-way destination and we had a coffee. I checked the map and we still had another crossing to get back out of the Pyrenees on the French side! The border was non-existent and signs were vague but tolerable. In France you just keep going until you see a sign that says otherwise. Simple really... until it goes wrong which it frequently does.
The French side was darker, greener and flatter. The road goes round the mountains rather than embracing them. To the French they are an inconvenience, to the Spanish a joy. We followed the directions of a French biker after the signs ran out and he directed us to a long underground tunnel. We had to pay a toll on that but there was nobody about and it occurred to me to just go round the barrier. We didn't but we should have.
Once on the other side we caught the rain or rather it caught us. She put on her wets. Mine are now missing, presumed lost in action. Luckily my gear is meant to be waterproof. The rain hit us hard and slowed our progress significantly. I could feel the belting rain through my armoured gear, each drop registering on my arms and legs. I warned her the bike handled like an excited puppy in the wet with TKC80 tyres so we took it easy. Actually we outran the rain in about 20 mintues and headed into brighter skies. We stopped for a breather and the black clouds began catching us up so we took to the roads again, just keeping ourselves ahead of the rain. We managed to make and hold around 75mph which was quick enough in the wind with the weight we're carrying. We ate the kms pretty fast and were in Toulouse before we knew it. We got caught at another toll gate but we were tired and I just wanted to get there so we sucked down the charges. Toulouse signposts hindered our progress and we saw the same piece of road 5 times but we made it in the end.
Tomorrow will be a dull day, I imagine but we need to make progress. Everything is expensive here so we need to push on.
Quite an easy day today. We’re still suffering under the curse of womens issues so instead of a longer drive into Lyon we had a shortened trip into Albi which took roughly an hour. Getting out of Toulouse was pretty straight forward and I was able to follow the signs all the way from one hotel to another. If I’d followed the GPS or google maps I’d probably still be there now...
Anyway, one minor issues was with my front tank. There were marks on the front upper lip where I can only assume the tyre has made contact. I’ve tried to replicate the conditions by jumping it up and down curbs loaded and unloaded and braking as hard as possible but nothing. I’ve marked the front with powder and cannot get the tyre to mark the fresh powder. I can only assume it’s from Barcelona where we braked for our lives behind a scooter, it’s the only full-blooded emergency stop I’ve made. From now on I’ll ride more carefully and keep a close eye on it. When I get back I will look at moving it. I might be able to move it back or down a bit or maybe switch it to mount on the side of the bike (my original idea) so we’ll have a play when i get home. I like the weight where it is but frankly the spot will be fine to mount other heavy gear so nothing is really lost
Ambi is nice. An old town full of French clichés and impressive architecture. The cathedral was open to the public and she went into shutter-bug mode instantly, firing snaps off at everything. We were allowed to just walk in and she observed, quite rightly, “not like England... they want paying for everything...”
We found an old monument bridge and my vertigo oddly flared up. It was only a hundred metres high above water and chances of survival if you were to fall were good. Yesterday chances of survival were less than none but I was fine. I guess irrational fear is not meant to be logical. Nice to know I’m still carrying totally baseless emotional baggage. In any case, I still walked across it and the view was very impressive. People are nice here too. I like France but it’s so damn expensive. Food is now three times the price it was a hundred miles ago. It’s good though, the cooking here is top notch. I want to try a McDonalds at some point to see what they’re like here but we haven’t even seen one.
We had a bit of rain today. The weather forecast says it’s in for tonight and then clears up. Showers by Thursday but we’ll be in another country by then so we’ll see what happens.
My brother has bought a V-strom for touring. He’s coming away with me on the Europe leg of my ride to Asia. It’s going to be a more hard-core trip, we’ll be packing less weight and running cheap. No hotels this time, camping rough. I think it’s the wrong bike, not just for the trip but for him. He tends to get bored with bikes too quickly and I can’t see the Strom getting under his skin and I think he needs to learn to love a bike and keep it long enough to bond with it. I also think that while comfortable it might be a bit too bland and heavy but we’ll see. It’s got more power than i’ve got and his bum won’t be as sore... maybe I’m jealous of that.
I think my bike is perfect for my big trip and the modifications make it just right but there’s other considerations. I use my bike daily at home. I can’t afford to take it off the road for 6 months at a time between trips to prep it. She always needs to be ready. She’ll also be daily used when i arrive in Thailand so I had to consider that too. The only thing I didn’t consider is this Europe trip, 2 up. I didn’t have that in mind when i bought my bike or even when i started the upgrades. The suspension work was just for my own benefit. The upshot is that she’s doing fine but I’m not happy with the extra weight. She’s not designed, built or rebuilt for this. I’m being careful and so far no sign of problems. I wanted the Touratech rear boxes which come with a steel subframe and can handle the weight. The cost was over £1100 and boxes are not ideal off road. My solution was £300. I thought about the 09 rear steel subframe but that was £800 from BMW (I could buy a Honda Dominator for that and just ride it). Again, not worth the cash for the possibility of snapping the subframe which is a slim possibility and I’m already taking precautions against by packing carefully. Power wise... I guess the truth is I could have done with a V-strom. I know there are crazy (American mostly) people on the ADV forum (mostly crazy Americans) who reckon the Strom is a true enduro capable of anything including travelling through time, flying and fighting robot dinosaurs but the truth is that’s a low-slung multi-strada machine with cast wheels that can just about handle some fire-roads. With two up that would have suited me fine. Acutally I looked into possible weight savings of stripping one to the bone and reworking it with better shock and forks but I found the cost prohibitive and still thought the Beemer the better bike (opinion varies).
In any case it’s always exciting to have a new bike on the table so I’m keen to see what he does with it. For my money I’d add HID spotlights straight off, upgrade the horn and look into a sturdier bash-plate. I don’t know much about the suspension but the upgrades I made to mine were well worth the money so I’d look into that. I’d not use plastic boxes, I think they’re too flimsy, especially on unmade roads which we’re planning to use. I’d go with bags and simply bungie them to the racks. Anyway, I’m keen to see what he does.
I find myself looking at the back of bikes now everywhere we go. My partner doesn’t speak English as a first language so sometimes the conversation is a little basic. Being surrounded by foreigners is making me feel even more isolated. I speak a little French but not enough to hold a worthwhile conversation. I find myself hoping to meet some English people, ideally with a bike so we can talk bollocks over a . Maybe that’s why I’m rambling so much in my blogs but hey.... you don’t have to read this crap...
Well we went into town for a wander. I feel like a proper tourist now. I tell you what, it was ok just wandering round snapping pics and mingling. Sunday is death in France. Everything is closed. I speak enough French to get by in a shop but somehow just couldn't get it today. I guess it was a regional accent, I couldn't get a word of it. That said, everyone was so nice about it. Last night we went for a pizza and a girl working there came over and told us in broken English she could help us with the menu. Tonight the waiter did the same. He caught me on the way to the toilet and showed me what things were in the kitchen to help me decide. Honestly, people out here could not be nicer. There were a few arsehole kids knocking about but if you look at them they smile and wander off sheepishly. All front, no real animosity anywhere. What a really lovely little town. So unlike England.
Once I had to go to Birmingham with my regional manager on a conference. We got a bit lost looking for the hotel and crossed in front of a car by accident. This big black car pulled up beside us and the window came down and a massive Indian looking guy leant out. We went into combat mode ready to give some abuse back and the guy just said, "Are you guys lost, can i help?" Such is life in London. We get shit all the time and we learn to expect it and be ready. It's a horrible way to be but it's life. I worked in Cash Converters for a while (those ends don't meet by themselves.) I managed the buying counter in a real scumtown. Fights every single day, usually constant. We were on first name terms with the local police we saw them all so often. I guess you just get so used to this kind of life you don't notice any more. Being out here where life is easy and there's nothing to prove is so refreshing.
We drove into town with no jackets, no gloves, no tube, nothing but our lids. I felt like a total criminal. Again, we just parked anywhere and no problems. Of course we showed due respect and so long as you do there's no problem. You don't cause one for them, they won't cause one for you. Far cry from London where you make a slight deviation from the hopelessly complicated and heavy-handed laws and you get an on-the-spot fine and a good telling-off.
Sorry to brits everywhere... this way is better by far. England is wrong, very wrong and the more I see of the world the more I think so. Travelling by bike obviously has it's own problems but I still prefer it to flying out or backpacking. I'm a biker first, i guess.
Not much else to report that will be relevant or vaguely interesting.
We're staying in an F1 hotel. It's clean but very, very basic. Cheap too, cheaper than a camp site, at least those I can find online. 30 euros and you get a room with a double bed with a bunk over the top. You get a sink but toilet and washrooms are seperate. The door has an entry code but the buttons are in a strange non-logical order. The same code lets you in the building or inside the locking front gate. It's fairly secure and has CCTV and an all night attendant. It is basic but it's decent enough. I would definitely recommend if the time is dragging on and you're tired. Even better if there's 3 of you although if you're biking you could get 2 more on the floors. Nobody cares.
Water pressure is a bit ferocious, the shower is like get pressure washed.
She's feeling better now, more like her old self so we're pushing on to the black forest. Once night in Lyon and then Mulhouse and onwards towards Poland... Hopefully.
The bike saw 185 miles before the little yellow warning went on. I filled up at the French border, well she was filled up for me. The girl did a good job, it looked like and took both the main and front tank to the brim. There were som curly, curvy mountain roads, a 75mph blast for 40-50 miles, some getting lost in Toulouse, a gentle 65mph cruise for 60-70 miles today and the rest pottering about in town. That's over 2 days in 28-30 degree heat so some escaped and two up with heavy luggage. I'm impressed, the fuel capacity and economy is bang on. That's delivering a genuine 76.45mpg (uk) overall. I'm happy with that. at that rate the fuel is literally cheaper than the tolls.
Today was a test of endurance. over 9 hours in the saddle, well I call it a saddle but it's a device of torture after a day like this. I had it fitted with a gel-seat by a top bloke in the Kent countryside. Mr. Archer has a good reputation and is cheap. He works out of a shed but should by charging ten grand an hour telling BMW off for making crap chairs.
Anyway, the Gel seat made an instant improvement but not enough of one. My fault, we didn't really discuss my needs, I just said a few long trips and I wanted a gel seat. Chances are he would have told me I needed something else, I should have gone into more depth with him. Anyway, my fault and my sore arse.
I've felt it today, the pain is getting to us both and on top of that the bike is pissing me off. She's done nothing wrong and I'll be in love with her again soon but after a day like today I'm venting spite and she's getting blamed.
You see I'm a sportsbike rider. I love 2 strokes especially. I love the kick of power in you back, I love the blast of acceleration. I'm used to having 140+ BHP and the drag coefficient of a fully jacketed rifle bullet. My ideal bike would have a 200bhp engine and deliver 200mpg. Frankly I don't see why that's asking a lot.
Now I have 53. Actually around about 55-56 with my mods. Oooooo. Big improvement, worth every penny. The size of the bike is to small too, too small for me to carry this load with the extra ballast of a needy pillion. I've done todays trip with thoughts of what I would do different.
I love the Country. It's a great go anywhere, do anything bike with just enough of everything to make it work. The thing is I didn't buy it with this trip in mind and it's wearing thin now. I guess I should have bought a BMW boxer and cruised around happily and sold it at a profit when I get back. Anyway, I didn't.
On paper the R1200gs is the best bike for all my needs, rolled into one. In reality it's just not reliable. Maybe I should have gone to the 1150 or the 1100 but the performance figures were just too low against the weight when i was looking and I still had a different set of dynamics in my head. I don't test drive bikes. Waste of time. I buy them, ride them and make my mind up. You have to own a bike to know it, you can't get an impression any other way. I just didn't have the time or inclination to buy any more big boxers after my 1200 let me down (time and again).
I really wanted the 800 to be the one but it isn't. I was approached at Box-Hill by a Dakar rider who chatted with me and he said it was just too flimsy. Not what I wanted to hear but he was quite right. The bike is built to sell, not to work.
One time I had an Aprilia RSV Millie. I wanted a big V-twin and it was between this bike and a Suzuki SV1000. The SV had lost it's fairing in a shunt so the price was right but the seller was a dick. He messed me about so I went to see this Italian Millie knowing what to expect. Now Italian bikes are gorgeous to behold but flimsy and unreliable. The Millie is actually not a pretty bike. Somehow the styling is just bland and uninteresting compared to the visually stunning Dukatis. They do work though.
This one was not what I expected. I went with my brother and as the light went on we just stopped and stared. It was a thing of beauty. Repainted in a custom mixed glass black and it looked like a dark mirror had been melted on top of the fairing. It was just jaw-dropping. I bought it.
In fact it wasn't that quick so I had to derestrict it to make it fun but fun it was. THis was a great fun bike. A Lamborgini once had to pull over to let me pass on a motorway, this thing was an animal and I never got off of it without a grin on my face.
I bought a Sprint for daily use, the first ever Sprint RS with a certificate from Triumph. Sadly when i sold that it went to Poland to be broken for spares. Anyway, I stopped using the RSV. It was just too difficult when i could just jump on the Sprint and go without having to worry about thefts or damage.
In the end I thought they were just too alike. I bought an Aprilia Pegaso instead, a 95 in black (my favourite and the second of these I owned). I still never used the Millie. I walked out and just thought, no, I'll just use the Peg today.
I sold the Millie pretty soon after, just no point having it. It's probably dead now. The guy who bought it had never ridden a big bike before and was meant to come back for a load of expensive spares and was never heard from again.
The moral of this story is I want a faster bike but I know there's no point. The Country is the right bike and I'm griping over nothing. It was just a long-arse day and I have the hump with being lost and over-taken by solo-ridden sports bikes.
We've eaten and eaten to a mediocre standard. In France anything less than amazing is actually quite poor. We went to a pub/bar/bistro and the food was ok, not great. I ordered Caesar salad and it came with thousand island dressing. The service was top notch and everyone continues to be so friendly. A guy in the hotel even apologised for talking in front of me but he also tried bumming fags of my partner who, being Asian is terrified of unplanned human contact.
We're in Lyon now. It's a nothing special city, same as any other really but there's still a uniquely French flavour to it and by that I mean than just confusing road signs.
We had a long trip today. We started out with hassles straight off the bat with an empty tank. I didn't worry last night, I hold about 50-60 miles in reserve and the petrol station was right next door. Unfortunately this morning it was closed. We tried finding another but no luck. We drove round for ages until we found one and then got back tot he main road to find a cheaper, better one only 100 yards from where we started.
My GPS luckily advised me it could help me out so I pressed the icon to be told that to get petrol i simply had to turn around and travel 500 miles in the opposite direction. Nice one Garmin. Money well spent.
So we finally got ont he road and to be fair, navigation was simple enough. We took the scenic route which at first was a bit on the dull side. It reminded me of my first few days riding solo when i had wished she was here to see the lovely French countryside and now she was so that was nice. She's a country girl (she farts in public) and she appreciated the spectacle. Suddenly it broke into mountains and the scenery went from nice to amazing. This is a really beautiful country but the road design is poor... whenever you see something amazing there's nowhere to stop and photograph it.
This went on... and on.... and on. Bum-breaks got more frequent and the trip just seemed to get longer and longer. The GPS just kept slipping back and back and we had to stop several times to check maps because the signs don't always make sense and nothing agrees with each other.
In the end I just wanted a motorway so we could get to the hotel, eat and sleep. Getting there was a real challenge and I was just too tired. It's a lot harder with a pillion, always trying to justify yourself and the constant nagging responsibility. It's so much easier on your own.
Anyway... we finally made it and I was berating the bike for not being faster because by the end I just wanted to make up time and we can't. We can do 70mph before the vibrations kick in and I had in mind something around roughly double that.
Of course the fact is that anything over 70mph on foreign, unfamiliar roads when you're tired is stupid and dangerous and after calming down I'm glad the bike is limiting me really. The vibes don't normally kick in until around 85 which is the quickest I've been on her. My Pegaso 660 I saw 110, my old Peg cube about 120 and that bike got there pretty fast too.
Anyway, we went into town for some food without the luggage and what a relief that was to rider her normally. It's just the weight.
On top of everything there's a knock in the front steering bearings. It was ok before but I guess the weight and the miles are adding up. It will need changing when i get home and from the feel of it will be fine for now. I'm not overly concerned. My front brake pads are low as well but again, I'm not worried. I'll look for some as I go around. I swapped them out in my living room last time in about 10 minutes. Very straight forward job but might be more difficult now my tool kit is spread around the motorway outside of Milan.
So what's been on my mind today? Well I've been wondering if this is the right bike. Practically it is but is it the right bike for me? I'm a big guy and the bike is small. I'm down to 16.5stone now but was 19 a few years ago when i was overdoing the gym a bit. Because of that I'm also top heavy, even now. I like plenty of power and I'm a big fan of carbs. I always go back to singles but unlike some people I don't think they're the key to life. I reckon the mighty V-twin is the best configuration but it's not an economical setup and that's something I want. Parallel twins or split singles are just a modern way to soak up vibrations, a way to sanitize the engine. Ok, some modern P-twins put out impressive figures but what would modern singles be doing now if the bike companies had continued developing those a bit harder? Modern 400s are now showing impressive performances because they're a racing class. P-twins seem a bit pedestrian because they're not used in competition. Either way, they're not really my cup of tea. Having said that if I was looking for a basis of a great all-round adventure bike I'd look twice at the early 850 TDM. The frame was ok and the engine was good. I reckon with a completely new set of suspension and a style upgrade there might be some potential there. I had one though and the exhausts dragged on speedbumps, it wasn't very reliable and it only managed 125mph.
Maybe the V-strom. Now the performance figures of the 1000 are very appealing, especially with the potential to easily ring more power out of them but the economy is laughable and they're really too heavy for any enduro work. The 650 is good but I feel it's too aimed at touring. Absolutely nothing wrong with that but I'm looking for something else.
The Kawasaki Versys has a good engine but it doesn't speak to me.
I guess the modern world of bikes is just not for me. My opinion is that nobody builds something you can just get on and ride any more. I mean KTMs you can't ride at all without extensive modifications and they still have engine management issues. Having said that I love the Super Duke (in principal) but that's another story. I doubt there's a single biker anywhere who doesn't want a KTM if only they worked properly.
Modern bikes are built to sell. That's a simple fact. The worst example of this was the Triumph Tiger who originally in 95 had off-road pretensions but a lousy engine (I had one. Fantastic to ride but just so unreliable.) Then the pretensions melted away as Triumph caught on to the fact that people were never using them off-road so they just become a toy for showing up at the coffee shop. I'm keen to see what happens with the new Mini-Tiger. It's over-styled and that's never a good thing and apparently it's having engine management problems straight off. Nothing new there (I love Trumpets, I've had 5 or 6 or 7 of them but they're not good.) On that issue though, I thought about a Triumph Scrambler. How cool would that be?
Maybe an older bike. Africa twin, Tenere, XT, DR. I like the DR Big, I like it a lot. I don't know much about them other than they're big and qualified to perform medicine. It's got a big engine and lots of potential. With modern shocks and forks and some not-too-far tuning I reckon this would be a beast. My brother had one but sadly backed out of making it something special. That was a project I really wanted to see.
BMW Boxers are not reliable, I mean the engines are great but the electronics let them down. Don't get me wrong, I'm not technophobic. CDI was a huge leap forward from points and I think BMW were on the money with the Canbus and it's a shame it's not catching on. I hear people moaning about it but instances of Canbus failures are very few whereas wiring looms are a pig to work with. I believe in good technology, not ways to make things cheaper to produce or more appealing in the short term. A good example of what I mean is modern headlight design. Round headlights gave way to shaped and styled units but those units date very fast and have no real benefit over round ones. BMW Gs headlights have the best setup you can imagine but somehow the light from them is appalling. It's bad technology where the advancement only benefit the company producing the bike.
So in other words.... All I managed to think about today was bikes I didn't want. Nothing else ticks all of those boxes. Reliable, durable, economical, versatile, enduro-capable, adaptable, good handling, good acceleration, light through traffic and off tarmac, cheap to buy and support (parts, etc). A lot of bikes fill those criteria. I mean you could argue that a V-strom would but the trade off is less economy and more weight in exchange for more power to cruise. Well cruising is not my cup'o'tea.
Traveling to me is a means to an end and the means is the end. Riding long distance in a straight line is the wrong end. Tough to explain that one.
Anyhow... All bikes are compromise. You compromise on quality, against cost, power against economy, etc, etc. The G650 is a good set of compromises and I can't see a way to improve on it without building a bike from the ground up. When I get settled somewhere then maybe I will do just that. Till then... I will stick to what i have and have a sore bum..
I'm tired but I can't sleep. My brain won't turn off. I am a lousy navigator because I just don't care. I have a good sense of direction but can never lock down reference points to make judgments from. When I can't find something I get stressed and then I don't sleep, so here I am.
Other observations from the road. French drivers aren't as bad as people say. Most are quite courteous but a few are just overtaking monsters who have to get in front of you even if it kills them. They'll overtake anywhere.
We had a chav-scum green Golf behind us today. Over-tuned and really played with. They'd made such a mess of it that it didn't even run. He was sat behind us at some lights revving the engine. I mean we're loaded with gear, do we look like we want to play? Then he just hung back so I figured I had to have been wrong about him. I kept my eye on him just in case. He overtook us on a roundabout, nearly lost control as he did. Then he got in front just in time for the lights and couldn't pull away, his car splutteing for life and stinking of unburnt fuel. Finally he got away, lurched all over the road and chased a 4X4 up the road. Little man with something to prove but he's the only one we've seen so far. In the UK, these pricks are everywhere.
There are a lot of bikes out here and a very high number of BMWs. Most wave and are very friendly, even come up to chat. There are some well used bikes but most are brand new. Oddly the newest, cleanest and shiniest bikes are ridden by people with the worst gear. People wear gear I wouldn't look twice at back home, really bad budget brands. The nicest lid you see is a Caberg. I'm not knocking them, they're plenty good enough for a 650 single but back home a GS rider wears a high quality level of gear and if they'll talk to you they want to make sure you know it. maybe it's just that the weather is so predictable. I don't know.
Hmmmm, a DR big.
My mind is racing over this one. I love the Wilbers shock on mine, it's a great upgrade. It would need front shocks too as the original ones are just awful. The brakes are a bit weak too so they'd need replacing. My guess is there's a common mod for this, a whole front end transplant from something else that won't break the bank. The tail and headlight need replacing. They're the only things that date this bike, otherwise the styling is still great today. I'm thinking along the lines of a Buell style headlight arrangement and taller screen, replace clocks with a new, up to date dash, etc. Engine bars and a better Bash plate... probably custom made as I doubt there are many upgrades about for these. Better find a good welder.
New exhaust is a must, save enough weight to cover the cost of engine guards and match them with filters and maybe a new set of carbs. I assume there's a kit somewhere for these. I'd be surprised if there isn't. Any more tuning than that would probably be too much. New handle bars, LED indicators and tail light and probably the same bags I have now. All finished in black and grey with HID spots and ultra-bright LED rear fogs an enduro tail and as much crap stripped away as possible but I doubt there's much. I bet it could easily go to 65bhp with a corresponding torque increase in the same range.
The brain is ticking....
You'd have to sink another 3-4 grand into it, more like 5 once you've got it painted. I can handle matt myself but gloss might be better.
.... I know where there's a good one going....
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