Touring in Wales April 2017

We are well into our touring season now having completed the first two tours of 2017 and for both we had terrific weather to show off the stunning scenery and roads of Mid and North Wales.

Our first tour was in early April when we once again combined On and Off-Road riding in conjunction with Mick Extance and his team.  We rode through Mid Wales on day 1 stopping at the Elan Valley Visitor Centre for lunch and the waters of Caban Coch reservoir were flowing over the dam giving a great backdrop for lunch outside (who’d have thought we’d be eating al fresco this early in Spring!).  The route continued over the Dylife Gorge and into the borderlands of Mid and North Wales for two nights at The Lake Vyrnwy Hotel where we had a terrific sunset as we dined overlooking the lake.

Next day it was off-roading in the Tanat Valley.  This was our 7th tour working with Mick, both of us had seen the benefit riding off-road can have on your on-road skills, gravel on tarmac pales into insignificance after having a day on the forest roads 🙂

Snowdonia was our region to enjoy on the last day of this tour and once again the weather played its part with clear views of the mountains and very little traffic on the roads for the majority of the day.

We didn’t think the weather would hold for our second tour of Mid Wales which started a week later, but how wrong were we!!!  The ride over Dylife (in the opposite direction to that undertaken a few days earlier) was nothing less than sublime – the views back towards the mountains of Snowdon were stunning.

And it continued throughout the 4 days of the tour, when we rode through the Brecon Beacons National Park, stopped with Penderyn Whisky for an extremely interesting tour of the distillery – no sampling though!!!! we were all given minatures to sample at a later date 🙂

We rode through the Elan Valley from the direction of Aberystwyth, the 5 reservoirs were all glistening in the sunlight and the open moorlands gave for a great ride – check out our latest YouTube video and enjoy some of the road with us.

These tours were a fantastic way to not only start our season off but to showcase Wales.  We next head across the Irish Sea to the counties of Mayo and Donegal taking in some of the Wild Atlantic Way – lets hope the skies are as blue as they were in Wales!!!

Riding Roads of Austria in the Winter

Picture the scene…. “Winter in the UK, a smattering of snow appears from the sky”…… roads close, trains can’t run and basically panic sets in that drivers cannot cope with the weather conditions –  What must the people in Europe think?!!

We recently undertook a research trip to Austria and Italy looking ahead to our 2018 and 2019 motorcycle tours, we originally planned to only visit the hotels thinking that many of the riding routes we would like to check would be closed due to the snow – were we surprised? 🙂  Only one of the roads on our list was closed due to the weather, and so we found ourselves high in the Austrian Alps and the Dolomites travelling some amazing roads complete with skiers whizzing passed us as they enjoyed the winter sun.

We had a clue that the roads might be passable as we enjoyed the B500 and the high route through the Black Forest – this German rider was certainly making the most of the good weather and practically had the road to himself.

Continuing south to our base in Austria we could see the Alps rising covered in snow but bathed in sunshine and whilst the area looked like something from a Christmas card snow scene we were able to appreciate exactly what fantastic motorcycling roads there are in the region come the summer months – as exampled by this hairpin which appeared to be cut through the snow…

We’ve toured through part of the Austrian Tyrol, Alps and the Dolomites in the past and it is well worth the ride to get there.  One of the passes we particularly enjoyed on this visit was in the Dolomites which are spectacular in the summer with their “squared mountain tops” and rocky outcrops and here we were negotiating twists and turns and hairpins at over 6,000ft surrounded by snow, skiers and chairlifts 🙂  The high passes in these regions and in the French Alps are so well used whether it be for winter sports or motorcycling in the summer – we remember riding over the Petit St Bernard Pass between Italy and France and stopping for coffee at La Riondet with clients who had been there whilst ski-ing as the riding road becomes a ski slope during the winter months!

We did fall lucky with the weather on this particular trip as several of our days were under cloudless skies – lets hope they are like that when we next tour there 🙂

 

SunVisors and Heated Grips – a UK Winter ride-out!

So the blue skies came out this morning and some very welcome winter sun and we figured it would be a good to take advantage of the conditions and head out for a ride on the motorbikes.  We’d had some heavy rain over night and that washed most of the salt off the roads but it also meant rather damp roads…… not to mention the mud and within less than 5 miles the bikes looked like they’d been off-roading 🙂 

We had to ask ourselves whether it is something only motorcyclists in the UK experience i.e. the need for heated grips and sun visors at the same time!!  We expect not but it does give you food for thought.  One thing for sure is that having a sun visor built into the helmet is a boon.  We went from shade to sunlight throughout the day and it makes life so much easier than having to make the pre-ride decision of whether to wear sunglasses or not.  Many helmets have them built in now, our personal preference is for the Shoei but whatever you may be considering for the new season by way of a change to your crash helmet it may be worth considering getting one with the visor built in.

It was pleasing on the ride today to see several other motorcyclists out enjoying the conditions and everyone was keen to give us a nod or a wave, I guess seeing other motorcyclists on the road in the UK winter is something of a rareity so we took the acknowledgements whenever they were made. 🙂    One thing to be mindful of whenever riding, but particularly in the winter, are other road users – they are not expecting motorcyclists to be out and about at this time of year but we were pleasantly surprised by the acknowledgements we received from car and lorry drivers today (we think Jan’s pink hi-viz vest may have been the reason!!!).  The low winter sun can be quite blinding at times but it seemed to bounce off the pink colour quite well today.  We use UrbanGlow for our hi-viz these days, Geraint uses the white and also the green/yellow colour, the mesh of the vest is good for warmer weather and we are looking forward to riding in those conditions later this year whilst on tour.

Two weeks ago we wrote about riding in 34 degrees whilst in Malaysia – today was hovering between 4 and 7 degrees, but despite the significant drop in temperature it was great to get out and about on the bikes – although the washing off of the mud and grime is probably going to take as long as the ride-out itself!!!  Let us know of your winter riding experiences and keep safe.

 

Kawasaki Riders in Malaysia

As we’ve already mentioned we caused quite a stir on a recent visit to Malaysia when we took our bike gear with us, borrowed a bike from a family member we know over there and did 1 days riding around the island of Penang and 3 days riding in the Cameron Highlands.  The area is one of the hilliest in Malaysia and the highest points are over 5,000ft.  It is also home to Route 185 – a real must for motorcyclists and up there as one of our top ten roads to ride.  The total length of the road is nearly 200 miles but the section we rode was  over 35 miles of curves and bends through lush green landscape and not a village or town to interrupt the flow of the ride.

On our way to the Cameron Highlands we met up with a group of Kawasaki Riders who were out of a days ride-out.  They had a VN900, a Versys 650 and Versys 1000’s in the group and we met Jack and Jill (and no these were not nursery rhyme characters!), who had been riding their orange Versys 1000 for over a year.  They’d added a slightly higher touring screen but no other changes and they had the same view as us with regard to comfort of the seat and excellent fuel range.

Our next Kawasaki encounter came at the end of our ride of Route 185 in Simpang Pulai.  Given the temperatures had risen to 34 degrees we’d pulled over at a local café for a cooling drink and a leg stretch and met a group of 9 Kawasaki riders who were about to take the ascent into the Highlands.  They clearly had a passion for their bikes which ranged from Z1000SX to Z800 and Z750’s all immaculately presented and some great colour schemes….

Their grasp on the English language was far better than our Malay, however, talking all things bikes is a great leveller and we were very glad to have met such a great group of riders.  We are certain they would have enjoyed Route 185 as much as we did.

If you want to see what Route 185 is like you can visit our YouTube page and watch a short film we uploaded there recently….. we hope you enjoy 🙂

MotorcycleLive 2016 – catch up

This was the third year we were invited to be on the Kawasaki stand at the MotorcycleLive show working with in their newly launched Club Kawasaki area.  It was good to catch up with everyone from the team, Lee Bowers, Lee Dunham, the team from Xpress Coffee and also to meet new Kawasaki partners Team 6-t-9.

Thank you to everyone of our clients who visited us during the show and we met many more whether it be directly through Club Kawasaki or by people visiting the stand and asking pertinent questions about our Versys 1000 which we had on display or touring in general.  They say that travel broadens the mind and what better way to do that than on 2 wheels!!

H2The Kawasaki stand was extremely impressive in Hall 2 with the full range of 2017 new bikes on display ranging from Z650off-road, touring, sports bikes and from the hi-tech of the beautiful H2R to the classic retro style of the Z650 – plenty to view for the crowds of visitors which came each day.

The visitors were also able to enjoy a superb stunt show put on once again this year by Lee Bowers and his team.  If you were not lucky enough to catch the display at the NEC this year, look out for events Lee will be on during 2017 you will most definitely not be disappointed 🙂

During the course of the show many of the Leon HaslamKawasaki race teams and riders visited the stand and as you can see from this photo Leon Haslam was very happy with the unveiling of his racebike for 2017.

We were so busy chatting all week that we did not have an opportunity to visit the rest of the show but hear from everyone that there were some great new motorbikes on display from all of the manufacturers giving a lot of people plenty to think about as we head towards the festive period – we can certainly give you some ideas of how to make the most out of your bike if you choose to come touring with us 🙂  We’ll be updating our social media sites over the winter months with some teasers for roads we’ll be riding in 2017 and also a look back to those enjoyed in 2016 so keep an eye out for these our via facebook, twitter and instagram pages………..

 

Motorcycling in the East of England

In 2015 we announced that we would be running a motorcycle tour to the counties of Norfolk & Suffolk in the east of England with the most common comment being “we’ve never been there….”.  Within a few short weeks of that announcement the tour was full and carried a reserve list, such was the interest in riding in this part of the UK.  Whilst there may not be dramatic mountain scenery and passes to ride, there are several interconnecting B class roads which flow through both counties taking you passed windmills, through thatched cottage villages, open countryside and along the coast with so many interesting places to visit – we only scratched the surface over the 4 days of the tour.

We stayed close to the seaside resort of Cromer for 3 nights right at the most north east tip of Norfolk.  Riding through Thetford ForestOur location gave us lovely routes to ride through both the Thetford and Kings forests and we were only a short distance for a ride-out on the Sunday morning to the Norfolk Motorcycle Museum at North Walsham.  A real treasuretrove of a place to visit and the owners have a strong passion for motorbikes.  It does have a feel of stepping back in time, a lot of the bikes are fully restored whilst others are what you might call “work in progress”… Norfolk Motorcycle Museumand we would like to take this opportunity to thank George and Valerie for making us so welcome.

Whilst on the subject of warm welcomes…… we had these at all of our coffee and lunch stops in both Norfolk and Suffolk and had a particularly good welcome from the volunteers at 100th Bomb Groupthe 100th Bomb Group Memorial at Thorpe Abbotts.  They had even thought ahead and cordonned off some hard standing for us to park the motorbikes on as their usual carpark is gravel 🙂  The museum is housed in the original airfield control tower and is a moving testament to the Americans who came to Thorpe Abbotts in Norfolk to fight alongside the allies during World War Two, well worth a visit should you find yourself in this part of the world.

On the Saturday ride-out we had one eagle-eyed client who spotted that one of the tyres on another bike looked “soft” – as it turned out when we got to our lunch stop there was only 9 psi in the tyre which then drew us to find a rather large nail embedded in the rubber!  Geraint managed to plug the tyre and after a couple of phone calls we were able to source a new set of tyres for the bike from Orwell Motorcycles at Ipswich.  Thanks to everyone at Orwell who provided excellent customer service.  Geraint rode with Martin to Orwell’s to make sure that everything was ok on route there which meant that Jan had to take the lead on the afternoon leg back to the hotel!!!!!  It doesn’t happen very often and everyone played their part in the corner marking with a special thanks to Bill & Janet for stepping in and being the back marker for the afternoon 🙂

We had started this tour on Friday 13th which is considered an unlucky day in some parts of the world and although we had a random road closure to contend with on the morning leg, we felt it was a lucky day for another one of our clients who spotted a nail in their tyre at morning coffee only to find that it had gone into the sidewall only and they were able to continue on the tour, so tyres had been a bit of a theme over the weekend!

We will certainly consider returning to the east of England to run a motorcycle tour in the future so keep checking our website for future dates….

 

Ride & Dine Tour 2016

Our first tour into Mainland Europe for 2016 was over a week from the end of April and over the May bank holiday, riding through 5 countries and what turned out to be several seasons!!!  Snowball fighting in The Vosgeswhoever would have thought we would have a snowball fight on the 1st of May?? 🙂  As it goes we had very little rain which was the main thing and although the temperatures were unseasonably low at times the sun was out for most of the tour giving us great dry riding roads.

The clue is in the title for this tour where we rode and dined very well too!!  The hospitality of our 3 hotels on this tour was outstanding and their locations offer us such a wide variety of motorcycling roads it would be easy to end up spending 7 weeks there not just 7 days.

We started our tour with a ride through France and Belgium into Luxembourg which was home for the first 2 nights.  Riding the German / Luxembourg borderThe old town of Vianden with its impressive chateau lies in the Our Valley and is very close to the border with Germany.  All roads are smooth and “potholeless” in this part of the world, they have open sweeping bends which flow through the countryside giving you excellent crossviews as you take in the beautiful scenery.  We had a blue sky day for our ride-out from Vianden which firstly took us into Germany and then across the border back into Luxembourg riding through the Mullterhal which is known as “The Little Switzerland of Luxembourg” – it’s a small area but great fun to ride as the road snakes under rocky outcrops.  Esch-sur-SureFrom there we continued through the Duchy to the small community of Esch-sur-Sure.  We took this photo from the top of the castle – quite a hike up the steps but the views of the River Sauer as it meanders through the village are well worth the climb 🙂

The Alsace region was out next destination and is a fantastic area for motorcycling, the wine villages are so pretty with their half timbered structures and narrow streets all nestled in this vast wine growing area.  The Rhine river is close by as are the Vosges Mountains which we had our Sunday ride-out through.  Due to the unusual weather conditions for the time of year we had to cut our plans to ride the Col du Bonhomme which was under snow!!!  But the lower Cols in the region were open, we visited Dabo but sadly the mist came in and the views of the Vosges were somewhat limited!!  Undeterred we continued ascending the 11kms of the Col du Donon, wide sweeping bends which flow to the top of the Col and this was where we found the snow!!!  There had been a fall of it overnight and the table tops at the cafe were white over – this then became the ammunition for the snowball fight!  The roads, themselves were fine, well gritted and it certainly gave everyone something to laugh about over dinner that evening.

As we left the Alsace we rode through the Vosges, A sunny Col du Dononthis time ascending the Donon the otherside and what a difference 24 hours can make, clear blue skies, temperatures doubled, dry riding roads and beautiful scenery.  The weather remained kind to us for the remainder of the day as we rode to the Champagne-Ardenne region of France which was home for the last 2 nights of the tour.

Our ride-out on the penultimate day of the tour was through the French and Belgian Ardennes, sunglasses were required which is always a good sign – our indicators were not needed much though as we hardly saw a car all day to overtake!!!  We rode through the forests and View from Rochehautthe beautiful Semois Valley to have lunch overlooking what must be one of the most photographed locations in Belgium from the high village of Rochehaut before descending into the open landscape of the French Ardennes.  On returning to our hotel, we were able to enjoy after ride-out drinks on the sun terrace before sitting down to our final dinner of the tour sampling some of the excellent cuisine the french are so famous for.

Thanks to everyone who joined us on this tour, we had several new clients and some who had never done a motorcycle tour before, this taster of northern Europe has hopefully given them an insight into why we love touring so much 🙂

 

How many scones can you have on a Motorcycle Tour….!

When you think of a tour of Ireland you think of the “great craic”, warm welcomes and rain!!!  We had all three but luckily only a small amount of the latter 🙂  and the other thing to now add to any motorcycle tour of the Emerald Isle is “scones”!!!!  Scones anyone...We had brown ones, fruit ones, warm ones, butter and jam with some, just butter with others and cream and jam was perhaps the favourite of the majority!!  The jam and cream ones were baked by Des and his team at The Thatch, Crinkill – if you are ever in that part of the world call by you will sure of a very warm welcome, it’s a 300 year old thatched cottage and has been in their family for 6 generations.

Our 4 day tour through the heart of Ireland started with a ride over the Views from Wicklow GapWicklow Mountains, the views from the top are wonderful, albeit a bit breezy on the tops!!!  The open landscape offered us a flowing ride both on ascent and descent before we rode through Curragh common, an area renowned for its horse racing studs and training grounds, onto our hotel for the evening.  We encountered a shower just before our coffee stop – they say timing is everything!!!!  which was true in this case as we came back out to the bikes just as it was blowing over.

Day 2 of the tour took us on the Lough Derg scenic ride, blue skies and very little traffic made for a pleasant ride to morning coffee at Flynn’s bar, no scones this time but a very warm welcome yet again with roaring fires and coffee and tea on constant refill.  Onto Killaloe for lunch overlooking a very full River Shannon which glinted in the sunshine before we rode over the hills to Kinvara on The Wild Atlantic Way.

Day 3 was something of a history lesson, with the visit to The Thatch that morning followed by a ride over Slieve Bloom mountainsthe Slieve Bloom mountains which, along with the Massif Central in France, are the oldest mountains in Europe – it’s a great ride over the wide open space which opens out to a panoramic view of the lowlands below.  We then picked up part of the Gordon Bennett route and stopped for a photo at the memorial which explains a little about the history of the road race which took place in 1903 – the average speed of that race was 49.2mph over the 327.5 mile distance – some going in that era we think you’ll agree.  Our last step back in time for the day was a visit to The Kilbeggan Whiskey distillery which is the oldest licenced distillery in Ireland dating back to 1757, the tour was excellent and as we were riding bikes they gave us a handful of minatures to take away which we were able to taste after dinner in the hotel that evening 🙂

The last day of our tour was a country ride back to Dublin Port and the afternoon ferry.  We took the scenic route all the way rather than the motorway and had a lovely dry roads all day.  Morning coffee in Granard was made even better by the warm, homemade fruit scones which everyone tucked into heartily before heading onto lunch in “Ireland’s Ancient east” as the region around Ardee is known.

A warm welcome We thoroughly enjoyed riding the roads through Central Ireland over the 4 days of the tour, even some of the peat roads, which can be undulating at times, brought a grin to everyone’s faces.  We are looking forward to returning to Ireland in September when we head further south to the Ring of Kerry, details of which are on our website.

The first 600 miles of Jan’s new Versys…..

21st March 2016 was the dayVersys 21-3-2016 Jan picked up her new Kawasaki Versys 1000 from Kevin at J&S Motorcycles, Oakmere.  The bike was handed over with 4 miles on the clock, only another 596 to do before it’s first service…….  With our 2016 motorcycle touring season about to start on the 10th April these miles had to be put on quickly and so on leaving J&S we set off on a 100 mile ride into North Wales to pick up Geraint’s newly painted helmet which Mike from MAD Designs had just completed.  HelmetIt’s the same design as previous but “blinged up” a bit more this time, (looking forward to the sunshine picking up the sparkles 🙂 !!!!!), and due to the design on this SHOEI helmet the Welsh Dragon is set slightly further back.

A few days later we added nearly 200 more miles onto the new bike with a ride into North Wales on a typical UK spring Bikes near Dinas Mawddwyday which had sunshine, blue skies, rain, hail and even snow on the hills as you can see from this photo of “old style” Versys and the new bike taken near Dinas Mawddwy.  We had, what can only be described as “Millionaires motorcycling” that day with very little traffic on the roads, it felt like we had Wales to ourselves at times 🙂

After Easter Geraint had a few Assessment days booked in and on two of them Jan rode to the start points to clock up the last couple of hundred miles needed.  Riding to Ludlow on the 2nd April certainly gave an opportunity for some wet weather riding!  It lashed it down all the way there and back but it’s good to get in the practice for all types of weather.  Unsurprisingly the majority of motorcyclists would not deliberately go out for a ride in the pouring rain but when you’re on a tour and you encounter poor weather it is always useful to have had some experience of how to adapt your riding to the conditions.

The final 120 miles were put on the bike yesterday (6th April), this time Jan rode to Welshpool to the start point of another Assessment, the cafe was certainly the best place Howling gale!to be when the skies turned black and the wind started howling!!!  Luckily as quickly as the storm came it blew through and Rob was able to undertake his Assessment ride in reasonable weather and Jan had a good ride home stopping off for a photo at Ellesmere lake.

Today the bike goes in for its 600 mile service ahead of our first tour of the year which starts this coming Sunday 10th April – Wales On & Off-Road.  We’ll also be having the new Metzeler Roadtec 01 tyres fitted to it which we will putting to the test over the coming weeks and months and you can read up on how they handle in our forthcoming blogs.

 

A Kawasaki demo day with MCO

We were invited to join the Motorcycle Centre Orrell team for their Kawasaki Open Demo day today (19th March 2016) and despite the significant chill in the air, there was an excellent turn out throughout the day.Going out on test rides  A wide range of the latest Kawasaki motorcycles were available to test ride, with the Versys 650 and 1000 cc models proving very popular as was the ZX10 and the GTR1400.  There were several test ride sessions available throughout the day with two or three outriders accompanying the group.  They certainly looked good leaving the showroom and turned heads out on the open road riding as a group. 🙂

With the nip in the air we were kept warm with help from the Our tea ladies for the daygirls who were manning the coffee stand, they also had put on a traditional hotpot and red cabbage dish for lunch which went down extremely well with all of the riders who attended the event!

Whilst we were at the event we were able to chat a whole host of riders who wanted to know what sort of bikes we used for our tours and also about add ons that we could recommend such as the Oxford heated grips which are easy to fit and use.  With us both having Versys 1000’s we were able to confidently talk through the benefits that this model has for motorcycle touring and one guy even cancelled his test ride on the GTR, took the Versys 1000 out and came back and put a deposit down!!! 🙂  We could also talk through with people the feedback we have from our clients who come on tour on models such as the GTR 1400, the Z1000 SX and the ER6F.

Cruiser style.....Geraint took the opportunity to try out a cruiser style for a change….. although not sure it would work for some of our longer European tours!!!  Electric pushbikeHe then tried out an electric push bike which MCO are selling – took all the effort out of pedal cycling that’s for sure, but not maybe a good idea for touring!!!

It was a busy day and we would like to thank Charles and the team for inviting us along to the event.