Entering our Ninth Year….

Where did the rest of 2019 go!!!  Here we are second week of the New Year and starting our ninth year of motorcycle touring.  We had great plans to have completed our write up of the 2019 touring season but with our Flavour of Spain tour keeping us busy into October and then preparations for MotorcycleLive at the NEC in Birmingham, time rather slipped away from us!  Our 9 days on the Kawasaki stand at MotorcycleLive in November went by in a very busy blur, it was great to catch up with everyone who visited both existing and potentially new clients.

Leading upto the bike show we had already received a significant number of enquiries regarding our 2020 tours and since then bookings have continued to come through consistently resulting in our tours already being nearly 90% full overall, a great way for us to head into the New Year and we are very much looking forward to riding with everyone.  We will be visiting new locations with our Spanish & Portuguese Borders tour in June and returning to parts of the world we have not toured through in a while such as the Isle of Anglesey in October which we last toured in 2015 (hard to believe where the time has gone…).

Our last ride of 2019 was in the week leading upto MotorcycleLive and since then due to other commitments we had not turned a wheel until the 5th of January!  New Year’s day we were up at the Ponderosa cafe on the Horseshoe Pass, Llangollen but with 4 wheels and walking gear!!  Practically unheard of for us, but it was great to see so many people out and about braving quite chilly conditions.  5th Jan PonderosaThe weather “warmed up” to a balmy 8 degrees on Sunday 5th Jan and we headed out to the Ponderosa, surprisingly not as many bikes out as we thought but that could have been because it was blowing a howling gale up there as can be attested by Geraint trying to stand up straight for this photo!

It was good to get back out on the bikes, not least because we need to keep “bike fit”, muscle memory soon seems to wear off over the winter months and because of this we try and get out as often as we can this time of year – it has helped that the gritters have not had to be out salting the roads too often yet.  We went out for another ride on the 10th of January, heading further into North Wales this time.  The roads were practically empty although it was good to see a couple of others out and about heading towards Llyn Brenig.  When the temperature dropped to 2 degrees over the Denbigh Moors it was time to call in at The DragonFly cafe on the A5 near Cerrigydrudion for a warming bowl of soup – they also have a fantastic log burner roaring in there so if you do find yourselves that way we can highly recommend it.  Hopefully the weather will stay mild and we can get a few more ride-outs in over the coming weeks ahead of a planned research trip to Spain in late March….. and then before we’ll know it our first tour of 2020 will be starting in April – we cannot wait 🙂

 

 

Our review of the Kawasaki Versys 1000 SE GT

The Versys 1000 has been our touring bike of choice for 8 years now, we have written before about the many reasons we have continued to use these machines, comfort, reliability, fuel consumption and carrying capacity being just a few, so when Kawasaki announced that a new version the SE GT was coming out in 2019 we were hooked and having seen it at MotorcycleLive in November 2018 we put an order in for one which we collected on the 1st of March, (pictured here with Paul and Liam from J&S at Oakmere).  If the first “running in” mileage is anything to go by we are in for a lot of fun as we go touring over the coming months.

Kawasaki have made significant enhancements to this model compared to our 2017 / 2018 Versys 1000’s (having said that we still rate the “older” models very highly and are continuing to run the others on tour this year).  It is difficult to know where to begin with the changes made.  Putting the electronics to one side, the other detailing is impressive, the new designed screen for example – as can be seen here the top image is of the 2017 model which has easy height adjustment, but the 2019 bike has a bigger screen with more air flow.  On some of our previous Versys we have had an aftermarket taller screen but in hot weather that had the draw back of very little airflow whereas this new design will offer both the protection and airflow we need.

The handguards have been well thought out offering much more protection as can also be seen from the above photo, unfortunately due to the bracketing etc., on the 2017 handlebars the new style guards will not fit (we did ask!!)

Then there is the exhaust, more compact than previous with a cool sound particularly at low speed, reminds us of the sound eminating from some of the Z1000 SX Tourers clients have had on tour with us 🙂

The colour has to be mentioned, as can be seen in this photo it has a deeper tone to it than the 2017 / 2018 green.  Then there are the decals which the Versys 650 models have had for a while now but added to the side panels of the 1000cc model it is striking.

We have opted for the SE GT version, the electronics are top class, the dash for example is clear and can be set up in various modes depending on your preference.  The Kawasaki Cornering Management system is outstanding.  The electronic suspension is easy to operate with 4 riding modes – Sport, Road, Rain and Rider and over the first two days of riding we have had it set up for 2 up with luggage, 1 up with luggage and 1 up no luggage all at the flick of a button.  We are still running in the machine before it’s first service booked in for mid March but have already covered 350 miles and the handling is sublime.  The quickshifter is a superb addition and allows for seamless gear changing during acceleration.

Having covered the above mileage the Versys has now had it’s first wash!  This has given us an opportunity to spot other refinements that have been added to the machine.  The hugger and chain guard are slightly different together with and enhanced swinging arm that you may not have noticed when first looking at the bike.

The 2019 touring season is nearly upon us and this is certainly a bike which will create smiles for all of those miles 🙂 🙂

Riding in the Winter – what to do for warm hands!!

In previous winter blogs we’ve talked about heated grips and handlebar muffs but this time we are discussing heated gloves – Gerbing ones to be exact purchased at MotorcycleLive in November 2018 and based on recent winter riding they were money well spent 🙂  They were purchased specifically for Jan who is “nesh” at the best of times refusing to remove jacket and trouser liners until its at least 20 degrees!!!  Over a decade ago now Jan had EXO2 heated gloves, fairly new product at the time which came with a controller which fitted onto the handlebar, good at the time but  in 2010 a change of bike which came complete with heated grips resulted in the gloves being archived.

In December 2014 Jan purchased some Oxford Rain Seal muffs which continued to be used for winter riding until the winter of 2017/18, these provided excellent wind and rain protection and allowed riding with heated grips on low and summer gloves.  The upgrade by Kawasaki on the design of the hand guards on the Versys 1000 in 2016/17 meant that the muffs were difficult to put on and more importantly remove and after much research it was decided to go back to gloves.  We have the XR-12 Heated Gloves with the longer cuff, this decision was made to make it easier for the gloves to fit with the Dane jacket which has an internal cuff making it slightly more difficult if we had gone for a shorter cuffed glove.  The wiring threaded through the jacket with ease and we are currently working on the best position for the controller which attaches to the lead coming from under the left side of the seat having been attached directly to the battery.  (At present some of the wiring is threaded through Jan’s hi-viz vest as can be seen from the picture).

There are 4 power levels for the gloves incremently rising from 25%, the first ride back in December Jan kept the gloves at 25% with the outside temperature on the bike showing at around 10 degrees for most of the ride.  The most recent ride-out to The British Ironworks at Oswestry it was colder with more of a wind chill and the gloves were on at 50% with the temperature around 6 – 7 degrees for most of the day.  This was more than comfortable and it is suggested in the Gerbing literature that it would need to be extremely cold to have the gloves at either 75 or 100%….. you would also have to ask yourself whether you would be out riding if it was very cold anyway, but for riders who have to commute all winter on their motorbikes they would be excellent.  There is an additional pouch on the outside of the glove and batteries can be fitted rather than having the wiring through to the bike battery, we have not as yet gone down that route but will let you know how they work out if we do.

It has to be said that a level of discipline is required in getting the gloves on and off.  The design is good in so far as the lead is to the left side i.e. the side the majority of riders will get on and off their bikes and also should you forget you are connected to the lead, it will release easily, however, it is best to get into a routine of connecting and disconnecting whilst sat on the bike and after a few rides it does become second nature.  The gloves can feel a little thick for when it comes to using the selector buttons on the bike for indicators, switching through the trip dials etc., but overall they are extremely comfortable and more importantly keep your hands “just right”.  We are hoping that our 2019 touring season which begins in April will not see Jan needing to wear heated gloves, instead the plan is to revert back to using the heated grips on the bike for spring / summer riding……it is highly likely though that the handlebar muffs will be being sold anytime soon…! 🙂

Riding the Stelvio Pass

There are many iconic motorcycling roads in Europe and The Stelvio Pass is one of them.  At over 9,000 ft high this Italian road is the highest paved mountain pass in the Eastern Alps and is only marginally lower than the Col D’Iseran which at 9,088 ft is the highest pass in the Alps.

We recently rode the Stelvio on our Austrian tour and chose a week day to run the ride-out from our base in Austria passed Resia Lake crossing into Italy before the ascent.  The weather conditions were near perfect with temperatures in the mid to high 20’s and blue skies and “fluffy” white clouds present in the sky to provide a very clear day for riding.  It would seem though that these great conditions also brought out practically every other type of vehicle who seemed, on the face of it, to be ascending the Pass all at the same time.  It was very busy both ways with hundreds of cyclists, many camper vans, cars galore and a vast array of motorcycles of all marques and from many different countries – it made for an interesting ride to the top that’s for sure. There are 48 hairpins on the ascent from the Prato side of the pass and the road varies in width with some of the narrower turns near the base with some steep inclines – these in particular can cause “mini traffic jams” particularly as we experienced, where camper vans are travelling in both directions and trying to overtake cyclists!!

Ascent from Prato side of the Stelvio

Once you have a clear road ahead of you though it is a spectacular pass to ride, technical and challenging but well worth it when you reach the summit.  The views are stunning (perhaps best not to take them in on the way up!) but there are a couple of places you can pull into to take in the scenery and near the top there is a section of parking where you can stop for a limited time to take photographs if you wish to.

The souvenir shops and cafes at the summit were very busy when we arrived but we turned left at the summit where there is an alternative car park and also the Tibet hutte cafe which provides a very good lunch, (try their apple strudel if you need to boost your energy levels!) and the view from the cafe is breathtaking.

On leaving the summit we crossed into Switzerland descending via the Umbrail Pass still technical but definitely not as challenging as the ride from the Prato side of the Stelvio.  The views will not disappoint on this section of the ride and the road surface is excellent not only on the Umbrail Pass but on the Stelvio itself as well – you have to consider that the pass is closed for many months over the winter due to the snow and yet the condition of the tarmac remains very good.

All in all would we ride the Stelvio again?  Yes we would, despite it being busy in parts, the road itself presents any keen motorcyclist with breathtaking vistas, clear air, hairpins galore and a challenging ride.  We are looking forward to our next visit there……. but when?  🙂

 

Riding empty roads in Wales!

We’re in March, so you have to ask is it winter or spring?  It has been difficult to tell here in the UK of late with snow, ice and gales lashing our shores in the last week or so and as a result there has certainly been a reduced presence of motorbikes on our roads.  With a “weather window” presenting itself yesterday we decided it was about time to get some much needed miles under our belts, particularly as our first tour starts in just over 5 weeks (lets hope the snow has gone by then!!!).

One of our Versys 1000’s still needs to achieve the first service mileage so it was a double green ride-out for us and within no time of setting off heads were turning at the sound and sight of two motorbikes – they were either pleased (like us), to hear the Kawasaki engine noise or more likely thought we were a bit mad……. particularly as the temperatures never really rose much above 4 or 5 degrees for the majority of the day!  As our day progressed we did cross paths with around ten other motorcyclists who were keen to enjoy the dry roads.

Naturally, as can be seen here, we collected our fair share of road dust and it has to be said road salt which we are well aware puts many motorcyclists off taking their bikes out at this time of year, but a good rinse off at the end of the ride soon sorted that out 🙂

Jan rides with handlebar muffs at this time of year which are easy to fit and with the heated grips on low make for a very comfortable ride.  These particular ones are Oxford and fit well on the Versys albeit a slight adjustment had to be made whereby the original handguards have had to be removed – again an easy enough process.

As we headed into the Snowdonia National Park there was evidence of the snowfall experienced last week, but not as significant as we had expected.  There had clearly been a lot of drifting snow, one thing to be mindful of is to look out for running water across the roads as the snow thaws and particularly on the higher ground we kept a close watch on the temperature being mindful that some of the areas not exposed to much sunshine could have been icy.  Other than that the roads were dry and an added bonus were that they were empty of traffic 🙂   We called in at Llangynog for a warming brew before riding over the Berwyn Mountains, lunch at Trawsfynydd lake and with an afternoon stop at A&D Motorcycles in Denbigh we covered just shy of 200 miles.  The scenery was, as ever in Snowdonia, stunning, with the peak of Snowdon just under some cloud as we rode past, however, the surrounding landscape was given all the more clarity in the crisp air.

With the first of our tours starting next month and one of them being based in North Wales there is much to look forward to – we’re just hoping that the roads in April in Snowdonia will be as dry and as empty as we enjoyed yesterday 🙂

 

 

 

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 🙂

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 🙂

 

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.