Motorcycle Touring In South West Ireland

We have toured many times in Ireland over the past years and it never fails to make us smile, a combination of the scenery, the rugged nature of the landscapes, the community feel and the warm welcome received.  A weather window presented itself recently with the promise of calm seas across to Dublin and so it was an ideal opportunity to spend 4 days on the Emerald Isle researching ahead of a tour coming up in September this year and for the future.

The Irish Tourist Board knew what they were doing when they started marketing the coastline as “The Wild Atlantic Way”, it can be wild due to the nature of the seas but also to the surrounding countryside which switches from mountains to rolling hills, sandy beaches to rocky coves, moorland to forests.  The weather can be unpredictable but then it only adds to the variety of this part of the world, one thing which is constant is the friendly nature of the people you meet.

The purpose of our trip was to check out some of the route we intend to use on our tour to the South West later this year, whilst we have run tours to the region before, on this visit we are heading further onto the Beara and we very much prefer to check the roads out first as well as the intended coffee and lunch stops.  As with many parts of the UK some of the smaller cafes and bars in Ireland are closing down which means it is so important to touch base with places we will be visiting.  One such town where we received a great welcome was Lismore, a pretty heritage town complete with a stunning castle, it had a good sense of community about the place and at least 3 good cafes for us to use in September.  A little treasure trove we came upon is now a home but was Bridget Greehy’s pub which closed in 2003 after 50 years of being open. Bridget used to bottle her own guiness at the back of the pub and the present owner gave us some of the labels as a momento, they have also maintained the windows with historic trinkets, old tins of ovaltine and large bottles of coca-cola where you could get 10p if you returned them to the shop (maybe something to consider in this “throw away” day and age?).  We also spotted a perfect pannier sized travel iron….. will have to try and get hold of one of those!!!

The main purpose of this trip was to once again visit the Beara Peninsula south of the Ring of Kerry and much quieter, we have ridden over the Healy Pass several times on previous tours but this time we went further west and were not disappointed.  Whilst the roads are not billiard smooth tarmac the landscape is breathtaking with harsh rock formations which the road curves through whilst you are rewarded with beautiful views of the Atlantic Ocean and the waves crashing onto the shore.  The road signage is pretty bold too, with this particular one painted onto a low wall they most definitely do not want you to go straight ahead 🙂 🙂

With several things “ticked off” our check list we headed back to Dublin Port for yet another calm sea crossing to Holyhead….. let’s hope we have those same seas in September, but more sunshine would be good too 🙂

Touring the Saarland region of Germany

Tour 2 of our 2019 season saw us heading out to Germany for our Saarland & Moselle tour over the early May bank holiday weekend.  This was a new tour on our programme and having done our research over a couple of trips we knew we would have beautiful scenery and great riding roads but we had not counted on there being snow in May!  Admittedly this was on one of the higher roads in the Saar region but very unexpected given the time of year.  However, as you can see it did not stop us riding out for the day, we started the ride-out later than planned having let the worst of it pass which gave our clients time to indulge in some “kaffee and kuchen” in the hotel and as we arrived in Bernkastel-Kues in time for lunch the sun came out to play 🙂  We had arranged for our group to enjoy an hour’s river cruise along the Mosel (or Moselle if you are from France or Luxembourg!) which turned out to be a game of two halves with the first half hour sat on the top deck soaking up the sunshine and the second leg being indoors escaping the thunder storm…..  crazy weather 🙂 🙂

The Saar region is home to some fantastic riding roads, where there is a river there are curves and these together with the smooth road surfaces give any motorcyclist a lot to smile about.  Following the rivers Saar and Moselle you are rewarded with stunning vistas as you ride through the valleys and vineyards.  The vines are obviously in their first stages of growth during Mayand no doubt riding here in late August just before the grapes are ready for picking this road and the surrounding landscape will look very different.

The hospitality and welcome we received from our hotels on this tour was superb and the majority of cafes we visited on our ride-outs could not have been more welcoming with the exception of one in France who reluctantly served us coffee one morning – clearly a group of 22 thirsty motorcyclists was not going to make their tills ring enough!!  Having said that it gave us all a giggle and plenty to talk about in the bar that evening together with discussions on the price of fuel in France now, it used to be that we went over to France for the cheaper fuel but those days are long gone and they now run on a par with UK motorway!!

If you want high mountain passes and technical twists and hairpins, then the Saarland region is maybe not for you, however, if you want an early shortish break into Europe where you can enjoy traffic free roads, open scenery, great smooth road surfaces and rolling hillsides then this is the area you should visit.  It’s within a stone’s throw of Luxembourg where we tour regularly due to the great riding roads and if you plan your route well you can take the forest roads through the Belgian Ardennes on the way out and the open french countryside on the way back to the UK.  We’ve thoroughly enjoyed this tour and look forward to riding through the region later this year on our way to the Dolomites and returning here again in 2020 🙂

 

Further into Spain we ride…..

Having spent nearly 4 days riding south along the Spanish / Portguese border we turned the bikes east and over the last couple of days have ridden through Andalucia and the Provinces of Murcia and Valencia.

Where to start?  There have been three constant themes on this trip so far – great roads, stunning scenery and good weather…..  time will tell on the latter 🙂  Jan achieved a bit of a milestone on Monday’s ride in Andalucia with her 2017 Versys clocking over 50,000 miles in 2 years.  The bike has proved to be an excellent touring machine, but then so have all of our Versys 1000’s.  The new 2019 SE GT of Geraint’s is also living up to all expectations, from when we first saw it at MotorcycleLive in November 2018 on the Kawasaki UK stand we were keen to try it out on excellent riding roads and bringing it to Spain and Portugal has certainly achieved that goal!  

Any bike would seem to handle better on pothole / traffic free roads we are sure you will agree and the SE GT is no exception.  There are though other minor changes over previous models which are noticeable as we cover the miles on this trip – the hand grips for example are very slightly smaller than the 2017 /18 model, not a major change but it does give for good feel when riding, this is together with bonus of the improved shaping of the handguards which have worked a treat when the temperatures have been cooler first thing in a morning.  The screen on the higher setting on the SE GT provides good protection from some of the cross winds we have had on the open roads, for a short distance a couple of days ago we swapped bikes so Jan could try out the new model and it took a bit of getting used to for Geraint riding the 2017 model with the smaller screen again with the wind noise being something he noticed straight away.

As we have crossed through Spain, we have never seen as many olive groves as we encountered riding in Andalucia and then as we headed to the coast we rode through both cherry orchards and orange groves, the country is diverse in so many ways!

Each place we have stopped off at for either coffees or a bite to eat have been both welcoming and entertaining – the chatter which goes on in the bars is on a whole different level, not only do they “put the world to rights” over coffee they also do it at a very loud volume!!  We have caused something of a stir too, we guess they don’t see many people from the UK turning up on two green bikes in some of the remote areas we have been to with no english being spoken (good for testing out our language skills!)  Many of the bars and cafes are long established such as this one in Valencia Province, looks like someone’s house to be fair on the road side, but go through the doors and the place was buzzing, we were greeted with a warm smile and a great tasting coffee.

It would have been “rude” not to have visited the coast whilst on this trip, so we booked into a hotel about 50km’s north of Benidorm in a quieter but never the less bustling resort for a night.  We even took the Versys slightly off-road to get this photo 🙂

We head north today back into the mountains, making our way eventually to watch some of the World Superbike racing at Aragon and to support the Kawasaki Racing team riders Jonathan Rea and Leon Haslam, as the saying goes….. “bring it on” !

 

 

Riding in Portugal

Since setting up DragonMotoTours in 2012 it has been a goal of ours to run a motorcycle tour riding in Portugal and on this research trip we are one step closer to achieving it.  Our route saw us leave the UK on the 25th of March, ride through France and Spain and we crossed the border 4 days later.  It was as if they knew we were coming as the weather could not have been more welcoming with temperatures at a very balmy 18 degrees and the sun shining for the entire day,  they had also cleared the roads of traffic in fact it felt like we had the place to ourselves 🙂

Our first route took us into the Douro River valley through some of the most beautiful scenery with rolling hillsides covered in olive groves.  The nature of a river, of course,  is to meander and this resulted in a road which mirrored it’s path giving us fantastic twists, turns, curves and bends to enjoy as we descended from the high plateau down to the the valley floor and beyond.

The only real signs of life we saw on our first day (apart from the grazing cattle and sheep!) was as one of the river cruise boats docked, a beautiful day for “messing about on the river” as they say but as relaxing as it looked we much preferred our modes of transport and given the nature of the roads we were just as chilled out 🙂

As we headed south yesterday we rode through Spain staying for two nights in one location giving us an opportunity to do a second ride-out into Portugal, this time to a very different region to the Douro valley with more open, flowing riding roads (as opposed to the twists of the river route on Friday), although similar themes carried through 1) no traffic 🙂 2) beautiful scenery and 3) olive groves and vineyards.

We have only managed to ride a small part of a truly beautiful country, a very different feel to the usual tourist parts of Portugal such as the Algarve, Lisbon and Porto and we are very much looking forward to sharing the routes we have selected when we tour here in 2020 🙂

 

Riding our Versys 1000 SE GT in Spain

Having ridden through France we crossed into Spain yesterday and our first stop was a motorway services….. we have to say not typical of those found in the UK – a three course lunch would set you back €10 and the place was spotless and the staff friendly (probably because one of the waiters rode a Kawasaki Ninja 650 and was admiring our bikes !!)  We left there well fed and raring to go on the open roads under azure blue skies into the province of Burgos for an overnight stay.

Today we headed west with ever changing landscapes but one static theme…. no traffic!!!  Mind you one thing you don’t expect to see is a jet fighter in the middle of nowhere but that is exactly what we came across 🙂   Both are awesome machines but we know which one we prefer!!

Our Versys 1000 SE GT has now passed its first 1,000 miles and is proving a treat to ride on the Spanish roads.  Admittedly the smooth surface helps and there have been plenty of curves to enjoy, the cornering of the machine is like going round on rails and the electronic suspension setting has been perfect given that we are fully luggaged up.

As this is a research trip we do sometimes go off the beaten track to either rule in or out certain roads and routes and today was no exception.  We headed up a mountain road in the Province of Zamora, looked spectacular on the map and yes the views from 1,800 metres were superb but it proved not to be such a great road surface, however, both bikes handled the rather bumpy route no problem and again the suspension on the SE GT came into its own.  (Sadly as good as the views were we shall not be including this in any future tours!).

More blue skies are promised for tomorrow when we head across the border to try out some of the roads in Portugal – watch this space to see how we get on 🙂

 

 

First time abroad for our Versys SE GT

Having picked up our new Kawasaki Versys 1000 SE GT on the 1st of March and done the obligatory 600 miles run in and service, we have headed out to Spain and Portugal undertaking research for tours in 2020 and 2021 (nothing like planning ahead!!!)  This is the first big trip on the new bike and if the first two days are anything to go on the rest of the miles are going to be cracking 🙂

We took a long way round to get to the ferry terminal at Portsmouth on Monday, calling in at Blade Kawasaki Swindon for a meet up with Jez great welcome as always and a fantastic array of bikes, we could have stopped longer but then we did have a ferry to catch!

We took the overnight ferry from Portsmouth to Caen and it was unsurprising that we were the only bikes on the boat (it is March after all ….) The only other two wheels were to be found on a pushbike – rather him than us as we arrived into Caen to a very foggy and cold morning for the first 40 minutes or so.  However, once the early morning mist had disappeared and the temperature started to creep up from the -3 degrees (!!) our ride for the rest of the day through France on the Tuesday was fantastic with blue, cloudless skies and very little traffic – as most of you know we tend to avoid motorways where possible and this ride was no exception.  The open roads are something we actively seek out as you can see from this photo of Geraint – now that is a long road ahead….. but can you see any traffic???  🙂 🙂  The Versys SE GT came into its own on these roads, plenty of curves through the forests of the Loire region to try out the cornering management system which works like a dream, (there will be more to come on the technical aspects of the bike over the next couple of weeks so, as the saying goes – “stay tuned”).

Although our intended tours to Spain and Portugal will not include a ride through France we still like to seek out quirky coffee stops and some of the artwork in this particular one near Alencon kept us amused :-

why is it that a pain au chocolat and a cup of coffee always tastes so much better in a french boulangerie?  It could be the fact that their pastries only cost €1 each 🙂 🙂

Our research trip continues now after a stop off near Bordeaux we head across the border into Northern Spain – we will keep you posted…..

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…! 🙂

Another Touring Season over…..

With today being the shortest day of the year it seems like a good time to reflect on our 2018 Touring season whilst also thinking about next year…….. of course there is the little matter of Christmas to take in over the coming week but it never hurts to reiminisce 🙂

The last three months have been full on for us which is why our last blog was back in September after our tour of the South West of Ireland.  Since then we had a 5 day research trip in Northern France, a tour of Luxembourg, an On & Off-Road tour and the last tour of the year was our Flavour of Spain which ran 7th to the 19th of October.

Returning from Spain we were straight into updating our website with details of our 2019 tours, had brochures to print up and then attended the NEC in Birmingham on the Kawasaki UK stand for 9 days – it was great to see how well attended the show was once again and in particular a thanks to all of you who called by to say hello and have a coffee.  Sometimes the winter months can seem very long when you are a motorcyclist but having MotorcycleLive gives everyone a boost and with so many new bikes to look at, plenty to think about over the months before Spring…!

The last few tours of 2018 seemed to go by in something of a blur, on the whole the weather was good for us, some “rain in Spain” but nothing of any significance but then having the ferry home cancelled the day before sailing was enough to make everything else pale into insignificance!!!  We have to say that everyone on the tour rallied well when we had to break the news to them that they had a choice of an extra week in Spain as that was when the next availability for us all would be to sail back, or we could all ride north through France to get one of the sailings from either Caen or Le Harve.  It was not an ideal way to end the tour having to add on an extra 700+ miles but everyone agreed that as nice as it would be to spend an extra 7 days riding through the Spanish countryside it was not the best option and so we all set off north.  The weather was kind to us which was a huge bonus and we found a great hotel on the outskirts of Bordeaux to accommodate all 24 of us in 17 rooms and provide an excellent 3 course dinner and good breakfast.  The route to Bordeaux gave us an opportunity to ride the spectacular valley route through to Logrono in Northern Spain, as can be seen from this photo the red mountains provided spectacular scenery, it felt very much like some of the canyon roads in Utah and Colorado at times.  We had researched this route in the past in the winter months one year, albeit in a car, so to experience the route on two wheels was better than expected and whilst not planned for on our Flavour of Spain tour it certainly helped with the long ride to Bordeaux 🙂  It isn’t an ideal way to end a touring season, but what can you do when a ferry develops a technical fault – you certainly would not want to be in the Bay of Biscay if a fault happened out there!

Each of our bikes have travelled over 22,500 miles during 2018, we’ve toured through 12 countries, ascended many mountain passes including the Stelvio with its 48 hairpin / switchback turns, experienced snow in June in northern Spain, ridden through monsoon type rains on our way back from Luxembourg through Belgium in September and splashed in a lot of muddy puddles on our On & Off-Road tour with Mick Extance in Wales in early October.  There have been a lot of laughs, thousands of miles of terrific roads, stunning scenery and we have been able to enjoy all of this with our fantastic clients.  We shall take this opportunity to wish everyone a very Happy Christmas and we look forward to riding again with everyone in 2019.

Our South West of Ireland Tour September 2018

This was the second tour of the 2018 touring season for us in Ireland and as with our April visit to County Donegal the country delivered on many levels, we were not as lucky with the weather on this visit having blue skies for only a couple of days but even when there are grey clouds around the dramatic scenery of the Emerald Isle simply takes on another “face”.

Yes we had some rain, it is very unusual to visit Ireland and not encounter some of the wet stuff but as we keep being reminded by the locals – “oh! you don’t come here for the beep,beep, weather” 🙂  How true, what we do go for is the rugged feel to the countryside, the drama of the Wild Atlantic Way and the warm welcomes received at every coffee stop and at our hotels.  Joe at Ballyrafter House gave us wonderful hospitality when we called for morning coffee and freshly baked scones on day 2 of the tour and this was equalled by the Roadhouse cafe where we called on our way back to Dublin on the last day – they had laid up a long table for us for brunch and nothing was too much trouble for them 🙂

It’s hard to say which was our favourite ride during this particular tour given the change in scenery encountered each day.  We rode through the Wicklows on day 1, along the south coast of County Cork on day 2, visited Mizen Head – Ireland’s most southerly point on day 3, followed the Wild Atlantic Way on the Ring of Kerry on day 4, crossed the Shannon by ferry on day 5, were blown away by the sparse openness of Connemara on day 6 and marvelled at the beauty of Ballycroy National Park on day 7 – we would have equally been amazed by Achill Island on that particular ride-out but the rain decided to scupper our plans but as it turned out not our spirits….. there is something comforting turning up at your lunch stop to a roaring fire when you have been riding through a downpour 🙂

For many of our clients this was their first visit to Ireland and the majority felt that Connemara was “up there” as being one of their favourite places on the tour.  It is probably due to the fact that we are all so used to lots of traffic and the hustle and bustle of towns and cities but when you visit this West Coast county you feel like you are stepping out of the “rat race” and riding through a wilderness which is packed with beautiful scenery, small hamlets, the rugged coastline and the mountains of the National Park known as the “Twelve Bens or Pins”.  Whilst we did not have blue skies for this particular day we did have dry weather and all 12 of the Bens could be seen – unlike a visit there back in 2013 when our group were lucky to see 2 of them!

No matter the weather we always look forward to returning to Ireland and will be visiting the counties of Donegal and Mayo in May 2019 – it may seem a long way off as we sit here writing this but we are sure it will come around before we know it 🙂