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 🙂

 

 

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 🙂

 

Wales a country of Whisky, Wine, Wonderful Roads & Scenery

When you plan a tour 15 months in advance and you’ve had a long winter without much in the way of motorcycle touring all you can hope for is that your first tour of the 2019 season is blessed with decent weather….. and we most definitely were with blue skies and no rain for 4 fantastic days of touring through Mid Wales, the Snowdonia National Park and the Welsh borders.

Everywhere looks better when the sun shines we know that, but with the clear skies the scenery and every changing landscapes we experienced on this particular tour were outstanding.  We took our group to a vineyard on the english / welsh border in the vale of Kerry – KerryVale Vineyard always give us a terrific welcome, the vines were low on this visit but will be in full “bloom” ready for harvest when we next visit in September, it surprised a lot of our group that wine could be grown in this area but the romans started it at Wroxeter many moons ago!  It sounds like we were on some sort of boozy tour given that the following day we visited Penderyn Whisky and had organised for our group to have a full tour of the distillery.  It was extremely informative and given that we were riding bikes, they very kindly gave everyone a taster bottle to have in the hotel later that evening (it went down well that’s for sure!!).

With the weather being so good we saw more motorbikes out and about than we have for a number of weeks, the good roads in Wales help bring riders into the country, supporting all the local cafes because of course there is nothing better during a ride-out than a brew and a piece of cake 🙂  and if you want to check out the welsh fruit cake “Bara Brith” we can recommend the one at Cafe Cletwr – a superb community run cafe / shop and meeting centre.

Our routes over the tour took us across the Berwyn Mountains, along the coast road towards Aberdovey, we passed several lakes and had a photo stop at Clywedog Reservoir which was sparkling in the sunlight for us.  Rode over the Brecon Beacons on some very empty roads as can be seen here – mind you that’s because all of the cars were crammed into one area at the foot of Pen-y-Fan where you could see hundreds of walkers making their way up to the summit – a beautiful day for it too 🙂

We visit Wales again later this year on our Lakes & Mountains of Wales tour in September, we’ll be riding through similar areas but will be further into the Snowdonia National park on that one and we have fingers crossed that the weather will be just as good on that tour too 🙂

 

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 🙂

 

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 🙂 🙂

The 2019 Kawasaki Versys 1000 SE GT

So here’s the thing, we go away for a week of winter sun and see from social media platforms that Kawasaki UK are having their Official European Media launch for the new 2019 Kawasaki Versys 1000 SE GT on the islands of Lanzarote and Fuerteventura 🙂

We set off on the Wednesday for a visit to the south of the island of Fuerteventura and on our return through the mountains that afternoon we see one of the new bikes riding towards us!  The roads they had chosen for the ride were superb, technical tight turns in some places opening out to sweeping bends all with spectacular scenery and under pure blue skies – they could not have had a better day for testing the new bikes.

Fortunately for us we were at one of the stunning view points on the Betancuria road when a few more Versys could be seen approaching and

one in particular being tested by John Westlake of Bike magazine pulled in to the same car park giving us a superb opportunity to see the bike not only in action but to ask him how he was finding it.   He was clearly enjoying the performance of the bike especially on the roads of Fuerteventura.

Whilst on the stand with Kawasaki UK at MotorcycleLive last November we were able to see the SE GT version on the stand but seeing it out on the road was something else.  We already have one on order to be collected ahead of our 2019 touring season and having been able to see this machine on the roads it was designed for has left us in no doubt it was the right decision 🙂 🙂 

 

 

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 🙂

 

A summer tour motorcycling in Eastern France

Early August is traditionally the time of year when the french people take their summer holidays, understandable given the weather is usually good and with such a vast country there are many destinations for them to choose from should they wish to stay within their own country.  It was during this time this summer that we chose to have a tour into Eastern France and whilst some of the major tourist locations such as Lake Annecy were busy, in the main, we were lucky to enjoy quiet roads and places to visit.

We started our tour riding  through Northern France and the wine regions of Champagne and Bourgogne.  Many a motorcyclist avoids the north of the country due to the lack of mountains – but as can be seen from this photo it is not only other riders – it is also more importantly for us cars which seem to be thin on the ground – and yes we agree there are not many mountains but the curves of the roads through the open countryside provided us with many grin inducing miles 🙂

The speed limit reduction introduced in July 2018 in France on country routes from 90kph to 80kph did not impact significantly, it allows for more scenery to be taken in and when it comes to the more technical roads in the mountains it is highly unlikely that you would be at 90kph anyway so yes it can add to the length of a journey but best to give it a “gallic shrug” and enjoy the ride.

The main destinations for this particular tour were the Eastern Alps and Bauges Mountains near Annecy and Chambery and also the Vosges Mountains both South and North which run through the Alsace bordering the Rhine Valley.  The Col de la Madeleine is a fantastic road to ride and we had near perfect conditions for the day, warm temperatures, very little traffic and spectacular views from the summit which peaks at 2,000 metres.  This photo is taken from the summit and sees our group heading down towards the Bourg St Maurice side before we rode the Cormet de Roselend, another favourite road of ours in this region.  The weather was just right as we approached our chosen auberge for lunch in the glacial valley but inevitably in the heat of the summer in the mountains storms gather and we had a doozy of one for about 10 minutes.  As we reached the summit of the pass the blue skies opened up again and dry roads before us – we pitied the poor riders going in the opposite direction to us though!!

The Vosges Mountains were out next destination – the Ballons D’Alsace and Routes des Cretes being some of our favourite riding roads in that particular part of France.  The ridge road of the Routes des Cretes goes on for a total of 55 miles and at an elevation of over 3,000 ft there are some beautiful views over the surrounding forest clad mountains and valleys.

As you can see from these images we were not joking above when we said the roads were quiet 🙂  While crowds can be found on the french beaches and near main tourist locations (our planned lunch at Lake Annecy had to be abandoned as there was simply no room to park!), we will never be concerned about running a tour in France when it is their peak holiday season – it was clear to us that no matter what the french roads are to be enjoyed no matter when and we are looking forward to touring their again in 2019 🙂