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 🙂

 

 

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…! 🙂

Did “The Rain in Spain, Stay mainly on the Plain”?

When you plan tours to Spain in late May early June it is with a reasonable expectation that there will be warm sun on your back every day….. however, it would seem that the turbulent weather our world seems to be experiencing affected Spain this year and whilst we did not have torrential rain neither did we have the wall to wall blue skies we would have liked!  In fact we rode passed snow banks on one ride-out……. Did this put out tour groups off?  No – as one pillion rightly commented, “if we had wanted hot sunshine we would have booked on a beach holiday in Marbella” 🙂

In June 2017 we ran our first tour of Northern Spain and repeated it this year, the contrast in the depth of water in all of the rivers, lakes and reservoirs was incredible – the Yesa Reservoir in 2017 was very low whilst this year the water line was nearly at the height of some of the trees which have clearly had time to grow over recent years – but no matter what is going on in the reservoir the road around its shores is a terrific motorcycling route and one we never tire of returning to.  Which can be said of all the roads in Spain to be fair – they offer a very relaxing approach to motorcycle touring, no potholes, wide open sweepies when you want them, some technical climbs and hairpins to add variety and all with so very little traffic – the only thing you have difficulty doing in Spain (unless you are near the major cities), is practice your overtaking skills!!!

This is the first year we have run back-to-back tours in Spain starting with our Northern Spain tour sailing from Plymouth on the 27th of May and riding through the Southern Pyrenees, the beautiful provinces of Soria and Burgos and the Picos over the following 7 days returning our clients to Santander on the 4th of June where we met our next tour group who joined us for our Spanish Spa tour.  With the winter season being longer in Northern Spain than usual, both tour groups were treated to very colourful rides each day due to the wonderful displays of wildflowers and poppies edging our routes.  There was also the fact that the daily temperatures were lower than expected which actually is no bad thing when you are in full motorcycle gear – some days could certainly have done with being warmer than the 12 – 14 degrees we had, but on the whole we had around 18 degrees for the riding and sunshine at most of our stops – apart from one of our transition days on the Northern Spain tour when we did get wet coming over the Santa Ines pass – all part of the fun though!

No matter what the weather it would never deter us from returning to Northern Spain, in fact we already have tours planned there next year!  The warm welcome at all of our stops more than make up for any cold days, the roads are a dream to ride and the scenery is outstanding – Spain is a remarkable country and one we will never tire of revisiting.

 

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 🙂

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 quiet time for motorcyclists…..?

Generally January is a quiet month for many people, post Christmas the indulgences of the festive period have caught up, new year resolutions are tested within the first week or two and that diet just doesn’t seem to be working!!!!  But for motorcyclists it can seem an even longer month if the colder weather hits and especially if the roads are gritted, many decide to take their bikes off the road for the winter months whilst others ride all year in all weathers.  In our experience many of the riders who join us on tour throughout our touring season will also ride out on their bikes over the winter, even if it means spending nearly twice the usual time washing the muck off 🙂

Over the winter we don’t run tours and ride-outs although we do get the bikes out as often as we can, nothing like blowing a few cobwebs off on a crisp, cold sunny day in January and February.  However, the majority of our winter is spent planning ahead to the upcoming touring season, making sure the routes are ready for our clients, taking in bookings for the tours we have planned and also researching for the following year.

This is the third winter we’ll be holding a Winter social event, this year to be in early February.  It’s an opportunity for everyone to catch up either with people they’ve met on tours before or to meet people who they will be riding with over the coming months and generally a lot of “motorbike talking” will be undertaken 🙂

We have held the event in Mid Wales for the past two years and this year will be heading further North to the beautiful coastal town of Caernarfon. Caernarfon Castle  It would be wonderful to think that the weather will be kind to us and we can all ride through the stunning Snowdonia Mountains on our way there, but in reality it is most likely that other modes of transport will get us there this year, especially as the forecast for the next few weeks is for the UK to be caught up in a “cold blast”…...

One of the great things we get to do as part of our preparations for the Winter Social is to put together a presentation of tours and ride-outs we have done over the previous touring season and also to look ahead to the motorcycling tours we have planned for 2016, we show this over dinner on the Saturday evening and it is certainly a great way to forget the winter blues and to focus on what is important to us as motorcyclists……. the roads, scenery and people.

January may be portrayed as a quiet month but it doesn’t fall into that category for us, we are as busy as ever not necessarily clocking up the physical miles but preparing the routes for the miles we are to cover in our season which starts in early April.  We’re looking forward to keeping you updated throughout the year and hope that you all have a great year of motorcycling.  The “quiet time” of winter will then be but a distant memory 🙂

 

A winter ride-out with a puncture!!!

Here we are in one of the mildest December’s in the UK in living memory, no salt on the roads and the sun’s out, what better way to spend a Sunday than on a motorcycle ride-out….. well that was our thought process at the start of the day at least 🙂

We have been so busy touring all year that we have not blogged in a long while and taking a ride out on the bikes just ahead of the shortest day of the year was going to give us some great material to bring you bang up to date with what’s been happening in DragonMotoTours this year and looking ahead to 2016 – little did we know that what we would end up writing up about was a puncture!

The ride started well with several other motorcyclists out and about enjoying the winter sunshine and temperatures nudging double figures (this time last year we were riding in temps of -3 degrees!).  We took ownership of a new Kawasaki Versys 1000 a couple of months ago and that needed a few extra miles putting on it ahead of its first service so we headed into Wales and ended up at The Ponderosa cafe near Llangollen for a cuppa and a bacon sandwich.  For a few miles we had been followed by a rider on his Honda CrossTourer and as we pulled up into the car park he came across to introduce himself as someone who has booked on our tour of the Mountains of the Jura & Vosges in July next year, what do they say about it being a small world 🙂  It was good to meet Gordon and put a face to the name, we certainly look forward to riding with him next year.

Catching up with Andy at the Ponderosa

Catching up with Andy at the Ponderosa

As we go into the cafe we bump into Andy who regularly joins us on Sunday ride-outs and has toured with us in the past.  He was out with two of his mates doing the same as us and enjoying some winter motorcycling.  We introduced him to Gordon and that’s the beauty of riding bikes, there is always a common theme to chat about and in this case we started talking tyres………..  little did we know that within 5 miles of the Ponderosa we would be in a car park in Llangollen plugging one 🙂

It’s never good when the back end of a bike seems to be stepping out and particularly when the roads are a bit damp and mucky after all the heavy rain of the last few days, but as we slowed to come into the town of Llangollen Jan’s Versys started handling wrong and there it was – a flat back tyre!

Geraint plugging the tyre

Geraint plugging the tyre

We managed to pull over and luckily always carry  puncture repair kits and a foot pump and Geraint got on with the job in hand, removed the offending bolt and promptly plugged it.  Not every attempt at plugging a tyre is successful as we found out on our Shropshire & Herefordshire tour back in July 2015 when we had to call out “a very nice man in his yellow van” but luckily today the

The offending bolt

The offending bolt

bolt came out cleanly, the new plug went in well and after a good work out pumping up the tyre we were good to go.

We took it steady on our return ride home of about 30 miles and did pull over on one occasion to check to see if the tyre pressure was holding up which thankfully it was and we got back in good time to wash the bikes off and appreciate the fact that we had been carrying the appropriate gear to carry out the repair and that the plug had done it’s job……… just need to sort a new tyre now though – so that will be Jan’s Christmas present sorted then!! 🙂

The Lakes of Wales Ride-Out

On Sunday 7th June we undertook our third motorcycle ride-out of the year taking in three of The Lakes of Wales together with a stunning run along the Welsh coastline.

After meeting near Whitchurch in Shropshire we crossed into the Welsh borders on flowing roads to our morning coffee stop at our first lake of the day – Lake Vyrnwy.  Artisans cafeWe had booked ahead to call in at Artisans cafe by the lake who were more than ready for us with plenty of home baked cakes and scones available for us 🙂   There were a couple of other bikers already there having a quiet brew…… they must have wondered what was happening with all the motorbikes turning into the car-park, there were 33 of us in total!

We had a great ride away from Lake Vyrnwy on an open B class road which offered spectacular views of the hills as we approached the A road between Welshpool and Mallwyd.  However, as we joined the main road our progress was thwarted by a considerable queue of vehicles which turned out to be due to a charity cycle event taking place further up the road.  As Geraint arrived at the front of the queue, the driver of the escort vehicle did apologise for the delays they were causing – it was frustrating for us as motorcyclists even though we were able to filter for some of the way, imagine what was being said by the drivers of all the cars in the queue!!!!!

Soon though, “normal service” was resumed and we had a free run from Dinas Mawddwy with Riding from Dinasthe mountains of the Snowdonia range opening up ahead of us as can be seen from this photo.  We significantly increased the fuel sales as we pulled into the petrol station on the outskirts of Dolgellau before riding over Bwlch Llyn Bach which gave us our first glimpse of the second lake of the ride-out, Tal-y-Llyn which is set in a beautiful “V” shaped valley.

We had pre-arranged to have lunch at the Tyn Y Cornel hotel which sits at the far end of the lake and having had the twisty section of road to ride along the shores of Tal-y-Llyn we were all ready for something to eat.  Sheila and her team had already prepared the sandwiches which had been ordered and as soon as we arrived they started cooking the hot food – fab service from everyone at this lovely hotel 🙂

The Welsh coastlineThe ride from lunch took us along the Welsh coastline which is a great motorcycling road on any day, but particularly for us on Sunday as the conditions were near perfect with blue skies giving rise to crystal blue seas and fluffy white clouds floating just above the mountain tops.  This was one section of road where you simply wanted to soak up everything and the saying “Riding a motorbike is like being in a picture” was never truer.

Bala Lake was our third and final lake of the day and whilst some enjoyed a cuppa, others were caught on camera with ice-creams and there were even burgers “on the barbie” for sale…… wonder if the people working out in the gym next door were tempted….!

We rode out of Wales into Cheshire with our afternoon departure point being The Sandstone near Broxton where a few of us took advantage of the weather and sat outside in the garden enjoying a brew before heading off home.  We had riders travel quite a distance to join us for this ride-out, one from near Huddersfield, others from Droitwich and Kidderminster, Shrewsbury and Warrington and we know that they saw Wales, and in particular the three lakes we visited, at their best.