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 🙂

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 🙂

 

 

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 🙂

 

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…..

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 🙂

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?  🙂