Friday, April 28, 2017

Passing Places Tours.

I've set up a new venture, Passing Places Tours! For a while I've been offering folk advice on where to go in Scotland for the best motorcycle holidays, so I've started a motorbike tour company. The way I see it, I've gained enough knowledge and experience over the years to offer a great wee trip without costing people a fortune.

Winton Massif - Last Trip of 2013

I've got my first trip coming up, so I'm getting a wee bit nervous. I'm taking 14 folk away on a one night trip to Applecross. I'm charging my clients £85 for this first trip. The cost covers a night's accommodation at Hartfield House in Applecross, a three course meal in the Applecross Inn and a guide to show you the way, me. 

ferg bealach top pano

I must have done something right, because all my spaces sold out within a week! So if you want to come on one of my planned trips, or you'd like me to show you around, check out my new website, www.passingplacestours.com.

Mike

Monday, April 3, 2017

Honda CRF250 Rally - Review

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My Africa Twin was going in to Two Wheels in Edinburgh for some warranty work and while it was there I was given the new CRF250 Rally to have a shot on. My initial thoughts on this bike were that it looked ok, but it would be a fashion over function "adventure" styled commuter bike. I figured a modern 250 four stoke would be pretty flat and boring, I've found a couple of the larger four stroke singles to be pretty uninspiring so surely a wee 250 strangled by emission standards would be the same?

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Leavimg the shop the bike was fine, cutting through the city traffic easily. The engine might be wee but it's got a nice tall seat height, so you can see over cars and plan your filtering without any dramas. One the roads opened up I was surprised by how much grunt the wee engine put out. I could easily stay with traffic and the bike sat at 70 mph without shaking me or itself to bits. The ditchfinder tyres were a bit vague, but all these road based knobbly tyres seem to have similar feedback. The CRF's 24 bhp wasn't exactly going to light the back end up and its relatively light weight helped too. On the subject of weight I had thought that the CRF250 Rally weighed in at around 165kg, but its actually 157kg fully fueled up. This is still on the heavy side for a dirt bike, apparently it's down to the frame and the heavy, non race spec engine. The upside of this anchor weight motor is that service intervals are nice and long (8000 miles I think) and it only needs a tiny sip of fuel to produce its 24 horses. 
Getting out on to the more rural roads exposed some of the weakness of the wee 250cc motor. My 16 stone bulk combined with a hill proved a bit of an effort and you need to plan your overtaking if there's dithering drivers around. 

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On the rural back roads the bike was great fun, but the CRF250 is a proper trail bike, so I headed to the dirt roads and green lanes in the hills. This is where the bike really shines. The soft, nonadjustable suspension lets the bike fly over lumps and bumps while the brakes do a grand job keeping you in control. You can turn the rear ABS off to do skids and the bike's lightish weight means you can dab your foot down without fear of snapping your leg off. I only ventured properly off road once. To get to the cairn there's not really a track, just a boggy bit which I got the CRF250 stuck in, finding the limits of road tyres and 150 kg. It was easy enough to push the bike out of the slop though. 

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I carried on down to the coast for a bag of chips before battering up some A roads to Greaser's to show him and Faithir the bike. The extra £900 on the cost of the Rally compared to the standard CRF250l gets you a bigger fuel tank, longer suspension, upgraded brakes, a better headlight and the fairing, which works pretty well. The temperature had dropped and I appreciated the protection the wee fairing gave as I rode the 20 miles or so to Greaser's.

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I really enjoyed the wee Honda. If you're looking for a bike to commute on that you could have fun on in more rural areas then I'd recommend it. It's no crosser or dakar bike, but still great fun to chuck about the back roads and trails. It's expensive for what it is too, at £5300. I wonder how much second hand ones will start going for.....?

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Mike


Like what you see on the blog? Mike has launched a motorcycle tour company! Give www.passingplacestours.com a look to join him.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Honda Africa Twin - One year on.


This time last year I was dropping my new Africa Twin in for its 600 mile service. Since then I’ve covered nearly 10000 miles on it. I’ve been up north a few times on it, visited several of our islands, toured Europe with HB and had loads of other days out, so how’s it been?
Honda CRF1000l Africa Twin
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I'm pretty happy, the bike has been great so far. There’s been a few wee niggles. I’ve always said never to buy the first generation of a new bike as there’ll always be these minor issues. The Africa Twin’s been no different. The “SET” button to control the onboard computer got a bit sticky, the finish on the spokes has went a bit shite and the heated grips don’t really make much heat. Honda has been good to deal with though, and everything is getting sorted under warranty. Apart from these minor issues the bike has been 100% reliable.
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Africa Twin at Kylesku

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Somewhere on Hoy, Orkney.

R1150GS and Africa Twin at Duncansby Head Lighthouse.

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Continental Trail Attack 2 tyres have made a huge difference to the bike, giving much more confidence in the wet. The stock Dunlops were OK in the dry but horrendous in the wet, twitching and sliding unpredictably.  I still feel the brakes could be slightly stronger, but the performance of the bike is still more than adequate. The handling is spot on, the Africa Twin feeling far lighter than it’s 232kg wet weight. I was concerned that the bike would toil a bit when fully loaded with a pillion but a quick tweak to the preload and damping of the rear shock had us sorted. The bike took us around the Black Forest and over the Alps without any dramas and returned 50mpg despite me booting its arse up the hills. The Touratech luggage has been great. The position of my Zega Mundo boxes proving themselves more pillion friendly than Faithir’s Bumot panniers.  I do like the wee toolbox that Bumot do. Cosmetically the only thing I really want to do to the bike is get an aftermarket exhaust. I’m still not a big fan of the ugly catalytic converter and its heat shield that looks like Darth Vader’s helmet. The cat is part of the downpipes so It’ll need to be a whole new system to change it. One other thing that’s impressed me is the Scottoiler. It’s simple to use, relatively clean and the chain hasn’t needed much adjustment if any between servicing. I’d recommend a Scottoiler for any chain driven bike.
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Africa twin Buachaille

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So am I happy with the Africa Twin? Yes. Yes I am. I had the big GS on a pedestal for years thinking it couldn’t be matched for the riding I do, but the Africa Twin has shown me there are other bikes out there that are more than capable. Like the big BMW the Honda is a bit of a victim of its own success from the people that mistake it for a dirt bike. Sure, it’ll handle a rough dirt road or green lane but treat it like a Dakar Rally Raid machine and you’ll likely have some big repair bills. Servicing has been another revelation, with the Africa Twin far cheaper to maintain than the GS. For me it’s a return to a more basic bike. The lack of a complicated electronics package and an expensive shaft drive is one of the things that drew me to it. The Honda is slightly down on power when compared to other big traillies but 95 horses is more than enough for me. I don’t find myself battering off the limiter all the time or running out of gears. On a closed (cough) road it was a fair bit quicker in a straight line than an 1150GS but nowhere near a tiger 1050. It sounds great, even with that standard exhaust and is comfortable enough for all day riding. My bike is a manual one and at a push I can get 200 miles from the 18 litre tank. I’ve spoken to a few guys with the DCT model (Honda’s automatic/semi auto gearbox) who have said that they can only get 150 miles from the tank. HB says there’s more room on the back of the Africa Twin than there was on the GSA and she finds it more comfortable too. There's been a few folk complaining that Honda used tubed wheels, but I don't have an issue with changing a tube. 
The Africa Twin still brings a big smile to my face in the same way as my 1150GS did. I’ve got some big plans for this year with it....

Bealach Na Ba

Mike.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Honda C90 - Adventure Bike.

Honda C90

Once more the C90 has been resurrected and MOT'd, this time only requiring a rear tyre, an oil change and a rear brake rebuild. It's easy to forget the charm these wee bikes have, I came pretty close to selling the wee bike when I was offered good money for it but I'm glad I kept it.

Honda C90
Honda C90


I've decided to use the wee Honda as an "Adventure bike".

"What the fuck is an adventure bike Mike?"


Exactly, what the fuck IS an adventure bike?
For me its a bike you go on adventures on. It doesn't matter how big it is, how long the suspension travel is, what size the wheels are or how nobbly the tyres are. There's a few folk on the internet that get seriously confused when a bike is given the "adventure" title.
I first knew of these adventure bikes as "big traillies", big machines designed to take you and your gear to lesser visited areas, often involving dirt roads. Somewhere along the line this has resulted in people thinking their 230+ kg GS, Africa Twin or similar "dual sport" is a motocross bike or Dakar Rally machine, Youtube evidencing several entertaining, but extremely expensive crashes. Dirt roads have now became off road. If you're not battering through some track on your touring, sorry, adventure bike you're not living. I even read about some guy asking for recommendations for an aftermarket seat to make his motorcycle more comfortable over distance, only to be told he had an adventure bike so he should be standing up. I dunno about you, but I wouldn't fancy riding to the south of France without even the occasional sit down. For me if I'm going to go off road, I'll be using an off road bike. My expensive, heavy Africa Twin will be used for touring and holida... I mean adventures! Aidan has recently got his hands on a trials bike which I've been getting to use in exchange for help maintaining the bike. The plan is to get my own once I've restored and sold my KDX200. Shots of Aidan's Sherco 290 will have to do me till then, along with adventure riding on my adventure bike, the mighty C90!

Honda C90

The C90 is everything the marketing geniuses adventure bikes isn't. It's light, underpowered, has a tiny fuel tank, it's basic, cheap and old. It's light weight makes it ideal for greenlaning and rough roads but it does have it's limitations, as I found out the other night. 
Much like modern adventure bikes, Honda C90's  have a slightly misunderstood reputation. Many believe the little 90's to be bombproof, offroad capable machines. While this is partly true, the reliability requires a pretty intensive service schedule. I try and change the oil on mine every 500 miles. As I said, it has limitations on rough roads. The suspension is like a pogo stick and the engine and exhaust are exposed to rocks and other stuff. I've already cracked one rocker cover on something. A sump guard from a pitbike might be able to fit, that's something to look into in the future. I've fitted a long range fuel tank (see pictures) but I'll have to do something about the headlight. A miss timed trip into the hills left my arse twitching like a rabbit's nose when I found myself lost in the middle of nowhere in the dark. The C90's headlight is like a fucking tealight candle, I had to follow the pylons to find my way out!
Honda C90

Honda C90

Honda C90

Honda C90

The C90 does seem to beat every other bike in the snow and ice though, I've had a couple of day out up the hills and down the borders, it's great to get out in the scenery. It's cold like, and slow, but the roads were empty and I pootled about stopping here and there for a photo. Braw.

Honda C90
Honda C90
Honda C90
Honda C90
Honda C90


Excuse the quality of the photos, I only had my phone with me. Hopefully there will be more C90 action to show you soon. Oh, and not wanting to leave Youtube out, I made this video of my adventure biking.



Hope you enjoy it.


Mike


Honda C90



Monday, February 6, 2017

Islands on a Wee G(S).

While I was away on some of the trip in this post Smillie was on his own wee journey before we met up in Tobermory. Here's his story.



September is a great month for a trip round the Isles. Mike and his Faither, Wull, were already away up north and I fancied a wee trip round the Isles.  It can be chilly Sept, so tentless, I headed for 3 nights in bunkhouses on Skye, Raasay and Mull.
There'd been chat of Raasay before and I liked the idea, especially to go and see Calum's Road. I hadn't done the Quiraing on Skye for 10 years so Destination Skye it was. Now .... Which bike to take?
The Rockster? Capable, bigger, faster, louder and torquey torquey since I fitted the Rocket Sprockets. It'll take this journey with ease. Or the G650GS SERTAO? The smallest GS. The WeeG. It'll get there, but when it's there it'll come into it's own. The WeeG was the choice. I've loved having the smallest GS, despite being upwards of 6' and well upwards of 20 stone, it handles anything I do on it and I'm always smiling when riding the WeeG.

Smillie's blog
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So packed up I headed for Skye via Glencoe. Clad with TKC80s and a heavy load the WeeG handled the Motorway and roads through Callander and Crianlarich with no fuss. It was a Dry run. Sunshine and clouds. But looking good for a relaxed ride and stunning views up through Glencoe. Alas, it was not to be. Hundreds of Lycra wearers on charity bike ride made Glen Coe slow going - all split up into 2s and 3s every 100 yards. Not really the cyclists that were the problem, but the indecisive car drivers and their random assed maneuvers.
Plenty of motorbikes out too - many on their way to the Shoot the Goose Rally Kyleakin. Turns out The WeeG hold its own on the A class roads too. Keeping up with the other bikers, overtaking with ease. OK, I'm working the gears harder than I would on the grunty Rockster and anything on the higher side of 85 mph and it starts struggling. But not really a problem ; 3 figure speeds are not a necessity to enjoy a trip around the highlands and islands.
It was a bright sunny day with puffs of cloud in the sky and would have been a perfect opportunity for the classic bike photo with Buachaille Etive Mor in the background, but not today. Not with all the clumps of cyclists to pass.
Anyway, the fuel light on the 14L tank had just lit up as I passed the Corran Ferry so a fill up in Fort William beckons.
I'd done 128 miles in one go on the WeeG, filled up with exactly 10 litres, 58.2 mpg, and no sair arse. I'm impressed.... who needs a lardy 1200 GS Adventure to ride Scotland? I've done this trip on the a 1200 GS numerous times, but it feels more satisfying on the WeeG. Don't know why, but my smile is wider?
Invergarry to Kyle of Lochalsh is a refreshing ride mainly as the cyclists went to bed in Fort William. It's a Fantastic road, great views and sweeping corners - I couldn't help thinking the bigger bike would have made the most of this tarmac, but with little fuss the WeeG eased it's way into Kyle.
I stopped to fuel up and shoot the shit with some Bandit riders who were going to the Shoot the Goose rally in Kyleakin. They were at an Orkney rally previous week that was disappointing as it had nowt at it and wasn't recommended, but said the Grampian Bike Show at Alford was great - worth a visit.
Anyway, Also witnessed some auld dear lose the heid at the Kyle petrol station and try to squeeze her car through a gap that just wasnt there? She almost knocked over a guys TDM900, knocked his helmet on to the ground and then blamed him for being in the way and went off on one blaming the station attendant for what happened - what a fucking loon. The guy demonstrated unprecedented  restraint not to rip her fucking heid aff. I left before the polis arrived.

Smillie's blog post.

Onto Skye and I stopped for a Chippy in Broadford - it was very busy , a good sign. Ace fish supper with a brilliant view to boot and surrounded by the ever hopeful shitehawks trying to mooch a chip. Fuckem! Thir ma chips.
The last part of the day reminded me why I brought the WeeG - it eats up the B class roads - gravel, mud, potholes, puddles, sheep - no problem. TKC80 clad it handles almost anything and everything thrown at it.
Riding into the evening sun I nearly missed the Skywalker sign in Port Na Long, but the auld corrugated iron schoolhouse was easy to spot. The Skywalker hostel is a wild eclectic mix of decor with a similar mix of people. I was in a 10 bed mixed bunkroom shared with 2 French lassies, a dude in his 70s from Glasgow and 6 students from Singapore.

Smillie's blog post.

Smillie's blog post.

No mobile signal and no WiFi reminds you that you are at the arse end of nowhere, but there's still 2 pubs and a distillery within a couple of miles. Conversation is encouraged. There was great craic in the sitting room with the Singapore Students and 2 Spanish girls travelling europe as they played drunk kerplunk.
The Conversation was different fare from the usual Massif menu. Much less fucks and cunts and more repeating what was said - especially for the Weegie Grandad whose grasp of English was tenuous at best.
The Skywalker Hostel is recommended- auld schoolhouse, bunkrooms, pods, dining and sitting areas, friendly staff, free coffee and milk, good kitchen, big fridges, great showers, decent bed and a lift to the pub. What more could you ask for?

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The next morning, following a good shower and a coffee I made a swift visit to the nearby Talisker Distillery and then the run over the Hill Road from Struan to Portree. What a great view back to Struan.... Stopped for some photaes and didn't expect the morning peace to be filled with the braaaaaah. ...braaaah. .. braaaah of rally cars.
Up and over the hill and I'm confronted by a number of classic Rally cars horsing towards me - Cars from my youth filled the road.... a Mk2 Escort,  Lotus Sunbeam, Audi Quattro, Renault 5 Turbo, Opel Manta - all coming at me pretty hard heading to their next offroad stage. Quite a sight. 
But the WeeG found its raison d'ĂȘtre. It feels as if roads like this were built for this bike.
40 mins later I'm sitting in an Irish Cafe in Portree, eating a Full Scottish breakfast with a massive grin adorning my coupin.  
Now fir the Quiraing.
Great blast up to Staffin, but I rushed past the Old Man of Storr. I remember the past when you pulled into a quiet laybay midweek to take the Auld man's  photo - but this day it was full of tour buses and tripods. Onwards to the Quiraing. What a road - the Bealach Na Ba's wee brother. Not a speedster's sweeping bends, but a proper auld b class back track. I'm looking forward to stopping at the top for photos, but the car park at the top was like Asda on a Saturday afternoon. Too many gormless drivers and tourists wandering about with cameras to dodge . So no stopping and straight on through to Uig.

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Smillie's blog
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Smillie's blog
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Smillie's blog
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Smillie's blog
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Smillie's blog
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I meet Wull at Kyleakin. There's no time to check out the Shoot the Goose rally and meet up with Snake, so it's straight up to Sconser for the Ferry to Raasay. Bikes strapped in on the ferry and Wull and I go up to watch the views coming into Raasay. Raasay House dominates the view into the pier, the island's only hotel,  pub, restaurant, hostel is all in the one building.
Off the ferry we decide to go straight up to the North to check out Calum's Road. If you've not heard of it check out the story here:
Calum MacLeod, almost single-handedly built the 2 miles that is now known as "Calum's Road" between the mid 1960s and the mid 1970s, to join Arnish to the end of the Council Road at Brochal Castle. It's quite a stunning story, but it's out-stunned by the views on the way. The coast of Skye is breathtaking... if  you want to see just how great Skye is then go to Raasay. Getting a front row seat is the best way to see Skye. The views over the Sound of Raasay into the mouth of Portree Harbour was amazing. The View to Applecross from the castle at Brochal was stunning. Great to see a favourite place from another viewpoint.
Raasay offers views to compete on the run to Calums road. Every corner or peak crested in the road revealed an even more stunning view.
Blue sky, the crystal clear water at Arnish Cove, hills, climbs, gravel, rough track, castle, cliffs, rocks, bays, flying pigs. Fantastic.
Wull and I returned to Raasay House for Cullen Skink, Fish & Chips, a few pints and to blether about what we saw that day. We will be going back.

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Smillie's blog
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Smillie's blog post.

Smillie's blog post.

Smillie's blog post.

Smillie's blog post.

Smillie's blog post.

Smillie's blog post.

Smillie's blog post.

Sunday morning after a few pints and a full bunkhouse, and I'm  thinking a long lie is in order. Not Wull though.... a Dig in ribs by Wull at 7am -  Uh oh Uh oh "I've got up and had a shower and the bathroom is free."
"Its only 3 hours until the ferry at 10am or if we miss it the only other one is a 5pm."
Fuckin fuck FFS get back tae bed Wull..... Fud.
We make the 10am ferry with time to spare, but the Armadale to Mallaig ferry is cancelled.... it's pretty windy.
There's No Sunday ferry Kilchoan to Tobermory
So back round to the Skye bridge and Fort Wull-i-am, then Corran Ferry and  the run down to the ferry at Lochaline to Fishnish on Mull. Wull-i-am a Fud, leaves me sitting at fucking Sainsbury in Fort William and pisses aff tae Corran Ferry and over the water.
When I get to the Corran Ferry, nae Wull, he's over the other side. And I'm sitting waiting for the ferry with one car in front of me. Wull's in an OCD flap cause we are getting 3 Ferries on a Sunday and it's windy. I'm cursing him cause we've had nae food yet and the dude in the car in front gets out and walks up to check out ma Sertao. Fuck me, it's Tim who owns Sunart Campsite  in Strontian - a great campsite,  and a great guy, a biker to boot. We blether until the other side, we meet Wull and it's off tae Lochaline. 

Smillie's blog post.

We get over tae Mull in the pishing train. It's September and West coast Scotland.
We arrive at Tobermory Hostel and the only Mammal manning reception is the famous Tobermory Cat - Ledaig, lying sleeping and purring his heid aff. We unpack the bikes until Mike arrived on AT and then Carina in her Fiat 500.
We partake of Cuban cigars and beer outside the hostel and end up chatting with the German crew of an old sailing ship we saw sailing up the Sound of Mull whilst we rode up to Tobermory. A few drams of single malt from my top box hipflask and our German friends head off to the Mishnish pub for more.

Smillie's blog post.

Smillie's blog post.

Smillie's blog post.

Smillie's blog post.

Smillie's blog post.


We decant to the Spice of Mull with the whole stock of Tiger and Cobra from the Tobermory Co-op as the place is BYOB. It's relatively new and does Indian, Bangladesh, Thai, and Chinese food. Sounds all a bit jack of all trades, master of none, but we are pleasantly surprised. Thai, Chinese and Indian food is ordered and all 3 are high quality. Theres also Great craic with Chowdrey the waiter.... I'm through winding up the chefs  and Chowdrey reckons Mike is Wull's dad, much to our amusement.
The Mishnish pub beckons and we return to the Hostel at 2am. Wull-i-am and I are in a 4 bed room with a French guy who's already in bed. We decide to switch the light oan to get ready quickly to minimise disturbing his slumber like 2 drunk Scotsmen fumbling about in the dark. Our Gallic cousin gets Humpty cause we put the light on - complained for longer than we had taken getting ready....  "you guys obviously don't go hostelling"
Wull's reposte " we've been to more than 50 hostels and it's true that every now and again you come across a Bellend". Wull the diplomat demonstrates entente cordialle and the dude's Pus was shut for the night.
The next morning was greeted by Captain Wull's breakfast of Orange juice, Frothy cappucino packet coffee, an almond croissant and half a scotch egg . Cordon Bleu.

Smillie's blog post.

Smillie's blog post.

Set up for the ride home we all decide to go via Dervaig and Calgary Bay... why wouldn't it you? What a road and what views. The Sea Eagle spotters were out, but no Eagles to be seen. They were all away off to Craignure because they'd heard the world's  largest Homing Pigeon was heading there on his AT. Buuurrrrr, Buuurrrrr,  Coooooo, Coooooo,  Wull's up and away like a Dickin Medal holder on an urgent mission. It is the last day efter all.





Words and photography by Smillie.

Smillie's blog post.

Smillie's blog post.