Saturday, December 8, 2018

Hacking

My Beta trials bike had been sitting in the shed pretty much unused for a while. It's a decent wee bike so I decided to sell it. It's a waste for it to be sitting there unused, and I was missing having a second bike. George and Ann bought the trials bike and I had some money in my pocket. Time to find a bike!
I was looking for something cheap, preferably something I could also fix up after using it as a bit of a winter hack. I don't commute on my bikes as I work close to my house, so it didn't have to be super practical. I didn't want anything too big or heavy and I wasn't looking for anything with loads of power. An old Transalp or something would be ideal.
Looking through ebay and gumtree revealed zero Transalps. There were a couple of XT600s, but they were just out of my budget. There were plenty Bandit 600s, which could be promising and a few bikes I thought could be "interesting" which may have also translated to "shite".
Narrowly avoiding an old Jawa 350 and a 600 Diversion, a bike I had previously described as "the erectile dysfunction of motorcycling", I opened up Gumtree and seen a Hornet 600 for sale locally. It was a 1998 model which meant it had the 16 inch front wheel and weaker brakes. Still, it looked not bad in the photos.
Hornshit 6 million
I met the seller, Doug, who showed me round the bike. It looked a bit rough, but definitely something I could work with. Doug was pretty honest about the bike. We haggled a price and I was the proud new owner of a slightly scabby Honda Hornet 600 complete with a years MOT and decent tyres.
I'm quite tall and the Hornet is a wee bike. I was initially concerned that it would be a bit too wee. Despite my 6'4 bulk dwarfing the bike I didn't find it too uncomfortable. I'm definitely going to fit wider bars to free up some space.
Hornshit 6 million
The ride home threw up some interesting characteristics. The handling was, well, shit. The bike was all over the fucking place. Is this down to the 16 inch front wheel? Is the twenty year old suspension completely gubbed?  As the bike tramlined once more over some minor flaw in the road I remembered Doug saying he's hardly been using the bike.

Tyre pressure. It has to be.

My assumptions were correct. They were way out. 15 extra PSI in both ends sorted everything out. Doug had also given me a wee screen which, once fitted, helped keep some of the cold air off my chest. Another bonus was the heated grips to keep my paws toasty. A quick wash and I was ready to get out.

Hornshit 6 million
Hornshit 6 million
Hornshit 6 million

I needed cat food. Nae bother! I'll take the Hornet. As I battered down to Tesco, appreciating the decent headlight, I was trying to think up a bodge to fix the blow that had developed on the link pipe section of the exhaust. Cat food collected, I'm back out at the bike when I discovered an interesting point. There's absolutely nowhere to bungee anything on to the bike. Fuck sake. Maybe theres those daft hook things under the seat? Shit, the lock that holds the seat on is a bit tight. Fuck sake, I've bent the key. I rode home with the cat food balanced on the tank, hammered the key flat and gave the lock and catch a spray with WD40. Another quick browse on Ebay got me a ridiculous solution to the blowing exhaust and some crash bungs, but the issue of not being able to carry anything still needed solved.  Luckily my mate Lynchie came to the rescue by giving me a huge tank bag on loan long term. It really is huge, I can fit my camera and tripod in it and still have room for other stuff.
Hornshit 6 million
New tank bag attached, I set off on the Hornet into the hills. I've recently taken to making pizza at home in a big way. I wanted to try sourdough and the friendly folk up at the Riverside Bakehouse at Abby St Bathans had offered to give me some sourdough starter. It's also a really nice run up there. Worth choosing as a food stop on any spin through south east Scotland. The wee Hornet performed well. It doesn't have the grunt to pull your foreskin back, but rev it up and it's a quick wee bike! Keep the revs a bit lower and you'll have no concerns about greasy autumn roads.
Hornshit 6 million
Hornshit 6 million
Hornshit 6 million
Hornshit 6 million
Hornshit 6 million
Hornshit 6 million
Hornshit 6 million
My exhaust solution arrived. Since fitting it much less wildlife jumps out at the last minute to admire the Hornet as I'm riding by. It wasn't the most secure fitting modification, but hopefully that's been remedied with the help of my uncle Greaser. The crash bungs are fitted too, which should save the vital organs if I drop it.
Greaser helping fix the Hornshit
Hornshit 6 million

Now all I need to find some better bars. Anyone got any renthals kicking around that you don't want anymore?

Hornshit 6 million


Mike

  





Another summer in the Alps, Part 1.

Black Friday. It's just passed. Some people love it and some people hate it. This time last year HB and I landed a cracking deal on the Newcastle to Amsterdam ferry cementing the Alps as our summer destination once more. We were joined by Aidan and Jess who were riding Aidan's Triumph and Joe and Liz in Joe's Beemer E36. This trip was gonnae be more a holiday than an endurance event and for the first time ever I had booked accommodation in advance. This is something I'm usually against, but due to closed campsites and some special locations it was necessary, you'll see what I mean. Route planned and bikes packed, we headed down to the ferry, stopping at Carter Bar, on the Scotland/England border to show Jess, who'd never been there before. It was around this point that I realised what had been causing my niggling "what have I forgotten?" feeling. I'd not packed my pants (underwear to you American readers.) FUCK!!

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We stopped in a nice wee English town for a bite to eat and I frantically searched for some boxer shorts. The guy in the ship said there was a big shopping centre right beside the ferry port. A hour or so later I was happily re stocked in the underwear department. Sorted. Once we were off the ferry we followed a familiar route down to Luxembourg, stopping to meet up with Joe and Liz in a petrol station. We had all booked into hotels in Vianden as the campsite is now closed, which is a shame, as it's a great wee town and an ideal stop if you're heading from Ijmuiden to the Alps or Black Forest. Satnav roulette was played due to a road being closed for an event. This gave us an enjoyable spin into the town along a route we'd not taken before, a twisty, well surfaced road that's really popular with bikes. In no time we could see the castle that sits above Vianden and stopped for some photos and a wee chat with some of the local bikers.


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HB and I had booked into the Hotel Victor Hugo. We'd stayed there before but this time we had a room with a balcony which gave us a nice view over the river. It really is a nice place to relax. You've got a good choice of places to eat and drink and there's plenty places to see if you fancy a walk after dinner. (which I was far too lazy to do)


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We set off early the next day, an hour’s blast on winding roads far more enjoyable that the French piage and N routes that followed. About 3 hours saw us at the Vosges, home of the cracking Route Des Cretes. I had ridden the Route Des Cretes a few months earlier and really enjoyed it. If you have the time on the way to the Black Forest or French Alps it really is worth the detour.


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Aidan and I had lost Joe a bit earlier and HB and I lost Aidan and Jess just as we got into the Vosges. Everyone had their own sat nav so there was no worries about everyone finding their way to Rick and Andrea’s place where we were staying that evening. The Vosges did prove a bit harder to navigate that I remembered however. HB and I were fine, but Joe, who’s usually never lost, ended up over on the next hill, missing the Grand Ballon pass all together and we’re still a bit unsure what route Aidan took. HB and I stopped at the top of the Grand Ballon, there was a car rally on and quite a few nice motors parked up. We had a bite to eat and took in the views before heading down to Colmar and into Germany. Since spending a couple of weeks cat sitting at Rick and Andrea’s I’ve gotten to know the Rickenbach area quite well giving a familiar Black Forest ride. I was quite surprised that we were the first to arrive, but within the hour Aidan and Joe had found their way. Another night at Stefan’s Pizzaladen followed by some schnapps and star gazing around a Swedish candle.
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Rick and me.

We had a delicious breakfast on Rick and Andrea’s balcony and Joe made some slight adjustments to his car the following morning, by adjustments I mean he changed the whole rear suspension. With only minimal help from Rick and myself Joe had it all done in about an hour, a job that would have probably taken me half a day. Joe now happy with the handling of his beemer we set off, only stopping for a wee bit at the Swiss border to pick up a vignette. We battered along Swiss motorway for a couple of hours before grumbling bellies required filling. I was convinced that we were only a short distance away from Austria, but Swiss Burger King was looking just too good for everyone else. Fast food with rosette prices is still fast food, but it filled a hole. There was also a mild exchange over navigation. We were all using different sat navs which each gave slightly different routes. I thought that if we took slightly different routes that was fine, while Aidan preferred to ride as a group and Joe being easy either way. I’d spent a fair bit of time looking at different routes on the map and had a good idea of where I would like to go and what I wanted to see, but agreed that we’d ride as a group to Austria. We’d all booked hotels for a couple of nights in Sölden. The original plan had been to stay in wee cabins on the campsite, but it was closed.


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We left Burger King with Aidan leading, the turn off for Austria was only a few miles ahead but when we got there Aidan looked as if he was carrying on. I waved like a loony and indicated but I couldn’t get his attention. Joe was behind me, also indicating in an Austrian direction. Time to make an executive decision…. I turned off towards Austria. 

Once over the border we pulled into a petrol station to get a vignette. Vignettes are like road tax and are needed in Austria and Switzerland, although I think they’re only a legal requirements if you’re riding motorways and other main roads. As we headed higher into the hills it began to grow darker. There were a couple of big flashes of lightning and it grew darker still, then the rain came. Rain in the Alps can be torrential. It wasn’t long until the roads were literally flowing like rivers and it was nearly as dark as night, I was toiling to see where I was going with all the spray and glare from oncoming headlights. The road up to Sölden would have been a good one in the dry, but by the time we rode through the third or fourth wee village I was just wanting to arrive. I was glad we had booked a nice warm hotel rather than pitching a soggy tent. We arrived in Sölden just as the sun was coming back out. It was mental how dark it had gotten when it was raining, but now the sun was back out and daylight had returned. Hotel Marco gave us a great view over the valley and the town. The smell was incredible too. Alpine fresh!


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Aidan and Jess had booked into a different hotel than us. We’d stopped on the way up to send text messages and leave voice mails for them telling them where we were. There’s more than one Sölden and I was really hoping Aidan had put the right one into his satnav. He had, a phone call confirmed that they’d also got caught in the rain. They were both soaked through and needed to warm up before we all walked down the steep hill into the town. 
We had two nights in Sölden, my reason for spending two nights there was to have the chance to ride the Ötztal glacier road. The sun stayed shining on Sölden the following day. After breakfast HB and I jumped on the Africa Twin and followed the road up to the glacier. Climbing steeply out of Sölden, the Ötztal glacier road is one of the highest paved roads in Europe. It’s a dead end route that finishes at the glacier itself. Towards the top you get great views of the glacier and down the surrounding valleys. If you ride up you can explore a few dirt roads to get some better views and there’s a tunnel that takes you through to the other side of the hill. Once we were finished exploring and taking photos we parked the bike up and took the gondola further up the hill. I could really feel the altitude in my breathing but the views were absolutely stunning. It’s worth giving yourself a couple of days in Sölden so you can experience it. We had a bite to eat and a beer (alcohol free for me of course) in the café before riding back down to hotel Marco in Sölden. Everyone else were doing their own thing so we had a wander around the town and some more food and proper beers before seeing the evening out with everyone else.
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Heading south out of Sölden took us over the Timmelsjoch, a mountain pass that crosses the border between Austria and Italy. Before you get to the bordrer on the Austrian side is the Top Mountain Motorcycle Museum. This was my second reason to spend two nights at Sölden, I’d never ridden the Timmelsjoch before and having an amazing bike collection on display halfway up was the icing on the cake. The pass itself is a toll road, costing 14 Euros to head one way (its 19 for a return) meaning it’s pretty quiet compared to the other popular passes and the road is well maintained. The toll is payable from the museum, so you don’t need to pay if you’re heading up from a visit from Sölden. Aidan and Jess weren’t fussed for looking round the bikes in the museum so he and Jess headed of over the Timmelsjoch while Joe and I stumped up the 10 euro to get into the museum. If you’re into bikes, especially rare, old bikes then you’ll love the museum. Joe and I spent about an hour wandering around the main, open plan room. There was a bunch of Brough Superiors, a Flying Merkel, an Indian Four, a Munch Mammut… The list goes on. Eventually we met HB and Liz in the café and headed up the Timmelsjoch towards Italy, stopping at the top of the pass for the usual photos.



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Next up, Italy! 
But that'll be Part 2. 



Mike.



Friday, September 14, 2018

Cat Sitting.

A few months back HB and I are enjoying a beer and soaking up the April sun in Rick and Andrea's garden having flown over to the Black Forest to pick up a pushbike. Rick mentions that they're planning a holiday to Poland.

"Do you guys want to come over an look after the cats? You'd be doing us a huge favour."

We'd be doing you guys a favour?
Two weeks holiday in their awesome house in the middle of some prime motorcycling roads?
"AYE!!"

It was short notice. HB quickly found herself some cheapish flights and booked them up. Of course, I wanted to take the bike over, but the short notice meant the usual Newcastle to Ijmuiden ferry that I use was out of my budget. Dover it was. Luckily, an acquaintance had a ticket for the Channel Tunnel he couldn't use, so I got that for the £15 charge to transfer it to my name. This was only a tenner cheaper than the Dover to Calais ferry but it saved me a crucial hour, allowing me to be a bit more choosy about where I would stay.

The bike all packed the night before, I set off south at around 6.30am. I would like to say something positive or interesting about my run down through England but there really isn't much to say. It's a 450 mile flat, boring and often busy run down. I had chosen a Saturday to head south, so it was relatively quiet until around Cambridge. It would appear that not many folk around Essex, London or Kent can drive very well, so keep your wits about you if you're heading down that way. Oh, fuel in England is fucking expensive as well, although I'm told that's just because I was on the main roads.

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Lunch
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At the Channel Tunnel.
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The Channel Tunnel on the other hand is really good. You check yourself in using an automated system. I was an hour or so early and the computer gave me an option to book myself on an earlier train. From there you wait around in a queue for a bit before you're given the green light. Bikes were last on, so I waited at the side with a couple of other bikers before riding on to the train. 40 minutes later I was in France. Having done all my passport checks and stuff in England I headed straight on to the motorway, following my satnav to Roisin, a wee town just over the border in Belgium that looked nice from what I'd seen on the internet.. The bike's thermometer was showing the temperature to be 32 degrees, so photo stops were kept to a minimum and my thin summer gloves were dug out the pannier. Just as it appeared to be in the internet, Roisin was a great wee town. The campsite was in the grounds of the castle, a five minute walk from the town and a wee restaurant on the banks of a big pond. I had made a sheepskin seat cover for the bike which, despite going against my vegetarian ethics, had made the 600 miles to Roisin that bit more comfortable, but nothing is comfortable after sitting on it for 12 hours. It was actually enjoyable pitching the tent and stretching my legs before heading over to the place by the pond for some food and several Belgian beers.

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I could have just battered down to Rick and Andrea's the following day, but I'd been looking at the map and a few squiggly lines in the Vosges region had caught my eye. A wee scout on Google brought up Camping Les Acacias in Anould, right at the start of the good roads. Five hours of hot E, A and N routes through Belgium, Luxembourg and France and I was there. It’s was a great wee site. The pitch for my tent was surrounded by trees, giving good shelter from the heat of the sun. Most of the shops and cafes in the area were closed as it was Sunday but there was a wee bar on site selling pizza, chips and beers. Despite having zero interest in football I sat with a few other folk at the bar to watch the World Cup final. The owners had set up a TV in the bar which cut out a fair bit at the start of the game due to a wee storm that blew over. I found the lightning just as good to watch as the football. The TV started working again though, France won the game and the locals took to the streets in their cars, driving around blasting their horns in celebration. I was pretty tired after the previous couple of days so I hit the hay early.

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The Vosges is an area I’d not really looked at for biking. Man, have I been missing out. Straight out of the campsite and I was on some great roads winding through the French countryside. The Grand Ballon is the highest road in the Vosges and part of the Route Des Cretes, which is a popular biking run. I had spied a few other passes on the map, but I found they were closed for repairs when I got to them. Never mind, the Route Des Cretes is stunning. I was surprised how good the views were. As with lots of the good bits, there were loads of bikes in the area. I spoke with a Dutch guy who was touring solo, and a German guy on a mint BMW K1 who was out for a spin for some lunch. The Vosges reminded me of the lower passes in the Alps. Wide, windy roads twisting through trees before opening up to Sound of Music looking meadows complete with cows with bells round their necks. It's definitely worth a wee detour if you're riding down to the Black forest or the Alps.

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I met a German guy with this clean BMW K1 in the Vosges, France.
I met a German guy with this clean BMW K1 in the Vosges, France.
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A short squirt along some dual carriageway saw me on the familiar roads around Wehr and up into the twisty turns to Rickenbach. Andrea's brother had kindly given HB a lift from the airport so she was already at the house. It was great to get there. Rick and Andrea's place is stunning. We spend the next couple of days chilling out, visiting a few local places, hiding from the 33+ degree heat in the shade and generally just enjoying the area.


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We were joined by Bob and Nicki a couple of days later, we generally chilled out at the house. HB and I took a few runs on the bike too. Vogelpark is worth a visit if you're in the area and like wildlife. loads of big storks live there and come and go as they please, and there are monkeys which you can see and even help feed at 4 each day. We took a run out to the Rothaus brewery too. The brewery is just up the road from lake Schluchsee on the fabled B500, so the whole area is hoatching with bikes and the brewery is a popular stop. Rothaus make a couple of really nice alcohol free beers which we had along side a big bowl of chips. There's currywurst available too, but no veggie option yet.


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Bikes at the Rothaus brewery, Germany.
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Rick and Andrea's house isn't far from Switzerland, so naturally my eye had been draw to the Swiss Alps part of the map. I figured that the Sunsten/Grimsel/Furka pass loop could be ridden in a day from the house. I did try and add a few more passes, but we really didn't have time, plus I'll be back in the Alps soon. A quick chat with Bob cemented the plan. Batter down to Andermatt on the Swiss motorway, ride the loop and home for pizza at Stefans. I'm always a bit wary in Switzerland, even minor speed limit breakages get massive fines, so we kept our wits about us as we headed south.



Bob and GS on the Susten Pass, Switzerland.


Switzerland is a stunning country. Even the motorway gave stunning views as we rode along side lake Lucerne. Traffic got really busy due to roadworks just before Andermatt, causing us to bail off the motorway early. Luckily we found ourselves right at the start of the Sunstenpass. A very expensive sandwich later and we were off.

Africa Twin on the Susten Pass

It was great to be back in the Alps. I didn't know whether to enjoy the scenery or the roads. It's really something everyone who enjoys riding a motorcycle should experience at least once in their lives. Susten pass is part of a famous Swiss triangular loop, along with the Furka and Grimsel. Like all biking loops there's a big debate to which direction is best. We rode it anti clockwise, which was fucking amazing, but I've got no doubts that it's as equally amazing going clockwise.


At the top of the Susten Pass, Switzerland.
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Mike's Africa Twin and Bob's GS.
Winton Massif in the Grimsel Pass, Switzerland
Looking down the Grimsel and up the Furka.


The Sunsten/Grimsel/Furka loop only takes a couple of hours or so, even with me stopping for photos and the all important stickers, but it had been a long day. The traffic at the roadworks had drawn out the two hour run down and back from Rick and Andrea's, and the 34 degree heat hadn't helped. By the time we were back the house we were knackered, not to mention a bit smelly.
The only run we had in our last few days was over to visit Wolfgang and Uta in Freiburg for dinner. Apparently we had taken a road over that was "verboten" or closed to bikes on the weekends. On the way home we figured that we would just feign ignorance if we were stopped on the way home. We weren't, so pretty much had the road to ourselves. 



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I had originally planned to head back on the same day as Bob and Nicki, dividing my run home with stops in Epernay, somewhere close by to Calais then battering up through England. However, I'd read about Les Ballastieres on John's blog, Old Roads - New Adventures. Les Ballastieres is a bed and breakfast which also has a hostel type option. It's located about an hour from Calais making it ideal for the ferry. They had a bed available for only 21 Euro, so I booked up, deciding on spending an extra night at in Rickenbach with HB.

Bike packed, t shirt soaked, I was ready to head off. It was a long 400 miles to Les Ballastieres. The temperature was 38 degrees but my soaking t shirt helped keep me cool. I had a short set of summer gloves on and the sleeves of my jacket open, giving great cooling airflow. All was going well until I felt a hot, searing pain on my arm.

"Whooaa aaaa, fttt AAAAAAAAA!"

"WOOAAAA!! WHAT THE FUCK!!!"

My worst fears. I thought there was a wasp up my sleeve!
I jammed my arm on to my leg in a effort to squash any invading wasp.

"OOOOOYYYYAAAA!! AAAAA YA FUCKER!!!

Only 2km to the next rest stop.

"FUUUUUCCCKKK!!"

I went screaming into the rest stop, jumped off the bike and ripped my jacket off. There was no beastie to be seen, but there was a big lump on my arm with a sting sticking out of it. Fuck sake!

I rolled into Las Ballastieres around 7 pm. I was greeted by Sue, the first thing she did was give me a cold beer! Being biker owned, they know what you need after a long, hot day on the bike. It's a great place and I'd definitely recommend staying there, especially if you're using the tunnel or the Dover ferry. A short walk took me into the town for a pizza. It was nice to stretch the legs and cool off.



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I made the ferry easily enough. but the ride up through England is one I won't be doing again unless I really have to. I'm not joking when I say there must have been 300 miles of traffic jams. Imagine filtering for 300 miles. It was shit.
Still, I never let it dampen what was a great break away in Germany. 
Thank's Rick and Andrea! We'll be back to see the cats again soon!!


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Mike