Saturday, March 16, 2019

A wee spin on a..... Honda CB500X

While the Africa Twin was in getting some work done on it (new wheels and centre stand circlip) I was given Honda's wee CB500X as a courtesy bike. I've heard good things about these wee bikes but to me it just sounded like is was going to be a bit bland and gutless. I'll be honest, I thought it was going to be shite. Well, maybe shite is the wrong word. "Just another bike" is maybe a better way to describe my expectations.
I was handed the keys and I stepped outside the shop where I seen the bike I'd have till the next day. This particular bike had seen better days. It still had the scars up once side from a previous customer's calamity. Still, it's way better than getting the bus.
A quick squint round the bike showed some surprising features. It's got a decent LED headlight and preload adjustment at both ends, something that can be missing from bikes nearly double the price. I fired it up. It sounded more like a bubble machine than a motorcycle. Ergonomically the bike was good, enough space and comfort for my 6'4 body. It's heavy for a wee bike, tipping the scales at 195kg but it really doesn't feel it. Filtering through traffic was easy. I had enough grunt to nip away from the lights and enough brakes to avoid any unexpected arseholes trying to kill me. Once out of the toon the CB500x started to grow on me. My first "big bike" on the road was a CB500s. The younger CB500x doesn't seem to have the go my old bike did but still nips along well enough on the dual carriageway, the wee screen giving enough protection to keep the wind off my chest.
The twisty country roads was where my JAB expectations were blown away. The wee CB500x was great fun! The handling gives plenty confidence when chucking it through the corners. You have to boot the arse out it a bit to keep it going, while the engine didn't spend the whole time at the top of the rev range the throttle was wide open. This added to the fun! The engine has decent midrange poke giving some steroids to the 47 or so horses it produces. This bike isn't a shitey, drab commuter bike, its a great laugh. Chuck some luggage on it and you'll be able to tour with any bigger bikes with no problems. Don't get me wrong, I'm not going to sell the Africa Twin and get a CB500X anytime soon, but it show that while it's nice to have a big, powerful bike to travel on you can still have plenty fun at half the price.
Honda CB500X

CB500 X 4/5 Chainsaws.
Perfect first bike.


Monday, February 25, 2019

End of Summer in the Alps, Part 3

Continuing from Part 2.

The three days off the bike at Lake Como were braw, but I was ready to get going again. We had been looking at the maps and discussing possible runs and routes to take us homewards. We still had around a week to get back to the ferry, plenty time to visit places. Aidan was keen to do the Alps.

“Eh? We’ve done loads of the Alps”

“You ken what I mean.”

When Aidan says “the Alps” there’s only one place he’s really thinking about. The French Alps. Aidan was keen to show Jess some of the mountains of her home country that she’d not had the chance to visit yet. I was up for it too. I love the French Alps. They have a different feel to the Tyrol Alps where we’d been. They feel more remote, have more variation of landscapes and are all a bit higher and rougher. I figured that a five hour mix of motorway and twisty roads would see us in Valloire, an alpine town tucked between two great passes.

Even with some busy traffic around Milan, the Italian motorway was seen off in good time before we jumped onto the SS24. Fast hairpins, more stunning scenery and an impressive tunnel were enjoyed as we climbed back up into the hills and up to the border. The French border guards were great, having a laugh with us and asking if we had any whisky. We stopped for a bite to eat in Montgenevre, a ski resort that sits on a sort plateau. It was like a ghost town, there was no one around except another couple who were eating outside a restaurant which we were told was closed. the folk there offered us a couple of huge sandwiches and a coffee each, which we enjoyed to the view of the female member of the other couple falling off her chair.
It's OK, she was fine.

sandwich stop

We'd expected to see Aidan and Jess ride past at some point, but they must have stopped off a bit earlier. We jumped back on the bike and carried on towards Briancon where we followed the now quite familiar Col du Lautaret up to the stunning Col du Galibier. After riding up through a constant changing grass/moss/whateveritis, the landscape takes on a sort of lunar style at the top. We carried on up to the top, missing the tunnel out. Photos taken, we snaked down to Valloire, riding over all the graffiti on the road from the cycling competitions, which makes the run down even better. We headed straight to the campsite and got pitched up. We were the only people there! Not long after we arrived Aidan and Jess rolled up and a cyclist came in. There were hardly any shops or anything else open. I was amazed as I rode up to the supermarket. I had thought that Valloire would have still been quite busy with mountain biking, but it would seem that at the end of September everything closed. Luckily there was one place remaining open where we could get food. The cyclist from the campsite joined us and the five of us had a good night out.



I was really looking forwards to the ride up the next day. Aidan, Carina and I had ridden the same route previously, for me it’s still one of the best in the Alps, following the Route Des Grande Alps from Valloire up to Bourg Saint Maurice. Leaving Valloire up and over the Col du Telegraphe I made sure and not take a wrong turn at the bottom, following the proper route to the Col de l’Iseran.

Col de l’Iseran is the highest pass in the Alps and one of my favourites due to the various different road surfaces, braw corners, cliff edge drops and stunning scenery. It was riding up the south side of said pass that we had a pretty scary experience. We were riding along one of the narrower sections when suddenly a Jeep Cherokee began to overtake, blasting his horn. The cunt driving was clearly in quite the rush because up ahead the road narrowed a bit. I had two options.

  1. Slam on the brakes and get out the way.
  2. Stand my ground and possibly get knocked off a cliff and fall 500 to 600 meters.

I don’t think HB would have appreciated option 2, and it might have damaged the bike, so option 1 it was. The guy squeezed past and I set off after him thinking “I better have a strong word with that gentleman.” I caught up with the jeep after a couple of corners and then a big truck appeared only for the lunatic Jeep pilot to overtake it on blind corner. Up the road a bit and another truck was passed in a similar way. I genuinely thought the guy was going to kill someone. By the time we got past the truck the Jeep arsehole was nowhere to be seen. We got a photo at the top and I tried to calm down a bit. HB was also pretty shaken up. This was her first experience of a fuckwit actually nearly killing us on the bike, as opposed to just another proximity arsehole incident.

The ride down to Val d’Isere was much more enjoyable and quite a bit slower. A couple of times I thought I saw Jeep arsehole, but there were quite a few black Jeeps in the area so it could have been anyone. We met up with Aidan and Jess who had bumped into a friend of Jess’ family who she’d not seen for years. We told them about what happened and I tried to show them on the helmet camera, ranting and raving while we also tried to decide where to stay. Val d’Isere’s campsite was closed nipping our accommodation plans in the bud. A wee look online and we’d picked another campsite up the road at Les Saises. On arrival however the site didn’t seem to be great for tents, rocky, rooty ground being the only place available to pitch our tents and there was no one around to advise us otherwise. I was tired, pissed off with Jeep arsehole and far too hot. Everyone else took over and found another site further up the road in Bourg Saint Maurice. A short ride later and they were checking it out. It was huge, pretty empty, had nice grassy pitches and great facilities. It was great to get pitched up and out the bike gear. I nipped to the big supermarket for some beers and snacks and we relaxed on the campsite. We were joined by Steve Keefe, his daughter Alex and their group of English bikers who were also on a tour. Steve recognised me from my infamous C90 which HB found hilarious. We got the craic with them for a bit, sharing biking stories and brexshit despair over a beer before saying our goodbyes and heading for some food.     

I woke up just in time to say goodbye to Steve and his crew as they hit the road. We fumbled around with croissants and cups of tea or coffee while packing the bikes back up. It really was beginning to look like autumn in the Alps, with the ground being a carpet of brown and orange leaves. We carried on northwards. If Col de l’Iseran was my favourite pass, today we’d be riding over Aidan’s favourite, Cornet de Roseland.



Cornet de Roseland takes you from Bourg Saint Maurice over to Beaufort. Heading from south to north, the initially tight, twisty road opens up to wide sweeping hairpins once out of the trees. We narrowly avoided clipping a few gophers (or marmots) which scurried out in front of the bike, reigning in my enthusiastic throttle hand. For the first time ever we avoided stopping in Beaufort, riding on to Flumet before stopping at the top of Col des Aravis for some lunch with a view of Mont Blanc. On the way down we had more animal encounters, this time in the form of a big cow which a passing cyclist encouraged off the road. Clearly the cow didn’t understand my poor French.




Another pass, Col de la Colombiere, took us over more typical twisty alpine roads, still heading north towards Les Gets. It was still roasting and I expected the whole place to be hoaching with mountain bikers. Les Gets however appeared to be closed. And I couldn’t find the campsite we had picked. After a solid inspection on the map, a tantrum (me) and a fluent French phone call (Jess), we got back on the bikes and headed to the campsite, just up the road in Saint Jean d’Aulps. In no time we were pitched up and speaking to a couple of cats and their owners who lived on the site. Aidan and I had a spin to the shop for bits and bobs and we relaxed on the site. We inevitably got hungry and wandered along to the town for some food, finding a wee burger place which suited everyone. There was a pub next door playing live music which Jess went into to ask how long it was going on for, being French she was the best candidate for crossing the language barrier. Jess came back out.
“The woman asked me to speak English! The place is closing soon anyway.”
It appeared that everyone had went up the road to another pub. It also appeared that everyone in the town spoke more English than French. Scottish, Irish and English accents filled the pub which was holding a quiz which we entered, and graciously lost, despite being accused of grassing another team up for cheating. After quickly explaining that we didn’t give two fucks if anyone cheated on the quiz, we got some more beers in and I spoke to a few of the folk in the pub. Everyone said they had moved over to this wee French town, doing a variety of different jobs and living this amazing alpine lifestyle. No one I asked had an interest in any of the typical alpine pastimes such as mountain biking or skiing, but just said how amazing it was to live there. It should have been great, but instead I got a whiff of an atmosphere that reminded me of the ending from the film “The Beach” with the people not speaking like they were as happy as they were trying to appear.

We'd decided to revisit Switzerland on our homewards leg of the journey. Switzerland is a stunning country, not far behind Norway in the "Fucking behave yourself, scenery!" stakes. However, it trumps Norway by quite a bit in the "get caught speeding, get fucked beyond recognition" stakes. Speaking to any biker will reveal horror stories. Either personal ones of those accounted for on behalf of a friend or relative. You really need to keep your shit in check there. 
We rode over Col du Corbier, saying goodbye to France and riding down into Switzerland. Before long my persecution fears had vanished. Going slow is easy when everything around you looks as good as Switzerland. 



We had chosen Interlaken as our destination. HB and I were a bit further ahead than Aidan and Jess after various photo stops and lunch stops. We were nearly at Interlaken when I spied a sign for a place that I recognised. Lauterbrunnen. I'm sure I'd seen someone's photo on Faceboook somewhere of Lauterbunnen, and I remembered thinking it looked good. Plusit was only a wee bit up the road.
"I'm just nipping up here for a wee look!" I roared at HB as we turned off, once again heading in the completely wrong direction. 
Fifteen minutes later were riding into Lauterbrunnen. Yes, it's fucking awesome. 
"Fuck this, we're staying here!"
We quickly found the campsite, checked out prices for camping and sent Aidan and Jess a message telling them where we were. I think this short notice change of plans was acceptable, Lauterbrunnen is absolutely beautiful. I wandered into town, mistakenly thinking it was a short ten minute walk away. Forty minutes later I was back at the campsite with beers and a few snacky things. Switzerland has a reputation for being really, really expensive, and some bit are. The wee Coop in Lauterbrunnen wasn't too bad but bizarrely only for some things. Beer wasn't too bad price wise, but a large bag of crisps worked out at around four quid. We were only staying the one night, so it was going to be a no expenses spared  meal in the restaurant, or it would have been if it wasn't booked up. Instead we got wired into the four quid crisps before wandering along to the pub. The wee pub was great, the reasonably priced food filled a hole and the punters in were great crack. Like us, many of them were visitors to Lauterbrunnen, nearly half of whom seemed to be BASE jumpers! We had a great night with them, watching their crazy videos, feeding the jukebox and shooting the shit with other travellers. 

 Me, Henry from South Korea and HB in the pub in Lauterbrunnen listening to Queen.

I was getting coffee the next morning when HB phoned me.
"Quickly quickly!! Come along the road, there's folk BASE jumping!!"
I never made it along in time to see the folk jumping, but I bumped into one of the guys from the pub. He was nearly back at the village. He explained that because he used a wingsuit (search on YouTube) he could nearly fly back to the pub!


We packed up and headed north. The route HB and I took went right past Rick and Andrea's place. It felt like weeks since we'd been there. We stopped in for a visit but they must have been out on their pushbikes. We left a mysterious present of two Swiss beers on their doorstep and carried on up the familiar Schwarzwald roads to our friend Wolfgang's place. As always it was great to see Wolfgang, getting the crack over a meal and a beer. With Wolfgang's help we booked into a hotel in Cochem for our last night of the trip, a good idea as it was getting cold at night. I noticed the chill while out taking some photos and in the morning water bottles left on the bikes were frozen.


Uta, Wolfgang's partner, put a great breakfast on for us a short ride away in Freiburg. Well filled, we got on the autobahn and headed north towards the German Moselle Valley. Once off the motorway the roads were really nice, twisting up and down the vally sides in narrow singletracks. even this late on in September the area was busy. Eventually we got into the busy town of Cochem and found our hotel. It's quite distinct as it had a streetfightered blade beside our balcony. We enjoyed our final night out in Cochem. It's a very busy tourist town, but still a nice place to be. Definitely worth a look if you're wanting somewhere within riding distance to the Ijmuiden ferry.



The run from Cochem to Ijmuiden was easy enough, we just managed to stay dry, avoiding the torrential downpours by luck or hiding in petrol stations. I couldn't complain though. We'd had it good for the whole trip, only getting pissed on way back in Austria, which felt like months before. I was well cold by the time we got to Ijmuiden. We had plenty time till we had to board the ferry so we warmed up with some chips in one of the wee cafes just beside the port.
After that it was plain sailing home.


Saturday, January 26, 2019

Winton Massif Frosty Pubes Rally

Hornshit 6 million

I've always fancied the Elefantentreffen, or Elephant Rally, the most famous of the winter bike rallies held in the German hills in the middle of winter. I'd got the Hornshit as my trusty winter hack, now all I needed to do was see if anyone wanted to come with me.
Ah, so no one wants to ride to Germany in the middle of winter.
Hmmm, I'd need to take a week off to get there.
It's no gonnae be the cheapest either....

I KNOW! We'll do our own one!

A quick message round the Massif threw up a few keen replies. Mikey, Other Mike, Snake and Smillie were all keen.
"Will we open it up to anyone who wants to come?"
We needed a name, and so was born the Winton Massif Frosty Pubes rally.
Now all this was happening back in November or so. We'd chosen Sunart Camping to have the rally at. Our friend Tim runs the site and he was keen to do a winter rally. We were hoping for blue sky and a crisp winter day. A nice run over Rannoch Moor and through Glencoe, the hills dusted with snow and looking spectacular in the winter sun. It'll be awesome!

Winton Massif Frosty Pubes Rally, Strontian, January 2019.

On the weekend of the rally the weather had different ideas to my idyllic winter's day I'd imagined. Warm and wet was what we had. Well, warm for January in Scotland anyway. Never mind, I strapped my amazing, home made ADV luggage on to the Hornshit, loaded up the massive tankbag with stuff I'd forgotten to put in the suitcase, sorry, ADV luggage, set the heated grip to hot and set off. 
I'm 6'4. After an hour sitting on the wee Honda I felt like I needed a hip replacement. I think I've been a bit spoiled by the legroom on the big bikes I'm used to.
The roads were wet but the rain only fell in wee showers making the run up an enjoyable experience. The usually packed road up the side of Loch Lubnaig was relatively quiet. A brief stop at Killin to refill the Hornshit's thimble like fuel tank before heading up to the Green Welly to meet Tim and have some Cullen Skink (a nice Scottish fish soup)
It was good to see Tim again. He'd got his old Buell back on the road after a few years of hiding behind his other bikes in the shed. It was one of only two bikes in the Green Welly's famous bikepark. The Green Welly is one of Scotland's most famous biker haunts but for me its a bit over rated. the food is pretty overprices and often lacking in quality. Saying that, the Cullen Skink was braw and it was nice to get a heat and catch up with Tim.

Winton Massif's Frosty Pubes rally

Rannoch Moor and Glencoe were equally quiet. Overtaking the few slower vehicles on the road was easy and, despite the rain and the lack of a dusting of snow, the scenery was stunning. Usually the A82 through Glencoe is nose to tail with tourists, trucks and other slow moving traffic. Having it relatively quiet threw up some rose tinted memories of bantering through the glen on my ZRX1100 back when I was 22. Even the usually packed viewpoint at Glencoe only had about three folk at it!

Winton Massif Frosty Pubes Rally, Strontian, January 2019.

Winton Massif Frosty Pubes Rally, Strontian, January 2019.

At the Corran ferry one of Tim's mates who works aboard told us a guy on an XT600 had crossed not long before us. Assuming it was Mikey and the rest of the Caithness crew who had left much earlier than I had, we battered along to Strontian to meet them. On arrival at Sunart Campsite were were greeted by Ian from Gairloch on his new XT660 Tenere. Don't get me wrong, it was great to see Ian again, but we were all getting concerned for the whereabouts of the Caithnesians. I'd seen on Facebook that Mikey has set off about 7.00 and now it was beginning to get dark. Where the fuck were they?

Winton Massif Frosty Pubes Rally, Strontian, January 2019.
Tim on the Corran Ferry

Winton Massif Frosty Pubes Rally, Strontian, January 2019.

It was properly dark when we finally heard some bikes approaching and in rolled Mikey, his brother Glenn, Snake and Liall. Glenn's R80 had developed a clutch problem on the way down the road and he'd had to nurse it gently down to Strontian. Glenn can pretty much fix anything and we could have had a look at the bike in Tim's workshop, but instead we got some food and beer into ourselves before wandering along to the pub.
We woke up to more rain and the onslaught of excuses. Other Mike had been ill for a couple of days before the rally as had John, so we didn't expect them to show up. Smillie bottled it due to the weather, throwing up a few raised eyebrows questioning why someone would sign up for a winter rally and worry about the weather. Would anyone else turn up?

Winton Massif Frosty Pubes Rally, Strontian, January 2019.

We'd all just got back from breakfast at the cafe when I received a phone call from Andrea. He'd made great time and rolled in to admiring glances to his Africa Twin from Snake and Glenn. Tim, Liall, Snake and I had decided brace the rain and to go for a run up to Mallaig. Mikey, Ian and Glenn stayed behind to inspect Glenn's stricken Beemer as did Andrea, who'd already had more than his fair share of riding in the rain that day.  

Winton Massif Frosty Pubes Rally, Strontian, January 2019.

The four of us set off towards Salen then the Acharacle/Roshven road round the coast. The wee Hornet was hard work! I've gotten lazily used to the ease of riding a big twin, where you rarely need to change gear and can use engine braking more than the actual brakes. I was having to concentrate way more than usual to keep up with Snake who looked to be ambling easily along the wet, greasy roads on his Varadero. Liall, who'd left his GSXR back at the site and borrowed Mikey's XT600, was having great fun. He'd passed me and was lining up to overtake Snake when suddenly the back end stepped out, big time. He was bucked around all over the shop as the XT went into a massive tankslapper. 

"Fuck. He's coming off!!!!"

Somehow, Liall didn't come off. He managed to keep the XT upright and as soon as it was stable again he was back on the gas, just not quite as severely as before. Mad bastard.

Winton Massif Frosty Pubes Rally, Strontian, January 2019.
A wee bit wet.
Winton Massif Frosty Pubes Rally, Strontian, January 2019.

A wee stop at Arisaig gave us time to have a wee chat and for Liall to inspect his pants. Liall said he'd gotten a proper fright. He'd opened the throttle up to pass Snake and suddenly the back end snapped out. Riding behind him I'd caught the action on my helmet camera. You can't really see what happens but it was one of those moments where everything slows right down. I really thought Liall was going down, the back end kicked right out then the bike went into a wild tankslapper, bucking Liall's legs off the bike as it flapped from side to side. He did well to keep everything together and the shite out his pants. I've tried to zoom in on the video so you can see what happened, but the rain on the lens obscures it a bit. Now the XT isn't exactly a power house of a motor, so we chalked it up to a combination of shite tyres and greasy roads and carried on to Mallaig to get a heat and a coffee.

It looks like fuck all on the video but it was definitely a brown moment.

Winton Massif Frosty Pubes Rally, Strontian, January 2019.

Mallaig was closed. After some wandering we found somewhere to get a coffee and tried to dry out a bit  while at the same time not flooding the shop out. Originally the plan was to head back down the side of Loch Eil but the daylight was going, increasing the chance of deer on the road. Tim led the way back at an easy pace. Thankfully there were no more brown moments.

Winton Massif's Frosty Pubes rally
Liall, Tim and Snake in a very wet Mallaig.

It was dark by the time we got back to Strontian. Gerrit had arrived a couple of hours before and greeted us as we splashed in. The evening was spent once more in the Strontian Hotel where we celebrated Mikey's birthday (you won't believe it, but he's only 27!!!) and all had a rare insight to the bizarre Caithness motorcycle sales ring, a weird phenomena that seems to affect the north east of the country. Or maybe it's just Mikey, Glenn and Snake....
 Winton Massif's Frosty Pubes rally
Winton Massif's Frosty Pubes rally
The birthday boy. 

Andrea and I had a wet run home, the sun only coming out when we got closer to the east coast. Still, despite the rain we'd all had a great weekend. Everyone made it home safely, Glenn getting the beemer home without needing to call the breakdown folk and Mikey having a few more twitchy moments on the XT.

Winton Massif Frosty Pubes Rally, Strontian, January 2019.

Winton Massif Frosty Pubes Rally, Strontian, January 2019.

Same time next year?