Tuesday, April 12, 2016

First trip of the year 2016. First trip on the Africa Twin.

OK, I'm usually more than happy to share online the places we go on our bike trips, but this time I'm going to have to keep a wee secret. The original plan of going back to Colonsay on Honda Cubs was put on hold as one of the bikes wasn't ready yet, so alternative plans were made for a trip on our big bikes. Ferg, Bob, Egor and I were all going to meet at Kinloch Hourn for some wild camping but at the last minute I received a message from Egor saying the weather forecast had changed for the worse. Now, living in Scotland means you have to check where you're getting your forecast from as some seem to be far more reliable than others. Unfortunately they were all pointing to it pishing doon with rain, not the best weather when you're wild camping. A few years ago I was told about a bothy that can be accessed by bike. I was reminded about it again not long before the trip. I spoke to everyone telling them about the shite weather and suggesting the bothy. Everyone was up for it. Maps and directions were passed out and I asked everyone to bring fuel for the fire and absolutely stressed the importance of bringing toilet roll. All that was left to sort out was my bike.
I had the panniers for the Africa Twin but no frames or rails to mount them to the bike. I had told Touratech UK that I had needed the pannier rails for the beginning of April as we were planning a trip and at the end of March they we're still no where near able to give me a date for delivery. Credit where credit's due though, they posted me their prototype pannier rails to borrow till mine arrived. Mounting the rails wasn't as straight forwards as on other bikes, you need a 20mm hole saw to cut through the underside plastics of the bike. Once this was done the rails were pretty straight forwards to fit, not quite the "child's play" it quotes you on Touratech's website mind. You need to make sure you don't catch any cables while drilling a couple of big holes in your brand new, very expensive bike.
With the bike sorted I gave my new tent a quick check through. Everything was there that should be. I've replaced my old Vango Equinox 250 with the similar Vango Pulsar 300. The tent along with all my other gear was loaded on the bike and I was ready to go. I met Bob and we set off. I had planned to follow an interesting route that would take us five hours or so but with the rain pissing down we cut it back a bit. We blasted up to Crieff then over to Aberfeldy where we stopped to stock up on food, drink, bog roll and fuel for the bothy's fire. From there it was on to a popular cafe for a fry up. While we were filling our faces I got a phone call from Ferg. Him and Egor were already at the bothy. All was good but Ferg had failed to get anything to burn or anything to drink. My panniers and tankbag were full but Bob thought he could squeeze some tins into his bike, so we set off to find a shop. With supplies for the three of us on both bikes we set off for the bothy. If you recognise where the bothy is keep it a secret, no one wants it turning into a party palace or getting wrecked. The last bit of road to the bothy is a dirt road. It's a bit tight getting onto it, I was unsure of how wide the Africa Twin's boxes were but once on the track we were sorted. The bothy was great. There's a few couches in there so sitting round the fire was nice and comfy. We set our camping mats and sleeping bags upstairs and cooked our food on the camping stoves. We got the coal on the fire and gathered some fallen wood from the woods nearby. It got dark around 8. We'd brought a pile of candles up with us which were lit and put in the various holders around the bothy's room. It was a cloudy night so when we went outside it was dark. As in pitch black. The light from my headtorch seemed to be absorbed into nothing making my fears of murderers/dead people/ghosts all the more real when I ventured out for a shite. Luckily this fear was quickly extinguished by Bob demonstrating his retna burning auxiliary lights he's fitted to his GS. Deadly dark night was transformed into a sunny summer afternoon giving me a clear view of Egor crimping off a turd by a rock over the road from me. Beautiful.


The Secret Bothy. If you know where it is keep the secret to yourself.




bothy pano
View from the bothy's front door.

The evening in the bothy was a great laugh, talking shite and sitting around the fire with a couple of beers. Egor, Ferg and I all slept upstairs with our camping kit while Bob crashed on the couch by the fire. We warned him about murderers and zombies but he wasn't phased. We cleaned our rubbish up and had our breakfast. The rain hadn't let up but we'd dried most of our kit off with the bothy's rack. Bikes were repacked and we headed out for another soaking with the plan to stay at Kilchoan. We fuelled up at Fort William and Bob and I tried to convince Ferg and Egor that we should get some Big Macs at McDonalds. Luckily Maccy Dees was closed in Fort William so we pushed on to the cafe at Strontian. By the time we arrived we were all soaked. As we ate our food a wee pond appeared on the floor below us. It was still pissing down too so we decided to see if Tim at Sunart Campsite had any of his huts free. A bit more conversation and we decided that even if there wasn't any huts free we'd stay at Tim's. He has a wee room with a woodburning stove in it so we knew we could dry off all out wet gear. My jacket and trousers were fine but my boots had began to let in and my gloves were soaked. Time and time again Sunart Campsite has saved our arses from bad weather. If you are ever on a bike around Central Scotland and it turns wet (keep in mind Fort William is the one of the wettest places in Scotland) then Tim's place will sort you out. Luckily Tim had not one but two huts free. Brilliant. We barbecued a load of sausages for dinner then headed to the pub for a pint and to get some wifi to check the weather forecast.

Bob cooking up at Sunart Camping 

As predicted by XC Weather it started to brighten up the next day. Ferg and I said our goodbyes to Egor and Bob. Bob had caught a cold and Egor had to go back for work. We set off towards Kilchoan but only a few miles in Ferg started beeping his horn and waving for me to stop. His GS had blown a fork seal so a makeshift sanitary towel was fabricated out of some old tissues and some cable ties. While Ferg was sorting all this out we could hear somebody ragging along the road like their balls were on fire. Bob had decided that he couldn't be arsed riding home, turned back and set off after us at warp speed. Reunited the three of us rode along the road to Kilchoan at the end of the Ardnamurchan Peninsula. It's only about thirty miles from Strontian to Kilchoan but it can take well over an hour to navigate the road as it snakes along the side of Loch Sunart then up and over the hills to Kilchoan. It's worth taking your time along here anyway as the scenery is stunning, the roadside birch trees giving way to great coastal views the further west you go. Once at Kilchoan we boarded the ferry to Tobermory on the Isle of Mull, a bargain at just over a fiver for the bike and rider.
Bob and Ferg spent the ferry crossing laughing at how the Africa Twin swayed with the rocking of the boat on its supreme plush suspension and Ferg and I cleared the air over a wee niggle that had been pestering us over the past wee while. I'm guilty of being a bit over enthusiastic about bike stuff, it's pretty much all I really do, where as Ferg has hobbies and interests coming out his ears. I had been pestering Ferg to commit or not to various trips while he had loads of stuff to deal with in his own life. He in return had said that I was acting like a child about life in general. What we both realised that everything was all good and that everyone has different lifestyles. Not everyone wants to spend all their time or money riding bikes or decorating houses but that's OK. You're only here once so it's important to do what makes you happy while letting other folk get on with what they want to do.
Once in Tobermory  it was a short trip along the main street to the Chippy van for some quality fish and chips. Bob was feeling a bit crap with his cold and Ferg wanted a coffee. While they done that I went for a spin round the island. the weather had transformed into a proper summers day. It was warm and I was even sweating a wee bit as I rode out of Tobermory heading To Dervaig then on to check out Calgary Bay where we'd be camping that evening. As the road climbed steeply out of Tobermory and the Africa Twin came alive. What a fucking road! Flying along the side of Loch Peallach the Africa Twin gave me great confidence. The rough road was smoothed out by the long travel suspension, the weight of the luggage easily balanced by a few clicks of the rear shock's adjustments. The front end remained positive on loose gravel and when the bike did move it felt balanced and predictable, no rabbit's nose style arse twitching at all. Then you get to the Dervaig Hairpins. Like Renton in Trainspotting this is good. Reeeeally fuuuucking goooood. Proper alpine like switchbacks. Sure the Bealach Na Ba has hairpins but not like this. I don't know if the road had been recently resurfaced or not but it was smooth as Slappy's heid and flowed so well. Like all big traillies the Africa Twin was a pendulum on the switchbacks and I really would not have wanted to be on any other bike. All this in only twelve miles. I'd forgotten how good Mull is.
Calgary Bay is just a few miles around a flatter road from Dervaig. The wild camping spot is beside the public toilets. There were a few other folk there but still plenty room for our three tents. Campsite inspected I carried on round the coast to Salen. This is a much tighter, steeper road than the Tobermory to Dervaig stretch but you get great view of Mull and over to Coll and Tiree. 
Back in Tobermory I met Ferg and Bob banging on at them about how good the road was. We got supplies in and headed off once more over the Dervaig hairpins. The good weather stayed with us at Calagary till well after dark. We got a fire going and shot the shit before some heavy drizzle drove us into our tents.

Fixing Ferg's fork seal.

Ardnamurchan Views






Dervaig Hairpins

Calgary Bay






It was a short ride to our destination for our final night. We packed up at Calgary and headed round the coast to Tobermory stopping for a few more photos. We had booked into the Youth Hostel in Tobermory and I was dying to get in for a shower. I was pretty ripe after the previous warm day. We headed for cake and coffee at the cafe Bob and Ferg had visited the day before. I then headed along to the Hostel where the VFR riding guy who worked there (Sorry mate, I can't remember your name, Matthew maybe?) let us in early to drop out gear off and get cleaned up. Bob got a kip and a shower while Ferg went shopping and I met the famous Tobermory Cat in the Hostel who followed me up the street as I took some photos and grabbed a pint in The Mishnish pub. Ferg was soon to join me in the Mish followed shortly by Bob. What followed was a very good but quite messy night out.







Tobermory Cat with the multi coloured Mishnish in the backgroud.


We were all woken with severe hangovers. A fry up was sourced at the local bakery and we hung around for several hours until we were all OK to ride home. Bob and I took an easy run down the road saying our goodbyes to Ferg at the Corran Ferry where he headed north and we headed south. The Africa Twin gave me 200 miles to the tank even with luggage and camping gear strapped to the back.I found it to be comfy for a long journey with plenty wind protection. I did miss the BMW's cylinder heads poking out keeping my feet warm but I'm due new boots anyways. All in I'm really happy with how the Africa Twin performed over this wee trip and I can't wait to get away again next month when we head to Orkney.


And mind, if ye recognise that bothy, keep it a secret.


Monday, April 11, 2016

Africa Twin. Running in and pimping out.

Honda CRF1000l Africa Twin

There's a lot of shite written in the internet about running a bike in. Ride it hard once its warm, only use so much throttle, only take it to whatever number of revs etc etc. What I do is try and go on a few runs on twisty roads without revving the arse off the bike but making sure I'm not labouring the engine either. When I picked up the Africa Twin I booked it in for it's 600 mile service 3 weeks later. 600 miles in three weeks? Easy peasy. Or it would have been if the temperature hadn't dropped making the gritters come out and cover the road in salt. A few heavy downpours washed all the corrosive badness away and I got out for a few nice runs.

Honda CRF1000l Africa Twin





I've also ordered a few accessories for the bike. I've got the Touratech luggage rack and tankbag and panniers. I'm still waiting for delivery of the crash bars and pannier rails, this is a bit of a pain in the arse as I had a trip planned for the start of April and having pre-ordered my stuff in January I was sort of expecting it to be here by now. credit where credit's due though, Touratech UK gave me a loan of their prototype pannier rails so I made the trip, but I'll write about that all later on.
Accessories haven't been the only stumbling block. The Honda heated grips are crap and my left hand switch gear had a button pack in. Honda are on these problems though, the bike's getting new switchgear shortly and we're waiting to hear back about the heated grips. This aside the bike had been great fun, I'm getting more used to chucking it about and I've made a few minor adjustments to the suspension. It's more than quick enough for what I need and pretty comfy on a long journey. I'll let you know how I got on with it loaded with luggage and camping gear but so far I'm a happy bunny.








More soon.