Saturday, November 30, 2019

A wee bit nippy.

K75 winter ride to Strontian.

Aidan had put up on one of the group chats we all use that he was heading away to Tim's place for a couple of nights if anyone wanted to join him. Regular readers of my blog will be pretty familiar with Sunart Camping and Strontian, we go there a fair bit and along with Tim and Lynn I run the Sunart Wildcat Rally. I had been keen to get Mikey Sunter, my BMW K75 out for another decent run since I'd repaired the leaky boot at the clutch actuator and it's always good to catch up with Tim and the folk at Strontian. 
The forecast was looking decent enough, no rain and plenty sun, but it looked like it might be a cold one. In Scotland cold means frost and ice which in turns means the gritters are out in an effort to keep the roads ice free. The grit and salt they put down results in a horrible, corrosive paste which really can fuck a bike up. I'm in the lucky situation of having more than one bike. The Africa Twin is stashed away while Mikey Sunter bears the brunt of winter. I'm using FS365, a corrosion inhibitor from Scottoiler to try and keep the winter damage to a minimum. I've heard good reports about this and other similar products but if I only had one bike I'd not be riding it through the winter.

K75 winter ride to Strontian

Due to time restraints I just took the most direct route to Strontian. Normally I'd avoid as much of the A84/A85/A82 as possible as it's usually jammed full of folk who's driving is so poor they're either pished or driving without a license. At this time of year however they're all away. The roads are relatively empty and, if you get the weather right, the scenery is more stunning than ever. The only other things to contend with other than the salt and the cold is the low sun and the short days. It get's dark around four o'clock. I'd really enjoyed my run up the road, Loch Lubnaig and Rannoch Moor looked stunning, Mikey Sunter was performing well and there was hardly any other traffic around. The light was just going by the time I stopped at Glencoe for photos.

K75 winter ride to Strontian
K75 winter ride to Strontian

I knew I was going to be too late for the shop at Strontian and I was getting cold. It gets a wee bit nippy when the sun goes down. I stopped off at the petrol station at Ballachulish, one of these places sells everything from beer and bread to mops and stuff for your tractor. I warmed up with a coffee and browsed the beers. But wait, whats this? The shelves were full of stuff from my youth! I left the MD20/20 on the shelf, opting for a bottle of Merry Down cider to relive my childhood. The last few miles to the Corran ferry crossing and on to Strontian were taken easy. There are loads of deer around, clipping one of those big beasties wouldn't end well for Mikey Sunter or myself. 

K75 winter ride to Strontian.
On the Corran Ferry
K75 winter ride to Strontian.

K75 winter ride to Strontian.
Nice view from the Strontian Hotel

Tim, Aidan and I had a good night out in Strontian, ending up along in the Sunart Hotel. Unfortunately I over imbibed a bit meaning I didn't get on the road till one in the afternoon the following day, having spent most of the morning sleeping, in the cafe, or trying to convince Tim the K75 was a great bike. It was a little bit colder that the previous day, but the sky was clearer and the everywhere looked incredible. Once the sun dipped a bit all the grass and stuff at the side of the road began to freeze up which had me a slightly concerned however the roads remained clear of ice and I had no sketchy moments. By the time I was back on the dual carriageway the temperature had dropped and it had gotten really cold. My visor had frozen up rendering my pinlock useless, my feet were cold and even the excellent BMW heated grips on Mikey Sunter couldn't keep the chill out of my hands. As I said, it gets a wee bit nippy. I could have stopped at places to warm back up but the longer you're out the colder it gets so I just thought "fuck it" and kept riding along.

K75 winter ride to Strontian
What a state.

K75 winter ride to Strontian

K75 winter ride to Strontian


 K75 winter ride to Strontian

K75 winter ride to Strontian

Despite being frozen I gave Mikey Sunter a good wash and another coating of FS365 when I got home. It's better to get the salt off as soon as possible. I'd really enjoyed my run. I'll definitely be doing more soon.

K75 winter ride to Strontian


Saturday, November 23, 2019

Destination Stelvio - Part 2

Continued from Part 1.


We were leaving Lauterbrunnen to head for one of the motorcycling biggies as far as alpine routes are concerned, the Furka, Grimsel and Sustenpass loop. I had originally considered adding the Splugen Pass as an option but it was closed due to a big landslide. The guys had opted to stay in the campsite in Andermatt, so all that was left to decide was which order we'd do the passes in. We had planned to head to Andermatt to dump our gear meaning we'd ride part of the loop twice. Egor had his shit packed up faster than Gerrit and I so he chose Sustenpass to be the first loop. This suited me as I'd not ridden the loop in a clockwise direction before. Egor set off on his own, arranging to meet us at the top of Sustenpass.


It was great to be riding a proper pass again. The Sustenpass has all the right mix of good corners, views and visibility. The phenomenally heavily enforced 80 kph/50 mph speed limit is fast enough to make the twisty bits fun while you can take the views in on the short straights. Gerrit seemed to really enjoy his first proper alpine pass. Sure enough, Egor was waiting at the top along with a shit ton of snow.

On the Sustenpass

Gerrit in the Alps


We made our way down to Andermatt. The campsite there has taken quite a kicking from the online reviews. I'll be honest, it's a fucking rip off. Especially when compared to what you get at Lauterbrunnen for the same money. Unfortunately its the only campsite there and Switzerland's expensive reputation shines strong in Andermatt. At least the scenery is nice.
We got the tents up then headed off towards the Furka pass. The sun was out and the whole place looked amazing. There were bikes and fancy cars all over the place, but it didn't feel too busy the way some passes can be. We stopped for a wee bit to eat. A cheese toastie and a juice coming in at the bargain price of £12. The views from the Furka are amazing. You can see the Grimsel pass zig zagging it's way up the opposite hill. It's quite spectacular.


Africa Twin on the Furka pass with the Grimsel pass in the background.

On the way down the Furka I managed to lose Egor and Gerrit. Then I managed to miss the turn for the Grimsel, the one with the huge sign saying "GRIMSEL" with an arrow pointing the way to go. Luckily Egor and Gerrit's navigation was a bit better than my own. They hadn't followed my lead but my detour meant that they were now quite a bit in front of me. When I got to the top of the Grimsel I was surprised to see the lake still mostly frozen. I messaged the guys and arranged to meet back in Andermatt before heading down back towards the Sustenpass. It was looking pretty grim in that direction and sure enough it was pishing down by the time I got to the Sustenpass. Still, it gave the Metzler Tourance Next tyres a good wet test. They're really quite impressive. Easily on par with Continental's Train Attack 2 while seeming to wear more consistently. I'll do a full review on them soon.


Grimsel pass, Switzerland

It had dried off by the time I arrived back in Andermatt. I met the guys at the shops where we bought food to cook on the minimalist campsite, there wasn't anywhere that seemed to be affordable to eat, but back at the campsite we had the wee shelter with a table under it. Pasta and pesto with some nice fresh bread and a few beers while taking in the alpine views was as good as any restaurant, plus we had the boombox for some nice ambient music, although Gerrit may not be in agreement with me on how good the music was.


We left Switzerland via the Gotthard pass, opting to take the Tremola, the old, cobbled road. The cobbled made it slow going but the views were of the usual mind blowing variety. When we got into Italy everything changed. Gone was the sensibly slow driving and reserved quietness, we were in the land of shouting, horns, hand gestures and chaotic, anything goes, madness. It was great fun once you got your brain dialled in, filtering like a scooter and trying to to jump too much when a Ducati overtakes at four times the speed limit. The biggest shocker of the day was me managing to navigate my way to Abbadia Lariana, our usual place to stay on the banks of lake Como. This one one of Egor's must do's for the trip. We had two days at Como pretty much doing nothing apart from eating nice food, drinking and taking the odd splash in the lake to cool down. We visited the Moto Guzzi factory as usual too. It's always good to have a day or so off the bikes. Recharge your mental batteries, wash your clothes and generally chill out.









More in Part 3.


Monday, November 4, 2019

Destination Stelvio - Part 1

Stelvio pass
Destination Stelvio.

I had always promised Egor that I’d help him plan a European tour if he ever got the chance. I’ve done a fair bit of touring in France, Italy and Germany and I figured I could come up with a decent enough route if he could free up the time. Egor had a couple of weeks off and could spare some of his time for a bike trip. Usually I’d be away for two to three weeks but this was going to be a bit shorter. After some haggling we had eleven days of his two weeks off to play with. All he had to do was decide which direction we’d head in. I came up with a few rough suggestions but Lake Como was one place he really wanted to see, as was Stelvio Pass, even after everyone had told him it was a bit over hyped.
We booked our ferries. We’d be heading over in July which was a bit of a pain in the arse as that’s high season here and the start of the high season over there. The ferry was pretty expensive and it meant that campsites were going to busy and there was a high chance of it being really hot.
We started to get more prepared as time moved on. Kit was bought, maps were read and more plans were formed. Gerrit decided to join in on the trip and was bombarded with information and route options as a result. I was keeping an eye on the weather too. A couple of weeks before we were due to leave the whole of Western Europe was caught in a heatwave. 45 degrees were being recorded in some areas!

I had been in the area a few times over the past few years so I had a rough idea of a route taking in the Swiss Alps, Como, the Black Forest and the Stelvio area while still allowing for a couple of nights saying in the same place. Having a couple of nights here and there would mean less packing and re pitching tents and would also allow for a day off the bike. The trade off would mean a long first day. This was going to be both Egor and Gerrit’s first European tour and I was aware that the first fay being a biggie wouldn’t be an ideal introduction for them. I made sure we all knew where we were going and had a way to navigate. It’s pretty easy to get separated when travelling in a group on bikes and the last thing I wanted was for one of us to get lost and end up miles off course. I gave them my basic technique for tackling long distance stuff; ride at the speed limit, don’t stop unless you really, really have to. I jokingly said that you have a big drink of water at the start of the day. If you need to stop for a piss you’ve drank too much. If you need to stop for a drink then you’ve not drank enough. I wasn’t really joking though.
Egor on the ferry.

We took the ferry from Newcastle to Ijmuiden, just outside Amsterdam. After a quick visit to the shops and a fuel up we were on the road. We all made it out of Ijmuiden together easily enough and I got myself comfortable, sticking to the maximum speed limits so I could make progress over the coming 400 miles or so without worrying about all the speed cameras and stuff. I could see Egor and Gerrit in my mirror a wee bit behind me. After an hour or so I slowed up a bit to let them pass and make sure they were ok. As a GS and a maxi scooter passed me I realised the headlights I had seen in my mirror were not those of Egor and Gerrit. Once separated there's not much point in trying to catch up with folk again, their navigation may have taken them a slightly different route from mine. I sent a message out over our group chat and carried on to the campsite at Anould where I'd stayed the year before.

The journey had taken me around 7 hours, it had been warm but not as bad as I'd thought. I'd received a few messages from Egor and Gerrit who were making good progress. Everything in Anould appeared to be closed so I stocked up at the supermarket, getting enough food for all of us and a few beers each. An hour or so after I'd arrived Egor and Gerrit showed up. It had been a bit of a baptism of fire for them but once everyone was cooled off and fed we were all feeling much better.


The good roads started pretty much straight away the following day with a run up some of the Route Des Cretes to the Col du Grand Ballon. It's a popular run with local French and German bikers but many tourists seem to skip past the area. If you're taking a trip to the Alps its definitely worth a day or two riding in the Vosges at least. Gerrit and I managed to lose Egor somehow. I'm sure I'd seen him ride past the top of the Ballon where we'd stopped for a snack. Once down off the hill we got him on the phone. He'd stopped in a nice wee village so we arranged to meet at the Swiss border.

vosges pano1

We all bought our Swiss vignettes at the border before heading and hour or so down the motorway to Lauterbrunnen. Out of all the places we were planning on visiting I think Lauterbrunnen was what I was thinking would impress the guys the most. The scenery is the visual equivalent of a chainsaw up the arse. It's on par with Norway. Even the motorways in Switzerland have absolutely stunning scenery. The fines for speeding are horrific but when the place looks this good you don't need to go fast.

Bottom of the Vosges
Swiss border

I was a bit concerned when we arrived at the campsite. There was a big queue at reception with folk getting turned away as it was so busy. Luckily those folk were all in campervans. They had plenty room for three bikes and their wee tents. Switzerland is usually fucking extortionate to eat or drink it but luckily in Lauterbrunnen there is the Horner Pub which serves food and beer at a decent price. We chilled out with a beer and some music in the sun on the campsite before heading along to the pub. While we were at the boozer the rain came on, a proper torrential alpine lightning storm. It was great to watch from under the canopy outside the pub. Well, it was for Gerrit and I. Egor suddenly remembered that he'd left his boots outside his tent! Oh well, they'll be wet now, may as well get another beer.


More to come in part 2.