• Adversity and Triumphs- the story of Catalunya 2017

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    I’ve done a lot of trackdays over the years, many of which have been multiple day events. Lessons learnt along the way have built an experience base which hopefully allows me to eliminate as many variables as possible which could impact on my enjoyment. Planning begins the moment the dates are booked; the bike is prepared, lists of tools and parts checked and packed, car and trailer prepped before the off, then usually it’s drive to the track, ride around, hopefully improve laptimes, and go home a happy bunny. I say usually, as clearly you can’t plan for the impact that bad weather can have, but our trip to Catalunya this year was to show that no amount of planning can help you when the cards are stacked against you. This story is littered with little things that built into bigger things, which ultimately had outcomes that hadn’t been foreseen, but who could have known that the first of these, the political situation in Catalania, would impact us when we’d booked all that time ago?

    19 months had elapsed since I’d last ventured out on track, and as it happened it had been Catalunya then too. As I mentioned in a previous post, the world is a volatile place at the momenthad , and Spain had become a new focus just before we headed down there, due to the Catalans deciding that now would be a good time to seek independence by firstly voting; illegally according to the Spanish government, who had clamped down on the polling stations during which violence ensued, and then turning to strike action. The byproduct of all of this was that the Circuit of Catalunya decided to join that strike action and close the gates of the circuit on the day we were supposed to arrive. We were advised of this fact on the evening before we were setting off, so quickly had to amend travel plans and resign ourselves to setting up in the paddock in the early hours of the morning the following day, since the gates would now not be open for access until midnight. An inconvenience yes, and one which would mean less hours sleep and some hassle setting up in the dark, but as the paddock is lit it wasn’t an unsurmountable problem, we can deal with it. A lot more hassle for the organisers though, who would now be under time pressure to ensure the event ran to schedule.

    Following my extensive list of things to do, I’d changed the oil in the R1 and checked off my list of things to pack and take, which then only left checking of car and trailer tyre pressures and lights, after which everything could be loaded into the car. The tyres turned out to be underinflated, but since I’d not used the trailer for 19 months that was to be expected, and they were soon blown up to recommended levels. I’m ashamed to admit that I can’t reverse my bike trailer for love nor money, but as we live in the middle of nowhere on a very lightly trafficked road, I decided to try and improve my reversing skills in advance of our departure. I had multiple attempts to reverse out of the drive, looking to face the direction I wanted to leave in, but never got it quite right, and the exercise ended badly when unbeknownst to me, the jockey wheel dropped in its support bracket, dragged on the ground, and bent the support. Not the end of the world, but it meant I’d need to schedule a stop off at Norauto (French equivalent of Halfords) in Perigueux to buy a new support bracket en route.

    The final trailer check revolves around the lights. Trailer lighting is notoriously problematic, although mine hasn’t been an issue, or hadn’t been, in the past tense. Today when I hooked the trailer up to the car the right hand indicator wasn’t working. A Philips head screwdriver quickly removes the three small screws holding the lens, but no amount of jiggling the bulb around can persuade it to illuminate. Changing the bulb doesn’t sort it either, so it’s time to check the wiring in the plug. I undo the screws, take it apart and tighten everything inside, but none of the wiring looked to be loose. Plugging it back in reveals the same problem, so the next option is to try using a different adapter. This time the left hand indicator doesn’t work, the problem has switched sides! I took the plug apart again, double checking everything and tried again, but it was only when I pushed the plug more firmly into the adapter that everything worked, so clearly the fit of the plug into the adapter isn’t tight enough. Time for a bodge and yet another use for the ubiquitous duct tape, and voila we have the full set of lights. Final job, reattach the lens with the three small screws, remember that part, it’s important!

    The morning of departure and we awoke to this autumnal view.

    It’s rained overnight, it’s damp and misty, and I’m a bit worried about loading the bike onto the trailer, as I’ve got to wheel it across wet grass and up a ramp onto the now wet trailer base, and everyone knows that slicks and water don’t make good companions. It’s as if the gods conspire to make it rain every time I need to load the bike onto the trailer before an event, and today is no exception as it’s raining yet again. Worried about wheelspin, I decided that pushing it rather than using the engine would be safer, and it was. The bike was loaded safely and without incident, but it was a bit galling to find that if I’d waited half an hour the rain would have stopped!

    Ready for the off

    Because we wouldn’t be allowed into the circuit until midnight there was no point leaving as early as we had originally planned, so we delayed our departure by an hour and a half, and left just as the clock turned 11.00. Heading cross country for Perigueux, I was dismayed to see a dashboard warning light showing a trailer light out. What? Not after having spent so long fixing it yesterday! Sometimes we get a false warning though, so I stopped to check, and was shocked to find that the right hand lens cover was missing altogether, what the hell! With light drizzle starting and worried about driving for a day without lights and bulbs getting drenched and electrics shorting, there was little option other than to retrace our steps in the hope of finding it. I’d almost given up until we had got back to within 250m of home, when suddenly there it was. The offending lens cover was lying in the middle of the road, luckily in one piece with the 3 screws (remember them?) still in situ. Thanking my lucky stars that we live on such a sparsely populated road, I grabbed it, parked up back at home, dashed back into the house for a screwdriver to reattach it, and quickly put it back in place.

    By now 40 minutes had elapsed and we were behind schedule, although I’d allowed plenty of time for toilet and food stops en route so wasn’t too concerned, but less than 2kms later another dashboard light flashed up, this time showing a dipped headlight out. Pulling over to check I found it was ok, so we carried on wondering what would happen next? We had a rapid stop off at Norauto for a jockey wheel support bracket before continuing on to the motorway where we made good progress, enjoying the views and the picturesque buildings of La Circ de Popie and Cahors as we headed south.

    The early morning damp weather was soon just a memory, and improved the further south we got, with temperatures around 24C just north of Toulouse, splendid! After three hours driving we took a food and comfort break for half an hour. Before leaving I sent a message to Mark, who was driving down from Geneva with David in convoy, telling him we were now around 1 ¾ hours from our 17.30 meeting point and would be there on time. I got a message back saying they were on schedule too, but to listen to channel 107.7 for traffic news as it looked as if we might have problems in Spain, and need to find a non-motorway route down to the circuit in Montmelo.

    The countryside as we descended south is beautiful, made even more so as the trees are starting to take on their Autumnal red hue, and beyond Carcassone the scenery takes on a more Spanish flavour. We left the A61 at Narbonne and joined the A9 which Mark and David are on.  At 15.07 I got a message saying that they’re early and at the services waiting for me, but there wasn’t even time for Sue to send a reply, as less than two minutes later we rolled into the car park to join them. Amazing that after us travelling for 6 hours, taking a break, and driving 500kms from a different part of the country, we had arrived within such a short time as them. Last year when Mark and I had met at the same spot, the gap had been 7 minutes, and I’d been the first to arrive, so we’re getting pretty good at timings!

    10-4 we got us a convoy!

    After saying our hellos the subject quickly changed to the potential motorway disruption ahead. It seems as though part of the A9 we need to travel on may be closed. David checked a map, and then showed us his proposed alternative route to avoid any motorway problems. We agreed to get off the A9 at Perpignan and head cross country towards Andorra, then drop south via Ripoll. Incredibly his GPS says this will take us 5 ½ hours, which is shocking, given that if we were able to go direct to the circuit via the motorway it’s less than an hour and a half!  With seemingly little option, we set off on the revised route which turns out to vary massively from the one I’d input into my GPS using the avoid motorways option, but he’s leading so nothing to do other than follow.

    Once we’d negotiated our way out and round Perpignan, we headed West on the N116. We were making good progress on some decent roads when after about 3/4 hour I saw Marks hand appear out of his window holding his phone. Realising he’d been trying to call us or send a message, I got Sue to check the phone, and saw that he was down to 10 litres of petrol and needed to stop at the next petrol station. We found one on top of a hill on a twisty road with a pizza sign, so wondered if we could eat there too, but it was a machine dispensing them so we quickly discounted that idea. Also we were still in France, and with only 95 not 98Ron fuel being available, and it being cheaper in Spain, Mark decided on just a splash and dash fill to give him enough to get us to the border. I think it was here that David realised he’d left his jerry cans at home, along with the tyre warmers, doh! We decided to stop somewhere en route in Spain to eat as we’d got plenty of time in hand before we could get into the circuit.

    The roads became ever more challenging, windy, and climbed around the hills as we headed towards Andorra. Following Mark ,Sue remarked how we were both taking the same lines and driving as if we were using race lines, as opposed to David whom she noted was driving “normally”. Two minutes after that statement, he changed to our mode of attacking bends, and our trio of cars and trailers scythed through the countryside into the oncoming dusk. Eventually we arrived at Bourg Madame, crossed over the border into Spain, and stopped to fuel at the first Repsol garage we found. David took the opportunity to buy a 20 litre petrol container and fill it, whilst Mark and I also filled our cans and cars. With some nibbles purchased from the garage shop we set off towards Puigcerda on roads I know well from having ridden down in the area many times. I mentioned to Sue that I thought there was a tunnel ahead where we would have to pay, and sure enough we arrived at Tunnel de Cadi ,where we had to stump up €11.64 to pass through. I noted that the price without a trailer would have been €9.38, and resolved to look up how much we’d paid last time we’d ridden through, as I’m sure the price goes up quite a lot each time!

    David wasn’t to know it, but immediately after we had passed through the tunnel there had been a services where we could perhaps have got food, although with the strike it was quite possible it wouldn’t have been open. Pretty soon after he turned off towards Baga, which confused me as it looked to be going in the wrong direction, but as we headed down into the town centre it was obvious he was looking for a restaurant. We felt an enormous jolt going over an overly large speed hump and assumed the rear of the trailer must have bounced off it, but Mark had managed to break his trailer plug going over it and would need to get a new one. David pulled up to the kerb outside a hotel/restaurant facing uphill, and went inside to check if it was open. Mark and I waited, with me being reluctant to park anywhere I’d have to reverse unless absolutely necessary. He came back out a couple of minutes later saying it was shut due to the strike and they were only serving friends or guests, so we switched to plan B. There was a hotel garden outside, so we dug out our nibbles, sat on their picnic benches and ate and drank there under the street lights. Not sure the hotel owners would have approved, but since they wouldn’t serve us it was the least they could do to allow us to eat in their grounds!

    Sue, me and David

    When we’d finished, I patted myself on the back for having been smart by parking facing downhill in the direction we were going to be leaving in, but David showed us how it’s done by easily reversing back down the slight incline using the trailer feature and camera technology in his car. Setting off again the GPS was now showing an arrival time at the circuit of around 22.45, meaning we’d only have to wait for around an hour before we could get in and pitch up our marquees in the paddock. The final section to the circuit seemed to take forever, the arrival time constantly changing by a few minutes, but eventually we arrived at the main gates at around 22.47. There were already lots of vehicles parked there waiting, so after a quick consultation we turned back down the periphery road to a mini roundabout, and came back up towards the main gates again, pulling over into a layby perfectly sized for three cars and trailers, where we stopped and chatted for the next hour before heading up to the entrance a couple of minutes before the midnight opening of the gates. Everyone entered in an orderly queue, and we headed across the paddock to set up the marquees in roughly the same spot they’d been 19 months ago. Setting up took around an hour and eventually we were able to get into our sleeping bags and the tent at 01.38, although sleep was disturbed as others set up around us and used electric scooters to whizz back and forwards to the toilet block. In the end I managed only around 4 hours sleep, as at 05.38 the next morning I was awake and up making a cup of tea.

    Davids Triumph 675

    We weren’t to know it, but from now on in there would be a succession of “issues” for all of us. Mine starting when trying to put the bike on the rear paddock stand. In the semi gloom of early morning, I managed not to locate one of the paddock stand supports correctly on the left hand bobbin and the inevitable happened, the bike toppled over onto its side. Luckily Mark was on hand to help me get it back upright and there was no damage, or none that I could see, but hardly the best start to the day!

    R1 on stands properly this time!

    Next came registration and check in which went smoothly. David had originally booked himself into one of the pit garages at €25 a day, not realising that both Mark and I had marquees, so I suggested he share mine and see whether he could get back his €75, after all you don’t ask you don’t get! His luck was in today though as he was refunded without question, although the money passed straight back to the organiser as he needed to buy new tyre warmers to replace the ones he’d left at home. Not cheap at €310, but at least they were good quality. With the bikes stickered up with our allocated race numbers, we attended the safety briefing before an hour and a half wait until our first session at 10.00.

    Marks BMW S1000RR

    We’d enrolled in the debutant group, but had high expectations of moving up when the groups are sorted by lap times during the midday break, but my day was going to continue badly, when leaving the pit lane the motor was misfiring badly. The bike stuttered round the first half of the circuit with me cursing the pogoing machine before it miraculously cleared itself. Like every first session, and especially after such a long time off the bike, everything seemed out of sorts. The laptimer showed a 2.26 time, which was pretty poor considering I’d done 2.14 in the past, but it was only the first session.

    Mark looking concentrated

    Returning to the paddock and looking for the source of the misfire my first thoughts turned to the quick shifter. Looking under the fairing showed that a piece of heat resistant material, with what looked like an aluminium backing, had dropped perilously close to the coils, so I removed the fairing, cut away the offending piece and hoped all would be good for the next session. I also asked Mark for some Loctite intending to use it on one of the fairing bolts, but he took it back before I’d used it and guess what, the bolt fell out during the next session.

    First of many fettling sessions, David on left me on right

    In the second session Mark and I both put our cameras on the bikes, me leading filming Mark behind and Mark filming me ahead. The session was pretty good with my time dropping to 2.16, which was within 2 seconds of my best, whilst David was on 2.14 and Mark 2.12 . The new Power Evo slicks were fantastic with real drive everywhere, but again a gremlin was in the works, as coming onto the main straight and accelerating hard in third the revs suddenly went from around 11,000 to the red line and hit the limiter without warning. I’d not accelerated that hard and the ensuing headshake was a bit alarming, as was the concern that banging off rev limiters doesn’t usually do much for the life expectancy of valves or the engine. The seat started to get warm underneath me, and just to worry me further, I started to experience uneven braking at the ends of the high speed straights, which was a bit disconcerting! Returning to the pits it was time for more checks. The rearsets had started to do their usual trick of disassembling themselves, so I tightened everything there and could see the improvement in the gear shift action. Next  the calipers were removed and the pads checked for wear, but nothing seemed untoward. Finally, a quick check of the chain showed it was a touch loose, even though I had spent an age setting the tension before we came, so that was adjusted too. What next?

    Me following Mark with huge difference in lean angle and line

    Last session of the morning, and whilst David and Mark continued to have fun and continue improving their lap times, I was still suffering from being unable to bank on consistent braking, which meant I wasn’t hitting braking markers, leading to missed turn ins and run-ons, and anyone following must have been wondering how anyone could ride so badly! The only upside was that adjusting the chain tension seemed to be allowing me to hold a better line, which meant I was fine in the bends and awful at the end of the straights.

    Back in the paddock it turned out that it wasn’t just me who was having issues,. After putting his bike on the stands, David discovered he was missing his top yoke bolt! How the hell that managed to come undone and fall off without him noticing was a mystery, and left him wandering round the paddock at lunch time looking to see if someone had a spare. Amazingly he got lucky and managed to trade one for a couple of beers.

    A check of the groups after the morning sessions revealed that whilst David and Mark had been fast enough to get bumped up a group, I’d not made the cut, which wasn’t really surprising given the problems I was having. Struggling to try and figure out what was happening various theories were expounded. Slipping clutch? Faulty quickshifter? An electrical short somewhere? None of which were going to be easy to trace or fix. We even tried spraying the Exup valve cables to see if that might have an effect but things weren’t looking good.

    So with a morning that had started with the bike falling off the stand, David and I both having parts fall off our bikes, and mine suffering from inconsistent braking and an intermittent electrical fault, we were certainly having our fair share of issues, which frustratingly were to continue on into the afternoon sessions. David came back in with his side stand hanging limply from the frame. It seemed the spring tensioner holding it up had worked loose and become another piece of track debris. He’d been incredibly lucky though, imagine what would have happened had the stand dropped mid left hand bend, he’d have been off. A sobering thought! Having escaped most of the day without issue, finally Mark succumbed to the Catalunya curse too. Coming in after the mid afternoon session he told us that his riding was finished as third gear had apparently gone walkies. A rumbling sound and the need to change gear immediately to bypass the recaltricant third meant his time was effectively over.

    With time to spare, he turned his attention to my bike, rode it round the paddock and braked hard looking to see if he could replicate my braking issues. It was clear just watching, that the brakes were biting hard, but seemingly pulling the bike up unevenly. The prognosis, loose headstock bearings. With no tool to fix it and with braking that was getting ever more scary, it seemed I’d be finishing early too. When the final session of the day threw back the misfiring and over revving again, I decided that rather than wait to be thrown off I’d take heed of the warnings it had been giving me all day and pack too, leaving David as the last man standing.

    Mark had a valiant last attempt to keep riding by looking to see if the organiser, First on Track, had any of their bikes available to rent, but as they had come to Catalunya straight from Portimao their bikes were still in transit, so it really was the end of the road for him and he’d pack up and go back home the following day.

    In the evening we reverted to our usual shared food and drink in the marquees, although to be fair as we’d forgotten to bring the box of wine and had eaten the nibbles planned for tonight on the way down yesterday, we had to rely on the others for nourishment, thanks all.

    DAY 2

    Thursday dawned and I’m up and about before 06.00 again. Later on Mark and I took a walk across to the pitlane where he took some photos. It seemed he hadn’t heard the loud music emanating from the tent across from us the previous night at around midnight, seems using earplugs helps! There had been three songs played really loudly and it was almost as if we were at a night club, but then it had stopped, thank goodness!

    Paddock pictures courtesy of our own team photographer- Mark.

    Although I’d decided I wasn’t going to ride, I thought I’d go out in the first session, in case by some minor miracle the fairies had come along and repaired the bike, but they hadn’t. What’s more, I couldn’t start it! The clocks illuminated and the hands swept the dial in their usual start up mode, but nothing from the engine. Time was advancing rapidly towards the start of the session so I rushed to disassemble the fairings, yet again, and found the culprit, a connector block I know doesn’t join particularly well, as I’ve had to tape it together before. I duct taped it again but in multiple directions this time and wondered whether that had been the cause of the electrical issues, but quickly discounted the idea, as it wouldn’t be possible for a block connector that has to be taped to separate then rejoin. At least the bike now started, and with minutes to spare I went out to do the first session, although I don’t know why I bothered, as it was immediately apparent the misfire was back and this time it didn’t clear. I pogoed round the track and came straight back in, not even completing one lap, parked the bike, and called time on the whole sorry event. The bike had truly blotted it’s copybook and now I’d completely lost interest.

    With time to kill I decided to mount the jockey wheel support on the trailer, but somehow one of the nuts  managed to cross thread itself, wonder how it did that? I had to enlist Marks help to try and get it off, and in the end the bolt snapped rather than undo. Geez, is nothing ever going to work properly? Using the original nylock bolts I eventually re-attached the jockey wheel so at least now I could wheel the trailer round again.

    Mark and Sev had pretty much finished packing so decided to go and watch David from the grandstand, and set off there with Sue, whilst David and I were talking to a British guy called Arthur who had stopped by our marquee having heard us speaking in English. We had an interesting chat. It turned out he was here with two bikes, an Aprilia RSV4 and a Blade SP, lucky bugger. He also told me he was 72, so there’s hope for me yet at my relatively young 59 years of age! In the end David left us chatting and went out on his next session, leaving me to guard the cars and stuff.

    Looking back across to the main straight

    David

    In case you’re wondering why the hell David is on the wrong side of the track on the main straight, it was just for this picture

    With the morning sessions complete, I spotted that the portacabin which housed the paddock shop was open. I’d been after a Catalunya circuit cap to add to my collection since our initial visit in 2014, but hadn’t been able to buy one on site and refused to pay €15 for postage. With the shop now being open, I was able to go and bought my cap, and Mark and David also splashed some cash on souvenirs there. Afterwards we all sat down and had a bite to eat before Mark and Sev left around 13.30, and sent us a message at 22.15 telling us they were home safely.

    In the afternoon I offered David the use of my GoPro, and for the first session in the afternoon I decided to go and watch him from the grandstand and took these pictures.

    Looking back into the paddock and Sue alone in the marquee bottom left

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Some main straight pics

    He seemed to be riding well and improving laptimes bit by bit. He took me by surprise though after the second session, when he freewheeled silently past us and stopped to reveal his leathers covered in graveI dust, and his bike gravel rashed on the left hand side. ExpIaining how it had happened he was concerned about the well-being of my GoPro, but it had been on the opposite side that he’d fallen off on and was ok. I know when I had my off I appreciated the help the others gave me, so set about helping check and cleaning his helmet, leathers and the bike. Damage seemed to be limited to a cracked fairing and an easily adjusted clutch lever position. David meanwhile started dismantling the fairing to remove the multitude of surprisingly large pieces of gravel that had been trapped inside.

    Annoyed with himself about his crash, which in hindsight he realised he could have avoided, he went back out in the final session and finished the day safely.

    I sought out Arthur to see if he could direct us to a restaurant for that evening, as we wanted to try some tapas. He wasn’t sure if they served it, but suggested a place called Vienna which was really close by.

    Arthur and his RSV4 and Fireblade SP

    We got to talking about Spanish tracks and tyres, and he gave me some information he’d had from the Michelin technician in the First on Track box. Worried about a very clear wear line on the right hand side of my tyre I went to the box and talked with the technician, who told me that despite their website showing 2.3 and 1.6 as recommended pressures, my wear would indicate the rear was running too soft so suggested I switch to 2.5 and 1.7. Good to know for next time.

    That evening we set off around 19.00 to find the Vienna restaurant, which was as Arthur had said, really close by, but it seemed like a very upmarket Subway so we decided to hunt around. David input  restaurants into the search function of his GPS which led us to several close by, but all seemed to be within the surrounds of a huge industrial estate and not what we were looking for. Eventually we got lucky, and in Plaza Gran in Montmelo found a popular restaurant serving tapas where we enjoyed tasting 5 different dishes.

    Day 3

    Sue and I had planned to leave that morning after Davids first session, and I’d been awake at 05.30 and already started to pack. He asked whether we’d consider staying on until after his second session at 11.00, and then having a bite to eat together, which would hopefully allow us to get away by midday and home hopefully before dark that evening. With two sessions to improve, he came in after the first one saying he thought he’d done a 2.09, and a 2.07 in the second,  which he had done, and here’s the proof. See line two group C.

    By the time we’d packed the final few things after eating, and David had returned his transponder, the time had dragged out to 13.40 . With David saying he’d be staying on a little longer to shower and check out his photos, we said our goodbyes. It was obvious he’d had a great time despite his small off, hence the Triumph (sic) in the heading of this post.

    You’d think all my ills would have been exhausted on track, but it seemed we couldn’t even leave the paddock without even more! We have a dual cigarette lighter socket which decided to break, leaving us with a GPS which would only run for around 4 hours of the 7 we had to drive home. Fishing around in the  socket base we found a few pieces had broken off inside, and after removing them decided that perhaps they had shorted the fuse, as the cigarette lighter itself didn’t work now, so stopping half an hour later I swapped fuses, and lo and behold, the GPS sprang back to life and we’d be able to find our way back home. Was that the end of it? Don’t be daft!

    As we drove back I was getting frustrated with watching the cover on the marquee flapping in the wind, so as it wasn’t wet decided to stop near Carcassone and take it off, which meant reattaching the tie downs. A couple of hours later when we stopped for a comfort break, I found the tent had started to slip sideways off the edge of the trailer, lucky we’d stopped!.

    Our final problem came when the GPS arbitrarily decided to take us off the motorway at Junction 50 not 55, leading us into the nearest town and wanting to take us home cross country instead of the more direct motorway route. Overriding the planned route, we got back on the motorway and eventually back on the route I wanted to be on, and arrived back home at around 21.10 to find a message from David, saying he’d already been back 20 minutes, despite setting off after us and having 100kms further to drive!

    SO, how on earth do you summarise an event like this? On the positive side, when the bike was running the tyres gave massive confidence and feedback, leagues ahead of the Pirellis I’ve used for years. The weather had been good, David Mark and Sev had been good company, and Sue as ever, my support blanket when I got peed off, and I suppose the bike is still in one piece and I didn’t crash. Negatives are, it had been a very expensive trip to ride ony 185kms, and the sting in the tail is I’ve no idea what caused the problems or what they will cost to fix, and before I do anything else with it, I need to send the Renthal clip-ons back to them as they’re the subject of a recall.

    Mark has a very good idea of the cost of his gearbox problem, it’s circa €2k, so that’s a big hit to take on a bike he’s only ridden in 10 sessions, but regardless he enjoyed riding with us and being on track again.

    David improved session by session, and his 2.07 is a very respectable time for a small bike round a track like Catalunya. His small off didn’t seem to have dented his enthusiasm too much, and of the three of us it was only his British Triumph left running. Who’d have thought a Brit bike would best a German or Japanese one?

    The future? Aragon is always on our agenda, just need to make sure we don’t leave it too late to book next time.


  • Independence strikes in Catalonia affecting circuit entry

    It’s clear that we live in ever more troubled times. Today we woke up to hear 58 people had been killed and 515 wounded in a shooting in Las Vegas. The day before, the Catalan referendum had turned violent, whilst in the background the US and North Korea continue  playing their game of nuclear chicken. All we can do is watch and wonder how will it all end and hope for normality in our own lives, after all, thankfully these events are not really so close to us to have an impact, except that based on an email received tonight from the trackday organiser, they are going to!

     

    I’d laughed earlier in the day when my wife asked if the Spanish events would impact on us, but now it’s clear they’re going to. The email advised that the Catalunya circuit was going to be on strike tomorrow, and that there would be no entry for anyone until after midnight! That piece of news threw us a huge curved ball, as we’d planned to set off tomorrow at 09.00, meet at 16.00, and be at the circuit gates at 18.00, when they were originally supposed to open. Mark and I both have marquees to set up in the paddock, and we sleep in tents there too. Arriving at 18.00 always allows us plenty of time to get set up for the next day, but if we can’t get in til after midnight, we’re not only going to have to struggle pitching our gear in the dark, but we’ll finish late and be tired instead of well rested for the first day.

    The thought of queuing outside the circuit for 6 hours isn’t that appealing, neither is paying for a hotel, if we can find one, and then having to leave really early to try and get set up.  We’re only talking about our own personal travel plans now, but there will be an overall knock on for the whole event the next day, as registrations will be delayed, as will the collection of transponders, and the security briefing. How many riding sessions would that mean will be lost?

    I emailed the others and suggested we urgently needed to formulate a Plan B. We were going to use conference calling on Whatsapp but it didn’t work, so after a combination of Facetime and Skype calls we agreed to delay our meeting time by an hour and a half, and queue outside the circuit and hope it would open earlier than the previously advised midnight.

    Watch this space for tomorrows thrilling instalment!


  • A long time coming!

    Sometimes things don’t work out as you hoped or planned. Ideally I’d have been on track a few times this year and done a few tours on road, but alas that’s not how 2017 worked out. I sold my BMW K1300GT back in February, and the only riding I’ve done since then was 1000kms in two days on an Indian Chieftain in Canada, which I have to say was epic, but was at a much more sedate pace than I might have ridden at, had I been back home in France.

    The year has flown by, and Mark and I took too long in deciding whether to sign up for a late season event at Aragon, and by the time we’d made up our minds there were no places left. With the year looking as if it was going to turn into one without any track riding at all, we took the only interesting option left to us, 3 days at Catalunya in October. Our usual third eventee Andy had to rule himself out as he was riding in Portimao a few days after, but David was keen to come, so our contingent was back to three.

    Neither Mark nor David have ridden much on road this year for various reasons, and Mark and I last rode on track together in Catalunya in March 2016, when the second day had been so wet we had been forced to abandon any hope of riding, and pack up and go home early. With such a long gap without any speed fix for any of us, to say we were all keen to get back on our bikes again, is, as you can imagine, something of an understatement. Mark has told me he’s going to take it easy, isn’t interested in laptimes and just wants to enjoy the riding, but as we’re faster than the debutant group we signed in for (only spaces left), I have little doubt that a competitive element will very quickly kick in!

    Over the past months I’ve made some small changes to the bike, mainly to the graphics. Some time ago I created a design incorporating the Rossi turtle. It was a joke amongst us, as Mark used to tell me I was slow (I’m not!) and the number was indicating my age. Unfortunately not being blessed with the body of Benjamin Button, I advance in age each year, so by the simple addition of a plus sign after the number, I’m able to keep the same number every year.

    Here’s last years fairing/screen design

    and here is this years updated design

    With the bike looking better (IMHO) next up came a change in tyres. I’ve always ridden on Pirelli slicks. Initially the Superbike Pros and latterly the SC2’s, but chatting with Simon Crafar, who used to race this exact model of R1, revealed that in his view one of the biggest improvements in handling came from tyres with a more triangular profile, ie Michelins, so as my old tyres were toast and needed to be changed, I decided to follow his advice and bought a pair of Michelin Power Evo slicks. It’ll be interesting to see what difference they make.

    As the time got closer to the event, the car decided to play up, but determined not to allow it to stop us going, it was booked into the local Audi dealer who relieved us of €523 replacing two sensors, and then dropped the bombshell that it needed an EGR valve at a jaw dropping €1250. Said part was duly fitted and to be fair, the difference in performance was amazing, but made us realise how badly it had been running beforehand. The phrase “familiarity breeds contempt” sprang to mind, as I guess we had become used to how it drove over time and hadn’t noticed the drop off in performance, although we had noticed increased fuel consumption. With the car running well now, next came the bike prep.

    With so few miles having been done since it was last ridden, there was very little to do. I removed the fairings, changed the oil, cleaned it from top to bottom, and  checked torque settings everywhere. The seat unit needs a little reinforcement where it sits on the subframe, and I’m going to try some alternative positions with the rearset positioning to see if I can get a little more comfortable on it. Apart from that, the bike is sorted.

    Next came the trailer which is parked outside and under a cover, but I’d noted a few days earlier that wasps had been flying under the metal overhang over the rear lights and doubtless building nests there. I hate these creatures as they’ve attacked and stung me several times, so I took great enjoyment from destroying their nests (albeit they were tiny).

    Final jobs will be checking tyre pressures, packing and checking my list of tools and gear is complete, and then we’re good to go.

    Report to follow.

     


  • Missing pictures and WordPress changes affecting site

    Back in 2009 when I started this site it was on a very small scale. There wasn’t a huge amount of content and the only way to post pictures was by using a service like Photobucket. Over the years I’ve posted hundreds of pictures using this option, but now it seems they’ve changed their policy and have arbitrarily decided to stop allowing this facility to be used unless people pay them $400 a year!! I have only found out today when looking back through some old posts that pretty much all of my pictures are now missing, only those I was able to upload directly from my laptop have survived. Also, changes to WordPress has meant that any words in a colour other than white are so dim that they can’t be seen.

    It will take an age to try and remember which images went with which story as there are over 330 posts here. I can only apologise to those who are reading through the site and can no longer see images supporting the stories. Clearly $400 a year is an exhorbitant amount of money which I do not intend paying, but hopefully the written content will still be the real reason people visit the site, the pictures just being the icing on the cake.

    I will begin the job of trying to repost the pictures over the coming months and hope Photobucket come to their senses and realise that their charges are way too high and offer an alternative plan, in the meantime, sorry you’re not able to see the full posts.

    Update 7/8/2017

    I started the work of trying to find which pictures go with which posts, and to simplify matters I decided to find which album each shot came from. Then I thought I’d download them to my laptop, but guess what, apparently there are technical problems when you try this, UNLESS you download each picture individually. This company sucks big style. I hope they lose the majority of their customers as these tactics to keep your pictures trapped is appalling.


  • Kawasaki Z1300

    I saw this Kawasaki Z1300 in Switzerland today, and it brought back many memories of my early days of biking when this was one of the biggest bikes around. The overriding memory I have of it, was seeing one being ridden by a woman who was filling it up at a petrol station, she must have been extremely competant and strong given it’s size and dimensions! This one was in especially good condition, so I thought I’d share some old school nostalgia, as I’m sure there will be many who have never seen one!

    It’s an imposing bike for sure. It was extremely heavy at 314kg, had shaft drive,and was powered by a 1300cc straight six engine which allegedly made in excess of 120bhp. It was first launched in 1979 and had a 10 year production run in varying formats. It was heavy on fuel, as you’d expect, with 30mpg seemingly the norm, and due to it’s weight the handling wasn’t anything to write home about!  Wikipedia claims it’s elevated power output was the reason that France introduced it’s 100bhp limit. If true, Kawasaki have a lot to answer for, as the 100bhp rule was only finally repealed in 2016, some 37 years later, having left French riders sufffering on restricted power bikes for over 3 decades!


  • Indian Chieftain- review

    Posted on by Paul

    Following on from my 1000km tour on a 2016 Indian Chieftain, I thought it might be interesting to write up some thoughts on the bike.

    I’m guessing that those in Europe reading this will probably not really have considered the marque as a purchase, and are even less likely to have taken one for a test ride. For starters, the dealership coverage is sparse, In France there are only 28 dealers, whilst the UK fares a little better with 15, 2 of which are in Ireland. The other thing potentially holding sales back over here, are the roads we ride on, and our prediliction towards sports bikes, and due to repressive speeding laws in recent years, nakeds. Neverthless they are a strong competitor for Harley Davidson so are worthy of consideration if you’re looking at a bike in their camp, so here is my review of what you’d find if you tried one.

    The first impression is one of size and quality. The chrome looks deep and thick, even the footstand is beautifully finished. The bike is adorned with the Indian logo everywhere, just to make sure you realise the heritage of the machine you are riding.

    Walking around the bike you can’t fail to be impressed by the detail. The panniers are centrally locked with either the key fob or via a button on the tank, or you can of course lock/unlock them manually using the key. The bike is started like many modern cars, with a button which is only activated when you are close by with the key fob, and like some Ducati’s, you only need to thumb the starter briefly, which then starts the motor cycling until it fires. The petrol tank takes 20.8 litres and has two filler caps but only the right hand side is used, the left side is a dummy.

    The rear footpegs fold up to preserve the lines if you are riding solo, and the footboards are wide enough for support, but not so wide that they ground easily. I didn’t manage to deck them once, and I’ve managed to do so with a Goldwing before, so I’ve been known to corner hard! It’s also smart having crash bars fitted, again they’re covered in a thick lustrous chrome.

    The dashboard is multi function, and scrolling through the multiple screens you’ll find: dual tripmeters with distance and time, instantaneous and average fuel economy; fuel range; clock; compass; ambient air temperature; gear position display; front and rear tyre pressures; engine hours of operation; engine oil life percentage; average speed; battery voltage; and radio stations!!!

    Cruise control is standard and works extremely well, ABS probably works well too, although I never had occasion to find out. One small quirk comes from the fuel gauge, which sometimes flashes up the low fuel warning light, but then extinguishes itself again, often then showing around 100kms of range still left in the tank. I realised this happened on steep downhill inclines. It’s not a big deal or a problem, just an observation.

    The electric screen looks so small as to be next to useless, but in fact is superbly sized, and once set to your favoured position does an extremely good job of deflecting wind from you without creating any wind noise, great ergos. There is a radio with flexi aerial mounted to a rear pannier, and a power socket for your MP4 player, so all bases covered from the technology standpoint.

    Sticking with controls, there are LED indicators, and an additional pair of driving lights which can be switched on independently, thereby giving any myopic car drivers zero oppportunioty to say they didn’t see you coming. If they can’t see something that big with three headlights blazing they really should visit their opticians immediately and give up driving! The mirrors have the obligatory “Objects are closer” warning, and are well shaped, don’t vibrate, and give an excellent view of the road behind, so jobs a good un.

    The bike runs on 16″ wheels and you’ll find braking is optimal when both front and rear brakes are used together, using the front only doesn’t really give the stopping power you need for a bike this heavy.

    Panniers are quality items which can be locked via 3 different methods. The first by simply using the remote key fob lock function, which is cool; the tank mounted lock/unlock button, or of course by key. The lids have engraved Indian logos on the hinges. I’m sure for a single rider the combined volume of these would be sufficient, but for two up riding the bike could really do with a top box or an additional bag attached to the rear rack. Our bike had a detachable rear backrest, which I’d say is a must if you’re taking a pillion.

    The engine is an 1811cc fuel injected twin which Indian call “Thunder Stroke111”. Peak torque of 135nm is available at only 2100rpm, which leads to extremely low revs at cruising speeds and little need to change gears for rapid acceleration. It starts to rip once past 3500rpm, but it’s not worth revving past 5000, and comfortable ( read legal) cruising speeds are nearer the 110-120kph mark. The belt drive is quiet and I never had any changing difficulties, other than occasionally having to reach a little to get to the gear change lever which is mounted at an angle, but then again I have small feet. Engine braking is useful, and although I’m not a big fan of riding twins as I always seem to lock the rear downshifting, the only time this happened was on some oil on the entrance to a hairpin bend. Generally one change down is sufficient to set you up for a bend and give good drive out of it. I wouldn’t say I was blown away by the power, but also I didn’t have any cause to think about it too much, so in my book that means it was ok.

    The seat height is a low 660mm which makes putting both feet down a doddle. Handling was the biggest surprise of the trip. Despite the bike weighing a not inconsiderable 385kg, you’d never know it. When riding the weight just disappears, and maybe I had been smart parking in ideal spots, as I never had to move it or wheel it around, which meant I didn’t have issues with slow manual movements. It held a good line in long sweeping bends, turned plenty fast, and never gave me a moments concern in 1000kms, so I have to give it top marks for manouevrability, which was most unexpected given it’s physically imposing dimensions.

    Reading this review you’re probably wondering by now when the “but” is coming? After all, I’m a long distance sports tourer who enjoys an R1 on trackdays, so there had to be something I didn’t like? The only thing I can comment on is that the width of the grips caused my left hand some discomfort, but I have small hands, so this comment probably wouldn’t apply to the majority of riders. Similarily the seat was comfortable for me and I never felt the need to stretch or move around to get comfortable, although Sue wasn’t quite as comfortable on her pillion seat and started fidgeting after 100km or so.

    Overall I’d have to score this bike highly. Once you’ve adjusted to how the front goes light and waggles a bit when you’re slowing in traffic, you’ve pretty much found its sole weakness. I never thought I’d like a bike like this so much, but if I lived in Canada and regularly rode on the type of roads we’d been on, I’d have this bike at the top of my wish list, it was that good! Maybe its not the right machine for Europe, but over there it was ideal. Move over Harley Davidson, there’s a new king in town!


  • 1000kms on an Indian- Part 2

    Posted on by Paul

    Just for a change we were up early the next morning and were downstairs having breakfast as soon as they opened for service. An excellent spread saw us utilising the waffle maker and eating our fill, before readying ourselves for an unexpectedly early start to the days ride. Whilst eating I had asked a couple of ladies which was the route to take to get to Salmo, explaining that I wanted to get to Balfour to the ferry, but they couldn’t understand why I didn’t want to go via Nelson. It took a while and showing them the map before they understood I wanted to go the scenic route across to Creston, before running up the side of Kootenay Lake to Kootenay Bay, where I wanted to catch the ferry over to Balfour.

    When I told them we were going to be passing through Nakusp to Faquier, they warned of a bad left hand bend which had caught many a rider out. I was amazed that a bend on a road some 350kms away was so well known, but rode that bend later on in the day at 120kph whilst still accelerating, so I don’t know what the problem people had with it? Eventually with the correct route sorted we were off, and it’s only 07.20!

    We stopped almost immediately for petrol, where a quick calculation showed that the bike was averaging 47.8mpg, which I thought was pretty good!

    Once on the bike I’m full of the joys of spring, the early morning sun is warming but it is a bit chilly when it gets hidden behind the trees. Bizarrely I’m whooping and hollering like a big kid, I’m enjoying the ride, the experience, and the bike so much more than I ever expected to, life’s good!

    Looking back in the mirror I spot this fantastic view and have to stop to take a picture.

    With a full days riding behind me I’m now riding the Chieftain with confidence. The engine is most comfortable below 130kph, which is good as the limit is 100kph!. It starts to take off with a lovely intake gurgle from just over 3000rpm and at 3500 it’s starting to motor, but north of 130kph things start to get a bit shuddery and you quickly realise this isn’t where it’s going to spend much of its time. Braking is best accomplished using the rear brake in tandem with the front, something I’ve not done on a road bike since I last rode a Goldwing many years ago, but using both pulls you up more than adequately. The horn is loud, the seats comfortable, well for me more than Sue, and the handling is surprisingly good. It turns into bends quickly and holds a line well in fast sweepers. Importantly the sidestand is long and gives plenty of support. No centre stand for this 385kg behemoth, but it doesn’t feel 100kg heavier than my old GT, the weight being very well distributed when moving. The footboards offer a choice of positions and are perfectly placed for my 5’11 frame. The only small niggle was the occasional slight pain in my coccyx where the seat support sometimes rubbed, but overall I’d have to give it a massive thumbs up on pretty much every aspect.

    When you’re not having issues with your bike the time and miles sail by, as you’re concentrating on nothing else but the road, and enjoying yourself. The roads this morning are fantastic, and continue to be throughout the whole day to come. Salmo to Creston saw us crossing the highest point of the tour over the Kootenay Pass at 1774m, where the uneven surface and lack of crash barriers made me a little uneasy as we neared the summit. There was snow at the top, but we were soon over it and onto The Crowsnest Highway, descending towards Creston and passing over this girder bridge.

    As you can tell from the picture below the USA border was close by, I think the next sign said only 21kms.

    From Creston it’s North on the 3A and more fun and games with lovely long sweepers and superb vistas.

    Here’s Sue enjoying the view.

    Here’s what she was looking at

    Bike parked outside impressive wooden entry to viewing platform

    More filming on this stretch, but the suction mount on the Contour camera I was using decided to lose suction 3 times and the camera fell off. Luckily I had it tethered so didn’t lose it. Annoyingly I’ve not yet been able to locate the chipmunk that ran across in front of us, or the caribou in the undergrowth, that I know are on this film.

    Later on in the ride, the road to Kootenay Bay becomes super twisty with very few straights on it, and is restricted to 60kph in many places, but wasn’t the PITA you’d expect riding a big cruiser. The Chieftain took it all in its stride and we made it to the ferry on time, albeit the large time margin we’d built in so that we didn’t have to rush to get on the hourly crossing, had dropped to a mere 10 minutes.

    The ferry across to Balfour is the longest ferry crossing in Canada and takes 35 minutes. Iniitally we weren’t sure if there was going to be enough space on board as we were pretty close to the back of the queue, but like the tardis, the ship swallowed all the waiting vehicles.

    Underway and admiring the beautiful scenery behind us.

    Returning from the upper deck and sightseeing, I looked under the bike and saw two small puddles of oil. I checked the bike over and the oil seemed to be emanating from the dipstick housing, running down onto the crankcase, then being blown back onto the exhaust and pannier. Worried there may be something amiss on the uber machine I pondered what to do next, but as we were in the middle of nowwhere and any dealer would be half a day away, we decided to ride on gently and see if the problem got worse.

    Once off the ferry we joined Highway 31 to Kaslo. Here we overtook a couple of extremely slow Harley riders, demonstrating how we Euro riders do it, before stopping a few miles up the road to check the oil again. I wiped all the surfaces clean and resolved to check it again later. During this time the Harley guys came past,  but less than 10kms later I’d caught and passed them again. Stitch that HD dudes, should have bought an Indian!!!!

    Canada has plentiful trees and wild animals who live amongst them. On the Kaslo to New Denver leg of the ride we had this run-in with some local wildlife.

    In the first picture you can just about make out a deer at the side of the road which has just been spooked by the noise of an 1800cc twin thundering his way.

    Just in case you hadn’t spotted it, look directly above the letter D

    In this picture he’s decided it’s time to get away from the noise

    At this stage I’m braking hard and wondering whether it will carry on in front of me or turn back the way it came

    Still looking like we’re going to collide, until at the last second it turned and ran the other way!!

    In New Denver we’re only an hour and a half or so away from tonights stopover, so we took the time to refuel and have an ice cream to cool down. After a good run down to Nakusp and Arrow Lake, we arrived at our destination several hours earlier than planned, thanks to our 3 hours earlier than expected morning start. So with another 5 hours plus of superb riding under our belts, an ever increasing appreciation of the bike, and the 375 kms daily total matching my projected distance exactly, I decided to call Jack at McScoots and discuss the oil problem.

    I had been concerned that if the oil leakage became too bad it might cause some damage. I voiced this concern to Jack, who asked if I would be able to get it to a dealer somewhere, but as Kelowna was the nearest big city and less than 3 hours away, I suggested that it might be better for both of us if I returned the bike there first thing the next morning, knowing that he had it rented out to another customer the following day. It would be a shame to have to cut short our tour, but we would still have had a decent ride to return it, and I wouldn’t have wanted Jack to lose his coming rental in case the problem was bigger than a dipstick leak. Agreeing to have it with him before 11.00 the following morning, I ended the day by taking multiple photos of a bike I had come to like immensely.

    Brake reservoir cap

    Seat

    Pannier hinge

    Frame stamping

    1800cc twin

    Clutch cover

    Just to let you know how big the motor is

    Not pictured, countless other logos on bar ends, dials, footboards and pegs, mirrors, backrest…… I gave up counting after 24!

    And leaving the coolest part on the bike til last, the Indian war bonnet head illuminates!

     

     

    Day 3- Returning the Chieftain

    We were up early again to catch the 06.30 ferry, which began its service in Faquier back in 1922, and is cable operated. I spent 5 minutes talking to some good old boy with a fantastic downward coiled moustache about the bike and his hot rod.

    He told me the workers onboard today were heading up to 6000ft to plant trees. He also told me that there were moose up near some marshlands on the road ahead, so never having seen one, we resolved to have a good look out.

    We should have realised that it would be cold that early in the morning and through the shaded wooded areas, and nearing Cherryville we almost decided to have another breakfast, but carried on to try and stay warm. Unfortunately we didn’t see any moose which was disappointing, but the roads were much more enjoyable on the bike than they had been in the Jeep 3 days earlier. One thing I did notice during this ride  that had started to raise itself as an issue the day before, was that the handgrips seem quite large. I have relatively small hands so don’t know whether it was the grip size or engine vibration which was causing my left hand to go a bit numb, but it started to become an issue every now and then, although not so for the right hand, which I think this must be because the throttle hand is always moving.

    Annoyingly I manged to somehow miss the turning for Kelowna as we passed through Vernon, which meant a 15 minute or so detour and retracing our steps, but we soon got back on track and were at  McScoots before the promised time. Jack was obviously concerned about the leak and had appreciated my detecting it and agreeing to bring it back early. He had already booked it in to be checked over by the dealer but was mystified as to why there had been a problem, as it had literally only come back from a service the day before I collected it. Using the Indian supplied dipstick spanner which he had omitted to supply (but will for future rentals), Jack undid the dipstick and quckly discovered what we believed to be the root of the problem. The oil seal was split, which would have allowed oil to get past, and which could only have occured by being overtightened after the oil change.

    With a hopefully cheap solution to the problem, Jack then offered to only invoice me for two days not three, as I’d brought the bike back so early in the day. I’d expected to have been billed for at least half a day, but he told me he’d rather have a satisifed customer than be rich. I have to say that his attitude and generosity in making that offer were both unexpected and much appreciated. He thanked me for looking out for a machine that was his livelihood, and in taking that action, I have to say he deserves to do tremendously well in business. Someone who values their customer (and he has an oilman who rents from him every month), will go far, and many others could learn a lesson from that gesture.

    UPDATE- The problem was found to be due to an overtightened dipstick and its broken oil seal

     

    SUMMARY

    In the end we rode 1050kms, the bike was outstanding and drew comments everywhere. The experience was unlike any other biking one I’ve had before, and the combination of the bike, the roads, the scenery, and just being back on two wheels again, made it a tour we’ll always remember.

    I’d like to thank Jack at McScoots who was a pleasure to deal with when booking, and an absolute star when it came to dealing with an issue totally out of his control. I would unhesitatingly recommend his company to anyone looking to make a similar tour. His bikes are immaculate, his business ethics beyond reproach, and he’s a nice guy to boot. Me, I’m wondering what to ride next, it’s just a shame that the Chieftain wouldn’t really cut it for the type of riding and roads we have here in Europe, but over there, it was SUPERB!

     


  • 1000kms on an Indian- Part 1

    All good things come to an end, and earlier this year I called time on 7 years of GT ownership. With 90,000kms on the clock, a valve service and tyres due, and a concern that the electronic suspension and shaft drive may require expensive replacement within the next year, I decided to cut my losses and sell it. On 17th March it was ridden away by its new owner leaving me without a road bike in the garage for the first time in 21 years, although I still have the R1 for trackdays.

    Initially I have to say that I didn’t miss it and consoled myself that I’d put some money in the bank, but as time passed, I started to think that in the absence of any planned early year track days, it might be a long time before I’d be back riding again. Then I had an idea. Why not hire a bike during my annual trip to Canada, after all, British Columbia has some of the finest roads in Canada? I did some surfing on the net, and my research pointed me in the direction of McScoots rental bikes in Kelowna, a few hours away from where I’d be staying.

    I’d always wondered what the attraction of riding a Harley was, and of course I’d never ride one after a dealer in Switzerland once asked me for some matches to set fire to my VFR800, but McScoots wasn’t renting out Harleys, he had Indians!

    Everyone I’m sure, knows the iconic American Indian brand, and even if you’re not a biker you may be famiiar with the name from the film “The Worlds Fastest Indian” featuring Anthony Hopkins?  The website showed two options available, the Vintage and Chieftain, the former apparently being a more comfortable option with a screen and leather bags, whilst the latter looked much more up my street with a handlebar fairing and hard luggage. McScoots owner Jack was super helpful when I called. Naturally when you rent out this type of expensive machine you need to know the person hiring it hasn’t just passed his test, but after running through my riding CV, we soon had the details agreed for a 3 day rental including 1000 kms, which should allow us plenty of scope for exploring some roads, on what would be a totally new experience for me, touring on a cruiser.

    I’d arranged with Jack that we’d collect the bike at around 9.30, although he isn’t normally open until 10.00. My usual modus operandi when on tour is to have breakfast and be away by 10.00, which is what I hoped we could do today. With Kelowna being around 2 1/2 hours away, we got up at stupid o’clock and set off at 05.10am to catch the 05.30 ferry at Faquier. Despite the early hour we’re only fourth in the queue, behind three truckloads of workers in their orange jump suits. Most have less fat on them than a chip, obviously hard manual work keeping them all fit

    It’s light and blue skies are present even at 05.30 in the morning. British Columbia cares for it’s environment and many places have switch off your engine signs when stopped

    Once over the crossing the road soon passes into woodland and there are warning signs that animals are around, in fact the day we arrived in Canada we’d seen a bear after getting off another ferry. After a few miles I complained to Sue that we hadn’t seen sight nor sound of anything, only for her to exclaim less than a minute later that we’d just passed a deer looking out at us from the woods!

    We’re driving on Highway 6 over the 1189m Monashee Pass this morning, and the tight and twisty bends through the Echo Lake Provincial Park are challenging in parts for the rented Jeep Grand Cherokee we’re driving (a pleasant upgrade from the mid size car we’d actually booked). Arriving in Cherryville and with time in hand, we decided to stop for breakfast. If you’re used to European continental breakfasts, you’re in for a shock, breakfasts in Canada are BIG! I treated myself to one aptly named the “Motherlode”, whilst Sue treated herself to pancakes with butter and blueberries. Yum! The waitress, hearing our accents asked where we were from. I told her we’re English but live in France, and have hired an Indian to take a tour, which seems to confuse her greatly until I explain that it’s an Indian motorcycle not a First Nations tribesman.

    After Cherryville the roads open up onto wider and more flowing bends, much more suited to the giant size Jeep. I had to take this picture exiting Lumby as we have a badger in our garden back home!

    Normally I plan everything to the nth degree, but this morning as we got closer to Kelowna, I realised that I didn’t actually have the address of McScoots, dummy! Stopping at a petrol station and asking drew a blank look from the cashier, but checking a phone directory gave me what I needed, so with an address now input into the GPS we should still be on track to get there on time, except even with the address we couldn’t find the place! Kelowna is basically one massive central main street with shopping malls, garages, and businesses on either side. As we passed a Yamaha dealer Sue shouted that she’d seen a truck with McScoots written on the side, but I discounted it, thinking it was just his van parked at the dealer. I wished I’d listened to her, as it was at least another 15 minutes before we’d retraced our steps to that Yamaha dealer having failed to find the address. I asked a guy outside the Yamaha shop if he knew of McScoots, and was surprised when he told me it was behind me, in a container!

    We had eventually arrived closer to 10.30 than 09.30, and after apologising to Jack for not having been on time we quickly got down to paperwork so that we could get off exploring. I’d been expecting a shop, so was a little shocked to see the business was run from a container, but you entered through double glass doors, and inside it was kitted out with table, chairs, and hanging rails of riding gear, whilst the rental fleet was parked up outside glinting in the sun.

    First sight of the massively imposing Indian Chieftain

     

    The Chieftain looked as if it had just come out of a showroom, it was spotless! Jack takes huge pride in his fleet, this bike costing over 31,000 CAD. When a rental comes back he immediately cleans it, and it really was in such good condition I thought it was new! This particular bike was a 2016 model and didn’t have the GPS that the 2017 model does. I toyed with the idea of taking the GPS from the car, but as it’s not a bike system and may not withstand water if it were to rain, decided against it, besides, with so few roads criss crossing the state, it should be simple to locate the ones we wanted using a map, old school style.

    Jack gave a thorough run through of the controls, showing me the tyre pressure monitor and pressures, something I always want to know are correct, although to my shame I was never able to find the screen again, only finding out how to access it when the bike was returned. Suggesting a brief ride round the car park, I quickly found the low seat height made putting both feet down simple, although I did find the left foot gear change odd as the lever is raised compared to “normal” bikes, but the footboards seemed to allow comfortable foot placement.

    Finally after the paperwork had been completed and we’d got togged up in our vented summer jackets and riding gear, we were ready for the off. Jack had given us directions how to get onto Highway 33, although it seemed as if he was sending us North instead of South, still, he knew best! Heading back up the road we’d come into Kelowna on, I soon wondered if I was going the right way, and quickly bemoaned the lack of a GPS which would have seen us on the right road immediately. What followed was about 30 minutes of driving up and down Kelownas main street. At a garage a trucker told us to head back the way we’d just come and to take a left at Costco, except we never saw CostCo and ended up actually crossing a bridge and leaving Kelowna,which was obviously not right!. Thankfully the dual carriageway we’d ended up on had an off ramp, so back we turned and back along the main drag. At each set of traffic lights I felt my legs getting warmed by the big 1800cc engine beneath me, and I wasn’t enjoying the way the front end waggled as I slowed to stop, the heavy front fairing seemingly creating an imbalance as I tried to gently ease to a halt.

    Eventually we found the turning for Highway 33 (having already passed it twice!), and once out of town the bike started to feel more natural and I began to explore the performance of the 1800cc engine.

    Our route (below) saw us heading for Osoyoos, a place whose name I managed to mispronounce every single time I spoke it. We’d been there previously back in 2010 and been impressed with the beauty of the location and it’s amazing salt lake, so we were headed back to see if it was as good as we had remembered it being.

    Highway 33 passed comfortably as I settled into a rythmn riding the big twin. It’s pretty comfortable, and riding at legal speeds and just enjoying the scenery is a real pleasure. We’d brought the GoPro and Contour cameras along to record some of the ride, and after 45 minutes and out into open countryside, we decided to try and do some filming. Pulling off into a roadside layby, I set up the camera and we decided to try some new ways of filming.

    Starting with the GoPro facing us for head on pics.

    We then stopped again, putting the camera on the tripod so we could do a ride by.

    Then Sue held the tripod and camera on the bike allowing her to film ahead and to the sides, all these angles hopefully making some interesting alternatives to the usual forward facing films I’ve made to date.

    Well they would have been interesting if the camera had been switched on and recording! It wasn’t until after I’d asked Sue to check the red recording light was flashing that we found out we hadn’t got any film at all, and that it hadn’t recorded any of the beautful countryside or lakes we’d passed, so we had to go through the whole rigmarole again. The pics above are from the second time of trying.

    Despite the farce of the non filming, the ride was going well. The bike allowing us to “bimble” along enjoying a type of riding we haven’t experienced before, and I was really starting to see why people enjoy this type of experience. In the past I have always been very disparaging of Harleys and their seeming overly loud exhausts, but I have to confess to occasionally just accelerating for the fun of hearing the big twins exhaust note, which l justify to myself isn’t as loud and anti social as a Harleys, but still makes a great noise!

    At Rock Creek we turned West onto Highway 3 towards Osoyoos and descending the steep hill towards the town are greeted with these fantastic views.

     

     

    Stopped on Anarchist Mountain overlooking the Okanagan Valley and Osoyoos below

    Descending towards the town of Osoyoos, whose fabulous location sees it surrounded by desert, vineyards and mountains, and well known for water sports on the massive lake.

    In town I managed to take the only two wrong turns I could have made in my quest to find the road out to Spotted Lake, and once more was wishing we’d got the GPS with us.

    Back in 2010 when we had first visited, this is the sight we had seen and were expecting.

     

     

    After dragging all the way out to the lake, this is what we got in 2017, no salt circles!

    As we headed back down towards town I noticed the fuel gauge flash up a low warning symbol. Strange, as last time I looked we still had plenty, and sure enough when we got down to the lower and flatter level in town, the gauge had returned to indicating around 100kms range left, still, as we were close to a petrol station we stopped to fill up.

    The Chieftain has twin filler caps but only the right hand one is used, the left side is a dummy.  After filling up we stopped at McDonalds, where a couple of locals, one of whom was from Portugal, enquired about the imposing bike parked outside. Although Harley owners they seemed impressed with the Indian.

    Leaving Osoyoos we retraced our route back up the hill stopping for these last few pictures.

    On the way in we had seen some impressive statues so tstopped and took pictures of some of them on the way back out.

    The route we were taking was now heading East, passing back through Rock Creek on Highway 3, which  turned out to be a great road through beautiful countryside, and which would take us right the way through to our overnight stop in Castlegar.

    In Greenwood we stopped for an ice cream

    Lots of red wooden buildings in BC

    Great road sign

    Onwards through Christina Lake, and as we passed through the Bonanza Pass at 1535m in Gladstone Provincial Park, it suddenly got very cold. The nice 72F temperatures we’d been enjoying at the height of the afternoon had been gradually falling, but the sudden plummet from 65F to 55F, and then 44F at 18.30, quickly meant our vented jackets weren’t providing enough warmth, and with teeth close to chattering we stopped and put on our rain jackets to try and get some heat back in our bodies. With our motel at Castlegar still around 40 minutes away, we were grateful when we eventually arrived, to check in and get warm again.

    This sign on the main road outside the motel shows we’re not far from the USA border, in fact it’s only around 40kms away.

    Later on we nipped out to the local supermarket and liquor store to get some food and drink. This impressive full size metal statue was surrounded by several smaller ones.

    Extremely large bike failing spectacularly to hide behind pillar.

    Final ride stats for the day, a thoroughly enjoyable 459kms, which was some 50kms further than I’d initially calculated, showing how much off route we’d been without GPS assistance.

     

     


  • Honda CBX550F

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    My first experience on two wheels started off on a bog basic Puch Maxi 50cc moped. I couldn’t wait to trade up to a “proper” bike though and a year later a Honda CB125N had replaced the dog slow slowped. It was a big upgrade at the time but I’d been bitten by the biking bug and soon wanted even more from  biking, leading me to take out my first bank loan for the purchase of a brand new Yamaha RD250C like the one below. The acceleration was staggering in its ferocity compared to the little Honda, the hit from the power band addictive, and the smoke and the smell of two stroke oil evocative of an era in which most of the Japanese bikes (excepting Hondas) were two strokes, think Kawasaki KH triples, Suzuki GT380,550,750’s and you get the picture.

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    Reminiscing again back to those golden days, I was reminded of a bike that took my fancy as my thoughts turned yet again to the purchase of a bigger engined bike. The object of my desire, the 1982 Honda CBX550F. It came in the red/white or blue/white options shown below, or a half faired version, the FII.

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    Often looking back we tend to see things through rose tinted glasses, so when I saw an article on the CBX in Motorcycle Sport and Leisure magazine, I had to buy it and find out whether I’d missed out on a great bike or not. Here’s what I found:

    The CBX 550F had a 2 valve per cylinder 572cc 4 stroke engine which made 62bhp at 10,000rpm and had a top speed of 118mph. It required servicing at 2000 mile intervals (imagine if you had those intervals on todays machines!) and the novel enclosed brake discs made wheel / tyre changes unnecessarily long and actually caused braking problems due to the heat and brake fade they created. It had CV carbs, electronic ignition, a Pro-Link rising rate air assisted rear monoshock,  and TRAC anti dive (air assisted) front forks, and a great looking 4 into 2 exhaust designed to mimic the CB400F pipes. At 196kg and with a range of only 100 miles due to its 35mpg thirst, it had some issues, none of which were anywhere near as bad as the camchain problems that surfaced soon after it’s launch though, which were then closely followed by issues with engine and clutch bearings. In the same way as the Honda V4 engines of this decade suffered with camshaft problems which did huge damage to their reputation, the CBX soon fell out of favour because of these problems and was dropped just a few years later, with Kawaski apparently picking up a lot of the sales that Honda lost.

    All of the above was quite an eye opener for me and really highlighted how memories and all that glistens is not gold! If someone wants to buy one of these pieces of two wheeled history, they apparently change hands for somewhere in the region of £1200-£1300. Sadly I won’t be buying one, but I still think they look good!

     

     

     


  • Reminiscing

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    The sale of my K1300GT will leave me in the strange position of being without a road bike for the first time in 20 years. In the past I’ve always had its replacement in the garage before I’d sold the old one, but this time it’s different. I’m in no rush, moneys tight, I’m missing my old riding buddies and the great trips we used to do, and I’m not feeling motivated to think about its replacement. I still have the R1 track bike though which does motivate me to get out on track, as it’s now close to how I’d like it to be vis a vis handling and mods, but it’s winter now and plenty of cold dark months and poor weather before next season comes around.

    So I’ve been reminiscing, like you do. Thinking of the good times, the bikes I’ve owned and loved, the one I owned and didn’t like, trips, tours, speed and adventure, so here are a few of my favourite memories.


    Bikes-

    I’ve owned two outstanding machines, well technically three if you consider I owned two models of the same machine, a Honda CBR1100XX Super Blackbird. I purchased the first one in Switzerland in Y2K with a mere 2600kms on the clock. I knew the second it purred out of the shop floor and onto the Geneva streets it was the one for me. Super smooth, quiet, refined, and SOOO fast, it was my pride and joy, and carried the wife and me half way round Europe at warp speed and in total reliability, well except for a regulator rectifier failure, but they all do that!

    Everyone knows that for a while the Bird was the fastest bike on the planet, but the best thing about it was the quiet exhaust note which allowed you to creep under the radar whilst Ducati’s and those with loud pipes were getting pulled over. The power came so smoothly and quietly with 100mph effortlessly and VERY rapidly passed, easy to get yourself in trouble with the law. I vividly remember being chased by a bunch of French riders on one occasion, and one coming up behind me shaping up for an overtake. No chance!, a rapid twist of the throttle and I was gone, warp drive engaged, and the guy disappeared in the rear view mirrors.

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    Then there was the ascent of the Pas de Casa in Andorra where we overtook a line of 10 cars in one go, but the best memory was riding back from the Misano superbikes with a mate and his Thunderace. The Italians allow free entry from the circuit onto the autostrada and then anarchy took over. Imagine hundreds of bikes let loose, all heading north and forgetting the speed limit. We set off together, but I soon had my Thunderace mounted mate disappearing in my mirrors as I gave the Bird the full throttle treatment. I averaged 220-240kph for the hour and a half it took all the way up to Bologna, at which time the fuel tank had been pretty much drained, and my hands were shaking with adrenaline. Crazy remembering those overtakes on either side of the traffic ahead just to maintain momentum. Could never happen again, and I’m amazed it did back then, but the bike was awesome. That adrenaline fix was actually better than maxxing it out at 285kph on a French dual carriageway and German autobahn some years later.

    Legal disclaimer- At this stage I should point out that none of these events ever happened, the stories are fictional, and are the result of an over active imagination and defective memory.

    The next “special” bike was the Honda RC45. This was a bike that excelled on the road and disappointed on the track, but however you rode it you were never going fast enough. The seat height was so low you couldn’t fail to get your knee down, the exhaust note so evocative it made you weep, and literally did when I rode it with a Micron open pipe for an hour and a half! The best thing, you rarely if ever saw another one on the roads so it always drew admiring glances from others, and questions from the younger generation who had no idea what it was. I had that bike nearly 10 years and loved every minute of it and to me was the very essence of why we ride bikes, because just looking at it made you want to ride, and when you got on it it never disappointed (on the road).

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    Disappointing bikes? I’ve only really owned one , a Laverda 750S, bought cheaply new when the company had gone bust (again) and only rode it for three months and 3000kms. It had lots of Gucci parts but the throttle control was awful and it stalled frequently. When my mates asked why I’d got it as it and gave their opinion of it having ridden it as being a piece of s**t, clearly it was time to get rid, and I did so very swiftly.

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    Most reluctant sale? Apart from the RC45, this has to be a low mileage ZX-10R l bought in Germany but had to sell when I moved back to France, due to that country’s barmy 100bhp law. This was a superb bike and obviously I didn’t ride it hard enough to be scared by its reputation as a wild ride, but the handling was sorted, it looked the dogs, went like stink, and was safe on track. Bloody French laws!

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    Tours-

    Got to be the 15 day tour I took with the wife on the Blackbird back in 2003. We toured through Italy, Croatia, Bosnia, Slovenia, Austria, Italy, Switzerland and France. 7 countries 3743kms and although it was our second big Euro tour since moving over in 1999, it was the most fun.

    I’ve also enjoyed my commercial Alpinebiker tours where I met some great people and shared some great rides and experiences.

    Not sure they count as tours, but I did so many ride outs with friends when I lived in Geneva that it’s difficult to pick any specific one out as being a favourite, I will say though, that sharing those days and tours shaped both my riding and long term memories, so to those people, you know who you are, thanks a million.

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    Encounters with the law-

    When you’ve ridden a bike for 20 years there are bound to have been the odd scrapes with the law, I’ve had a few although none of the ultra serious nature.

    The first came one summers evening whilst riding in Yorkshire with the wife on the back. I overtook a caravan and looking back saw a raplidly driven BMW with its lights flashing following me. No problem, go past I thought, the road ahead was clear, it wasn’t until he was closer behind me that I saw the blue lights flashing under the grill. One lecture later I’d got a ticket for 81mph for the caravan overtake but got let off the 92 I’d been doing earlier, oops.

    Strike 2 was on our 2003 tour when I got pulled over in Bosnia for allegedly doing 65 in a 50, but although I paid the fine I was shocked to see the policeman using the same speed gun reading on the next poor motorist who complained bitterly. Given the dubious nature of this ticket I don’t count it, in much the same way as the ticket in Austria, again for doing 65 in a 50 but I didn’t see any sign advertising the limit?

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    I then had many many years ticket free until I got one in France on a dealer loan bike. I wouldn’t have been on the road if my bike had been repaired on time and the loaner had had a motorway vignette, but it didn’t, so I ended up on a road I wouldn’t normally have been on which on that particular day the police had a radar trap on. Strangely the police seemed to think it amusing that a BMW was speeding, perhaps they see BMW’s as normally being ridden by the more conservative type of rider? Truth is I should have contested the fine though as they had got the speed reading from a 45 degree angle as I was crossing a bridge, and people have won cases before based on the fact you can’t get an accurate reading off a bikes angular surfaces from the side. Think that one cost me €90.

    I’m not proud of these and each time I get one I feel suitably chastised, but they’re all pretty minor offences (luckily). Given the 293,000kms I’ve ridden over the past 20 years, if these “speed awards” (as my US tour riders called them) are all I’ve got to show, then I’ve not done too badly considering!

    I could go on and on, but as I’ve written this it’s clear my life has been changed and shaped by biking, the machines I’ve ridden, the friendships made through ownership, and the special memories that rides, people, times and places create. Get another bike? Probably!