• Category Archives Ride Reports
  • 3 Epic days in the Alps

    The plan had been hatched a few weeks ago, to ride for 4 days in the Swiss Alps across to the Stelvio. As the departure date loomed large, I started to get concerned that the weather forecast was for rain in the afternoon. This morning it’s not too warm either as I set off to meet Andy at the La Cote motorway services on the Swiss autoroute. I arrived a little before the 08.00am meeting time and had just finished refuelling when Andy arrived on his GS Adventure.

    Leaving the services with the idea of stopping at Brig for a coffee, I quickly realised that I wasn’t going to make it that far. Having recently just finished 3 days riding with the EuroKClub and another two days with Nadeem, the 1800kms and full days of riding and organisation have taken their toll on me, I’m knackered. I pull off the motorway at the Martigny services and explain the problem to Andy. The next half hour is spent refuelling my body; fresh orange juice, two Mars bars, an apple slice and a can of Red Bull do the trick, and soon I‘m ready to take on the world again.

    Arriving at Gletsch we took the left turn up the Grimsel and a photo stop or two looking across to the Furka.

    Top of the Furka

    Painting on dam wall

    Descending into Innerkirchen we stopped at a restaurant conveniently located at the foot of the Susten Pass which we are to ascend next. The weather forecast said rain at 14.00, and sure enough rain starts to fall, but only gently. Andy is super confident in the wet anyway, but on his S, will be interesting to see how he gets on with the GS and the semi offroad tyres.

    The Susten is one of my favourite passes, great scenery, no ultra tight hairpins, and places to stop for pics, here’s a few on the way up.

     

    Once near the top the cloud is so low it’s almost like riding in the fog. Speeds drop, and the normally fast descent is much more sedate, but we are rewarded with the amazing scene of clouds lifting behind Wassen to reveal part of the  mountain behind it, the rest still hidden by cloud.I’ve ridden this pass many many times, but this time it’s almost surreal in the clouds.

    Wassen to Andermatt takes you over a winding pass, and by now it’s turned 15.30pm. Andy has decided that it’s time to stop at the hotel, and forego continuing on round the Gotthard, Neufenen and Furka. I’m disappointed, but as he’s already ridden them before, and I’m suddenly very tired again, we agree to stop. The bikes are safely parked in the garage next door, and after a rest, a couple of beers in the bar, a shower, and an evening meal, the batteries are recharged and ready for tomorrows adventures.

    Looking out of the window the next morning, the clouds are low and swirling round Andermatt. As the sun tries to heat up the temperature outside, in the distance we can see fresh snow on the Furka! The forecast said 5 degrees C at 08.00, and it was right! Leaving Andermatt you immediately climb out towards the Oberalp pass. Up here there is a lake and with the sun trying to heat the water we saw this spectacle of steaming water!

    From the Oberalp it’s onto the Lokmanier, not a particularly exciting pass and strangely seems to be built with large paving slabs which give a bumpy ride. We’re making good time without riding too quickly and it’s still quite cool. We took the motorway from Biasca to Bellinzona and on round to the San Bernadino, where the wide sweeping bends that climb upwards allowed some good hanging off opportunities ( I know you’re not supposed to do that on a GT, and especially not at my age, but what the hell!). Turning onto the pass proper, Andy got stuck behind the traffic I was able to get past, and so got to enjoy a quick and unrestricted run to the restaurant at the top. It was windy and decidedly nippy here, so we didn’t stop long before starting the descent.

    The first part is fun and then turns into a sequence of loads of tight hairpins. Having set off ahead I stopped at a hairpin in order to wait and film Andy arriving. Setting off after him I’m having to work hard to catch up, seeing him just ahead and down the next hairpin, I make a real push to suddenly find the brake lever coming back to the bar!!!!!!!! Holy cow! Last time that happened was on my ZX10-R at Hockenheim. Pumping the lever furiously I managed to restore some feel, but was shocked that this had happened, especially given the steel brake lines fitted as standard. I guess that stopping 260kg+ of man and machine down multiple hairpins at speed stresses the system, and no metter the fact I have the “magic” anti foam fitted, seems it was too much.

    Onwards to Thusis, Tiefencastel and over the Julier. This is the best direction to ride it, with well surfaced sweeping bends leading up the “real”start of the pass.

    Andy and GS Adventure

    I’m frustrated by a German ahead on a smaller capacity bike who seems to be missing every apex and making it difficult to pass safely. Eventually I do get past and have a very spirited run to the top. Stopping for a coffee, the German arrives later and all is revealed, the male I assumed was riding turns out to be a 40 something year old woman, with her other half already waiting for her there on his 1100S. The Julier turns out to have other interests too. A Bugatti Veyron wafts past, and then at least 8 Triumphs roll up, later followed by a group of Moto Guzzi’s, Griso, Norge, Stelvio, and a very fetching pink Breva ridden by a woman.

    Descending into Silvaplana and it’s lakes, we passed onto Surlej before turning towards Tirano and the Bernina Pass. En route an ambulance decides it’s fine to pull out in front of me and then proceeds to hassle other drivers ahead, pulling poor overtakes, until we see him again stopped at a petrol station, seems there was no hurry after all! A little further on Andy overtook me and a little further on pulled over to the side of the road and stopped, seemed the extra layer of clothes we had donned to combat the cold this morning was causing him to overheat. Stripping off to cool down I nipped over the road to a convenience store and bought us a couple of ice creams. Without a fixed hotel for tonight I’m aiming for a place I know which I estimate to be around 40 minutes away. As we arrive at the Italian border I’m stopped and asked if I’m Italian, checking the plates the border guard sees I’m on a French bike and waves me through.

    The hotel is closer than I thought but there are no rooms free. The owner directs us to an alternative hotel in the town of Tovo, and we’re glad he did, as it’s at least as good, much quieter, and has beautifully finished rooms and furnishings. Another couple of beers, some Italian food, and sleep beckons and the lure of another day, and the Stelvio.

    08.45am. Ten minutes late starting, but never mind. Wiping the dew from the bikes I take advantage of the heated grips and seat, and we’re off to Bormio and the Stelvio. It’s Sunday,it’s early, and there’s very little traffic. Negotiating the many small tunnels I hope that nothing comes the other way, as the camper van in front of me is filling the entire tunnel! Upwards past the waterfall, the smoothly surfaced bends pass quickly and without the encumbrance of other traffic to slow us down, we are at the top within an hour of leaving the hotel. After a quick walk round and a a few pics, we decided to descend via the 48 hairpins rather than by the alternative Umbrail pass.48 hairpins sounds fun, but it really isn’t. Again, as it’s so early we can use the opposite side of the road to get round the hairpins. With cars, coaches, lorries, and bikes here, it must be a nightmare. I’m needing 1st gear in many places, and I see Andy has developed the motorcrosser, inside leg out technique to get round. He quickly pulls away from me as I get more and more frustrated. The brake lever starts to travel further again, and I’m really not enjoying the descent. Finally it’s over, but I don’t think either of us would say it was really enjoyable, and wouldn’t rush back to do it again.

    After the frustration of the descent, we had the pleasure of passing through the beautiful towns of Tubre in Italy, and Moustair just over the Swisss border, as we started the Pass de Fuorn. This had been a specific road Andy had wanted to ride after seeing it featured on Top Gear. It is a great road, but one that needs to be treated with respect. Last year we spent an hour stuck on this road whilst a helicopter ambulance airlifted some unfortunate German sportsbike rider off the pass. Running through woods it twists and turns, but has some tight bends to catch you out if you get too cocky, and at one stage a massive depression in the road physically sent me heading towards the opposite side, if I’d been carrying another 10kph or so, I’d probably have been embedded in the banking on the other side! At Zernez we stopped again, and so far my calculated timings had been spot on. We had originally decided to aim for Interlakken that night, but as this was only 3 hours from home, Andy was now wondering if we could make it all the way round and back home.

    Zernez to Susch, then over the Fluelapass. I had forgotten how good this pass was, having ridden it many years ago. Deciding that this was one to enjoy I sped off a great rate of knots, only to hear a loud exhaust behind me. It wasn’t Andy, and I did what all bikers do when someone appears behind them, went faster! I imagine the Trimph rider was shocked that a lumbering GT could be ridden this hard, but having made my point, I pulled over and let him past, chalking one up to the old guy on the heavy bike! Conveniently, pulling over allowed me to savour the scenery here which was truly great. The pass kept getting better though. The descent was a fabulous ribbon of well surfaced winding open bends, couldn’t be better!

    In Davos we briefly headed the wrong way before figuring that Klosters was in completely the opposite direction. Another place on Andy’s wishlist we crossed the tiny Wolfgangpass , marvelled at the setting of the town, nestled in the valley, and later cursed I didn’t take any pictures. Lunch on this impressive looking hotel terrace, and off again.

    In Landquart it’s motorway to Niederunen and the turn off for the Klausenpass, except the motorway signs didn’t show that the next 3 junctions were shut! Forced to ride an extra 20kms to get back to Niederunen, I was unhappy we had wasted time on this needless excursion.

    The Klausenpass is another of my favourites. It starts with a paved bend and then cuts through tight twisty bends before opening up into a wonderful valley and climbing. Following an old British open topped sports car I worried that he was cutting too many corners and that any he would hit someone coming in the opposite direction.  Getting past as quickly as possible I was soon being chased by a couple who had hounded Andy through all the small villages en route to the pass. The red mist dropped, and off I went. Soon the bike was gone, but I was pushing too hard, and as I slightly cut a bend, the road narrowed, and I saw the car coming towards me had also cut the same bend. With a mega counter steering effort, I manged to avoid my pannier missing the wing of his car, but it must have been by only millimetres. Annoyed with myself for being drawn into racing, I backed it off and let the other bike past.

     

    One of the features of this trip has been the cows wandering in the fields. I usually ride earlier in the season, but now they have been brought down from the high pastures and are an integral part of the countryside with their gently chiming bells.

    Another stop, but the place was packed, with music provided by three accordion players.

    Waiting to get served we planned a return home, but it was showing over 4 hours, so we thought of stopping at Interlakken again. With so many people there, and no sign of being served, we left. Andy, clearly motivated by a desire to get home to his wife and kids suddenly seemed galvanised, and started to disappear off into the distance after I stopped for a couple of pictures.  Only some really hard riding and quite a few risks taken on my part, finally hauled him back after what must have been at least 5 minutes.

    In Altdorf he set off in the wrong direction,chasing him he told me that the GPS had a route which would get him back by 20.30, so off we went, and a few hours of motorway back home. The only memorable part of this journey was that the sun was so strong I was having trouble seeing without my dark visor or sunglasses. In stop start traffic I tried to take my Oakleys from the fairing compartment and transfer them to tank bag, but only managed to break off and lose one of the arms. Stopping at a rest stop I put them on with the one arm remaining, but at least I could see now! A final stop at 19.00 before the final push for home, and by 21.20pm I was back home and it was all over.

    I’ve ridden these passes many times over the past 10 years, but each time, and especially this time, they threw up even greater enjoyment and pleasure. Andy was a great riding partner, and this was a great tour, one to look back on in years to come, smile, and bore your friends and family to death with tall stories of a great adventure. 1365kms, 12 passes, and 3 days, of which Andy described it as his “best trip EVER” , you had to be there, it was epic!!


  • A cautionary tale

    I used to ride with the Yorkshire group of the I.A.M (Institute of Advanced Motorists) in the run up to, and passing of, my advanced test. Riding with a group was always interesting, there was a huge diversity of bikes, ages, and riding experience, from newish riders wanting to progress, to instructors, and even police rider.

    I don’t consider myself to be a fast rider, although I must admit to riding at a “spirited” pace, or as the I.A.M like to call it, “making progress” . I remember vividly when a fellow club member with a ZZR600, came to me for the umpteenth time on a club run, asking why I was so much faster than he was. This was a loaded question and I replied that there could be many factors; experience, tyres, machine set up, etc etc. I offered to follow him for a while and see if I could help with any constructive comments. He agreed, and it became painfully obvious what the problem was. He was not reading the road but arriving at a bend, almost stopping, deciding which way the bend went, and then setting off again, and slowly at that. I suggested some ways he could improve, how to read the road, and to consider following someone a little faster, and look at the lines they took through bends, BUT, warning him at the same time, not to get suckered into going as fast as them, as there was obviously a reason why they were quicker.

    We set off again and I was surprised to see that despite my speeds approaching 90mph, the ZZR was right behind me, and travelling a full 20mph faster than I had seen him go all day! Overtaking a line of cars he was still there and seemed to be enjoying this new found speed and confidence, then it all went wrong! We approached a right, left, right hand series of bends. I positioned myself for the 3rd bend, but the ZZR behind me hadn’t positioned himself so well. Arriving at the left hander too wide, he was poorly positioned for the final right hander, which I had just found tightened up on itself and been a little tricky, but it proved a bridge too far for my shadow. I looked in the mirror to see him shoot off the road having overcooked the last bend.

    I stopped, turned around, and helped pick him and his bike out of the field they were both now resting in. Shell shocked and a little chastened, he took a little persuading to get back on it. I rode it up the road to check for any damage, and removed the tufts of earth embedded in the fairing. It was rideable, but the ride home was at a much reduced pace! I know I was not to blame, but this event clearly illustrated the need to ride at your own pace, not someone else’s. This is just as applicable today as it was back in ???? when this event occurred. Trying to follow someone who knows the roads or is clearly capable of riding at speeds that see you at your upper limit, is a recipe for disaster. I often recount this story to others as a salutary tale, picking someone out of a ditch isn’t pleasant, for you or them, in this case the guy escaped with wounded pride and some damaged bodywork, he was lucky, it could have cost him a lot more than that!


  • Countries I’ve toured in (outside UK)

    Switzerland-

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    Comment: Wonderful country with the best biking roads in Europe

    Favourite places: Schaffausen (Rheinfallen) ALL Alpine passes, especially the Susten

    Riding tips: Stick to the speed limits, fines are very high, watch for speed cameras placed in tunnels, at exits of tunnels, and in middle of motorway carriageways which flash you from both front and rear, so no escape!

    France-

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    Comment: Huge country with every type of road you could wish for

    Favourite places: The bistro at the top of the Col du Leques

    Riding tips: Find a quiet road and enjoy it and your bike to the  full!

     

    Spain

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    Comment: Wonderful climate, great roads

    Favourite places: Col de la Bonaigua, Road from Sort to Tremp

    Riding tips: Watch for speed traps entering town limits and motorcycle police are in places you don’t expect them!

     

    Andorra-

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    Comment: Tiny country with cheap VAT free shopping!

    Favourite places: Pas de Casa and Andorra La Veillha

    Riding tips: You must ride the Col de la Bonaguia!!!!

     

    Germany-

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    Comment: Lived there for a year or two, surprisingly good roads and a real bike culture

    Favourite places: Swabisch Albs

    Riding tips: Try the derestricted autobahn at least once, and early without traffic. I managed 285kph on my Blackbird

     

    Italy-

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    Comment: Great country, great food, expressive people, the wifes favourite European country

    Favourite places: Dolomites, Verona, Desenzano, Lake Orta

    Riding tips: Lake roads are crowded and slow moving, ride the Dolomites, again and again and again!!

     

    Monaco-

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    Comment: Tiny place with more money than you can possibly imagine

    Favourite places: Check the casino (the street cafe outside was all I could afford!)

    Riding tips: Go slowly, it’s impossible to go quickly!

     

    Austria-

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    Comment: Like Switzerland but with more aggressive police!

    Favourite places: Innsbruck and the Grossglockner pass

    Riding tips: Be VERY careful of speed limits, if a Goldwing can get a ticket, it’s tough. You have been warned!!

     

    Liechtenstein-

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    Comment: Tiny country with  mountains and a motorway passing through!

    Favourite places: Planken, where the mountains form a natural barrier to Switzerland

    Riding tips: Not so much to ride, but gain some height and marvel at the views across the country

     

    San Marino-

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    Comment: Tiny country

    Favourite places: So small impossible to say!

    Riding tips: See above.

     

    Luxembourg-

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    Comment: Most recent country visited (2009), worth a visit

    Favourite places: Going back to find some

    Riding tips: Cheap petrol, fill up before moving on!

     

    Slovenia-

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    Comment: Like a mini Austria with mountains and a coastline, you’ll be pleasantly surprised, it’s lovely

    Favourite places: Llubjana, Postonja caves, Bled

    Riding tips: Be VERY careful when it rains, roads become ice rinks!!

     

    Croatia-

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    Comment: Wonderul country, amazing coastline, friendly people, not too expensive

    Favourite places: Dubrovnik, one of my favourite cities of Europe!

    Riding tips: Road surfaces can be variable

     

    Bosnia&Herzegovinia-

    bosnia & herzegovinia flag

    Comment: Ravages of war all too evident in shell holed buildings

    Favourite places: Didn’t stop long enough but the national parks are reputed to be worth visiting

    Riding tips: We couldn’t wait to get out but will go back sometime in the future and try again!

     

    Isle of Man-

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    Comment: Took me 57 years to get there but steeped in TT history, allows you to ride the TT race circuit and marvel at the speeds the racers ride it at, crazy! 

    Favourite places: The mountain course

    Riding tips: Don’t go too mad riding the TT course, it takes 2/3 years for TT racers to learn it so you won’t in a coupleof hours, take it steady, lap up the scenery and the speed linit free zones and enjoy!


  • Yorkshire to Scotland on a Goldwing

    At the beginning of 1998 I had organized a biking holiday in the UK with one of my suppliers, a South African called Andy. He and his wife Lesley were going to come to the UK and hire a Pan European, whilst Sue and I would take a Goldwing, and then we’d all tour around a route I had planned from Yorkshire, up the Lake District and Scotland, and back via Northumberland. This route covered some magnificent parts of the country and featured beautiful scenery and quiet roads. The bikes were booked, deposits paid, and then a problem arose. My company was purchased by a competitor, and not wanting to find myself unemployed and friends arriving for a holiday I didn’t know if I could afford, I had no option other than to cancel. We lost the deposits and were all a little apprehensive as to how the future would pan out. In the event, I retained my job and found myself relocated to Switzerland less than a year later.
    It appeared Sue had been looking forward to this holiday more than the rest of us, as this would have been her big chance to get a ride on the Goldwing she had long since admired. It was too late to rebook the holiday, so I did some rapid thinking and came up with an alternative plan.
    May 26th 1998 was Sue’s 40th birthday,  and I wanted to make it a memorable one, so after some wheeling and dealing with the local dealer who had been going to hire us the Goldwing for the original holiday, I booked one for a day, so Sue could have her ride, albeit only for 24 hours, not a week. We arrived at Appleyards at 8.30am to collect the bike, and listened carefully while the controls, functions and linked brakes were explained to me. This was the shop who had sold me my VFR a few weeks earlier, so they were reasonably confident I was not a new rider about to go and crash their multi thousand pound bike (list price circa £15,000 at this time!) I was curious to learn that they recommended using the rear brake for slowing down, and using the front only when greater power was needed. This was the complete opposite of the linked system on my VFR, but thinking about it I guess it was to stop excessive weight transfer to the front forks and reduce dive when stopping.
    It was drizzling with rain as we set off, Sue lounging back in the luxuriously padded seat behind me. The weight of the bike was instantly noticeable, and as we rode out of town and onto the winding roads out of Yorkshire heading for the Lake District, I was more than a little apprehensive. The rain soon stopped though, and we settled into enjoying the ride as a unique biking experience. Pulling away from traffic lights required a new technique. The front seemed to go quite light as you let off the brakes and set off, so I soon developed a style where I sat well forward, weighting up the front, and then accelerated away speedway style so the front couldn’t go light. The other big thing was entering bends. Trying to ride a bike and using the rear to slow down, creates a feel so completely the opposite of anything you have ever learnt or been taught, that it was difficult to get used to. The lesson here was ride more slowly, enter bends taking wider arcs, and use the torque to pull out the other side. The huge amount of torque available meant that gearchanges became a little superfluous, and after about an hour or so we had settled into a nice routine.
    I can only remember stopping a couple of times, once mid morning to don oversuits as it looked like rain again, and then late afternoon for a break and food. When stopping and parking, the reverse gear, activated by engaging a lever which reverses the action of the starter motor, proved invaluable in shifting the massive bulk.

    The return leg of the journey was a gentle cruise. Sue was really enjoying the comfortable seat and the relaxed tempo dictated by the machine itself. I remember sitting in the outside lane of the motorway at 75mph with the radio on, and being amused as cars moved quickly out of the way, wondering where the mobile disco was coming from. At these speeds the rpm is barely registering, wind is almost non existent behind the big screen, and you know people aren’t going to pull out in front of you as they can’t fail to see you because of the sheer bulk of the thing!

    The route had taken us through Kirby Lonsdale to Carlisle, over to Corbridge, and onto Jedburgh on the border with Scotland, then back via Morpeth and York. In total we were riding for 9 hours and covered 366 miles. Next day back at Appleyards we were amused when the salesman expressed his surprise at the length of time we had been out and the distance we had covered. Apparently, most hirers go for very short trips, and mostly go for the pose value to show off in front of their friends! Feeling like true bikers, we had experienced yet another aspect of motorcycling, and seen another side of the sport. Grand scale touring, medium speeds and great comfort. Sue’s desires had been fulfilled, and the day declared a great success. Even to this day she has pictures of Goldwings adorning her kitchen walls, a small model in the lounge, and photographs and memories to remind her of that special birthday ride.

     

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