Planning the Alps Tour 2019

A long time ago….

It was never in doubt that I would do another tour of the Alps. Not only is it a stunning place to ride but with the BikeShuttle service that I used last time, its very easily accessible.

This time however we were going to be joined with a number of my friends travelling from the US. 

Having talked about 2018 then 2019 it felt that the final planning was always way into the future. That was until the last few weeks where it seems everything has fallen into place.

The plan

There will be eight of us in total with an even split of four from the UK and four from the US. We are making our way to Geneva, myself using the aforementioned BikeShuttle, where we will meet on the 4th July.

After eight days of riding we will return to Geneva and return to our respective bases.

Following a flurry of activity flights, transport and rentals (for those that need them) have been booked and confirmed. It was now down to me to work out where we would be going.

Continue reading “Planning the Alps Tour 2019”

Three Valleys in Wales

The love of the journey

Car drivers are often too keen to reach their destination. So much so that the aim is getting to the end of the drive rather than the journey. Sure, that isn’t always the case but these are the day trippers, the caravans and the motorhomes. Let’s not go there.

It seems that many of the A-roads were built to facilitate this speedy passage of car and driver such that there is a detachment to the surrounding landscape as they listen to their in car entertainment and will the journey on to their terminus.

Many of these roads are very enjoyable on two wheels. I’m not taking anything away from a well surfaced road with long sweeping bends and the occasional scenery, but many of the long forgotten ‘slow’ B-routes are some of the best rides you will find on two wheels. And so this was the aim of my latest planned route.

If you browse the Internet you will find a number of picture postcard views of certain valleys in Wales that re-occor on a frequent basis. These are the vistas that force you to pull over and pull the camera out then sit and take in the view after capturing the moment on your smartphone. These places existed long before they were marked on a map as a POI and should be savoured.

When planning a route I like to seek out these points of interest and join them up using the B-roads like a dot to dot drawing on a massive scale with my GPS tracking acting as the pen.

It is on this occasion that I selected three well known locations. These were the Welsh valleys and passes called Bwlch Pen Barras, Bwlch y Groes and Nant Gwynant. My previous post gave more detail into the history and background of these locations. Continue reading “Three Valleys in Wales”

Day trip planning in Snowdonia

Destination Snowdonia

It’s been well over a month since I returned from the North Coast 500 and other than the occasional short run there has been nothing worthy of a planned route. With the unprecedented weather giving us an actual summer, it has given me the luxury of being able to plan for a ride without being a slave to the breaks in the rainfall. Time to break out the routing apps with an initial destination of Snowdonia.

Where to go?

Wales is a regular destination offering easy access to some stunning scenery and great roads. Being based in the North West UK its easy to become complacent at the options available with the Peak District to the east, Yorkshire Dales and the Lake District to the North, and of course Wales to the west. I always find that planning a route starts with zooming out on Google Maps and heading for any area on the map that is green. You can’t go wrong. Continue reading “Day trip planning in Snowdonia”

Forma Adventure Low Boots and Wunderlich 3D Ergo screen deflector revisited

I recently bought and did a preliminary review of the Forma Adventure Low Boots and Wunderlich 3D Ergo screen deflector. Some 1700 miles later and with a North Coast 500 trip under my belt I can give you an update on how both are performing.

Forma Adventure Low Boots

I had high expectations of these boots given the favourable comments I had seen before I bought them and I have not been disappointed. While they were comfortable from the first time I put them on they have become one of the best items of footwear I have had the enjoyment of wearing.

My preliminary requirements were for grip, we all know that feeling of putting your foot down on loose gravel, and for wet weather capability. The boots excelled in both departments.

They had initially felt a little cumbersome but soon bedded in. It was not long until I was shifting on the protective pad to the top of the boot rather than the occasional missed shift where I had connected with the lever using my toe. The rugged tread pattern on the sole gave me the confidence I was looking for when wrestling a fully laden GS on any surface that came my way.

I was also pleasantly surprised on how comfortable these were to hike around in. They felt neither cumbersome nor clumsy on the off bike excursions, notably a stroll around Urquhart Castle or a slog down and back up the steps at Smoo Cave on my NC500 trip.

Despite their solid construction my feet never felt uncomfortably hot in hot weather or cold on the miserable rainy days that confirmed their waterproof properties.

Putting the boots on was also a pleasure and the velcro closure held the side flaps in place and the two quick release buckles snapped shut with ease. Taking them off was similarly effortless, a godsend after a long days riding.

I would recommend a tall pair of riding socks as, despite the padded neck of the boot, they could possibly rub your shin being a low boot but I didn’t experience any discomfort. That being the only unfavourable comment, and hardly worth a mention, I would wholeheartedly give them a 5/5 rating.

Wunderlich 3D Ergo screen deflector

I had bought the deflector without actually having any real issues with the stock screen. Sure I was aware of the air passing over the helmet but nothing that concerned me greatly but with a few motorway miles ahead of me I thought that I’d give it a try.

It wasn’t until I had got a few miles under my belt that I truly started to appreciate the difference. It was notably more peaceful behind the screen and this also had the unexpected benefit of making me sit more upright, thus improving my posture. I have on short day trips occasionally found my lower back to be stiff but on the last 1700 miles since I put it on I have had no such repeat of the experience.

Testament to its performance and looks is the fact that it has remained in place since it was fitted. I did leave a torx in my bar bag with the intention of taking it off after the motorway miles, prior to a good hack on the curvier routes.

While it never got in the way of my field of view while clean, It did obscure my sight slightly in the grubby weather but then so would a dirty visor. A quick wipe corrected this, and while on the topic of visors I found that it gave me notable protection from flies hitting my helmet. I only once had to wipe a particularly juicy specimen from my visor.

Another product that I would have to give a 5/5 rating.

 

 

North Coast 500 Track logs on MyRoute-app

At the end of my previous post I gave you a link to download my routes. There were a number of options, notably the route that took us off the A9 and gave us a much better run through the Cairngorms.

I had used MyRoute-app to create the initial routes before passing them through Garmin Basecamp to make sure that they were recalculated with no mapping errors.

I would normally publish my routes taken at this stage using Garmin Adventures but to my disappointment and frustration, the service has been pulled. I have yet to find an equivalent since I particularly liked the ability to drop geotagged photographs onto the adventure and have them automatically placed where they were taken on the route.

In the interim I have uploaded my track logs onto the MyRoute-app site. You may need to register for a free account to fully open and explore the route but that shouldn’t be any great hardship. You will then be able to convert the track to a route and download it directly from the site.

Northwest England to Inverness

Inverness to Bettyhill

Bettyhill to Ullapool

Ullapool to Poolewe via Gairloch

Poolewe to Applecross via Loch Ness

Applecross to Kylekin with a loop of Skye

Kyleakin to Oban (via an aborted run to Armadale)

Benderloch nr Oban to Northwest England

North Coast 500 and Beyond

The North Coast 500

The North Coast 500 is a route around the north coast of Scotland. Since its launch in 2015 it has become an iconic route for motor vehicles, cyclists, walkers, or any mode of transport you care to use. It links many features of the north of Scotland from the barren east coast, through the unspoilt beaches of the north, down through the dramatic coastal landscape of the western highlands.

The Plan

There is much written about the North Coast 500, also referred to as the NC500, both in guide books and numerous sources on the internet. Having visited the official website, I even became a fully paid up member for the year thus gaining an official route map, card for the wallet and sticker for the bike. I’m not saying I’m obsessive but if you are going to do something you may as well do it right?

The NC500 initiative’s aim was to work with all aspects of the tourism sector and bring a boost to the businesses around the route. The guides reflected this with many opportunities to explore the areas off route. However, our goal was to seek out the best roads on the official route, and to seek out the best that could be seen from the roadside while we stretched our legs. For those following our footsteps I hope that I can highlight the places that we enjoyed, and the places not worthy of a visit since we were enjoying the ride.

All four riders were setting off out from the northwest of England. The official NC500 starting point regardless of whether you are doing the North Coast 500 clockwise or anticlockwise is Inverness, so this would be the first leg of the journey from home. You could start anywhere but we were starting at Inverness and staying faithful to the official route.

From Inverness we would head up the east coast on an anticlockwise loop to Bettyhill via John O’ Groats taking in the northern coast. Dropping down to the western side of the run where the route slows with many single track roads breaking up the A-roads to Ullapool. A short day to gather our thoughts at Poolewe then leads onto a run to Applecross via a trip to Loch Ness. It is at this point that we would have all but covered the official route, so our extended run (the beyond in this story) takes us around Skye and then down to Oban.

My bags are packed, I’m ready to go…

Continue reading “North Coast 500 and Beyond”

Final preparations for the NC500

With all the planning for the North Coast 500 trip you’d think that I would be relaxed about my preparations. With four days to go its not until I ride off the drive that I’ll truly say that’s it, I’m done.

Planning complete

I couldn’t have done more. I’ve researched the NC500 routes with the help of members of the UKGSer forum and had some tips from friends who have lived up in Scotland. It even looks as though the weather will be kind to us, not that we expect any favours on that front when travelling in Scotland. I can only say that the Motorrad Rainlock kit that I bought from Chester Motorrad has been tried and tested in some pretty abysmal weather both on my last trip to Scotland and across the Alps. One of the best purchases I have ever made.

Follow our progress

I hope that you will follow us on our NC500 journey via the posts I will be making. I’ll look forward to doing a full write up on our return.

All that is left to mention is a reminder to where you can follow us.

On Facebook https://www.facebook.com/groups/waitingfortheraintostop/

On Instagram https://www.instagram.com/redsmartie_/

 

Route planning update. Nav 5, MyRouteApp and Basecamp.

With 19 days left to go I thought it would be appropriate to post an update as to how the route planning was going. The truth is that the planning was pretty much done at the time that I booked the accommodation. Sure there are a few variables and side trips but how much planning do you need when you are following the coast. We’re going anticlockwise so keep the wet stuff on the right and you can’t go wrong.

What is worth mentioning as a record to those who have had similar experiences is the use of MyRoute-App, Garmin Basecamp and the BMW Navigator V. Much of this has been played out on various forums but I’ll try to summarise the outcome.

Much of what I do with the Nav is have it take me to my destination via the fastest route, a concept familiar with anyone who has ever used a sat nav. I also use it to record where I’ve been. Occasionally I use it to load up the routes I’ve planned. The last time I did this was in the Alps which went wrong and I ended up manually entering routes based on numerous village waypoints from a map. At the time I never did a full post mortem nor was I in a position to until I could load some test routes. With our imminent departure on the NC500 I wanted to avoid a repeat of the Alps situation so I set out some routes for a short run.

I have mentioned that I was trying MyRoute-App, an online routing system, and it was this that I used to do my test routes. Straight away things started to go wrong. I missed a turn it recalculated but took me an alternative way the intended. When I got to my destination and then set off for the next leg I was given a route of straight lines between each waypoint and since I was not familiar with the area I aborted and went straight for the destination. This was not going well.

In hindsight I now know what was happening. I could give you the long post but that is covered elsewhere, by myself and others. Here is the abbreviated short version. What was happening is that my route was made up of waypoints and silent shaping points that pin the route to the road I want to travel on. As soon as I deviated and the Nav 5 was allowed to do a route recalculation it went straight for the destination and ignored the route defined by the shaping points. So to keep it simple here are my top tips in the form of short bulleted sentences. Follow these and you can’t go wrong (unlike me in the Alps).

  • Make sure that you are using the same map on Basecamp as you are on the Nav5
  • Make sure that all your route preference match on Basecamp and Nav5. Here we are talking settings such as avoid motorways, u-turns, etc
  • Have recalculation off or prompted. If prompted its easier to spot when you are off route.. but press no when asked to recalc
  • If you have imported a route into Basecamp, make sure you have sufficient shaping points and do a recalculation before transfer
  • Don’t use tracks. The Nav5 often ignores anything other than the final destination. Your route should be in Trip Planner.
  • If you have used MyRoute-App and the trip on the map of the device has straight lines you can force a recalc by flicking from fastest to curvy and back.
  • If you follow a route and skip a section it should automatically pick up on the next navigation prompt. If you press skip it will bypass the next waypoint (note – this is not the next silent shaping point. You could lose a large chunk of your route)

Follow the above points and chances are you will be ok. But then again, is this the blind leading the blind? I’ll be better informed when I return from my next trip. Good luck!

Schuberth E1 Review

There are many great helmet manufacturers out there but I’d got myself into thinking there was Arai and then there was everyone else. And so it was when I decided that I wanted a more adventure styled helmet to match the bike and my other touring gear I instinctively turned to Arai. At the time I was at the NEC Motorcycle Live show and was browsing the new range of helmets while my current helmet, a Quantum ST Pro, got a free service (another good reason to buy Arai). At the time I had my eye on the Tour-X 4.

The show was in November and the Arai wasn’t in the shops until the following March so I had time to look around. Not that I needed to as I’ll remind you of my opening statement suggesting I need not look any further than Aria, however in the months following I kept seeing a lot of recommendations in the touring community to the Schuberth helmets.

The Schuberth E1

I took a look out of curiosity and was quite impressed with the specs. It was a flip up helmet, had an internal visor, came with a pinlock fittedand could have an optional integrated comms system. Sure it also came with a price tag closing in on £700 but all of these extra features gave me a reason to change rather just on styling.

A year went by and another NEC show came around. This was the perfect opportunity to try one on for size, thus opening up the ability to buy online with confidence. One I’d confirmed that my head was still large and that the Schuberth large conformed to my large head I came home to do some browsing. It was a further four months on when I stopped searching but in that time I’d found an E1 in an older livery for £399 from Helmet City. I liked the colour and I was making a £270 saving!

Out of the box the helmet felt great. While some people made reference to some head shapes not liking it, I must fall into the bracket of skull compatibility that suits the Schuberth. It was immediately comfortable and the convenience of the ratchet closure rather that the double D ring was a welcome addition. As with most helmets I took a few minutes to work out where all the vent positions are while wearing the helmet and also the switch for the internal visor that, while immensely practical, also gave you a Top Gun jet fighter look.

Out on the road I found that in its delivered position the peak was a little intrusive in my line of sight so I lifted this one notch up. The adjustment was simple with the release of a locking lever. I’ve yet to ride on a wet day but I have noticed a bit of internal condensation that immediately clears when the visor is cracked open in its ‘urban riding’ position. Perhaps I need to open up a vent? Either way the pillock did its job and there is nothing in the main field of vision. It is possible that with everything closed it has less ability that the Arai (in a good way) to vent out any moisture from my breast as the next skirt is quite snug. This also has the ability to reduce noise considerably and I’m finding that it is a very quiet helmet. I certainly look forward to touring in it.

Can you hear me now?

When I ordered it I had agonised long and hard as to whether I should be buying the integrated SC10U comms based on the Sena system. Long story short, yes the integrated system would be neater than retaining the UClear but everyone I need to communicate with has the UClear. If this changes at a later date I can get the integrated system to fit. It is good that the helmet is prepared for comms as it gave me an ample recess to mount the UClear speakers.

Top Gun?