I was going to open with a reference to my latest ride being the first of the new season but I realised that a ‘riding season’ is so subjective. There are those that ride all year and those that only ride when the weather is warmer and drier.
I sit between these two camps. I don’t get pleasure in riding in inclement weather but it certainly doesn’t bother me. I’ve invested in enough suitable clothing to ride in all conditions. While a warm sunny day brings out the best in all of us, I wouldn’t see the lack of sunshine as a reason not to ride. Its all about choice, and I ride when I choose to.
With only a few days gone since the passing of the new year and with the weather cool but stable a decision was made to take the bikes out for a run. There was no plan other than to meet in Chester at 10am on a Sunday morning with the inference that the ride would be North Wales based on our meet up point.
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”→
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.
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.
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.
Or is it slain? Its important to get ones English correct when you are the only Brit in a group of Americans.
And so it was, I had boarded my Virgin Atlantic flight to Atlanta and was once again in the US of A. Those of you who have read my previous words will know all about the US129 ‘Dragon’ and its tail so hopefully I can find something new to tell you.
Things were a lot less stressful this time since I was retracing my steps from 2015. There was the horrendous immigration queue at Atlanta but I managed to fast track myself with my British charm. Actually, it was more like standing in the right place at the right time. I said I was on the same passport as last time with the same ETSA. This wasn’t entirely true as my ETSA had expired and this was a new one, but I managed to win over the immigration official with tales of my last visit and my local knowledge. I think he appreciated that my travel intentions weren’t that of the usual tourist.
Four wheel transport
Ok, so I’ve done the Camaro thing and I didn’t want to do the obvious Mustang tourist thing again so I opted for a inconspicuous Mercedes. I had briefly flirted with the idea of a truck but came to my senses. I think my choice of car had confused the local Sixt agent when collecting the keys as he had assumed I was German and was a little surprised when he realised I wasn’t. Maybe I should have been renting a Jaguar? (Don’t say Tata!!). Did I mention it was Friday around 5pm? Really not the best time to be heading through downtown Atlanta at rush hour! My first destination was visiting my friend Zachary in Knoxville and this traffic was seriously eating into our drinking time. Continue reading “Dragon slayed, again.”→
Foolishly, I thought our planning would magically weave a path around any incoming weather, and as I prepared to set off from home there was a possibility that would be the case. By the time I was 100 yards up the road it became clear that this was fanciful thinking and I was getting wet. My initial stop for fuel was also going to be an opportunity to get the wet weather gear out of the panniers. I wishfully checked my phone for a text calling off the trip. Nothing.
We had arranged to meet at Llangollen in the car park of the Royal International Pavilion. Heavy rain largely dominated the journey so I tucked in behind the bikes windshield and turned on the heated grips. The rain had subsided by the time I pealed off the motorway near Chester, heading west towards Wales. An initial 7ºC had climbed to an almost balmy 11.5ºC, small margins but it was noticeable. Once at Llangollen we headed for a much needed hot drink. Sitting opposite a card shop drinking our coffee we amused ourselves trying to pronounce the name of the shop, YSIOPFACHGARDIAUWRTHYBONTDROSYRAFONDDYFRDWYYNLLANGOLLEN. We gave up.
Although we were passing many of our usual locations, today’s main event was Barmouth and I punched the destination into the (now behaving) Navigator V. Ever since I came back from Switzerland I had been trying to fix a problem with the Sat Nav. Even a whisker over a speed limit on any given road would cause it to give an audible warning every 20 seconds. It had been driving me crazy and I couldn’t find a solution. It became a long story but It needn’t have been. I had inadvertently turned on Audible Speed Alerts and having assumed nothing had changed in the settings I didn’t check them. Instead I was Googling and being lead on a merry goose chase about speed camera databases, and picking through the file system while ignoring the solution that was right in front of me.
On the topic of satellite navigation, we encountered another of those little misadventures you get when you refuse to use a good old map. Having set Barmouth as the destination I was advised that there would be a toll, and I accepted the warning without taking up the offer of an alternative route.
The toll in question turned out to be Penmaenpool toll bridge. It is a Grade II listed wooden toll bridge built in 1879 to replace the then ferry crossing across the estuary of the River Mawddach. The earlier rain showers had left the wooden surface a little slippy but we crossed without incident for the princely sum of 50p each. If we had not turned off the road to cross the bridge then we wouldn’t have encountered traffic that we have earlier passed. They were not following the same navigation goals as we where and were on a more direct but slightly longer route. But hey, that’s the adventure right?
We crawled into Barmouth through narrow streets behind your typical caravan and motorhome selection of day trippers. Barmouth was built up from the ship building industry but is now a seaside resort. We found a nice spot to park up on the promenade. The tropical trees lining the promenade looked out of place despite it warming up a little. However, not to that extent. We found a cafe. I had a full English, my riding companion had a stack of American pancakes and syrup. We were living the Welsh dream.
We left Barmouth and followed the coast road towards Harlech. We turned inland and shot over the excellent A470 from Blaenau Ffestiniog to Betws-Y-Coed with its long sweeping bends. At ‘Betsy’ we pulled into the recently resurfaced car park and slotted into the newly painted motorcycle bays. Betws-Y-Coed is a regular stop and a hub of many routes in Snowdonia. Its not uncommon for us to fuel up both bike and belly. Having just fuelled the bike, and with bacon, sausage, black pudding, egg, mushroom, beans, tomato and toast still working its way down my innards from the cafe in Barmouth, it was a quick cup of tea before heading for home.
There were a few light showers but nothing to have me reach for the now stowed wet weather gear. Fortune had favoured the brave. Faced with the possibility of a soaking we’d gambled and had a great ride out. Chalk up another 250 miles.
The lack of posts on here and on Facebook are an indication to the lack of riding that has been taking place. As the weather continues to improve the trips out on the bike will become more meaningful. As I look forward, inevitably I take a glance back and I’ve been reminiscing on last years rides and the tour of the Alps, looking over the photos and watching the video.
It occurred to me that many who might stumble on this blog might not have seen the links to the Garmin Adventure sites. Even on Facebook where they were initially published they are a little fragmented and as a resource they may be invaluable as they would give people access to the GPS routes. So without further explanation, here they are:
Lets start this post with an important fact. The S1000RR has gone, in fact this happened back in February as many of you will know who follow my Facebook posts. I had hinted at the possibility on my last blog post. In hindsight it was very much a foregone conclusion with the decision even preceding my first ride on a GS that I had rented for my trip to the Tail of the Dragon (US129) in the Smokey Mountains. I had made my mind up. Don’t get me wrong, I love the RR and by comparison the GS (affectionately) can be a bag of spanners but I’ve had more fun on that rental on the 318 curves in 11 miles than I’ve had on any bike. It was also in the knowledge that a GS would open up a whole new world of possibilities, like touring the Alps, and so the RR was traded in for a brand new R1200GS Triple Black with all the toys.
Now that I had the tools at my disposal the next step was to decide upon and plan a trip. This was initiated by a work colleague (lets call him Nick, because that’s his name). His friend Brian, and the third member of this trip, had previously used a company called Bikeshuttle. Basically you ride to Northampton, load your bike on a lorry with all your gear, get a shuttle to Luton airport where you fly out to Geneva. After a restful night (and a few beers) in a hotel your bike is then waiting for you the next morning outside the hotel having come overnight and overland through France. Thats the boring motorway miles (and unnecessary mileage on the bike) dealt with.
Planning the Alps
The planning had been maticulous and had at its core a set of routes that I had been sent by someone on a GS forum who had previously done the Alps. The routes did exactly what we wanted by taking in some of the best roads that the Swiss, French and Italian Alps could offer. I set the routes up in Garmin Basecamp and transferred them to the Navigator V SatNav. I also bought paper map backups of all of the Alps in case the new fangled technology failed and I created an in depth itinerary with maps, route information, snippets of Wikipedia information on the key passes, hotel bookings and a checklist of things that we needed to take. The fact that no-one read it was a problem. I once read that if you plan to ride as a group then make sure that everyone invested in the planning of route. I can’t stress that enough in passing on that tip.
The only deviation from the original inherited routes was a slight detour south. To be specific, Monaco. The plan was to put the bikes around the F1 circuit.
As far as prepping the bike there was little to do. It was way off its next service and had fresh tyres. From where I had come from packing was a luxury. Not only had I bought a 40L roll bag that happily say across the ample rear seat. I had luggage, lots of luggage, two panniers and a top box. Luxury! I’d be packing extra underwear for this trip.
The general plan was to head from Geneva to the French village of Bramans. From there we would head south to Menton, away from the Alps, where we could easily visit Monaco. Heading back towards the Alps to get us on our original route we would stay at La Norma before heading off to a place just north of Martigny. We would then ride the Rhone Valley to Andermatt which would be a hub for tackling all the main Swiss passes for a couple of days before heading to Lauterbrunnen, the Swiss Yosemite before returning to Geneva once again. Continue reading “Climb every mountain – The Alps 2016”→