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”

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

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!

North Coast 500 countdown – 66 days to go

After an initial flurry of activity to get something down on paper, I’ve since not touched the itinerary, although the trip has always been in the back of my mind. I’m hooked into various sources of information and Facebook groups and I see the occasional reference. I pay it fleeting consideration as to how it may influence my planning before getting on with whatever task I have currently occupying my thoughts. Now with 66 days left to go I’m considering getting back to the plan since the initial draft was inherited from a document sent to me on a GS forum. I modified it but to the extent that it now feels disjointed. Having said that I do want to keep it as guidance rather than a rigid set of instructions and directions to be executed to the letter. That in itself seems a contradiction to the GPS route planning that I’m going to refer to later in this post. Its like adventure with someone holding your hand.

There have been many suggestions over where we should go, what we should see, what to avoid and what road would be unmissable. At this stage the trip is now defined by a few simple factors, most notably accommodation. There will be four of us taking the trip and at each stop we will be needing four single beds in reasonable accommodation (typically two twin rooms). I’ve never camped and while I wouldn’t have a problem pitching a tent there are members of the party who would be horrified at the thought. So accommodation type, and more importantly availability, dictates the start and end of each day. From our meeting spot on the M6 services at Forton we will travel to Inverness, and then from here we will skirt the northern coast of Scotland hopping between B&B and hotel with the official NC500 route being our guide if not our mistress.

I needn’t go too much into the detail of the route. Before anyone reads this I’ll probably be posting the ride report which hopefully will be much more use to anyone hoping to embark upon a similar tour of the North of Scotland. What I wanted to cover in this post isn’t much of a product review, but a couple of products that I intend to use.

Wunderlich 3D Ergo screen deflector

Since moving to the GS I have enjoyed the benefits of comfort over longer touring distances. While the screen does its job in reducing wind and buffeting, I do feel that despite being able to adjust it to its highest setting there is a little more improvement to be had. On occasion I had dipped my head down a couple of inches and found that the wind noise dropped considerably. This was nothing that would bother me while hacking around on A and B roads but a benefit, I felt, would be desirable on longer motorway stretches. Since the dipped position wouldn’t be one I would want to ride in, not without neck strain at very least, I thought I’d try a screen deflector.

After looking at my options I settled on a Wunderlich model from Nippy Normans. The reviews were good and I didn’t want to change the whole screen since I don’t like the look of these tall aftermarket options. It also looked like something that I could easily take off and throw in the luggage if I didn’t need it.

The build and fit look fine. It clamps to the top of the existing screen without looking out of place and while I have yet to fully test it and find an optimal position, visually it looks like its going to do the job. The benefits will be felt on the run up to Glasgow and beyond.

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MyRoute-app Online Route Planning Tool

Garmin BaseCamp is the default option for planning for the Motorrad Navigator and it has its lovers and haters. I can take it or leave it. It can be a bit unwieldy but it does a job. I mainly use it for publishing Garmin Adventures on my ride reports. I did use it extensively on planning my trip across the Alps. That’s not to say that I didn’t make a lot of mistakes with it and had to reprogram a lot of my routes on the hoof mainly from letting Basecamp remove a lot of my route shaping points which allowed the GPS to re-calculate on the fly rather than going where I had planned to go. The source of many of the routes in the Alps had been provided by a forum member who had sent them to me in TomTom format. They had suggested that I use the TyreToTravel application to convert them into a format I could use on BaseCamp and on the Garmin based Navigator V. It did a very good job but being a Windows based application it wasn’t a long term option on the Mac.

A couple of weeks back I saw a recommendation of an online route planning app that was compatible with TomTom and Garmin and the suggestion was that it was a good alternative to BaseCamp. The website for MyRoute-app seemed to be pushing all the right buttons and I noticed it was from the same people that did the TyreToTravel application.

While I am keen to give this a go I have been waiting to get a little closer to my NC500 departure to draw up the final GPS routes and I want to take advantage of the free trial but I have a sneaking suspicion that I will end up with a Gold subscription if it does indeed meet all expectations. I might even consider the one off lifetime membership. I think that it would be money well spent since I usually have one large annual trip and numerous planned weekend outings to make it an investment.

 

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Planning the North Coast 500

Half the enjoyment of a tour is, for me at least, in the planning. While there is a lot to be said for heading off with no idea what adventures lie ahead, the expectation of knowing where I am going and where I intend to be lets me relax and enjoy the ride.

I have spent much of my life travelling to Scotland’s west coast but I have only done it the once on two wheels. On that occasion I didn’t really have the correct tool for the job. Don’t get me wrong, it was a blast on the S1000RR but boy did I feel the effects of so many miles in sports bike position. When it was suggested we return to do the North Coast 500 I relished not only the possibility of doing it on an adventure bike but also I would be going further north that I had previously ventured.

Bealach na Ba

I dived into the forums and spent a few hours on Google maps scoping out the route. I quickly realised that there was a sense of urgency due to the popularity of the route and the availability of accommodation, or lack of it. I had bought a North Coast 500 guidebook and took a look at their suggested tour itinerary but the advice I got was that I was undercooking the mileage. The suggestion was that there was little going on with the east coast and that I should be cracking on to Durness where the best of the west coast starts. With this in mind I’ve drawn up my initial plan and will continue to revise in in the coming weeks.

 

To Slay a Dragon

In a few days time I depart to the US to ride the Dragon. In a previous post I talked about my last trip and had promised some information on what the Tail of the Dragon is, and this is the purpose of this post. If you like your motorcycles but are not American you may know of the US129. If you are American you will almost certainly know of it. Forgive me for what follows is a blatant cut and paste job. I promise that my next post on the subject will be my ride reports.

The Tail of the Dragon

Tail of the Dragon at Deals Gap with 318 curves in 11 miles, is America’s number one motorcycle and sports car road.
Designated US 129, the road is bordered by the Great Smoky Mountains and the Cherokee National Forest, with no intersecting roads or driveways to hamper your travel. It is considered “the destination” for thousands of motorcycle and sports car fans throughout the spring, summer, and fall.

The 11-mile stretch of the Dragon in Tennessee is said to have 318 curves. Some of the Dragon’s sharpest curves have names like Copperhead Corner, Hog Pen Bend, Wheelie Hell, Shade Tree Corner, Mud Corner, Sunset Corner, Gravity Cavity, Beginner’s End, and Brake or Bust Bend. The road earned its name from its curves being said to resemble a dragon’s tail. The stretch bears the street name “Tapoco Road” in North Carolina and “Calderwood Highway” in Tennessee and is signed entirely by US 129

The nearby Cherohala Skyway is quickly becoming a destination too, with its remote 60 miles of breathtaking scenic mountain highway.

The Cherohala Skyway (sometimes called the Overhill Skyway) is a 43-mile (69 km) National Scenic Byway and National Forest Scenic Byway that connects Tellico Plains, Tennessee, to Robbinsville, North Carolina in the southeastern United States. Its name is a portmanteau of Cherokee and Nantahala, the two national forests through which it passes. Along with multiple vistas and overlooks, the skyway provides easy vehicular access to various protected and recreational areas of the Unicoi Mountains, including the Citico Creek Wilderness, the Bald River Gorge Wilderness, and the remote interior of the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest.

The skyway gains over 4,000 feet (1,200 m) in elevation, rising from a low point of just under 900 feet (270 m) at Tellico Plains to a high point of just over 5,400 feet (1,600 m) on the slopes of Haw Knob near the Tennessee-North Carolina state line. The North Carolina half of the skyway terminates near the south shore of Lake Santeetlah.

The area also has other incredible roads like the Moonshiner 28, Devils Triangle, Diamondback 226, Six Gap North Georgia, The Snake and Great Forest Service Dual Sport and Jeep Roads.

 

The Dragon, the beach and the hot tub. Adventures on the US129 and beyond.

In a previous post I mentioned that back in 2015 I visited some of my friends in the US. Flying into Atlanta we rented a Camaro and did a four state round trip taking in The Dragon aka Deals Gap, Knoxville, and finally, Hilton Head Island for a bit of beach relaxation.

It was on this trip that I first experienced the R1200GS through a rental and had a blast riding the US129 ‘dragon’ during the day and drinking beer sat in hot tubs in the evenings. This year I plan to return in July and at this stage have barely given it a thought although I will be just doing the week in the cabin at the base of the Cherohala Skyway. What I do know is that a very generous friend is allowing me to use one of his bikes during the trip. Its a lifesaver as I had entertained the notion of renting a GS from Eagle Rider in Atlanta but the cost for the duration was over $2000 in comparison to $600 for a Mustang/Camaro from Atlanta airport to get me over to the dragon for the same rental duration.

Hopefully between now and the trip I will share with you some more information on the dragon and the surrounding area. In the meantime I hope you enjoy my video of 318 curves in 11 miles from my last trip.

R1200GS on the dragon
Riding the Dragon