Note

In case you overlook it, the orange highlighted text found throughout articles in this blog are links to expand those articles, view ride maps or see further information. Regards IC.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Motorcycling around Ireland

I set off recently to do a ride of Europe and managed to tour Ireland before having to put the rest on hold due to my collar bone injury. I posted my original Europe ride plan here then took it offline to reword a few bits that could have been interpreted the wrong way but I shall just write a little about Ireland.

My plan was to pick up the Kawasaki Versys 650 I have had sitting in Ireland in storage. I purchased this bike very reasonably priced and have it stored with, Motofeirme. This is a service that purchases and stores motorcycles for people wanting to ride Europe affordably on a bike they own rather than pay huge rental or shipping fees. In Ireland my plan was to ride the Wild Atlantic Way from Kinsale to Derry. Arriving at the bike storage place to see the Versys in real life first time I was pleased it seemed to be in good order. Tyres were as new and it had a Scott oiler fitted and full luggage. It even had a Garmin 220 Zumo and heated grips installed. I was able to leave my suitcase at the storage centre and once packed was ready to tour. I had lunch in Kinsale a lovely seaside town and then started on the Wild Atlantic Way.

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Explore The Route

Above is the Wild Atlantic Way route. I was starting at the bottom near Cork.

Despite it being summer the daytime temperatures were only 11-13 degrees. Prior to leaving I had been reading reports of a heat wave in Europe so had considered bringing only summer riding gear. Fortunately I looked at Ireland temps and decided against that. The cold wind off the ocean made the real feel more like 5-8 degrees and I was not well prepared for it being that cold. Some summer Ireland has, I would hate to see their winter. Still I guess it is all what you are used to. I saw a beach party being set up inside one pub in small town I was staying. People were in t-shirts laughing while I was in three layers with steam from my breath in the cold rain.

The Versys offers little protection compared to the FJR so I was really missing the big tourer and windscreen on the road. Then things deteriorated further with heavy rain and strong wind. It was some of the most challenging conditions I have had to ride in. That was the forecast for the week ahead. I was not prepared to sit it out that long on the chance it would improve since hotels were so expensive so I just tried to ride a bit and stop at times when it was too heavy look at the rain radar on the phone and see one valley would be rain while another not and try route a bit that way with limited success. I would have been fine if I had brought my thermals and full winter ride outfit which I couple with my Rev’it rain suit and have ridden in heavy cold rain all day before fine. However it was meant to be summer so I took my newly purchased Alpinestars Andes touring outfit which was not up to the task.

The jacket leaked water at the collar where the zipper ends. There is a gap and the wrap around collar is not wide enough so it allows water to enter (and wind if you are not wearing a scarf or buff). The Andes pants also had a problem wanting to ride up my legs a long way when seated on the bike. Standing, the pant bottoms almost touched the ground so they are plenty long however the Versys has less leg room than I normally enjoy on the FJR and puts my legs into a more bent position. The cut of the pants somehow makes them want to slide up my legs to sit almost above my boots allowing cold air to the lower parts of my legs and if I did not constantly reach down and pull them down water would have got into my boots.

The new TCX boots which I had been concerned about turned out to not only be all day comfortable but kept my feet warm and dry too. And my Held Rainstar gloves kept my hands totally dry despite the very trying conditions.

I got lucky with a fine day on one of the most scenic portions of the route and was able to get my camera out which lifted my spirits considerably. Waking up early and seeing sunshine outside I loaded up and left the motel very early before breakfast to get a shot of the Killarney national park below. How’s that straight out of the camera no editing (click to enlarge). Then the weather held for the famous cliffs of Moher (enlarge the photo to appreciate the scale) and other sections of the Wild Atlantic Way.

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The scenery was splendid all day however sadly this was the only fine day of the ride. Still even with the rain Ireland is such a beautiful place, besides the dramatic coastal scenery I equally enjoyed the the rolling hills and farms. Roads are mostly low traffic, occasionally in a town there will be congestion mainly because the streets are too narrow people will need to stop to let busses or trucks through but there is not the volume of cars and more importantly the volume of trucks is very small compared to other places. There are countless pretty little towns and historic pubs along the way and people are so friendly. 

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HDR scene

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I enjoyed that train crossings are still depicted as steam locomotives, and MC Hammer still had some fans in Ireland. These little things that caught my eye brought a smile while struggling some days in the wet. The ‘house’ which looks like a castle above was something I spotted from the other side and tried to get closer to but all the land belongs to it and possible the town as well if like in the UK but it was nice the rain eased to allow me to get a photo.

I arrived at Derry/Londonderry and scored a break in the weather. 

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My right arm (same side as broken collar bone) was by now in considerable discomfort. The jarring transferred from the bars on the bumpy roads and also the ongoing issue seemed to be I was not able to fully straighten my right arm without pain shooting up from what I suspect is torn ligaments and often this was not easy to avoid such as tipping the bike into right turns where my right arm of course stretches to counter steer and in slow traffic balancing bike etc. I also at some point aggravated things when holding the bike from nearly falling over in soft grass on the road verge. Things progressed to being in discomfort just holding the throttle open for any length of time and operating the front brake so I realised I was attempting this tour too soon and the big mileage in the next part of the trip would be beyond me in current condition. That was always a chance I was aware of and decided to take since a window of time was available there and then. I could have forced myself to continue but I decided not to. I only ride for fun now. Not some personal challenge or to prove anything. If I am not able to enjoy it then no reason to go on. So I decided to explore some more of the countryside with a some very low mileage days to slowly make my way south and leave this just as a tour of the emerald isle. 

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Couple of familiar names from my home area I came across while meandering back down south on country roads and still light at 9.30pm below.

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I considered renting a car to carry on my trip but I have already seen Europe and was only returning for the riding. Airfares are usually the smallest portion of my travel and whilst this one was a little higher the largest expense was hotels, food and fuel. The exchange rate to the Australian dollar was low 60 euro cents and 45 pence so this made things double Australian prices and triple Japan prices (which people don’t realise have stayed flat last 20 years). Just an average motel became 4 star hotel price and a simple kebab and drink best part of $20. Fuel was around $3.20-$3.40 a litre!

My original thinking was to do a couple of rides and store the bike in between but the cost is hard to justify with existing currency rates. Lunch when I ride in Japan is usually a sandwich and coffee which costs about $4. When I work out that a cappuccino and a (admittedly very nice) sandwich cost me $23 in the UK things have crossed the line of affordability. Compounding this I have been trying to do a variation of a Euro ride for three years now. In 2013 I arranged to rent a Ducati Multistrada through Adriatic tours in Slovenia but had to cancel. Then in 2014 booking a BMW with IMT in Spain but again had to cancel and 2015 I had previous to this ride all been set to ride Scandinavia when I broke my collar bone. This trip was the fourth attempt to ride there so I am starting to wonder if a higher authority is trying to tell me something. There is a good number of other places I want to visit that need the summer timeslot so perhaps I will park this until more favourable winds are blowing my way in the future. 

One positive thing from this trip was I discovered I have grossly underestimated how well my FJR1300 suits my current riding. Yes it is heavy and slow turning and has a few quirks I dislike but it is also smooth like a magic carpet ride and a supersonic armchair on the expressway. Any ideas I had about going back to a naked or a  adventure type bike in the future were firmly squashed.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Alpinestars Andes tourer pants review

I updated my previous Alpinestars Drystar pants to the Andes Tourer drystar pants however I have not found them half as good. The pants are a waterproof goretex style item in adventure styling. They have two low mounted pockets, exhaust vents each side adjacent to the pockets and are fitted with a zip out quilted liner. I tested the pants in cold weather with rain and cannot comment on warm weather however they are really a 3 season design and in summer I would reach for dedicated summer pants.

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The pants are the matching bottom half of the Andes tourer two piece outfit. I already had the Andes jacket which I did a four day ride on prior to getting the pants due to needing to exchange them.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Proof of Concept

I am back riding.

I started the FJR first time in 3 months and took a small ride of about 20km to the end of the peninsular where I am living and found an island with a lovely park. I could make out Mt Fuji in the distance obscured somewhat by the sun behind but it would be an impressive view on a clear morning. As much as I want to explore more of Japan I have a dream ride that I have been planning on and off for a couple of years which I had to cancel when I was injured so this test ride suggests I may be able to relaunch that. Stay tuned as was once said.

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Friday, June 12, 2015

Ride NZ

I get a lot of requests to promote things, mostly spam spam and spam. However every now and again I find something arrives in the mail box that is worth passing on.

The New Zealand Transport Agency in conjunction with Greater Wellington Regional Council contacted me about letting readers know of a new web site for motorcycle riders in the lower North and upper South islands of New Zealand. It’s called RideNZ.org.

Fortunate timing since I am thinking to maybe return to NZ early next year and this is the area I was going to focus on. It’s got some good info for my next visit and you get a safe riding message thrown in, bit like the good rides NSW site I posted on the Motorcycle Paradise Facebook page but nothing wrong with that.


Thursday, June 11, 2015

Don’t damage your hearing

The importance of being earnest wearing ear plugs cannot be overstated.

I used to be one of the guys who scoffed at the idea and claimed they were uncomfortable or I could not bear to ride with them. Then came the day I knew I had damaged my hearing. Here is my simple layman explanation of how easy this can happen.

Do you sometimes have a ringing in the ears after a ride? But it goes away right? Well one day you will go to bed and think gee that ringing is quite noticeable tonight, oh well it will be gone when I wake up but then the next day it is still going to be there. And then you find it continues to be ringing all day, and the next day and the next. Unfortunately it will now be ringing every minute for the rest of your life and there is nothing that can be done about it. All those rides without ear plugs have finally caught up, the ringing previously you heard was the damage you had already caused. Your brain incredibly had been able to conceal the ringing previously, masking/hiding this noise for you because the damage never fixes itself but eventually the damage reaches a level where the brain can no longer tune out the ringing.

This way the brain for awhile tunes out the noise is what made me ignore it. We acknowledge our ears ringing and we know that means we have done something but then it seems to go away so we think no problem it was only temporary or it has healed now but this is not true. Repeated exposure and eventually the level of damage reaches a point that the ringing is there for good. Forever.

Ok look that is my non scientific version which is not entirely what happens but I just want to tell it how I experienced it to try break through to some riders to perhaps make a reader think hang on I get this - maybe I should be doing something. Like so many riders I only started to wear ear plugs after I had already damaged my hearing. Better I suppose that to continue and make matters even worse but I wish I had realised sooner.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

TCX Explorer Evo GT boots review

While happy with my Vitesse boots they are more for days rides as not waterproof. I had been ready to embark on a extended tour overseas (prior to breaking my collar bone) heading to cold and wet places like Scandinavia so decided to invest in a set of waterproof boots which I thought would also be pretty handy for tours here in Japan.

Prior to the Vitesse boots I have had a long history of buyer disappointment when it comes to boots. I spoke rather unflatteringly before about two pairs in particular but have come to think perhaps it is my feet that are a hard to fit and not the boot’s somehow being faulty. Unfortunately it is very hard to find touring boots in the shops here, actually it was impossible. Lots of casual riding shoes, then lots of racing type boots but nothing in between (and oddly there is no Kevlar jeans retailed in Japan either). And so I ended up ordering from Motorcyclegear.com who I have done business with a few times and went for boots that were both on sale but also with reviews of consistent sizing.

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Saturday, May 30, 2015

Alpinestars Andes jacket review

Updated August 2015.

Earlier in the year I went looking for a replacement for my winter jacket as well as something suitable for 3 season touring for future ride plans and read numerous reviews then tried on many jackets before quite by chance I came across the Andes jacket from Alpinestars.

Being in Japan I initially thought first I should try the local Japanese brand rider apparel. I looked at Kushitani who here sell a limited range of textile items as well as their famous race suits. RS Taichi, Rough and Road and Komini are leading Japan brands however not quite what I was looking for and sizing tends to be short in the arms for westerners.

I moved on and looked at the jackets from some big names such as Klim. Similar materials and style, made in China too yet priced at a silly $1400 which I just refuse to consider as I would forever feel like a sucker for over paying (however after being let down by Alpinestar <see later> I now question that idea). Next I looked at the Rev-it Sand range, a jacket I had on my short list simply because one guy on the ADV forum I follow has been riding around the world in this gear for a couple years but I’m just not taken with the 3 layer system. I realise if you have the waterproof layer built in as a breathable liner it limits the jacket to 3 seasons but in my experience once the mercury goes above a certain point I have to change to full mesh jacket when wearing so called 4 season vented jackets anyway. (and I revisited that guy’s riding in Thailand and note he ditched the Sand jacket there for mesh) But the 3 layer thing I dislike most is really with the pants which I want to match what ever jacket I get (to be zipped together in cold or rain - not for matching style) but what happens on warm days when when it rains. Do you remove your pants on the side of the road and install the liner while in your underwear? Even installing a jacket liner is fiddly…


So then I came across the Andes jacket. This is a 3 season waterproof jacket with a quilted removable winter liner and waterproofing provided by Alpinestars version of Gore-Tex built into the shell called Drystar. People on the net say genuine Gore-Tex is superior but I am not convinced. It’s like saying genuine Velcro is superior to regular hook and loop fastener. Marketing has a strong hold over people. So what you have is a waterproof jacket with breathability thanks to the type of waterproof liner but with a downside of limited venting.

Monday, May 04, 2015

Noto Peninsular Japan

I have not been able to do much motorcycle riding in Japan this year. The weather has been cold with rain for months. Last year was apparently an odd one with low rainfall but this one seems wet so far. Seems in Japan there normally is no dry season.

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I made a small graph representing a year of averages (click to enlarge). Basically winter season is too cold to ride due to snow and ice. Then as it warms you get a nicer period in Spring, end of April first weeks May. Then the rain increases. Summer tends to be wet monsoon rains with a slight easing in August if no typhoons. Then we head towards cooler shorter days with another small window in autumn of less rain around October. Already it is getting cold by then, maybe too cold in Hokkaido to ride and then winter arrives again.

Now we are in Spring the rain has briefly cleared so I decided to go for a small tour before Golden Week national holidays which is an insanely busy time to go anywhere in Japan. Some of the high mountain passes are still closed with snow so I had an idea to revisit a few of the roads I liked around Nagoya which I hoped would be clear on my way to the western side of Japan to the Noto Peninsular – just to see what was there.

One thing that attracted me to trying a touring motorcycle this time was the idea of good weather protection and on that point I am very happy with the FJR which manages the riders exposure to rain and cold well. After years on naked bikes I love having a windscreen. It can however be too large a motorcycle to enjoy in Japan. I just had the oil changed and new tyres fitted. Pirelli Angel GT’s. This is the third different brand to try on the FJR with hopes that these will perform more consistently as they wear – a design feature claimed by the manufacturer – since the bike steers so heavy on worn tyres. More about the FJR1300 can be found in my detailed and ongoing test and review.

I rode via Mt Fuji and was rewarded with some excellent views.The vegetation is still recovering from winter so lacks colour but I could enjoy late cherry blossoms in the higher area in lieu.

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Above looking down from the Tsuetsuki pass after leaving Chino.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

First ride of Spring

It has been a long winter. 6 months of cold and rain. A rare fine day arrived so I decided to try my luck at seeing Mt Fuji. I have a poor record on this after my first ride in Japan in 2008 it has been always been obscured by clouds when I have been passing but not today.

I don’t want to sound too negative to begin but the ride did not get off to a great start. I chose to ride the shortest route from my home along the ocean and via Hakone, both of which were a bad idea. Off the highways in urban areas traffic can be very heavy in Japan and today despite the pre morning peak departure I still got stuck. Guess it can’t be helped when close to Tokyo.

Late arrival at my chosen view point to discover my Panasonic Lumix LX100 camera seems to have major focusing issues for landscape photos. Oh well back to the phone again until I work out why. Here is Mt Fuji poking its head up on the Hakone Skyline a bit along from my first photo spot.

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Sunday, March 15, 2015

Across Tokyo Bay

I think I had a touch of cabin fever. Too much time indoors hiding from the cold. Something I am not accustom to coming from the tropics. Nothing like a motorcycle ride to shake the blues.

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This is the Tokyo bay Aqua line highway that goes from Yokohama across the bay to Chiba first by tunnel then bridge. I had wanted to ride it for a while so when I missed the Kurihama ferry due to forgetting my bike paperwork I decided to give it a go. Such a lot of heavy industry in the Yokohama port, the pollution seemed to turn the skies grey however it was actually the sun disappearing behind clouds for the rest of the day with temperature stuck about 8 degrees. Well the FJR is still a comfortable place to be even in these conditions so I rode on.

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Across the bay beyond the urbanised areas there many small villages where life operates at a different pace to the metropolis of Tokyo.