Friday, June 25, 2010

European motorcycle tour

“ It’s the atmosphere of being on the journey, there is nothing like being on a trip and going to bed knowing you just have to get up in the morning and ride more” Ewan McGregor, Long Way Down.

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I am going to tackle a ride I have wanted to do for a long time, albeit not as an adventure ride but exciting for me none the less. I am going to do my first European motorcycle tour.

I had originally planned to do this last year having started putting money away some time ago however I had my savings linked to share market performance and lost a third of it in 2008 GFC so it took me another year to be ready to go and have just secured the time off required later in the year.

Perhaps surprisingly I have chosen to go with an organised tour instead of solo. I did so mainly to gauge how everything works first up and for the comfort of having a support vehicle to carry my luggage. I actually prefer to ride by myself at my own pace as feel more of a sense of exploration so it was a tough call to make however my recent local riding trip cancellations due to medical problems related to my hands swayed me towards caution and not go solo first time.

Just on that note the unfortunate thing is if my hands continue to get slightly worse each year then I need to reconsider my forward thinking if I want to be able to ride some of the places I talked about a few posts back.

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Anyway as the Americans like to say “I pulled the trigger” on The Ultimate Alps Tour with Edelwiess Bike Travel. A ride starting in Munich and as the name suggests takes you though some excellent roads in the Alps of Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Austria. You can ride each day with the group or strike out by yourself and regroup later. There is a free day to ride the Italian Dolomites by myself which has long been a dream ride location for me. The distances each day are much less than I usually ride however that should be a good thing as I often ride far too each day here. The main problem they encountered on the Long Way Down was setting too ambitious a mileage target each day and I am guilty of the same as it looks so easy on the maps and too tempting to add some miles to end in a town of significance than pull up short (and have time to relax). Less miles also puts something in reserve at my disposal should the weather turn bad or my health not be 100%. 

There are so many tours of the European alps and I was interested in many including to try one of the Australian tour operators however I needed late as possible in the season which eliminated most. Edelwiess are one of the oldest motorcycle tour companies and this is sort of their signature tour so I think it should work out good.

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So this is all set to happen in September which is racing up to meet me very fast so I have to get cracking on organising everything else needed.  Will keep you posted.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Winter riding apparel review

Operation Visibility rolls on to part two with my choice of new riding gear.

I have had new winter riding apparel on my shopping list for some time now. Last few years I have slowly moved away from having one basic riding outfit and trying to adjust it up or down for the seasons like many riders here do to having a selection of garments.

Good gear is just so cheap now. The dealerships here still mark things up a lot but go online and you can buy from a number of retailers for much less and eBay or USA bulk retailers offer items up to half price again.  Brand name summer jackets can be had for $50 from New Enough and winter ones not much more than double that.

I have retired my leather jacket, I managed reasonable success in winter with this by layering clothing underneath it. I found this had its limits however as you would become like the Michelin Man and still not hold out the cold if riding the southern states or the west. On my Moto-GP tour I was often cold and that was not just a jacket issue as my jeans and boots were also unsuitable for those temperatures.

And so I have chosen a two piece outfit from Alpinestars made up of their 7-10 WP textile jacket and ST 5 Drystar textile pants. Alpinestars were not my first choice after the sizing mismatch incident I had with their shoes however after writing my hi-vis article I revisited the items I had been considering from other manufacturers and then started looking all over again.

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I did not want a full day glow jacket, I tried on one and decided I was not ready to go to the full safety worker type look despite knowing that offers the best visibility. Looking at other riders coming towards me on recent rides I found their upper body to be the only part of the jacket visible to me on first glance along with their helmets. So I decided to aim for a jacket that had the upper sections in a hi-vis colour scheme.

The jacket and pants needed to be able to be zipped together to eliminate drafts and the pants to have full length removable liner and both to be 100% waterproof for touring and include armor. All this meant a surprisingly small final list of which the Alpinestars had the best reviews.

I followed advice in reviews that their gear is all a full size smaller than labeled and that proved correct (maybe explains the shoe problem – but why not just change their labels to reflect the actual sizing and avoid the confusion…?) No issues with build or fit. Jacket has no vents which I was at first aiming for but the jackets with vents all seem to allow water in and not being summer jackets don’t actually vent well anyway. The pants have a full winter inner liner and besides being waterproof like the jacket has additional true waterproof pockets something that I wanted for touring on a wet day.

On the road.

I tested the jacket by leaving home with just a t-shirt underneath and put my vest in the pannier to see just how well the jacket works zipped to the pants. Quite well as it turns out, there is a tiny sneaky bit of cold air that occasionally gets past the inner storm flap but not enough to make me stop and put the vest on that morning, you would need to add another layer on a real cold morning for sure. I  am surprised that the zipper is not a water and wind proof item, every review says 100% dry in rain so I guess the storm flap works well however fitting a regular zipper strikes me as a poor choice. The jacket has the usual armor to the elbows, shoulders and a light back protector which I might swap out to a more substantial one from another jacket.

The pants are seriously warm. The combination of being windproof and fully lined obviously makes them warm however being long enough to cover my boots also brings a new level of warmth to my winter riding. They have comfortable soft knee armor and like any knee armor this makes the pants ride up your legs when on the bike however they start out a bit longer which assists in allowing them to still cover my boots unlike my other riding pants. I was thinking a set of elastic stirrups would be handy for helping hold pants with knee armor over boots in winter… or even other times. I might buy a set and report back on this idea.

The jacket can allow air in via unzipping the front a bit and unclipping the cuffs to expand and let air flow up your arms, generally speaking it can deal with a winter day warming however the pants have no ability to flow air and are less versatile, that said these are both winter only items here.

To sum up they were not expensive and I think will easy do the job for upcoming cold weather touring I am planning.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

A winters ride

Went for a ride today and at 8 degrees that is officially a winters morning so I got to test my new ride gear also, more of that in my next post.

I tried but I just can’t get interested in the Northern roads, riding the same old over and over seems mighty popular but I sure as hell don’t understand why people want to do that. I like variety.

I skipped my usual fuel and embarkation point of Mudgerraba Caltex. I have done so a bit lately and been wanting skip it for good for some time as it’s layout means there is no shade and so you end up baking in your warm gear in winter or slow grilling in the sun in summer. I used to go to the Shell on the Eastern side and if I ride Springbrook then think I may revert to there however 9 times out of 10 I am riding Currumbin valley south and Numinbah north as they flow better and are most scenic in this direction for me.

BTW, most of Springbrook corners, right up to Pine Crk rd have new hotmix, I think I forgot to mention last time.

So my new fuel point is Currumbin Independent which is much quieter so I mostly have the servo to myself rather than have cars queued impatiently for me to move my bike at Mudgerraba. Makes for a relaxing break while I figure out my route. Today I just had an ice coffee and jumped on bike with still no route in mind.

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That's the thing I like about this area so much, you can ride and then take any way you feel like when the time comes, there is no set path or loop that everyone need ride.

So my choice then, approaching Murwillumbah I skipped Tumbulgum and the roads to the east, then I skipped North Arm or Tyalgum to the west, I also skipped Uki or Stokers siding and simply rode through Murwillumbah and then on down the Tweed Valley way. Beautiful car free ride all the way, gentle relaxed pace over Buringbah range letting the bike flow from corner to corner.

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Byron Bay behind me.

I popped in to South Golden Beach for a look as never been there. I have not been missing anything is all I can say so far. I am sure there was a beach and ocean somewhere but all I saw was a housing estate. Rode on through Mullumbimbi and along the ridgeline overlooking Byron Bay. Evidence of the heavy rain all around with plenty of soil washed across the road in places. If you ride these less used roads then make a habit of riding in the wheel tracks of cars as they always sweep the road for you but the middle of the lane may have debris.

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James Gibson Road, Clunes to Dunoon.

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Nut trees, Dunoon Road, Tullera

I zigzagged around the back of Clunes and on to Dunoon. I then took the road straight in to the outskirts of Lismore and refueled at Bakers Corner. Then turning to start my way back I rode the main road on to Nimbin which unlike on my Easter tour was choke a block with cars as I seem to remember it usually is on a sundae, so my praise in the Easter post only pertains to riding it early enough to avoid the traffic.

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Nimbin Road

A lot of motorbikes in NImbin but the place still doesn’t grab me. Ran into some guys weaving and braking frequently on the road north of Nimbin in the hills. Looked like they were stoned and probably thought they were doing 125 rather than the 25 they were actually travelling at. A twist of the wrist and I was past the caravan of cars with their synchronized brake lights and had a smooth run all the way back to Uki for lunch at a favorite of mine the Mt Warning Hotel.

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The series of corners from Uki to the Tweed river bridge flow nicely and I cut through North Arm to the Numinbah Valley road. Riding this road from South to North I like the views of Springbrook as you climb to the border and then the sense of scale as you look right down the valley as you descend into Queensland. Nice ride today, and back home by 3.00pm for afternoon tea, livin’ large!

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Todays route is here.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Book review

I have been reading ‘Motorcycle Journeys through the Alps and Beyond’ by John Hermann.

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This book is pure motorcycle road riding porn. 400 pages of the most amazing riding roads in the world. Photos, maps, stories and local info and funny tips and memories, a collection from The KIng of the Alps John Hermann who has been riding these roads since the ‘70’s.

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The intro says the book will make you want to go there right away and it was true, as if I already was not keen enough now I am pouring over the pages each day and dreaming about having the time and money to go and ride all these wonderful looking places. The distances are so small compared to riding in Australia. You can ride from Munich to the Italian dolomites via the Swiss alps in less km’s than I ride to get to the Oxley highway. Sigh.

To summarize this is a major work, a 40 year effort to be precise and it is a joy to read even if you were never to go, however after spending some time with this publication that would be unlikely.