Back on my GS

It is so good to return the heavy unexciting beast that is the 1200RT to the dealer in Welwyn and jump back on my own GS after its service. The GS is more comfortable, a higher ride, nice wide bars for countersteering, a zippier motor (well, it seems like it) with a much nicer note, so much easier to handle. However, bizarre road closures – both down to Lind Motorrad and back to Cambridge – led to a strange route. See below:

Adze trail

For more detail:

 

Riding the BMW R1200 RT

Motorcycling blog reviews are popular among the people that like that kind of thing. The only time I get near a bike that isn’t my own is the rare occasions I am lent a bike by the dealership that services my bike in Welwyn Garden City. One of those occasions was today, a beautiful sunny Saturday, a rare nice day in an erratic UK Spring. And the bike I got to ride up the sunny A10 back to Cambridge was an RT – as ridden by UK police.
It’s impressive at first sight with its cool circular headlights almost dazzling you so you don’t notice its bulbous front. This model had keyless ignition and a kind of lock-on hand break which according to Kevin some people set by mistake then are surprised to not be going anywhere when they try to head off from the lights.
So off I go. There is a large sweeping cross between a small ring road and roundabout that you exit from Lind Motorrad onto. And you often have to pick your gap between the cars heading onto it at speed from your right. The funny thing is that you drive on to the roundabout feeling uncertain on an unfamiliar bike but by the time you leave it you are confident.

So what did I make of this classic old man’s (all high vis and flip-fronts as they say) touring bike? What I liked: not quite so tall to throw a leg over, smoother gear changing, the back break actually slows the bike down, quite comfortable riding position and comfortable at (very) high speeds. What was not so good: less wind protection from its wide but actually short screen than the GS, a less comfortable seat (I thought this was meant to be a supreme tourer), heavy steering that seems to pull you round a corner in a disconcerting way, heavy to push around, not exactly zippy. So this bike rides exactly how you think it’s going to: a bit heavy and, I have to say it, a little bit boring (I’m not wishing I were riding it through this bank holiday weekend). Thankfully I would not swap my GS for this bike. The GS and especially the huge and high Adventure model has impressive road presence especially with some bright LED auxiliary lights. Nice look.



First sunny ride of the year to Bury St Edmunds and Clare and Cavendish

Weather in the UK went from horrible late winter to heatwave literally overnight last week, so my ride today, out from Cambridge was the first in good weather since last October. I have ridden through rain and wind to keep this bike going and even enjoyed it though the bike has got dirtier on each ride. Today I rode out to Bury St Edmunds via Mildenhall and back via Cavendish, which must be one of the most beautiful villages in the country. There were lots of bikers out, a couple of them behind me from Mildenhall most of the way to Bury, a little intimidating but I noticed they kept scrupulously to each village speed limit, suggesting it was someone out doing some training.

GPX

cavendish

Back on the roads (of East Anglia)

The worst of the winter past and a battery throbbing with volts back into the bike, it has been dry enough to get out on the roads.

Last weekend or so I found some roads close to Cambridge that I am sure I have never visited before:

gpx trail

And today I rediscovered the nice route down to Saffron Walden and back via Little Walden and Linton – only 38 miles, it felt like a longer trip:
saffron walden route

Poor old bike has not been properly cleaned for nearly a year and is showing signs of wear – the dreaded bubbling paint on the cylinder heads and rusty fastenings. Today I attacked a couple of selected regions for some muc off treatment. With a service coming up soon I am wondering whether Lind Motorrad still provide the complementary cleaning that they did when they were SBW.

Finally, this plug in seems to have been updated and should show the last GPX file:

Inactivity bites

Since sometime in late November I have struggled to keep my bike running, travelling up to Cambridge on the train from Liverpool Street every couple of weeks to take the bike out, have some fun, charge the battery up a bit in the process and maybe end the ride with some rudimentary cleaning courtesy of my battery-powered pressure (low pressure) washer. What was great fun in July and August – getting out into the East Anglia country without having to spend an hour or more in London traffic – turns into a chore in wet and cold December to February. Also, as we all know, batteries don’t hold their charge so well in cold weather. My tracker can tell me the volts of my battery from 60 miles away. Sometimes I am surprised. 12.2 volts can start up the bike. Sometimes it doesn’t and my amazing Antigravity pocket-sized charger has saved the day and been impressive in starting the engine. But when my device was warning me that the battery had only 11.3 volts I wasn’t too optimistic. Nevertheless as ever, I struggled into the biking gear, heaved out the bike to start up and attached the clever Antigravity but… nothing. So now my dirty R1200gs sits in my garage without a heart and my battery is here in the kitchen, charged up and being checked every day to see whether it still has legs – which it seems to. Not quite time to replace it. (Its a shame Odyssey don’t make a battery the right size for the 2014 GS otherwise I would have forked out on one already.)

My garage is getting closer to being ready for a motorcycle relocation.battery

Fixing things up

For some reason my Interphone GPS stopped working on my last visit. It could be something to do with dropping my helmet with it attached. So I had to shell out on a replacement. Fighting the temptation to buy the unit specifically designed for that helmet, which is nicely streamlined, I found I could purchase just the original bit I needed for less than half the price (and wouldn’t end up committed to that make of helmet when I decide to replace it). Also I bought new hand-guards for the bike – to keep off the wind and rain – in theory at least. Today’s visit was about fixing the latter in the darkness that is my municipal garage in Cambridge with a drill that is luckily still charged up six months later and trying to get the GPS to talk to its bluetooth companions afresh. Neither were straightforward. So my ride traced the figure of a stick insect.

ridetrack
Not very exciting, particularly with some wrong turns, but everything is sorted.

I talked to H the other night about the idea of riding to Mongolia, having watched these people’s incredibly hard-core videos. I said I’d need a companion and 6 weeks (I was casting at straws). Having just looked at a map I am starting to regret ever having mentioned it. Look – if you zoom out a little bit from Cambridgeshire – the same map, the same world:

russia-and-mongolia

Ride around Cambridgeshire villages

Back now a couple of weeks, I made it up to Cambridge today – on a laborious combination of train and replacement bus from Stansted Airport to get back on the bike and to continue cleaning 2000 miles of European motorway dirt from various hidden parts. The weather was overcast.

GPX trail

The short trip took 1 and 1/2 hours and covered 42 miles, covering some old favourite roads as well as discovering some strange locked up dead ends.

Fulbourn

On Stenna from Hook of Holland to Harwich

On Stenna from HvH to Harwich

Today’s ride from surprise hotel in Tolsedt was 300 miles and took a shade under 6 hours of riding. Phew! The last 2 or 3 hours was like riding round the M25 continuously i.e. lots of traffic, high speeds, lots of concentration needed.

Where can I start? The journey on DFDS from Lithuania to Kiel was great, apart from the first few hours of rough sea. The rest was very calm. I had a good cabin with a view forward and the contained time suited me perfectly with nothing to achieve except a few practical things.

The ride down from Kiel to Hollendsteder was not very satisfactory. I found myself doubling back for 5 miles there (and 5 miles back) to get petrol when, if I had just carried on for half a mile more I would have saved the massive detour. Then I stopped again having got drenched in a downpour. As often happens, once I managed to force my limbs into, or rather find where they have gone to in my waterproof, it has stopped raining. Then there were so many roadworks leaving narrow lanes marked with yellow lines and lots of spray from large trucks. It was rush hour too with heavy traffic on the roads.

Once I arrived at Hollenstedter Hof (I had a bad feeling about this in advance) and about 7pm they told me there was a ‘problem with the room’ but they had reserved a room for me in a hotel 6 miles down the road. I won’t go into the detail of my annoyance. Suffice it to say I won’t ever be returning and plan to give a poor review. Basically they overbook and give away the rooms, expecting a proportion of people that book on-line to not turn up. However, clouds have silver linings and after some wobbly junction events the ride over to another small town Tolstedt was through some of the most beautiful evening landscape of the whole trip – which has been dominated by riding on busy trunk roads and motorways. The evening was gloaming and the animals were in the fields – a rare experience on this trip. On my arrival and park up behind the hotel – an old coaching house like Hollendstedter I think – a mysterious and unsmiling man with a dog called my attention. I thought he was going to tell me not to park on that particular spot but instead directed me to park inside the old stable building. This was welcoming. I found this hotel an authentic, if not refurbished since the 1970s, place. It seemed a family business with people who seemed to have an interest in it (rare actually on this trip). Nothing was written in English but key people – like the middle aged waitress – has enough English to communicate. For dinner in their restaurant I chose some fish and potatoes with a delicious white wine, watching a party of white haired locals having a ball (metaphorically) and two eastern European men on another table locked in quiet conversation. With the aid of the wine I felt a glow of multiculturalism.

The room was fine but the bathroom really old fashioned with one of those old fashioned back to front continental toilets that Zizek writes about. I didn’t sleep that well, awaking at 1.30 still cross with myself for not asking more probing questions at the hotel with the ‘problem’ room. Then someone started coughing at 6 am closely followed by someone operating a food mixer in the kitchen below. But I got back to sleep. Breakfast was normal for these places and the bill came to just €45. I packed up the bike in the comfort of the stables where there would have been room for four horses, now converted into workshops, and rode off through the opened double doors and wobbled over the now wet cobbles, not pausing, because there was nowhere I was able to stop, to close the doors behind me. I was really pleased I had encountered this place compared to the H hotel which has pretensions to something better but actually ends up having little character. In nearly every hotel I have stayed at on this late in the year trip, I have felt that I have been the only, or one of very few guests. That has its pros and cons, I suppose.

I took a nice road for about 20 miles through some lovely countryside, riding at a discrete distance behind about 10 D-plate bikers (big fat rear wheels) before inevitably surrendering to the motorway to take me west to Hook of Holland. I stopped three times on the way – for petrol and to eat and just to get a break. From the Utrecht ring road nearly all the way to HvH is hell with unbelievably heavy traffic and some typical aggressive driving (and to think people warned me about bad driving in the Baltics).

But I arrived, eventually and thankfully, at the ferry port as I have so many times before at the end of various trips short and long, but all adventurous in some way. I had barely time to wander to the terminal and buy some crisps before we were already able to board at about 7pm. Quite a few Brits (always depressing to get back to the sound of voices you can understand) in the queue, many in campervans though one in an exquisite white Lotus Evora. I am not interested much in cars but this was a beauty. I wonder if Lotus is still a British company. (They coast just over £30,000.)

Once on board, I parked up on the ferry in front of a young man on a black KTM 990 Adventure – a rather tall and intimidating but hard core machine. I brought him over a strap from the ship’s collection but he told me that he had his own (remember that I do too). Before I had finished my rather haphazard fixing down, he had fixed his bike with matching black straps (matching not only each other but the bike) and was already helping a couple with bicycles to do the same. (In the morning he was off and ready to leave by the exit door before any other bikers were even on the scene.) I climbed the stairs from level 3 to 10 where the cabins are. In the self-service restaurant I ate fish and chips with mushy peas with acceptable and nicely chilled white wine (I have done this before – it’s a reward to myself for the achievement of getting through all that Dutch traffic). The ship seems quite empty, with many apparently solitary men – and women. No families. And the staff standing around waiting to act. Music was playing over the public address system. So many places I have visited – hotels and ferries play canned music but this was playing British pop music at its best and I realised that there is one thing I am proud of about being British and that is our pop and rock music (that’s probably all). I returned to my cabin where I am writing these few notes and collecting my images (sipping Latvian vodka), footage and GPX tracks to assemble a coherent account, when the evenings get a bit long, of one more motorcycle trip – my 10th year since learning to ride a motorcycle. I have had to put my boots in the bathroom of this cabin as they now smell terrible. I think they could be irretrievable and I need some new ones.

Postscript: I woke around 4.30 and stayed awake until 5.30 when they rouse the passengers with the whistling Dutchman. I made it back in one piece from the ferry terminal in Harwich to Cambridge. The total riding for the whole trip looks like 1,830 miles. I don’t know the distance of the travels by sea.

It was an exhausting trip with lots of motorway work, heavy trucks and traffic and heavy rain. Its what I expected, though, from this trip at this time of year and to these parts of Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. Next year, for the sake of variety, I will choose a different model.

On DFDS from Klaipeda to Kiel

Today has been quite a day. From the moment I woke up I heard rain hammering down on the roof of my hotel and my weather app presented me those iconic grey, grey clouds with three drops of symbolic rain at every single hour through the day. There was going to be no escape. So I stayed in bed late and emerged down in the bar at about 9.20 where the hotel person (I can’t give her a precise job title) told me that my breakfast was getting cold. I’d mentioned that I would be down at 9 am yesterday but did not realise it was being taken note of. I ate and drank more or less everything but did not have much appetite as I was feeling apprehensive about a day of riding in heavy rain – the journey from Riga to Klaipeda is about four hours or so. I put on many layers including my merino wool base layers bought specially with this trip in mind. I packed up the bike which mercifully I had wheeled just enough to be under shelter last night and headed off, dropping the key on the bar on my way out.
The first thing I realised is that I was hot. Wet does not always mean cold. The traffic was heavy and the road was terrible including my dreaded wet cobbles but I left town on a major road and the traffic eventually thinned out. What traffic there was were large trucks bound for who knows where.
Before I had quite left Riga, I remember being stopped by red lights at a busy junction. In the rain I noted one man, in a turquoise jacket and baseball cap but with a doughy face, pale in complexion walking across the road. He had had an air of happy, though slightly lumbering optimism. No umbrella-less and rain-coatless walk in the rain was going to stop his enjoyment. His head was high and his shoulders were unhunched against the weather. Then crossing the other way was a slightly older and shorter man in wool cap and trousers tucked into wellington boots. He had an umbrella but it was broken. He too, had a kind of indefatigability. The lights changed and I rode on.
It won’t make exciting reading to hear that I rode for about 4 and a half hours in heavy – very occasionally thinning – rain. Crossing the non-existing border from Latvia into Lithuania was unremarkable apart from those signs of now disused border and customs buildings. Most of the journey was on A roads with a 60 mile per hour limit and the last leg, a turn to the right, meaning changing from driving south to driving west carrying with it a huge change of wind direction and force. The last 100 miles then was some of the most scary riding I have done with some sudden gusts of wind blowing me leftwards into the next lane. Sometimes overtaking (better than following the trucks spraying out huge amounts of water) meant that it was impossible to see where I was going. Given that, I passed a line of 8 motorcyclists struggling with the wind and riding in convoy at 50 mph. Once in Klaipeda the traffic was heavy and the road surface dreadful in a wide range of different ways. But with a combination of GPS and the miraculous I found the terminal and parked up. I made straight for the terminal building still wearing helmet, gloves, waterproof and high vis and gingerly removed most of it piece by piece and sat down in a mixture of shock and exhaustion and a puddle of water. But also huge relief and sense of accomplishment.
186 miles in 4 hours and 12 minutes today.
After half an hour of sitting in a stupor, I saw two others on bikes – a nice Moto Guzzi and a red Ducati Monster (really not ideal touring bikes especially in wet and stormy weather – having no wind protection to speak of) follow my steps and come in from the gale and rain and gradually become human (actually they made less of a fuss than I probably did – but then watching people you only ever, more or less, see the outside). They turned out to be a sweet German couple, entering middle age, on their way home. We got out in the rain to queue to board the boat to Kiel. The rain stopped for much of the time. And to cut a not very long story short we (three people on bikes) dived down the steep ramp to deck 2 (we will have to ride up that steep ramp again – always slightly scary) where we fished around for straps to tie down bikes as well as possible in what I suspect will not be the smoothest crossing. Being well prepared I brought my own ratchet strapping with me (for the first time) and needed it as the boat ran out of their own. I even, laboriously, worked out how to thread it.
There seem to be no lifts on this boat so we struggled up from car deck 2 to the cabin deck 6 with helmet, two bags and by carrier bag full of Latvian food and vodka up steep gangway metal steps. Getting out of my huge amount of clobber in the not too large cabin involved a huge amount of effort, sweat and contortion.
My cabin must be under the bridge because it is facing forward and I watched the guys draw in the ropes (using heavy machinery) before the ship left the side, half an hour late. We are moving slowly through the spit along side Klaipeda, north I think, before turning westward into the Baltic itself. (I just watched our progress on Google map on my phone). I am not expecting a smooth sailing and will be relieved when it is morning. I wonder if everything will slide off my little table here and crash onto the floor. I wonder how my position on the boat will affect the journey and if there is somewhere, dead in the centre of the boat where you get a smooth ride like a magic carpet.
Announcements are first in Lithuanian (I think) then German, then English and finally Russian. It is very exciting, very hard-core.
We have just turned out into the Baltic and already, even though we are still close to land, we are rolling rather scarily. I am never going to sail this route again.
Ha ha. It was very rough for the first hour or two. I felt my body being pressed into the mattress first this way and then another. I was amazed at the permutations of irregular movement and sound that the sea offered, much more complicated and unpredictable than a regular swaying from side to side that might have some of the reassurance of a mother rocking her baby to sleep. But sleep I did. I can’t remember at what point I gave in to the day’s exhaustion, helped by only a tiny piece of the Latvian vodka. I woke at some point and realised that it was completely calm. My phone by my pillow showed that we had changed time zone.
Price of the ticket seems to include breakfast so I queued with the stocky men whose idea of a continental breakfast has little in common with the croissants and jam version. In fact the ship has an unusual clientele (as well as an unusual breakfast menu). The largest group is the stocky men, presumably from Lithuania. My stereotypical belief is that they are going to Germany for work. (I invent a whole back-story about their families at home.) But who knows? Then there are a very few couples, mostly speaking German quietly. I always wonder who travels by sea nowadays. It is so different to air travel, so less processed even though the ships are all temples to consumerism – some more than others. There is a bar open – and even though it is just gone 8am, there are men with already half finished pints of dark ale. I noticed one man sitting alone, with large features, perhaps handsome or even heroic at some point in his life. He was slouched, with rather a large stomach though he was not overweight. He was staring absently or perhaps unhappily at the table on which his nearly empty glass, as well as a number of other glasses sat. Perhaps his expression was not unhappy but just the kind of repose that all of us might suddenly glimpse in a mirror unexpectedly. If any of these men will be driving off this boat – in cars or in charge of articulated lorries – I certainly want to avoid them.
I know two more words of Russian now in addition to normalya, spaseeba and Zapata (don’t worry I won’t make any jokes). That’s Dobray ootra – good morning. I actually tried this when passing my two German motorcycling friends. I wasn’t sure of their reaction.
The sea is calm and we just passed what was possibly an island wind farm but with only one turbine spinning. I was almost disappointed to see on Google map that we are more than half way on this journey. I realise part of me never wants it to stop (now that the sea is calm). I want to stay suspended in this liminal place without responsibility, more or less anonymous and solitary. An hour or so later, the sea is still remarkably calm.