It has come around quickly. In just over a month we will be heading to Folkestone to ride our bikes onto the train to head over to France!
The last few weeks have been busy. We have finalised our route, and we have also booked all our accommodation! That in itself was hard work, but if it wasn’t for the internet it would have been near impossible!
The logistics of our trip:
We will be away for 16 days
We have booked 13 different hotels in 7 countries (we will be staying 3 nights in Rome)
We are riding through 11 countries.
We are riding 3014 miles in 60 hours (according to Tyre)
This is the route we are taking (coming back through France):
My bike has just been serviced, and new tyres put on. I took a ride out to Norfolk this last weekend and made some adjustments so I am very comfortable on the bike now (I raised the seat, and adjusted the gear lever up so my foot fits under it better).
We are getting excited about getting going now, won’t be long before we are on the road!
Having decided we will be doing the Europe Trip together with our neighbours, we needed to make sure that we would all be able to along ok on some shorter trips before doing the big one. Also it would give us a chance to test our equipment (cameras, audio comms, GPS’s etc)
We have had a few great late nights (and early mornings!) with them already and get along great. That didn’t involve the bikes, but did involve quite a bit of beer and wine. We have also done a few breakfast runs on the bikes, but nothing more than maybe an hour or two. It is important to make sure that you are compatible when it comes to riding style, not to mention when you are living in each others space for a few days.
We planned a trip to the Lake District, to a self-catering place. I planned a route that would take us through some lovely roads. Unfortunately some of the way up would be on motorway, but if we avoided the motorway we would have added on a good few hours. As it was, the route I planned would take us about 6 hours.
You can see I added a couple way-points so that we would be redirected off the M6 to go through the Peak District as well The Forest of Bowland (Lower left of the Yorkshire Dales). I thought the Peak District would be the highlight of the journey, but it was the Forest of Bowland that did it for me. It was like riding through Hobbit country.
Here is a quick montage of footage of our ride up.
The trip up weeded out a couple issues with our GPS’s. I use the BMW Navigator V (a Garmin GPS) and Dean uses a TomTom Rider. The route I gave him took him a bit of a different way at parts, and we ended up losing each other for about an hour at one point. Lesson learned, I need to add more waypoints to ensure we are both working off the same route.
We also came to the conclusion that we need to be able to communicate to each other while on the road. We each have helmet comms between rider and pillion, but we weren’t able to communicate bike-to-bike. This is something we managed to sort out once we got back from our trip using Universal Communications (which allows different brands and different models of communication headsets to communicate). This took a lot of fiddling to get right, but I think we have done it. I will do a separate post about this because I am sure a lot of people will have the same challenge we did trying to get our helmets to talk to each other.
I created a couple of routes for while we were at the Lake District. First was a ride up the steepest road in the UK, Hardknott Pass, and the next was a longer ride to go through Honnister Pass.
The ride up was dry and quite sunny, but the rest of our weekend was wet and cold. We took it easy on the roads, but in the end I took it a little too easy and I ended up dropping the bike. Below is the video of our ride up Hardknott Pass (the accident is just after the 2 minute mark)
Regarding the bike going over, I have learnt my lesson. Typically 1st gear on a motorbike (especially bigger bikes) tend to be quite short, and in my experience you get out of it pretty quick. The thing is on the R1200GS, first gear is pretty long. I should have stayed in first gear all the way up Hardknott Pass.
The ride up to Honnister Pass was a frustrating experience as all the roads that we tried to take seemed to be closed. We still managed to have a good ride on some lovely roads, but it went on a bit too long especially with how cold and wet we all were. Below is a video from that day during one of our detours, this is through Kirkstone Pass.
All in all it was a great weekend, despite the cold and the rain. We all got along well and learnt a few lessons about our equipment. Especially the routing differences between two different GPS manufacturers! We were happy with the luggage capacity of our panniers, and the fact it keeps our luggage dry. I am happy with my GS’s ability to fall over without damaging anything, and also with the fact I was able to pick it up without too much drama! Another thing I learned is I need to use my camera more so I don’t have blurry shots like the one below!
When we moved into our home about a year ago, I was outside tinkering with my bike when my next door neighbour, whose garage is attached to ours, came outside. He opened up his garage and in it was the shiniest bike in the world, his well loved, shiny and well polished Triumph America. We hit it off straight away, and went on a few bike rides with him and his wife over the next few months.
One day while out at the garage I mentioned our trip around Europe and said it would be good if they could join us. I knew however that that wouldn’t be much of a possibility on his bike. It wouldn’t be too comfortable to ride 3000 miles on it, and besides that, he wouldn’t be able to carry much luggage.
I didn’t think much of it after that, however a couple days later I saw him pull into the driveway on his bike. What was odd about this was the fact that it was drizzling, and he was certainly a fair weather rider…and have you seen what water does to chrome! He would be polishing for days!
I asked him why he was out on his bike in the bad weather. He told me he had just traded in his beloved bike for a Triumph Tiger 800 XCA. He then asked if I was still OK with them joining us for the trip around Europe? I said “Of course!”.
And that is how we got our Biking Buddies for the Europe trip, Dean and Jane from next door!
I am a planner by nature, and half the fun of this trip is in the actual planning and preparation. One of the most important part of this trip is to plot the route so that we get to see and do as much as possible in the short amount of time we have.
With my new bike, I got the BMW Navigator V. It is a great device and I will do a review of it soon. It comes with software called Basecamp which you can use for free. The thing is, before I got the new bike I was already plotting the route using another routing software called Tyre (I had a TomTom Rider, which is a great GPS system, but the Navigator V integrates far better with the bike). Tyre is much easier to use than Basecamp and thankfully it is able to synchronise with my new Garmin unit.
With Tyre you can approach routing in a couple different ways. You can plot all the points you want to visit and let Tyre create a route for you. The second method, and the one I am using, is to still plot the points of the places you want to visit, but to force the route to go the direction you want you plot a whole lot of other points too. For example, what if I wanted to go from one town to another, but I didn’t want to take the motorway, check out the below two images:
Tyre is available for free. The free version has some advertising as you can see from the below screenshot.
I did end up paying for it as it gives you a couple extra features besides removing the advertising. I am tweaking the route all the time, and will post it up here soon. I have pretty much decided all the places we will go through and which route to take. The next step is to figure out where we will be staying during the trip.
No I haven’t changed my mind about the R1200GS! There was a little problem though, it was called envy. The Adventure version was just so sexy! So I have traded in my ’08 R1200GS for a (very) low mileage ’14 R1200GSA.
As I have mentioned before, I am a big guy (my wife is tiny…she told me to say that). The R1200GS Adventure allows for a lot more weight on the bike. With my wife and I on the non-adventure we are left with about 10KG’s or so for our luggage. We get substantially more payload with the GS Adventure. We also get around a third more fuel in the big tank. I also just love the look of the adventure. I will post up a picture soon of the new bike, I haven’t had it out much since I bought it (stupid UK weather).
The biggest reason however for the change was reliability. We are doing a trip of a lifetime when we go around Europe and I don’t want to remember the trip for the breakdowns. If we had more time to do the trip, then sure lets take more risks and have a true adventure with a high mileage bike…but both my wife and I are Professionals with busy careers and limited time off. So we are making the most of the little time off we have by doing this trip.
I will be doing a video on the bike soon. I will talk about what a big change it was to switch from the 2008 R1200GS to the 2014 R1200GSA. Wow, what a change.
My Dad has been a BMW rider for about 20 years now. Maybe it is because of this that I associated BMW motorbikes with “old guys”. When I was 20 years old my Dad owned a K1200LT (or Starship Enterprise as most other people called it) and he also had a R1150GS. We went to a bike rally (Bathurst Rally in South Africa), him on the K1200RT and me on the R1150GS. We did about 400 miles on that trip. I really enjoyed riding the GS. It was a fun bike…not exhilarating, but good fun.
The rally itself was great fun, and was the last bike ride I did with my dad before I moved to the UK. There was a lot to remember about that weekend, but I must be honest, the R1150GS didn’t leave too much of a mark on me.
Fast-forward to about 3 years ago. I was loving my ZX-9R. My Dad had now moved over to the UK, and we are doing a few rides together (camping trips etc.). He still has a BMW and is telling me that I should consider getting one too. No chance Dad! I then watched a little-known series called The Long Way Round and The Long Way Down. There is a lot of criticism about these series, but they do get your adventurous side stimulated! This was when I seriously considered switching to the R1200GS. I wanted to have adventures on a motorbike too! I wanted to be able to ride a bike all day without my back and wrists hating me.
Through my research and taking my budget into consideration, the 2008 model R1200GS seemed like the best bet. Within a few weeks I had sold my Kawasaki (for pretty much what I paid for it) and I took delivery of my black R1200GS.
It rode well, but had a few issues. It looked like it had been ridden the way it was intended and not babied. There was a lot of colour fade from being out in the sun a lot (on the controls and the seat). There was rust on a lot of the nuts and bolts, and it had the dreaded bubbling on the front of the engine. But these were all cosmetic issues, which I wasn’t too bothered about. The first big ride I did I noticed some play in the steering. I also noticed the fuel gauge wasn’t working properly. I found this one out when I ran out of fuel while the gauge showed half full. Both these issues were sorted out without fuss by the guy that sold the bike to me. Oh I almost forgot about the skid plate coming loose while on the motorway. The front two bolts had disappeared. I was hearing a lovely “pinging” noise from the plate bouncing up against the bottom of the engine. This too was fixed for no cost. Unfortunately the fuel gauge broke again, twice, during the two years of ownership (Seriously BMW, that electronic fuel gauge strip was a piece of junk, thank goodness you have gone back to a mechanical float system). The replacement was covered by warranty…the work to do the replacement was not however, and cost 30 minutes of the BMW engineers’ time.
Talking of cost. My first service of the bike, bearing in mind it was a minor service with no issues except having to also replace the fuel gauge, cost me close to £500! Insane! My most expensive service of my ZX-9R was £320 (it was a “big” service, and included replacing the alternator with a refurbished one). Now I know I shouldn’t be comparing the servicing of these two bikes, but at the end of the day I have certain expectations around ongoing costs of owning a motorbike. My next service will not be at a BMW garage. I have had quotes which come in at half the cost with the official BMW garage.
All in all, I am enjoying being a BMW rider. It is in a whole new league for me compared to other bikes I have owned. Yes, other riders tend to not nod or wave back to me anymore, but the brakes are incredible, power delivery is uniform and predictable, handling is surprisingly good for such a big bike, and best of all, every time I get on the GS I feel like I am heading out on a mini adventure.
When I was about 10 years old, I vividly remember the time I met my dream motorbike. My father took me into a motorbike dealership (I think he was getting his bike serviced) and the guy my dad was speaking to ushered us into the back of his shop. He revealed a freshly unboxed Kawasaki ZX-6R. It was a very pretty bike, but I didn’t fall in love with it until he started it and revved it. I was hooked, I wanted that bike.
It took another 20 years before I made that dream come true. Now, I didn’t get a ZX-6R (because I am 6’4″ and not a lightweight) but I got the next best thing: a ZX-9R. Below was the bike.
Below was my bike on a dyno run during a ZX-9R annual camping meetup. I remember it was still producing 139BHP, and how could you not love that sound?
This was the bike I had back in 2013 when I came up with the idea of the Europe bike trip. Now don’t get me wrong, this was a comfortable bike given that it was a sport bike…but after an hour or so you would start to get some pains in your wrist, and your bum would start feeling a bit numb. Additionally I wouldn’t be happy loading the bike up with luggage for the trip I wanted to do.
It was a sad day when I sold her. Now the decision around what bike I should get next. Not only for my Europe Adventure, but also to take me to the next part of my biking “career”. In all honesty, there wasn’t really a choice. I knew what I wanted. Not only had I just watched The Long Way Round and The Long Way Down…but my father had been a BMW faithful for the last 20 years. I started to look for a good used BMW R1200GS.
I managed to find a 2008 BMW R1200GS in black. The mileage was pretty high (for a bike) but as I keep getting reassured, these boxer engines go on and on. Or as BMW riders like to say, “30,000 miles? You have only just broken it in at that mileage”. I have since found that there are lots of things that BMW bikers uniquely say (“wow, that service was cheap” isn’t one of them)!
Here is my bike.
In my next post I will talk about my experience with this bike, and how I have adjusted to the change from a sportbike.
Back in 2013 I started having ideas to have an adventure on my motorbike. My plan was to do a trip around Western Europe passing through as many countries as possible within about a 2 week period. I was thinking of doing it in 2014, however life happened due to my engagement in 2013 and my marriage this year. My wife and I have decided that 2016 is the year!
I will document the lead up to our trip, as well as all our preparations, and of course the trip itself. I will also talk about the bike and do reviews on any kit that is bought (luggage, cameras, audio setup, tools etc). I will be posting up pictures and videos as and when I can.
I am using this site as a kind of diary for ourselves to document this, but am more than happy for others to follow and share with us. I know this isn’t exactly a round the world trip, or anything remotely like what Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman did on The Long Way Round and The Long Way Down, but it will still be an adventure of a lifetime for us. In fact I only wish we were able to spare a few months to do a bigger trip, but like many of you reading this we have full time careers and other responsibilities.