Toolroll

"What tools do you carry" is something that's come up a few times on forums I'm on recently, and the raft of issues at the Taffy last week vindicated my tool selection :)

On any ride that I think about, I take my tool roll. This is generally on the Tiger 800 or WR450, but other people break down, too, so aside from the spark plug tools there's nothing bike-specific.

The photo on the right is what's in the little pouch:

In the roll, left-to-right:

In the little pouch, that's:

There's also usually a couple of 25mm jubilee clips, but I'd just used them prior to taking that photo. And there used to be a spare battery for the multimeter, but I've used and not-replaced that, too :)

You can also see the Stop-n-Go puncture repair kit in the background below; that lives in the US5 along with the tool roll. It's very easy to pack the tool roll to be too-big to fit in the US5; this was all pared down last year in order to easily fit into it.

The tool roll is a Kriega one and while it's great, the Enduristan and Mosko Moto ones both look better to me (though I've used neither). I've had this for about three years it's worn *really* well though - some of the elastic's a little less tight than it was before, but it's almost as good as new.

 

Under my seat, I've always got this lot:

 

In an order that will hopefully become apparent, that's

There's also an OBD/ELM reader that I always have, and use either the Torque Lite or Piston apps on my phone to read the error codes.

This stuff all fits in a bit like this:

On the left, the Motobatt battery is lower than the OE one by enough that the compressor fits on top of the battery (only with the seat in the higher position) and its strap. I wedge the front axle tool in under there, too. The brake & clutch lever are stuffed under the intake, and the insulation tape and cable repair stuff just kicks around by the fuses. Normally the OBD reader's either in there, too, or plugged in.

The clutch cable fits under the bracing arm with the VIN on it (you can see it poking out from the right in the left photo) with both ends disappearing off under the tail (which is also where the breathalysers, and cable-ties are stuffed). The Park Tool and Leatherman fit under that bar, the 22/27 spanner behind one of the clips on the side and the jump leads sit under where my chain normally goes.

Tiger 800

Here's a load of info about the Tiger 800. I've got a 2012 one, so this is mostly about that shape, but I've noted where I know things are irrelevant to the new ones. Expect this to change as I find things. :)

I've a manual, data sheet and service schedule for the bike (pre-2015), here:

And, thanks to Matt McLelland, there's a manual for the 2016-on ones here:

If you're looking for exploded diagrams and genuine parts, Fowlers are good for those. World Of Triumph also have exploded diagrams, but they use their own part numbers and don't warn you of things not being in stock before you order them.

Muddy Sump is generally taken as the go-to for tutorials on how to work on the bike. He's also a roving mechanic, who'll come to your house and fix your bike (in the UK).

I don't know how to tell which OBD readers work on the Triumphs, but what I use is apparently a 'mini ELM327 OBD2 v1.5'. I've heard that OBD v2.x readers will not work, because the Triumph ECU doesn't support the negotiation. I use the Torque app on my phone to read the data.

I've replaced the mirrors on mine with natty folding ones that Wemoto reckon are for a KTM 950. They solve more problems for me than the fantastically expensive Double-Takes, and only cost £15.

It's a great bike for all the reasons the reviews generally go on about, but there's a couple of nice little touches that are often missed:

  • The XC and roadie cockpits are interchangeable, so you can raise/lower the bars by swapping risers, and get the same-shaped wider or narrower bars by swapping those. Tiger 1200 bars are a common switch, too.
  • It is approximately balanced on the centrestand with no luggage - you can stably tip it on to either wheel, and can remove either wheel without needing anything to prop the other end up.

Numbers

Front axle allen key17mm
Rear axle nut27mm (12mm & 13mm for the chain adjusters)
Chain slackRoadie: 15 - 25mm
XC: 20 - 30mm
Spark plug socket16mm
Front brake padsEBC: FA226
Ferodo: FDB570
OE: T2020377
Rear brake pads EBC: FA140
Ferodo: FDB531
OE: T2020602
Oil3.6L 10w40
Coolant~2.5L OAT
Front tyreRoadie: 110/80 19 or 110/90 19
XC: 90/90 21
Rear tyre150/70 17

Common Problems

It's not without its flaws, though. Here's a list of issues I've had/noticed, hopefully in descending order of bad-ness:

  • The starter tends to fail relatively quickly (20-30K miles). The 675 engine uses the same part, and Speed Triple ones are often cheaper than those from another Tiger. The problem is the brushes wearing out very quickly, and it looks and feels like a flat battery. The problem, really, is high load (from the poor contact) rather than a flat battery. Not-fixing this for a bit does tend to ruin the battery though. Generally, this is more of a problem on warm engines; left for a couple of hours (or overnight) mine would start immediately.
  • The throttle idle stepper motor stops working if it gets excessively dusty, and it's not the sort of thing you normally clean. It's basically the replacement for the idle screw on a carb, and there are people who've converted this to use the Daytona's manual adjuster. It's easiest sorted with the tank and top of the airbox off (do it when changing the air filter), but you can get a solvent spray on it without taking the tank off when you know where it is - I doused mine with GT-85 at about 20K and as of this writing (60K) it's been fine. It doesn't stop the bike working, just means it doesn't idle. The stepper-motor doesn't exist on the post-15 bikes (the three-letter ones, XCX, XCA, XRX, XRT) so can't be a problem there.
  • The stock suspension on the roadie is terrible off-road (really over-damped) and the XC's variously regarded as a bit better or sorted. Andreani make a cartridge kit for ~£500 (brexit might change this) which adds adjustment, and completely sorted it out for me; they've no UK importer so I bought from Italian Ebay. The WP stuff on the post-15 bikes is generally regarded as sorted.
  • There's a load of stuff hanging out the front of the engine at the bottom, which is a bit of a dirt-collector and makes it all a bit likely to rot (hence the jubilee clip). R&G will sell you a mesh protector for it, but that'll only stop rocks, really. It's worth covering the jubilee clips in inner-tube, and generally keeping all that clean. The XC's bashguard is much more protective, but the whole area does still get dirty.
  • The main fuse is underneath the battery, which makes it tricky to replace on an unlit road in the dark when it's raining etc. The ancillary fuses are easy to get at (under the rider's seat, by the battery) and there's gaps for spares. The main fuse is a normal car-sized 30A blade fuse, the rest are micro blade fuses.
  • If you blow the headlight fuse, the bike won't start; I think this is part of a 'safety' circuit.
  • When refilling the coolant, be really patient and do all the burping, and still expect airlocks. I don't know why, but the bike seems prone to them. Also, don't forget about the bleed screw on the top-right of the radiator.
  • There's basically no sealing of the underseat area - it just fills with mud if you ride in the wet, and with dust if you ride in the dry. It's also possible to eventually drown the battery and main fuse like this so you need to check this (and clear the drain hole) periodically. Mine drowned after 56K of neglect.
  • The clutch cable rubs on and eventually through the upper fork leg. I've heard of people getting these replaced under warranty. and of other people being refused it.
  • The rear shock linkage is the lowest point on the bike, just sort-of dangling there waiting to get twatted by a rock. I've not seen a bashplate that'll protect it.
  • The downpipes sometimes rot really quickly (mine had holes in at 45K); Triumph seem aware of this; mine were replaced under (but out of) warranty.
  • Nobody makes a folding rear brake lever for it
  • The bit of the frame that sticks out the front and holds the headlight unit is welded to the frame and bolted to the lights, so a front-end impact's likely to write-off the frame.

Scotland!

I'd booked a few days off work for a trip to Germany that Mian was planning, but then he crashed and couldn't afford to go. I've made a few attempts at getting to Scotland in the past, each scuppered by other plans being made, and I've been hankering to have a go at a trip on my own, so it seemed sensible to take the five days to get to John O'Groats and back.

A quick fiddle with Furkot suggested that I had something like 1700 miles to cover in five days, which I rounded to 300 miles per day almost immediately before deciding that 300 miles was a reasonable day's riding. My rear tyre was awfully squared off so the obvious solution seemed to be blat it up the M1 and M6 past all the lovely places I've already seen, then get a new tyre fitted at or near the border. And I might as well do that after work on the Thursday (I'd booked the Friday, Monday and Tuesday off).

 

So I booked the bike in for a new tyre at a Triumph shop in Carlisle on Friday morning and set about finding somewhere cheap and not-too-bad to stay. I ended up booking at the Travelodge at Kendal which wasn't really success.

Thursday - London to Kendal

Well, this was the easy bit. I've long had a strong aversion to motorways on the grounds that I'm riding a motorbike and not driving a lorry, but a couple of trips (most notably leaving work one evening for Harwich and being in Cologne by about 11 the next day) have convinced me to give them a go.

So I worked from home, left at half four, jumped on the M1 and then the M6 and, aside from a brief error onto the M42 and A5, just made progress and dispatched with 250 miles in quite pleasant weather ahead of most of the traffic without once getting distracted by all the fantastic places I was zipping past.

work-to-kendal

Friday - Kendal to Fort William

Breakfast was at Tebay services (the farm shop one) where I also bought the bits required to fashion a battery charger for my camera since I'd neither charged the camera nor brought a working charger for it. I paused again at Carlisle to get a new tyre and fawn over the new Tigers, before cracking on up through Gretna Green to Glasgow

I'd noticed by now that I'd forgotten to pack a number of things - I had no fuel bottle for my stove, no chain lube at all and while I'd brought a pot to cook in I had no cup to drink out of and no fork or spoon to eat with, so I paused in Glasgow a little longer than I'd intended to.

Heading out of Glasgow past Dumbarton, up alongside Loch Lomond and over Glen Coe was a fantastic suggestion of what was to come from Scotland:

 


That last photo's from when I stopped because the temperature gague had been flashing at me in that way that suggested that something's gone awfully wrong. It's a weird place for an engine to overheat - a fast, empty road in a country not really known for its high temperatures. I briefly realised I'd never actually fixed the fan after it broke in Germany last year, and then actually had a look:

 

That's not really supposed to do that. A handy local stopped as I was wondering what on earth to bodge that together with - I think he was on an air-cooled BMW but I'll forgive him.

He said that the petrol station on the way into Glen Coe was about 5 miles away and stocked "basically everything". I somewhat pointlessly filled the coolant system up out of my camelbak (another good reason to only ever have water in there) and cracked on past some more lovely scenery to fix it.

During the application of Magic Network Rail Tape (I think that's its technical name) and some jubilee clips I heard the familiar sound of an approaching BMW flat twin. Fortunately, this was a water-cooled one so the rider couldn't gloat, but he did advise me that the ferry I was hoping to catch first thing in the morning from Mallaig (about an hour and a half away still) to Skye was likely full and that I might end up waiting for hours if I turned up without a crossing booked.

He left on his way once I'd persuaded him that I thought the thing was fixed - I decided I'd see how far I could get towards Mallaig and book the ferry when I was reasonably convinced I'd be able to get onto it. After several scares that were just reminders of how carefully this engine needs its coolant bleeding, as I reached Fort William I decided I'd definitely be able to make the ferry in the morning and I ought to book a ticket.

The earliest available crossing was at 16:20, so I found a campsite nearby instead.

kendal-to-fort-william

Saturday - Fort William to Thurso

I woke up in the morning and reasoned that the current bodge had been 'fine' for the couple of hours it took to get to the campsite and it didn't really look like it had leaked overnight so it was probably fixed, and headed across to Applecross.

Regardless of how much better it might have been to go across Skye (and, really, the only draw for me had been the ferry) I didn't feel I'd missed much by just cracking on down the main road.

The Applecross road is one that I've heard much mention of but never really looked into - I didn't really know what to expect. The road to the beginning (in Tornapress) is delightful. There's a singletrack railway alongside it with a lovely lake the other side, and the odd tunnel.

But delightful as that is, the Applecross pass is just a wonderful mountain pass. Almost entirely singletrack with the odd passing place and not a lot of crash barrier, generally poorly surfaced and set in some wonderfully distracting scenery:

Applecross itself is a nice seaside village, providing both a good car park in which to deal with the failure of last night's bodge and a nice community-owned petrol pump:

Since I'd just rebodged the hose again (and the hole was bigger this time) I thought it would be best to head straight for a town to get some better supplies for this. It also seemed sensible to head fairly directly for the campsite (at Thurso) with a view to getting there early enough to effect a proper repair and then leave it overnight for any glue to set.

This was annoying - in Applecross I was about halfway up the West coast of Scotland, and Thurso is essentially the East end of the North coast. The bit of Scotland that I really wanted to see was the North-East corner, and here I was planning to skirt right round it.

I sighed and thought I'd just take the most major road I could find to the next town that was remotely on the way

Ah well, I'll go back over the Applecross pass if I must :)

I pulled into a Tesco in Dingwall in order to top up on Cup-a-Soup sachets, but as I parked up I heard the familiar sound of spraying water and looked down to see my front tyre getting another soaking out of the now slightly-displaced Applecross bodge. I headed into town and found a hardware shop.

The original bodge had been Network Rail Magic Tape and jubilee clips, to which I later added duct tape. The second had been thicker self-amalgamating tape and duct tape (and jubilee clips) but this time I sought advice from 'Papa Greenbury' who suggested a glue to really fill the gaps. I Uhu-glued some duct tape in place, then added some circlips and thought I'd better leave that to set so went off in search of a Wispa.

By now, this had gone from being a fairly entertaining problem that's just adding some jeopardy and interest to an otherwise run-of-the-mill trip to something a bit annoying. I was stopping frequently to top up the water and couldn't really claim to believe my own lie that all I was doing was replacing air that had bled out. Also, all that glorious countryside was just over to my left as I 'progressed' up a main road.

There's basically no photos from the next five hours - I just smashed it up the A9 trying to get to Thurso before it all blew up.

As I pulled into Brora (about 50 miles short of Thurso) the overheating light came on again and I coasted into a petrol station. Here I noticed that the radiator was cold, so the system was empty again; I set about filling it up and told myself that if I properly bled it as well, then I'd probably get most of the way to Thurso on that.

While I was doing that, a man on a Fireblade pulled up into the petrol station and asked if I needed a hand. This had happened a lot by now, and it's really nice to have all these offers of help. But it's also a bit annoying how few people (myself included) happen to carry around with them all the tools to repair a steel coolant pipe.

I tried to dismiss this offer, too - "yeah, there's a hole in a steel coolant pipe, I'm just topping it up and I'll be fine" but he wasn't so easily dissuaded - "you wont get anywhere on that. My house is 11 miles up the road, and I'm sure my son will be able to sort that out".

It seemed a daft offer to refuse, so I headed up there. A few hours later I'd been introduced to three or four generations of the family, all of whom had multiple bikes in various places and, perhaps more importantly, had had a nice plate welded up over the hole in the seriously-quite-degraded pipe. It was absolutely amazing - I cut short an MX session when they were called back from the track, then six people basically spent their evening fixing this complete stranger's bike.

I left at about eight, just after dusk and thought I'd crack on up to Thurso - I still had 60-odd miles to cover. At the first bit of unlit road I flipped to full-beam and everything went dark... So I've got an electrical issue whereby when I use the full-beam circuit something shorts to ground and blows the fuse, taking out the dipped beam, too. Also, presumably in an effort to protect me from myself, the bike won't start with non-working headlights (this seems more sensible now I've written it down).

I got to Thurso very late and tired and also *incredibly* low on fuel - I'd forgotten to actually fill up when the nice man took me off for some welding. Luckily the petrol station on the way into Thurso was still open (just!) since according to the range countdown on the bike I only had fuel for about an extra mile beyond the campsite.

fort-william-to-thurso

Sunday - Thurso to Dundee, via Aberdeen

I slept incredibly well that night. Perhaps partly because of how tiring Saturday had been, and largely because I forgot to set an alarm and woke with a bit of a start a little after 9. I headed into town for a quick look around, and then on to Dunnet Head (the british mainland's most northerly point) for breakfast.

That box ticked I headed for John O'Groats. I've been to Land's End a few times and it's brilliantly tragic and anticlimactic. I expected the same from John O'Groats.

What I got was the finish line to the "Ride Across Britain" and a bunch of closed shops.

which, in a way, was even better than I was expecting.

I'd arranged to meet Alan in Aberdeen on the way down. I can't remember quite how long ago he moved there but I've been saying I'll come and visit ever since, and he's moving to Australia at the end of the month so it was about time I actually did that. On the way to Aberdeen I called in and delivered a crate of energy drink and a pile of cake to the family of welders - they'd said that was most appropriate!

And then on down towards Inverness. This is a lovely part of the world for a Triumph owner; all the oil refining means that the smell of hot engine oil that so often means another problem is actually just part of the scenery.

On the way I passed a sign for "Nigg", which I followed rather optimistically hoping for a sign to something that's both appropriate and funny. Obviously that didn't happen, but I did find a cheeky ferry:

At this point I was still regarding the welded-up pipe as just the latest incarnation of the bodge, and I was a bit confident that if it all goes wrong Alan's probably got something I can use to fix it. Since there's a large bit of seawater in the way of my doing anything else I headed down and across to Inverness and then out along the fast-but-dull main road to Aberdeen.

I was still running a couple of hours behind because of the relaxing sleep in, and my plan required I get at least as far south as Dundee for the night. I got to Alan's still with a not-leaking bike, and found that Aberdeen is almost exactly as unremarkably not-bad on first impression as everyone says. I left rather late after dark and headed straight down to a campsite just past Dundee.

thurso-to-aberdeen

Monday - Dundee to Whitby

With the whole of Sunday having gone without a coolant leak this was the first day that could just go as planned, but I'd also not actually planned this far ahead. Whitby seemed a good aim for the night (being about half way home) and Edinburgh, Kielder and the North York Moors are all on the way there.

So, I headed down through Edinburgh past the Forth Bridge and to the difficult-to-photograph-from-a-bike castle.

I Edinburgh I met a courier at a petrol station who recommended the A68 South-East as something "fun, with corners and no cameras" which was broadly accurate. I followed that down to Jedburgh where I turned West so I'd cross the border straight into Kielder National Park.

On the way I passed what turned out to be a Waterloo Momument.

Apparently you can't drive there, and instead have to park up and walk which I didn't bother with. I did, however, find a train station up an unpaved road:

Now that the bike wasn't leaking it all got a bit consistent - I just carried on riding over the border, through Kielder, past a funny-named town and over the Tyne at Newcastle.

I hadn't realised how suburban the Angel of the North was - I expected it to be on the way to Newcastle from the south, but it's a bit of a way into it. And while there's a handy layby for taking photos of it from the northern carriageway, anyone heading south must take photos as they go.

It had to happen eventually on a Scotland trip, and as I rolled in to Whitby it started raining.

Annoyingly this is the first time I managed to get to a campsite early enough that I could spend the evening sitting around and relaxing rather than just sticking up a tent and going to bed, so I sat in my tent and hid from the rain for a bit.

dundee-to-whitby

Tuesday - Whitby to London

The morning wasn't a lot better. As I left Whitby the rain paused and it just felt like it was going to rain soon. But I spent long enough deviating round York and going over the Humber bridge for the rain to catch up.

On the way out of Hull, I saw a three-digit motorway which I thought I may as well go on for the novelty, where the much-predicted finally happened and I dropped the camera...

It was fine and working, but missing a bit of the case so no-longer waterproof. Given the weather, I didn't really take any more photos on the otherwise quite plain-sailing rest of the ride home.

whitby-to-home

So, all up that's about 1500 miles in five days which is quite doable but perhaps not something I'd inflict on anybody else; lunches were in petrol stations and with the mechanical problems there was no time to do anything besides riding the thing.

I definitely missed out a bunch of things that would've been really good - distilleries, the whole north-west corner, any form of interaction with the locals besides buying their petrol, the islands - and it was at least a little more stressful than I'd have liked. I've definitely got to get back, but with ten days or so...

all-of-scotland

Even more pictures are here and the Viewranger tracks are a bit split-up:

Work to Kendal
Kendal to Fort William
Fort William to Thurso
Thurso to Aberdeen and Aberdeen to Dundee
Dundee to Whitby
Whitby to Home

All Year Riding Gear

I've had another discussion on Reddit that went on long enough that I thought I ought to put it somewhere more concisely. It began with the question "What should I buy, and how much should I spend, on all-year riding gear?".

 

For 'all year' or even 'winter' riding kit, I'd buy a decent set of lightweight riding gear (I've a mesh Dainese jacket, and mesh Rev'It trousers), some decent layers for temperature regulation (base layers, a microfleece for under the jacket and maybe something to go over it) and some cheap-but-functional waterproofs - I use army surplus trousers and an RAF jacket, you can get them for about £50 for the pair off eBay generally, sometimes cheaper at airshows.

 

All-year motorbike kit is a massive compromise, and "waterproof" motorbike kit often isn't anyway; there's a couple of common compromises going on:

 

Firstly, we expect a lot from multi-season bike kit - it should provide armour, waterproofing, removable thermal insulation and some abrasion resistance. The waterproofing needs to be on the outside, really, and the armour right on the inside, where it won't move around. The normal solution to this problem, though, is to have a single outer layer with the abrasion resistance, waterproofing and armour in it, and to have the insulation as a removable inner liner. This means that the outer layer must be designed to fit on the outside of the insulation, and so it's relatively baggy and prone to flapping around - including the armour - unless it can be strapped down (which creates creases that fill with water in the rain). With the insulation fitted it's arguably worse - it acts as a lubricating layer between armour and skin.

 

Secondly, these waterproof membranes tend to be designed to work (at least in part) by having water bead up and run off the surface. That's a problem when it's creased up as in the strapping-down of the sleeves/legs above, but it's a more general problem when a garment to be worn every-day on a motorbike is made waterproof. The usual approach is to attach the waterproof membrane to a durable outer, normally something like cordura. This outer layer, though, is not waterproof, and is generally somewhat absorbent; even if the jacket happens to keep the wearer dry for a day, for example, the whole jacket will still be wet the next day, water will have crept round the cuffs and neck, and unless it's among the top-end of the membranes, water will have just seeped through it in places. This is often even worse on jackets where the waterproof layer is a removable internal liner, because there's even more material on the outside of it, though arguably the outer shell should be easier to dry. Gore Tex's Laminate product, and Columbia's Outdry each are designed to be waterproof outer-layers and so obviate this problem, but are very much at the top-end of waterproof membranes and still don't really solve the armour/insulation problem above.

 

Outside of the compromises, we like to have pockets in our jackets, and in the summer we like to have vents. Lots of "all weather" riding gear is sold to the adventure bike crowd, so it's got to look right, too, and that means pockets and vents everywhere. There's two approaches with a pocket on a waterproof jacket: if the pocket is itself waterproof then anything in the pocket is likely to get drowned in a downpour as the pocket fills with water, but if the pocket is not-waterproof, then any rain that gets into it soaks through to the wearer. Waterproof zips are, obviously, a thing, and so are massive flaps on pockets, but neither's as reliable as a single sheet of waterproof fabric (especially if, like me, the rider forgets to check they're properly closed).

 

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, however nice and breathable it's billed as, waterproof membranes are always less good than something that's made no effort at all to be waterproof. Whatever we like to say about it, the weather's not that bad in the UK and, really - it's not-raining the huge majority of the time and it's difficult to be genuinely surprised by rain on a one-or-two day ride. I think having waterproof riding gear and wearing that all the time is a terrible compromise, and it detracts from my riding when it's not raining more than it's a saviour when it is. The inconveniences the result from being completely watertight are fine when it's actually raining, but annoying the other 340-odd days of the year.

 

If you really want to spend all the money on bike specific gear, I'd say get the top-end Klim stuff for when it might rain:

and a selection of heated layers, so you don't need to be able to accommodate much insulation under it. Then get something nice and vented for the summer. I don't think that would be particularly more functional than having the nice summer gear and £50 (or even £80) of MoD surplus Gore-Tex, though.

Riding in Southern Ireland

France has some wonderful scenery but an awful lot of French people. Belgians are much happier to speak English, but have very straight roads and not many hills. Ireland, apparently, has some fantastic scenery and is full of people who speak a pretty recognisable form of English. And they use holiday money, too!

So, I planned a trip to Ireland. Right at the bottom of this post is some handy notes if you're thinking of doing the same.

After most of the people initially coming along either got jobs or lost jobs and so pulled out, three of us made it to the pre-ferry meeting point at a cafe in Pembroke, but only two of us made it as far as the ferry:

 


And one of us had developed a crude form of active suspension:

Having got off the ferry in the early evening we headed for Cashel for the night. The next morning we wandered into town to plan our riding for the day, and stumbled across a ride-out.

We were invited on it, but then they left early (!) so we ended up chasing them and meeting at their half-way point. We rode back to Cashel with them, though, and arrived at about lunch time. We weren't due in Cork until that evening and Tipperary was not actually a long way away, so we decided to go through it on the way. It's not an especially pleasant town, but no Raries were being tipped.

Cork hostel was a little cosy for the bikes, perhaps, and being asked "you did lock them up, didn't you?" wasn't the most confidence-inspiring greeting, but being a proper town offered some time to faff about getting some fork oil, filling a topbox with lunches, and being bemused by the way the Irish advertise their crisps

The full extent of the planning I'd done in the UK was as far as staying in the An Oige hostel in Black Valley on Sunday night, and then riding the ring of Kerry on the Sunday. The Black Valley is off to the West of Killarney National Park and apparently so-called because they didn't get a telephone line until the 21st Century.

ring-of-kerry-map

You're supposed to do the ring anti-clockwise because of the shape of some of the corners, so I'd advise doing it clockwise so as to not get stuck behind coaches. We started in Killarney and headed South through the National Park.

The turn-off for the Black Valley is somewhere near Ladies View, apparently so named for having a view that impressed Queen Victoria's Ladies in Waiting. We stopped to consult the map and take some photos.

The road goes down from the comparatively unremarkable Moll's Gap. It's also got the sort of surface that helps justify buying a road bike that thinks it's an adventure bike. It doesn't, apparently, make recent adoptees of sportsbikes happy. Rest stops make for some dramatic photos, though:

The road is a lot longer than I was expecting - 8 miles, and not one to do at speed - and the largely absent mains electricity in the area meant it was quite dark when we arrived. It was also hailing.

We got up the next morning to another hailstorm, but by the time we left it was a lovely day. We elected to go back up to Moll's Gap the way we came in, partly because that was the only feasible route and partly because we both thought we ought to have a go at enjoying that road.

We stopped at Moll's Gap when I remembered that motorbikes need petrol to operate, and recalled being warned that petrol stations in rural Ireland can be few and far between (hence the jerry can on my back seat). While I looked for a petrol station, Roni got to discover what a comfortable bike feels like.

After a false-positive we found Derreendarragh (I think that's spelled correctly, but honestly it's hard to tell), which was down probably the straightest road for a few hundred miles.

Puzzlingly, it'd dried out for the return journey. We followed the Ring of Kerry to Kenmare (where we'd joined it yesterday) and from there picked up the Wild Atlantic Way, another fantastic signposted route, this one all the way along the Atlantic coast.

At Sneem we came across a layby that basically forced us to stop for a break

Down a few Tracker bars and even more Hob Nobs, we decided on Dingle for lunch and rode on, looking at even more fantastic scenery, some of which we were fairly categorically not allowed in

There is supposed to be a photo of Fungie here, but we didn't see him. We *did* have some cake, though.

Podcasts topped up (basically every building in Ireland has free Wifi), we headed for the westernmost hostel in Europe.

Behind that tree behind the bikes is the westernmost point on Ireland. In hindsight, we could have parked a bit better.

The next morning we finally got some of the weather I was promised I'd get if I went to Ireland in March

We went back to Dingle, and then out over the Connor Pass. It's Ireland's highest pass, and were it not raining and foggy I'm sure we'd have had some glorious views. Were it not so crazy windy Roni might have enjoyed it, too.

Going down the other side was hugely less windy, with odd glimpses of the beautiful countryside under all that fog


This being a day of solid rain, I didn't take a great deal of photos. We stayed that night in a hotel in Ennis. While we were having breakfast we were accosted by the owner who, as had become something of a theme of our trip, recommended us places to ride.

The Wild Atlantic Way is fantastic, but because it hugs coast it takes a long time to get anywhere. Having spent two days now following it quite rigidly, we decided to skip a bit and head for Connemara where we'd pick it up again.

Strapping what gear was still wet to the outside of our bikes and luggage, we set out into more surprisingly glorious sunshine.

Ireland's chock full of really interesting neolithic bits and bobs, and we'd ridden past loads of it. So we stopped at Poulnabrone Dolmen, a portal tomb, which also featured what Roni continues to maintain was the best half-mile stretch of road of the entire trip, and I'm not sure he's yet forgiven my turning off it to go and look at a pile of rocks.

That rock formation's was built before the pyramids at Giza were even planned. It predates basically all unifications, even China's. Then it collapsed in 1985 and was rebuilt.

Anyway, we zipped through Galway and into Connemara. Even after all the beautiful countryside we'd spend the past few days in, this was astonishingly pretty.

So much so, in fact, that I didn't take an awful lot of photos of it.

We ended the day in Cong, and spent the next day heading for Dublin. Ireland's interior is pretty dull compared to the coast, unfortunately, and quite frequently does a rather good impression of the Netherlands:

Impressively, I still spotted the rarest of road users, the Lost Roni:

And, later, the SV finally had something of a problem when the indicators kept not-working. That we'd stopped for me to get some engine oil to feed the Tiger's cravings, and we then had to push start it to leave, is something I shall gloss over.

We didn't really have much time in Dublin, but there was a CBR250 at the ferry:

Back when I started planning this trip I realised that one lovely thing about Ireland is that to get to it you have to go through Wales, and it's very hard to have a boring time travelling through Wales. Since our last (and, at this point, next) hostel was at Much Wenlock, in England, we were going to have a pretty good go at it.

Coming out of Holyhead on the Roman-straight A5 you can see the fun that is to come on the horizon:

Before all that fun and games, though, I have been near the station with the longest name on the UK rail network many times before, but I've never actually got around to going into the town. In keeping with the general trend of British geographical landmarks, it's a bit of an anti climax:

Here we realised that we were due to get to the hostel about half an hour before it closed, and we'd yet to have any dinner, pick anything up for it or even get any petrol. Time for an uncomfortably quick crossing of Snowdonia!


... and then my camera's battery died.

Some handy notes:

  • The Ring of Kerry and the Wild Atlantic Way are both well signposted and gorgeous. You could spend several days on them without needing to do any other planning. Away from them it's still tricky to go far wrong.
  • WiFi is everywhere - I downloaded a map update in a petrol station.
  • Petrol stations could be more abundant in the countryside, but they're not *that* scarce. They do often close early-evening, though.
  • Ride-outs leave on time (or early!)
  • An Oige isn't a coherent unit like the YHA, but more a program which hostels may join. You will find all the hostels on booking.com or similar, and that might be easier than going through An Oige. If you book through An Oige's site, what you actually do is pay a deposit and cause someone in their office to ring the hostel and book for you.
  • There's little motorcycle parking in Dublin and what there is is quite expensive (NCP style). Considerate parking on the pavement is apparently completely tolerated, and it's what the locals do.
  • If the (Rosslare) ferry's not particularly busy they don't turn the kitchen on so you can't eat on it.
  • Speed cameras are craftily hidden. They're also not DVLA compatible so this is not of real consequence.
  • Lots of the roads are poorly (or not-very-recently) surfaced. Apparently punctures are common, but we didn't have any.

And there's yet more photos here.

Keeping a ride together – The Cornerman System

The cornerman system (or 'corner marker system') works pretty well for larger groups, and those with some slow and some fast riders; it encourages overtaking. If there's only three or four riders, or everyone rides at about the same pace, follow the leader is normally a better match.

Most forums try to explain the cornerman system but make it sound far more complex than it is.

In short, there is a 'leader' and a 'tailgunner' (who might also be called a 'tail-end Charlie' or 'TEC'), and everyone should be able to identify the tailgunner from the front and the leader from behind.

The leader goes at the front of the ride and knows where they're going, the tailgunner stays at the back - nobody overtakes the leader, and the tailgunner overtakes nobody.

Whenever the ride does anything other than go straight on, the rider immediately behind the leader stops and marks the corner - they are now a 'cornerman' or a 'cornermarker'. If the leader thinks a marker's needed somewhere then they'll point to where the marker should be, and the next rider should stop and mark whatever's been pointed at. Marking a corner is exactly that - pulling over (often just to the side of the road, but if there's a pavement or something that's fine too) so as to be able to direct other riders.

Riders approaching the corner will see this rider and know to turn, or at least that they need to do something other than just carry on riding straight on. It is quite important that the cornermarker positions themselves such that they are obvious to oncoming riders (not hidden behind a sign, or already round the corner), and also such that it is obvious what the oncoming rider must do - which turning, roundabout exit or lane they should be taking.

As the tailgunner approaches the corner, the cornermarker gets back on their bike and rejoins the ride - pulling in before the tailgunner, but after the previous rider has taken the corner.

And that's basically all there is to it. During the ride the faster riders will naturaly find themselves overtaking lots, and therefore at the front a lot, and so marking corners. Slower riders will sit in the middle with a steady stream of corner markers guiding them, and faster riders overtaking them to mark more corners.

Metal Mule pannier frames and a Fuel exhaust on a Tiger 800

The exhaust pipe on the Tiger is ginormous so almost all luggage options require assymetric panniers which look daft. Metal Mule, however, sell a set of their hard-bastard frames in a symmetrical form, for use with with a new narrower silencer (a rebranded Scorpion).

That silencer costs £250 and, since the only reason for it is the narrowness, I thought I'd try a cheaper one. I tend to default to Fuel for cheap exhaust pipes, and their narrower silencer for the tiger is only £150.

But neither Fuel nor Metal Mule will say for sure that the pipe will fit (Metal Mule are nice enough to not insist on my buying their Scorpion, though, and suggest that "it really should, but we can't guarantee it").

Turns out it does!

tiger 800 metal mule rack

The rack does actually foul the linkpipe, though, but I've drilled a sidestand puck to space it out a bit:

tiger 800 metal mule rack fuel exhaust gap

and the gap I was concerned about (between the frame and silencer) is fine:

metal mule rack frame fuel exhaust gap

Keeping a ride together – follow the leader

Everyone loves the cornerman system, which is explained both in great depth and with much convolution on most motorbike forums. But I quite like playing follow the leader, and much as it's probably how you ride anyway, sometimes people ask how a ride is going to work. Here's what I call 'follow the leader' and some other people call 'the buddy system':

  • You set off in a line, and maintain that order. No overtaking each other.
  • You pause at corners to wait for the guy behind you. At the beginning of the ride you agree on how he'll signal that he understands where to go - I always suggest a wave since that's really hard to accidentally do, but some people like headlight flashes.
  • As you're going along, you keep an eye in your wing mirror for the guy behind you, if he disappears for a while you stop and wait, eventually going back if the guy in front of you comes back for you (he having waited a while).
  • If you get to a corner and you don't know where to go you stop. Eventually the guys in front will be back.

 

Blimey, that was chilly

So the original question is answered - it *is* possible to ride from Land's End to Lowestoft overnight on the night of the solstice.

It's also a really stupid idea. And you can still give money to homeless people. I've stolen Joel's pictures and stuck them online here.

While in Penzance, we checked the weather forecasts for Sunday and Monday nights. Monday, our original plan, was forecast snowfall for the entire night all along our journey, while the Sunday night was only sleety and haily. We decided that Sunday night was the better option.

Before the ride, Joel and I had different, but quite clear, ideas of what would be the biggest difficulty - I was only concerned with keeping warm, and Joel was more concerned about the prospect of not being able to see where he was going. Joel had therefore augmented his headlight with a pair of foglights, each of equal brightness to the original headlight, and wired them in rather neatly. He's also made himself a pair of nifty seven-way adjustable brackets for them.
I, meanwhile, packed enough luggage for a several week stay - the total luggage capacity of my bike is roughly equal to two decent sized backpacking rucksacks, and I'd filled them with warm (and occasionally waterproof) stuff. I'd also added a screen to my bike, and brought along some emergency heated grips.
In Penzance, I noticed that Joel had a point, and scurried off to Halfords where I bought the first things that looked like they'd fit, and rather than fashion a nice and stable bracket for them, cable-tied them onto my indicators. I spent rather a long time connecting them up, repeatedly trying to work out why there was no power available while not checking whether I'd blown the sensibly included fuse. I think Joel meanwhile reasoned that I had enough excess warm clothing to solve all of Crisis' problems, so he'd just nick some of mine if it was necessary. Though he did bring along a tent.
Thanks in no small part to my ignorance of the fuse we didn't leave Penzance until it was already dark. We got to Land's End for about 5:30, dawdled for a bit, and then left for Exeter.

landsend

On the way up to Exeter the piles of grit along the edge of the road rather quickly turned into piles of snow which wasn't exactly what we'd been hoping for - I'd inferred from the weather forecast that we'd not see snow until at least after the first stop. We pulled in to Whiddon Down services for dinner in the Little Chef. There was snowfall on the petrol station forecourt as we filled up, and the Little Chef car park was effectively a sheet of ice. We parked on the petrol station forecourt, and skated off to interrupt the waiters' game of football and fashion some duct-tape-and-bin-bag overshoes.

whiddondown

Leaving Exeter, Joel pulled over to readjust his headphones and when we went to leave I found I couldn't start my engine. On hitting the start button, the starter motor turned, the lights went dim and then nothing happened, which is pretty certainly down to a flat battery. I whipped out a multimeter to Joel's apparent surprise, and found that the battery was indeed flat. Fortunately, I've had this bike for some time, so there is a lot of wiring all over it that isn't doing much any more, and from this and a screwdriver we fashioned a set of jump leads. After some acrobatics getting the bikes close enough (I didn't have any long spare wiring), the bike came to life again. I tested the charging circuit and found it was at 13V at 5000rpm, so the battery should have been charging. We assumed I'd been running the engine too slowly, which is a long-standing habit of mine, and causes not enough power to be generated to charge the battery.

Stonehenge was dark and cold. We stopped at the side of the road where we suspected Stonehenge would be - there were VW campers parked up in an otherwise attraction-free layby - and Joel took it upon himself to get a photo of him and the stones, while I attempted to coax my feet out of anesthesia. At the time, doing this while standing in several inches of snow didn't seem as counter-productive as it does in hindsight.
The stones were closed, and they even had security guards wandering round keeping people out. Apparently if we waited until dawn they'd let us in, though we mused that we'd arrived at midnight, which must be a significant time to someone.
In the meantime, I checked the temperature on the thermometer on my handlebars, which was reading -5.4 as we pulled up, and to my delight found that it had settled on a decidedly more humane -3.5. In celebration Joel cracked out the coffee and biscuits and demanded we stop somewhere with walls and a roof as soon as possible. Apparently he rather likes the ability to feel his feet.

stonehenge

So, we cheated and found ourselves on the M3 at about 1am. Winchester services were amazing. Firstly, I discovered that my charging circuit and battery were apparently fine - they just couldn't cope with my extra lighting - so I resolved to stop using the extra lights about 20 minutes before any stop to give the battery a chance to charge to the point where it'd be able to start the engine. Secondly, it had heating. I didn't realise how cold I was until I sat down and shook for a few minutes. Joel rudely disturbed the woman in the Costa shirt by asking her if she wouldn't mind making us a pair of coffees, but the guy in WHSmith was quite amused by the idea of company, and repeatedly told us it was a stupid idea.
I did some calculations as to how far on or off schedule we were (I asked the satnav), and found that if we went non-stop up the motorway, through London, and up the A12, we'd get there at abut 6:50am, with dawn happening from about 7:30 to 8:30. With this, and the fact it was jolly cold outside so we'd want to stop, in mind, we set off up the M3.

London was weird, it was the first real traffic we'd seen in about 500 miles and two days, and while feeling like home, we were still about 150 miles from the end. Though by the time we got to Trafalgar square, I found I'd fallen into the mindset that we'd pretty much finished.
We got into London at about 3:30am, and were at Trafalgar Square at 4, as London was waking up in its very businesslike manner, surrounded by festivities. We left London knowing we had just to go up the A12 which be both knew as a far as Ipswich, and then some, and so we should be at Lowestoft well within three hours.

trafalgarsquare

So we left London in good spirits. The first 50 miles or so weren't too bad; we were riding through misty rain on unlit roads with a whole lot of traffic coming in the other direction with maladjusted headlights. In short, I could generally see to just ahead of my headlight, sometimes even as far the vehicle in front. It was about here that I realised how lucky we'd been with the traffic and the weather so far.
Since it was a Sunday night and not much would be open, we'd agreed to pull into every open petrol station, on the grounds that several quick stops would be preferable to none at all. The first stop was pretty icy, but usable. I stocked up on those little energy shots (don't get the Lucozade one, it's vile), and we cleaned visors and headlights.
From there, it pretty much went downhill. Every petrol station was iced over and/or closed until Ipswich, at which point I'd decided the massive Tesco Extra would be pressed into service as a stop. That, too, was icy, so we pressed on.

And then we ran out of grit. From Ipswich, no-one had deigned to grit the roads. We were on the dual-carriageway A12 and suddenly the overtaking lane disappeared under several inches of snow, and shortly afterwards a line of snow appeared down the middle of the remaining lane. This was apparently fine for the car drivers who were behind us, but on a bike you can't really afford to just slip a bit on one wheel, so we were down to about 30mph on a national speed limit dual carriageway. I decided we'd pull over the next time it was sensible, and do whatever we could to make this more humane.
About 5 miles later, the dual carriageway became a single carriageway, which meant that the steel central reservation was replaced with a snow one and the track we had through the snow was replaced with a strip of shallower slush about the width of a car down the middle of the road. By now, I couldn't feel my feet or the footpegs, and instead of nudging the gear changer with my toes I was stomping on it with my heel, with only a vague idea of where it was relative to my feet. I was keeping an eye on Joel in my wing mirrors, since we'd agreed that he'd flash his lights if he wanted to stop and wasn't in a position to overtake and pull over, but from when the countdown on the satnav ticked over to 20 miles to Lowestoft, I think I stopped watching most things, and was overcome with quite some determination to just get to the finish, and go somewhere warm and dry.
That 20 miles wasn't really indescribably bad, but it's difficult to make it sound realistic. So, as a substitute: it was ruddy painful, cold and petrifying and I've never been so happy to see a wind turbine as I was when we arrived at Ness Point. There never was a point to pull over, sensible or otherwise.

nesspoint

We got to Ness Point as dawn was breaking, where our dad was to meet us with a car and a trailer to offer us a lift home. We pulled up and he wasn't there, apparently he'd seen the 400m or so of sheet ice leading up to it and thought we wouldn't be so stupid as to have ridden along it. I'd not given it a second thought.
I rang him, and he arrived and took us to have breakfast at the Asda cafe. At 7:30 am in Lowestoft, there didn't appear to be much open, and we weren't in the mood for looking. After amusingly managing to give us each exactly not what we'd ordered, we went back to the bikes to load the trailer.

trailer

After some to-ing and fro-ing working out which bike was to go where and how (Joel's tyres were antisocially wide), we got the bikes on and strapped down, just as the left tyre of the trailer went flat. Fortunately, there were a couple of guys from the local council in a van, apparently with some time to kill, who offered us a jack to help get the wheel off. They then took dad off to the local Kwik Fit to get the tyre changed while Joel and I strapped the bikes down and tried to avoid noticing the salt they were covered in.
Dad got back with a wheel, fitted it, and we had a delightfully warm, eventless, warm, comfortable, warm, dry and warm drive back through several hours of traffic. I was pretty happy to have taken him up on the offer of the trailer. And warm.

Sponsor Me!

Sponsor Me!

I've had a silly idea, and figured I should get sponsorship for it: ride motorbikes from the most westerly point of the UK to the most easterly, during the night of the winter solstice.

Basically, we're to leave Land's End at about dusk on the 21st December and arrive at Lowestoft by dawn on the 22nd. Google reckons we need eleven and a half hours, I'm told we have twelve hours of darkness.

We'll be going via Stonehenge (it's designed for this time of year) and Trafalgar Square (whoo! big tree!). here's our proposed route.

Sponsor Me!