I've spent a long time using various Android phones and apps to navigate on a motorbike, and mostly been unimpressed with dedicated satnavs. I've written a not-unbiased comparison of dedicated units with phones and generally while I'm not completely satisfied with the app offerings, they do seem better than using a dedicated unit.
I did, though, find myself with a surprise £350 and thought I'd figure out what the fuss is about; I bought a Garmin 346 LM in September 2018 (shortly after its release) and here I've noted down my first impression, my opinion after using it for its first week-long trip, and again about ten months later. I've been editing this 'backwards' so that the most-recent opinion is at the top.
It's now September 2020 I've been using this for a couple of years during which there's been many one-day rides, fewer extended trips, a bunch of trail riding, an awful lot of routine "take me to this postcode", 3 months going to and around Poland, and I think I've formed a proper opinion.
It's in a box on a shelf and hasn't come out for a few months. I don't benefit from using it over my phone.
Contrary to my initial assumptions, there's some things it does well
- The mounting bracket is very good - one-handed fitting or removal of the unit, and it's obviously always automatically charging. It comes with a complete RAM mount.
- As promised, the screen does not go bonkers in the rain; combined with the powered mount you don't need to think about the rain at all.
- It can be set to always track your route, so if the device is on you don't need to think about whether to start tracking or not.
There's also a few things that are good ideas that just feel a bit unfinished; it's not-as-good as the competition but does still function:
- Perhaps most surprisingly, it's bad at showing maps. It takes a long time to render maps (such as when scrolling or zooming), the image quality of the mapping is poor (presumably a function of the low screen res) and the density of information makes it hard to recognise which area is being looked at. The Talky Toaster maps resolve the last of this, but at the expense of proper routing - you cannot show one set of maps while navigating with another. Here's a video showing how long it takes to plot a 50mi route: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M2ou4yAVZn0
- There is a Garmin phone app which allows you to send points to the device from your phone, so you can find a POI in your satnav of choice, or using Google maps, and 'share' it to the Garmin. The process is clunky and only mostly-reliable. It does work, but it feels more 2004 than 2019. It also requires the phone have a mobile data connection for some reason. An update to the unit allowed for the sending of GPX files over bluetooth.
- The search is still leftover from the '90s. The norm for satnav apps is to have a search box into which you can enter a postcode, or an address, or the name of a business and it'll just find it. The garmin has no such thing, and you instead need to navigate to the "postcode" box, or differently to the "City" one to enter a whole address, or open "Foursquare" to search by business. There is something that looks like it will just search everything, but I've never managed to use it to find where I'm going and I'm still not sure what it's actually supposed to be for.
- It's not clear what the difference is between searching 'Foursquare' or 'Tripadvisor', but many things are in both, and many things are also only in one or the other. Quite a lot of POIs are in neither; mostly I transcribe postcodes from my phone.
- Garmin's way of routing using specific roads is using a "shaping point". When you're in the mode for adding these to a route you can't zoom in as far as you can in other modes, which is frustrating when what you want to do is put a point at a specific part of the map. There's also no confirmation when you add a point - it immediately starts calculating the route - which is frustrating with the mix of poor zoom level, poor screen quality and fat fingers.
- There's a relatively-useful fuel tracker, where you set a tank range and it can warn you when you're at only 10% or 15% or whatever of fuel-range left. When this is on, though, every time you start the bike you get a full-screen warning telling you that it is strictly only for bike use and not car use, which you have to tap on to close. The only way to see the currently-remaining fuel range is to add it to the navigation screen, but in that case it's only populated when the device has a satellite fix, so you cannot consult it while indoors at a cafe planning the next leg of the trip.
- One of my favourite functions of CoPilot is the 'On Route Alerts' which means you can have an icon display on the app when there's a POI in one or more of your chosen categories within 50 miles, and you can tap on it to route to it. I set that to show petrol stations and if that's not displaying by the time my fuel range countdown reckons I've ~75 miles left I'll pull over and find a petrol station. I was expecting Garmin's "Up Ahead" feature to be this, but it isn't: it cannot be set to only display things on-route so there is no way to use it passively - you always need to tap through the menu to find out where the thing is. It also can't be set to show only petrol stations, you must set three categories.
- It doesn't automatically-adjust the screen brightness, which I probably only find surprising because most phones can do that and it seems weird to need to find the brightness setting manually these days.
- There's some sort of Garmin-specific GPX or something. I don't know the details, but GPXes that are produced by things other than Basecamp and work in other navigators frequently go a bit wrong. You won't know this when you load the route, but at some point during the day it'll become a line of flags.
- It can't be set to work in portrait mode, only landscape, which is odd on a device whose main purpose is to show what's coming up.
- The maps are out of date - there's a series of junction changes in Central London that predate this device existing by several years, and are not represented on the latest maps. The device is best ignored when navigating around London (and presumably other large cities?) and I don't know what to recommend to people who don't know their way round there.
- When you plug in the USB cable, the device will count down 20 seconds before presenting itself to the PC. There is no way to skip this.
- Converting from a GPX track to Garmin's internal idea of a route can take between 30 and 60 seconds for a 100mi route with four or five waypoints, during which the device can turn itself off because it thinks it's not being used unless you tap on the screen to keep it awake.
(October 2018) I went round a bit of the TET and used the Garmin as my main navigation tool for it. The idea was to just follow the GPX downloaded from www.transeurotrail.org and follow it, occasionally routing off it to find things like petrol stations.
The Garmin is very good at drawing a line on a map, which is all it can reasonably do with a GPX that involves trails; even with the Talky Toaster OSM maps it was very unreliable at turn-by-turn on the trail. I wasn't comparing directly (and I've never ridden those trails before) but it felt much less useful than Locus Maps' off-road navigation.
While the Garmin Connect app lets you send locations to the satnav, you can't send routes (this was added in a later update to the device). The only reasonable way to plan routes mid-trip is to use a USB OTG cable and/or micro-sd card reader. The unreasonable-but-expected way is to just carry a laptop with you. Basecamp also needs a mouse, since you need the scroll wheel to zoom.
I tried using the tools I'm used to (Viewranger and Locus Maps on Android) to create GPXes and send them to the Garmin to create on-road routes but it always complained that there were too many "waypoints" and offered to convert them to "shaping points". I don't know what the difference is, but often I seemed to get the right sort of routes, though I don't know how reliable this is.
So, generally, I stuck to having it just draw the GPX route and follow it by keeping an eye on the screen, which is fine at dirt-bike speeds. I did try to use it to find things to use (petrol stations, cafes, etc.) and it seemed strangely bad at this - it was always faster and easier to use my phone and either transcribe the postcode - so I think I must have missed something, and will read the manual when I'm back.
I think that most of the obvious failings of the device - that you can't really use it for viewing maps because the screen resolution is so poor - is probably explainable as a result of it needing to be a resistive touch screen, and those having a poor resolution. I've not really researched it but I want to believe there's good reason my £350 navigation device is so bad at navigation.
I can now see myself using this for trail riding and off-road biased trips where I can create a GPX route and send it to the device and have it drawn on the map. I haven't yet worked out how I'd make it work on an extended road-riding trip where I'll need something less prone to reinterpretation than a GPX route, but I haven't yet looked.
(September 2018) I’ve resolved to try to not have fully decided how good an idea this was until at least post-Christmas, but from a first week-and-weekend’s riding (some commuting, two blood runs and a day’s errand-running) this is better than my phone at:
- Plugging in one-handed
- Not worrying about charging
- Always being a satnav and never pulling out of a cafe with Instagram still open
And worse because it:
- Keeps sending me to petrol stations that haven’t existed for five years
- Takes ages to figure out where it is
- Takes a long time to recalculate routes (it's always quicker to just muddle back onto it)
- Is impractical to use to plan/plot a route
- Has a really poor trip-overview display
I expect some of this this will get better and the rest just more-acceptable with time, but I’ve really not had the “why didn’t I do this sooner” thing that I keep hearing about other people doing.
The "Favourites" feature is very crude and unconfigurable but the Garmin Connect app installs itself as a mapping thing, so when you "open" a location on the phone (from a calendar event, say) you can send it to the satnav. I suspect that I’ll carry on using my phone for storing locations and whatnot, and just send them to the satnav as I'm used to sending it to a satnav app.
I think it’s worth having, but I can’t see myself becoming one of those people who advises other people buy one. This is definitely lacking in almost every way compared to CoPilot and friends, and I’m not (yet) convinced that that’s just familiarity.
It's 20th September and it's arrived!
Out of the box, first impressions are not great; they're still using the USB socket that's so old that I know it as "the one GoPro still use", and I don't even have a GoPro (or any of those cables):
The bracketry is all easy to fit and the lead's surprisingly long and thin; the 12v/5v step-down box is partly along the wire so it's easy to have that hidden away under the plastics.
I immediately tried to set it to portrait mode but can't find that in the menu, might have to actually read the manual!
Buying a dedicated satnav
I misunderstood a bonus scheme and have £350 that I didn't expect to have. I intend to use this to figure out what I've been missing all these years by avoiding dedicated satnavs.
The two brands that make bike satnavs are TomTom and Garmin. TomTom's cannot be loaded up with a GPX file that goes off-road so I can't go with one of them, even though they look more polished. Garmin it is!
There's three Garmin lines - the Zumos are their road bike devices, have the widest selection of features and are the most-modern; the Montana is specifically aimed at off-road riding; and the Monterra is actually an Android device and so may solve all my problems.
The Monterra is an Android 4 device (Android 5 came out in 2014; 4 years ago at time of writing; 8 is current) so even if the apps I like now do work on it, it's likely they will stop at some point in the future. This was clearly Garmin's experiment with Android, and they've sadly decided to not keep it up.
The Montana is the one everyone recommends, because it's got an 'off road' mode and an 'on road' one. The off-road mode doesn't appear to add anything the Zumo's don't do; it's not any more aware of rights of way than the road-mode one and is still largely used to display GPX routes. The on-road mode is much more primitive than that found on the Zumos. It looks like the OS maps for the Montanas can be loaded onto the Zumos.
The Zumo can be loaded up with an off-road map (courtesy of TalkyToaster, who is recommended for the Montanas over Garmin's mapping anyway) and can have a GPX file displayed over the top. While you can trivially switch between off-road and on-road on the Montana, it seems you can do similar on the Zumo just by changing the display mode for the map. It's also got the much-better road mode, and the modern ones have some sort of smartphone syncing.
I'm going to get a modern Garmin.
|Front Axle Allen Key||14mm|
|Rear Axle Nut||22mm|
|Spark Plug||NGK CR7E|
|Front Brake Pads||EBC FA209/2|
|Rear Brake Pads||EBC FA213|
(fill 2L, pause to let it flow down, fill last 0.9L)
The brake pads are the same (both front and rear) as a Husky 701
Footpegs are compatible with the XT250 (08-18), YZ/WR 125/250/500 (91-96), YZ80 (91-04), XTZ750 Super Ten (89-18) and Husky TC85: https://pivotpegz.com/search?q=PP-16
"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:
- Small philips screwdriver (fits the battery cover on the multimeter, and most little electronic things)
- Side cutters & 8" adjustable spanner
- 8 & 10mm allen keys
- 1.5mm-6mm allen key bit set, torx bit set
- Motion Pro spark plug tool (16mm for the Tiger, 18mm for the WR) and a generic front axle tool. The spark plug socket is 3/8" drive, but comes with an extension that accepts a 1/4" drive. I use this to drive the axle tool. The Tiger uses the 17mm hex drive on the axle tool.
- 8-22mm open spanner set across two loops
- 5-14mm 1/4" sockets
- Pen-type multimeter - I only got this one because it's what I could get hold of when I needed one; it's button-battery powered but I'd prefer an AA or USB-chargeable one.
- 1/4" t-bar drive, with bit driver on the end
- two 1/4" extensions and a 1/4" universal joint
- Magnetic picker-upper-tool and a metal punch
- Feeler gauge, pen and (underneath them) a small set of tweezers
In the little pouch, that's:
- Lead for the multimeter
- Chocolate-block connectors
- A length of two-core wire
- UHU glue
- Liquid gasket
- Tuff Tape - brilliant waterproofing repair tape for anything textile
- A tin of bolts (lots has been added/removed though)
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
- Mini (RAC-branded) compressor (with leads above it)
- Pack of breathalysers wrapped in plastic and insulation tape (from a France trip)
- Another generic front axle tool
- Spare brake and clutch levers (OE, from before I put the short ones on)
- 22mm and 27mm Spanner - the 27mm undoes the rear axle nut, 22mm the front axle tool
- Park 'big' Allen key set
- Leatherman Surge
- Cable ties
- Cable repair tin (with a bunch of fuses dropped in)
- Insulation tape
- Halfords Motorbike Jump leads
- Spare clutch cable
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.
All my IP addresses have rather hurriedly changed. If you're using the names below, you'll be fine and when the DNS changes propagate (~3h) everything will work again.
If you're not, you'll need to update things. Ideally to using the names :) fairygodmother.avi.co is now the same IP address as bigbadwolf.avi.co, not just the same host.
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.
|Front axle allen key||17mm|
|Rear axle nut||27mm (12mm & 13mm for the chain adjusters)|
|Chain slack||Roadie: 15 - 25mm
XC: 20 - 30mm
|Spark plug||NGK CR9EK - 16mm socket|
|Front brake pads||EBC: FA226
|Rear brake pads||EBC: FA140
|Front tyre||Roadie: 110/80 19 or 110/90 19
XC: 90/90 21
|Rear tyre||150/70 17|
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; the relays are on the way down for the mud and dirt, too, so it's worth cleaning those, too. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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...
Even more pictures are here and the Viewranger tracks are a bit split-up:
It's often said that a standalone satnav is far superior than a smartphone app, often for a multitude of reasons that are demonstrably wrong ("offline maps", "better signal", "better routing"). Here, I aim to compile all my related arguments on the topic :)
Relatedly, I did give in and buy a Garmin, and I'm documenting my finding out what I've been missing separately.
There's no technical reason for apps to be less good at the important bits than a normal satnav - smartphones have plenty of storage space for maps, use the same or similar GPS and GLONASS chips and are at least as likely to be able to use GSM and WiFi to get better/faster fixes. There's some obvious benefits, too (drawbacks are listed further down): a smartphone is more of a general-purpose computer so you're less dependent on the way the satnav happens to implement podcasts or music, and can just use whatever app you prefer. You're not tied to any particular route-transfer options since you can just email them to yourself, and you can use the web browser to look up addresses not already in the device. Get your calendaring and route planning right and you can turn up to ferry terminals with the booking reference appearing on your screen as a notification. You can even use multiple satnav apps - mid-route I'll often switch to a different one to find a petrol station or lunch stop, for example, and I use different ones for road and off-road riding. Finally, the hardware's generally better - the maps render faster, the screen resolution is much better so looking at maps when looking at an overview of the route, or modifying it, is a much more pleasant task.
I use a few of them quite frequently:
It's generally regarded by anyone who has tried anything else as pretty unideal, but it's catching up and is workable if you're not interested in plotting a route and instead just want to go to your destination; I keep it around to use when I'm already in a town and want to find a restaurant or something, but I'd hate to have to use it to do anything substantial. It occasionally gains and loses support for multiple waypoints, but each time it supports them, if you cause it to recalculate for any reason (by going off-route) it'll recalculate directly to the destination rather than considering all your waypoints.
- Probably already installed
- Has every POI
- Not great at planned routes; if you go off-course it'll often recalculate directly to your last point, ignoring all waypoints
- Offline mapping is strange; you download small regions at a time and they are prone to expire
- No offline route-calcuation
CoPilot's popular among people who plan routes with several waypoints; one of their big markets for which they make another app is caravanners and another is truck drivers.
One of the big features for me is that you can set 'Routing Profiles' where you can adjust the priority/cost of using each road category (dual carriageways, main roads, urban roads, small roads etc.), and save a series of profiles - I have a 'rideout' one that generally sticks to good roads, a 'Dirt Bike' one that sticks to shit roads, a 'No Motorways' one that does what you'd expect, and a 'Normal' one that's like all the other satnavs. An other is the "POI Alerts" (which are confusingly in the "Safety Alerts & Warnings" menu); you choose a series of POI categories and a range, and a little icon appears on the map display when a matching POI is in range and on- or near-route. You can tap on the icon to scroll-through them, and there' s a button on each to set it as the next waypoint on the current route.
I think it's about £35 to get CoPilot premium and the UK maps. You get a few days free as a trial, during which there's no voices for navigation (but still icons on the screen) and no automatic recalculation - you have to hit a button on the screen.
- Designed for planned-routes; easy to create and edit routes on the device
- Handy features - route profiles, up-ahead alerts, traffic routing, speed limits etc.
- Uses its own route format (.trp) and loading the route into CoPilot involves copying it to the right folder manually; you can't open a .trp you emailed yourself with copilot.
Calimoto's big feature is routing based on corners; it's meant to be the 'windy roads' option, basically. It's very good at that, but seems unaware of the sizes of those roads - sometimes you'll get gravelly singletrack roads, other times it's swooping major arteries. That said, it's very good at not being boring. You can use a map region online indefinitely for free; you pay to get all maps, offline maps and to be able to tune the routing.
- Easy to share routes with other Calimoto users at the beginning of a ride
- Featureful storage/search/recall of tracked rides so you can go out again
- Can open-with on a GPX file so you can use anything else to plan the routes
- Reliably produces non-boring routes
- Entirely useeful without paying
- Feels quite different in different regions; I get singletrack roads in Hertfordshire, but major A roads in Surrey, say.
- Lots of cutesey prompts that get in the way more than they entertain
- The map drawing is _really_ buggy; though the route is always drawn correctly sometimes it doesn't match the map underneath.
This is excellent as a take-me-to-a-postcode app; it can't do multiple-waypoint routing, but it much simpler and clearer than TomTom, with decent traffic estimates (when you've got data on) and speed camera warnings, and it's all free. You can download the maps or use them online, and it's completely free in either case.
- Simple to use, feels finished & polished
- Good traffic estimates & speed limit awareness
- Lots of POIs
- Can't do multiple-waypoints; no way to load a route in
The killer feature here is turn-by-turn navigation off-road, but this is also a featureful and functional, if a little clunky, road satnav. I use this primarily to store my PoIs (cafes, ferries, trails, covid-compliant laybys etc.) and for navigation off-road
- Turn-by-turn off-road routing (but as a bicycle, so you need to have a high-resolution route)
- Can create, load, edit and export GPXes; it's a pretty good GPX editor to go alongside any other satnav
- Useful for all outdoorsy things; can buy OS maps and local equivalents, or use various types of OSM map for free
- Excellent for PoI management/storing - good categorisation, exporting/importing of GPXes
- Very configurable in display and instruction
- * Route calculation is online-only and requires the installation of a helper app (bRouter)
- Quite clunky; definitely a map app first and a satnav second
- Very poor search; best used as an app you 'open' a location with, rather than searching in the app itself
Some I've not used much recently
These all might have changed somewhat since I wrote this:
Like Locus, this is map first and satnav second, but it's a hugely better search for PoIs. I barely use it now because Locus has all my PoIs in it now, but I've nothing against it.
The app's fine; it's like the modern TomToms (not the Rider V1/2, but the 300 series); the UI is really modern feeling, but a bit surprising and oddly lacking in features. I've not yet managed to plan the route I actually want to do in it, and while it's got this neat 'timeline' down the right hand side of the screen to tell you where on your route any roadworks and petrol stations are it doesn't give you any information about them (like how far away they are). It does have a really handy thing that keeps track of your average speed in average speed camera zones, though. It feels polished rather than finished, really. It's £30/year, but you get 50miles per month indefinitely as a free trial (maps are free). Aside from the average-speed zone handling and familiarity with the TomTom interface there's no great reason to get this over Here, to my mind.
It's completely free, but the user interface is pretty surprising. I know people who've got used to it, though, and now don't mind it. You get one country's map free with the install and it's actually pretty good at points of interest, but it doesn't do anything exceptionally well - I can't think of a reason to use it over Here Maps.
Garmin's app. It's long been famed for being atrocious, I'm amazed it's still on the play store. But I'm also amazed people still buy Garmins. :)
is now a Google product, but it's actually good :) For a long time its main feature was the community - it's all about showing you user-reported cameras, accidents, and traffic. Surprisingly, it still works for that, and despite being Google underneath it seems a pretty reasonable satnav, though I've not used it for a couple of years.
Weirdly, when this argument comes up on forums and suchlike, the people arguing in favour of standalone satnavs seem to generally cite features that are commonly available in all the apps (like offline mapping) as if they're comparing with a quick glance they took at Google Maps. The things that make standalone satnavs better are those that come from the 'standalone' bit, and they're almost all to do with the hardware.
If you were to design a standalone satnav for a motorbike, you'd have a bracket you can clip the satnav in with one hand, and make it such that as the satnav's put in some sort of robust, waterproof power connection is engaged so that the thing is always charging. You'd use a screen with something to prevent glare, which works well with gloved hands (perhaps resistive, and a UI that doesn't demand multitouch?) and you'd probably have a series of hardware buttons in addition to whatever's on the screen.
When using a phone, you'll generally use a pouch or a Ram X-Grip which is only complicatedly one-handed and often obscures buttons or bits of the screen, and you'll need separately to plug in your relatively fragile, not-waterproof USB micro lead (which has until now just been dangling about) as a second step to just mounting the device. Android's glove mode doesn't really work and "touch-screen compatible " gloves rarely are and that really bright and vivid screen that's great for looking at photos (and maps) isn't great for glare (and a case is only going to compound that). Iphones only have one physical button, and of Android's three, one's famously unpredictable.
I don't know many people who have started using a dedicated satnav in the past four or five years. I know lots of people who last used one four or five years ago (in the days of the Rider 2 and the Zumo 550) and have been put off them for life (I'm in that camp). Everyone I know who uses one now, though, used one back then.
It's really hard to get a decent go on a dedicated satnav, though - none of the people selling them seem to think that offering test rides is particularly worthwhile - so I don't really know much about the options hardware-wise any more, and I've been told that extrapolating anything from my use of a Rider v2 and a Zumo 550 would be incredibly unfair.
What I do
I don't think what I do is necessarily universally right, but it works for me. I almost exclusively use my phone as a satnav - I've a Cat S60 and a Ram X-Grip. I also now have a Garmin Zumo 349 which I'm trying to force myself to use more, but I tend to default to my phones.
If I'm doing any off road riding I use Viewranger to check the OS maps and plan the route (because I happen to have bought the whole of the UK in that now), and Locus Maps for navigating. If I'm doing all-road I'll just use CoPilot for planned routes or Here Maps if I just want to get to an address.
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.
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.