Wednesday, 10 December 2014

What makes a great motorcycle road?

Like many, I have read quite a few lists of "Best Roads".  But, I have often wondered why people chose those particular roads, so I tried to work it out. Here are my thoughts about what are the ten things that make a road qualify as 'best' to a biker.

See if you agree.

Twisty? As motorcycle riders, most of us like bends. Riding a road with bends is normally much more fun and exciting than riding a straight road. There are a few exceptions where straight sections of road are good, but this is normally due to other factors such as scenery.

Some roads are excellent simply because of the sweeping bends they contain and the famous B500 road in the Black Forest is a good example of this. Due to the trees, the road doesn't have good views, but it is fast with many high speed twisty bends.  It certainly does get included on many peoples list of their own best roads.

B500 picture from www.bestbikingroads.com


Scenery? Sometimes a road can be considered very good because of the scenery alongside it. Highway US 163 near the Arizona / Utah border in the USA is a good example of this. The road itself is dull, straight and not at all exciting, but the scenery is spectacular, making the road very good indeed.

The wonderful sight of Monument Valley


Distance? Sometimes a road can be considered as 'best' simply due to the distances involved. Take the Highway 1 in Australia. Often straight with long dull scenery, some would consider it a great road as at approximately 9,000 miles (14,500 km) it is an amazingly long road.  People travel from all over the planet to ride this road, drawn to it simply because it is the longest road in the world.

The longest road in the world, Australia's Highway 1


Flowing? Almost without a doubt, a good road must be free-flowing with almost no delays for stop lights, junctions or heavy traffic. That just doesn't work for us motorcyclists.  I have ridden the Grossglockner Pass in Austria on days with almost no cars and it was wonderful. Riding it on another day, with it being full of traffic, was a nightmare.

Nobody likes heavy traffic


Excitement? A road can undoubtedly be considered as best if it is exciting. The Million Dollar Highway in Colorado is a really good road due mainly to the steep drops-off at the side of the road.

US 550 in Colorado, easily worth a Million Dollars!


Weather? Can a road be considered 'best' due to the weather that can normally be found there? The only example I can think of is the road through Death Valley in California, where the temperature has an impact on the road and certainly on riding along the road.

Death Valley.  It is hot!


Destination?  I don't think a road can ever be considered as good just because of the final destination you are going to.  I tried to think of a destination that was good enough to warrant saying the road that takes you there is good.  I cannot think of one.  The only place that comes close is Key West in Florida, where the 127 mile overseas highway skips from island to island along the length of the Keys.  The road undoubtedly is very good, but the destination isn't good enough to call the road 'best'.

Florida's Overseas Highway


Experience? For a road to be included in someone's list as one of the best, that person must have experienced it for themselves and actually ridden it. It is no good relying on what somebody else says is good!

Reputation does not make a good road.  For example, many who have ridden the famous Tail of the Dragon road on the North Carolina - Tennessee state line say they are ultimately disappointed when they actually get to ride it. Over-rated is a word often attributed to this road.

Is the Tail of the Dragon as good as people imagine?


Surface? We have all ridden roads with a superb surface. Consistent, smooth and bump free are all qualities of a great road, but on its own, this doesn't really make a best road.

Sometimes a rough surface is memorable too and one of the best examples I have of this is Moki Dugway in southern Utah.  A steep gravel road with switchbacks!


Moki Dugway on a Harley


History? Perhaps the most appropriate example of history helping a road to qualify as best is America's Route 66. Many people have said this road is one of the best they have ridden, but for me, the actual road itself is very boring, except in a few short distances over its 2,448 mile length.  It is the history of the road that possibly makes it qualify as 'best'.

Get your kicks.....


Overall, it is unlikely however that the best roads can be chosen due to just a single factor. It is normally two or more factors in combination that help categorise a road as trust 'best'. Highway 1 in California is a good example of this where the twisty road combined with terrific scenery combine together to make this a best road for many. Stelvio Pass in Italy, considered by many to be one of the best roads in the World, combines twisties, excitement and scenery.

Stelvio Pass. The best riding road in the world?


Consider your best roads and see if how many of the above categories apply to them.  Try to think of why you think your favourite road is considered by you to be 'best'.


Saturday, 6 December 2014

Average US gasoline prices plummet at the pumps, but do we see the same in the UK?


According to the Triple A website (American Automobile Association) prices at US gas pumps have fallen from an average of $3.27 a gallon a year ago to $2.76 today. That is a fall of $0.51. Even better, the fall for just the last month is huge $0.28 a gallon.

So, US gas prices at the pumps have come down by over 15% in the last year and 9% in the last month.


So why is this? Well the price of crude oil has fallen by 34% in the last year, so American motorists might feel a little aggrieved that the cost savings are not being passed onto them.

But what of the UK?

Well, in November 2013 the average price of petrol in the UK was £1.33 per litre and today it is £1.23 per litre. A fall of 7.5%. Wait a minute! A fall of just 7.5% when the price of crude has gone done by 34%? Yes, a larger part of what we pay in the UK is tax, but that shouldn’t matter. Either the government or the petrol companies are ripping us off and not passing on the benefits of falling crude oil prices.

Yes, I know we live in a free market economy, but this is ridiculous.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Putting Your Motorcycle Away For Winter, aka Winterizing.

Depending on where you live and local weather conditions, you might need to stop using your motorcycle during the winter months. If you stop riding when the weather is bad, you could just park your motorcycle, lock it up and hope that all will be well when the weather improves and you want to ride again. But, I wouldn’t do that as you are inviting trouble.


Here are ten things you could do to prepare your motorcycle for winter storage and to help keep it in the best condition while it isn’t being used. Actually, there are 11 things recommended in this guide, but the last suggestion is not very practical.

You can find a printable version of this guide at http://www.garysfrance.com/motorcycle-touring-guides/


1. CLEAN AND PROTECT IT.

Why: Leaving a motorcycle over the winter that has insects, water spots or salt will deteriorate the surfaces of your bike.

What: Thoroughly wash the bike, removing all traces of dirt, insects and road tar. Make sure the bike is completely dry, especially in the nooks and crannies. Using a leaf blower or a specialist drier such as a Master Blaster will make drying much quicker. Polish all chrome and aluminium.

Treat leather or vinyl saddlebags, seats and straps with appropriate products. Wax all painted surfaces, as this will protect against moisture. Use a water repellent spray such as WD40 on all metal surfaces, such as the frame and engine. This will give a protective coating against moisture and will help prevent rust.

2. FUEL

Why: To stop the inside of your fuel tank from rusting and to prevent old fuel from ‘gumming’ and becoming sticky.

What: The inside of your fuel tank will not rust if it is full, so top it up with fresh fuel. The correct level is when the fuel just touches the bottom of the filler neck. This gives enough room for the fuel to expand without overflowing the tank when temperature rises. However, before doing so, add a fuel stabiliser to prevent the fuel from degrading. Old fuel will start to evaporate and you lose some of the light components in the fuel. Those light components include highly important butane. As these components are lost, the fuel loses its volatility. Adding a fuel stabilser will prevent this. Under the right conditions, fuel can last up to 12 months, but will start to degrade after as little as 3 to 4 weeks.

After adding the stabilser and filling your tank, run the engine for a while to ensure the stabilised fuel runs into fuel pipes and injectors. Particularly vulnerable are carburettors and these should be drained before putting your bike away for winter. The easiest way of doing this is to turn off the fuel tap and either remove the float bowl and pour away the fuel, or simply run the engine until the fuel in the carb is used up and the engine stops. If your bike is fuel-injected, you don't need to do this.

3. LUBRICATION

Why: Untreated metal surfaces will rust, especially when a motorcycle is not used during periods of a lot of moisture in the air (ie winter!).

What: One of the most important areas in need of protection are the piston rings and cylinder walls. Moisture can enter the engine from any of a number of places and cause serious damage. Warm the engine first by running it for a few minutes. This eliminates any moisture that may have accumulated already. Turn the bike off and remove the spark plugs. Then put about a tablespoon (5 cc) of engine oil into each plug hole. To spread the oil over the cylinder walls, you need to turn the engine over. If your bike has a carbureter and you have already drained the carb and turned iff the fuel, you can do this by hitting the starter button for a second. If your bike is fuel injected, crank the engine by hand by putting it in top gear and turn the rear wheel. Make sure the plugs are out when you turn the engine over. Then replace the plugs.

Keeping moving parts lubricated during the winter will help keep moisture from building up on them and causing any rusting or binding. Any part of your motorcycle that normally needs to be kept lubricated should also be lubricated again just before storage. Recommended parts to check are: sprockets and the final drive chain, cables, controls such as levers, fork surfaces, and any other pivot points.

4. CHANGE THE ENGINE OIL

Why: By-products of combustion produce acids in the oil which will harm the inner metal surfaces of your engine.

What: Change your oil and filter. It's better for your lubrication system to have fresh oil sitting in it for several months than to have used, broken down oil in it, not to mention the last thing you'll want to do when riding season begins is change the oil before you can go ride. Change the oil filter too.


5. TYRES (US:TIRES)

Why: If your tyres are left to sit in the same position all winter long, they could develop flat spots. Rubber cracks when frozen, so preventing the tyre from coming into contact with a very cold floor is good.

What: Check tyre pressures before putting your motorcycle away. Check these a few times over the winter months. The maximum pressure is shown on the tyre sidewall. If your motorcycle has a centre stand, then use it to at least get the rear tyre off the ground. It is far better to get the weight of the bike off the tyres. If you don’t have a centre stand, consider buying a scissor lift, which sits beneath the bike and lifts the whole bike off the ground. Alternatively, place plywood or carpet under the wheels. Move the bike every week or so to prevent the same part of the tyres sitting on the ground.

6. BATTERY

Why: The battery in your motorcycle will discharge some, or all, of its power if simply left over the winter.

What: There are two schools of thought about what to do with your battery; remove it for the winter, or leave it in the bike. To me, this depends on whether your bike has an alarm or tracker in which case you will want to leave the battery in your bike. I prefer to leave the battery in the bike. If you want to remove the battery and store it for the winter, you should wipe the surfaces down and wire brush the terminals to clean them. Top up the cells if necessary, although many modern batteries are the sealed type that don't require topping up. Store the battery off the ground (to prevent freezing) and connect the battery to a trickle charger for at least eight hours a month, or use a battery tender (see below).

If you are going to leave the battery connected in your bike over the winter, remove it temporarily, wipe the battery surfaces down and wire brush the terminals to clean them. Give the terminals and bolts a light coating of grease to prevent future corrosion.

The best and most convenient way to care for your battery is to hook a battery tender to it. A battery tender will switch from ‘charge’ to ‘maintain’, meaning it will charge when needed and shut itself off when fully charged, so you also don't have to worry about overcharging your battery. You just plug it in and leave it alone. Battery tenders come with a wire pigtail, which will connect directly to the battery terminals, and the connector can now be accessed without having to remove the seat.

7. EXHAUST PIPES

Why: Pipes can rust easily. Mice and other rodents can set up home in them.

What: Exhausts pipes are known to rust fast when they are not used. Spray a light oil (such as WD40) into the pipe ends and drain holes. Stuff some steel wool into the exhaust pipe to keep out rodents and other small wildlife. Spray WD40 onto the steel wool to prevent it from rusting. Some people stuff plastic bags in their pipes to act as a plug but I wouldn’t do that. Mice chew plastic! Whatever you use, tie something brightly coloured to them so you don't forget take them out when you later fire up the bike! Place a plastic bag over the ends of the pipes and secure with an elastic band. This helps prevent moisture from getting inside the exhaust.

8. CHECK THE BIKES FLUIDS

Why: If your motorcycle is water-cooled, you need to add anti-freeze to stop the water from freezing and damaging the engine. Also, hydraulic brake and clutch fluids are ‘hygroscopic’ meaning they will absorb moisture. Fluids contaminated with water can cause corrosion inside the systems.

What: What you do here depends greatly on how well you are able to self-maintain your motorcycle, along with how well it has been maintained during the year. My motorcycle is regularly serviced, so I don't need to do anything special here before its winter storage. If you'll be storing your motorcycle somewhere that is likely to go below freezing, make sure you have adequate levels of anti-freeze in your coolant system. This is very important, for if you use just plain water in your system you could severely damage your engine.

If the brake or clutch fluids haven't been changed for a couple of years, now is a good time to change them, or have a dealership / mechanic do it for you.

9. LOCK IT

Why: Because there are nasty people out there who will steal your pride and joy.

What: This depends where you are storing the bike. The best solution is to secure it with a thick chain to something immovable, such as a street light or a ground anchor in your garage. If you have two motorcycles, chain them together, as it is very difficult to lift two motorcycles at the same time. Always set the alarm. Consider buying a burglar alarm for your garage.

10. COVER IT

Why: Because you want to keep dust, dirt, bird crap and other stuff off your bike.

What: What you cover your motorcycle with depends on where you will store it. Ideally, you will store the machine in a garage or shed, away from windows, as direct sunlight will fade your paintwork over time.

Cover the bike with something that breathes, in order to prevent a moisture build up under the cover. Never use plastic. You can buy a purpose made bike cover or use something like an old bed sheet. Obviously a purpose made cover that fits your motorcycle well is preferred. If are having to store your motorcycle outside, you must use a purpose-designed bike cover. Make sure you get a cover with tie downs to prevent it from blowing loose in wind.

11. MOVE TO A BETTER CLIMATE

Why: Because the winters are less severe.

What: Live in a hot country where you can ride your motorbike all winter. Okay, it is not really practical.....



GETTING YOUR BIKE READY TO RIDE AGAIN.

Okay, so it is now spring and you are ready to ride your motorcycle again. Here is a list of what you need to do.

1. First, remove the cover and put it where you can find it again.
2. Remove anything you placed in or over the ends of the exhaust pipes. Check to see if anything tried to live in there.
3. Check the battery tender indication lights. You should have done this periodically over the winter as well. Normally a green light indicates the battery is fully charged. Disconnect the tender.
4. If you removed the battery for the winter, replace it, connecting the positive (+) cable (red) before the (-) negative and covering the terminals with the plastic covers.
5. If the bike is on a scissor lift stand, remove it.
6. Check the tyre pressures.
7. Check all fluid levels
8. Remove and inspect the spark plugs and change them if needed. A fresh set of plugs are cheap and replacing them never hurts.
9. Clean out the air filter. You'd be surprised how much junk can collect in the air filter while a bike is in storage. If the filter is dirty (black or with grime on it), then replace it.
10. If you have a fuel tap, turn on the fuel.
11. Take a good long look at the motorcycle, checking for anything that looks wrong such as cracked tires, broken parts/plastic, leaking oil.
12. Put the bike into first gear, pull the clutch lever in and push the bike back and forth a few times. This will ensure the clutch is working properly.
13. Check all electrics such as lights, horn etc.
14. Check the operation of the brakes, levers, suspension etc.
15. Perform normal lubrication, such as the chain.

Start the engine and let it reach normal running temperature. Leave the bike for a few minutes to let the oil settle and with the engine still warm, check the oil level. It's important to check the level after the bike has run for a few minutes to give the oil a chance to lubricate the various parts of the bike. Top up to the correct level if necessary.

Remember that you haven’t ridden your motorcycle for a few months and your riding skills will have diminished over the winter. Start with a few short rides to get yourself back in shape for riding. Get used to the road conditions and surfaces once again and take it easy at first, checking things like brakes at slow speeds.

Friday, 28 November 2014

Motorcycle Tour to the Harley-Davidson Rally in St Tropez


One of my favourite Harley-Davidson rallies is the European Festival, held in St Tropez and Grimaud each year. Getting some early season riding on great roads riding across Europe is a terrific way to kick-start the years longer rides.

Tour1 are running a one-way tour from the UK to the rally and the highlights of the tour include: Stay at a Chateaux – riding terrific roads in the Black Forest – Alps mountains – Mountain pass roads – Mont Blanc – Combe Laval – Verdon Gorge – St Tropez.



Saturday 2nd May 2015 to Sunday 10th May 2015, 8 nights

Prices. £1,685 per rider in his/her own room, or £2,075 for a rider and pillion sharing a room. For two riders sharing a room the price is £1,350 each.

Prices include all accommodation, plus transporting your bike back to the UK.

Countries we will be visiting on the way: France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland.

For more information, see www.tour1.co.uk

Check out the video.....





Here are a few pictures from our 2014 tour to St Tropez......





















Tuesday, 25 November 2014

What a great motorcycle touring video

I love this video as it really shows what is so fantastic about motorcycle touring.

At 20 minutes it is long, but they cram loads into it about their 6 months on their tour of South America. If this doesn’t make you want to go on your own motorcycle adventure, then nothing will. They even did it on an old Honda Transalp XL600V.

Winter is here and I am spending way too long thing about where to go on next years rides.

Roll on Spring!

Sunday, 2 November 2014

One heck of a USA road trip on a Harley-Davidson


Okay, my regular readers will have seen some of these pictures before and people who have read my book 'France In America' certainly will, but I thought I'd make a video that tried to show the spirit of my tour of the USA.

This is what I came up with.....



One heck of a USA road trip on a Harley-Davidson

Monday, 13 October 2014

The magnitude of the WW1 Battlefields stir emotions

I just returned from a visit to the WW1 Western Front, where I saw the battlefields, memorials and cemeteries. I went to look and to discover.

Having never studied WW1 at school, I had a lot to learn and so I bought a few books about WW1 and the conflict on the Western Front. From 1914 – 1918, World War I took place across much of Europe that saw 16 million people killed. On the west side of Europe, on 4th August 1914, Germany invaded neutral Belgium and Luxembourg before moving towards France. After the German march on Paris was halted, what became known as the Western Front settled into a battle of attrition, with a trench line that would change little until 1917.

Fierce fighting took place along the northern part of this Western Front, especially around Ypres, Vimy Ridge and The Somme. It is these areas that I went to see. I have included a few pictures below from my trip.

The Menin Gate, in Ypres, where The Last Post if played every night.

Restored German Trenches, at Vimy Ridge.

A very large German Cemetery.

Tyne Cot Cemetery, The Somme.

Allied trenches at Newfoundland Memorial Park.

Lochnagar Crater, Near Albert, The Somme.

Tank Memorial, near Pozières, The Somme.

Row upon row of headstones.

The Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme.

Remembrance Poppies.

It was very moving and sombre. The waste of human life was enormous. In all areas of the war, 16 million people died in WW1 and looking at the ages of the soldiers on their headstones, the typical age was in their early twenties.

I will be running a motorcycle tour to these battlefields next year, so that others can see the sadness of what happened. It certainly wass an emotional experience to go and see it for myself.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Tour1 - Motorcycle tours to European Harley-Davidson rallies.

Check out the new video for my motorcycle touring business.

Filmed on one of the 2014 tours, this shows the sorts of roads and places we travel to when touring.

For more information, see www.tour1.co.uk

Friday, 5 September 2014

Busy at Faaker See

While I will post more pictures and a write up later of the tour to European Bike Week in Faaker See, Austria, here is just one picture.  This is the one-way loop road that goes around the lake and as can be seen, it was a little busy today!


Friday, 1 August 2014

I went riding with a few friends last weekend.....


It was the Fenlanders HOG Rally, in Fakenham, Norfolk, near the east coast of England.  Somebody snapped this picture of my bike with a few hundred other bikers riding behind me.


It was a great ride through the countryside ending in the seaside town of Sheringham, where a few thousand people were waiting for our arrival and greeted us warmly.  What a great day out!