XT660R Heaven

XT660R Heaven
Life on the road is fab...

Friday, 11 April 2014

Nepal 2009

Whilst working out in this little country with some of the biggest mountains in the world, I found myself with a spare week... so what else to do but to hire a bike & go for a ride... this turned out to be a bit of a test run for the planned overland from the UK to Asia, I tried out riding in Nepal, it tried me out for dealing with its vagaries & the realities of things like petrol shortages, heavy smoky traffic, foreign signs in a language I will never be able to read etc....

I have to say I loved it, the bike was small, a 175 little Pulsar, Indian or Chinese beastie I'm not really sure, that had the worst seat I have ever encountered, (All is forgiven Mr Suzuki for the shite RF600 razor blade that I rode for a few years as my first big bike), this seat was so uncomfortable & so knackered that I had to stop every 40 miles to let the blood circulate back through my legs to restore feeling!

Pulsar 175
The riding however was ace, I headed west from Katmandu to Pokhara, which was a lesson in fuel problems, once in Pokhara, I was be-friended in a bus stop by a local guy who offered to put me up for the night in his house with his family, he never mentioned the price was half the fuel in my tank, but was very friendly whilst I was there, he worked for an oil company in Iraq & was home for a short period of time before heading back for his next six week stint if I remember right... anyhow, the next day when I set off all refreshed I had to rethink my plans to go over the Baglung Pass & instead head back towards Katmandu in the hopes of finding petrol.

That year there was a petrol shortage in Nepal, this is fairly normal, but this year was even worse as the Maoists were struggling to control their new found power & the whole country was going to the dogs with the changes in government systems.

Classic Nepal - Prayer flags n all...

A little road I turned back on as the river was too deep!

The winding river valley on the way to India
I found fuel in a little place on the side of the road with a long queue of bikes & cars somewhere near Bandipur. Once I'd refilled the tank I reckoned I could get to the Indian Border then head back north towards Katmandu before I ran out again... (There were very few places in Katmandu to refuel & I would have run out of time before I had to join my next group for a trip to the Everest region. So off I headed south, enjoying the freedom of riding a bike on my own in such a foreign country, when the tarmac ran out & I was on a dirt road for a lot of miles, chewing dust from all the lorries, one thing about this road was that it is the major supply road from India to Katmandu, so lorry central really... hey ho... The road ran alongside a huge river that ran south into India, which provided a spectacular backdrop to the ride & provided a lot of hairy bends with wagons of all sizes driven by drug enhanced loonies on a mission to get to their destination & get paid or laid, whichever came first!!

I decided to get off this road & head back towards Katmandu as my fuel was looking like I would only just make it, so at Bharatpur I turned eastwards & headed up a lovely valley road towards Hetaudu & a final up & over to drop into Katmandu. This road was lovely, very little traffic, great valley views & some lovely little villages, I then turned northwards to head towards Daman, which turned out out be a proper hairpin ascent for a very long way, some 50 km or so, where in the dusk light I nearly came to grief meeting a truck on the wrong side of a hairpin with at least a 1000m drop on my side, I managed to swerve & clip my helmet against his wing mirror, then pull over & after the shakes had stopped, I drank some water & carried on.

Hairpin central!!

Several hours later & almost with a truck in my head...
I rode most of that night, not stopping as I couldn't find anywhere I liked the look of to just sleep beside the bike... whilst on the descent I could see the lights of Katmandu miles away in the bottom of the valley & I was very privileged to see a lightning storm track across the valley with some heavy rain in its wake as I was high & dry on my side of the valley... wow...

I reached Katmandu around 6am in the morning, riding straight through the quiet city to the lovely little Tibetan hotel I generally stay at called the Lhasa, hidden in the depths of Thamel. The owner there took one look at me, showed me where to stow the bike in a secure parking & showed me to a room, where I slept for a good 15-20 hours... oh yes I was totally knackered after all that concentration!!

I took the bike back to the hire shop & had to pay for a refill of the tank, (They don't actually refill it though until someone re hires the bike), I had a few photos, some great memories of one of my best rides ever & a truly sore arse from that shite seat!!

One thing I should mention is that this bike never missed a beat in all the miles, the steep uphills, the off road stuff, everything I threw at it it sailed through. It clearly hadn't been serviced in years, the brakes were worse than the ones on my Raleigh Chopper when I was 12 & the seat, well what can I say, it was shite. But this little bike started first time every time, it ran on filthy fuel, crap oil etc etc... it was a fab little thing & I can see why so many are sold over here... why aren't they in Britain I ask??? A great first bike for anybody.

After this trip, one thing I've thought about a few times is the old idea of buying a Royal Enfield Bullet 350 classic & riding back to the UK, there are loads here in Nepal being used daily, they sound fabulous in these little tiny streets surrounded by poxy car horns & little scooter motors.... my searches so far  have found out that it's pretty difficult to buy the bike in India & export it back to the UK without paying loads in shipping, taxes etc... however you can buy one in Nepal for roughly £2500 & then ride it back to the UK...mmm there is a possible trip!!!

Or I guess you could be conventional & just but one in the UK like all the normal folk do, in which case their new cafe racer looks ace!!

Beautiful little toy, only seen one in Britain so far!

mmm more toys to play with!!

a little bit of history...

Geoff & I first met in Pisa in Italy, we were down there looking to get our bikes under the good ole 'leaning tower' for a picture before heading over to Misano for the Moto GP that year. What a great race & what fab weather...

Geoff had already visited a couple of GP's that trip in Spain & was gonna see this one then head back to the UK & his family. My brother in law, Mark & I had come down for a ride & used the GP as a reason to come this far south... Geoff saw the UK plates on our bikes & called by, some pizza, a couple of beers & a ride plan was hatched for the next day...

When we met up, it was a beautiful sunny period with dry tarmac which we decided to make good use of by visiting Bologna & the Ducati Factory via the SP20, we never made it because the freshly laid tarmac we encountered was as near to perfect as we'd ever experienced & all three of us were so enthralled we just decided to ride until we were totally knackered!

We caught up with the guys laying the tarmac nearly at the end of the 100+ miles we'd ridden that day, we just had to stop & say a big thankyou, it was amazing, no traffic, no white lines... mmmm Italian perfection... even better than their women & that's saying something!! Sorry no photos, too busy riding :-)

Anyway after this trip we managed to do several trips together over the next few years, around Spain, around France, into Germany, Austria, back to Italy etc... even visiting Corsica as it was my spring & autumn commute to work for nearly nine years, (the roads here are amazing & the off road potential is superb!!), where Geoff educated me on how to ride a sports bike properly, at least a little anyway... (Geoff used to race, he was the side car monkey, the guy who jumped around on the back keeping the wheels on the tarmac whilst the rider gunned the shit out of the thing to win). On top of his 3 wheeled exploits he's also raced 400's that he built around various tracks in the UK... that & re-building multiple bikes over the years has given him an in-depth knowledge of all things two wheeled!! A bit of a god send for setting things up for this trip...

So to continue the story... we've ridden nearly a 100,000 miles together over the years now, all over Europe & the UK, Geoff has had a lot of bikes in this time but seems to have settled upon a Triumph Speed Triple of late for the road excursions... it's a bike he rebuilt & its a beaut, all lime green & very sexy...

Triumph Speed Triple
For me I had my good old RRW blade for around 5 years, I rode nearly 60k miles on it before scrapping it & now I have a 2001 GSXR 1000 K1 which has done nearly 30k miles & although the brakes are truly shite & it's not the really same colours as when I bought it, it's still going strong... the engines on these things are ace, bombproof, like all things Suzuki really!! It'll be time to change soon... mm what next??

Geoff's 955i & my old RRW bronze blade

Geoff's GSXR 1000 & my Old RRW Blade in Corsica
And now we have the XT's, where we're finding new ways to have fun & get upto mischief on two wheels!!

Friday, 4 April 2014

Weekend fun - mud, rocks, sand & breakdowns!!

 So four of us arranged a whole weekend of riding in Cumbria, the basic plan, 4 x 600+ cc bikes getting ridden around as many lanes as we could find for two full days. We all wanted to be knackered, with big grins at the end & have the bikes left totally covered in mud & in dire need of a service! Simple...
We actually managed to break one, bend another & the other two obviously weren't trying hard enough!! :-)
We met up in Keswick at the The Filling Station cafe on day 1,
Gaz, Mark & I turned up as Geoff had family duties keeping him at home... Mark had had a few problems with fuelling on the cold DR650, which almost meant a return trip back to the Midlands for him, however the magic engine gods stepped in & it suddenly started to run fine, so off to Keswick we went.
After a huge cup of coffee it was off to St John's in the Vale for a the first two lanes of the day, Mark hadn't seen either of them & promptly got a good sweat on doing the first two uphill sections. The weather wasn't quite as good as the last time I did these two lanes, but  the views were easily as fab!
Once we'd passed a local farmer, a few walkers & a couple of mountain bikers, all with a friendly wave & a smile, we dropped back to the tarmac at Dockray & headed down to ride along Ullswater, heading over Kirkstone Pass & dropping down the Struggle into Ambleside to pick up a bit of fuel for Gaz's bike.
Our next destination was a lane that headed past Tarn Hows. We saw four 4x4's on this trail, including a £50 k Range Rover covered in mud, well done fellas!! Gaz managed to style the rock step whilst Mark & I just grunted & struggled up over it... more technique needed I reckon!

That lane drops us down towards Windemere, so we caught the ferry across the lake & headed up past Knipe Tarn, stopping to collect Mark's gear lever at one point as it fell off for some reason, then headed down into the limestone area west of Kendal. A stop in Kendal at the KTM bike shop, Triple D, where we replaced an engine mount bolt that had vibrated off Mark's bike & had a good gossip with the boys there about all things KTM.

Are you starting to notice a trend here yet??

After Kendal, we headed back northwards to pick up a new lane, the Breast High Lane. This basically killed Mark's bike & left all of us totally knackered. I'm crap at uphills, so dropped the bike 4 times, it's pretty steep as a lane but very good to do, there is lots of loose big rocks which have been put down to protect the soil underneath which makes the going hard work. Mark & Gaz both found it fairly straight forward
but for me it's my weakest bit of riding off road skill.

Once at the top we stopped for the obligatory pictures, decided it was too windy to stop for long & headed down hill. For me this was difficult, but OK, I sat down sometimes, stood up at others, shifted my weight around & generally crept down to wait at the bottom for the boys, a good history of mountain biking helps here I reckon... I did bend my footpeg on the up though... oops...

On the other hand, Mark worked up a sweat & when he got to where I was waiting, he was saying that it had been the hardest bit of off road riding he'd ever done!! Excellent...
Gaz was having a little epic, it turned out, he stalled the big old XT on a steep bit of the downhill, then as it was a kick start he couldn't hold the bike & kick start it & we were quite a ways downhill, unaware of this...
he crept down the hillside, nearly dropping the bike as he hit a large rock & with no engine power couldn't pop over it... he arrived looking pretty tense & again commenting on the difficulty of the terrain...

Fab adventure all round then!! :-)

What up there???
The fun continued down to the bottom of the valley, the lane splits at the bottom, right is an easy broken tarmac lane, left takes you back up onto a fell & joins the B road further up the valley, I rode forward to make the choice, meanwhile Mark had his final fun of the day, the bike died, we couldn't get it started so the decision was made to leave Mark alone & head back to the vans to collect one of them & come back to 'rescue' Mark. This we did, with an 80 mile round trip down lanes just big enough to get a van down, driving between the M6 carriageways at one point, excellent!! A visit to the pub saw a couple of well deserved beers downed...
Day 2 took Mark back home to get the bike looked at, Gaz stayed home with his lass & Geoff came over so we went out to do a few new lanes, starting near Greystoke. There are a few beautiful little lanes around this area, but our first one took us past the tip, which wasn't pleasant at all... hey ho, human refuse is not a pleasant thing but a necessary evil I guess in a modern world.
Mud, gates, some very bumpy farmland took us up towards Dalston & a stop at Mickey D's for some late breakfast. After this we headed down to the Eden Valley to explore some of the lanes over there. They were very good it has to be said, some sand, some mud, some very pretty villages, then a blast up Hartside, saw us drinking tea at the cafe with all the other bikers out on their toys on a Sunday.
We took the lanes back down into the valley, with me having a good off in the deep ruts on the first section. I can see why there is a bit of controversy about this lane, the ruts are massive & deep, the second section is more rocky so better protected & drops down next to a lovely little farm, where we joined the tarmac road again heading for our last but one lane of the day... which was great, again I had another little off on the uphill section, the front wheel hit a hole & over the handle bars I went... Geoff got the whole thing on film & sat laughing on his bike until he saw I couldn't get out of the hole I was stuck in, then he jumped off his bike to give me a hand manhandling the bike back into ground where I could get some traction & get out of the hole. We finished the lane & decided to head back to the vans as it was nearly 4pm now... but en-route, I saw a tiny line that headed towards Little Salkeld, it turned out to be ace, with lots of mud & pretty tree lined bits that finally finished at Long Meg & her Daughters, a famous stone circle in the Eden Valley.
The perfect sign!!

That was two days of great riding, some 230 miles covered with about 50% offroad, this is what we wanted!!

Geoff & I used this as our final test & training run for the bikes & both of us felt we'd done plenty of stuff that would see us through on the TAT trail,

Our personal off road riding skills had improved loads since our first
trip out with the lads from Batley in January, the bikes had proved
Alston Moor lanes
themselves & all our kit was sorted... We'd sorted the tyre question out & finished all the additions to the bikes. We'd sorted out most of the electronics from the the various cameras to the GPS's. so things are looking good so far!

Happy Days...

Quick update on Mark's DR650... the piston has a hole in it, so he needs a new engine as the cost of a rebuild is more than the bikes value, that's another project for the winter now!!
He's looking for a replacement now, maybe a Suzuki DR400 E, time will tell I guess...

Hartside Cafe, bikers heaven... :-)