The breakfast in the super-expensive hotel was the best so far in Iceland. Well, it better be, the hotel was all right, but the price is not. It is clear that Iceland is expensive, but this pricing is shameless, taking profit of the tourist boom. I did not know that this would be topped in the evening….
So the plan was to get to the ferry harbour with a little bit of detours and many sightseeing stops. Most of the first destinations were close, at the Myvatn lake. I removed all the double layers of clothes, for today I would be walking a lot (in the end it was something like 5 km!). I started with the biggest exercise first, the Hverfall, an ancient volcano that exploded and left a very particular crater. I walked up to the rim and decided that this would be enough, the walk on the rim would be more than two kilometers, not so nice in motorbike gear. I took my pictures and descended again. The view was really great.
The next stop was only a few minutes away, a place called Dimmuborgir. The area is composed of various volcanic caves and rock formations, reminiscent of an ancient collapsed citadel (hence the name). The Dimmuborgir area consists of a massive, collapsed lava tube formed by a lava lake flowing in from a large eruption. As the lava flowed across the wet sod, the water of the marsh started to boil, the vapour rising through the lava forming lava pillars from drainpipe size up to several meters in diameter. As the lava continued flowing towards lower ground in the Mývatn area, the top crust collapsed, but the hollow pillars of solidified lava remained. The lava lake must have been at least 10 meters deep, as estimated by the tallest structures still standing.
I chose the second shortest itinerary that led through the bizarre formations. There is a cave where in winter you can meet the Yule Lads, the Island version of Coca Cola’s Santa Claus. They are a group of 13 mischievous pranksters who steal from or harass the population and all have descriptive names that convey their favorite way of harassing. They come to town one by one during the last 13 nights before Christmas (Yule). They leave small gifts in shoes that children have placed on window sills, but if the child has been disobedient they instead leave a potato in the shoe.
The next stop was a bit in the north, I had to queue a little bit to step down into the small cave called Grjótagjá. Its popularity has probably increased as it was, like Dimmuborgir, a filming spot of GoT. But apart from that, it is really a very beautiful cave filled with hot water. Bathing is forbidden, as temperatures could suddenly spike and maybe kill some of the abundant tourists. Not good for business. Talking of business, in Iceland, all natural sightseeing spots are for free. Other countries would try to make a fortune by asking admission fees. Here, this is achieved by other means.
My sightseeing at the Myvatn lake was finished. Now some riding was due. My tank was pretty full, but I filled up to have some peace of mind, petrol stations would be scarce today. The next attraction was not very far way, though. Next to the main road, there was the area called Hverarönd. It is a prototype of such areas, consisting of stinking steam vents, solfataras and boiling mud pits. The whole area is metamorphosed by the geothermal activity and thick deposits of silica, gypsum and sulphur cover the ground. One has to be very careful crossing such areas, because the thin crust might brake. There is an intense smell of various sulphuric compounds; it reminded of my basic chemistry studies, when the courses on inorganic analysis would require the use of hydrogen sulfide that was bubbled through the samples. We students spent months in this nice odour. Those were the days!
After some more riding, I had to leave the Ring Road and ride 25 km to the north where I parked the bike and walked, together with a lot of other tourists, to the Dettifoss waterfall. This was really worth the long walk, an impressive fall. As the water was very muddy, I wonder if the high temperatures lead to an increased melting of the central Icelandic glaciers.
It was midday, but there were no facilities except toilets at the parking, so I hoped for some café along the road. About 30 minutes later, I saw a sign “coffee and cake, 3 km”, pointing to a place away from the Ring Road. I was not really in the mood for cake, but I hoped they had something else as well. So I took the turn. I rode for about 4 km on a terrible washboard track, leading to some houses. It took me a while before I spotted the “hotel” on one door and “coffee” on the other. Closed! The sole cyclist who looked tired and thirsty was surely more disappointed than I was, I could at least quickly get way from this deserted place. After doing the washboard again, of course.
The landscape was very arid now, but beautiful.
Finally there was a small café next to the road, actually quite cozy. I ordered a typical lamb soup that was very tasty.
The road ascended to 600 m now and I realized that the warm period was over. I was on a high plateau where the temperature dropped to 14ºC. After a while, I had to get the inner jacket liner out of the pannier. The whole day, temperatures did not rise again. Back in the east, real Icelandic temperatures reminded me how lucky I was the last days. I descended towards Egilstađir, the largest town in the east. I filled up, bought a pastry in a supermarket and warmed up again a bit. I was underdressed for these temperatures.The last 25 km to the ferry port in Seyđisfjörđur were even more chilly. I realized that this the highest point of the whole trip (630 m) and the same weather and temperature welcomed me back (foggy and 8ºC at the pass and clear and 14ºC at the fjord). I checked into the Hotel Aldan, i.e. the room is in a different building.
Before that, I quickly walked through the centre of the village…
After having a shower in my “room”, I concluded that this was one of the largest rip-offs ever. An old room of 5 square meters (sic), almost no hot water in the shower and an almost inexistent internet connection…OK, it is clean, but this is a joke. Not the place as such, but it’s at least 100 % overpriced for international standards. Highwaymen?
I went back to the main building for dinner and I must say that the food and service was very good. My last dinner in Iceland….
Tomorrow morning I will embark the ferry back to Denmark and make a concluding report when I’m back at home. It was a short trip, but the right time!
After the simple breakfast I left the hotel in Laugar that had been my home for two nights. The hotel was ok, its personnel was – let’s say authentic and a bit on the robust side. Most of the guests are from Iceland, so that seems to be just right for this purpose. I set off at nine and had to go south again before I could turn eastwards. On this short distance, I overtook a camper van and realized that it was Martin, the guy that I had missed yesterday! I waved and stopped in the next village. What a coincidence! Did I already say “it’s a small world”?
Martin took out his foldable chairs, made tea and we sat there for 45 min, discussing our past, present and future plans. When Martin is not traveling around the world, he is working as a professional tour guide, like right now, herding some other camper vans in a trip around Iceland.
As I wrote yesterday, we met under funny conditions on a road in the outback in Zambia in 2011 and were sporadically in contact through FB ever since. He told me he sold his old Honda Africa Twin – but plans to buy a “younger” one instead. What a nice encounter!
“You meet the nicest people on a Honda”Honda (1964)
We parted and on the road that should bring me back to the ring road, I had to do 20 km gravel. No problem, I’m getting the hang of it. The next stop was planned since yesterday, in Stađir I met Karin and her husband who are on a long trip with their van. I know Karin from the GB500/XBR500 scene and the meetings for many years and thinking what is the probability to meet here….did I already happen to mention that “it’s a small world”?
We had a nice chat and exchanged experiences and plans – again, I seem to be the exception, going around the island clockwise, everybody else seems to do it the other way around.
The motto of the car is ‘Hakuna Matata’ – I like that!
I continued my ride and started to discover the northern coast. After all the spectacular views and pictures of the past days, it is difficult for Iceland to keep the level that high – but I it still a nice scenery, but I noticed that I stopped less to take a picture. My plan was to reach Sauđarkrókur around lunch time. The XBR was running happily, humming its tune. It was getting warm now, the predictions of the Icelandic weather service are really spot on! I stopped at a spot called Þristapar where the last execution was carried out in Iceland in 1830. Apparently, the news had not yet travelled to Iceland that chopping off heads and putting them on pikes for display wasn’t really en vogue anymore in other parts of the world. The story seems to be well known as there is also a love story behind it.
I realized that I had done a miscalculation – yesterday, my prepayment at the pump resulted in a not completely full tank – something I had not thought of anymore. But as the XBR’s consumption is reliably low, I reached Sauđarkrókur without any problems. I filled up and weighed the options to have something for lunch. The “Hard Wok Café” (sic) seemed to be the best option. I didn’t want to have a large fusion wok dish for lunch so I ordered some humble fried noodles.
I sat outside in the sun and decided to remove the inner liner of the jacket for the rest of the day – I felt roasted in the sun! Remember what I said in the beginning – if there’s a tropical heat wave in Iceland, I’ll still have the space to store away the surplus clothes. This just was happening! I had temperatures between 19 and 22 degrees Celsius in the afternoon, here’s the proof of it:
I rode along the beautiful Skagafjord and reached the Northernmost tip of the trip: next stop North Pole…
I reached the old “herring capital” of Iceland – Siglufjörđur. I visited the Herring Museum that explains the vibrant history of the town. The town grew up around the herring industry that was very strong in the 1940s and 1950s. The number of inhabitants amounted to 146 in 1901 and to 3.015 in 1950, and back to 1.806 in 1989. Herring fishing declined considerably after 1970, and the herring processing plants were closed. Today Herring fishing is no longer productive in the region. The museum explains the living and working conditions of people involved in the business.
I was considering if I should stay a bit longer or to try to get to Akureyri to visit the Icelandic Motorcycle Museum before it closed. Yes, let’s try that! An hour later, I rolled through the second largest Icelandic town – Akureyri. I still had half an hour to visit the small, but particular museum. Lots of “rare” exhibits, such as the home built bike with a ship engine, an old Henderson rebuilt from a scrapyard-piece-of-iron, a Hercules Wankel, old Triumphs and Hondas…
I checked into the pricey hotel and took care of the dinner reservation – conveniently, it was just over the street (Rub23) and was a recommendation from Viktor, a mate I am playing Floorball with and who gave me a lot of tips for the tour. It’s his hometown, so he should know best.
I had an aperitif on the hotel’s terrace, planning the next day when I discovered something that freaked me out for a second. My right elbow felt strange…and it looked funny! A massive bulge was hanging on my elbow! I had immediately an idea and a quick check on the internet confirmed my suspicion – this was a bursitis! I never had one in my life, at least not in the elbow. I went through the options – I did not have an accident or a wound there – so it must be from overstraining. But what could be the cause? Well, there is one obvious one that gave me problems in Russia – the aftermarket carburetor spring is very strong and requires a lot of force – I could feel some strain in the lower arm, but nothing compared to Russia. At least I’m carrying the tool again (cramp buster), that should help a lot. The good news is that there no strong inflammation and no pain.
I directed my attention away from it – the restaurant was waiting. I ordered the full monty, a six-course menu with the “freshest products” they had, accompanied by selected wines. Sushi is very prominent on the menu – no wonder, after all super fresh fish is just at the doorstep. The food was quite good, but not at the same level as the restaurant in Reykjavik. But I enjoyed it. The sommelière was apparently in an apprenticeship, so I corrected her gently that one wine was actually from Spain, not Italy ☺️.
Before entering the hotel, I climbed up the stairs and had a look over Akureyri by night.
In the morning, I had an early breakfast and spent two hours typing yesterday’s report. I was not in a hurry, I had booked a whale watching for the afternoon and because of the bursitis, I decided to cut my route short, today’s program was interesting enough. It was again a fantastic day, plain sunshine and warm temperatures. I stared at my thermometer….21 degrees at 11 a.m….the tropical heat wave was indeed here!
I made a stopover at the Gođafoss, whe water of the river Skjálfandafljót falls from a height of 12 metres over a width of 30 metres. A lot of water, but the height difference is not spectacular.
I rode north and was happy that had put the throttle rocker/cramp buster, this should avoid too much strain on the arm. I could feel that my theory was correct. The annoying thing is that I thought about changing the setting of the carburetor at home, but considered that “it would be ok”. This is definitely the last time this happens now. I’ll take care of it.
Soon I arrived at today’s highlight: the town of Húsavík. Famous for its whales and a recent film….but more about this later.
In the little town, I picked up my tickets, but had to conclude that every restaurant table was taken. So I went to the petrol station and bought me two sandwiches, this should do. At 13:20, the whale watching left right in time. I had managed to sit right in front – best views, but highest seesaw. A marine biologist from Barcelona gave good background information. We went for about half an hour before we spotted the first Minke whales. This was only the preparation for what was about to come.
We discovered two humpback whales that kept us entertained for a long time. Apart from the usual blowing and diving, suddenly the whales started breaching! The biologist told us that this rarely happens here. I tried to catch it as good as possible:
I truly remarkable experience! After three hours, we were back in the harbour where my thermometer showed a whopping 25 degrees Celsius! I visited also the whale museum, an impressive exhibition about the world’s largest mammals.
The next stop was not far, overlooking the bay…..I give you a hint:
Someone was clever enough to set up a bar in the town that makes people believe it’s the one from the film (it isn’t), but the little “Ja Ja Ding Dong Bar” contains some memorabilia from the film and the film shooting that happened in town (NOT the bar scenes). FIRE SAGA!!!
I filled up the bike and started the last ride for today, about 45 min to lake Myvatn that I circumnavigated. There are some places that I will discover tomorrow.
I arrived at my hotel and despite the cozy room, I was a bit annoyed by several things: despite the hefty price, no breakfast was included, at 7 p.m. I was told the restaurant was fully booked for the day, the nearby alternative was fully packed and I had to queue for 20 min only to sit outside on a windy and freezing terrace, receiving the dessert at the time of payment, standing in line for 15 min to be able to pay….all of this can be optimised. I made now my peace with the hotel in the bar, writing the report and tasting several Icelandic spirits such as Flóki Whisky with and without sheep dung smoked barley and Reyka, a Vodka. For the first time in Iceland I’m surprised by a LOW price of something.
Tomorrow is the last riding day in Iceland. Few kilometers, but many stops, I guess my arm likes this plan.
I knew I had a long day in front of me, so I tried to get up early. At 7:30 a.m., I entered the breakfast room – that was pretty empty. I learned that the breakfast would only start at eight o’clock. Well, I used the time to fine-tune the trip of today. It would be a roundtrip through the Westfjords, returning to the same hotel. This meant that I could leave all my luggage in the hotel. I wasn’t sure yet how big my route would be – I wanted to visit most of this area, but the basic route was already some 560 km. Clockwise or anti-clockwise? Should I add an extra loop to the west? I left without having the answers.
It was a fantastic sunny morning. While riding, I went through the options.The stop would be in Isafjörđur, the largest town in the most remote point of the trip. There, petrol stations were available (very scarce in the area) and I could have lunch there. I decided to go clockwise – for the simple reason that the gravel parts were in the southern part and I wanted to have the trickiest part behind me soon.
After some thorough thinking I concluded that doing the extra loop would be too much for today. Well, I COULD do it, but that would result in a 11 to 12 hour ride. Instead riding 560 km (of which 60 km are gravel), I would have to do 680 km (with 90 km gravel). Possible, but a bit out of the comfort zone. It turned out later that the shorter route was just right.
Soon I reached the first gravel part of some 25 km; I had entered the fjord area. The views were beautiful, especially on such a sunny morning. What a good idea to ride without the luggage, this type of dry gravel poses no problem for the XBR. I made good progress and stopped a lot to take pictures.
Finally, I reached Flókalundur and had to confirm my decision. A short check was enough; I didn’t want to do 90 km gravel today. Here, the road turned to 35 km of gravel again and went uphill to a pass where large machines were building a huge new road. In this area, huge tourist buses were absent, maybe this could change with such a wide road?
I was approaching the sightseeing highlight of today: Dynjandi, the highest waterfall in the region with a height of 100 m. Now this is what I call a waterfall! It doesn’t contain a lot of water, but flows very picturesque down the rocks. There are several smaller waterfalls below it; a small track leads up to the big waterfall. I risked some sweating to get up to the highest point and enjoyed the view from there.
The missing part to Isafjörđur was special in many ways: beautiful sights and a single track tunnel (!) with a Y junction in the middle. I’ve never seen that before.
I arrived in Isafjörđur at 1 p.m. and looked for a place to eat. It is the largest town in the region with a mere 4000 inhabitants. But it does have some shops and cafes. I looked up some suggestions in internet and went to Tjöruhúsið, recommended for its fish and shellfish. I discovered an old cottage with some tables in front. There were two dishes available: fish soup and fish stew that you served inside the rustic cottage. I had to wait a bit as they had to refill the large stockpot. The soup was…delicious! Again! Similar to the soup yesterday, very tasty with lots of cream. I could get a second plate. And some good coffee afterwards.
I entered a chat with the owner (?) who happens to own two motorbikes and 13 cars (!). I asked him about this summer and he claimed “best summer ever!….at least since 2003”. I think he could be right, later it got cloudy, but the stable high pressure over Iceland is unusual and the temperatures are extremely high (later I saw 19 deg. on my thermometer). I filled up and continued my ride along the spectacular fjords, one after the other. I noticed that I had lost my little petrol can on the gravel roads. Luckily, my fuel consumption is very low.
It was riding in the Seyđisfjörđur, when I greeted two oncoming motorbikers. Wait a minute – I know this bike! I turned around and watched up. Indeed, it was the bike of Bodo from the ferry! Henry realized only a few minutes later what had happened and turned around.What a coincidence! We had a chat about what we had experienced the last days and we parted again. It’s a small world! And Iceland is a small part of it. There was no traffic, so I could increase the pace a bit…
I filled up early, so I don’t have to worry about it tomorrow morning. I was back at a quarter past six and decided to nurse the bike a bit: the chain could need a bit of tightening. That was it. It’s a Honda.
I had dinner in the modest hotel restaurant and I still have to lay out the route for tomorrow. I fled the quite lounge when a horde of American teens turned it into a dance floor (Ja Ja Ding Dong etc…).
Unfortunately, as I had surpassed the connectivity on my mobile, I could not meet with Martin who also was in the area. We missed each other narrowly. I met Martin on the road 2011 in Zambia, when I was going South and he was going North. Did I already say it’s a small world?
This morning I realized that I had forgotten something in yesterday’s report – no wonder, I finished it only at midnight. I wanted to explain why I had left out an interesting location before I arrived in Reykjavik. Reason No.1: It would have taken me a two hour detour PLUS a three to four hour walk (!). Reason No.2: the active volcano Fagradalsfjall, that erupted in March and spit fire during weeks, has been dormant for a while. I checked the webcam yesterday and on top, the only thing visible was some fog. So I arrived some weeks to late. What might have been:
But under this circumstances, it was not worth the long detour. Pity.
I left the hotel shortly after nine o’clock. (Left: plaque in the elevator. In Icelandic and Bavarian 🤪). It was a nice, sunny morning and I headed north, following the ring road. Once I passed under a fjord in a long tunnel. In Borgarnes, I left the road No.1 and followed the road to Snæfallsnes, the large peninsula sticking out like a finger in Iceland’s West. The landscape got more and more interesting, I occasionally stopped and took a picture.
What a beautiful day! This was again a remote place, void of large groups of tourists. I stopped at a scenic place in the west und read curiously a board that was displaced there….:
At mid-day, I got to Hellnar and took a picture of the beautiful scenery:
I realised that I passed a petrol station in the last village and turned around. In Arnarstapi, I was lucky to have a GPS that indicated me the way to the “petrol station”: a single pump in the middle of nowhere. All pumps in Iceland so far could be operated and paid directly at the pump. By the way, I have not visited any ATM in Iceland, I’m not carrying cash. Basically everything can be paid with plastic money.
I felt a bit hungry, so I stopped at a small place next to the road and ordered a Stapi soup, a local fish soup. It contained fish, shrimps, lobster…and lots of cream. Delicious!!
I did a little walk to the Gatklettur, a spectacular natural arch at the beach:
After a few kilometers, I stopped at the next scenic place and walked towards Lóndrangar. However, this time I had left the camera in the tank bag, so I will nick something from the internet…
I was in the Snæfellnesjökull Natural Park now, and the big volcano is dominating the tip of the peninsula:
It was a fantastic day. The views changed once I was on the Northern side of the peninsula, but it was still very beautiful. The main mountain range was covered in clouds and it seemed to rain there. However, at the coast I enjoyed perfect sunshine.
It was a fantastic day. The views changed once I was on the Northern side of the peninsula, but it was still very beautiful. The main mountain range was covered in clouds and it seemed to rain there. However, at the coast I enjoyed perfect sunshine.
And then I reached one of the most iconic mountains in Iceland: Mount Kirkufell. Also famous from Game of Thrones.
The was even a bridal pair, taking pictures. The view in the other direction was not too bad either:
I went on. I knew there were two issues ahead: a 60 km unpaved road and the bad weather ahead of me. When I passed the road sign of a shark museum, it raised my interest and I checked the rain forecast: actually it would make sense to delay my ride a bit as the rain would move on and I could maybe avoid it. So I decided to take a little detour, riding through an Icelandic moss landscape:
I arrived at a remote place that looked like a farm and parked the XBR in front of the building. The instructions were clear:
I paid the entrance fee and joined a tour. As I hadn’t been there from the start, a young lady repeated the most important facts to me. Apart from some shark teeth, the museum consists mainly of fisherman tools and wildlife of the area.
What is really special about this place that it produces a local speciality: the notorious Icelandic fermented shark meat (Hákarl). Not for the faint of heart. Shark meat from fishing by-catch is put into boxes and left fermenting. Then it is dried for months in the air, (and this is important) far from any other dwellings. I went to the drying house later, you don’t want to have this near your house where you live…
I tasted the offered meat, ok, it’s special, a bit salty, fatty and some hint of ammonia…let’s try another one…this one was much stronger. Whoa. Ammonia! Ok, let’s wash it down with the snaps. Right. Not my everyday snack, but I can understand why they like it here.
I went back to the road and soon hit the shortcut road to the East, I did not want to do more than 100 km of detour….
In the next hour, I slowly hobbled across different parts of this track. I was glad that the was almost no rain, it could have turned it very slippery. I enjoyed the views and managed to keep my speed between 45 and 55 km/h.
Finally, the track turned into tarmac and some kilometers later, I topped up in Búđardalur. Some minutes later, I arrived at the hotel in Laugar í Sælingsdalur. A simple, but clean hotel with a special feature: a natural hot tub! There is also a small reconstructed geothermal pool called Guðrúnarlaug or Guðrún´s pool. The pool is mentioned in the Sturlunga saga and Guðrún Ósvífursdóttir, one of the greatest women in the Sagas, used to dwell by such a pool at Laugar. Well, if it’s part of Icelandic history, let’s try it out! I grabbed a towel and went up to the pool with the little changing hut. I had to share the pool with other people, so I didn’t take more pictures or videos. The water had about 40 degrees, perfect temperature.
The restaurant facilities are simple, but the food was tasty (Gravlax aaaaaand…..yummy lamb! Sorry Shawn, it’s too tasty). Downside: large horde of noisy, American tourists.
Tomorrow, I will remain in the hotel and start a large day trip through the Western fjords. A very long ride, but the weather looks good. Keeping fingers crossed.
I had not set an alarm and got up at half past seven. In the restaurant hall, the tour groups were already choking down their breakfast. For some strange reason I had to think of locusts…Before leaving, I had an issue to resolve. Yesterday, during a short stop, I received a phone call from booking.com telling that my hotel in Reykjavik had cancelled my reservation. They offered me an altertive that I should confirm. I had a quick look and said yes by e-mail. I sent three messages in increasing urgent tone asking for a confirmation. I received nothing. In the end I called the new hotel myself. Yes, the had received my name, everything was ok. Good, so I had a place to stay. This was important. I had checked the internet and discovered that Reykjavik was sold out! Well, unless you want to pay 500 quid for a nice suite….
I set off at nine and my first destination was not far away: Dyrhólaey, an extension of yesterday’s beach. The sea has formed holes into the rocks, forming arches. The area is also important as a reserve for the local bird population. The was a track to the voewpoint of the great arc, but it was closed for construction…
Today I experienced a more typical Icelandic weather: cloudy with some rays of sunshine and later some short showers. I continued my ride along the south coast. The landscape was changing again. I had not planned a stop there, but the setting was beautiful, so I decided to make a stop at the Skógafoss. Definetely a good idea. The waterfall is very beautiful and I played around with the Halide app if I could change the settings in rhe right way (longer exposure times). I should have tried at home. So I took more or less ‘normal pictures’. Anyway, a very pretty waterfall.
I moved away from the coast and rode inlands. I arrived at the Gullfoss, one of the iconic Icelandic waterfalls. Well, it is big, but I honestly had expected some ‘more’. On the other hand, it would be unfair to compare it with bigger streams like the Niagara Falls or the Victoria Falls that I had the pleasure to visit.
Anyway, when you think that all the water comes from a melting glacier, it IS impressive. In the adjacent shop, I found a country sticker for my pannier that I placed immediately.
The next stop was not far away: Geysir. Yes, this is the mother of all geysirs. I parked the bike and strolled up the hill, surrounded by hordes of tourists. This seems ti he downside of the enormous popularity of Iceland: buses spit out masses of tourists at the touristic spots. In between, there is quietness when riding.
I entered the restaurant/shop complex and acquired two sandwiches for lunch. I never had a lamb sandwich before, a very good idea!
The next stop was again a geological one. Kerið is a crater lake that formed when the magma chamber of a volcano collapsed and a little lake was formed by rhe ground water. In this cloudy weather, the colours were not that strong, but it was good enough for some good pictures. I walked around on the top of the caldera, avoiding too much movement. In this cool climate, a warm gear is great, but when you have to walk, you overheat in no time.
This was the only place where I had to pay an entrance fee.
Now The weather was a mix of of sunny spells and short showers. In entered the Þingvellir National park area, riding through a landscape of bushes and small trees. This is probably rhe closwst you get to a forest here. I arrived at the visitor centre and topk some pictures from the lake. Thingvellir is a special place on Iceland. The lake is the largest in Iceland, home to many species. Geologically, it is located on the rift between the European and the American plate that are constantly moving apart (geologically, but maybe as well politically).
In the centre, I visited the exposition on the importance of the place as a ‘thing’, or better ‘alþing’, the old Germanic place to hold frequent tribunals to settle disputes and to speak law. The ‘Althing’ meant that this was the supreme court of Island for almost a millenium. At this place, the independent Islandic Republic was declared in 1944. All in all, a place embedded in Islandic history.
I only had a lasr descent to Reykjavik in front of me. Close to the city, I filled up and checked my oil. I topped up the chain lubricant and checked the tyre pressure. After 920 km riding in Iceland, I discovered a novelty: red lights!!! And some Friday evening rush hour. I took a little detour through rhe city centre and arrived at the hotel. The reception was very friendly and I was told that the stay was already pre-paid (a gift from booking.com?). I had a shower and lefr for a walk through the small city centre. It is very nordic, but cozy and apparently lively.
I walked to the restaurant I had booked – albeit one hour too early. Luckily, this was not a problem. It was the restaurant ‘Matur og Drykkur’. In Iceland, many places are simply describing what they are. Like in this case, ‘eating and drinking’. Plain, simple. They serve a six course meal and I ordered wine pairing as well pairing as well. All in all, it was very good, using local ingredients. The sea weed tempura was surprisingly good, the roasted lamb divine. I was positively surprised by the Snorri No.10 beer, this is up to the level of a good Belgian Triple! I had the impression that someone must have given a very good recommendation in an American travel guide as almost all guest seemed to be Americans; except the Catalan couple next to me who thought that nobody could understand them. Well, I could. Luckily, the noise increased so I could not overhear their private conversation anymore.
I walked back to the hotel, making a stopover in the centre. In a bar, a live jazz band was performing very well and I discovered that they sold a Talisker 18 years for a reasonable price (considering this was Iceland). I had a dram in front of the bar and continued typing this report.
Reykjavik is the northernmost capital in the world, and a small one. A few minutes later, I was back at the hotel. It’s a small, but nice city.
I’m afraid that tomorrow, I’ll be running out of luck: in the afternoon, some heavy rain will cross my way. The northwest is my destination now.
The first night on the boat was a short one. I couldn’t sleep very well and for some mystical reason I had booked breakfast at seven. 7 a.m. When I had a whole day to kill. The breakfast was….food uptake, not more. I spent some hours in the cabin watching TV or dozing on the bunk bed. I had lunch in the fancy restaurant again, two different sandwiches this time. The Faroese snaps was different, but I liked it a lot (Haviđ, 50 %). I spotted it in the boat shop so I think on the way back I will stuff some in my panniers.
I dozed a bit more in the cabin and moved to the panoramic deck as we would soon make a stopover in Torshavn, the capital of the Faroe Islands. I hoped that I could pick up a 4G internet signal and upload the report of yesterday. I received a message from my provider that I would be charged a daily roaming pass. No problem. However, in a second message I was told that my credit was zero and I couldn’t buy the pass.
When we left the day before, I sent a few pictures, and as the ship’s wifi did not allow any uploads, I did it with a 4G connection that I believed to be from the Danish mainland. However, I was probably the ship’s 4G network which usually charges a fortune per Mbyte. Within seconds, my credit was evaporated and I was not able to re-charge my credit. Remember, bad upload speed. All of this got crystal clear to me when I could not connect to the Faroese network. I tried and tried to charge the account – until it finally went through! I was connected to the Faroese 4G and could upload the post.
After the boarding of new passengers, we continued the crossing through the Island. Suddenly, the fog lifted and enjoyed a fantastic scenery: steep fjells and little fjords, some spectacular views.
Just when we were leaving the last rocks, it was time for my pre-booked five-course in the fancy restaurant, accompanied by a matching wine selection. It was actually quite good, considering I was on a ferry boat. Yummy.
We had to do the passport and COVID test controls by the police on the ship that evening, but seeing the long queue, I decided to watch some news first and come back later. I met Henry and Bodo, the two lads from the boarding queue and we spent the evening together. The checks went quite smooth and we received a green voucher that should substitute the border control.
We went to the lounge and had a couple of beers together, only molested by the solo entertainer that made a conversation difficult.
To my surprise, I didn’t have a heavy head the next morning when I strolled to the breakfast. Everybody had to leave the cabins at 8 a.m., so I tried to have a nap in my gear in the corridors. Finally we were granted access to the car deck and I unstrapped my bike. The other motorbikes still seemed to be in a Zen mode, so I was the first biker to leave the ship. There was indeed no passport control and I entered the little town of Seyđisfjörđur.
To my surprise, I didn’t have a heavy head the next morning when I strolled to the breakfast. Everybody had to leave the cabins at 8 a.m., so I tried to have a nap in my gear in the corridors. Finally we were granted access to the car deck and I unstrapped my bike. The other motorbikes still seemed to be in a Zen mode, so I was the first biker to leave the ship. There was indeed no passport control and I entered the little town of Seyđisfjörđur.
The weather was as expected: cool 11 degrees, foggy with a light drizzle. I started my trip around Iceland! It was a slow start. The surface was wet and I needed to get used to the tarmac, it was very rough and felt it there was some gravel on the road. Most of the time there wasn’t any, but sometimes yes. The road moved upwards into the clouds. I apparently passed a fjell at 500 m and the temperature dropped to 8 degrees. Cozy. In Egilsstađir I turned onto the Route 1, the ring road around Iceland. I encountered a gravel section…how long would this take? The gravel was deep…I learned later that sometimes there are stretches of gravel that is rolled into a dense surface. In this case, the gravel had not been rolled yet…
In the next three hours, I rode through the Eastern fjords, occasionally stopping to take a picture. The problem was to capture the atmosphere on the photos, which was almost impossible, in reality, the landscape was often impressive. Slowly, the temperature increased from 11 to 13 degrees, but I could feel the cold creeping in. This was the real thing now – no fairing, no heated grips, no heated seat, no heated gear – just the fresh wind and I. I realized how much I was spoiled in the last years through the big bikes.
After 280 km, I arrived in Höfn, the largest town in the southeast. Finally the sun penetrated the clouds and temperature rose to 14 degrees. I filled up the bike, but didn’t find a compelling option to have lunch. I ordered a hot sandwich in a petrol station and tried to get warm again, it was quite chilly.
I adapted my riding style to the locals, there were more and more cars and the speed rose. The landscape changed, but in a spectacular way; I approached the Vatnajökull glacier. I could only see some individual glacier tongue, but the sheer size is hard to grasp.
Finally, I spotted the first glacier tongues; the white ice cap was shining in the distance. This was genuinely a beautiful sight.
The weather forecast was spot on! This turned to be a nice day with temperatures up to 17 degrees.
Finally I arrived at the Highlight of the day, the Jökulsárlón, a glacier lake like no other.
Of course it’s a tourist magnet and the top location in Southern Iceland. On the other side of the road, there is the second attraction of the location, the DIAMOND BEACH.
As there was high tide, there were only few icebergs on the black beach, but this is still a great sight.
The massive amounts of melted water was transported in large rivers to the sea.
The rest of the was dominated by one gorgeous view after the other, when I had passed the Vatnajökull, the landscape changed and the lofty small green mountains returned.
And then again the landscape changed. A lot of rocks, but covered by a huge amount of Iceland moss!
And finally, after 560 km, I reached Vik í Myrdal, the southernmost town in Iceland. I filled up and went around the big rock that dominates the town.
This is other of Iceland’s highlights: Reynisdrangar
This is really an exceptional place, I let the pictures speak for themselves…
The hotel is only a few kilometers away, the evening sun illuminated the landscape like a painting:
I checked in, had a shower and went to the restaurant, the usual routine. I had a fish soup and a tasty lamb roast. Simple, but good. I think I was lucky to have such a sunny day today, Iceland showed its best side today. This day will be the largest section on the whole trip (580 km). Tomorrow it will be a shorter ride. But this first day was a very good start.
I had a rather frugal breakfast in the somewhat shabby hotel and set off at a quarter pass nine. I passed the “Men at Sea” like the evening before and decided to join them for a minute.
My plan was to go up north at the west coast of Jutland, riding on back roads next to the sea. My first stop was at the ‘Tirpitz Museum’, a bunker of the WWII ‘Atlantic Wall’. It was never finished, but had it, its cannon on top would have had a range of 55 km. The bunker was spectacular, but the museum was a mixture of the history of the bunker, a very simplified summary of the war, local history and information about amber. Very modern and multi-media, but quite family-friendly and on the light side. Despite the hefty entrance fee, I had quickly done my tour and set off north.
I went mostly near the coast, sometimes only separated from the sea by large dunes. In Hvide Sande, a popular tourist resort, I encountered a sort of traffic jam.
I stopped and crawled over the dune to have a look the sea. The wind was quite strong today, a good training for Iceland.
In Thyborøn, I needed to take a ferry to cross that little gap. I passed all the cars and waited in the front to be called, the boarding was already ongoing. I made it on the ferry and parked the bike on the side stand. I climbed up some stairs to have a better view. The crossing is not very long and the sea was rather calm, apart from the wind. Yet the boat started to seesaw strongly – in a worrying way. The captain reduced speed and got it under control again. There was some noise behind the van where my bike was parked. People were calling for a motorbiker. Not good! I was the only one on the ship. Apparently, the bike had dropped and someone put it upright. I could tell by moved mirror, I had to fix it again. Luckily, nothing else was affected or broken.
I continued my ride along the pittoresque coast and decided in Agger to have a small snack. I ordered a Pølsermix, believing it to be a small hot dog dish. I received an enormous plate with chips and sausages, enough to feed an army. I had to leave big part of it, I was not in the mood for that amount of junk food.
I passed Denmark’s largest National Park Thy and stopped in Halstholm to get some needed commodities in a grocery store.
I realized that my chain lubricant consumption was a bit higher and regretted that I left the big bottle at home; I reduced the flow of the Scottoiler and concluded that I could always use motor oil as a second best option. My next stop was Blokhus at the coast, for a particular reason. It’s a nice touristic town and I was surprised that I could ride onto the beach. This was unexpected!
But my real intention was to find the main attraction of the town, I had apparently rode past it, so I had to go back. And then I found it…
Very impressive! Luckily, I could take a picture of the data, so I don’t have to type them 😇
I was considering to make a trip to Skagen, the Northern tip of Denmark but I realized this would get too late today and I didn’t arrive late at the hotel. So my next stop should be the last one for today. It was the Rubjerg Knude Lighthouse, situated in/on a large dune. I had read that it had been moved 300 m recently (!) to save its existence as the waves eat sand for breakfast.
I parked the bike as close as possible to the lighthouse that could be spotted far in the distance. I noticed that there was a kind of tourist trap about to set off to the dunes: a tractor with a trailer to transport lazy tourists. How lame is that, you might think, but it turned out that the 5 Euros for this return trip were the best investment in a long time. During the ride, I realized that the lighthouse was about 2 km away, this would have been a torture in warm motorbike gear. Almost Alpenbutt-esque, haha (this joke is for the knowing).
The tractor set off and it quickly turned out that this was fun: the guy went off-road up and down, criss-crossing through the dunes:
We were awaited by some sheep who were begging for a treat. The farmer would return in 40 minutes, this should be enough time to discover the area. I climbed up the dune and enjoy the fantastic views. I wondered how they could move the entire lighthouse in one go. Unbelievable.
On the bumpy, but entertaining way back in the trailer I realized that any attempt to walk to the dune would have been led to spontaneous self-combustion of my body due to overheating. It was also evident that the detour to Skagen was totally out of question now.
Only 25 km left to the hotel; as usual, watching Shawn makes me smile….
I quickly found the hotel in Hirtshals and the petrol station next to it. I saw the first off-road van and realised that I was at at the hub to Iceland.
I checked into the hotel and was quite miffed when I learned that the restaurant would not serve me dinner tonight. I had reserved the hotel particularly because it had a restaurant, so I didn’t enter the centre of town, and now they wouldn’t be accommodate, asking at 7 p.m. Nope. OK, plan B. I didn’t fancy to take a shower and then to ride anywhere, so I just rode without the hygiene stop. I stopped at a restaurant with a terrace and ordered something that sounded interesting….seafood “tapas”! A massive platter and a lot of work (35 min!)
I returned to the hotel and finally had my shower, after all I rode more than expected, some 410 km in the wind and sun made me feel tired.
This morning, after breakfast, I met an acquainted coupled from my home town in front of the hotel. How probable is that! We had a chat, they take the ferry to Norway. I went to the harbour and waited until it was my turn for check-in. In the hour before that, I chatted with some bikers in the queue. The amount of off-road, hardcore 4×4 cars is impressive. They will go where I won’t: the rough tracks in the interior of the island. I’d need another bike for that.
In the ship, we motorbikes had to strap our bikes, carrying the luggage to the cabin usually lets the sweat flow, but finally I’m in my cabin….only to find out that I hadn’t been cleaned! The receptionist made a walkie-talkie call: “housekeeping, we have a surprise cabin on deck 6, I repeat, ….” I waited sitting on the floor until my home for two nights was finally ready.
I found a relaxing spot where I could rest a bit until the restaurant was opened.
I had pre-booked all my meals, something that I rarely do. But as everything is breathtakingly expensive, pre-booking gets some discount and I need some food anyway. It sounded not like a large meal – “two sandwiches and a snaps”, but it was a good portion and the quality was very good, including the aquavit from the Faroer.
Later I discovered the Laterna Magica Bar with a fantastic view where I am writing the whole time. They have seats and sofas, what a great idea!
In the end, I spent the afternoon in the Panoramic lounge. I have slow internet, but the upload speed is not enough to post pictures. I hope that I will catch some phone signal on Faroer Islands.
(Indeed, after fixing some issues, I could upload it in Torshavn, the tiny capital of the Faroer Islands).
In the evening, I had an unspectacular dinner in the buffet restaurant. It’s a quiet boat trip.
On the morning of the first day I took it easy, packed the last missing things and set off for a smooth ride on motorways at a quarter to ten. Soon after I crossed the Dutch border, I was passed by three Belgians on BMWs. This is not remarkable as such, I was in a relaxed mood and decided to go at 110 – 120 km/h the whole day. The second rider had a personalised number plate named ‘Siberia’. Was this their destination? I could give them some advice…
I knew that some rain would come in Northern Germany, so I put on the rain gear very early. The predicted rain was not very heavy though and I lost quite some time in road works on the A1 where no filtering was possible. Later I passed Bremen and proper sunshine came back although accompanied by a strong wind. I was joined by my lucky charm – Shawn, the Black Irish sheep. He has joined me through America and Russia, not to speak of many places in Europe. I had washed him in winter and attached him safely behind the windscreen. When in motion, his arms and legs are happily flapping around so it looks as if he’s really enjoying the ride. Every time I look at him, it puts a smile on my face. 🙂
The last 60 km I had to go on nice country roads though the ‘Altes Land’, heading towards the Elbe and the coast. I was about to take off my rain gear when I spotted some dark clouds at the horizon. I left it on and indeed, 6 km before my today’s destination, the rain poured down. When I arrived at the house of Michael and Christiane, I took off my rain suit and….was completely soaked??? This kept me thinking for a while. I couldn’t find a hole….that’s not good news for the rainy climate in Iceland!
My visit was long overdue, for many years actually. So we had much to talk about and the rain did not invite to leave the house. We had a nice meal together, they both are fantastic hosts and I crawled into the bed only after midnight…(there’s a song for every occasion, right, Michael?😄)
I got up not too early the next morning and we had a sumptuous breakfast together. I knew I didn’t have to go far today so I was not in a hurry. I filled up and hoped I would stay dry until I would reach the ferry across the river Elbe. This plan only worked for the first 5 km. Luckily I could pass the long line of waiting cars and roll directly on the ferry. The “Elbfähre” is the only crossing west of Hamburg, connecting Lower Saxony with the Western shore of Schleswig.
At the other side, I did not have to ride wrong very long – a second visit was due. This time it was Ralf and his wife Kirsten. You would think the North of Germany is flat, flat, flat – but they live on the slope of a small mountain that provides them with a view over the low lands.
Ralf joined my first XBR Alpentour in 1994 and was riding a lot with me in subsequent years. He is proof that you can pass many, stronger bikes in the Alps with a heavily under-maintained XBR, failing breaks or many other shortcomings…
The picture at the left is from the epic XBR Alpentour in 2003 when he demonstrated that you don’t need ANY fork oil to master gravel passes in the Alps…
Kirsten made some tasty “Bauernfrühstück” and Ralf and I had a lot to chat about, after all we didn’t meet so often recently. I had never been to this place (no surprise, being up in the North), so it was another, long overdue visit. Much later than planned, I started the XBR again.
Well, the rest of the day was set: going up north on the B5 and crossing into Denmark, leaning into the strong wind. I had enough time left, so I could visit a rapid antigen test centre near Esbjerg. Last week, Iceland decided that a certificate of full vaccination would not be enough to enter the country, I would need another negative RAT (rapid antigen test) result. After some cueing, the testing and 15 min waiting time, I received my certificate. I filled up the bike and topped up the oil, all ready for tomorrow. I entered Esbjerg and check into my hotel. Remarkable here: the receptionist wears a pair of braces and a bowler hat and has a quirky humor. Maybe he’s a fan of Clockwork Orange….(should I be worried?).
In the shower, I tested if the rain suit had a leak, but I couldn’t detect any. I had a good dinner in a nearby restaurant with Tuborg beer from the tap. Rib Eye steak with a freshly prepared Sauce Béarnaise. Being used to Belgian restaurant prices does immunise you a bit when exposed to Scandinavian prices. You realize you’re in Scandinavia when you confess to the waiter that you have left your wallet in the hotel and propose to get it from there and he only replies: “yeah, all right”.
Tomorrow will be another relaxed day along the coast as my destination (Hirtshals) is only 330 km away.
Everything is set. All packed, but I still have that particular feeling that I forgot something….Well, as long as you have your passport and a valid credit card…
I decided to travel light again, although I could have stuffed everything into the panniers, I decided to carry same extra luggage. Iceland is not on a different continent, but I rather carry too many spare parts than too few. The big jug of oil is very likely too much, but I ran out of small bottles, so I won’t have to worry to carry too few oil. And it’s good to have some reserve space just in case a tropical heat wave strikes Iceland and I’d have to get rid of a few layers of gear.
Tomorrow, I’ll have a smooth, but wet ride to the vicinity of Hamburg, where I will visit Michael, an old friend, ex-colleague, ex-band mate and (ex-?😁) motorbiker. A very overdue visit.
The GPS track for the trip will be active from tomorrow.
I had planned a trip to the Western Balkans for June 2020 but then a little bug turned the world upside down…so no proper motorbiking trip since the big one to Japan in 2019. I didn’t expect to go on another trip soon, but some weeks ago, I had a brilliant idea….why not go on a motorbike trip to a place where I haven’t been before? I really needed some holidays, not only had the pandemic smashed all my traveling plans, but since I took over a management job in early 2020, I did not have any proper vacations. So what would be a good place to visit? I went through my mental list of ‘white spots’ on the map of Europe…pretty high incidences everywhere….and I had a brilliant idea: the island of fire and ice, home of elves and trolls, fjords and hot springs….Iceland!
I quickly booked the ferry from Denmark to Iceland and put together a ride for a seven day round trip. All set! Well, I just needed to wake up the XBR out of her hibernation. Not that there would be a lot of things to do (it’s a Honda!), but the bike had to be nursed a bit. Luckily I had already done an oil change and welded my luggage rack. The tires were still in a good condition, but I decided to swap them for new ones for I have heard of the abrasive roads on Iceland. I noticed that the front break worked not smooth enough and cleaned all moving parts of the break caliper, but still no improvement. Was it the brake master cylinder? In the end I discovered that the bolt in the break lever was rusty. I had also exchanged the front indicators as three brackets disintegrated when I tried to install them: the plasticizers had evaporated and the material gets brittle and breaks. Attaching the indicators to the lamp solved the problem. I also re-installed the small windshield and fixed the seat lock assay.
I did a test ride and concluded that the good ole XBR was ready for another trip.
Next weekend, I will start my ride to Hirtshals in Northern Denmark, easy going. More information will follow.
When I last took the K1600 to the dealer, I saw an announcement of a test ride day: riding some new BMW models. I have no intention to change my big beast, but why not try out things. The interesting temptation was to ride the biggest BMW ever built: the massive R 18. Let me quote the official advertisement by BMW:
“The R 18 Classic is a modern cruiser with a nostalgic sense of BMW design. It reminds one of the beginnings, of the first cruisers suitable for touring. It also invokes timeless marks of our motorcycle history, such as with the white double lining found on the R 18 Classic First Edition. The heart of the machine is obviously the boxer with the most displacement we have ever built. It stands for relaxing tours and pure enjoyment. For the R 18 Classic First Edition, we brought back to life distinctive characteristics from BMW Motorrad tradition: The First Edition is characterised by its white double lining and chrome design options as well as the sticker and logo.
An early, high torque ensures the powerful cruiser torque: The 1802 ccm twin-cylinder boxer engine of the R 18 Classic is the boxer with the most displacement we have ever built. An engine you can see, hear, and feel: It delivers its maximum torque of 158 Nm at 3000 rpm. From 2000 to 4000 rpm, it always delivers over 150 Nm, meaning a consistently high torque with the typical running characteristics of a boxer. At 4750 rpm, the Big Boxer delivers 67 kW (91 hp). Start every tour with some zip.”
I had reserved two slots today: one hour with the R 18 and one hour with the S1000XR, pretty much the opposite of the Big Boxer. I had to ride to Antwerp for this. Unfortunately, I learned that I had to ride in a group behind a guide that lead us for 30 min on some back roads. Not really what I had expected, but ok.
I had read a series of articles about the R18 and my impression was immediately: it’s all true. The seat it very low, like the centre of gravity. The bike is very easy to ride, despite its curb weight (345 kg). The design might be from the 30’s, but the ride is very smooth, super stable. The highlight is of course its massive motor. 900cc per cylinder. Oomph! >The sound is great, not too loud and annoying like so many other BMWs, but solid and quite attractive. I had the “Classic” model, i.e. with a wind shield and soft bags. And some flat boards. I had quite some trouble to shift the gears upwards. It was only after the ride that I realised that it had a heel toe shifter! The only thing that I noticed negatively: the max lean angle. I got the feet boards scratching on the ground by simply turning into another road! This is not a bike for canyon surfing…
Apart from the fantastic motor, what it so special about this cruiser? Well, unlike the Nine T, this is true retro. A truly beautiful bike. Full of citations, the quality is outstanding. Almost no plastic. Dedication for details. And what I like very much: simplicity. Modern bikes are full of bits and pieces that were somehow attached to the bike, without taste or aesthetics. This is back to simple design. Simply great to watch. I add a few pictures.
The next ride was with the S1000XR. Of course too slow in the group. The bike is the opposite of the Big Boxer. Plastic, high seat, TFT monitor, 4 cylinder high rev engine. Enormous power. A true fun bike.
So, would I buy a R 18? Well, I’m not a cruiser guy. But if I had to make a choice, the R 18 is a great bike to ride, with a great personality. And the looks are just great. Finally a modern retro bike that makes sense.
I rode home on my K1600 and concluded that it was a fantastic bike as well. One that suits me much better. Cruising or bombing along, it’s up to me.
This year’s review is a quite different. Well, the whole year was „different“. Maybe you noticed that the heading is not called „motorcycling review 2020“, but „a 2020 review on two wheels“. There is a reason. It has something to do with a small virus that changed many plans, also mine. It had planned to do a trip to the Western Balkans with my mate Stefan in June, visiting all the white spots on my imaginary maps. But this trip had to be postponed like so many things.
First, it started quite normal. End of January, I visited John’s gathering at the Pottal Pool House. I took the Chunnel train Friday evening and stay at the same cozy Inn in Thurnham like the year before. In the morning it was very cold and I had to de-frost the BMW before I could set off. With rising temperatures in sunshine and the heated gear, the ride to Cannock was a piece of cake. When I arrived at the roundabout next to John’s house, I thought I heard a starting jet plane. What the…? Before I entered the yard, it occurred to me what was going on….surrounded by some 50 bikers, John had started his „Easy Rider Jet“ moped. A curiosity. Impressive. Madness. Fun.
I met a lot of known English riders and had a lot of nice talks. I stayed for the night at John’s place and his hospitality was very generous as usual. The next morning, I returned home, not knowing that this weekend was my only multi-day motorbike trip in the whole of 2020.
Suddenly, the pandemic kicked in and just before Belgium went into lockdown, I did a final short ride with the „6“. Over the next weeks, I kept myself busy with a hilarious attempt to paint the panniers of the old Pan and another cowl for the one seater. I had found one in ebay and wanted to replace the one with an auxiliary tank. Do you know „oil change for men“? It slowly turned into this…
After the grinding and filling of the panniers, I applied a layer of primer, I realised that I had ordered the wrong colour!
Right, I had to order the correct primer and topcoat paint. After the base layer and the top layer, I realised the the colour was not the correct tone.
Bad quality. I ordered ANOTHER set of spray cans from another supplier, this time the colour should be right. I applied another layer of base paint. A first layer of top paint. And then happened what had to happen. Dust, flies and paint tears made the parts look like….. dung. I ordered special products to grind down of all the imperfections. Another top layers (several). Looked good.
However, the last step (colourless varnish) did not seem to have worked properly, maybe the hardener did not do its job. Anyway, the job was finished. Looks ok, but I could have carried the parts to a professional painter, saving a lot of time and money. But, as I said, it was like an oil change for men….
I did a nice test ride with Pan. In June, I did a test ride with the cleaned XBR. In the following months, I did two short day trips to Luxemburg (I wanted to see some winding roads) and one quick ride to the Netherlands. And…..that was it. This was the motorbike year. Less than 3000 km. Never in my whole life since I was 15, I had done less kilometres in a year. Thank you, SARS-CoV-2!
In April, the article about my trip the Japan was published in „Motorrad Classic“. Very nice. It does not happen very often to see your face in a magazine.
This could be a short post, but remember, the article is about „two wheels“.
I always liked to cycle a lot, but in 2020, I was on fire. I cycled more than ever. During the last Christmas holidays, I did a lot of cycling in the mountains north of Valencia. When I climbed up the mountains on my old, but trusted Stevens hybride bike, an idea ripped in my brain: what about an e-bike? My intention was to cycle more to work, and this should lower the bar to cycle more and more often. One thing was clear: I wanted to have a speed pedelec (max. speed 45 km/h). I did a lot of research and tested extensively two brands: Stromer (the Swiss cycling equivalent to Mercedes-Benz) and M1-Sporttechnik (the Bavarian cycling equivalent to an Audi Sport Quattro S1). In the end, I ordered the M1 Spitzing, for a number of reasons. The bike is a multi purpose tool: I can blast to work if I want, or I can ride off-road on single trails. It is a full suspension, top-notch mountain bike with premium parts. The most powerful motor on the European market. AND it is produced 7 km from my Bavarian home place. Named after my favourite home mountain area, I had no other option than buying it 🙂 .
But first, I needed to order and wait for it. In the emerging COVID crisis, I cycled a lot with my old Stevens bike. I am using the Komoot app a lot, but this year I started to discover a lot of mountain bike routes in Belgium. Crossing the nearby border to the Netherlands wasn’t an option for most of the year, so I did a lot of cycling in the provinces of Antwerp and Limburg.
As I publish a lot of trips on my Komoot page, enriched with comments and nice pictures, I collected a lot of followers and points. Over the year, I visited lots of very nice places and routes.
Finally, I received by new bike on April 24 at noon. Wow, what a sight! I managed to get one of the last bikes of the old series that still has a higher top power than the newer „Evolution“ model.
I had to wait until after work to make my first test ride. I set off for a ride on the nearby mountain bike track. In the next hour, I blasted 28 km through the forest on small and large tracks. What a performance! Breathtaking! I was flying over the bumps. Deeply impressed, I returned home. Hmmm, I should still go to the grocery store. Why driving if I could take the new bike? Grab the backpack and take off, it’s only 30 minutes until they closed. I zoomed down my dead end street and wanted to turn around the corner. What happened next seemed like a film in ultra slow motion…to my surprise, there was an oncoming car in my trajectory!!! I did what I was used to do on my old bike: full slam on the breaks! While this might be a good idea on a hardtail bike with hydraulic rim breaks, it it is a very bad idea if the bike is equipped with brutal, hydraulic, four-piston disc breaks. Add this to a still unadjusted, too low damping suspension, and you get the perfect recipe to turn a kinetic energy of 9500 J directly into rotational motion, ultimately heating temporarily the impacted surface of the street by an estimated 1.2 degrees centigrade.
During my flight, I realised that the car was….a police car! F……k!!! I remembered that my bike did not have a road registration yet, there was only an empty number plate holder…meaning I was riding a not road legal vehicle….damn! After my salto, I quickly picked myself up, picked up the bike and leaned it against a wall with the empty number plate holder facing away from the two policemen who got out of the car, asking if I was alright. I mumbled something like „yeah, alright, no problem, I’m fine“….“but you’re bleeding“…“Oh?“ I touched my chin…indeed, the pulsating pain correlated with a big patch of blood in my hand. I felt in my mouth that at least two teeth were damaged…„ah, no problem, that’s nothing!“ I wanted to keep them away from the bike. „Can we help you?“…“Nono, I’m fine, I live not far from here in this street“….“Should we bring you home?“ Hell, no! „Thanks a lot, but I live 50 metres from, see, there, down the street“. They seemed convinced and wished me well…I pushed the damaged bike back home. Next stop hospital, emergency room. In the middle of a corona crisis, fantastic!
In the next two hours, I filled in the papers, by bruises and scratches were treated by some fantastic professionals and the big wound on my chin was stitched with three stitches. I also established contact with a dentistry help line, arranging a corona test and an emergency appointment at the University Hospital of Leuven.
Back home, I had a look at the poor bike: the control display shattered, the left break lever brace broken…the bike needed some thorough fixing!
Meanwhile, at the butcher, the young lads in the dental faculty in Leuven chiseled the smashed tooth out of my jaw. Yes, they chiseled. Pulling didn’t work, apparently they didn’t have a cutter…so they chiseled like some berserks. BAM – BAM – BAM!!! A traumatic experience, not to be repeated.
So the start with the new bike was suboptimal and I had to wait ten weeks (!) until I got it back from the dealer. In the meantime, I did more riding with my old Stevens. My bruises healed slowly (my right index finger still isn’t fully recovered) in the meantime. I understood was was going on: I had slammed so hard on the brakes that my chin smashed against the handlebar? lamp? and split one molar tooth completely and ruined another one partly. The latter could be saved, but the smashed one required a pontic later in the year. My first buy was a full face helmet, the bike’s top speed merited good protection. I had found out that the inner shell of the old helmet was completely smashed, gulp!
Later in the year, I got more and more protection. If you really want to blast on bumpy tracks with a 30, 35, 40 km/h or more, you better want to protect your head, knees, elbows, shoulders, back and chest. In November, I got me a closed downhill helmet with googles. Snugly for very low temperatures around the freezing point. I also invested a lot in optimising the outfit of the bike and the rider. As I had basically no expenses for motorbiking, I could afford it easily.
I finally could ride more advanced tracks and I was enjoying it. For the first time, I had a top notch full suspension mountain bike. AND the most powerful e-bike on the European market. A fantastic combination! In the past five and a half months, I rode a lot with it, in total 4300 km(!). As it was my intention, I commuted to work a lot (that’s some 28 km per day) AND I discovered a lot of new tracks in north-east Flanders. In September, I finally convinced MJ to do some long-distance touristic weekend rides together. We did a ride to Leuven and one to the Maas at the Eastern Belgian border. Each of the rides was a 160 two-day roundtrip and we both enjoyed it a lot. To be repeated next year!
I found out that I could push the range of my battery with a low speed. Now I know that the range depends if I go in „Hooray!“ mode (range 35 km) or in „Snail“ mode (range 90 km), anything in between is possible, depending on the riding style. Later in the year, I got me a second battery, from now on, I don’t have to worry about my range and just can have fun. And what a fun it is! Most people think that an electric bike rides on its own. Very wrong. The more you push, the more power you get back. You don’t realise how much you are pushing yourself. Very often, I arrive panting at work although I thought I had an easy ride.
The bike just asks for more, more, more. Pretty much like a juicy KTM motorbike. And it’s fun, fun, fun. Over the year, I lost quite some kilos without getting knee pain from stressing the joints too much under high load.
As some normal holidays were impossible, I spent twice two weeks at my someplace and did also some nice rides there, taking the „Spitzing“ bike to the Spitzing Mountains. I enjoyed blasting up the mountains. Unfortunately, too many stupid bikers have ruined mountain biking there and biking is only allowed on fire roads. But still, you can get up to visit some huts and have some fantastic views.
At the end of the year, I have to conclude that I did some 3000 km on motorbikes and some 6000 km on the two bicycles! I’m sure there will be better motorbiking years again, but I definitively want to keep up the strong biking performance, it has given my fitness a boost that I want to keep.
Here is what my Komoot summary says.
I add some of the best cycling pictures of this year as well:
For all the non-German speakers: here is the English translation of the text:
Of course, three decades connect, and the man would never give up his half-litre bike. Nevertheless, nobody thinks that Robert Koeber decided out of gratitude to make the pilgrimage to Kumamoto with an XBR 500. Across Russia to the Japanese Sea, then ferry, finally photo in front of the Honda plant. No, this Bavarian does so many crazy things with his motorcycles that the Honda shouldn’t think too much about it. Perhaps its origins were just an excuse to finally go to Vladivostok by land – and then across the Japanese Sea. After all Koeber has, among other things, an old Honda Pan European and a posh BMW K 1600 GT and acknowledges with a smile: “If I want to arrive somewhere for sure, I’ll take the XBR.”
So it is in his good books? Even before the Far East trip, this judgment was based on well over 350,000 kilometers together. Correctly read. 350,000 kilometers, collected on countless alpine tours, extensive trips through nearby and distant countries. The old lady had even traveled to North America, but more about that later.
So Japan then. The idea had been conceived while studying a world map many years ago, but had to wait for various reasons, until it finally materialised in spring 2019. One of the bureaucratic monsters that unfortunately affects any long-distance trip was that Japan does not allow motor vehicles registered in Germany on its roads. But it does accept them from Belgium, and that’s a solution, because Robert now lives and works there, and so he sacrificed his 32-year-old number plate. Otherwise, he trusted the tried-and-tested set-up, to say: a fully standard engine, but ventilated by a new Mikuni flat slide carburettor, a standard fork, Ikon struts and a massively reinforced frame. Not to forget the taller handlebar of a Honda Bol d’Or and the lush day-long seat, a part custom-made by the US specialist Russell that even takes into account seating position, size and weight.
When he leaves on May 30th, Robert is not alone. As planned three years earlier, the Englishman John Young, an old hand on an almost as old Triumph Trident, accompanied him. The men know each other, are friends. “Otherwise you can’t do that, trust is important.” The planned trip is ambitious, 17 days should suffice to get to Vladivostok. But John has to admit that this tight travel plan overwhelms the Triumph as well as himself at this point, and trust pays off even in such hardships. He doesn’t need to spend a lot of time to explain himself, he just quits in Moscow, amicably. Until then, crossing the border into Russia had been the greatest adventure. Waiting over twelve hours with a growing fear of possibly not being able to cross. The road conditions east of Moscow would soon be entertaining.
The XBR knows that. Syria, Namibia and Malawi are not exactly known for consistently smooth asphalt. These and many other countries in the Middle East, Europe and Africa have taught Robert that long-distance travel does not require a large enduro. “But a light, frugal motorcycle.” A simple system, the monitoring of which has became second nature, the mechanical sounds that are as familiar as your own breath. Actually a matter of course since motorcyclists have gone on long journeys, unfortunately this has been somewhat forgotten, because electronic assistance systems nowadays promise comfort. Until the first fall, when the whole cart goes on strike just because it has lost a turn signal.
Can’t happen with the XBR. But it also needs tyres, and because of the tight schedule and the expected thin workshop network, Robert drags two complete wheels through Siberia. He carries spark plugs, hand levers, clutch cable, speedometer cable, brake pads, ignition coil and CDI box on spare parts; He can leave the rocker arm and camshaft at home: Because the valve stem seals had to be replaced shortly before the start, he has a clear view of the condition of the cylinder head. If anything, the XBR engine can cause grief in the sophisticated control of its radially arranged four valves. Most likely a rocker arm or the camshaft itself. But not with this engine …
And anyway: Even with the rocker arm completely ground away, this XBR has already brought him home. He has never ever broke down with it since 1987. It was a used vehicle, two years old, just a few kilometers. The student Koeber had still enjoyed the test ride with a nominal 44 HP, but as he only had the small license, the power had to be reduced at first. Little by little the money borrowed from the father was paid back. The XBR fits. It also fits while studying chemistry, because nothing ever really broke, the Bavarian-born was able to spend the little money he had left in the Alps. He finishes the first 100,000 km five years after the purchase, and needed another seven for the second.
When Robert reached Lake Baikal on June 9, 2019, the speedometer of his XBR was almost four times around. The two of them pull off between 700 and 800 kilometers a day and are fully on schedule. The system works, in the evening the XBR gets around 0.2 liters of oil; when the road is smooth, it is allowed to run at a good 110 km/h and feels extremely comfortable. Only the carburettor that overflows from time to time is a bit worrying. And sometimes the construction site density or long deep gravel sections. They can mess up the average quite a bit, then it will take longer to the planned hotel – and writing the blog. “Actually, I’ve always written a travel diary,” reveals Robert, but this time he takes it very seriously and reports on the latest news. Maybe because so many – “Often over 700!” – are following his trip?
In Vladivostok, horse and rider take a short break, the ferry via South Korea to Japan only leaves in three days. Time enough to take care of the good Honda and mount her spare wheels. So it would not have been necessary to drag them along, because there are plenty of workshops in Japan.
„Well, not really.“ The experienced long-distance traveler has to smile. “Just because you don’t need a part on a trip, you can’t leave it at home. Spare parts work like insurance. “Okay, we understand. This time Robert needed insurance against broken speedometer cables somewhere behind Krasnoyarsk, which he booked with the wheels under necessary expenses. And he tells his followers right away that the old Comstar wheels, including the worn tyres, have landed in a scrap yard in Vladivostok.
He no longer needs them. In addition to its Japan-XBR, there is still an almost new one with only 3000 kilometers, another with a really brisk 600 engine and lots of parts. Once it became clear that this Honda belonged to him, Robert struck time and again. And so there were always good engines that he only had to install. His number one XBR is currently running, blubb-blubb-blubb, with engine number six. “The engines never went, but the new ones just ran better.” And he immediately added that a good buddy had made over 155,000 kilometers with the first engine.
In Japan, he has to discover that the bikers there pay more attention to Yamaha’s SR than his beloved Honda. No problem, he dived into the breathless collection of cultural and historical impressions anyway, experiencing enchanted landscapes, Japanese warmth and perfection, enjoying wonderful food. “A fabulous travel destination full of polite people.” In between, he still pursues the goal of his trip: The XBR 500 is supposed to see its place of birth, the large Honda plant in Kumamoto. Robert would love to visit the factory and did some research on the way. This is theoretically possible, but requires a written application months in advance. In Japanese. His attempts to arrange something via Honda Germany had resulted in deep frustration with the Offenbachers. Unfortunately, the gatekeepers on site remain unaffected by his history and long journey, and so he glances to the factory just as wistfully as the XBR. No entry.
This journey took a full 40 days, and since October the Honda is back in Belgium. Mileage: 384,000 km. A brand new engine is stored next to her parking lot in Robert’s garage. So the story will continue, of course, and preferably again to North America. To the Iron Butt Rally. No, to THE Iron Butt Rally. Robert already contested in such a scavenger hunt with his XBR in 2002 and was immediately enthusiastic. Planning, discipline, perseverance – everything made for him. The old guys will remember that the legendary Scout trophy once fascinated many leather butts in Germany. Iron Butt works in a similar way: Between some more or less distant waypoints, there are destinations whose documented visit brings more or fewer points.
The mother of all Iron Butt rallies is held in the United States and lasts eleven days. You have to be invited to it. Because Robert and his XBR already were successful in Europe, they were allowed to start in 2013 in the hopeless class. If you want to win, drive Pan European, Gold Wing or Yamaha FJR. Robert just wanted to get there at the finish, be a finisher, and he gave it all: changing tyres had taken him many hours, finally he could leave Pittsburgh. He paused at the Mississippi, and at some point he looked for a hotel. There was none. When one popped up, he was wide awake and continued. A storm kept him awake in Wyoming; when he got off his day long seat in Salt Lake City, he had rode 3500 kilometers in one go. He arrived at finish without being an official finisher due to a lack of sufficient points, because at some point the transmission went on strike and only knew third gear. On his XBR! On THIS XBR. When it was over, all the gears came back little by little. Nevertheless or precisely because: the XBR owns him one.
The motorbiking review 2019
This year was dominated by one big trip, the one to Japan. But some other things happened as well, although in a more limited way: when you spend almost six weeks on a big trip, there is little time left for other things. But that’s all right.
If 2018 was a K1600GT year, 2019 was a XBR500 year. The „beast’ rolled only 10.000 km this year. This is not a problem, it means it stays longer „fresh“ and if I would do every year 36.000 km like in 2018, the nice new bike wouldn’t stay nice and new. Instead, I did some 20.000 km on XBRs, more than in many years.
As I had committed myself to develop and run a 12 hour Magic12 rally in Belgium, I started in winter and spring to scout and visit the rally locations. The plan was to include a lot of weird places in the rally. In this process, I discovered a lot of bizarre spots in Belgium, these were funny trips.
I used my ST1000 Pan European for the first time since 2017 for these trips. I had fixed all issues after the Iron Butt Rally in 2017, at least I thought. I had placed a new after market fuel pump, but the bike was running too rich, in the end it even „extinguished“ the sparks. Well, it turned out that the pump built up too much pressure and as it didn’t fit into the hose, the pressure restrictor could not be used. Thanks to Johannes and his provided original pump, the bike was running fine again.
In March and April I was busy with preparations for the Japan trip: as Japan does not allow German registered vehicles into Japan, I had to give up my 32 year old classic number plate and ask for a Belgian one. What a sacrifice. But as it turned out later, this was necessary to get the trip done. I had to build the tyre rack for the XBR, one of the most ingenious and crazy ideas I ever had. Thanks to Stefan, the problem of the smoking XBR was resolved last minute and the big trip could start.
Just before the trip, I attended my 9th Brit Butt Rally in May. After winning the previous four rallies between 2015 and 2018, I wanted to have some fun and go to Scotland. This wish materialised and my cunning plan included going to Inverness, Skye, Fort William before returning to Wales and England. In the first 12 hours, I was well following the plan which in retrospect should have resulted in another win this year.
However, a leaking front tyre on the K1600GT destroyed this plan as I had no electric pump with me (’tis broken). As regular inflating did not work well, continued riding in the rainy Highlands was not possible. I called the day early in my pre-reserved hotel in Fort William.
Martin Buck gave me his electric pump, this was so much appreciated. Some phone calls revealed that I could not get help from a tyre shop until two days later. This meant the rally was over, the objective was now to return to the rally HQ. Cold-heartedly, I increased the tyre pressure to over 4 bars (80 psi) in order to get to Glasgow. Quite breathtaking, riding like this on wet Highland roads. In Glasgow I inflated again. At the next service station on the motorway, I discovered that a huge oil puddle was forming under my bike which resulted from a run-over kerb of a petrol station in Fort William where I had spotted a pump. This was the end of the trip for the BMW. The famous John Young rescue service jumped in action and some hours later, we loaded my bike in his van; I took his bike, retrieved my luggage from the rally HQ and returned to Belgium on his bike. John delivered my bike to the local BMW service in Wolverhampton where it received a new oil sump. It was also discovered that the root cause was a not perfectly fixed tyre valve, I had my tyres changed just before the rally. When I was in Japan, John brought my bike in this van to Belgium and picked up his own bike. In other words: WOW!
I have written enough about the fantastic trip to Russia and Japan this year, but here is the recap again. If it wouldn’t be such a long trip, I would like to repeat and visit the Northern part of Japan as well. The XBR arrived late in Antwerp, but it arrived in considerably less time than in 2017/2018, i.e. in three instead eight months. With papers this time.
Back at home, I finally finished the project to get my grey „Café Racer“ XBR500 on track. The bike had received a 600cc motor, a new Mikuni sports carb and a big, open sport air filter in lieu of the big, bulky air box. New, stylish indicators needed a new electronic relay. Now I wanted to pass the „HU“ („MOT“) for the first time in 12 (!) years. Choosing the right station (young examiners have no idea of old motorbikes anymore) and attenuating the mighty sound coming from the air filter (with the help of a towel) were key in obtaining the needed sticker. The bike was in an excellent shape for the next trip: another XBR-Alpentour in the Alps (obviously).
From 1994 to 2014, I had organised a yearly XBR-Alpentour in August, ranging from four to ten riding days per event. After a decline in participant numbers, I stopped in 2015. This year, my old friends and I decided to revive it again and to do another tour together in the Northern Italian Alps, just the highlights of the Trentino and Veneto. Great roads, great biking, great company. The only downside was that we had to deliver Mario to a hospital with a broken clavicle on the last day. This was a bit of a bummer, but he’s already back on track. The sporty, grey XBR ran fantastic, what a fun! It felt indeed like in the old days.
After a lot of final preparations, I acted as rally master for the Magic12 rally in Belgium. I hosted Bob Stammers who introduced me into electronic scoring with his software. The rally lasted 12 hours, only on Belgian soil, had individual starting points and a common finish on a boat where we also had dinner and the ceremony. Apart from some hiccups (nothing ever runs perfect), the rally was a success IMO and I received good appraisal from participants. The rally was overshadowed by the accident of John Young on his Triumph Trident in Antwerp the day before the rally; he had also broken his clavicle, in a painful way. During the rally, the rally team sorted out his repatriation to England and arranged the storage of his bike in my garage.
Three weeks later, I participated in the smallest rally in the yearly rally calendar: the eight hour Jorvik Rally in Yorkshire. I wanted to participate at least once successfully in a rally this year. I could kill two birds with one stone: I rented a big van, put John’s Trident and my XBR600 in there and returned John’s bike. The next day, I participated in the rally. I was quite nice to ride with the small XBR through the scenic Yorkshire backroads. When the rain was gone and the roads got dry, it was real fun! The finish was located at the famous Squires Café. The little XBR won its first rally, but the motor already its third. Power is not decisive in short rallies, agility is much more of the essence.
Back in Belgium, I started the planning for the next Alpenbutt Rally in 2021 when something very unexpected happened. Out of the blue, I was confronted with a wave of allegedly very negative feedback about the rallies I had organised as a rally master so far. Allegedly, they were so bad that the future of IBA Germany’s rallies was supposed to be in question. It sounded as if all my contributions to the work of the IBAG in the last years were a total disaster.
I know that nothing is ever perfect and that you never can please all people. I was aware of some shortcomings that should be improved and had plans for it. I am always open to constructive criticism and had always been super transparent about the rally planning in detail. I had always announced to make demanding rallies so no-one should be surprised when they actually are….demanding. The wave of positive feedback I had received, especially for the Alpenbutt Rally in 2017, had been so overwhelming that no grumpy hecklers can take this away.
However, what took me by surprise was the negativity, aggression and breach of trust I was confronted with. I am always prepared to discuss anything in a fair and open way, but when things turn sour, intimidating and personal, that’s where it ends. That’s the moment when you have to take a decision. And there was only one option: to stop any activity for the IBA Germany. So no more organisation of rides or rallies for me. No more Alpenbutt Rally. Enough is enough.
It is not a look back in anger. I had invested a lot in this during the last years and it was fun while it lasted. I realise now how busy these activities kept me in the last five years. It’s time to move on and to close a door behind me. Let’s look forward.
could not materialise, I rented a new BMW 1250 GS for two days. I rode up and down my favourite roads at the Costa Brava and its hinterland and had a great time. At a certain point, I got „sea sick“ after surfing through myriads of fantastic bends. It is understandable why the GS has won the „Alpenmasters“ trophy by MOTORRAD so many times. A very balanced motorbike that is a very good compromise for different riding styles and roads. I really enjoyed it. But it is also clear that there are better bikes for this kind of roads. It’s its versatility that makes it so attractive.
Back in Germany, I managed to get the HU (MOT) for my 2000 km, collector-item, brand-new looking and riding XBR500, for the first time since 2004 (it’s basically only standing in the shed)! And I managed! I rode some 200 km with it, more than in the last 18 years. It’s fantastic to ride with this bike when everything is working perfectly and has the feel of a bike fresh from the plant.
And this was already the end of this year’s riding for me. No winter riding for me currently. Anyway, it should be time to get my gear in order. All of it needs a thorough wash and some repair (I burnt my trouser legs on the XBR).
In late October, I got a visit from Fred Siemer, a known journalist from MOTORRAD CLASSIC. He visited me a whole day and asked me lots of questions. Thanks to choice from mainet.de for arranging this contact. Fred plans to write an article about the XBR’s trip to Japan this year. Let’s see what comes out of it.
So what’s on the menu for 2020? Well, I have realised one thing: from 1994 onwards, I was always busy arranging some great motorbiking for others, be it the Alpentours, IBA rides or rallies. I like to share my knowledge with other people.
In 2020, it is the first time that I have no plans for this. My calendar is absolutely empty. This opens completely new possibilities! In the long term, I still want to visit South America, but let’s focus on Europe first. There are still some white spots on the maps, countries that I haven’t visited with the XBR yet. I decided to call these places the „missing 15“. They were left aside up to now, so let’s make it an objective to visit them all, without a time limit. Countries include: Albania, Andorra, Belarus, Bosnia-Hercegowina, Cyprus, Estonia, Iceland, Kosovo, Malta, Moldavia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Portugal, San Marino, Ukraine.
Riding with a XBR500 to Japan – a résumé
When I sat in front of a world map some 15 years ago and asked myself which travels I should add to my bucket list, a journey to Japan came to my mind. As I prefer to ride and not fly to distant places, the route was basically determined – there is only one direct route to Japan – and it leads through Russia, passing Moscow and the Lake Baikal, leading to Vladivostok at the Pacific coast. Another idea was to bring back the XBR to its home place. It seemed something obvious.
A higher priority had to trip through Africa, I wanted to do this first. The third trip was a journey through South America, this is the one that is left now.
It took many years to make this happen, but now it’s over. Let’s have a look back what has happened in these 40 days. 40 days are an important number in mythology, many famous trips of askesis and alleged enlightenment took 40 days. During the actual journeys, you encounter a lot of situations when you say to yourself: ‚I need to remember this!‘. However, many of these little anecdotes get lost along the way. Often they are forgotten or later not deemed important enough to make it to a daily report. There is also the daily pressure to write a report in the evening, sometimes you’re just too tired to remember everything. When you’re travelling alone, you can maintain a daily reporting schedule. What really drives you then is the pressure that you run into a back log of reports, and that’s what you want to avoid. In order to note down the impressions during a trip, I had been thinking of a technical solution based on speech-to text recording while riding, but this has not materialised yet.
Let’s approach this look back in a Japanese or German manner, properly structured, in an organised way!! LOL
In contrast to the trip to Africa in 2011, my preparations started rather late and in a relaxed way. After a series of long distance journeys in the last 15 years with no or manageable problems (Syria and Lebanon, Tunisia, Oman and Iran, Ironbutt Rally in USA and Canada, Kenya to Namibia), I had apparently gained so much confidence in the XBR, that I felt very relaxed about the upcoming adventure. I would have liked to do more testing kilometres before, but the set-up was well known, except for the tyre rack. This was the part that I was most nervous about. Luckily the problem with the valve seal popped up just in time and I’m so thankful to Stefan that he could make some time and help me fixing this. Apart from this, the making of the tyre rack (thanks to Heinz for his help) was the most time consuming preparation.
For the rest, I was carrying lots of spares I knew that I would not need them, but, just in case….it could be a show stopper when a small part breaks down and you cannot replace it.
The change from the German to the Belgian bike registration was tedious, but necessary. Without it, I could not have started nor ended the trip. This bureaucratic procedure absorbed much of my attention in the months before the start.
My decision to leave a lot of luggage at home was absolutely right. I had already some overweight due to the spare wheels, but the riding was so much better. I could wash part of my clothes, so carrying only a small selection of clothes is absolutely sufficient.
So this low level of preparation was absolutely appropriate.
The performance of the bike
Well, what can I say…Could it be any better? The only ‚repair‘ in 15.000 km was a worn speedometer cable, one lost and one loose bolt! OK, one bolt of the rack I could not tighten, but it didn’t matter. The biggest nuisance was probably the occasionally leaking carb, but this is an after-market part and should not have given me this problem, after all it was new. As long as its happened only occasionally, I tried to avoid opening the carburettor.
The gear box is XBR-untypical clunky, but it is doing its job! The rest….close to perfection. The oil consumption was ok, in the midrange with 5 L in 15.000 km. It’s an air-cooled one cylinder motor from 1985 that was pushed through Russia, not at top speed, but not very smooth either.
The motor did what a XBR motor does all the time: its job. Steadily and reliable. I treated it with care though. Not so much out of consideration for the motor, but for all the other parts.
What surprised me more was the quiet suffering of the other moving parts that are not related to motor or transmission. Wheels, bearings, the frame and above all the suspension took a million hits. The bike had seen worse roads, but it was the sheer quantity of bumps, potholes, ramps and gravel that put the shocks under great pressure. I’m really impressed by this. I’m using reinforced after-market IKON shocks, but still, they are more than 90.000 km old and deserve some proper maintenance now.
Was it really necessary to carry two entire wheels through Russia, carry the extra weight and risking a fall on slippery roads? In retrospect: no. But still my thinking was correct. I had assumed that the tyres would last until Vladivostok, but the decision was subjected to a rigorous prioritisation. This is also the basis for good rally results: What are you top priorities? Getting to Vladivostok in little time without the risk of a huge problem due to a lack of tyre changers or flat tyres in Eastern Siberia? There you go!
Splitting the team
John asked me some years ago if he could join the trip and later he changed his part to a RTW trip. I welcomed him as a team member as I knew he is a tough guy and has proven his endurance in a lot of rallies and trips. We have always good conversations and get along with each other very well. This is an important point when you go on an adventurous trip. Group dynamics can destroy any party but the personal component was on track in this team. His bike had finished the Ironbutt Rally in 2011 and proven its durability.
However, it was some months before the trip when things did not go so well for him. You can plan things for years, and then life takes a different turn. The circle of life is something nobody has control over and fate always strikes at the wrong time. So John had other, more important things to do that kept him busy in the weeks before the start of the trip. Not only was he delayed in looking after his bike, but also his mental balance could not be unaffected. So the last weeks before the set-off were not optimal for him. It was worrying me a bit as I knew that we had a tough ride in front of us, we had no other option than to catch the ferry in Vladivostok. This was quite some psychological burden for me, but it was even more for John.
During the three and a half days we rode together, I noticed that this was not the normal John Young I knew. He was quickly physically and mentally exhausted and the tough part of the trip had not even begun. I tried to cheer him up and hoped that he still would find his way into the trip, getting into the flow.
I know that it must have been a tough decision for him to pull out so quickly, but I know it showed great quality. He assessed his situation, considering the performance of his bike and took the right decision at the right time. This is an important quality of long distance riders to know when they have to pull the plug. It’s never an easy decision, but there are more important things in life that play a role. An exhausted rider is a danger to himself and to others. During the rider meetings of the Ironbutt Rally, riders are strongly reminded that they are not alone in this world, it’s their families and loved ones who want them to return safely. So when a rider takes the difficult, but correct decision to pull out, it shows great responsibility. I know that John also did not want to affect my trip as well and I am very grateful for his consideration. This trip together did not work out, but there will be other opportunities.
It is normal to be nervous before large, adventurous trips. You don’t know what is ahead of you. You can read about it, but you’ll only know when you finally get there. For this trip, no gravel roads were planned, but I had heard frightening stories about the roads in Eastern Russia. That was a reason of concern for me. My bike is small and carries a lot of weight. Its luggage rack is reinforced, it has the best front and back suspension you can get for this bike, but every material can only take a certain amount of physical stress before it breaks. Slippery surfaces were also a big concern, the front wheel could lose grip and any fall, as small as it fight be, could be the end of the trip. Remember the priority setting?
In the end, roads were much better than expected in Russia. The construction of the trans-Siberian highway has made a lot of progress and road surfaces improve every years. There are still a lot of contraction sites, but they will be gone in the next year. New ones will come, but the quality of roads improve quickly. The part between Ulan-Ude and Vladivostok was a nightmare, but now most of these 3000 km are quite ok and no problem for adventure bikes. My XBR may be adventurous, but one has to be careful though.
As expected, Japanese roads are excellent, also in the mountains. The only annoying thing is the slow traffic in urban areas, it is very safe, but painfully slow. Motorways and rural roads are ok though because nobody respects the ridiculously low speed limits of 40 or 50 km/h on normal roads and 70 or 80 km/h on motorways.
My initial plan was to go in August/September. The reason was to have warm temperatures in Siberia and avoiding the humidity in Japan. However, John could only go in June, so we set the start date to end of May. It could have been much worse, very cold in Siberia and permanent torrential rain in Japan during the rainy season. However, it wasn’t.
There were a few cool days in Siberia, some rainy, but I never had a whole day of rain. In Eastern Siberia, temperatures were ok. In Japan, it was very warm and humid. The first days were quite nice, but then the rainy season started. Rain was not too hard and lasted only for some hours. It could have been much worse.
So overall I think I was quite lucky.
Well, the priorities were very simple during this trip:
- Don’t fall.
- Stay healthy. (this is linked to 1.)
- Have fun.
I am very happy that I accomplished all of them. Despite many critical situations, I managed to keep the bike upright and the black side down.
I stayed healthy, Mr Montezuma could not find me. I am even healthier than before.
And I had a lot of fun, saw and experienced a lot of new things and made the acquaintance of great people.
5 L motor oil
~ 0.8 L chain lube
One motor oil change
One speedo cable
Three Russian tickets with ‚supplementary‘ fees
One Japanese warning
A whole travel budget well spent
Lots of new people met
Highest number of daily visits of my blog ever (724, July 2nd)
Problems (‚challenges‘ in Newspeak)
Well, very little actually.
The border crossing into Russia. The 12.5 hours set my own new personal record.
The annoying theft of my left side cover in Nizhny Novgorod. Had no consequences.
The aggressive watchdog of the hotel in Ufa. Escaped.
The horror road avoiding Kasachstan. Stayed on the bike.
The loose and broken luggage rack. Solved, I carried cable ties.
The rumble in the jungle in Ulan-Ude. I carried imodium.
The supposedly failing gearbox. It wasn’t. M10 key is your friend.
The unclear situation at the drop-off. As usual, it all turns out fine.
The people along the way
Although I crossed seven countries during the ride, there are only two where I truly met people: Russia and Japan. I’ve spent over five weeks in both countries so I it is safe to say that I gained a little insight into the mentality of the two countries. It is of course only scratching the surface, a first impression. Overall (as usual), I met a lot of nice and friendly people along the way, in line with the famous quote of Mark Twain: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” I try hard to remember negative encounters and it is really difficult. Hmmmm…my stolen side cover in Nizhni Novgorod…the bloody watchdog in Ufa….the unfriendly ladies in the hotel in Sayansk…same for the hotel in Skovorodino…some ladies in some petrol stations in the Russian east…cheating petrol stations near the Baikal…the Japanese bus driver that shouted at me “あと!!! (ato/later!)” when I got on the bus and made three attempts to pay for a ticket without understanding that you had to pay when leaving the bus. But….I think that’s about it.
On the other side of the balance, however, there are many nice memories of meeting people such as…the Austrian bikers in Lithuania…the people in the queue at the Russian border…little chats with Russians at the petrol stations….chats with Russian riders…Alexandr from Moscow on his ST1300…the super-friendly receptionist in Krasnoyarsk…friendly pedestrians…lots of friendly waiters/waitresses…Yuri, the great fixer from Vladivostok…Tatiana and Ryo, two perfect fixers from DBS Ferries…Timoteo, the Spanish-speaking Russian in Vlad…the Japanese hospitality in ryokans…Japanese bikers…the people from Café Tippel…Japanese British car drivers…the mechanic from the Bike Bomber garage in Hida…the staff of Ryokan Yatsusankan in Hida…the papermaker in Ainokura…the taxi driver in Matsumoto…the policemen in Tokio….Aki and Toru from the “Desperado” bar in Tokio…Mrs Omiya and Mrs Takada from DHL in Nagoya…Ryo the bike guide in Kyoto…Seung and Rosalind from Singapore…the chef from Kashin in Kyoto…Professor Hidenaga-san from Tokyo…just to mention the most obvious.
Except the “grumpy” part between Ulan-Ude and Chabarowsk, people in Russia were very friendly and helpful. The attitude of the Japanese is just fantastic! Outstanding kindness and hospitality. Everyone tries very hard not to annoy other people, this is very relaxing. Interacting with other people is all about respect.
The food in Russia was quite good. I enjoyed the soups, the dishes, even in the Far East it was all right and had I no reminiscence of the behind-the-iron-curtain kitchen back before the fall of the Berlin wall.
Japan is paradise for foodies. It seems that Japanese think all the time about food, food, food. It’s everywhere, in different forms and levels, but always good. You can spend lots of money for fine dining or just have some simple, but delicious street food. Staying in ryokans means you have to skip lunch, the very elaborate breakfast is equivalent to a full English breakfast, only so much more delicious and sophisticated. The dinners there were always surprising and showed a reference to Japanese aesthetics. Many different styles and dishes offer something for everyone. The quality is ranging from good to outstanding. Freshness of ingredients is unmatched.
This blog exists for a while, eight years so far. There have been peaks of interest during longer trips (Africa, the Ironbutt Rally in 2013 and 2017), but I had not expected such a wave of visits, comments and positive feedback! A lot of people seemed to be pleased with it and I could see that there were not only regular, returning visitors, but also a spreading of the reports to the vastness that is called “the internet”. Much to my surprise, I received a lot of positive to enthusiastic comments from readers, especially from native speakers. This is very flattering, because I think that my English leaves a lot to be desired as I can’t express myself in the same way as I could in German, I am missing a lot of eloquence when writing in a foreign language. But a lot of the readers seem to have liked it, so I take notice with a pleased humbleness. Thank you all very much for your feedback!
Most memorable moments
The moment when 750 min of waiting time were over and we could finally leave the Russian border post…
The short visit to the Red Square in Moscow, having successfully made a picture…
Saying goodbye to John in Moscow, knowing it was the right decision for him…
The moment it rained for the first time in Russia on a terrible road and my adrenaline reached new heights…
When I realised that my “plan” for Russia was realistic and I could ‘pull this one off’…
Crossing the Volga in Nizhni Novgorod…
Riding through the endless taiga with grassland and birch trees…
Dealing with Russian policemen…
Leaving the horror road in Бердюжье (Berdyushye)…
Seeing the Lake Baikal for the first time…
Crossing the Amur River in Chabarovsk…
Riding 400 km of the last 700 km to Vladivostok in permanent alert mode…
Looking down on the Zolotoy Bridge in Vladivostok…
First view of the Japanese coastline…
Leaving the harbour in Sakaiminato…
Walking through the Peace Park in Hiroshima…
Eating Okonomiyaki in Hiroshima…
Visiting Miyayima island…
Riding around Shikanoshima island…
Eating Teppanyaki in Fukuoka…
Arriving at the Honda factory in Kumamoto…
Talking to the family of Café Tippel…
Riding in the caldera of Mount Aso…
Riding through the Iya valley on Shikoku island…
The oil change in Hida…
The stay in the ryokan Yatsusankan…
The thatched houses in Shirakawa-go and Gokayama…
The valleys in the Japanese Alps…
Ginza and the Tsukiji market in Tokyo…
The fun with Aki and Toru in the Desperado bar…
The successful goodbye to the XBR…
The ride in the Shinkansen…
The walking and cycling through Kyoto…
And many more!
A ride of a lifetime. Like my previous big journeys in the last 13 years, without any big issues. I arrived back home well rested and relaxed. This is due to a good planning, a careful execution of the plan, the absence of bad luck and a reliable motorcycle that carries you anywhere you want to go. Compared to what could have gone wrong, a perfect outcome. Before the trips, the adventure always seems so overpowering, but in retrospect, it was so easy to do. This is probably the broadening of one’s horizon that Mark Twain spoke about. With every journey, the world gets a bit smaller, but more familiar.
Saturday: My hotel provided a very elaborate breakfast – it is a small hotel, but they put a lot of effort in details, such as breakfast. Not too big, but prepared with quite some inspiration. A good start into the day. I had booked a guided bicycle tour for today. I went to the main station and had some trouble to find the meeting point, but I arrived on time. There was only another couple from Singapore, Seung and Rosalind. Our guide was Ryo, a young student from Kyoto who does these tours frequently. Her English was very good as she had spent 6 months in Canada.
On the program were to visit to a Buddist and a Shinto temple plus the ‘Philisopher’s path’. In fact she showed as a little more. Her explanations were very good and we learned a lot. Seung and Ros were also travelling in Japan for two weeks and it turned out that they were also adventure bikers! Seung was even planning to do his first Ironbutt ride in Malaysia.
A bicycle is the perfect vehicle to get around in Kyoto and there are lots of them. We went also to an aqueduct, built some 100 years ago in “European” style. It is something exotic in Kyoto.
Our guide Ryo told us many things about the city and some details that were very interesting. For example, she suddenly stopped at a vending machine like you see one at every corner in Japan, they are everywhere. But this one was different. It contained booze. That’s new! One of only two in the city. Very interesting for teenagers.
Luckily it was cloudy, but the humidity and going uphill let the sweat flow again. After the Philopher’s path (where an ancient philosopher used to walk to his faculty), we stopped for some tea and local sweets.
We passed by another temple as we got closer to the touristic area. I asked Ryo if the ladies dressed in Kimonos in the streets were locals or just tourists who rented a kimono. She said “100 % tourist!”
We went back through small roads to the place of the bicycle rent. This was really a nice and very informative trip in good company! Seung, Rosalind and I decided to have lunch together. Thanks to Ryo for the good guided tour!
We three went to the station and found the restaurant recommended by Ryo closed. But there are restaurants in abundance, so soon we were sitting in a cooooooool place and ordered good food. We chatted for more than two yours about motorbikes and our trips.It was great fun. And of course they both ride Honda! They had been already to the Honda museum in Motegi that I deliberately had left out. Well, you can’t have it all. We exchanged our social media locations and said farewell.