The 2019 motorbiking review

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.

Some of the planned bonus point locations of the M12 Rally later that year.

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.

Finally the Pan is back on track.

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.

Rua Reidh Lighthouse on Scotland’s North-Western coast.

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.

Here we go again…

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!

Russian road code…

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.

Shikoku coast, Japan.

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.

Here we go again again…

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.

In October, I spent some days in Barcelona and as my plan to ride down there

Costa Brava

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 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.

What about a trip to the Western Balkans next year? Seems very attractive 🙂

10 Comments on “The 2019 motorbiking review

  1. Great write up Robert, enjoy your riding adventures in 2020😃👍 Happy New Year Shaun


  2. „What about a trip to the Western Balkans next year?“ – that‘s my plan, too!

  3. Hi Robert
    Thanks for the nice article
    Have a great new year
    Gutte Rutsch


  4. There is still a gigantic white spot at Drochtersen, Kehdingen! 😉

  5. Hi Robert,

    Happy new year and thanks for your 2019 review. I was rather surprised by the section on rally feedback. People were complaining that an IBA rally was hard?!

     I suppose it’s true that European rally’s are getting easier – no minimum mileage, no minimum points to be considered a finisher – but I consider that a negative step rather than a positive one. One of my favourite rallies was a BBR put on by Pete West when, I think, only about 12 of us finished. He got a lot of negative feedback about that one as well. Still, if that’s what the riders want I guess that’s how it’s going to be as rallies can only exist if they have participants. At least we still have the IBR if we want a proper rally but the cost means we won’t be doing many more of those; maybe one more.

    I read the small bit on the 1250 GSA but i thought you were going to write a review? in the absence of that, what did you think of it? Would you buy one?

    Keep your chin up.


    • Thanks Kevin, we’re on the same page here 😉
      I’d buy one if I’d drown in money, the 6 in-line is simply too good 🙂
      yeah, I got a bit lazy….the GS is an excellent “compromise” bike! Best for B-roads if they don’t get too small.

  6. I know how much work, enthusiasm and time you put in all IBA Germany events you were involved in. And I know it because I saw it first hand. Whoever knows you well, knows how loyal and professional you are. ❤️😘

  7. Hello Robert,
    it’s a sad thing to hear about the differenc with IBAG. The Alpenbuttraly 2017 was my first rally. And it was super great. BBR OR ETU ETC. Rally driving is not only a piece of cake but that is what makes rallying so attractive.
    Furthermore a lot of fun while travelling and rolling on 2 wheels.

  8. Nice write up the past year! But as to the negativ, aggressive feedback: a frustrating experience (DNF?) sometimes results in projection. Very bad. I have to admit I’ve only ever participated in exactly 1 of “your” rallies: the M12 Belgium 2019. As a complete greenhorn, with a bike that would easily qualify for “hopeless class”, routing and navigating with an old phone from the drawer I came through in time with bonuses and combo accepted. Yielded a nice place in the middle of the finishers crowd, more than I had expected to be able to achieve. Had been great fun from receiving the book, planning, re-planning 😉 riding and right through the evening on the boat. So let me expressly thank you for your efforts and the nice chat at the claiming table.

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