Motorbiking in spring

Sometimes I seem to have good ideas. In this case, it was based on my ability for pattern recognition. I had to do two business trips and some time later a trip to my house in Bavaria. Hmmm, couldn’t I combine these? And then there was this Ride to Eat in Portugal. Hmmm…Portugal was a white spot on my motorbiking map. And there was the Magic 12 rally in Western Germany…

Then I had this plan to combine everything.

The Plan.

Well, I combined two business meetings at the Lago Maggiore and in Valencia by riding with my old XBR500. It was a smooth ride and I was really lucky with the weather. I stayed with family in Valencia and on one day, I went out for a ride with my XBR buddy Johannes, who was by coincidence on a motorbike vacation in the area. I showed him my favorite biking/motorbiking roads north of Valencia. We had a really nice day out in perfect weather.

A nice day out in the coastal mountains north of Valencia. With Johannes and Erwin.

I left the bike in Valencia and returned by airplane. One week later, I returned to Valencia by plane and the next morning I set off for the Ride to Eat meeting in Portugal. I set off at 6 a.m. at some cool 14 degrees. The motorway climbed up to the Utiel Requena region and it started to get chilly. I stopped and put on my sweater. Hmmm, only 5 degrees now. While riding to Madrid, I hoped that the sun would soon warm up Castilla….which it didn’t. When I was west of Madrid, I stopped in bright sunshine and put on my rain suit! There was a nasty cold wind that made me shiver all the time. The rain suit at least protected me from the windchill. Close to the Portuguese border, I stopped in Ciudad Rodrigo, looking for a place to eat. I had not remembered that Portugal is in another time zone so I had another hour to get to the meeting point. By coincidence, I passed by the local Parador in the old town overlooking the plain. Hm, why not. I had some suckling pig (famous in the area) and when I left the restaurant, it was finally warm outside. Before reaching the border, I noticed that the sparse Castilian plain turned into a green land with many bushes, trees and shrubbery. The motorway in Portugal was of excellent quality. I had to book into the automatic toll system that works with number plate recognition (!) The landscape was lovely now and I finally warmed up in the Portuguese sun.

I exited the motorway in Covilhã and was surprised by this neat town situated at the bottom of the Serra de Estrela mountains. The views were very nice, what a difference after the Castilian plains. And the road was very winding and in a good state, this felt a bit like in the Alps!

Higher and higher went the until I reached the highest point in Portugal: Torre in the centre of the Serra da Estrela, just under 2000 m altitude. And there was already the rest of the pack: riders from UK, the Netherlands, Germany and other countries, meeting at 4 p.m. sharp for the group picture of the “European Ride to Eat”, that happens at a special place anywhere in Europe. This time it was in Portugal and a good excuse for me to visit the country: it was a white spot for the XBR, I had never been to Portugal on a motorbike before! After the group picture, we headed downwards to the Hotel in Manteigas where we all stayed for the night.

On the way down I had swapped my new notebook with the one from Tommy who had given me the idea to use it for navigation. It’s a big bricking the front, but it gives the option of using nivation apps (Waze, Maps) in real time. It worked quite well on this first trip, but while riding the tablet does not charge. The swap confirmed that it was not a problem of the tablet; Tommy’s tablet showed the same problem. My conclusion was that the vibrations of the XBR make the flexible contacts oscillate which results in a bad connection. When the motor is switched off, the tablet charges normally.

Ride to Eat, Portugal

After checking in, I discovered an unexpected rider: it was John Young who’d not beet at the meeting point as he had overslept 😆. We had a chat before I checked the shower in my room. The hotel was a very elegant spa with its own fountains. A great pick. This was also confirmed by the good buffet dinner. We had a good evening with a lot of good conversations. After a relaxed breakfast the next morning I left very late at 10:30 a.m. (well, actually at 11:30 Spanish time). I did a little detour and enjoyed the plush landscape and the picturesque villages. I was reminded of riding in Northern Italy and concluded that I definitively have to return to Portugal for some proper riding.

Soon I reached the Spanish border and was back in flat Spain. I filled up in Salamanca and turned north. Only when I turned east and followed the Ebro river, the landscape changed for the better. I was in the Rioja region now and liked to ride through the rolling hills. Mental note: a trip to La Rioja is on the wish list for a long time already.

I made good progress on my route to the Pyrenees. My idea was to visit Andorra the next day. Why? Because the XBR had not been there, so….Earlier, I had managed to book a hotel in Lleida for the night, using the tablet. This might sound scary, but actually it is easy during a slow motorway cruise. I ride quite relaxed on the old XBR that is only a few kilometers short of 400.000 km. 120 km/h is usually the right speed that makes the old lady feel comfortable. I had a moment of suspense when there was no petrol station when I needed one. But in the end you need to have patience. Finally I arrived in Lleida and checked into the prebooked hotel.

I had selected it for its good reviews of its restaurant. You can understand my disappointment when I heard it was closed on Sundays! It was difficult to find an open restaurant; in the end I visited a Chinese-Korean-Japanese restaurant called “Himalaya”…where I was the only guest. I ordered a Japanese classic – Ramen with Gyoza that was actually quite alright. My plan to have some nice Catalan dinner had to be postponed. On the way back to the hotel through the sleepy town I had to make a detour; I was stopped by a policeman who suggested to take another route. Apparently, a big police squad was doing a raid. Not so sleepy as I thought then.

After a good night’s rest without a breakfast, I left Lleida at 8 a.m. and headed north. I enjoyed riding through the soft, green hills, a true pleasure. I made good progress and decided in Ponts to have a classic breakfast in a roadside bar: un cafè amb llet i dos croissants, si us plau! I had a long day ahead of me, so I needed a solid foundation for the day.

I spured the XBR, but the closer I got to Andorra, the more cars with Andorran plates (Porsches, Jags, BMWs) passed me. And not just by a small margin. They seemed to be drawn by a strong, invisible force towards their home principality.

Very often I did not manage to stop when there was a magnificent view, but sometimes I was able to stop the flow:

Finally I arrived in Andorra where I filled with “cheap” petrol. Cheaper, that is. Andorra la Vella is really a special thing, like any other micro states. Only a small patch of land, but the fancy buildings indicate that a lot of money is parked here. I had planned to stop and to visit a wine shop. I wanted to acquire a souvenir from Spain. The shop had an exquisite selection of fine wines from Spain and France, top notch. In the end a bottle of yummy Valbuena was stowed away in my panniers. I decided not to ride over the pass, but through the tunnel towards the French border, I still had a long way to go on that day. After a chilly ride with the mountain tops covered in snow, I crossed the border and descended into France. although I still had to ride on country roads, I made good progress and joint the motorway again near Carcassonne.

The route northwards was simple: follow the A9 along the Mediterranean and the Rhone valley. A petrol and snack stop near Bezières. I planned to stay anywhere near Lake Geneva, best on the French side to avoid pricy Switzerland. However, a lack of vacancies made me rethink this. North of Geneva, only few places were still available, so I booked one with good evaluations. It did not have a restaurant, so I thought to have a stopover before. Unfortunately, it turned out that Monday evening in Switzerland is the equivalent to Sunday evenings in Lleida: everything closed.

An ordinary second hand car shop along the way.

In the end I had to visit the only place that was open: a Chinese restaurant! So no Swiss dinner tonight. Well, the Chinese food was ok and with a full stomach I tried to find the hotel. Hotel? In a residential area?? Let’s check…no, the address is correct! But this is a private home? I rang the bell and was welcomed by the landlady. I had booked a room in a private house! Slowly I realized that the place was listed as “chambre d’hôte”. Private room. Ok, no problem, any hotel would be more expensive. The lady was very friendly and served me a beer with snacks. The place was cosy and in the morning, the charming host served a spectacular breakfast on the little balcony with views on the Lake Geneva and the Mont Blanc.

Room with a view.

I was well fed for the last stint to my home place in Miesbach, Bavaria. In finest sunshine, I cruised across Switzerland to Lindau. I decided to avoid motorways and chose the roads close to the mountains. It was quite fast, and in the early afternoon I arrived on home soil. Before arriving at my house, I had to make a stopover at one of the most beautiful places in Bavaria: Kaltenbrunn over the Lake Tegernsee.

Chillin’.

After this relaxing initiation I rode to my home place where I spent some relaxing days. This is best done in some nice weather, for example like this:

Chillin’, part II.

Of course I also some important things to do. Last year, I had purchased a tuned motor from a Honda NX650 Dominator with the intention to replace the 600cc motor in the grey café racer XBR with it. 680cc instead 600cc instead 500cc. Higher displacement and a hot cam shaft. My mate Stefan had swapped the engines some weeks ago, the idea was now to install an oil cooler to keep the temperature at bay. On one day, Stefan took care of it and organized a new oil hose as the provided one did not offer a proper position. In the end, the result was very satisfactory, everything looked fine.

Old clunker vs. hot shit.

There’s no replacement for displacement.

Honda XBR680

I did a short test ride and the set-up seemed to work, the power is flabbergasting. Everything was tight, no leaks, no issues. So this meant that Stefan and I had to go on a longer, proper test ride the next Sunday. We did nice tour to the Lake Chiemsee and back. I soon noticed that there was something…different. The revolutions of the motor did not match the usual pattern. It was difficult to ride with less than 3000 rpm in the small gears, difficult in 4th under 4000 prm und impossible in 5th gear. The rpms in 4th gear at a certain speed were lower than normally in 5th! What was wrong here? The gear ratio was completely off!

The Dominator has a 15 teeth front sprocket, a 45 rear sprocket and a 520 chain. The XBR has a 15 teeth front sprocket, a 36 rear sprocket and a 525 chain. So I had ordered a Dominator 15 teeth front sprocket, a 36 rear sprocket with XBR geometry and a 520 chain. Seemed logical.

Big mistake.

What I didn’t have in mind was the primary gear ratio of the motor. I discovered that both XBR and NX motors are totally different. With the help of a calculator website and the data from the internet I could confirm my observations. I also could calculate what the right ratio would be. I ordered a set on the internet only to find out later that for this rear sprocket (15/46 teeth) I had overlooked to check for the right geometry (right inner diameter and right bolt circle, but wrong bolt diameter). Right, cancel it. However, there was no sprocket with 15/46 to be found, only a 13/39 combination. According to the calculator, this should be similar. I ordered it with the aim to receive it before I would return north the next weekend. Good plan, but I didn’t count with the bad performance of the parcel delivery. It arrived far too late and left me no option than to do the Magic 12 rally, situated in the federal state of Northrhine Westphalia with this gear ration, an unpleasant ride. On the way up to my individual starting place, I noticed the strong pulling of the chain, caused by the wrong gear ratio. This was not good. I could ride in fifth gear above 130 km/h, but it was not smooth. In the hotel I checked again my well designed plan; we had received the data some days earlier. It was a good plan, potentially a winning plan. Visiting lots of places plus a lot of extra points taking pictures of town signed whose first letters would form the name NORDRHEIN WESTFALEN. All set.

I got up a four and started the 12 hour rally with a petrol receipt at 5 a.m. There was not a lot of traffic in the morning when I whooshed though the country side. The motor does have a lot of oomph, indeed. I visited the storm-stricken town of Paderborn, there a tornado had one day before destroyed the centre of the town. I had passed the storm not far from it; it was so scary that I had considered stopping. In the morning, lots of trees were bent. Ironically, the plaque that had to be photographed was still there.

Some places were special and I was riding in the countryside, avoiding the slower parts of the Ruhrgebiet. When do you meet a statue to remember a pig race?

I was way ahead of my plan and soon there would be the mandatory lunch rest. I noticed that the chain had some slack and I planned to tighten it during the break. When I wanted to do. it, I noticed that the rear wheel had some lateral play!! Aaaaargh! What the….!!!! This was it? I still had some hours to go and there was no shortcut to the finish. So I only could hope for the best and continue my plan. Which I did. I rode very carefully for one hour and visit quite some places, but, I was skeptical if I could make it. At a certain point I had to make decision. I stopped and checked the play. It got worse. And the hub of the rim was bloody hot.

Alright. That’s it. This rally was not so important to risk my life for it. I checked my options and phoned a car rental in nearby Siegen. Luckily they had a Mercedes Sprinter left and one hour later I rode the XBR into the van. On the way home, I informed the rally master and went through my options.

I still had an old XBR in the shed that I could cannibalise…I could fix it and return the next day as promised. So I did. After return to Belgium, I pulled the spare XBR out of the shed and removed the rear wheel. Then I did the same with the grey XBR. The wheel play was spectacular. When I removed the axle, removed the wheel and inspected the parts, the problem evident: the wheel bearing cages were destroyed, but the problem had probably started somewhere else: the sprocket wheel bearing. It had given in first which resulted in a play between sprocket base and the rim. Slowly, it destroyed the bearing completely and damaged also the wheel bearings.

Gulp!

With the help of the spare parts bike, I managed to exchange everything, the bike was ready to go again. The next morning, I returned to Siegen and returned to Belgium on the XBR. I learned that that my plan would have been sufficient for first place, but I have won so many rallies that it doesn’t matter. Safety first.

Later, I finally discovered a website that would sell the right rear sprocket with the right geometry. I purchased it and today I replaced the whole kit.

This seems to be the right gear ratio now, the bike seems to ride “normal” in the first short test. All in all, a fantastic bike. My explanation is the the wrong sprocket resulted in a permanent pulling of the chain that made the sprocket bearing surrender. Not a bike for the long haul like the black one, but fantastic for short, intense rides in the Alps. That’s the main purpose.

In the meantime, I had some issues with the K1600GT’s front. But this for another story.

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