The 2022 motorbiking review
I just realised that I didn’t write a review for 2021. Well, in fairness, not a lot happened during the first two years of the pandemic. In 2021 however, I took a break from the pandemic and visited Iceland which was a very lovely trip.
I thought first ‘not a lot has happened in 2022’, but when I went through all the pictures on my phone, I stood corrected. I did not post a lot and there was not one monumental event like in 2019 that dominated the whole story, but there were many little things and one ‘adventurous’ trip that made this a quite nice riding year, at least considering the conditions (still a pandemic going on, although less dangerous than the previous years). I will mention everything in a chronological order, after all this blog is a diary that lists what I have experienced. In contrast to earlier travel diaries, it is digital and public, but I essentially write all these stories for myself and not for others, although I don’t keep this blog private and I appreciate that so many people seem to like it 😊.
In February, I did small tours in the area, crossing into the Netherlands to the North, riding without a plan and relying on my GPS to carry me home when I had to turn around. I rolled also through the towns of Maaskantje and Schijndel, both notorious for the Dutch TV series and films around the New Kids, a Dutch ‘white trash’ comedy with (very) strong language and trashy humor. Dutch people will know what I’m talking about…What came as a big surprise: Maaskantje is actually a cute small village, LOL.
“Ik betaal goddomme helemaal nergens meer voor” (Richard Batsbak).
On the last weekend in February, I went to the first European Ride to Eat in Raalte, Netherlands. It was good to see some of the old chaps from the UK, Germany and the Netherlands for the first time after pandemic. A lot of stories had to be exchanged and the usual meeting point in February in the Netherlands makes it usually possible for everybody to come to the meeting as the temperatures are bearable. Even more when you have heated gear, hehe.
Another event that happened for the first time since 2019 was what was called in former times the “XBR Wintertreffen” (XBR winter meeting). Since 2003 I invited fellow motorbiking friends (linked to the XBR Alpentour events) for a meeting in March, accompanied by a yummy dinner. Since 2007, the meetings happened in Belgium; the mild climate allows to do a motorbike tour, often the first one in the year. This year, Jo, Hans, Ralf and Gernot made it to the meeting, Hans even made it on his Pan European. Using some of my bikes, we did a nice 100 km trip through Southern and Northern Brabant. In the evening, the motto of the dinner followed the typical pattern: my last journey. As my last trip went to Iceland, I tried to reproduce some of the nicest dishes I had enjoyed on the Island: sandwiches with aquavit, Humarsúpa (fish soup), slow cooked lamb and Skyr with fresh berries. Delicious.
During the ride-out, I noticed that the suspension of my BMW was not as smooth as expected, a lot of noise from the front and not a subtle reaction of the system. I had enough of it, last year I had the two shocks reworked by a company that was suggested by my BMW dealer. Didn’t go well, a few weeks later, the front shock was leaking and had to be reworked. So I was not amused to have a lot of noise every time I rolled over a bad road. I had enough of it, this asked for new shocks. So I visited my BMW dealer and discussed the subject. He advocated for new original shocks, after all they were specifically developed for this type of bike, being modern electronically adjustable high-quality items. Indeed, the riding comfort when the bike was new was impeccable. Hmmm, but what is the price? (I was suspicious..) Er, well, ehm…it’s 4.500 Euro, excluding installation (that’s another 800 quid). Wow. 🥶 And what is the price for the Wunderlich shocks that are made by Wilbers (excellent quality shocks)? 1500! Aha! So we do what? Dealer mumbles…”hmmm, yeah, that makes more sense”. I couldn’t agree more. So this was agreed and a few weeks later I had a new suspension. Under normal conditions, I would install it myself, but half of the K1600GT needs to be disassembled in that process and the electronic shocks need to be calibrated. Hands off!
In April, I had the idea to connect two business trips and left the old XBR in Valencia. Until picking it up, I had some other things to do.
After having done many motorcycle rallies, it was my first time to try a classic car rally, the Eifel Marathon Rally: Driving 390 km on nice back roads in the Ardennes and the Eifel. Not in a competitive way, just based on on arrow instructions (‘tulips’) on a touristic route. There were many great cars in this rally, it was fun to to be surrounded by a lot of iconic cars. My co-pilot and navigator was my neighbor Jeroen who managed to guide us criss-cross though the Ardennes and the Eifel during this long day. We started mid-field and arrived in the top group, that was fun!
My BMW was ready and I picked it up from the dealer; When I arrived at home, I was not happy. There was still some rumbling noise! I grabbed the front wheel with both hands…really? The wheel had some longitudinal play! Aaargh! The bike went back to the dealer, changing the ball joint (no.2 in picture).
I flew back to Valencia, picked up the XBR again and went to Portugal to the next R2E. I never had visited Portugal by motorbike before and was surprised by the country. Gorgeous roads and beautiful landscape. The meeting point was at the highest point of Portugal at almost 2000 m altitude. The hotel was great and after a nice evening with nice conversations, I left Portugal the next day and went to my home town in Germany. Portugal is a place I definitively need to visit more intensively in the future.
In Germany I tested the new XBR 680 that my mate Stefan had helped me to build. A true monster. Not 500cc, but 680cc push the ‘no frills – minimum weight’ bike forward. It had a 600cc XL motor before that, but the extra 80 cc with this tuned NX650 motor are truly awesome. On top of the extra displacement, a sports camshaft adds even more ‘oomph’.
Unfortunately, the gear ratio was not correct and the right sprockets did not arrive on time. I decided to ride the Magic 12 anyway, the 12 hours rally in Germany. Big mistake, I should have swapped the bikes. As usual, I had an excellent winning route and I even was ahead of my planned time when disaster struck. The brutal force of the motor and the wrong ratio had first killed the sprocket bearing and later the wheel bearings. With 100km to the finish, I called it a day and rented a van to return home with the poor bike. With the proper sprockets, it could have worked as it turned out later that year.
But this retreat was a wise thing. It was not worth to risk my health for this. A destroyed wheel bearing can lock the wheel at any time. You’d take the risk when you’re virtually leading in the Ironbutt Rally, but not in a short rally that I had won twice before.
The first test for the new set-up was a trip to Kent, riding the short ‘Invictus Rally’. Initially I had considered to ride with the ‘hot’ XBR680, but I was still waiting for the right sprocket. Well, my BMW was finally ready, just in time! I went to the BMW dealer, put a bunch of bills, equivalent to a very, very nice XBR, on the desk and rode home with a new suspension. Just in time to head off to England. As is it common for short rallies, I had received the rally book a few days before and solved the puzzle to plan a potentially winning route. I transferred the waypoints to my GPS and left for Calais, getting stuck in an enormous traffic jam at the Eurotunnel terminal. I arrived at my inn in Tonbridge and had some pub food before I prepared my stuff and went to bed. In the next morning, I went to the rally HQ, signed in, had some chats and set off together with all the other riders. The rally took place in Kent Sussex and Surrey. I had planned a tough and ambitious route that should give me a lot of extra points.
I arrived soon at the first location in Lynsted. In time. On the way to the second location, I wanted to introduce the third location in the GPS…and couldn’t find it! How could this happen?? Well, ok, I have to skip this one. Next location, fine, picture taken. Looking for location number five….where is it? Number Seven, eight?? I had to realize that during the waypoint transfer process, only half of the points were transferred. As I had left the laptop in the hotel (normally I always carry it with me, but not on a such a short rally). Well, this was it. It made no sense to continue when half of your points are missing. I returned to the hotel, packed my stuff and rode to the rally HQ where I informed the rally team that I dropped out and I would return home. This was a technical DNF like never before. I realised later that there was something wrong with the old Garmin Zumo 590, it gave me a lot of problems later. As usual, I had checked if the transfer of the points had happened, but I didn’t check for completeness. So when I rode back to Belgium, I took the decision to buy the new Garmin Zumo XT which I did.
However, I noted also something else during this trip. When riding on bad roads, the front of the BMW was still producing this rumbling noise. After all what was changed! I was super annoyed. So I went to the dealer (again) and discussed what to do. The bike rolled impeccably, but any small hole or obstacle resulted in a noise as if the steering bearing was loose…except that this modern bike, equipped with the duolever system does not have a classic steering bearing that receives any force from bumps. The ball joint was exchanged, so what else could be the problem? I had enough of this…the labour costs of removing any parts are actually much higher than the parts themselves…thinking we would remove one part after the other….so I took the decision to replace all remaining parts in the front. Yes, all of them. Sounds crazy, but I wanted to avoid further incremental attempts.
In June, I went for the trip I wanted to do since 2020, but the pandemic had put the plan on hold: visiting the ‘white spots’ on map in south-east Europe. I had planned the trip with Stefan in 2019 and finally it was going to happen. We wanted to visit a lot of countries in only one week, but the distances were rather short. After a week the a booth at an exhibition in Munich, we set off on a Friday evening and went to Villach in Carinthia. The next day, we enjoyed the beautiful Croatian coastline on the way to Split. We did a detour into Bosnia to Mostar and strolled through Dubrovnik. We passed the Kotor Fjord and went up Mount Lovćen in Montenegro, rode the stunning mountains of Durmitor. We rolled through the Tara Canyon and crossed into Kosovo, a truly different experience. We enjoyed the wild beauty of the Valbona Valley and the Albanian mountain, including its potholes. We stayed at the Ohrid Lake in Montenegro, rode the bumpy backroads of Southern Albania and were surprised by the hospitality in Gjirokaster. A day on the Greek island completed the trip before we embarked on the shabby ferry to Italy.
On the way back North, the odometer of the little XBR turned around for the forth time in a little town in Northern Italy: 400.000 km on the same motorbike! Now for the next 100.000 km 😊!
Back in Belgium, I picked up the BMW from the dealer….everything replaced….another monster bill…..first I thought everything was ok now, but I had my doubts…but it was too late to change my plan, I had to leave for the Brit Butt Light Rally in England, a 12 hours rally. Also here the rally book was sent one week before the rally, so I could come up with another cunning plan. The rally was based on collecting locations in the same group: the more locations of the same kind, the more points. One ‘group’ is also called a ‘string’. I had planned to do four strings which required a top-notch execution, there was only a buffer of 15 min foreseen in the whole day. The topic revolved around pre-historic sites that are quite abundant in central England.The tricky thing was that all points of the same string needed to be visited consecutively which resulted in a criss-cross and a lot of planning had went into optimizing this puzzle.
On my way to my hotel in Portishead, I noticed that the problem of the BMW lingered on…every time I rode over an obstacle in or on the road, a loud noise rattled the bike. I had no other chance than to endure this é&§%*%$!!! To my surprise, the hotel had its pub closed (staff shortage). Finally I could check in and leave my luggage. I went to the rally HQ in another town, registered and had dinner with German and British fellow riders. The next morning, I went back to the same place and started the rally from there. The roads and the locations were nice to spectacular, the traffic was a bit unexpected. I realised that the area was attractive to tourists as well and then there is always the notorious Saturday morning traffic. I visited iconic places such as large horses engraved in hills or neolithic monuments, such as Stonehenge. One location was crucial: walking from to road across a field, up a hill to take a picture from inside a neolithic monument. This are the things rally masters start to giggle when they develop their evil plans.
Finally I reached the top of the hill, had to find the entrance to the necropolis to take a picture from the inside. Luckily I had properly investigated the area before on Google Earth so I came prepared. Done. And now the walk down. I used to check if all my messages had come through – which was not the case, so I re-sent them again. I was faster than calculated but I had to realise that I was falling behind my plan as the traffic was slowing me down more than expected.
On the way to the points in Wales I could make up some time. Things looked good again. I was using the new Zumo XT GPS together with the old Zumo 590 and things were working well. Back in England I deviated from my routine and started to introduce locations for the next but one point, while riding. I had to go on backroads and single track farm roads but I could maintain my plan to do the four strings (spoiler: that nobody else was able to do).
At a certain point I was about to reach the next location, the GPS indicated ‘500 m to F2’…what? No, this must read ‘E2’, I had been there before. And finally it occurred to me that I reached the location F2 for the second time in one hour. WHAT?? The logic explanation: when deviating from the routine and looking for the next location, I had pressed on F2 and not on E2! This meant that all my well designed plan that was a kind of ‘all or nothing’ had just collapsed. The only thing I could do was do skip some locations of the fourth string and make the best out of it.
In the end it was a third place, something I had never managed before in a British rally (only 1st, 2nd and 6th places☺️). The best I could have achieved after this big error. In a long rally, you could maybe make up for it, but in this short 12h rally, no mistakes were possible.
The BMW gave me a lot of noises during the trip to England that I had ignored with a cold heart. But at home, I went to the dealer again and together we speculated what other source could be the cause. We were clueless, as every part in the front that could wear out had been exchanged. We agreed on an appointment to check AGAIN.
But before that it was time for another XBR Alpentour! I had equipped the grey XBR with the correct, custom made sprockets and now the system seemed stable. I went to meet Gernot in Karlsruhe and we rode together to the meeting point in Reutte, Tyrol. During the trip, I had to turn the bike as we had to turn around. In that moment, as it seemed retrospectively, my tank bag touched the starter button while the motor was running. The starter came on and would not stop! Even if I removed the keys! Panic! I tried all kind of things…The starter would not stop!! Sooner or later it would get fried! Frantically, I ripped the luggage from the bike, searched for my tools, removed the seat and tried to disconnect the battery while the starter was turning the motor hysterically😱😱😱. As I was in panic, the unscrewing did not happen without some flying sparks (in my panic, I tried to remove the positive and not the negative terminal 🙄). Finally, there was silence. What had happened? Well, pushing the button had pushed the starter relay that got stuck and did not get released. As the starter is connected to clamp 30 (permanent positive), a hanging relay results in a permanent current that cannot be switched off by the ignition key. I knocked on the relay and connected the positive terminal again. Silence. I pressed the starter button. Worked without problems. Everything ok again. It’s a Honda.
In Reutte we met Johannes, Hans and Ralf. The next day, we rode to Trento that we used again as a hub for the next three days to ride some of the best roads in Northern Italy. Monte Bondone, Valvestino, Pasubio, Sella, Monte Baldo, just to name a few. Not to forget the usual gastronomic part 😋.
As usual, we had a great time and my tuned XBR behaved as expected: spectacularly.
Back home, I rode to the BMW dealer for the appointment to inspect the bike…again. On the way, I noticed that the mirrors were vibrating a lot and I told this to the dealer. He startled and ran outside to the bike: ‘I have an idea’. I followed him. He took the whole cockpit in his hands and joggled it. I tried as well. I could lift the whole cockpit by one centimetre. So this was the crux of the matter! No suspension, no ball joints, no bearings….some bolts of the cockpit frame were broken and caused the annoying noise. After another intervention, the cockpit was fixed and I had a new bike. Trying not to think of all the money I burnt in this process 🥴.
At least the BMW was finally ready for the longest rally this year, the Brit Butt Rally 2022. After my errors sending bonus location pictures with the wrong codes last year that resulted in a disappointing 6th place. So after all the hiccups of last and this year, I wanted to focus on sending proper information and pictures at every bonus point locations. I arrived early at the rally hotel in Coventry and had time with fellow participants. The registration, odo meter calibration ride, technical inspection and filling up petrol is a well established process, after all this was my 12th Brit Butt Rally. After the dinner we had the riders meeting and the handout of the rally books. This year’s theme was simple: castles. This sounded great. Big objects in remote places. No riding in big cities, less traffic, simple tasks. Maybe an occasional walk. I had high hopes that my wish would come true: riding to Scotland. After my monster ride in 2021, including riding from Dover at lunch to Penzance before sunset on lots of secondary roads with zillions of weekend drivers, I was desperate to ride through the Highlands, avoiding the typical bank holiday traffic.
I sat down in my hotel room and started to carve out another monster ride, this time to Scotland. This could work. As the rest break is quite long now, I needed to have a good hotel in a central position. This needs a good planning as my plan needed a hotel with a 24h check-in, as little detour as possible and a petrol station nearby. Not something you would find in the middle of the Highlands. Possible towns were Aberdeen and Edinburgh. Some locations were daylight bonus points only, this made it very tricky to find good solutions to this puzzle. Another challenge was the big combo bonus that required visiting a castle up north in the Highlands and another one north of London. It was clear this would be a close shave, no room for mistakes. There were two variants of this route, depending how I could make progress, they both went through Edinburgh so this had to be where I booked the hotel, next to a petrol station and close a daylight bonus point for the next morning.
As usual, I tried to look for alternatives. This is very important as often your first impression can trick you and the second best option turns out to be the better one. Alright, what could be an alternative? Well, there was only one option where enough points could be found: going to Cornwall and Wales. I use a well-established method based on spreadsheets that helps me to quickly calculate the points value of draft routes. I did the calculation of a route similar in riding time and concluded that it would not bring more points. So the decision was clear: I wanted to go to Scotland, avoiding all the traffic to be expected in the Southwest. I didn’t bother to go into the fine-tuning of the alternative route; I had longed to go to Scotland, so Scotland it was going to be. At 6 a.m., the horde left the parking in the dark. I had to get to Scotland as quickly as possible with only one quick detour near Penrith where I visited Brougham Castle. I passed Glasgow and Loch Lomond, as usual infested with tourist caravans. On the way north, Barcaldine Castle was visited and I was still in time. What I had not expected: crossing Loch Linnhe requires taking a ferry! Of course it was on the other side and I had to wait. The crossing took 20 min off my plan and suddenly I was behind schedule. The road to Tioram Castle was beautiful, but mostly single track, so this costed me more time. However, riding in this part of Scotland is just fantastic, lots of nature and no traffic.
Near the famous Eileen Donan Castle it started to drizzle and wouldn’t stop for the next hours. I was falling behind my tight plan and had to realize that I couldn’t make that daylight point east of Inverness in the evening. This required a change of plan. I dropped the route to Aberdeen and decided to go to the north, near John O’Groats instead. I would have to shortcut through the Highlands using the A9 going to my hotel in Edinburgh. With this the points loss could be minimized.
But first I had to visit Ardvreck Castle up in the very Northwest of the Highlands. Things were running smoothly, I enjoyed flying through the highlands. I reached the A9 north of Inverness, visited Dunrobin Castle (see picture to the right) and turned north. I reached the Castle of Mey at sunset, just in time as it was a daylight bonus location. Well done. I filled up again early in Thurso for I did not want to look for petrol until Edinburgh. I put on the Erika lights and turned night into day; with these floodlights it is pretty safe to ride at night. I calculated the distance to the rest hotel in Edinburgh, more than 500 km to go on the A9 and only a short distance on motorway. Gulp! 😨. I deliberately left out Urquhart Castle as I wanted to save time to able to go London the next day, I could recover the points later if there was time left in the end. It was a great dark ride through the Highlands, passing Inverness and visiting the Blair Atholl Castle.
I arrived at my hotel at midnight where I would stay for seven (!) hours to get the maximum points for the rest break. That is a very generous rest break. Back in the times when the Brit Butt rallies were more competitive, there would be only three hours of rest break, asking for much more bonus hunting at night. The break gave me time to fine tune the second day to make sure I could get the big combo north of London.
The next day went smooth, refreshed I continued my monster ride. On Saturday I had covered about 1900 km in 18 hours, I simply had to maintain the pace to make the finish in time. After some criss-crossing though the Borders and Yorkshire I went down on the M1 and made it to the Berkhamstead Castle north of London to bag the big combo in time. I made it back to the finish in Coventry with a few minutes to spare, after 2711 km (1685 mls). I think this is a record in the history of the Brit Butt Rally, even more considering the shorter effective riding time than before. This was only possible as I was riding a lot on motorways with no traffic.
I had achieved what I came for: going to Scotland and losing no points at the table, i.e. I had sent all pictures and information correctly. So this looked like a very good result. Yet during the ceremony, I was surprised by the high point values of the other riders…I was called on the podium when only three riders were left. And for the first time in a Brit Butt Rally, it was third place for me. John Cross and Dave Winter came second and first with a bit more points, but a lot fewer mileage. What? How was this possible, they all went to the southwest…had I overlooked something? Anyway, it was a splendid ride and I had perfectly executed the planned ride.
Back at home, I had a look at the calculations. To my surprise, I noticed that in the calculation of the alternative route in the spreadsheet, I had not ticked the boxes to add two combos, this would have changed the whole picture. So I sat down and recalculated in detail a possible route through the southwest with the correct point values. To my surprise, the total points value was 2400 points higher than my route to Scotland, with 20 % shorter distance! 😫 (I had thought it would be 600 lower). This was more than double the gap to first place. Right, confidence restored, I still can design winning routes. Just a simple, but stupid error. As the saying goes: ‘the one wins who makes least errors’. I keep on beating myself, maybe it’s time to get my act together and to ride a perfect rally again 😊.
In October I had a weekend to spare and wondered what I could do with that time. I did not want to go far away, but why not doing the IBA Benelux four corners ride? Visiting the points to the North, West, East and South and also the geographical centre of each country? In less than 24 hours? This sounded like a good ride for a Saturday? The tricky thing is to find the right order, after all I didn’t want to do a lot of extra kilometres from and back home. The plan was to do 1929 km in 20 hours, starting at 6:30 in the morning. I had chosen to ride with the old Pan, the IBR veteran and most successful LD motorbike in Europe. I went to the northernmost point in Belgium first, I knew the place, but it took me several attempts to take a usable picture of myself and the bike in the dark. The next location was the most western point in the Netherlands near Westkappelle (see picture to the right). I went to Zeeuws Vlaanderen and when I crossed the border, some drizzle started. This came as a surprise, in my plan I had expected two to three hours of rain in the afternoon. On my way to the western point of Belgium at the French coast, it would stop but return again on the way to Brussels. It was a classic: you think that it will stop soon and you don’t put on your rain suit. So after visiting Belgium’s geographical centre, on my way to Luxemburg and Belgium’s southernmost point, the rain got worse and the roads in Wallonia are notoriously bad, especially in the rain. Here, the BMW would have served me better with its electronic adjustable traction. After a long traffic jam I was quite behind my schedule, and I saw that the rain would accompany me through Luxemburg and the Ardennes on secondary roads. OK, that’s it. No need to force it. This is supposed to be fun. I had only done about one third of the ride and through the capillary forces of the wind stopper balaclava, I was soaking wet under my jacket. I called it a day, rode back home and had a hot bath to get warm again. Next time I try it in summer.
But this attempt had served me; I knew that the Pan was in good shape to be used for the last rideout in this year: the ride to eat in Milan. I wanted to go there in one day and arrive before 3 p.m. at the hotel to drop the luggage and to show up at the usual meeting point for the picture at 4 p.m. So I started very early in the morning and zoomed through Germany and Switzerland. I had a good pace that allowed me to have a snack before the Italian border. I arrived in time at the hotel, checked in and showed up at the meeting point ‘Il Dito‘ with 30 min to spare. A special place 😅.
We had the usual dinner and chatting in the evening, a nice closure of this season. The ride back was of course a piece of cake for the seasoned Pan European and its rider. The bike always surprises me time and again that a bike designed in the 80s can still be such as a smooth and reliable ride. One of the best bikes ever built.
Sooo, 2022 was a year with a lot of interesting things happening. Not any big events, but a lot of smaller things that were of interest. Six new countries visited with the XBR. A new racing XBR. Another great Alpentour (No. 22). In terms of rallying, this was a kind of annus horibilis. Never since 2011 had I finished a year without a rally victory. Two DNFs and two third places are due to some bad luck and stupid mistakes. On the other side of the balance I know that ad planned excellent routes that, if perfectly executed, had been winning routes. Shoulda coulda woulda. It doesn’t matter, I just need to return to my usual routine. After the pandemic break, maybe my performance is a bit rusty 😄.
What’s up for next year? Well, probably the biggest rallying year ever. I’m a participant for the Iron Butt Rally in North America – the mother of all long distance rallies. And then the same thing again in Europe, the 12Days Rally. For the first time a copy of the IBR happening in Europe. two big rallies in one year, but it will be a one-off as this probably will not happen again. So no big trips are planned apart from that. More on this blog in the next months 😎.