Sunday, 26 May 2013

Escaping the Dolomites, and loving Slovenia!

We woke on Friday morning nice and early ready to hit the road, but were somewhat alarmed when we looked out of the window to see this:
The snow was still coming down fairly hard, and we were pretty worried about safely making it out of the mountains. We briefly considered waiting it out in Cortina for another day, but it is a bloody expensive town, and a quick check of the forecast showed that the weather was due to get even worse over the next couple of days, so it was now or never. Snow is pretty much the worst weather you can ride in, and we were both having nightmares that the roads would be similar to yesterday in terms of difficulty, which would have been borderline suicidal in the ice. Our worries were not helped by the fact that the lady on the reception desk kept telling us we were brave!

The snow was still coming down hard when we got onto the bike, but luckily the road had stayed pretty clear, so it was just like riding in the rain (except for the fact that the snow kept collecting on our visors... not a problem for me, but not ideal for the driver!). The road out of Cortina was all downhill, which was encouraging as the last thing we wanted to do was go higher. Sadly, it wasn't practical or safe to stop and take any pictures, but what we could see of the mountains through the clouds was beautiful. I have to say though, the Christmas type scene of snowy pine trees was a little bizarre seeing as it was mid May!

The aim for the day was to get to Ljubljana, and we called and booked our hostel as soon as we had successfully gotten off the mountain and on to non-snowy low ground. The road through the edge of the mountains was incredibly scenic, and we even managed to get a photo from the side of the road. Although with the snow we had had our fill of the Dolomites, it still felt sad to leave the mountains behind. Originally we had planned to ride to Slovenia via the mountain passes, but the snow ruled this out.


Things deteriorated from there, and the weather took a turn for the worse. What should have been a lovely drive along the Mediterranean turned into a long motorway slog, where we got buffeted about by winds like bugs in a storm, whilst getting pelted with rain and lorry spray. There was nothing to do but grit our teeth and get on with it. We stopped at a services near the border to try and warm up. It was honestly the crappest services we have ever been to (including basic petrol stations on the side of the road), and was mainly comprised of a shop selling random tacky crap, with absolutely nowhere to sit.

The weather started to cheer up almost as soon as we crossed the border into Slovenia, and we decided to take the smaller roads, rather than getting to Ljubljana on the motorway. It is so hard to describe how beautiful Slovenia is; almost immediately we were driving through small villages and vineyards, with green mountains as far as we could see. At one point, the road was incredibly narrow, and followed a series of hair pin bends edged with walls on both sides, which meant they were almost totally blind corners. As we were coming into a bend, a coach came round at the same time. The road was so narrow that the coach took up pretty much all of the road. Oli tried to get the bike over enough to avoid it, but the coach driver was still moving and clipped us, toppling the bike. It all happened so fast, and Oli and I both sprung up very quickly in shock. Luckily nobody was hurt, and the bus driver got out to help us pick up the bike and check we were OK. On reflection, we are both really pleased we chose soft panniers rather than metal ones, as it was a nice soft landing for the bike and no damage done! Oli has drawn a helpful diagram below for those of you who are struggling to imagine this:

We were both feeling fine after the accident, and set off with confidence not too dented. The roads were still slick from the earlier rain, and as we were taking a wide bend, the back wheel gave and lost traction. Oli handled it brilliantly and we stayed upright and almost on the correct side of the road. For me, it was a lot more scary than the bus incident! We proceeded with caution, as in places the wet tarmac was very slippy, and the road was very narrow and bendy (although still very beautiful!). Both very tired, we decided to rejoin the motorway and just get to Ljubljana.

We arrived in the city early evening, to find up the hostel had made a mistake with our booking, and the private room we had booked was not actually available that evening (to be fair, they had tried to call us several times to let us know). After such a hard day with all our gear soaked, this was not the news we wanted to hear! We agreed to sleep in the dorms for the night (thankfully we were sharing with two lovely girls, and not the Italian stag party or the Slovenian leather waistcoated biker club...), and moved into our actual room the next day.
A few people had raved to us about how great Ljubljana is, and after a few days here I completely agree. On Saturday, the first thing we stumbled across was the food market in the centre. We had a great time wandering around, and bought a load of veg, fresh cherries, strawberries, and smoked meat for Oli at bargain prices. We spent the rest of the day wandering around the town and visiting the castle, before going out for some lovely Slovenian wine in the evening.


Today, we were lucky enough to have a beautiful sunny morning, and went for a stroll around Trivoli park. We are both going to be sad to leave Slovenia tomorrow. Ljubljana is such a lovely tranquil and calm city considering it is the capital and their largest city. Our hostel has also been brilliant, and we would wholeheartedly recommend it for the lovely staff ( It's probably a good thing we are leaving really, as we have been going to town on the delicious cheese boreks from the bakery next door.




Tomorrow we are off to Croatia!

P.S. Today we stumbled across these vintage tractors gathered in one of the squares. Oli got excited and took a lot of photos, and I let him pick two for the blog.



Friday, 24 May 2013

Chasing the Sunshine Away

On Sunday, we took a trip to Rotterdam to see Ronald and Manon. We had a rare sunny day, and I have to say we were both pleasantly surprised with the city. It had been years since I last ventured into Rotterdam, and there really has been a lot of work put in to  its regeneration. Ronald and Manon took us out for a wander over the river and to the older part of the city, and we saw some old ships being painstakingly restored in the dock.

We left the Robson house on Monday morning. It had been a brilliant weekend and we were very lucky to be so well looked after. Saying goodbye was hard, but we got on the bike and confidently rode off waving... and then set off on the wrong side of the road! Mistake hastily corrected, we made our way down to Aachen in Germany. Sadly we didn't have much time in the city itself, as we were staying outside Monschau (Venngasthof Zur Buche), but the old part of the town was well worth a visit, particularly the beautiful cathedral.
Here is Aachen: IMGP0492
After filling up on a mega breakfast on Tuesday, we hit the road again. We had decided the night before that we needed to get some miles in. We also decided that unless it was lashing it down, we would definitely camp. Luckily the rain held off, and we got the tent set up and dinner cooked with minimal fuss, and went to bed feeling pretty pleased with ourselves.

The smug feeling evaporated fairly quickly when we woke up to yet more rain in the morning. There are few things more wretched than trying to pack up camp in the rain, and it was definitely a morale killer. Simple tasks just take twice as long once you factor in trying to keep everything dry...

Eventually we managed to get everything packed away and ourselves on the road. Once again, the weather was truly dire, but we both got a second wind when we arrived at the Austrian border and the edge of the alps. After a brief detour to Neuschwanstein to see the castle from the outside, we headed to the village of Oetz. The weather may not have been brilliant, but we had a hell of a view of the mountains from our balcony, which definitely cheered us up.

Today, we woke up to sunshine, which was a very pleasant surprise. We briefly considered staying in Oetz for a second night, then checked the weather and saw that snow was predicted for tonight and tomorrow! Not fancying dealing with mountain passes in such weather, we took off for the Dolomites.

The sunshine held up for most of the day, and we have ridden some absolutely stunning roads. The Austrian alps were truly beautiful; the stuff of postcards with soaring mountains and wildflower filled Alpine meadows. We had decided to ride a couple of passes through the Dolomites, and the best way I can sum it up is “just don't look down”. Some of the roads were absolutely terrifying with hairpin bends and sheer drops, but Oli handled the bike incredibly well and despite my minor fear of heights, I managed to relax enough to really enjoy myself. We had both ridden some alpine passes before this trip (Stelvio, Furka, Grimsel etc.) , but this felt a lot more extreme, especially given that the roads in Italy were not quite up to Swiss standards!
As it was getting late when we arrived in Cortina, we decided to stop for the night. We have managed to arrive after the end of the ski season, but before the summer tourism picks up, so pretty much everything is closed! We wandered into the first open hotel we managed to find, and have ended up with a room for 140 euros, bargained down from 160 (ouch!). It was a sellers market and we were buying. Luckily, the hotel is beautiful and we are seeing it as an unplanned treat.

We have just arrived back from an excellent pizza meal washed down with good red wine. Tomorrow, we are aiming for Ljubljana!
Oli's Part
We have been bickering about who is going to write this blogpost.. I had started it and when I fell asleep Charli took over and wrote the bit above in her much better in English. Anyways, this section has more interesting information. As mentioned above the Western/Northern Europe part of the trip feels like we're chasing the sunshine away. We have been rained on almost everyday.. even today. (Thursday).

Anyway following the Keukenhof outing we had a lovely evening BBQing, eating Fiona's lovely food (accompanied by some vino) ow and watching the once a year comedy, Eurovision. The following day we spent an afternoon in Rotterdam with Charli's relations Ronald & Manon, who showed us around the southern part of the city (filled old dockland / new developments etc) and walked with us back to the main train station through some of the older parts (forgot the camera so no photos :(  )

The Gasthof Zur Buche has amazing breakfast, all kinds of scrambled egg, all kinds of meat all kinds of German goodness.

Autobahns are very fast and very very spray-ey in the wet, but let you make progress. Although we stopped enough times to dry up before the point of no return soak-age so we could carry on. Also the Autobahn services have very very flashy toilets.. 70 cents for a piddle, but you get a 50 cent voucher to spend in the cafe.. sort of win-win from a business perspective.

Yesterday we had another long autobahn stint, which allowed us to arrive in Austria.. well I think I like it more than Switzerland. It seems more real, and a bit harsher in terms of scenery (ow and cheaper). We were heading for Timmelsjoch pass but it was already 5.30pm and it started to drizzle so we stopped in Oetz (lovely place). Our host told us that Timmelsjoch is still closed due to snow and was due to open Friday but it might not as they're expecting more snow up there. So we were given a map of recommended biker roads (win) and went up Kühtai (the road is not even on my Michelin map... and it was a tad icy in places but not much to worry about). Basically go to Oetz, get to the only round about and hang a left where you eventually end up in Gries im Sellrain. We wanted to do Jaufenpass but didn't know whether it was open (+ it was in the wrong direction of travel). So we went down Brenner road (which very fast and sweepy (lots and lots of bikes) until the Sr48 (Italy) up to Sellajoch and passo di Falzarego which took us right through the heart of the Dolomites. On the way down to Cortina it was rather warm and we toyed with camping, but then the clouds in the distance came over and started wetting us so we found an expensive hotel as all the cheap ones have been shut down due to being too cheap to be open during low season. Glad we didn't camp as right now it is pretty dismal outside. Keeping the Europe leg of the trip campy-and-cheap is proving to be hard. There is also more rain forecasted in the Med regions (where we are heading next... hopefully this lot will be the last of the rain and end of May-June heat will welcome us into the Adriatic coast).

So good biker roads... from Reutte to Imst (Fernpass), then Oetz to Kühtai, then the Brenner Road, then the above mentioned passes. Hopefully tomorrow will be nice and sunny so we can enjoy some more twisties.



Saturday, 18 May 2013

In Bruges (and Voorschoten)


Well it's been an eventful few days but we are finally on the road! We left Plumpton early morning on Thursday with a beautiful sunny start. Driving along the Lewes road with the mist rising over the South Downs made me realise how much we might come to miss the UK whilst we are on the road. However, an hour later we were driving through Hastings and it had clouded over, which made me excited to be going again! We had a bit of a scare when we got pulled over by an unmarked police car, worrying Oli had been speeding or they would want to search our luggage for some reason. Luckily, he had just noticed that in our hurry, we had left a steel cable loose, which could have caught in the spokes. Coupled with our late departure, this meant we then had to get a rush on to get to the port on time. We made the check in for the ferry by minutes (we are out of practice, and had definitely forgot how faffy motorbiking is!), and got to our hotel on the outskirts of Bruges mid afternoon in the rain.


Our hotel was brilliant with a friendly host, and was really good value for money ( It was only 10 mins out of the centre by train, which was way more convenient than taking the bike in. Bruges is postcard beautiful, and the bad weather turned out to be a blessing, as it was beautifully quiet and uncrowded. Needless to say, we had a great time wandering the streets and quoting lines from In Bruges to each other. Andrew and Joe had recommended a great bar to us (Staminee de Garre), and after just one 8% beer each, Oli and I were definitely tiddly!

After such a lovely evening, the next day was a bit of a downer. Considering that we were aiming to follow the sunshine, so far, we are not really achieving this! The rain started about half an hour into our journey, and was relentless. We had decided to take the scenic route to Voorschoten via Zeeland (N57), but the wind and driving rain over the flood defences made it pretty extreme! We stopped for a break, and somehow managed to drop the bike when we were about to set off (thankfully before we had even got on it!). Oli claimed it had slipped because it was wet.... We had been dreading this happening as the bike weighs over 200kg with no luggage, but once we took the top box off it was surprisingly easy to lift between us!

By the time we got to Rotterdam four hours later, we were freezing cold and losing the will to live. Arriving in the industrial area and then getting stuck in horrendous traffic was pretty depressing. After the longest hour of our lives, we finally arrived in Voorschoten at the Robson house, and I was so relieved I actually had a tiny cry. On the plus side though, we have now thoroughly waterproof tested our gear, and it is mainly ok (with the major exception of my gloves, which are leather and definitely aimed at summer riding).

Needless to say, the Robsons made the horrible drive totally worth it. Emma, Sarah and Matthew immediately made us tea and sat us by the fire to warm up, and after a hot shower we felt great again. This weekend is Emma's birthday, so we went out for a meal at Fratellis (in Voorschoten). My artichoke starter was absolutely to die for, and we had a brilliant wine soaked evening together, wonderfully rounded off with limoncello.

Today was Emma's actual birthday, which began brilliantly with a mega breakfast. This afternoon, we went to the Keukenhof ( after a brief visit to Leiden, and we were blown away by how beautiful it was. It was also a good chance to practice with the camera, and our favourites are below – enjoy!

Bike drop count: 1


Sunday, 12 May 2013

Bike Modifications etc...


Few days to go now and I have just about finished fettling with the bike.
To the right of the page you should see a where are we? link. click it.. Now you may stalk us... we will try update our position everyday once we start off, it should save the last 7 days updates on the map.

Back to the main point of this post...In-case anyone out there is wondering how we have modified the bike below is a vague write up:

Bike Mods

This is the bit I was supposed to type up a month ago and kept putting it off as I was actually busy with the things I will writing about below.

Once we decided we were doing this ( about 3 years ago ) the two-up fully loaded configuration signifiantly narrowed down the bike search, as Charli didn't have an interest in motorbike riding/operating at the time. It was either a big BMW GS, a KTM 990, an Africa Twin or a Capanord Rally Raid. Out of the lot, reliability per £ meant that the Africa Twin won hands down. So I managed to get a low milage stock example (Cat D write off) for quite a decent price. Although looking back I probably should have got something with all the extras already installed rather than a clean stock bike... nevermind. The mods gave me the opportunity to get to know the bike mechanically pretty well.

First and foremost the suspension needed sorting, so after a recommendation by another fellow Africa Twin rider I looked in to the Ricor intiminator valves for the front and also their rear shock. Then sprung and valved this for my weight (65-70kg + luggage) so around 90kg. A month ago I got the spring changed to a stiffer one to accommodate for the weight 2 up + 2 peoples luggage for a long trip, so around 180kg max.

Frame Strengthening
With the increased weight the flex in the rear subframe also needed to be reduced. So we got help from Ernie at Overland Solutions to do some extra triangulations at the back, did this pretty soon after purchasing the bike.

The Africa Twin suffers with sticky chokes caused by the way the cable is routed. So I changed all the cables (including throttle and clutch) using Venhill cables (I sent them my cables and they made me new ones). The clutch cable has a plastic inner sleeve so technically doesn't need lubricating.

Another important aspect was the long distance comfort and the reach of my short legs. So I got the seat cut down at Caulfield Leather in Hyde. Matt was helpful and cut the seat down as much as it was feasable and added two gel pads (one for the passanger and one for the rider). The bum cramps don't kick in until about 200 miles now.

Electrics and Dash
One of the other known problems with the Africa Twin bikes after the sticky choke is the dodgy rectifier and its corresponding connector, so I got a new Shindegen FH020 rectifier from ebay (a common modification amongst other owners) and installed this. In addition, the Africa Twin has something inherently weird with the location of its 30A main fuse... it sits in the same assembly as the starter motor relay. So I seperated this out and now the main fuse is standalone.

The Africa Twin is an old bike these days and it has a rather large trip computer (very useful) and a basic dash where there is a lot of wasted space for extra switches and outputs. So I got an aluminium plate dash from ebay (Coyotetrips) for December (the bike) that fits straight over the stock dash.

In terms of electrics I have added
2 x 12V auxilary outputs (1 to run the tyre compressor from and the other to add a USB converter for very slow battery charging :) (Andy's favourite topic) )

A fan over-ride switch

Koso engine water temprature sensor and gauge

Heated grips and its corresponding switch

And finally a main switch that controls a relay to enable/disable all of the above features (except fan over-ride) once the ignition is on. I took the 12V switched live from the horn live feed on the right handle-bar (I think it was the horn anyway).

For these extras, an additional fuse box was used and an 8 pole terminal from Vehicle wiring products to create enough live and ground connections. I used cheap and cheerful spade terminals due to their easy availability everywhere.

Centre Stand for Maintenance
I also invested in a centre stand as it is useful when taking the wheels off the bike. Unfortunately the exhaust had to come off to get the centre stand in, had to have help from a garage for the springs at a later date as they were impossible without locking grips and bigman strength, which I had neither. The exhaust was installed with new gaskets and help from Charli, who was holding the silencer and ecouraging me to bash harder (hur hur). There was lots of bashing with my bare hands and a little bit with a mallet, but eventually we managed to sort it.

Clean, Paint and ACF50
Whilst doing the electrical work I stripped the bike down quite a bit , cleaned it and got most of the rust off with a wire brush from the bits of the frame that had started to corrode. Then I painted those areas with Hammerite straight to rust paint, which worked a treat. Then I sprayed everything with ACF50. Look it up it's good stuff.

Suspension Linkage Strip
While the shock absorver was out I removed the rear suspension linkage and painted the rusty areas, cleaned the needle roller bearings with parafin, then washed it off with brake cleaner and re-greased it all and added new seals.

The Africa Twin brake pistons are known to corrode and stick, so I replaced the pistons (front and back) with stainless steel ones from Wemoto (end of sticky brakes). Whilst the brake fluid was out of the system I replaced the 12 year old rubber brake hoses with Melvin braided hoses.

Other Maintenance
Ran Wurth radiator flush in the cooling system and drained the old coolant out and added new stuff.

New engine oil and filter.

Pipercross airfilter (washable / cleanable)

Then I did the valve clearances, had to adjust them a tad as they were all a bit tight. This took a few iterations over few days to get right. But was worth doing.

December also has a wonderful Motad Venom exhaust, and with the Pipercross filter the engine might run a bit lean but there really is no time for a dyno run. I will keep an eye on the colour of the sparkplugs and if necessary go up a jet size. Will not be changing the sparkplugs until Turkey as they have not done many miles since I put them in. Also added a Tuturo chain oiler, however I used an additional tap to turn it fully off as I can't be bothered to remember the flow level setting each time. (look up how it works if you don't get what I mean)

Luggage and Tools
For the luggage we went with Steel Pony canvas luggage (from Australia) to save weight and avoid crushing Charli's legs every time we have a low speed tumble (which we will have about 8000 of at least). We also decided to keep the topbox until it falls off (it will fall off) as it is the only secure locking box we have. We are going to protect the Steel ponies with steel cable locks, although this will only be a deterrant and not stop someone with a knife from cutting them open and emptying the contents. So the topbox has important stuff like the tent (Northface Rock 22), airmats (Exped Synmat Ultralight), First aid kit (see previous post regarding this), other medications, maps and electronics etc.

We are also going to be using a Wolfman Explorer Lite tank bag and a couple of Bergen side pouches slung over the petrol tank.

The tools and spares are going to be carried under the seat and in Tool tubes attached to the crashbars using P-clips. Trying my best to distribute some of the weight to the front.

I also got the sidestand extended by Vern at Project VND in Cheshire (also if you like making your own bread, his workshop is near Walk Mill... they have some very nice flours). Vern is a brilliant guy with good stories giving a lot of attention to detail to  his work. He also helped me mount the engine crashbars properly (cut and weld job at the mounting tabs) which I purchased off Rugged Roads. The original fitting was putting unnecessary stress on to the front part of the bike frame and could have damaged it badly in an accident). Africa twins sometimes suffer with off the shelf stuff not fitting as there can be slight variations one frame to the other).

I think this covers most of the mods on the bike. The suspension is not perfect but it is better than setting off with the stock set-up

I would like to thank Paul and Danny very much from the uni workshop, for helping me sort a few key bits of the bike such as a way to lock the toolboxes and adapter plates to move the rear rack back so the topbox didn't take up half the passanger space.

Few pics:

Chain Oiler

Bergen Side pouches and Wolfman Explorer Lite tank bag (very nice fit for the Af-Twin)



Extended Rear Rack to create more space for Charli IMGP0365
Additional fuse box for the dash gizmos and Asda Tupperware covered in Duct-tape


Anyway, will do a more up-to date post soon.

Oli (Kaan)

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Counting Down...

Well, it's less than a fortnight until we plan to hit the road, and all being well we should be setting off on schedule. Progress on getting prep done was definitely hindered by the gorgeous weather we have had over the past week (three hour dog walk in the sunshine anyone?), and today's cloudy weather was spent dealing with unexpected car issues.

Despite this, we have managed to sort the main outstanding things that we had to do, which were as below.  


We have gone with Navigator for this. After reading about another motorbike traveller who got stuck in Mexico with an enormous hospital bill following an accident (his bike was bigger than 125cc, so he could not make a claim with his insurer due to restrictions), we contacted them and checked a few technicalities. Fortunately, they gave decent answers to all our queries and seemed good to deal with. The even better news is that we are covered for going to non FCO advised areas (e.g. Iran), as long as what we are claiming for is not related to the reason given for the restriction. This was a relief, as I was having visions of not being covered for medical expenses if we had an accident in Iran. Anyway, we have insured ourselves for the trip to the tune of £504.00 for the both of us, which was actually a lot less than I was expecting.

Indian Visas

After the Pakistani visa failure, we were expecting this to be a total nightmare. However, I have to say this was almost totally painless. We are lucky to be close to London, so we just filled in the online forms and went to the visa centre in person. Oli was envisaging enormous queues and a wasted day, but the process only took around ten minutes, meaning we got to spend the rest of our time wandering around sunny Green Park instead. We only did this on Wednesday, and our passports arrived back by special delivery this morning! We are not actually sure if we will be going to India on the trip now (Pakistan visa dependent), but thought there was no harm in having the option. All our other visas can be applied for either on the roads or granted at the relevant borders.

We also took stock of the outstanding things we needed to purchase, and ordered them all at once. The last few days have been like Christmas here, with a lot of random parcels arriving! The dogs both go a bit mental when parcels are about, and Susie kept shoving her nose into whatever was getting opened.

The last minute purchases were as below:

Dainese Knee V Armour (one pair each) - can be worn with our Draggin Jeans and also under our normal textile trousers.

2 x Aluminium 1l drinking water bottles - I hate the taste of water when it's been warm in a plastic bottle.

One pair of Sealskinz socks for me - There is nothing more miserable than spending a day (or longer) with wet feet... eurgh.

One Aquapure Traveller bottle - This just looks like a small sports water bottle, but works as a decent water filter and will get rid of viruses / amoebas etc. We will probably end up cursing this as a total waste of valuable space, but the stakes are so high with bad drinking water that I think it is worth carrying anyway. We have also bought some chlorine dioxide water purifying tablets (again, not really expecting to have to use these, but definitely worth having). 

Exped Dry Bags - We found these cheap on ebay, and are going to use them as clothes bags. Our panniers are cloth rather than metal, and although they are technically waterproof, I don't fancy finding out they aren't after a long day of riding in the rain.

We have done a sample pannier pack with all the clothes we're planning to take, plus sleeping bags, and it's really not looking too bad. People have seemed shocked when we say how few clothes we are bringing, but I think in reality we are probably still over packing, and will end up dumping some of it in Turkey!

We are both going to be sad to leave lovely Sussex, but are also itching to get on the road. Europe wise, we are planning to head fairly quickly through Germany and Italy, and then spend most of the three weeks in Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro and Albania. We'll then get to Turkey via Greece, avoiding Istanbul traffic by getting a ferry from Athens to Chios, and then another from Chios to Çeşme. So excited!

To finish up, here is a video you might enjoy...