And life moves on

As summer continues here in Sweden, my Versys is stored away in Spain together with five boxes containing our possessions and I’m prepping my “new” Swedish registered bike. It is a 2002 BMW F650GS. The very same model I rode in Australia a few years back for the WIMA rally. But the history of me and BMW goes back further than that. I was actually close to getting a BMW years back when I instead got my second Ducati – I test rode a BMW Scarver and my brother was cheering me on wanting me to buy it. I wasn’t ready then, and I would even own a third Ducati before I again contemplated the purchase of a BMW.

The same year my brother died, 2005, I rode a BMW GS in New Zealand and absolutely hated it. My friend and I had both rented a GS and when hers broke down and she got a replacement Honda Transalp that she couldn’t reach the ground on I was happy to swap bikes. But life changes and so does one’s needs and likes. When I at last prepared to leave the Ducati world, the GS was back on my shortlist, along with the Suzuki V-Strom and the Kawasaki Versys. The vote fell on the Versys, as a secondhand GS was more expensive than a new Versys with cases and the V-Strom felt too bulky.

So finally, I’ve gotten myself the bike that I crossed path with so many times and I must say I love it, it is an absolute delight to ride, so light and easy to handle and the engine is so responsive. The engine runs so much smoother than the Versys and the weight distribution is so much better. I wish my brother could see me now.

My Versys was bought with panniers and top case, the only thing I had to sort out was the tank bag. My GS has a small top case and nothing else, so I’m busy getting stuff sorted. I would be happy travelling with just a pack roll if it wasn’t that I will be picking up Christopher and he’ll be pillion for part of the journey. Therefore, I needed to source out panniers for the bike, and to fit panniers I need pannier racks.

The amount of time that has gone in to searching for “the right” panniers and other equipment is ridiculous. In the end, the challenged proved to be the pannier rack, which not only is ridiculously expensive – 3795sek or roughly 400 euros for just the rack if I would order from Touratech! Besides, they have a 3-month delivery time. Instead, I sourced the pannier rack from SW Moto and ordered from Polo Motorrad – the cost was half the price. However, when, after some days, I called asking after the delivery date as they had not provided any, I was told they had a 3 weeks waiting time before they would get the rack into stock, that would be after I’d started travelling.  Following this, I found a Swedish company who would sell the rack and deliver within 10 days, so I bought it from them paying 2750sek.  The rack from the Swedish company has not arrived and no new delivery date has been given, in the meantime Polo has shipped my rack and with a little bit of luck it will arrive tomorrow so I can mount it on the bike. Fingers crossed… I was going to arrange for them to be sent along my route but they shipped much earlier than expected. The panniers themselves are yellow waterproof soft bags from Nelson Riggs and I’m really eager to put them on.

The tank bag is another story. I generally don’t want to spend money on a fantastic tank bag as it could easily get stolen, so I’d rather buy a cheap one no-one is interested in. I have purchased a large tank bag from Biltema for very low cost and I re-constructed it to fit the tank which is made of plastic. All I needed to do was to attach straps to the bag and remove the magnets.

Along with the pannier racks, I’m also awaiting the RAM mount for my phone. It seems impossible to ride while reading maps and street signs after being accustomed to following the GPS – for good and for bad, it saves so much time and effort.

Anything else, yeah, right, my tablet died – but I have ordered one to be picked up at an electronic store along the route.

Gear up – keep yourself safe

Visiting Altberg, the boot factory in Richmond, has been a dream of mine for a few years. Ever since I replaced my race boots some 5 years ago I have tried to find good waterproof boots with a thicker sole which would reduce the vibrations transferred from the foot pegs. This summer, when travelling up to Scotland, we found ourselves rather close to Richmond so we decided to pop by. The shop is actually in the boot factory and you can see the boots being made there, something rare these days when most things read “made in China”. Another thing that is unique with Altberg is that they measure your feet and can make alterations to the boots if they don’t fit your feet. Being, of necessity, a fan of tall boots I had two versions to choose from and I was trying them both, pacing around the shop (I hate shopping, remember). I wasn’t too keen on the lace up boot since I thought that would be too warm in summer (in Spain especially) but the other model, the police boot, were so uncomfortable. The salesman – actually not a salesman, a bootmaker by his own words “we’re not salesmen, we’re bootmakers, we don’t tell people what to buy we tell them how things are” – patiently explained to me how boots work and listened to my thoughts. As a response to me saying “it feels counterintuitive to buy a boot that is uncomfortable” he simply took my riding boot (the leaking ones I got in Germany in July, as a replacement for the other leaking ones I bought last year) and scrunched it up like a bare foot running shoe and said: “this is why your boots are comfortable, they have no protection”. When Christopher and I had recovered from the shock, I bought the police boots and off we went. One week later the boots were broken in and are now a superb fit, I absolutely love them.

Altberg police boots, warm, dry and stylish
Altberg police boots, warm, dry and stylish

When it comes to safety in gear I’m willing to spend a lot of money for the right stuff. Having said that, I must also point out that the Altberg boots are not any more expensive than other upper-range boots, and will last many years. At least according to my many British friends who wear them and swear by them. Another piece of gear where a perfect fit is an absolute necessity is the helmet. My helmet is 4 years old now and does not need replacement by age and, by washing the interior, I got rid of the smell of wet dog caused by a combination of sweat and rain. However, the view through the visor wasn’t all that good and the helmet wasn’t a snug fit anymore. During an outing to Fowlers in Bristol, I took the opportunity to try on new helmets for fun – I was only planning to buy a new visor and pin lock. The new Shoei model was a perfect fit and I was tempted to simply get it but I told the salesman that I was actually only looking for a new visor and I showed him my helmet while admitting that it did feel a bit large these days. The amazing thing here is that this salesman didn’t jump at the opportunity of selling a customer a well-fitting helmet but instead said that my helmet would have a life length of 5-7 years and that he could see if he had any cheek pads in stock to improve the fit. In addition, he offered to clean my visor and see how damaged it was. Instead of selling me a new visor and pin lock he showed me that the visor was not too bad, if I just got a new pin lock it would be quite ok. He changed the cheek pads, put in the new pin lock and let me try the helmet and decide what I thought. The fit was snug again and I had those nicely puffed up cheeks that a well-fitting helmet gives. In addition, the vision had improved with the replacement of the pin lock. He also put some silicone on the opening mechanism so the visor opens and closes smoothly a ain. All in all, he charged me £50 for that. That is what I call good service! In addition, not only did I save a lot of money by prolonging the life of my present helmet, which is still undamaged and safe, I avoided overconsumption and acted environmentally friendly.

Ah, look at these lovely puffy cheeks, helmet is snug and comfy again
Ah, look at these lovely puffy cheeks, helmet is snug and comfy again

How are you gearing up to keep yourself safe on the road? What is your  favourite gear? I’d be happy to know – please coment below, lets share tips and ideas!

Where I come from the air is free

I went out for a ride today and as it turned out it got me thinking and reflecting on the differences between countries when it comes to riding and gearing up, traffic and traffic behaviour.

To begin with, I passed by the petrol station to fill up. Then I thought I might as well check the air pressure. I was amazed to have to pay for this service, something I just assumed was included in the services the petrol station provides. But coming to think of it, even though I have travelled in about 15 countries I have only filled up with air in Sweden and New Zealand, none of these countries charged for it. Things might have changed though.

50 centimos to fill up with air
50 centimos to fill up with air

While getting on to the motorway, I was thinking of my riding gear and the safety of my jacket. I was wearing my summer jacket which has a built-in back protection. But it is rather short compared to my loose back protection that I use under my winter jacket. Pondering this, I got passed by two boys in t-shirts and the wind turbulence blew their t-shirts upwards exposing their whole naked back. The sight of this made me hope that they at least had the brains to put on sunblock, not to damage the skin in case of no accident.

I’ve been raised as a biker in an environment with very high safety awareness. In the local club, Lo Cats MC in Karlstad, where I spent my first riding years the general opinion was that when you get out to ride you gear up, and if you don’t use back protection you’re an idiot. Still, today I have a hard time not telling people that they are idiots when they don’t gear up properly for the ride 🙂

In Germany, Britain and other colder countries riders do gear up quite well, I guess this has to do with the double function of the gear, both safety and warmth. But I have noticed that a lot of touring riders wear laced hiking like boots for riding, which indeed are both comfy and waterproof but don’t provide much protection for the ankles. Personally, I prefer to ride in race boots, since I love hiking and running and therefore want to wear the best possible protection in case of an accident.

Reflecting on this I was riding here, between Miraflores de la Sierra and Tres Cantos
Reflecting on this I was riding here, between Miraflores de la Sierra and Tres Cantos

While riding in Spain I have seen people wear next to nothing riding their bike. The general idea is that it is a convenient way to commute and then you wear whatever you want to wear when you get to your destination. Which could be suit and tie, jeans and jacket or shorts and t-shirt, depending on where you’re going. Since I’m Swedish and know what I know and have seen what I have seen, I gear up even for riding to work, witch makes me have to answer a lot of questions, all the time. I guess it is just a different way of thinking about life. I can’t stand up and say how Spanish people think and why they do as they do, but to me it seems like it is more about living every day in as comfortable and nice way while Swedish people tend to plan for the future. Having said this, I’m aware that there are lots of serious bikers out there in Spain, geared up in leather, taking security seriously just as there are Swedish people not using back protection. This is my opinion and I love to hear your comments on it.

When it comes to traffic and the behaviour in traffic, Swedish and Spanish riders and drivers behaves very differently. I love the way I’m allowed to surf the queue, drivers actually make room for riders to pass. In Sweden, there is some kind of envy that prevents drivers from letting riders pass this easily. Like it would be bad to use a benefit when you can. Swedish people generally drive very much according to the rules and we plan our riding/driving. In Spain, the traffic acts a bit more creatively and I have, to an extent, got used to things happening suddenly. For example, a car can exit the roundabout from the inner lane by just using the horn and turning right. Traffic in Spain is generally very loud. It seems that there are many different reasons for using the horn, not only to make someone move or signal that you are coming, but also to show annoyance with the traffic jam. In Sweden, generally, we use the horn only to salute someone we know. And second if someone is in your immediate way. In England, Anelli and I often got passed silently by cars getting impatient because we hesitated a few seconds before getting into the roundabout. This annoyed me because I thought it was dangerous just to slip past like that not making themselves noticed. But from what I have heard British drivers don’t generally use the horn. But I have to say I prefer the Spanish way –  even though if I get beeped at a lot I might get stressed.

The best view of Madrid is from far far away
The best view of Madrid is from far far away

Now, when I’ve got started thinking on gear and traffic, next is to reflect on roads and scenery and biking in general during the Grand Tour. But that is not for today, now I have to get ready for bed, vacation is long gone and daily life has taken over my life again.