The glory of gravel

Gravel wasn’t something that I went out of my way looking for in the past. The perfect road used to be smooth and winding tarmac but while living in England I gravitated more and more towards the adventure segment of motorcycling. When Christopher started riding, his interest was geared towards the smaller roads and exploring, rather than following the asphalt ribbon.

For Christopher, a motorbike trip is another possability to catpture great photos, this was Scotland 2016

We did some light trail riding (typically called greenlaning in local lingo) while in the British Isles and this lead onto getting equipped with a lighter bike, trading the Versys for the GS and then onto better tyres, putting on the Heidenau Scout. Lastly, better boots were purchased, and I now walk around like a squeaky robot in my Sidi Adventure 2 (but they are amazingly comfortable while riding, and have protected our ankles really well so far).

This summer Cool Cat, my blue GS, got a pair of Heidenau tyres as well, and crash bars too. Then I went out looking for gravel. In Sweden, unlike some other countries such as England or Spain, gravel roads are quite frequent in the countryside so enjoying riding them is a huge benefit. My native region, Värmland, has especially many gravel roads (and a strong tradition of rally driving too). As I mentioned in my previous post, the gravel road no. 673 in Värmskog (up to the bakery and beyond) is even a kulturminne, cultural landmark.

I ventured out on some stretches of the Swedish TET and, unlike the Prades mountains in Spain, where Christopher and I were riding TET earlier this summer, it was largely gravel roads, and some forest roads (we also call these tractor roads as they are made by and for forest machinery). In the Prades mountains we encountered mainly gravel or dirt trails, sometimes very gnarly due to rain earlier in the year and these trails require higher skills and greater precautions for us novices.

In Sweden, I both went out exploring for fun but also implemented gravel roads in my routes to go places.

This is just off the TET not far from Karlstad, a total surprise to find “the red gold” (lingonberries) when I stopped for a break.
On the TET a bit after the town of Kil going north
On the TET a bit after the town of Kil going north.
This forest road is also on the TET, in the vicinity of Hjo.
This forest road is also on the TET, in the vicinity of Hjo.

Lastly, I’d like to mention the gravel course I took with SMC (the Swedish Motorcyclists Central organisation) where I improved my braking and cornering a bit. But there is only so much I can learn in a day and, unfortunately, I couldn’t join more courses during my stay in Sweden. It is so worth the money and time spent, I hope I can join them again next year.

FENoMenAL Motorbike Meet – I’m trying my hand as a rally organizer

“See you next year!” How amazing it was to hear this and know that the event I had poured so much energy and time into planning was a success and that everyone had had a good time.  

It was exciting to welcome everyone to my region of Sweden, Värmland, and host this event for WIMA Sweden in Värmskog. It was a low-key event, building on the amazing location and the company. We rallied together with all our enthusiasm and knowledge and learned from and inspired each other.  

The little cabins that make up the vandrarhems lodgings are taken from different parts of Värmland about 100 years ago and have before that been used as swineries, stable, food storage etc
The little cabins that make up the vandrarhem’s lodgings were taken from different parts of Värmland about 100 years ago and have before that had been used as swineries, stables, food storage etc.

Women from both Sweden and Norway took part and it was open to members of WIMA as well as non-members. We were 22 in total, which meant that we filled Värmskog’s vandrarhem (Swedish-style countryside hostel made up of separate cabins) and didn’t need to share the facilities with anyone else. In the evenings, we enjoyed barbecue and presentations in the garden – the first night we all introduced ourselves and got to know each other, the second night we had volunteers giving presentations. We were women all ages and levels of experience, ranging from holding the licence for only 1 month, to over 40 years. The parking area displayed a wide range of bikes, there were cruisers as well as race bikes and everything in between, including a motorcycle with a sidecar! Along with this diversity, a theme emerged: gravel! We all had our own relation to gravel riding –  those who love it, those who avoid it, those who learn to ride it, and most remarkably – she who got told that “women don’t ride gravel”, by a sales person when wanting to buy a bike more suitable for gravel riding. Well, he ain’t selling no bike to any WIMA member after that, we all agreed.  

The famous open-face prawn sandwich, or simply as we say in Swedish 'räkmacka'
The famous open-face prawn sandwich, or simply as we say in Swedish ‘räkmacka’

Värmskog is a small village in the south of Värmland. As it is situated by the lake Värmeln, we had access to both a small beach with sand, cliffs and a jetty, as well as nearby possibilities to just dip into the water from the edge of the forest, and most of us took advantage of the lake at some point as the weather was very hot. The local café, Värmskog’s Café, is famous for its giant open-face prawn sandwiches and bikers have used this as a riding destination for decades – I must admit that this was why I was first attracted to the idea of hosting the event in this location. I rode there the first time in 1998, as a learner rider, and I return most years to indulge. To further take advantage of local facilities, I’d ordered breakfast buns, cake and cinnamon buns from Malin at Värmskog’s bakery. And, surprise, surprise, the road there was a gravel road, a rollercoaster gravel road! This is road 673, appointed a cultural heritage and one of Värmland’s most beautiful gravel roads. I got to ride it twice for the bread collection, you may call it ‘the organisers perk’, ha ha! If you pass by Värmskog, I recommend you pop up there, enjoy the road, and buy some homemade bread, cakes or why not muesli.  

Värmskog's bakery
Värmskog’s bakery

The slogan for the event was ‘for women by women’, building on the idea that we can all learn from each other. It was also important for me that everyone would be able to connect and make new friends, I wanted it to be an event you could go to alone but leave having made many new friends. In addition, everyone was asked if they wanted to present something, and thanks to our volunteers we got the opportunity to learn a few things. Monica held a presentation about WIMA Norway, which is one of the newer divisions in WIMA, built on the enthusiasm from the WRWR movement. It was truly amazing to hear about all the activities they are organising, and the way they run their division. When I was International President, it was one of my goals to get a division started in Norway, therefore the story of their success touches my heart. WIMA Norway has grown with record speed and is, with their 800 members, a powerhouse in the Norwegian motorcycle community. They are also, by far, the biggest national division, more than twice as big as the second largest division. Absolutely amazing, but if all their members are as positive and energetic as the ones coming to FENoMenAL, I’m not at all surprised! Other presentations were Merete’s inspirational story about how we can stand up for ourselves, ride our own ride, so to speak. Marie talked about Tapping, a way to reduce stress and anxiety and, in addition, I talked about riding in hot weather and introduced WIMA’s chosen charity, MJ Piki in Tanzania, and those who wanted could donate money towards training another woman rider for the team. 

We started the barbeque and the presentations at 7
We started the barbecue and the presentations at 7

and presentations ran on into the late evening.
and presentations ran on into the late evening.

Susann contributed as tour leader for the Saturday ride out to Värmland’s Näs, about 10 riders joined her on a full day excursion. The rest of us made smaller explorations, involving ice-cream, beach and prawns. I appreciated the time we had to chat and share experiences and I truly felt I connected and made friends with everyone attending.  

Susanne leads the group ride out onto Värmland's Näs.
Susanne leads the group ride out onto Värmland’s Näs.

Luxury lunch and chill timeon Värmland's Näs
Luxury lunch and chill time on Värmland’s Näs

Even when you try to avoid gravel there is always some.
Even when you try to avoid gravel there is always some.

I learnt a lot from organizing and hosting this rally and now an idea is sizzling in my mind: how about incorporating a gravel training day in next year’s event?! I’ve just done such an event with SMC Värmland and I think a collaboration could work well. Food for thought, but for sure, WIMA Sweden will be back with FENoMenAL MC träff next year again.

I wanted to organise an event where people could feel this chilled haning out, I think I succeded.
I wanted to organize an event where people could feel this chilled hanging out, I think I succeeded.

Photo courtesies to all the awesome women participating! Photos are taken from our Messenger chat group.

The Quest for Vinyls

Owning a vinyl record player used to be a future dream for us, something that we would get when, at some distant point in the future, we got a permanent living place. Well, in May we realised that we indeed had acquired such living conditions where a vinyl record player and vinyls could be owned and stored. Bear with me, we’re getting to the motorbike-related part soon. Following the purchase of the actual player, we swiftly bought a few key records as new pressings, New Model Army’s From Here, Enya’s Watermark, Killing Joke’s Pandemonium, Penfriend’s Exotic Monsters, The Sisters of Mercy’s Floodland and Mishima’s Ara i Res. I already had the vinyl for Winnerbäck’s Tänk om jag ångrar mig och sen ångrar mig igen as it was part of the collector’s pack that my ex-boyfriend gifted me 13 years ago. This made for a good start, but we needed more.

Vinyl player and Kallax storage shelf
Vinyl player and Kallax storage shelf

During the last year my partner and I have been listening to the Audible version of the Vinyl Detective series by Andrew Cartmel and this could very well have been the catalyst for the realisation of the purchase of our vinyl player, but more specifically it made me want to try out crate-digging for records. The Vinyl Detective’s cases are always a quest for one or several rare records and he travels around London going to record fairs and charity shops for crate-digging. In Sweden, flea markets – Loppis, in local lingo – have become very trendy and during summer they pop up in great numbers all over the country. In addition, the market for used vinyl is also rather good and there are several record shops dedicated almost exclusively to it. This is where the motorbike comes into the picture.

Dad helped me prep a special backpack for crate-digging, naturally large enough to fit one or several vinyls and with a sheet of plywood in for stability and strength. This backpack was then permanently stored in one of my panniers as, in Sweden, there can be flea markets in the most unexpected places. My first, and as it turned out, most economically successful crate-digging excursion was in and around Motala. With the help of friends, I could find several flea markets where they had vinyl – mostly it was old Swedish bands but I could find some others that I liked and I picked up a couple of Simon and Garfunkel records for only 40sek each (roughly 4 euros) that was on our wish-list, as well as Never mind the bollocks here’s the Sex Pistols and Deep Purple’s Made in Japan. These last two I acquired in an unconventional manner. I usually never haggle for prices, and it wasn’t my intention to do so this time either but as it happened the shop owner aked me if I found something. I bluntly told him that the records were in too poor condition and not worth what he was asking and that was how I accidentally negotiated the price down to 50sek for both, rather than 80 and it was only much later, when I deep cleaned them, I noticed that they actually play quite ok and were actually worth their initial price.

A typical loppis sells a bit of everything and might have a few crates of vinyls too
A typical loppis sells a bit of everything and might have a few crates of vinyls too

On a later occasion, I made a dedicated vinyl-tour to Uddevalla and Trollhättan and it was in Evolution records in Uddevalla I learned that vinyls don’t get their price based on their quality only, availability is a great part of it. Therefore, I had been able to buy great quality records with popular Swedish artists for only 10 sek (1 euro). This is also when I learned about Discogs, where you can see how much records are bought and sold for at the moment and learn about special editions, etc. I bought Winnerbäck’s live album Vi var där which was not cheap at all, as it was now sold out on vinyl and only available second hand (it was 400sek, i.e. 40 euros for a triple vinyl).

Parked outside Vinylskrubben in Trollhattan
Parked outside Vinylskrubben in Trollhattan

After Udevalla, I made my way to the neighbouring town Trollhättan and the record shop Vinylskrubben. There, I found several albums that were on our wish-list, such as U2, Enya and Leonard Cohen. The record playing in the shop was Deep Purple and it was bloody good. I wasn’t familiar with that particular record, but I decided to ask if I could buy it when I had finished the crate-digging and was ready to pay. But there I learned a lesson, while I was happily flipping records and enjoying the music a guy just simply strolled in and asked to buy the record playing. Aaargh! After this it became my quest to find this record and, luckily, I was later able to find it. I bought, in total, 10 records on that trip, so the backpack was rather heavy on the return journey and I still had about 150km to go when my motorcycle just died. My first thought was that I was glad that I had chosen to include recovery in my insurance. It is actually dad who insists that I have recovery, as he thinks my bike is old and therefore unreliable and that he is too old to come and get me. Or perhaps that I’m old enough to take care of myself. Or all of those!  Anyway, on this occasion I didn’t need to use the recovery option, I could fix the problem quite easily myself. It was a cable that had come loose, probably when I was riding that amazing gravel road near Svanskog on my way down to Uddevalla. I was pretty pleased that I had all the tools with me to be able to unmount the fairings and access the battery and the cables so that I could fix it and continue swiftly. I thoroughly enjoyed some of my favourite small roads, slowly making my way towards home and halfway there I pulled in to a petrol station to fill up. It was by habit more than necessity, as I always used to fill up in Mellerud with a shade over 100km to go. This was when I became aware that the electrical problem was a bit bigger than just a loose cable. I had to do some more fixing and either Swedes don’t care to ask if someone needs help when they are taking apart their vehicle, or everyone around thought I knew what I was doing. Anyhow, no-one asked to help me and luckily, definitely more luck than skill, I got the bike going and didn’t even dare to turn it off again to replace the fairings but rather put it all together provisionally and rode without stopping straight home. A more thorough examination showed that there was a bit of rust on the battery connector and after scaping that off as well as some other cleaning and adjusting of cables, I nearly didn’t have any more motorbike-related problems.

I've pryed the middle pannel loose to access the battery
I’ve pried the middle pannel loose to access the battery

Another fantastic day trip I made was up to Östanbjörke near Sunne. It was a great day on many accounts as I had started off with visiting a friend on the way – not only was I treated to homemade raspberry crumble, I was also promised that I could come over next time I needed to change oil and he would help me open the plug so that I could empty the engine entirely of the old oil. Hurray! I shall make sure I bring the crumble on that occasion. At Östanbjörke vinyl and flea market, I made several lucky digs. Firstly, I found the Deep Purple record, Who do we think we are? that I lost out on at Vinylskrubben, and then I found an Enya maxi-single with a rare B-side that isn’t available on any album so there were a couple of treats for both me and Christopher. Unfortunately, I later found out that the Deep Purple record has a scratch that makes the needle jump in Tokyo Woman, but to be honest, if I had known I might had bought it anyway but perhaps haggled for the price?! After all, I paid 140sek for it (14 euro) and it was marked G+, which implies that the record should play well. While it is annoying that one of the best songs doesn’t play perfectly, this record had an unexpected perk. When I examined the record’s pressing codes on the run-out groove, I discovered that it had PORKY etched on the A-side and PURPLE PECKY on the B-side, which means that it is pressed by renowned mastering engineer George Peckham and these pressings are very good quality and highly regarded. To conclude this paragraph, I must also mention that on my way home I stopped in Sunne and had a big soft ice-cream in the harbour. Why? Life is too short for small ice-creams, that is why.

On my last crate-digging run, I found the first pressing of Magnus Uggla’s cover album Allting som ni gör kan jag göra bättre at Askers in Grums (translates as “Everything you do I can do better” reflecting the artist’s lack of humbleness). It contains a later banned version of Vem kan man lita på and, in addition, on the back of the sleeve there is a reproduction of the infamous artwork of Carl Johan de Geer which was banned (and all the printed posters burned by the police) in 1967 for violating the flag and being anti-Swedish. Such an iconic album by one of my favourite artists had to be included in my collection. I also found a very good edition of the Smurfs story album that I bought for my sister. When I was visiting, she complained that our brother had lent (or gave away, at least we never got it back) our Smurf record when we were kids, so I think it will make for a very unexpected Christmas present. It was great to finish on a high, and it was also great that this was the last day riding before flying home as I noticed that the right front fork was leaking oil from the seal, here we can probably blame the gravel riding. Another thing to deal with next summer – there will be a long list, I’m afraid.

While I wasn’t able to go on a proper holiday last summer, this continuous quest for vinyls filled my summer in Sweden with fantastic excursions and when it was time to fly home I had a rather heavy backpack that I jauntily carried on one shoulder trying to pretend that it wasn’t heavy at all – the well-tested trick to not get checked by the Ryanair staff.

PS. in these videos you can see how I deep-cleaned the dirty Sex Pistols record and Deep Purple’s Made in Japan with wood glue. It effectively removes all ingrained dirt that has accumulated in the grooves. It is easier than you would first think so don’t be afraid to try it!