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.

Hitting the trails

We’ve found a little paradise around the corner from where we live. A paradise full of trails and twisty mountains roads and where we can sample different local wines every night.

As camping was out of the question because of the heat wave, I was looking for a cheap place to stay central in the Prades mountains and I found this albergue, Lo Refugi. Normally they host hikers so they didn’t provide parking, but I was intrigued by their gastro-restaurant with vegetarian food and local wine so we decided to book anyway. It worked out splendidly, we rode our bikes all day and sampled different types of wine and ate great food at night.

The location was not far off section 10 of the TET, the Trans European Trail, and on our second (!) visit we decided to try it out. As we’re newbies on mountain trails, this involved a lot of walking to scout if we reckoned we could manage the ascents and decents, always bearing in mind that we could have to turn back if something proved too difficult for our limited skills. And, as it was during a heat wave, it was incredibly hot so we needed to bring lots of water – both for drinking and to cool ourselves down – soaking the Urbane Pro made the most out of the full ventilation and saved my sanity.

This video is a compilation of videos of us riding over two days and I like to think that, apart from some lovely scenery, it also shows that our skills slightly improved over time.

In September, when the risk of wildfire is over, we’ll return for more riding and wine sampling.