Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Planning a Europe Trip - 4-6 months of riding & other things...

So because of a mixture of circumstances, Lucy & I have a period of free time where we can take some time out from the humdrum of UK life and go enjoy ourselves in them there 'foreign lands'. The plan has developed over time and actually shrank in concept from a Round The World trip as life things have gotten in the way. So the latest plan is to travel around various countries across Europe with a bias towards Eastern Europe as neither of us have ever been there before.

We've bought a van, which has a garage & a camper bit, then updated the bikes. We've sold off the previous stuff to help with the funding of things and generally spent time getting things ready. Lucy leaves her job this coming Friday, then heads to Peru for five weeks in early May on an internship studying birds/animals on the edge of the Amazon towards her planned career move into the natural sciences. I'm planning to leave the UK around the same time and head into Europe, van, dog, bikes and all in the back of the van, we'll then meet up once Lucy has completed her Peru stuff.

I've been lucky enough to have been working with a bunch of some 35 - 40 folk on a project that has been developing a route across Europe over the last twelve months. The Trans Euro Trail, (TET). Each country has somebody who either lives there or knows the trails really well, some GPX files have been collated by a guy called John Ross and they need checking, so that will be the basis of the trip from a bike point of view.

Alongside that Lucy wants to start a project that will work towards her eventual PHD and I want to learn some of the more traditional methods of land management utilised in other countries. For this bit we have found a great website called HelpX.

HelpX is a website where people can post requirements for help etc on all kinds of small projects from around the world. You pay a minimal fee for a membership and then get searching for the areas you want to go to and get in touch with the local folk. It's usually an exchange of work for food and/or accommodation type of scenario. We're gonna try it out as it reduces some of our costs and also helps us to both learn some new stuff and finally meet a whole load of new people as we go with the added benefit of helping others too.

Bike Prep
We have now bought two of the KTM 350's four strokes, mainly to simplify the whole thing about carrying spares etc plus we both like them as bikes to ride.The right weight vs power and all terrain type of travel. Also there are KTM dealerships all over the world, so it's easier to find parts so long as we have the parts manual with us. Both these bikes share many parts in common too so that makes life so much easier and I've drawn up a list of stuff we need and they are on their way this week.

Lucy has decided she didn't want anything changed on her bike, she prefers it as standard as possible, so we've just added a GPS set up, whereas for me I've made a few changes to mine, (see this POST for more details). Spares to be carried are:

Bikes - £450 (TBC)
Wheel bearings - Front & Rear
Head Bearings
Air Filters - pre oiled
Oil Filters
Brake Pads - Front & Rear
Clutch & Brake Levers
Spark Plugs
Inline Fuel Filters x 6
In tank fuel filter x 2

We can pick up the fluids as we go, as they are too heavy to carry anf the rest will all get packed up into labelled boxes etc and stored til needed.

Van Prep
The Mercedes Sprinter vans are pretty reliable, engine wise anyway, so basic spares for them, air filter, oil filter, fuel filter, bulbs etc are  all we're taking. Again Mercedes dealerships are all over so less of a hassle. I haven't come across a repair manual for one as yet, so still hunting for one. The biggest issue with them is the bodywork, it is a properly shite & cheap paint job on all of the early ones. This is a 2003 and it's just the same as all the other Mercedes vans I've owned. A bloody eyesore to look at, but lovely to drive. (Personal RANT to Mercedes - Sort your crap paint jobs out then these would be the best vans out there!!!). They all rust up in exactly the same places too, bottom of the doors, rear light fittings, under the windows, bottom of the headlights and the side runner for the panel door. Mmm runoff areas I wonder??

These vans have a chain driven cam, which is one less item to service and reduces the costs considerably. All of the above service parts are straight forward to do on the road too, the hardest thing is to get rid of the waste oil! They are absolutely useless in any mud though, so I may have to add some all terrain tyres if it looks like we'll be on more dirt roads than tarmac ones.

This van cost us £4700 with 140k miles on the clock and all of it's history. It's a completely local van in Cumbria, bought, sold and owned in the county since it's first registration and it's generally been well looked after. It was professionally converted to a race van by it's second owners as a sponsorship deal for a local rider, with power, garage and all! All we've had to do is add some personal stuff and update a couple fo things. We've added a Solar Panel setup to charge the leisure battery when it's standing for any length of time, a fridge for the warmer climates and some extra cupboards etc for storage of kit. This lot cost around £400 as the fridge was Lucy's sister's and it's on loan for now!

Insurance has been the biggest and most painful issue to sort and we still haven't found the answer for the van as yet. With the bikes, there is a company called MCE that Lucy has insured her bike with, they have a high excess at £575 but they allow six months of overseas travel rather than the standard 30 or 90 days, none of which are any good for our trip. I'm calling these today.

The van is proving to be a pain to sort at the moment. I found one company who wanted £1600 for upto 8 months insurance, so on price alone it was a no go.

Part of the problem with this area is that I have a real issue with insurance companies on the whole as I've had some really bad experiences with them in the past and it has always ended up costing me far more than if I'd not bothered with it in the first place. Some of the ones I've spoken to about the bikes have been truly awful to deal with, condescending, rude and extremely patronising, treating you like you're a liar and an inconvenience rather than a potential customer. If it wasn't a legal requirement half of them would be out of business buy now just for their customer service standards!!

Vehicle Travel Requirements
Each country has different requirements for vehicles travelling through them, as an example, France wants a breathalyser kit, a warning triangle, spare light bulbs and for vans, a high viz jacket in the vehicle at all times.

In Western Europe there is now a reciprocal set of PNRC cameras operating too, so if your vehicle isn't legal in your home country or your caught speeding, it is transferred to your home country database and then you're prosecuted upon your return. (So much for all those folk who used to go to France & Spain for a blast on their bikes now!). Having the van makes it more difficult as there are different rules for each type of vehicle too!

Navigating this lot for a trip is a nightmare to be honest, so I'm currently putting in hours on the computer looking all this shite up. I'm trying to sort out a pack of kit which is easy to access and covers the lot in one fell swoop, then when we're stopped I can just go to the one box for it all.

In certain countries you pay a toll/tax as you enter the country, so in Romania, you get a sticker for the window showing you've paid your tax, but if you don't have the receipt, when you get stopped a mile or so down the road by the poilce, they charge you again. (and pocket the cash).

No doubt there will be loads of this to take into consideration as we go and I'm sure there wil be some days when I'm spitting feathers at the injustice of it coming from a country where this type of small corruption is almost non existent thses days. (now it's just done on a huge scale in an office by someone wearing a suit generally and the sums involved are staggering!).

Once I've sorted all of these things I'll set up some kind of costings post with links, I'lll also name some of the appalling companies I've had experiences with. Hopefully others can avoid that experience then.

Lucy has to be back in the UK mid September to start her Masters course in Cumbria, so from there I'll have to decide what I'm going to do as another wet & cold winter is not an appealing idea, but there is plenty to happen between now & then I'm sure and who knows what life will throw our way en route!

Saturday, 15 April 2017


So we now have two of the KTM 350 EXC-f's in the stable, Lucy's 250 EXC-f has found a new home, my 400 EXC is about to follow suit once I've finished servicing and putting it back to standard setup.

Lucy's is a 6 days and a 2015 bike, I've picked up a 2012 standard bike, so it's ideal to look at any differences and also compare the earlier model bikes. For the 2012 one, I've stripped it and changed a bunch of things, nothing major but it needed some additions and I also wanted some of the stuff I'd put on the 400 to test out which have worked out well.

First thing I've noticed about these bikes in comparison to the 400 carbed version is that there is more vibration, I can feel it on both bikes, more on Lucy's as the chain & sprockets need replacing urgently, but it's also on the 2012 too. The 250 was very buzzy all the time, so tiring to ride for a full day, it'll be interesting to see how we fare over time with the 350's.

Injection systems are still a little bit on/off, again on both bikes, but definately better on Lucy's. Carbs allow for the idle speed to be lower and thus the bike runs on at a nice level when you're playing in tricky stuff. The injected bikes both run the rev's higher and on the first couple of days out in Wales, I stalled mine loads as just not used to it as yet. Now 5-6 days later of riding, I'm getting more used to it, but I still prefer the carbs!

Fuel range is better, the 250 had a 7 litre tank, we got about 10 miles to the litre, 70 miles range, the 400 had a 9 litre tank, same mpl, so 90 mile range. The 350's both do around 120 miles to a 9 litre tank, so about 13 miles per litre.  This helps us to relax a bit, especially after the 250.

Suspension is lush on both bikes. On the older bikes, even after a service at a KTM dealer, they were both a little stiff and notchy, the 350 versions are just better, period. Lucy had hers lowered by 10mm through the yokes at the front and then softened off at the back, this means she can now 'dab' when she needs too and has booosted her confidence on the bike loads.

Brakes are better, both bikes have a smoother set of brakes, front and rear. Now to be fair this could be down to my shite servicing and also both the 350's are on soft pads rather than the syntered ones. These don't last as long but they grip better and don't wear the discs out on the bikes anywhere near as fast.

Engine braking is much stronger. When you throttle off, the bike stops. With both the 250 & the 400, they just rolled on, so that has taken some getting used too and I've almost gone over the handlebars as caught out faffing around!

Saddles - These are much softer than the old bikes ones, for the 2012 bike, I feel like I'm sat on the frame whereas Lucy says hers is too stiff, so we may well swap and see how that goes, if that doesn't work I'll get mine redone with a more comfortable bit of padding!

Things I've added so far are;
1. Zen Overland Garmin AMPS mount - I liked Lucy's so much I bought bmyself one too!
2. KTM 13 litre tank - I had an injected KTM tank in the shed, so fitted this for the trip, range now 170 + miles.
3. In tank fuel sock - to add another layer of protection to the fuel pump.

Things to add;
1. Long neoprene fork gaiters - hopefully these will make the fork seals last longer
2. Tank protectors to the sides of the 13 ltr tank - need to find these!
3. Trailtech sidestand - The stock one is shite again, even though I've added a stiopper plate, Lucy's is better but it's been used less too so far!
4. Trailtech X2 Headlamp unit - I want to try the stock one out first, then most likely make the change.

Other than this lot, I don't see the need to change much more on this bike for the upcoming trip, happy days, almost time to ride away for the summer!

Next up is to try a 3 day ride with the panniers etc and see how that goes, then full service, load the bikes up and bugger off to the sunshine!

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Haggs Bank March Moto Madness Weekend - 2017

Danny at Haggs Bank Bunkhouse near Alston held is annual March Moto Madness weekend this weekend, so Lucy & I got out the bikes, the van and the dog and headed off up there for some fun on two wheels.

The Friday night was a night of bonfires, beer, music, chat and plans. We met up with a couple of guys we'd ridden with before, plus got chatting to a few new faces. One lad had ridden up from London on his 125cc monkey bike, he turned out to be a hoot and well up for some fun!

Saturday morning dawned bright with some sunshine, which was ironic as either side of the Penines was getting a real soaking, lots of stranded vehicles and heavy flooding all around apparently! There was a bit of dithering about who was doing what, lots of people indecisive for various reasons, eventually the groups all got themselves sorted though and out...

Ride options were, 1. tarmac only, 2. trail rides for big bikes, 3. trail rides for trail rides, 4. total beginners group. Shaun's trail bikes for big bikes was the most popular, but only for the first hour, then several people had bailed off back to tarmac when it was found out that trail riding does not mean flat gravel roads!

Our group consisted of three 2 strokes, two 400 Ktm's and Lucy's 350 Ktm. The pace was really gentle with of plenty of time for gossiping or as Lucy labelled it, the Womens Institute gathering! We also managed some tea and cakes at the Chatterbox Cafe which made the most amazing cakes!

We rode a fair bit of the Alston loop, as Mike was leading and I was tail ending Mike managed to show me a few trails I hadn't ridden before which is always a good thing!!

Lucy Moss hunting for her latest project

 The old Yamaha two strokes had a couple of problems, the side stand fell off one, the kick start off both of them! Still we managed to cover a fair bit of ground, even joining up with the beginners group in a couple of places, which was great...

A little blackage on one lane!

At one point where we met up with the beginners group, we all gathered together for a gossip and to chat all things bikes, then as we set Brian, their leader for the day, caught three of us with a cracking splashing session, on his back wheel through a puddle!! Soaked - err yes!!

We finished off the day day just below Hadrians Wall, having a ride over some of the really long straight and flat lanes that are around there, then it was back to the moorland lanes, passiong by a couple of 4x4's late in the afternoon, obviously enjoying their time on the lanes too!

Some great riding as always, plenty of lovely folk from all over the UK and a fun filled weekend! Danny has a couple events more planned for the rest of the year with the next one in June.