It’s been too long since I’ve updated my little blog page, so on Halloween night I’m forcing myself to briefly summarise the last 18 months since the 2020 Dragon Rally. Buckle up.
Respectfully skipping this one.
Moving on to 2021. The R1 had two adventures this year, it managed so well with the Dragon Rally that I decided what it really needed was more touring. Boy did the R1 really not need more touring. In April my friends and I rode to the middle of Wales for a long weekend of what should have been beautiful scenic roads and cute welsh cottages. We were not blessed on this trip, with anything. It rained a lot of the time, not badly, just enough to make everything wet and cold, and the beautiful mountain passes I’d been dreaming of turned out to be single track logging roads that were mostly just being used by sheep. I sound like I’m complaining, and for the majority of the trip I was, but I enjoyed it! The R1 however, probably wasn’t loving it. It spluttered through, threatening to stall when the roads became so unusable that I couldn’t ride it fast enough to keep it happy. The first two nights we stayed in central Wales in a Hostel right out of a horror movie – no electricity, no signal, no one to hear you scream (it was fun, I’d do it again). The roads here were a mix of stunning and terrifying. Stunning views, terrifying road conditions. My friends were excited about something called the ‘Devils Staircase’ which was straight out of my nightmares. We moved up to Snowdonia for the second half of the trip, the roads were better being a little more tourist friendly with incredible views of the mountains, and we stayed in a guest house with central heating and wifi. Sadly a storm was coming in and we decided to cut the trip short and so we only stayed for one night in Snowdonia before fleeing for home.
2 weeks later a different group of friends had a trip to Wales planned with yet another storm inbound (apparently April-May is not a good time for Wales). I hadn’t even unpacked. We stayed in a cute pub on the edge of the middle of nowhere and had rides planned around Snowdonia and to Aberdaron using a SatNav that chose violence. This trip was the final straw for the R1; 3 days of riding around more questionable, flooded roads was evidently more than it could put up with. On the day we were supposed to ride home, again, it bluntly refused to start. We tried everything, and probably just made it worse. The R1 does not respond to begging. The very lovely pub landlord let me keep the bike in his garage, and helped me organise for the R1 to be driven home by one of his friends with a van. I went home on the back of one of my friends bikes which was an experience in itself.
I’m not one for trusting total strangers with my bike, but a wonderful local delivered the R1 home the following day. A night in a dry garage and a bubble bath didn’t work any miracles and so it was off to the Yamaha garage in another van to find out what kind of attitude problem it was suffering with this time. Apparently it had spat out its fuel pump connection (probably not a good description of what happened), and a thorough service, refitting the tank and all the money I had at the time sorted it right out.
The R1 didn’t get much chance to redeem itself following the breakdown in Wales. A pretty expensive trip to the garage had it back to normal, but I’d lost faith in it and was ready for a change. I’ve had Yamaha bikes from my CBT until this point, a YZF-R125, an R6, and two R1s (also a Ninja 300), and I had been dead set on getting a brand new R1 when the time came. When I was able to finally test ride the new R1 briefly with every intention of buying it, I felt like actually, for me, the update wasn’t worth the money I’d have to spend to swap over to it. There was one bike that was sticking out in my mind, one I hadn’t expected to enjoy as much as I did following a short test ride, and that was the new BMW S1000RR. I liked it so much that as soon as the one I wanted became available I ordered it. There are lots of reasons for the change that I made but the main reason is that the RR made me so happy on the 45 minute test ride. The RR is from Williams BMW in Manchester, sold to me by my really good friend Kate. My expectations for the new bike are that it’ll be everything I want in a super sports bike, while being more suitable for long journeys and winter riding. So far it’s lived up to my expectations.
I’ve wanted to ride to Scotland for so long, the furthest North I’ve ever been until this time was the Isle of Man, and of course to Edinburgh the weekend that I collected the RR. This journey was planned for 10 nights of camping with a loosely planned route and a ‘wing it’ approach to the majority of the trip. I was excited to get to know my RR properly, which had just had its first service at 500 miles, I had no idea what we were in for and how it would cope with any challenges, or how I’d cope with 10 days of living outside and riding every day.
The first challenge was getting all my camping stuff on the bike in the first place. I had treated myself to a set of BMW panniers specifically designed for my bike, but unfortunately the wrong set arrived. I’d left it too late to organise new alternatives, so it was time to shine for my 8 year old £50 panniers that I’d bought for my Ninja 300 many years ago. I’d never been able to make them fit on the R1, but with a lot of struggling, a tub of bungee cords and pure determination (and help) I managed to get them on the RR. Everything else piled up in a pyramid on the pillion seat and was tied down with more bungee cords. It wasn’t my favourite solution but it functioned and it was free. I was able to carry a 2 man tent, a sleeping mat, sleeping bag, an extra blanket, and enough belongings for 10 nights. For this trip I travelled with my two friends from work.
Day 1 was a half day from Southampton to South Yorkshire, camping in a fairly small busy campsite in a tiny hamlet. Not the greatest first night as we weren’t super prepared, the hamlet shop was closed, the pub wasn’t serving food and we’d not brought any of our own. Eventually we got some chips and some nuts. Lesson 1 – pack snacks.
Day 2 was through Yorkshire and into the south of Scotland in Loch Lomond. The riding from Yorkshire to the border was brilliant, we avoided motorways and ended up on some fun fast roads with very little traffic. The roads from the Scottish border to the Glasgow/Edinburgh line were less fun – they had a lot of potential but were littered with speed cameras so the second half of the day was a chore but eventually we found our second campsite. This place was bigger than the first, and quiet, there was a shop within a 10 minute ride so we were able to get ingredients to make a good first camping meal – which was one of my specialties as I was nominated chef for the trip – a nice warming curry. I saw a tiny old lady wrapped in waterproofs riding a horse past the campsite – the horse had saddlebags and blankets attached and they looked like they were off on a book worthy journey, not a notable moment from our trip but I’d like to remember seeing her. The night was clear and the sky looked amazing, but we were very aware of the temperature dropping.
Day 3, we went hunting for blankets, found a little shop and stocked up on extra layers before continuing north and looking for somewhere quiet and scenic to camp for the night. Despite going without facilities, the wild camping night was my favourite from the trip, we found a big piece of flat ground off the side of a beautiful road through some hills. I cooked a chilli con carne with lots of cheese and rice and sour cream – perfect for a cold night. The night was freezing as expected, but the extra blankets helped. The area had a lot of sheep, and as the night went on we noticed more wildlife, lots of birds, ducks, and strange long legged spiders that got absolutely everywhere. Being without facilities had its drawbacks, I have no problems going a day or two (or three at a push, but with lots of complaining) without a shower, but the toilet situation is an issue. I’d bought a ‘Sheewee’ in preparation for this, and had practiced a few times to make sure I wasn’t going to make a mess; I recommend this to any ladies thinking of doing similar trips because it stops you having to crouch down in what could be tic infested undergrowth to pee, and you won’t get any of it dribbling into your trousers. These are little things you have to think of and it’s one less thing to worry about.
We packed up quickly the next morning, by this time I’d got the hang of loading and unloading my bike, and was fairly good at putting my tent up and repacking it.
Day 4 we continued north to Durness. We’d decided not to bother with John O’ Groats, and that part of the country, as we’d all heard similar feedback that the roads aren’t great, and we wanted to enjoy ourselves riding instead of trying to pack in too many miles. We took a really interesting route from our wild camp site to the coast. Day 4 was the best day of riding for me, the roads were empty, we saw incredible views, and the bike got some challenges as the roads became more and more wild. I’d like to think that I’m used to these awkward grassy single track roads after my Welsh adventures earlier in the year, but on a brand new bike that I love very much, it was a bit unnerving when on a few occasions the tarmac disappeared completely. We reached the end without any problems and it was completely worth it. The roads at the top were stunning, long sweeping bends with no traffic, amazing views of the coast, tiny little villages that smelled of smoked fish, even the weather was perfect! We arrived at our campsite, found a spot, there was a pub with electrical outlets and a fish and chip shop. One of our goals for the trip was to take a dip in the sea, and as the campsite was right on the beach, after we’d eaten dinner we rolled our jeans up and went for a very, very cold splash.
Day 5 was where things started to go south both literally and figuratively. We were going to stay on the Isle of Skye which was our only planned 2 night stop. The idea was the island would be super magical and we could spend one day off the bikes exploring on foot. It was not to be; after a beautiful day riding the NC500 road into Skye from Durness, we ran into some planning issues, and ended up riding some unknown road to an unknown campsite in the rain, in the pitch black. Scotland has a bigger sheep problem than Wales does, the smug fuckers are everywhere and they aren’t ruled by fences, we rounded a corner, and about 10 of them were having a gathering in the road. If you are a hardcore animal lover please skip to the next paragraph. One of the sheep did not make it. There was no way I’d be able to stop in time and I had nowhere to swerve to, and I hit it, apparently, in the neck, and it ricocheted into the road where it was collected by an oblivious car coming from the opposite direction. The bike and I stayed upright and on the tarmac which really surprised me. The car was removed from a ditch and went home on the back of a truck. The incident was reported and eventually we made it to our campsite.
Day 6 was a continuation of our so far un-satisfactory experience on Skye. Along with my collision, my friends tent was burned by his exhaust because his luggage slipped somehow the day before, it was completely unsalvageable. Instead of moping around the campsite all day we rode back to the town to find him a new tent and some food. The weather was terrible, the magical island was thick with damp mist, so maybe we did ride through incredible views, but I would not be able to tell you about them. I will tell you about ‘Cullen Skink’ which is a creamy fish and potato soup – amazing.
Day 7 we changed our plans completely and decided to skip the second Island and head further south, one crowded rainy island was enough for me and the weather was due to stay miserable. Despite being a bit grumpy, day 7 was good! We took coastal roads and stopped for lunch in a little fishing village, I had fish pie which I can’t believe I’ve never had before and I’m now very enthusiastic about it. The roads dried out and became fun and fast with fewer caravans. For this night we stayed in a hostel where we were able to charge our belongings and have our clothes washed and dried and be a little more comfortable for the night. The hostel had a huge dreamy kitchen and I made a salmon spaghetti. In the light of day we discovered more damage on my bike, grumpiness returned and I was eager to get home without another incident.
Day 8 I dropped the bike in a field. We stayed on Hadrians wall just below the Scottish border. Hadrians wall turned out to be too squashy for my kickstand and over we went. Thankfully no damage on this occasion, just more emotional trauma. The weather was due to get very bad, and we’d decided to make a beeline for home and miss a precious night of camping. It was sad that this was the last night of camping, I’d been really enjoying tent life and even though I wanted to get my bike home and fixed, it was a shame to cut the trip short.
Day 9 we made it home, via boring motorways, but without incident as far as I can remember. Our original plan had been to camp in Squires Biker Cafe which was only 100 or so miles from Hadrians wall, even though we were now going straight back I wanted to stop there anyway, so we made a detour for breakfast. With raging heartburn from too much fried food we rode back to Southampton.
It’s now been over a month since the trip, I definitely feel inspired by the experience and I’m desperate to do more trips as soon as I can afford it. I learned a lot about my capabilities as an out-doors-y person. I can survive in a tent for any length of time provided I can get electricity and the odd shower from somewhere. I can cook fairly intricate and sort of healthy meals on tiny stoves. I can pee into a small plastic tube. I can fit all the belongings I need onto the back of my bike and I don’t need fancy new panniers to do so (but I would still like fancy new panniers). The RR has passed the test, it was reliable, fun and enjoyable to ride in every situation it was put in, and not too expensive to keep fuelled up. It did not survive its run in with the sheep completely unscathed, but it’s easy enough to take apart and glue back together, and its trip to the BMW garage for a once over and mini service was very reasonably priced. In hindsight, we should have stayed in the north for longer as this was easily the best part of the trip and we could have spent a lot more time enjoying the roads and the scenery. A few more days wouldn’t have hurt either.
After the Scotland trip, the RR was at 3,000 miles, and I was happy that I knew I’d be keeping it for long enough to invest in making it my favourite colour. This time round I used Monster Wraps in Hedge End, Hampshire. The bike was dropped off on a Monday and collected that Thursday – it looks amazing! Monster Wraps did a super job and you’d not be able to see that the bike is wrapped; so far lots of people assumed it’s been painted. I’ve gone for the same wrap material as I had on the R1 – it was perfect the first time round and I’ve not seen a colour that I like more.
I’ve booked a few days off work and ridden to see my Dad in the Somerset countryside. Winter is here, the mornings are becoming icy, the roads are a mess and it’s getting quite chilly. I’m looking forward to the odd days in the next few months where the roads have dried out enough to go for long rides to obscure places with hot food. Something about being desperate to ride in winter makes the crap conditions worth it. It was cold on the ride to Dad’s, I made it to Cheddar for a hot chocolate and a muffin, then tried to find my way using the tiny roads aiming directly South but ending up completely lost. We made it, the recorded route on my BMW app is a bit embarrassing, but we had a good time – even though the bike is now filthy – there’s lots of flooding, lots of mud. It’s great here.
In the time it’s taken me to put this writing together, Dragon Rally 2022 tickets have been booked. I know there were many points last time where I said I’d never do something that stupid again but here we are. I have 3ish months to come up with a plan, do I put the RR through it and hope for the best or do I beg/borrow/steal something more appropriate for the weekend. This time it’s not just Laine and I, the guys I went to Scotland with are planning to go – it should be fun and maybe there’s safety in numbers. There’s no way it’ll be as bad as the last time and I’m feeling optimistic.