Trip to Scotland to ride the NC500 – Part 4

After a cold and windy night at John O’Groats we were now heading south for the first time. Leaving the campsite we picked up the A99/A9 East Coast road and settled in for the ride to Aviemore in the Cairngorms National Park.

A99/A9 route south to Aviemore

The A9 is the busiest main road we’d been on for some time and it felt a little strange initially. We’d got so used to riding the small, single track lanes up the West Coast and across the North of Scotland that being on a large, sometimes multi-lane road with lots of commercial traffic felt somewhat alien. This also meant that we’d be putting the miles in fairly quickly as we needed to ride at the same speed as all the other traffic to be safe.

The East Coast road isn’t anywhere near as scenic as the West Coast route and we’d not planned any stops on the first leg of the journey south apart from getting some breakfast.

Upon seeing a sign on the side of the road saying next right for food we made a swift exit from the A9 and pulled in at The River Bothy for breakfast.

This lovely little bothy is actually a full on tea room and not a bothy at all however, it’s well worth a visit.

Being situated in an old wash house, this superb little tea room is full of character. There are old copper pipes and taps around the walls, an old wood fired water heater in the corner and a huge fireplace and wood-burner to keep everyone cosy in the winter months. The food here is excellent, one of the best breakfasts we had on the trip. The staff were also great, really engaging and full of fun, it was a great place to visit for breakfast.

The River Bothy just off the A9

After a good hour in The River Bothy we carried our full bellies back out to the bikes and continued our journey south.

40 minutes further south on the A9 we spotted a castle just off the main road and had to stop to take a look.

The Dunrobin Castle situated right on the shoreline overlooking the Dornoch Firth is one of the most beautiful castles I’ve seen in the U.K. With its tall towers and pointed roofs rising up over the beautiful gardens it’s almost Disney like in appearance.

It was such a shame it was a dull day as the light really didn’t make it easy to capture the castle in all its glory. We spent some considerable time here just walking around the grounds, along the coastline and taking far too many photographs. There really is a lot to see here.

There’s a wealth of information about the history of the castle on Wikipedia and is worth a read if you’re going to visit or just have a castle curiosity like me.

Dunrobin Castle over looking the walled gardens
Main entrance into Dunrobin Castle
Lookout on the coast
Side entrance into the castle for deliveries
View of the gate house from the side lane
Castle clock tower rising above the outer wall
View along the coast
Castle from the side lane
Our bikes parked out front of the main castle entrance
Beautiful wrought iron gate to the walled gardens
Crest on the rear gate to the walled gardens

Whilst I was at the rear of the castle taking photos of the walled gardens a young lady appeared behind the wrought iron gate and gave me a smile, I just had to capture the moment!

A smile captured forever

After spending far too much time at the castle taking photos we got our helmets on and headed south once more. Crossing the Cromarty Bridge we were soon on the outskirts of Inverness. Not wanting to go into the city we scooted around it on the A9 and headed towards the Cairngorms National Park.

Arriving in Aviemore we immediately found ourselves stuck in a massive traffic jam. Unknown to us it was a bank holiday in Scotland and clearly everyone had decided to come to Aviemore at the same time.

We found a little space on the side of the main street and parked up to get out of the traffic. The town was incredibly busy, not something we’d experienced on the trip up until now. Finding a little cafe on the main street with outside seating we plonked ourselves down and ordered coffee and cake.

Drinking coffee and eating cake whilst watching the world go by is one of my favourite past times and one that I never tire of. I love people watching, always have and always will. No matter where in the world I find myself, I always find somewhere to just sit and watch. Some would say I’ve wasted far too many hours of my life just watching others but, to me it’s not time wasted at all.

When I lived and worked in Brussels I would go to the Grand Place on a Saturday morning to sit outside one of the many cafes, drink great coffee, eat wonderful croissant and just watch people go about their day. It’s one of the simple pleasures in life that I love most.

The time soon passed and we were having to think about where we were going to stay for the night. With what seemed like the whole world in Aviemore we knew it wasn’t going to be easy. After phoning a number of campsite, lodges and chalets it became apparent that everywhere was booked up and no one had any space available for two old men on motorcycles.

Not deterred we continued searching google for places to stay. (Where would we be without google maps!) Eventually we found a campsite not too far from where we were seated and decided to just head on over and see if they could squeeze us in.

Arriving at the Glenmore Campsite it was immediately apparent they weren’t particularly biker friendly and didn’t really want us there. This wasn’t the first time we’d experienced this in Scotland, for some strange reason some campsites just didn’t like bikers.

Normally they charge £18 per night for a tent but, because it was a bank holiday weekend they wanted £28 per night for a tent and one person. It really annoys me when campsites hike up their prices just because it’s a bank holiday, there’s really no need to rip off your customers like this but, it seems to be common practice these days. Sadly we had little choice but to pay the over inflated price.

To make it even worse they wouldn’t let us camp on the tent field with all the other campers that had plenty of pitches vacant but, instead told us to go right to the back of the campsite behind the boiler house and pitch our tents there out the way. Anyone would had thought we were lepers and needed to be kept away from the masses. To ensure we didn’t camp with all the other campers they even escorted us down to the back of the campsite and pointed at the piece of grass we were to use.

To add insult to injury, the piece of grass they insisted we camped on turned out to be the dog walking area and was covered in faeces. £28 to camp for one night behind the noisy boiler house on a small piece of grass covered in dog faeces resulted in the worst review I have ever given a campsite in my entire life.

Once we’d got our tents pitched we then had a staff member complain to us our tents were too close together and that they needed to be 6m apart. At this point my patience was running thin and so I took him on a guided tour of the faeces covered piece of grass asking him to point out where the two tents could go 6m apart without getting covered in faeces. Needless to say he couldn’t find anywhere else other than where we’d pitched our tents!

Eventually we got rid of the staff member and got changed into some more comfortable clothing ready to go find somewhere to have a bite to eat and drink for the evening.

A few minutes walk from the campsite we found The Pine Marten Bar, a small ski bar and cafe tucked away amongst the trees. This little place had a cool vibe going on and we were made most welcome, how refreshing!

Neither of us are drinkers but, we fancied something cold on this occasion. The food was good and went well with a cold cider, the staff were great too!

Later the same evening we took a walk around the area and discovered that just behind the campsite was Loch Morlich which had a fairly large beach where you can wild camp for free! If only we’d known this before we arrived in Aviemore.

Loch Morlich beach – Ben Jackson

The view of the surrounding hills from the beach at Loch Morlich was spectacular as the sun set. If we’re ever up this way again we’d wild camp right here for sure!

After a good nights sleep we were up bright and breezy. The showers were hot which was a plus and the midges hadn’t woken yet, heaven!

We got packed up and on the road early heading south through the Cairngorms. The roads were pretty fast and we made great progress. Stopping at The House of Bruar for breakfast on the A9 was great. The food is always excellent there and they have good coffee too!

The House of Bruar food and shopping complex

Back on the road and we were soon crossing the river Forth on the Queensferry Crossing just north west of Edinburgh. Once past Edinburgh we turned off the A9 on to the A68 and headed south through the Northumberland National Park.

The Scottish side of the border
The English side of the border
The view of Scotland from the English side of the border

Crossing the border back into England marked the end of the trip, from this point on it was just a matter of getting home. As we passed into England the weather brightened up and the sun came out, it was a glorious welcome back to the home land.

We decided that since the roads were all fast moving we’d push on and head down to the Lawnsgate Farm Campsite on the North York Moors that I stayed at on the way up. Ben hadn’t been there before and so was happy to see another new place. We pushed on stopping only for comfort breaks and drinks taking in the views as we went.

After a total of 300 miles we arrived at the campsite, late in the day but, happy with our progress and the ride we’d had. It was a fitting end to a spectacular trip.

Our route from Aviemore to Lawnsgate Farm Campsite on the North York Moors

That evening we ate a melange of noodles that I’d had in my dry bag for a few days as our emergency food supply just incase we found ourselves wild camping somewhere miles from anywhere. Sitting watching the sun go down over the North York Moors was very relaxing and once the light was gone we turned in for the night.

The following morning it was a while before the sun broke over the hill behind the campsite. There’d been a heavy dew overnight and the tents started to steam gently in the warmth of the early morning sun. Kettle on, I soon had a brew in hand and just sat and watched the valley awaken as the shadow of the night was driven out by the light of the day as the sun rose over the hill. It was a glorious start to the day.

Once we were up and the tents were packed and loaded we headed off once more. We’d decided to take the scenic route across the Humber Bridge and then on to the Lincolnshire Wolds where Ben would peel off and head towards Birmingham to visit a friend on the way home. For me it was an easy route, through the wolds onto the A17 and back to Norfolk via Kings Lynn and finally down into Suffolk via the Beccles road, a route I know well.

After 14 nights away and almost 3000 miles on the clock my Tenere 700 desperately needed new tyres. The OEM Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR tyres had now done just over 6000 miles and were well past their best. The bike was also now due its 6000 mile service so that needed organising too. There’s always something to spend your money on!

Trip to Scotland to ride the NC500 – Part 1

I’ve been to Scotland many times in my life but, not once have I ridden the North Coast 500 (NC500) in it’s entirety. Since we’re not able to travel internationally at the moment due to the ongoing COVID19 pandemic that is still causing havoc globally I decided to travel closer to home.

NC500 Route By Thincat – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=79134229

Scotland is a good 800 miles or more from home by road and since I’m retired there’s no rush to get there so I decided to take the scenic route.

Looking at the map I thought it would be great to take in Lincolnshire, the North York Moors, the Yorkshire Dales and the Lake District on the way up.

I didn’t want to book any campsites or lodgings as I felt I needed the ability to just travel freely without time restraint or restriction, to just wander wherever I wanted for as long as I wanted, whenever I wanted.

I invited a friend of mine Ben Jackson to come along as we’re planning on the doing the Mongolia trip together and so it would be a good idea to try a trip together here in the U.K. Ben was of course up for this and had his holiday booked with work in no time at all. (Yes he still works unlike me!)

I decided to head off a few days before Ben just to take in some of the sights enroute and we agreed to meet up in the Yorkshire Dales a few days later. This left me lots of time to wander around Lincolnshire and the North York Moors on my own riding the small single track lanes as much as possible.

I’ve ridden and camped in the Lincolnshire Wolds before but, it’s a lovely part of the world and I was happy to head back there again. I had a great ride up from Suffolk taking the slow route over the Humber bridge and then north into the Wolds.

I stayed at the Little Owls Campsite for the night, a nice little site just north west of the Wolds AONB.

Set up for the night at The Little Owls Campsite Lincolnshire

I decided to take my big tent with me on this trip as I was expecting rain in Scotland and it’s extremely useful to have a separate area to store wet riding gear whilst keeping the sleeping area dry. I’ve had my Coleman 3 Man tent for a number of years now and it’s lasting well.

After a good nights sleep a coffee first thing in the morning is a must

The next day I took a slow ride up into the North York Moors. This is a lovely part of the world and I’ve not been back there for many a year so, it was great to just get out onto the moors and enjoy the views again.

Whilst riding the tiny lanes around the moors I stumbled across a great little farm campsite. It’s beautifully situated on the side of a hill overlooking the valley below and gets the most amazing sunsets.

Needless to say I stayed there for the second night and just absorbed the view, it was truly wonderful.

The Lawnsgate Farm Campsite was a great find, it’s a super little campsite with great facilities run by a lovely farming family. It’s a very relaxed atmosphere and everyone, including bikers are welcome. I highly recommend you stay at least one night here.

Before I stumbled across the campsite I went to the Yorkshire Cycle Hub for something to eat. This is a great little cafe and cycle shop situated in the wilds of the moors. They’ve a great selection of food available both hot and cold with plenty of seating inside and out. With a big car park out front it’s easy to park the bike up and sit and enjoy the views and some good food for an hour or so.

The following morning I packed up once more and headed west into the Yorkshire Dales, a part of the country I’ve not spent a lot of time traveling through in the past but, somewhere I dearly love.

Once again I had no plan of where to go or where to stay, just ride there and see what happens, my favourite way to travel.

Heading west through the tiny back lanes keeping clear of all the main roads, I lost myself for hours just enjoying the views and the little villages enroute.

My next notable stop was at the Ribblehead Viaduct, a famous landmark in Yorkshire that’s well known to most train spotters (not that I am one!!) and on this day it was no different.

When I arrived and parked up I was surprised to see so many people sitting on chairs with with large telephoto lenses on very expensive looking cameras in lines across the grasslands. Clearly something special was going to happen but, I had no idea what.

Making sure I had my trusty Canon 1300D DSLR camera and lenses with me I ventured over to the area where many people were waiting patiently. After a few conversations with many of the avid train spotters it was clear that a steam engine was going to cross the viaduct any time soon and that it was a special occasion that happens rarely these days. Sadly no one could tell me which steam engine it was going to be, but it was definitely going to be one worth photographing, apparently.

Within minutes of my arrival sure enough a steam engine did chuff across the viaduct slowly to the click of a thousand cameras. The viaduct itself is an engineering marvel, spanning quite some distance, its tall beautiful arches stand proudly above the valley below.

For me the viaduct was the most impressive sight, to think it was constructed in the 1870’s by 2300 workers most of whom lived in shanty towns set up near its base is incredible. After 4 years of hard labour, millions of bricks and the loss of some lives, the viaduct was finally complete.

You can find a lot more information about the Ribblehead Viaduct on Wikipedia.

The Ribblehead Viaduct in the afternoon sun
Ribblehead Viaduct with a little artistic licence

After spending some considerable time at the viaduct it was soon time to think about finding somewhere to camp for the night. Jumping onto Google Maps I soon found a plethora of campsites but, one in particular caught my eye. A little farm campsite not far from the viaduct tucked away in the hills, it sounded idyllic.

Heading off it was only a few minutes of riding and I arrived at the Philpin Farm Campsite. This campsite turned out to be a little gem and so I decided to stay for two nights so that I could explore the area further the following day.

The Philpin Farm Campsite is a small, beautifully maintained campsite run by a small farming family, nestled gently on the side of a valley overlooking fields of sheep and cattle. The facilities are clean and tidy, there’s a barn with a cafe to hide in if the weather is really bad and free wifi in a 3/4g dead zone, absolutely perfect!

A panoramic view of the campsite and surrounding countryside

Since the cafe does breakfast daily I decided to partake of the offering, for £6.00 you get a full cooked breakfast and a cup of tea or coffee, all freshly cooked when you want. Great local produce at an incredibly cheap price, sets me up perfectly for the day.

The following day I headed out on the bike once more and ventured deeper into the Dales. The views are spectacular and I found myself stopping regularly and sitting by the side of the road just absorbing the surroundings. It’s so quiet in the Dales that you can hear people talking across the other side of the valley, it’s an incredibly peaceful place to be.

I decided to follow the route of the railway that went over the Ribblehead Viaduct to see if I could find anymore viaducts or bridges. Sure enough I soon found another, smaller viaduct tucked away in the wilds of the countryside.

The Dentdale viaduct is considerably smaller than the Ribblehead viaduct but, built using the same technique and stone. I wondered if it had actually been built by the same workers that built the Ribblehead viaduct.

The Dentdale viaduct as seen from the road
The Dentdale viaduct viewed from the valley side

I spent the rest of the day just bimbling around the back lanes of the dales for miles and miles getting completely lost without a care in the world.

Later that day I headed back to the campsite to meet Ben as I’d sent him the map location details for the Philpin Farm Campsite as it was an ideal spot to meet up to continue our trip north.

More soon …

Insta360 Camera Purchase.

I recently purchased the Insta360 One R Twin Edition camera to try out on the bike and use whilst out and about. The hope is that by the time I’m able to go on the trip to Mongolia and back I’ll be proficient in the making of short videos.

Having spent many hours over the last few months trawling the market place trying to get my head around the difference between the many cameras available I found myself lost in the minefield of the 360 camera world. Eventually I decided the only way I was going to be able to make a decision and purchase was to decide what it was I wanted from the camera and then narrow down which models had those facilities and options. Once I did this I found it was actually fairly easy to choose and decided that the Insta360 One R Twin Edition gave the best bang per buck.

The insta360 One R is a modular type 360 camera giving far greater flexibility than most all other 360 cameras on the market. The Twin Edition comes with both a normal 4K lens module and a twin lens 360 module that can be interchanged in seconds. There are two battery options that also just clip on with ease, the standard and optional long life battery.

For those that want extremely high resolution video and photos there is an optional 1in sensor that has been made in conjunction with Leica which delivers exceptional quality for those that need it. More info on all the models available can be found on the Insta360 website.

Finding the right place to mount the camera hasn’t been easy. At the moment all I have is a mount on top of the front brake reservoir on the handlebars and a selfie stick which I have attached to the pannier frame at the rear of the bike.

I’ve been looking for a way to mount the camera on top of my Nolan N70-2 X helmet however, due to its design there is nowhere on the top to place one of the sticky mounts necessary to attach the camera. Ideally I need to get the camera up above my head level so that I can obtain a complete 360 view whilst riding. Resolving this is ongoing.

Not wanting to be held back I attached the camera to the two mounts that I’ve now got on the bike, headed out and made a couple of short videos.

One of the really nice features of the 360 camera is the ability to have picture-in-picture videos, this allows you to have the view from both lenses on the 360 module displayed at the same time. Handy for showing what’s in front and behind at the same time or, as shown below front view and rider.

Short video snippet showing picture-in-picture capability (shot in 5.7k 30fps)

The quality of the videos is extremely good as are the colours. The insta360 app that I use on my iPad Pro to do all the post editing on is extremely good. it’s fairly easy to use once you get used to the terminology and has some really good tutorials built in to help the beginner like me!

The insta360 app also has a number of built in effects that help you to apply special effects to your video shots. This can really bring the videos alive and is something I need to spend more time on to get the most from the camera.

30sec 1080p snippet showing some of the effects that can be applied to videos

There is so much functionality available in the app for the insta360 range of cameras that it’s going to take some time to learn how to use them all and apply them to my own footage. Once the weather improves and summer eventually arrives I’m hoping to get out and record some footage and start producing some video content for the TOTU channel.

The insta360 One R camera is also capable of taking 4K flat and 5.7k 360 degree photos. Once again you can apply many effects to the photos and even create photo slide shows with stunning visuals and audio all from within the iPad app.

Once I’ve created the video snippets using the insta360 app I then import the footage to iMovie on my iPad Pro and stitch it all together to create the final video for upload. It’s a fairly long process but, it’s a lot of fun if you can cope with the steep learning curve.

Having a bit of fun with the shopping!

The video above has attracted the most comments on social media and yet it was actually the simplest to create. All I did was put my crash helmet in the shopping trolly and attached the camera to the side of it, switched it and and grabbed a few groceries. Once back home I ran the footage through the app and applied the 32 x speed increase, some background music and a 360 degree barrel role effect to the end of the footage as I was leaving the store, imported it to iMovie to add the #TOTU ending and then exported it in a Youtube acceptable format. It really was very simple to do and yet the overall effect is quite good.

I’m off to Wales with Ben and Sean in the next few weeks and then I’ll be heading to the ABR Festival so, I’m hoping to grab a load of footage and hopefully create some content for the site. It will be interesting to see how it all comes out!

That’s it for the moment, more soon …

Time flies whilst the world stands still

It’s been quite a few months since my last blog entry as I’ve had nothing to write about. Having been in COVID lockdowns of various varieties since November 2020, we’re now half way through March 2021 and still in lockdown, unable to leave our homes yet alone travel.

For months now I’ve been watching other peoples travels on YouTube, Netflix and Amazon Prime to help keep my sanity. I think I have now watched just about every travel video there is to see.

Today I came across a video on Youtube that peaked my interest, not the normal kind of thing that attracts my attention as it doesn’t involve motorcycles, but very interesting none the less.

This video was all about a couple of chaps who dared to travel across the Sahara Desert on an Iron Ore train. Not the most comfortable method of transport as it involves sitting in an open ballast wagon for 20 hours or more whilst the train trundles across the desert.

Now I’m not a train spotter or have any interest in trains however, this trip really interests me and I’m now looking into how feasible it would be to try the same trip once we’re allowed out again.

Take look at the video and see if it appeals to you!

Crosstour 4K Camera failures

The two Crosstour 4K cameras with remote control

Back in December 2019 I purchased 2 x Crosstour 4K video cameras for the trip and spent money getting the mounts such that they could be fixed to various locations on the bike and crash helmet.

After very little use I started to get problems with them both. First the sound developed issues. Using an external mic fitted in the helmet the sound gradually got quieter and quieter. I initially thought that perhaps the mic had developed a fault and so I tried some other external microphones but, the problem was still there. The internal mics in the cameras were fine but, useless when on the move.

The second problem that gradually got worse over time was the on/off buttons. Sometimes they would work and other times they wouldn’t. Eventually they gave up entirely and it was impossible to switch the cameras on!

Both cameras have now been returned to Amazon for a full refund and I’m now looking again at cameras for the trip. I was hoping to have been able to produce some video footage of my local rides by now but, alas not!
So , I’m currently considering GoPro, Insta 360 One R, DJI Osmo Pocket and a few others.

The DJI Osmo Pocket looks extremely good for doing pieces to camera and some general hand held video footage as the 4K camera is on a 3 axis gimbal which is able to give professional levels of stability. It also gets great reviews and there are plenty of accessories available for it at sensible prices.
The DJI app that accompanies the camera gives access to a pro set of controls for the device including the ability to follow a person or object as it moves.

The other idea I really like is the 360 degree video capability of the Insta 360 One R.

Having just one camera mounted but, capturing a full 360 degree view at all times will be very handy whilst riding. Whether the camera itself is actually up to the rigours of off-road riding is a concern though.

Lots to think about and much research to do but, I’ll blog about it as I go along.

More soon …

Getting back in the saddle post COVID19

Somewhere in the wilds of Suffolk

Now that the UK is starting to relax the COVID19 restrictions it’s been possible to get out on the bike more. Not being able to leave the country and head into Europe has meant that local rides are the only thing available at the moment, especially with Wales and Scotland keeping their lockdown in place and not allowing the English to visit.

The village of Walpole

I’ve been riding on my own on the little Honda CRF2510 Rally and really enjoying it. It’s the perfect bike for riding around the tiny B roads in Suffolk and Norfolk enjoying the countryside. Only problem has been not being able to get a drink very often as there is nowhere open for food or drink.

Not a soul for miles around

I’ve been using the Calimoto app to generate loop rides starting and ending at home. It really is superb for this and created some really interesting rides. The photo above is from an 80 mile loop ride automagically generated by Calimoto.

Being just just 15mins from the coast is handy to pickup the tiny coast roads and head north up through Suffolk and into Norfolk taking in Orford, Aldeburgh, Thorpeness and Sizewell to mention few eventually arriving at Walcott.

Phil and I on another of our coastal rides

I’ve also been stretching the legs of my Kawasaki Versys 1000 riding out with my good mate Phil who lives a couple of doors down from me. The weather has been superb and the riding has been great. The roads are getting a lot busier now which is a shame but to be expected. It’s been great to get out and about again for sure.

I’d really like to take the CRF250 Rally down to the Pyrenees this summer if at all possible and do the coast to coast route through the mountain trails. Whether this will be possible or not is still too hard to predict but we can but hope!

More soon …

Freedom!

The UK government has started to relax the U.K. wide lockdown and it’s now possible for us to ride our motorcycles to and from a place of exercise.

My expedition Honda CRF250 Rally Parked up on the quay at Bawdsey Suffolk.

So without delay, I got the bikes out and headed out into the wilds of Suffolk. The weather has been splendid for this time of year. Normally it’s rainy and miserable in Spring but, since the COVID19 pandemic hit and the planes have all been grounded the weather has been spectacular!
With temperatures hitting the dizzy highs of 20c it’s been like summer here in the U.K. for a couple of weeks now.

First trip out was on the Kawasaki Versys 1000cc, my wolf in sheep’s clothing. It’s a bike I’ve owned from new in 2016 and one that I dearly love. Heading north up the Suffolk coast I dropped into the lovely seaside town of Southwold. Not far up the road in real terms but since it was my first ride out in quite a while I wanted to break myself in gently.

My 2016 Kawasaki Versys 1000 parked up in the sun at Southwold Suffolk.

The ride was glorious albeit a tad windy as I got closer to the coast. Getting the tyres warmed up on the bike for the first time in ages was a great feeling and I was soon back in the swing of things.

The very next day it was the turn of the Honda CRF250 Rally to get out onto the road. I love this little bike and it just loves tootling around the back lanes and byways, together we make a great team.

My expedition Honda CRF250 Rally taking in the views of the Suffolk countryside.

Heading out into the sticks not really having a preplanned route I just explored lanes and byways that I’d not ridden before, most of the time not having any real idea of where I was.

Stopping here and there to take photos, take in the scenery and enjoy the sun on my face it was heavenly to enjoy the silence of the countryside. At times it felt as if I was the only one on the planet, a wonderful feeling to be had.

Passing through tiny villages that I’d never heard of before I found my self arriving on the outskirts of the town of Felixstowe on a back lane that I didn’t know existed. Eventually I came out near the golf course in the old part of the town and continued on until I reached the dead end at the Felixstowe Ferry opposite Bawdsey on the river Deben.

Heading out of Felixstowe I decided to ride around the river Deben to the other side and follow the road to its natural end at Bawdsey. Once again heading out into the sticks and not having any real route in mind I passed through a completely different set of little villages until I arrived in Newbourne, a village I know. Passing the Newbourne Fox Pub that was closed like all the other pubs at the moment, the village seemed dead compared to normal. Heading north through Waldringfield Heath round the back of Adastral park where all the tech companies live I was soon in the town of Woodbridge. A lovely old market town with many fine public establishments. I followed the road round past the marina, through Melton and headed out into the sticks once more.

The view over the river Deben from the dizzy heights of Ramsholt.

I somehow found myself on the Ramsholt road and decided to head up onto the top of the hill overlooking the river Deben near the Ramsholt Arms pub. Stopping at the top of the hill I sat in the sun for a while enjoying the view over the river whilst listening to the birds chattering away. This was becoming a very relaxing and enjoyable second ride out!

Leaving Ramsholt along the sandy lanes I managed to find myself on the back lane heading in the direction of Bawdsey.

Passing Bawdsey Manor where the radar research took place in the early part of World War II I soon arrived at Bawdsey Quay, directly opposite Felixstowe Ferry where I had been an hour or so earlier. 25 miles of riding to end up no more than 150 metres from where I started!

Wanting to stay within the law, I took my exercise and walked over to the cobbled beach to take a photo of Felixstowe. Exercise over, I headed back to the quay.

Looking across the river Deben to Felixstowe Ferry from Bawdsey cobbled beach.

Sitting on an old wooden bench with my back up against an old brick building in the sun, I watched the world go by for what seemed an age. Fishing boats came and went, sail boats slipped by silently all whilst the tide gradually came in. It was heaven!

Soon it was time for me to start heading home again. Getting my crash helmet on, biking gear zipped up and the bike fired up I headed back out into the countryside winding my way around little back lanes enjoying every moment of my new found freedom.

Looking up the river Deben from Bawdsey Quay.

The little Honda buzzed excitedly as we progressed past the lush green fields and derelict farm buildings that litter the landscape. I’d forgotten how much fun it is to ride little bikes, it was like being a boy again except it was totally legal this time!

Stopped on a Byway somewhere in Suffolk.

Ten or so miles later going through one village twice somehow I was soon back home and putting the bike away ready for another day.

FAQs

On an almost daily basis I get asked questions about the setup of my Honda CRF250 Rally that I’ve kitted out ready for my trip to Mongolia and what gear am I taking with me. Since I’m often asked the same question over and over I thought I’d put the definitive set of answers here in a blog post so that I can just refer everyone to the same place, so here goes!

Q: Have you made any modifications to the engine or exhaust to get more power? Are you using an EJK ECU? Have you fitted an FMF exhaust?

Simple answer is No.

I’ve not made any changes whatsoever to the engine, ECU, exhaust or any other component connected to the engine. I’ve deliberately kept the engine completely original so that I have maximum reliability.

When I purchased the bike I knew it only had 24HP and I am happy with that. If I’d wanted more power then I would had bought a bigger bike.

Q: What tank bag are you using?

I have fitted a Givi 6 Litre GRT706 tank bag that fits nicely on the tank and doesn’t get in the way when I’m riding in either the seated or standing positions. The tank bag is mainly for carrying my Canon 1300D DSLR camera and a map that’s visible in the clear plastic water proof top pocket.

Q: What USB device is that you have and where can I get one?

The dual USB and 12v socket with integrated voltmeter I picked up from Ebay. All the information of how to wire it into the AUX 12v feed already on the bike is in this post on the blog. For completeness I’ve also included the details of where you can get the 12v connector really cheaply.

Q: What folding mirrors are you using?

I’m using just a pair of cheap folding mirrors from Amazon.

Q: Have you fitted heated grips?

Yes! I was fortunate enough to negotiate a free pair of Oxford Heated Grips when I purchased the bike from my local Honda dealership. They really do get hot and are great in the winter months. All the information on how to fit and wire them to the CRF250 Rally can be found in this blog post.

Q: How will you keep your chain lubricated during the trip?

For many years I’ve used the Tutoro Chain Oilers on my motorcycles. The reason I prefer them is that they are simple to maintain, need no electrical or vacuum feed from the injection system and are really easy to fit.
I’ve already written a detailed post with photos on the oiler and how to fit it.

Q: What crash bars are they you have fitted? What skid plate do you use?

I use a great integrated skid plate and crashbar combo from Inpreda/GPKompozit. The bike has been dropped a few times on the trails now and it’s protected everything really well. The bash plate has also taken a few hits and has done a great job at protecting the engine sump.

All the information on fitting etc can be found on my blog post here.

Q: What pannier frame have you fitted?

I’ve fitted a Tusk pannier frame to the bike, it’s really solid and can handle the weight I’m going to put on it. All the details on fitting it correctly and the adjustments I had to make are detailed in my blog post here.

Q: What size Rotopax fuel canisters are you using?

Due to the cost I decided not to use Rotopax fuel canisters however, I do need to be able to carry extra fuel with me to make it between fuel stops on the trip and so after much research I went with some ChinoPax fuel canisters that I found sensibly priced on Ebay. They are really well put together and are very strong. They’re made from a very thick plastic that isn’t brittle and so they can take a fair amount of bashing. Noraly of Itchyboots fame uses the same cans and has dropped her bike on them many times without incident.
I got 3 x 5L canisters with fittings for less than the cost of 1 x 1 Gallon Rotopax can. Since the two front canisters will only be used on certain parts of the trip when fuel is difficult to get I didn’t see the point in spending a fortune on Rotopax cans when they would be empty most of the time.

I’ll also being using petrol to cook with and so the rear 5L tank will always have fuel in it so that I can cook at the end of each day. Full info on fitting etc is on the blog right here.

Q: Are you using hard or soft panniers?

I’m using soft panniers from Givi as I didn’t want the extra weight and bulk of the hard panniers. I looked at a lot of soft pannier options including the very cheap Lomo throw over bags but, eventually I settled on the Givi GRT709 Canyon 35L lockable soft panniers.

I really like the Givi soft panniers, they’re well put together, have a separate waterproof inner bag and have a separate water proof bottle carrier on the rear facing side of each pannier making it easy to gain access to drinks without having to open the main bag.

Q: What GPS are you going to be using on your trip?

I’ll be using two effectively, one on my iPhone in the Ultimate Addons waterproof case mounted above the instrument cluster and a Garmin inReach Explorer+ with SOS capability.
I also have a Garmin Zumo 350LM that I may take as backup but it’s worth noting that Garmin do not supply maps for Central Asia for the Zumo GPS units and you have to create your own using OpenStreet Maps.

Q: What side stand foot is that in your photos?

It’s another Chinese made item from Ebay I’m afraid. When it arrived it didn’t actually fit so I had to re-engineer it but, it fits perfectly now.

Q: Have you changed the suspension and if so what have you done?

Yes I have changed the suspension as the OEM suspension isn’t really fit for the kind of punishment I’m going to be giving it on the trip. There are quite a few options available suspension wise for the CRF250 series of bikes these days but I opted for the HyperPro uprated progressive spring for the front forks and a completely new custom built Hagon shock for the rear.

The difference these two changes have made is stunning! The bike now handles so much better and to date I’ve not managed to bottom out the front or rear suspension even hammering along the trails.

There are a number of articles on the blog with regard to suspension. Links to all the articles are detailed below:

General discussion on suspension and the options available

The Custom Built Hagon Rear Shock I purchased

Suspension upgrade, was it worth it?

Most suspension questions should be answered between those 3 articles.

Q: Does the Hagon shock reduce static sag? If so, what is the seat height?

Yes, the Hagon shock with the spring that I have along with the Hyperpro fork spring reduces static sag considerably. With the bike off the side stand and standing free without load the seat height is increased to 93cm (930mm).

Q: What tyres are you using on your trip?

I’ll be setting off on a pair of Continental TKC80s. These are great 50/50 tyres for road and off-road use. I am aware that people with high power bikes complain that they wear quickly on the tarmac but, on my little 24HP CRF250 this isn’t going to be an issue. Whether I’ll be able to get another pair of TKC80s as I travel I don’t know, so it may be a case of just buying whatever is available when they wear out. I imagine I am going to need 3 or 4 pairs of tyres over the duration of the trip so we’ll see what I end up using as time goes on.

Q: What hand guards are you using? Are they any good?

I’ve fitted a pair of Zeta XC hand guards to the bike. I like them because the plastic hand guard can be unscrewed and replaced if it gets broken and the aluminium mount bar provides great protection for the brake and clutch levers in the event of a drop.

Are they any good? Well they saved my hands a few times now from bushes and branches and the levers didn’t get broken in the falls I’ve had off-road so, I guess that must mean they are good.

Q: Where do you get your stuff from?

A multitude of places! Ebay, Amazon, local motorcycle dealerships, overseas … there are many. I’ve put together a list of suppliers on my suppliers page.

Q: Are you going to change the chain and sprockets?

Yes, I’ve got rid of the cheap and nasty OEM chain and sprockets and replaced them with a DID 520VX3 chain and JTS sprockets. I’ve kept the sprocket sizes standard, 14/40.

Q: Have you changed the handle bars and/or fitted bar risers?

Yes, both! On my first venture off-road with the CRF250 Rally it was immediately clear to me that I needed to raise the handle bars up a bit as I was having to lean over too much to reach them when standing.

I decided to change the bars for a better quality item as the OEM handles bars flex very easily and I could see them getting bent out of shape very quickly.

I decided to go with Renthal bars and a pair of adjustable 2in max risers. All the info is detailed in my blog post where I also detail the fitting of the heated grips.

Q: What cameras are you taking with you?

I’ll be taking 4 cameras with me, 2 x Crosstour 4K video/timelapse cameras mounted on the bike/helmet, a Canon 1300D DSLR with a selection of lenses and my trusty iPhone 7 Plus.

Q: What helmet are you choosing for your trip?

This is a good question! I’ve spent ages trying on different skid lids trying to find one that really fits me well and that isn’t too heavy or noisy in the wind. Time and time again I kept coming back to the Nolan N702X. I have a Nolan helmet for road riding and really like it and this 702X really works for me. It’s great in that it’s convertible so I can remove the peak if I want, remove the chin bar and make it an open face helmet and wear it with the visor or goggles. It just ticks all the boxes. The other great thing is that my Sena headset will also fit. Money now spent, I’m really pleased with my decision.

Q: Are you wearing KLIM motorcycle clothing for the trip?

Simple answer is No.
KLIM maybe nice clothing but it should be. At almost £2000 for a pair of trousers and a jacket they ought to be gold plated too!
I’ve been using RST motorcycle clothing for some time and really like it but, it’s a bit hot in the summer months.
After looking around and trying many different outfits on I opted for the Rev’It OffTrack jacket and Sand3 trousers. The reason I got the different trousers is that no one in Europe had the Offtrack trousers in stock and there wasn’t going to be another manufacture run until mid 2020. On the plus side, the Sand3 trousers are made of a slightly heavier material which should wear better especially when kneeling fixing punctures or repairing the bike. Both the trousers and jacket can zip together and have the complete 3 layer system meaning that in the really hot areas like the Gobi Desert I can remove the inner water proof layer and the warm quilted layer leaving me with just the thin outer shell with the back, elbow and shoulder protection.

Q: What tools are you taking with you?

I’ve based my tool pack on the tools I’ve needed to do the jobs on the bike during the preparation stage. I’m sure there are tools in the pack that others wouldn’t take and tools that others take that I’m not. It’s a personal thing and also takes into account my attitude towards risk which may be different to everyone else.

The above image shows all the tools that I’ve included in the pack so lets go through what we have here.

Spanners: 19/12/10/8mm.
Tyre Levers: 3 x including a Motion Pro tyre lever/ring spanner combo for the rear axle.
Allen Keys: 6mm Long and short, 5mm long and short, 4mm & 3mm Long.
Electrical Screwdrivers: Large, medium and small flat head and large and medium cross head.
Sockets: 17/14/13/12/10, 10mm Sparc plug socket, 17/14mm Hex for front axle, Bahco 1/4in socket set and 3 x socket to ring spanner converters so that I don’t need to take a socket wrench with me.
Electrical: Multimeter, cable/zip ties, insulation tape and a length of electrical cable.
Miscellaneous: Valve removal tool, pliers with wire cutter edge, stanley knife, Hagon rear shock C spanner, Tutoro priming magnet, plastic fuse puller and tyre pressure gauge.

I also have an electric 12v tyre pump and head torch that are not shown in the picture.

I also recommend you take a look at Matt Boyle’s video about his tool kit that he takes on his CRF250 Rally adventures.

Q: What spare parts are you taking with you?

I’m taking the following spares with me:

Complete clutch plate set and clutch housing gasket.
Front and rear brake pads.
5 x oil filters and gaskets.
1 x air filter
Front and rear wheel bearing kits
Head stock bearing kit
2 x spark plugs
Spare bulbs and fuses
Puncture repair kit
Spare inner tubes
Front and rear sprockets

Well I think that just about covers all the questions I get asked regularly online. If I have any more I’ll add them to this page.