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5 Bikes that made me smile, and not.

5 Bikes that made me smile, and not.

Bikers all belong to one loving motorcycle family within which there are tribes, divisions and boundaries. So, we see sports bikers, touring bikers, adventure bikers, hog lovers, off-roaders and maybe a couple more categories, too. Each group has it’s own vision of what a motorbike should look like and what motorcycling should be. It’s no secret that sometiomes views clash with more than just the exchange of polite banter.

Also true is that some riders fail to figure out where they belong. They roam from one group to another, uneasy, confused and viewed with suspicion by friends, family and other bikers, as well.

There are also those, maybe the most troubled of all, who ride a sports bike or a Harley by day but secretly cherish a motocross machine they keep hidden in a shed out of sight.

Of course, none of this really matters. What counts is enjoying the ride regardless of what your bike looks like.

An Old Twin Shock

Motorbikes never interested me until the age of twelve. It was then that a school buddy of mine received a “hand me down” battered 80cc motocrosser from an older brother. As a result, I was at his home one afternoon, invited to check out his new two wheel marvel.

For sure, the old twin shock scrambler had seen better days. I remember it leaked fluids from tank and engine and stank of Castrol fuel mix. It had worn tyres, the suspension groaned, the handlebars were out of square. But, despite her shabby appearance, the note from the old girl’s exhaust made it clear there was life in the machine yet.

That afternoon I took my first steps into handling clutch, gears and throttle. I fell, got bruised and grazed. I tore my sweater and stained my jeans with oil, grease and mud. I lost control of the bike more than once and convinced myself the thing had a mind of it’s own. It behaved like cornered animal that just wanted to flee or be left alone. By the end of the day I was aching all over but none the less had a grin on my face. I was hooked, I was a budding biker, I had found my tribe, I was and off roader.

Over the years I’ve owned a few bikes and ridden plenty more. Some I liked a lot, others not so much. Of course, things change as you age but that off road edge has always influenced my choices of brand and style when it comes to motorcycles. Here’s a list of the machines that made the biggest impact.

Italjet 50T

After promising results at school I managed to persuade my father to shed some cash on my fourteenth birthday and became the proud owner of a second hand 50cc trials bike. Completely different to a motocrosser (and not much more than a moped), the Italjet was heaps of fun for a kid of my age and didn’t pass unnoticed with its wacky colour scheme either.

Italjet trial 50 T
Italjet trial 50 T

I rode the small bike for years and learned a thing or two about balance, clutch control and riding over obstacles though the lack of real power from the small Minarelli engine never propelled me to any competitive might.

Kawasaki KLX650

When my working days arrived and after a spell without a motorbike at all, I hunted for a machine with some sort of off-road flavour. I hoped to find a decent second hand Kawasaki KLR 650 but then stumbled upon a rarely seen KLX, the KLR’s beefed up cousin. As soon as I saw the bike I knew it had to be mine. It was just over ten years old with less than twenty thousand kilometres on the dial, only one owner. The bike looked clean and I bought it on impulse there and then.  

KLX 650 and owner on a ferry boat
The KLX and I, island hopping in Greece

I loved the KLX very much. It’s torque, reliability and upright riding position were fun on any day. Once again I owned an eccentric machine not many people recognised. In fact, the only KLX 650C I saw on the road was the one I owned and kept for five years. 

Of course, it wasn’t perfect. Vibrations at over 110km/h annoyed me at times and the big bore single craved for oil especially during the warmer season. But, it did the job and the bike also introduced me to the world of motorcycle travel. It took me to France, Greece, Turkey and to the dunes of North Africa and back, albeit only just. 

The Sahara, In Tunisia
The Sahara, In Tunisia

KTM 525 EXC

My North African trip on the KLX fuelled an appetite for further off road adventure. Still with the Sahara in mind I went for the kill and bought a third hand KTM 525. I thought this might be the best tool for mud, white top roads and whatever off road adventure I fancied. It was however, a big mistake. The 525 was a beast of a machine with way more power than anyone, other than a professional, could hope to manage sensibly. There was no compromise with this Austrian behemoth. It was either a full white knuckle ride, battling to keep rubber on the ground or nothing at all. 

The 525....a beast.
The 525….a beast.

Needless to say the 525 filled me with anxiety every time I rode her and in the long run, I avoided having anything to do with the bike entirely.

KTM 250 EXC

A second hand KTM 250 two stroke was a by far a more sensible approach to green lanes and track events. Above all, the engine was manageable, light and didn’t tire me the way the 525 did. Unfortunately though I found the 250 maintenance hungry. Piston rings, electrics, oil leaks, just got too much for me.

KTM 250 two stroke
KTM 250 two stroke

BMW F800 GS

The F800 was love at first sight. To me it remains one of the most appealing designs in enduro adventure bike segment. By no means perfect, the baby GS nonetheless ticks all the boxes for me adequately. It’s reliable, robust, great on fuel economy and can, within reason, handle most easy dirt tracks pretty well.

My first F800 GS, on The Pyrenees in Spain
My first BMW F800 GS, on The Pyrenees in Spain

I’ve travelled extensively on the F800GS, all over Europe and Asia and have come to know the bike’s merits and flaws, well enough. The steering head bearings, the dodgy fuel pump and its flimsy front rim are its immediate issues. These, however are easy to fix. The F8 isn’t suited for long highway runs nor for sustained speeds above 150km/h, either. None of this bothers me. I believe the bike remains a good compromise as far as adventure bikes go. I’ve actually owned two of these and still ride one today.

Looking ahead

What bikes would I like to own? Well, it’s an on going joke that motorbikes unlike a girlfriend/boyfriend don’t mind if you dream of newer models or skim through motorbike magazines.  So… I like the Ducati Multistrada and although I’m not sure how this Italian prima donna handles it’s certainly a stunner in the looks department. We shall see, perhaps one day I’ll own one or maybe not. Maybe I’ll be enjoying something completely different instead, could even be something electric. 

Sign board at Italian border

Travellingstranger 2019 ©️. All Rights Reserved.

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Five Sites not to miss in the Dolomites

Five Sites not to miss in the Dolomites

The Dolomites are without doubt one of the most picturesque and exciting mountain ranges in Europe. They belong to the Italian Alps, and are set in north east corner of “the boot” between the border with Austria (North) and the Sugana valley (south).

The entire area offers inspiring vistas and heaps of outdoor fun. Above all, there are rocky peaks to climb, endless trails to hike and cool lakes to relax by. The Dolomites also offer extraordinary switchback roads to ride with countless mountain passes to reach and enjoy.

This part of Italy, with its Sud Tirolese culture, also offers excellent cuisine, beer and wine. As a result, with all the above going for it, it’s no wonder the Dolomites are a favorite destination for bikers and holiday makers from all over the continent.

What are the most iconic sites of the Dolomites? Here are five that should be on everyone’s list on a bike tour:

1. The Three Peaks of Lavaredo (Tre Cime di Lavaredo)

Placed at the northern most part of the Sexten Dolomite complex, just south of Val Pusteria, the Peaks of Lavaredo consist three craggy pinnacles, that tower at three thousand meters each. They offer some great climbing thrills and the area is also a haven for hikers as well.

On route to the Cimone di LAvaredo
On the way to the Tre Cime

The foot of the western most peak (Cima Ovest) can be reached from lake Misurina the “strada panoramica” (toll road). Rifugio Auronzo next to the car park serves hot meals and provides lodging for overnight stays. The big rifugio is also the starting point for hikers that come to explore the trails around the peaks. Consequently, it can get crowded here, especially during the warmer months of the year.

The views around the Lavaredo peaks are amazing and the photo opportunities are not to be missed.

2. Lake Braies 

If you’ve browsed Instagram in search of mountain landscape scenery then Lake Braies is probably a familiar site. This idyllic little lake is one of the best known tarns of the Dolomites and hundreds of keen photographers come here to capture its alure. Braies’s green water creates is in stunning contrast with the pale surrounding dolomite outcrops. As a result, beautiful pictures are easy to frame on clear days with blue skies

Lake Braies
Placid and green waters of Lake Braies

At dusk the cliffs around the lake bounce the crimson sunlight in soft tonalities of pink and yellow. The warm light is perfect for romance or deep thought by the water’s edge. There are old style wooden rowing boats available for hire and there’s also a lovely lake side walk that takes the better part of two hours to finish. Lake Braies is a definite must.

3. The Gardena and Sella Passes

The Sella and Gardena passes are within a short ride of each other and are extremely popular with bikers and cyclists alike. Jaw dropping views, steep inclines and challenging twisty roads offer heaps of motorcycle entertainment. Of course there are great food stops at the rifugios on the way. Plenty of hiking on offer for those equipped and fit for the task, too.  

Stunning Dolomite Scenery
Scenery around the Gardena Pass

At the peak of the tourist season, between July and August, there are traffic restrictions to Passo Sella. On some week days only a couple of hundred vehicles per hour are allowed beyond the road side check points. However, the curb on traffic isn’t enforced on weekends and the restrictions are unpopular with locals who thrive on tourism. It’s unclear for how long traffic limitations will hold. As of 2018, access to the pass involves buying a permit online here.

4. Passo Giau (Giau Pass)

Passo Giau
Passo Giau is definitely a favourite with bikers and day trippers alike. Occasionally hard to find a space to park a bike.

Possibly the most inspiring of all Dolomite passes, Passo Giau has it all. At the top of there pass there are awesome views of mountain massifs and valleys near and far to admire. Time spent at the local rifugio is usually a memorable experience as well. The food is good and there are bikers from all over Europe to befriend.

Perched on the hills around the pass it’s not unusual to see photographers with cameras and tripods. Likewise these days, there are drones humming and hovering, as well. 

5. Lake Levico 

Lake Levico is on the southern most fringes of the Dolomites in Val Sugana, just a few kilometers from Trento. On a hot summer’s day the banks of the small lake offer highly sought after shade. Well manicured lawns provide perfect bedding for a beach towel and the mountain scenery around the water offers plenty to admire.

Lake Levico
Lake Levico

The lake’s water is fresh all the year round and ideal to cool off from the harsh Italian sun. Camping is available for an overnight stay and of course restaurants are abundant in the area with Levico Terme, the local village, at a twenty minute walk from the water’s edge.

More info on touring the Dolomites here.

Travellingstrangetr 2018 ©️. All rights reserved

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Five essentials for a bike tour

Five essentials for a bike tour

Helmet, jacket, trousers and boots are ready. Your bike is clean, full of fuel, serviced and fitted with panniers, navigation gizmos and a fully charged action cam. The insurance, road side assistance papers and itinerary are sorted.  You just need to fire up your beloved machine, lock your front door and ride off to that far away destination you’ve dreamed of.

But hang on, wait a moment. There are some less obvious accessories to take that you shouldn’t overlook. Consider the following for personal SAFETY and the long term ENJOYMENT of your road trip.

1. Ear Plugs

According to research published on the Journal of Fundamental and Applied Sciences (March 2018), riding a motorcycle even at moderate speeds (60km/h) with an open face helmet, exposes the rider to wind noise levels of over 90 dBA. If repeated and prolonged in time, this is enough to cause permanent hearing loss at any age. It goes without saying that higher riding speeds induce greater wind noise and potentially even greater damage to our hearing capacity.

Although there is some controversy over how to accurately measure sound levels beneath the cover of a helmet, motorcycle audiometry tests all agree that helmet induced noise is a very real threat to our well being. So, what can we do to protect ourselves from this hazard?

Motorcycle fairing and expensive helmet designs claim to target buffering and wind noise. This is certainly a step in the right direction but perhaps the best way to stem the persistent hiss of flowing air while cruising on a motorbike is a set of quality ear plugs.

There are several ear plug designs available on the market but the best option is to purchase pair of personal moulded plugs. Many companies specialise in this sort of product that can be costly. Regardless, a set of custom made plugs lasts for years and are easily worn in comfort for hours at a time. For sue, they’re cheaper than good hearing aids, too.

Custom made ear plugs
Custom made ear plugs

2. Sun Block

The sun, especially in warmer countries, is a biker’s fiercest yet most underrated foe. Exposure to the sun causes dehydration, sweat, exhaustion and UV radiation is responsible for lasting damage to eyes and skin.

The face, neck and nasal bridge in particular are parts of the body exposed to the sun the most while behind the bars of a bike. Therefore, protecting  these areas is essential for our well being.

A few drops of high factor sun block on the critical areas of face and neck should be part of a biker’s daily routine before climbing on his or her machine. Unfortunately, too many people discover the importance of protecting their skin way too late in life. Many bikers, too.

3. Gloves

It always surprises me to meet bikers that do not wear motorcycle gloves whilst on their rides. Some find them cumbersome, others claim that gloves are too easily lost. A few admit that they simply cannot be bothered. Fair enough.

There are however, several good reasons to want to always wear gloves when riding a bike. Falls, for example, are unpredictable and scraping exposed hands on any length of asphalt or concrete is invariably a sorry experience.  

Gloves allow a better grip on the handlebars especially when riding off road. Gloves also help lessen the numbing effect of engine vibration when travelling at motorway speeds.

Above anything else though, gloves are essential just to protect our hands from the elements and the sun, once again, most of all. 

I always pack two pairs of hand savers (cheap ones are fine) and will not get caught riding without.

Light weight motorcycle gloves.
Motorcycle gloves, essential to protect your hands from the sun.

4. Safety Specs

Visors on helmets do a great job to protect our faces from the elements, the dust, fumes and the occasional colliding insect. Occasionally though, especially when it’s warm, we all like to flip visors open for some cooler air. Our eyes, need constant protection and a good pair of quality sun glasses are often used for this purpose.

But sun glasses can be extortionately expensive and some designs frankly aren’t comfortable under a helmet at all. A cheaper option to costly eye wear are safety specs. These are readily available in most hardware stores anywhere in the world and cost not much more then a can of Coke.

Safety specs come in a variety of “lens shades”, from tinted to clear. What’s more, they’re tough, easily replaceable and usually have adjustable temples which is ideal for use with a helmet. Honestly, I think some of them look pretty cool as well.

Safety Specs with adjustable temples are ideal riding companions
Safety Specs with adjustable temples are ideal riding companions

A tinted or mirrored pair of safety specs are just fine for riding in the sun and clear ones are great for protection when riding after dark. I personally wouldn’t travel anywhere without them and often have a pair as back up for whoever is riding pillion.

5. Neck scarf/warmer

Neck scarf/warmers are a versatile piece of kit that can serve many purposes. Most of all, they provide an extra layer of warmth for our necks and on a hot day protect the same from the rays of the sun.

Furthermore, a neck scarf lifted over mouth will filter some of the dust and fumes from other traffic. They can also be used as emergency bandanas and a bright colour increases a biker’s visibility on the road, too.

Interesting geology in Nubra Valley, Ladakh, India
Interesting geology in Nubra Valley, Ladakh, India. Bright neck scarf as well.

There are many other accessories that can make the difference to our experience on the road for sure. Everyone has their own and these generally change in time as our individual experience grows, too. The above are the essentials that I’ve discovered work not only for me, but many riding buddies, as well.

Travellingstranger, Copyright 2018, all rights reserved.

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