Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Alexandroupolis RTE Report July 2018

A quick intro about myself and my IBA membership. I have been riding bikes for about forty years. About five years ago I realised that apart from commuting I was not doing much riding (busy job and young family……). I had heard about the IBA and it seemed like (and has turned out to be) a perfect solution i.e. large amounts of riding in small amounts of time. I completed my my qualifying SS1000 on a BMW F650cs in July 2015. After years of owning assorted and sometimes multiple BMWs I eventually bought myself a nearly new Honda St1300 for my IBA rides. 

This was to be my fifth RTE after previously attending Zagreb, Verdun, Bran and Moscow. It was also the second year in a row where I would visit two RTE destinations in one weekend (following last years unplanned trip to Riga on my way to Moscow). This year, as well as the designated destination of Alexandroupolis in Greece, I would also visit Bari on my way home  - at least I would be on time for one of the destinations this year  :-).

I planned this trip with my usual approach of there and back via Eurotunnel and staying in  cheapish hotels selected via This trip was though a little different in that it was rather wonderfully interspersed with the World Cup as well as helping me fulfil a family commitment to my late mother.

Wednesday June 27th
Left early Wednesday morning from Bristol and had a clear run to Folkestone. Ended up on an earlier train and then had a pretty clear run to my destination for the evening.

This was a nice little town North of Frankfurt called Altendiez.  I was staying in a guest house that seemed to be aimed at people exploring the local national park. I had a shared Kitchen, Lounge and bathrooms but as there was no one else staying until a French van turned up late on I had the place to myself.

Whilst there was no TV in the place (a nice touch on reflection) I had discovered via the internet that Germany had just exited the World Cup. We are all so used to Germany progressing to the later stages of football competitions that this was a major shock. The English amongst us are used to it being us exiting early so had a fair amount of empathy (what is the German for schadenfreude as the BBC quipped? ).

 I found a local restaurant for dinner and enjoyed beer and pork whilst listening to a large table of subdued locals do an inquest into the day’s football events. I then eventually managed to find my way back to the guest house through a maze of lanes and alleyways and retired to bed ready for an early start.

Thursday June 28th
I was on the road by six and heading to my destination for the evening 700 miles away in the town of Kecskemet in Southern Hungary. Ordinarily I love travelling on German motorways. They are fast and the standard of driving is probably the best in Europe. The A3 on June 28th was not as enjoyable as usual. It was slowed down by a seemingly constant succession of roadworks and accidents. As usual, I carefully filtered through all of this. I am aware that it is apparently not entirely legal to do this in Germany. However, most German drivers though do their best to provide you with the space required. I encountered just the one Passat driver who blasted me with his horn as I passed. I ignored him and put it down to his mood being particularly poor due to a combination of the lousy traffic and the previous day’s football.

I was reminded of my controversial riding attire at a German motorway service station when  a German driver asked me why I was wearing a BMW jacket whilst riding a Honda. I told him it was because BMW make good jackets and Honda make great bikes – he looked at me blankly…….

The other thing that impacted the days ride was the weather. The forecast had predicted the potential for thunderstorms for my ride on the Thursday and Friday through much of Germany, Austria and the Balkans. This proved to be accurate with probably 1200 of those 1500 miles being wet – ranging from light rain to biblical . Once clear of the A3 the rest of the route via Austria and into Hungary was pretty uneventful.  I eventually arrived at my hotel in Hungary about 19.45 just as they closed their restaurant. The hotel was clean and the staff were great but it was a little tired and quite East European - not necessarily a bad thing - good to experience something other than standard western hotel decor every so often. The choice for dinner was either KFC or a large Tesco supermarket. I opted for the latter and ended up in my room drinking a can of Hungarian IPA and making Ham rolls.

Friday June 29th
Mine and Phisdelo’s bikes in the Serbian rain
I set off early again Friday and headed for my destination in Haskovo in Southern Bulgaria. There was a pretty large queue at the Serbian border but I was waved through to the front and cleared the whole lot in about ten minutes. This was my first visit to Serbia and the torrential rain and lousy traffic around Belgrade gave me a less than rosy view (perhaps unfairly??) Somewhere in southern Serbia I ran into Phisdelo and followed him to the border with Bulgaria. We ended up in convoy with a French chap on a Goldwing. Our bid to get to the front of the queue was foiled by an irate border guard so the crossing took a little longer. Not too bad though, about 25 mins I think.
Once In Bulgaria I lost Phisdelo due to a combination of sitting politely behind the Goldwing for too long and then getting snarled up in Sofia’s traffic. Arrived at my hotel early evening and it was great. Immaculate, large modern rooms and restaurant and only 30 euros for B&B. Schnitzel and beer for dinner
Dinner in Bulgaria
Saturday June 30th
I only had 100 miles to do on the Saturday so had a leisurely breakfast and set off. Was a great ride through the mountains to the border crossing which was passed through quickly. The sun came out and the temperature rose pretty well as soon as I entered Greece. Had a great ride to the hotel, part of which was on my first toll road of the trip. The Greek toll roads are cheap and I think I paid about a euro that day and probably a total of 5 the following day.

I arrived at the hotel Erika late morning, checked in, showered, changed and did some washing which I left to dry in the heat on my balcony. Ran into Phisdelo again and we had a very good lunch in a local taverna with a couple of carafes of white wine. I then retired to my room to sleep off that and the fatigue I had amassed over the past few days.

We then met Jaybee and Johnny M for the group photo and then had another pleasant and inexpensive meal in the selected restaurant. The owner was “honoured” and I think somewhat bemused that we had ridden across Europe to have dinner at his restaurant before heading home. On reflection, I guess his bemusement was somewhat understandable.
 Group Shot in front of Alexandroupolis Lighthouse
Sunday July 1st
Jaybee, Johnny M and Phisdello had all planned an early start to head back home via Bulgaria.

I was going home via Italy. My Mum died in 2016 and had decided that she wanted her ashes scattered in three locations. She was a Catholic from Liverpool who had spent a couple of years of her youth in Italy with a mystery Italian. The destinations for her ashes had therefore been selected as Liverpool, Rome and Florence. The Liverpool piece is fairly straightforward and my niece had recently visited Rome and taken care of that piece. I was carrying some of my Mum for a trip to Florence. Having never been to Albania before I decided to get to Italy with a ferry from Durres in Albania to Bari in Southern Italy. The ferry left 22.00 Sunday evening so I had plenty of time.

My route through Greece took me west along the coast and was nicely scenic. Somewhere along here I passed another bike and we exchanged waves. He caught me up at the next toll booth and gestured for coffee so we met at the next services and sat down for coffee after filling our tanks. This chap (Italian) put a few things into perspective. He was riding a 1990s Suzuki and was returning from a month and 15000kms riding around Turkey, Jordan, Israel and Iraq. He had also tried to get into Syria (apparently impossible without a Syrian passport) and Iran (had skipped that as did not want to wait 48 hours for a visa). He described riding in Iraq as a pain in the backside due to constant checkpoints where you have to remove all your gear, present your documents and generally justify your existence. I had been feeling a little anxious about riding through Albania on my own and this was greatly put into perspective by our discussion over coffee.

Albania and Macedonia eventually turned out to be pretty straightforward. The roads are fairly poor but as with most places the people are great and keen to engage. I arrived at the Ferry terminal in plenty of time and sat down to enjoy their air con and the TV in their bar. I watched Russia defeat Spain in the company of the local (Russia Supporting) police and port staff. They provided a great atmosphere.
Durres Ferry Terminal, Albania
The ferry left on time and docked on time in Bari the following morning. It was an Italian Ferry with a joint Italian/ Albanian crew. It was well run and their arrangements for securing bikes where good (relative to my experience of Brittany Ferries at least). A nice clean cabin with shower and chicken and chips whilst watching Croatia Denmark made for a great crossing.

Monday July 2nd
 Bari Lighthouse
Italy was hot, and as a motorist expensive. The fabulous food, architecture and scenery provide great compensation. I had purposely got to the ferry with an empty tank just to ease whatever onboard manoeuvring was required. Therefore needed fuel when I got to Italy and stopped at one the first services on the Autoroute. Italian fuel I subsequently discovered  is expensive wherever you are. This station was attendant only (“Serviced”) and that makes it more expensive. The unleaded was 1.91 euros/litre! He did tell me it was Super and the obvious comeback occurred - Super – it better be bloody fantastic for that price. My route to Florence was Autoroute all the way and I found my hotel reasonably easily. I got directions to the Ponte Vechio from reception and enjoyed a very pleasant walk through the city. I had already decided I wanted pizza and found and great little restaurant in a small square along my route. The annual Palio horse race was on in Sienna that night and was live on the TV in the restaurant. It was great to watch the locals enthralled by the drama of it all. This was followed by the drama of watching the two Japanese businessmen at the table next to mine watch Japan lead Belgium 2-0 before losing to them 2-3 in the last minute – a lousy way to lose a football match.
The Palio on the Telly and two Japanese football fans
Duly sated by Pizza, Vino Tinto, Tiramisu and a couple of Grappas, I set off to find the River Arno and scatter my Mums Ashes. I know that she would have loved the whole evening and it may even have made up for dragging across Europe in the pannier of a “bloody motorbike” as she almost always called them – a legacy to be fair of the number of mishaps I had on them in my youth.
View of the Ponte Vechio

Tuesday July 3rd
I had planned an early start with a shot at a return home in one go in mind. I woke up even earlier than planned and left my hotel by 4.00am. The Autoroute took me to Aosta in Northern Italy and through the Mont Blanc tunnel. The total cost of the Italian Autoroute from Bari to Aosta was 109 euros. The toll for the tunnel was a further 29 euros. Whilst expensive, the advantage of the Italian and French Autoroutes is that you do make good time and despite a couple of French thunderstorms,  I did keep going all the way to Calais. 
Parked up on the France side of the Mont Blanc tunnel
The last hour or so in France and my Eurotunnel route were during the England Columbia game and consequently, everywhere was very quiet.

The view down the Eurotunnel on arrival - the footy is on!
I arrived home 00:30 on Wednesday morning 1103 miles after leaving Florence and 3984 miles after leaving home.

Reflections on the trip.

  • I continue to love the ST1300. It is not perfect – generates massive amounts of heat in hot weather and I really must do something about the seat, but it is a fabulous bike especially in the context of IBA rides.
  • I continue to love the whole concept of the IBA  – a bunch of loosely aligned like-minded people riding large distances to turn up in strange distant places for beer, food and chat – what’s not to like.
  • I need a new sat nav. I am using the seven year old Zumo that came with my bike. It is/was  a great device but is maybe just past its best especially for IBA usage – you have to manually load the maps you require as it will not hold mapping for all of Europe. Consequently, I have had a few instances where I had to divert somewhere and then found I did not have the relevant maps loaded (e.g. Riga last year). In addition, it did not want to route me out of Florence  - I spent 20 mins riding around the city at 4.00am until I eventually spotted a sign for Genova and was on my way

Another great RTE, probably my last this year but I look forward to considering whatever is decided as destinations for next year.

Sunday, 22 July 2018

RBLR 1000 2018

What's new

RBLR 1000 2018

Spectacles Testicals Wallet
We all have a check list that's the basic model you can then make it as complicated as you wish,
anyway 0500 16/06/18 squires café myself and a friend Andy Burnside {a fellow marshal at the Classic racing Motorcycle club} whom I got interested last year asked if he could accompany me as this was his first time.
Uneventful ride to Birch then up to Glasgow, weather predicted heavy rain they were depressingly accurate it started once we got over the Erskine bridge through Glencoe up to Ft William, as we passed the commando memorial at Spean Bridge to find this cage driver doing a three point turn on the right hand bend by the entrance as he had missed the turn after I had voiced opinion on his parents marital status and the depth of his intellect we kept on to Inverness weather slowly improving.
Sat nav,s why do they on occasion have a mind of their own at Drumnadrochit on the A82 it said turn left after a quick discussion we decided to follow it out of curiosity it made a change.
We passed the collision on the A9 apparently a classic SMIDSY the rider seriously injured best regards and a speedy recovery.
The weather slowly improving as we got further north got to Wick before we saw blue sky, best part about the road from Inverness to wick is you have to turn round and do it again:D
The A9 south of Inverness must be the most boring sleep inducing road ever built might return via the A82 next time however good run south to Edinburgh the new Forth road bridge caused some confusion getting to Dreghorn services bleeding sat nav again but we got there.
On the last leg now not sure why the stop at Berwick-on-Tweed is necessary, the A1 south was quiet hardly so a nice run back to Squires arriving at 0230 Andy Burnside was well impressed and wants to do another SS ride another recruit for insanity.
The bike ran perfectly but blew the oil seal on the final drive and is on the bike lift awaiting parts if I can't get it done by next weekend for the RTE I will be in the car.

Friday, 13 July 2018

RBLR1000 June 2018

Sunday morning at Squires Cafe, Yorkshire, I am having an old fashioned instant coffee at the café and thinking about the weekend I had.
I am not the one for bucket lists, I am more looking on a daily/monthly and yearly base what I like to do. So there are no regrets when something didn’t work out in life. One thing on my real bucket list was to ride an SS1000 officially and to become part of the "Worlds Toughest Riders". And the best one to ride is the RBLR1000 to support the British Legion.
There I was at 00:20 riding in after about 20 hours on the road and 1000 miles later. Never underestimate the emotional power when people are cheering you in, people who understand what you did. I felt emotional after the sun broke through at Perth and I felt it coming in.
We started at 5:00 all 138 of us. Being signed in, the rules of the Iron Butt Association are tight, and waved off by people who are committed to riding and to the RBLR, makes it an easy start, even for me at 5:00.
First stop at Birch Services, again the RBLR is waving at us. Signing the first evidence. It is up to Fort William for the second one. The first miles are dry but after 300 km it starts to rain. Time for a first fuel stop for the bike and to feed myself. The route along Loch Lomond is very pretty, when it is not raining….. Fort William, likewise. But it is raining and luckily my jacket is keeping me dry and my trick with the sponge at the screen, to prevent spray under my visor, works too. Talking about the helmet, it felt comfortable at the right time. I had to buy a new one because I broke the visor when I dropped the helmet and replacement ones were not available fast enough. At Fort William I had a small bite and drink and up it was towards to Wick.
It stopped raining about 1,5 hours before Wick. Suddenly traffic stopped too and there was a huge
queue. I rode passed it and was stopped by a cross policeman, he asked me what I was doing and what I did was illegal and that sort of things and that I had to stop. (period, and that was an order). I wondered if it was a bike accident what happened and that this was one of the things that made him this cross. It appeared it was one biker that had an accident involving a car and it was one other rider of my ride. (I found out later, bummer I hope he will be OK soon). With a delay I arrived in Wick and my sat-nav pointed me further, so I went. I ended up somewhere silly, so I lost 20 minutes or so. Note to myself: prepare yourself better next time round.

So in Wick when I filled up and got my ticket for the evidence I was there. I was thinking that it is now only 800 km back and it is only 15:30. Well, it is the same distance to ride from home (Gennep,NL) to Italy. Would I ever consider starting at 15:30 to ride to friends in Italy, well most likely not….. SS1000’s puts things and distances in different perspective.
Riding down it started raining again. Filled up half way to Edinburgh to get fuel and a bite. At Perth suddenly like clouds were cut with a knife, the clouds broke and the sun started shining. There they were, the beautiful colours of Scotland. Stop at Edinburgh, got rid of the waterproof trousers, which helped me enough, only a wet crotch, and mounted the sheepskin. What a luxury! Berwick, the last station, still light. Next stop was back to the Squires, two hours of motorway hammering down the A1/M1 at 120 km/h.

At 0:20 coming in at the Squires, the cheers lifted my emotions, the signing off brought the relief, the verification and the certificate to prove I have done it signed by Phil, was a reward that cannot be underestimated. I was shivering a lot, but after a sausage sandwich and a coffee and some more to eat, it was much better. I believe it was a combination of cold, shortage of easy available energy, fatigue and emotions. Got to bed about 1-ish and fell asleep instantly.
Woken up at 9 in a nice warm tent I felt fit.
Ordering breakfast, I was talking to a lady who did the 500-miles on a Street Twin, she nailed the hammer straight on the nail saying that they/we long distance riders are different. I believe more relaxed and supportive. Camping and talking to other participants was different. It is not about how good looking the bikes are, because most of our bikes are in a well used state, but about thinking and coping with riding conditions.
Leaving me a word of thanks for everybody who made it possible. The team of the IBA-UK, the RBLR, the people at the Squires café and also everybody who supported me in this ride. With donations, words of admiring (or disgust), likes on my posts and everybody else who think I (and we) are nuts, because I consider that as a word of praise.

Paul Ten Broeke

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Lunch in Red Square

This summer I fulfilled an ambition to return to Moscow by calling a #RideToEat in Red Square. Three UK riders crossed the channel separately on Monday heading for lunch in Moscow on Friday.
JB & Mike met up in Hannover, Germany that evening and I joined them for breakfast before setting off together to ride 700 miles to Suwalki, Poland. Sticking together over that distance proved challenging and many pretty villages were inspected along the way. The day finished with a welcome beer in the hotel bar.
The third day entailed a 285 mile route across Poland, Lithuania and Latvia to Ludza, just 20 miles from the Russian border. Here we met up with Phillipe from Switzerland for supper. Next morning Phillipe set off early to the border. Mike, JB & I had a leisurely breakfast then rode to the border where we met the fourth Brit, Phil. Three hours later we completed the crossing into Russia.
Our ride through open forest to Moscow was split at a roadside diner where a complete stranger acted as interpreter and also paid for our food. The Russians are a very hospitable people. On the outskirts of Moscow we were welcomed by a Russian Iron Butt rider who led us the most efficient route across town to our hotel and arranged overnight security for our bikes.
Friday was spent being tourists, exploring the city, lunching in Red Square and dining with a group of Russians who made us more than welcome.
Saturday started with an early morning ride across the city to be photographed with our bikes on Red Square. We then left, each riding at his own pace, towards the border. Mike & I stopped in Ludza Saturday night and on Sunday headed for Warsaw and beyond. We split up near Lodz and I spent my last night away in a small motel.
Rising early on Monday I calculated ETA at Calais, 850 miles, and booked a Chunnel. I arrived in Calais well ahead of schedule and caught a train almost immediately. Obviously when I emerged at Folkestone, despite having enjoyed clear, dry, sunny weather all day, driving rain stayed with me all the way home.

Days away from home: 7
Miles ridden: 3,940
Highest speed: 96mph
Shortest day: 285 miles
Longest day: 945 miles

More detailed report of this trip here.

Monday, 24 July 2017

Monica's Iron Butt

Just like to say a big thank you to Steve who let me go on the back of his bike for the RBLR 1000 miles this year.

I've marshalled the event three times and enjoyed seeing all the riders leaving Squires at silly o clock (5 am) and waving as they go out of the gates wondering what it's like to be on the ride itself.

As the riders come back after 20 hours on the bike some of the tough lads are looking fresh and buzzing with excitement of what they have done and talking about what they have seen on the travels and getting a drink and a bite to eat then getting off. Then the lads that are in the last couple of hours to spare look tired and shattered and as marshals we have to tell them to switch off engines and put stands down and help them from the bikes and sometimes park the bikes for them so that they can have a rest.

One year I said I'd love to have a go on the back to achieve this and tick one of my bucket list of things I'd love to do in my life. This year, 2017, it happened: I managed to go pillion for the Iron Butt with a man that I've never seen before in my life, met him on the Friday night very briefly just to say 'hi' and to see what bike we were going on. 

I hardly slept that night with excitement got up and dressed at 4am. All the lads were getting ready and queuing up for the off as I went looking for my lift. As I'd forgotten what Steve's bike looked like, I started to panic as the bike was not there.

The sound of bikes revving took the panic away and sheer excitement came as the lads were chatting to each other and asked if I'm ok.  I said I'm looking for Steve with the big bike and a few lads said sorry but it's not me and a few said that I could go on their bikes. Then the bikes set off out the gates as Steve pulled up and I was giddy and excited and I grinned from ear to ear, got on the bike and we were off.

We stopped off at petrol station after petrol station, getting on and off the bike seemed easy; it was a lovely experience as we just went on and on and on - the views were stunning and we even went to John o' Groats for a photo.

It didn't feel like I was on the bike for 21 hours, I would do it again given the chance. When we got back to Squires I helped out by greeting the riders back and they all enjoyed it. Thank you to Graeme for asking Steve to let me be his pillion.  I still think about it 😍

Monica Kershaw

The RBLR1000 is the Legion's premier motorcycle fundraising event and we're very grateful to Monica for her efforts in marshalling and keeping it running over the last few years. We're delighted that she's now managed to actually take part in the ride and earn her spurs as a member of the Iron Butt Association. See you next year Monica.

Graeme Dawson
RBLR1000 Squires Coordinator

Monday, 12 June 2017

From Russia with love

Previous instalment.

One of my mates had a problem at the Latvian border on Thursday morning and hadn't come through with us. He was finally able to cross into Russia around midnight Friday and at 0330 he was 120 miles from Moscow and hoping to meet with us before our departure early Saturday morning. Just after 0600 he was having breakfast in a petrol station outside the city. In fact he arrived at the Cosmos just as Dmitry and Pavel arrived to lead us in convoy across the city to Red Square for some final photos with our bikes. A helmetcam video exists of this ride but I won't link to it as it includes 13 seconds of me failing to cancel my indicator after a turn and if you can't see it no such mistake was made. What happens in Moscow stays in Moscow!

Our hosts then led us out of the city and back to the M-9 before pulling over and waving us on our way.

My goodness it was cold once we left the city and eventually I had to pull over and add another layer. There were four of us leaving Moscow but two were now pressing on leaving just the two of us to maintain a steady pace westwards. We agreed that we would just return to the same hotel in Ludza and not press further on as the front runners were bound to. We started to pay attention to fuel consumption again and also to using up Rubles in petrol stations. In most (but not all) Russian petrol stations you hand over some cash or authorise a card then draw fuel then settle up. It can seem a bit strange to stop in a largely vacant lot and pass cash through a small window to an unseen hand but it works just fine and we even stopped again to top up before crossing the border.

We knew from reports by Phil & JB that they crossed back into Latvia in about half an hour. We were not so lucky and it took two hours. Also that was the point at which my Zumo decided that enough is enough and just powered off and stayed dead. I tried the USB connector - yep that still works so if necessary I'll just use that. On arrival at the hotel a while later I discovered that I'd actually dropped my USB cable somewhere along the way so dead reckoning then.

After a brief exchange of views about the price of hotel rooms and the wisdom of attempting a 1,000 mile ride at 0400 Sunday we opted for several beers tonight and a leisurely breakfast in the morning. We used these sessions to cure ourselves of secondary plans like visiting Auschwitz or Gdansk "on the way home". Sometimes when looking at a map you think "I've come 2,000 miles what's a few more?" Well Ludza to Calais is 1,380 miles; Ludza, Gdansk, Calais is 1,662 miles. That's a diversion of 282 miles, the same distance as from Suwalki to Ludza on day three of the ride out. No, IBA RTEs should be there and back not excuses to just wander around. There'll be plenty of other trips to incorporate sightseeing.

Sunday morning after breakfast I cleaned the Zumo's connectors with an alcohol rub and magically it agreed to play (didn't last though, it got tired again later on and went back to sleep). Anyway, we saddled up and headed southwest and were much better prepared this time for the roadworks with "interesting" surfaces. Right across Lithuania and into Poland we were running on Russian petrol; I was getting 18-19 kilometres per litre. Eventually we pulled into a Shell station and I treated my engine to a tankful of V-Power. Back to 22-23 kpl almost immediately! The Russian fuel was pretty cheap, around 60p per litre, but it's not the best quality.

In Warsaw we encountered some weather. Serious, biblical quantities of rain, blowing sideways with some force; thunder and lightning like the end of the world and some traffic. We filtered through  almost 14 million miles of cars backed up in the city centre until we found the cause - an unseated rider being treated by paramedics. After a few minutes we were shown a way round the chaos and we took off, into even harder, faster, rain. Visor open was too painful; visor closed meant not being able to see anything at all. We survived and slowly found our way back on track, a motorway continuing  southwest towards Lodz.

Not far past Lodz I started recognising the signs of "time for bed" and flashed Mike several times indicating my desire to get off the road. Eventually I turned off into a service area but Mike carried on. Well that's just the way it is; ever the lightweight I checked into the motel and texted Mike to let him know what's happening. The motel I have to say was a delight: clean & comfortable with everything I could want - heated towel rail for drying wet gear - and run by a husband & wife? team who bent over backwards for me; breakfast of champions. In fact when I got home I wrote a thank you letter with the help of a Polish neighbour. £33 including breakfast!

 So the last day dawned, my Zumo decided to play again, all by itself with no special treatment this time and did in fact continue to work all the way home. I set off towards Calais at a fair old lick. The speed limit on the Polish motorway 150kph but I don't think anyone drives that slowly. The only interruption is the toll booths (all Polish motorways are subject to road use tolls) and at one of these I learned yet another lesson in the never-ending learning curve of motorcycle riding: when you unzip the top of your tank bag to retrieve the toll ticket, IMMEDIATELY zip it up again. Not long after leaving the last toll booth I noticed that my strip of pills had gone for a walk. Oh well, I'll HAVE to get home today now.

It felt strange having crossed into Germany to realise that I had now slowed down, in Germany, on an autobahn with no speed limit! It's true, the overall speed of the traffic was lower in Germany than in Poland. Those who reckon that speed limits reduce speeds need to pay attention.

I arrived in Calais well ahead of schedule and caught a train almost immediately. Obviously when I emerged at Folkestone, despite having enjoyed clear, dry, sunny weather all day, driving rain stayed with me all the way home.

Days away from home: 7
Miles ridden: 3,940
Highest speed: 96mph
Shortest day: 285 miles
Longest day: 945 miles

Would I recommend riding to/in Russia? absolutely. Lovely country, lovely people.

Being the first group of IBA riders we did legalities by the book but in future we'll be more relaxed: get third party motor insurance from a shack once you've crossed the border. It may well not be worth the paper it's written on in the event of a claim but it does make you legal. Nobody asked to see our International Drivers Permits but they're only £5 from a Post Office so what the hell. Nobody asked to see my fire extinguisher (yes fire extinguisher, what do you mean you don't carry one?) or, as far as I can tell, checked my fingerprints.

Travel the correct way - make yourself at home wherever you are as opposed to trying to make everywhere you go like home. Be patient and calm at border crossings. Our group included a Suzuki, a Triumph, a Honda, a Harley-Davidson and two BMWs so even if you ride a BMW you can still comfortably ride to Russia and back.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Russian Ride To Eat

Previous instalment here.

The M-9 motorway runs from the Latvian border some 400 miles into Moscow. For context, that's roughly the distance between London and Glasgow. In Russia that entire route is cut from the forest with only a few settlements the size of English villages along the way. Don't be fooled by the term "motorway" either. The last 75 miles are recognisably motorway but until that point the road is at best equivalent to a minor English A road, not even dual carriageway. Not always surfaced either!

Every now and then we came to junctions offering side roads. These tended to have tarmac for 30-100 metres before trickling off into dirt tracks. I'm pretty sure that most of those deviations led to places where dragons are still living.

The Russians have a different approach to the roadworks strategies employed elsewhere in Europe. In England roadworks involve diversions, reduced speed limits, average speed cameras and massive inconvenience for road users. In Germany roadworks involve very sudden lack of road followed up with no useful information whatsoever. In Russia the roadcrews all wear hi-vis orange and you're expected to drive round them. If they've felt the urge to remove the road surface you'll obviously need to go a little slower and more carefully and you'll definitely want to swerve round large diggers etc.

Eventually the time comes when even we, World's Toughest Motorcycle Riders, have to stop for sustenance and we duly pulled in to a rather charming roadside diner. Unfortunately the staff only spoke Russian (and none of us could manage more than 'pojolsta'), the menu was in Russian using the Cyrillic alphabet (which none of us could read) but a Russian diner came to our rescue, translated the entire menu for us and placed our orders with the waitress before returning to finish his lunch.

As the food arrived, our rescuer finished his meal, came to us and told us that to welcome us to Russia, the meals were a gift and he got into his car and drove off. The stuffed chicken legs and rice were delicious, even more so as they're free.

I had received a text from the president of IBA Russia telling me that he wished to meet up and lead us into town from a convenient point on the motorway rather than have us struggle across the city in traffic. I'd interpreted that as "on Friday for the photo in Red Square" but no he was insistent that he'd meet us on our way in today. I added the suggested petrol station as a waypoint but also sent him a link to my tracker.
As we approached the city limits we noticed a biker frantically waving at us headed out of town. It didn't seem to be the normal "hello fellow biker" thing we'd had right across Europe and we pulled into a petrol station to fine-tune our entry to the city.
Moments later Dmitry flew in beside us on his Honda Silver Wing and introduced himself.

After spending a little getting-to-know-you time we lined up for a group ride to the Cosmos hotel. Dmitry asked what would be a comfortable speed. I said "100-110kph" so obviously we hit 145kph until the traffic became thick enough to reduce the speed. Moscow traffic is busy even at 10pm and in the midst of it I was buzzed by two local bikes which distracted me for a split-second, long enough to lose the flow and I came to a hard stop behind a broken down Mercedes van in my lane. It took perhaps a minute for me to find a way round it and of course the others were all now out of sight. I switched to following the satnav but after a little while I realised that all was not well and pulled over. The Zumo was calmly taking me back to the motorway to meet up with Dmitry! I reset and found the Cosmos within ten minutes or so.

The Cosmos hotel is a huge Soviet era thing with almost 2,000 rooms and an enormous statue of Charles DeGaulle; we were given rooms on the 21st floor with magnificent views across the city. See if you can guess where we ended up half hour after checking in? Obviously!

So there we were, a small group of gentlemen of a certain age, sat at a bar, helpfully labelled "pub" enjoying the protection of some other gentlemen wearing ill-fitting grey suits while being entertained by the sights and sounds of a busy international congregation of people out for a good time, in various ways. Fortunately I don't speak Swedish.

We slept well.

Friday morning had us join the melee in the vast canteen for breakfast. Almost anything you can think of is available for breakfast in the Cosmos, every kind of meat, vegetable, fruit, cereal, eggs, fish. Nobody goes hungry there, not even vegetarians.

A gentle morning followed at lunchtime by an excursion on the Moscow Metro across town to Red Square. Walking onto Red Square felt surreal to all of us, even those who'd been before. It's like another world and it felt slightly odd that we were even there at all. The square is huge and takes some getting used to.

We had some time to enjoy before the 4pm standard group photo so we had Borscht followed by ice cream in a cafe in the Gum shopping mall and visited St Basils cathedral, now a museum.
4pm official photo

After the photo we agreed to an early supper in a biker bar some distance away.  Fun & games with taxis finally saw us gathered in the Double Bourbon Bar for beer & bourbon followed by steak & chips accompanied by Pink Floyd.

next instalment here.