The Ultimate Guide To A Great Ride

The Ultimate Guide To A Great Ride

So you finally wrested permission from the significant financial controller in your life, or are banking on “Forgiveness is easier than permission,” and have bought yourself a motorbike. Or you’re about to. Either way, you plan on firing her up and heading out to the open road.

Firstly, congratulations!! Welcome to the club. For the most part we’re a very social group of people, and you’ll make new friends pretty much everywhere you park your bike. There’s something about sharing near death experiences that builds camaraderie.

Whilst there are heaps of sites that review the best motorcycle gear, (I’ll link to the best of them below.) this guide is to highlight pivotal items you may not have thought of that change every a good ride into a great ride!

1. Mounting Things – The Quadlock Case & Handlebar Mount

Quadlock Mount MultistradaQuadlock Case & Handlebar Mount (Link gives you 10% discount)

Chances are you have a smartphone. Fantastically enabling technology for the motorcyclist. On the bike you’ll want to use that for everything from podcasts to music, and navigation to location sharing to route tracking. Not to mention selfie videos, tour photos, and communication.

Having it with you in your jacket pocket makes for a good ride, but for a great ride, until we have affordable AR helmets, you’ll want your phone mounted on the handlebars.

The best tool for this, bar none, is the Quadlock Case and Bike Stem MountHere’s why: 

Flexibility

The mount attaches to the handlebar with 2 zip ties. I.e. it’s easy to mount on just about any motorcycle. I’ve used this on BMW G650, F700, & R1200 GS; the Honda Goldwing & ST1300; a Royal Enfield Bullet 500; and  2 Ducati Multistradas.

I have one permanently on my Multi, and a spare I take with me overseas whenever I rent a bike.

Durability

Designed by mountain bikers for mountain bikers, the phone is locked in place with a spring clip. Nothing will dislodge it. Take it from someone who has used these over 60,000 kms across the Himalaya’s, through Death Valley, down to Philip Island, and up to John O’Groats. Neither the roughest terrain, nor torrential downpours have impacted my last three phones (iPhone 5, 6, & 6s+)

Extensibility

Once you have the case, Quadlock produce easy lock mounts for your car, tripod, arm, and belt. And they have an adhesive mount you could stick anywhere: on a desk, a wall, a dashboard. So you simply take it off the bike, and mount it anywhere you need to.

Remember to get your 10% discount here: http://quadlock.refr.cc/SQKF2ZQ

2. Hearing Things – The Sena SMH-10 Bluetooth Headset

IMG_0430The Sena SMH-10 Bluetooth Headset

Every ride is a good ride, but for a great ride you’ll want to keep eyes on the road, and still connect to people, information and entertainment. The most effective way to do this is through sound.

The best tool for this is with helmet integrated Bluetooth Headset. The most effective I’ve found is the Sena SMH-10 which I’ve used since September 2012. Although Sena has since been superseded this with the 20S, and 10C, I still use the SMH-10 Here’s why:

Versatility

The Sena will fit pretty much any helmet. You can get both clamp or adhesive mounts, wired or boom mics (good for open face or modular helmets), inset speakers, or a jack for ear buds (you may want ear mold speakers for wind noise mitigation).

Sharing

To my knowledge this is the only BT headset that pairs with every other brand. My experience is that whilst many riders have BT headsets, often others use Scala, or Bauhn (ALDI), or other brand. If you have the Sena you can still connect a BT intercom with them.

Clarity

Apart from navigation, podcasts, and music, I use this as an intercom, to send and receive texts (thanks Siri) and to take calls. Everybody who calls me is surprised when I tell them I’m on the bike. The automatic noise control on the microphone is that good.

Usability

I get 12 hours of life from a single charge. That’s 1.5-2 days on tour, and 5 days of commute at home. Also I have two modules, so it’s easy to pull over at the I5/I405 junction and swap out the flat one.

The jog dial is easy to use even wearing the thickest winter gloves.

I’ll be honest though, I am considering the 10C and combining a helmet cam with the BT headset. Or I might just wait for the IC-R Augmented Reality Helmet.

3. Comfortable Things – Shark Explore-R Helmet

You need a helmet, and there are many great helmets to choose from. Since Aug 2014, after 4 years riding with another 5 helmets, I settled on the Shark Explore-R Carbon. I also recommend any Shark helmet, and specifically the Vision-R for road riders. Here’s why:

Designed for Headsets

All the new Shark Helmets are designed to integrate with the Sharktooth BT headset. This means there are indents behind the lining for speakers, and indents for cable management. Genius. (& comfortable). These indents work perfectly with the Sena range. That means you don’t have pressure on your ears, or an irritating cable rubbing on the back of your neck.

Seeing things

Both the Explore-R and Vision-R (which share the same shell) have the most visibility of any full face helmet on the market. The peripheral visibility on this helmet is out of this world.

Versatility

Again with the versatility. (Do you spot a trend for me here?) When off-road, or in the mountains, or in winter with low sun, you’ll want a peak & goggles (actually great in the rain too).

When on the track, or in the twisties, you’ll want an Iridium Visor.

At night, or in winter, you might want a clear visor. Perhaps with pinlock.

And when you ride a lot, you’ll want the lightest helmet out there. 10 hours on a dirt track amplifies every 100g of helmet weight.

The Explore-R Carbon provides all this.

But don’t take my word for it. This is deemed the safest and most comfortable helmet in Australia.

4. Tracking Things – GPS Trackers

You know what makes a good ride a terrible one? When you break down, witness, or worse, have an accident and can’t be located. And you don’t have to go very far at all to be hard to find. Most good rides are where roads are twisty, which tend to be in hilly, inaccessible country.

On the other hand, peace of mind for your significant other, wherever you may be on the planet, contributes to (more) great rides.

Glympse

Since 201o I’ve used Glympse on my iPhone to provide real time location tracking.  This is a great app for multiple riders meeting and riding together. You can easily where everyone is if you split up, and can co-ordinate meet-ups etc. Whilst this is fine for urban riding, it isn’t robust enough for long tours.

SPOT

In 2012, I rode my first international, multi-day tour, and knew there would be many times I’d be out of cellular range. This is where the SPOT Personal Tracker came in. This uses the GPS signalling channel to update your position, which can then be fed to a Google map. Once there you can embed the map on your website for anyone anywhere to see you in near real time.

The SPOT also allows you to save mobile numbers & social media accounts for “I’m OK,” and “I need assistance” messages. This is great to contact people even if they aren’t tracking you. And it has an SOS button that will contact Global Emergency Operations Services, who in turn will contact Local Rescue or fly a chopper in if there isn’t a local rescue service.

Spotwalla

Whilst the SPOT is a great device (I still use the Gen 2) the subscription is expensive, and the company really poor to deal with. Also their website needs a major overhaul. They don’t keep your tracks beyond a couple of months. So I use Spotwalla, a free service that allows you to set up all sorts of devices and tracks. They also keep your history in perpetuity, so you can see all my trips for:

Motion-X GPS

Sometimes even SPOT doesn’t guarantee signal. Like in India. Which doesn’t bode well for tracking your ride there. As it turned out I took my SPOT to the Himalayas, and it worked fine. But as a contingency I used the Motion-X GPS app, saved the track, sent this to my Gmail account where I used a combination of IFTTT and Wappwolf rules to get the data to my blog. Here I used the WP-GPX-Maps plugin to embed my daily route on the web.

This took a little effort to set-up, but once done, every day was automated. I simply started Motion-x on my iPad Mini, chucked it in my backpack, and at the end of the day saved and emailed the track to my gmail account.

Actually Motion-X is a phenomenally powerful piece of software. You can download maps from any provider. It connects to GPS so doesn’t need to be in cell range to work, and provides many features of expensive handheld GPS’ like. If you do nothing else, download this software, and use it to track your rides.

5. Remembering Things – Action Cameras

What’s the point of riding alone? For a ride to qualify as great it must be shared.

I’ll be honest, I haven’t found the optimum solution here. I have tried many solutions and have hundreds of hours of video. But to date none meet all the criteria for seamless, safe, easy to mount, easy to manage, great video.

I’ve had a Contour + ROAM2 helmet mounted camera; a couple of GoPros (Hero 3+ Black, 4 Silver); and the Liquid Image Torque 369 HD Goggles.

The Contour was designed to attach to a helmet, which you can do with the GoPro. As soon as you attach a camera to a helmet, however, you add weight, it’s unsightly, potentially illegal, and depending on how you land in an off, could be dangerous.

Current cameras also add hassle before a ride with alignment and ensuring batteries are charged. During a ride you’re either constantly deciding whether to record something, or recording everything which makes editing a nightmare later.

From an aesthetic & safety perspective, the Torque goggles are the best . There are no protruding bits and the camera is positioned between your eyes. But it’s tough to find a road oriented helmet, even a dual-sport helmet with a big enough viewport (enter the Explore-R). Even so, these goggles significantly constrain peripheral vision, which is ok at 25kph in the Himalayas, not so much at 120kph on the Pacific Coast Highway.

You can mount the GoPro on the bike, but I’ve found no place is ideal, easy or cheap. In fact you’ll probably end up wanting to change it up during a ride for compelling video. Again a continual hassle.

All of the action cameras have ample battery life, and changeable batteries. Whereas the remote battery life is woeful. Great for a 10 minute run down the road, but for the 10 hour day from Leh over the Khardung La, not so much.

I think the best solution is probably the Innovv K-1 Motorbike Dash Cam. This dual-lens system is permanently mounted on the bike discretely front and back. As the primary purpose is for evidence in an incident or accident, the system includes an integrated GPS, is powered by the bike, and set to begin recording with the ignition. It also comes with a handlebar remote, wifi connectivity, and a smartphone app. The HD video from the device looks plenty good enough for ride recording. Which makes it the perfect system for your ride at home.

For touring I’m considering the Sena 10S as I have a BT system anyway, and the GoPro with a Quadlock mount or (homemade zip tie mounts) to clip the camera onto various bars on the bike.

I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud…

IMG_1136Like yesterday, I spend some time checking out my route for today. Rather time spent now, than being relegated to motorways because it’s easier than navigating with a flat phone later in the afternoon.

The general plan is to head back to Perth, but rather than heading down either the M6 or A1, to skirt the southern end of Edinburgh, and meander down A roads as far as Nottingham.

This afternoon is almost positively balmy, and I decide to shed my fleece layer as I head out of town. Beyond Perth on the M90, however, I ride into archetypal Scottish weather. Visibility reduces to about 100m, the wind is howling from the West, and the rain is driving.

IMG_1139I do the motorbike thing and stop under a nearby bridge to don my NaxSax wet weather pants (wet weather jacket liner is on). I’m also worried that my fleece, that’s strapped to the outside of the dry bag, will be sopping by now. On the contrary, both the jeans I’m wearing and the fleece on the back of the bike are bone dry. Go Honda, the windshield does its job admirably. Looking behind me, you can clearly see where the front rolls in.

The weather, however, intensifies and I find myself leaning into a 70 mph wind & rain, with just about no viz, crossing the bridge over the Firth, amongst traffic without headlights, all driving a cool 80 mph. It takes all of my confidence and concentration,not to mention some small measure of male genitals, to get across safely.

The drive around the A720 sees the weather clearing, and by the time I stop at the Fordel Petrol Station (on the Dalkeith Road) the rain has dropped to intermittent showers.

Now I drop onto the A68 towards Jedburgh and Coldstream (of the guards fame). This road is exactly what I’m looking for. Hills, dales, sheep strewn fields, forests, glens, little rural towns, twisties and sweepers – just perfect. As I get closer to the border, the frequency of Scottish flags increase, until I reach Jedburgh (with Mary Queen of Scots House), where you couldn’t imagine a more nationalistic display of country.

The irony here is that Scots in the highlands don’t consider anywhere south of Perth to be “really Scottish.”

IMG_1148After Jedburgh, I cross into the Northumberland State Forest  in England, and continue this idyllic ride. Not so many English flags on this side of the border. I may’ve seen just one. Guess the English aren’t expecting an invasion soon.

On Google maps, the A68 looks like it cuts straight down the countryside towards Newcastle, but it really meanders all over the place. Perfect for a motorbike.

IMG_1152Just after crossing into England, as I head into the Northumberland I ride for about 10 minutes with a light drizzle, almost water being blown off the cloud by the strong wind, rather than precipitation. This causes a rainbow about 100m in front of me. Eventually I can’t stand it anymore as I pass a reservoir, and stop behind a Land Rover to take a photo. Next thing I know, I’m recruited into helping a local shepherd get his flock across the road.

Finally the weather clears, and I stop for dinner in a town called Darlington. It takes a little while to find a pub, but there is one with “Bikers welcome” painted on the window. Perfect….

IMG_1155…or not. Bikers are certainly welcome, if viewed by the locals somewhat as a visiting Martian, but the pub doesn’t serve food. Choices are the Indian restaurant two doors down, or the kebab shop next door. I really want to take a break, so opt for the Indian, only to find it totally empty. For the better part of an hour I’m the only customer. Then fortified by a 4/5 Butter Chicken, it’s time to hit the road.

IMG_1160Fuel, windscreen, visor, and back onto the road. But it’s late, so onto the A1(M) for the last 120 miles to Nottingham. After about 67, my butt is hurting too much to sit, and I follow the most convoluted intersection to get to a Services, on the M62.

Once off the bike, I switch on the phone to check the quickest way to Nottingham. This turns out to be the M1, but I miss that turn-off due to ambiguous (and late) signage. Then I do the same with the Nottingham turn-off of the A1(M) and have to resort to turning Google Maps on to navigate me to the hotel.

I finally arrive 374 miles from Dundee, at 23:30 to the Hilton in the centre of Nottingham. Time for a long chat to Lucy, my final alcohol for a month, and a welcome king sized bed.

Broughty Ferry

IMG_1086After two gruelling, if enjoyable days of riding totally more than 1000 miles (1600 kms) or the equivalent of Sydney-Melbourne return, I decide to take a morning off. I still have a big ride today, but need to respect the limits of my body and change it up a bit.

I also may need to recover from a Laphroaig vs Jura comparison. Hot smile

IMAG0833So I sleep in, all of 7 hours, until about 8 and break my fast with a bagel and a couple of slices of home cut toast. Not to mention the biggest mug of tea one can get (in a Desperate Dan mug). Kevin and Wendy’s house is wonderful, right on the beachfront of “the Ferry”, and the weather again just perfect. Cold, cloudy, windy? Yes. But perfect nonetheless.

There’s a major event in Dundee this morning. A couple of 70’s residential apartment blocks are to be demolished at midday. We decide to walk closer to town to view this explosive event. An opportunity to stretch the legs, and enjoy the bracing Scottish weather.

Because I’m planning to leave late, I decide to stay in the Hilton tonight, rather than another AirBnB host. This takes off the pressure of having to get into town at a given time, or wait for responses from hosts. Many hosts check their email daily, but a bunch only check a couple of times a week.

So, Kevin, Wendy, their son, Ewan, and I head out just before 11 at an energetic pace, into the fresh wind, to find the ultimate viewing location. At 11:30 we’re at a location which has no view of the apartment blocks, and aren’t likely to get to line of sight by moving closer. So we  head back to the Esplanade. All in all, a great walk and even better conversation.

Then we face the brunt of the wind for another hour, waiting for the buildings to come down. Our last update was for the demolition at midday, but here we are at 12:30 with nothing happening. A quick enquiry with a police car that’s pulled up, and we’re given a 10 minute countdown. They jump out the car with “a minute” to go, and we turn around, to find the buildings disappearing in a cloud of dust. After all that I missed it. Fortunately Ewan was on the ball, and video’d the whole event. Check it out.

Demolition Dundee

I really enjoyed catching up with the Laahs’. A proudly Scottish stay, with single malts, Haggis, Scottish sausage, and kind hospitality. Brilliant. But now it’s time to pack up, fuel up, and head south. 10 to 3! Yikes! I’d better get riding.

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To the Top–Part Four: John O’ Groats

After Dunnet Head I find John O’Groats to be a bit of a let down. Probably mismatched expectations. I expect a little fishing village, but of course it’s not. It’s a little tourism village, with a minute harbour, more a breakwater, that moors a ferry and a life-saving boat.

IMG_3997When I say village, I’m not sure how many people actually live there. There’s a couple of kiosks, a craft market, a coffee-shop, an ice-cream stall, and a restaurant with knitwear products (??!?!)

I take some time on this break. A bit of knick knack shopping, soup and sandwich for lunch, whilst I read the newspaper write up of the Lion’s Match (that I missed by about an hour). Then a quick look at Google maps, and then down the east coast to Wick and beyond.

As I head south I feel somewhat empty. A lot of energy, planning, emotional, financial, social, and physical investment go into getting a motorcycle to the top of Scotland. Then you realise that for all intents and purposes, it’s done. Interestingly I didn’t feel that at the end of the Top Down Tour. Probably because I dropped the bike off, jumped on a plane and flew to meet Lu, Amanzi, and Charis for our US holiday. Whereas now I still have to ride all the way back to London.

But then my aspect changes. It’s hard not to on these roads, with these views. The weather continues to clear, and the vistas to inspire. I now give up entirely on photographs. It’s past 2pm and still 300 miles to Broughty Ferry, my home for the night.

One of the opportunities I considered with Ian this morning was to stop at Dunrobin Castle, just outside Golspie, to view a demonstration of the ancient art of Falconry. The last demo is at 2:30, however, and the castle closes at 4:30. I resign myself to the reminder that this trip is about getting to the top, rather than exploring the countryside, and I’ll just have to return.

By 4:30 I’m back at the Tesco Petrol Station in Dingwall, some 8hr15 and 151 miles after leaving this morning. The attendant is flabbergasted. Normal people clearly just don’t do this. Never mind heading to Dundee this late in the day. I’ve never been one for normal mind.

I’ve now got a couple of options to get to Broughty Ferry, I can cut across country, or head down the A9 via Perth. Again, given the time, I make the speed over tour compromise, and shoot back down the A9. A southerly deja vue of yesterday’s ride.

Today I find the ride more assertive on the overtaking. Rather than always waiting for dual-carriageways, behind the long queues, I take one or two cars at a time, to eventually overtake the lorry or bus at the head of the queue.

Despite the commentary about the ST1300, I find the bike becomes considerably uncomfortable on long days. The first 3 to 4 hours is ok, but in the afternoon my tolerance drops to 2 hours, then 90 minutes, then an hour. So I don’t make it to Perth, but make a stop at Pitlochry. This turns out to be the home place of Bells. (I reckon this would be on Lucy’s list of “we must stop here” places Winking smile)

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Now it’s down the A90 to Dundee, and through this great little Scottish seaside town to my friends holiday house in Broughty Ferry. A very quick ride. Another big, and fantastic ride in Scotland comes to a close with a welcome beer, and the promise of an evening with good friends, great food, and a wee dram (or 2).