Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Product Reviews : Black Forest 2012 Trip

Airhawk 2 : Medium Cruiser Comfort Seating System

I will start the review with the Airhawk 2 seating system. I bought this as a test as the company claim it can give you thousands of miles of comfort when riding and seeing as we were set to travel around 2,000 miles I thought it would be a good idea. The stock seats on the SV650S (2003 onwards) are solid and really uncomfortable to sit on. I attempted to solve this problem by getting gel pad inserts. This did make a difference but still did not give me the longevity of comfort that I was after.

The Airhawk works by filling the device with air by blowing into a small valve. The seat then attaches to your existing motorcycle seat with the adjustable straps provided. You then adjust the amount of air by opening the valve. There should be enough air to keep you about 1cm above the original seat level, but you should also notice the air moving about the Airhawk as you lean. It can take a bit of fiddling to get the pressure right, but the long lasting effect is amazing. For the entire trip I was comfortable, until the last stretch home. This was only because I tried fiddling with the air pressure again rather than leaving it as it was. One annoying factor is that if the straps unclip or you need to remove the Airhawk you must remove your original motorcycle seat to recover the straps to reattach it (a pain on a 2008 pointy SV with 2 side panels to remove plus the 2 bolts attaching the seat). Also, remember it is an air system so make sure you do not put the ratchet straps over it when securing the bike to a ferry for crossing the channel!

But in conclusion it is a fantastic seat and since the trip I have used it for normal ride outs as my gel seat just seems rock solid in comparison. It works better when wearing leather rather than jeans (can't vouch for textiles yet) and the only main issues with it are that it can be fiddly to get the air level just right for your build and secondly, the hassle it can cause some riders (depending on their bike) to reattach to the main motorcycle seat.

MCBlogSpot Rating: 8/10

Hi Gear Atom 3 - 3 Berth Tent

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Only other thing I can think to review from what we used is the 3 person tent that we took with us. This Hi Gear Atom 3 tent was purchased from Go Outdoors for the reduced price of £49.99. It has ample room in the porch for storage, a side door and a front door and has plenty of sleeping space. Also get a tent one person larger than how many are using it (in this case only us two used it).

It packs up pretty small and is easy to transport (53x18x18cm and less than 5kg). However, there is a bit of a gap around the porch area which can be a problem if it rains and all your stuff is stored in there. Also, we did notice water dripping from the roof in the porch area although we do not think it rained, it may have been dew, but nevertheless we do not think that should happen inside a tent anyway.

On the whole, good for the money, decent space, packs up small but has a few minor hiccups.

MCBlogSpot Rating: 7/10

Other Reviews
If you would like a review on any of the other stuff we used, such as clothing or any of the things mentioned on what we brought then please do let me know and I will write a new review for each item.

[Next Up: The Trip Day by Day, including routes, maps and pictures!]

Monday, 17 September 2012

General Information : Riding In Europe

OK, so I am not going to pretend to know everything about riding (or driving in general) across Europe, as this was my first real trip, but some of these things may help for when you do (or for if you ride anywhere really)!

Driving On The Right
Obvious but important - you do have to ride on the other side of the road! This is usually not a problem as coming off the ferry (or train) you are directed to the right side of the road. Just remember that roundabouts are reversed and the left hand lane is the overtaking lane. Slip roads tend to be tight compared to ours and do not usually lead to roundabouts so remember this when you get your knee down!

Speed Cameras
Very tricky to spot, especially in France so I would recommend sticking to the speed limits unless you know the roads and the location of the cameras. Also bear in mind that speed/camera warnings are NOT allowed on your satellite navigation units when travelling through France and I have also been advised that just turning them off isn't acceptable. Outside of France in the nearby countries this doesn't seem to be an issue.

[Image from:]

Vehicle and Riding Equipment
When travelling in Europe there are certain items that you must have / be wearing by law. These are:

  • Spare set of bulbs
  • High-viz jackets (must be worn if you break down and can only be yellow or orange)
  • Some form of warning triangle (I use a helmet cover with one on it available from
  • Breathalyser kit (you must have 2 per vehicle and this is really only a requirement in France)
  • From January 2013 - In France you must have a minimum of 150cm2 of high-viz reflective clothing on your riding apparel. This can be spread out or in one area but it must be there ! The French have become a bit OTT about motorbikers but this is obviously something you need to know.
  • Also, you are meant to use headlight adjusters to prevent your headlights from blinding the oncoming vehicles (as they are set for driving on the left). You may find that a small piece of tape in the corner is sufficient. For this trip we didn't adjust the headlights but brought some tape for good measure (which we were never required to use). So its up to you what you do, but it is a legal requirement.
Documentation, Helpful Hints and Legal Stuff
When travelling make sure you bring important vehicle documentation with you such as valid MOT, logbook and insurance and your driving license (and in addition obviously your passport!). It is a good idea to let your insurance company know before you set off also otherwise you are technically not covered.

In addition to this - make sure you let the bank know which cards you are taking with you and which countries you will be in during your time away. This will ensure that they are not blocked on suspect of theft and fraud. If you have online banking there is usually somewhere on there where you can list the dates you are away and the places you will be in against the cards you are taking.

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Throughout Europe (although I think it is only the EU) you are entitled to free basic health care. You can apply for the free card here: and in the very least you should have this even if you decide not to arrange travel insurance whilst you are away. Make sure you get it from the address above as other websites will try and charge you for it !

In regards to the law and riding over in Europe, you must be18 or over and hold a valid full UK license (car or motorcycle depending on what you are taking over there). There used to be restrictions if you were under 21, but new EU regulations seems to have lowered the legal age. In some cases, through special country agreements, you can be 17 but I do not know the specific details surrounding this.

Things To Take With You
Completely optional items in addition to the ones required by law, but after the trip we did I do feel they are important things to have with you at all times:
  • Waterproofs
  • Spare pair of motorcycle gloves
  • An extended tool kit - ratchets and sockets relevant to your motorcycle in addition to the basic motorcycle tool kit that comes with your bike
  • Motorcycle jump leads
  • Tape ! Electric tape usually does the job for most things
  • Chain lube
  • Puncture repair kit
  • Spare set of brake pads (ask Emma and she will definitely agree!) 
  • Pacsafe  - this way you can lock everything you need to the bike whilst on route somewhere or on the ferry. All valuable we left in the tank bags which we took with us at all times (unless we were leaving stuff in our rooms or our tent)
  • (Not strictly something to  take but...) if you will need your phone or headsets constantly charged then a 12v socket fitted somewhere to the bike is a godsend. I used mine to keep the phones charged, the headsets and to power the pump for the air-bed when camping.
If you are looking at camping the stuff we brought  with us were:
  • High Gear Atom 3 Man Tent
  • Sleeping Bags
  • Dry Bags & Compression Sacs for packing
  • Tesco double air bed
  • 12v air bed pump
  • Tesco camping stools
  • Travel pillow (though that was just for me!)
  • Camping kettle, mugs, plates, cutlery etc.
  • Solid fuel stove + fuel (fine for boiling water for mug shot pasta, tea etc. but you would need something bigger and better if planning to cook properly)
  • Lighter
  • Wind up torch
  • Leatherman penknife tool
  • All purpose washing liquid
  • Travel towel
  • The one everyone always forgets - TOILET ROLL!
That is pretty much all I can think of for now, but if you would like to know anymore then just ask !

[Next Up: Product Reviews]

Thursday, 6 September 2012

European Trip 2012 : Essex (ENG) - Basel (SWI) : Overview

The Proposed Trip
Every year for the last 4 years (apart from 2011) I have usually arranged a short weekend trip to somewhere in Europe around my birthday, which happens to fall around the August bank holiday. Normally this involves riding to somewhere (straight forward route usually) and then seeing the local sites and taking in the culture. In the past this has meant fairly easily accessible locations for a short trip, namely Brugge, Brussels, Antwerp and Gent in Belgium and a one off trip to Amsterdam. This year was going to be no different. A quick stint to Luxembourg over the course of perhaps 5 days. However, once I realised that to amble over to the Black Forest in Germany wasn't a huge feat, the trip soon extended to 7 and a half days (as well as the budget!).

So the dates for the trip were originally set for the 27th August until the 2nd September. However, in order to have a day in Luxembourg (which after all was the original purpose of the trip) we needed to leave on the 26th. Only problem was that my band were playing on that day. Luckily, it was an all day festival so we were finishing early which meant we could at least use the rest of the day to get across to Europe. So the final 8 day plan worked out as roughly this:

Day 1: UK -  Brugge, Belgium
Day 2: Brugge, Belgium - Steinfort, Luxembourg
Day 3: Spend day in Luxembourg City
Day 4: Steinfort, Luxembourg -  Ostwald, France
Day 5: Ostwald, France - Basel, Switzerland (including Black Forest)
Day 6: Basel, Switzerland - Mosel Valley, Germany
Day 7: Mosel Valley, Germany - Durnal, Belgium
Day 8: Durnal, Belgium - UK

Due to having little time to actually plan this trip, and attempting to keep the costs down as much as possible, this became a mixture of hostels, guest houses and camping. If we had more time to plan the trip then I imagine we would have done the whole thing by camping. However, some places in Europe will not allow bikes so its good practice to find out before you agree on a destination. I used a website that shows a list of campsites willing to accept motorcycles in various European locations, but unfortunately I can not find it now :(. There were only 2 listed on this particular website and we decided to book those for 3 nights of the trip, 2 in Steinfort and 1 in Durnal. For the hostels we used and to find them but contacted them directly for booking. For the other night we stayed in an English speaking guest house in Mosel Valley, found via the SV org. Below is a break down of where we stayed.

Passage (Brugge, Belgium)

Located right in the centre of Brugge, only a couple of minutes walk from the main square. We stayed in a private room using shared facilities. We had a sink in our room, but it was a shared toilet and showers (although we never found the showers!). The building itself was an old townhouse with many stairs, large windows and the rooms had ample room. We were on the second floor so shifting all our gear was a bit of an issue. As you can expect, pretty basic but comfortable with a large bed and a place to hang your clothes. The cost for this was €52 / £41 (at the current exchange rate of 1.24). If you are just looking for somewhere to lay your head (which is all we needed the entire trip) then you can't fault the location of this hostel to get yourself about the town.

Camping Steinfort (Steinfort, Luxembourg)


If you want to tour as cheaply as possible (and do not mind carting a few bits with you) camping is definitely the way to do it. We stayed here for 2 nights and only paid €25.50 / £20 in total as it was just out of season. The receptionist was really friendly and we were allowed to pick our own plot. The campsite is about 15km (just under 10 miles) to the city, which takes around 20 minutes to ride in. If you look at their website there are a few things to see in Steinfort itself and the country itself is stunning - although I will get to the routes later!

Mister Bed Strasbourg (Ostwald, France)

[Left image from:] [Right image: Google Maps Screenshot]

This hostel isn't strictly in Strasbourg (it's about 8km south) but it is within a 20 minute walk to the quaint town of Ostwald. One night here was €32.40 / £26 and the accommodation, 
although very basic, does the job. It isn't the nicest venue with odd swaying doors and an unattractive colour scheme (plus if I remember it didn't smell that good either!) but the rooms were fine. The bathroom is tightly compact so that might be something to think about but at least it did have its own shower. Another thing to note is the language barrier could be a little bit of a problem if you don't know much French, however we did manage to get by.

YMCA Hostel Basel (Basel, Switzerland)


[Screenshots from:]

Quite an expensive option at 88 CHF / £58 for the one night (plus a 10 CHF refundable fee for the room card) but had some great facilities and really was the epitome of what a hostel should offer. The cooking facilities were great, there was a big social area and the rooms were clean and tidy. If you are interested, the hostel is pretty much in the centre of the city centre, although we didn't have time to explore as we were using it as an overnight for the Black Forest trip. It also sits on the river Rhein and I have been told there are some great walks near by.

River Valley Guest House (Mosel Valley, Germany)

After posting on the SV forum for recommended places to stay, a reply was posted by the Scotsman who owned this guest house in the Mosel Valley. We were looking for a place to stay near Trier as a stop over en-route to the UK and this wasn't too far from it. We are so glad we did however, as it's a gorgeous area to go riding around. The valley is beautiful and the cost was only €36 / £29 including breakfast (our first overnight of the trip that included breakfast!). Plus it was quite nice to have some English speaking company after several days without! Definitely recommended if you are near it.

Camping de Durnal (Durnal, Belgium)


Last stop over before the last slog home. Campsite is in a really nice part of Belgium, in the Namur region. Not too far from Dinant (perhaps 10 km) which is also worth a visit. Cost us €20 / £16 for the one night without any electrics. If you are planning to camp throughout your tour then this would be a nice stop over either on the way to Germany, Luxembourg or the eastern side of France and Switzerland as well as before heading back home.

[Next Up: General Information About Riding Over In Europe]

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Welcome to MC BlogSpot !

Having just got back from my first proper European biking trip I felt the need to create a blog sharing my travels. In addition to this, I hope to add product reviews, motorcycle information and much more. Hopefully you will find this site useful for stuff like recommended places to visit, biking roads, European regulations and equipment lists. If you would like to ask me anything then please feel free and perhaps I can even write another entry!

Next up will be a full article covering my most recent trip which includes the Black Forest in Germany and some beautiful roads surrounding the city of Luxembourg so stay tuned!

Happy biking!

Gaz & Emma