Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Sad Christmas News...

I write this post as a tribute to one of my friends who has sadly passed away today. Jon Aicken, or Panda as we knew him, was taken off his motorcycle in the early hours of this morning by a hit and run BMW car driver. He was declared dead at the scene. For information on this story please click this link:

Jon was a great friend, a passionate rider and a real socialite. We all liked him. He would come to our gigs, friend's birthday parties etc. He would always be about and things were so much better for his presence and having him in our lives. At 24 this is really tragic news. He had his whole life ahead of him and we only wish we had more time with him. For this to happen, especially on Christmas Eve, is heart wrenching and I would like to send my condolences to his family as I am sure all of us would.

Please spare a thought for Jon and his family this Christmas. I'd just like to say, I enjoyed all the time I ever had the pleasure of spending with him and I really hope he is now in a much better place and that you are loved there as much as you are here. Rest in peace my metal biker friend x

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Cardo Scala Q2 Bike to Bike Headset - Review and Comfort

Image from:
We have been using these headsets for a while now and there are many things I love about them along with a couple of niggles, so thought I would write this post. I started off with the teamset headsets which had a short range suitable for rider to pillion communication and then went on to the bike to bike headsets with a range of around 500 metres that allows communication between riders.

There are a lot of positives when it comes to these headsets and there have been several models released since the Q2, supporting multiple rider connections and providing better quality communication. Volume levels are generally pretty good, especially for voice communication. They have mp3 connectivity to your mp3 player or music equipped phone and can also pair with your bluetooth sat nav of choice. There are no additional wires (other than the mp3 cable) as the headset attaches to a bracket fixed to the side of your helmet with the microphone being placed inside and the speakers attached via velcro.

Image from:
One slight annoyance is the disruption when going round a bend. It doesn’t matter if the surrounding area is clear or if it is built up with trees and buildings, the headsets will cut out, reconnecting on a straight. Wind can be another factor too and this mainly comes down to how well designed your helmet is. Another plus however is that communication can still be coherent even at speeds above 80 mph. The sound quality from your mp3 source isn’t fantastic but definitely audible providing you locate the speakers as close to your ears as possible. Although the speakers are quite thin they can become unbearably painful when positioned so that they can be heard. Some helmets come with speaker pockets, but as we are all different and our ears are not all in the same place, these aren’t always in the best position.

I used to own an XL Shoei helmet when I first used these communication devices. This lid was too large for me, but as it was specially ordered I stuck with it. I used to have little to no trouble hearing sound through the speakers and was able to locate them directly behind my ears without touching. Of course, from a safety perspective this was not ideal as a helmet should fit you snugly without too much movement. I now have my headset attached to a HJC lid that fits me perfectly. However, my ears fold or sit directly on top of the speakers which becomes incredibly painful after a while. Re-locating the speakers sometimes helps but then they are too quiet to hear any audio coming out of it. I have yet to find a suitable location that is both loud enough and comfortable to wear.

Online there are a few YouTube videos and guides on replacing the stock speakers with ones from a pair of headphones (see above). This may address the sound quality issue (depending on the sound output of the headset itself or your mp3 player - the Q2 does not amplifier your music) but does not address the positioning and comfort issues you may find with this headset. I have found several posts stating how uncomfortable these speakers are but none that have actually managed to address this issue. There may be better communication devices out there, but the Cardo Scala headsets are highly recommended and a popular brand.

If anyone knows a way of addressing the comfort issue I would be incredibly grateful! If you would like to write about your own experiences with any Cardo Scala headsets or any other types of headsets please feel free to write in the comments below =)

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Pyrenees: Day 15

Pyrenees: Day 15, 10th September 2013
Arriving in England

So this is finally my last post on the Pyrenees trip and I am afraid to say that there isn't too much to add... We arrived back in England early afternoon to which we said our goodbyes to Rob. As we rode north along the M23 we passed Rob at the side. I am still not sure why he needed to stop but  not long after we saw him shoot past us, making up good time. 

Keeping our petrol costs down, Emma and I plodded along the M23 and M25 back to her parents in Billericay. I was surprised with a birthday cake, washed my bike (which was super dirty from the trip) and we stayed there the night.

So that brings the trip to a close... sorry it has taken more than a year to get this whole thing written up! It was a long trip with lots to write about :). All the planning, routes and packing lists can be found in the preparation post. If you would like a copy of any of the routes for any trip or would like information on something in particular then please let me know and I will gladly write about it or leave a comment :).

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Pyrenees: Day 14

Pyrenees: Day 14, 9th September 2013
Camping Santander - Portsmouth

The original plan was to head from San Sebastian to Santander on this day. For the original route please look at this entry here:

Obviously being in Santander already made this a lot easier to manage. We were able to go and have lunch without rushing around and then head over to the port. We had a few issues finding the correct road to take us there and also there were road works so we were eventually re-directed another way.

We departed slightly later than the scheduled 3:15pm time. Most of this ferry trip we just sat around reading and making use of the wi-fi where possible. Rob spent a lot of time in the cinema watching films, but I think Emma and I were slightly low on funds by this point as food on the ferry was quite expensive.

As for the overnight sleep, I really struggled to sleep on the way back but was looking forward to coming home and sorting out other things. I am sure if I have missed anything Rob will gladly comment and fill me in again :).

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Pyrenees: Day 13

Pyrenees: Day 13, 8th September 2013
Camping Uhaitza, Mauleon- Soule - Santander (227 miles)

Today was all about getting to Santander rather than the via point at San-Sebastian. I do not know what route we took, but I set my sat nav up to go the fastest whilst avoiding tolls. As you can see in the google embedded map above, there are a few available options. The one highlighted at the moment includes tolls, but there are alternative routes.

Due to the limited amount of pictures I took for this day it is relatively difficult for me to figure out what we did! I believe that we stopped at a couple of petrol stops, one of which we bought and had lunch. The journey was pretty dull and there wasn't much to see until we ended up back along the northern coast of Spain. We stuck to motorways as much as we could, whilst avoiding any tolls.

We booked a hotel before arriving in Santander and locked our bikes up in a local lock-up. I can't remember the charge, but it was quite reasonable.

We visited a McDonalds nearby for wi-fi access (I think that might have been how we sorted out the hotel) and we had lunch at a local Chinese. Everybody was slightly more relaxed now that we had arrived at a last stop in Spain, all prepared for the ferry home the next day, which wasn't due to leave until 3:15pm.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Pyrenees: Day 12

Pyrenees: Day 12, 7th September 2013
Airotel Pyrenees - Camping Uhaitza (83 miles)

This was a very testing journey. Having already programmed the route into the sat nav with some challenging and scenic roads in mind, the weather was proving to add to this challenge.

Although wet weather generally isn't a problem, the visibility issues this can have when riding up and over mountains is quite severe. We were forced to ride at pretty low speeds for the majority of this ride and with cyclists still making their way around these mountains we had extra things to watch out for.

With everything that had gone wrong so far this trip, emotions were starting the get the better of us. Understandably Rob was frustrated with the planned route in these weather conditions and so we ended up separating and meeting at the campsite instead. Despite the issues the weather was having, the low clouds made for some great imposing views. As Emma and I continued following the route, we ended up getting slightly lost with some of the roads causing issues and the sat nav not knowing about them. After a bit of meandering we did however end up on the right path.

We arrived at the campsite before Rob and waited in the bar area. Once he arrived we set up our tent and then rode into the nearest town, Mauleon-Soule for lunch. Rob's tent had been leaking in the midi-Pyrenees and so he decided to book a hotel for the night. The room seemed pretty nice, a large room with en-suite and we were able to leave our stuff in there to dry.

Leaving Rob at the hotel we went back and took a walk around. We hadn't really planned much to do here, although there were some gorge's to visit if we had time but due to the weather and the time it took to get here we decided against it. Back at the campsite we ended up chatting to a guy who was going to a gig that night. He was very talkative, explaining his nationality and heritage and comparing with the locals. Unfortunately I can't remember the details, but at the time it was interesting (if not a bit tiring!).

Due to the weather and the state of Rob's tent, we altered our plans slightly so that we headed straight to Santander the following day rather than camping in San Sebastian. By this point I think we just wanted to get back to the port as quickly as we could ready for the ferry home.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Pyrenees: Day 11

Small road to Gavarnie
Now that the Scotland trip is finally written up its time to continue with the Pyrenees trip from 2013!

Pyrenees: Day 11, 6th September 2013
Airotel Pyrenees - Luz Ardiden (9.6 miles) - Gavarnie (20.6 miles) - Airotel Pyrenees (12.7 miles)
Looking back on some of these pictures I am reminded just how gorgeous some of the places we visited are. After travelling around Scotland this year (2014) its easy to forget the beauty in other parts of the world.

A couple of routes were suggested to us by members of the SV org. These are normally tackled by cyclists, but we took them on by motorbike. The total mileage was just over 40 miles but we were told that the views were meant to be stunning.

Our first route was a short 9 or so miles to Luz Ardiden, another location that falls on the Tour de France. These roads are loaded with hair pins and sheep and in today's instance also poor visibility. We were unable to see the great views from the top, but we had better luck on our next ride.

As Rob could handle the bends better than I, he took the lead to Gavarnie. With my bike occasionally slipping into neutral I wasn't too confident taking them any faster. The view was better  this time round and we could see the great surroundings. We headed back so that Rob could do his own thing at the campsite and Emma and I went back to do a short walk around the Gavarnie region.

We didn't have to go far when we spotted the waterfall. There weren't many hours of daylight left so our walk didn't progress much further. However, it is somewhere that we would like to revisit in the future and do the trek properly. I believe it takes around 5 - 7 hours in total and so we would require a whole day to do it!

Back at the campsite we made a friend. There was a cat very interested in our food... I think it belonged to the British couple renting one of the cabins on the campsite. With the weather getting worse it was important that we sorted ourselves out ready for the ride tomorrow to Mauleon-Soule on the fringes of the Pyrenees region. We were about to get pretty wet...

Friday, 10 October 2014

Scotland: Day 8

Scotland 2014: Day 8, 5th September 2014
Fort William - Houghton Regis (478 miles)
Petrol Stops: 4
Time: 10 hours approx. (with stops)

So here were are, writing up the final day of the trip! Today was all about getting home - almost 500 miles to travel in one day, all along motorways and direct from A - B (allowing for petrol stops of course).

The night before we were planning to leave I re-adjusted the route to include the cheapest possible petrol stops on the way home. There were 4 stops in total, mostly at ASDA petrol stations and away from motorways. Otherwise we spent all day on the main roads.

As you can see from the pictures it was not a dry start to the journey home. We left around 8 am and we ended up behind a lorry most of the way along the A82 towards Glasgow. Visibility was pretty poor too and the views were covered by mist. It took around 2 hours to travel the 100 miles to Glasgow and our first petrol stop. However, once we were here we had access to motorways and so the rest of the journey we were able to travel at decent speeds.

Our second petrol stop was near Carlisle as we planned our stops between 100 to 140 mile intervals. Once we crossed the border to England we were greeted with great weather! About 10 miles after this we stopped at the services for lunch, just off the M6. After munching down our BK meal we set off to our next petrol stop located near Knutsford with our last stop at Northampton, just 30 miles from home.

We got home around 6pm, which isn't bad considering we had 4 petrol stops and a lunch stop. Obviously it was a pretty boring run, but this meant we didn't have to pay for another night somewhere and gave us the weekend to get stuff done back at home. Time and money permitting you could mix the journey up with rides through the Lake District and the Peak District.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Scotland: Day 7

View Along Glen Nevis Road
Scotland 2014: Day 7, 4th September 2014
Steall Falls, Nevis Gorge and Lower Falls (7 miles approx. to parking)
Click here for information about the walk

Our last active day before the long trip home the next day. Unfortunately we ran out of time to climb Ben Nevis as its estimated by the advice centre to take a good 8 hours. So Emma decided we would walk to the Nevis Gorge, which is also where you will find the Steall Falls. But before that breakfast at the local Wetherspoons was a must - Emma had the vegetarian breakfast whilst I opted for the large Scottish breakfast. Much like the English breakfast, however comes with potato bread and sausage meat rather than the usual tube like sausages. Very filling...

Now as I told you about our wonderful room facilities in the last post I thought I would share a couple of pictures below. As you can see not the greatest hotel room in the world, but nevertheless one of the cheapest in Fort William and right in the centre of town.

To find the parking spots for both Ben Nevis and Glen Nevis mountain paths follow the A82 from the town centre towards Inverness and at a roundabout you will see the Highland Centre on the right hand side, so follow the 2nd exit (one after the A82) along Glen Nevis. The paths for Ben Nevis will be at the visitor centre on the left hand side. We continued further along and parked up at the start of the Lower Falls.

From here it took about an hour to reach the gorge and perhaps another ten minutes or so until we were practically standing in the waterfall. At the gorge we stopped for a drink and saw a rope crossing to continue the path to the waterfall. Many other walkers were sat nearby whilst others debated whether to attempt the crossing or not. After seeing two older Scottish guys getting across we decided that we would give it a go too. Emma went first and I followed not too far behind (not more than 2 people are allowed on it). One of the guys who had crossed helped us up once we got to the other side.

After a few more metres the path kind of disintegrates temporarily until nearer the waterfall. In the flat areas it is quite boggy, I am guessing caused by the waterfall. Our hiking boots are meant to be waterproof however it would appear that Emma's not so much...

Finally we arrived at the waterfall and climbed as far up as we dared. It was really refreshing standing there, the water actually warmer than what we experienced in the Pyrenees. Emma had debated going further up, but that would have meant getting soaked and I think she wanted lunch by this point. On the way back down the 2 Scottish guys had caught up and we had a bit of a natter before heading back.

On the way back I managed to get my right foot caught in a deep boggy puddle and after grabbing Emma almost dragged her down with me. I decided I would just walk across the gorge rather than attempting the rope crossing again to give me a chance to wash my shoes. Emma was going to use the rope due to the rather non-waterproofness of hers. It was OK though as walking across the gorge mine weren't as waterproof as I thought and so we both walked back with lovely wet feet.

Arriving back at the bikes we decided to have lunch along the river and see if there was a cable car to Ben Nevis. It was around 3pm at this point and so there wasn't enough daylight left really to walk it. Unfortunately there isn't a cable car to Ben Nevis, only one to the mountains in the range which overlook Ben Nevis so instead we went to crystal/fossil exhibition that Emma had spotted in some of the tour leaflets.

Although it was not even 4.30pm we decided we would fill up ready for tomorrow and head back to the hotel to get out of our wet shoes and socks, have a shower and head back over to the Wetherspoons to get a drink, write up this blog entry and have dinner. Plus its nice to relax a bit this evening, get an early night so we can leave as soon as possible in the morning.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Scotland: Day 6

Castle Urquhart, Loch Ness
Scotland 2014: Day 6, 3rd September 2014
Morefield, Ullapool - Fort William (via Loch Ness) (113 miles approx.)
Petrol Stops: 1
Time: 7 hours approx. (with stops)

Emma and myself were woken up today from banging sounds from the room next to us. We were trying to figure out whether it was DIY or basically people having sex. Well that was confirmed once we heard people making interesting noises....

I thought it was only fair that I took pictures of the view from our bedroom window but I forgot to take pictures of the room. The room is nice and has a small TV in the corner but a large double bed with memory foam mattress, a desk with stool and tea and coffee making facilities. Each of the 3 rooms has its own bathroom but these are separate, on the same floor. They are all nicely decorated and very clean. It cost £50 for the room for the night and is known as the Ardlair Bed & Breakfast. The hostess was not offering breakfast as she has just had a baby, so I think the price had been reduced to reflect this. Another thing to bear in mind is the midges in the area. We got attacked when we pulled up the night before and didn't have any issues in Scotland until we got here. We brought repellent but Emma couldn't find it until we ended up leaving.

So we basically followed the A835 until we needed to turn off for a petrol stop in Dingwall. Scenery was still brilliant but the colours were changing - becoming more green whilst the mountains were gradually disappearing and the landscape was becoming more open spaces. The weather was really cold on the way down although it was pretty sunny and road conditions were pretty good. The route pictured below doesn't highlight the detour to Dingwall, but you can see on the map how to get there should you require a reasonably priced petrol garage - again a Tesco.

Another 40 miles and we reached the A82 and middle of Loch Ness. We stopped at the Loch Ness Centre & Exhibition which has several presentations on the original findings of Loch Ness and how this can be explained. The lovely woman at the ticket booth asked if we were students, we both said no and she asked again hinting to charge us the lower student rate which was nice of her. 

Further along the A82 Emma said she'd quite like to visit Urquhart Castle so we stopped again. As well as the interesting history there are fantastic views across Loch Ness. The price was around £7 an adult. Although mostly a ruin there are displays showing how the castle was used for different purposes by different owners.

Walking around the castle grounds the sun decided to come out and it possibly reached around 20 degrees. Emma and I had both layered up earlier with heated vests, hoodies and thermals so we were melting by this point. We got back to the bikes, packed some of the extra clothes onto the back seats of the bikes and headed off to find food.

As well as several road works along the A82 there was many instances of slow moving traffic. Although we expected this to be mainly caravaners we found that it was mainly cars that we plodding along a 60 mph road at 30. Due to the nature of the A82 to Fort William there are not many places where we could actually overtake. However, when we did have an open stretch I took full advantage of the sweeping bends. The mountains had come back into view, with white shades at the peaks and continued all the way to Fort William.

Once at Fort William we unloaded into the room and went for a meal at the local pub followed by picking up some sweet supplies at the local Morrisons. The cost of a room here, at the Ossian's Hotel is also £50 per room per night for a double room. However, its not the prettiest room in the world but they defend this apparently because of its location right in the centre of town. There is a small CRT TV with free view box and an en-suite. The room is just very out of date and the mattress feels incredibly soft. The previous 2 B&Bs were luxury rooms in comparison. However this is the cheapest Emma could find in the area so here we are!

Scotland 2014: Day 3, 4 and 5

We have been so busy and without Internet one night so time to update you on the last 3 days!

Scotland: Day 3, 31st August 2014
Edinburgh - Dundee (66 miles approx.)
Petrol Stops: 1
Time: 2 hours approx.

Leaving at 9.30am we took the slightly more scenic route to Dundee, riding over the famous Forth Road Bridge and leaving the motorway for the A92. We then came off at Redhouse Roundabout to follow the A915 to St. Andrews and then onto Dundee via the Tay Bridge.

The ride was fairly straightforward, little traffic and some lovely views of mountains on the left and every so often you can see the sea on the right. No challenging bends on this route, but we wanted to arrive in Dundee relatively early as we were spending time with family.

I had a few issues with the bluetooth connection between my sat nav and headset and as we passed over the Tay Bridge,looking at the old bridge on the left, we had to partly guess our way into the city. The connection came back however so I over took Emma and led the way. The view over the river tay from the top of their road is fantastic, complete with a park at the bottom.

My aunt must have heard the bikes as we pulled up as she came outside to meet us. Emma and I had a lovely day being shown views of the River Tay, the old bridge and a walk around Broughty Ferry. She pointed out where my Grandad and her were brought up, my dad's drinking spot (Cookies) and took us up to the top of Law Hill to show where they played as kids.  We also went round to see family and Emma volunteered my services to repair their laptop riddled with viruses.

Scotland: Day 4, 1st September 2014
Dundee - Brora (191 miles approx.)
Petrol Stops: 2
Time: 6 hours approx. (with stops)

Now I just need to make sure I don't get too muddled with my days as Day 4 and 5 have been long riding days so here we go...

This was the beginning of our scenic rides - steep hills, mountain views, lochs and rivers and so on. The main thing was getting into Cairngorms National Park which lies inland between Inverness and Dundee. Before this however we filled up at a Tesco Petrol station despite only doing around 50 miles since our last stop. Prices can be expensive in Scotland's national parks and remote areas and large supermarket chains tends to be pretty good so its probably worth bearing in mind.

The A93 runs almost through the centre of the park, through the town of Braemar. It's a lovely flowing road with fantastic views of the mountains. There are plenty of great bends but few that will actually catch you out which makes this a really enjoyable ride. 
From the A93 we took the B976 road that leads to the A939. I'd recommend both the A93 and A939 if you go through the park or looking to get to Inverness. You can following the A939 to the A95 or A96 and either will be a great ride. We stopped somewhere along the A939 I think for lunch after climbing a 20 degree hill!

Our next petrol stop was on the outskirts of Inverness at another Tesco. It was a good job as my bladder was about to burst and being in the national park (with very few trees...) I had to wait over a hundred miles before I could go! From here it was the A9 along the coast with views to the North Sea on the right. Weather was still pretty good, although it was getting colder the further we headed up.

We arrived in Brora (Emma's family) just before 4.30pm. They live in a great spot with views of mountains either side. Next on the to-do list was John O'Groats and the ride along the northern coast. But that was for the following day...

Loch Broom, Morefield, Ullapool

Scotland: Day 5, 2nd September 2014
Brora - Ullapool (via John O'Groats) (207 miles approx.)
Petrol Stops: 2
Time: 7.5 hours approx. (with stops)

I think this has to be my favourite day so far...

So our first mission of the day was getting to John O'Groats - the north-east peak of Scotland. Most bikers have done it and some have even rode the entire length of Lands End to John O'Groats in a day - not an easy task at 874 miles!

We were told that there was a Tesco with petrol station at Wick so we headed along the A9 north. The landscape was mainly open and although we had to overtake a few cars it wasn't too bad. Having arrived at the garage at around 11.40am we decided we would find some food at John O'Groats for lunch, which from here was only around 15 miles.

The A9 follows onto the A99 just before Wick and you follow this all the way into John O'Groats. There are two signposts here. The original one apparently had been erected by a photography company. The first sign post we saw however was the newer one and a couple with a dog took our picture near the newer sign. There is a notice by the fish bar stating that you must ask permission to take pictures by the original sign as the sign was erected for that purpose. Anything to make money I guess!

We stayed here for lunch where I had fish and chips and Emma a chip batty. We could see Orkney quite easily from where we were sitting as it was only 8 miles away by ferry. We where there for almost 2 hours but never saw a ferry coming or going. There are also little grey buildings dotted around the area that seem to be for people to stay in and take in the sea views.

Continuing on our journey we stopped at the Tesco in Thurso for a toilet break and then headed east to west along the north coast. It is after Thurso where the views get really exciting. The further west we headed the further into the mountains we got. The mountains in this region are really brown and the roads we particularly fun to ride.

Heading left onto the A836 was very cool. Although mostly a single track road with plenty of passing places the landscape was spectacular. We stopped quite a few times to take pictures. The weather was gorgeous, the loch's a dark clear blue and mountains displaying a mixture of greens and browns. I said to Emma as we stopped next to Loch Loyal that I'd love to live up here. I wanted to just stand for a while and take in all the views, but we still have a fair way to go to reach our overnight stop so back on the bikes we went.

Loch Loyal, A836
Unfortunately there were no more supermarket petrol garages so we had to fill up at a Gulf for our second stop. With about 40 miles to go we ended up stuck behind a coach all the way to Morefield. As these were single track roads we couldn't really overtake and it the driver didn't want to pull in so that we could. However, I decided not to let it bother me and just take in more of the view.

The B&B in Morefield has a lovely spot overlooking Loch Broom. We walked into Ullapool to find somewhere to eat and decided on a small bar/restaurant that overlooks the ferry port. As we were eating Emma spotted a dolphin and a seal at the surface of the water and tried to point them out to me. Unfortunately I missed the dolphin, but did spot the seal poking its head out of the water.

Routes are below. The A836 from Coldbackie to the A839 is particularly stunning.