Tag Archives: overland

Maps, phone, GPS! what could possibly go wrong?

We set off feeling very organised, even the navigation, after all a GPS and a phone with Google Maps with a plan to get a map of Europe on the other side.  Not that our first few days were going to be hard map wise, or at least that is what I thought.

Then we arrived in Antwerp around midday on our first day and it started to rain.   All ready exhausted, I made the, perhaps not so wise decision, to exit the ring road towards Brussels, just to keep going and thinking I could turn on my phone to navigate (only to find that data wasn’t connected for Europe), or check the GPS (but the battery was flat from using it to check our route along the way and to find a campsite earlier as Sofia was struggling to stay awake) and a map of Europe that would be waiting for me at the next services (my expectation being that all highway services in Europe have a road map of Europe) only to find that they only had a Belgium map available.

That would have to do – and so the navigation by traditional map began.   It wasn’t so bad, even if irritating having to stop and check which ment Sofia having to get off the bike every time (keeping her awake) the detail being too big to have just one page showing on the tank bag, until I took a wrong turn and couldn’t stop for about 30mins to check the map!

Thankfully once correct we were not too far from where we were aiming for and around 8pm we finally rolled into a campsite.

The next day didn’t feel like a big navigation issue (we had a solid map now!), the plan was to potter around the area until about midday, getting lots of map practise as well, and then start planning our route to Cologne where we were staying with a good friend we had not seen in many years.    Luckily we stopped where a friendly local made the plan for me right up to her front door, wrote it all down, and helped me to memorise it (there was still no data on the phone – maybe just Belgium?).  It was at this point I discover that Garmin, in their desperation for money, have designed the USB cable to NOT charge the device directly from a power socket! it will however charge through the laptop (phew!) We arrived in good time in Cologne with the GPS winning the day for those final street directions, and still no data on my phone now we were in Germany.

The following day I phoned up my UK provider and it turns out that despite the 10 minute conversation about travelling in Europe for 2 months and increasing my data allowance, the customer service didn’t think that turning on data roaming was necessary!  Now turned, all was well, we had google maps, bluetooth into the helmet, a GPS fully charged.   I plugged in my destination via various stops that had been recommended and we set off in high spirits!

The thing I love about technology navigation is that all you have to do is plug in the destination, set preferences to avoid highways, and boom!  you find yourself on some amazing roads, no stopping and checking, no getting lost, nothing.  ‘Turn left in 200metres, TURN LEFT!’   is all that is needed, and if you take a wrong turn, no problem, it recalculates… no stopping and re mapping the route.

To be honest, I have no idea how people cope on motorbikes with maps.  Yes, I think one should always be handy (though I still hadn’t learnt that lesson yet), but to have all that effort removed is such a joy.   Lots of people have said they see more with a map, but what exactly?   I’m just as likely to take a wrong turn using technology (yes really!)  but at least I don’t have to stop and re plan.  And stopping for me is a mission with Sofia in the back – it has to be a place where it is safe to stop and for her to dismount the bike if she needs to.

So there we were having a wonderful ride through the German country side when the battery on phone started running low, I plugged in the charge adapter only to find it had finally given up the ghost and didn’t work at all, about the same time the phone froze so even my desperate stop at a gas station to plug it in to fast charge enough to get us out of the back roads was pointless.  And they had no maps.  I used the GPS as much as possible but again battery ran dry.

Finally I found a map, limited to the area we were in, and decided to take the fast road to our destination (we needed to start chewing up some mileage now!) picking up a new charge socket for the phone and a European map at a services.  Finally!  all bases were covered just in time to find another awesome road before arriving at the camp site.

The following day was the best ride thus far,  with blue toothed instructions to a destination, no highways, I was finally relaxing and enjoying the journey which took us up the east/west divide of Germany.  When navigation works well, it is fantastic!

I think in conclusion to the debate on what to have, all forms are good to have at the ready.  But for people who prefer to use a map on a motorbike, perhaps their destination is the journey itself?  For me, I like to have a destination and then enjoy the unexpected journey getting there, which the tech navigation takes care of.   We don’t always stay exactly where planned, those decisions happen on the road, ultimately though, direction is important to me, and not having to worry about any of the ‘getting there’ is, for me a load off my mind so I can enjoy the journey so much more.

 

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Transition: #Ural to #BMW

 

Now I have a new bike, suddenly I am thrown into a whole new world and the realisation that less than two months to prepare, I may have bitten off more than I can chew!

The last time I rode a big solo motorbike was for my driving test over 2 years ago.  Since then, I have been on a motorbike with a sidecar which is a completely different driving style not to mention a different driving ‘space’.

With the sidecar, the obvious thing is that you never have to worry about tipping over, so whilst I have not done it yet on the solo, I’m very aware of the weight of the bike and the inherent instability of 2 wheels when I put my foot down and stop.

What is also really strange for me is that I don’t control corners with acceleration and de-acceleration anymore as you would with a sidecar – I catch myself constantly doing this, it is automatic for me now,  and it raises my awareness that I’m on 2 wheels especially when I de-accelerate.

It feels surreal to me that I don’t need to make an effort to hold the steering – with the sidecar the vehicle has a constant desire to turn, so you have to hold onto the steering to keep it straight, with the solo there is no such effort so I feel like I’m missing something or doing something wrong, missing something important.

I will of course adapt and all will be well, but what is really disconcerting is that despite the many miles I’ve done, suddenly I feel like a novice again.   So to counter this I am hoping to get onto a course with the BMW off-road training centre in Wales.  I’m waiting hear back on this as there is only one date where there maybe an openning and if we are really lucky maybe they might be able to make a plan for Sofia to get some off-road pillion experience as well.

I took Sofia for a ride on the bike today.  She sits really well on the bike and really enjoys the experience still (the last time she sat pillion was in Zimbabwe).   The only thing I have to get used to with her is that she likes to look around her as she is sitting and it feels disconcerting, I told her about it and she said that is what she does in the side car – I had no idea that she was so engaged with her environment.   I love that!

Siding solo is going to be a completely different experience for us and with that will come a whole new set of challenges for us to look forward to.

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Bikes! Bikes! Bikes! so many lovely motorbikes!

Having made the decision to sell the Ural I walked away thinking about 650 BMW, v-Strom or a TransAlp – the seller being the seat height.  BMW chalked up the best on the seat hight, whilst the v-Strom best all round, and TransAlp as bullet proof reliable.

I didn’t go any further as would like to sell the Ural first and know my budget, however, I want to do some work on it first and waiting for Mick (our mechanic) to be free so no advertising as yet.  The clock is ticking if we are going to turn it all around before dead line for getting the papers for Russia sorted out and as time passes it is requiring greater levels of optimism!
styr_y0w-01A stroke of luck over the weekend, however, as a friend says they are hoping to pick up a Bandit 600 (road bike) for peanuts and said I could borrow it for our Europe trip.  There is only one snag though, the owner is a nightmare to contact.  This could be for a number of reasons, one of which it is possible he hasn’t used the bike in such a long time that he can’t find the keys!   I wait hopefully that something will pull through, though the hope fades as the days go by.

In the mean time I’m chatting to Mick about it and he gives me a push to sit on a few bikes to get a better idea of seat heights.  Not something I wanted to do because, naturally, once you start sitting on bikes you are taking your first steps in wanting something that maybe you can’t have…. I hate that!

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But he was right though, so today I went down to the local dealer.  Sat on a SV650, which is probably my max height and comparable to a Bandit, a Bonneville which had a horrible custom seat and a Shadow.

Hmmm the Shadow 750, super comfy cruiser with a shaft drive!   Sofia would love it!

So now I’m talking myself into the prospect of buying a bike rather than borrowing one (eeek!  I’ve not sold the Ural yet and the money is already spent!)  I start looking into prices.  Shadows hold their price around the £4000 mark, it really doesn’t matter the mileage or the year.   I ask Mick to keep an eye out and he comes back with a Kawasaki VN800 (chain) for £3000, now we are getting closer to what I can expect price wise.

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Cruisers are great comfortable bikes, but if I’m buying, I’m not just buying for Europe, I’m buying for around the world – and I have to think about the cruiser capability.  How would it be on gravel?  or worse – sand?  as a lower bike, there is less visibility to see pot holes and other horrid road hazards that can cause damage or a fall.  Certainly there would be no standing up if in an off-road scenario.

So now I go back to adventure bikes, and double-check the seat heights.  Yes, the BMW of the 650 size is the only bike that comes comfortably into my seat range – there is one for sale right now in Worcestershire for £2400.

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I’m driving myself insane.  I wish I had not gone to the bike shop today!

Dead line for getting documents sent off for Russia is 3 weeks!

Whilst it would be great to go to Russia on the Ural, it has to be said that now I’m looking at a different riding experience, I am now wanting it more than the Ural in Russia experience – I have to prepare to be disappointed.

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Update:  An now I have just seen Sofia’s perfect colour – Pink! for £2000  Someone please put a firewall on my PC so I can’t see any more bikes!

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Leaving as Soon as Possible After the 10th November!

Sometimes a fixed date is not what the universe wants, and certainly in our case, leaving on our journey, it is unlikely we are going to know what actual day we leave, possibly until we have left!  What I can say is that we need to be in Africa by Christmas so we can avoid the rains in northern Kenya.

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Sofia at Brightona – The bike meet on Brighton sea front

Reasons for the leaving date has become fluid is multiple, and trying to force any of them to comply to a fixed dated feels wrong as they all have their own time to develop.

The first reason to present itself was my riding skills.  Granted, I’ve not see much of the bike over the summer with it being in an out of the workshop all summer and one mechanic holding it for a month for now reason too boot.  Now finally it is stablised! yay!

Out Training with Mick of MPC Ural Motorcycles
Out Training with Mick of MPC Ural Motorcycles

This has seen a number of forays into the world of off road, both with and without experienced back up, and I’m pleased to announce that not only have I clearly returned alive, but as a result my confidence and skill has been improving.  My most recent story I posted on our Facebook page – Africa With Autism.  For me what is important (because the expectation to ride like I have 20 yrs experience is not my agenda) is that I am able to work through situations on the road that might occur.  I feel now that I will be able to do that.  The fear and panic has now given way to a proactive approach to problems.  I’m still learning though, as you can see from the post!

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Out training with Dave (retired) in the Devils Punch Bowl, Hindhead

Another aspect to the date is Sofia’s school application process for September 2016.  Sofia in now in her transition year, which is effectively her final year of Junior school.  As she has special educational needs, there is a process by which senior schools are applied for.   One of the reasons this trip is possible is that it fits nicely within the process within the process.  We do however, need to ensure that all the paperwork has been done before we leave.  This is something we can’t put a date on as yet especially as the school we are choosing needs to finish its assessment process.

Finally, and perhaps the biggest show stopper of them all is the finances!  We are otherwise ready to go.  We have nearly all the kit, The bike is almost ready, and will make its final trip for tyres and modifications etc next week.  Financially though, we need a lot of money to get this project on the road.  Yes, believe it or not, it is the paper work that costs the most, and there is a lot of paper work that needs to be completed. It is the single biggest reason why many who would love to travel overland, don’t.   So now the project becomes a challenge to win hearts and minds for autism, and help create an amazing story with which to raise funds for autism for years to come.

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