Monday, June 24, 2013

Vosges Tour

Helen and I have recently returned from a 2 week motorcycle tour to the Vosges and back via the Black Forest and Ardennes. We covered approximately 2500 miles on our tour and despite the dodgy weather forecasts only had 3 rainy mornings. The decision to go in the Gore-Tex textiles was a wise one and this time we weren’t too hot either. Although we had an excellent tour it wasn’t without its problems. I discovered that my BMW uses engine oil (perfectly acceptable to BMW) and towards the end of the tour my final drive also started leaking. The SatNav played up again, the Bluetooth sound wouldn’t work without crashing it and due to the internal battery being useless it kept turning off at crucial times (we may have to bite the bullet and buy one of the overpriced bike specific SatNavs now). Helen also managed to use up her rear tyre despite all the rumours of fantastic mileage that the Michelin Pilot Road 3’s have given other people. This may well have been down to the more abrasive surface of the roads in the Vosges.

Tuesday 18th June  - Home to Crawley
We left home at around 9:15am, the weather was sunny although the forecast had been for showers. We headed down to Mottram on the motorway, by now the traffic had eased and it wasn’t really busy. We took my sneaky way around Hadfield and Glossop, via Broadbottom and joined the A624 to Chapel en le Frith. We joined the A6 there and headed into Buxton. We took the A515 out of Buxton towards Ashbourne. This is a nice flowing road but is spoilt by the unnecessary 50mph speed limit. We soon arrived in Ashbourne and stopped just on the outskirts to use some toilet facilities that we have stopped at before.  But due to recent cuts they have now been closed. So we had to make do with bushes like we will be doing in France during our tour.

Ashbourne Toilets Closed!! We left Ashbourne on the A515 again and headed for Lichfield. Again a nice road spoilt by the stupid 50mph limit. Just before getting to Lichfield we turn left onto the A513 at Kings Bromley. We followed this road to Tamworth and it was quite quiet considering it was midweek. We passed through Tamworth and then joined the A5 and headed for Milton Keynes. Not a great road but far better than going on the M6 and M1. We then took the A43 to the A413 and around Towcester. We then passed by Silverstone to the East, passing a sneaky back entrance to the track. We followed the A413 to Buckingham and stopped there at a Tesco to fuel up and have lunch. 

We left Buckingham on the A413 again and headed for Aylesbury. We left the A413 at Whitchurch and went on to minor roads to avoid going through Aylesbury.  We took these roads through some very nice villages to the M40 at junction 6. We then went on the M40 down to junction 4 and then headed South on the A404 and passed by Guildford Castle Maidenhead to the West. We then wound

our way on the B383 past many nice villages but most of the speed limits had been reduced down from 60mph to 40mph and even 30mph for long stretches, so this took us quite a bit of time to navigate. We then joined the A322 and continued heading South until we reached Guildford. We headed into Guildford as we had planned to stop and have a look at the castle. We parked up in a nearby car park that had some free bike spaces, fortunately only one scooter was parked up so we were able to park up for free.

We left Guildford on the A281 and then turned onto minor roads as we headed again past lots of nice villages to our final destination in Crawley. But again the roads had been spoilt with insanely low speed limits. Most of the locals were not sticking to these limits and I can now see why as it take ages to get anywhere. Filtering on the M25 which we did last year almost seems better than trying to avoid it on these minor roads. We eventually arrived at the Premier Inn in Crawley and was pleased to have a room on the back away from the main room, but the room was very warm. It is a nice hotel and also has a nice restaurant attached to it, we would happily stay at this Premier Inn again.

Wednesday 19th June  - Crawley to Fourmies 
It had rained overnight but by the time we were set to leave it had stopped and the roads had dried out. We left Crawley on the A2011 and then briefly joined the M23 before turning off onto the B2036 and heading East on the B2110. We soon turned off the main roads and headed on very minor roads across to the A26 at Crowborough. We even had to cross two fords at some point, thankfully the water wasn’t very high at either of them. We stopped on the A26 for fuel and then continued East on the B2100. We then joined the B2099 at Wadhurst and then the A268. These were much faster roads now and more like what I had envisaged when planning the route. We then joined the A28 towards Ashford but then used the B2067 to cut across to junction 11 on the M20. When then headed for the Eurotunnel terminal and our 10:20 train. The train was fully booked so it took us a while to board and the train left a few minutes late.

We arrived in Calais to very light rain but by the time we left the Eurotunnel terminal it had pretty much eased off. We joined the motorway briefly before joining the N43 to Saint-Omer. We soon arrived in Saint-Omer and the roads had pretty much dried out by now. We then joined the D77 briefly before joining the D341 which we followed all the way to the outskirts of Arras. We stopped outside of Arras for fuel and then had lunch at the local Carrefour Market.

Chateau de Montmorency After lunch we headed around Arras on the N50 and then headed East towards Douai.  We then turned South and headed for Chateau de Goeulzin. We parked up near the Chateau but we were unable to visit it, due to it being on private land. We had a quick look at the Chateau from the road and then headed North on the D135 to Montigny-en-Ostrevent. We stopped here to have a look at Chateau de Montmorency. This Chateau is now a hotel so we could only have a look from outside.

Porte de Paris We left the Chateau and headed back the way we had came to Cantin. Here we joined the N43 again and headed South towards Cambrai. We decided to take a detour into Cambrai this year as it has several interesting historical buildings. We parked up next to Porte de Paris to take some photos and while we were stopped we also had the rest of our lunch baguette.

We left Cambrai on the D942 and headed East towards Solesmes. Here we continued in and Easterly direction on the D43, D959 and D962 to Sains-du-Nord. Here we Fourmies Boating Lake turned South on the D42 and headed towards Fourmies. We then headed around to the South-Eastern side of Fourmies and stopped at our Ibis hotel for the night, by a lovely boating lake. It is a really nice quiet location although the main car park is not ideal for motorcycles. We however managed to park on a level hard standing car park just in front of the hotel.

We had our evening meal at the nearby restaurant, which was superb. We were lucky with the weather today as it had been forecast to be more rainy that we actually encountered. However just as we entered the restaurant the heavens opened and the rain came down very hard for the rest of the evening.

Thursday 20th June  - Fourmies to Metz  
We awoke to heavy rain but by the time we were set to leave it had eased off to a light drizzle. We managed to pack up the bikes and set off without getting wet but soon we found the rain again. We headed East again and joined the N593 and entered into Belgium. We passed through Chimay and continued East on the N99. We then turned South onto the N990 at Olloy-sur-Viroin and soon passed back into France. We headed South to Revin and then turned onto the D1 and into the Ardennes. We followed the river Meuse on this lovely winding road into Montherme, were we had planned to stop for fuel.

We left Montherme on the D31 and wound our way along the river Semois through Thilay, Memebre and then turned South again at Vresse on the N945. We continued South on the N945 and D6 to Sedan. We had planned to visit the Chateau de Sedan but due to the rain we decided Chateau de Sedan to just drive by, but did stop to take a quick photo. We then headed Northeast on the D977 and D4 back into Belgium on our way to Boullion. We had planned to visit Boullion Castle and see the bird show, but again due to the rain we just rode past. Boullion itself was a really nice town and we would have loved to have stopped by the river for lunch. We left Boullion and headed Southeast through Belgium on the N83 towards Florenville. We then joined the tree lined N88 towards Saint-Mard. We could see in the distance blue sky and thankfully we were heading towards it. Within no time at all we were out of the rain and in sunshine so decided to stop and have lunch while it was dry.

Metz Cathedral After lunch we continued on the N88 which was now dry and the sun was now beating down on us as well. We passed around Saint-Mard and then joined the N885 and passed back into France. We then joined the N52 and then the A30/A31 and headed South to Metz. We arrived in Metz at around 3:00pm and were happy to see that the car park at our hotel had a secure gate on it. We parked up at our hotel for the night the Mecure Metz Centre.

Metz Temple Neuf We got changed and then had a lovely afternoon walking around Metz. It is a lovely city with many beautiful historic buildings including the magnificent cathedral, railway station and Temple Neuf. We ate in the hotel restaurant later on in the evening, which turned out to be a very wise choice as it absolutely hammered down while we were sat at our table.

Friday 21st June  - Metz to Seebach  
We awoke to a cloudy sky and wet bikes, but dry roads. We left Metz and headed East on the N3. We followed this all the way to Saint-Avold where we had planned a fuel stop. Although on Google street view the garage looked to have Super Unleaded, it had recently been revamped and no longer sold it. Due to us being short on fuel I had to put the 95 Ron unleaded in instead.

Chateau Licthenberg We left Saint-Avold on the N56 and continued East and then picked up the N61. In Sarre-Union we turned onto the D8 and headed for the D919. The D919 is a great tree lined road that cuts its way into the heart of the Alsace region. We were now on nice fast flowing roads and made good progress to our first castle of the day. We soon arrived in Licthenberg and parked up by a roundabout just below the castle. The village is very quaint and we felt very happy in leaving the bikes parked up while we visited the castle. We walked up to Chateau Licthenberg and had a good look around. Unfortunately the cafe wasn’t open until 2:00pm so we went back down to the bikes and had lunch on a bench by the roundabout.

We left Licthenberg and back tracked slightly before turning North on the D12, another great little road. We continued North on the D37 and headed for Bitche. We soon arrived in Bitche and headed up to the car park by Settle @Citadel Bitche the Citadel overlooking the town. We had come this way last year and thought how impressive the Citadel looked and so had to have a look around this year. The majority of the visit to the Citadel is underground in its mass network of corridors and rooms. The fort also has a small farm which we visited on the way out and were pleased to see some goats. Helen somehow managed to throw Settle into the pony’s enclosure, so we had to open the gate and retrieve him without letting out the eager to escape pony.

Billy Goat @Citadel Bitche We left Bitche on the D35 and headed East towards Wissembourg. We followed the D35 and then the D3 through the forests of the Lorraine and Alsace regions of France and close to the German border. Both roads are excellent and we made really good progress towards the border. We then headed Southeast on the D34 before joining the B500 and heading over the Rhine and the German border into Baden Baden. We stopped on the edge of Baden Baden for fuel, as it was unlikely that we would find Super Unleaded for a while. My bike was very happy as I was able to put 100 Ron Shell Racing v power fuel in it.

This year the tunnel under Baden Baden was open so we quickly navigated through the Spa Town and were soon on the B500 and heading South for the Black Forest. The B500 aka Schwarzwaldhochstraße (Black Forest High Road) is a fabulous road and we were able to enjoy it this year in the pleasant afternoon sunshine. We stopped at the top by B500 Schwarzwaldhochstraße lake Mummelsee to take some photos. Then we turned onto the L87 and headed down into Seebach and arrived at our hotel for the night Pension Williams. The hotel is owned by an English couple and is very biker friendly and is very highly recommended. In the evening the owner David gave us a lift up to the local steak house, which is located part way up the L87 back towards the B500. The steak we had was fabulous and the owners were very welcoming and gave us a lift back down after the meal. We will definitely visit again when we come back to this area of Germany.

Saturday 22nd June  - Seebach to Barr  
After a great breakfast we set out from Seebach back up the L87 back to the B500. Thankfully the sun was out again so we were able to have a great fairly quiet run on the B500. This year instead of the L96 to Schapbach we did the B28 and L93. SchluchseeAlthough it is probably further the roads are much quieter and better progress was made. The L93 in particular was very quiet and very twisty. It is only a car and a half  wide but had a good surface and good time can be made on it. We then joined the L96 and headed down to Wolfach. From here we continued South on the B33 until we picked the B500 back up at Triberg. This part of the B500 is quite a bit more twisty but certainly worth doing. We followed it all the way down to Titisee where we had planned to get fuel. We then joined the L146 and stopped by Schluchsee for lunch.

Bikes @Breisach am Rhein After lunch we continued on the L146 and then the L149 on our way to Geschwend. Both of these roads were excellent and at some point we came across a herd of goats, so had to stop to take some photos. At Geschwend we joined the B317 and then the L142. We then turned back North on the K6341 and the L123. Again all these road were twisty and a lot of fun. Eventually we ran out of really nice roads as we neared the outskirts of Freiburg. We eventually crossed back into France and over the Rhine at Breisach am Rhein. We stopped on the French side for the rest of our lunch at a lovely spot by the river.

We left here and then proceeded on the N415 to Colmar. Here we joined the A35 motorway and headed North. We left the A35 just North of Colmar on the D416 towards Ribeauville. As we neared Ribeauville we could see the three castles above the town on the hill. Due to Helen’s recent ankle operation we decided that it was to much of a trek for her, but we still wanted to see the castles Le Gite De La Valleeso a drive by was the best we could do. The three castles on the hill are Château du Girsberg, Château de Saint-Ulrich and Château du Haut-Ribeaupierre.  From here we took the D1 Bis to Bergheim. We then joined the D42 which climbed its way up to Thannenkirch and then back down again and then followed the D48 to Liepvre. Here we joined the N59 and then turned again North on the D424. We then followed this road and the D253 and D35 into Barr. We then headed out of the other side of Barr on the D854 and soon arrived at our Gite for the week, the excellent Le Gite De La Vallee. The owner Simon gave us a very warm welcome when we arrived and was kindly raking the gravel aside so that we could easily park the bikes on solid ground. We then had a nice chilled beer by the stream at the back of the Gite, which was most welcome after a hard day’s riding around the Black Forest.

Sunday 23rd June  - Strasbourg  
Strasbourg Cathedral Due to one of us having a late evening with the Gite owners we were not in the best shape to do anything first thing. After lunch we decided that we would visit Strasbourg as most of the shops would be shut and it therefore should be quiet.

We left after 3pm and headed down the motorway and parked up in one of the many underground car parks in the centre of Strasbourg. As expected it was quiet and we easily found a space in the car park. We spent a lovely late afternoon in the city and had a good walk around visiting the many historical buildings. We also had a coffee at one of the many cafes and also had an ice cream by the Cathedral. If you are not in to shopping than we would definitely recommend visiting Strasbourg on a Sunday.

StrasbourgAfter we got back from Strasbourg I decided to go on a quick local run and found an easy loop by the Gite. I Headed up the D854 then took the D426 towards Klingenthal and then turned on to the D214. Then the D130 back to the other end of the D426 and then back to the D854 and back to the GIte. A great 24 mile loop with no villages or speed restrictions and plenty of different varied corners.

Monday 24th June  - Natzweiler-Struthof 
The weather today didn’t look great, but was forecast to get better later in the day. So we decided to go to the nearby site of Natzweiler-Struthof a former German concentration camp. The roads were wet but it was only raining lightly when we got to the camp. Although the visibility on the D130 was very poor at its highest point. We parked up and headed into the new main building to buy our entrance tickets.

Natzweiler-Struthof We headed straight into the camp to have a look around. Today it doesn’t really convey the horror that was once undertaken by the Nazis at the camp. After visiting the main camp we headed down the path to the gas chamber. It is quite a way from the main camp and you can drive down and park by it, which we hadn’t realised until we had walked/hobbled down there. The walk did give us a chance to examine the road surface on a hairpin in the wet though. It is much like shiny gravel pebbles stuck together with asphalt. As you can imagine it seemed to be quite slippery in wet conditions, not a great surface for the bikes in the wet. The gas chamber is small and wasn’t used for mass exterminations like at other camps. We walked back up to the car park and had a spot of lunch before heading back into the new main building. The new building has been built on top of Chateau du Birkenfels a massive concrete bunker complex that the Nazis had been building. It was never finished and no one knows its actual purpose.

We left the camp and headed West in search of nice weather and dry roads. We headed on the D130 to Rothau and then on the D392 to the Col du Donon. We then followed the D993 but the rain was still coming down and the surface was a bit gravelly so we decided it wasn’t worth continuing. We back tracked all the way back past the camp and then as we got nearer to the Gite the weather turned dry and we eventually found a dry road. As the weather was now nice we stopped on the D426 and visited Château du Birkenfels before heading back to the Gite.

Tuesday 25th June  - 5 Castles Route  
The weather for today was forecast to be much better so we decided to have a trip down South to near Colmar. I had previously found a road to the Southwest of Colmar called Route des 5 Chateaux, which did indeed have 5 castles along it.

Champ du Feu We left the Gite and headed up the D854 and then the D426, D130 and the D214. The visibility higher up today was excellent and the roads were dry. We soon arrived at our first stop of the day Champ du Feu @1100m. This area also contains a small tower in the middle of a roundabout. It appears from photographs that at one time you were allowed to climb up this tower, but today the entrance has been boarded over. While we where at the tower a farmer drove about 300+ sheep across the nearby field and down the road (see video below) we were about to ride down. 

We continued on down the D214 that got quite twisty as we dropped down in altitude. We stopped briefly at the bottom by a lake before continuing on the D50 to Bourg-Bruche. We then turned South again on the D420 and then the Col du CalvaireN159. We then turned onto the D459 and headed through Raves. We then joined the D23 and headed to Fraize. Here we picked up the D415 through Plainfaing but instead of following this road to the D148, TomTom decided to take a short cut which ended up being an off road gravel track after the asphalt ran out. We had to turn around (rather precariously as the road was steep and heavily cambered) and head back and eventually found a better road through to the D148. We joined the D148 at the Col du Bonhomme but was briefly halted by a tree that had been cut down across the road by loggers. The D148 is a really great tree lined road with no villages on it. We stop at the top of the Col du Calvaire by a ski resort for a spot of lunch.

After lunch we continued on the D48.2 past Lac Blanc and then on the D48 over the top of the Col du Wettstein. Just after the war cemetery we turned East on to the D11.6 and went past the memorial at the Collet du Linge on our way towards Les Trois-Epis. We Les trois châteaux d'Eguisheimthen headed Southeast on the D11 and found our way on to the Route des 5 Chateaux. TomTom refused to acknowledge that we could join this road from the North and kept directing us to the Southern end. However you can join at the North end but it is restricted to certain times of the year, hence TomTom’s routing. We soon arrived at our first castle of the day Château de Pflixbourg.

We left here and then visited Château de du Hohlandsbourg, this is not a free castle and didn’t look particularly inspiring so we decided not to go inside and instead admired the views to the plains and Colmar below. We then headed down the road and visited Les trois châteaux d'Eguisheim (the 3 castles of Eguisheim). It is three castles in one these days, but certainly worth a visit. Due to being quite late we decided to head back to the Gite via the motorway for speed.

Wednesday 26th June  - Grand Ballon Loop  
Today was forecast to be the sunniest day of the week so it made sense to head down to the highest Vosges passes including the Grand Ballon. We left the Gite and decided to use the motorway down to Cernay to get us into position early, so that we could enjoy nice roads for the rest of the day. We stopped just outside Cernay at a massive Leclerc supermarket for fuel and then proceeded into the Vosges

We quickly went up the N66 through Thann and then turned left on to the D14 Biv. We encountered our first hairpins of the day as we climbed to the top of the Col du Hundsruck. We then dropped down into Masevaux and picked up the D466. We then passed a few villages and as we left Sewen we were greeted with a motorcycle accident warning sign. This only means one thing to us - the road iRoute des Cretess going to be good! It starts off with some nice flowing curves before suddenly climbing and getting really tight. We soon arrived at Lac d’Alfeld but I was having too much fun to stop for photos. So we continued to climb up and the road soon changed into more flowing and open corners. After a while we arrived at the top of the Col du Ballon d'Alsace and found a nice parking spot at the top by some picnic benches and brand new WC’s. So we decided that this would be a good spot to have lunch. A word of caution here, I can easily see why this road has a high accident rate especially the first part of the climb out of Sewen. None of the sharp corners are signed and the white lines in the middle of the road are spaced very far apart, which results in some of the corners being very difficult to read correctly.

Route des Cretes After lunch we continued down the other side of the Col and soon arrived at the N66 again. We followed this East almost all the way back to where we had originally turned off earlier in the day. We turned North on to the D13B6 and headed for the Grand Ballon. We joined the Route des Cretes (D431) at Col Amic and started the final climb up to the top. Two of the hairpins are paved with stones and are not particularly smooth on the bikes. We soon arrived at the summit of the Col du Grand Ballon, at 1343m this will be the highest pass we will do this holiday. There wasn’t much to see at the top see we didn’t stop long and soon continued down the other side. We stopped a few times on the way down to take some photos as the views were better on the decent. 

After a while we arrived in Le Markstein where we joined the D430 and passed over the Col d’Hahnenbrunnen and the Col du Herrenberg. We then passed by Hohneck on our way to the Col de la Schlucht. Here we continued on the Route des Cretes (D61) and arrived at the Col du Calvaire for the second Le Hohwald Cascadetime this holiday. We joined the D148 here and headed towards the Col du Bonhomme. Here we continued on the D148 and D48 over the Col des Bagenelles and down into Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines. We then followed the N59 to Lieprve where we joined the D48.1 and headed over the very twisty climb of the Col de Fouchy and down into Fouchy itself. From here we found our way to the D425 and headed over the Col du Kreuzweg to Le Hohwald. We stopped just before Le Hohwald to visit the cascade that we had noticed in one of the local maps at the Gite. After that we used the familiar D426 and D854 to head back to the Gite.

Thursday 27th June  - New Tyre and Local Sites  
During yesterday’s excellent run to and from the Grand Ballon we noticed that Helen’s rear tyre had worn completely down in the middle and was starting to be bald in certain places. As we were expecting more rain we decided that we would try and find Helen's Worn Tyresomewhere local that could fit a new tyre. After much searching on the internet (whatever did we do before it??) we found a recommended Kawasaki dealer in Colmar that fitted tyres. 

Although the weather yesterday had been superb the forecast for today was very poor. We left the Gite in slight drizzle but as we headed down to Colmar on the motorway we hit several patches of fairly heavy rain. In about 30 minutes we arrived at Full Power Bikes on the outskirts of Colmar. A really nice bike shop, but small compared to English bike shops and only one person on site. Anyway Helen managed to get across that she needed a new tyre and within 30 minutes we had a new Michelin Pilot Road 2 fitted to the rear. It was a very quick and professional job and the price was as you would expect back home in the UK. It you need a tyre down this way I would certainly recommend going to Full Power Bikes. We headed back to the Gite on the motorway to plan what we were going to do for the rest of the day. Helen managed to have a mini moment on the first roundabout after leaving the garage. Scrubbing new tyres in when it’s wet is never ideal!

Le Mont Saint-OdileThe weather forecast sites were suggesting that it might dry up this afternoon, but with so many over-hanging trees it was highly unlikely that the roads would dry out. Later on it did start to brighten up so we headed up the D854 and D426 to the nearby Le Mont Saint-Odile. We found a cheeky little motorcycle parking space right at the entrance that had created a mini space when some normal parking bays had been changed into disabled parking bays. We headed inside but it was obvious by the low cloud cover that we weren’t going to have any decent views from the top. We had a brief look around and took some photos, but the cloud was too low to get any decent photos. As we went outside to have lunch by the bikes a big black cloud came over and it started to rain again. It only looked like a small cloud so we waited under the umbrella for it to stop and then had lunch. 

It did now appear to be brightening up so we decided to have a look at the two nearby castles that overlook the Gite. We headed back towards the Gite on the D854 and then turned off on a minor road that led to the parking area. We parked up and after a chat with a French couple with a Visla and what looked like a Pygmy Rottweiler we walked for aboutChateau d'Andlau 10 minutes and reached the first castle Château de Spesbourg. From here you could see the other castle Château d'Andlau, which looms large over Barr. From a distance it looks like an impressive castle so we headed over to it, which took about 25 minutes. It has recently had some restoration work done on it and also some new information boards have been installed. These boards had QR codes on them and we were able to download English audio tours from them. By the time we got back to the bikes the sun was really shining and we were quite warm. We decided to head back to the Gite for a cool beer, even with all the sun the roads as expected were still damp.

Friday 28th June – Château de Kintzheim 

The weather today was forecast to brighten up in the afternoon so we decided we would visit Château de Kintzheim in the afternoon and catch the 15:45 bird of prey show. As Helen’s rear tyre hadn’t had much use yesterday I planned a nice 100 mile loop to take in some twisty roads to help her scrub it in.

Château du Landsberg We left the Gite on slightly damp roads so we decided to visit another nearby castle to allow the roads to dry. We headed up the D854 once again and then turned on to the D109 and then parked up at the side of the road. We had about a 20 minute walk to Château du Landsberg, another nice ruined castle. We then headed up to Le Mont Saint-Odile again as the sun was out and visibility was good. We managed to get some much better pictures today as it was completely clear at the top. 

We left here on dry roads and headed on the D426 to Klingenthal. We then turned on to the D214 and climbed up to the D130. We stopped on the D214 at the end of the long straight section for lunch. After lunch we carried on down the D214 and dropped down to the D50. We then followed the D214, D23, N420 and N159 to Raves again, very familiar roads Le Mont Saint-Odilebut more than worth a ride again. We headed on the N59 to Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines again but today we turned South on to the D416. We followed this excellent very twisty road down into Ribeauville. You don’t get the same good view of the 3 castles above Ribeauville from this direction. We then retraced our route from last Saturday to Thannenkirch. From here we took the D42 to Chateau du Haut-Koenigsbourg, a lovely intact chateau. We weren’t interested in visiting the chateau but a road goes completely around the bottom of it with also has excellent views. It was very busy at the chateau so we didn’t stop to take any photos. We then headed on the D159 to the nearby Château de Kintzheim. We eventually found somewhere to park but the parking isn’t really suitable for bikes as it’s basically rough ground with large chunks gravel of and ruts in the ground. We had some time before the show so had the rest of our lunch while we waited. The chateau is a nice ruin but the bird of prey show is what the place is really about. We had read on various websites that the bird show was excellent and we weren’t disappointed.

Château de Kintzheim After the show we headed back to the bikes, it had really warmed up now. I was down to about 15 miles of fuel at this point so we used TomTom to find a nearby Leclerc supermarket that sold super unleaded. Although the SatNav has had issues again this year, it never fails to find us a petrol station when we are in dire need of fuel. Due to it being late we headed back to the Gite on the motorway. I was tempted to have another run around the local loop I had discovered last Sunday, but the thought of a cool refreshing beer was too tempting.

Saturday 29th June – Barr to Charleville-Mézières
The weather for today was forecast to be rainy with poor visibility. Unfortunately they were correct, although it was forecast to be better to the Northwest where we were heading. I had planned a nice route with the aid of The Best Rides Motorcycle Atlas France and the weather was not going to put me off doing the route.

We left the Gite for the last time at around 08:00 and headed up the D854 in the rain. We then followed the D426, D130 and passed Natzweiler-Struthof on our way to Rothau. From here we joined the N420 briefly before heading West on the D392 to the Col du Donon. We continued on the D392 and D392A for quite a while passing through several small villages before arriving in Raon-l'Étape. From here we followed the D159 Bis to Rambervillers and then the D414 to Sant-Pierremont. We had planned to stop and have aSettle in Grandpre look at Château de Moyen but due to the weather we just rode by. We then continued on the D22 to Bayon, another great road but spoiled by the bad weather. We then followed the D9 West for quite a while, passing through several small villages again on the way. Even in the poor weather we were still making good progress due to the majority of the run being on national speed limit roads. Here we joined the D904 towards Crepey where we picked up the D4. We then followed the D4, D74 and D960 through Vaucouleurs to Houdelaincourt. Here we joined the nice and flowing D966 towards Ligny-en-Barrois. As we approached the town we could see the weather was improving and we eventually came out of the rain and started to find dry roads. We arrived in Ligny-en-Barrois where I had planned a fuel stop at a Carrefour Market. As it wasn’t raining now we also took the chance to have some lunch. Thankfully this would be the end of the bad weather for the rest of the tour.

After lunch we left on the N135 and headed for Bar-le-Duc where we joined the N35. At this point we turned North and headed in the direction of Verdun. This was another fast flowing road with a handful of small villages. I had decided to avoid Verdun so we used a very minor C2 to cut across to the N3. We followed this to Parois where we joined the D946, another great road for making progress on. We had by now left the twisty roads behind and were just using quiet functional roads. It was getting about time for another stop, but as usual no Cold 1664 decent spot could be found. We came into Grandpré and found a nice quiet car park in front of the local church. So we stopped and had the rest of our lunch. We were making such good progress that we allowed ourselves a much longer rest than we would normally have.

We left here and continued on the D946 to Longwe, where we joined the D947 and then the D319. We then joined the D977 at Quarte-Champs and headed for Le Chesne. We followed this road all the way to the outskirts of Sedan before joining the motorway and heading into Charleville-Mézières. We soon arrived at our Ibis hotel for the night. After checking in and showering we had a coffee and cold beer before walking down to the local supermarket for tomorrow morning’s breakfast of our favourite French goodies. Although today had been one of our longer days (and half of it had been spent in the rain) due to The Best Rides Motorcycle Atlas France we had made fantastic progress and what seemed like would be a long day was actually a breeze.

Sunday 30th June – Charleville-Mézières to Saint-Omer
We had our breakfast that we got from the supermarket last night and then headed out. The sun was out this morning which was a refreshing change from yesterday. We left on the N44 and followed a Ferrari for a while. At one point he opened it up as he went for an overtake, the V12 engine sounded fantastic (didn’t out accelerate the K though!). We turned off at Lonny on to the D978 and left him behind. We were now back on nice rural quiet roads again as suggested by The Best Rides Motorcycle Atlas France. We followed the D978 through Liart, Mainbressey and on to Rozoy-sur-Serre. Here we joined the D946 continuing West to Moncornet where we turned North onto the D966. We followed this road to Vervins where I had planned a fuel stop. Unknown to me this was the town that we failed to get fuel in last year due to it being after midday. Thankfully this morning the Carrefour Market was open and we could get fuel. I must remember to not rely on this fuel station again.

Château d'Esnes We left Vervins from what would be our last fuel fill up in France and headed on the D960 for Guise. These are roads that we have been on before last year, but I hadn’t consulted my notes from last time about this year’s route. These were the only roads in this area that the Best Rides Atlas could recommend, so it was inevitable that we would be on them again I guess. We continued on the D960 through Bohain-en-Vermandois, Premont and on to our first castle stop of today in Esnes. We parked up outside Château d'Esnes and took a few photos before moving on.

We continued on the D960 and soon arrived in Cambrai. We had visited the town on the way down, but as it was Sunday it was completely dead today. We then used the functional and arrow straight D939 to Arras. Here we got back on nice roads and joined the D341 and headed for Gauchin-Legal. Here we stopped briefly to have a look at Château d'Olhain, unfortunately it wasn’t open till 15:00. We left on the D57, a short but nice twisty road through a forest, and then joined the D301. We did this little detour to avoid a few towns along the way and then rejoined the D341. We had been looking for a nice spot for lunch, but again so far up North there was nothing really. So we just stopped on the next available parking spot by the road and had lunch.

Saint-Omer Cathedral After lunch we continued on the D341 and soon arrived at our last castle of the day Château de Créminil. Again we only stopped briefly to take some photos before getting on our way. We continued on the D341 again and just after Therouanne we joined the D77 and headed for Saint-Omer. Due to the good roads and it being a Sunday we made very good progress today. We arrived at our Ibis hotel for the night in Saint-Omer just before 15:00.

After a quick shower we headed out into Saint-Omer for a look around and to get a coffee in the square. It was very busy as there was a market on in the main square and most of the cafés were pretty full. We Helen's Bison Steak managed to find a café that had some outside seating under a canopy and stopped for a coffee. We then visited the pâtisserie across the road for some pastries and then went and sat in the park to eat them. We decided to explore more of the park this year and were amazed to see how big it actually was. We even found a small area where they were keeping some animals. They had chickens, peacocks, some fat goats and even some reindeer. It is no wonder that the goats were fat as they were being fed bread by enthusiastic children. In the evening we went down to the local Buffalo Grill, which has become something of an annual event!

Monday 1st July – Saint-Omer to Towcester
Due to us catching the 08:50 Channel Tunnel train we had to leave Saint-Omer early. We did our usual non motorway route and travelled through Ardres and Les Attaques on the N43. We had planned a stop at a Boulangerie in Les Attaques that we had used before, but to our horror it was shut. We arrived at the Channel Tunnel in plenty of time and were offered an earlier train, but as we hadn’t had any breakfast yet we decided not to take it. So after getting our tickets and passing through passport control we parked up at the terminal. We managed to get breakfast there and were surprised that it was a reasonable price at 13 Euros for 4 croissants, 2 pains au chocolate and a baguette for lunch; I bet it wouldn’t have been on the English side. 

Breakfast @Channel Tunnel The train was very empty and so it left on time without any problems. Due to the time difference we arrived back in the England before 09:00. After avoiding the M25 on the way down but enduring very slow going on the alternatives, I decided that it wasn’t possible to avoid it and decided to try the Dartford Crossing instead and look for nice roads to the North of London. To aid me with my route I used the Best Biking Roads website, a great free website with contributions by other bikers to plan the route. I was hoping the bikers were right and we wouldn’t find blanket speed reductions all over the place like we did South and West of London.

We left the Channel Tunnel and followed the A20, I had planned to stop in Ashford for fuel but we came across a Tesco so we stopped there. I know they sell 99 octane super unleaded and the pay at pump facility is very handy for bikers. We then used the A20 and M20 before getting on the dreaded M25. Thankfully it was fairly quiet and we made good progress up to the crossing. The crossing is free for motorcycles we just need to go in a manned lane so they can lift up the barriers for us. As usual we picked the wrong lane and got stuck behind a foreign lorry that obviously didn’t have any money. After a while we decided to back up and use another lane and he wasn’t going anywhere. We went under the Thames in the tunnel and continued on the M25 to junction 29. We then turned on to the A127 and headed for London, but weren’t sure if this was correct. Thankfully it was and we soon turned off on to minor roads and headed North by-passing Brentwood to the West. We then joined the A128 for a while still heading North and headed for Ongar. Here we joined the B184 to pass between Harlow and Chelmsford. We then turned Northwest on to the A1060 and passed under the M11. At Little Hallingbury we turned left on to minor roads and headed West, avoiding Bishop’s Stortford to the North. We were now North of London out in the countryside, so we decided to stop by the side of the road for a brief rest. It was at this point that I noticed that the BMW was leaking oil out of the final drive. A bit had leaked down under the final drive and was very close to the brake caliper. I was slightly concerned about it and decided to wipe it up and keep monitoring it for the rest of the day.

Houghton House We continued on and joined the A10 at Standon towards Buntingford. Here we turned West again on the A507 and headed towards Baldock. Near to Baldock we joined minor roads again and cut across to the B197. We followed this over the A1(M) at junction 8 where we joined the A602 to Hitchin. Then we used the B655 and minor roads to head West over to the A5120 North of Luton. At this point we made a minor detour and headed North up the A5120 to Ampthill. We had planned a visit to Houghton House an English Heritage site. On arrival we immediately put the BMW on its centre stand and had another look at the final drive. It had leaked again down to the calliper but turning the wheel sound fine and there was no play in it either. We wiped up the oil again and headed over to the house. While we were at the house we had lunch, a pretty nice spot for a lunch stop really.

We returned to the bikes and were pleased to see that it hadn’t leaked while it was stationary. So it was only leaking out under load, the only questions now were how much oil is actually in there and how much have I lost. We left and headed back into Ampthill where we joined the A507 and headed past Woburn Safari Park to the A4012. We then headed South to avoid Milton Keynes and Leighton Buzzard. Once South of these towns we turned West again and on to the A505. We followed this and the A418 to Whitchurch where we joined the familiar A413. We followed this all the way up to Buckingham where we called in at Tesco to get fuel and some drinks.

Old Barn B&B Bedroom Due to me using too many waypoints in the TomTom itinerary file the satnav had not imported all of them. So I just put the postcode in for the B&B in Towcester and told it to get us there. It actually took us on a really nice route up Stowe Avenue and towards Stowe House. We then headed through Dadford and passed the front entrance to Silverstone. It was only a couple days after the British Grand Prix so all the speed restrictions signs were still up. We then joined the A43 and headed into Towcester and found our lovely B&B for the night The Old Barn. We arrived just before 15:00 due to the good progress that we had made today. The roads that had been suggested were all quiet and decent roads and I will certainly use this route again.

St Lawrence's Church, TowcesterWhen we arrived we were greeted by the owner with some biscuits and fresh coffee. After the coffee I went and checked on the BMW again and it didn’t seem to have leaked as much but I was still concerned about whether I was going to be able to ride it tomorrow. After much searching on the internet and discussion with Helen we decided to leave it overnight and see if anything had leaked out by the morning. The forums suggested that this was a known problem because BMW had put too much oil in from new and when it got hot and expanded it burst past the seal. From new they had put 230ml of oil in and when it was changed BMW recommended only now putting in 180ml. So I doubted that I had lost 50ml of oil, as only a little bit of oil looks like a lot, so I was a little happier.

After a shower we went out and had a quick look around Towcester in the sun. Due to some redevelopment in the area around the mill, it currently looks a bit run down which was a shame. In the evening we had a meal at a pub in the town called The Bull. When we came back I checked the bike again and was pleased to see that no oil had leaked out.

Tuesday 2nd July – Towcester to Home
We woke up to a sunny but cloudy day with rain forecast for the late afternoon. Before breakfast I went and checked on the BMW and thankfully no more oil had leaked out overnight. It was clear that it was only going to come out with use and I decided to try for home but to keep stopping and checking it out every now and then. We had a lovely cooked English breakfast and were ready to leave by 09:30 as the rush hour would be easing.

We used our usual tried and tested route home. It is a good route as it is fairly quick and there are not too many holdups along the way usually. We headed North on the A5 and managed to get to Tamworth without being held up at all on the way. We briefly stopped at Tamworth Services where the A5 crosses the M42. I put the BMW on the centre stand and checked out the final drive, there was a bit of leakage again but it wasn’t as bad as yesterday.

We left the services and TomTom manage to guide us around Tamworth on a nice quiet route through an industrial estate. I’m not sure why she did this, maybe there was some traffic on the other route. We then continued North on the A513 to Kings Bromley where we joined the A515. We then followed the A515 all the way to Buxton via Ashbourne as usual. We stopped at Morrisons in Buxton for a rest and to check out the BMW again. Hardly anything had leaked out on this last leg, either it wasn’t getting as hot today or it had found a level above the leak.

We left Buxton and headed for Manchester on the A6 and then the A624. We took our usual sneaky route via Charlesworth and Broadbottom to avoid Glossop and Hadfield. Then we got on the motorway at Mottram and headed for home. We arrived home just before 14:00 and it appeared that the BMW had only leaked a tiny bit of oil again. It was a relief to get home under our own steam rather than on the back of a flatbed. Shortly after arriving home it started to rain so we quickly unpacked the bikes and put them away. We have had a good tour despite the problems, but it has seemed to pass by more quickly this year. Maybe this was down to the shorter riding days this year, not one leg this year felt like a chore. But some days we could have certainly done more miles and could easily cut a few days off the tour if we did it again.


Monday, June 17, 2013

New Brake Pads

After ordering a set of brake pads for the K1300s last Friday they turned up on Tuesday morning. I was hoping that they would arrive for the weekend but such a quick turn around was very warm welcome. I ordered the pads from BMW specialists Motorworks and the service was excellent, will certainly use them again for parts.

I fitted the pads yesterday, very straight forward job on the BMW. The only slight problem I had was on the right hand side caliper, the pistons were so good that when I pushed one in another came back out. It wasn’t easy pushing in four pistons all at the same time but I eventually managed to get them all back in. As previously stated I chose to fit a set of EBC HH sintered pads instead of the BMW OEM ones. This was mainly down to cost, I can’t see how BMW can charge double the price for the pads. If they had only been a little cheaper I would have fitted OEM ones. The only difference in the pads is that the BMW ones have grooves in the pad material, presumably to help with cooling.


Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Dales run and Equipment Test

We went out on Saturday for a run around the Dales and test out all the equipment we had recently fitted on the bikes. Due to the weather being forecast to be hot we decided to avoid the main roads and instead have a ride around on very minor roads, what we like to call goat tracks.

We left home and headed for Settle on our usual route via Clitheroe, Sawley and Wigglesworth. We stopped in Settle briefly to use the toilets then head North on the B6479 towards Langcliffe. We turned right here onto minor roads and headed for Malharm Tarn. At Malham Tarn we bared left and headed towards Arncliffe. We passed by the gate warning signs as usual, but for once we had to actually stop and open and close a gate. We then passed through Darnbrook House and alongside the Great Clowder where we stopped to take a few photos. We then passed through Arncliffe and headed towards Kettlewell after joining the B6160. We stopped in Kettlewell for lunch at the Cottage Tea Room.

K1300 on Goat Tracks We left Kettlewell and headed towards Braidley we negotiated Park Rash and passed alongside Hunters Stone Bank. We then passed through Horsehouse and Gammersgill before arriving in Carlton. We then continued through Melmerby and Agglethorpe before joining the A684 at Wensley. We continued down the A684 into Leyburn where we took a left and headed over Preston Moor towards Reeth. We then went over Ellerton Moor before dropping down into Grinton. At Grinton we joined the B6270 and headed into Reeth. We stopped in Reeth for an ice cream as usual.

We left Reeth and continued down the B6270 heading for Muker. We passed through Healaugh, Feetham and Gunnerside on the way to Muker. In Gunnerside someone had knocked a cyclist off her bike and she was lying in the road with a cut to her head. Fortunately a motorcycle paramedic was already on scene, so we carried on knowing she was in safe hands. Just after Muker we turned left and headed over Buttertubs Pass to Hawes. We passed through Hawes and took Helen @Reeth the B6255 towards Ribblehead Viaduct as usual. We turned left at the Viaduct and headed for Horton-in-Ribblesdale. Just after we crossed the railway tracks I accelerated on the straight. Just ahead I noticed a car braking in the dip, as I neared and crested the dip I realised he had hit a dog that was still in the road. I had to really get on the brakes and bring the bike to a stop. The BMW performed brilliantly and stopped very quickly even though the bikes weight had lifted as I went over the crest. After I stopped the dog ran across in front of me and he was obviously limping quite badly. The car had stopped to help, as we were on the bikes there wasn’t much we could do so we continued on into Horton-in-Ribblesdale and stopped at our usual tearoom by the railway bridge.

Airhawk After a refreshing cold drink we headed back to Settle and then continued on home via Sawley, Saben and the A56/M66. The Satnav and Autocom that I fitted last week worked as they had previously on the VFR, so we are set for the holiday. The Michelin Pilot Road 3’s have really transformed my feeling on the bike. They turn in and hold their line so much better than the Metzler’s ever did. They are also less susceptible to bumps than the Metzler’s were and give a much better ride. I will certainly not be putting the Metzler’s back on again. Helen had fitted her Airhawk seat cover before we went out and was pleased with it. She said that the only minor issue was that on steep downhills and very twisty roads you do shift about a bit on the seat.


Friday, June 07, 2013

New Tyres for K1300s

After the rideout last weekend I had completely worn out the front tyre. Although BMW fitted a new rear before I bought the bike I decided to replace them both as I didn’t really want the Metzler M3 Sportec’s on the bike. I opted for the tried and tested Michelin Pilot Road 3’s and got them fitted by Bike Tyre Services as usual. However he has now stopped the mobile tyre service so I had to go to his new shop in Sale to have them fitted. Fitting the tyres looked pretty fiddly as you have to move the exhaust to get the rear off. Luckily I had a centre stand so that helped a lot with getting the front lifted of the deck. He also had to use a manual balancing machine as they wouldn’t fit on the automatic balancing machine. I have only been on the motorway since having them fitted but initial reaction is that the bike seem to turn in better. We are going out tomorrow so I will be able to scrub them in and get more of a feel for how they feel on the big K.

I did find out though when the tyres were off that the front brake pads probably wouldn’t last till the end of our trip. So I decided it would be best to fit some new ones. So I ordered a full set of EBC HH pads for £54 delivered because the BMW OEM ones would have cost £116. Hopefully they should arrive by next weekend so I can get them fitted before we go.


Monday, June 03, 2013

Autocom and SatNav install

Well it is not that long now till we go on our yearly two week bike tour. This year we are going to the Vosges and Alsace regions of France. Loads of ruined castles and some small mountain passes this year, Helen wants a rest from the big stuff this year.

Autocom Unit So I thought it was about time to install the Autocom and SatNav system on the K1300s. Then we have a few weekends left to test it before we go off on our trip. The major problem with the BMW is that there is virtually no room under the seat. The small amount of room that it does have on standard models has been filled with the electronic modules of the extras that my bike has. However I did find that behind both rear seat cowls was enough room to mount things. Obviously because four screws are holding on each cowling I need to make it a permanent install. This meant that I needed to get some kind of 12v power pack supply for the Kenwood TK3201 radio. The new models from Autocom provide this feature now but mine doesn’t and there is no way to retrofit it. After a brief search Ebay came to the rescue as usual and I managed to find what I needed on there. Whether this is a decent product or Chinese rubbish only time will tell.

Autocom Bluetooth Unit I mounted the Autocom main unit under the left rear seat cowl, there are holes in the trim underneath so this should provide cooling and if water gets in drainage. I was able to mount the BTM-02 Bluetooth module under the seat as it is only small. This is handy because occasionally you need to press the reset button on it to repair the Bluetooth connection. I installed the Kenwood TK3201 radio under the right rear seat cowl, where it just about fits. I got the 12v supply for the radio power pack from the back of the 12v socket on the side of the bike. This is fed off the Canbus system so will automatically power off after the key is taken out of the ignition. I initially powered the Autocom unit from the Canbus socket in front of the battery that is designed for the BMW SatNav system. However I was getting very loud engine noise through the unit. So I then powered off the same supply source as Kenwood TK3201 Radiothe radio pack. But I was still getting engine noise through it. After a quick search on the internet it was apparent that the Autocom ground should be connected directly to the battery. So I disconnected the ground from the socket and ran in a separate ground wire from the battery and thankfully this solved the problem. After a quick test I was happy that everything was  working as it had done previously on my old VFR.

The Sat Nav I have is a TomTom GoLive 750, although it is made for a car I have never had any problem using it on a bike and in my opinion is far better than the TomTom Rider. After a quick search on the internet I came across a nice ball ram mount that screwed into the headstock. I SatNav Mount managed to save myself a few pennies and got a used one off Ebay, it is a real quality mount. It is called the Telferizer and is available only direct from the manufacturer and they are made specific to each bike model. I used my old tried and test case to hold the SatNav in and powered it from a USB charger fitted in my tankbag. This is turn is supplied from the bike via the Canbus BMW SatNav socket conveniently located under the battery cover. I gave it a quick test and everything was working well with the directions coming through load and clear in stereo via Bluetooth through the Autocom unit.


Sunday, June 02, 2013

First Run out for Helen in a while.

We had a reasonable 210 mile ride yesterday around the Dales and up to the outskirts of County Durham. We mainly went out to test Helen’s ankle after her recent ankle operation. Everything seemed to go well and she was able to do the distance without to many issues, the new Daytona boots seemed to help.

We left home and headed to Hawes via our usual route to Clitheroe and then via Sawley and Wigglesworth to Settle. Then we headed over to Hawes via Ribblehead Viaduct. The corner between Horton-in-Ribblesdale and the viaduct is still terribly potholed. There was quite a few cars about around Clitheroe but once we turned off the main road at Sawley the traffic reduced. Due to the Appleby horse show the usual spots were full of travellers and horses. We left Hawes and headed on the A684 for Sedbergh but turned onto the B6259 at The Moorcock Inn and headed to Kirkby Stephen. I like this road as it follows the Settle to Carlisle railway line for quite a while. In Kirkby Stephen we joined the A685 and head over to Brough. We then took the stunning and empty B6276 to Middleton-in-Teesdale and stopped at our usual haunt Café 1618 for lunch.

We left Middleton-in-Teesdale and headed back to Kirkby Stephen and continued on the A685 and even saw a steam engine running at Stainmore Railway as we passed by. We then turned onto the A683 and headed for Sedbergh, we passed several more traveller camps on our way. You really need to take car at this time of year as they really don’t seem to realise that this is a 60mph road. We also passed several horse and carts holding traffic up in the other direction. Thankfully we didn’t see any cars doing stupid overtakes to get passed them. From Sedbergh we continued on the A683 down to Kirkby Lonsdale and stopped at Devil’s Bridge for an ice cream. We also met one of our biker friends CJ while we were stopped there.

We left Devil’s Bridge on the A65 towards Skipton and then stopped briefly in Ingleton for fuel. From Ingleton we continued on the A65 before turning off before Clapham and heading over Burn Moor and past Stocks Reservoir. We then turned right onto the B6478 and headed through Slaidburn and then over Waddington Fell and down into Clitheroe. From Clitheroe we followed the A59, A671 and then the A56/M66 back home.