Nick Plumb’s Adventure Riding Basics DVD part 1, released 2013

I bought this DVD from Nick Plumb himself, unassumingly serving at the Touratech stand at the MCN Motorcycle show at the Excel Centre in London in February 2013.

The cover says it’s the first in a series of three DVDs about off road riding and they get more advanced as they progress – I assume. (Its 2021 and I’m not aware that any others in this series were released.)

This one opens with a very short interview with Nick where he talks a little about growing up. He says he thinks his father was a biker but he’s not sure because, sadly, he left the family when Nick was 4 years old. His first experience of riding involved, he says, a brick wall. After hearing about his Dakar credentials (impressive), and that Touratech UK is a family business (also impressive), we then move onto ‘lesson one’. What I really like about this DVD, as an unconfident absolute hesitant beginner (and who still feels a bit like a beginner after 15 years of riding), is that he starts where I am. He speaks to my fear! By acknowledging that its possible to feel intimidated by the bulk of heavy adventure bikes even when just trying to park them or get on and off, he bridges a huge gulf. At the outset he shows you the simplest work with the bike, getting it on and off the centre stand, finding the bike’s balance point and moving around it holding it with one hand or one finger and then getting on and off it with the stands up and the bike just on its balance point. Also he shows how to push the bike along in gear while walking beside it. Of all the foundational techniques he demonstrates, I’ve found these really amazing for getting confidence with a bulky bike. At one point the bike crashes onto the floor – a great opportunity to demonstrate how to pick it up.

From then on the techniques get progressively more difficult, as you would expect, but I like the way he includes dealing with difficulties, so he acknowledges that things might not go smoothly and that the effect is that you can get more tired and stressed than you need on an already tiring ride. For example he shows that if you stall the bike climbing a steep hill, you need do absolutely nothing. The bike will simply stop and won’t roll back down because the engine has stopped. He shows you how to recover from this position.

The DVD is split into short sections covering particular skills and techniques. His style is engaging. There is no swagger and everything is shown very carefully, usually repeated in slow motion or from another angle. The DVD isn’t highly scripted but Nick is obviously really keen to communicate what he knows. He uses a number of nice new adventure bikes including a Ducati Multistrada, a Yamaha Super Tenere (the one he drops in the Touratech carpark) alongside a BMW 1200gsa and a couple of others. I wonder who owns them.

I would really recommend spending the reasonable £20 for this DVD, especially for beginners with large adventure bikes. Its available from Touratech here.

The last day riding to Bilbao, on the boat and riding back to London

Thursday 25th July

I’m writing at 3.30 in the afternoon as the boat leaves the harbour and Bilbao and heads out into the open sea toward home. I’m watching the white oil containers and warehouses move past the window (I chose an outside birth for this journey in the hours of daylight). I have a good feeling about this trip and about motorcycling. I think riding the Bardenas Reales was a bit of a turning point that opened up a new vista of riding and I got a glimpse of what off-roading is like. Though this was barely off road it was very different to riding on the highway. This linked up with all the other unplanned off-road experiences on a bike that is, in theory, designed for this kind of terrain though, in practice, rather heavy. In the usual queue of motorcyclists waiting for the ferry to dock and then to board, I talked to a wiry guy about his beautifully tricked out new 1250GS Rallye (BMW have finally got a colour scheme right). He has a real eye for the extra and advised me with a smile to check out Ali Express for its knock-off of much more expensive Touratech extra parts – which I started to do on my phone as I waited. I’d love to trade up to one of these (a new 1250gs) but the project – in concept at the moment – is the lighter weight modified off road bike. In a group bikers can seem a bit off-putting but when you actually talk to them one at a time, you find really sweet helpful guys (nearly all are men – though a lot of them are riding with their partners) who really love their bikes and talking about them.

The last day went exquisitely to plan with an early breakfast, quick payment (this last hotel was cheap as well as being so good – cool, relaxed, unpretentious, quite busy with good meals), easy packing up and a direct and uneventful journey from start to finish (there was a traffic jam just between Bilbao and the port and slightly warming temperature – just up to 30 at the hottest – but good signposting to the ferry terminal). (This boat is moving up and down a lot more than I remember on the way out, perhaps it is going faster). It was so great to get on (my ride down the steep ramp was a bit wobbly with a bit of foot trailing) and great to get into the cool of the boat, then have a shower and make a late lunch from the last food I had bought yesterday.  Now I have 24 hours to do nothing, read to the end of my book, eat, sleep, get up eat again and then head back up from Portsmouth to home. Number one project when home, after cleaning the bike, is to fix the 30 year old toaster that has broken in my absence.

untitled-55.jpg

Next morning: Well, last night was rough, so rough that I didn’t feel like going to eat, and neither did many others by the sound of the constant requests over the loudspeakers for people to come to take up their bookings in the restaurant. So after eating a block of halva that I forgot I had, washed down with a little spirit, I lay down on my bed but each time that the boat made a heavy lurch my heart was in my mouth. Perhaps this would be that exceptional event of a regular ferry capsizing, the one in a thousand chance. But it wasn’t of course, and generally by the time I woke at 7.30 ship time, things were calmer and I went up to get a bar breakfast amid people talking about the previous night.

With some wifi I had a chance to catch up on UK and world news which is dispiriting at the moment. And I could see from Google maps that we were just rounding that corner of France that sticks out and soon to turn right into the English Channel. We are due to dock at 2.15. I am in a different headspace to yesterday already, and though I have a few things to attend to, I have most of the next month before having to return to work.

With more than an hour to dock I got onto a UK phone network and learnt that the land I could see out of my cabin was the Isle of Wight. Although we docked at 2.15, it was getting on for 3 before they unloaded the bikes. On this particular ship, the Cap Finistere, the bikes are down in the absolute bowels of the ship. Talking to some other bike riders I learned that there was widespread apprehension about riding up the steep metal ramp onto the main car deck – it isn’t just me.

Riding the 75 miles back to London was straightforward, though from around Merton things slow down tediously and there is the normal road racing between young guys in zippy little BMWs and Audi’s to contend with.

Another trip is over. It has left me with a curiosity for more off-road riding. My dream of rebuilding a light enduro type bike for longer travel is kindled. Also parking in line with, among other bikes, the brand new R1250GS in Rallye colours (and with some very nice add-ons and general farkles) has given me terrible bike dissatisfaction. That’s how the wheels of capitalism grind on, with me as its fodder.

Mileages

15th  Home to Portsmouth 75 miles
16th From the port of Bilbao to Carrion de los Condes 169 miles
17th Around the Picos de Europe 229 miles
18th From Carrion de los Condes to Casa Camino 218 miles
19th From Casa Camino to Santiago 91 miles
20th Walking no mileage  
21st From Galicia to Palacio hotel 213 miles
22nd From Palacio hotel to Ribadesella 60 miles
23rd From Asturias to Navarra 285 miles
24th Around Bardenas Reales 81 miles
25th Navarra to Bilbao port 152 miles
26th Portsmouth to home 75 miles

That’s a total of 1,648 miles (2652 km)

Yikes: getting stuck, the seaside and a near miss

Day 7 Monday 22nd July

Today has been quite a day. Sixty miles, 2 and a half hours riding, down to seaside town Ribadesella and back. That sounds very simple, and my time sitting by the harbour on a bench in the shade was lovely, eating custard donuts bought from the supermarket there. On the way there and back was not so much fun.

untitled-32.jpg

On the way there, determined not to get lost I ended up following the GPS’s mad instructions – I’ve just looked at the track and it is one large ragged circle with no apparent sense to it.

a circular route

There is an air of mystery to the hotel this evening. It is an old, very old manor house, with deeply worn stone steps and heavy doorways. Painted ochre on the outside. There is a main door, made of dark oak, at the front and another from the bar to the terrace at the back – and finally a service entry at the side. But I have just finished a slow glass of wine outside on the terrace, reading, and now all the doors are locked and I can’t get back in. Earlier I saw three women walking around the outside, some way off. I could hear that they were not speaking Spanish. They all had exactly identical figures. I walk all the way round the building. I look down the well.

And on the way back from my trip to the coast, I was sure I knew the way. I wrote the name of the turn off from the main road in pencil on the blue sea part of the map in my tank bag. But I missed it. So I took the next turning and knew where I was going, over the level crossing, past the station. But then somehow I was lost again and the GPS was pointing me in the completely wrong direction. Why does it do that? So I just stopped and turned the bike around to retrace my steps. Eventually I saw the signpost toward the hotel and followed it, still focussed on the frustration and need to find the right route. And then from around a corner, in a small lane with tall vegetation on both sides comes a car. And I am on the wrong side of the road. We are neither of us moving very fast but we are heading toward each other. There is not time to turn the bars. But there is time to move the bike over with my legs and we just miss probably by 6-8 inches. As I sail on I can see that the car has come to a halt right up against the tall grass. With my last glimpse in the mirror I can see it start to move off. This was a near miss.

yikes
mutual avoidance
phew

On the way out this morning I followed the GPS instructions to go down the branching spider-web of smaller and smaller tracks, always on the incline and mostly through farms. But eventually, there comes a point where carrying on up a tight hairpin up a steep track into nowhere is not possible. I stop and there is a few feet of grassy track but it is sloping downward and each time I try to stop the bike and put down the stand we roll forward and I nearly drop it two or three times. Eventually I work out the best strategy and end up with the panniers jammed up against the side of a stone building then drag it forward enough to climb back on, start up the engine and make the turn, back over the track and eventually onto tarmac. Never again. I’ve decided that big bikes and small tracks do not mix well.

I just have to get out of here in the morning – without getting lost. Its 3 miles to the main road and a petrol station as the fist step of my rather mammoth 450k ride eastwards tomorrow.

Trip to Northern Spain (photos and vids coming later)

On the way to Bilbao Day 1. 15th july 2019

Leaving London on the A3 is getting familiar now, Elephant and Castle then Kennington Park Road (they seem so far away now and unfamiliar), Clapham, the surprise that Wandsworth is so far west, then Kingston bypass then speedy dual carriageway, the possible delays at Guildford, then the surprisingly nice scenery before Peterloo and finally the efficient M road that takes you right down to the roundabout entrance to the ferry port, past the hotel I stayed in many years ago before an early sailing.

On my arrival at the port a traffic steward warned me that the sailing was delayed but I got in the queue shortly followed by an affable Danish couple riding a BMW 1150RT, who, amongst other things recommended Poland as a beautiful and inexpensive biking destination – they go to get their teeth done there. The sun is shining and the temperature is in thelow to mid twenties.

untitled-1.jpg

In front of me was an Englishman, living in Spain riding a Harley, with a kind of sub-hells angels jacket. He told me how it is always him who gets stopped and searched at security. Then a middle-aged couple from Manchester riding a diminutive and immaculate white scooter with designer suitcases strapped fore and aft. She is wearing a pink hoodie and matching shorts. He is similarly dressed in hoodie and completely unprotective gear. They are very funny. We all spend many hours conversing – because the delay seems to expand until the sun has gone down and it is dark. In the security shed we actually have to open ‘one bag’ each that a woman searches through with a torch, neglecting any other spaces. Then we are lined up under the glowing late evening sky to watch seemingly endless trucks, cars and motorcycles pour off the delayed and just docked boat that we need to board. This is very tiring and I am hungry by this time. I tried walking around, sitting on a step, leaning on the bike but there is no avoiding the fact that this is rather miserable.

untitled-6.jpg

Finally, unexpectedly, we get waved on at 11 o’clock and about 40 motorcycle engines fire into life. Up the ramp onto the boat and then, one by one, down a steep ramp to the very bottom of the boat where we will have to all turn around when we leave and ride back up the steep ramp into the Spanish sunshine. I finally get to my cabin after going up then down then up again, hot and hungry and needing to plug everything in to get charged up. I drag out and bite into my Neal’s dairy wholemeal baguette and open my bottle of vinho verde, no longer chilled but cool enough and with its welcoming gentle fizz.

untitled-8.jpg

By this time it is 11.30. Very many cabin announcements follow, including a description of how to get into a life jacket where every phrase is repeated twice to give you time to think about it. Finally I climb into bed well after midnight and see I have drunk nearly the whole bottle of wine.

I woke up, slowly, to see that it was 8.30. We would stop at Roscoff at 9 to change crew. Not wanting to miss the sight of land, I made for the bar here for a (not very great) coffee and also not that fresh croissants then spend an hour swapping from sunny side (warm) to port side (better view but chilly) decks to see the crew leave in dribs and drabs pulling suitcases on wheels until the boat pulled out to sea.

untitled-9.jpg

So, before we get off tomorrow morning, I need to work out, using my GPS and paper maps, an enjoyable route to my first hotel.

Later. My alarm is set for 6.45 (Spanish time). It took about two frustrating hours to work out how to load a trip into my GPS but with any luck I have an almost non-motorway route planned to my first hotel – which looks a little gem in the middle of a quite un inspiring town to the west of Burgos, with one or two interesting monasteries to visit en route. Before the struggle and after my petit dejeuner I lay on the bed here and dozed at first on top and eventually underneath the duvet where I fell asleep. I must have been tired. Today I wondered around the boat and started reading H is for Hawk. It is a brilliant start and because you know in advance that it is about loss its opening, mentioning the dismembered bodies of baby birds that never hatched, is harrowing. It will not be a book that takes weeks to read. Luckily I have packed another novel. I wonder what balance of riding and non-riding I will find on this trip.

I’m still in Severac de L’eglise

Today went so much better than yesterday. Yesterday I covered just over 100 miles but what hot and exhausted by the time I got to Lourdes and in no mood to look around much carting my helmet and heavy jacket. Thats one of the dilemmas of biking around. Is it about actually seeing places or more about the achievement of making the miles? Today I started off at half past eight with a wet load of luggage from the night before into the damp air. I chose fast N roads and motorways to get some distance so I’m now just one night away from Les Gets. My only minor disaster is tthat I left my washing line behind at the first campsite so now am decorating my motorbike with wet socks and underwear. This is a beautiful evening here and a welcoming campsite. I waiting to see which direction the shade was moving before pitching here this afternoon. I ate my delicious Baztan cheeze (the man that sold it to me told me it was beautiful and he was right) and finished my bottle of wine. Rodez I wonder is medieval, perched high up with its large church the highest point. Like many French villages I’ve passed through, this one is completely deserted. There is just one unattended black dog and the muffled sound of people behind shutters. The wind blows through the youthful silver birches planted here by the restaurant and terrace bar. I plan to visit one or other later. Then tomorrow further in a north easterly direction and find a campsite with an attractive description. I think I have cracked the Alan Rogers campsite code with its faint praise which probably means – crap.

After tomorrow I have three nights in civilisation – i.e. in a bed in a house with human company.

IMG_4008
A random farm building near the campsite

Preparing for my first trip on Bertha BMW 1200GS Adventure – 2010 Spain France and more…

Just before leaving

 

Brand new GB sticker on my mighty new bike

I can’t quite believe that after about 9 months of anticipation and planning and gathering those last pieces of kit and gadgetry, that in a week’s time I will be sitting in Portsmouth with the Santander ferry leaving the next morning. I’ve been downloading and printing maps I’ll need and copying the last documents. Putting in ‘Portsmouth Travel Lodge’ (where I will be staying) into Google unfortunately brings up a barage of complaint about this hotel. The most enthusiastic say that it is what you’d expect from a budget place. But the strong theme is dirt, followed closely by delapidation. Another popular theme is constant noise. So I am prepared for a grubby sleepless night in an uncomfortable and probably broken bed – in other words a good preparation for two weeks camping. As long as Bertha is still there in the morning with all her bits then I won’t be complaining. Speaking of Bertha, she now has a year’s MOT and a new front tyre. I’m hoping to feel totally comfortable on her by the time I get back. I will be visiting Lourdes, seeking out the shrine devoted to leg-lengthening. Another two inches on my inside leg would make riding a 1200gs so much easier.

Portsmouth to Santander

Tonight I’m staying the the Travel Lodge about 200 yards away from the entrance to the Brittany Ferry terminal where I catch the ferry in the morning.

The reviews on trip advisor said this place is dirty and falling to bits but I find it completely satisfactory, certainly not lavish but perfectly adequate and unannoying. I’ve discovered Portsmouth’s answer to Camrbidge’s Mill Road and stocked up on food for breakfast and for the ferry – including six or some other unnaturally large number of custard donuts. I’m Reading Bruges La Morte, cutting off slices of Dutch Gauda drinking Australian Merlot (which according to J F Lyotard makes me typically postmodern) and watching out of the window as more people on bikes arrive. There are five now. There is very little hair among the riders. I’ve often noticed this.

30th June

Same place this morning a fierce sun beats into the room and I have the curtains nearly closed with just a shaft of sunlight shining in. The car park and adjoining pub filled up last night with bikes and bikers but they nearly all left early at about 6am – it woke me up. So now just three of us are in solitary splendor probably awaiting the same sailing. It will be nice to be on the breezy sea today instead of riding through hot streets.

On the boat: We’ve been sailing for nearly three hours. There must be 100 bikes down on the deck, crammed in and tied down. If one were to fall, they would all go down. I don’t know how we will get them all out.

Over a hundred motorcycles on the ferry to Santander

We sailed out past the sea-line of Portsmouth, beautiful town in the sunlight with its renovated docks and victorian buildings.

Leaving Portsmouth
Portsmouth Harbour

I must come back to visit some time. I wondered about the person who drives this huge vehicle and how old-fashionedly manly sea captains are, with their silver buttons and Aran polo necks. Perhaps I am thinking of Jack Hawkins films. I stood on the deck at the back with a large H on the ground for a helicopter to land on and started to feel myself move into a different space, with 24 hours on this boat with nothing to be done, not even a companion to interact with. I am savouring the slow passing of solitary time.

The ship has a French flag and all the staff greet you in French then very quickly, inevitably, switch to English but they never abandon their own tongue – why should they?. The boat caters for all comers – the endless bars with loud Brits with nearly empty pints of lager in their fists even before I had climbed up from the car deck, and the spaces for the older traveler whose features are bleached of colour. So far I’ve alternated between time on the bracing deck and my cosy though windowless cabin. My cabin on Brittany Ferries boat

After seeing the coastline become distant I came down here to read a little more of Bruges La Morte then fell asleep. When I woke up and went on deck an erie transformation had occurred: we were surrounded by fog and the sea had lost its sparkle. The ship’s horn sounded every few minutes, ominously as in so many disaster at sea feature films (some perhaps with Jack Hawkins not showing a trace of emotion as women and children leave first on the floundering life boats and the horn sounds again). The trick will be as usual to take advantages of the ship’s hospitality while avoiding the annoying and loud fellow-traveler and of course to avoid icebergs and German U-boats, and those little two-seaters that frogmen ride in dark and echoey waters to stick magnetic limpet mines to the side of our hull and give them one big wind of their clockwork timer before they speed away, under the impetus of two quiet propellers. I had one of those as a boy that I played with in the bath. The frogmen were detachable and had a life of their own, of sorts.

Look I found a photo of the very same toy from the 1960s

1st July: First campsite in Spain Eratzu

After a sound night’s sleep we are less than one hour away from Santander (the port not the Building Society). I wonder with so many motorcyclists on the boat how long it will take to fan out and be riding alone. I’m stocked up with water. It will be about 145 miles ride today to the first campsite I’ve chosen. Lets see how well I can keep to the route.

I made it to Camping Eratzu, the first site of this trip. I’m writing in the cool reception area of the campsite where I’ve just grabbed on to the campsite’s wifi by the skin of my digital teeth. What a great language Spanish is, it almost has two versions, one spoken by men and one spoken by women. It was hot today and once I arrived here and found myself in front of a mirror in the hygiene block I noticed that I resembled Mr Tomato Head. Speaking of tomatoes, I made the classic mistake akin to the linguists’ ‘False friends’: I bought what looked like a tin of tomatoes to have with my pasta which I plan to cook in a little while only to find pimentos inside.

First night camping in Eratzu, Spain

France is just about a mile down the road. Tomorrow I’ve plotted the 110 mile ride to Lourdes on the nice roads for a change. Today, when I rode off the boat, I abandoned myself to Emily the GPS voice and spent most of today on fast if dull motorways. The hundreds of other motorcyclists on the boat did indeed disappear pretty quickly as they fanned out from the port. As I rode at different times today I smelt, cooking meat, farmyard smells, cigar smoke and brewing coffee.

2nd July

Oh what a day. I’m writing sitting cross legged in my tend in the rain and thunder just outside Lourdes.

More rain

How lovely it would be if the rain would stop and the skies would brighten – but they say every season is a good season.

In Lourdes campsite

I started today’s ride with a kind of baptism of fire, climbing up hairpin bends on the mountains scared I would run out of road and running wide onto the other side of the road. Thank goodness there was no oncoming traffic. There were the usual periods of getting lost and trying desperately to heave the bike upright when I parked on an incline that all added to a hot and stressful day (for some reason I hadn’t found the technique for doing this by then). The colour printed copies of my passport and other documents that I’ve been wearing around my neck have smudged and run with the perspiration. I mistimed today and arrived at Lourdes around 3.30pm, exhausted and hot. I was too tired to heave my heavy jacket (before I had bought my BMW Ralleye Pro which is not quite so hot) and helmet around hot Lourdes so I had a quick cappuccino instead. I’m glad I can speak a little French – much more than my three words of Spanish. Here’s the BVM:

guess where IMG_4000


Today’s trip to Lourdes took so long that I abandoned the next 80 miles I planned to ride to the next campsite and decided to stop instead just outside of the town. Once I had set up camp and chatted to a Brit who is a veteran biker I showered and bought some food to make supper, but then it started to thunder and rain. After a few glasses of wine crouched in my tent I noticed how cold I was and realised that the rain had been flowing in a river from one side of my vestibule to another and I was sitting in it. So Ive been eating slices of salami and drinking white wine from the bottle (I think my metal cup is outside somewhere). I’ve been trying to decide whether I am having fun or whether I am miserable. I know it just needs the sun to shine and my spirits will lift but then I decided that I would not go to Lourdes for a miracle, for that one thing that will make everything better. I am wondering how I will cope if it rains all night and all day. I suppose I will put on my waterproof gear and stay in hotels. Its not the holiday I had in mind. (This goes through my mind during the rainy hours of every holiday I go on.)

For some reason something that I heard about Scott and Amundsen and have never been able to forget comes to mind. But I have not followed the thought through until now. It is said that one key difference between the approach of the British Scott and his team and the Norwegian Amundsen in their plan to reach the south pole was that for Amundsen the trip was a matter of technical preparedness while for Scott it was about moral readiness. I had always scoffed at Scott’s post-Victorian typically British approach when I thought about this and the fact that Amundsen made it and not Scott and his team seems to prove the point. There are fewer ponies and dogs on this trip and the only ice I encounter is in a drink if I am really lucky but I think it could be true that I have not thought much about the moral strength needed even for a relatively easy ride around the tarmac of Europe. I have certainly prepared myself technically (I’ve spent about 10 months planning and gathering kit) but the solitary travelling while rarely being alone is something I anticipated but didn’t think enough about.