Motorcycle Live Show 2023: NEC Birmingham

Motorcycle shows – what can I say? For me, after the first few when I had just discovered riding and a whole new world of bikes and kit, the experience has tended to not live up to the expectation. Not quite. Unless you have something particular you are gong for, like having moulds taken of your ears for earplugs or trying on a particular helmet for size, in which case you have a mission. So I have to ask myself, what do I expect? I will return to that later.

The main attraction of course is the bikes, all those bikes that whizz past on YouTube videos of adventurers are there for you to climb on, get a sense of their height, their bulk, maybe, or lack of it. The main distraction is the crowds of other people. Take four fifths of them away and I think I would be in heaven.

Here are some of my favourites

The bike that attracted the biggest crowds was the new large GS from BMW, the 1300. BMW seem to have done the impossible – or difficult – of updating an adventure bike and not coming up with something heavier. Is it good looking? I’m not sure.

It seemed that the old favourites, like the GS, attracted the crowds while stalls offering new concepts like electric bikes or even a folding motorcycle (like my Brompton) were often empty. I wish I had spent more effort talking with the people on those stands. Most markets, I presume, are conservative, offering what they know that people already have an appetite for and will buy, so new ideas and the people that back them are more risky, more innovative and ought to be more interesting. Next year maybe.

Going home on the MS Romantika

STOP the presses! I have just (september 9th) learnt that Holland Norway Line has been declared bankrupt and I believe that some travellers with return tickets are having to make their own way home. This is such a shame as it was a startup in only 2022. When travelling with them it was obvious that ferries are such a complex business to operate. I feel so sorry for them, for those who had the vision for the company and for all of their employees who seemed a very sweet and professional bunch of people. There seem to be fewer and fewer ferries in Europe, forcing travellers to use carbon-crunching air flight. See here for some more details.

28th June: This is 28th June and this is the news from cabin 8814 of the Romantika. Its my second cabin on this voyage so far, the ferry sailing from Kristiansand down to Emden in Germany. In my first cabin, I thought I had vaguely heard some music in it and thought ‘this is going to be slightly annoying’, had a shower, had a short sleep and then I heard loud singing and guitar playing. It turned out that the cabin was right under the sundeck with the Entertainer who was, I presume, entertaining a whole bunch of people a few feet above me. I was really pleased with myself that instead of just putting up with it I felt no hesitation in going up to the information desk and asked if there was another cabin. As a result they have given me a new cabin on the same deck but right at the other end of the ship. I am so pleased. Its completely quiet here.

How did the day go? I didn’t sleep well last night (again). I was awake at 3.30 and slept fitfully until shortly after 7am. I got up and made some lovely coffee with my filter dripper which has been great. I washed up, washed out the little hut (which would have cost Krhundreds if I had asked the staff to do it). I headed out over the sand dunes to walk briefly on the beautiful beach. There was not a soul in sight – just footprints. On the way back to my hut I chatted to the couple of cyclists I mentioned before, who are Italian and certainly well into their forties. They had cycled here from Italy(!) and are cycling to Nordkap planning to arrive there by August. The timetable of people on pushbikes is so different to mine. I certainly take my hat off to them.

I headed off with the bike packed up (that is so satisfying) taking it easy on the road, unlike yesterday when I hurried around. Eventually the last 14k was motorway and lots of tunnels (and higher speed limits) and made it to the ferry. I was greeted by the sight of loads of motorcyclists who were mostly Dutch and German.

There were a couple of guys from England who told me what they had achieved (which immediately made me feel that I did not do enough, was not adventurous enough): they did some off-road riding, they wild camped, they rode the famous Trollstigen Pass, none of which I had done. They went up to the arctic circle too. They were nice guys. It was the sort of conversation you have where very quickly you realise that somebody is a talker and not a listener, so you just settle into listening and they talk – which is fine (and they had had an interesting time).  There was lots of luggage. Lots of people have lots of luggage on these large touring and ‘adventure’ bikes – metal panniers PLUS rolltop bags. Much more luggage than I have been carrying. In fact much more than I used to take when I had a large bike and metal panniers (I still have them and must sell them).  There were a couple of KTM 1090 Adventures looking very nice. One had nice black metal panniers. (I was tempted to think about getting metal panniers for my bike for a future tour on road (not offroad where they would be a liability.)

After a couple of instalments we got onto the boat – and I have already described the rest.

I’m now going to head off to the buffet early before things run out (you can see my German heritage at work here) and afterwards read more of Ubik by Philip K Dick (Wikipedia says: The story is set in a future 1992 where psychic powers are utilized in corporate espionage, while cryonic technology allows recently deceased people to be maintained in a lengthy state of hibernation.).

Tomorrow morning at 10.15 we get into Emden. I was looking at my map of the Netherlands thinking that I will ride straight down south on a German autobahn by the border and then turn right into the Netherlands because the motorways are much faster in Germany. I know I will get to the Hook of Holland early but its not too bad a building. You can sit inside and get a coffee from a machine. I would sooner do that than what I did on the way over which was such a drawn out and laborious ride. I will be happy to sit and read until it is time to board….

Its now 7 minutes past 7 in the evening on 28th June, on the ship and in my new cabin 8814 as opposed to 8141. A couple of observations: I have just enjoyed a pleasant hour or just less, sitting in the buffet eating salad, then fish, then more salad then some deserts and maybe three glasses of anonymous white wine. I was sitting there people watching – as usual. I was watching all the people that chose salad mainly and have come to the obvious conclusion that during the life-course people change their shape. That’s observation number 1. Observation number 2: after eating I strolled out on to the sundeck where the singer had been singing earlier when I got into my first cabin. It was two minutes past 7 when I arrived there and it was completely deserted. There was no singer, no audience and nobody making any noise at all. That whole event goes into the category of – well two things – possibly being hasty (in asking to move cabin) but the real category that my request to move goes into is into the mental category of ‘regretting choices’ which is an entirely useless category. It was the right thing to do – to move. The music could have gone on for hours  – and I remember the employee on the information desk mentioning to me that the entertainment lasts until 11pm.

There is no network here in the cabins which is nice, in some ways. Its very early, only 7pm but I will get to bed in a couple of hours. As I wrote before, we dock at 10.15, I ride down through Germany and the Netherlands and repeat this experience on the ferry to Harwich. The ride from Harwich into London will be the bleakest part (the A12 is no fun) but arriving home will be great.

Capitalism and campsites; thoughts at Ogna Camping

Stardate 27th June 2323 Captain’s Log Supplemental. There are two other observations that I’d like to make about this camp site. The first is its orientation which is to the west, south west. The first night that I was here after having got wet in the rain and arrived on a completely cloudy heavily overcast day, the evening was still thick cloud and wind. It also rained again later, so in other words it was a really horrible evening. This evening is very different. There is some little cloud but basically it’s a clear sky so you can see the way that the sun, as it goes down (its not terribly low, even now at 9.15) is so beautiful. All the buildings here, all the plots are orientated towards the west where there are grassy dunes and then the sea. So the sun shines into every plot and every building and suddenly the orientation makes sense. I sat on the plastic chair that they left in the porch of this cabin, sheltered from the wind but with the beautiful warm evening sun on my face. When I walked down to the washblock just now I could see that lots of other people here are doing the same.

lines of huts

OK, other observations, actually two. One is that there is a grassy space, a lovely flat and lush space here where a couple of cyclists have put up a tent with their bikes, and their clothes drying in the sun. Its good to see proper travellers. The other thing I noticed when I looked up the hill, because this is a terraced site, from where the washroom is at the bottom, I realised how huge this site is. There is just line after line of these newly built cabins which are much more high spec than where I am staying each at Kr1000 per night. There are lots of them and although everybody is facing the sun, and I could see half a dozen or so groups of people in their huts enjoying the evening sun, they are all separate from each other with little fences between the cabins that give everybody privacy. I have to say that it is not one of those friendly, informal camp sites. There is something atomised about it. It seems that that is what you get. You have this drive for profit to replace this kind of old school hut that I am staying in that’s cheap with these more lavish, expensive offers.

You get people who come to enjoy them and get the most out of them but there’s no sense of that communal mucking in together, chatting, that kind of down to earth feeling that you get – certainly in some English campsites. (Because it’s a cheap and cheerful option, often for families with small children who are used to having to make contact with those around them and have to be informal because of dealing with small kids in public places). As I was washing up in this soulless space on my own, a German woman came in with her own washing up. We said a few words. I said ‘I am nearly finished’ and she just stood there next to me while I laboriously washed up my saucepans and plates. She just waited her turn to use the facilities that she had paid for. It felt very odd. I know there was a language barrier and I could have made more effort. There isn’t much – in fact there is no greeting of people as you walk by them. In some sites there definitely is and that feels very nice. Here, it feels as though people have paid their money to get themselves a good experience and that is what they are here for. Also, on the topic of money, there are lots of really nice looking mobile homes, converted vans, two or three of those, very high spec. There was one huge mobile home that was literally the same size as a coach (that could carry 100 people perhaps from A to B) and there just seemed to be a late middle-aged German couple in it. I don’t know how they would have coped on the hairpin route that I came back on this afternoon. That vehicle probably would not be able to make it. It seemed greedy for space.

So, these two thoughts: this is a beautiful campsite and the orientation is amazing but the way it is going up market, like my previous site where they have a ‘vision’ to make a smarter card-operated offer, is losing something about what campsites can be at their best – in my view. I wonder whether this is a feature of sites that are close to the capital here where relatively wealthy people can easily travel to whereas the places much further north attract a very different clientele.

Stavanger in the rain to Ogna

Monday 26th June. (Warning – this is transcribed from a rambling voice recording) I’m so relieved. I’m in – a cabin again. This one has two rooms: a kitchen without a sink this time unfortunately and a bedroom with four bunks. Its old school on this campsite in Ogna which is on the coast up between Egersund and the coastline going up towards Stavanger.

Rainy riding condensed

So that’s where it is and where I am. So what about the day? I woke up at 5am and I tried to get back to sleep but of course I couldn’t because it was broad daylight and I was also worried about getting off before this forecast ‘torrential’ rain with thunder and lightning. I eventually got out of the sleeping bag at 6am and did all the normal things you have to do to get going and made a coffee, had a super-sweet cereal bar and was on the bike leaving at 8am. Now, the forecast was 9am for when the thunder and lightning would start. By 9am I was boarding the next ferry going south on the E39 and it was still pleasant but as I rode down through the eastern side of Stavanger the sky started to look grey and I pulled over to get into rain gear behind the first garage that I stopped at. And headed off, but about 10 minutes later it started to rain heavily though there was no promised thunder and lightning so I pulled off the main road again and found another garage. It was one of the self-service garages (i.e. no bossy staff to tell you to move on) which had a canopy over it. It was nicely out of the way. So I put the bike under the canopy next to a pump, got off and stayed there, looking at the rain feeling quite miserable maybe for an hour. After that time I thought the rain looked as though it was easing slightly. I rode another 20 minutes or so but it started to rain heavily again. Luckily I saw a lay by, a truck stop with a toilet and another building. I pulled off there and used the facilities all the while the rain came down even more heavily. I sat under the porch of a disused café (with a for sale sign taped inside the window) and watched a few people come and go. Throughout the whole time one big truck was parked there. I think I was there, again, for an hour. (see youtube vid)  I was trying to fight off a spiral of negative thoughts and I worked hard on imagining the rain just slowly stopping, bit by bit, and the sky brightening, maybe a little bit of sun coming out. I imagined, pictured this. And after about ten minutes I noticed a little bit of lighter sky over there. The rain almost kind of stopped. I thought ‘fantastic’. I went back over to the bike (I was worried that it wouldn’t start having been in the rain for so long – but it was fine of course) and started off again down the road toward Egersund toward a campsite with the almost unpronounceable name of Steinsnes which seemed to have lots of good reviews and recommendations and they have lots of huts – so I thought OK! I got there and parked just inside the entrance but it was busy busy with some guys using power tools to fix things. The place was noisy and busy and the people running it looked in a book and said unfortunately we don’t have cabins but you can camp which surprised me. I asked whether there was somewhere else and they said yes there is. Its 15 miles down the coast road, the road that I would have spent some time going up and down to explore. The rain had stopped by then. There was no rain at all but the skies were still heavy. They said why don’t you find an Air bnb or rent an apartment in town because cabins can be just as expensive? That was not what I wanted to do. So, I climbed back on the bike and I rode up to this place in a little town called Ogna with its own camping and caravan site. The site is off the main road – the 426 route I think -. I got here and the woman working on the reception desk said that they had just two cabins left. One is a nice cabin for four people – and that will cost you Kr1000 a night about £100 similar though slightly cheaper than a hotel. And we have another one which is not quite ready yet. It does not have a sink or running water but you can have that for Kr500. So I eagerly said I’d love that cabin. I waited a while, chatted to a French guy who lives now in Norway and then got in. It’s a sweet place. Its like the inside of a sauna with a tall ceiling upto the pitch which reminds me of the place I built in my back garden in Cambridge.

untitled-6.jpg
Cabin at Ogna Camping

The only thing it does not have is a sink and water but there is a large water container here which I have filled up. The washing up and shower block is quite a long walk away, at the other side of the campsite, taking about 3 or 4 minutes to walk down there. Nevertheless I am really pleased to have it so I unloaded the bike, took all the wet stuff off it, plugged in all my electronics to get charged up. I got on the bike and again and rode one or so miles down the road to a Co-Op where I stocked up on some food, some more chocolate, some beers. That felt really good – and organised. It was slightly drizzly. I got back and fell asleep on the bed. I did some laundry down in the washing block and tried to dry some of my clothes under the hand dryer. There are some little electric radiators in here with signs that say ‘do not cover’ but I have covered them with my wet clothes. And now its started raining really nastily again. My bike is sitting outside by the window and thankfully I have the cover on it (definitely a must to take travelling) strapped underneath securely as its blowing and buffeting and the rain is falling on it and being thrown off. Its horrible weather and I think of the huge difference between sitting at this table in this hut and sitting in a tent when its blowing and raining hard. Its just miserable in a little tent but this is just absolutely fine (people say rather tritely that without the lows or hardships there can’t be the highs or at least a real appreciation of the highs or of certain states). I have decided to stay one more night. And depending on the weather – my best plan is to ride to one or two particularly nice roads which I want to spend time on but really the priority is keeping dry and relaxing. So, I will see what the weather is like tomorrow. I have plenty to do here. I have food, something good to read. I am so pleased to be in this cabin when it is raining like it is outside and it is blowing a gale and the sky is just grey. I am so pleased.

I have one more full day tomorrow and Wednesday, I think it is three hours from here to the ferry port at Kristiansand. You can stay here until 11am and I think the earliest you are meant to arrive at the port is 2pm. The timing should work out well and it will be good to get on the boat. These last couple of days have felt a bit awkward because – it is partly the weather, definitely, but also that sense of not wanting to be too far from the ferry on the night before I leave. It’s a juggle because I end up doing little bits of travelling instead of long days which do bring their own kind of satisfaction. Its been good. Getting to the Arctic Circle feels like a real achievement. I wonder whether I would ever come back to Norway and go to Nordkap? It means retracing a lot of the same ground. Do I want to do it? Its still there, something that could be done (perhaps via Sweden or back via Sweden or Finland – a thought from August).

25th June South of Stavanger: Norway on another Sunday

Sunday 25th June: In the evening. Its ten past nine though it doesn’t feel that late. I’m in my tent in a campsite just north of Stavanger. I don’t know where exactly I am. But I do know that this campsite is right next to the E39. Its next to an embankment that goes up to the main road. The road goes over a bridge over a fjord and I can see a little bit further is a ferry that crosses the fjord. Again, today was beautiful riding with a couple of ferries and on one of them two Norwegian guys riding motorcycles and chatting to them which was nice. After the ferry we went our separate ways with some really long tunnels going down towards Stavanger in fact I got a recommendation from Thomas Hansen for some places to buy food on a Sunday near Bergen. He had some good recommendations, but I had already found somewhere which was by a small harbour with lots of children jumping in to the water on a warm sunny Sunday morning. I had to wait there for quite a while for this small shop to open.

untitled-21.jpg
No beer to be bought on a Sunday

In the end what I bought there was not bad. Riding: It got to 3.30 or twenty to 4 and I thought I might as well stop somewhere rather than run out of road to enjoy for the rest of these few days. But I know that tomorrow there is rain forecast and in fact one of the bikers told me that torrential rain is forecast with thunder and lightning.  And it makes my heart freeze the thought of it tomorrow. Its forecast to start raining at 9am and rain until 2 in the afternoon. So that has put me in an anxious mood. On the way here I rode into one campsite, very slopy and gravelly which just did not feel right. It was packed full of families in caravans (it felt more like a holiday camp than a campsite for travellers) so I rode on and have ended up in this place. Even before I got off the bike in the parking area here at Austre Bokn Camping, I was looking at my Norcamp app for places that had huts because I could see that this place does not and I could not see any sites nearby that had huts. So here I am. It is one of those in transition places that was quite traditional but the new owners who have owned it since 2021 (I know that because they have written their biography and their ‘vision’ for the site in many languages and posted it up around the site) and are making the place slightly swanky so you have to pay for everything: you have to pay for a shower; you pay to use the kitchen; to use the washing machine and the prices are up on the walls everywhere. It’s a nice place but it has got some disadvantages: its really windy which obviously you can’t blame on the campsite but its unsettling – and being right next to the traffic (the sound of a truck going by on my recording). Tonight will be another night of wearing earplugs. Not only all day but all night! Looking back I remember how odd it felt trying to sleep in broad daylight a few yards a way from a traffic embankment.

untitled-16.jpg
The view is beautiful – in that direction at least

But now I am really nervous about tomorrow. I really want to get packed up tomorrow before 9am when its forecast to start raining. I have an alarm set for 7am.

untitled-15.jpg
Camping in a windy corner

I have been looking on the map and found what looks like a good campsite. I did start looking for hotels. They were either really expensive or there was a cheap one but I realised it was cheap because you shared – it looked pretty crappy actually. So I am going to head off to this place called Steinsnes NAF camping in Egarsund. I can see from Google maps that they have cabins and I just pray that they have a cabin that I can stay in tonight and possibly tomorrow night and I was also looking on the map for places that I could shelter on the way – get off the bike, park at a shopping centre and hang out inside for an hour or so if its pouring in Stavanger, or a petrol station… somewhere just to shelter from the rain, just stand there under shelter for an hour or even two, I really don’t mind. So I have lots of nervousness about tomorrow because of the rain. The dread is nearly always much worse than doing it – but I do want to get off before it rains. Its windy tonight here. I’ve got a lovely view over the fjord. I’m on a high piece of land here on this very slopy campsite but it is pretty windy. I am sure it will be fine. Worse things have happened at sea. I got very drenched three or four days ago but its just a memory now. In fact there is something about that kind of adversity that makes you really focussed on the moment. When you are riding along and the weather is fine, my mind is going all over the place but when things are tough you are really there. So I am hoping that I sleep well. Apart from the noisy traffic the place is quiet, very quiet. There’s no noise from other people at all – just the birds, the wind and the traffic. The traffic is getting quieter too… So, this anxiety about stuff its so – its not the end of the world. Its easy to get clenched up and hunker down, look inward. Its crazy. It doesn’t help but I have made a few plans which is good. Lets see what the next instalment brings.

Norway: 24th June Saturday Alesund and Bergen

24th June Saturday

Last night, I stayed in a campsite in Alesund. Its probably the worst place I have stayed in so far on this trip. And that’s because, for a start, it was really crowded. It was urban and it was really noisy. There was a group of people partying really loudly. I’m not sure what time they finished maybe after 11.30 (which is late in a campsite because people tend to hit the sack quite early). Added to that, people arrived late at night, after I’d gone to sleep (or rather while I was trying to sleep) and a couple of groups put up tents next to mine.

On the other hand, some of the campers were very friendly. I remember talking to a Dutch man who with his wife was touring using a beautiful tepee type tent on the same small field as me and a couple of young French cyclists who were cycling all around Europe. There was another single woman on a bicycle with a super-light Nemo tent which I had seen on the internet (that make of tent – not her). It was a small group of guys on motorcycles who made the noise. I wasn’t that close to them, mercifully, but they must have disturbed the whole site. I remember I said hello to one of them when they parked their bikes next to mine. I got one response but the other one just scowled awkwardly at me. The people that run the site (young slightly fed up with the punters’ questions) didn’t seem to consider it worth their intervention. So, I have decided that urban campsites are definitely to be avoided in the future. I camped in my little tent which on this occasion was fine because it was dry.

So, today, Saturday: I set off south on the route to Bergen which I put into the GPS. It was seven hours, a big journey. I’ve been riding down the E39 and am probably about 100k from Bergen, still north of the city. I crossed with two ferries today, I think. Maybe it was three. I can’t remember. I will have to look it up! It was fun.

untitled-19.jpg
A ferry going somewhere

It is super easy.

For the last ferry I remember riding really fast after a car that was clearly in a hurry. I thought I’m going to keep up with them as a challenge (I usually ride in an unhurried way). I thought that maybe they are heading for the same ferry as me only they know when it leaves. But actually they weren’t and when I got to the ferry terminal, the boat had just left. But the next one was in about ten minutes. I stopped in another beautiful lay-by and had something to eat. It was so nice to have a break as last night, as you can imagine, I did not sleep well.

So I wanted a definitely rural setting to camp again and I wanted a cabin. (For the reasons I’ve already set out – more than once…). I kept riding down the E39 and found a campsite called Botnen, not far from Oppedal by a small harbour. The site is on terraces that slope down toward a fjord. Its on lots of levels and there’s a variety of accommodation. I really like it. The slightly fusty couple running it don’t speak much English, if any. And when I asked if they sell beer in their little shop they had no idea what I was asking about – or at least they made out that they didn’t. (its as if Norway becomes some old-fashioned religious country when it comes to drinking alcohol or going shopping on a Sunday) Anyway, I am in my cabin now and if I look down I can see the fjord. It’s a beautiful evening, a long evening as all evenings are here of course. Interestingly, there’s a bit of accommodation down there by the water with four motorbikes parked outside with Swedish plates. So, thinking about last night’s campsite I’m wondering ‘are these going to be four guys making a lot of noise late into the night?’

untitled-27.jpg
Oh no more Harleys

I am so pleased to have got here. It was a long day riding. I got here after 6 and I had set off at about 10am. It was a big day of riding without much stopping. Now, I must relate a story about petrol. I got really worried about running out of petrol. (I had thought that the KTM790 can do 200 miles on a tank – but actually it is quite a lot more but exactly how much more I have never tested.) Of course I needn’t have. I found a rather shabby looking couple of pumps, certainly not a large brightly lit chain like Shell. And there is no one working there of course. I just could not get the petrol pumps to work. I moved my bike from one side of the pump to the other then back again. Then I discovered, of course, that there is a little machine that you put your credit card in. I’ve been doing that from day 1, but for some reason I had been so wound up about running out of petrol that I didn’t see it. Then when I did, the machine said that there was an error – which had never happened before. The error was in Norwegian of course. And there was a hand written sign taped up to one side of the pump that I could not understand, of course. When I looked at my bank app on my phone I saw that it had been charged 110 pounds or Euros for absolutely no petrol and then I repeated the process and I did manage to get petrol and then another £110 seemed to be charged to my card plus the cost of the petrol separately. Hopefully that just disappears after a short while (it did).

I was frazzled but I unwound as I rode. The weather was beautiful, ideal, 23 degrees, hazy sun, bright sun sometimes, lovely road, a bit of traffic but really lovely riding. What I did not do was find a supermarket open to stock up on beers and other things because tomorrow is the dreaded Sunday which shows that I have been here for one week. Supermarkets are not open on Sunday so it is harder to buy food and drink but I think I have enough to get by… I hope I have. So, I am feeling huge relief, tired but very pleased to be in this cabin and looking forward to getting a proper night’s sleep tonight.