Saturday, 17 September 2022

Portpatrick

Another weekend, another trip away on the bike, this time to a motorcycle rally at a site in Portpatrick, in Dumfries, an area of the country that I find I know very little about. Dumfries branding itself “Scotland’s Forgotten County” might not be too far off the mark.

I could only manage down for the Saturday night and decided to take the big Aprilia again, purely for the carrying capacity. The Triumph is a more relaxing bike to ride but suffers from not having hard luggage to store all the junk I take away on trips like this.

What should have been a straightforward trip down turned into a bit of an adventure when the main road, the A77, turned out to be closed for a couple of miles for re-surfacing work, necessitating a mystery tour of the back roads through that part of South Ayrshire. Let’s just say that the temporary signage could have been better.

Rolling up to the campsite gives you spectacular views over the Irish Sea, as well as the ruins of Dunskey Castle. A pretty amazing backdrop for a weekend away.

It was good to catch up with a number of people I haven’t seen in the last couple of years, as well as meeting a few new ones. 

After something to eat I wandered along to the pub as it was getting dark and it dawned on me that this would be the first time I’d gone for a drink in a pub since 2019 and the start of all the Covid restrictions.

As is the norm, beer was quaffed, tall tales told, and the world generally put to rights, before heading back to bed down for the night. It was so clear, that you could actually see the lights in Ireland in the distance.


Up again early and since it was still dry, if a little over-cast, I decided to pack up and get going in case the weather changed. The trip home was uneventful, if tiring. I guess I’m still not over Covid myself just yet.

This will probably be my last outing for the year. I was looking at a possible trip to Ireland as well, but the distances involved, and the timing, mean that it’s looking unlikely now.

Wednesday, 7 September 2022

Mid-Life Crisis?

As anyone who knows me well knows, I am not a great fan of a certain well-known American motorcycle manufacturer. In fact, I have been known to periodically make the odd uncomplimentary remark about them, and those who choose to ride them.

However, a few of the lads that I have been riding with these last few years own them and have been nothing but complimentary about their performance and handling. Also, those big seats look really comfortable now that I have a bad back and old weary bones.

So, while not sure if you can have a mid-life crisis when you’re nearly sixty, I decided I’d try one on for size and booked myself a weekend rental of a Heritage Classic 114 to put through its paces. I thought that this would be a better option than just settling for a couple of hours on a test ride or a guided demo run.

The original plan had to be put on hold when I contracted Covid, so it got re-scheduled for the weekend just gone. I was running out of useable weekends, weatherwise. This is Scotland after all. Rain is our national anthem.

Friday morning saw me call in at the dealership to collect the bike, on a ’22 plate and having covered just over 6k miles in the six months since it was registered. Most of the paperwork had already been sorted, just a few bits and pieces to sort out, a brief run over the controls, and then it was time to get going. I put in into gear, CLUNK, and off we went.

First, back to the house to load up with camping gear, and then head north to Inverness for the weekend to the Bunchrew Campsite where I’ve stayed before.

I had a leisurely run up the A9, before taking a slight detour to photograph RuthvenBarracks, near Kingussie, and then an even gentler meander along some single-track back roads to Aviemore, before eventually re-joining the A9 and on to Inverness.

At the campsite I set up the tent on the shore of the Beauly Firth and settled in for the night with a book and a meal from the local chip shop. It had been a tiring day. Seems I’m not as fully recovered as I’d thought.

Up on Saturday and a decision had to be made. The original idea was a long ride up to John O’Groats and back, for no other reason that it was a straight road from Inverness and would give me a destination. The morning started rather grey and overcast, and there was a definite feeling that it might rain. That, and I was quite tired from the ride the previous day. So, as a compromise, I would start out towards John O’Groats and then see how the day progressed.

In the end I stopped in Helmsdale, about 50 miles south of John O'Groats, where I took some photos of "The Emigrants" by artist Gerald Laing (1936-2011), a statue in memory of those who were evicted from the land during The Clearances and who were then forced to emigrate to the far side of the world. 

Afterwards, I headed the bike south again, stopping off at the Tain Pottery and picking up something for the wife, who is a big fan of highland cows.

Before detouring to the Black Isle to check out another campsite at Rosemarkie, located right on the shore of a beautiful long bay. I may pay them a visit on a future trip to the area as it’s a lovely, well-appointed site.

And, although it often threatened, I encountered no rain the whole time I was away.

And so to Sunday, and the trip home. It had rained a lot overnight, and that coupled with a heavy blustery wind rattling the tent, meant that I didn’t get much sleep. On getting up in the morning I found that the rain had stopped, but it looked like it might start again at any moment. Deciding to quit while the going was good, I hurriedly packed up and got going.

Setting a steady pace, I managed about an hour before the rain made an appearance and it continued steadily till I got near Edinburgh. Much to my surprise, the bike handled really well in the wet, and the Dunlop tyres I had been a little critical of beforehand were as good as any I’ve had on a bike. Three and a half hours after starting I rolled into my driveway and that was that, the trip was over. 

Okay, but how was the bike? In retrospect, I was pleasantly surprised at how easy such a big heavy machine was to push around. Most of the weight is set down low and it felt very ‘planted’ and easily manoeuvred. It sat comfortably at 60-70mph on the motorway and never felt hurried, and on fast A-roads it could be hustled around quite comfortably. I had deliberately chosen to ride it on a variety of roads from motorways to single-track B-roads and the engine never felt taxed, unsurprisingly with such a huge capacity. It just rumbled away in whatever gear you had selected.

The six-speed gearbox is as clunky as you might expect. To say it felt agricultural seems too lazy a description, let’s just say that each change was very ‘positive’. You definitely knew that you’d changed gears.

Unfortunately, over the course of the trip I found the clutch very heavy, especially in town traffic. Finding neutral while the bike was running was all but impossible. I did try putting in into neutral with the clutch pulled in and coasting to a stop. Sometimes it worked, more often than not it didn’t. In the end I just sat with the heavy clutch pulled in and hoped the lights changed quickly. The rest of the time I switched the bike off and, rocking it back and forwards a bit, located neutral that way.

On the matter of stopping, only fitting a single front disc on the front was, to be honest, a bit strange. I would have expected a twin disc set-up on such a big bike. The brakes were another area where all was not well. There was only about 5mm travel between ‘Off’ and ‘Emergency Stop’ on the front brake, usually a sign that the caliper needs a good clean, and surprising on such a low-mileage machine, and the front brake on this particular machine wasn’t terribly effective either, being only really useful to stop you rolling backwards or forward while stopped. Overall, they didn’t impress and, even when hauling on them, it took a little longer to slow down than I was comfortable with.

The standard touring screen is very good and, while not as tall as that on my Triumph, gives good protection from wind and weather. Just as well, since I had an open-face helmet on for the weekend and riding in the rain would have been far more uncomfortable on a naked bike.

The seat, while comfortable, is still only good for about an hour/hour and a half of riding, so no better or worse than that on my current bikes, but combined with the footboards you do get to move around a fair bit to avoid cramping.

I’d never ridden a bike with footboards before and I wasn’t too keen beforehand, if I’m honest. I was mostly worried about grounding them, but. I needn’t have worried on that account. After the weekend away I’m sold. Only downside was that moving around on them can make using the forward controls a little difficult as your feet aren’t always in the correct position.

The Switch-gear had big chunky buttons which are easy to use with your gloves on. You can also toggle through the computer options on the tank console while on the move, checking mileage, fuel consumption etc. Only thing I found annoying was the separate right/left indicator switches, one on each side, which were supposed to be self-cancelling. Sometimes they did, sometimes they didn’t. The only way to tell was to glance own at the tank-mounted console to see if the indicator lights were flashing. I really didn’t like having to partly raise my hand from the throttle to activate the r/h indicator as I felt it interfered with my control. Maybe this is something that you will get used to over time. For a weekend away it was just an annoyance I could have done without.

Lastly, the standard branded panniers fitted were very poor. Leatherette, non-sealing, so water got in easily, and with cheap plastic locks that wouldn’t last ten seconds should you apply a little force with a screwdriver, so not the most secure either. Also, for some reason they have cut-outs on the inside faces which reduce capacity by about a third of what the outer dimensions would suggest. But they look cool, so there is that. I’d want to look at seeing if my existing Givi boxes could be made to fit should a purchase be likely.

 

On that note, would I buy one? Perhaps. I do believe that I could be persuaded. I enjoyed the experience, and the problems that I encountered with the clutch and the brakes I put down to how the bike was set up, rather than the bike itself. It doesn’t inspire great confidence in that particular dealer, but it seems to be a familiar problem with dealers in general and is something that I’ve encountered regularly over the years.

In conclusion, while I might not be ready to splash out on a new machine, a nice low-mileage second-hand one might be on the cards. Only time will tell.