Two Aussie blokes riding their BMW R1150GSs from Australia to Europe

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A test pack and ride – less than a week to go!

It seems pretty surreal – there’s less than a week before we hit the road! And after doing some serious mechanical work to the bikes last weekend we thought we’d better jump on the bikes and test the waters whilst there’s still time to make changes; firstly to see how all the gear we intend to carry packs onto the bikes, and secondly (and probably more importantly) to see how the bikes run after all the work that’s been done to them.

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We were both surprised to learn that we each had more room left in our panniers – of course there were a few things that we didn’t pack today, but I’d guestimate that we were each carrying about 85% of our final luggage. It’s lucky that we did get out on the road too, as Drew found a large crack appearing in the outer of one of the screws on my bike’s drive shaft – thankfully there’s still a week to get it fixed!

The Youtube video is from the new headset we bought that has a camera built in, a Sena 10C – not only can you see what we’re looking at, but also hear the meaningless banter that we waffle as we ride. Enjoy!

Drew, the nicest mechanic in Melbourne agreed to replace the clutch in my bike when I learned that my local BMW workshop was taking an extended Christmas break and wouldn’t reopen in time our departure date. Although not the most stimulating viewing, it’s pretty cool to see the bike come apart before being put back together again. Makes me realise that I also need to invest in a second battery for the camera!

The Blokes have been sponsored!

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We’re really excited to announce that we’ve been sponsored by Remedia Farmaceutica and the Five Plus Art Gallery. We’re eternally grateful to Valentin Tarus and the teams from both organisations for helping to make our dream a reality. We can’t wait for our arrival in Europe when we can drop in and say a heartfelt “G’day” to those involved.

Remedia is an integrated pharmaceutical business in Romania, operating with over 100 pharmacies across the country. Remedia also wholesale pharmaceuticals with marketing and logistic services.

The Five Plus Art Gallery is based in Vienna Austria and specialises in exhibiting art works of various disciplines by Romanian artists. It defines itself as a platform for emerging creators, and as an open space for dialogue with the local and international art community for collaborations with art institutions, galleries and museums.

Bike Preparation

Both James and I are taking our 12+ year old BMW 1150gs’s with us, each with well over 100,000kms on the clock. Although well maintained I’m sure many other Adventure riders would consider them too much of a risk for such a journey. I purchased my beast over 5 years ago replacing a Ducati 750 Monster; I was sick of getting to the end of the asphalt with the only option to turn around and head back to the big smoke. I didn’t want a glamour machine like my monster anymore and my budget at the time could only just stretch for an 1150GS. Rough around the edges but with a good heart it made it from Brisbane to Melbourne easily and with a fresh set of rubber I started to get to know the big beast. It didn’t take long to realise just how well these bikes handled and I’m still convinced that I can outride the Monster on it. I fitted the remus cat eliminator and muffler to get a note and some extra torque down low.

The clutch started to slip about 10,000km’s into my ownership and I fitted a new clutch kit and slave cylinder. Being a vehicle mechanic I have completed all the repairs myself; the is clutch is a big job but not hard. I was surprised to find the set-up and clutch plate location on the input shaft was somewhat questionable. The new clutch plate fitted the input shaft well and we all agreed that with new splines on the plate it should be serviceable for a while yet.

But it is in the back of my mind whenever I ride – I hate knowing how my vehicles work and the possibilities of failure but I also believe in the ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ approach – I cannot make 16 year old bike ‘new’ and it has served me so well for the last 5 years. With all this in mind I still need to be realistic about this journey – my haphazard approach may be ok for a long weekend ride to the Snowy Mountains, but given I have the skills and a workshop I have just ordered the following parts from BM Motorcycles in Ringwood Vic and plan the have them all completed by Christmas.

  • Engine, Gearbox and final drive oils.
  • 2 new spark plugs
  • Valve clearances.
  • Alternator Belt
  • Final drive bearing and seal
  • New fuel pump and filter
  • 2 Air-filters
  • 2 Oil Filters
  • New battery
  • Quick Release fuel lines for neat fuel tank removal

About 5 years ago James was home for Christmas (he worked in China for a few years) and needed some wheels.  I lent him my GS to get around town and a few days later I was receiving photos of my bike in some of the best locations in Victoria! Upon return he was raving about the GS. When I found a similar example for sale on the net a few years later I emailed the link to him just to stir the pot a little. 5 minutes later he was on Skype asking me to go and buy it for him! It was a much better example than mine with full service history and only 2 owners. It was also the twin spark model. So when James returned from China there was a 2003 GS waiting for him at my place. We soon had it registered and starting venturing beyond the city limits together.

The first time I took mine on a dirt adventure was on a return leg from Eildon to Melbourne, I decided to follow as much dirt as possible and managed to drop it on the first tight corner; I lost the front wheel in some soft mud and down I went ripping off my left pannier and almost losing the bike off the side of the track. I was lucky enough to rite it again and rectify the pannier mount – hats off to Lachlan from MTD panniers and luggage as the pannier mounts can easily be repaired on the roadside. I was pleased I had dropped it early in the ride and I continued to push hard enough throughout the day playing caution when the front wheel was carrying weight.

James’ is planning to replace most of the same parts as I will be, we are hoping to find time in the first week of January.

Burma is Booked!

The old girl, looking pretty for the processing of Burmese entry permits

The old girl, looking pretty for the processing of Burmese entry permits

Yep, last night we put a deposit down on the mandatory tour we must take in order cross through Burma, and for this we employed Burma Senses, recommended by several overland motorcyclist’s who’ve gone before us.

This is a ceremonious occasion, as after all the talk, phone calls, emails  and planning, this is the first thing we’ve actually confirmed for the journey.  Feels great to officially get the ball rolling!

We’ve also sent our passports off for the first of many visa’s – hopefully they come back in a hurry because they’ve got to visit a few consulates before we hit the road.

A Mad Skype Call

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Yesterday Drew and I had a fantastic Skype call with David Madell, author of A Mad Ride, who earlier this year did the exact same trip as us but in reverse.  Not only did David offer some great inspiration for our trip, but being a mechanic who now works in insurance he was able to offer some great insights into looking after our bikes as well as risk management.

Some things he suggested that we hadn’t yet put much thought into:

  • Using washable/reusable air filters so that we can clean them on the road
  • Installing the low octane plug so the bikes will run better on low quality fuel
  • Take a fuel bladder so that we can fill up with better quality fuels in bigger towns, to avoid putting dirty fuel in from smaller roadside stops. David rode a GSA, which had a 34 litre capacity (12 litres more than we can fill!), which gave a range of 500kms. He said this was really helpful
  • Run 10/60 oil in the bikes – it’ll be better for the hotter countries
  • Cash only in Iran! No access to ‘western’ banking facilities
  • The Pakistani and Iranian people were some of the nicest people he met along they way, who’d do anything to make you feel more welcome in their countries
  • Get vaccinated, and be prepared to pay for it
  • Buy and use a big camel back  for water. You can go a day on the road without food, not water
  • Check rainfall data of each country before we leave, and don’t plan to ride during the wet season!
  • Store camera valuables in a Pelican case, so that they’ll survive a fall
  • 3-4 pairs of jocks and sock should be more than enough. What are we going to do with a week’s worth of dirty laundry whilst we’re on the road?!
  • Ship tyres to Dehli for the ‘halfway’ service. We won’t be able to buy them off the street

We can’t thank David enough for the time that he gave us – what a legend! Now it’s time to get to work…

 

A taste of things to come – a day on the road in Portugal

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A good friend’s wedding invitation arrived and the event was to be held in Porto, Portugal. And if that’s not a good excuse to jump on a plane to Europe in the middle of Melbourne’s winter, then I don’t know what is. So what do you do when you’ve got four mates who all love riding, together in a foreign country to celebrate love and romance? You rent a bunch of bikes and hit up the incredible ‘Route de Romantico’ of course.

 

The Luis Bridge, spanning the Douro River in Porto

Turns out it isn’t so straightforward to rent a bike in Porto, let alone four. Google spits out a promising list of potential results, but digging a little deeper proved that very few of the rental companies were actually based in Porto. It took me nearly a week to organise four bikes and I had to get them from two different companies. Being 1150GS owners of course Drew and I were keen to jump on a pair of water cooled 1200GSs to see what all the fuss was about. These we acquired from Hertz car rental of all places, who were nothing short of useless. Being a car rental company, there wasn’t a single piece of riding gear available other than the helmets the bikes had been delivered with. Less than ideal.

By contrast, we picked up two 700GSs for Tom and Al (neither of whom own bikes back home) from Northroads, a specialist bike rental company who were fantastic. We were met by Thiago, a bike enthusiast who’s only goal for the morning was to put smiles on our riding dials. He sorted us out with all the riding gear that Hertz was never fit to, as well as giving us plenty of great suggestions for the day’s route. He assured us that there’d be plenty of twisties to enjoy, and with that we were satisfied and set off to find out just how romantic the routes were.

 

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Engine or not, two wheels look good on the streets of Porto

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Dirt bikes are a common site in Porto, we suspected to smooth out all the cobbled streets

Just 10kms from the heart of Porto we met the Douro River, which we followed up the spectacular Douro Valley for almost 200kms. Old Mate Thiago had sent us straight to the ‘Route de Romantico’ and I suspect the chap who named the road must have assessed its qualities on a bike, as it was an absolute ball tearer! My oh my how sensational the twisties were. The longest stretch of road without a corner would not have been more than 500 metres for the entire journey. Picture perfect vineyards lined the steep river banks on either side making for breathtaking vistas after every corner, of which incidentally there were far too many to count.

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Stunning vineyard-vistas as far as the eye can see along the Douro Valley. What this photo doesn’t show is somebody thrashing the life out of a 700GS whilst trying to get it to stand on one wheel

It’s from these vineyards that grapes are picked and then shipped down the river to Porto where they make Port, of all things. Yep, it’s no coincidence that the name of the town sounds like the wine – the wine was infact born here. And the heritage of the area certainly shows as you’re riding along it; old brick farmhouses complete with stone fences dot the hillside as you tip your motorcycle from side to side. We were careful not to ride at Isle Of Man speeds, as there were occasional tractors and farm animals that would pull out onto the road to keep us on our toes. It really did feel like we’d stepped back in time a couple of decades.

We were stopped at a particularly picturesque bend enjoying the sentiments of the ‘60s when Drew busied himself trying to get one of the 700s onto one wheel. He zipped up and down an inclined driveway for a good 10 minutes and was visibly disappointed that he couldn’t get it to stay on one wheel. We suspected it might’ve been a case of the tradesman blaming his tools.

This was my first proper introduction to the new water cooled 1200 having only done a 30 minute test ride in the pouring rain two years earlier. The power output bears very little semblance to the 1150s Drew and I are so familiar with; damn these machines are fast. And all that extra power is matched by refinements to the other aspects of rider input – I was amazed at how light and responsive the throttle was, and the gear lever needed far less of a kick than we were accustomed to – of course, everyone has something to say about the boxer’s boxes, but being so familiar with the quirky Bavarian box, I had no issues.

I was however initially put off by the feel of the suspension; it was much softer than I was used to. This was fixed when Drew called to me whilst we were stopped for roadworks:

“Have you tried the different electronic riding modes?”

“What?”, I replied as if I was being spoken to in Portuguese

“You can change the riding mode using the switch on the handlebar.”

“Oh”, I replied like an idiot.

Of course you can change the riding mode. But my 12-year-old-bike-owner’s brain didn’t even consider this as part of the experience. Whilst waiting for the temporary traffic light to turn green I quickly changed from Road to Enduro, and instantly felt the back end of the bike lift between my legs.

And when the lights did turn green I shot off feeling like I was on an 1150 on steroids; this was what I was used to – firm suspension, and much more even throttle output throughout the rev range. The smile widened.

Honestly, the riding was that good I would’ve been happy if we had to call it a day there and then. We’d put about 100kms behind us in around two hours which just goes to show how twistie the roads were. We’d been riding as close to flat out as our testicles would allow us and we were getting hungry. We arrived in Peso De Regua thankful we’d spent the morning’s precious kms on the quieter side of the river, because the town’s traffic was painful and we pulled up at the first cafe that looked promising.

At lunch in Regua

After a quick bite and animated conversation about just how incredible it was to find ourselves in such a situation we were back on the road gagging for more and heading for the historic town of Pinhao. Disappointingly, the road from Peso De Regua to Pinhao was mind-numbingly straight compared with our morning’s efforts; but at least the views were just as stunning.

It was on one of these comparatively straighter roads that we lost Tom. We stopped under some shade on the river’s edge and after a solid 15 minutes Tom arrived terribly apologetic. He explained he’d been stopped by a police motorcade whilst a Portuguese boy band were shooting a film clip. If it was good enough scenery for a film clip, then it was sure good enough for us!

Pinhao

Pinhao is a popular tourist town; it’s had very little infrastructure development, the roads are all cobbled and the houses look like they’ve been plucked straight from a period film. All this within a day trip’s distance from Porto mean people flock there in droves but thankfully for us most of them come up the river. Alas we weren’t there to look at houses, and certainly not to ride up and down cobblestone streets, so we topped up the bikes with a few drops of fuel and turned around to do it all again. It did occur to me that we could push on to the Spanish border before turning around, but that would mean riding home in the dark, and the rest of the lads decided that wasn’t really ideal. Probably fair enough.

 

Not sure if Tom is smiling about the bike, the roads or the ‘service’ being put back into the service station

Back in Porto several hours later it was time to return the bikes to their rental homes. Whilst stopped at traffic lights Drew was again fiddling with the electronics. And when the lights turned green he shot off on one wheel. It was whilst on one wheel that he rode straight past a Police car. We hastily turned a corner or two to get out of sight in the hope that we’d not been noticed. With a huge smile he revealed that he was sure the reason he’d not been able to get the 700 onto it’s hind leg was because the traction control was left on, as this is what he’d been fiddling with at the lights. Perhaps he was a better tradesman than we’d suspected. And it was certainly a capable tool.

I can honestly say that a day’s riding along the Douro River has to be on par with some of the best sealed-road riding I’ve ever done. Hands down better than Victoria’s Great Ocean Road, and given the eye-popping scenery you’d be hard pressed to swap it for a day in the Snowy’s. So if you too get invited for a wedding Porto, you’d be a fool to not to let the inner romantic in you out on two wheels for the day!

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