At the end of July in 2017 I set off for something I had dreamed of doing as a kid, a tour of a few countries in Europe by motorcycle. I first planned on visiting a friend and his wife who live in Zeddam, Netherlands which is a stones throw from the German border, then riding down through Germany and the black forest, cutting into Luxemburg and up into Belgium then to Calais in France. So I booked my ferries leaving from Harwich in the UK and returning from Calais. For some reason it just didn’t get me excited, I had two weeks booked off work and thought if I’m going to do it I’m going to do it properly and aim for where I really want to go, the Swiss Alps!
So after a bit of planning and many hours looking at Google maps for the twistiest roads I could find, I settled with a route following my plan from the port of Harwich in England to the Netherlands and down through Germany to the Black Forest but instead of then heading back to Calais I would keep heading down into Switzerland, then west right across to France and then back up to Calais. This was by far the most adventurous thing I had planned to do ever, let alone on a motorcycle and the thought of those mountain roads definitely got me excited.
I started planning using a website called Motogoloco.com and a mixture of google and google maps. My process was, that I would know the rough distance and area I would travel in one day and google search campsites in that area and then put that destination into motogoloco. You can then drag your route to adjust what roads you actually want to take rather than the default fastest route, you may have to play around and add random destinations that are on the route you want to keep the route line where you want it.
You can also get lots of very interesting statistics from your journey such as elevation, distance, total ascent/descent etc.
After your route is planned you can either save and download your route in formats compatible with all the major satnav brands or like myself, as I use google maps, save the image of your route and download the text directions. Then while on the trip each morning I would check my route and put the destinations into google maps, you may have to add the odd random destination to stop the default fastest route or check the avoid motorway option.
I now had a basic route that I could tweak so I needed to move my attention to the gear I would take. The VFR at this point, about 4 weeks before I was due to leave, was in bits in the garage as I was giving it a full service I had done everything but replace the exhaust gaskets, upon removing the exhaust as always the last exhaust stud snapped. I was now stuck with a bike with no exhaust and no tools to remove the stud.
I took it to a car garage within pushing distance as the owners of the bike garage were at the Isle of Man TT, they said it would be no problem and they would drill it out and re-tap the hole and fit the new stud which would be perfect. Although I should have known better as my luck is never that good, about 4 days went by and I hadn’t heard anything so I walked down to the garage to enquire about the state of my bike. I was greeted by an apprentice who sheepishly said the owner had gone away on holiday for a week but was looking at it before he left. The problem was that while he was tapping the hole he had drilled he had snapped the tap in the engine block and couldn’t remove it! I was then told I could take my bike free of charge, which was nice of them, so I pushed it home more than a little annoyed and slightly worried about time. I now had about 3 weeks and no bike!
So this was when I threw my toys out the pram and went out and got the Triumph Sprint which you can read about in my current ride. Luckily the triumph came with a pair of panniers which would make things much easier!
So I had a new bike with only two weeks to get used to it before touring Europe, I quickly started writing lists and getting my gear together before setting off on my adventure.
To put it bluntly, I packed far to much stuff, even after reading multiple “motorcycle touring tips” websites I still took far to much. Most of which just made things more difficult when unpacking and repacking my pannier bags. I started writing my lists of things that I thought I needed to take, logically starting with the essentials, tent, gas stove, sleeping bag, etc. I then started working my way to less essential items which were mainly camera equipment.
- Tent – when I started going on camping trips with my bike I got the smallest tent I could find, this was a big mistake. For the long tour around Europe I went for a slightly bigger 4 man dome tent to accommodate me and all my gear, yes it was a bigger footprint on the bike but paid off in comfort in the end. I went for the Gelert Rocky 4
- Sleeping bag – a nice warm, at least 3 season bag that packs down reasonably small would be preferable.
- roll mat – I went for a self-inflating sleeping mat as they pack down very small but are still quite comfortable.
- camping stove
- Good quality ratchet straps – I went for a well-reviewed pair on Amazon that I would also highly recommend.
All the above as it was the gear I would be getting out straight away when I got to a destination went in a roll-top dry bag that was strapped down across my pillion seat above my panniers.
- Tank bag – a tank bag might be personal preference but I found it great to keep my phone in with google maps on so I could see the route, as I wasn’t putting more than my phone, wallet etc. in I went for a nice small givi bag.
- Puck – a kickstand puck when camping is definitely vital to stop your bike sinking into grass and falling over, and yes I am speaking from experience! motorcycle puck
- Torch – A good pocket torch is good for a late night toilet trip, also a light that can hang from the centre of your tent is a good plan to.
- Battery pack – Useful for charging phone satnav etc. tried and tested battery pack
- Passport – for obvious reasons if travelling abroad.
- V5 – Supposedly needed for when travelling abroad along with the next couple of items on the list.
- Insurance certificate
- GB sticker for the rear of the bike
- Spare bulb set – mainly for France
- Hi Viz – also for France
- Cash – A mixture of some notes and some coin (for tolls)
- Multitool – from sudden emergencies to cutting up your cheese
After the above list, I would say pack a good amount of socks, dry socks will be a lifesaver at some point I’m sure. A spare pair of gloves for the same reason as the socks and clothes are entirely up to you. I would probably say anything else is something you’re not going to use and is just a waste of space and extra weight, this is speaking from experience as well.
The two weeks went very quickly and before I knew it, it was time to go. I packed far to much stuff into my panniers, some of which I never even got out. I loaded up the sprint as best I knew how, which turned out was not that well at all. Although you do learn very quickly when living out of bags on a bike how best to pack for ease of access.
So I was ready to set off on my first leg of my adventure which was from Halifax, West Yorkshire to Harwich international port in Essex, a 4 and a half hour drive down the A1……
To be continued…..