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Author Archives: Don

CRF 250 Rally beats the Oban logjam

With the traffic in Oban at a standstill due to road re-surfacing where all the industrial estates – super-markets and schools collide we can’t blame the motor-homers this time. In my eyes it’s the Council Planners to blame – or to be correct – the complete lack of planning.

It’s October – most of the tourists have been and gone. The few that are left are in the main heading for the islands via the ferry port in the town centre. Traffic is at a standstill this week – and next probably as there is not a lot of action taking place on the roadworks despite the number of colourful hard hats in attendance. There have been times when stationary traffic has snaked all the way from Dunbeg – a northern outpost of the town to Soroba in the south. Disruption to local schools and businesses must be immense.

Local geography means there’s no chance of a bypass anytime soon but what happened to night time working? The roads are virtually clear from 19.00hrs through to 07.00hrs the next day.

No worries – particularly when you have a slim-line Honda CRF 250 at your disposal – perhaps we should all have one —

She slips quietly through the stationary traffic as if it wasn’t there and takes to the little-used backroads when neccessary leaving the motorists to their over-heating grid-lock —

Mind you – I did think I’d blown it when I discovered two sections of my backroad detour under water at the bottom end of Loch Nell but if the wee CRF doesn’t have enough ground clearance with her 21ins front and 18ins rear wheel then little else does. I doubt if it was much more than hub deep and no doubt the lower engine cases were needing a wash anyhow.

The 16 miles from town centre bike park to ferry usually takes about 20-25 mins and today was no exception – despite the stationary traffic in town and added mileage on my revised route so a 15.00 hrs kick-off had me at the 3.30 ferry with ease —

Even the Skipper was impressed – but not for long —

it takes a lot more than that to impress a ‘ferry dug’ πŸ™‚

 

 
 

Pan Euro ST1100 gets new boots

The old girl sported a set of worn out Bridgestone tyres when she came into my hands a few years back.

With about 21000 miles of light use on the clock at around twenty years old they may well have been her original tyres – they certainly looked and felt as if they might be.

I’ve managed to put another 12000 miles on her since then without really going anywhere in particular – like a tour down to the Balkans or Spain and Portugal like I’ve done in former times.

She is a heavy ol’ girl tipping the scales at around 340kgs and certainly feels it on worn tyres. Having a surplus of bikes at the moment she is in the forefront when I make my half-hearted attempts to sell one to help balance the books. So far I have been offered buttons for the ST1100. During my period of ownership she has had a new purpose-built Nitron rear shock shoved up her chuff – a new battery and two sets of Bridgestone tyres. In fact – make that three sets for last week she got a another set of Bridgestone BT03’s.

I bought the Pan in the first place for her comfy seat as after a series of op’s on the bit I sit on I needed some comfort in that department and despite it’s after-market gel pad and neat leather seat cover I still didn’t find the perch on my other bike – the Tenere easy to live with over a distance.

Saturday saw me heading for the supplying dealer on the 650 V-strom for her first service. She has proved to be a lovely bike in all departments but one – with a peach of a v-twin motor giving honest performance even at running-in revs.

If she has a fault it’s in the seat – it’s too low for 32-33ins inside legs and lacks support. The penchant these days is for low seat heights as the under-nourished – vertically challenged brigade have convinced the manufacturers they are losing sales by not catering for the short-arses amongst us.

My early morning rise on Saturday saw me catch the first ferry from the island at 7.30 and with a brief stop in Oban to garner funds at the hole-in-the-wall – a further stop in Callender for fuel plus a hot choc and to bring the circulation back into my lower limbs – I wasΒ  in Edinburgh booking the V-strom in for her first service by 10.30.

My legs may have recovered in the hour I spent at Saltire booking her in and enjoying a crackin bacon roll with added black pudding washed down with plenty of coffee but 615 miles in a week on the V-strom saddle had taken their toll. To think I have been known to do that mileage day after day on my trans-European rides not-so-long ago puts things into perspective.

No worries – I left the Strom for her service and the fitting of some free extras that had formed part of the original deal then rode home on the big Honda – resplendant on her new ‘boots’.Β The Pan European ST1100 may be built like a bus but she does have the saving grace of that comfy seat πŸ™‚

 

 

Dancing with the V-strom by Loch Leven

Let’s make it clear from the start – this is Loch Leven on the way to Fort William we are dancing round – not the Loch Leven in the county of Fife. As the saying goes ‘it tak’s a lang spean to sup soup wi’ a Fifer’ – substitute the Devil for a Fifer and you will know where I’m coming from.

Anyway – onwards and upwards before I get lynched – Helen with the wee-strom by Loch Leven on Friday —

and – yes – that is almost dry tarmac – a rarity this year.

Loch Leven – a sea loch reaching seven or eight miles inland to Kinlochleven – now famous for it’s National Indoor Ice Climbing Centre but also famous in motorcycling circles as a gateway to the Pipeline trials section and the infamous Blackwater Moor crossing plus many more apparently forbidden things. Signs on locked high wire gates threatening all sorts of violence to ‘criminals’ who have the nerve to take their vehicles onto the moors stopped us in our tracks at the back of the village.

 

No worries – the sixteen or so miles of well tarred and little used highway following a tortuous circuit around the loch are a joy to ride as it follows the shoreline with many undulations and blind crests. Close the roads to the public and we have the perfect motorcycle race circuit – if a little dangerous.

The reason the roads are so quiet is because the authorities built a road bridge over the narrows at the seaward end of the loch – but wait a mo’ cos we’re not there yet –

we have to show you a mountain or two —

peep through the roadside trees at a boat —

or three —

We have the artist in charge of the camera – so – make that four —

before walking down to the old quay in high spirits and doing the ice queen’s ‘Fly Past’ – or is it ‘The Running Woman?’

followed by the ultra difficult – ‘Woman stands on one Leg!’ —

and the grand finale – something you cannot imagine happening —

‘Woman kicks the conversion that sees Scotland win the next Rugby World Cup!’

Yeahh!!! — That’s my girl!!! πŸ™‚

 
 

Rannoch Moor with the Wee-strom

Eight days down the line and our 650 V-strom is nearing her first service call by Suzuki at 600 miles. It’s strange that motorcycles still follow this archaic procedure when car manufacturers have dispensed with the ‘first service’ altogether and settle for regular well spaced service intervals instead.

Not to worry – the wee bike has behaved with impeccable manners since we picked her up in Edinburgh and I doubt if she will get any more than an oil and filter change when she makes the long run back there to keep her service history on course and warranty in order.

It wasn’t all rain in the past week and I did manage a mainly dry run up the coast road from Oban to Ballachulish and through the Pass of Glen Coe leading to Rannoch Moor followed by a coffee at the biker’s haunt of the Green Welly before the last fifty miles or so to Oban and home to the Isle of Luing.

I had a quick look towards Kinlochleven as I approached the village of Glen Coe and thought it might be an interesting ride to do with ‘H’ come the weekend.

But not today and pushed on towards the Pass – scene of the MacDonald’s massacre by Clan Campbell in the distant past and where I was to walk and climb many of the adjacent hills and glens once the snow lay deep and sometimes crisp and even twixt Christmas and New Year before my knees gave up on me.

Roadworks slowed progress today – but only briefly —

and with summer visitors mainly gone till next year I found room in a handy lay-by and clicked the rushing waters at the top of the Pass —

Out on the Moor itself where I have ridden trials bikes in my day – the waters weren’t exactly rushing but forming lochans with no end as even a careless step or two off the main road to take photos had me stumbling knee-deep into the unforgiving morass.

The last word from Kieran at the Saltire Suzuki shop was ‘not to exceed 6000rpm unless I needed a bit extra to complete an overtake safely. But – with 6000 in 5th hitting the national ‘A’ road speed limit at 60mph and 6th reaching all of 80mph at 6000rpmΒ  – running in isn’t proving to be much of a chore on the V-strom.

Once the first service is done and she is declared ‘good to go’ – with the redline at 10000rpm she will be a whole new ballgame.

So – why with fifty five years and more between them – does she remind me of the race-tuned BSA 650cc Gold Flash I ran as a daft teenager such a long time ago πŸ™‚

 

 
 

Suzuki 650XT V-strom rolls in

First ferry Friday morning and the Pan and I were Edinburgh bound. Having listened to enough of my moans and groans after riding the 850 lbs Pan European rising to over half a tonne two-up over our greasy west coast roads – Helen took the bull by the horns and bought us something more suited to our current situation.

Here she is on the Ben Cruachan pave – resplendant after her first 100 miles – our new Suzuki 650XT V-strom —

The trip south had been uneventful apart from a run-in with a Range Rover being driven at cycling pace who took exception to being overtaken by a motorcycle and did his best to deliberately put me over a roadside hedge. Thankfully the big V4 in the Pan had enough grunt to get me out of that situation unscathed – it will be interesting to find out if opening the throttle on the 650 ‘strom v-twin will be an option in similar circumstances —

Only one way to find out and that’s to ride. I left the Pan at the Suzuki dealer in Edinburgh to have a new pair of Bridgestone boots fitted and headed northwest to rendezvous with H who had been walking in the hills above Loch Awe —

The expression – ‘awe’-struck couldn’t have been more apt as she had watched two Golden Eagles circling the hillside above on her walk which was to take her behind the mighty Ben Cruachan. Their presence probably compensated for the soaking she got in a brief burst of torrential rain on that remote hillside trail —

A lively night with Crackin Craik in the Ben Cruachan Inn – formerly ‘The Tight Line’ – the scene of a sore head or two for me in days of old. A belt-tightener of a breakfast the following morning had us checking the weather apps on our mobiles for bright skies in any direction to let us enjoy our first ride on the new ‘strom two-up —

South-west was the best bet for blue skies and dry roads so we decided to head that-a-way and make it up as we rode along —

A wise choice – after dropping Helen’s car off nearer home – thirty odd miles of wet tarmac on the challenging Oban – Lochgilphead road passed beneath our wheels in as many minutes – soon we had dry roads and brilliant sunshine as we crossed the old toll bridge over the Crinan Canal on our way to Tayvallich —

It was smiles all-round – especially from our very own chuckle-bunny —

as she presented me with her first flower of the day —

having a spotted an otter or was it a beaver surfacing and two herons on a nearby island during a brief stop in the uppermost reaches of Loch Sween on the way down.

Yes – there are beavers alive and well in the Knapdale forests —

I could lose myself in that lovely smile forever but just around the corner would have us in Tayvallich and their Heritage Lottery funded corrugated iron-roofed cafe and be topping up our caffiene intake in two shakes of a lamb’s tail —

The view from the virtually deserted deck isn’t bad either —

but someone is sorely in need of that coffee —

No worries – the wee ‘strom ended the day with over 200 miles on the clock leaving us both wanting more —

I’m pretty sure that with one or two tweeks we have a bike for all seasons and most roads – even the rough farm track that leads up to our farmhouse home —

It is more suited to the red deer we had watched from our hotel-room window up on Loch Awe-side as night fell the previous evening πŸ™‚

 

 
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Posted by on October 1, 2017 in Isle of Luing, Motorcycling, Suzuki 650XT V-strom

 

CRF250 Rally finds a Shieling in the Glen

It was another of those rare ‘rogue’ nice days with some welcome sunshine as we head into October – a day to be out on the hills with the little Honda —

I’ve had it in mind to try a certain long trail to the east of here for some time and I wasn’t going to get a better day for it this side of Christmas.

The first few miles were steep and rough in places with an occasional river crossing to ford but once through a hidden pass that didn’t look entirely natural the trail improved and there were signs of a previous habitation in the wide valley I had ridden into.

So-o – with apologies to Stealers Wheel —

‘rusting roof sheets to the left of me’ —

‘crumbling stonework to my right’ —

‘here I am’ —

‘parked in the middle of you’ —

There’s little doubt that this remote glen supported at least two families not so long ago but there’s not a soul to be seen up here now – just a few flighty blackface sheep with a hint of the wild goat in them plus a half dozen or so hardy cattle.

In fact – apart from the low density sheep and cattle grazing the bare hills and an odd buzzard in the sky above the only other sign of life was a big red fox scuttling out of my was as I entered the woodland above the loch.

The well surfaced track I’m following was probably built when the area was tunnelled and dammed in a previous bout of hydro-electric frenzy —

Thankfully there’s little sign of traffic on it today and not a lot of water in the dam either despite this past summer being one of the wettest on record —

It wasn’t as easy finding my way out of the hills as it was getting into them but the wee Rally bike and I emerged from the hills and forests unscathed and enjoyed a good gallop home – on dry roads for a change. I had thought her over-geared in 6th when I first got her but now with 900 miles on the clock her 250 eager cc’s spin up quite readily and with 10mph to every 1000 revs she might even reach the mystical ‘ton’ one day – downhill with a following gale πŸ™‚

 

 
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Posted by on September 26, 2017 in Honda CRF250 Rally, Isle of Luing, Motorcycling

 

Good Bye Old Friend – Tenere Bites the Dust

I didn’t think this day would come – but – through gritted teeth –

I’ve sold the Tall Tenere —

She is still the same bike she always was – tough – dependable – would fight her way through the Frankfurt 80-100mph ‘rush hour’ with the bit between her teeth in torrential rain at the end of a 100mph/400 mile day and gallop solo or bimble two up through the endless forest roads of Dumfries & Galloway without missing a beat —

She is probably the most photographed bike I’ve ever had but no one in their right mind could declare that she doesn’t deserve to be —

Long days across Europe stretching down into the Balkans in her unforgiving saddle have caused me more pain and cost the NHS more money than I ever thought possible —

Five operations on my nether regions didn’t come cheap —

and probably account for my membership of the Ministry of Funny Walks —

Riding the bitch isn’t the problem —

but getting on —

and off —

her tall saddle —

is proving to be —

too much for my geriatric pins —

making climbing into —

and out of her tall perch —

a bit of an —

inelegant lottery —

Since buying her new in Feb 2009 —

I have had so many fun days aboard her —

and judging by the pics in my gallery —

many sunny days too —

I hope her next owner —

treats her with the same care and respect —

she has had from yours truly —

and reaps similar rewards in spades from this great bike πŸ™‚

 

 
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Posted by on September 24, 2017 in Isle of Luing, Motorcycling, yamaha tenere 660z

 

Honda CRF Rally does the Five Lochs

With first service due at 700 miles the little trailie was on an early ferry yesterday morning bound for our local Honda dealer where she got a clean bill of health in the time it took me to catch up with the News and have a cappuccina with the missus in the sun at a waterfront table out front of Kronks.

Then – after a good coffee – a good chat – with good weather and a good bike under me I headed for the hills —

First a visit to Taynuilt to check something out then I crossed the A85 to follow the beautiful valley cut by the River Nant as it runs north to disperse on it’s flood plain by the banks of Loch Etive. I could have followed that river into the hills forever as it rushed over waterfalls and rocks down to the sea. It was so beautiful but all too soon the ‘B’ road swung up and over a hilltop giving me a view of Ben Cruachan for my first shot. The small lochan almost lost in scrub – heather and reeds in the mid-distance is Loch Tromlee. It didn’t look like much from the roadside but there is an island on the loch with the remains of a castle so it must have mean’t something to someone in a former lifetime.

Next port of call at the end of a mainly well-surfaced if twisty and undulating single track was Ardanaiseig Hotel —

This quiet place at the end of the road miles from anywhere and looking like it should have been in a scene from Lord of the Rings is certainly worth a visit if only to check out the 240 acres of interesting and well kept grounds planted by a former owner on the banks of Loch Awe —

I might go back one day and check it all out properly – meanwhile – twisty roads and wider vistas beckon —

This view from the approach road to the remote Ardanaiseig hotel on Loch Awe side is the only sight I’ve had of the dam in the crater of Ben Cruachan mountaintop. I do wish my poor photo showed it as I saw it with the naked eye – maybe I should get that better camera I’ve been yearning for since I started this blog all those years ago – but – it’s a poor workman who blames his tools.

Enough of the doom and gloom on the banks of Loch Awe – this one from a hilltop brings more light to the subject —

Not the one I thought it was – let’s go for another —

That’s better – the bright skies have moved east but at least the wee Honda brightens up this click down Loch Awe.

Thanks to Lachlan and his post-service power-wash she is really sparkling in this next photo taken on the hill road to Kilmelford with a not-so-gloomy Loch Avich nestling in it’s deep bowl amongst the Argyl hills behind —

One shot and one loch left – a sea loch this time – Loch Melford —

With my home on the Isle of Luing on the horizon it’s not too far as the wild goose flies but without the aid of wings the wee Honda and I have several miles of road and a ferry crossing twixt here and there and something tells me I’m cooking dinner tonight.

With first service completed and 800 miles on the clock a quick burst on my ‘private test track’ showed 80mph on the speedo and had her tracking the straights and twisties true as a die on her Bridgestone knobblies – not bad for a five grand 250cc single that runs sweet as a sweet thing come rough or smooth – long may she reign πŸ™‚

 

 
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Posted by on September 20, 2017 in Honda CRF250 Rally, Motorcycling

 

Honda Gorm MSX125 meets the Big Boys

Had the Gorm off the island for the first time yesterday – her little wheels and 125cc motor did so well that I mixed it with the holiday traffic and builder’s vans and rode all the way into Oban Waterfront to park with the Big Boys.

Only to find that touring riders from Liverpool and Cardiff had nicked all the Bike Parking slots —

They were a friendly crew and were tickled pink when the tiny Gorm pulled in beside them – where – even parked up on the pavement as she was – they still looked down on her πŸ™‚

 
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Posted by on September 12, 2017 in out and about

 

The Land That Time Forgot

With Scotland full to bursting as tourists from every part of the world take advantage of the weak Brexit pound it has been difficult to find accommodation for our few days away.

The west coast in particular is under pressure so we dumped our plans to introduce Helen to the over-used NC500 route around the north of Scotland and headed north and east to The Land that Time Forgot in search of the wooden hut I was born in during a howling March snowstorm over seventy five years ago. My two older brothers have tried to find the hut and failed so I didn’t hold out much hope of stumbling across it either.

This thumbnail photo taken in 1942 with me in my father’s arms and my non-impressed older brothers – two years old Jim and four years old Charlie has the hut for a background.

The hut looked sort of ‘well worn’ back then so I doubt very much if it would have lasted the intervening seventy five years till now. The old man was on leave from his regiment in ’42 prior to being posted to the Mediterranean war zone and had a lot to go through before he would return to us unscathed in 1946.

Judging by our smart new clothes his demob pay would appear to have gone a long way and there’s a bit of ‘army discipline’ evident with our normally unruly hair brushed and bryllcreamed into submission Β —

The only bedroom to be found for our four nights away was the one with the four-poster where Queen Victoria and Prince Albert rested on the night of Sept 4th 1860 – exactly one hundred and fifty seven years ago. All good Queen Vic left behind was the bed – the wallpaper and a picture of herself looking very regal —

A quick ‘shufty’ outside showed that things hadn’t changed much in these parts either for I can remember pulling a two furrow trailing plough with one of these old Fordson tractors when I was sixteen years old —

Ah – the grey Fergie – going even further back I ‘drove’ a petrol/paraffin version of this as well —

Fortunately for me my new-found friend was steeped in tractor lore and was able to explain the starting procedure for the single cylinder Field Marshall similar to the one my dad drove in the early nineteen fifties. My memory has my dad whacking a cartridge with a hammer to start her but my new buddy tells me there was much more to it than that.—

First you turn the flywheel by hand to put the piston at top dead centre – then there was more fiddling – probably with a decompressor before inserting said cartridge – give it a good whack with the hammer and if god is in his heaven she will burst into life!

Who would have thought way back then that wee Danny Finnie would grow to a height that would make a big Field Marshall look small —

The simple little red Massey Ferguson 35 was to be the last tractor I drove before leaving the farms for a job in engineering —

They transformed the workplace on the farm and I couldn’t believe it when the whole manufacturing process was sold and moved en-bloc to the former Yugoslavia. Even to this day every small farm in Croatia has an as-new Massey Ferguson 35 working in the fields and I believe they are still produced – around Zagreb.

Still with the vintage theme – there were Morris Minors galore on the street —

An occasional Triumph —

matched with a very tidy MGA —

and so on —

and so forth —

My favourite was the Toyota Stout similar to the one I drove in Dubai a long time ago. I think it had only three speeds plus a high/low box – with very wide balloon tyres running at low pressures she was the best thing I ever came across to tackle the seventy miles of sand dunes and dry wadi beds through the inhospitable mountains between Dubai and Al Fujiera —

Helen had bumped into an old Sherpa friend from her time in the Himalayas – Nima Kanchha Sherpa to be precise —

I resorted to playing ‘tunes’ on the singing bowls to get her on her way or we would have been there all day – for I had found the impossible – a Helen sized car —

It was a surprise to find something modern – a UFO had arrived overnight from who knows where —

A three wheeler based on motorcycling principals – it tilts up to forty five degrees either side when cornering —

Didn’t I tell you – UFO – I understand they are all the rage in Jupiter —

Enough of motor cars n stuff – we had a train to catch and go find our missing wooden hut —

We were offered this beach hut but the paint looked too fresh to be the one we were looking for —

Our route took us over the heather and pine clad hills —

to Strathdon – I could tell we were getting close to my birthplace when even the village was named after me —

Here running is their thing and one passing athlete offered to take our photo while he jogged on the spot with me holding his gundog on the lead – it kept running too – oh how we laughed —

A snippet of ordnance survey map given to me by a friend many many years ago had survived under lock and key with my passports and was my secret weapon. My old buddy Ronnie was also from this area originally and had marked a spot on the map to within a few yards of where I was born —

A chance meeting with a former neighbour – ninety two years old Annie Bain put us in the right direction as she seen our old woodcutter’s hut burn down while standing at her back door. It was shortly after my mum – brothers and I had left the area and my dad had gone off to fight a war. Annie was seventeen at the time and said it had gone up in flames when a paraffin stove was accidentally kicked over by it’s new occupant who had come home from a village dance slightly worse for wear after too many drams.

The old farm steading next to the site of our old wooden shed was converted into a beautiful home by it’s current occupant Paul several years later —

and after tea and cake at his kitchen table Paul kindly showed us where this double garage now sits on the site of my birthplace —

Could have been worse I suppose —

Being born into an old woodcutter’s hut in a forest with grass growing up between the floorboards and a wild March snowstorm raging outside then seventy five years later sleeping in a queen’s four poster – can’t really complain now can I πŸ™‚

 
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Posted by on September 8, 2017 in Isle of Luing, out and about