Touring Agony

Thor Sørarse, the Norwegian Biking Agony Uncle, solves the problems you never knew you had

Fouled pants? I think not…

Dear Thor –
I’m going on my first continental trip next week, and am concerned about my leathers and helmet – they cost a lot and I like to keep them clean. I understand the foreign insects are bigger and messier than our UK ones, and was wondering if you had any tips to help me avoid them?

Fashion Victim, Farnborough

Dear Fashion Victim -
The best solution is to cover all forward facing surfaces with duct tape. Just be sure to carry a supply of meths to shift the messy bits of glue that always remain when you peel off the tape at your destination. It’s especially important to remove any glue remaining on your visor.

It’s all in the timing!

Dear Thor -
My new BMW R1100 RT ran like a dog as soon as I adjusted the clock to French time, and I had a terrible tour. When I adjusted it back on the ferry home, it ran fine. Any ideas as to what could have caused this?

Puzzled, Pimlico

Dear Puzzled -
This is a common problem with the earlier versions of the BMW engine management system. What’s happened is that the sensors detected the clock going forward and advanced the valve and ignition timing by the same amount. Provided it’s an official import, BMW will fix it under warranty. If it’s a grey or parallel you’re on your own, and unfortunately you have to get it fixed in the right time zone – so if it is a grey or parallel this means in the country it was originally meant for.

Shed pounds!

Dear Thor –
I love camping, but my wife will only tour with me if she has all the home comforts – and this includes the portable shower, teas-made, comfortable bed etc. Obviously, carrying all this is impossible, so I’ve invested in a trailer. But I’m worried that my NVT 500 won’t be able to pull it when it’s fully loaded – any suggestions?

Creature Comforts, Croydon

Dear Creature –
Have you bought your tow hook yet? If not, spend a little more and save weight by getting a carbon fibre one.

Remember the opposite

Dear Thor –
I’ve been abroad a few times now, but I nearly always have a close shave forgetting which side of the road I should be on. Any tips to help me remember?

Forgetful, Fleet.

Dear Forgetful –
This problem is commoner than you think. For safety, as soon as I get on the ferry I swap my brake and gear pedals, and reverse the handle bars. I find this serves as a constant reminder to drive on the right hand side, with the added bonus of confusing thieves. You may also want to consider putting the side stand on the opposite side.

 Booze cruise

Dear Thor –
The luggage carrying capability of my Pan European is impressive, but I still can’t carry my full allocation of duty free wine. Do you have any suggestions as to how I could significantly improve its booze cruise potential?

Alcho, Aldershot

Dear Alcho –
You need to talk to Honda UK about re-chipping your engine management system to run on wine. Providing you can tell them the vintage and vineyard they should be able to provide a suitable chip. The only real disadvantages are that after three or four hours the handling will start to go off quite badly and the bike may be reluctant to start before noon the next day.

Refresh that wrist action!

Dear Thor –
I toured last year on a FireBlade, but after 150 miles my wrists began to hurt quite badly. I want to tour again this year, but am worried that the problem will recur – any ideas?

Fast Pants, Farnham

Dear Fast Pants –
It is possible to tour successfully on a sports bike, provided you prepare properly. The key thing is to ensure full visibility past the head stock – sometimes you can drill it out, sometimes you need to use carefully positioned mirrors and fibre optics. Get this set up correctly and you will be able to relax your wrists at will by hoisting the bike onto its back wheel, without sacrificing forward observation. To avoid possible legal problems, though, make sure you have an additional GB sticker on your back seat or the top of your helmet.

Speedway touring

Dear Thor –
I am from Germany and fond of both touring and speedway. I have been invited to compete at Reading Speedway, and am looking forward to riding over to UK. Obviously my speedway bike is unsuitable for the journey from my home town, but I am concerned that perhaps my Gold Wing will not be competitive on the track. I was wondering if you had any views on this?

Wolfgang, Wurzburg

Dear Wolfgang –
In the right hands a fully laden six cylinder Gold Wing is more than a match for the average speedway bike. However, to compete you must first remove the front brake, and you may find it more convenient to do so before you leave Germany. You must also lock-wire the cigar lighter (so remember to carry matches) and track etiquette in the UK deems it polite not to turn the sound system to full volume until after the first corner.

Tumbling tourer

Dear Thor –
I’m planning to take my sports tourer to Spain this autumn, and am worried in case we have a rough crossing – that Bay of Biscay can be a bit mean, and I’m not happy with the way they tie bikes down on the ferry. How do you ensure your bike doesn’t fall over on a rough crossing?

Topple, Totness

Dear Topple -
I too was not happy with the way my bike was tied down on my first trip, but I soon worked out the answer, and it left the sailors speechless! The secret is to lay the bike on its side before tying it down – this is much more stable than leaving it on two wheels and a stand, and gives you the added ‘cred’ of scraping the bar-end weights as well as the footpegs. Just remember to lay it on the other side on the trip back, or people will get suspicious that you spent the whole tour going around the same roundabout.

Old age beats road rage!

Dear Thor –
Over recent months it seems to me that other road users have become more aggressive – hardly a day goes by without someone cutting me up, or shaking their fist at me. Have you noticed this? If so, how do you deal with it?

Terrified, Ternhill

Dear Terrified –
Don’t worry! I’ve been riding all over the world for more than twenty years now, and in all that time hardly an hour has passed without someone flashing their lights, blowing their horn or mouthing obscenities at me. Invariably I find the best solution is to look up from the map for a moment and give them a cheery smile and wave.

400 sore?

Dear Thor –
I’ve recently bought an old Honda 400/4 and would love to tour on it. Unfortunately I can’t see any way to mount my hard pannier brackets on it. Any tips?

Staid, Staines

Dear Staid –
I used to have one of these fine machines, and fixed my pannier brackets to the top and bottom rear suspension lugs. You’ll have to use slightly longer mounting bolts and you may find the ride a little harsher – I sorted this by lowering the rear tyre pressure to 18psi and adding more padding to the seat.

Right ideas…

Dear Thor –
I’m having problems driving on the right when I’m abroad – your previous advice about swapping the controls over worked really well, but now I’m finding I just can’t get used to driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road – it feels uncomfortable and I can’t get into the rhythm. Any ideas as to how I could get more relaxed?

Nervous, Neston.

Dear Nervous –
The best way to come to terms with an unfamiliar situation is to take it a bit at a time. I suggest that once you leave the ferry you drive as normal for the first few miles. Concentrate on overtaking on the left, and looking left, then right (rather than right, then left) at junctions. Once you feel comfortable with these crucial techniques try driving in the right hand lane – I think that you’ll immediately find you feel much calmer and more relaxed.

Fuel famine finesse

Dear Thor –
I’m going to tour the Russian Steppes next year, but I’m worried about my tank range – I’ve fitted a larger tank to my Triumph 900 and converted it to run on low grade petrol, but it still has a range of no more than 200 miles, which I fear won’t be enough. Any ideas on how I could improve it?

Frugal, Frome

Dear Frugal -
The simplest thing to do is to fit a 19 inch wheel on the back and a 16 inch on the front. The bike will then tend to be going downhill more of the time, so fuel consumption should improve dramatically. Just remember that your brake pads will wear more quickly and never forget to leave the bike in gear when you park on the side stand.

Boring touring?

Dear Thor –
Since taking your advice about cornering I now find that I’m going much faster – faster, in fact, than all my mates. And it’s really boring when I’m not leading the group – any hints?

Dismal, Daventry

Dear Dismal –
This is a tricky one, and space doesn’t permit me to give a full answer here. However, I’ve sent you my book ‘Long Slow Tours: Alleviate the Boredom with Elks and Ice Bears’, which you should find helpful. Use the clothes pegs (supplied) to stop the pages turning in the wind and for safety reasons never try to use the index when cornering.

Fast at last?

Dear Thor –
I’ve noticed that when abroad I always seem to cover the ground far more quickly than when I’m in the UK – but I don’t drive any faster. Any ideas as to why this should be the case?

Speedy, Spencers Wood

Dear Speedy –
This is a common phenomenon – in my case I found that I always seemed to take longer to get anywhere when I toured in the UK. The reason, though, is simple – on the continent everything is closer together. This is because they measure distance in kilometres, which are quite a bit shorter than miles.

Side stand – simple!

Dear Thor –
I’m new to biking, and keep forgetting the side stand. This is becoming very embarrassing – can you help?

Tumble, Tummel Bridge

Dear Tumble –
Yes, I used to do this a lot. Eventually I just welded the stand into the down position – but should you try this do remember to take extra care on left handers.

Measure for leisure

Dear Thor –
When I went to France this year I put three gallons of unleaded into my Suzuki about ten miles from Portsmouth, and drove the rest of the way to the ferry without any problems. However, when we docked at Cherbourg the bike simply wouldn’t run at all – I tried everything, then in desperation drained the tank, refilled it with fresh ‘sans plombe’ – and it fired up immediately! Any idea what caused the problem?

Bemused, Bembridge

Dear Bemused -
You made a classic blunder when you filled up outside Portsmouth – the rest of Europe uses a different measurement system to the UK, so if you’re going to be touring abroad it’s vital to fill your tank with litres of petrol, not gallons.

Six pack touring

Dear Thor –
Me and five mates are going to tour Europe next spring, but we saw an article that said on average one in six bikers on tours lose their keys. As there are six of us going we are obviously a bit concerned. We thought about each taking a spare key – but surely that will simply double the chance of losing them? How do you deal with this problem?

Mathematical, Mattingley

Dear Mathematical –

You’re absolutely right – everyone taking a spare key merely increases the chance of the problem occurring in the first place. The best compromise is for only one of you to take a spare key – keep together and you all have a spare without dramatically increasing the odds of a key being lost, especially if whoever takes the spare locks it away safely under their seat.

Fast Friends

Dear Thor –
I love touring with my mates, but after the first corner they vanish into the distance and it can be hours before we meet up again. What am I doing wrong?

Dismal, Daventry

Dear Dismal –
As I told you in France, Spain, Italy and Switzerland, cornering speed is important. You are neglecting the ‘cornering’ part of this advice, and are therefore crashing.

Silence is silver

Dear Thor –
I often find I forget to insert my ear plugs and by the time I realise it’s too late to stop and put them in – do you have this problem and if so, what do you do about it?

Deaf, Deal

Dear Deaf –
I never have this problem because in Norway we use active ear plugs, stored in the horns of our helmets. As the speed increases the wind noise gets louder and they automatically move to the quietest place, which is in your ears. If you want to try them you’ll have to order the appropriate helmet from Norway – just be sure to specify active ear plugs (known there as ‘ear slugs’). Remember too that to keep them in peak condition you should store your helmet in a vegetable patch and avoid washing your hair for at least two months before riding.