The best of both worlds

This week was very unusual in that I was able to both go skiing and get a ride in on the motorcycle. What could be better?

My wife, daughter and I went skiing for a week in southern Austria as a Christmas present to each other. Although the part of the country north of the Alps was literally buried in up to three meters of new snow, cutting off entire areas, the town we visited in Kärnten/Carinthia is on the southern slopes of those high mountains, and had more wind than anything else. The ski areas were able to make enough of the white stuff to provide good skiing, however, and we enjoyed a few days carving our way down uncrowded slopes. At times, the sun even managed to pierce the heavy cloud cover, and Austrian hospitality and good Apfelstrudel made for a great time.

The higher elevations (here at the Ankogelbahn, at just under 3000 meters) did have a lot of snow however, and there was a very real danger of avalanches. Although the operators warned everyone to stay on the prepared slopes, the temptation to head down through the deep snow that covered the off-limits areas was just too great for some people.

Whoever put this sticker on a mailbox in the train station in Bad Gastein certainly had a sense of humor! Sometimes you really do have to be careful what you wish for.

Meanwhile, back in Berlin, the weather has continued to be mild, and there’s no snow in sight. There has been talk of another “Beast of the East” rolling in, but so far this has not materialized. Not wanting to let an opportunity to ride go to waste, I hopped on the Himalayan this morning and headed into the city to work, all the while dreaming of longer journeys to come in the spring. I’ve only ridden a few hundred miles on this bike, but already feel very much at home on her.

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Riding where the monsters dwell

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The last couple of weeks have been grey and dreary, but warm for this time of year, and I’ve been out riding quite a bit. These have mainly been short trips to get used to the new bike. I have never managed to ride on the 30th of December before, so this year was a real exception, and there was even a bit of sunshine as I rode past the Ungeheuerwiese (Monster’s Meadow), a low-lying, wide-open moor south of Berlin. It’s a peaceful place and great for long hikes and lazy picnics, and I’ve never actually seen any monsters, although they must be out here somewhere.

The small, picture-perfect village of Blankensee is just to the east, directly on a big, shallow lake, and a narrow road runs right between it and the moor. The area is is one of my favorite spots to get some fresh air, and is easily accessible. I often head down here when I just want to ride for a couple of hours in order to blast all the befuddled thoughts from my mind. The roads circling around it have become my Hausstrecke, i.e. the home circuit, and even on overcast days the light can be dramatic. There are few exciting curves but the pavement is great, the traffic sparse, the lakes plentiful and open fields stretch out on all sides. It’s a place that makes me want to slow down and observe what’s going on around me, and I often forget how dense (225 people/km2 vs. 33 people/km2 in the US) this relatively small country is.

Being such a low-lying wetland area, it’s protected from over-zealous development and serves the local farmers as pasture land. The wide-open fields are wonderful and it feels a million miles from the city, even though its quite near. The fact that it is just outside the Speckgurtel (affluent commuter belt) has no doubt saved it.

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One narrow road crosses the moor, and there are often more bicycles and tractors on it than cars.

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I’ve added a sheepskin to the Enfield’s seat just to test it out. I’ve never liked how these things look, but I have heard so many good things about them from other bikers, and they are a lot cheaper than other solutions, so I thought I’d give it a go. I strapped one bungie across the rear seat and my weight did the rest, and I have to say, it was pretty cozy. The original seats on the Himalayan are one of its weak points, and most owners either get them reupholstered or use some sort of cover in order to make them firmer. I can’t imagine using this wooly thing on short trips, but for long tours it might just be the way to go. My riding buddies say they have “serious misgivings” about the direction I’m moving in at the moment. I’d probably feel the same if they sent me similar photos.

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I picked up a couple of Glücksschweinchen (good-luck piggies) from the baker in the village. They’re only made for New Years celebrations, and are given as presents to family or friends. Filled with cherries, they are a nice little treat, even if the dough outweighs the filling. One of the pigs suffered during the ride home and now appears to be somewhat cross-eyed. I hope this doesn’t reduce the amount of good luck it’ll bestow on us!

Taking advantage of the warm(-ish) weather.

IMG_20181226_162047791I have been taking a few short jaunts around town and out into the surrounding countryside the past few days, as the weather has been remarkably mild for the end of December. It’s just impossible to leave a nearly new motorcycle in the garage when an opportunity to go riding presents itself. I really didn’t expect to put many kilometers on the Enfield until spring rolls around, but the last few days have been just above freezing and although the clouds are ever-present, the roads damp and the days short (the photo above was taken at approx. 3:30 pm!), it’s been fun getting to know the bike a bit better. I can certainly confirm what many articles have said about the shifting being very smooth, the ride stable and the engine vibration-free. I also find the brakes better than expected, along with the lights and the acceleration. She moves right along up to 100 kmh, easily keeping up with local traffic, and I’ve even done a smidgeon of Autobahn blasting, where I reached 120+ kmh without any problems. This is certainly fast enough for me, and it makes me wonder why so many people feel the bike is not suited to European roadways. Being used to riding older machines, this one, despite its simplicity, feels pretty modern and peppy to me. And I’m even starting to like the color!

P.S. I recently joined the Royal Enfield Himalayan Owners UK Facebook group, which is really active and informative, and has over 300 members. Today one of them mentioned a blog created by a young Dutch woman travelling solo from India to Malaysia on a Himalayan. It’s really interesting to watch some of the videos she’s made, and nice to see her cruising along the crazy but beautiful Indian roads on the same bike I just bought. Check out her website if you get a chance: https://www.itchyboots.com/

Season’s Greetings!

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Here’s wishing everyone a (belated) Merry Christmas and a great start in 2019. May we all have a healthy, happy and successful journey through the year to come. This past year certainly has flown by, and it’s nice to have some down time to spend with family and friends, to sleep in a bit and eat some lovely food.

The old Schwalbe certainly didn’t do much in the way of travelling in 2018, but you never know what the future will bring! And she always looks great in the garage, and puts a smile on my face when I open the doors. It’s not exactly a man cave in there, but perhaps it’s the next best thing. My wife still laughs about the fact that when we bought our house I was more excited about having a garage and a basement than just about anything else. It was so nice to have a place to keep our various two-wheeled vehicles and to be able to work on them in a dry and fairly well-lit environment. After living in downtown Berlin for years, it felt like paradise. I had to (carefully) rip out the asbestos ceiling and put on a new roof, and I still dream of having a “proper” garage, but you can’t have everything can you?

The First Ride

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I was finally able to take a spin on the new Himalayan this week. It took a few days to get registration and I needed to shake off a nasty cold first. Temperatures were just above the freezing point, and the streets were wet, so it was a fairly slow-paced jaunt. Nonetheless, the ride was entirely enjoyable! The bike is so easy to ride and sufficient torque is always available. It really took no time at all to feel comfortable on the Enfield, and I look forward to discovering the world (or at least parts of Europe!) on it, and, when the weather improves, to commuting into the city.

Taking the Plunge

Well, I finally went ahead and sold my ’91 R100GS this week. As lovely a bike as it is, for some reason I couldn’t warm up to it completely. If I could have a stable of bikes, I  would certainly have held on to it, but the idea is to keep things as simple as possible, and one bike is really enough right now. I don’t spend as much time as I used to working on the bikes that I have, and the Beemer was, if I’m being entirely honest, too big and powerful for me as well. It’s not that I had any problems with it, and it provided me with almost 8,000 km of trouble-free riding the 12 months I had it. But I realized I’m doing a lot of commuting on my bike, and the big, long trips that I love taking are very few and far-between right now. It just wasn’t the bike I wanted for my daily rider right now, and to some degree, I figure part of life as a motorcyclist is a search for the perfect bike, right?  The bumblebee just wasn’t that machine. Maybe I’ll regret selling it, but right now I’m feeling good about the decision. I will miss the sight of that big, shiny, 24-liter fuel tank though, and I’m also pretty certain it won’t be my last BMW.

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I also bought a bike this week: a white, 411cc, Royal Enfield Himalayan. I would have preferred a black one, but this one is a dealer bike with around 3,000 kms on it, and the price was too good to resist. Somehow the black underscore’s the bike’s mixture of old and new, but I think I can get used to white with time. And since the only white parts are the tank and mudguards, it wouldn’t be that difficult to change the color completely. It certainly doesn’t have the impressive appearance of the GS, but that’s part of its tractor-like, getting-down-to-business appeal. One journalist wrote that “the bare-bones philosophy adopted here, in fact, does more good than harm for the Himalayan’s non-cosmetic appeal”.

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I’ve been interested in Enfields in general for a long time, and hankering after a Himalayan since it was introduced in India two years ago. I don’t know how many times I stopped by the local dealer (there are two in and around Berlin) to ask when he was going to have one, only to be told delivery was delayed. I love the simplicity and robustness of the design. There’s nothing unnecessary on it, no different riding modes, no ride-by-wire, etc. It is fuel-injected and has ABS, but that’s about it for modern gadgets. The mileage is supposed to be tremendous, and service is a piece of cake as well. And it comes with lots of items that are often expensive add-ons these days, i.e. a main stand, fork gaiters, a bash plate, stainless steel exhaust and racks on either side of the tank that can be used for excess luggage if need be. From all accounts it’s a reliable runner and, although not fast, more than able to keep up with traffic around town and useful for the occasional stint on the Autobahn. Various You-Tubers (especially Nathan Millward, aka the Postman) extoll its virtues off-road, and this is one thing I’m really looking forward to trying out. I don’t have much experience with trails and “green lanes”, but it’s never too late to learn, is it?

Winter is on its way

I was still able to ride to work today, but it was pretty nippy. Just slightly above freezing, I was glad the commute was relatively short. Still, it felt great to be on the bike at this time of the year and I can’t recall being able to ride this far into November before. It’s usually colder and wetter, but this year has really been an exception (as I’ve mentioned a million times before!). But what will the winter bring? The last two years have been mild, so the general opinion is that we are in for a rough one. Time will tell.

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I had the motorcycle parking lot at school all to myself today. No shortage of room for the lone Kawasaki. I love the shape of the pavers, which are called “dog bones”.

Lots of riders here have so-called “seasonal license plates” that only go to the end of October, so there are a great deal less bikes on the road now. I’ll stick to my standard plates, as there are usually a few nice days to ride on every winter, and the money saved on insurance and tax is minimal. Things will pick up again in March, when riders start taking to the roads again. By April  bikes will be everywhere. But the real hard-cores in the winter are the scooter pilots, many of whom ride regardless of the weather. You see them out in all kinds of snow and ice, and I often wonder if they all make it home in one piece.