Monday, July 14, 2014

Cardo Scala Rider Q3: hi-tech toy for a ride on a BUllet

To intercom or not to intercom, that is the question!
Why in the world would I want to spend all that money on being able to talk while I ride? I thought the whole purpose of riding was to be left to your own thoughts for a change, NOT chatting, texting or blogging.
Still,  I knew my riding companions Bruno and Juan always rode with their helmet-to-helmet intercom device so that they could talk to each other (and to Juan's cousin Rafa, who also has one, when the three of them go for a ride). I gave it some thought and decided to join the chat. I didn't actually buy one until I was literally on my way, the Balita Roja all packed up like a pack mule.

This is the Balita parked next to the motorcycle gear superstore Autoservicio del Motorista, on C/Bravo Murillo. 74 in Madrid.

I bought the Cardo Systems Scala Rider Q3 for 179 euros. I had been warned by friends to be sure to buy the same brand because there is no compatibility between brands yet. Which is VERY STUPID. Who would buy a phone if you could only talk to other people with that same brand of phone?
Anyway, I bought it and during our lunch break on the second day (on the first day I had to charge it overnight) Bruno put it together. My HJC FS-10 helmet it turns out does NOT have any pre-installation space for the ear speakers, so Bruno dug into the styrofoam and made space for them after lunch. The waiter was not really amused but it was an, uh, emergency.

It took us about 2 hours to get them to communicate all together. Juan and Bruno have Scala Rider G4 with two channels, mine has 3 channels. You have to put cell phones to Bluetooth, otherwise they take up one of the intercom channels and you can't connect three people. The screw on holder mount is easy enough to install, but the earphone speakers stuck too far out and hurt my ears, so Bruno, being clever, took a cutter and scraped out some space for them in the styrofoam padding.


Once we had all three interconnected, we were off. What a difference it made!
I am now a firm believer. Here are some of my reasons:

  1. SAFETY: There are lots of times when the lead biker can warn you about what's up ahead: gravel on the left or right, potholes, oncoming truck invading the lane in a curve, etc. This was particularly true on the narrow mountain roads with lots of blind curves. You can also warn those up ahead if you see something they're missing (my friend David turning left practically into a car, for instance). 
  2. NEVER GET LOST: One problem of riding in a group, even a small one, is getting split up. A roundabout, a traffic light, a truck or car blocking your view of the bike ahead. It always happens. But once we got interconnected, we never split up during the next 6 days and 2500 km. That saves a LOT of time and a LOT of frustration.
  3. FUN: on some of the boring bits or straight superhighway, it was fun to be able to talk to the buds and joke. It's not distracting at all--you don't have to pay attention to their stories or jokes if you don't want to. It's a lot more distracting to take a phone call, I imagine. I haven't done that yet and have no immediate plans to do so. But...
All in all I can say it's a good investment.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

5th Annual Royal Enfield Amigos Meet-up

A few months ago my friends Bruno and Juan, brothers-in-law from Villarreal, started talk about going up to this year's meeting in Barcelona by taking the long way. I couldn't resist. 
So I took the week off last Monday, packed my bags and rode off to Medinaceli to meet them for lunch and travel on a sweeping arc along the back roads, through the Pyrenees, to Andorra, and down to BCN by Friday. 

Medinaceli has a Roman arch just sitting there since the 1st century. 
Juan and Bruno got there quickly. 

Lunch at El Aljibe was excellent:

And dessert was sweet:

We rode on to a small village called Rello, with its medieval walls and castle and sleepy narrow streets. Gorgeous and unexpected. 



It was getting late, time to move on to Berlanga de Duero with its fantastic castle and walls. 

We made it to Calatañazor (where Almanzor lost his tambor) in the late afternoon. 

And after a snack, off we went to our casa rural lodgings in a town called El Royo (Soria). 

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Exploring the Back Roads of Spain: my BMW K75RT and Pedro's BMW R100RR. And an aperitivo. And lunch, of course.

Last Monday the streak of perfect spring weather began. Monday promised to be 24ºC (about 75ºF), sunny, no wind. Perfect in every way. Since I had finished all the translation work I had on Friday and there was nothing left pending for Monday, and seeing as how Pedro was still in town, I just had to take the day off and go for a ride.

Curiously enough, there are large areas of Spain Pedro's never ridden, despite his being from Maranchón and these places within a day's ride of Madrid. But as he pointed out on this ride, the back roads now are in superb condition, no traffic, clean wide shoulders, excellent asphalt (generally) but back when he was riding around in the mid 1970s these roads were torture. We decided that this was something tangible Spanish citizens got out of joining the EU back in 1986, and that much of the EU structural funds in the FEDER program was well spent. Summer in Portugal last August showed Javi and me that although the money got spent, not all countries produced the goods.

Another friend Paco was the first to take me down a few of the roads south of Toledo, in the wilderness  and vast emptiness of a region called la Siberia extremeña for good reason. So that seemed like a good choice for the day.

View Larger Map

In any case, the first stop was for gas. At 1.40€ a liter, Pedro says it's gone down a bit since his last visit home (last year), but I'm skeptical.

Still, my 28-year-old K75 is getting good mileage: 5.5 liters per 100 km. As far as I can tell from the ITV vehicle inspection cards, this bike has more than 280,000 km on it. That's about double what the guy who sold it to me claimed, but...

A selfie on the fly:

Next stop: exit the highway and get onto the fun roads. A stop on the Tajo River at Malpica del Tajo, on the bridge beside the Castillo de Malpica, still owned by the Marqués de Malpica and Duque de Arión. Nice cozy abode, I'd say.

My BMW K75RT: 28 years old and still kicking

A Duke's home is is castle. Quite literally sometimes.

Even the iron bridge is cute.
Another 30 minutes of driving some gorgeous roads. Pedro pulled out his special solar-powered GPS for a quick look, since he had no idea where we were. I used my X-ray vision to determine our precise location: San Bartolomé de las Abiertas.

"What's the name of this town, anyway...?"

Next thing we knew,  it was time for an aperitivo. This little town had a very pleasant square for a vermouth.

The free tapa with our drinks

Loyal to my Royal Enfield, still!

Our aperitivo only made us hungrier, so our next stop was at the first roadside place we could find that looked good.
This "Mesón El Labrador" advertised all over the countryside, proclaiming charcoal grilled meats, specialty of the house was a huge sirloin steak 2 inches thick. Yes, sir!

But not quite. There was no grill, in the end, since they don't light it during the weekdays. There was no table service outside, so we had to set the table ourselves and then clear it. A basic plato combinado (10€) was tasty but not the juicy steak I had in mind. The sliced fresh tomato was fabulous: sweet and flavorful.

The road beckoned even though we were comfortably chatting about the sorry state of the world (Brazil in particular, which is where Pedro's been living for the last 6 years) and catching up. The road down to Herrera del Duque is a national highway in excellent shape, very little traffic. It passes by and over some of the reservoirs built along the Tajo River as it heads to Portugal and eventually empties out into the Atlantic Ocean in Lisbon, giving the Portuguese capital an amazing and gorgeous miles-wide waterfront. Here it is at the Cíjara Reservoir.

The rest of the trip was amazing but I have no more photos. The little mountain forest path we rode up to Villarta de los Montes and on to Horcajo de los Montes is AMAZING. The pine forests give way to live oak forests and then onto normal oak forests. Miles and miles of rolling hills, not a person, house or village. We saw a car. One. This road was a single narrow lane, unmarked, the pavement in poor shape with lots of gravel, so we made our way slowly to Horcajo. Once past there, the road turns fine and we rode through the National Park of Cabañeras, beautiful and fun to ride, with nice curves and safe asphalt, gorgeous landscape. Anyone riding to central Spain needs to try this route.
After the park, on the north side, there's a stretch of 8  km of absolute straight-as-an-arrow-come-hell-or-high-water road (reminds me of the Roman road through Gloucestershire in the UK) that suddenly turns left and leads up a low mountain pass, now with fabulous curves and breathtaking vistas of the hidden green valleys of the Montes de Toledo.
Then up through the posh villages for rich hunters, and onto the main autovía from Toledo to Madrid. We rode past Toledo just as the sun was setting. That will require a trip all its own, for a letter date.

Maybe tomorrow or Monday ;-)

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

More touches to the Balita Roja

Improvements, I call them. There's always something fun to add to a bike like a Royal Enfield. This week, I decided to blow my bonus and get some things done.
  1. The heel shifter. Instead of having to use your toe to push up on the lever to shift upwards,  you use your toe to press down and downshift, and your heel to shift up. It keeps your toe from wearing out on the shoe or boot. 
  2. The seat has been re-upholstered. The fake leather had split, so it needed to be done. This time with a cool red edge thing going on, just for fun. 
  3. The drop bars. The black matte bars should help if I accidentally drop my bike at a stop or as I get on or off. Yep, it happens to the best of them. I think matte black is not so visible as chrome, but...
  4. The aluminum bars holding up the windscreen have been cut back and capped. Looks much better, although I'd still prefer to have the single-bar solution. Still, it looks better than before.

What do you think? Aside from the Balita needing a good bath and waxing...

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Saturday morning I decided to go pick up the K75 from Pedro Ogrix's house, where he had let me recharge the battery overnight a week ago. The weather looked like it was going to clear up, although windy. Javi had a meeting all morning so Pedro and I went off for a ride to the southeast, to Colmenar de Oreja first, where we parked outside the old fortified church and was an aperitivo on the Plaza Mayor, one of the better-kept secrets in the area. So well kept that there's no sign or indication about how to get to it, and there are no through streets in the center of the town. We asked several people, were given then customary contradictory answers, and eventually lucked into it. The sad thing is that that was the third time I've been there and I still could't say how to get back again.

Anyway, there was a classic car show going on, and while I'm not big on cars, there were some lovely ones there.


I then took Pedro down some of the best roads for bikers in the region.  The road from Valdelaguna to Belmonte del Tajo is spectacular, as is the one from Colmenar de Oreja to Villarubia de Santiago. We went on along the Tajo down to Ocaña for lunch on its Plaza Mayor, which was empty despite the nice day. 

 The menú del día was 10 euros, not bad for outdoors.
We headed back through Aranjuez, and passed under the windows of my old apartment on the Calle Primavera, then on to Villaconejos, Chinchón and Titulcia and then to Morata, where we stopped in at Angeles and Grant's place there (they were spending the weekend there with our friend Olga, too, fortunately).

I hand't been on the K75 in over 2 weeks, and so it was nice to get to take it out on the roads. At first it felt so unwieldy but then it felt normal and then quite a delight to ride. No vibrations, good pickup, comfortable (the full fairing is great in the wind!). I really want to take the K75 on a long journey. But first I'd better have it thoroughly checked out, and set up its maintenance schedule.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The BMW K75RT, the Balita Roja, and copious amounts of food and friends.

The Balita Roja appears at the end of this story. In the foreground is my BMW K75RT and Pedro Garcia's BMW R100RS. Pedro's back for a few months from his new home in Brazil, where he hardly dares to ride his new BMW because of the violence and crime in the streets. So we took a five-day weekend to go to Vila-Real (Castellón de la Plana Province, Valencia, Spain) to meet up with a bunch of old friends of mine.

Starting off at home in Madrid
 We took a 50 miles detour off the highway to go buy aged queso manchego from this cheesemaker I discovered last year in the middle of La Mancha. Yum and yum.

We then went on to the Albufera, the rice-growing region of Valencia, where we met up with Jesús, a Royal Enfield friend from Córdoba, who was on his red Goldwing, which made me laugh.

The lunch was a set menu for 11 euros with fresh local fish salad for first course:

A cold fish salad
 And of course a Spanish seafood rice for the main course.
A kind of paella, of course!
Jesús, mesmerized

 It was fabulous to be able to eat outside in mid February only a few hours' ride from Madrid.

The (admittedly scanty) motive of this trip was to celebrate Javier Honrubia's 45th birthday, to inaugurate Phase 1 of the remodeling of the "txoco" that Bruno, Rafa and Juan have in Vila-Real, and to toast Bruno's new Royal Enfield Chrome and my K75. A txoco is an old Basque tradition: the menfolk buy a small locale in town and turn it into a gourmet man cave where they can cook and eat and drink with lots of friends. These guys decided to make one in a garage they have on the Mediterranean coastal town of Villarreal.

Jesús serving a dry Montilla sherry from Córdoba and lots of cured ham.
The day started with a ride into the mountains inland, up some amazing roads. It was a real workout for me as I still wasn't used to the center of gravity and turning radius and torque of the BMW. The twisty roads were excellent practice and lots of fun. My bud Javier brought his wife and son on the BMW 1200 RT with the FLEXIT sidecar, which he drove with astounding expertise. I want to get my Javi into the sidecar so he can come with us on other occasions.

We returned to the Txoco and found Rafa making the rice. Fresh shrimp, chicken, pork shoulder, peppers, fresh artichokes, snow peas and a flavorful stock turned this into the best rice I've ever eaten. Made by Rafa, a car and truck mechanic. Go figure!

 For Javier H's brithday we got him some nice biker gloves. He goes to India on business several times a year and always brings us back spare parts, decals, extras and essentials for our Royal Enfields. We owe him this and much, much more.
Meanwhile, Bruno was celebrating the arrival of his new "modern" 2013 Royal Enfield 500cc Classic Chrome:
A gorgeous bike, for sure. He had had an old Royal Enfield from the early 1960s but it took too much work to keep it going. I suspect we'll see him on the road more often now.

Afterwards, Pedro and I extended our trip a few more days to travel south along the Spanish Mediterranean coast.

Valencia City
We saw plenty of kooky things along the way:

 And got to Punta Prima to stay at Grant and Ángeles's apartment:

Full English cooked breakfast

Punta Prima beach

Pedro ordered a light salad

I went for a bit of pork and dumplings...

A wee apple dessert

The Sign of the Plastic Paella

My BMW K75

Ready to return to Madrid

Lemon trees

Sumptuous weather

We then road back through La Mancha, and stopped along the way for lunch. I had to have pisto manchego with fried egg, of course: a traditional stir-fry of eggplant, tomato, onion, garlic, and zucchini:

 More shots of La Mancha:

Major success all across the board. The 1300-km-trip got me well used to the BMW's heavier handling, its great suspension, its powerful motor. I finally figured out how to turn on the heated grips on the way back, boy what a difference that makes in February!

My spoils of war

We all had such a good time, we're talking about a repeat soon. I'll buy bigger pants.