To Helsinki and Beyond

Somewhere in Sweden

From time to time, we receive interesting requests from fellow bikers riding into the sunset. Today it’s John, taking a month off to go to Helsinki:

I’m planning to ride over to Helsinki towards the end of July, returning sometime in August, and I was wondering if you could give any advice?
I put Helsinki in as a destination on the route planner, and got some very interesting suggestions, which seemed to run out of steam once it got beyond Germany.
My intended route is to take the tunnel across to Calais and head up towards Hamburg, then up to Denmark, Sweden and across to Finland, then returning by dropping down to Estonia, and thru Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and back virtually the same way thru Hannover.

Helsinki is well known to Twisty Ride since it is the place where we held our 2011 general assembly. And it is AWESOME! Especially in summer with very long days and an entire population keen to enjoy them. The main issue with the countries that you will be going through John, is that they are rather flat which, in turn, makes the roads quite uninteresting. We’ve driven a fair bit in mainland Sweden and Finland and, well, it’s more Harley territory than KTM Duke. Plus reindeers are everywhere including the middle of the road so you need to watch out. The only salvation in this type of terrain is to stick to the coast. The sea brings the dramatic landscapes and the twists and turns which put a smile back on the biker’s face.

Our website will not be able to compute such a large trip (too CPU intensive). However you can break it down into smaller pieces and plan them individually with it. The other point to note is that our coverage of the North is not great (help us by adding roads here). The alternative is to bring a map with you and every evening plan your road for the next day (Michelin maps highlight scenic roads and the twists are apparent). We used to do that a lot before creating the website.

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Centopassi

I woke up this morning, all pumped up about writing about the Centopassi, a motorcycle rally we participated to a few years back, only to discover that the Centopassi does not longer exist… And that’s a real shame.

So how was it? In a nutshell: mental. Basically it was 3 days’ worth of 10 hours of non-stop, high paced riding amongst the twistiest open roads we’ve ever laid our tires on. Oh and some passages off-road too, didn’t matter if you had a sportsbike or not. The police would lead / trail the groups but aside from this, the roads were left untouched, cars, camping vans and all.

Riders were divided in three ability groups: fast, fast and very fast. We saw people quitting on the first day after 16 hours on the saddle trying to keep up. Crashes left, right and center (especially one afternoon when the rain showed up). I came across a 916 perched in a tree at one turn. Mechanical failures, human failures, wrists failure. And one the best ride we’ve ever done. Doing hundreds of hairpins everyday was like compressing what an average rider would go through over a 10 year period in just a few days. Full throttle, spot breaking zone, compress suspension, brake hard, downshift, throw the bike into the turn whilst letting go of the brakes, engage back brake whilst accelerating and full throttle again. Braking changes the geometry of the bike so you learn how to use that. You learn how to accelerate in a turn and use the back brake to balance the bike. You learn the line for different types of corners. You learn how to read the road, its grip, it’s surface. You learn how to ride on gravel. And you learn of your mistakes like double downshifting and locking the back wheel. All this on normal roads.

Yes, it’s a shame the Centopassi no longer exists.

The Land of the Lost

And it is time for another of our “let’s remember” memory trip, with today… Malaysia. Oh yes, didn’t see that one coming did you. Yep, me neither.

I was based in Singapore for a few months in 2009. With the motorcycle kept dormant in its London storage, it wasn’t long before I was looking for rentals. Ideally the choice would have been a big trailie like, I dunno, a R1200GS for instance. But that wasn’t coming up on the computer. What was coming up however was Harley Davidson, well implanted as ever. So I called up the local dealer, no Road Kings available but they did have a Heritage Softail which, in my simple mind, was pretty much the same. How wrong can one be? Very. This “thing” should not be allowed on the roads. Honestly. Once you finally manage to get it going, by pushing with your feet coz the engine is from 1756, there is no way to stop it. Try the front brake, it’s got the same effect on speed as spreading your arms in an attempt to air brake. The back brake, on the contrary, has been taken from one of those little trucks that tow Boeing 747s on the tarmac. It’s not so much a lever as a large pedal. Brakes well too. Oooh you should see the skid marks.

Anyways, the tractor and I got going in the end. Admiring the landscape… made solely of palm trees. That’s because the entire endemic flora has been “replaced” with a no-nonsense attitude that some have, at times, labelled “environmentally unfriendly” (see pictures below). This is, of course, to satisfy the world’s demand in palm oil. I met a plant manager there as I was treating my sun burns on the side of the road. Good chap. The local production of oil runs at around 18 million tons a year, so it’s also fair to say that the main economy of Malaysia is an important one. And yes, I got sun burns. Riding in T-Shirt is great but one shall not forget the sun cream in this part of the world. I basically looked like a giant lobster which prompted said plant manager to approach me in the first place.

Talking about gigantism was also the episode of the “dog” crossing the road ahead of me. There I was, riding peaceful, counting palm tree number 7308 when all of a sudden a “dog” came out of the forest and headed straight for the road. Immediate application of the large aforementioned pedal, skid mark and… WTF!! This, my friends, is not a dog. This is one big freakin’ lizard. A Varan to be more exact of the same specie as the Komodo dragon (featured in the last James Bond). That thing is huge, runs fast and for the rather inoffensive European that I am, sends a chill down my back. Hunting it must be the closest thing to being Schwarzenegger in Predator (all proportions kept).

So yes, after that, I got the tractor going faster, and found home in Mersing. Not without taking the 16:09 tropical shower of course. 6 months in the region gave me the time to study the local rain patterns: it starts at 16:09 exactly, feels just like a domestic shower, warm and very dense, lasts for about an hour and everything dries in minutes after that. If you’ve got shower gel (made with palm oil), all the better.

I picked Mersing as a stopover because it is the gateway to a few idyllic islands nearby. I was expecting a nice beach but that did not materialise itself. I was off season too so not much in the way of B&Bs. So fell back on the local “premium” hotel. If you want to know how it feels to be awaken in the early morning by the bat you have unknowingly spent the night with you should try it. I would have suggested a tent would have been better but, with Predator lurching around, the bat actually feels premium.

So nice and early. Like everyone else to be honest. This being a Muslim country and in the middle of the Ramadan period, everybody was awake anyway. I was glad to find that the tractor had not been stolen. Or maybe it did but the guys returned it after being humiliated when trying to drag race a local in Honda C50 and experiencing the subsequent near death experience when trying to stop the damned thing. By now it did not matter anyway because it was part of the adventure. I returned to Singapore after two days of a rather good little road trip. Recommended.

Santander to Calais

Dean, clearly a fan, wrote us a little email recently:

“Hi just like to say great website,can you help we are planning a trip from santander to calais over five day four of us in july could you please suggest some good routes as we are at legger heads”

First of all, if anyone knows what being “at legger heads” means, please comment on this post because even Google stayed bemused on this one.

That said, we obviously went out of our way to help Dean and make July, a July he will remember. There are basically two main playgrounds on a more or less direct line from Santander to Calais: the Pyrenees and the Massif Central. Because it’s July you’ll want to avoid the coast due to heavy traffic and high temperatures. An alternative to the Massif Central would be to join the Alps but that’s a longer way across so make for long days on the saddle. You’ll gain your qualification as an Iron Butt with that second solution. With this in mind, I’ll go for something around one of these two options:

Pyrenees and Massif Central

or

Pyrenees, Massif Central and Alps

Enjoy!

Not too far from Millau, France

January Weekend Mini-tours

Yep, it’s winter. Well, theoretically at least because the thermometer says otherwise. Which is not good for bees really because they think it’s spring, go out to fetch some pollen and die off finding nothing but emptiness and desolation. The biker however, as a result of many years of natural selection, has learned how to spot winter. And the biker indeed stays home in winter, preserving his reserves of leathers for when the tarmac is dry and collecting miles becomes easier. But in the face of global warming, the biker now has no choice but to adapt. The roads are salt-less and the temperatures mild enough to allow the modern rider to sneak in a cheeky weekend out with his mates in January.

To facilitate the evolution of the specie, Twisty Ride has compiled below a list of three weekend rides across England. Fear not however, no matter where you live, our touring planner will get you to the best roads around.

1) Londoners: why not pay a quick visit to East Anglia? Ride north-east for a bit, stop at one of the typical medieval towns and enjoy the local cider. This is an easy 2 day ride with a few nice twisties put in the mix too. The roads will be empty and life in the city forgotten as soon as the M25 is crossed. Click here for the roadbook.

2) Departing from Manchester, there is a world of opportunities ahead of you. Head north, cross the Yorkshire Dales and stay over in the middle of the Lake District. It’ll be a bit fresh, but the beauty of this region is second to none. Click here for the roadbook.

3) Bristol is another fantastic location to start from. West, the Brecon Beacons National Park, East the Costwolds and South West Devon and the Exmoor National Park. We’ll advise Route 2 here and go south to gain one or two degrees in temperature. Stay over at one of the smaller coastal town like Lynmouth and enjoy the freshly caught fish. Click here for the roadbook.

Let’s continue evolving! Let’s tour in winter!

Note: due to twisty roads being continuously added to the search engine, the links presented in this article may propose different routes than advertised. The beauty is that they are all good. But if you want more control over your journey, click on “Planner” and then use the “Directions” tab instead of the “Touring” tab.

Don't throw away your rider.

Don’t throw away your rider.

Is this real?

A group of three bikers approached us recently for a trip to Spain. Their ages total up to more than 160 years so operating the keyboard was already declared a great success and celebrated duly. A number of good questions were raised. Here is the transcript:
 
ABG (Ancient Bikers Gang), speaking of our route planner: “First thing that came to mind: is this real, where is the catch?”.
Totally real, we use our search engine for our own touring trips. The way it works is quite simple actually. Instead of listing the best roads one by one like other websites, we have decided to cut them into small chunks and let an algorithm piece them back together to create a trip that matches your preferences. Each little piece of road is given a note for:

  • Twisties
  • Scenery
Whilst each waypoint / town is given a note for:
  • Good places to stay for food / bed
  • Tourist attractions (the worthwhile ones like UNESCO)

The algorithm then finds the collection of roads and waypoints which maximize those four parameters while at the same time matching your start / end locations (A to B mode) or regions and duration (Touring mode). It’s a little bit more complicated actually as there are a number of rules to prevent going back to the same places too often etc but I won’t bore you with the details.

 Now, nothing is perfect, and if you find a bug do let us know (puncture@twistyride.com). However, it is easy to see that this planner is a lot more user friendly than browsing through large-ish collections of roads and piecing them together by hand. You can also add your own roads at:
 
ABG: “We have about 7 days, possibly stretch it to 8 or 9.”
So 8 minus 2 to go down and 2 to go up that’s 4 days in Spain? Let’s try with this. You can use the two modes of the search engine:
– A to B, where you specify a list of places you want to visit and let Twisty Ride do the rest e.g. journey to Santiago de Compostela
– Touring, where you specify a starting place, duration and region and let Twisty Ride do the rest e.g. 4 days around Madrid
 
However, the main problem here is that 8 days, departing from Milton Keynes, is not really enough for something as far as Spain. We took two weeks last time we did it and went to see Gibraltar. But if I had 8 days, I’d spend them in the Alps anywhere from Geneva to Nice and from Annecy to the Simplon Pass.
 
Do not hesitate to contact us if you are planning to do a trip, we are always happy to help!
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