Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Winton Massif - Weekends.

Most of the time I'm pretty happy to share the locations I ride my bike with everyone, like I've said before, but this isn't going to be one of these times. So if you recognise any of the locations in the pictures, please keep them under your lid.
You might be wondering why I'm unwilling to broadcast the locations, especially if you live outside Scotland or the "UK". Unfortunately, through a mix of abuse and intolerance, off road riding, especially in Scotland is thought of as a no go. It can still be done though, if you know who to ask......

Young families and other commitments meant a longer autumn Winton Massif trip wasn't on the cards, we did however plan two weekend trips. The fist was a three night affair starting at the secret bothy (mind, if you know where it is, keep it a secret.) Aidan and I met Drew and Mark who walked in, led by Finn the spaniel. We always make sure we bring plenty fuel for the fire and Drew and Mark had done the same. A night in front of a bothy fire is something everyone should experience once in their lives, they're remote nature also let you experience proper quiet. All we could hear outside were the stags and the river. It wasn't a particularly cold evening and the bothy's fire had led us to pen the door for a bit to let the place cool down. We were pretty surprised to have our card game interrupted by two women who walked in about 10.30pm. No matter how many people are in a bothy, there's always room for more and the door is never locked. The ladies were welcomed in and offered beers. They were doing some walking in the area, staying in the bothy for a couple of nights, luckily the bothy has a couple of rooms so they didn't have to suffer us lot farting and snoring all night.

September massif trip

We awoke to a stunning day. We all said our goodbyes to the walkers who headed to the hills while we split our separate ways. Aidan and I made our way to the A82 and took the roar up the east side of Loch Ness. This is a much quieter route that the tour bus and caravan clogged artery on the other side, it's got some great views too. We'd originally planned to head over to the Isle of Raasay, we'd tried a couple of years ago on the Spit The Dummy tour but it absolutely pissed it down, so we binned the wild camping in favour of a site with a shelter. This time it was, well, time that had us a bit fucked. Aidan was riding home the next day and the long run from Raasay wasn't favouring as well as the shorter cruise from Cannich, our mates Ben and Euan were also at Cannich. So once again wild camping on Rassay was binned, but this time for the better reason of good company rather than shite weather.

September massif trip

September massif trip

In the bothy Aidan had cooked us a dinner of Carbonara (with cream and no eggs, the heathen) and tonight it was my turn. While Euan and Ben were in the pub having a home made meal. I was slaving over my stove preparing our food. Boil in the bag pasta and meatballs tanned, we headed to the pub and discussed the following days plans. Euan and I had planned to camp at Glencoe, but Ben had been worriedly checking the weather forecast and it wasn't looking good. When it's rains in Glencoe, it really rains....... 
We'll check it again tomorrow.
Over breakfast we discussed our options. Aidan was definitely going home, as was Ben. Euan said he was going home but could maybe be persuaded to have another night somewhere and I was going somewhere. Aidan packed up and headed off while the rest of us dragged our heels and Euan chucked his bike on the ground. After we quickly checked Euan's bike (no damage at all, it was on soft grass) we headed back to Loch Ness and south on the A82. I found the busy road surprisingly quiet and enjoyed my run south. It's a great road, just very busy. It's a special feeling when you get a few miles to yourself, even with the slightly damp conditions we had on our ride. Damp was as bad as it got. At the Commando Memorial Euan pulled over. He wasn't heading home. Two of us were now heading to Glencoe. We both looked at Ben.
"We'll need to stop at the shop for some beer and stuff"

September massif trip

I've not been to the Red Squirrel for years. The popular campsite is situated between Glencoe village and the Clachaig Inn. To be honest, there's much better campsites around than the Red Squirrel. The ground is rocky and there's roots everywhere. The ground is muddy and often swampy in some places and it's pretty expensive for a campsite, but there's something people love about the place, me included. Deer roam about the site, you can have a campfire and you get drinking water out of taps in trees. If you're planning a visit to the Red Squirrel I'd recommend going mid week or on a Sunday like we did. Much less chance of it being full of the Buckfast and Football Top brigade, 
Being a September Sunday the campsite was pretty quiet but as we scavenged around the other fire pits for wood it was pretty obvious it had been busy the night before. We found quite a bit of firewood to go with the logs we bought from the shop, and Ben gathered more semi wet wood lying about the place. Eventually the downpour that was forecast arrived, but luckily Ben had brought his tarp so a shelter was quickly thrown up, the wettish wood giving us a smokey shield against the midges.

September massif trip
red squirrel Glencoe

After a while we wandered along to the Clachaig for some food. You're always guaranteed a good night out in the Clachaig, meeting people from all walks of life and sampling some of the huge selection of beers, whisky and gin. The food's pretty good too.
The following morning's fry up us saw us fully fueled for the ride home. No matter how busy it is, the road through Glencoe is a joy to ride. The scenery is spectacular in all weather, even when the tops of the hills are hidden in cloud like they were. Further south though it's no so good so we cut off the A82 at Killin and I led the guys along the side of Loch Tay then over some of the wee, single track roads I know in the area.

September massif trip

A couple of weeks later I was away again! But I'll tell you about that later. 
These short weekend trips are great.......



Like what you see? If you want to join Mike on a tour of Scotland give him a shout at

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Adventure Bike Rider.

Adventure Bike Rider magazine Norway article.

In July, Faithir and I set off on a bike trip that was a bit longer than our usual trips. I'd tell you all about it, but Adventure Bike Rider have it in their current magazine (September/October 2017 issue)
Needless to say I'm pretty happy about being paid for my words and photographs.
If you'd like a copy you can buy it online here or maybe find it in your local newsagents.
The plan was to ride to Nordkapp via the Lofoten then on to Russia, but I wont spoil the story for you.....

Adventure Bike Rider magazine Norway article.
Adventure Bike Rider magazine Norway article.
Adventure Bike Rider magazine Norway article.
Adventure Bike Rider magazine Norway article.


Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Black Widow Exhausts de-cat downpipe for the Africa Twin - Review

Black Widow Exhaust Downpipes

If you are like me, an Africa Twin owner, you probably think it’s a great looking bike, but I’m sure everyone will agree the stock exhaust looks horrendous. Not only that, the big black plastic cover for the catalytic converter’s heat shield catches my foot all the time. In their genius, Honda decided to make the cat part of the downpipes rather than part of the silencer. I’m pretty happy with the Africa Twin’s performance so I didn’t see the point in forking out loads of cash on a fancy “race system” to solve my ergonomic/aesthetic problem. I was pretty close to cutting the cat out myself and getting a de-cat pipe made up for the bike, when I came across the new de-cat downpipes from Black Widow Exhausts. At £330 they are easily the cheapest aftermarket downpipes available for the Africa Twin. Made from 1.5mm thick 304 grade stainless steel, they follow the shape of the factory downpipes so there were no issues with the lambda sensor fouling my aftermarket crash bars. The Black Widow downpipes should work with all aftermarket sump/engine guards too. This is great as I’ve read online that a few people have had compatibility problems with other more expensive systems and aftermarket accessories.

Black Widow Exhaust Downpipes

Fitting the Black Widow Downpipes is pretty straight forwards. They come supplied with exhaust assembly paste and are held together by springs. These can be a bit of a fiddle to get on but a spring hook will make the job much easier. Make sure you clean off any excess paste once the system is assembled. I’m still running the standard silencer but the Black Widow downpipes have vastly improved the aesthetics of the bike. Gone is the horrible plastic lump.

Black Widow Exhaust Downpipes

With the standard silencer the Black Widow downpipes are only slightly louder than the stock system but with a deeper, satisfying note. The Black Widow downpipes are compatible with any silencer that fits the standard system so there’s plenty choice if you fancy a change. I was slightly concerned about the lack of heat shields. I melted a hole in an expensive pair of Alpinestars boots on a Harley several years ago, and I’ve been wary ever since. Luckily the way the Black Widow system fits the bike keeps hot pipes well away from both rider and pillion’s footwear. I have run the system for about 800 miles now and there have been zero hot pipe to boot interactions.

Black Widow Exhaust Downpipes

Black Widow Exhaust Downpipes

I’m really happy with the Black Widow downpipes. After being on the bike through lots of rain, mud and even a small river the finish is still perfect. No longer is my foot catching the plastic cover which has made the bike that bit more comfortable. Black Widow don’t claim any increase of power, but as I said, I wasn’t looking for any big gains so I’ve not went down the dyno/power commander route. I’m only running a Booster Plug on my bike to enrich the fuel/air mixture a bit, as removing the cat can cause the engine to run a little lean. If I had to be critical of any part of the downpipes, I found the finish on one of the brackets a little rough, but that really is me nit picking. If you’re after an affordable, well made, great looking set of de-cat downpipes for your Africa Twin then look no further than Black Widow Exhausts.

To give a bit of an idea on how to fit the system and what it sounds like I made this wee video to go along with my review.

Black Widow Exhaust Downpipes


Thursday, September 14, 2017

Mitas E-07 Tyres - Review

Until recently I've been running Continental Trail Attack 2 tyres on the Africa Twin. They're a great road tyre, inspiring confidence in both the wet and the dry. An incident on the Russia trip (I'll tell ye all about that soon) led to me running a part worn Mitas tyre on the rear given to me by Bjorn. It wasn't too bad, but felt a bit strange with the Conti on the front so on my return to Scotland I got myself a fresh pair of Mitas E-07 tyres.
The E-07's are marketed as a 50/50 tyre; "Excellent riding properties both on the road as well as on less demanding terrain. The perfect tyre for hard packed, dry dusty, rocky and gravel surfaces. The Adventurers choice where distance is more important than off road capability" They're also significantly cheaper that the Conti's. I figured it was worth the punt to see what they're like. I had been planning a few mild dirt roads as well as looking into a future trip to the Alps to ride some of the dirt roads over there. My main worry was that the Mitas E-07 were shite on the tarmac and ditchfinder dangerous in the wet. The internet has mixed reviews with some riders finding the E-07s great and others slating them. As I said, it's a bit of a punt.


I opted for the standard E-07s. There's also a "Dakar" version available with much stronger, stiffer sidewalls. You can tell the Dakar version by the yellow band that runs around the tyre. 
One thing everyone said was to make sure they were scrubbed in properly. A few hundred miles around the borders saw that done. Even while scrubbing them in I was surprised. The tyres gave plenty feedback without any unpredictable movement. They handling characteristics was totally different my previous more road based tyres, the E-07's really feel like they tip in to a corner, they also howl a bit. Once I was used to it neither of these characteristics bothered me. The E-07's are nice and stable under braking, the rear locking up, or setting off the ABS a bit easier than with the Contis.



Next up was to see how the E-07 (and my body) coped on rougher dirt roads. Once more I was surprised, the E-07's didn't lose grip under braking, traction was good, even on looser surfaces, I would even go as far to say that I was in control! There was no sudden tucking of the front that I'd experienced in the past and once I got used to weighting the pegs and getting my body in the right place I even had the back end sliding out a few centimeters. Hey, I'm not Mert Lawill, I was chuffed!



Back on to tarmac and I headed down the coast for some chips. The only thing making me tentative about the Mitas E-07's was me. I kept expecting a big, unsettling twitch when crossing over banding or white lines but the E-07's were solid. 

If you don't have broon chippy sauce on yer chips yer a heathen.

About a week later I led the Africa Twin Scotland group on a trip to Applecross with my tour company, Passing Places Tours. Even on the wet roads we encountered the E-07's gave me confidence, no arse like a rabbit's nose moments at all. 

Passing Places Tours
Passing Places Tours
Passing Places Tours
Passing Places Tours
Happy customers. Tom had ridden all the way up from Wales for the trip.

Faithir's photo. Bealach na ba

I'd definitely recommend the Mitas E-07's if you're looking for a decent tyre that'll handle some rougher conditions. They're not as good on the road as the Trail Attack 2's, but they're far better than the stock Dunlop rubber the Africa Twin comes with. They should last way longer than Continental's TKC80s too. Mine have done just over 1000 miles, I'll do another write up when they're gubbed to see how they fair as they wear.



Want to come on a trip with Mike? Check out for more info.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Booster Plug - Review

Booster plug? I hear you ask. Isn't that one of those "resistor of justice" type things?
Well, yes and no. There's a bit more to it than that. Booster Plug explain the science behind it all here, but (I think) what it essentially does is richen the fuel/air mixture a wee bit. Due to the really strict emissions laws we have, bikes run really lean from the factory. A slightly richer fuel to air mixture will mean a much healthier engine with better throttle response.
Richer mixture? More fuel? What about my fuel economy? And the environment?? Are you Donald Trump???
OK, calm doon. Booster Plug say the mixture is only richer when it has to be (have a look at that link I posted) and it wont affect your fuel economy. Are they right? Will it make any difference at all or is it just snake oil? Well, that's what I was going to find out.
£127 gets you the booster plug. It comes in a nice box with photographic instructions. Speaking with the guys at Booster Plug they told me they were in two minds about producing the unit for the Africa Twin due to the difficulty of fitting it. The Booster Plug goes between the bike's connectors for the Air Intake Temperature (AIT) sensor. On most bikes it only takes ten minutes or so to access the AIT sensor. On the Africa Twin you need to lift the airbox to get to it. This means removing all the plastics and the tank, not an impossible task, but fairly more advanced than two Haynes spanners.

booster plug

Straight off I tested my bike against Faithir's non Booster Plug Africa Twin. We both agreed that my bike pulled better lower down with the booster plug fitted. The throttle seemed slightly a bit smoother and less snatchy too, not that I really had a problem with it before. I've now done 7 thousand miles with the Booster Plug fitted. My bike's just had the 16k service too. I can safely say hasn't been any negative effects on the bike's fuel economy and the engine appears to be running well after looking at the plugs. It appears Booster Plug's claims of a better running bike are true. I didn't find the night and day difference some people did, but my bike certainly pulls stronger and smoother, especially at lower revs.
Booster Plug claim that there's no need to spend a small fortune on complicated multi adjustable electronic devices + endless Dyno hours if you're fitting an aftermarket exhaust. I'm looking at doing just this, or at least removing the catalytic converter. I'm not after any more power, my heel often catches on the cat so I'm looking at ways to remove it. (The cat, not my heel) A slightly louder pipe would be nice too. The problem so far is that the cat is part of the downpipes, to get rid of the cat pretty much means you need a full system. As I'm not looking for any more power an £1000 exhaust system would be a very expensive way to go about things. But there's light at the end of the tunnel, I may have found a much more affordable way to decat the bike without spending a fortune.

More soon.......

Africa Twin up the Lammies


Sunday, September 3, 2017

Winton Massif - Back over the top.


Way back in 2009 while on the Wrong Way Round tour we met a big German named Wolfgang. Wolfgang became the first international member of the Winton Massif and over the following years visits were made between Scotland and Germany, but we'd been unable to sort a proper Massif Scotland trip out..... til now!
Wolfgang rode over from Germany with his girlfriend Uta's son Moritz. I'd met Moritz back when I'd ridden the ZZR back from Germany, back then he'd been on a wee 125, but he'd now got a Yamaha MT07, tricked out with a few bits and bobs including a great sounding pipe. Uta and her daughter Nina had flown over and hired a car. Wolfgang and Moritz joined them visiting some of the Edinburgh tourist attractions for a few days before it was time for us to leave.


Glenlivet was the evening's destination. A quick blast up the motorway saw us to Perth where we headed north via Blairgowrie and Braemar. I really don't need to mention this anymore, but if you're heading north in Scotland, avoid the A9 between Perth and Inverness, just like we did.
At Braemar we stopped in at the Hungry Highlander for a bite to eat. Wolfgang, Moritz and myself had ridden up the road with Aidan and Faithir, at the Hungry Highlander we met up with A-Mac, Dave and Murray. The Winton Massif rarely ride as one big group, this time being no different with dribs and drabs pooling together for photo stops or to look at something. The route up through Glenshee and over the Lecht is a firm favorite of mine, I could ride it every week and still never get bored.



We got set up at Glenlivet Hall, with some folk staying in the hall and others setting their tents up outside. The hall has a big kitchen so I suggested we cook a load of fajitas. Aidan, Wolfgang, Moritz and I took the bikes into Grantown Upon Spey for ingredients and beers. On the way back up the enjoyable, twisty road we bumped into Snake and Tex who had came down from Caithness for the night. Fed and watered, we sat outside talking bikes and bullshit for a while. Liam and Euan turned up and we bleathered away till it got dark.


The following day we set off once more in small groups. I had to drop the key for the hall off so it was a solo run for me till I met up with the guys at Tiso Inverness. There’s a great wee cafĂ© upstairs in Tiso that we like to visit for a coffee or a bowl of soup. From there it’s the relatively dull run to Golspie before the twisties take you over the Berriedale Braes and into Caithness. We stopped off at Snake's place to see his bike collection then I nipped into Lybster to visit family and get a photo at the harbour before another solo run through Wick and up to John O’ Groats. Groats gets a hard time from folk for being boring and barren. I think this is unfair, the campsite gives great views over to Stroma, Swona and Orkney and the high barren cliffs give a great contrast to Sutherlands hills and beaches in the west. Tents up, we ate at the wee cabin by the harbour before heading up to the Seaview pub for a few beers.








We said our Goodbyes to A-Mac, Dave, Murray and Liam the following day. Liam headed south for home while A-Mac, Dave and Murray headed off to Ullapool. Durness was our destination. Despite the damp conditions the run over the north coast road was enjoyable as always, with a wee detour to see Dunnet Head, the most northerly point of the Scottish mainland. We had just arrived at Durness when it started to absolutely pish it down torrentially. Tents were hurriedly erected and everyone hid inside reading or having a snooze.  









Durness campsite is a stunning place to visit. I was a little bit disappointed for Wolfgang and Moritz that the weather wasn’t better, keeping us off the beaches the area is famous for. The shelter of the tents was traded for the shelter of the pub where faces were fed and pool balls potted.


Luckily the weather had improved the next day. We got packed up and carried on round the coast after helping bump start a stricken GS rider who had accidentally left his Bluetooth headset charging on the bike, flattening the battery. Shoving it around the campsite several times proved to be useless so the big beemer was wheeled out to the main road. It fired up easily after getting up to speed down the hill beside the campsite and a sweaty Winton Massif headed off to Achiltibuie.




The previous two day’s rides from Inverness to Groats and on to Durness were part of the famous North Coast 500 or NC500. Our route from Durness continued along the NC500 before we turned off to Achiltibuie at Lochinver. There’s lots of people ranting on the internet that the NC500 has ruined the roads and the place is now swamped by caravans and campervans. Sure, there’s a little bit more traffic than there used to be, but it’s hardly hoaching with folk. A few extra overtakes or friendly beeps of the horn to remind visitors to let faster traffic pass is all that’s needed. Remember to keep an eye on your mirrors too, while you may be riding along taking in the scenery there could be local person behind you trying to get somewhere.  The fast, open roads from Durness turn steep, tight and twisty at Kylesku, following the coast round to Lochinver through Drumbeg and over to Achiltibuie. This is my favourite area of Scotland. The dramatic scenery of Assynt and Coigach is sensational, unfortunately for us though, some thick cloud obscured our views of the famous hills in the area. I was disappointed but Wolfgang was grinning away. He said he liked the rain and the cloud! At Altandu, just round from Achiltibuie, we met up with Egor on his F800GSA and our usual evening of food beers followed along with half of us getting roped into a pool competition which the local guy who set it up won. Every think you've been conned?






Conned or not, it was a great laugh and a good night was had by all. The following day we said our goodbyes to Euan, who headed home while the rest of us headed off in small groups to Applecross. I rode for the first part of the day with Aidan. All was going well until we stopped at Laide to refuel the bikes. It turned out my hairy backed friend had lost his phone and bank card. After a few phone calls and some panicking both the phone and the card were found safe and well in the campsite's wee building. Aidan set off back the way we'd came to retrieve his stuff while I carried on in the Gairloch direction on my todd. It's a brilliant run around the coast to Kinlochewe which I really enjoyed despite the damp conditions. By the time I arrived at Kinlochewe I had one in the bomb bay, while I was in the bog I heard some bikes pulling up. Wolfgang, Moritz and Egor welcomed me on my toilet exit and the four of us rode round to Shieldaig where I split from the group to ride over the Bealach Na Ba while the other three took the coast road to Applecross.  At Applecross we met Carina and Maw. Aidan arrived a bit later, his calamity prone day carrying on with a jar of jam bursting open over his top box. Never mind, he said he'd had a perfectly dry run and even a jam spillage didn't dampen spirits, we had our usual enjoyable evening in the Applecross Inn where Wolfgang and Moritz samples some proper Scottish produce. As usual, we followed our evening in the Applecross Inn with a morning at the Waterside Cafe in Lochcarron where a few of us attempted the Challenge Breakfast.








A great run down Glen Garry on the A87 took us south. We were heading to another Winton Massif favorite, Sunart Camping at Strontian. Rather than cross the Corran Ferry, Aidan and I rode around Loch Eil and down the A861, a nice wee singletrack road.



We met up with Smillie at Strontian and had a great evening with a barbecue on the campsite. Tim who owns Sunart Camping rode with us to Ardnamurchan Lighthouse, another cracker of a run. It's only around 35 miles but the twisty narrow singletrack road means it can take over an hour to get along it. We had a wee look around the lighthouse before getting the ferry over to Mull from Kilchoan. It really started to chuck it doon while we were sailing over, Luckily we were staying at the Tobermory Hostel that evening, only a few hundred meters from the ferry. 






As always, Tobermory was a good night out. Unfortunately the Oban ferry the following day was fully booked apart from the 7 am sailing. Aidan and I decided to get the later ferry over to Lochaline but everyone else opted for the early Oban boat. Still, a great night was had by all. The weather had been a bit crap, but that's not unusual for June and it didn't get anyone down. Everyone had a great trip, especially Wolfgang and Mortitz. We'll just have to do another trip next year and book some sunshine.


More soon.......