A couple of weeks ago, I bought a new motorbike. It is a fz6 fazer 2009 s2. It is a wonderful bike, very versatile, fast, fun, perfect for being your weekend toy as well as your means of comfortable commuting around London. Don’t forget though, it is a sports touring bike, mine came with a full fairing, which means you can travel many miles without fighting the elements of nature alone. So far, I did around 300 miles a day and I could do a lot more.
The riding position is very comfortable, it seems to be the golden mean between sport riding and comfort. The engine is a detuned R6 engine, very responsive in low and high range. It would be nice if the midrange could be boosted a bit (for comfortable overtaking while cruising on the motorway), but still, sometimes there is a lot more fun when you downshift and feel the beast awakening between your legs…
The chassis is very stiff, the brakes are R6 brakes, which means the behaviour is very predictable and you can go around corners in great confidence. You can easily keep up on the road with other sports bikes, as long as you keep the revs above 8,000 rpm.
Pt I – Preparation
Anyway, enough about the bike, there are plenty of reviews in motorbike sites about it if you are interested. Once I had the bike, it was about time to see how it behaves outside London and more importantly, outside its comfort zone. I was thinking of places in Britain that would be ideal for the weekend.
I checked the weather report, and there was a yellow warning in place, for snow and ice for the weekend in Britain.
But every cloud has a silver lining.
There was a window of opportunity between the yellow warnings. The opportunity for a “Great Escape“.
Then I checked the weather report for Ireland and to my surprise, it was going to be cold but sunny. That sounded good enough already. I had never been to Ireland before this trip, but always wanted to visit.
I checked for ferry prices from Holyhead, Wales to Dublin, Ireland and to my surprise they had an offer on short trips, it was 60 pounds for a full trip if you were travelling on a motorbike.
After checking hotel availability and prices in Dublin as well, the idea started getting some flesh and bones. Now it was time to plan my way in Britain. Since there was a yellow warning, I didn’t want to risk it and use country roads. I’ll keep them for the summer. So I used the M40 up to Birmingham, then changed to M42, then continued on M6 until Stoke-on-Trent and then I used country roads until Penyffordd.
The general map for the entire trip can be seen below.
Let’s now dive in the specifics. Wednesday, I started ironing out all the details of my plan. I booked the ferry ticket, I booked a hotel room, I communicated with the family in Wales, I calculated estimated fuel cost, I created and saved the best route and I saved an offline map of Dublin on my primary phone, I filled my secondary phone with lots of great tunes, I found out where I would stop and for how long, wrote down handwritten tips that I would have in front of me, on my tank bag and I did a full logistics plan in general.
It can be tedious, but it is very necessary, especially when you are flirting with ice and snow outside the “Great Escape” window of good weather in Britain, especially for that particular weekend.
Pt II – Overture
I woke up in a sunny Friday morning, I enjoyed my coffee, prepared my rucksack, wore my full suit (boots, pants, jacket, balaclava) and started off around 12:30. I was first thinking of grabbing a bite in the historic ACE cafe, London, which is very close to my house. But then, I’d have to squeeze through the infamous Hanger Lane Gyratory’s traffic (more info here, here and here), so I dropped the idea for another day. I wanted to ride in the sunshine for as long as possible.
The plan for the day was the following:
I had to reach Penyffordd, Wales, no later than 7 o’clock. After that, the temperature would drop and maybe there would be snow or hail. Not very fun whilst riding a motorbike. So I started the trip, stopping to the nearest petrol station to fill the bike up, near Perivale on the A40. After that, I carried on the slightly congested A40 (typical phenomenon for a London road) until the A40 was converted to M40, after Uxbridge.
Suddenly the speed has gone up, there was no traffic, there was sunshine and all was well…
There is a point between London and Oxford where there is a strong side wind or to be precise strong gusts of side wind and can get a bit annoying and discomforting, especially on overtakes and turns, but since I was expecting a lot worse later, I wasn’t complaining.
Quick stop at Oxford Services for a quick bite (subway foot-long chicken breast sandwich), a quick cigarette and back on the road again.
From Oxford to Birmingham, the trip was almost uneventful, until reaching the end of M40 and the beginning of M42. There was an accident on the M6 and the queues were starting in M42, westbound.
London drivers that keep on moaning about the M25 should also try the M6 sometime. Still haven’t decided which one is worse.
Pt III – Some Trouble
I filtered through the traffic for several miles, entered the M6, passed the massive car pile up, and carried on heading north. Then suddenly, my visor got a bit dirty, like muddy. I tried wiping it off with my glove, but it was getting worse.
I tried lifting the visor and I had small debris battering my face. It seems, that this dirt, was grit.
I put the visor down again, reduced my speed, and waited for the battering to end. It didn’t. But I carried on anyway.
While I was reaching Stoke-on-Trent, it started raining. Quickly, the rain turned to sleet. This was the moment I realised that the grit on my visor was a lot better than the sleet.
I stopped at the services, feeling a bit tired and defeated. I ordered a cup of tea, sat down and there was more bad news.
I got a personal email cancelling some plans across the Irish sea. Plus, the sleet quickly turned to hail. I was really frustrated and disheartened at that stage. But then, the British side of me reminded me to “keep calm and carry on”.
And so I did. And surprisingly, after I left the services, the hail stopped.
“It must have been a cloud no bigger than a man’s hand”
Audentes Fortuna Adiuvat – Maybe fortune comes to the aid of those daring in the end…
And apart from a snow storm near Chester, I arrived safe and sound in Penyffordd, had a delicious high tea and enjoyed a good wine accompanied by good conversation.
I couldn’t sleep well though, I was very anxious about the trip, the weather, the ferry, I was a bit overwhelmed, out of my comfort zone, with a crazy pulse – even after the wine.
Pt IV – My Darkest Hour
I woke up at around 5 o’clock, had a quick cup of tea, some juice, a delicious bacon sandwich aunt Lisa has prepared for me, I wore my suit and I was on the move. I had an empty tank, but I would fill it up on the A55, the only motorway-like road for North Wales.
But all of this stress and tension had taken their toll on me. The GPS did something funky to find a quicker route and I was heading the wrong way, in the dark, in Welsh country roads.
I started realising the gravity of the situation, when there was snow around, there was slush and also some black ice on the road, it was completely dark, my tank was empty and I had no signal on my phone.
The only signs of life were farmers with 4X4 vehicles going to work and tiny villages with completely Welsh names, a sign that I was moving further away from the English Welsh border. I was terrified of slipping and dropping the bike, because then there would be no way to lift it up, because of the ice.
At that stage, I thought that the entire trip was now omnishambles. I also thought that if only fuel ran out at that point, I would be in deep shite. Even if I managed to get fuel I would then miss the ferry and there was sort of a domino effect for everything, all of this because of a single GPS blunder and very wrong timing.
One thing I knew for sure though, was the fact that I was better of trying something than staying on the side of the road in complete desperation. All I needed was some positive thinking and a leap of faith. I said to myself: “Divide and Conquer. First things first. I need fuel.”
After all, “It does not matter how slowly you go so long as you do not stop.”
So I balanced the odds and it would be much better to go all the way back and trying to get on the A55. I did go back, I did find a petrol station and I was on my way.
The map below pictures my tale, I also found a picture that a guy shot later that day. There wasn’t that much snow, on the road, but still…
The fuel problem was solved, now my problem was time. It was against the odds for me to catch my ferry. Actually, it was totally insane and irrational. But, sometimes, in this life, you have to be a bit insane to make the most out of it, right?
Speeding was out of the question since the A55 is full of average speed cameras. But even if I was on the autobahn, I wouldn’t be able to speed because it was so windy I could barely ride straight and hold on my bike. In some instances, the side-wind gusts were so strong, that I felt my front tire skidding.
Pt V – Perseverance and Persistence pays off
“If you are going through hell, keep going.”
Despite the struggle, I managed to reach Holyhead and I was in for a surprise. My ferry was late, but I still didn’t manage to catch it. But then a very kind man, assisted me and offered to put me on the next ferry, free of charge. I just couldn’t thank him enough. I promised to buy him a pint, sometime. He said: “Thanks, but if I were you, I wouldn’t drink anything on the ferry.”
I then queued in line for the ferry and finally got up the ramp and strapped my gritted and battered beauty down.
So it seems like a good life lesson. Plan for everything you can think of, but embrace the unplanned and unexpected as well. Be able to improvise and take a leap of faith. Missed opportunities are worse than making mistakes. Also, to get the most out of life, you have to be a bit of a nutter as well.
Pt VI – An Uncomfortable Trip
I went up the stairs from the car deck, found a place to sit in the front, ordered a cup of tea and finally got comfortable.
Everything seemed to be going well, after all those incidents. The trip started well, but as we got out of the port, the ferry started shaking a bit. Everybody was smiling and was excited about the fact that the trip was like a theme park ride.
The shaking got even worse. In fact, it got so much worse, that nobody was smiling any more and people were trying to reach the toilet in this synchronised-drunk-after-the-pub-walk.
I jokingly said to the bartender: “Bloody hell! I insured my bike for fire and theft, but not for sinking!”. He jokingly responded that the ship was insured for these sort of incidents.
Then a Romanian guy that was playing tough all this time and was getting on my nerves, was sea sick in front of me and started vomiting in a sea sickness bag. One part of me felt good about it, but then I was feeling fine until this incident, until I started thinking about it and I was getting sea sick by the minute as well. Maybe it was the universe telling me to stop laughing at other people’s misfortunes.
I started slowly drinking water, that helped a bit. Then I tried fixing my gaze on a fixed point in the horizon, that helped a bit as well. Generally I tried every trick in the book to avoid getting sea sick, I ended up lying down in the back of the ship and waiting for the trip to end.
Once we were in Irish waters, there was sunshine and the sea was a lot calmer. I started feeling a lot better and started preparing for disembarkation.
PT VII – Dublin
Finally, I stepped foot on Irish soil! The weather was great and I toured the city with my motorbike a bit. Then I just located my hotel and checked in. Dublin feels about the size of my hometown, Thessaloniki, so I felt very comfortable getting around. No comparison to the massive and chaotic London.
I was impressed by the beauty of the city. It felt classic yet modern at the same time. I know that some people may find the following argument a bit provocative, but I feel that the Irish kept only good things from the British and got rid of all the crap. I know it is a very generic statement and it is very subjective as well, so you best ignore it.
Even though I didn’t expect it that much, there were a lot of foreign people in Dublin, a bit like London. I should have expected though, as Dublin is an international city with companies like Google and Yahoo trading from there to get cheaper tax rates.
Dublin did not feel cheap. It is not as expensive as London, but still, it didn’t feel cheap. Things I don’t know though, is the average wage as well as rent prices etc.
Other than that, the food was good and I had several “pints of the black stuff“, as well as glasses of Jameson. Seriously though, I couldn’t even compete with the Irish people in the pub. I consider myself to be a heavy drinker, but these guys are professionals.
I ended up in the hotel room wasted with an Irish girl and nearly missed my morning alarm for breakfast. I remember certain things from the night, like the Irish taxi driver ranting about pensions going belly up, the girl not believing I am not an Aussie and other details that I’d like to keep for myself.
In the morning, after I had a full Irish and probably a bucket of water, my body started working again. I needed to checkout and I had a slight problem. I didn’t want to be wearing my motorbike boots and suit, but the hotel was half an hour walk from the city centre. After a fruitless phonecall, I ended up leaving part of my gear in the offices of my ferry line, so I could explore a bit more of Dublin.
After a couple of hours, I was running out of time and I needed to catch my ferry. So I headed back to the port, picked up my gear waited in the queue for the ferry and finally entered the ferry and strapped the bike down again. I was now heading back to Britain and the biggest part of the trip was behind me…
Pt VIII – Back to Britain
This time, the sea was calm and the journey was quite pleasant. I met an Irish guy who lives in London, we discussed about many things while watching Swansea smashing Southampton, I had fish n’ chips on board and all was well again.
When we reached Holyhead port and disembarked, the weather was rainy, but rain stopped as soon as I crossed Britannia bridge. Then, the journey until Penyffordd was uneventful and calm. Once there, I had a delicious high tea, a bit like Sunday roast then we all had some wine and watched the telly.
My serenity was interrupted by a few ignorant and stupid messages landing on my inbox, but I decided that I wasn’t going to let anything or anyone to spoil my adventure so far. I had done so much in a weekend, I overcame myself and my limits, I was so over this small crap.
People think of this as narcissistic and egotistical, but the truth is that once you get to know yourself better, you have zero tolerance for people that do not respect the thin line you drew between yourself and them.
You keep and protect the small handful that have proved their friendship through the years, have congratulated you for your best, were beside you for the worst –although the first is a lot more important, it’s best when you go through the worst alone– cared to meet every angle of your character. They accepted the best and the worst of you, for no higher reason.
These people you keep, you protect, you give everything to. The rest you don’t care about. It is better to be alone than to be with the rest. Time is very limited in this life and you don’t want to spend any of it with people that don’t make you a better person, every single day.
Pt IX – Finale
The schedule now was very relaxed in nature. I woke up at about 8 o’clock, had breakfast, slowly prepared myself, said goodbye to Colin and Lisa and got cracking.
The journey was a bit tiring but uneventful. The weather was typical cloudy British and the journey back home lasted about 4 hours, with one stop for tea and fuel.
Once home, I showered and headed to the office for Monday’s meeting.
I am certainly looking forward to touring Ireland during the summer. This trip certainly made some memories and cleared things in my head.
You can find more pictures of the trip here.
And even though it may sound cheesy, remember:
“WHO DARES WINS!”