Friday, 29 August 2008

Can You Hear Me Now?

So with the Annual Across Ireland run being this coming weekend and following the lessons of our recent road-trip around Ireland I was under orders to procure and install an intercom system for our long periods on the road. So were to begin?

Well, I started by crawling through pages of reviews/comments/opinions of various kit. I was looking at Bluetooth headsets, but they seemed a bit obvious stuck onto the side of a helmet like a large beetle! Also the manufacturers always referred to their units being 'shower-proof', which does not really suit my needs. So a more traditional option was sort out and every review seemed to point in the same direction, that being, Autocom.

Autocom - Box

So after downloading a few brochures I decided to go with the "Autocom Kit 200 Active-Duo". This seemed the best fit for my needs. Calling into a local dealer I soon had the kit back home in my garage. Now I also bought 'Part 1546', which gave the option of letting the Autocom to just draw its requirements direct from the battery, mainly designed for 'complicated' electrical systems. In the end I did not need it so will be soon returned to the dealer.

Autocom - Unboxed

Taking the parts out to see what was what and going through the installation instructions both had me thinking this is cool but seems slightly daunting. In the end once I ran through the procedure and test fitted everything a few times it all went very well and rather smoothly. Just like any upgrade to your motorcycle, think through what you are going to do and test fit everything as much as possible while making sure you have everything you need. I had to put the operation on hold for a day to get a refill for my gas fueled soldering pen.

Autocom - Before

The choices for were to locate the Autocom on the Buell are numerous, other owners have mounted their Autocoms just behind the tail light, under the air box or simply (like me) under the seat. I choose this location since this is my first intercom and figured that I will be making plenty of tweaks. Keeping in mind that without too much effort I can locate to another position in the future. So with everything planned out I decided to draw the power from the rear accessory socket, which involved cutting the live wire leading into it and soldering in the Autocom live.

Autocom - After

Getting to the back of the accessory socket required the removal of 4 nuts, carefully pulling it all out, then finally cutting and soldering in the Autocom. I took my time and over about 4 hours the whole project was complete, cleaned up & coffee made. I kept changing my mind about the routing of the wires but finally settled. The optional Buell airbox cover came in very handy as the Autocom cable is routed under it and tucked into the mesh pouch when not in use. The pillions wire I keep under the seat when not in use. As you can see in the photos below the position of the wires are easy to reach.

Autocom - Routing

Fitting the headsets into the helmets were a little bit awkward requiring much trial & error to get just right. This was slow and I elected to do one helmet per night, mainly to learn from my mistakes! I was lucky that on the Autocom website there was an installation guide for my partners Schuberth C2 (though I still fitted my helmet first). Fitting to my Nolan 103 was fairly straight forward but again I just took my time and slowly worked through it.

Autocom - Done

So I have been using the kit for over a week now and I can say it was worth every cent! It is such a laugh being able to chat to each other, while I also have the advantage of an extra set of eyes. It is slightly weird having this voice coming from nowhere as with the Buell Ulysses XB12XT I hardly notice when my partner is on the back. Another treat is having some music playing away in the background. I choose not to use the phone function as I believe it to be a distraction.

The only downside has been that the wind noise on the motorway makes hearing the music very difficult and talking becomes shouting into the intercom. I have tried moving the various bits but I can not get the quality better. This does go against the majority of user reviews so I will keep trying. Though if I do not use my ear plugs then everything is much better but not wearing earplugs on the motorway is just not an option for us. Yet around town I have no complaints as everything is loud and clear. The main culprit is wind noise and with us both using flip-up helmets there is only so much we can do to cut it out.

The final test will come this weekend when we take part in the Annual Across Ireland, moving in convoy at varying speeds over a couple of hours. This is exactly what we wanted the kit for and hopefully we will get a few more long trips in before the weather turns.

Keep the rubber side down.

Saturday, 23 August 2008

AAI 2008 - Start Your Motors

I will be taking part in this years Annual Across Ireland charity event taking place over Saturday 30th and Sunday 31st August. The event is set to be the most well attended yet while coverage will be provided by national radio & tv stations. On top of that they will be filming for a DVD I believe!

So for the full story from the organizers here is a video of them being interviewed:

For further information about the event, the route, start times and so on then you can visit the Annual Across Ireland website.

So if you happen to be in Dublin or along the route please come out and show your support, it is for some very good causes.

Keep the rubber side down.

Monday, 18 August 2008

Ireland Tour 2008 (Part 4)

Thursday 31st July

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The End of the Beginning

Did I say we liked the Wyatt Hotel in Westport? Well, we do! Not only was it a great nights rest but we were also found there was a vegetarian option on the breakfast menu. The staff were very pleasant and there were plenty on hand to look after everyone. The rooms were spotless with a neat little pull-out tea/coffee tray in the room. If there had been a better vegetarian option on the restaurant menu we would not have left the previous night. All that was left to do was load up the day for the final day on the road and hand in the room key.

We left Westport on the N59 heading South. We had hoped to stop for some good pictures of Croagh Patrick but the weather had transpired against us and all we could see was cloud. This was no issue as Kylemore Abbey was today's target. I had wanted originally to take the the long way and travel along the R335 and go through the Sheeffry Hills, but as our plans had changed we took the most direct route, the N59. This turned out to be another highlight of the trip. The views we had on the Partry Mountains were fantastic with us taking plenty of photos along the way. The roads were also of very good quality, we ended up playing a game of 'leap frog' with the coaches as we would pull in to take photos, only to pass them by again...and pull in again. Finally they started doing the same, pulling in to take photos.

(The Partry Mountains)

Now this was fine all the way up to the Galway border and the town of Leenaun, the 'Irish Pride' delivery lorry that thought it was a scooter cutting up everyone at the traffic lights was a bad sign. Basically the road quality went from rather good to rather poor. I would have expected better roads in Galway with the heavy tourist traffic but this was not the case at all. Gravel was common, this mixed with plenty of pot holes and a chaotic surface made choosing your lines through bends bit of an art, never mind trying to go in a straight line. Regardless, we made it to Kylemore Abbey in one piece, parked up and set out rambling.

Kylemore Abbey 006

Now the price of admission was some €12 each, this included the shuttle bus to the gardens. Everything else (the Abbey, mausoleum etc) were all by foot. Again this was another location with a rich history, nice walks and excellent views of the surrounding countryside. Much like Glenveagh a few days earlier, this had been built by a rich Englishman but from then on the similarities end as both were under different circumstances and obviously went in two different directions. In fact I understand that Kylemore will be changing into something else in the future and the private school on the grounds (with students from all around the globe) may all be soon gone. So enjoy it in its current state while you still can.

Kylemore Abbey 039

The Abbey is split into 4 main viewing rooms for you to walk around and the history is there for you to read. Further up there is a small church, still in use, while the mausoleum tucked away off the walking path is a strange but very peaceful sight to see. Be warned though, the walking path leads you down to nothing more then a gate to a road. So if you do not mind strolling around then have a wander, otherwise turn around and head back! We then jumped on the shuttlebus to the walled gardens. Now you must take the shuttle bus as this is a fully functioning Abbey and those that live here value their privacy.

Kylemore Abbey 071

The walled gardens are amazing, like a little glimpse of order surrounded by encroaching forest and in the shadow of the hills and mountains. In essence, the calm at the center of the storm. Again there is a little route to follow explaining the history of the gardens and even the purpose for the walls because admittedly in this spot there is no-one to keep out! In their day they would have been even more spectacular, including up to 21 greenhouses for winter walks. If you are in the Galway area then this is highly recommended. There were plenty of families wandering around with all ages enjoying the surroundings. After a fun afternoon exploring we sat down in the restaurant for a quick tea & coffee before setting off to Galway then back on the road home.

Kylemore Abbey 086

The N59 to Galway is not a good road, combine that with scores of hire cars and coach loads of tourists and you have yourself a melting pot. We were lucky in that we managed to put most of it behind us and tried to maintain a respectable pace. Originally I had wanted to take the R336, drop into Pearse's Cottage, then go to Galway along the coast via Spiddle, but it was too late in the afternoon. Though by time we got to Oughterard we found ourselves in a line of traffic stretching to Galway...wonder if those motorhomes were at the lead again? To be fair though, the Galway Races were on and the roads around Galway were packed. The Garda were at every roundabout and junction trying to keep things moving and answering peoples queries. These roads simply are not up to this sort of capacity, though it is an annual event so excuses do not hold much water.

The chaos of Galway gave way to a line of traffic stretching to the horizon. The glorious weather we had all week finally broke too, with rain pouring down on us. Those sweaty glove complaints were long forgotten and I soon set about making progress through the convoy. Eventually we even found ourselves on point with open roads ahead of us once again, the weather even started to lighten up. In fact come Athlone things just kept getting better as we joined the recently complete M6, which becomes the N6 again at Kilbeggan...then the M4 at Kinnegad...then N4 coming into Dublin. In nothing else it means that drivers with cruise control are kept busy.

Either way...the time it took us to go from Kylemore Abbey to Galway was approximately the same time it took to go from Galway to home. That is probably the best comparison of the road quality in West Galway I can provide.

Lessons Learned

Well what can I take from this trip? Firstly forget about those 'cheap' hotel websites and get in touch with local Discover Ireland offices, it saved us a fortune. I am kicking myself because a week away in hotels B&B has cost the same as for 1 night I am paying for a charity event later in August! Lesson well and truly learned.

My partners only complaint was that we could not chat, if it had not been for that then things would have been perfect and I could have had an extra set of eyes which would have meant a lot less miles on that first day. So I am planing on buying an 'Autocom Active-Duo' in the not too distant future to solve this.

The Buell was perfect and this was a great bonding experience. Any kinks I had with the big V-Twin lump are now well and truly ironed out. The Ulysses XB12XT did everything I asked of it, went were I needed it to be, reacted to every situation with predictability and stability. Overtaking requires planning in terms of how to get the most out of the engine, but this is not a bad thing as it keeps yo safer, in my opinion, as more thought is involved. Even with the two of us on board and full of gear and souvenirs the bike when unaffected, the manuals guide at setting up the suspension with the twist knob is pretty accurate, but you may prefer a little bit more or less depending on preferences. Either way the best testament is that there is nothing else I would choose over the Uly for touring.

We got into a simple but effective routine. We would load the bike, jump on and then pull in at the first petrol station for fuel and some bottled water. Much like the routine of putting my gear on before getting on the bike gives me a huge psychological boost as it 'puts me in the zone', this stop did the same. Making sure everything was comfortable and just right for those mile-munching mornings, giving the bike a little test-run, checking oil, tyre pressures and so on. I might spend 2-3 hours a day on the bike commuting but I did 6 hours on my first day and over 1,200km over the 4 days. No, this may not be a huge amount compared to those who devour continents, but for us and the new bike this was a break-in period for all involved and I think we all came out all the better for it.

The End of The End

So I have been home for 2 weeks now and we enjoyed that trip so much that we are already planning a weekend getaway in September and then a European trip next year around May/June. The provisional MotoGP dates have just been released so I will start penciling in dates and trying to work something out. While for the charity run on the 30th August I am trying my best to get the Autocom unit but dealers are light on the ground here in Ireland and waiting for them to get back to you is a whole other issue!

This was a fantastic break away and dismissed any myths that it is not fun or cost effective to spend your holidays at home. There are so many sites to see, so much history and ultimately there is something for everyone, you just have to be prepared to get out there and go around that next bend, to charge for the horizon and you just never know what you may find. If nothing else from journeys like these you learn that “a good long ride can clear your mind, restore your faith, and use up a lot of fuel” -Anon.

As always, try to keep the rubber side down.

(The End...For Now!)

Saturday, 16 August 2008

Ireland Tour 2008 (Part 3)

Wednesday 30th July

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Decisions, Decisions

We did not sleep well and were glad to be getting up to leave. The breakfast was probably the Abbey Hotels saving grace. A standard buffet layout, simply walk up and point at what you want. In that case the vegetarian option was beans on toast with a few mushrooms. Simple but hit the spot when washed down with the morning fix of black coffee. Back up to the bedroom, bags in hand and off to see how Uly was.

Donegal 006
(Motorcycle Parking In Donegal)

She was fine and though the motorcycle parking bays are clearly marked and surprisingly plentiful, the average car driver seems convinced they can squeeze into the smaller bays while ignoring the writing on the ground. Need we wonder why motorcycles are so invisible on the roads? Another fumny aspect is the most impressive building in Donegal Town is the 'Discover Ireland' offices. Again our first stop.

Donegal 003

The ladies inside were once again extremely helpful and they booked us into a hotel in Westport town center for €90 for the both of us including breakfast. We asked a few more probing questions about parking this time and the hotel insisted that we need not worry. We would wait and see, but at least with that sorted we could plan on what to do with today.

Our plans had changed slightly in that we had to be back home Thursday night instead of Friday. The last sight I wanted to see on this tour was Kylemore Abbey in County Galway. The decision before us now was whether we head for Westport, check-in & unload then head to Kylemore then coming back to Wesrport that night or take our time and head to Westport then visit Kylemore via our way home Thursday. All that we did decide to do was go to Westport, once there we would be in a better position to decide what to do next.

So back on the road we pulled in at the first petrol station, got water for ourselves, topped up the fuel on Uly and joined the N15 to Sligo. After Sligo we took the N17 to Charlestown, then took the N5 West to Castlebar and finally Westport.

"There May be Trouble Ahead..."

The roads were generally very busy and we found that the traffic was mainly being slowed by caravans and motorhomes, I would guess rentals, in one case a motorhome was also towing a car. How much mobility do you need? This obviously led to plenty of very long tailbacks, even though there were ample hard shoulders to pull in and allow the traffic to pass, yet these slow moving vehicles refused to give way. To give you an idea of how long the convoy was at one stage, we pulled off the road to put on our neck tubes (more for bugs then warmth) at a petrol station. So gloves off, helmets off, walk around bike, neck tubes on, helmets on, fix ourselves, gloves on, restarted bike, pulled out of parking area and the convoy was still going by unbroken! We had hoped it would ahead of us, but we managed to rejoin when someone flashed us to come in and beyond him we could not see an end. Really, there is no need for any driver to cause that sort of tailback. I remember in California when traveling in the mountains they had a law that if you have X amount of vehicles behind you, you must pull over...

Westport 010

Anyway when we turned onto the N5 to Westport at Charlestown it seemed that we were the only ones on the road and it was a great road! Smooth, wide, flowing, light traffic and the sun beating down...this was motorcycle touring at its best. We would rejoin moderate traffic after Castlebar to Westport, but nothing heavy. Arriving in Westport we went straight through and parked up beside the clock to ask directions for the hotel. It was just at the bottom of the street and when we pulled up we were pleasantly surprised.

The Wyatt Hotel, Westport was our stop and it was very impressive. Clean and modern with all mod-cons and with an underground private car part complete with CCTV which was relayed to a screen at the reception desk and very motorcycle friendly. We knew we were going to enjoy this, in fact, we decided there and then to park up, unload, freshen up and spend the day in Westport. We got a little walking guide in the reception that took us on a quick walk around the town explaining all the sights. The sun was out in full force and we were happy to soak it up.

Westport 002
(Inscription: "I am Patrick a sinner most unlearned the least of all the faithful and utterly despised by many"...I identify with how he felt)

The town was full of people who were either going to or coming from Croagh Patrick just to the South West of Westport. Their respective neck tie/tie-shirts and so on marked them out. Come the evening they had dispersed and Westport was still warm from the day, but pleasant, relaxed and even more enjoyable to walk around and soak up. We settled on what looked like a nice restaurant and what should have been an hours wait turned into 5 mins as a booking never turned up. The food was excellent and the portions were large. We ended up taking half the pizza back to the hotel with us.

Westport 007

That night was to be our last night of the trip, so for the final time I sat with the road map and scanned the route. Kylemore Abbey and then the final push.

To be Continued...

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Ireland Tour 2008 (Part 2)

Tuesday 29th July

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The Good, The Bad & The People Carriers

We got up and headed for breakfast were we had good news and bad news. The good news was that they serve a full vegetarian option at the Premier Inn (though they overcooked the vegetarian sausages), the bad news was that the rain was pouring down. We finished up a very filling breakfast and packed up thinking if things stay like this we might cut our holiday sort. Yet by time we came outside to load the bike the sun was shining and skies had cleared...the tour was certainly back on.

So we had decided to head to Glenveagh National Park in County Donegal, just beyond Letterkenny. The route (which I had studied in greater detail) seemed straight forward. We would take the A37 from Coleraine to Limavady, then the A2 to Derry City, then heading for the N13 back into Ireland and to Letterkenny. Finally taking the N56 from Letterkenny, turning onto the R225 before Termon and then just follow the signs to Glenveagh National Park. Simple!

We topped up the fuel in Coleraine, got some bottles of water and hit the road. What a road it is...the natural beauty that lines either side of the route is stunning. Only ruined whenever we got stuck behind a transit van or lorry. We were constantly pointing out things to each other and just soaking up the ride and sun. The Buell's engine seems to compliment this type of touring perfectly, easy going and broad power so you are not always working and so enjoying the ride. The roads were great and very enjoyable with no surprises.

Then once through Derry City it just kept getting better with tree lined roads only to give way to fantastic views of the River Foyle along the A40, turning onto the B193/R237 and then the N13. You know straight away when you get back on Irish roads, thankfully the Buell's suspension is more then capable of soaking up all the character they have. First stop in Letterkenny would be the Irish Tourist Offices, or Discover Ireland, just before you enter the town. It had been recommended in some Irish biker forums to let these help plan your journey.

Letterkenny 001
(Letterkenny Tourist Office)

Frankly the people who work in these offices turned out to be the stars of the tour. They were extremely pleasant, chatty and did everything they could to help. Within 10mins we had our nights accommodation sorted so all we had to think about was enjoying the day and turning up at our destination when we were done. Also the offices seem to be able to get some great rates for accommodation so if you are planning any trips around Ireland make sure these offices are either your first stop each morning or at the very least make sure you get their phone numbers. I can only say a huge thank you for all their assistance.

Rolling Onwards

Back on the road...almost. My hands were getting soaked from perspiration because of the heat, up to to 25C today and 27C yesterday (in fact the whole week temp did not dip below 20C until Thursday!). So we decided to get some lunch then pop into a motorcycle shop we had seen. Nothing good came of this though, the little food court in the shopping centre was frankly a rip-off and the food was below average. While the motorcycle shop did not have any summer gloves in my size. It was my own fault not bringing a pair with me, but as said the glorious weather we had all week caught is by surprise.

Glenveagh National Park 007

The road to Glenveagh was very straight forward, though finding the N56 in Letterkenny was a little bit like hide & seek. Also our only 'close call' of the trip occurred now when a couple in a people carrier pulled right out into our path. Keep in mind I had (as always when on the bike) a florescent yellow waistcoat, bright helmet, reflectores on the the bike...I am amazed. What amazed me more is when I pulled up along side all the driver could do was laugh it off. Stupid is as stupid does and I was just happy to leave him behind me.

The N56 is pretty dull, with not too much to enjoy but once you get off it onto the R255 then the fun starts. It reminded me on the Wicklow mountains, with less rain and much grander views. The roads are average and as long as you remember anything could be around the bends/dips then they are very rewarding. Now the signs for Glenveagh become very sparse, I just kept on the road and soon you are arriving at your destination.

Glenveagh National Park 038

Once you pull into the car park you really have no idea what awaits you just a few minutes walk away, very unassuming and I just thought I was back in the Newgrange car-park. Head down to the visitor centre and there is a model of the you get a better idea what lies ahead. We decided to get the shuttle buses but these are completely optional. In fact you could park up, spend all day here and not have to spend a cent. The bus was €2 each, being in biker gear and with helmets really limited us. Until we got to the castle and the reception offered to take the gear off us and store it. Very biker friendly!

Glenveagh National Park 062

With the gear out of the way we had more options, so we left the castle and started exploring the gardens. Eventually walking up to the 'viewing point' with tremendous views of the valley were the national park sits. The castle has a rich history and interesting tales, with it even being 'captured' in the not too distant past. Well worth visiting and there is something for everyone with all the facilities you would expect from a family attraction. If we had the time there are also walks to waterfalls and other sights, but we were too late in the day. So after a fulfilling afternoon soaking up nature, allot of sun and swarms of silver-fly we popped into the tea rooms at the back on the castle for a tea & coffee, then shuttlebus back to the car park.

Could I Have A Good Room With That Please?

Several times this trip I would be stopped by people to chat about the bike. The funny aspect would always be that they know all about Buell, they just have never seen one or do not know anyone who has owned one. The couple at Glenveagh who talked to us had his & hers Harley Davidson Sportser 883's at home so they knew plenty about Buell. The two of them were looking at the bike, then at each other and then at us...obviously thinking “we should have done this”. They gave us a quick wave and smile as they drove off in their Volvo estate. We mounted our trusty steed and headed back to Letterkenny towards our final destination that day, Donegal town.

The N13/N15 takes you to Donegal, another fairly standard road with the only feature of note being the 'Barnesmore Gap', basically a valley that the N15 leads you through. Donegal town itself is at best a stop-over point. There is not much there, not even for tourists. We were booked into 'The Abbey' hotel in the center of Donegal. We were very disappointed by this hotel, maybe we had been spoilt by the Premier Inn the night before but things got off badly when the 'secure parking' was a free ticket to put on our vehicle in an open car-park with no CCTV and no security. We took some comfort knowing the Garda station was facing the bike.

Buell Ulysses XB12XT 004
(Parked Up In Donegal)

Back in the hotel we went up the the room, the door of which was beside an emergency exit with a smell of stagnant water coming from it. While the bedroom smelled like a smoking room! So back downstairs we went to ask for a change, only to be informed there was one other room available and that ALL rooms were smoking rooms. This was another unpleasant surprise, though the other room did not smell as bad and had a much better view. So we finally got to get out of our gear and go looking for somewhere to eat. Again, there is not much choice and we ended up hoping that the rest of our nights would not be this disappointing.

Once again I flipped open the road map and scratched my head over the next days journey.

To be continued...

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Ireland Tour 2008 (Part 1)

Monday 28th July 2008

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In The Beginning:

The bags were still being packed 10mins before we hit the road. I had got a set of Buell inner bags for the side cases & top case. Since we were planning to B&B it we took a side case each and used the top case for access to daily bits & bobs. This worked out to be a good plan as we only ever opened the side cases to walk into were we were staying for the night.

The plan was straight forward, leave home, head up to the Giant's Causeway then back home via Galway! The Buell Ulysses was going to be the perfect bike for the trip but I was missing one thing for the trip, a disc lock. My old one does not fit so our first destination was to be Hein Gericke in Newry before the push to the Giant's Causeway.

So with the bike finally loaded, we mounted Uly and hit the road. We decided to take direct routes, so the N4 into Dublin, joined the M50 North bound passing through the toll bridge and finally letting the M1 take us to Northern Ireland. This went without a hitch and was all quickly put behind us. There were some delays in Newry as they were blasting rocks so detours were in place. Even loaded, being on a bike gives you a greater degree on freedom to filter. Soon we where in Hein Gericke, disc-lock bought and then back on the road. We even got experience the great British institution that is the 'speed camera' as we were soon traveling between a few sets of 'average speed' cameras...for some reason I kept thinking the year was 1984!?

The Lost World:

My navigation skills are usually spot-on, with routes pre-planned and maps covering the trip. I only ever wished I had a GPS when lost in city centers. That all changed with the leg along the M2 after Belfast. It should have been a straight forward blast to 'Junction 1' and turning North for Ballymena/Coleraine/Bushmills. Now the fun began...

The fuel light came on after Belfast so I decided to look for services, but nothing was obvious until I finally decided to pull off at 'Junction 6' for Antrim town. The first place we found was little more then a shop front with 2 pumps either side of the door way, which looked more like a little house on a street. Before I was off the bike a very pleasant shop assistant was standing behind us with nozzle in hand ready to fill us up. She looked a bit puzzled and I offered to do the 'work' then come in to pay. She was very cheery, asked if I was sure then returned inside. Once fueled up and paid we were back on the road.

This was my first mistake, in hindsight if I was paying more attention I could have just stayed on the road instead of heading back to Junction 6. Further once rejoining I got it into my head that I was looking for Junction 2 to come off! I realized my mistake very quickly and went back to Junction 1 and was finally back on the road to Ballymena. This was very straight forward all the way up to Coleraine when I made my next mistake. I took the 'giants causeway coastal route (n)' signs...which did take us along some stunning roads with brilliant scenery along the coast road, especially just past the aptly named Downhill. I finally pulled in to stop at Ballyscullion. My partner was not very impressed, she had seen the sign for Bushmills but I had not understood what she was saying to me.

Buell Ulysses XB12XT 001
(View from Ballyscullion)

Anyway, back to Coleraine. Took the signs for 'the coastal road (s)' and soon on the way to Bushmills. Everything went to plan all the way to the Giants Causeway. Upon arrival you have to pay a small fee to use the parking facilities, then you park up and get to wander around. There are a series of walks along the Causeway and depending on your time (and inclination) you could spend all day here. It is a truly remarkable sight to see in the flesh and I highly recommend a visit. Shuttle buses are available to ferry you to the main part of the Causeway (though we elected to walk up and back).

Giants Causeway 015

No Beds at The Inn...

As I have said, I am a planner and I had a few options set up for accommodation which I had been trying to follow up throughout the day, BUT there was a conference going on in Coleraine and everything in the area seemed to be booked up. It was now 7pm and I was looking forward to pulling in for food, shower and bed. Yet our options were running out. It was looking like we would have to travel back to Ballymena just to find somewhere to stay...until we got lucky in Coleraine.

We pulled into a small commercial area with a Sainsbury's, a few restaurants and at the bottom a 'Premier Inn', while deciding on what to eat I thought we could go into the Premier Inn if not to get a room but at least to get advice on where to stay. Guess what? They had rooms! "Why" I asked? Turns out they had only been open since the first week of July and the conference attendees had booked everything up before then. So we booked ourselves in at £75 for B&B though this can be cheaper if you elect for no breakfast or just a continental breakfast. The rooms were very clean and of very good quality. We had no complaints and I recommend them for others. The parking may not be 100% secure for bikes, but there are CCTV cameras around the parking lot, it is enclosed and away from the main roads.

After refreshing ourselves we walked up to the 'Indus Valley' Indian restaurant just 2 mins away. The staff were very helpful and professional, the restaurant was clean and pleasant, while the food was also excellent. I am happy to recommend this place for anyone looking for somewhere good to eat. We walked away full and pleased. Back in the Inn I took at the road map to avoid anymore 'driving errors' and tried to decide on the next days route/plan.

To be continued...

Friday, 1 August 2008

Buell, Uly & I

Almost 1 month and 1 service later it is time for the first blog all about owning and living with my Buell Ulysses XB12XT. Her provisional pet name is 'Uly' as I can not think up anything else appropriate!

First off this period has been all about breaking in the engine. This would sound like a pretty straight forward aspect of ownership but on the web you will find opinions ranging from 'change the oil every chance you get' to 'ride her like you stole it & let the next owner worry about the engine'. In the end I simply went by the recommendations in the owners manual, they refer to the section as 'break-in rules' which sums up their importance and I sum-up as follows:

- 1st 80km, keep the engine below 4000rpm and ride like you are on your test with the instructor on your ass! No lugging, no high revs in low rpm's and so on. Treat her softly!

- Next 800km, vary the engine speed and change gears as often as possible. Essentially keep off the motorways, take the long way home and enjoy getting to know your new bike. Keep the engine below 5000rpm.

- This is a big V-twin, air-cooled engine. No fancy cooling technology here other then a few pieces of plastic to direct the air to the engine. So warm-up is important. Turn on the engine, put on your helmet and gloves, jump on, get comfy and set off at a nice leisurely pace for the & try not to open the throttle more then half way for the first few km's. What helps me with this is reminding myself that the vast majority of accidents take place within 5 mins of home! So chill and enjoy.

- Two other obvious things are that the brakes and tires are brand new! New tires usually take the best part of 100km to wear in otherwise the first bend you get to could be a sore lesson. Same with the brakes, except they take about 300km so no hard braking or their life is severely shortened.

With all that in mind the 1st 880km were still tremendous fun. Those first 80km were scrubbed off by taking the long way home. Within a week I had covered over 600km...3 weeks later and I have 2000km on the clock and 1st service out of the way which was due at 1600km and free (free as in you paid for it when you bought the bike!). The next service is due to 8000km and I believe it will cost approx €275.

The only things of note leading up to the first service was that I topped up the oil twice (150ml x 2), but that is fairly normal for these types of engines. I used the H-D brand of oil, got one free from the dealer and I picked up another after my service (€7.99) even though there is plenty left in the first, but I like keeping spares handy. The clutch is less 'progressive' after the service, she only seems to really bite in the last 1/4 of letting it out which is the same as the demo bike I tried, not sure if this is standard across all models or just a signature of the mechanic. Also fuel range went from 200km before the reserve light coming on to 240km. So that works out at approx 6.8l per 100km to 5.7L per 100km OR 41.5mpg to 50mpg (UK gallon). That does not include the reserve that most seem to estimate at 40km-56km though I have only dipped 20km into it.

My one issue is has been with the cases, on the back of them are 4 rubber bungs which have a habit of sliding out of position as you take the case off. If one were not paying attention you could easily lose one. Though this is not a very big problem, just one of those little things you notice from ownership. The screen is very effective, OK I am only 165cm (5' 4") but I can happily say it will need no alterations. No buffeting or unexpected noise has been experienced.

The riding position is very comfortable and the seat seems to be a vast area to move around in meaning that when you start feeling uncomfortable you can just shift around a bit. The pillion seat feels so far back I swear you forget someone is there. My partner loves the backrest and does not know how she did without one. She has even confessed to snoozing back there! I have suggested tying her in place with some bungie cords to make sure she does not fall off...she insists she only snoozed the once. Her opinion on this matters as when she sat on the back on the Triumph Sprint ST she said immediately that is was uncomfortable & wanted to get off.

Riding a Buell is different, at first I did not get it and had not tuned my brain into how the bike handles. All that changed when I took her out for a shopping trip one weekend and on the way home I got caught in a down-pour, so my brain switched to wet-weather mode and all of a sudden the bike seemed to go from big cruiser to big sportsbike! You see I started setting up the corners before I got to them, all braking and gear selection done because slowing down while leaned over in the wet is not an option. The bike just flew through the bends, twisty roads were demolished as if they were chicanes in the dry. I could not believe what I had been missing.

The next day I went out in the dry and coming that night came to my favorite roundabout only to have my toe-slider scrape along the ground! 10 years of riding and I am on a fully laden 'adventure' tourer and my toe-slider is scraping along the tarmac. At first I was slightly worried and just started thinking, "lets just pick you up girl"...once up I was thinking "Yeehaw" in my best cowboy voice. Though I have not repeated that it has really had my eyes opened to the bikes abilities and potential.

What else? Sweaty glove syndrome! I have never had a 'summer glove', I always buy waterproof gloves since rain is as common as air here in Ireland. Now I want a pair as the hand deflectors really do make a huge difference in all weather. During hot sunny rides taking off the gloves are one thing, getting them back on is a 5min job as the lining has shifted and needs to coaxed back into position. I complain now, but come the winter I will probably be singing their praises. I even tried out the heated grips, think holding onto a copper pipe leading to a radiator in your house...that was on setting one (of two). Pete (the dealer) had warned me that they are either warm or hot!

The torque from the engine is amazing! I admit that this bike is no faster then my previous bike (Kawasaki er-6f/ninja 650r) but I never red-lined that and I am not a naturally fast rider. No, I want usable power from the word go and once you hit 2500rpm you already have 85% of the bikes torque going through that fat rear tire. Does not matter if I am on my own or loaded up with pillion and luggage, she just does everything I want while being completely unfazed. Easy, relaxed and completely predictable. No sudden jump between gears or fancy engine electronic systems kicking in. In fact I do not think I have seem her go over 5,000rpm! At 120km on the motorway she is just over 4,000rpm and chugging away.

The bike is also a tremendous draw! In the last 3 weeks every time I have parked up somewhere someone has come over to have a chat with me, biker and passer-by alike. The funny thing is the all seem to know about Buells, the fuel in frame and all the rest of it...they just do not know anyone with one. Hopefully with all my commuting I will raise some awareness of the brand, though I should see if I can set up some sort of referral commission from Dublin Harley-Davidson (if you are reading this you know who I am lads!).

Right then, as this blog is published I will be just finishing up a tour with my partner around some of the Irish coast. The proposed route is below which is liable to change, so if you saw a red Buell Ulysses XB12XT pass through your town during the week of July 28th - August 1st, two-up and with 3 hard cases then it was probably us. Hopefully this will be a test run for something bigger next year!

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I will try to keep you fully updated with how things progress with Buell, Uly & I and hopefully there are many adventures on the horizon. The only additions I am seriously considering is fitting some motolights for the winter and I am also debating if it would be possible to fit the Ulysses XB12X front fender set-up to the XB12XT as I believe it would be much more effective on this Irish roads. Especially were I live as mud seems to be a constant all year round. I will keep you all appraised.

As always, try to keep the rubber side down!