03 October 2015

I've been riding bikes officially since May 2013, when I bought my Honda Deauville (I had a cheap, Chinese 150cc dirt bike for messing around the field at home before that). I bought the Deauville because I planned to travel around and tour. The Deauville is a great bike, but I found during my travels that I like to explore country roads and narrow tracks and the Deauville just wasn't designed for that. About a year ago, I decided that what I needed was an adventure/dual-sport bike. Having been spoiled by the shaft drive on the Deauville, I wasn't really inclined to change to a bike with a chain. That and a few other factors narrowed my choice down to a BMW GS. I just had to decide which generation GS I wanted.

I love tinkering with my bikes - it's a huge part of the enjoyment I get from owning a bike - so I was put off by the CAN bus on the 1200GS. I could have bought the interface and software for working with the CAN bus, but I'm an electronic engineer, so that would be turning it into a day's work, rather than a bit of fun with my bike. I think the 1200GS is a great bike. I rode a 1200GS LC in South Africa last year and thought it was an amazing bike; in fact, I was very tempted to buy one. The fly-by-wire controls and the CAN controlled engine makes it a bit soulless for me, though. I like a bike with some character and personality.

I was very seriously considering buying an 1100GS for a long while. In fact, I nearly bought one in Germany in similar condition and low mileage as the bike I did buy, but it was (fortunately) sold before I had a chance to go over to buy it. Being honest, the 1100GS is better value for money than the 1150. There's very little to separate the two. Hydraulic clutch and an extra gear on the 1150 is really about all. As long a you get one with an M97 gearbox (late '97 onwards), the 1100GS is every bit as good a bike as the 1150. However, my plan is to keep this GS long-term, and I realised that deep down, the bike I wanted was an R1150GS, so I decided to spoil myself and spend the extra money to get the bike I really wanted.

At first, I was only looking at the standard R1150GS because I'd heard half truths and whole lies about the Adventure being much heavier and clumsier etc, but when I did my research, I realised that the Adventure is only 3kg heavier when dry. The 30l tank makes it heavier than the 22l tank on the standard GS when full but if that's an issue, you don't have to fill the tank full. The only other difference, besides aesthetics is that the Adventure suspension is 2cm higher.

Having set my mind on which bike I wanted, I started to look in earnest. I've been nearly a year keeping an eye on every 1100, 1150 and 1200 GS that came up for sale in Ireland and the UK, and I realised that low mileage, clean ones just don't come up. I started looking in Germany because very low mileage 1100 and 1150 GSes are far more plentiful out there. An immaculate 1150 Adventure came up for sale in Northern Ireland which I went to look at. It was a great bike, but it had 30,000 miles on it and the seller was the second owner. I was tempted, but in the end decided against it because it didn't tick all the right boxes for me.

I eventually found the bike I was looking for. A silver R1150GS Adventure with 24,000km on it; one very careful owner (on the ad he even specified that the bike had only ever been hand washed); Full Service History, all original BMW documentation, including manuals, brochures, leaflets, a poster, receipts for anything ever done to the bike, even a promotional VHS video from BMW about the R1150GS Adventure; brand new panniers and top box, never used. The bike was registered in August 2005, so it was one of the very last ones made. I have a German friend that rides bikes living near Dresden and he had agreed to contact the seller whenever I found the bike I was looking for, but when I tried to contact him, I couldn't get any answer (it turns out he was away on holidays). After 24 hours of fretting that the bike would be sold, I opened Google translate and looked up the terms and expressions I needed to ask what I wanted to know. I used to go out with a German girl, so I have some basic German, but she could never convince me to speak German because I was never confident enough to use my bad German. It's amazing how little you care about making a fool of yourself with bad German when you really want to buy a motorbike. :D

When I phoned the seller, I was relieved that he was willing to make an effort on the phone to talk to me with my terrible German. He answered all my questions (even though I didn't understand all of it) and was very patient, repeating himself when I couldn't understand what he was saying. Eventually, when we started to get bogged down on the details, we exchanged email addresses and agreed to continue communicating that way. I had asked him on the phone if I could go to see and buy the bike the next day, but he explained that it was his son's birthday the next day and that he was going on a biking holiday with his own father the day after that. When we communicated by email, he promised to "reserve" the bike for me until he was back from his holidays and said I could come for it any time after the 21st of September (ten days later). I told him I'd see him on the 22nd. :D I booked my flight and waited. I hardly slept a wink for those ten nights.

Due to the age of the bike and the low mileage, I wondered if the tyres might be a bit old and worried about riding home on them. I tried to ask how old the tyres were, but he didn't understand that I was asking about the age, rather than the amount of rubber left on them. In the end, I decided to play it safe and asked him if he could get a new set of Metzeler Tourances fitted to it for me, if I paid him for them. He got the new tyres fitted the day before I flew out and sent this photo of the new tyres to me:

I was impressed and delighted when I saw the blanket spread out on the ground to protect the wheels, because it confirmed what I'd already thought about how carefully he had minded the bike.

When I flew out to Cologne on the 22nd (Tuesday of last week), his wife and son (who both speak English), collected me from the airport and brought me to their house. In the car, she complained about how he is always cleaning his bikes with a toothbrush. I didn't even bother to hide the grin when I heard that. :D

The guy was still at work, so after a little bit of small talk and an offer of coffee at the house, she asked if I wanted to go out to the garage to see the bike. This was my first view of the bike:

I felt like skipping around the garage because the bike was even better in reality than it had looked in the photos. I walked to the front of the bike to look at the front of the engine casing, which the first place and signs of dirt or corrosion show up and it was immaculate:

After having a good look at the bike, we went back inside and had coffee while we waited for him to come home from work. It was getting dusk and starting to rain when he got home, so we pulled the bike out immediately so I could test ride it. He led me (on a lovely R80GS) on a spin for 15 or 20 minutes around the area. It took a bit of getting used to because it's a very different beast to the Deauville, but I fell in love with it straight away. I was very nervous and with the new tyres and wet surface, I had to ride very tamely, but I got enough of a ride to know the bike was mechanically perfect. When we got back to the house, he told me that that was the third time the bike had ever gotten wet!

Here's a photo I took of the odometer after I got back from the test ride:

We then went inside and he spent about twenty minutes going through all the paperwork and receipts and explaining what each one was for, after which, I joined them for dinner.

Here's a photo of the folder full of receipts, all the other manuals and paperwork and the VHS video:

The bolts in the plastic zip-lock bag are the original ones that were removed to fit the top box rack (even though the top box was never actually fitted to the bike). The two black pipes are the originals from the airbox to the throttle bodies. He replaced them with new, genuine BMW parts from the R1150R to allow the bike to breathe better.

After dinner we filled out and signed all the necessary paperwork to transfer ownership of the bike. In his email, he had told me that they would put me up for the night. I had slightly misunderstood and thought I was staying at their house, but they had booked me into (and paid for) a hotel at the end of their street.

The next morning his wife met me at the hotel and took me to the KFZ ( vehicle registration office) because he was at work. Registering for export plates is a bit of a rigmarole. First you need to buy temporary insurance. There are always shops beside the KFZ selling insurance and numberplates, so we went to the one next door. Once I'd paid for the insurance (€80 for 15 days third party), I had to go back into the KFZ and show the receipt to them. Then they issued the registration number, so I went back to the shop next door to get my numberplate printed, which I had to take back to the KFZ to get them to put an official sticker on it. The registration cost just over €40 and €9 for the numberplate. I also had to pay German road tax for the 15 days that the export plates are valid for, but you can only pay that by having a German bank account! The guy's wife told me she would give her bank account details and I could give her the cash (it turned out to be less than €10 tax for the 15 days). I was so glad to have had her help because I don't think I could have managed all that on my own with my terrible level of German.

When all that was done, we went back to the house, where I fitted the numberplate and packed the bike. Here are a few photos just before I left:

I headed straight for the Kölner Dom (Cologne Cathedral) to get a photo of the bike there:

From there, I started to head for Belgium. I deliberately stayed off the motorways, but after a few hours of national roads in Germany, a little bit of Netherlands and then into Belgium, I realised that it was getting late and I was making very little distance because traffic was moving slowly. I got on the motorway and crossed most of Belgium, diagonally in about two and a half hours. That was very hard work because I was tired anyway and it was windy. I eventually got to Brugge at about 20:30. I checked into my hotel, grabbed a bit of takeaway pizza from a restaurant (because everywhere was closing) and sat at the canal to eat and enjoy the view.

Here's my track for Day 1 of the trip home (Wednesday 23rd): https://track.gs/mh9c0Z

I got up on Thursday and had a bit of a walk around the old part of Brugge, but I was impatient to get on the road, so I headed back to the hotel, packed up and set off again. I stopped at the two most famous locations in Brugge to take photos of the bike before I left:

Burg, Brugge:

Markt, Brugge:

I spotted this windmill off in the distance, not far from Brugge, so I turned off at the next side road and wandered around until I found it:

I made my way to Oostende, where there's a large part of Hitler's Atlantikwall left intact. There's a nice open-air museum on the site, with wax figures manning the posts etc. Unfortunately, it rained a lot while I was there and I got drenched. Luckily, I was in my bike gear, but it was still pretty miserable. Here's the bike parked up outside:

As I left Oostende, the weather started to clear up and by the time I got into France, it was a fine evening. I rolled up to the Eurotunnel terminal in Calais without a reservation and bought my ticket for the next train. After a short delay, we boarded and set off. I met an English couple on bikes that were just on their way home from France, and it was nice to have someone to chat to during the crossing:

After getting to England, I searched online for somewhere to stay and found a place in a village called Rye, not far from Hastings.

Track for Day 2: https://track.gs/jvqoah

Friday was a very frustrating day on the bike. The volume of traffic on English roads is crazy. I was on the bike for 11 hours on Friday and only covered 414km in that time. I've never seen so much traffic in my life. The big delay was on the national roads, where the speed limit was 60mph, but cars were only moving at 35-40mph. That really added time to my journey. To top it all off, the M4 was down from three lanes to one just before the Severn Bridge, near Bristol, because a truck had shed its load. The GS is much wider, with the panniers, than the Deauville is, so I hadn't planned filtering until I had the bike for a while and got used to it, but it was either filter or spend hours sitting on the M4. I started off cautiously, but it didn't take long to get used to it and soon I was nipping through gaps with only a few centimetres to spare at each side. The tailback was about 10km long and I was exhausted by the time I got through it. After stopping at a rest stop for food, I rode on for another hour to the inn I'd booked into in the Brecon Beacons.

Track for Day 3: https://track.gs/WzPEIU

Saturday was, by far, the best day of the trip home. I started off in the morning by planning a nice winding route around the Brecon Beacons to explore them. I started with some lovely open sweeping bends over flat ground, high up in the Beacons, then wound through bótharíns and narrow tracks, until making my way back to the main roads and heading north for Holyhead. The weather was amazing, the views were beautiful and the roads were perfect. The middle of Wales is a bit empty and I had no phone reception for about three hours. My girlfriend and family were getting a bit worried because they were tracking me online, but the phone couldn't update the track, so it looked like I was stopped in the middle of nowhere for three hours. Wales is absolutely beautiful, but I didn't have enough time to really enjoy it. Towards evening, I was pushing to make Holyhead and wasn't enjoying the ride. I'm definitely going to head over there again next year for a long weekend or a few days. I had been hoping to make a late sailing from Holyhead, but when I got out the far end of Snowdonia National Park and got reception, I checked online and realised that I wasn't going to make the last sailing, so I booked into the Bull Hotel in Valley, just outside Holyhead.

Here's just a sample of the beautiful views in the Brecon Beacons:

Track for Day 4: https://track.gs/Onn3n7

I booked my place on the 08:55 sailing from Holyhead the night before, so I was up early on Sunday to make my way to the ferry. They had just started boarding when I arrived, so I pretty much rode straight on and my bike was strapped down:

When I got off the ferry in Ireland, I headed for Johnnie Fox's Pub in Glencullen, to get a photo for the photo rally. From there, I made my way back to the M4, and aimed straight for my parents' place to show the bike to them. I passed the end of my own road about 40 minutes before getting to my parents' house and it was very tough to ride on past because I was exhausted from the trip. As I rode up my parents' road, though, I was glad I did because they had been tracking my progress and when they saw that I was close, they came out to the gate to wait for me and my brother took photos as I arrived. :D

After showing the bike to them and chatting for an hour, I climbed back on and headed for home. The last thing I did before putting the bike in the shed was take a photo of the odometer. 1,790km door to door.

Track for Day 5: https://track.gs/EICwaO

I stitched the tracks for the five days together just to give an overview of the whole trip:

It was a long trip home and the hard part was that I had to make a certain amount of distance each day because I was due back to work on Monday morning. It was a lot of work and a lot of effort, but after nearly a year of searching, it was worth it to get the bike I wanted.
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