Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Service temporarily disrupted

Hello. Just a quick note to apologise for the sudden quietness on the blog. The lovely Mrs. Cope and I are in the United States for a few weeks and I'm finding myself too occupied with the consumption of ice cream and barbecue to sit down and blog.

Which is kind of a shame because there are some exciting things happening. I am really really interested in the Harley-Davidson Livewire project, for example.

Anyway, if I don't get a chance to do so sooner, I'll be back on 9 July. Thanks for your patience.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Bring on the Buell 1190AX

The EBR 1190RX
Crikey, that seat looks uncomfortable!
I'll admit I've never really been a Buell guy. That is to say, I've never really been that hot on the look of the bikes he's produced. The guy himself I don't know that much about, though. And his vision of producing American-made motorcycles that aren't cruisers is something I applaud. So, for that latter aspect alone I'd be willing to try to force myself to like his bikes.

If you've been in a closet for the last few decades, Erik Buell is a guy who fell in love with motorcycles thanks to a P.O.S. 1957 Harley-Davidson panhead he rode around in his home state of Pennsylvania. After college, he got a job working for Harley-Davidson and in 1983 branched out to start his own small venture, Buell Motor Company. The company, based in Wisconsin and always maintaining close ties with Harley-Davidson, produced the first American-made sport bike since the Nova Project had been axed.

The close relationship was a blessing and a curse, of course. And it wasn't too long before Harley-Davidson bought up a controlling stake in Buell Motor Company, seeing this as a way for H-D to have its cake and eat it, too. Most people feel Harley-Davidson never really understood the cake they had, though, and in the wake of the Great Recession it decided to pull the rug out from under Buell Motor Company

Almost immediately thereafter, Erik Buell formed a new company, Erik Buell Racing, aka EBR. Which more or less brings us up to the present. EBR began full production of its 1190RX sport bike this past December and just this week announced the first European shipment had arrived British, German and Dutch shores. And on the back of this announcement came a glimpse at the forthcoming 1190SX, a naked version of the aforementioned fully-faired sport bike.

Information is not yet available for the SX, but the RX appears to have impressive statistics in terms of power, torque, etc., and has spiffy features such as 21-setting traction control (though, I can't help notice there is no talk of ABS). And it competes price-wise with other very high-end, high-performance motorcycles. Yes, the US $19,000 asking price (I can't find info on what it costs in the UK) is a bit steep, but so is the US $24,500 being asked for the Ducati 1199 Panigale S. 

Perhaps I really only think that's pricey because I don't quite "get" pure super-sport motorcycles. But ask me to fork out US $24,000 for the BMW K1600 GTL, or US $19,000 for the Victory Cross Country, and, would that I had it, I'd do so happily. 

EBR 1190SX
And certainly I want to see the RX succeed. If someone were just handing out EBR bikes, though, I'd want the newly revealed SX more. I'm guessing the ergonomics on the naked bike would be slightly less ridiculous.

The machine I'm most interested in, however, is the AX, something that is only listed as a future model on the EBR website. No pictures. No explanation. The interwebs speculation, however, is that the A stands for "adventure."

I've mentioned before that I really don't like the look of most adventure bikes. To me, there's nothing very cool in the aesthetic. But ever since I spent a day astride a Triumph Tiger Explorer XC, I haven't been able to scratch ADV bikes from the What I Want list. Their coolness comes in what they can do and how well they can do it.

In the guise of Buell Motor Company, Erik Buell has already produced an ADV. With the somewhat-maligned Ulysses, he managed to be in on the ground floor of the current ADV craze for blurring the lines between an actual off-road-capable machine and a tourer (look at this 2005 review for the bike and you'll see that Kevin Duke wasn't even sure how to categorise the bike at the time). If EBR can learn from the mistakes of the Ulysses and deliver a solid, American-made ADV bike I'm pretty sure I could force myself to love it regardless of its looks.

Well, that's assuming Victory or Indian don't produce such a bike first.

The point is, although I like the look of, want, and probably eventually will buy a cruiser in the not-too-distant future, it is very good to see something being produced in the United States that isn't same-old same-old. I can't help but wonder whether Harley-Davidson unintentionally spent several decades damaging the state of motorcycling in the United States by sticking so faithfully to the idea of giving people what they want. Sometimes you need to push forward, try different things and not worry about what people want, hoping that if the thing you produce is good enough they'll realise they want that, too.

And that's what I'm most wishful for in thinking about the forthcoming 1190AX, that EBR will produce a machine that will make me think: "I didn't know this until now, but this is the machine I've always wanted." 

Monday, 9 June 2014

Ride review: Yamaha XV950 / Star Bolt

Yamaha XV950
Imitation, Charles Caleb Colton famously noted, is the sincerest form of flattery. If that's true, the flattery the Harley-Davidson Iron 883 receives from Yamaha's XV950 is enough to make one blush. Put the two bikes side by side, and the inspiration for the latter is undeniable. Yamaha claims its bike has a "new neo retro Japanese look," but that's clearly just nonsense –– lorem ipsom that was used instead of "totally looks like a Harley-Davidson Iron 883."

Certainly the XV950 –– known as the Star Bolt in the United States –– isn't the first example of a Japanese OEM adhering faithfully to the styling cues of America's best-known motorcycle manufacturer. The orthodox members of the Church of Jesus Harley Latter-day Davidson write these bikes off as "wannabes," and tend to be pretty dismissive of anyone who would dare consider purchasing one. But I'm going to commit blasphemy here and tell you that the XV950 is unquestionably the superior machine. In look, sound, feel, and, of course, performance.

I've now had a chance to ride both bikes, having loved my experience on the Harley-Davidson 883 last summer, and certainly it's true that the similarities between the bikes are not just cosmetic. Both are 5-gear air-cooled V twins that have the kathunk-style gear boxes that I think are part of the fun of such machines. There's something cool about having your gear changes punctuated in that way, reminding you that you are on a machine, that your fire-driven dandy horse is a great big hunk of metal. Especially since, in both cases, that kathunk doesn't have any negative effect on your ability to change gears. Though things are just a teeny bit smoother on the Yamaha.

Once you hit your gear, both bikes are torque-happy and loads of fun to twist the throttle on. In the United Kingdom and other places where filtering is legal, these bikes are fantastic ways of reducing your TED (Time Exposed to Danger) to milliseconds when launching from a red light –– you won't have to worry about being stuck between two accelerating cars, you'll be ahead of them.

And though both machines weigh in upward of 550 lbs., their low seat height and low centre of gravity make them far more manageable than you might think. OK, sure, you'll never out-maneuver a dude on a scooter, but they are really easy to move at a crawling pace and would suit the needs of just about anyone in an urban/suburban setting.

With mid controls, the seating position on both is chair-like: your feet are forward but not so much that wind blows up your trouser leg. Additionally, the seating position means that when you encounter rough road you can stand up on the pegs.

Both the Harley and the Yamaha are available with anti-lock brakes. Both are belt driven. Both are fun to ride and incredibly popular. In the guise of the Star Bolt, the Yamaha XV950 is presently the best-selling metric cruiser in the United States. And, of course, through its various faces (Iron, Roadster, Super Low) the 883 Sportster is Harley-Davidson's best-selling machine.

I love the XV950's lack of chrome
But Yamaha does it better

I was genuinely surprised at just how much I enjoyed riding the XV950. I was expecting it to be more or less a carbon copy of the 883 Sportster experience, which is great... but the XV950 experience is better.

Performance superiority is usually a given when it comes to comparing pretty much any bike, save a Royal-Enfield, against a Harley-Davidson. People don't buy Harleys for performance. And that's OK. I get that. In the world of four wheels I am, unabashedly, a pickup man (a). You don't go fast in pickup trucks; you don't tear through corners; you don't travel in plush comfort. So, I can understand that when it comes to motorcycles some people just don't care whether they're on a machine that could keep pace with Guy Martin.

Still, it is possible to make improvements without detracting from the experience of a thing. Again using pickup trucks as an example, no one (save those blinded by misplaced allegiances) would deny that a Toyota is superior to a Chevrolet or Ford. If you've never seen the "Top Gear" episodes in which they try and fail to kill a Toyota Hilux, take the time to be amazed: Part 1Part 2Part 3. I'm not sure the Yamaha XV950 could take that much a beating, but it definitely outmatches its Harley-Davidson inspiration in a number of ways.

Although a Motorcycle.com comparison last year saw the Harley producing 0.1 horsepower more on a dyno test, the power of the Yamaha seems a hell of a lot more usable. Whereas things get pretty challenging above 60 mph on the Harley, I found that on the Yamaha 85 mph (b) was perfectly easy to reach and maintain. Actually, it was more than just easy, it was fun. Getting up to speed on the motorway was like being fired from a cannon, and I actually had to slow down to match the flow of traffic.

And at that speed things are a lot less hectic on the Yamaha. The seating puts you just a bit more "in" the bike and its big headlight blocks a decent amount of wind, the blast hitting me (I'm 6-foot-1) just below the xiphoid process. Though, I would still want the optional bullet cowling for additional protection.

I have no doubt the XV950 has it in her to do the ton (as could the Harley, maybe) and perhaps a little more. MCN says it has a top speed of 110 mph. But with the engine producing roughly 52 bhp, it's fair to say that getting there would be a more gradual process.

I kind of like the exposed frame.
If you do, though, you can take comfort in the fact that the XV950's brakes are up to the task of delivering enough whoa for all that go. Although the H-D Sportster's brakes are perfectly good, and far better than what you'll experience on the Triumph America or any larger cruiser, the Yamaha's are even better. I made a point of bringing the bike to a very quick stop on a few occasions and came away pleasantly surprised. And, as with the 883 Sportster, anti-lock brakes are available for a bit more cash.

Adding that option to the XV950 results in your getting the R-spec version, which has a few extra bells and whistles. Along with ABS, the XV950R / Bolt R-Spec has, in my opinion, cooler paint options, a slightly plusher seat, and better shocks. Though, even the standard XV950 shocks are superior to the Sportster's. Sure, 110 mm of rear travel isn't exactly off-road worthy, but it's pillowy bliss compared to the 40 mm of travel found on the Sportster.

Less than an hour on the Sportster had left me in a certain amount of pain, but the XV950 seemed perfectly capable of handling a typical British road. Plus, as I say, the seating position allows you to lift up on the pegs when hitting particularly nasty stretches.

Speaking of seating position, I found the ergonomics of the XV950 a little roomier and more comfortable, though still "sporty" enough that corners were easy and fun. Indeed, those last two words –– easy and fun –– probably best describe the overall experience of the XV950. Riding it is simple, intuitive, effortless and just so much fun.

Another good word to use is "cool." This is a bike that you're happy to be seen on. As well as heard. The stock exhaust has a nice, aggressive growl that is fun to hear but not so loud that it will annoy your neighbours or drive you crazy on long rides.

A matter of opinion

Some of the things that make the XV950 better, though, are very much issues of individual taste. For instance, the indicators. Harley-Davidson's system is to have a button on each grip. Want to turn right? Push the button on the right grip. I find that system confusing and prefer the more standard method of having the indicators controlled by a single button on the left grip. Yamaha does this and to me it's just easier.

You can see my Honda in the background trying not to be jealous.
Although the XV950 is very much modelled on the Iron 883 it does go off script in a few places. It is less refined in certain ways. There's that awkward bit of frame that juts out at the front, the gap between the tank and the seat, and the fact that all the wires are lashed to the bike with zip ties. Obviously, one way to interpret that is laziness on the part of Yamaha's designers. But to me it gives the bike more personality. It adheres to the bobber spirit, I think, retaining much more the feel of being a machine that was put together by human hands.

And, of course, that fits with Yamaha's philosophy of the bike. They really want you to mess with it –– to tinker with stuff, to add things, to reshape the XV950 so it doesn't look like anyone else's. Yes, they got that idea from Harley, but there's something about the Yamaha that makes you more willing to tamper.

Another facet of the bike that I prefer is its size. It is bigger than the 883 Sportster. That benefits me because I'm 6 foot 1. If you're a little shorter in the leg, the XV950 still has a very low seat (27 in.) but you may prefer the more compact nature of the Sportster. 

Some room for improvement

Though the XV950 is a great bike and I find myself now very seriously considering getting one, I have to admit that there are a few tiny foibles. The wind issue, for example. Even with the bullet cowling a winter ride is going to demand a good, thick sweater. And I suspect the "avoid motorways" box would be ticked more often when planning trips on Google Maps.

But that's just part of the experience, I suppose –– something to get used to. The same is true of the heat that comes off the XV950's air-cooled engine. You definitely notice it –– especially on your right knee/calf. Admittedly, that's probably an added benefit in Britain for 48 weeks of the year. I can imagine it being incredibly helpful in combating my notoriously cold hands. But for that month that we get something resembling a summer I suspect that suffering traffic on the XV950 would be a little uncomfortable.

On the issue of comfort, although the rider's seat and ergonomics are great, the same can't really be said of passenger accommodation. At least it exists, I suppose; pillion seats are add-on options for the Iron 883 and the Star Bolt in the United States. For some reason, in the UK the XV950 comes standard with a cushy brick of a seat that is long enough for a normal-sized human being, but not so terribly wide that he or she would want to go on really long journeys. Add to this the fact that the passenger pegs are quite high. I suspect the seating position would remind Jenn of a visit to the gynecologist.

Meanwhile, I am somewhat on the fence when it comes to the XV950's digital speedometer. I suppose the accuracy of a digital display helps one avoid speeding tickets but I just can't decide if I'd prefer a good old-fashioned analog speedo. I know that I would like a tachometer, though, as well as a gear indicator and fuel gauge. But none of those things are really deal breakers for me.

My main complaint is the price. At £7,800, the XV950R (i.e., the version with anti-lock brakes) costs £300 more than an ABS-equipped Iron 883. OK, yes, it is still a fair price. And the cost of the Harley would go up considerably if you added the pillion seat and better shocks that are standard on the XV950R. But, still, £300 dude. Especially considering the Yamaha won't have as good a resale value.

The three questions

In order for me to seriously consider a motorcycle it needs to answer in the affirmative to the following three questions:

1) Does it fit my current needs and lifestyle?
Yes. Long hauls to Scotland or the like would probably demand one or two additional pit stops (if not simply because the tank's range is only about 120 miles) but by and large I can see this bike taking me to all the places I want to go, doing all the thing I want it to do.

2) Does it put a grin on my face?
Yes. It is loads of fun in acceleration, moves fluidly through corners, looks cool and sounds great. Over and over on my test ride I found myself whooping at the bike's torque and quietly, vainly delighted by the idea of how I looked on it. As much as I love my Honda, this bike offers the same levels of reliability with the addition of having a look that is more in line with my traditional view of what a motorcycle should look like.

3) Is it better than my current motorcycle?
Yes. Pretty much. Obviously its engine delivers fewer horses than my CBF600, and that means achieving outrageously illegal speeds would be more of a challenge. Additionally, it lacks the fairing of my Honda. But otherwise, as I've just said, it delivers all the fuel efficiency and reliability of my bike, but in a much cooler, more fun-to-ride way.

Perhaps I don't need any other bike than my CBF600, but the Yamaha XV950 really makes me want one.


––––––––––––––––––

(a) When I was 18 years old that song was my mission statement; my raison d'être expressed in musical form.

(b) If you are a member of South Wales Police, please note: the claim of 85 mph is a lie. I never ride above the speed limit.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Thoughts upon travelling at 110 mph

If you are a member of the South Wales Police Department I want to stress to you that the following story is totally made up. Actually, let me extend that to all police forces in Her Majesty's United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland. And maybe the UK Home Office. And the DVLA. And any other body or individual that has the power to issue fines, take away my license, deport me or in some other way sanction me for riding a motorcycle at 110 mph. That did not happen. Or, if it did happen, it was on a closed track and I was supervised by professionals. Because on British public roads I always ride at or below the speed limit, and according to the relevant conditions. Always. I am respectful, courteous and law-abiding. Always.

For everyone else, though: Dude, I did the ton for the first time the other day.

Before I moved to this country I had never heard the phrase "do the ton" –– an old-school British term for riding a bike at or above 100 mph –– and I still can't say I totally understand its etymology. That is to say, a ton is equal to 2,000 lbs. Or 907 kg. Or 142 stone. As far as I can tell, there is no unit of measurement by which a ton is equal to 100 anything. Saying "ton" to mean "100 mph" makes no sense. But such is the way with the British; they don't understand their own language. It's like how they shorten "Hampshire" to "Hants." What is that?! I don't even. 

Anyway, I was on the motorway, riding back from Bristol, where I had spent several hours looking at and drooling over the myriad awesome bikes at Fowlers. My head was full of thoughts on The Bike I Want To Get Next: what style I want, what features I want, how much power I want, etc.

Officially, I was there to get an MOT test. While that was happening I had spent the time wandering around, checking out every single machine that appealed to me even in the slightest: Triumph Thunderbird, Triumph Sprint GT, Kawasaki Versys, Yamaha XV950, Yamaha FJR1300, Honda VFR800, Honda CBF1000, Honda CTX1300, Moto Guzzi Norge, Moto Guzzi Griso, Suzuki GSX1250FA, BMW F800GT, Harley-Davidson XL883R, and on and on. Fowlers has a lot of bikes.

I had sat on the bikes, shifted them from side to side, put my feet up, clicked buttons, tried to imagine myself on the machine, and made little decisions about which ones I wanted to test ride (e.g., the Suzuki GSX1250FA) and which were definitely off my list (e.g. the Honda VFR800). I had eventually left Fowlers feeling I had put in some good "work" into getting my next bike, the bike I really want. Because, after all, the bike I have is more the result of tremendously good fortune than choice.

Nearing Cardiff, a BMW 6 series screamed past me. That is how drivers of BMW cars are in the UK. They feel it is their God-given right and responsibility to never, ever go the speed limit. Fine, I say; let them. When I spot that distinctive BMW front end in my mirrors I always just slide over into a slower lane, they zip past, and I go on about my day.

That happened here. But as the distance between myself and said BMW rapidly increased, three things occurred to me: 
1) On this very particular stretch of motorway there were no speed cameras, nor any place for a police officer to hide.
2) If somehow there were a police officer hiding somewhere –– perhaps in the mix of cars far ahead –– it would definitely be the BMW drawing his or her attention, because...
3) The BMW was definitely going in excess of 140 mph.

I just wanted to see how quickly my bike could accelerate. I fell into the fast lane behind the BMW and twisted the throttle. There was that half-millisecond of nothing that I guess happens with carbureted bikes, or Hondas, or my Honda, or I don't know, then the needle on the speedometer started to move up. A gentle, quick, steady acceleration, as if the bike were attached to a bungee cord. From 80 mph, the numbers came almost as fast as you can say them: 85, 90, 95, 100...

One hundred miles per hour. I eased up a bit, held the bike here. This was the fastest I had ever gone on a motorcycle. Since I am a strong believer in the philosophy of riding within your limitations, I had never really tried before. Now, perfect conditions had allowed me to achieve the holy grail of speed.

"Well, hell," I said aloud. "I guess since I'm already up here..."

I twisted the throttle, tucked a little, and watched the needle dance to 105, 110... and here it was me that gave out. My nerves forced me to let the throttle roll forward, made me sit upright to catch the wind, and I slowed back to the speed limit while the BMW disappeared.

Suddenly, 70 mph felt springtime peaceful. And in its solace I thought to myself: Well, let's examine what just took place here. When I had let off the throttle I had not been wide open. Nor had the engine been anywhere close to screaming. The fact is: the Honda still had had more to give. She hadn't been shaking. There had been no wobble. Nothing about the bike had made me slow down, it was just my own fear/sensibility.

So, wait...

Do I actually need a different bike?

Ever since the Triumph Bonneville episode I have found myself looking at a number of bikes semi-seriously, with the aim of getting one sometime in the next 12 months or so. And, of course, one of the underlying motivations in considering the purchase of a new motorcycle is telling yourself that you "need" it in some form or another, that it has something your present machine doesn't.

So, I've got this bike that can easily go much faster than I'll ever want to, that I have ridden to Scotland without problem, that has anti-lock brakes, heated grips, decent fairing, and great tires, and which presently has less than 14,000 miles on the odometer.

Yes, the bike is 9 years old, but thanks to MOT documents I can see that my its previous owner averaged less than 1,000 miles a year on the machine. Thanks to Google Maps and the fact he wrote his address in the owner's manual, I can see that he lives in a very nice house that has not one but two garages, and a shed big enough to house a motorcycle. My Honda was kept well before coming to me. Add that how much I baby the motorcycle, and I feel it's safe to say its age belies its condition.

So, again: do I actually need a different bike? The evidence seems to suggest pretty strongly that I do not. Especially in light of what I could actually get for my present budget. Sure, a Victory Cross Country is better than a Honda CBF600, but that purchase is just not going to happen any time soon. Anything I could possibly afford right now is going to be very similar to what I already have, or will require a step down in terms of features/power.

Such a realisation makes me a little sad because I still feel my Honda is so terribly uncool. It's just so grey and plastic and, I don't know, not cool. But is also so damned reliable and good and, quite frankly, superior to bikes that would cost five times what I could sell it for.

Damn you, Honda, for making a bike so good that I can't force myself to realistically consider getting rid of it.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Part IV: The final day

An incredibly common sight in Wales.
It took me nearly an hour and a half to pack everything up and get it on my bike. And as had been the case in previous parts of my journey, I felt annoyed at the process taking longer than I had anticipated. 

Calming down, though, was easier than it had been the day before. I reminded myself that with Jenn staying that night at a friend's house in West Sussex there was no one for me to rush home to. Additionally, I was in Lancaster, which meant riding through the urban tangle between Liverpool and Manchester was inevitable; better to avoid tackling that during rush hour.

Because I had nowhere to be and motorways are boring and I felt good, I decided to increase my mileage for the day and meander home via the winding A roads of Wales rather than speed down the relative straight of English motorway. For those of you playing along in the United States, a motorway is the British equivalent of a freeway/interstate; an A road is an undivided highway where speed limits can range from 30-60 mph depending on whether you're in a built-up area. A roads have no U.S. equivalent because there are no public roads in America that are so narrow.

In Wales, A roads are generally the least efficient means of getting from point A to point B. Unfortunately, they are also often the only means. My joke is that no one trusts the Welsh with explosives; so, rather than being able to cut through the country's multitudinous promontories, road builders had to go around them. The end result, though, is that if you are on a motorcycle on a sunny day with no particular time schedule, Wales is an incredibly good place to be.

According to my ledger, I bought tea at the Chester motorway services at 10:58 a.m. that day, so I suppose I was making better time than I remember. The services are roughly 70 miles from the Holiday Inn where I had started out and they mark one's arrival in Wales and departure from motorway efficiency. Whilst there, I encountered a large contingent of Welsh-speaking blokes riding raked-out, loud-piped, custom-painted, shiny Harley-Davidsons. I thought of the Dr. Simon Brooks claim that the Welsh are just Americans who couldn't afford the boat ride to the New World. Certainly I've not seen such ornate bikes anywhere else this side of the Atlantic.

So I had, on multiple levels, the sense that I was back home. Firstly in that I was arriving in a part of the country with which I've become pretty damn familiar over the past 8 years; secondly, I had stumbled upon a gaggle of Harley riders; and thirdly, I was able to speak with said riders in Welsh. Speaking Welsh is on par with a Masonic handshake. More so, actually. If you know it, you're in, son.

The riders were on their way to Hull, then onto a Belgium-bound ferry en route to some festival they seemed to think I already knew about because none of them explained it. Eventually they all mounted up to head out, with one of them saying to me in Welsh: "All these people around us are giving us dirty looks for speaking Welsh; this will really piss them off!" 

They roared away, the sound of their pipes setting off car alarms and causing people to hold their hands to their ears.

More sheep.
A Honda, of course, is a much quieter machine. Which is really what you want as you glide along the curves of Welsh roads. Soon, I was dancing through UKIP country. Full of racist, immigrant-hating homophobes, sure, but certainly a very pretty part of the world. This was just before the recent European elections and I was disturbed by just how many UKIP signs I saw posted in front of houses. I thought back to Scotland and the fact that in a few months it will be deciding via referendum whether to declare its independence from the United Kingdom.

"It's a topic that's a bit like religion," one Scotsman had told me over pints. "We don't talk about it in polite company."

But when the Scottish do talk about the referendum I imagine it can be difficult to find strong emotional arguments for staying together when you have so many people south of the border voting UKIP –– a party whose leader once referred to the Scottish as "yobbo scum."

All this went through my head as I wandered southward. As mentioned in Part I of this adventure, this trip gave me a lot of time to think –– about my life and my place and what I want to be. That's a self discussion that throws up a lot of problems, because certain really important things come into conflict with other really important things. 

I let these things slip to the back of my mind as I pushed down the beautifully winding section of the A483 that runs from Newtown to Llandrindod Wells. It is 25 miles of curve after curve after curve with good sight lines on most turns. In the United States they'd give this road a scary name and sell T-shirts. In Wales it's just a way to get from one place to another.

I had run this section on my road trip to Pennant several months before, and back then certain turns had given me The Fear. Now, though, I was comfortable keeping a slightly-faster-than-the-cars-wanted-to-go pace throughout. Credit the Michelin Pilot Road 4 tires, credit the way the weight of my Viking Bags panniers seemed to help the bike hold a line, but probably also credit the extra experience. It is fun and interesting to see yourself "grow" as a rider –– developing and improving. I still have a lot to learn and very much want to take a BikeSafe course soon, but it is nice to know I'm developing some skills on my own.

By the time I got to Llandrindod Wells, though, all I could focus on was my empty stomach. I parked my bike in the town centre and set off on foot to try to find a place that wasn't the warmed-in-a-microwave fare I had been eating too much of on this trip. Eventually I came upon a place that served local lamb burgers and home-made strawberry milkshakes. 

From there it was exactly 80 miles to Casa del Cope. But the hundreds of miles from this trip were starting to have their effect, so I stopped halfway to take a deep breath and gather focus for the traffic of the valleys and Cardiff. Still, I arrived home far sooner than I would have imagined that morning. There was time to unload the bike, wash it thoroughly of all the bugs and road grime that had accumulated over the past week or so, and let it dry in the early evening sun before tucking it away.

In total, I had covered more than 1,000 miles, through three countries and all kinds of weather. Sitting at my table that night, drinking beer and staring out the window, one thought kept coming back to me: Where will I go next?