My Best Ever Motorcycling Experience

I’ve mentioned in previous posts about my last great motorcycle adventure: my Turkey Motorcycle Tour when in the summer of 2011 I rode (mostly solo) from London to Turkey and back – a trip of some 11,000 miles taking 10 weeks.

Given my current riding limitations and an absence of recent posts, I’m going to indulge myself over the next couple of months by reliving this Turkey motorcycle tour.  Yes it’s time to transpose the original blog posts from Horizons Unlimited to this site – with some additional behind the scenes commentary and never before told aspects of the trip.

For those of you unfamiliar with my trip, here’s a brief overview my grand Turkey Motorcycle Tour:

I left the UK on 28 July, 2011 and from leaving the train in Calais the Family Truckster (my BMW K1600GT and the star of my story) and I travelled 10,883 miles (17,514km). Up to the night before boarding the ferry, we’d been abroad for a total of 68 days of which 51 have been spent riding at a daily average of 213 miles (343km).

En route, we passed through the following countries:

France (transit)
Belgium (overnight)
Netherlands (transit but only just and confirmed by the GPS tracks)
Germany (overnight)
Czech Republic (3 nights)
Slovakia (overnight)
Poland (3 nights)
Slovakia (overnight again)
Hungary (transit)
Romania (9 nights)
Bulgaria (overnight)
Turkey (29 nights)
Greece (transit)
Macedonia (2 nights)
Albania (transit)
Montenegro (transit)
Bosnia and Herzegovina (overnight)
Croatia (2 nights)
Ferry (1 night)
Italy (2 nights)
Austria (transit)
Slovenia (transit)
Austria (overnight)
Germany (overnight again)
Switzerland (2 nights)
France (2 nights)
Andorra (2 nights)
Spain (2 nights)

The 4th of October 2011 was my last on continental Europe (on this trip anyway). I have a final night aboard a ferry in transit from Spain to the UK before getting home.

When I return to London on a Wednesday afternoon I will have been away for exactly 10 weeks.

In summary, 21 days to reach Turkey, 29 days in Turkey and 20 days to get back to the UK travelling through 21 different countries, 15 of them for my first time.

But there was to be some misfortune on the overnight ferry …. 

Disaster on the Ferry back to the UK

My last post on Horizons Unlimited was dated 4 October 2011 and included some photos of the Family Truckster taken while waiting on the dock at Bilbao just before boarding the ferry for the overnight trip to Portsmouth.  This last final twist in my Turkey Motorcycle Tour has never before been revealed on-line.

Loading a motorcycle on a ferry is a relatively simple process though daunting for the first time.  Luckily this was not my first time on a ferry, having done trips with  organised tour groups from Dover to Calais (only once I recall as the train is my preferred option) and Plymouth/Santander/Portsmouth before (unfortunately there is no vehicle train to Spain that I am aware of).

Just follow the directions of the staff on board (the guys are excellent and most helpful), park where directed, put the bike on the side stand and let the staff secure it to the floor with a ratchet tightening strap which goes over your seat (they provide a cushion to protect your bike) and fastens with hooks to cleats welded to the floor.  All the motorcycles are grouped together in a special section of the ferry.  It’s a pretty easy process if you are patient and listen to the guidance from the staff.

Motorcycle strapped down on ferry

Family Truckster secured on the Ferry

It is not a race so don’t rush it when boarding or disembarking.   The steel decking can be a little slippery.   I’ve seen bikes dropped in the ferry hold.  With other bikers around around it’s quite an embarrassing moment and potentially expensive.  Once firmly strapped down, take your personal items upstairs and check into your cabin before retiring to the bar or to explore the upper decks.  Be sure to turn off your alarm if you have one, as rough weather on the overnight voyage is enough to trigger it – and it’s pretty safe as the holds are locked once the ferry departs.

I was safely on board, strapped down with my personal items in my cabin and enjoying a well earned beer as the ferry left Bilbao en route to Portsmouth.  It would be a full 24 hours before disembarking – hope the weather would be kind for the penultimate leg of my journey across the Bay of Biscay.

The afternoon and evening was a little boring but uneventful – except for the swell which would soon rock me to sleep – aided by a few beers and wines, while I reflected proudly on the achievement of my grand tour.  By the time I retired to my cabin the swell was evident – not enough for sea sickness but sufficient to exercise caution while walking around the ferry.

Things were calmer in the morning and breakfast was agreeable.  Then a message came over the ferry’s PA requesting the owner of a particular vehicle (they quoted a rego plate) go to the Check-In desk.

It was my Family Truckster.

I made my way to the Check-In desk thinking I’d forgotten to turn off the alarm and expecting at worst a bollocking for it going off all night until the battery went flat.  How wrong I was.

I was greeting by someone official looking to be told (after identifying myself) that my motorcycle had fallen over during the evening due to the rough seas.

I’d come almost 11,000 miles unscathed only to fall at the last hurdle, through no fault of my own.  A million things were running through my mind, but mostly despair about how much damage was there would be and if I’d be able to make it back to London from Portsmouth.

I hurriedly made my way downstairs to see for myself, trying to stay calm.  Why me?  Why didn’t those guys strap it down tightly enough?

Thinking back now over two years later I don’t recall exactly how I found the Family Truckster.

First inspection of the damage

Oh no! How bad is she?

The photos I took with the Top Box on backwards suggest the ferry staff had picked up my motorcycle.  I do recall concluding that, luckily as it turned out, it had fallen onto the motorcycle beside it. Lucky because this probably saved it from sliding around the deck for most of the night.  Lucky because it sort of lay where is fell, wedged to the bike it fell on.

Lucky because the bike it fell on was a Massey Ferguson (BMW R1200GS) with big aluminium panniers – it hardly had a scratch.

Very little damage to the R1200GS

Hardly a scratch on the Massey Feguson

I inspected the damage.  Luckily, mostly superficial at a first glance.  The Top Box was wrecked; a big tear in the side and ripped underneath, tearing it away from the cleats that fastened it onto the rear luggage rack.

Damaged Top Box K1600GT

Damage to the Top Box

Some scratches on the pannier.

Could have been much worse.

No too bad.

Wow, I got a lucky break.  I could have been much worse.  This was superficial – the Family Truckster would ride again – I’d get back to London under my own steam after all.

And I did make it back with no troubles.  Better still the ferry company were great and the necessary repairs were carried out under their insurance.  BMW Thames Valley supplied and fitted the new bits and she looked as good as ever.

Best of all (and I’ve never told anyone this), before the damage on the ferry, my Top Box had been badly worn by the damaged front wheel I was carrying since it was replaced in Istanbul.

BMW K1600GT in Turkey

Carrying my damaged front wheel rim in eastern Turkey

It probably would have needed a repaint in the least on my return to London.  Due to the damage caused by the incident on the ferry it was replaced – every cloud has a silver lining.

The next instalment will start at the very beginning ….

Thanks for indulging me.  Reliving this trip passes the time until I get my licence back when I plan to embark on new adventures on the Family Truckster.