19 August 2011

… I mean, a big bike.

You feel like you own the roads. Cars disappear in your mirrors and traffic rarely slows you down like it does in a car.

But maybe this does not apply to Istanbul.

The highway is very good all the way from Edirne. A toll road in fact and I buy a pass which should last me a few more tolls should I find myself on another one.

I’m still taking it easy but going about 10% over the posted speed limit. Cars are flying past me with a regularity I’ve not experienced before.

It’s 150 miles to the BMW dealer. The outer limits of this colossal city greet me 40 miles out from my destination next to the Bosporus or Bosphorus Straight. There are high rise real estate developments everywhere. Cranes are abundant on the skyline. The traffic is slowing, getting thicker. This place just feels huge, much bigger than London.

On consulting with Wikipedia I learn the population recently was 13.3 million and it is the third largest city in Europe behind London and Moscow.

Having ridden the Family Truckster in London, Paris and the Italian Lakes I hadn’t given any consideration to the challenges of Istanbul.

It was terrifying. Cars passing me inside on the hard shoulder, going for gaps I would not take a sports bike through. No one gives an inch. Horns are blasted frequently. There is no driving charity in Istanbul and it had nothing to do with my GB plate.

Although choked with traffic the roads were good and provided simpler navigation for the GPS than some of my recent experiences. I got to the BMW dealer in one piece and breathed a huge sigh of relief when I got off the bike.

This Is the only BMW Motorrad dealer in Istanbul. What a huge complex, selling and servicing both cars and bikes. This was an impressive business on a grand scale.

I found the Services manager and he took a look at the bike. After consulting with his mechanic he said the front wheel needed to be replaced. I had expected this. They could get one by early next week. This will work with my timing.

Whilst there I got talking with a couple of other motorcycle adventurers – one an Austrian who had three days to get back home and the other a local motorcycle tour operator and riding instructor (bikemyworld.com). These guys had been so many places and we swapped tales of the mountain passes we had each done. There actually weren’t many places these guys hadn’t been and I felt like such a novice. At least I was able to tell them I’d driven (albeit in a car) over the Andes (4,000m) enroute from Santiago to Mendoza. This seemed to impress them as neither of them had been to South America.

Nearly all the stickers on his top case represent the high mountain passes the tour operator has been over. The guys gave me some tips on places to see in Turkey and also the route back to London. I would have liked to chat with them for longer.

My taxi pulled up. The Family Truckster could stay at the BMW Shop. Better this and much safer than me riding to Sultanahmet and leaving it out the front of the hotel.

Or so I thought.

The taxi journey was even worse than riding the Family Truckster. He made good time and must of thought I’d give him a tip if he could drive faster and change lanes more than anyone else going in our direction. When we got to Sultanahmet he had no idea where the hotel was and asked me in Turkish which way to go. In the end he resorted to stopping in the general vicinity and asking people on the street, much to the ire of the cars he was holding up. Seems like street directories and GPS have not made it to Istanbul’s taxi drivers.

I think it’s the time of year in Bris Vegas when the Ekka is on with its thrill rides and showbags.

This was the scariest ride I’ve ever been on and the second huge sigh of relief at the day when we pulled up outside the hotel. But he made it without any bumps or scrapes much to my surprise. A couple of times I thought we’d smash into another car or barrier for sure. These guys are just so skilled at turing normal 2 lane roads into 3 or 4 lane roads.

So if you think you are a good driver come to Istanbul and put your skills to the test. Or better still, go for a ride in a taxi.

Distance today 152 miles (245 km), cumulative 3,405 (5,480 km).

Update: The BMW service centre where I dropped my bike off certainly looked impressive – so much so that I asked they check the oil level also and top up if required.  This was the second time on my Turkey motorcycle tour that I’d put the Family Truckster into the shop before being able to continue on my journey.

I wasn’t overly surprised they didn’t have a front wheel rim for a K1600GT in stock – especially as this was only a recently released model and I expect they had not sold too many in the whole of Turkey.  A few days off the bike gave me a chance to have a good look around Istanbul anyway.  In 5 days time I returned to collect the Family Trucker only to learn the impressive facilities of the dealership were hiding some serious service flaws.  To be continued …