You know what it’s like on the forums, someone poses a question then everyone has an opinion. Well this ride all started because someone asked if it would be possible to do an SS1000 entirely in Wales. Opinions varied and there were all sorts of estimates as to how many receipts would be required to verify the route but as no-one had ever done one it was all conjecture.
If you’re not familiar with Wales, it is both a blessing and a curse to the motorcyclist. There are many beautiful roads with the sorts of bends that riders love and the sort of scenery pillions love. If you are out on a day’s ride to just enjoy the experience there are not many better places. But…if you are looking to do 1000 miles in 24 hours it poses quite a few challenges. Suddenly those rustic roads are an impediment – you have to be super-aware of the surroundings, keeping an eye out for loose animals, mud-on-road etc. and you can’t achieve a good average speed. It’s ‘construction’ time of the year so there are many miles of road repairs underway and the average Welsh driver seems quite happy to mosey along enjoying said scenery and the close-up view of the car in front! There is one motorway running across the bottom of the country which we could ride for about 70 miles and a few large A roads but they can be very busy.
Kevin decided to try to map a route just for the practice and eventually had a 500’ish mile route that he was reasonably happy could be ridden twice in 24 hours. We discussed the route and decided that it looked OK in theory but the proof, as they say, is in the execution.
“What are we doing this weekend?” Kevin asked me innocently and that’s how I found myself on the train after work on Friday, in full bike-gear, on my way to Reading where I met Kevin who was on-board our GSA.
We had decided to make our base of operations the Magor Services just off the M4 and woke up very early on Saturday morning to get ourselves quietly ready. After leaving the room we weren’t that impressed when we couldn’t get the front door open! There was supposed to be a red button to press for help but the only one we could see was the fire alarm and we decided pressing that probably wasn’t a good idea. Eventually Kevin’s persistence with the door paid off and we were released.
We got the bike all loaded up and I got our starting time receipt – 05.06 (only 6 minutes late). On our way out we stopped at the petrol station to say “Hi” to FazerPhil who had come to see us off. He’d been up even earlier than us at 3am!
We rode along the motorway for an hour or so in the dark eagerly waiting for the sunrise and had waved goodbye to Phil who had kept us company for a while. We were disappointed when morning broke with more of a ‘cloudrise’ – the lighter it got the darker the clouds appeared. It started to rain, not too much, so we didn’t bother with our waterproofs. Suddenly it got a lot worse and we decided it was time to put the waterproof jackets on.
I’d mislaid my electric heat controller so was using Kevin’s and discovered the placebo effect. As I felt a bit chilly I’d turn the switch up just a bit – “that’s better”...and repeat...it wasn’t particularly hot but I was feeling warmer. When we stopped at Milford Haven for our first petrol and receipt stop I realised that I was attached to the ‘yellow’ control not the ‘red’ one I’d been turning so I wasn’t getting any heat at all!
This was our first real ride this year. Work commitments and trying to get two new-to-us bikes ready for use had resulted in very little riding; in fact we’d only been out for one weekend and that was in January. We were rusty and it showed in stupid things like not having the electrics ready and not having drinking water in the tank bag and our bodies weren’t bike-fit.
As we travelled up the coast towards Bangor the day improved and there was the odd patch of blue. There was still lots of snow on the surrounding countryside, reminding us that it was still rather early in the year. The traffic started to appear and whilst it didn’t really get in the way it did slow us down and disrupt the rhythm. There was a large patch of ‘one-way traffic’ to accommodate a substantial road re-build which we got caught in four times, twice on each lap, as it was in the centre of our route.
By the time we got to Bangor we were both very ready for some breakfast and we decided to risk the Tesco Cafe. Eight selections (bacon, sausage, hash brown, eggs, beans, tomatoes, toast), cup of tea for Kevin and an orange for me all for less than a tenner. Result! And it was good. Tesco’s Cafe may be the new McDonald’s in our future itineraries.
En-route to Bangor the 660 (SatNav) had suddenly stopped communicating with us which meant no route instructions and, much worse, no music. Kevin says the only thing keeping him sane on these rides, which can be a bit monotonous, is listening to music. (And there was I thinking it was my company!) The Zumo mount had gone wrong (this is about the 3rd time one of these has done this to us, always in the rain) so we jury-rigged the iPhone to give us music. By the time we’d eaten, done the log and sorted out the music we’d been stopped for about an hour. Like I said, we’re out of practice.
By now the traffic was quite bad as we rode along the A55 towards our next corner stop, Flint. When we were planning we couldn’t understand why reversing the route had resulted in a better route which didn’t double back on itself. Having been there and seen the ‘no u-turn’ signs and the dual-carriageway it was obvious. Careful not to go into England, we followed the prescribed route even though it seemed to be in the wrong direction.
The Sat Nav had a couple of odd turns – don’t you just hate it when it takes you off a perfectly good 60mph A road to a ‘shortcut’ which saves about ½ a mile, but you’re only able to travel at 20 mph? Well that happened to us. We decided we needed to avoid that on the 2nd lap.
The route itself was a loose figure of 8 shape, with corners at Bangor, Flint, Magor Services and Milford Haven (first lap), Haverfordwest and a pivot point at Dolgallau where the major road works were. When we were planning it we were going to do two clockwise laps but, having taken into account the time of day, the level of light and to relieve the monotony, we decided to do the second lap the other way round; this would reduce the amount of time spent on small country roads in the dark as the last hour would be on the motorway. We were grateful for this decision during the ride as we came through a valley with lots of snow which was melting across the road for some distance. Reversing the route meant that on our second lap we were through this before the night-time freezing temperatures.
To prove the route we needed quite a few receipts. We had decided to get a Cashpoint receipt at Dolgallau and saw that there were two banks with machines. Usually I just roll up and ask for a balance with receipt but the machine there only gave a printed receipt if you drew cash. More time wasted.
The next stop was another cash machine, this time in Merthyr Tydfil. Looking for cashpoints it seemed that there was a whole row of banks with machines. We rolled up to one and there were three machines in a row. One was out of receipts, one was totally out of order and the third had a queue.
We got back to Magor services just after 12 hours had elapsed. It was looking very tight but we were confident the second lap would be quicker as there should be less traffic and we wouldn’t waste an hour at Bangor so we had a quick loo-break and I looked for my electric heat controller in our room; it wasn’t there. Eventually I found it in the bottom of one of the cavernous panniers. What a relief!
We turned around and retraced our steps via Merthyr, a quick stop in Dollgallau (this time there was no queue at the cashpoint), Flint and Bangor. Tesco’s looked closed but the cash machine was still working, then on for our final push down the coast towards Haverfordwest. Second time round we didn’t need to do the short hop to Milford Haven as we had enough miles without it so we continued on along the motorway.
By this time both of us were very stiff and Kevin was suffering from a reasonably new and still tight crash helmet. Ten miles away from our final stop we pulled off the motorway into the services so Kevin could take his helmet off for a few minutes’ relief. I got off the bike and when it was time to remount I struggled. The GSA is a really tall bike and the pillion foot peg is about level with my knees. The first half a dozen remounts of the journey were OK but as time went on it was getting increasingly difficult; I have a knackered knee from Karate which really doesn’t help. Embarrassingly there was a lady from the shop walking round outside who seemed to finding our antics amusing. She realised what was happening and waved at us – ‘stay there’...and ran into the garage to emerge with a box. What a relief! Using the box made it much easier to get on and we rode the last few miles to our final stop at Magor.
We made much better time overall on the 2nd lap and finished well within our 24 hour time limit. Happy and tired we grabbed a quick McDonald's and flopped into bed, content in the knowledge that you can do an SS1000 entirely in Wales and, in our case, with 13 receipts.Garmin Route map showing the route taken (red bits show differences between laps one and two).