Navigation

Navigation, or the inability to navigate, is one reason why you would choose a guided tour. Nobody likes getting lost when you are trying to get to somewhere, but when you don’t have to get to anywhere in particular, wandering off-course or becoming ‘lost’ is all part of the adventure.

I have spend decades travelling around Europe, and its only in the past year or so that I bought a navigation device. I still don’t use it for navigating, its primary role is to track my riding so I can create GPX files and in particular to keep a record of rideable off-road routes in order to maintain and develop the TET (Trans Euro Trail) in my area.

So how did I get around 14 European countries without using a sat-nav or similar device? Well I am somehow able to look at something and absorb and retain the information within what I looked at. And its not just short term information retention, I can remember clearly information I read decades ago. Have you seen the TV show Suits? When Mike Ross can look at something and recite it word for word. Well I’m not quite like that, but similar. I can look at a map, quickly assess the route, put the map away, go to sleep, wake up and have the image clear in my head.

So that was how I was able to navigate my way around Europe without using a sat-nav, and why I don’t really need to use one today. And not all of the travelling was on a bike, sometimes I was in a car or a truck. There are times when I use Google Maps, primarily for finding specific shops etc. within towns and cities I haven’t been to before.

So you’re probably thinking why is he writing about this? If we want to go from A to B, does it matter whether he uses his memory map or a satnav? Well if you are simply going from A to B, the answer is no, it doesn’t make any difference. But if during that journey, someone asks if there is an alternative route that is less twisty (or more twisty), or can we deviate to find a pharmacy as they have forgot their medicines, or simply is there somewhere interesting we can go and see on our way, then you need someone who can memorise a map and places of interest.


How many times have you heard about people saying their satnav has frozen and they had to wait to reboot it? Tried to enter a place name, but they type it phonetically and it isn’t recognised, or it takes them along the fastest and most boring route. I’m not anti-sat-nav. They have their place like all electronic devices, but I believe that if you go on a guided tour with someone who knows the area, knows the places that you will enjoy visiting, and doesn’t have to stop and research somewhere, you will have more time doing what you want to do, and less time waiting for the sat-nav to decide your route.

My Garmin Montana will always be turned on when we ride, plotting our ride, altitude, speed and distance, but by not using it to get around and by using my knowledge of the area and the roads, and places of interest I’ve memorised from looking at maps, you will have a much better guided tour with a portion of adventure thrown in.

My two wheeled bio

If you are reading this, you have found my blog page and are probably wondering who I am and what the blog contains, so get yourself a drink, sit in a comfortable chair and let me elaborate.

I’m Alan, a 40-something bike-mad Yorkshireman who has spent the past few years living in Catalunya, Spain. I first started riding motorbikes when I was 9 years old. My dad bought me a Honda C90 which had failed its MOT and was uneconomical to repair, but was still running and rideable off-road. Corrosion had left holes in the frame and forks, it didn’t have brakes, lights or an exhaust as the serviceable parts had been removed to keep another bike on the road. Even the plastic leg shields had been removed. But for me, that £3 Honda was my first motorbike.

Every weekend, it would be loaded into a trailer, we would drive to the old coal mine at Shawcross and I was allowed to ride and ride until it ran out of fuel. Whatever the weather, we would be there. Heavy rain, bald tyres, no brakes and just a pair of cheap wellington boots and a cagoule were regarded as protective riding equipment, sufficient for riding such a beast on the slipperiest of terrain. But that experience allowed me to understand how to control a bike in extreme conditions.

When you are riding around with people on motocross bikes (sometimes there would be dozens of people all riding around this former colliery), adorned with luxury items such as brakes and knobbly tyres, and as a fearless young kid I was determined to try and keep up with them, you only have a couple of crashes before you start to develop skills that enable you to keep riding until the fuel tap gets turned to reserve instead of heading home early with a bruised ankle.

So thats how I cut my teeth off-road, and riding on-road was a similar experience. After leaving school at 16, and getting my apprenticeship with a local Ford dealer (yes, I’m also a qualified mechanic which is so useful when touring), I bought myself another Honda, but this time it was a C-50 complete with a full MOT, luggage rack and oversized home-made chipboard top-box painted in black Hammerite. To me, it gave me my first taste of freedom, and a freedom which is completely different to what people experience with a car.

You are more vulnerable, you are more in tune with changes in temperature as you ride in and out of valleys and shadows, and how that affects the level of grip between tyres and tarmac. As much as I loved riding my bike, working for a car dealer made it inevitable I would make the transition from 2 wheels to 4 wheels at some point.

Throughout the next 20 years, I switched between 2 and 4 wheeled transport of various types several times and travelled quite a lot using both forms of transport, but always within Europe. I found travelling, particularly long distance, quite easy as I have the ability to look at a map and remember the route I need. These days, I have a GPS on the bike, but its main purpose is to plot my routes as I explore new areas, and its a handy tool to get to civilisation as quickly as possible when necessary.

So fast forward a bit and I find myself living in Catalunya with a holiday rental activity and a desire to get back into trail riding. I bought an old Yamaha XT600E for €800 which allowed me to explore the trails, but I found it lacking when on the roads. So I sold that, and found a KTM 640 Adventure. This allowed me to easily cruise along at motorway speeds, but it will also climb a mountain when required.

The combination of having a holiday rental activity and an interest in adventure bike adventures meant I started to get bookings for overnight stays from bikers who were following the TET (Trans Euro Trail – www.transeurotrail.org ) . When they were leaving, I would ride along with them, sometimes to help with navigation, other times just to get out on my bike, but also to show them the route so they could follow me and focus more on riding than on navigating.

The feedback I received from these riders, some of whom have ridden trail bikes in all corners of the world, was that I should focus less on the holiday rentals and focus more on guided trail riding. My background as a mechanic when touring, my ability to navigate easily and adapt the routes on-the-fly according to weather conditions, or the need to find parts or refreshments, plus being able to speak the language are all invaluable attributes to ensure you have a great two-wheeled Spanish adventure.

So what are you waiting for? Oh yes, routes and prices. I’m working on it, keep checking the site, and the blog pages, or mail me to discuss what you need – info@spanishmotorbiketours.co.uk