Riding equipment I use

The subject of what equipment to use when riding a motorbike has been covered by many people, but this article gives you some background as to what I wear and why.

When I first started riding motorbikes aged 9, my riding gear comprised of jeans, sweatshirt and wellington boots. I didn’t wear gloves or a helmet, even though I was riding off-road, I was young and fearless, if I crashed, I would jump back on the bike without injury. Then the unexpected happened, my bike lost traction in mud, fell to the side and my foot became trapped between the bike and the ground. There wasn’t any serious injury, but the next day, I couldn’t put my shoe on because of the swelling. From that day on, I always wore boots, but that minor injury could have been so much worse.

As as became older, I started to focus more and more on protecting myself from injury on whatever bike I was riding. When I had my Kawasaki ER-5, I got myself a 2 piece cordura suit with armour at every main impact point, but the more I rode, the more accidents I saw and heard about and the more protection I felt I needed. I then part-exchanged the ER-5 against a Kawasaki ZX7R, which is a bike I’ve wanted to own for some time. Shortly after buying the ZX7R, and partly due to image, and partly due to wanting more protection, I bought an Alpinestars SX-1 one-piece leather suit. These suits aren’t light, they are designed to protect you when you’re sliding along the rough tarmac at silly speeds. Putting it on and taking it off was an art form, and because I like my leather suits to fit like a second skin, it was tight to my body. I realised that if I wore a thin undersuit, it made the whole process so much easier, but at times I still felt it would be easier to dislocate my shoulders, especially when taking the suit off.

Me in my Alpinestars SX-1 suit

Having mastered the art of slipping in and out of my leather suit, I then decided to further complicate things by adding a back protector. Obviously, I bought the back protector and then considered how I would squeeze the suit on over it. As I didn’t want to admit I had bought something impulsively, I had to lose some weight before being able to slip into the suit with the protector in place. Finally, with my Alpinestars leather suit, Alpinestars back protector, Alpinestars GP-Plus leather gloves with knuckle protection and Sidi boots, I felt as safe as I could when riding my bike.

But I was still wearing my brothers old Shark helmet, which was 20 years old. So off I went to some local motorbike dealers, looking for a nice helmet. I tried on dozens of helmets of all makes, but the one which fit my head shape the best was the most expensive helmet I could find, an Arai RX7-GP. The benefit to having an expensive head shape is you end up buying the most comfortable helmet you will ever own. And the aftercare offered by Arai is incredible. After 7 years use, two of the vents broke. The RX7-GP has two air flow channels bonded to the outside of the helmet, so you can’t change the vents under these channels yourself. I contacted Arai, they sent a courier to collect the helmet, shipped it to their EU service centre, replaced the broken vents and others showing signs of wear, replaced the complete helmet lining and couriered it back to me. I sold the helmet after owning it for 8 years simply because I sold my ninja and bought a KTM adventure bike, and the racing style helmet just didn’t look right.

My ZX10R

And looking right on your bike is as important as having good protective equipment. When my riding gear didn’t suit the bike I owned, I didn’t ride it as often as I would have liked, or to places I wanted to go. I wouldn’t climb aboard the muddy orange and silver KTM wearing my Kawasaki green Alpinestars leather race suit, it just looked wrong. It didn’t matter that the level of protection was as good as it could be, looks mattered too. So I sold my leather suits, Arai helmet, in fact I sold all my road riding gear as soon as I identified myself as an adventure bike rider. Once again, I wanted good protective equipment, but equipment which suited the bike I was riding and where I was riding.

Good equipment isn’t cheap, and cheap equipment isn’t good. So I aimed for something in the middle, mainly because this was my first adventure bike and I may decide I don’t like this particular biking discipline. I opted for the RST Adventure suit. Riding in a hot country, this particular suit offers great ventilation, its very flexible, but also hard wearing. The sandy/beige colour is also perfect out here as you don’t really notice the dust accumulating on it. I paired the RST suit with some Fox motocross boots and some Dainese summer gloves. I decided to get motocross boots simply because they offer greater protection than adventure style boots, they are cheaper, and boots which get wet and muddy often won’t last particularly long so why spend a fortune on them.

Me in my RST suit

What I’m struggling to find is a helmet that fits my head shape but which doesn’t cost a fortune. I know I will have to buy an Arai or a Shoei, but until then, I’ll keep looking for something as nice but half the price. At the moment, I have an AGV and a Hebo. The Hebo Raptor is a lovely helmet, its just a little too narrow and its shell shape prevents me from being able to install the bike to bike intercom.

After several years of use, the RST suit has started to fall apart. The main fabric is OK, and the zips all work as they should, its the stitching which is starting to fail. So I’ve replaced the trousers with some Alpinestars Andes ones. The main reason for getting these is that they come with braces. When I’m out and about, I load my thigh pockets with ‘stuff’, phone, keys, phone battery pack etc., so when I get off the bike and walk around, gravity takes hold and the trousers start to fall down which then pulls on the jacket as they are zipped together. Now that I’ve used the Alpinestars Andes trousers a few times and I’m very happy with them, I’ll get the matching jacket.

Testing my new Alpinestars Andes trousers

My Fox motocross boots lasted about 3 years, and then the sole came away from both boots. The soles are only bonded on, so I will try to glue them again, but I decided to buy some Sidi Adventure boots so I have some waterproof boots to use through the winter. When I tried the Sidi boots on at Motocard in Andorra, they felt as though they had been made for me. The fit was absolutely perfect and they were instantly comfortable. However, they clearly offer far less protection than motocross boots. This means I need two sets of boots, the Sidi Goretex Adventure boots for predominantly road rides, and some motocross boots for my days on the trails and riding the TET. Whilst I was in Motorcard in Andorra, I tried on some Alpinestars Tech 7 boots, and had it not been raining on the day, I would have probably bought them, but on that day, I didn’t want to risk riding back with wet feet, so I bought the waterproof Sidi boots instead.

The bike to bike intercom I use is a Cardo Scala G4 Powerset. I bought it in 2011, mainly because at the time it was the only one that was marketed as being weather-proof. All the others were simply advertised as being weather resistant. Its a great intercom, easy to install, very clear sound and has a battery capacity which exceeds a full days riding. It can pair to your Bluetooth devices so you can have music streaming to it from your phone, instructions from your navigation device, and I’ve even managed to have a clear phone conversation whilst riding a bike with an extremely loud exhaust at high speed.

My Arai RX7-GP

Over the past few years, I’ve started using bike/helmet cameras, initially to capture my rides, but now I use them to also record my clients, and to get footage to use for promoting my business. The first helmet cam I bought was a Replay XD720. After comparing various camera footage, I found the Replay cams to have the best quality video and the least amount of fish-eye distortion, and they are very easy to operate, especially with gloved hands. They are also incredibly small and discrete, and weatherproof. I bought a 2nd XD720, so I could have one facing forwards and one facing backwards, and then I bought a Replay XD1080 which is just slightly bigger, but essentially the same camera other than it records at 1080p instead of 720p. The downside to the Replay cameras is that the battery isn’t easy (almost impossible) to change, so as they become older, the battery life starts to reduce.

This made me look at other bike/helmet cams, and having borrowed a Drift HD camera from a friend, I decided to buy one. The first generation of Drift cameras are very good, but compared to the Replay, they are huge. Both the Drift and Replay cameras have the lens on the end of the camera body, making them far more streamlined and discrete compared to the GoPro cameras. The Drift HD also has an easily removable battery, so for extended trips, you can carry spare batteries so you never miss out on capturing some great moments, particularly towards the end of the day. I was so pleased with the Drift , I bought a Drift HD720. This model has a wireless two button switch with a Velcro wrist strap, so you don’t have to fiddle with the camera to start or stop the recording, or take still photos, you simply hit the corresponding button on the remote.

My Hebo Raptor helmet with Drift HD1080 camera

After a few years of riding with the Replay XD’s mounted on the bike, and the Drift HD on my helmet, and seeing the hits increase on my Youtube channel, I decided to try my hand at Vlogging (video-blogging). This simply means narrating whilst recording video of your ride. To do this, I had to get a camera with a microphone input, so I bought a Drift HD1080. Physically, its the same as the Drift HD720, but it records at 1080p and has an external mic socket. One great feature about the Drift cameras is that you can pair multiple cameras to the one remote switch. This means that one press of the remote button strapped to my wrist and both cameras start recording simultaneously.

Unfortunately in June 2019, a wildfire destroyed my home, taking with it all my cameras as they were in my office at the time. I have since bought a Drift Ghost 4k, but I have only used it a couple of times so far. It is considerably smaller and lighter than the previous Drift models, and the quality of the footage is far superior to any of the other cameras I have owned and used. Hopefully over the coming weeks and months, I will be able to put together some new videos of my rides. Keep checking this blog, and subscribe to my YouTube channel to make sure you don’t miss anything.

If you haven’t already done so, click here to read more about me in my two-wheeled bio.

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.

Click here to read about other riding equipment I use.

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

Click here to read about the equipment I use when riding and guiding in Spain