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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
One of the benefits of owning and riding an adventure bike in Spain is that you can always find somewhere new to explore every time you ride. The country is a maze of roads and dirt trails which constantly intersect each other, so no matter where you are, you can simply divert from tarmac to dirt, knowing that the trail will inevitably lead to more trails and more tarmac and the adventure simply continues with each and every kilometre.
I had to ride to my local dealer to get some parts, and I decided to turn it into a circular route which comprises of some of my favourite tarmac roads. Part way towards the dealer, I spotted a dirt track to my right, and something was telling me to explore it. I turned off the tarmac, and hit the trail, and I was immediately presented with a wonderful mix of stone and dirt. The trail was a complete contrast to the road I had been riding, with varying camber angles, dusty lose climbs and descents, and fast but rutted hard-pack in-between.
My instinct to explore this trail was rewarded with some beautiful scenery and eventually a rest stop on the banks of the river Ebro. Every rideout can be like this, and you don’t need to be on an adventure bike or have dual-sport tyres, because the maze of tarmac roads linking towns with villages can also lead to places of interest. This is why my clients enjoy touring with me, they get to see places they didn’t expect and that is what turns a tour into an adventure. Click here to see the video I made after the days riding.
I provide guided motorbike tours throughout Spain, and two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of guiding Gill around North East Spain. Gill has only been riding motorbikes for 4 years, but she decided she needed a personal challenge and a bit of a two wheeled adventure, so she planned a solo ride from the UK to Spain where she would meet me and be guided around Catalunya for 6 days before heading back to the UK on her own.
We met in Zaragoza, which is a 2hr ride from my home, and meeting at a retail park gave us the opportunity to park the bikes, have some food and drink and talk about her journey down to me, and what she wanted from the tour. I did this because what something initially thinks they want, can change once the journey has started and they have experienced things en-route. Gill’s requirements were quite simple, she hadn’t been to Spain before, hadn’t been on a motorbike tour before, and she wanted to experience rural Spain and its wonderful roads.
We left Zaragoza, heading towards Alcaniz, a route which has a nice mix of roads and allowed me to asses Gill’s riding. From the start, it was clear she was safe and competent, wouldn’t take risks and her road positioning remained off-set from me so she was always visible in one of my mirrors. As we moved from motorway to national road and eventually onto minor rural roads, I didn’t have any doubts about her riding. Working our way towards Flix, which would be our base for the week, we stopped to get some supplies at a supermarket and arrived at the accommodation after sunset, where we sat and talked over a bottle of wine and I explained the routes I suggested she would like to try.
The next morning, we checked her bike, lubed the chain and set off for a day in the Pyrenees with my girlfriend joining us on her bike. We took a direct route to Tremp, but the roads and scenery are absolutely breathtaking in this area, especially once you get past the plains and start to climb into the mountains. Lakes, streams, towering hills and deep gorges make it a wonderful ride on a motorbike. We stopped in Tremp for lunch and refreshments, and to find out how she was finding the roads and scenery, before heading west. We wound our way up and down some incredible mountain roads, through tunnels, along more deep gorges and stopped once more for refreshments before heading back to Flix for the evening. I have done this route in January, to read about it, click here.
The next day was a rest day, Gill had been riding for 5 days and had already covered 1700 miles since leaving her home in the UK, so we just stayed local in preparation for the following day, but still managed 120 miles of quiet, twisty roads and sleepy rural villages with plenty of refreshment stops.
This was the longest day of Gill’s tour, going back into the Pyrenees, but cutting across a high mountain pass and working our way into Andorra. Our first stop was in Sort, a lovely little town situated on a river which provides kayak and white water rafting excursions, and dozens of lovely bars and restauants. From Sort, we took a pass towarrds Andorra which seemed to climb higher and higher with every hairpin bend until we were looking down onto what looked like a toy village that we knew was the village of Sort where we had stopped for lunch. We had a look around some of the many motorbike clothing and accessory shops, where I bought myself some new boots, and then we headed south towards Flix on a wonderful road, full of fast sweeping bends, a contrast to the mountain routes we had been on earlier that day.
After such a long day on the bike previously, we had a relaxed morning, and then went out to do a nice 120 mile circular route with my girlfiend on her bike, and our friend Martin on his bike. This is a favourite route of mine, great for blowing away the cobwebs without it being too challenging. We stopped a couple of times for refreshments and a chat, and climbed to the highest village in the area, surrounded by a farm of wind turbines, before descending to the river valley below and on to Flix for an evening of home-cooked food.
Gill’s final day was a little unusual for a bike tour, but something I think she needed. We had a late start and took a trip over the local mountains before descending to one of the most beautiful seaside towns in the area where we walked along the marina and had a leisurely lunch overlooking the Mediterranean sea before riding back on more amazing roads so we could check Gill’s bike and she could start to pack her luggage ready for the ride back to the UK.
The final morning was an early start, we loaded the luggage onto Gill’s bike and I had decided to ride with her almost to the French border in the Pyrenees. As she had 355 miles to cover today, we pushed on for almost 3hrs before stopping for a bikini (toasted sandwich) and coffee. It was here we parted company and Gill continued into France and I returned to Flix. Gill returned to the UK, already planning at least one more tour next year, because she knew we had barely scratched the surface of what this corner of Spain had to offer those travelling on two wheels, and there is also talk about taking a couple of days to travel south and a ferry to North Africa to explore Morocco for a couple of days and then returning to Catalunya.
If you would like to explore Spain on your motorbike, contact me to discuss routes and options.
If you haven’t heard about the TET (Trans Euro Trail), it is a project which aims to map a predominantly off-road but legally rideable network of tracks and trails covering the whole of Europe. At the time of writing this, with the help of a large network of volunteers (I have mapped large sections of Catalunya) and linesmen, 51,000km of trails have been mapped from the Arctic circle to Africa and from Portugal to Ukraine. It is a community driven project, and the GPX files are available for free so anyone with a suitable bike can ride the TET.
At the moment, the Spanish TET is part of one large circular route incorporating Portugal, with some small branch routes to places of interest, and some circular routes around the more scenic parts, which becomes more of an Iberian TET. The entire TET network is under constant development so before setting off, you always need to ensure you have downloaded the latest GPX file. Check out my post about navigation. Sometimes trails can be washed out by rain, rockfalls can make some tracks impossible to follow, and sometimes the right to ride along a trail can be revoked.
The Spanish TET GPX route is maintained by a friend of mine, Simon Rice, also known as The Spanish Biker. My own contribution to the Spanish TET focuses around the town of Flix in Tarragona province. I own a farm here and I was able to route the TET right past the farm which had a legal holiday cottage. Unfortunately that business had to close following a wildfire which swept through the area in June 2019.
Using my farm as a starting point, I have been able to regularly ride the TET north and south of this area, and I can now ride for a day in each direction without needing to use any form of navigation. Due to the weather systems in the inland parts of Spain, the TET can be a very different experience at different times of the year, which is why I would suggest people return and try it again, possibly reversing the route to make it even more interesting.
So what can you expect on this part of the Spanish TET? Well the tracks here are wonderful. Typically, they are tracks that the farmers use to get to their land and they criss-cross the entire country. As they are used by tractors, they are wide enough for two bikes to pass, but not wide enough for a bike to pass a tractor without one having to pull over. The soil varies considerably, from slate and shale to the most gloopy and sticky terracotta clay. Most of the soil is a pale, sandy substrate which is like concrete when its dry, but this quickly becomes gloopy clay after some rain. I personally find this soil perfect to ride with knobbly tyres after a couple of hours of rain. Just a bit or rain allows the tyres to bite into the soil without it becoming too soft and slippery.
The trails are never far away from civilisation for food and drink stops, even little sleepy rural villages will have a bar that does a coffee and a generous sandwich (bocadillo) for just a few euros. Having said that, it can be incredibly hot when travelling slow along the trails, so make sure you carry plenty of water to hydrate, and especially if you get a puncture or break-down, it can be a long, hot walk to get help, and the chances are the local garage will be closed for siesta. Fuel stops can be found easily with just small detours from the trail into a nearby town. Its the same for accommodation, practically every town will have somewhere for you to stay and a selection of bars serving food. Most towns will also have a mechanic, should you need any repairs or spares.
During the dry months, you will see people riding on almost bald tyres because the ground is too hard for anything to dig in and find any traction. But after the first rains of Autumn (usually the end of September), everyone rushes out to get some new knobbly tyres. I have tried various tyres on the TET here, the first were a set of Mitas enduro tyres. These were probably the best in terms of grip, but they didn’t last long enough. I then tried some Michelin Sirac tyres, which were great in the dry months, but very difficult to ride along the trails after a bit of rain. I then tried some Continental TKC80’s, which were OK. They aren’t an outstanding tyre, but they are a great all terrain tyre. Comfortable on or off-road, and with a reasonable lifespan for the money. I’m currently riding on a set of Motoz Tractionator Adventure, and I have mixed feelings about them. They certainly last longer than the others, although I am getting through 2 fronts to 1 rear which is really unusual for bike tyres. I find the front lacking bite when cornering off-road, but the rear is good and confidence inspiring.
There are a few dangers to be aware of when riding the TET in Spain. The fact that the trails have to be suitable for tractors means that there is the risk of you coming across one at some point, so please only ride as fast as you can stop safely. And farmers don’t always drive around on a slow tractor, you will see them driving around in their 4×4’s. Wild animals are also a risk on the trails, particularly wild boar. If you hit one of these, you will do a lot of damage to your bike, but worse than that, if you encounter one with babies, you can expect one to charge you. These beasts with their tusks have severed femoral arteries and people have bled out and died, so whilst they look cute and interesting, please stay away from them. And where there are wild animals, you will also find hunters and their dogs. Hunting seasons and the days they can hunt vary from region to region, and there can be exceptions, but when they are hunting, you will generally see lots of 4×4’s parked up, sometimes guys in hi-viz who act as spotters, and of course dozens of hunting dogs which generally have a hi-viz collar so they aren’t mistaken for a wild animal and shot.
Take a look at a YouTube video of me riding parts of the TET so you can see what its like, and feel free to email me if you have any questions or are looking for someone to guide you along part or all of the Iberian TET.
If you haven’t ridden a motorbike in Spain before, you don’t know what you are missing. Of course, other European countries like France and Italy also have wonderful scenery and beautiful villages, but theres something different about riding in Spain, and you have to experience it to know exactly what I mean, but I’ll try to explain it.
Spain is quite a relaxed country, and its also very bike friendly. As you ride around, you will notice everyone is conscious of bikes. Young, old, male, female, it doesn’t matter. Catch up to the car in front, and they will see you and move over to allow you to pass. They will even move over when its not possible or legal to pass. As a biker, you don’t have to look for biker friendly accommodation or go to biker friendly bars, everywhere welcomes everyone here, whatever you ride or drive.
And it doesn’t matter what you ride, here, a biker is a biker. You will see groups of friends all riding different styles of bikes, but still riding together. One will be on a sportsbike, another on a naked bike, plus a cruiser and one or two adventure bikes. Nobody cares, they just go out and ride what they want to ride.
So what do you need to know about riding in Spain? The essentials are that you must carry your original vehicle documents with you, valid insurance documents and green card, plus your driving licence, IDP and passport. You should always ride with your lights on and having anything like earphones in your ears are illegal. The alcohol limit is so low, its not even worth thinking about drinking and riding, and the fines start at a four figure sum, and don’t even think about riding under the influence of drugs. People have been fined four figure amounts for being over the limit more than 48 hours after having smoked cannabis.
Speed limits are clearly signed but unlike some other countries, speed cameras are simply grey boxes at the side of the road. There will be one speed camera warning sign approximately 1km before the camera, but thats it. Failure to stop at a STOP sign, or clipping or crossing a solid white line can land you with a €120 fine. For more detailed information, take a look at the N332 website.
The other consideration, particularly in the summer months, is to carry some water with you. I know its not ideal to have 1500ml bottle of water strapped to the passenger seat, but you can guarantee you will get a puncture at the hottest part of the day, on a stretch of road without a phone signal. Imagine walking in temperatures of 45 degrees centigrade, just to ring for assistance, then possibly waiting an hour for recovery. I have lived here for year, I’m somewhat acclimatised, but I still get through a few litres of water every day in the summer just doing day to day things.
And on the subject of breaking down, don’t forget to buy some good EU breakdown insurance. Preferably not the sort that expects you to pay and then claim it back when you return home. Depending on the age and value of your bike, it may not be worth the paper its written on, but at least try to get some. Many policies won’t repatriate the bike if the transport will cost half what the bike is worth. If you have to get your bike recovered, take photographs of it before it goes on the truck, and once it has been secured by the recovery driver.
Obviously, wearing a helmet is compulsory, and one with a recognised safety rating. All helmets sold in Spain must conform to ECE 22-05, and most helmets sold in Europe will conform to this safety standard. I used to ride with a dark visor, and I never had any problems, but my visor was a genuine Arai which was stamped ‘for road use’.
There are regular police checkpoints throughout Spain, and they can vary quite a bit. Often it is just 4 officers and two cars checking documents, but one particular check point was on a mountain pass and there were around 20 Guardia Civil officers with assault rifles, which is quite intimidating. After a few years here, you get used to it, and the best way to deal with it is to slow right down, open your visor, pull down your goggles or remove your sunglasses and look into the eyes of the officer who is stopping the traffic. What they generally look for is someone avoiding eye contact or looking suspicious, so staring into their eyes displays confidence, and you will generally be waved through.
That covers of what you need to know to enjoy riding your motorbike in Spain, all you need to do now is decide when you want to come here and book one of my incredible guided tours so you avoid the commercialised tourist traps, and get to see the real Spain and experience the wonderful Spanish culture.
If you enjoyed reading this, take a look at my article about Road Rides in Spain