48h moules-frites run

After a short, agitated night sleep the alarm clock rang at 6am. We were up in a matter of minutes, excited about the weekend ahead. None of that drifting in and out of sleep, eyelids glued together behaviour that usually characterizes Monday to Fridays…The panniers liners were packed and ready in the hallway and the biking gear neatly laid out in the guest room. 30 minutes later we were on our bikes and ready to hit the road.

The plan was simple. Blast out of London, enter “Chirac’s 200mph a*s*h*le” at Folkestone and from Calais enjoy a nice ride on small coastal roads to our place on the Belgian seaside. The Sunday would see us ride to Bruges, be tourists for an afternoon and head back to London. Getting out of London was uneventful, if only very quiet and therefore less painful than usual. It is when we hit the M20 that the ride became splendid. Although we were on a boring motorway, we were surrounded by beautiful countryside covered in low fog and heading straight towards a fluorescent orange sunrise. Beautiful; we were in the “zone”.

We had covered about 40 miles and had another 20 to go when the W650 broke down… at 70mph on the middle lane of the M20… ouch! We managed to pull over and quickly discovered that the tank was empty. Pff! Well done us! Everything had been carefully planned except for fuel. I will digress here and complain about the W650 (blame the bike not the rider); I love the whole retro look Kawasaki was going for and they did a great job, but no fuel gauge? Really?? Not even a low fuel warning light?? To be fair, you’d have thought that after 4 such occasions in 6 months of ownership we would be more careful but nope, not wired this way… Anyway, we decided to adopt a positive attitude and walked about a mile back to a petrol station where we filled a jerry can. The whole operation only delayed us by about 30 minutes and we managed to get on the following train. The shuttle is very good like that with bikes, you just show up when you want, regardless of your reservation and they’ll put you on the next available train.

We got out on the other side of the channel to find the kind of fog Europeans always associate with London. The visibility could not have been more than 500 meters. We rode on b-roads from Calais to Dunkirk. This part of France is very….French. It’s amazing how a narrow stretch of water can make such a difference. 30 minutes away from Folkestone we were now riding through quaint French villages with people queuing in front of the local “boucherie”, older gentlemen with berets and Peugeots with those yellow front lights from the 80s.

In Dunkirk we made a little detour to ride a road I had spotted on Google Maps; the Route de la Digue du Braek, essentially a narrow road on an artificial sandbank about 2 miles long. On one side was the Channel, on the other the port of Dunkirk. In the middle sand patches. This is a very unusual and beautiful road and I would recommend it to anyone who rides in the area. We arrived in time for lunch in Oostduinkerke where we parked the bikes in the underground garage. We met up with Lucie and Karim, friends from Brussels who came up to spend some time with us and went for a long, foggy walk on the beach. We had a great time catching up and filling up on Belgian beers and moules-frites.

Sunday morning was radiant. The sun was finally out and the views of the sea were fantastic. We rode the 25 miles to Bruges following canals and carving through the infamous fields of Flanders. Bruges was the way I remembered it; incredibly pretty and full of chocolate. We played tourists for the afternoon and then headed back to London. This time we took the E40 highway to Calais because we were short on time and it was getting dark anyway. This time though, we were riding into a beautiful fluorescent orange sunset; a fitting end to our 48 hour weekend trip to Belgium.

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Roxter heated grips

Though it was an unseasonal 18C this Sunday we can’t hide from the fact that we are in the middle of November and the weather is bound to turn polar very soon. I’ve already located my snood and the liner is back in the waterproof jacket.

I usually have no issue riding in the cold because with the right equipment one can really isolate themselves from the cold. And that’s the secret; using the right equipment. It’s like in construction, having the correct tool makes the job ten times easier.

One great piece of kit that I first experienced on a 1200GS in South Africa this year is heated grips. It’s one of those things that can only be appreciated fully once tested. It’s unbelievable how much comfort they bring to a cold ride and how much further you can ride with heat being transfered to your body through your hands. It’s no coincidence that these days all the top touring bikes come with heated grips installed on them. They even have heated seats…

In anticipation of cold weather and a weekend trip to Belgium on 2 bikes we decided to install some heated grips on the Kawasaki W650. I looked around on the web and most reviews of the Oxfords were very good. I also discovered that Oxford produces a sub-brand called Roxter which is 30% cheaper but built identically.

The first step was to get rid of the original soft grips. This was done rather easily with some cutters and we soon had bare handle bars ready to be fitted with the heated grips. We did a mock installation before glueing anything to make sure everything worked correctly. The main issue we had was that I wanted to instal the system on an ignited wire; ie it would cut off when the bike is swithed off. This means that there cannot be any incident where the grips are left on all night to drain the battery. After some searching and thinking like electricians we decided to attach the positive wire to the wire of the back light. Fingers crossed when I turned the bike on… nothing blows up…good… and the grips become warm. Nice!

Now the W650 is all set up for the winter!