A Motorcycling Tour in Spain, March/April 2013

Spain by FJR1300AS

Document start date 5th April 2013    Last updated 7th April 2013



This is not a travelog, it is my impressions of a tour into Spain.

Once again, R and J have invited me to accompany them on a tour in Europe, this time in Spain. This is my third European trip with them, they are obviously gluttons for punishment.

R and J live on the island of Guernsy, and have to catch a ferry to England, from there taking the ferry to Santander, Spain. I meet them in Plymouth at the ferry terminal to catch the ferry.

I expect to do a bit over 2000 miles; no large mileage on any one day, and a couple of rest days (at least, staying in two of the hotels for two nights each).


Day -2, 22nd March: Snow in Derby

Left home Friday mid-day to catch the Sunday ferry. This was because we were being snowed in, and I had a small time window early Friday afternoon to get out whilst the first lot of snow had melted somewhat, and before the next lot came. In retrospect, it was a very wise decision, the snow came overnight and would have made getting out from home impossible for the next few days.

Fortunately I'd done a lot of my preparations earlier, including getting new tyres put on, also the time consuming task of protecting my tank from the tank bag by sticking duct tape over it. The only other bike preparation I managed was to check the tyre pressures. Didn't even look at the oil and water levels (well, this is an FJR, they're always Ok). Other than that, I just rapidly collected everything together and packed.

I booked in at a small pub in a place called Tarrent Monkton in Dorset, recommended by R, he'd stayed there more than once.

For the journey down I took the M1, not the shorter M40 route, because the weather forecast predicted snow on the M40 route. Better another 10 minutes than not getting there at all.

The journey down was pretty good, all things considered. The traffic, although heavy, kept moving, so no significant hold-ups. It was cold (3 to 5C, 37 to 41F), varying between rain, sleet, snow, and occasionally dry. No issues.

The pub is some 120 miles from the Ferry, easy to do on Sunday; Tomtom says about 2 hours 45 minutes, so to get there by (say) 14:30 for a 15:45 sailing is easy. So I stay Saturday night at the same pub.

Access to the pub is along a tiny road that goes through a ford. The notice by the ford said "Don't drive through the water", presumably because the water level was higher than usual. Normally I would ignore the notice, but there had been a lot of rain recently. The diversion was a couple of miles. So I went over the two-foot wide pedestrian bridge. Well, no-one else was using it.

199 miles (mileages are approximate).


Day -1, 23rd March: Time to kill

(Click on any image for larger view,
click on that for the original)
Mine's on the right of this picture
Nothing to do but time fill, so I went for a meander through some of the New Forest. Cold (3C, 37F all day), drizzly weather. Some of the scenery would have been outstanding if the weather had been nicer. Got some petrol and a sandwich at a supermarket. Happened to park beside another FJR, but the rider had gone by the time I returned.

I wanted to find somewhere nice to stop and eat, but, because the weather was so miserable, I went back to my room at the pub to eat it, watched the F1 qualifying. Read for a bit. Not the most exciting day of my life.

81 miles


Day 0, 24th March: Catch a ferry

Rode from the pub to Plymouth ferry. Mostly 'A' roads, relatively little traffic, and able to maintain a good pace. Temperature remained mostly at 1C (34F) with occasional spells at 2C (35F). Very glad I have a heated vest. Heavily overcast, but no rain.

Had one peculiar issue with the bike. The throttle didn't close fully when stopping at some lights, the tick-over held at about 1400 rpm. After another stop it did the same, but I found I could force the throttle shut which brought it back to normal. After that it seemed to behave. Until I can lift the tank I won't know what might have happened. Initially I decided not to use the cruise control in case that was binding, but later I used it without any ill effect.

Arrived at the ferry terminal without further incident and in plenty of time, met up with R & J.

Waiting for the ferry
When we took the bikes to queue to board, we had to hang around for an hour or so. It was very cold, but at least it wasn't raining. Total of perhaps 20 bikes finally went on board, and for some reason mine got put where I'll have to back it a long way, and probably will be nearly the last off. But, we're in no particular hurry.

117(?) miles


Day 1, 25th March: Santander to Salamanca

View from hotel window
A lot of water flowing
Got off the ferry, had to queue to get through immigration (in previous years it was just a glance at the passport, now it's check it with a scanner or whatever).

Weather was damp as we left the ferry port, but got colder and wetter. We decided to take the main road and just get to Salamanca. So, cold and wet. Better than cold and icy.

244 miles (but it seemed further).


Day 2, 26th March: Salamanca to Zahara de la Sierra

Today was "my" day. R had told me I was choosing the route. Ok, but we had to travel a fair way, and the straight forward route was mostly motorway type of roads. So I'd used Google Maps to plan a route that would have sufficient diversions off the main roads to make things interesting.

Some snow around
Interesting roads
All went well except the weather. We had fog, severe rain (it's not often I have to slow down in rain because I can't see the road ahead), but later it cleared a bit and we had some dry periods. It was a bit warmer, too, with temperatures ranging from 11 to 18C (52 to 64F). Some of the views were outstanding, including going over a damn, with a picturesque valley below us one side, and a great lake the other. Nearby was a large runoff of water down a sluice, in another place a great quantity of brown water pounding down a river having passed through a generator on a damn. I never realised how much water there was in Spain.

However there were some issues with the day's ride.

On one occasion, R was following me, and wanted to stop for "something". I knew he wouldn't be long, but the road had some fast traffic on it and was fairly narrow. So I looked at the side of the road, there was an earth strip a few inches below the road level, I could ride down onto it, and I could see a stoney "ramp" a little further along where I could get back on. So I moved the bike off the road down the lip onto the earthy bit. Or should I say "into" the earthy bit, it was very soft with all the rain. Ok, I was down. So I waited for R to appear. I then had to moto-cross through this mud to my ramp, the rear snaking like crazy, but I just kept the power on, aiming the front for the ramp. The front climbed up onto the road, the rear did something of a dance, but eventually followed. For the next mile or so I was shedding mud and stones from the tyres, and I still need to check that my fenda-extender is still firmly attached (a later check showed my glueing was still adequate). Also, several miles later, the rear felt a little insecure when leaned well over in a sweeper, a little unnerving at the speeds we were going at, so probably still some mud not thrown off.

Some petrol stations that Tomtom said were there were either closed or had never been built. Then, nearing our destination along some winding mountainous roads, we came across a road that was closed because of a land slip. "No problem" says I, just tell Tomtom that there's a road block ahead. "No problem" says Tomtom, "turn yourselves round, here's a new route". So we follow this new route, to be deposited on an old road that is full of potholes, and is barely navigable for a road bike. So I stop, and tell it to go directly to a nearby petrol station, surely on a decent bit of road? Tomtom says "turn left here". And "here" was a mud track winding steeply up the side of a mountain. No thanks. Anyway, we eventually find our way to this petrol station and from there to the hotel. Well worth getting to the hotel, the food in the hotel's restaurant was delicious.

Confession time. After one fuel stop, R came up along side me, gesticulating wildly; I was driving on the wrong side of the road. I must have been getting tired.

424(?) miles


Day 3, 27th March: Zahara de la Sierra to Zahara de la Sierra round trip

Parked across from hotel
View from in front of hotel
Front of hotel
Stopped for a breather

The hotel was one of the best for atmosphere and food. It was situated on a one-way loop that was much higher than the road it came off. Because we didn't know the geography, we went up the wrong way, but nobody seemed to mind.

R had set up a route that took us down to the crossing point to Gibraltar, then back through some mountainous roads. The morning had a little rain, but it brightened up, and we had some of the most convoluted roads I've been on, including one stretch of 30-odd miles of continuous twists and turns, as we passed over/through some mountains.

Of course, it wasn't all plain sailing, what with drivers who pulled to the side, almost stopping, to let you pass. Nice idea, but a blind bend is not the best place to overtake. Thanks, but no thanks. Some of the roads had suffered from land slippage, but all were clearly marked, so not a problem. One road that R's Garmin took us on was just a dirt track. As we went along it, a horse stood up on the side of the road. I don't know who was more surprised, us or the horse. Luckily it was tethered, so was unlikely to pose a threat.

Views were astonishing, with deep valleys, mountains, occasionally we could see the convoluted road we were on, it was difficult to visualise how we would get to parts that seemed hung on the sides of the mountain.

224 miles.


Day 4, 28th March: Zahara to Cordoba

Naturally not the direct route. A little main road, a lot of minor roads, again twisting and turning through mountains. And olive groves. Miles and miles of olive groves in all directions.

Weather was decidedly warmer, between perhaps 14 and 20, with a fair bit of sunshine.

I experimented with the bike's handling, decided it was very neutral, whether turning in long sweepers or laid over in a hairpin. Within reason you barely needed to touch the bars to keep it on line. Just watch out for cars coming the other way on blind bends, though, because you might need to modify the line mid-corner. The roads were narrow, the cars (or even coaches) were not always on their side of the road.

R had booked us in for a Michelin starred restaurant in the evening. The menu was for "tasters", about eight courses of extraordinarily flavoured food and several wines, served with precision and interesting explanation by excellent staff. Well worth the fairly hefty bill.

212 miles.


Day 5, 29th March: Good Friday, a "no riding" day.

View from hotel, near the city centre

No riding today. Instead, we did the touristy thing, walking round Cordoba, visiting the cathedral that used to be a mosque, very old, very impressive architecture, and a museum. Ate a late lunch at a moderately expensive restaurant that served adequate rather than very good food. Perhaps I'd been spoilt by yesterday's meal.

An orange tree in the city ...
... something I never see at home
A lot of water flowing
View inside the mosque/catherdral
Marching and playing, in double time
View from a tower on the museum

In the evening we'd hoped to see an Easter Friday parade, something they do here in Cordoba. We did see a precurser, it looked like a military accademy marching band, marching in double time

Unfortunately in the evening it was raining, and they appeared to have called the parades off. So we meandered back to the hotel, calling in at a bar en route, more to pass the time than any real thirst. In any case, a clear head is needed in the morning, we've a fair way to go.

Day 5: None on the bike, about 20 on our feet.


Day 6, 30th March: Cordoba to Cuenca

Weather was pretty much perfect for biking, dry, bright, blue sky and clouds, temperature varied between 13 and 18C (55 and 64F). Was a little bit windy, so not quite perfect.

Apart from a few pieces of main road, R had chosen some good roads, curling through nice if not stunning scenery. There was one stretch of perhaps 10 miles of straight road, but the surface was very rough, exercising the bikes' suspension, and a bit wearying after a while. A relief to get off it on to normal roads.

Ended up in Cuenca, and apart from R's Garmin being uncooperative in finding the hotel, overall a good ride.

View from hotel
Looking back at hotel

A meander around Cuenca, built on the top of a mountain, does my phobia of heights no good at all. But very pleasant, nonetheless.

291 miles.


Day 7, 31st April: Cuenca to San Millan de la Cogolla

Weather was good throughout. Cold on the morning (5C, 41F), but got as high as 17C (63F). No rain, cloudy, but with some blue sky visible.

A ski lift

R had found a route that to some extent depended on the weather. Although the first parts were at reasonable altitudes, in the afternoon we went up above the snow-line, but the roads were all clear. Of snow. But there were a lot of roads whose surfaces had been significantly pot-holed by ice, also many that had rock falls across them, so much of the time a lot of care was required. But, as is usual with R's routes, some wonderful mountain roads full of hair-pins and scenery.

A few surprises as well. Round one bend high up on the side of a mountain, a cliff one side, and armco barrier on the other, a couple of horses came wandering towards us. Luckily they stayed on their side of the road, and seemed curious about us rather than afraid. Later, passing through a farming area, we found twenty or so cows, some either side of the road, also some lying on the road. We had to carefully weave our way between them, luckily they were totally un-phased by two motorcycles riding amongst them, just as well, their horns could have done considerable damage.

On one occasion we came across a grey coloured road surface. We'd been over many different colours of road surface, so nothing had prepared us for finding 15 feet or so of grey gravel, needless to say on a corner. Had it been much longer, I would have been down, as it was the bike slid nastily but recovered when back on normal road. On another occasion, we came across a flood right across the road on a blind corner. We took the shallowest path through it to dry road on the other side.

All told, an interesting and enjoyable day..

264 miles


Day 8, 1st April: San Millan de la Cogolla to Santander

Although some weather forecasts had threatened stormy weather and possibly snow, we had really nice sunshine with blue sky and scattered clouds. A little windy in places, temperature ranging from 6 to 17C (43 to 63F

Saw many buzzards.
We think there's a nest here

Naturally we avoided main roads as far as possible, with a mixture of fast roads that slowed periodically through villages, and some winding mountainous sections. A couple of stops to admire the views and look at buzzards (or are some of them eagles?).

One section of road was pretty busy, we had to do a lot of overtaking to maintain progress, but this is what the bikes are very good at. Most drivers seem very motor-cycle aware, and I had no difficulties.

Stopped for petrol at a tiny place in a village. One petrol pump. Unfortunately it wouldn't keep its display after filling, the man at the counter had to take our word for how much to charge.

So we arrived in plenty of time for the ferry, which again seemed fairly empty. The captain gave the somewhat mystic announcement that the weather for the crossing would be "average". What he meant was that there was a large swell running at sea, so there would be a fair amount of movement of the boat, and sick bags would be prominently displayed around the public areas.

We ate a good meal in the restaurant, a drink and a natter afterwards, then (a slightly moving) bed.

152 miles.


Day 8+1, 2nd April: Portsmouth to Derby

After the ferry docked in Portsmouth, somehow we missed the call to our vehicle deck, and only realised when we saw some other bikes being ridden away. So we rushed down, and in my haste to back the bike out, my foot slipped on some plastic sheeting, slid out from under me, and the bike went sideways until stopped by the wall at the side. I was helped up, and no damage was done.

Bike was filthy afterwards

Queued for passport control. Unlike previous years, the passport was given a thorough check, and I had to remove my helmet (they probably couldn't believe anyone could have a face like my passport photo showed), then said my farewells to R and J. I did follow them for a few miles along the motorway, then branched off.

It was just a mostly motorway run home, traffic generally heavy, but always moving, so no problems.

Weather was 10 down to 6, bright sunshine most of the time.

198 miles).



I was very fortunate to get out from home. We had some unseasonal snow that makes my road totally impassable (at least for me on my bike). There was about a three-hour window when the snow and ice melted on the Friday afternoon (two days before my planned departure date,) then more snow and cold weather came for the next few days, which would have stranded me.

The bike behaved impeccably except for the "mud on tyre" episode, the grey gravel, and one other occasion when I was leaned over in wet weather passing over a pedestrian crossing painted white. The Spanish obviously don't use the non-skid white paint the English do. Both front and rear tyres did a little dance, but recovered quickly. I have nothing but praise for the BT023 tyres, and I am very glad I made the decision to put new ones on before the trip.

They also didn't complain when severely tested through some nasty pot-holes. I was a little concerned that they might be damaged, but seem fine.

The engine spent most of its time purring like a kitten, sometimes growling on tight uphill hairpins, and occasionally roaring when enthusiastically passing other traffic. And, apart from the few occasions mentioned above, the bike behaved perfectly, whether on main roads where it simply ate miles; on minor roads, where it obeyed without concern any corner, swerve or overtake asked of it; or on the occasional broken tarmac or dirt surface, when it would let you know it wasn't entirely happy, but would resignedly do its duty.

The YCC-S enabled rapid and effortless gear changes through all those twists and turns. It ought to be illegal to sell a bike without it.

Fuel consumption: Overall average for the trip: 50.56mpg (UK). Quite good considering we were either pushing speed limits on motorways, doing low gear mountainous twists and turns, also some agressive overtaking. R was using maybe 10% more than me. Probably due to him being a little(?) heavier than me, and he's got J on the back. I like to think it may also be something to do with the rapid gear-change of the YCC-S, enabling me to hold a higher gear when waiting to overtake, I can so easily drop one or two gears in an instant.

Satnav: My Tomtom behaved very well throughout, apart from sometimes wanting us to use the odd impassable track. R had a little trouble with his Garmin and sometimes used his sense of direction and knowledge of Spanish geography. Apart from that, and the odd blocked road and subsequent diversion, we had few problems with navigation.

Mileages quoted are generally from the bike's odometer. My Tomtom generally showed about 5% fewer miles than the bike.

Weather was mostly cold, but I never suffered by using the heated grips, several layers, and occasionally my heated vest. It certainly wasn't spring-like as it would normally be at this time of year, but there was little rain to make it miserable.

Total mileage: 2234.



I have many people to thank.