KLE 500: 2012 European Motorcycle Madness

Image borrowed from his website.
Image borrowed from his website.

On April 26th, 2012, I was fortunate enough to hear Austin Vince give a presentation in Seattle about various awesome motorcycle adventurers you’ve never heard of. My good friend and recent travel buddy Ashley thought I’d be interested in going, but couldn’t make it there herself.

Having already purchased airlines tickets to Europe for the whole summer, with no real plan of what I’d be doing except hiking my third section of The Way of St. James, I decided I wanted to be one of those motorcyclists you’ve never heard of, too! Within 15 minutes of the talk I texted Ashley with the following news:

“You ready for this?? I’m about to blow your mind. WE ARE GOING TO BUY A MOTORCYCLE IN EUROPE TO RIDE AROUND ON! I’ll take you back to Paris after, and will continue on my trip. Then, I’ll sell the bike. We can get one for cheap and I met the speaker tonight who said he’d help!” 

Ashley:

“I should have known that sending you to that thing would end this way. Makes sense to me!!! Way better than riding the train!” 

Me:  “Woowoot!!”

                                        And so it began…

We were both just baby motorcyclists at that point (and maybe still are), having received our licenses and motorcycles the summer of 2011 after a flash of brilliance and irrationality while tromping around the volcanoes of Hawaii together.

Ashley scoring us a free helicopter ride off the back side of Haleakala. Go team Girl Power!
Ashley scoring us a free helicopter ride off the back side of Haleakala. Go team Girl Power!

I had spent half a year riding around Washington state and beautiful British Columbia, including a one-day 400 mile trek around the Olympic Peninsula in the winter, at night, freezing my ass off through snow.

Feeling only a little sheepish, I wrote to Austin who had generously offered to help me buy (and then sell) a motorcycle in the UK. A couple of months and $2,205 later, I was the proud owner of a 2004 Kawasaki KLE 500.

On June 20th, 2012, Ashley and I arrived in Heathfield, England to claim our prize, weighed down with motorcycle gear, tools, a good deal of hiking gear, and all the cute things required by two girls when heading to gay paree. Oh, and a few clunky ol’ textbooks. Did I mention I was undertaking this adventure while completing the final quarter of my master’s degree? Minor detail…

The KLE was pretty stock, had no luggage boxes, an excessively and illegally loud exhaust, but looked like it’d get us down the road.

If only we could figure out how to fit two girls, two backpacks and all our other stuff on this little bike…

Our chariot awaits!
Our chariot awaits!?

Hour 1: Ride motorcycle around. Very different from my only other bike, a big Honda Shadow VT750 cruiser. Do figure 8’s in parking lot. Get on real road. Try to stay on left. Note to self:  Stay on left. NO DAMNIT, LEFT! LEEEEEFT!

Hour 1.5: Try riding with passenger. Note to Ashley: Remind me to stay on left.

Hour 2 and 3: Figure out how to get crap on bike. This thought had kept us both awake for several nights in a slight state of panic. Panniers? Pshaa. Who wants to spend money on those anyway?

Hour 4: Keep trying to get crap on bike. Don’t let mechanics’ heckling get to you.

Hour 5: Try to get both of us onto that tiny spot between gear. Hmmm… How long will we be on this bike together?? Ride to Brighton, a short 24 miles away.

Hour 6: Lose balance and shout “FEET, FEET, FEET!!!” to Ashley, whose feet couldn’t even reach the ground from back there. Drop motorcycle at intersection due to my short legs. I have lots of other excuses for why that happened… Laugh hysterically on pavement, while guys come out of the woodworks to our rescue.

On June 22nd, I wrote this email to my parents, detailing some of the adventures of those first couple of days: 

Bonjour!!

Writing on my iPhone from a little cafe in some small French town I can’t pronounce.

Haven’t had Internet for a bit. Brighton was nice. Gorgeous ride around the countryside, and our couchsurfing host was wonderful. A 31 year old professor of philosophy. Wonderful new friend, great eve with him and his friend Emma, who cooked us a delicious baba ganoosh, potato and veggie dinner.

I did drop the bike at a stop, while shouting “Feet! Feet! Feet!” at ashley…. It’s quite tall, and the ground was sloping down to the left, and the bike was extremely top heavy. We rolled to the pavement and there we lay, laughing uncontrollably through our helmets. Out of nowhere people came to help get the bike up, and we were off again without a scratch (to ourselves!). We have since found a far superior way to carry all our gear and have perfected the art of moto packing.

Next day found us on ferry to Dieppe, after viewing the white cliffs near Dover. The four hours from Newhaven on a huge ship was very relaxing and nice, beginning with a 10am English style breakfast.

We decided to just wear our own backpacks. Worked surprisingly well, as long as we kept Ash from flying off the back!
Bike strapped to ferry deck. We decided to just wear our own backpacks for the remainder of the trip. Worked surprisingly well, as long as we kept Ash from flying off the back!

Rode about thirty miles into Normandy amongst lightning, thunder and torrential downpour. Stayed relatively dry minus my soaked feet, and the bike handled beautifully in those conditions.

BUT, bike died on the side of busy highway as soon as the sun came out! Was able to start it again, and ride to the next exit, where another motorcyclist was already waiting for us, chaperoning us to safety until the bike died again at an offramp. He spoke no English, but took me to a nearby town with a motorcycle shop, after Ashley and I pushed the bike up uphill offramp to a safer spot, several blocks away and over a bridge!

Moto shop people took me via car and trailer to get Ashley and motorcycle. Ashley had to sit behind motorcycle, hiding from traffic, because so many motorcyclists were stopping to help! Can’t complain there.

Owners of the shop in Elbeuf, close to Rouen, were extremely nice and helpful, and the wife, who was the only one to speak even a little English, drove us to a nearby hotel, at only 55 euros for cute little room, private bath, free desserts(!!) and breakfast. We had a wonderful evening, listened to live music as it was national music day, and picked up the bike the next morning. Just a kink and clog in a fuel line, which they had fixed the eve before. We left the bike with them though, so they’d have time to check spark plugs and air filter.

Total cost of getting towed, unclogging fuel line, changing spark plugs, labor, and kindness?? Less than €60!! Couldn’t believe it. They warned that the clutch wasn’t great and was affecting 1st and 2nd gear, but said it would probably be fine for a few thousand miles.

Now en route to Le Puy en Valey, but will probably sleep somewhere near Orleans this eve.

Having a great time!

My dear mother’s response: 

“OH my….!!! That is too much for a Moooother! Falling on the pavement? Driving in the rain? Honey, why don’t you sell that machine at the nearest market? How far are you planning to go? Cuidate muchísimo. Love, mama” 

June 23rd, to parents: 

Hi mom! In a small town, gonna try and deal with what we think is a problem with a clogged fuel line. The bike runs, but after 100km starts running poorly until we put another half tank of gas in, even though it still has plenty of fuel. Might just be dirt in the tank that got stirred up when I dropped it…

Time to get ready for breakfast! Love you!

June 25th, to parents: 

Hi!! All is well in France. We’ve changed plans significantly due to motorcycle problems. Also, I think the weight of both of us, plus gear, is too much for this bike. Not as powerful as my Seattle bike. I think when I’m alone it’ll run better! Motorcycle shifter thing fell off yesterday in Loire Valley while touring around castles. Twice, actually.

What do you do when your shifter-lever thing falls off?
What do you do when your shifter-lever thing falls off?

We were able to get off the highway the second time, after jamming it back on, and asked for help at a house. The families who helped us were great!! Husbands weren’t home, but the wives came out, husbands’ toolboxes and kids in tow, and eventually their one armed mechanic neighbor came and fixed it.

With help from two local families and a one armed mechanic, and we were on our way!
With help from two local families and a one armed mechanic, we were on our way again!

Also saw two castles/chateaux. Stayed at amazing little ‘gite’, like a b&b, for two nights. Found it only after hours and hours of riding, lost in the countryside, at midnight, exhausted, with the motorcycle making horrible CLUNKING sounds, and way too low on engine oil. A nice man guided us from his village across many miles of fields to the gite. Only $60 for two people a night with amazing breakfast and great hosts! Beautiful old country farm house.

We are just now leaving the gorgeous Loire valley. On way from Orleans now to Dijon, where we’ll stay with my old friend, Olivier. Will see if we can get there in one day!! 

Château de Chambord
Château de Chambord
        ——————–

We did NOT make it to Dijon in just one day. It took about 4, as the regulator on our bike, hereon referred to lovingly as “Ghettobike”, blew out and could have fried the whole machine. We waited in the quaint old town of Auxerre for several days until the new part arrived.

Shortly after, we found ourselves in the splendid company of old friends in Dijon, where we relaxed and recouped our energy. And by ‘relaxed and recouped’, I mean we went on a 45 km hike on one of the Camino de Santiago routes through France, got totally lost, and had to hitchhike back after a couple of days. Good times!

It was with great sadness that I took Ashley to the nearby train station in Chalon-sur-Saone shortly after, where she was to head back to Paris and catch her flight home to Seattle. After all we had experienced together, it was a difficult goodbye. 10 glorious days of motorcycling through the gorgeous French countryside, having her company for each and ever breakdown, I wondered how I was going to spend the next 6 weeks riding solo around countries I had never been to, with no real plan, experience or motorcycle maintenance knowledge…

You’ll read about my expedition through the French, Italian and Swiss Alps in the next post!

If you’re interested in what we packed for this trip, check out our list below:

To do:

  • Moto Insurance!!!! (In the end, we never got motorcycle insurance. Turns out to be fairly impossible with a UK registered bike and a USA home address).

    • Write down important addresses

    • Moto insurance will cover medical needs for accidents? Check to make sure (Ended up buying travel insurance)

  • Call banks and make sure they don’t freeze your card while abroad

  • Check how much they’ll charge you for withdrawing cash and using your card abroad

  • good euro map for moto

  • Look up train schedules from:

    • London-Heathfield for motorcycle pickup

    • Le Puy-Geneva for hike

  • Buy cellphone in Paris, CDG airport

 

To pack for hike:

  • Hiking pants

  • Hiking shorts

  • 3 pairs hiking socks

  • 3 undies

  • Pajamas

  • Long sleeve shirt

  • Warm layer

  • Rain jacket

  • Hat

  • Evening outfit

  • Scarf

  • Hiking shoes

  • Flip flops

  • Ibuprofen

  • First aid: bandages, alcohol wipes, neosporin, sore muscle ointment, gauze

  • Baby wipes

    • kleenex packet

  • Sleeping bag/liner

  • Lightweight towel

  • Headlamp

  • Waterproof baggies for books/money/passport (lunch baggies are fine)

  • Waterproof sack for clothing, sleeping bag, or waterproof pack cover

  • Hiking poles

  • Shampoo/conditioner/soap

    • detergent for clothing

  • Sunglasses!!

  • Glasses (extra)

    • Contacts

    • Solution

    • Eye drops

  • Toothbrush/toothpaste

  • Sunblock

  • Bug repellant

  • Chapstick

  • Blister prevention

    • Hydropel

  • Blister relief

    • blister pads

    • needle thread

    • KT tape

    • Benzoin tincture

  • Food Stuff

    • Spork/knife

    • tupperware with lid

    • Water bottle(s)

  • Small waterproof pouch for money

  • Book

  • Camera

    • Charger

    • Extra memory card

 

For motorcycle:

  • Helmet

  • Jacket

    • Base layer

  • Pants

  • Boots

  • Rain jacket

  • Gloves

    • liners?

    • Hand warmers?

  • Scarf/neck gaiter

  • Small toolkit

  • Bungee cords

  • Tie downs

  • Carabiner

  • Electrical tape

  • Wheel and helmet locks

 

For cities:

  • Skirt

  • Cute top

  • Pants

  • Shorts

  • Extra ID

  • Extra emergency credit card

  • Locker lock for hostels

  • Cellphone with charger

  • Adaptor

 

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2 thoughts on “KLE 500: 2012 European Motorcycle Madness”

  1. I see Needle/Thread under Blister relief. Do you run the needle through the blister and leave the thread hanging out both sides until the blister hardens? I learned this trick in the army but no one else I know uses it. Not important just curious. Nice job with your adventures.

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