Learning to ride is one of the best achievements that I have done. So, when it was announced that some chapter members were going to do the NC500 my immediate thoughts were ‘Hell yeah, I want to do that.’
I have only been riding for four years and had read and seen so many articles about how bad the roads were and how technical the climbs and corners were. Having to squeeze past camper vans and making sure you didn’t get too near the edge of the road as they were crumbling away. So I watched videos of parts of the route, mainly Applecross which made me a little more nervous.
Leading up to the trip I began to over think things. How will I fit in with the group? Am I up to the challenge? What if I let them down or slow them up?
Riding up to Inverness from Durham (approximately 300 miles) with the group of nine riders did not start well due to the weather conditions. Just before we set of we had torrential rain and the forecast was not due to get better. I was initially thinking that driving up would be a better option. Doing the NC500 in the rain would not be fun. How wrong I was. The weather eased and although wet, it wasn’t too bad the rest of the way to Inverness. My waterproofs stayed in my panniers for the rest of the trip.
All the other riders had more experience than me although Ian mentioned that he had never ridden in the rain, so this was a testing time for him too. At first my husband and I believed he had never ridden his current bike in the rain, but it actually turned out that he had never ridden any bike in the rain. So maybe the rain was planned just for Ian. Bev did a great job in keeping the group together and getting us to our first night’s scheduled stop. There was one little road exit off the motorway that caught us by surprise and resulted in two of the riders missing the junction. Fortunately, one of them had a sat nav and was able to get back on route and to the hotel. Top tip is not to overtake anything and stay in the inside lane miles before the exit. Live and learn.
Day 1 Inverness – Ullapool
I was more nervous as I listened to the group discussions that this part was the most challenging, having to ride through Applecross. Secretly, my stomach was churning. As we set off on a dry but cloudy day I reminded myself to relax, relax, relax. ‘A road is a road’ someone said. Duncan took the lead on this and I soon settle into the ride. The snow-capped mountains in the distance looked great. Just like a picture post card. Any snow that had fallen on the roads had gone. The copious amount of road salt had seen to that. The pace of the ride was great. We had already agreed that the ride was to be enjoyed and that a steady pace and keeping a safe distance was best for all. It allowed me to look around and enjoy it. I could feel the grin on my face get wider by the mile as we sweep around the bends and viewed the stunning scenery. It absolutely took my breath away. I’m feeling alive.
As the roads begin to narrow into single track and the corners become tighter, we meet a number of camper vans and cars. All of which (apart from one) were courteous, pulled over and let us past. It helps having a group that is too large to fit into a passing place. My breathing gets a little quicker and my bottom begins to twitch as we start to climb up the valley. I want to look at the views but the slow climb and the twisting roads take all my attention. Towards the top the road gets narrower and you can see others making their way down the same single track road. The verge to the left in places has broken away and has no barriers. Not a great combination. All the time I am hoping that those coming down pull over and wait. It’s a first gear job to allow the engine to pull me up. I don’t want to be stopping on a hill or getting too close to the edge. As I negotiate a couple of severe hairpin bends that have a camber far more severe than my legs are long, I am focused on getting around. If I stop, I am convinced that I would topple over. I say to my husband (who is unusually quiet riding behind me) ‘God, those corners were scary, I dread Applecross’. To which he replied, ‘That was Applecross. Everything else is a breeze’. OMG, I gave a huge sigh of relief.
Our group stopped at the top for the obligatory photo shoot. There were only two females in the group. Myself and Trish, our Chapter LOH Officer. It gave me comfort to learn that some of the others had been nervous too and it wasn’t just me over thinking. Trish had done well to negotiate the route on her breakout. We hugged each other of our achievement. Everyone safe and no bikes dropped. It felt good.
Day 2 Ullapool – John O’Groats
This was a day of sweeping bends, single track roads and some of the best scenery you will ever see. Road conditions were generally good. Some wear and tear as you would expect for a road that is being used by camper vans but designed for horse and cart. A lot of work is being done to improve and maintain these roads. Again we struck lucky with the weather which made the tea stops and the leg stretches more enjoyable. No midges either, so we could sit outside and enjoy the sun. What a blessing.
Having checked into the hotel, had something to eat (and a cheeky beer or two) we made our way down to the famous John O-Groats signpost at the harbour. We had decided that we could get a photo with the bikes in the morning. Wrong! When we arrived in the morning there was a big tourist coach sitting directly in front of the sign, spoiling any photo opportunity. Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today rang loudly in my head.
Day 3 John O’Groats – Aviemore.
Striking lucky with the weather yet again, we set of on a warm but cloudy day. The route down was mainly via the A9 but that hugs the coast line. Lovely sweeping roads and terrific views as we plodded south. There are so many beautiful views that I would urge anyone doing this route to make a conscious effort to stop and take the photo. There was even a fist pump from Barry the Chapter Director as we rode past Inverness to indicate that we had completed the NC500, this made me smile and think of our achievement.
Aviemore was our next night’s stop and most of us checked into the Vermont guest house, our usual B&B which is ran by Ellen and George which is where we stay when we go to Thunder in the Glens. After a warm welcome a well-deserved beer was on the cards.
The overall trip was absolutely amazing. I can honestly say that it was the best trip I have ever had and learned a lot. Even the experienced riders that have ridden all over the world said that it was some of the best riding and scenery they had experienced. Going early May paid off. Not so many campervans, cars or motorcycles to cause any delays. Perfect timing Barry!
I can’t thank the group enough for what they did. The company and banter that we had was great and they ensured that everyone was okay throughout. Some good advice was offered by the more experienced riders. Not just to me, but also to the other riders to help them improve their riding.
As with all trips, someone has to plan the routes and lead the group (you know who you are), for which I am very thankful. It makes it so much more enjoyable if all you have to think about is the ride. So if the NC500 is on your bucket list, get out and do it. You will not regret it. These memories will stay with me forever.
A Geordie Chapter member’s first toe-dipping into an organised four night ride to the Scottish North 500.
Expectations were high. An exciting prospect of a challenging ride around the Scotland northern coastline, over the highest road in the British Isles to Applecross from Lock Carron and onto John O’Groats via Ullapool returning to Inverness and onto Aviemore.
Some of my newbie concerns were, how many would be riding? What would the people be like? How would I fit in? Would the riding be too challenging? Would my kit be up to the task?
I set off at 8.30 am on a Wednesday morning to meet the group at the planned 9.00 am meet. From opening the garage door it was raining. 330 miles later arriving at Inverness it was still raining. Temperature was about 7 degrees. Me being a sunny weather only rider, found the ride fairly difficult at times with surface water and keeping up when not familiar with riding in the rain and wet. Wound the throttle on too much accelerating from a roundabout onto a dual carriageway and felt the back end of my Breakout go sideways, hmm!! wasn’t the only thing I thought and said. Overall I was looked after, we had plenty of fuel and rest stops. First night Inverness, we all sat together for our evening meal, it was good crack, all inclusive, everyone knew each other and were relaxed in each others company and refreshingly I quickly became accepted into the group.
Next morning we were up fed and off on the 500 mile adventure. Finally the rain had stopped the sun was out but still chilly. Stopping for tea at Loch Carran, very pretty place and lovely riding. Next bit of riding was over the Applecross pass known as Bealach Na Ba, pass of the cattle. So quick purchase of the Scottish 500 T shirts, equally quick nervous toilet visit before the ascent over the very narrow twisting ride over the pass. Avoiding the odd pedal cyclist, cars and Motorhomes, hairpins with adverse camber, we all triumphed without incident. Stopping at the top for tremendous views and photo shoot. I was personally overjoyed to get to the top still upright, my riding was a bit messy with the odd steadying foot down but hey ho, no damage no dramas! The single track roads with passing bays continued to our next stop just before Ullapool. Again very pretty ride, the rain returned in the afternoon but didn’t dampen our enjoyment. A good point of the hotel were the hot radiators in the room. Dried my gloves and boots. The only kit I borrowed from ‘biker brothers’ which although assured were waterproof leaked like a sieve. Well my skins waterproof. One of the anecdotes, ‘there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad gear’ too right Bev.
One of the older guys, funny as I’m 60, gave me some friendly riding advice, consider it a critique not a criticism, and I took it in the spirit it was meant and to be honest it was brilliant as my riding improved, well in my head it did, Once again we all met up for evening meal and a few hours of funny bike event stories and bonding.
Day 3 was the best day, sunny all day, fantastic roads gentle sweeping bends rather than hairpins, still single track but later opened out. Vistas were outstanding, better than USA Canyon-lands, absolutely brilliant. Coastal inlets with beautiful sandy coves and sand dunes ruined castles, then turning inland to snow topped mountains then back onto the coast and repeat, amazing doesn’t give it justice. Pleasant stop for soup and a roll at lunch stop then onto John O’Groats.
Lovely hotel only 400 yards to the iconic signpost for photo call. A friendly barman let us use their hosepipe to give the bikes a cat’s lick of a wash. A group meal and drink in the bar before bed and good night sleep before the final leg down the east coast to Aviemore via Inverness. The rain returned in intermittent showers, bit blustery also and we all reached Aviemore safely mid afternoon, that final leg went past very quickly and the sun returned as we reached our destination.
Few drinks in a local bar and meal in the town. It was a joy to spend a few days with a lovely bunch of like minded people who loved motorcycling and the friendship that the Chapter offered.
My gamble to sign up for a Chapter event only really knowing two of the group, taking a leap of faith was certainly rewarding and exceeded my expectations. The entire group were nothing but supportive and encouraging, my riding improved thanks to my friendly critique, and I had an excellent time thanks to the Geordie Chapter members and proud to be part of this Harley clan.
Thanks Trish and Barry, and the gang!!