Just Sue Finds Her Feet

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Flag of Czech Republic  , Bohemia,
Monday, July 4, 2011

After our wet and chilly return from the Isle of Man and Silverstone, Jo and I had ten days in London for some grandparentals and a refit of the bike.  Our granddaughter was a delight as always, but the bike presented a somewhat less uplifting and more practical problem.  In short, the volume of wet and cold weather clothing we felt we needed was so bulky that it made packing a job for an origami master, and the load ended a little unbalanced.   Most bikes distribute the weight roughly evenly between the front and back axle, often with a slight bias towards the front axle.  Fully loaded we were tail heavy and lacking in front end grip and feel.

The solution was a couple of small bags of the type used on bicycles, modified to fix them to the crash bars on the front of the bike.  The modifications took a couple of days and resulted in a neat and practical setup.  The modifications done, we rolled out of a damp and slippery London on a quiet Saturday morning headed for the Channel Tunnel, the Czech Republic and, eventually,the town of Plzen.

We had decided to make the “Pilgrimage to Plzen” to visit the famous Pilsener Urquell brewery, the home of that type of cold fermented lager now brewed and enjoyed around the world.  It is hard to say why we picked such a target 1500 km east in Central Europe but the best explanation is probably the simplest:  we went because we could.


Regardless of the destination, or the reasons for going, we were keen to get moving and hopeful we could escape the fickle English weather for a while.  This was our fourth bike crossing of the Channel Tunnel and we had learned enough to be through the checkpoint and into the terminal without getting off the bike.  We were just giving ourselves a pat on the back when we discovered there was a train stuck in the tunnel and a long delay.

We waited and reconsidered our rough schedule to get across France and Germany in  couple of days.  When we finally rolled onto the tunnel train we had lost only a few hours so we got down to business, recalibrated the brain to riding on the right side of the road and adjusted the eyes to French freeway speeds.  We put a couple of hours of running under the bike then called an early stop in some struggle-town in central Belgium. 
On a dry, dreary Sunday morning we found a bakery open for breakfast then rode east into Germany and onto the Autobahns.  I felt the bike ran best at about 120 kph.  Above that the wind turbulence from our luggage made the whole business less comfortable.  This speed planted us in the slow lane most of the time while the Germans blasted past at much (much) higher speeds in the outside lane.  We had found years before that it is a waste of time trying to transit on the secondary roads for the simple reason that the autobahns go everywhere and it is a challenge to stay off them.

The overcast and damp Saturday gradually gave way to a hot clear Sunday and a sweaty ride into the centre of Koblenz at the confluence of the Mosel and Rhine rivers.  We arrived in time for the annual summer horticultural festival called “Buga 2011” which closed off large areas of the riverfront for the exclusive enjoyment of the paying public; Buga indeed.  By the time we had walked around the historic centre, the temperature was in the high 20s and we went looking for a cafe overlooking the river and a large local beer.  On a Sunday, in a country where almost everything closes for the day, this was about as good as it was going to get.

Day three of the transit was schedule to have tempretures over 30 degrees C so we elected on a short ride and got ourselves into the city of Bamberg.  This small city is World Heritage listed and has 12 breweries.  These facts must be related!  Regardless of the truth of this, our short day gave us plenty of time to see the sights and shop for a new pair of sunglasses to replace a set lost of the bike a few weeks before. 

One local tourist activity consisted of a self navigated tour of five of the breweries.  For 23 Euro, the intrepid tourist got a backpack, a map and a book of beer vouchers.  It seemed like a good deal to me, but Jo wasn't keen so we settled for dinner at the nearest restaurant to our hotel. It happened to be Greek.

We have eaten a lot of Greek salads in our time, many of them in Greece.  A Greek salad enhanced with sauerkraut and jalapeņo chillies was, however, a treat we had missed.  Jo asked the waiter if there was anyone in the place who was actually Greek. 

    “Of course,” she replied, “our cook was born in Greece.  Then she moved to Melbourne in Australia when she was 13.”

    Of course she did! I thought, but said nothing.

 We pressed on east the next morning and crossed into the Czech Republic a few hours later.  There was a tax label required for the motorways but, sensibly, the Czechs had exempted motorcycles.  We stopped at the border for a pit stop on a grassy traffic island in the sea of abandoned concrete, barricades and buildings abandoned in the brave new world of the Euro-zone.  An hour later we had navigated into Plzen, found a nice hotel in the old city, stowed our gear and started out into a blazing hot afternoon to explore.

Plzen was neat and tidy enough, but a little lack-lustre.  Jo felt that the town needed to decide what kind of place it wanted to be and this sums up the feeling of the place well.  On an uncomfortably hot afternoon it was also difficult to buy an icecream in the city. This would be a loss of points on the Team Elephant Universal City Score Card.  We abandoned any thought of staying another day.

The Brewery tour started at 1615 hr and we arrived early as this had been the main reason for the visit.  At 90 minutes in duration, it was good value for the few dollars we were charged.  Although Pilsner Urquell is an old and famous brand, it is owned by SAB-Miller and there has been considerable investment in the plant.  It was impressively modern and efficient.  We finished the tour in the cellars where the temperature was 6 degrees and had our obligatory indulgence in the unpasturised product.  We may have stayed to drink more but since the group was dressed for the hot weather outside, the chilly cellar had everyone shivering in a few minutes.

On the stroll across the old city back to our pub, we found some more Czech beer and washed it down with a pizza (perhaps that's the other way around) which seemed a reasonable thing to do in the country with the highest per capita beer consumption.  The next morning we packed and left without any regrets.  We had made the pilgrimage and the tour was good value, but nothing was calling out to us to stay.

We ambled south on the back roads plugging along with the village traffic and enjoying our third hot sunny day in a row.  The Czech villages were poor compared with those in Germany but, like their German neighbors, the Czechs kept their towns immaculately clean and neat.  We had seen the same fastidiousness in Romania a few years before and still thought that such a strict attitude to litter had much to recommend it.

We picked up the pace over some almost deserted mountain roads and Jo asked me how I felt about the “new” bike now that we had some miles up.

    “I like it,” I said.  “There's no frills but it's strong and sure footed and seems to do everything well enough.”

    “Plain Suzie then?” said Jo.

    “Not Suzie, that's too fancy.  Maybe, Sue.”

    “Just Sue?” said Jo. 

    “Just Sue?  Why not, Just Sue it is.”

I pulled out past small a car on a steep pinch and opened the throttle.  Just Sue shook her head, settled her back end and let out a satisfied roar.  Within a few seconds the small car had disappeared from the mirrors and Just Sue was over the crest and on her way to Austria.

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Dave. on

Looks just as tidy as i remember it.hope your having a wonderfull time.

Frank (Australia - Gold Coast R&R) on

Great tour - enjoyed the article.

Bronny Blevins on

Enjoyed reading your experiences and great pictures.
"Just Sue" seems to be taking good care of you two.
Happy wanderings.
Thanks so much for sharing your adventure with us.
We are impatient to return to Europe ourselves.
We arrive Brussels 12 July.
love B & B

SUE! on

Not sure how I feel about the "Just" Sue! ;-)

team-elephant on

Oh Sue, please don't be offended. Just Sue is a great unit. We have ridden a dozen Alpine passes in Austria and Italy over the last few days and she has shown considerable style and a good turn of speed. Importantly, she hasn't looked like letting us down and landing us n our collective arses. The Beemers might have the farkles, but we've got the mumbo! Team Elephant

Ros on

As always, thanks for the "ride" Mike. Love to you both and keep safe with Just Sue.

kevin moss on

I look forward to your updates Mike and Jo and enjoy the read. Thanks for sharing your exciting wanderings. Stay well and ride safe. Kevin

fabian on

Always nice to hear from you,stay well.

Mal on

The V-Strom looks well set up and well loaded (not as much gear as Elephant).
Great pictures. Really enjoy reading your posts. Safe journey to you both.

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