Itinerary: Ride to Italy, take boat to Greece then ride back to South Germany via Albania, Montenegro, Croatia, Bosnia, Croatia, Slovenia and Austria.
When: September 2015
We’re doing another Balkan trip. This time we’re doing a different route and visiting a few new countries.
Using our experience from previous trips, we’re making a few changes to our planning.
From our experience, September appears to be one of the best times to undertake a big tour. The weather is still good, if anything it has cooled down from being extremely hot (that can be quite a problem under the biking gear, especially when riding in unfamiliar cities).
Also everywhere is quieter in September. The kids from all over Europe are back at school and their parents back home at work. This means that there is less traffic on the roads and accommodation is easier to find when you turn up in a town or city wanting somewhere to stay that night.
Before every big trip we’re always looking at how we can improve our equipment. I have upgraded my SatNav from a TomTom Navigator to a Garmin Zumo 390. The TomTom mount had been vandalised in Dublin and I was not very happy with the device, so I’m trying out the Garmin now.
I have been researching better bike-to-bike intercom systems. The goal is to have a completely wireless solution. Currently we have a two cables coming out of the radio; one goes to a push-to-talk button in the handlebar, the other cable splits in two as a microphone and speaker.
So far everything I have seen on the market uses Bluetooth for all the coms, including the bike-to-bike communication. The reviews have mainly focused on devices capability of streaming music – maybe these are Americans riding hundreds of kilometres on straight roads but I don’t want music when I’m riding, especially when doing a mountain pass.
One or two other words kept coming up in the reviews for all modern bike-to-bike intercom reviews, one in particular was “frustrating”. When it’s over 35°C and you’re stood out in the sun wearing your full gear and helmet, and the Bluetooth is not paired and will not pair (because that will happen), it might be a little frustrating.
For this reason we plan to carry on using our PMR446 push-to-talk (PTT) radios. It’s a simple solution and that’s why I like it – there is less to go wrong. Set the channel, push the button and talk. I am an engineer and believe that the best solution is usually the simpliest solution that achieves the goal.
Clothing and Hydration
I now have a helmet with a sun visor – I thought it was worth an upgrade for that feature. It’s easy to flip up or down while riding.
We both have upgraded our boots. They’re slighly more ruggedised and hopefully a bit more suitable for use on Albanian dirt roads.
I have also put together a hydration system, using a small rucksack and a 2 litre camelback bladder. I used a small rucksack as the products by companies like CamelBak are designed to carry more than just the bladder, whereas I don’t need that but instead require a bag that is a small and light as possible. Riding the bike for several hours per day, I want as little as possible on my back.
Rory doesn’t like the idea of drinking from a tube. He will have to go thirsty on the road.
Where to stay
Previous planning was to read the travel guides and highlight interesting towns and cities on the map. By mid-afternoon we would have a good idea where would be best to head.
We will still do this but I want to take it one step further and find one or two good hotels or hostels in each highlighted city before we leave. These would be our preference for accommodation in each city and we could possibly phone ahead.
At the end of a day spent on the road, it would be quite nice just to be able to ride straight up to the hotel where we’re staying.
However I would not want to be booking anywhere more than 1 day ahead. This would restrict our plans and lock us into a tight schedule. I like being as flexible as possible with our itinerary.
The last time we visited the Balkans back in 2012, lunch was a big problem. In practically every country in the region, it’s very hard to find lunch on the road. This will be an even greater problem now since I have given up caffeine, and can no longer postpone my hunger.
Our plan is to go shopping for a basic lunch first thing every morning. This will most likely be bread rolls and cheese. Maybe some fruit for Rory. Enough to keep us going until dinner.
This coming weekend we have a short trip planned, down to South Schwarzwald (Black Forest) here in Germany. We will test out the new gear and see how our new plans work out.