Triumph and Tribulations: Visiting the Celts

Triumph and Tribulations: Visiting the Celts

Part 2 of Abhi's 10-day trek across the UK and Ireland astride a Triumph Tiger Explorer XRT

If I could summarize our time in Wales with one word, it would simply be: "sheep." I feel like I'm seeing twice as many sheep as humans, but it turns out I'm wrong: the actual ratio is 3 to 1.

Vy's an animal lover, so she enjoys her newly dubbed "sheep peeps" greatly. We stop constantly to take photos of sheep grazing, running, or...doing nothing. (I missed out on seeing Abhi when he was in my neck of the woods because I was busy learning how to flat track at the same time. Hopefully Abhi will come back some day and I can show him that Wales has as many twisty roads as it has four-legged wool providers. –Chris)

Like I said...she likes sheep.

We hug the border of Wales and England and discover a town that is famous not for sheep, but for books. Hay-on-Wye has a population of approximately 1,600, yet it features nearly 30 bookstores (many of which focus exclusively on used books). The small annually hosts one of the world's largest literary festivals, the Hay Festival – a celebration of art and literature that has expanded in recent years to include several locations worldwide.

Richard Booth claims to be the world's largest secondhand bookstore. The motorcycling section was underwhelming, but there were plenty of books penned by Jeremy Clarkson.

READ MORE: What We Learned from Riding with British Police | RideApart

One of the nice things of being on an adventure bike is that you can tackle whatever road strikes your fancy. That's not to say you couldn't tackle the pictured road on a sportbike, but it's much easier on this Triumph.

I forget what side of the road I'm supposed to be on.

Wales is a small country - it's smaller than all but three of the United States. Despite that, there's plenty to admire if you enjoy natural beauty. A tenth of the nation is actually a National Park called Snowdonia, which features Wales' largest natural lake and highest mountain. It's undoubtedly gorgeous, yet after 12 straight hours of bright green rolling hills the photos and memories all feel the same to me. As we approach the top of Wales, we have to cross the Menai Strait. The most interesting way to do so (at least on a road) is across the Menai Bridge, considered to be the first modern suspension bridge in the world.

The Menai bridge opened in January of 1826, and it instantly made crossing the strait a much safer journey.

Just after the bridge, Vy and I stumble upon a town with the longest place name in Europe. It requires a deep breath to type, let alone say. It's 58 characters long and it is the second longest one-world place name in the world: Llanfair­pwllgwyngyll­gogery­chwyrn­drobwll­llan­tysilio­gogo­goch. No, you're not saying it correctly in your head right now, so let this weatherman show you the way:

(I'll step in here again to point out that I am a fluent Welsh speaker. Every time I mention this fact, people will demand that I say the name of this village. Truth is, though, most of us living in Wales simply refer to it as Llanfairpwll, or Llanfair PG –Chris)

The translation is even longer!
Looks like they've had some issues with people trying to steal the sign.
A pronunciation guide, if you were curious.

A couple of days in and I am finally getting comfortable with the aptly-named Explorer. Last year, Triumph significantly updated the model for 2016 to make it more competitive with offerings from BMW and KTM, and I'd say they've succeeded. It's a quality two-up tourer and the top-of-the-line XRt model that we're on may have more computers and sensors than Apollo 11. Cornering ABS, traction control, ride-by-wire throttle control, an Inertial Measurement Unit, multiple ride modes, Semi Active Suspension, tire pressure monitors, power windshields, heated seats, even a hill hold function. The list goes on and on, and it's all good. Triumph deserves special mention here for making all of the electronics intuitive. There's a lot of (possibly too many) options available from the handlebar controls but they're designed in a way that's easy to navigate, even on the move.

Photo from Triumph

My only real complaint with the Explorer is the same issue I have with the little-brother Tiger 800: it feels a bit top heavy compared to the competition, so at low speeds it feels ponderous. That might seem like an easy criticism with a big ADV bike but I've recently covered hundreds of miles on a similarly-sized BMW R1200GS, which weighs 20 pounds less and makes it feel like the weight sits lower. While I may be getting used to the bike, I don't think I'll ever get used to the UK's speed cameras.

Thankfully, the NUVIZ I am testing had audio alerts to warn me about most of them.

It might be heavy, but the Explorer has a way of making you forget that when you call on its 137 horsepower.

Our time in Wales ends as T-Pain would wish: on a boat. This is the Irish Ferries line from Holyhead to Dublin and it's the first of two ferries that we will take on our trip. It's a painless process, as employees have straps ready to go and they tie down the bikes before you can even get your gear off.

Entering the belly of the beast.

A satisfying nap's length later and we are in the capital of Ireland. When you go to Dublin, you have to have Guinness, right? After some intensive research, we determine the best place to enjoy one would be The Stag's Head Pub. It was built in the late 1700s but the interior was last modified in 1895, so you can get a side of history with your pint.

Vy asked the bartender for something warm, and he said her options were Irish Coffee or tea. She rarely drinks alcohol, so she asked for a tea. Amusingly, the bartender looked at her more intently and repeated that her choices were Irish Coffee or tea. Irish Coffee it is, then!

The unofficial anthem of Dublin is a song called Molly Malone, which is why the city put up a bronze statue of her in 1988 as part of its Millennium celebrations. In 2014, the statue was temporarily moved to a location with much more foot traffic, and people have responded by groping the statue so much that certain parts of her are shinier than others.

Her eyes are up there.

READ MORE: Exploring the Scout Sixty's Irish Heritage | RideApart

We get back on the bike, and I immediately regret it. Traffic in downtown Dublin around noon is brutal, and on a big ADV bike with large metal panniers I'm finding myself having to wait my place in line at a few lights. Vy helps to break up the tedium by requesting a stop at a post office, so she can mail out some postcards. I think back to countless times where I've walked into a post office in the United States, used an automated self-service kiosk, and left without bothering to take off my helmet. Apparently, that would be an issue here:

Can't blame them - it makes sense.

The one nice thing about being stuck in traffic is that I can take my time and look around. That's the reason I spotted the only Harley we saw in the wild on this trip:

I even saw a Victory at one point, but there's no photographic evidence of that.

Time heals all wounds, and eventually we're making good progress as we head out of town and into Northern Ireland. A quick gas stop gives me a chance to remember that green and black have different meanings on this side of the Atlantic. Make sure you double check that you're not filling your tank up with diesel!

I may have initially reached for the black handle by habit...

At this time of year, the sun doesn't set until about 10 pm. So, when we arrive at the Titanic Belfast museum, it is already closed even though there is plenty of light outside. That doesn't stop us from getting a photo of the distinctive architecture.

"Titanic" occasionally felt like an appropriate adjective for the Explorer.

The next morning, Northern Ireland decides to throw a little rain our way, but it clears up before it can become a nuisance. That's good news, because we've got a trifecta of sights to see and two of them require a bit of hiking to get to. We start with Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, which was originally built by salmon fishermen. Nowadays there aren't many salmon left in the area, so it's become a tourist attraction instead. It is popular enough that the National Trust limits how many people can visit at a time, and they do so with timed tickets that have the potential to sell out. We arrive just after opening time at 9:30 am, and get one of the first slots.

Imagine crossing this on a windy day while carrying a day's worth of salmon fishing. The bridge was originally built in 1755 and no one knows how it looked. Even as recently as the '70s it had just one handrail and significant distance between each step. Mind the gap, as they say!
I'm going to get a tattoo of "I discovered scaryness..."

The current version of the bridge cost more than £16,000 when it was built in 2008. It might be modern, but it still feels rickety. Tourists occasionally cross the bridge one way and are too terrified to come back across - they have to be brought back to the mainland via boat.

Vy makes her way across. The bridge is currently designed to have no more than 8 people on it at a time.

The rope bridge is a fun experience, but it's our next stop that we've been waiting for ever since we left Los Angeles. Giant's Causeway is just 15 minutes to the west, and it's the surreal result of volcanic activity about 50 million years ago. The name comes from an Irish folk tale that the formation is what remains from a causeway built by a giant named Finn MacCool in his quest to fight a Scottish giant that challenges him. The Visitor's Center at the monument plays a short video that tells the tale:

Giants Causeway Visitors Centre - The Myth of Finn McCool

Ignoring the legend, Giant's Causeway is actually a collection of approximately 40,000 basalt columns and the way they are organized is fascinating.

Most of the columns are hexagons, and they range from 15 inches to 80 feet in height.

There are cheap buses that will take you from the visitor center to the Causeway, or you can shuffle your feet for about a mile and get down for free.

An employee won't let anyone get closer than this for fear of tourists slipping on the wet rocks.

Vy summits the tallest columns, which presumably gives her a view like the Finn McCool, the giant.

The Causeway was discovered in the late 1600s and has been a popular tourist destination since the 1800s.

On our way out, we dealt with a different type of giant animal. This is what Northern Ireland calls a traffic jam:

And I thought the traffic in Dublin was bad!

Turns out, the Explorer XRt is an excellent camera platform. I mentioned earlier that this bike is jam-packed with electronic whizbangery, but I'm surprised to find that the feature I'm using most is the one I originally thought was the biggest gimmick: Hill Hold. The concept is simple - if the bike is on and you're at a stop, simply pull the front brake lever all the way in and the Triumph will apply the rear brake and keep it on until you pull the lever in again (or shut off the bike). This is a godsend when it comes to taking photos. Normally I have to turn a bike off and leave it in gear. Now, I just engage hill hold, take the photo, and I'm immediately back on my way. This is especially convenient because the Explorer always seems to take a couple of seconds after you turn the ignition on for the fuel pump to prime before you can actually get the starter to turn over.

Nevertheless, we take most of our photos off the bike. Game of Thrones fans may recognize this road - the rest of us can just consider it a beautiful tree tunnel in Northern Ireland called The Dark Hedges. The weather was gloomy when we left our beautiful bed and breakfast this morning, but it uncharacteristically cleared up. Vy thought (correctly) that this photo would have been cooler if the weather was crap, but I'll take the sun any time.

You know someone's got a motorcycle problem when they have to shove their bike into every photo.

We visit the Dunlop Memorial Garden, which is depressing and inspiring at the same time. Joey and Robert Dunlop were two brothers and local motorcycling heroes that lost their lives during motorcycle competition in 2000 and 2008, respectively. Robert passed away during qualifying for the 250cc race of the North West 200. Two days later, his son Michael raced the event, and won. Michael's become a legend in his own right - he currently holds the Isle of Man TT course record as the only person to ever complete a lap in less than 17 minutes.

READ MORE: Isle of Man TT: The Race That Won't Stop Killing | RideApart

Last year, Motorcycle News announced the results of a vote in which Joey Dunlop was named the 2nd greatest motorcycling icon of all time. There is a similar statue of him on the TT course overlooking Bungalow Bend.

Getting to Scotland requires another ferry, and this time we take the Stena Line. Like before, the employees are ready to tie down the Explorer before I can get out of my Aerostich. I'm not complaining.

Welcome to the Stena Superfast VIII. It started service in May 2001 and is capable of carrying 1,200 passengers and 661 cars thanks to seven engines and 69,000+ horsepower. That's not even including another 5,500 horsepower in thrusters for small movements at low speed! Cruising speed is approximately 23 mph.

We enter Scotland and are greeted by...you guessed it, more sheep.

Guess what? Just like in Wales, sheep outnumber humans in Scotland. Here's it closer to a 1:1 ratio, though.

At least Scottish traffic jams don't involve wildlife. Still, it seems a bit stereotypical:

The B-and-B industry is much more prevalent here, and they all have stories about motorcycles to share once they see you pull up in gear. As Vy and I enjoy the second B of our bed and breakfast in Pathhead in the morning, the proprietor mentions that is some vintage motorcycle racing about to happen just 30 minutes away. We take it as a sign and decide to make a quick stop at East Fortune Race Circuit, where the Scottish Motorcycle Racing Championship is having their only "Classics" day of the season. What luck!

Even the bed and breakfasts out here are majestic.

Just like with the Sammy Miller Museum, I want to share countless photos of the event. Even the parking lot is a treat:

A gorgeous Norton Atlas that's ready to tour.

We already have a packed schedule for the day so I try to make this a quick stop, but there are so many fantastic machines that we end up spending a couple of hours. One of my favorite bikes is this Vincent sidecar racer. Up until this point I have just been taking photos of bikes and moving on but I can't help myself and I have to talk to the owner, who is named Mike.

His father bought the bike in 1961 and Mike got it in 1988 - within 12 months he was racing it.
Over the years it's received lots of modifications like the brake disc up front and a displacement increase up to 1,262cc. It looks mean as hell and I love it.
This interesting rig is owned by a gentleman named Clint. Notice anything peculiar about the engine?
The motor is from a Hillman Imp and it puts down 110 hp to the rear wheel.

The vintage sidecars are my favorite, but there are also plenty of excellent two-wheelers.

This racer featured handmade aluminum bodywork.
Classic Japanese machinery.
A great name and an even better logo.
This Suzuki requires a little attention. Right after I take this photo, the racer looks up at and shakes his head with an expression that's half smile and half anguish. It does not look good.
An unexpected modern Remus exhaust on a vintage Velocette.
The racing isn't super competitive, but I am very impressed with the crowd size for an amateur race series.

This track day is a unplanned stop, so we have to get back on the road if we'll make our destination in England in the evening. Still, there's one bike in the parking lot that demands my attention and my time.

The tank says "Nocket 3", so it's a fair assumption to say that this is a BSA Rocket 3 drivetrain (check out the trademark Raygun exhaust) in a Norton Featherbed frame. Badass.

We end this segment of the story as it began: surrounded by sheep.

They're everywhere!

England, here we come! More tales of our adventure coming soon. (Read Part 1 here)

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