Priest in the Church of England. Father, husband, son. Keen biker.

Category: Reviews, Touring

Get the latest reviews, connected to touring – mostly campsites and pubs.

Reviews for 2012

After being prodded on Twitter, and reminded on Facebook that there’s been an ‘unacceptable lull’ in my reviews I’ve started putting the list together for 2012 reviews. So far I have:

I want to do a lot more than that this year – especially when I head down to the Pyrenees in September – but I’d really like your feedback on what you’d like to see reviewed. So please… take a moment and use the form below to make some suggestions and I’ll get right on it.

I’ve already started to gather recipes to film over on Horizons – but if you’ve got something you’d like to try let me know using the form below.

Cooking videos planned

  • Frittata
  • Sausage Casserole
  • Provincial Fish Stew
  • Sardines and Spinach
  • Paella
  • Scallop and Chorizo Kebabs
  • Eggy cheese sandwich

[si-contact-form form=’3′]

Suggestions so far:

  • Spearmint Rhino (I’m going to say no here)
  • Bike luggage (will do a comparison I think – soft vs hard, different types of hard)
  • Brick lane bagel shop (no idea, but okay why not)
  • Tucano Thermal Aprons
  • France (what the whole country?)

Tortillas to Totems

Tortillas to Totems Cover

Tortillas to Totems by Sam Minicom

I’ve been reading Sam’s books for quite a few years now. First there was Into Africa – a journey through the heart of, you guessed it, Africa, by a man who had only just figured out what a motorbike was for (travel of course). Next up was Under Asian Skies which took us right across Asia with Sam and the people he met along the way. The next book out of the already quite impressive stable was Distant Suns which was based on the diaries of Sam’s partner and travel buddy Birgit Schuenemann. Finally we have his latest book – Tortillas to Totems– and what a corker it is.

As regular readers of this blog will know, I don’t often write book reviews. Not because I don’t devour every single adventure motorcycle book out there – but because for the most part… um… they’re not very good. I’ve made some exceptions to that rule – first with Lois Pryce and her book – Red Tape and White Knuckles and eventually I will for Paddy Tyson and his books – but the stand-out daddy of them all is Sam Manicom.

Tortillas to Totems is easily Sam’s best book so far. The writing style is engaging and steady – that horribly addictive style that leaves you realising you’ve been reading for 10 hours straight and just can’t put the book down. The stories he tells don’t just transport you there – they encourage you to get on your bike and ride. For me – that’s the best thing a travel book can do. If you only want to read one of Sam’s books – start with this one, then head back to Into Africa and read the rest – just be prepared to leave a few days clear before you start!

You can buy Sam’s book over at (where you can also find his books in kindle format) and also learn more about Sam and his adventures over at his website.

Red Tape and White Knuckles by Lois Pryce – Review

Every now and again a book comes out of the blue that you end up devouring in hours – Lois Pryce’s latest, Red Tape and White Knuckles, is one of those.

I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Lois in London not long before I headed out to Australia, I already knew of her first book, Lois on the Loose, and it was amazing to tie the experiences I’d read about in the book to the real person, and for once, they where the same person. With the exception of Austin Vince and Ted Simon I’ve nearly always been disappointed when I’ve met the authors of books I’ve held dear.

This second book has demonstrated a maturity in her writing style that held the whole thing together with a constant narrative – a very difficult trick to pull off. So much so that it’s one of those rare breed of books that you simply can’t put down. I hadn’t noticed that Lois had a new book out until I happened across it in the Sydney Airport book store, I was about to board a 14 hour flight to San Francisco and was rather excited to see something I could devour and learn from, rather than endure the constant repeats of How I Met Your Mother I knew United would be serving.

From the first page, through to the photos and the last chapter it’s a journey of personal strength, determination and at times, heart pounding excitement and fear. I really felt I was with her, and that’s an exceptionally difficult thing to pull off as the mass of bad travel books demonstrate.

I was a little concerned that this would be a book about a small, timid (ha!) white girl working hard against all possible odds to get through Africa – but it’s not, it’s a book about a small, lion-hearted lady who overcame obstacles with good humor, humility and a depth of character I’d be proud to even have a tenth of.

If you’re planning your own journey on anything from a motocycle to a tuk tuk, this book will inspire you to go that little bit further, and perhaps push a little of your fear to one side and experience a journey for what it is, rather than a philosophical adventure or backed-up outing.

Red Tape and White Knuckles is available from the Sydney Airport Book Store or from and


Thanks to Atlas Rider on Twitter here’s a video of Lois talking about her journey at an overland expo in the states.

Wine Snob

There’s nothing better at the end of a hard day than a long cold beer, except perhaps a beautifully rich, deep bodied, glass of Bordeaux. Neither is that practical on a bike. The beer? Well it tends to be warm, and the wine? Frankly it doesn’t get out of France before I’ve finished off my three week supply.

Powdered WineSo to my absolute delight I discovered that you can freeze-dry wine – no seriously – you can buy 200ml of wonderfully rich ‘rouge’ wine direct from Touratech, and in a tiny little silver packet. Perfect.

I was open minded about the wine, I’m not a snob and tend to drink bottles that are less than £5 a pop, but for £3.04 plus p&p even I was a little worried about the quality of the plonk delivered in a mere three weeks.

I prepared the equipment (a jug with 200ml of water, a long stirring thing, and a glass), opened the sachet and dropped in the rather lumpy, congealed powder – not confident at all it was going to dissolve. But to my surprise, the wine dissipated after only gentle encouragement. Five minutes dragged by and I was rewarded with a deep red jug of wine, ready for drinking at the fireside. What could be more perfect?

lumpy wineThe only thing remaining was to actually taste it. This is where the dream of wine on-the-go falls to pieces. Dear Lord… holy cow… and some other non-printable expletives. I’m struggling to describe it without having to resort to blawah, but I can’t come close. It tasted of chemicals, with a hint of toilet cleaner, and and after taste not dissimilar to Sunny Delight.

This is a great idea, and I’m sure if somebody spends some time thinking how it actually tastes rather than trading on the idea of wonderful modern ease and travel, then it may succeed. Until then, drop into your local supermarket, buy the cheapest box of red – remove the outer packing – and be in rouge bliss.

They let me out of the garage

They’ve let me out of the garage – goodness knows why – but Patrick, Stace and I headed down to the London Business Centre over the weekend and met up with some great people who are there to make planning your trip nice and easy – but in the main we just liked to play with the kit and mess around with the camera!

EXPED Downmat 7 dlx

I started to write a review for the EXPED Downmat… but discovered the best way to get my point across would be in a badly filmed and encoded video uploaded to YouTube.

And so it was done.

It may not be cheap, but £115 for total sleeping comfort is worth every penny. I love camping, there’s nothing I’d rather do that get way out into the countryside in the middle of no-where and sit staring at the stars. But when I crawl into my little tent I do actually want to sleep.

There’s a glut of cheap ’simple’ sleeping mats on the market – in fact there are also some pretty expensive ones – things like the thermarest – but does anyone else think that they’re just the biggest things ever!? I mean… who is going to pack one of those on the back of their bike?

Sure, the small one is tiny, but it’s so thin that even my little 10 month old kitten would find it uncomfortable. So enter the king of sleeping mats – the Exped 7 DLX!

The thing you have to understand of course is that this is no ordinary mat – oh no – it’s actually filled with down – and because down compresses so damn well it packs up really really tiny – much smaller in fact than the smallest thermarest. Having said all that when you inflate it – it’s wonderfully comfortable – even my large frame doesn’t touch the floor and it’s toasty warm on the coldest of nights.

It’s also quite clever – none of this just leave it inflate and then top up with your breath (which actually puts water into your mat and shortens it’s life) no! You use bag it comes in to inflate it! Amazing!

TomTom Rider Review

I’ve lived with the Rider for a little under six months now. I’ve gone through using it in rain, hail, snow, wind… for short rides, for France, for get out a jail free card when I want to go ‘off route’… and I love it… I’ll say now it has one serious short-coming, but I’ll come to that a little later.

If you enjoy this review, I have some others you may like

Preferences Screen

First of all let’s deal with the basics; how much does it cost? You can pick up the Rider for anything from £250 all the way up to £399… if you pay any more than £270 you’re being done, and in a lot of cases you’ll be able to get the Rider and get it installed for between £270 and £290. If you’re confident with electronics then it’s worth installing it for yourself, but if the thought of hooking into a live (switched) feed scares you then pay for it to be done properly – you’ll be very disappointed if you get half way to France and the unit dies because it’s got no power.

Form factor – the unit is heavy, it’s big even in my large hands and it feels very well made, the screen is large and seems to avoid being covered in fingerprints. It’s confidence inspiring, and will amaze you the first time your drop it and discover it still works. I know several people who have had a nasty bump and seen it go sailing 20 feet up the road, only to discover it still turned on and functioning. It’s fully waterproof and I’ve had it out in rain that soaked me to the skin in 30 seconds, for hours, and still no problem. The small ‘hatch’ at the bottom of the unit that protects the SD card slot and the power input is thick and well placed, it has a nice little rubber grommet that protects the sensitive electronics inside.

The only problem with the design of the unit is the power key, situated at the right of the unit it can, at first, be difficult to differentiate between the rubber ‘hose’ surrounding the unit for protection.. there’s no positive feedback as to if you’ve pressed the button and it’s impossible to turn on or off with gloves.

The unit is incredibly easy to use, simple menus, navigation and clear simple buttons that work well even with gloved hands (except the buttons on the sides like the ‘done’ and ‘-‘ and ‘+’). You can easily put in locations using both post codes and street addresses, you can even navigate to the location using the maps browse function. My favourite is the ability to store favourite locations – I’ve got several – including my work and college locations, as well as friends houses – it’s really handy when you’re in some outer part of London and you have to get to your collage class before 7pm!

One of the best things is the ability to define how you want your route ‘mapped’ – you can set ‘fastest’ or ‘shortest’ or ‘walking’ or several other options that will allow you to customise your journey to the n’th degree… if I’m playing I can avoid motorways, or a specific section of my journey – if a road is closed when I get there I can tell it to avoid the road block and it automatically works out an alternative.. and if you use the traffic service (pointless on a bike) it will automatically re-route you around traffic jams.

The Bluetooth integration is great, I have the unit connected to my Starcom1 Advance unit via Bluetooth so spoken instructions are sent straight to my helmet wirelessly, it also connects to my mobile which is uses for data connections (for weather reports and traffic – as well as map downloads and updates) and will allow me to answer my phone, call someone from my address book or even send / read text messages (all whilst stopped – the unit will stop you doing anything other than basic functions whilst on the move).

I have no real grumbles with the unit bar one…the mount it shipped with has, over time, loosened somewhat and does not ‘grab’ the unit as securely as it once did… it now bounces around and frankly I’m concerned that it may jump out whilst I’m doing 70mph down the M1 – several other people have had this issue too – however – a quick call to TomTom customer services has resulted in a new mount being sent out – and if it’s like the new ones sent to my friends it’s of a much more sturdy design. I guess this is one of the issues of buying early – you’re the tester for the next generation – I’ve been very impressed with how TomTom have responded to customer complaints and problems and they genuinely seem to want to incorporate changes into the product.

Another small concern is that you can’t plan your route on your computer before you leave home, you can build an itinerary on the device or download ones other people have created… but when you tour as much as I do I want to be able to plan my route right down to which b road I’m going to take when – and that may not be the way the device wants me to go… as soon as they have that sorted I’ll be a very very happy man (maybe they could also let you see where you’d been too).

My final point is the availability and ease of install of the maps – many available (not cheap) to download from the TomTom site and they work really well – the France one really helped out this summer… I hope the rest of Europe will prove as easy as I plan Journey To Russia! You’ll need to buy a much larger SD card to accommodate them – but they’re so cheap now who cares.

In summary a great device I could no longer live without – worth it’s weight in gold.

If you enjoy this review, I have some others you may like