NORTHERN EXPOSURE...EPISODE THREE
MORE MOTORCYCLE ANTICS THROUGH ICELAND
Siggy and Lillyana's guest house in the small town of Havammstangi was busy with overnight travellers en route to the Western Fjords, a remote and rugged peninsular poking towards Greenland and shaped like a deformed hand.
I was staying for three nights as there are a number of unsurfaced roads in the area that on the map look inviting, and Siggy had told me that the weather was set fair for the next couple of days...but 'it can only get worse'. Icelanders love their weather pessimism.
On my first full day I used the N1 to reach a small gravel road running up the side of a fjord called Hudafjordur. It was 11 degrees and felt like the Mediterranean under a peerless blue sky and with the water glistening and still. I stopped a number of times as photo opportunities presented themselves, and at one point the BMW sidecar from the ferry (see Episode one) passed in a cloud of dust with a wave from its rider. It was the only other motorcycle I'd seen.
The Honda took to the hard packed dirt road like an adventure bike to trails, and was easy to manouevre over any difficult patches by standing on the footrests. I was heading for a town called Holmavic, where food and drink was taken in a slightly oddball establishment that was part of a museum of sorcery and witchcraft. The BMW was parked up, but I never saw the rider before I made my return journey down the fjord, where a flight of swans accompanied me at helmet height for several hundred metre before heading away...this is a country where you often see low flying bird warning signs.
Although the Iceland tourist people give information about the high percentage of surfaced roads that cover the country; there are miles of unsurfaced roads and tracks to play on. Most circling the more remote peninsulars and going off the N1 road into the interior and only open for a few months of the year. My second full (fine) riding day in the area took me over more coastline hugging tracks; some of which led down to spectacular inlets colonised by seals and all manner of sea birds, always against a back drop of snow capped mountains.
In Havammstangi they have adopted two polar bear silhouettes on their tourist literature and on official vehicles. It is said that this is because every so often Polar Bears stranded on ice floes that break away from Greenland drift into the fjord there. No one was able to tell me what happened to the bears when they got there...I love these tourist tales.
At some point I had to head back to the eastern side of the country to be within reach of the return ferry to Denmark. It embarked at 9.30 in the morning so it wasn't a good idea to leave myself with big kilometres to cover early in the morning.
Most of my mileage back east was on the N1. I had almost three hundred miles to cover to a tiny hamlet on the coast, and the final miles would be along a 13 mile track that my guide book told me was only open from June. For the rest of the time the 35 (approx) inhabitants of Brekkuborp would be snowed in and the only access is by boat.
The weather had turned again...thanks Siggy. I'd had the foresight to put thermal layers on, but long miles across lava plateaus and tundra were energy sapping. But at last the road dropped into a valley; the few degrees rise in temperature was welcome, and I came across a remote guest house that served food and drink. I deposited my boots at the door as this is required practice in all Icelandic homes and many establishments too, and revived myself for the rest of the ride with soup and tea.
As soon as I turned off the Tarmac onto the track marked on the map as 953, I knew it would present me with a challenge. After traversing a long valley I rode steadily upwards concentrating on the task in hand, which was to stay upright. I reached the snow line, and was riding between walls of the white stuff a couple of meters high. I knew I'd have to go down to sea level at some stage, but what I encountered tested my nerve as the road plunged down through a series of bends where the surface was very loose and slippy.
I told myself to relax the shoulders and focus. The problem was that I was surrounded by an astonishing landscape of forbidding mountains and waterfalls plunging hundreds of metres into Mjoifjordur. I told myself to stop if I wanted to take in this dramatic panorama. There was no hurry, at this time of year (June) it never gets dark. And even if the bike was pointing downhill, Honda have fitted a hand brake easily operated on the left handlebar: a substitute for leaving it in gear as you'd do on a conventionally geared bike.
At Brekka, the name the hamlet is shortened to, there was no one to congratulate me on this feat of concentration and machine control. A young woman let me into the hikers hostel, where the only other resident was a French journalist who was engaged in writing updates for a travel guide...he had arrived in a 4x4. Surprisingly even out here there was mobile phone coverage and internet connection.
The following morning the rain was hammering onto the roof of the hostel that used to serve as the school. It was difficult to envisage, but at one time in the early 1900's Brekkuborp was the largest whaling station in the world, operated by the Norwegians – Iceland only became an independent country, out of either Danish or Norwegian control, in 1944. It then became a herring processing locale with hundreds working there. Now there's just a small fish farm, the hostel, and assorted sheep on the fjord side.
My anxiety levels rose slightly: what if this rain continued, what condition would the track be in for my return ride? I shouldn't have been concerned, the rain departed as quickly as it arrived. Leaving me to enjoy some time off the bike, hiking and taking pictures, before the ride back and a return to the departure port of Seydisfjordur.
The thirteen miles seemed to go past in no time. By this time the NC750X and I were so off road compatible that I wanted to go back and do it again. But ferry schedules wait for no one, and soon I was riding back down the thrilling sweeping road to the port and in the motorcycle line waiting to board.
Back at Hirtshals in northern Denmark there was the small matter of an 800 mile ride back to Calais. Return journeys are hardly ever a good prospect, and a rainy Monday on the Antwerp Ring is an experience to shrink the soul of most riders. So instead of heading for the anonymity of a Calais hotel I diverted inland to Les Ballastierres, the motorcycle guest house run by my friends Sue Fairburn and Paul Thomas www.lesballastierres.com, where a warm greeting, a couple of beers and a comfortable bed brought cheer before the last leg and the return of the Honda.
So, three plus weeks with a bike I was unfamiliar with before. What's the verdict? Would I want to buy one? Honda have invested a lot of effort in 'automatic' technology that is available in the shape of the futuristic Vultus and the NC750XDCT. Being Honda it works and is reliable, but it does feel very unusual not playing with a gear lever and clutch. In automatic mode you can hear and feel the gearbox changes, and it uses the highest gear possible to reach the impressive fuel consumption figures. There is the alternative of Sport or Manual modes for extra oomph.
The NCX is competitively priced at £6,299 (dual clutch model £6,899) and should make a good 'bike for all seasons'. It's easy to handle in all situations, comes with a range of accessories including pannier kits, and because of the under seat fuel tank has good storage in the dummy tank.
Not sure how friendly the pillion seat would be. It didn't look too cumfy, but had my Ortlieb bag across it for my journey.
If I was in line for this type of bike, which could be used for commuting and traversing some rugged country as I proved. I'd go for the manual clutch and gear box model, and that's because I think the soul of motorcycling is the syncronisity between bike and rider.
Our thanks to Matt Close at the Honda Press Workshop for his explanations and bike prep; and Honda for the loan of their NC750XDCT.
John Newman for Wemoto News
Any comments? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
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