With the NEC behind us, the evenings drawing in and temperatures dropping, it feels like winter is here and the riding season is well and truly over – sorry. But that's not a problem: it's time to start planning next year's trip. Have you worked out where you're riding yet? If not, the best way to decide where to go is to look back over this year's rides... even if they didn't all go according to plan. Here's what I got up to.
The first big trip of the year was where things went a bit wrong. Bruce "Teapot One" Smart and I were heading to Luxembourg and the Eifel mountains in April... er, no... March. "It'll be cold and wet," I said. "It's all booked and everyone has the time off work – we can't change it now," said Bruce. Okay, so off we went. And it was great: twisty roads, brilliant group of riders. It was a bit cold but not too damp. At first.
Then things changed. In the blink of an eye. The skies went dark, it went from rain to sleet to full-on snow in about 10mins. After 45mins of slithering around, dropping bikes, we abandoned them and got back to the hotel. Where we had to stay for an extra night before we could retrieve the bikes and get home. Lesson learnt. Next year, we go in April...
This meant April was a bit quiet for me, but then on the weekend of the Coronation, my old Bike colleage Si Hargreaves and I headed to the Buccleuch Arms in Moffat for a – far-bigger-than-expected – rideout. Two days of brilliant riding and banter that planted the seed for something Si and I will launch next year (watch this space). It confirmed how much I loved riding in Scotland.
That was good because I was back on the tartan side of Hadrian's Wall a week later, on another Chickenstrips tour with Bruce. It was a slightly different route to the one we'd done before, heading out to the Skyfall set in Glen Etive rather than Ardnamurchan, but still swooping through Skye and around the north coast, stopping at Dunnet Head and John o'Groats. It was so good we're doing it twice next year...
June was a really busy month. First Bruce and I headed to Spain, riding the Picos de Europa. I stopped off on my way to the ferry with my old mate Weeble, the photographer who travelled Europe with me for years as we compiled guides for RiDE. "It always rains in the Picos," he said. This time he was wrong. Okay, it was misty on the first day... but after that it was glorious. Six days of riding heaven.
Things got a bit more serious after that, though, as I dropped the Chickenstrips group at the ferry and went to pick my girlfriend up from the airport for her first European tour. We rode back through France, stopping along the way in the Pyrenees and the Dordogne. It was great (okay, apart from chronic brake-fade in the mountains and some torrential rain) and I'm already working on a cunning plan for next year's trip.
Back in the UK I was busy planning other people's tours – more than 90 groups this year took my self-guided trips, either the preplanned off-the-peg tours or completely bespoke trips. I got my trusty Kawasaki Z1000SX back on the road and really enjoyed hustling it along on sunny roads – with Ali at the weekend but also on Chickenstrips tours around East Anglia and Wales.
Then we were off for the big one: the French Alps. I've been riding there almost every year for more than 20 years now and we rode so many of my favourite roads, cutting over Europe's highest pass (the 2770m Col de l'Iseran) and over France's highest road (the 2802m loop around Cime de la Bonette). It was majestic and the feedback was that the seven days weren't enough... so next year we're going for nine!
That wasn't the end, though. I had one last big trip to fit in – and it was an epic. Working for Globebusters, I headed to Morocco: three days across Spain, two weeks in North Africa, then three days back across Spain for the ferry home to the UK. It was stunning – with historic cities, mountains, deserts... even camels. A genuine trip of a lifetime and definitely one to add to your bucketlist (details for next year's tour are here).
So that was 2023: a busy year on two wheels, especially with a lot of instructing work as well. It means my plans for next year are already well-focused, having learnt a lot from each of these ride. And while I do my best to make it look like I'm on holiday all the time... well, let's just say there are elements that resemble work. But mostly I feel very lucky to have spent so much time on the road this year.
Looking ahead, 2024 will be equally majestic – but now is definitely the time to get those plans finished off. If you haven't already decided where you want to ride, I hope one of these trips will inspire you (hint: Luxembourg in April). And get in touch if I can help.