Route – On/Off: Cingles de Tavertet, Sau i Susqueda, Les Guilleries, Montseny (152km)

The Route

It’s ten to eight on a frosty Saturday morning when I meet my riding buddy for the day at an industrial state run-down petrol station infamous for being the place that witnessed the end of a 492-day long kidnapping in 1994. There is not a single person in sight except for the lone silhouette of my friend and his Ténéré standing in the morning mist.

We are still 50km away from the starting point of the route, half an hour of intense cold and thick fog that makes the road ahead look like a scene straight out of Fargo.

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The route we have planned for the day starts just off exit 183 on the C-25 road that connects Cervera and Girona. Despite having heated grips on both motorbikes, our fingertips are painfully cold by the time we turn off the motorway, the hand guards being very good at protecting the brake and clutch levers in case of a fall but not so good at aerodynamic protection for our hands.

On the C-153 road, we ride across Roda de Ter as the sun struggles to break through the mist, making it hard to get any decent pictures of the old Roman bridge that crosses the river Ter. A few kilometres later, the road starts climbing up the hills through grazing fields, a much more interesting ride after the relatively long motorway slog to get here, but we have to take it easy, as the tarmac is wet and slippery.

In the nearby village of l’Esquirol we turn right off the main road and take one of my all-time favourite roads – the BV-5207 leading to Tavertet. Even though the road ends there, in good weather there are quite a lot of tourists driving it to get to the quaint village perched atop the cliffs overlooking the Ter valley and the Guilleries mountains beyond, but this early on a winter morning the road is ours. It is half past nine now, we have gained enough height to leave the morning mist behind and the sun shines gloriously over the stunning landscape.

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A few corners before Tavertet we stop at a viewpoint overlooking a valley where a wild boar hunt is taking place and meet an old man who is following it on his walkie-talkie.

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He tells us that there each year there are more and more wild boars in the area and they have to organize these hunting parties to keep the population under control. His knees are too old for him to join them as he did when he was younger, but he still takes pleasure in checking the progress of the hunting. He points at an orange spot in the thick forest below us – a hunter in a high-visibility vest, and a few seconds later we hear some shots that resonate against the cliffs and sounds like a hundred shotguns being fired at once.

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At the entrance of Tavertet we find a boom gate partially blocking the road. It is there only to prevent the numerous tourists who drive up here to enjoy a meal at one of the restaurants from parking inside the tiny village, you can drive around them and keep going to the east side, where a small sealed forest road keeps climbing along the edge of the cliffs to a plain from which the Pyrenees are visible in the distance. The views from up here are magnificent, in a few hundred meters of road one can enjoy an almost 360º panorama of the main mountains in Catalonia – Pedraforca, Guilleries, Montseny, Pyrenees…

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From there the road descends through a beech forest with the ground covered in a carpet of reddish brown fallen leaves to end back in the C-153 road leading to our next waypoint – Rupit.

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There is a dirt road from Rupit to the Sau reservoir along the foot of Tavertet cliffs. I have used that road twice before – on a mountain bike trip when I was twelve and driving a Fiat Punto when I was at university with my girlfriend at the time. I remembered a dirt road in good condition, and to my surprise we find that it has been paved all the way. It is a very nice ride through forest and across grazing fields, with views to the rocky cliffs on top of which we were less than an hour ago.

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Once at the bottom, we take a short detour from our main route to ride to the shore of the reservoir and have a snack with a view of the church spire of the village of Sau, which is all that remains visible after the dam was built. With full bellies but hands still very cold, we ride the few kilometers left to the dam itself to explore the only part of the route I have never ridden before.

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Looking at maps and satellite images, there seemed to be a road along the south shore of the Susqueda reservoir leading to its dam and then to the C-63 road, but I was not sure it was accessible. It could be a service road for the reservoir or it could be a forest road in bad condition, and I am not particularly keen to venture into difficult terrain as my bike is shod with (worn out) road tires. We cross the dam to where there seems to be a road, but it is blocked and it looks it has been so for a long time. Falling rocks and landslides. We cross back to the northern shore and ride down another road that seems to lead to the power station at the bottom of the dam. It does. It ends in front of a gate, but on the way up we find a dirt road that seems to go further down. It looks steep, at least the first meters, but I notice regular car tracks on the sand, so we think “how hard can it be?” and ride on.

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The road seems to be in good condition and a bridge at the bottom of the gorge takes us to the southern bank of the river Ter. From there, we follow a narrow dirt road that puts my poor bike to the test. Rocks, sand, mud and leaves make it clear that road tires, short suspension travel, and hard springs are definitely not the best combination here. God, I miss the Super Ténéré…

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An hour later the Susqueda dam comes into view out of the last corner. We are sweaty and my wrists and back hurt from the bad position standing on the footpegs, but I also have a big smile on my face. We have made it.

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A good road leads to the C-63, which we take for a short while before reaching Anglès and turning into the GI-542 for the last part of our route. This road winds its way up the Guilleries mountains past the village of Osor and to Sant Hilari de Sacalm, famous for its many springs that produce much of the bottled water sold in the country. From there we are going to take a smaller road to the Montseny mountains. This one is a bit more difficult to find at first, as it is not indicated anywhere, but then we find out that it is as easy as to follow the signs pointing to “Fontvella”, the main bottling plant in the area, from where the road starts. It is well past midday now and the road is completely dry, so we can ride faster and enjoy a wonderful road – perfect tarmac, no traffic, great views.

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Shortly after we cross the C-25 again, and take the GI-543 and BV-5303 along the northern edge of the Montseny natural park to end our route back on the C-17 main road to Barcelona.

Map

Mapa

What to see

Roda de Ter – Old Bridge: dating back from Roman times, it was part of the Strata Franciscana, the road that led to France.

Tavertet – A quaint, tiny cluster of stone houses built on the edge of the cliffs of the same name. Well worth a visit and a hike in the surrounding area, with breathtaking views of the whole region at your feet.

Rupit – A XII Century village of narrow steep cobbled streets, with a hanging wooden bridge and the remains of a medieval castle.

Pantà de Sau – The spire of the bell tower is all that remains visible of the village of Sant Romà de Sau, which was submerged after the construction of the dam in 1962. When the water level is low enough during summer draughts the church emerges an can be accessed on foot from the shore.

Where to eat

Once you reach Seva, practically at the end of the route, a seven-kilometre detour up the BV-5301 takes you to two excellent restaurants that serve traditional home-made Catalan food in the hamlet of El Brull – Can Pasqual and Castell del Brull.

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Review – Kawasaki J300

The Kawasaki J300, the first scooter from the japanese maker. Honda, Yamaha and Suzuki, the other three big Japanese makers, have long had presence in this market with numerous products, and Kawasaki did not want to be left out of such a lucrative market as Europe. Nevertheless, the launch of this supposedly sporty scooter has come under some criticism.

Whoa… wait a second. A scooter? Isn’t this supposed to be a blog about bikes? Or at least adventure travel?

Well, yes, it is. The thing is that my V-Strom needed a new chain and steering bearings, so I had to leave in the workshop. Since I need it daily, I dropped by Hamamatsu motor one morning to see whether I could arrange a day in advance so I could get the job done on the same day, but Fabio, the owner, helpful as usual, told me to bring the bike anytime I wanted because they could lend me a replacement bike. Great. We arranged it for a couple of days later.

On the agreed day, I leave the bike in the hands of their mechanic and they lend me a Burgman 125, but with my work bag already under the seat (it fit perfectly, plus points for that model) we realize that the seat won’t lock in place. After fiddling with the key and trying to adjust the mounting points of the seat to make it fit better, the mechanic concludes that I can’t ride around a bike that can’t be locked and they roll out another one – the Kawasaki J300 they use as demo bike.

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Well, look at that, an extra 175cc to run all the errand I have to run this morning, and on top of that, a new model. Take the chance and write something for the blog, I though.

So, let’s see what all this scooter craze is all about (they sell like hot cakes in Barcelona). As this is a bit of an improvised test I do not have the right gear for it: no Bikkembergs shoes, no down jacket with a hood and zero crash protection, no open helmet with a loosely fastened strap, no iPhone 6 to check my social media at each set of lights. Well nevermind, I’ll have to make do with a pair of motorbike boots and a motorbike jacket.

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After realizing that the space under the seat is much smaller than in the Burgman, I sling my bag over my shoulder, sat on the thing and hit the start button. The 300cc single-cylinder engine fires up instantly and I join the flow of Barcelona traffic passing by the dealer’s gate. The first impression is that it brakes a lot, but when you put it in perspective, even a good mountain bike with hydraulic brakes is more efficient than my old V…

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I gradually get acquainted with the brakes, I was making the ABS system work constantly on the back wheel as I am used to grabbing without hesitation a lever that to me is the clutch, and with the forward position, with the handlebars much closer. The mirrors don’t help to make me feel comfortable in traffic, either, too small and too close together. A bit more familiar with the bike when I reach Meridiana Avenue, I stop ahead of the cars at a set of lights ready to go for a usual scooter start. Around me, other similar weaponry, most of them with smaller engines. The lights turn green and, to my surprise, I am left behind by all the scooters waiting with me behind the zebra crossing. What is wrong with this? It’s a 300, it should easily have all those mopeds for breakfast…. At the next set of lights I find out what the problem is – I am riding this things as if it were a motorbike. Bit of gas, release the clutch, accelerate progressively once on the move and ride the torque. It seems that is not the way to go with a scooter, it is much more dual. Lights turn green, twist the throttle all the way with zero sympathy for the oily bits and brake hard 20 meters down the street at the next set of lights. Ridden like this, it makes its way more than swiftly among the traffic, but I would never, ever buy one of these things secondhand. What hard life they have…

Once outside Barcelona, on the motorway, it is time to test how it rides on fast roads. Now that I don’t have to put my foot down at every set of lights, I get myself comfortable and examine the riding position. Leg protection is clearly better than on a bike, but the screen is too low and offers little wind protection for the upper body and head, it is impossible to ride with the visor up. There is no foot rest behind the front bodywork to stretch your legs à la T-Max, and with the feet on the platform my toes point slightly inwards, making the position a bit uncomfortable.

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Aside from these gripes, the J300 reaches 140km/h without difficulty and feels quite stable. To go back to the criticism mentioned at the beginning, aside from the obvious complaints about Kawasaki, a brand known for its sports bikes, received for launching a scooter, it also came under harsh criticism for launching what is essentially a restyled Kymco 300. While it is true that it enters a very competitive market and they did not want to run the risk of investing lots of money and time designing a product from scratch and risk getting it wrong, it does not help the brand’s sporty image. The suspension settings are supposed to be different to give it its own personality, and it really does corner well, but then you pay the price in city, where it will mostly be used, with a damping that is a bit on the hard side.

Once in Sabadell I park to run an errand and realize that the helmet doesn’t fit under the seat either… OK, it is a dual sports Shoei, the ones with sun visor, maybe a regular full-face helmet might fit, but it looked a bit tight. I have to drag the bag and the helmet with me. When I lock the seat, I notice a small fit and finish problem – it has two hooks, but only one locks. For both to lock properly, I have to slam the seat decisively. On a more positive side, the J300 is incredibly easy to get on and off the centerstand and to maneuver when stopped.

Next stint – back home for lunch; after a bit of city and motorway, it is now time to take it to a winding road to get a final opinion. Here the suspensions work great again, the scooter behaves well, it is agile and the engine has enough power to even have a bit of fun. The main problem for me is that at the end of the day, it is still a scooter, with everything that implies regarding dynamics. The CVT has a bit of lag before sending the power I’m dialing with my hand to the floor; when leaning into a corner or a roundabout that slight power gap is not very confidence-inspiring. The other big problem is the riding position. On spirited riding or motorway speed, sitting in the same position as if I were on the toilet gives me zero feeling of control. I can’t use the feet or the legs to help steer the thing, and I keep having the feeling that I am going to fly off the side of the seat at any moment.

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Before riding back to the city again I stop to take a few pictures and assess the looks of the scooter. With sharp and edgy lines and a front headlamp that reminds a bit of her Z bigger sisters, the J300 does live up to its sporty pretensions, although this is a highly subjective matter, so look at the pictures and form your own opinion.

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Back in Barcelona the advantages of not having to constantly shift gears are clear, but I am still not used to some things, like not being able to hold the brake with my foot and have both hands free without rolling back or forward.

After getting my bike back the following morning, the most honest verdict I can return is that I did not miss the scooter for one second. It is a great machine, with a good engine, nice, comfortable, agile and well built, and to ride around exclusively in the city, it might be a very good option, but I did not like it on the road compared to a proper motorbike, which leads me to wonder: to get around in the city, 125cc are more than enough, and to ride on the open road, any motorbike is better than a scooter. Then, why do people buy big scooters? Especially when for the same money they could get a good motorbike? Unless you can afford to keep more than one machine in your garage and you really, really want a scooter, I still don’t get big scooters.

More pictures here