• Category Archives Ride Reports
  • The TT route revisited

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    Having survived a full days ride without bike issues, Mark and I started planning another days riding. A check on the forecast though showed that tomorrows weather was bringing potentially severe storms which put paid to the idea of a full days ride, so we agreed to postpone until later in the week. I reckoned though, that I could probably get round one of my favourite rides, the TT route in 4 hours, but with the storms which had been forecast as due at 14.00 now changed to midday and possibly even 11.00, I’d need to leave very early.

    The next morning mindful of the coming storms, I was up early, had breakfast, and was dressed and had fired up the GT and had set off at 06.21am. Within 50 metres the bike decided to play it’s occasional game of flashing up a lights out warning symbol. Knowing that the garage had just replaced a bulb I stopped, switched everything off, restarted the bike, checked the lights, and lo and behold all was working. Scare over, it was time to get going.

    The autoroute is less than one minute from the house, I joined it and 13 minutes later a bunch of sequential numbers appeared on the dash, all the 8’s, 88,888 marking advanced age and even more kms  on the battle bus.

    It’s 18C even this early in the morning but already commuters are heading into Geneva from Lausanne, and I’m amused how aggressively someone in a small red Honda is trying to overtake the small red Citroen in front of him, often times speeding up the inside lane trying to undertake it. Must be keen to get to work!

    Soon I’m passing through the unmanned douane at Ferney Voltaire and passing Prevessin en route to the roundabout near Cern, before joining the Thoiry bypass. I’m careful to keep to the 110 speed limit as there are often radars along this stretch of road, but not today, it’s too early for the police to be about and besides, most of the traffic is heading into Geneva not away from it as I’m doing. Many many years ago I maxxed out my Honda Blackbird on this stretch of road, but that was LONG before radars were placed on it. There are plenty of buzzards flying overhead this morning, shame Sue’s not with me this morning as she loves watching them, but she preferred to stay and catch upon some sleep, so I watch as they soar above.

    We had been diverted en route to Bellegarde on Saturdays ride, so today I take the diversion signs crossing the river, and then turn right through the rows of orchards beneath their gossamer like covers, and head toward the viewing point of Fort L’Ecluse, but today I’m taking pictures of the valley back towards Geneva not the fort.

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    The road has been resurfaced along some of this stretch and I’m enjoying the smooth tarmac until it ends and I’m faced with my least favourite obstacle, tar snakes. Superman had kryptonite, I have tar snakes. Faced with these demonic slivers of raised tarmac I become fixated by their positioning and take all sorts of bizarre lines to avoid them. Years ago I had a really bad ride on country roads where the whole surface seemed to be these snakes. The bike slipping and sliding so badly I thought I’d got a puncture. Stopping several times to check the tyre pressures, eventually I realised it was the tar snakes, and even though some years later a fellow rider tried to assuage my issues by deliberately accelerating over them to show it was safe, I have never got over been massively unnerved by them, maybe some therapy or hypnosis might help?

    Passing through Clarafond I join the main road dropping down into Bellegarde, skirt around the city and soon join the road out towards Chatillon en Michaille and the start of the my favourite stretch of road. This section to Nantua is the same as we’d ridden on Saturday, but as it has a sequence of some of my favourite bends I’m not complaining.

    In Nantua the diversions are still in place but this time I know the drill and am soon out the other side of town and passing alongside the lake out of town. At the roundabout I turn left, then it’s off to the Gorges du Cerdon around 10 minutes up the road  More great bends and well surfaced, it’s a blast to have the roads almost to myself, and descending the gorges I decide to go back and take some pictures, but not until I’ve taken this one at the bottom.

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    For probably 7 years I rode down this road passing the statue at the bottom, and one day when I asked my riding buddies about the statue, not one of them had noticed it!! A quick blast half way back up for these pictures then it’s off again.

     

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    The next stretch is a boring transition but only takes about 10 minutes before it’s back to the good stuff again and the amazing stretch from Les Hopiteaux to Piegeu. There’s a right hand bend nearing Belley that even at 160kph (alledgedly) goes on for 20 seconds. Once I was leading a group of 4 and we took this bend at 120 (alledgedly), only to be followed by a police motorcyclist who had been manning a radar on a layby on the other side of the road. Luckily as we’d been riding closely together he couldn’t register individual speeds so we got let off with a little “chat”, amazing bend though!!!.

    Knowing the storms were coming I resisted the option to stop at McDonalds near Belley and kept going, stopping only to take these shots. The first near Belley and the second two looking across to the Jura near Clarafond.

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    The return leg was uneventful and an hour and a half later I was back with the GPS showing EXACTLY four hours riding time. Skip back to the first paragraph and you’ll see my estimated time to get round had been 4 hours, am I good or what?!

    So another great circuit ridden and another 328kms covered without cooling problems. With just the faulty light out reading which I hope I can clear with a GS-911 tool, hopefully there will be some days to come where I’ll have a fuss free ride!

     


  • Tentative first ride after radiator problems

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    15 or so years of riding Japanese bikes has shown me that it’s possible to turn the key in the ignition every day, have the engine start, and ride for tens of thousands of miles without breaking down, if faults existed they were relatively minor, and looking back on my riding history (perhaps through rose tinted glasses) I don’t remember too many issues with whichever Kawasaki, Suzuki, and Honda I’ve owned. I’ll admit that there was the well known regulator/rectifier fault on the Hondas, but they’re known for it and it’s almost an acceptable fault as nothing else goes wrong. My R1 had a TPS fault but didn’t actually break down, and only my beloved RC 45 left me needing a trailer ride home after its regulator failed, but these were all isolated incidences and NOTHING else ever went wrong, it’s only the BMW’s I’ve owned that have managed to leave me stranded, and on more than one occasion.

    The first breakdown came on a K1200GT demonstrator I bought from a dealer. BMW saw fit to create an electrically assisted braking system, which whilst being boosted by battery assistance, suffered the fate that if the battery started to discharge in stop start traffic with constant braking, it would fail, as happened to me on a trip to Luxembourg in motorway roadworks. Strike 1.

    Strike 2 came within 3moths of the purchase of a brand new K1300GT which replaced the K1200GT, when the ECU failed.

    In fact there have been several occasions over the past couple of years, notably at altitude and in very hot weather, when the bike has refused to start or needed bump starting, culminating in various changes of switchgear (at no small cost) and a lot of inconvenience. A booster plug helped the poor running, but combine this with driveshaft bearings which self destruct every 30,000kms, and you’re probably wondering why I’m still riding the GT, especially after the latest overheating problem?

    I guess it’s because I don’t actually know what I’d replace it with, and probably because after having ridden it for the past 7 years in restricted 100bhp mode I’d quite like to enjoy the full fat 160bhp it has now it has been derestricted. In truth I’m a little worried about the impact of suddenly having an extra 60bhp on an engine that has had such an easy life with only 100bhp for so long, but for now I’ve got a sickly machine that may or may not be ok after its overheating incident, so all I can do is ride it and find out, so here’s what happened after its first ride after having been side lined with radiator problems.

    It’s the day after I collected the bike from the dealer, and Mark and I have decided to do a relatively local ride on some of my favourite roads. The distance won’t be so great that if there are issues it will take a day to get trailered back home, but will be far enough to enjoy. Planning to arrive at Marks at 10.00am we arrive as the clock strikes the hour. Marks K1600GT is warming up and we’re soon off, stopping at the petrol station at the local supermarket. Signs warning of a diversion to Bellegarde suggest we take a different route, but we continued on past Fort L’Ecluse and the winding road to Bellegarde, which we can enjoy as it has very little traffic on it this morning. 5kms outside Bellegarde we reach the roadworks and diversion onto small backroads as a sign indicates the road ahead is closed for roadworks until April 2017!

    Eventually we end up on the outskirts of Bellegarde and joining the road we want to take towards Chatillon en Michaille, and from there onwards to Nantua. There are some great sequences of bends on this route, and overtaking any cars ahead of me I’m able to get maximum enjoyment of them.

    In Nantua there are yet more diversions. It’s summer so the French are digging up the roads and sending you on badly signposted diversions to wherever they think you might want to go. We stopped so I could mount the GoPro before climbing the TT hill coming out of Thoirette . This hill has a great surface, great bends, takes two minutes to ascend even flat out, and you only need to back off slightly for two corners until you reach the top and the great viewing point there.

    Strangely, given it’s mid season, our target restaurant at Pont Le Pyle is closed, but there are others close by, and after a jambon/fromage sandwich, coke and ice cream have been consumed, we’re off again, this time Mark leading, with the destination being the Source du Lison, which he tells me was full to overflowing last time he visited a couple of weeks earlier. I should have known better than to believe it when he told me he knew the way though, as 25 minutes later we are arriving at Lizon (spelt with a Z ) not in Salins where we should be to see the Lison, neverthless the sun is shining, we’ve got all day, and at the moment the GT isn’t showing any signs of repeating it’s overheating issues, despite the warm temperatures.

    An hour or so later and after some searching around due to poor signposting, we eventually arrived at our destination, where the source of the river Loue has it’s  origin. It’s hot though, so our first call is the cafe by the side of the river for a couple of refreshing drinks before the short walk to the water gushing from the hillside.

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    Here’s one of Marks shots using a “proper” camera

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    Here’s a picture of Mark and his super expensive camera which he spent forever composing shots with. Apparently he take lots of the same shots but on different settings, and then manipulates them in Photoshop. Check out picture 3 above

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    After seemingly hours waiting for Mark to compose his pictures, we decided that as it’s still only late afternoon, we’d take advantage of the opportunity of having Mark  show us somewhere we’d not been before, the Cascades du Tuf, which are on the way back anyway, so off we shouldn’t have any navigational problems getting there?

    Parking the bikes up later the 300m uphill walk is an efffort in the heat, but here’s the waterfalls at the top.

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    We couldn’t help noticing how much this tree stump looked like a rabbit

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    After cooling off in the shade whilst Marks 5 minutes of photo taking took 20, it was eventually time to head for home. Mark having realised that he was due at his neighbours at 20.00 might just about make it back in time, but we decided to stop off in Champagnole for a McDonalds and toilet break. Later we decided to descend via Arzier rather than the 73 hairpin bends of St Cergue, and as we headed back down it was pleasant to see the evening sun setting over the Alps and Lac Leman.

    Arrtiving back at 21.15 with 518kms having been ridden, it had been a long day, but the bike had behaved and never got beyond 2 bars on the temperature gauge, so now I’m wondering whether I do actually need the new radiator the dealer wanted to sell me? I guess for now I’ll just keep riding it and see how things develop.


  • And it all started so well!

     

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    Since moving to the Dordogne from the Geneva area in Switzerland, one of the things that I’ve missed the most has been the mountains. One year I rode 28,000kms researching and leading my tours there, and there is nothing like the thrill of riding at altitude and enjoying hundreds of switchback hairpins and taking in the magnificent views.

    An opportunity arose to return and ride in the area for a few days, but rather than ride 7 hours back to the region, I cheated and trailered the bike there with a plan to ride a few big passes and lots of the smaller local ones I’d ridden in the 12 years I’d lived there. Surviving the traumas of loading a 285kg bike onto a trailer the journey had been hassle free, other than finding the tie down strap I use on the rear wheel wouldn’t fit around the bazooka of an exhaust, so I had to swing it out and bolt it in an outward hanging position to allow me to secure the wheel in place.

    Andy was to be my partner on the first of my planned rides, a very full days ride from Geneva to Grenoble, down the famous route Napoleon to Gap, across to Briancon, then over the Col du Mt Cenis (2081m) and then back via the Col D’Iseran ( 2770m) in France. It’s a big day with big distance and altitudes, but with a forecast showing at least 22C, the 6.00am wake up was an acceptable necessity, and at 07.25 we were at Andys and ready to go. Leaving his house takes us immediately past a view across Lac Leman where Mt Blanc was beautifully lit by the early morning sun. It may only have been 12.5C but the view was magnificent and a great start to the day.

    Next a stop off in Divonne for petrol and then we’re off onto the first leg of the journey via the peage down to Grenoble. It’s circa two hours down to the services we always stop at to break the journey, and despite it being all autoroute there is plenty to see and sights to take in, especially as we near Grenoble and the mountainous terrain begins. Low clouds shrouding the hills is always atmospheric, buzzards circled above, riders on road bikes were out in their early morning Tour de France  peletons, and runners jogging through the countryside were all interesting diversions.

    The temperature raised to a balmy 18C as we got further south although it was windy, the occasional wind sock blowing at 90 degrees showing how breezy it was. The GT has a big screen to hide behind though and other than the wind hitting the topbox and wagging the tail from time to time, it was no big deal. Andy is able to fly through the peage booths with his prepaid toll badge whereas we continue our “normal” routine of always managing to choose the lane where someone either has no money, or hasn’t driven on peage motorways and doesn’t know what to do, or is just slow. Nevertheless we arrived at our first stop off, the Aire du Bois Claret without any drama and filled up for the next leg down the Route Napoleon to Gap.

    I don’t often take the N85, much preferring the far prettier and more flowing (in my opinion) N75 which runs parallel to it, but taking this route would have meant riding back East to Gap which would have added unnecessary time and mileage. Being a Sunday the road wasn’t too busy so we made good progress and in Gap took the road to Briancon which crosses the gorgeous Lac de Serre Poncon. Today the lake was nothing short of magnificent, it’s water levels at  close to maximum and a stunning turquoise blue in the sunshine. There is a  little church on a tiny island there which reminded me of a much bigger version in Lake Bled in Slovenia. Crossing the bridge and passing the restaurant we often stopped at, today we are continuing on instead of turning right and taking the lakeside road, signposts showing Briancon is  77kms from here.

    As we crawled though the town of Briancon and up the steep hill out of it, I noticed that the water temperature suddenly went sky high. Cursing the slow moving traffic I had grave concerns the bike would overheat, and as soon as we got to open roads had to speed up to try and get some fresh air through the radiator to cool it down. That was fine when the roads were flat, but as we started to climb the steep ascent towards Montgenevre we got caught behind cars now and again and the bar graph temperature gauge started its inexorable trip upwards towards the danger zone. There was nothing I could do, we weren’t moving fast enough to get enough air through to cool it, and rounding a bend the red warning triangle illuminated and there was no option other than to pull over and hope it would cool down. I couldn’t hear the fan running whether the engine was switched on or not, so it was looking like there was an issue which would doubtless continue throughout the day. After a 10 minute break the temperature had dropped a little, and with the town just 2 minutes up the road we decided to stop for lunch, leaving the bike parked in the shade and hoping it would cool down sufficiently to allow a trouble free afternoon, although deep down I knew that was going to be unlikely.

    The lunch break over, we attached cameras, and now it’s really clear we’re in Italy, as from here on in the Italians started to appear in numbers, always riding fast and in smart leathers, even a group of 4 riders on Yamaha T Max scooters were riding quickly in formation ignoring the 70 speed limits, so as they say, when in…….

    Arriving at the outskirts of Oulx we got diverted around the town due to some river event but soon found the correct route and passed a huge old abbey en route to Susa. The temperature gauge had been hovering around the 2 bar mark for most of the time. One and a half bars is “normal” but with temperatures at 22-24C I wasn’t too worried until we arrived at Susa and had to wait at traffic lights and then ride slowly through the town centre. Starting the climb out of the town and looking forward to the climb up the Col du Mt Cenis it wasn’t long until I realised things weren’t going well. Just a few minutes later and the gauge was at the top of the scale and the red warning light was back on again, leaving me no choice other than to pull over and let it cool down again. At this stage I’m feeling like Basil Faulty when he thrashed his car with a branch, the best I can do however is throw my gloves at it in disgust as clearly today isn’t going to go as planned, and just to make matters worse, there is oil leaking from the clutch cover seal. Crap!!!

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    Another enforced cooling down period and the plan is to ride on keeping speeds and rpms low and then head back for home via the motorway, where at least higher speeds will keep the engine cool. The Col du Mt Cenis isn’t as much fun at lower speeds, but other than getting stuck behind a few cars towards the top I’m able to keep the temperature down, and soon there is just the descent towards Lanslebourg to manage, although I’m not particularly keen on this bit of road and the gauge is firmly on the two bar mark, so what with concentrating on that I’m not actually riding too well.

    At Modane we fill up again, join the peage and start the journey back towards Chambery where the promise of a McFlurrys incentivises. Andy spotted the turn off into the centre commercial but we didn’t didn’t, necessitating a U turn through the parking at the peage toll a kilometre up the road to get back to him. Parking up I found that there was oil on both mine and Sues right side boots, on the frame and exhaust, and even the rear wheel and edge of the tyre, not good! The leak was clearly getting worse and later on I could actually see oil weeping from the seal. Luckily I always carry oil with me as the GT has had a habit of using oil every niow and then, so I topped up and hoped the leak wouldn’t get any worse.

    The peage back was covered circumspectly as I worried about both the oil and water temperature, but we made it back ok in the end after 728kms and just over 8 hours riding which had provided a mix of enjoyment of riding great roads, but also frustration at the bikes issues. It was a shame to have had to cut the route short and that Andy had ended up having to ride shotgun for an ailing GT, but at least we’d had a runout.

    In an odd co-incidence, a few days earlier a guy had written to me asking for my opinion on the long term reliability of the K1300GT as he had been thinking of buying one. I’m not sure what to tell him, I guess it will depend on what the problem is and how much it costs to fix it!

    Watch this space for an update.

     


  • Bike tour 2015

    When I was living in Europe I took every opportunity available to ride and tour, 15 countries and tens of thousands of kms passing below my BMW’s wheels. Many hours and days were spent in the saddle, big distances were the norm,  and I became “bike fit”. Like everything in life, things chance, and like all good things, it came to an end. A move back to the UK saw the GT languishing in the garage, riding opportunities grew less and less, and a combination of weather, lack of the big open roads I’d been used to in Europe, and mile after mile of speed restricted and camera policed roads meant the attraction of riding quickly diminished, and I started to question whether I even wanted or needed a road bike anymore.

    Discussions with Sue led to the decision to take the bike back to France and leave it there, knowing we could ride it again whenever we visited and on roads that were more inviting and pleasurable to ride than those in highly restricted blightly.

    Years had passed since we went any distance on the GT, and since we were taking it back it seemed an idea time to take a tour, so we decided to recreate one of favourite shorter tours, a trip down to Andorra and Spain. The lure of good weather, open roads, mountains and tapas spurred us on, and so it was the GT was loaded onto the trailer and escaping the traffic chaos at the Channel tunnel by taking the ferry, we headed south to the Dordodgne for the start of what we hoped would be the rekindling of our love of touring.

    Day 1-

    With no specific destination in mind or timetable to abide by, the plan was loosely to head towards Carcassone for the first night. I had a rough route in mind and put a few city names into the GPS and let it take us southwards. After a ten km section of autoroute near Perigueux I enabled the avoid motorways option, and we were soon back on open roads and enjoying the countryside.

    I’m ashamed to say I didn’t note the name of this place perched atop  a hill but thought it worthy of a photo.

    The roads we were riding were prefect for the GT. A mix of big open national roads mixed with great cross country departmental ones, was providing me with a fun riding experience and we were soon back into touring mode and starting to enjoying the fresh air, scenery and countryside, as the bike performed well in its ideal environment.

    Some time later we came across this prehistoric parc in Lacave.

    Later on in the day we stopped for pictures at the very picturesque St Martin Lagueppe.

    By late afternoon I decided that Carcasonne was going to be too far to get to as we were both feeling a bit tired, and not being used to long days in the saddle I decided to look for somewhere to stop, which turned out to be Castres.

    The Hotel Riviere had a lockable garage for the bike and being close to the centre and restaurants, we installed ourselves in the room, showered, and went out later for a meal here at the Brasserie L’Europe.

    Amazing what a good steak, bottle of wine and a couple of Irish coffees does for your evening. We had a great meal, and although the picture below shows empty seats, they were all full earlier in the evening. Entertainment was provided by a young lady who in between talking to her friend in a parked car nearby, spent an age talking very loudly on her mobile, berating what we assume was her boyfriend,   Is nothing private?

    The hotel and GT locked safely behind very large gates.

     

     

    Day 2-

    Breakfast, pack, pay and off we went heading for Carcasonne with todays final destination being Andorra.

    Bizarrely after riding around Carcasonne I couldn’t find the castle I was looking for, so after wasting half and hour riding round trying to find it, we gave up and continued on our way. There are some great roads down towards Andorra and by mid afternoon we had arrived at Pas de la Cas where we decided that shopping round the multitude of bike shops there was the plan for the afternoon. Riding on down into Soldeu we booked into the Hotel Naudi where we had stopped several years ago, unloaded the panniers, and rode a much lighter bike back up to Pas de la Cas for an afternoons shop browsing.

    I  bought a pair of Alpinestars GP Pro gloves to replace the ones that got split after my Donington crash last year, and Sue got a pair of Alpinestars ankle boots, so the trip was successful as indeed was our use of our newly purchased Sena S20 bluetooth headsets being used for the first time on this trip. Having used a wired Autocom system for a few years we’d decided to get a more modern system, and once the speakers position was correct inside the helmet (takes a lot of finding!) all was good and we had been enjoying  clear conversations without plugging ourselves into the bike.

     

    Day 3-

    Here’s the view from our hotel down towards Andorra.

    Today was planned as being a mornings shopping round even more bike shops in the centre of Andorra followed by a ride out to La Seu d’Urgell and onto the fabulous N260 to Sort.  Via the wonders of the internet I’d booked two days at the Hotel Florido, another hotel we knew well from previous tours, and was looking forward to spending the afternoon relaxing by their pool.

    The N260 was as good as I remembered, and so was the pool. Relaxing with a few beers, interspersed with dips in the pool was a great way to relax, and the 28C temperature and sun  was perfect except….. I didn’t use any suntan lotion which was to be a big problem later! Another big problem was that I’d not checked the weather forecast and now when I checked it seemed there were major weather warnings for rain the following day.

    We always eat at Cafe Pessets in Sort in the evenings and have had some amazing tapas there, but despite the extensive menu, this time the food didn’t seem quite as good, proving yet again that things are never as special as the first time!

    Day 4-

    True to the forecast the weather changed and during the night the roof and windows reverberated to the sound of monsoon rains outside. With my planned ride for the day clearly just that, a plan, we had nothing to do other than sit in the room, watch Spanish TV and sleep.

    Just look at the amount of rain in the guttering!

    The hotel doesn’t have a restaurant but offers pizzas which really weren’t that good, but being tired of being stuck in the room all morning, at least it made a half hour diversion from sitting doing nothing.

    Eventually around 17.30 the rain abated and desperate to get some fresh air we took a short walk outside

    Sort is a big rafting centre and there was plenty flowing nearby.

    We saw the sun at 18.01, but the joy of seeing a big ball of light in the sky was shortlived as the rain started to fall at 18.04, forcing us to sprint back to the hotel to avoid getting soaked.

     

    Day 5-

    Another bad weather day was forecast and heading North was the best option to head towards better weather but this left a difficult choice, spend an extra hour and kms in the saddle heading south first to get to the better roads, or head directly North over the directly North over the 2000m Col de la Bonaguia which was quicker but with more risk of bad weather due to the altitude.

    The Northern option won, and starting the ride in our waterproofs we set off to find less than 10 minutes later the road was blocked by police and firemen hosing the road, not sure if it was oil or rocks they were clearing from a  landslide, but it didn’t bode well for the ride ahead.

    At this stage I should mention the extreme discomfort I was feeling. Remember the 28C sunbathing afternoon? Well now I was suffering the effects. My skin felt like it was super tight, and despite rubbing half a tube of aftersun into my now lobster pink skin, I was now feeling decidedly sorry for myself.

    I hadn’t mentioned today was my birthday, and riding in the rain wasn’t my ideal way to spend it, and neither was the set of events that followed. We had what felt like a huge slide on a directional arrow. The back end spun out to the right far enough to throw my left foot  off the footpeg as I instinctively tried to keep 285kg of bike and another 180kg of us and luggage upright. Later in Figeac when we tried to find a hotel we had a myopic woman pull out of a car parking space directly in front of us, and completely ignore 120db of horn sounding at her as she drove straight on! Roundabouts were populated by drivers who entered then even though I was already on them and in the space they were aiming for! After several near misses and discounting a very poor hotel, we headed on out towards Aurillac.

    Spotting the town of Maurs ahead, another town we had stopped at before, I recalled a great auberge we had stopped at before and decided to head there. The phone number I called to see if they had a room didn’t answer, so we trekked cross country in the hope they’d have a room and struck lucky when they did.

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    This is a great hotel, a little pricy but they have a menu decouvert in the evening which from previous experience was excellent, so we had that again and weren’t disappointed. It was the single most expensive night of the tour, probably costing as much as 2/3 previous nights together, but hey, it was my birthday and I’m worth it!

    There’s an anecdote about this place I tell people. Years ago when we were last there a Dutch couple arrived in a little maroon sports car with a wicker hamper attached to the rear rack, and their names in silver letters on each side of the car.  Sue was taken by how great it would be to have one similar and tour Europe in it rather than getting tired and wet on a bike, and one day, I’m sure that’s what we will do. Apparently the Dutch couple are regulars and were going to be arriving a few days after we left!

    Day 6-

    Well fed and rested and after a well presented breakfast, we were heading for home today via the very pretty Puy Mary hills. You can tell from the pictures below that the weather wasn’t that great but at least we had some of the great views.

     

    I have this picture to advise bikers-  DO NOT BOTHER GOING TO THIS RESTAURANT. We walked in at around 11.45 and asked for two cups of hot chocolate and were refused entry. Apparently there was a group arriving and the place was all reserved. Now I can understand it was close to lunchtime but it doesn’t take forever to drink a cup of hot chocolate, and one option might have been to offer us a seat outside, but NO, nothing of the sort, so we left, and were shocked to see the owners bringing out drinks to walkers outside, and no sign of any party arriving during the 20 minutes we were there. Seems they don’t like bikers, so my advice, don’t give this place a centime of your business, appalling attitude and lack of service.

    Returning down the Col de Neronne we found a place to eat.

    Slightly more friendly than the other place but nevertheless I was instructed to move my bike from the place I’d parked it in front of the restaurant as it was “dangerous”, and the server chased off a family who dared to park up over the road and use their benches for a picnic. Geez, what gives with this area, it’s so unfriendly!

    I’d not seen cows with this colouring before.

    The roads we rode after descending from Puy Mary turned into the ride from hell. It’s gravel season in France, the French dumping it randomly on corners as a quick road repair, but as anyone who rides a bike knows, it’s horrendous to ride on. Each road became a nightmare, I couldn’t tell if the surface was covered in gravel from one bend to the next, and after a couple of hours of riding slower and slower, I ended up with a mini crisis of confidence and the ability to ride a bend at any sort of speed as I didn’t know what the surface would be. Deciding enough was enough we decided to cut things short, get on the motorway, and hot foot it home. A real shame to end a tour that way, but the fun element had gone and a couple of hours later it was all over.

     

    So the burning question after 6 days and 2000+ kms, did we enjoy it? Well yes and no. Clearly the GT is best left in Europe as it’s ideally suited for touring, and apart from the usual hit and miss gear changes it’s still a great bike for this type of riding. Will we get back to the ten hour day two week tours we used to do? unlikely. Did it scratch an itch? Yes. Lessons learnt? Check weather forecasts!

     

     

     

     


  • Isle of Man TT practice week 2015- Part 3

    Wednesday-

    Breakfast, and a difference of opinions of what we should do for the day. Being my first time in the I.O.M I wanted to go and ride the course again, but the others didn’t share my enthusiasm. Jon wanted to go to Port Errin whilst the others wanted to go to Laxey to see the giant wheel there. Looking at the map we decided that we would all ride to Ramsey together, the group would wander round there while I continued round the circuit, with the idea I rejoin them in Ramsey later and we then head out to Laxey and on round to Port Errin, thereby satisfying everyone’s requirements.

    So we set off and as planned parted at Ramsey, but for some reason I wasn’t feeling the ride. Probably riding a bit faster than I should have been, I wasn’t riding smoothly and alarm bells started to sound that I should back off and calm down. Overtaking a coach into the town of Union Mills I looked at the bend ahead and saw a police biker looking at me, and when he promptly put on his helmet and gloves I thought oops, I could have a problem here? I’ve probably been going a bit too fast on my entry into the town and really not wanting to get a ticket, I carried on round the bend and immediately turned down a street on my right hand side, and parked up behind a conveniently parked long wheelbase transit van, from behind which I was able to watch the police biker head off up the road.

    Taking the opportunity to refasten my camera, ten minutes later I set off to find a few miles up the road a couple of policemen, including the police motorcyclist, blocking the road as the mountain was closed again. So, back to Ramsey and the cafe for a coffee and piece of cake whilst I waited for the others to reappear.

    As I have a GPS I got the job of leading us out to Laxey, where we managed to get split up yet again (you’ll notice this recurring trend) , eventually linking back up 15 minutes later. It seems that the guys had gone to the larger of the two wheels just outside the town, whereas we’d stopped at the smaller one in town!

    Here’s the largest one which you can actually climb to the top of.

    And here the smaller one

    Mountain railway train ambling by

     

    Here we are at the giant wheel, but as the others had been up it before and were too tight to pay the £5 to go up again, I just took some pictures

    The road to Laxey had been a good one, and the one towards Port Errin was equally good, taking in some lovely country roads and even taking us onto part of the Cookstown 100 course. We didn’t actually get as far as Port Errin, instead stopping at the pub below which had good food and an ultra cool toilet which apparently has made it into Facebook in a multitude of countries around the world.

    After lunch I decided to have a look at Jims GSXR1000 as I’d had the same bike a few years earlier. Jim has been taking a bit of stick due to the fact he claims he never opens it above 7000rpm. I know the engine in this model is a monster and I’d always felt the handling left a little to be desired on my bike, but when I sat on Jims the reason for his lack of speed and confidence, was immediately obvious. The forks dived massively on braking and returned way too quickly. Insisting he allow me to have a go at trying to improve it for him, I made some adjustments to the preload and compression settings, and 20 minutes later it seemed to have done the trick, as not only was he riding more quickly, he had a big smile on his face. Job done!

    Leaving the beautiful setting of the pub, next order of the day was to check out Glen Helen as our potential viewing spot for tonights spectating.

    Glen Helen proved to be a great spot, but as we waited the couple of hours for the bikes to start their practice sessions, we saw several worrying events as spectators arrived at this spot

    First was a guy with a young boy riding pillion, who suddenly decided he wanted to turn right into the parking but seemingly without seeing the car coming the other way. Luckily he just about stopped in time, only to ride on and almost drop it as he made a second attempt to turn in. The real shocker was someone in a large black SUV who turned across the road so slowly he nearly caused a major accident, as a double decker bus going the other way had to swerve to get around it. You could hear the incredulous shouts and gasps from the spectators as they observed what could have been a very nasty accident. Needless to say he got a major bollocking from the marshals!

    The picture below shows you some of the “issues” faced on the island. Imagine living in the house on the right and wanting to get out of your drive!

    Our spot on the banking gave a good view in both directions and there were two burger vans in the car park so at least we could get a drink and a bite to eat

    We probably spent the best part of 4 hours at this spot, and when the call of nature came, those who descended our banked seating spot hoping to use the portaloo below, found it to be for the marshals use only (here a marshalls trike parked outside the loo). Luckily there was a toilet block a couple of hundred yards walk round the corner!

    After watching the sidecars finally get their practice session (they’d not been on track up until then due to the weather), the evening ended and we headed back to the hotel and the bar. Total riding round the island today- 83 miles

    Thursday-

    Today is unfortunately our final day, and it started by finding we’d been usurped from our regular corner window spot by a couple of Americans. Don’t you just hate it when two people sit at a seat for 6 in a restaurant? Didn’t they know it was reserved for us?

    Everyone wants to buy something for themselves, wives or kids, so we set off down the road past the Imperial Dragon Chinese restaurant we’d visited two nights earlier on our way to the large TT souvenir shop, where we bought an assortment of jackets, T shirts, and stickers.

    On past this stable, where a pair of shire horses were being tended to before the start of their day, dragging tourist carriages up and down the seafront.

    I’ve done a lot of camping in my time, but I have to say that for this trip I was glad we’d been in a hotel. This and many other sites will be heaving in a few days time when the TT starts for real

    Nice sea views from campsite

    The walk seemed to drag on for ages but this sign shows we’re now closer to the paddock area we’re heading for now

    Below- Robert Dunlops S1000RR

    The two mega bucks Mugen electric bikes

    Famous rider

    This is Hutchys bike. Check out the right hand gear shift he need to use now

    James Hilliers ZX-10R

    Derek McGee’s Wilson Craig Honda

    Mar-Train fairings just lying around!

    This Anstey replica was in a raffle, tickets £1. Imagine how pleased you’d be if you won that!!!

    Eventually we had to head back to the hotel, and Roo and I had a quick diversion into a few more of the shops in Ramsey. Check out this Rossi balloon in a betting shop window, bike mania everywhere

    Back at the hotel and packed, we loaded the bikes and decided to fill up with petrol on the island rather than having to stop once we got back to Liverpool. Heading off behind Kev, the group managed to get split up, again!, as Jim and Roo got stuck at the lights. The road doubled back on itself as Kev led us up towards the petrol station at Bray Hill, and we saw Jim and Roo on the other side of the road and assumed (wrongly) that they knew where we were going. After filling up we realised that no-one had seen Roo, oops! No option other than to head for the ferry though and soon after he rolled up having watched us enter the port. Of course, the weather has turned nice now that we’re leaving, and we’re sat in the sun for the hour and a half the ferry company demand you arrive before loading.

    Luckily we’re on the catamaran again, and this time a lovely smooth sailing and the chance to watch the Dunlop family film “Road” on the onboard TV’s

    Back in Liverpool and I took the lead, as the GPS takes us out of the city on a slightly odd route, but soon the reassuring signs for the M6 appear. Jim, Jon and I have managed to drop the others filtering out of the outskirts of Liverpool, but they’re on the same road for sure, so not having to worry about them finding their way I sat behind my screen and upped the pace a little, eventually dropping Jon and Jim from view.

    Eventually I arrived home at 18.55 having ridden 458 miles and 11hours 45 over the course of these few days. The roads had been great, time spent in good company, some tales to tell and bore mates with for weeks to come, another bucket list item ticked off, and a strong feeling I’ll go back again.

     

     

     


  • Isle of Man TT practice week 2015-Part 2

    Tuesday-

    With better weather expected we formulated our plan for the day over breakfast. First thing on the agenda was to find a bike shop for Roo, who wanted to try and buy a smaller sprocket  in the hope it would alleviate his excessive fuel consumption, and also to buy a bar end mirror to replace the one which had dropped off as we had ridden from the hotel to the ferry the previous day.

    The ever helpful Google located a couple of shops nearby, but neither Padgetts Suzuki nor the local Honda dealer had anything. Eventually we were pointed in the direction of another dealer close by, although the guy who directed us told us we’d end up riding the wrong way up the one way system, but not to worry, it’d be alright if we stayed to the left side of the road!

    The shop turned out to be a Yamaha dealer and unfortunately they had no sprockets either , although Roo got lucky as they did have a bar end mirror, and with the friendly bike shop owners lending him the tools to fit it, we were finally ready to start the days exploring.

    We decended Bray Hill where we were to spectate later that evening, and a very short distance later arrived at Union Mills and the first petrol stop of the day! I started the camera rolling as we started our ride on the hallowed TT course, although in Ramsey we managed to take the wrong route out of town, having to turn round and go back towards Ramsey before rejoining the correct road.

    Once onto the mountain road speeds increased and Dog, Jon, Roo and I turned up the wick and let loose on the derestricted road. It was still slightly damp in places over the top and not knowing the road like the others I had to be a bit careful, but soon it was just me chasing Dog and his R1 as Jon dropped back a bit as his RGV ran out of steam against the bigger engined bikes.

    We stopped off at point at the famous Creg Ny Baa pub, well when I say we stopped, I mean most of us did. There was no sign of Jim, and after 10 minutes we began to wonder if something had happened to him? It had. Apparently a police car nad reversed out into the road, stopped the traffic, and started everyone off the mountain. Eventually, realising we weren’t on the same road, he turned back, was able to get back onto the mountain road and rejoin us.

    After a while watching others passing we decided to try and find a spot to spectate that evening, so we set off round the course again, eventually arriving at Crosby and this pub

    Cool feature of the pub was the TV screen showing the road outside

    We hadn’t decided where to spectate that night so decided to ride the course again and see which spot took our fancy. Arriving in Ramsey for the second time that day everyone turned in for petrol and we agreed to go from there to a local cafe nearby, but that was when the the plan went tits up.

    Dog and Kev had disappeared, quickly followed by Jon, leaving the rest of us try to figure out where they had gone. We seemed to traverse the whole town several times looking for them, and then Roo and I managed to lose Jim too. With no idea where they had all gone, we were riding round the town like lost sheep. Eventually we ended up on a road at the top of town which was obviously not where they were, but as Roo went to turn, the bike fell on top of him, leaving him trapped with his leg underneath it, but having heroically saved his fairing and new bar end mirror from damage.

    Eventually we managed to rejoin the group at the cafe below, after a series of phone calls, and it turned out we had literally been round the corner from them 20 minutes previously!

    Ramsey is clearly the islands Bermuda triangle, not that big but easy to get lost in!

    So after reuniting our group and coffee and cake devoured, we set off on the correct road this time, but we only managed to get as far as The Bungalow before finding the road was closed due to high winds. Everyone was being diverted off the mountain down some fun but narrow roads, and so we headed back to the hotel, where we spotted Ian Hutchinson deep in conversation.  We were surprised to see him here with only an hour and a half to go til practice was due to start, but with the paddock a quick 5 minute drive away, clearly he wasn’t too worried.

    Our first viewing spot was at the bottom of Bray Hill and it was mind blowing to see, and feel , the speed of the riders as they barreled down the hill.

    Jon and Kev taking a seat to watch

    This guy, whom I guessed was a German given the number of German patches on his leathers, turned up to what seemed like a heros welcome from a bunch of people who clearly knew him. His leathers were completely covered in patches and pin badges and he even had what looked like an apron as an extension to mount all his regalia on!

    Heading up from Bray Hill to watch the next session we stopped at St Andrews church where this witty sign grabbed my attention. After watching the next category of bikes do their practice session we nipped into the church hall for a cup of tea and a cake

    Then into the grandstand on the start finish straight, but not for long. The clouds were coming in and the wind was rising. When the marshal in front of us started to pack his flags and the ambulance staff walked away, it was clear there would not be any more practice that evening, so we decided to wander the paddock area

    Perhaps one of the most recognisable motorhomes, belonging to John McGuinness

    This was about as close as most people got to Guy Martin, just seeing him surrounded by others in his team tent

    Cameron Donald

    Another unusual item not found on the mainland, the IOM electric railway

    By this stage we were hungry, and having agreed to go for a Chinese, we set off on what turned out to be a route march and seemingly miles, to find one. Eventually we found the Imperial Dragon and a well deserved and tasty meal, plus a few beers of course!

    Bikes queued everywhere outside the B&B’s

    The moon over the Irish sea, and then back to the hotel, sleep, and prepare for tomorrows adventures

    Todays riding-  116 miles


  • Isle of Man TT practice week 2015- Part 1

    Sunday-

    So if you read the previous prequel post, you’ll have read we were on the verge of heading off to the Isle of Man TT practice week, but we ended up having a few last minute dramas to contend with before the off.

    Starting with my K1300GT. I thought I’d got loads of tread left on the front tyre as the sides were showing a healthy 3mm, but I was shocked to find my depth gauge only indicating a much less impressive 1.6mm or less in the centre, meaning a frantic run round to get a new tyre fitted.

    Next came Jons CBR600, which the week before decided to lose its coolant, and despite being rushed to the garage and spending time being stripped to find the fault, wouldn’t play ball, meaning Jon was forced to turn up on his second option, a Suzuki RGV250.

    Finally, Andrew (Roo) was hoping he would get the DVLA papers he needed back in time to get a daytime MOT on his track CBR600 so he wouldn’t have to go on his 748. Luckily he was more successful than Jon, and he turned up on the 600.

    So with the scene set, and having managed to watch MotoGP before the meeting time, I arrived to find the guys already there and waiting, so here they are, L to R:

    Jim (GSXR1000K1), Roo (CBR600), John (Dog) R1, Kev (Bandit 1250), Jon (RGV250)

    The route I’d planned to avoid the boredom of motorway riding turned out to be a good one, although it highlighted a problem we were to have all week, the fuel consumption of Roos CBR600. With high track gearing it seemed to be drinking fuel like a drunk at a free bar, and meant we needed to plan petrol stops. Following Dog into the petrol station ( through the no entry exit!) we were treated to chocolate bars from Dogs huge rucksac whilst the group alternatively went for a loo break or topped up with petrol.

    128 miles later and 2 hours 58 in total (target time was 3 hours, damn I’m good!) we rocked up at the Devonshire Hotel in Liverpool, where for the bargain price of £20 each we not only had a room but a full English breakfast the next day!

    After locking up the bikes and spending a while in the bar we headed for the only eating establishment the hotel receptionist recommended, Frankie and Bennys. Hardly haute cuisine and a 10 minute walk away, but we were ready to eat and set off for our burgers and wraps.

    We managed to get back without getting too wet, but it was close as the skies turned dark and rain started to fall.  Next, a nights sleep and off to the ferry tomorrow!

     

    Monday-

    Breakfast devoured we set off to the ferry, which turned out to be only 5 miles away, and joined the queue. First sight of the day, this gaudily painted tour boat.

    The Manannan is the high speed catamaran which runs to the IOM at up to 35 knots per hour, so we would be getting the benefit of comfort and a quick crossing rather than being on the slower and more traditional ferry.

    Here the guys are clearly looking forward to the trip!

    The queue doesn’t look too big at this stage but it certainly got much bigger soon after

    The crossing was pretty good given that the weather forecast hadn’t been great, and although it was slightly choppy when the stabilisers were dropped to enter port, it wasn’t too bad, but clearly there wasn’t going to be much racing to watch, as a passenger announcement had advised anyone camping that 50mph gusts might force them to reconsider their options, and that a friendly village hall was taking people in that night.

    So we got off the boat to some rain, but with the hotel less than two miles away we were soon there and parking up. Later that evening we watched as the incoming evening ferry battled the choppy seas with its bow seemingly disappearing under the waves.

    This picture was taken from the hotel restaurant looking out towards the harbour that evening.

    Inside and in the relative calm of the hotel restaurant, here we are enjoying a very reasonably priced meal and relaxing with a few drinks

    Later on when the rain abated we decided to venture out and head up towards the paddock area. Parked outside, this humorous take on WeBuyAnyCar.com

    An IOM number plate and sticker to be added to my bike as an addition to the current 15 countries I’ve ridden it in

    .

    Not your common road sign

    In the paddock area we saw this sign for a complex of fast assembly sleeping accommodation below

    You can see how wet the roads are on the famous start finish straight leading down to Bray Hill

    Leader board updated by Scouts during race week

    Walking back down and into town, we found a souvenir shop where we bought a few things but would definitely need to return to later in the week.

    More sights below.

    Sir Norman Wisdom statue

    Great clouds in these pics

    At least you can’t say you weren’t warned before you get fined!

    The 3 legs are everywhere

    Back in the hotel car park this Katana. I’m not sure if it was an original or new one but it certainly wasn’t standard

    So back to the bar where it seems the islanders are so concerned about being short changed when their pints are pulled, they have a law to make sure it doesn’t happen

    So our first day was something of a disappointment as there had been no practice to watch, but with better weather forecast, we were able to retire for the night with the expectation of seeing some action the next day.

    Todays ride- a massive 6.5 miles, 5 from hotel to ferry and 1 1/2 from ferry to hotel.

     

     

     


  • I.O.M TT practice week- the prequel

    Posted on by Paul

    I’ve been riding bikes since 1976 (old git I know), and in that time done what I consider to have been quite a lot of bucket list rides, plus a lot of track time, but over the past two years I’d started to be asked by friends if I’d ever been to the I.O.M, and I never have!

    To be honest if I’d been left to my own devices I probably never would either, organising ferries, hotels and the like isn’t that difficult, but I wasn’t sure Sue would fancy going and I didn’t fancy going on my own, and with me being in the UK and Andy, the only other guy ever likely to want to go being based in Switzerland, the idea had never really got off the ground.

    All that changed when one day out of the blue Jon asked if I fancied going, not to the TT itself but to the practice week, where costs would likely be slightly lower and with less people there. Not the thrill of the racing per se, but the same people on the roads trying to find optimum set ups and times for the following race week.

    Jon and his riding group were already well advanced with their planning and were ready to book the ferry and hotel, but if I wanted to go too they needed my answer, the next day! Normally I plan things to the nth degree, but here was an option to go somewhere I’d never been, with the travel and accommodation organised for me, so armed with an approximate idea of costs (ferry prices not yet announced) and the dates, I decided that this was my best opportunity to actually go, and signed on the dotted line.

    Although Liverpool and the ferry are only around two and a half hours from home, it was decided that rather than get up very early on Monday morning to catch the ferry, that we would go up on the Sunday afternoon, stop at a hotel there, and have a gentle ride in on the Monday morning after enjoying a full English breakfast.

    As I’m the only one with a touring bike and a GPS, I’ve been designated the job of finding us a route there that doesn’t include too much motorway work, but that doesn’t take too much longer than 3 hours. So with the scene set and the off only a week away now, time to figure out what to take, make sure all the camera batteries are charged, and count down the days. Full report coming when I get back!


  • The Monte Carlo run-Part 3

    Day 3

    My room had this view up on the hillside which we would pass by this morning.

    I decided to treat myself to breakfast for a change and scrambled eggs and sausages went down well to start the new day. We removed the bikes from the locked garage, returned the key, and with the route keyed into the GPS, (even though I don’t need it), we set off, stopping first for petrol before climbing out of Briancon and up towards Montgenevre. From here we descend through the tunnels with their long distance views to the downhill bobsleigh run in the distance, and through the town of Oulx and onto the relatively boring road to Susa. Here the pace picks up, the roads narrow, climb, and the fun begins.

    There’s little traffic and I’m off, speeding (legally of course) past the odd car that is actually on the road, onwards and upwards towards the spectacular Lac du Mont Cenis, enjoying a relatively free run in the still cool morning temperatures.  We pass a group of riders on their choppers with ape hangar bars and wonder how the hell they can ride in such an awkward position, but their group is well disciplined, move over to let us pass and give a cheery wave.

    Down in Lanslebourg we strike East for Bonneval sur Arc and the ascent of the Iseran. At 2770m it’s another biggie in altitude, but today I’m riding it slower than usual and taking time to marvel at the sun shining on the glacier in the distance, and taking pictures of the fabulous scenery that normally I’d just pass through.

    At the top Andy is waiting for me before I send him off ahead again, knowing from last year’s ride here he’s much quicker than me on this descent, but also because I don’t want to ride quickly this morning and am enjoying the views.

    Sure enough Andy’s rate of descent was much faster than mine and I found him parked some kms ahead waiting patiently      ( or maybe not?) for me to appear. We stopped for coffee in Val d’Isere and sat inside the restaurant, taking advantage of the fact they were showing the MotoGP warm up on TV. Not so great watching Cal crashing his brains out though!

    Onwards past the barrage at Tignes and it’s giants head mural and down to Bourg St Maurice, where the next couple of novel parts of this ride were to come into play, riding the Cormet de Roselend and Aravis in the opposite direction to that I normally ride them in.

    Doesn’t sound like a big deal, but I’ve always ridden these cols in the opposite direction, but today going South to North I’m enjoying the novelty of riding what to all intents and purposes is a new route. The initial climb up from Bourg St Maurice is easier than the descent, and then as the roads open the climb is really good fun. The views are now opening up ahead of us whereas normally I’d be straining to look back over my shoulder to see them. The Lac de Roselend is revealed as a wonderful tapestry as you round the final bend and hillside blocking it’s view, and we slow to admire the beautiful blue waters and fantastic images ahead.

    Lunch is at the “usual” restaurant, the service never gets any quicker, but if you’ve got an hour or two to spare this spot is awesome, and always inspires me to take pictures.

     

    The descent to Beaufort is as much fun as the ascent, although I nearly collected a Goldwing head on when he decided to overtake a car without spotting I was coming the other way! Next pleasant surprise is the section that climbs towards Hauteluce. In memory it seems I’ve had a few “moments” coming down this stretch of road, and a friend once boiled his brake fluid on his Thunderace, but going up today was a blast and with no issues whatsoever!.

    The Col de Saises is still as poorly surfaced as ever, and the dodgy left hand bend over a crest descending is now a dodgy right hand bend ascending. Up and over the Aravis and down towards Bonneville, where a deviation sends us to the motorway, and then towards Geneva and Andy’s house where the ride “proper will end.

    Todays stats are only 359kms but 5 hours 40 riding time         

     

    I won’t bore to you with the boring details of my seven hour ride back home the next day, because they’re just that, boring, but when I’ve been writing and recalling this tale there are some very strong points that came through loud and clear….

     

    It’s always worth making the effort to ride the Alps, they’re special roads, challenging, rewarding, and fun

    Riding with a friend is always better than doing it on your own, an experience shared gives memories you can recall together for years

    Doing things differently (directional) can be fun, mixing things up can be rewarding, “variety is the spice of life and all that!”

    Choosing your destination gives a sense of purpose and maybe even excitement, and is so rewarding when it turns out to be all you hoped from it

    A BMW K1300GT is a great bike when it’s running well. A few stalls were the only issues, and when I’m regularly decking out my feet in bends, the front tyre must be working well!

     

    So thanks to Andy for his ever enthusiastic company and banter, and maybe we’ll do it again, in the opposite direction (or not?) , another time?


  • The Monte Carlo run-Part 2

    We climbed out of Monte Carlo and headed towards Sospel along 50kph limited roads winding their way along the cliff tops. Here the juxtaposition of old and new buildings clearly illustrated how much development had taken place over the years.

    Exiting the final town limits and passing the peage lentry we joined the small but fun roads of the D2566 which wind entertainingly over the Col de Castilllon towards Sospel. Another quick stop for petrol and onto the D2204 towards Breil-s-Roya and the start of the first real traffic we’d encountered so far. Unfortunately it included the ubiquitous camping cars. It seems their owners always choose the wrong times to haul their slow and mobile chicanes over the best roads ( is there ever a right time?), and frustratingly so was the case again today. Eventually the traffic just seemed to disappear and we were left with relatively clear roads until we reached the tunnel de Tende, and as per last year when I rode this road, ended up waiting for the one way traffic to come through from the other side until we could continue our onward journey again.

    Deja vu struck again when the GPS seemed incapable of finding a route out of Borgo S Dalamazzo to Vinadio, and as per last year, started riding round in circles round the outskirts of the town trying to find it. Eventually I gave up on my Zumo and deferred the route finding to Andy who was more successful and soon got us back on track.  A quick radio chat and we agreed that Andy would pull over somewhere ahead when a suitable lunch spot was found, and a few kms outside Vinadio he pulled over to a restaurant where there were a couple of Italian bikers already sat eating outside. The couple, a guy on an old Ducati SS1000 and his partner on an SV650. After we’d ordered and been sat down for a while talking, the Italian guy remarked that we were not French, confused that my bike had a French number plate but was speaking fluent English. Clearly it hadn’t occurred to him that other nationalities other than French might live in France! I had a large plate of surprisingly good pasta whilst Andy tucked into a burger. Suitably fed we began the onward journey through Vinadio, and turned left and over the bridge following the signs Col de la Lombarde.

    The Lombarde is quite some distance from the turn, and you start by climbing though woods along narrow and winding roads, not especially well surfaced, but the kind you take gently and enjoy their meandering nature. After some while there is a sharp turn to the Lombarde and the climb to it’s 2350m summit. I raved about this pass last year and felt much the same this year. It is VERY narrow in parts but has great scenery and in places an excellent surface. Take it easy and just enjoy the views, watch for the semi blind corners which could hide oncoming traffic, and then enjoy the great descent down into the skiing village at Isola. The road was partly blocked by a barrier and staff wanting to charge visitors for access to the motorbike trial going on further down the slopes, but clearly we were only passing through so avoided any charge.

    At Isola the road becomes the open and well surfaced D2205, passing through St Etienne de Tinee then turning sharply right at Pont Haut, where it narrows and starts to climb towards the Col de la Bonette. Initially very poorly surfaced it’s quite an open road, then the hairpins begin. The waterfall cascading on your right signifies the “real” start of the ride, then it’s a blast as quickly as you choose up to the summit. Today it’s quite fast, but I’m all too aware of the many ultra tight and narrow bends with their gravel strewn entries, so am quite circumspect in my enthusiasm for a sporty ride up, but there is little traffic and I’m having fun! With no snow on the extended 100m loop to the top we’re able to ride right to the summit and pose for the ubiquitous pics to show we were there. Andy (l)

    The Bonette itself at 2715m is one of the highest in Europe, and the extension loop takes it to 2802m, which is higher than both the Iseran at 2770m and the Stelvio at 2757m, but many consider it a cheat as it’s the loop and not a proper road that takes it to that height, anyway, today it was rideable, and although cool as always at that altitude, revealing great views.

    I set Andy off in front for the descent having done my bit leading on the way up, and besides, I know he’ll be quicker than me on his GS as the battlebus takes some man-handling on these roads. He’s off and soon disappearing as he is able to gets past what turns out to be quite a lot of traffic descending this afternoon while I seem to keep getting stuck behind in the bends.  I catch him up as we get halted briefly by police and ambulances ahead, where it seems a biker has “run-on” in a bend, although Andy is able to ascertain thankfully that it’s the bike rather than the biker that’s come off worst on this occasion. Arriving at Jausiers at the foot of the descent, we strike off towards Guillestre over the Col du Vars, where we stop for a break, a drink and a piece of pie for me.

    The descent reveals wonderful views across the valleys and across to Mont Dauphin and the mountains in the distance. In fact the descent is longer than the ascent and much more enjoyable from the point of view of its scenery and road surfaces. Down in Guillestre we decide to see if we can stop at my favourite Logis de France, “Le Bon Logis”. Unfortunately they’ve already closed for the season so we revert to the original plan, which was to continue up and over the Col d’Izoard and stop overnight in Briancon.

    Once through the gorges of the Combe de Queyras the roads become fast and open for 10 minutes, before reaching the turn off point for the Izoard. The road climbs gently at first through the village of Brunissard before starting the real climb and bends, through the Casse Deserte and its lunar type scenery, climbing ever more steeply round tight and gravel strewn bends (recurring theme ) before arriving at its surprisingly boring summit at 2360m.

    A quick photo and then the descent on initially extremely tight bends with big drop offs, and then down through the woods, the road getting progressively wider and faster as it nears the bottom, and a relatively easy ride down into Briancon. We head for McDonalds to use their wi-fi and search for tonight’s accommodation. As per last night it seems there are slim pickings even this late in the season, but after some searching Andy finds us a hotel with a secure garage and we head the short distance there for a welcome shower, meal, beer and sleep.

    It had been a long day in the saddle with some very technical riding and big altitude ascents and descents, but who’s complaining when you’ve ridden two of Europe’s highest cols and walked round a Formula 1 race track. Another set of great memories banked !

    Ride stats for the day, 408kms and 6 hours 52 riding time

     

    FINAL INSTALMENT – BRIANCON TO NYON TO FOLLOW