I’ve never taken a paid tour before, but thought that as we hadn’t taken a “proper” tour this year due to my wife’s mother’s illness, and the fact that the season is drawing in, that taking an organised tour might be a chance to get out and see some new parts of France without having to do much planning.
Logistics dictated that the bike was to have its 10,000km service a couple of days before we set off, and I even ordered and fitted an Autocom system so that we could speak to each other on the move, for the first time in over a decade!
Not all went smoothly, the Wunderlich brake and clutch levers ordered arrived incorrectly, twice!, and the connector cable for the BMW canbus wiring was also incorrect, but neither points were enough to stop us setting off, the problem was getting there!
After 160kms of the BMW seemingly activating the ASC violently at any speed and rpms, I decided that it wouldn’t be safe to try and ride 3000kms with a motor that could potentially cut out at any time. 3-4 hours later after BMW Assistance had recovered the bike and arranged a taxi for us, we arrived back home, now faced with an early start the next day to cover the 7 hours and 600+kms to the tour base.
Thankfully I have a back up bike, a CBR1100XX SuperBlackbird, and although it’s 10 years old and only in the garage because I’ve been unable to sell it, at least it’s running, unlike my less than 3 month old K1300GT!
We leave in the semi darkness of a 7.00am morning, but in less than an hour whilst climbing out of Nantua, I begin to regret having been unable to check the tyre pressures. The bike is wallowing in the bends under the weight of both of us and full luggage, so we had to stop near Bourg en Bresse (where we had broken down the day before) to top up the tyre pressures. It’s also a good opportunity to have a warm drink and add an extra jumper, as it’s damn cold!
After a pretty uneventful ride, other than chasing a very rapid GSXR750, we arrived at the base at Melle at around 17.00pm. A very friendly welcome and a few beers settled us in easily, with wine and nibbles at 19.15pm, and then a 4 course meal at 20.00pm. Tony and his wife Violette run the tour company from their huge town house, set in 2 acres of land, with 9 bedrooms, many bathrooms, and a huge kitchen which made Sue green with envy. All the food is home cooked, and the wine flows freely all night long!
Our hosts- Tony & Violette
The group members are:
Tony (leader)- K1200R Sport/GS1100, Chris- K1200R Sport, Simon/Dionne (husband/wife)- Hornet 600, Dave- Fireblade
Robin- Honda SP-2, Andy and Dani (husband and wife- both on R1’s, Richard- Triumph T595, Ian- Honda CB1300, Brett- Ducati 748,
Sue and I – CBR1100XX Superblackbird, Bill – R1 ,and his son Darren- Fazer1000,
The first day dawns, and I decided to check the tyre pressures, only to find them lower than the recommended 42 psi, not surprising really as had topped them up the day before when hot. Tony supplied a stirrup (pushbike) pump to blow them up, but disaster struck as soon as I took the pump off the front valve, and air started hissing out of the valve at a great rate of knots. Within a couple of minutes the tyre is as flat as a pancake. It’s about 35 minutes or so before the group is supposed to leave, but Tony coolly suggests I remove the wheel, we put it in his car, and dash to the local bike dealer, who drops everything to replace the valve so we can leave a.s.a.p. Back at the house, the wheel is refitted, and we managed to leave only 15 minutes behind schedule.
The ride takes us on a myriad of roads large and small, through towns, and is at a “brisk” pace. The drop off system works well ,as most of the group are here for the second or third time, know the system, and so we progress quickly. Mid morning we have a coffee stop and get to visit the first of today’s toilet attractions! Hard to believe, but the interior of the restaurant toilet is lit by a disco ball, reflecting off multiple mirrors, whilst you listen to piped music!
After the pause we are off again. The rule is that Tony will ride at the pace of the guy behind him. If you’re fast, he rides quicker, if slow, the pace drops. No don’t need to ever worry about getting lost though, as there is always a junction marker, and the tail ender will never leave anyone. The only problem here is that with such a large group you don’t get to the front too often during the day, and if you’re unfortunate enough to be behind Tony when you pass through a town, you’ll very likely be dropped off almost immediately to mark a junction, thereby losing the chance to follow his lines for another hour or so until you get back to the second position again! “Highlight” of this morning was following Bills ultra rapid piped, power commandered and chipped R1 at 230kph, only to have him lift off without braking! Ever tried to stop a two up Blackbird at those sorts of speeds?!!!!!
Lunch is taken outside with another great toilet interior. Basins are attached to trees, whilst a squirrel looks down at you from on high!
In the afternoon one of the group has pre arranged to have a pair of tyres fitted, and during the pause I checked the rear brake pads only to find them almost down to the metal! I had planned on selling the bike, and when I left the pads were ¾ worn, but it seems linked brakes and the speeds we are travelling at has really hammered them, so I have a pair fitted at the shop.
The bike now stops better, but later in the afternoon it seems to have developed rear wheel steering and a distinct weave in bends, of which there are a great many! At the final petrol stop of the day, I checked the rear of the bike to find 3 inches of chain slop, as the mechanic hadn’t tightened the locknuts at the end of the swingarm, which was allowing the wheel to move in the frame, and the chain to thrash around and upset the balance and handling. I fixed this at the house whilst the others quaffed the beers, before joining them, and reminiscing about the days riding, praying that tomorrow would not bring any more problems.
Day two and breakfast at eight. “What time do you think we can leave today Paul?” asks Tony. He then advises that he has looked round the bike and that everything looks ok, but “please don’t touch anything, or check the tyre pressures again!”. It’s all in good humour and I’m looking forward to a trouble free day, except when I start to ride off the steering feels really heavy. When we get off the gravel and onto the road the reason is clear, the tyre is flat again!! Seems the mechanic either didn’t tighten the stem enough when he changed the valve, or re-used the faulty one. “Ride it to the garage with the air line and we’ll follow you there” says Tony. He takes Sue as pillion whilst I ride VERY slowly to the garage, but to make matters worse when I get there, the garage air line is no longer working! The group arrives and are instructed to stop at the garage, whilst Tony rides back to the house with Sue, and I try to ride a mini tank slapping bike without crashing! Back at the house he fits a new stem, and we return to the group with the tyre having been inflated using the famous stirrup pump again!
We ride back to the garage and the waiting group. Half an hour has passed now, and I’m starting to feel like a leper, no one says anything, but I sense that everyone is a little pissed off that yet again I’ve messed up the start of the day. We set off at the rear of the group to stay out of everyone’s way, but immediately I realise it’s not going to be a great day. I stop after 10 minutes and already the tyre has lost 1 bar of pressure, another stop and another bar has gone. By now I have visions of rapidly deflating tyres and big accidents. Darren, who is tail ender this morning, must be cursing his decision to take the yellow jacket, as I’m so slow. My head is seriously out of sorts, my confidence in pieces, I can’t possibly continue, and even if I did, my pace would disrupt the ride for the whole day, so I made the sensible decision to bail, and told Darren we were stopping and that he and the group should continue without us. His questioning did we really want to stop was appreciated, but I knew he just wanted to get on and enjoy his day, which we had so far ruined, so as Darren set off in pursuit of the group, we turned round, and spent the next 10 minutes riding at a very sedate 80kph, as I struggled to accept the bike didn’t want to kill us. I even stopped for half an hour to calm down, much to Sue’s disgust, as she needed the toilet! Eventually we set off again and stopped at a local bar for lunch, where I was very surprised to find an English woman serving, and most of the customers seemed to be English too! After a break, and some grub from the local bakers shop, we rode down a km down the road, and spent the next hour or so in the grounds of the Chateau de Javarzay watching fish jumping out of the lake, mocking the fisherman sat round the edges.
The phone rang mid afternoon, it was Tony. “Are you ok?” He had phoned home 3 times to check with Violette if we had returned safely, and now both were worried something had happened to us. Assuring him we were ok, we promised to phone Violette, and an hour later we were back at the house. Violette, pleased to see us safe and sound made us a big pot of tea, and spent quite some time explaining to us some of the pitfalls and difficulties of running the business, especially if something happens to one of the group. Unfortunately a couple crashed in the past and they had to deal with the police, hospitals, garages, recovery of the bikes, and a myriad of other important details, all of which took considerable time and effort. The bikes can always be replaced, not so a life!
The group returned at “beer o’clock” and were buzzing and had clearly had a good day. Pleased that we were ok, we pondered how the final day would pan out and how the tyre issue could be fixed?