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!!!
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.