Sunday, 1 July 2012

Pyrénées and bust

Over the last few years I've ticked a few destinations off my list for biking holidays. 2009 saw me tearing up the Alps, 2011 took me behind the Iron Curtain, and when the chance came up to join a few like minded fools for a trip to the Pyrénées there was no way I was going to say no.

The trip would also give me a chance to try out my new touring tool, a KTM 990 SMT. The trusty gixer thou had done a sterling job but was getting a bit leggy and I was dying to try something with proper luggage. Combine that with a torquey v-twin motor and supermoto handling and you've got something that should be completely at home hooning around the mountains.

Plans crystallised around two destinations: La Noyaraie, a B&B in south west France run by Jen, an ex regular, and her chap James, and the hotel Palazio at Nerín in Spain. With an overnight stop in Le Mans on the way down and a few more stops in Carcassonne, Le Puy-en-Velay and Troyes on the way back, a plan was formed. 2500 miles in ten days. Game on.

Day 1: Wimbledon to Le Mans, 623km

Between the four of us making the trip, none were starting from the same place or using the same channel crossing, so we agreed to meet up in Le Mans for the first night on the continent. I booked us a cheap hotel on the edge of town, found a nearby bar on Streetview, and we were set to go. The four would be me, on the SMT instead of my usual GSXR1000; Champ, on his Hayabusa rather than the usual ZX10R; Preston, on his Cagiva Raptor rather than his MV, and Frag on his ZX10R. Wacky races ahoy!

131km, Folkestone. Next stop, Le Mans.

The ride down to Folkestone was as uneventful as I'd hoped, and on arrival I just had time for a pee before boarding the train to France. No delays, no hassle, and by noon I was on the road and heading south. Autoroute as far as Abbeville, then a detour via Londinieres and Saint-Saens to take in a silly bit of road that I always try to work into a route if I'm in the area. It's a cracking little three dimensional road with a few switchbacks and hairpins that makes a pleasant break from hour after hour of autoroute.

I'd booked the SMT in for its second service just prior to the trip to make sure everything was in tip-top condition.One thing noted during the service was that the rear brake pads were a bit low but "should be OK for a bit". Not ideal when "a bit" needs to be half a service interval worth of miles in the next fortnight alone, and as expected I failed to order any replacements. So my first stop on the trip down was a KTM dealer near Le Mans for a new set of plaquettes du frein. Just as well I'd looked the term up, as the bloke at the dealer spoke no English and my schoolboy French was barely up to the task. Between us we worked things out and I walked out with two pads lifted from an SMT in the showroom, a mere €51 lighter in the wallet. The pads went straight in my tankbag and are still there now, laziness having once again got the better of me.

623km, Le Mans. Time for a beer.

My next stop was a detour via the Le Mans circuit. Since we were in the area, it seemed daft not to put in as much of a lap is possible on open roads. That means just about everything from the start of the Mulsanne Straight to Arnage, before the track heads back away from public roads. A bit like the TT course, but with gravel traps, it was worth seeing, not least as the 24 hour race had been the weekend before and so all the extra furniture was still in place. I had the ghost of Steve McQueen on my shoulder the whole way round.

La Noyeraie was due to be the venue for the Middle Of French Summer Meet, as it was known, equal parts excuse and opportunity for a loose affiliation of people on bikes to meet up, get pissed and talk cobblers over a weekend in the Lot region of France. A few other UKRMers were due to stay at the same hotel in Le Mans on the way down, so we all met up at the pub nearby, talked cobblers and had a few beers before agreeing an 8.30am departure. And then three of us ended up in another bar for a few more drinks, by which point a 7.30am departure seemed like a great idea. Apologies to Frag, we were gone before he even woke up.

Day 2: Le Mans to Rocamadour, 522km

As planned, the three of us were fully loaded at 7.30am and ready to roll. I waved goodbye to a couple of the others as they appeared for breakfast, and we headed for the autoroute to get the last few boring miles of northern France under our belts before the fun started. Just after Chateauroux we picked up the D990 towards Gueret where we stopped for a well deserved lunch in the main square.

Preston had worked out some routes taking in decent roads all the way to Rocamadour and given me the Google Maps references, which I'd then plugged into Garmin Mapsource to produce routes for my satnav. Somewhere in the process things went wonky, as some of the roads used as waypoint markers turned out to be, well, fine fodder for an overgrown supermoto but a bit more challenging on a Hayabusa, not to mention downright treacherous on a Cagiva with bargain bucket suspension. I was having a greate time throwing the SMT about but at times even I was having to stand up on the pegs to relieve the pounding my arse was taking. Stiffening up my suspension at the last service was starting to look like a big mistake. At one point, on a single track road somewhere south of Tulle with barely any surface, I looked in my mirrors and nobody was anywhere to be seen. Champ caught up, pulled alongside and said "Look, I can take a joke as much as anyone..." while I tried to regain composure. Ho ho ho.

1145km, destination reached.

Having given up using the satnav and just aimed for the nearest main road, we arrived at La Noyeraie, desperately in need of a shower. Jen, the owner, had a load of beer in the fridge and was heading off to pick up another slab each, so we dealt with the important bits and headed out to catch the evening sun and talk cobblers for a few more hours, drink industrial quantities of beer and eventually hit the hay.

Day 3: Cahors and Figeac, 198km

We had nothing planned for the next couple of days, so Jen managed to get a pass out for the day and hopped on her bike to lead a convoy to Cahors for a spot of lunch. All started well with a gentle trundle down to Rocamadour proper, and up a twisty road on the other side of the valley. At this point I realised we should have paid a bit more attention which order we'd set off in, as we had a bit of a jumble of quick and slow riders, so I saw a clear chance to get past a slower bike in front and took it. The front few bikes all gathered pace until the first big junction where we stopped to wait for people to catch up. And waited. And waited some more. Eventually a bike appeared, and it was explained that when I'd done my overtake, Frag had decided to do the same and then forgotten to go round the next corner. He eventually showed up with a few fresh scrapes down the side of his bike, no harm done, and we're all looking forward to seeing the video.

40 miles or so later we rocked up in Cahors, parked up in the French fashion (pick a bit of pavement, use it) and got down to the important matter of lunch. Another steak for me, a plate of gizzards for Champ, and beers all round.

Prior to departure, Champ had made sure his ZX10R was fully prepped for the big trip. New tyres, the lot. Then he found out nobody else was taking their big sportsbike, so he took the Busa instead. By this point it was becoming clear that its rear tyre wasn't going to last as far as Spain, let alone home, so some ringing around was done by locals on his behalf and a fresh hoop was found in Figeac. He nipped off ahead to find his tyre while we took a more leisurely route along the river, picking up WavyDavy along the way who took the lead to Figeac. We arrived at the dealer in Figeac to find Champ trying not to watch the French spanner monkey who was looking baffled by the back end of the Busa. Eventually he worked out which bit went in which hole and we set off back towards Rocamadour.

15 miles later, emerging from a sweeping bend onto a straight I noticed a distinct lack of Busa in my mirrors. Turning back, expecting to see a bike in a ditch, we instead found Champ looking distinctly unimpressed at a rear brake caliper seized onto its disc and a dent in the swingarm brace. The tyre monkey had failed to tighten the torque arm bolt sufficiently and it had made a bid for freedom, the resulting combination of wonky caliper and disc being no match for a Busa's engine. Champ drained a bit of fluid to relieve the pressure and unseize the caliper. Preston then produced a mini tie down strap that held the caliper and torque arm together long enough to do the last five miles back to the house, where it was replaced with a spare bolt from the toolbox.


With the excitement over, Jen led us up the road to the local ice cream parlour, which specialises in milk from its own goats. Near silence fell as everyone slurped and munched their way through cold, sweet goaty goodness. Then back to the house for more beer, an endless barbecue and distribution of yellow hats.

With Champ's rear tyre replacd, I started to look at mine with suspicion. It'd seemed a bit low before I'd left, but I thought it might last the trip. By this point it was becoming clear I was wrong, but there's not much you can do about that on a Sunday in France (or even a Monday) so we had nothing much to do except sit around in the sun, burning to a crisp.

Another day of busy roads and bad weather

By lunchtime I was starting to think that not bringing any sun cream had been a bad idea, so took the drastic move of wearing a long sleeve tshirt with shorts when I popped out for fuel and a spot of sightseeing in Rocamadour with Preston. Another trip up the road for ice cream followed, and we had a quiet evening at the house with Jen, James and a multitude of dogs, since everyone else had aleady gone. An early night was needed, not least because I looked like a beetroot, and we had another long day coming up.

Day 5: Rocamadour to Nerín, 472km

Another early start and we were on the road heading for Spain. One of my criteria for choosing my new touring bike was the ability to take hard luggage and every morning I was thankful all I had to do was go clunk clunk lock lock rather than dick about with bungees and straps as I had with soft luggage on the gixer.

For this leg of the trip we'd learnt from earlier mistakes and gone over the route carefully with a set of paper maps and Google Streetview to check that the roads were were going to do were suitable for the bikes. I was game for just about anything but Champ had other views, his barge being less agile than my overgrown supermoto. A quick stop for a croque monsieur and some cash in Auch and soon we were taking on fuel with mountains visible over the horizon. It's always a special moment on a trip when the mountains come into view for the first time. It's where the long ride starts to feel like it has a purpose.

1716km, Col du Soulor. That was bloody hard work.

We did a quick one-junction dash down the péage past Lourdes, where Champ was again charged for a car while the rest of us paid the bike rate, and after a couple of villages we were onto the D126, picked by Preston to get us into the mountains. This had looked OK on Streetview but turned out to be a fairly ludicrous little road along a valley floor too narrow to accommodate both lanes on the same side of the river. The road then took us up a pass used on the Tour du France route, the Col du Soulor. Tight, twisty, steep and with no runoff whatsoever, it was a hard work on a bike with luggage and a knackered rear tyre, even one as agile as the SMT. Eventually we made it to the top where the cool air contrasted with the scorching sun. Even the sheep were using every available inch of shade, whether it was caused by a building, a car or a coach full of tourists.

1800km. Spain. Scorchio

Once over the pass we picked up the main road and headed up again towards the Spanish border. As soon as we were over the top the character of the ride changed. The tarmac improved, the wind picked up and, naturally, there was a general sense of being in Spain rather than France. The road leading down towards Biescas is wide, sweeping and glorious to ride. I was glad I'd decided to play sensible in 50 and 70 limits on this trip as the first few towns were visibly policed and I immediately saved a few Euros by sticking to the rules in town.

At Biescas we turned off the main road and onto the N260 to Broto. Even with a shot rear tyre this was a near perfect swooping combination of smooth surface and varied bends through the valley. It was also hot. Seriously hot, as the temperature sign in Biescas showed over 30 degrees in the shade, and that was at around 1000m. We were all getting tired from the long ride and the heat so, when we turned onto the HU631 at Sarvisé, the rough surface and near constant switchbacks and hairpins meant both Champ and I agreed it was a bit too technical for the end of the day.

Once at the hotel it was time for the usual sequence of shower, beer and dinner before hitting the hay. We were, in a word, knackered.

Day 6: Tyre shopping in Huesca, 261km

My rear tyre was starting to have a serious effect on handling, and Champ was in need of a new front to go with the rear he'd picked up in Figeac a few days earlier. Plans were hatched to have a leisurely morning and then head to Huesca, where a couple of friends had found us a dealer with hoops in stock. Huesca was 80 miles away on wiggly little roads, but needs must.

1850km, An intolerable prospect

The tyre place would be closed between 1pm and 3pm, so we had a leisurely morning and set off around 1pm when the sun was at its highest. Having done the road from the west, we headed east to find the main road. If the road from Sarvisé had been technical, the road further east was just ridiculous, as we headed deep into the Ordesa national park. Champ had wanted to try out the SMT for the whole trip but observed that I wouldn't want to ride the Busa instead, and nowhere was that more true than when we passed the signs saying the road surface in the park was no longer maintained after Winter. A combination of broken tarmac and gravel for about twenty miles, I was glad I wasn't on my gixer, let alone his Busa.

Once on the main road south, everything changed as we enjoyed a series of fast, sweeping bends for mile after mile, slowing only for towns and villlages. The Spanish way of dealing with speeding is quite ingenious: before each town there's a speed trap and, depending on the measurement, a set of traffic lights at the edge of town either flash amber or turn red. Instant punishment, minimum hassle. I noticed a day later that locals treat these lights with contempt as, when we triggered a set, a van we'd just overtaken went straight past us at the red light as if it wasn't there. Still, nice idea.

Wandering lonely

The temperature continued to soar as we dropped out of the mountains and, by the time we arrived in Huesca where it was 36 degrees in the shade, we were both sweating profusely in our riding gear. When we arrived we found they'd allowed themselves an extra half hour for luncch, so went to pick up fuel and vast quantities of water. Half an hour later we were back at the tyre place where a friendly chap interrupted my terrible Spanish with his passable English and sorted us out. We were told to come back in half an hour to collect the bikes, so popped to a bar round the corner for a cold beer while waiting.

Nothing highlights differing economies like the price of beer: what was €3 in France was just over €1 in Spain. While sitting in the bar we caught the news on TV which explained that the weather we were experiencing was unusual even for Spain, being caused by wind from north Africa, hot enough to cause the tarmac to melt in Madrid.

Forty minutes or so later we were back at the tyre place where my rear was just being fitted to the SMT and Champ's bike was untouched. As suspected, we should have allowed a Spanish half hour, not an English one. After another 90 minutes we were all sorted and headed back to the hotel. We'd originally planned not to do the same road from Sarvisé to Nerín, but the alternative we'd used on the way to Huesca was so bad we opted to go via the more direct route north to Biescas where the temperature sign now showed 40 degrees.

Oh what a difference a tyre makes! For the first few miles it was like riding on marbles but soon the tyres started to scrub in and we could feel grip increasing by the minute. Having relied mostly on the big v-twin's engine braking for the trip so far, I started to make serious use of the astonishing front brakes as the engine braking wasn't going to be enough at these speeds. By Biescas we both firmly had our race faces on and the ride from there to Broto was about the most aggressive riding I've ever done in my life and almost certainly the most exciting. The SMT's handling had been completely transformed and I was throwing the bike into bends like it was shod with the slicks I'd seen (and briefly considered) on the shelf in Huescas.

The crap road from from Sarvisé to Nerín was, in contrast to the day before, a hundred different kinds of awesome and we both arrived back at the hotel with big grins, scrubbed tyres and a thirst for cold beer. 2000km down, we'd made good use of our spare day in the mountains, which was rounded off with another good meal and an early night before the start of the long ride home.

Day 7: Nerín via Andorra to Carcassonne, 443km

This was to be our big day in the mountains. Cutting across Aragón and Catalonia to Andorra, using only minor roads, which typically start as large sweeping dual carriageways near the main roads, and gradually dwindle to tight, twisty roads when they get into the valleys or up into the mountains. With the new tyre the SMT was in perfect form and I was looking forward to a day of Making Progress.

2223km, sometimes I feel like I'm a mountain goat leading a herd of cattle.

We retraced our steps back to Sarvisé and picked up the remainder of the road from Biescas, heading East. The ride across Aragón was mostly winding valleys and gorges where the agility of the SMT continued to pay dividends. I waved Champ and Preston ahead to play pathfinder but, after a bit of cat and mouse where I let them build up a lead and then reeled them in, I started to get a bit bored and was itching to give it some proper welly. Having ridden round the outside of Preston on a hairpin Champ waved me past and I took off like a scalded cat to the next junction. None of it due to my ability, all of it due to the SMT's handling and ability to soak up the road surface. The magic of being on the right bike in the right place at the right time. When it's good, it's very, very good.

2358km, maximum lean angle defined by feet, then panniers.

Entering Catalonia the roads changed a little and, rather than winding along the valleys, we started to go over the top. For the first time on the trip we were over 2000m and the cool air was a blessing after the sweltering heat at lower altitudes. Preston was clearly in his element as he shot past me on the way up one side of a pass. I was happy to let him go, having found the first limit on the SMT as my feet started to touch down mid corner. And then, exiting a corner, the bike started to misbehave. Winding on the power, all of a sudden the engine cut out, the FI warning light came on, and the bike spluttered back to life. This continued for a bit and I had to significantly back off the pace and let the Champ and Preston run off ahead. While annoying, the change in pace was almost rather relaxing and I had a chance to take in the scenery, rather than just trying not to become part of it. We stopped for some water and a few photos at the top of the pass, then pressed on to Andorra. At this point Frag decided to make his own way as his wrist was playing up and if it's not fun it's not worth the effort.

Dropping down for the southern approach to Andorra, the temperature rose again and by the time we were in Andorra la Vella itself both the SMT and I were getting seriously uncomfortable. At one point, while moving in traffic, the bike hit maximum temperature and the dash lit up like a christmas tree. Short of stopping and letting it cool down for a bit there was nothing I could do, and as luck would have it we were about to stop for lunch.

Andorra in summer is, frankly, pretty horrible. Hot, tacky, busy and with all the trappings of a tax haven, if it hadn't been for the desire to tick another country off the list I wouldn't have bothered going there at all. But a list is a list, and much like Liechtenstein the year before I was there because, well, it was there. A quick pint and some tapas allowed the bike to cool down and before long we were on the road again climing north towards France. Suddenly the climb ended and we were winding down a series of hairpins on the steep drop towards the border. In an instant Andorra was behind us and we finished the gradual descent towards Ax-les-Thermes.

The bike was still misbehaving and I was starting to suspect chronic fuel starvation, most likely due to clogged fuel filters. I was just thinking I'd be OK so long as there were no more steep climbs and then as I turned right at a roundabout I noticed I was about to head up another pass. By this point Champ and Preston were far ahead, so I took my time and tried to avoid getting annoyed while riding up the pass to the plateau above where I found the others waiting.

My pace was suffering, but as we were riding as a group I led the way for a bit. Coming over a crest on a dead straight road, a couple of miles in the distance, I could a dark spot by the side of the road. Still the size of a pinprick, it looked a little like a dark car sitting at a side turning but not pulling out, so I backed off the speed a bit - despite being short on acceleration the bike could still cruise at speed. My caution was rewarded when it turned out to be a couple of gendarmes running a speed trap, and our trip remained unusually free from legal hassle.

2595km, Carcassonne. Absolutely shattered. And it's *hot*!

Traffic increased as we approached the city itself and with panniers fitted to the bike I had little choice but to sit and swelter in the heat. The base layer under my bike kit was soaked in sweat and it felt like I was sitting in a warm bath, so once in the city I gave up and started to squeeze through gaps, knowing that a cool shower and a cold beer would be only minutes away.

Post-shower I laid down on the bed and instantly felt like my arms and legs had turned into lead weights. Absolutely knackered, somewhat dehydrated and, worst of all, completely sober, it was a struggle to get back up, get dressed and go and find the others for dinner. A couple of Champ's friends happened to be in the area so we walked up to the citadel to find them and somewhere to eat. Arriving in the evening, the bulk of the tourists were gone and the shops closed, and it was quite a nice place to be - I'm due to be back there in a couple of months and I'm looking forward to it.

Dinner over, one final beer and it was back to the hotel to find I'd forgotten to leave the air conditioning on and the room was, to borrow a phrase, hotter than a pepper sprout. Fortunately exhaustion got the better of me and I was out like a light. We had yet another long day ahead of us.

Day 8: Carcassonne to Le Puy-en-Velay, 359km

I'd tracked down a KTM dealer in Castres, just north of Carcassonne and not far from our planned route for the day, so set off early to see if I could get the SMT sorted out while the others caught me up a bit later. Arriving outside the dealer as they were due to open at 9am I found the shutters down but a couple of bikes parked outside with warm engines, suggesting somebody was about. After a few minutes another customer pulled up and I chatted (surprisingly well) in broken French with her about our trip so far. Come 9.30am the shutters opened and I went inside to try and explain the problem.

After a difficult chat with the mechanic, a delightful and helpful woman from the office out back appeared to help translate for me. Between us we managed to describe the symptoms and the mechanic took the bike for a spin to reproduce the problem. Alas, no joy - while easy to reproduce it was impossible to pinpoint without me staying there all day, and I had somewhere to get to. They were unwilling to start taking things apart in case it caused further problems, so I loaded back up, said thanks anyway, and waited outside for the others to arrive.

2802km, Millau. Corner speed is all I have left and I'm not giving it up for anyone.

Once regrouped we headed for Millau, stopping in Saint-Affrique for a bite to eat and a bit of shade. Near Millau the number of GB plates increased dramatically as we neared tourist country and two of the big attractions, the Millau viaduct and the Gorge du Tarn. The bridge is, as expected, big. No, scratch that, it's fucking enormous. We pulled in at the visitor centre long enough to take a few snaps in the car park and chat with a bloke on an F800 who was travelling solo. From there we trundled through Millau and into the gorge.

It was hot. Crazy hot. While riding slowly through one of the villages at the start of the gorge I unzipped my jacket to let some air flow through (windproof clothing is great when it's cold but not so good when you need a breeze) and promptly caught up with a wasp, collecting it arse-first with my chest. Ouch! I pulled over and started stripping off to make sure the little fucker wasn't still inside my clothing, which gave us another chance to down some water and cool off in the shade for a few minutes. And then into the gorge proper. I was having to work hard to keep the others in sight on the ailing SMT but the road was great, twisting along next to the river. Eventually we hung a left and took a tight, hairpin-heavy road out of the gorge and broke out onto some sweeping bends on the plateau at the top. From there to Le Puy we took the N88, a fast, scenic road straight out of god's own route-planner.

With 2993km on the clock we rolled into Le Puy, checked in to the hotel and got on with the important business of beer, wine and dinner. This was to be our last night as a group, everyone having different routes planned for the journey home. As trips go, it'd been pretty magnificent.

Day 9: Le Puy to Troyes, 471km

From Le Puy, Frag had intended to head East into Italy and break his Alpine virginity, but the trip was starting to wear him down so he decided to head straight home instead. Preston was aiming for an overnight stop in Orléans and Champ was booked into the same hotel as me in Troyes, so the three of us set off together with a plan to split up at Nevers. The first 40 miles or so was tough going on the SMT. As we headed north, the volume of traffic increased and with limited power I was finding it hard to keep up with the others without doing stupid overtakes with no margin of safety. So when we stopped for coffee and a snack it was with a heavy heart that I told the others to go on ahead while I nursed the wounded beast to Troyes alone.

Within minutes it was clear I'd made the right choice. As soon as I was able to ride at a pace that suited the bike, no longer holding the others up, my mood lifted and I started to enjoy the ride again. Riding in a group is good fun if you're all at the same pace, gives that feeling of flying in formation, and provides some company at stops, but does mean you have to compromise a little. Riding alone means you can stop when and where you like, at what feels like the perfect pace, and the only person you're ever waiting for is yourself.

Stopping at Moulins for fuel I nipped in to a Carrefour to pick up a souvenir from the trip: a can of Confit du Canard. Another bonus of decent luggage is extra space - with a near-empty topbox I had plenty of room for crap acquired along the way, so the can went in with a few extra supplies and I hit the road again.


Northern France isn't known for its amazing roads and the further north I went the more boring it got. Twisty roads through hills and valleys were replaced by dead straight lines that dipped and rose as they crossed the landscape. And with the tedium came the caravans. As I tweeted at the time, I don't know what it is about the fucking Dutch and their fucking caravans and the fucking N151 but it was like a convoy of slow-moving mobile chicanes.

By Clamecy, 3360km into the trip, I was ready for a break so stopped for a coffee. The temperature had dropped to 22 degrees which, after 40 plus further south, felt downright chilly in comparison. I grabbed a coffee at one of those French peculiarities, a combined newsagent, tobacconist, bar and gambling den. If it only had a brothel upstairs they'd have all the major vices under one roof. But alas, no, in the absence of a ten quid hand shandy a coffee would have to do. I was on the bike again in short order and finished the ride to Troyes.

Arriving at the hotel I found a text message from Champ saying he'd beaten me there by two hours and was heading north to give himself a shorter ride the next day. Clearly he got a wiggle on, as he made it as far as Calais and was home that night. Meanwhile I checked in, cooled down, then hopped on the bike for a look around Troyes proper. All French towns seem to put English towns to shame for urban planning, and Troyes was no exception. There are some cracking old wonky buildings in the town centre and it's back on my list of places to visit at some point.

The hotel had a separate restaurant which seemed pretty popular and was, frankly, bloody good. They specialise in regional dishes which, being Troyes, mostly means andouille. For the uninitiated that's chitterlings, or pig's innards. Tripe, and all that implies. With my French not quite being up to the task of reading the menu I almost accidentally ordered pig's trotters til I came to my senses. At the table next to me, somebody asked the waiter what andouille is. Despite his rather accurate description, she still ordered it, and when combined with the fish her companion was eating the aroma prompted me to leg it as soon as I'd finished my coffee and head to my room for an early  night. French cuisine, surely the finest in the world.

Day 10: Troyes to (nearly) home, 565km

One of the handy things about the tunnel is that you can turn up any time two hours either side of your booked crossing and they'll put you on the next available train, if space is available. Given the lack of space needed for a bike (they always stuff us on in the last carriage) that means an early crossing is always available. With that in mind, an knowing that I wanted to get the bike back to my local dealer before closing time, I abandoned any thoughts of sightseeing on the way home from Troyes and headed straight for Calais.

Stopping only for fuel on the way, and a coffee on the autoroute near Cambrai, I took a beeline on D roads as far as St-Quentin and picked up the A26 autoroute. Despite lacking power the bike was comfortable at 160km/h and I was at Coquelles early enough to get a crossing two hours early. Good fortune had me sent to a lane that was already open and straight onto a train half an hour earlier than that, so by 1.30pm UK time I was off the train at Folkestone and on the M20.

Rather than heading straight home, I figured I might as well head to the KTM dealer in Croydon first and discuss the bike's problem with them. Having arrived there, I realised there was no point riding back to Wimbledon, dumping my stuff, then riding back to Croydon and getting a tram home, so I phoned the doris, asked her to drive over and pick me up and left the bike there.

So, not the ending I was hoping for on this trip. As mentioned above, when the bike's good, it's very, very good. When it's bad, it's awful. Apart from that, it was 4081km of stunning roads, outstanding scenery, good company and scorching weather.

They'd better get that bike fixed quickly. In three weeks' time I'm off to Belgium.


  1. Great to see you and glad you had an amazing trip, and fantastic read! Although sorry to hear of your KTM woes! Hope you get the bike fixed soon & next time you're here I'll find some more KTM routes...

  2. Nicely done.

    Despite it sounding like I whinged a bit about the 'busa, I still think it's an awesome bike. It's sensitive to worn tyres, but on fresh rubber you can throw it around like a bike half its size. And, when you absolutely, positively, have to be 650 miles away today, then accept no substitute - it got me the 530ish miles to Calais (only the last 200 on motorway), and then 120 miles home, and, while not exactly fresh as a daisy, I didn't feel bad at all. Just a bit jet-lagged.

  3. Nice write-up, wish I could have come with. Love that part of France, know it well; Millau is only about an hour North of my Aunt & Uncle's gaff :s

  4. Nice..... sounds like it was as warm as our weather, just without the earthquake and hoards of british tourists..... never again.... ! (But it was a free holiday for me so never being one to look a gifthorse in the mouth etc etc). I think last time I did the road up through the GDT we stopped half way along where they had dammed the river and all jumped in for a swim as it was so hot. Lovely part of the world.