You’re brave taking that abroad…Belgi 2022
‘You’re brave taking that abroad’ commented the BMW 1200RS rider as we waited at the ferry terminal. I puffed out my chest and waxed lyrical about how reliable bikes from the 80’s are…little did I know what lay ahead.
The trip to the Belgian Laverda meet was our first post covid trip to the Continent. A nice 1,000 km re-introduction which would see us stay with friends in The Netherlands (Mierlo) take a day trip to the rally near Hoogstraten then end up with friends at Mouscron (Belgian/French border) before heading home. With a freshly rebuilt Jota what could possibly go wrong?
The ride down to Dover was great. Clear roads (even the M20, infamous as a Brexit truckstop), clear skies and comfy ride (Mrs A was happy so we’re all happy). The rear Falcon shocks are of particular note – soaking up the bumps, no jarring just the steady feel of the rebound working its magic. The Mikuni flatslide carbs’ give smooth throttle openings (no doubt helped by the Ignitek ignition) and also extend the tank range by at least 20% meaning Dover without a fuel stop.
Preparation had been squeezed a little by other things in the diary. Along the way I’d learned that to adjust the Falcon’s you have to loosen the silencers as they get in the way of C spanners or the lower mounting bolt if you wanted to take this out. I had to find a way round the cracked oil cooler and initially was going to fit a unit off a ‘73/4 3C I was loaned until I found the engine unions don’t work on an ‘81 model. Fortunately I’d got the the failed oil cooler welded up so could go back to original. I still had a nagging doubt however so at the last minute I visited my local hydraulic specialist to get a oil cooler ‘link pipe’ made up just in case…
Riding off the DFDS ferry at Dunkirk (we’re boycottiing P&O since they replaced the workforce with poor buggers on less than £5 an hour…thought slave ships only existed in history) the weather was wet and windy. We had to detour due to road closures and this took us past the pitiful migrant camps down in the woods – wretched. I took my time to get used to riding on the right and settled in to battle down the E19 while revelling in memories of starting many journeys down this road and enjoying the change in language. Everything is familiar and yet different. Mrs A’s waterproofs gave up within 30 kms but we just gritted our teeth and headed toward Antwerp.
Antwerp was a traffic nightmare – gridlock! I’m an experienced London commuter but this was tough especially with heavy rain. We laboured in 1st and 2nd for 30 kms before the traffic thinned and we were able to get back up to our 130 kph cruising speed. We had planned to call into the rally but decided we should just press on for Mierlo. I got tailgated by a Dutch SUV so pulled left and gave him the finger as he sailed past and then as I returned to normal duty the bike coughed – we were onto reserve but a glance in the mirror also showed a trail of blue smoke. Shit!
We were fortunate to be by an exit so left the dual carriageway and rolled to a halt. I put my right foot down to find it covered in oil. If I’d attempted to get off I’d have likely slipped over so Mrs A pushed me down a slope and I came to a halt in a gravel pull in by an isolated house. The oil cooler had cracked its right hand union (I’d had the left one welded) and shat itself! Lucky I had a pipe to fix this but of course no oil.
So middle of nowhere in the rain with a busted bike. Why is this so familiar…but in once sense having trodden this route many times before we just got on with problem solving. The weekend wasn’t wasted yet.
A lady appeared from the house. I could leave the Jota behind a locked gate until the morning. We were both shivering but got a call into Rene who arrived in the hour to whisk us off to Mierlo. Next day we ended up in Halford’s to get 3 litres of classic 20/50 motor oil and by noon the link pipe had been installed the oil cooler removed and the rear tyre made safe! I gave myself a pat on the back for ensuring I had a contingency…
We’d been lucky on a number of counts. First off running out of fuel caused me to see the smoke. In the dark this is ain’t so easy and had I not seen it we’d have been off at the first corner! We also had the failure near an exit – another kilometre would have seen us by the side of a wet, dark and very busy dual carriageway. If the cooler had failed in the traffic chaos of Antwerp I’m not sure how we’d have got by. And of course we had Rene to come to our aid!
As you know the first triples didn’t have an oil cooler so removing this isn’t a big deal, especially as it’s autumn. I sourced a further litre of oil from Ad at the rally but the engine wasn’t using oil so no problem. The upside was that despite continued showers throughout the trip the thin coating of oil across the bike ensured I wasn’t going to have to worry about rust!
Rene rolled his RGS out into the autumn sun and together we headed off to the rally at Achtel, near Hoogstraten. The Jota sounded and was running good. Rene rode around the bike checking for oil or smoke and gave me the ‘thumbs up’. It was good to be at the rally catching up with old friends – covid has denied me this pleasure for too long.
There was an interesting selection of Laverda – sidecar 3C, half a dozen SF twins (including an SFC) an Atlas, 120 Jota, RGA fully faired Sprint Jota some series 1 triples including a ‘racer’ but mine was the only orange/silver Jota…if this was the UK there’d be a field full of ‘em!
With every kilometre my confidence in the oil cooler ‘fix’ increased so the ride back to Mierlo was a little more lively albeit on slower minor roads. Belgium has a 70 kph speed limit on these minor roads and these are enforced by what I discovered are numerous average speed cameras. Maybe they were turned off as I’m still waiting for a letter to hit the doormat!
Sunday morning we left Mierlo headed for Mouscron via a pit stop back at the Laverda rally in Achtel. By 10:45 most were gone and the site was being cleared. We enjoyed coffee and then hit the road. Antwerp was clear and sailed through on the E40 and turned off for Mouscron.
Willy and his wife Dominique were giving us a bed for the night. We were joined for the afternoon/evening by Pascale, the late Christian Houpline’s partner. Christian died during the pandemic so the opportunity to pay our respects had been put on hold. Christian is buried in the family grave at Tourcoing which we all visited and raised a glass. Christian looked after everyone in the LCF and was especially welcoming to British riders. Standing in front of his grave remembering all the good times was tough and yet at the same time made me feel we’d honoured a friend. The evening was fun and communication flowed via a translation app – first I can plug the Jota into a laptop to check the ignition curve now I can speak fluent French like I’m in an episode of Star Trek! Crazy…
Monday was a lazy day as our ferry was at 18:00. The Jota seemed happy and we meandered over to Ypres for lunch and then on towards Dunkirk. Finding a cafe near Dunkirk wasn’t working so with food on board we decided to head for the port and just kill time waiting for the ferry. The check in process, even the border control was serene but what was better was the ferry hadn’t left and we were waved onto the 16:00 – two hours ahead of schedule.
The sea was calm and the ferry not full so we lay out on chairs gently dozing to the rhythm of the Queen’s final journey up to Windsor castle. I’m no royalist (yep, I know that’s a surprise) but this marked the end of an era for sure. Maybe this trip also marked the end of an era for me and Mrs A.
If we put to one side the miserable outward leg, the rain, the cold, the standing about covered in oil, the stress of finding fresh 20/50 on the Monday we had time to just relax, something we’d always thought might be possible now work didn’t demand a 9:00 Monday morning start. We’d been allowed a little peep inside that box and perhaps the future looks good.
Twisted cranks, rain and chasing trophies – Scottish National Rally 2022
The Scottish National Road Rally (SNRR) is the final round of the ‘Three Nations Challenge’. As with the Welsh the rally has been adopted by the ACU post covid. Of the three rallies the SNRR can be the most challenging cos I have to ride 600 miles to make the start but also because Scottish weather can be more extreme…
You can ride over 2 days in the SNRR and achieve a full award. You can also qualify for The Three Nations just by doing one day and 150 miles to get a Daytime Chrome. We aimed a bit higher than this by planning a Daytime Bronze or possibly Silver by incorporating a lunchtime stop with Laverdisti friends from Inverness. The target therefore was to get to Findhorn. What I hadn’t really thought through though was that whilst it was a 200+ mile ride to Findhorn that also meant a 200+ ride back to base. The grim truth of a 500 mile ride in a day dawned on me (and more importantly Mrs A) as we chatted over dinner on the eve of the rally. The weather forecast was ‘showers’….
The Jota was waiting in Glasgow having been diagnosed with a twisted crank courtesy of the hydraulic lock caused by petrol leaking into the cylinders. Remarkably this was going to fixed in two days by a Scottish wizard so Mrs A and I drove to Glasgow planning to ride the rally. The plan was for her to drive home and me to follow on the bike after the head was torqued. A simple plan…
The Jota sounded glorious and ran well. We were staying with the Scottish wiz’ and his partner so before we sat down for dinner he took it for a test ride. Some time later he walked in having broken down at the bottom of the lane – it just required the ignition spinner to be tweaked. Lucky it happened before the rally and with an expert on hand!
We wanted to be on the road at 6 am so I catnapped during the night. I woke up at 4:30 to hear rain lashing down and it was still lashing down at 6 am as we wobbled into the morning gloom headed for our first checkpoint, Morrisons supermarket at Paisley.
Putting on waterproofs and riding out into the pissing rain never puts me in a good mood, especially at 6 am. The Jota however started like an excited puppy and the ride to Paisley was straightforward. However what wasn’t so straightforward was getting the rally phone app to work. I’m not a great lover of the idea of phone apps but I’d used this app on the Welsh rally and it worked fine. This time however I couldn’t log on. Probably my fault as I was tired and a little cranky (sic) and when I had to access my hotmail to find the access code I was already losing the will to live… Instead of the app we decided to take pictures as proof. I had a road book with the locations listed but when I looked realised I hadn’t packed it (actually I had put it on the porch that morning but forgot to pick it up…it was pulping nicely). All was not lost the SNRR organisers had given very precise co-ordinates which I’d used as waypoints tho’ still had to remember what I was supposed to be taking photographs of!
We got to the second checkpoint (Bird of Prey Centre) and then headed for Tarbet. At Tarbet my memory started to fail. I went to the SNRR webpage but this was showing incorrect information. It was still pissing it down, it was cold and miserable I was starting to lose it (infact I doubt I’d ever ‘had it’).
This is when company is helpful. I was close to quitting but Mrs A calmed me down and raised my spirits with squares of chocolate. Had she known how close I was to quitting and therefore how close she was to a hot shower and duvet day I’m not sure the chocolate squares would’ve been handed out. I was demoralised but how much worse to be cold and wet and looking at another 400 miles on pillion…
The first three checkpoints were only 25 miles apart but now we had a 40 mile ride to a petrol station at Killin. Following a satnav blindly is never good but even worse with low visability and sketchy wet roads. The slow speeds were also putting weight on wrists via Jota bars which also made me focus on how heavy the clutch, throttle and brakes are – once you go down the ‘pit of despair’ rabbit hole it’s really difficult to see any good.
We arrived at The Guix Lix Toll petrol station (Killin) checkpoint and got in under the pump awning for shelter. We acknowledged another rallist staring at his phone app. and I thought we might exchange a few pleasantries. Not at a bit of it – stared at his phone intently, pressed a few buttons and then got on his bland UJM and disappeared into the gloom. It’s the modern way – we don’t need to talk to each other…We grabbed a handful of diesel gloves only to be told to shift the bike as it was blocking the only working pump. The passengers in the transit cab just looked at us with a vacant stare which asked ‘why are these idiots out in the rain on an old bike. Are they supposed to be having fun?’ Just as quickly as we connected they disconnected and went back to vacantly looking at their phones…
With the rain still lashing down we headed off to Dunkeld. Things got worse as the size of the road shrunk which combined with the weather made riding the Jota a pretty joyless experience.
At Dunkeld we had a brief chat with a German tourist who seemed bewildered to be walking round a sodden Scottish village looking at yet another crusty building when to his delight a Laverda came in to view. He was talking on about his friends bike and how it moved on it’s own on the stand ticking over. I couldn’t get excited but I bet that was all he talked about on his miserable coach journey back to the hotel…
The rain and cold was really starting to mess with my head, At Dunkeld we’d taken a photo at a red phone box and then at Calvine we did it again,,,that can’t be right (it wasn’t we should have taken a photograph of a fountain at Dunkeld)!
Our lunch appointment at Findhorn was getting tight so we decided to save the final two checkpoints and head straight to meet Richard and Jenny. We arrived ten minutes late. I was cold but dry…Mrs A on the other hand had been wet for the past six hours! As we parked up a chap came over to tell me that he owned a Jota too – I couldn’t blame Mrs A for just heading to the warmth of the restaurant and leaving me to smile at the chap’s enthusiasm.
I finally made my excuses and headed for the restaurant. Richard and Jenny looked immaculate and warm. The heating in their Merc’ had worked a treat. Mrs A sat with an expression that said she’d accessed a primeval survival instinct along with a deep disdain for her husband. It reminded me of the look she’d given me at the birth of each of our children… This was the lowest point but the restaurant served up a grand lunch and then the sun came out. Findhorn is a charming fishing harbour with seals taking in the views off the end of the spit. It would’ve been easy to let the afternoon get away with us but with lunch over it was time to knock off the final two checkpoints before heading for home.
Forres was easy and the final leg to Ballindalloch a delight as the satnav took us over the Banffshire hills – a road that I’d decided to avoid on the Jota because it looked too small on the map. All the checkpoints checked off there was the small matter of 200 miles home.
We had a celebratory drink at Aviemore whilst being soothed by a lone piper then settled down to the monotony of the A9…
Having left base at 6:00 am we rolled in 475 miles later at 22:00. The Jota hadn’t missed a beat but it’d been a real test for me and Mrs A. All worth it to bag a Bronze Daytime Award and so complete the Three Nations – well not quite. Going through the checkpoints showed that we’d missed the prehistoric stones at Aveimore so gained just a Daytime Chrome. Sadly you only needed to cover 150 miles for this – we’d have been finished by lunch if we’d known. Adopting an approach of ‘what you don’t know can’t hurt’ seemed wise as we turned out the light and drifted off dreaming about what a great day we’d had…..
A helping hand from Bologna: National Road Rally 2022
So all set for maybe the easiest National Road Rally (NRR) ever! Freshly rebuilt Jota, satnav, tankbag full of snacks and the simple matter of 300 odd miles to bag a ‘Daytime Gold’. I’d mistakenly entered the NRR twice and rather than getting a refund I decided on two Daytime Awards – Saturday would be a Gold with the Jota and Sunday a Bronze on the Turismo. With fine weather what could possibly go wrong?
I decided that as riding 300 miles on the Jota was easy I wouldn’t try and make matters more complicated by not using a satnav and so I thundered down to my first Checkpoint at Hungerford. I was met by a couple of chaps on vintage scooters – part of the same posse I’d met the previous year on the Turismo. 9:00 arrived and off I thundered towards Devizes. Great roads, light traffic and good weather.
Devizes arrived and my first problem – the ring holding the ignition barrel had unscrewed. Something of nothing, easily tightened and I was off again with the Jota running strong. The bike had a new rear tyre due to bottoming out the old one and the wayward high speed handling reported by the engine man seemed to have gone.
I was looking forward to riding out as far as Lynmouth on the North Devon coast before turning for home and everything was going to plan. An ignorant Audi SUV wouldn’t pull over on the A303 towards Yeovil and the speedo read 100 mph (surely not a true reading officer…) and with that Checkpoint ticked I was headed for Taunton and slowed for the roundabout to join the A358 and that’s when the noise started!
The noise is a whine or a whirr like a chain is too tight. The bike is running great but the noise when up and down with the engine revs? I consulted the engine man who told me not to ride it for fear of doing more damage. The AA man shrugged and said he didn’t know anything about bikes and after using his 17mm spanner to see if loosening off the primary chain would cure it (it didn’t) the Jota was destined to return home on a trailer…
Of course it started to rain so I rode a mile back down the A358 and took cover at a shite service area. The Jota drew lots of admiring looks and I had a good natter to a Harley M8 Fatboy owner who commiserated.
Having broken down at 12:30 I’d had plenty of time to think through a plan to save something out of the day. To keep it Italian my daughter’s 600 Ducati Monster was wheeled out and ridden to Oxford to bag another Checkpoint to just get me over the line to a Chrome Daytime Award…the minimal award possible. I later heard that the scooter boys had achieved ‘Gold’. So much for the mighty Jota!
Feeling tired and fed up I decided to leave the Turimo in the shed on the Sunday and take the Ducati. Pathetic but I wasn’t feeling it and just wanted a trouble free ride (amazing I selected a ’94 Ducati over a 2012 Honda if this was my ambition…).
The Ducati turned in a great day’s riding – even the low speed misfire caused by super unleaded worked itself through! I still aimed for Bronze and used the satnav which meant my visit to Sammy Millers’ excellent museum and ‘Italian Day’ was quite possible.
It was a little hard to see all these orange/silver Jotas but hey that’s life I guess. Lucky buggers! However a few highlights are shown below:
Interesting 1200 running 35mm forks along with gusseted rear engine plates. I’m sure there’s a good story to be told about this bike. Sweet.
A very nice looking Jarama sporting Jota rearsets. You don’t see many Jarama these days – guess they’ve all magically turned into a Jota!
Where else can you have your chat over a coffee and pastry interrupted by a Guzzi V8!
My favourite bike – what a cool thing this is!
And so there it was the Ducati rolled on home. A great bike over shadowed by its 900cc brother. You can take it nice and steady or if you prefer run it through the gears only to realise that all that work and you’re still only at 70 mph and in no danger of losing your license.
Like so many things covid has impacted on these rallies. The NRR no longer allows you to ride through the night or has manned checkpoints and common finishing point. The consequence of this is you can ride all day and not speak to anyone. Also like I did you can just break down and still get an award whereas under the old regulations I’d be given a DNF. The biggest disappointment is not being able to see the sunset and sunrise. It’s basically a good ride out which you can do any day of the week. Might be my last year.
So it looks like I may be having an L twin summer but let’s see if the Jota can’t make it to the Scottish in September…
Homeward Bound…Welsh Road Rally 2022
In contrast to the ride down from Glasgow the day started nice and bright in Llandudno. It looked like it was going to be a perfect day.
Unfortunately I put a bungee chord over the front mudguard as part of my bike security (!) system (the other precaution being a helmet locking wire) and when I took it off the soft paint came with it. The paint just doesn’t seem to harden but it was only ever intended as temporary.
The previous evening had been spent working out the route. I’d decided that I just wanted a simple ride that ultimately took me to the Welsh border and home. I’m quite familiar with Wales so knew whatever I did would produce great roads but I didn’t want to end up down any goat tracks!
The Rally has been adopted by the ACU as the Clive MCC has decided it doesn’t have the resources. This is a shame as the ‘Clive’ event had a sense of community with a common start/finish, manned checkpoints and the option to achieve the supplementary Dragon award. The 2022 version relied on an ‘app’ and checkpoints in mainstream locations which were unmanned and unmarked. Better this than nothing but in truth no more than a guided tour of Wales.
Still this new format worked for my situation so one side of A4 for checkpoint names and the other side for road directions – if I’d been better prepared I could have got it all on the one side 🙂 A Bronze Award was the aim which involved visiting 9 checkpoints.
Started off at Bangor Pier where I met Andy on his Royal Enfield. Think we were both surprised that we’d traveled down from Scotland the previous day but all credit he’d done it with 27 bhp and was camping! You’d have to say I looked the more grubby – even his bike looks clean!
I left for Caernarfon and promptly got lost! No problem I pulled in to a layby and asked for directions which were accompanied with ‘Nice bike mate’ ahhh music to my ears 🙂
At Caernarfon Castle more interest from middle aged blokes (spot the dog turd) a trend that repeated itself at Dolgellu. I’d made the right decision to have an easy day as every stop involved conversions about bikes that were long gone or lurking in the back of garages.
The Jota was running well and starting with ease. Welsh roads are perfect for your first date on a motorcycle as the roads are quiet and fast and flowing cutting through outstanding scenary.
Machynlleth saw me admiring a couple of modern Monkey bikes – one boating a Yoshimura exhaust! A stop for coffee and cake saw me press on to the stop I was most interested in at Aberystwyth. On the road over to Aber’ I got in with a line of modern bikes and was pleased that the Jota could hold its own despite the 5,000 rpm running in limit.
The treat at Aberystwyth was BSA A65 specialists SRM Engineering 🙂 What a selection of A65’s – I’m inspired to drag mine out of shed. This time it was my turn to chat and I spent perhaps 45 minutes talking nonsense – I even got a tour round the workshop which showed a host of treasures including Commandos, T110, Les Williams T140 and a Rickman Metisse T150. The workshop also has a Serdi which I know one specialist used for Laverda cylinder heads.
You can see on the Metisse the tiny oil in frame cap on the second cross member.
Just as I was about to leave a Yamaha chop turned up so I had to have a sit and talk more nonsense. All in all a splendid checkpoint that ended with pictures being taken of the Jota (John owned one back in the day). What was noticeable however was how while we chatted away other folk on the rally arrived on their bland bikes guided by satnav and then fiddled as they pressed the checkpoint app on their handlebar mounted phone. No smile, no getting off to look at the super bikes – guess they were also plumbed in to their favourite tunes. Not my way…
The A44 over to Bulith Wells provided perhaps the best riding of the day. Fantastic flowing road that at points reminded me of Alpine passes. The Jota roared along and encouraged you to blip on the down change to saviour the music and the predictable bends egged you on to hone those countersteering skills.
One checkpoint left and I admit to feeling the days catch up on me as I headed to Crickhowell. This led to my only navigation error when I took advice to go via Brecon when I’d no need to turn off at all. Still even this mistake had the benefit of chatting to a Triumph Scrambler owner whose brother owned a Jota…:-)
Crickhowell ticked off and the decision to leave Wales via the M4 at Newport was made. There was one last incident when the owner of a 955i sped past waving for me to stop which I did. He flicked down his side stand and ran back to me ‘sorry mate I had to stop you, I’ve got one of these in my garage!’.
He escorted me onto the A40 dual carriageway where I ran it to 5,000 rpm and sat at 80 mph so he could drink in the 180 rumble. A great day out and the Jota’s come home.
National Road Rally 2021 – Personal Bubble…
I pulled in to Warminster Services and my sixth checkpoint – just over half-way through the 2021 National Road Rally (NRR). I ignored the bikes parked outside the food area and rode through to the petrol station where I knew the checkpoint code would be located. It had been good to talk bikes at the previous checkpoints but now I was feeling tired and needed a bit of time just to sit and finish my flask in the evening sun. Perfect.
The Turismo was running good. It started first time, every time. It has no speedo but seemed happy to cruise just off full throttle (40mph ish). This was going to be my only stop for fuel and I took on 5.39 litres after 135 miles giving me 114 mpg or 40 kpl.
I’d started back at Hungerford clocking on late at 9:25. First thing the weather was wet but as I left home the skies lightened with just some small patches of drizzle. The main problem tho’ as I left was that I wasn’t in the moment. A mile down the road I remembered I didn’t have any allen keys to fix a loose exhaust or errant gearchange – should I turn round? I was distracted by the humidity and felt hot with the cotton T-shirt and glove liners on to combat the weather. My mood wasn’t helped by the backpack I’d strapped to the seat coming loose twice so finally I pulled over in Wantage took off the excess layers re-tied the backpack and gave myself a talking to! A gaggle of scooters zipped by heading south towards my destination of Hungerford. Soon I was back rolling again and gradually finding my rhythm.
Preparation had been the usual last minute shambles. I’d made sure the tyres where pumped up, tidied up ignition wiring and given it a bit of fresh oil. I got distracted by the wiring and forgot to look at the tank mounting and exhaust – both areas that caused problems during last year’s NRR.
I was using a new navigation technique – memory backed up by a few scribbles in a notebook. I knew quite a few of the roads having covered a lot of today’s route the previous year.
It’s always a relief to find the first checkpoint so when a newish Aprilia Caponord Rally came into view I was reassured and interested to find out about the bike. We were chatting away when in rode the classic scooters. At one time we’d have sneered at one another but an all Italian first stop, can’t be bad.
I pushed on to Amesbury and used my local knowledge to take the old Roman road across to Collingbourne Ducis where I used an old navigation technique called ‘asking someone’ to be sure I found the right road to Everleigh. I used this technique a couple more times on the ride and it always delivered both results and happy faces. Pre-satnav motorcycling huh!
The road over to Everleigh was an unexpected gem as it rose and gave fine views across the farmland cum tank training area. The irony of these stretches of land reserved to practice killing is that they provide a wildlife haven most of the time. Verges were alive with wild flowers – it made me think of the poem In Flanders Fields . The sun shone as I descended to Netheravon and onto the Countess Services ignoring signs to detour over to ‘Woodhenge’ and ‘Stonehenge’. I met a chap with a Hinkley Bonnie and then another chap stepped up from his car to tell me about his long gone Suzuki GT550 bought from Pride and Clarke with a race fairing…memories from our younger days it was a blast.
Pushing on to Totton took me through Salisbury with its famous cathedral guiding me to the centre and then out onto the rather monotonous A36 Southampton road. The long straight road gave the Turismo the opportunity to settle into its stride and the lack of hills meant it could hold a true 40 mph. The clutch and gearchange were good. I wasn’t using the heel part of the gearchange and managed to remember the Turismo has a right foot change. Top gear is really too tall for the softly tuned engine it would benefit from a few more revs or better still cams, compression and the intermediate ‘speed’ gear of a Sport. Still not complaining we were running good.
The Christian Motorcycle Association host the Totton checkpoint which is at the Baptist Church. They don’t push their beliefs and are just enthusiasts happy to chat. I reflected that as you get older, believing this isn’t it, might just be a comfort…
Ringwood checkpoint was via the picturesque New Forest but by the busy A31 with heavy traffic heading to the south coast. The checkpoint was also near to McDonalds. I still don’t get queuing for a burger…Still no other bikes so I sat ate my sandwiches and enjoyed at the queue chaos. Seemed like a lot of hassle for a burger in a bun.
The A31 saw me filtering through traffic for the second time (first time was Salisbury). The A31 is a dangerous place for a small underpowered motorcycle especially when you have to cross three lanes to leave – deep breath and go for it! The old back road to Shaftesbury is a solid old country road with good views. The challenge of going down zig-zag hill showed up the limitations of the drum brakes and Turismo levers which have a bakealite type of blade – I swear they flex under pressure. I wobbled down the hill… Turismo still running good but the rider was starting to feel the miles. I’d been on the road since 8:00 and now it was coming close to 14:00. I could’ve saved time if I’d pressed on but would I be less tired? Would I have met such nice people? I got to ‘Just Motorcycles’ checkpoint and out came the owner Phil. A proper bike shop (read his google reviews) and Phil was pleased to chat and wonder at the standoffishness of GS riders who’d been by before. We were joined by a guy on a Harley (his wife bought it for his 60th birthday…) and had a happy time swapping stories.
For Devizes I’d plotted the most straightforward as opposed to the shortest route. It was only a matter of a mile or so but I was more certain of not going wrong using the route I’d chosen. I kind of did get lost but didn’t in that I stumbled across the right route by accident. I know the Devizes checkpoint well as it was often the penultimate stop before the old finish at Warminster. I chatted to a woman riding a Ducati Scrambler who reminded me of the couple who normally staffed the checkpoint. Good people. Good memories. There was also an Aprilia Shiver parked up – cool bike, tho’ the owner confirmed the low end fuelling is a bit naff. Still an interesting alternative to a Monster (or Scrambler for that matter).
Cricklade was next up and a new checkpoint with what appeared quite a complicated route. I was a bit nervous of cocking it up with only four checkpoints to go and against my better instincts asked a chap on a Yamaha FZR 1200 the best route to take. He sucked his teeth when he heard my plan so I bottled it headed to Devizes and then on to Calne as I was more confident doing this. I further compounded the error by following road signs which although easy to navigate added more miles. After the rally I saw this added 7 miles – probably 20 minutes in Turismo time… I was also starting to get tired and playing with mental maths to work out how much time I had to complete the rally – 4 hours which meant if I didn’t hit a problem I had plenty of time.
At Cricklade I was fiddling about and became aware of someone behind me. Turned out to be a woman pillion who was trying to take a photo of the checkpoint code and said she was trying not to get me in the picture. She hopped back onto the Triumph Tiger a quick discussion with the rider and off. How miserable to be in that little bubble and not have the grace to just say ‘Hi’ – it’s not as if the NRR presents a challenge for a modern 1200 with satnav…
Carterton arrived. A deserted Leisure Centre in a housing estate so I pressed on…It was just past 19:00 and the light was hanging – that time just before it starts getting dark as I descended the hill into the quaint (and deserted) Cotswold village of Burford. The road across to Chipping Norton gave great views across rolling fields and the sun radiated on the Cotswold stone adorning the houses. Coming out of Chipping Norton the Turismo was buzzing along – the church spire at Bloxham acted as a beacon and I knew we’d soon be in Banbury. Another inauspicious location for the checkpoint – a sign in a layby that housed the local recycling bins… and damn me another Triumph Tiger partnership…not a word.
So 20:30 as I headed to the final checkpoint at Kidlington (Oxford) and the first sign of trouble with the Turismo when the tank starts to rattle on its mountings. Bugger! I’m not stopping and found if I pressed my knees into the side of the tank the rattle stopped or muffled. Good enough to just press on.
Covid means there’s no common finishing checkpoint. There’s something of an anti-climax when the end just means writing down your final checkpoint code in the fading light outside a Suzuki dealership in a nondescript business park. We can do things we did pre-covid and yet at the moment they’re familiar but changed. It’s important to use these events to reconnect and start to relearn the simple pleasure of being out there and together again…or maybe you feel safer in your Triumph bubble…
‘I’m not like you and able to work on bikes’ – National Road Rally 2020
The ACU (English) National Road Rally (NRR) was the only one of the three national rallies being run in 2020 due to Covid-19 and even the NRR format was changed to accommodate the ‘new normal’ . Daytime only (9:00 to 20:00), unmanned checkpoints and only 265 miles to achieve the highest ‘Platinum’ award. The checkpoints each had a sign displaying a code and all you had to do was ride round and make a note of the code as proof you’d visited. Easy what could possibly go wrong…
Progress on the Atlas was slow to nothing so the only working Laverda was the little 100cc Turismo. The Turismo had last seen action in last year’s NRR where it chalked up a credible ‘Bronze’ despite a puncture early on and shambolic preparation with regards route planning. It had been ridden little since 2019 but after I put air in the back tyre it seemed keen, bursting in to life without any fettling. All I needed to do was adjust the clutch and it should be ready to roll. To add some spice I asked Dean if he wanted to enter his ’55 Sport and reunite 50% of the ‘Laverdaforhealth’ bikes. Unbenknownst to me the ’55 Sport looked the part but had a few issues – the most pressing being it didn’t run…
Dean arrived for a planning meeting on his shiny new Guzzi TT85 (no Zoom nonsense for us traditionalists) and we spent a happy day talking bollocks and coming up with a route to achieve the top Platinum award. We had a week to sort our bikes so I put in fresh oil adjusted the clutch and also decided it would be a good idea to fix the exhaust system that leaked at the head and also at the silencer union. I was particularly pleased at the new technique I discovered for adjusting the clutch which involved using my knee to push in the actuating arm with a tyre lever to get maximum tension with the adjustable nipples. I had a rummage in my spares box and found a brand new exhaust gasket and bingo ready to go.
The plan involved me riding to Dean’s on the Friday and us starting out to head west and north on the Saturday. I waited to hear from Dean on the Thursday…and waited until he phoned to say the Sport wouldn’t start. Bugger! Not to worry he’d wheel out some big stuff and I’d plan an alternative solo route.
The tooth ache started early on the Friday morning and was the perfect companion for the pulled calve I achieved with the BSA Bantam when I wheeled it out to go fetch a spare tube for the rally. Maybe it was the excited anticipation or perhaps it was the toothache but whatever after a restless night I limped down the garden path for a 7:30 start the following morning.
Mrs A waved me off and decided not to worry about the seemingly soft rear tyre as I sped off into the distance. Despite my tooth (and leg) I was enjoying the run across The Downs, clear late summer morning with the engine humming along nicely. I was taking things steady as I wanted to try and make sure I made the start…but unusually the exhaust showed signs of a minor air leak on the overrun going down the hill in to Hungerford. No matter all was running good by the time I made the start.
Two NC750S’s were waiting for the off with me – one was a bit ashamed that he was only after a Bronze when he heard of my ambition and looked around the Turismo which was poised like a tiger waiting for 9 o’clock. With a casual kick the Turismo burst in to life and we were off down minor roads towards Pewsey. My hand written route notes were holding up to scrutiny and I was soon on the Salisbury road to the second checkpoint. Engine was going well but I recognised a drumming noise of the petrol tank against its rear mount. If I didn’t push the bike it was okay but anything over 30 mph and it started drumming away. I resolved to fix it at the services.
I soon had the seat off and knocked out the threaded bar that needed to be insulated from the tank to stop the drumming. As I’d cruised along at 30 mph I’d had plenty of time to decide how I would fix the problem by wrapping electrical tape round the bar. Disassembly complete I was now in assembly mode armed with tape and a small hammer. A chap walking his dog came over to watch and talk about his recently purchased brand new 500cc Benelli – ‘of I’m not like you and able to work on bikes’ he chirruped away as I beat the Turismo with a hammer and tore off errant pieces of tape my hands covered in filth…was he mocking me I thought…Still all fixed the Turismo fired up and I was only ten minutes behind schedule as I left Countess Services and headed down the A345 through a roundabout and ‘ting, ting, ting’ rang in my ears as I leaned to the right. The silencer was now swinging in the wind!
With no chance of a Platinum I pulled over to decide how to sort the problem. I had a selection of odds and sods in the tool bag so decided on lockwire. The Benelli owners kind words taunting me as of course this was the self same silencer I’d fixed the day before when I had all the tools and spares at hand. It was though a kind of blessing as to achieve a Platinum on the Turismo everything would’ve had to have gone to plan and I’d have had to thrash the thing mercillessly for up to 8 hours. I’d done this before and I was confident the Turismo would take it but it’s not a relaxing way to ride and now I had the opportunity to lower my sights to ‘Chrome’ and be a gentleman tourer for the day 🙂 Things were certainly less frantic as I skirted Salisbury and carried on down the New Forest via Totton where I picked up a ‘Biker’s Bible’ and had a chat with the owner of CB550.
The Turismo ticked away and it felt good as we rode down the centre of the road to beat the queues of traffic in to Lyndhurst and then the busy A31 which was gridlocked with holidaymakers. I picked up the Horton Road and pushed on toward Shaftesbury thinking that maybe a Bronze award could be possible…only to hear the ‘ting, ting, ting’ of the silencer as I descended ‘zig zag’ hill.
The lockwire was gone so I got out my flask to help me consider a better repair. A rummage in the odds and sods bag revealed an M6 bolt but no nut. A look round the Turismo identified a ‘donor’ nut and soon all was back together as it should have been before I’d left first thing.
I’d now been riding (with breaks) for 5 hours. I’d started out tired and now the toothache (still there) and lack of sleep was taking its toll…but Bronze was still possible if I could just keep going.
Shaftesbury checkpoint was reached and now a short dash up the A350 to Warminster to claim ‘Chrome’. It was only 16 miles until I came across blue lights and a ‘road closed’ barrier. Lucky a breakdown truck driver told me an alternative route but this was going to add another 10 miles. I resigned myself that ‘Chrome’ was all I’d get today and turned the Turismo round and started working through the diversion arriving a good 30 minutes later than anticipated at Warminster.
I was tired as I set out on the 70 miles home. The Turismo was in good form but by Hungerford the tank drumming had returned – I didn’t complain at then being held up by combine harvesters for 5 miles as it gave my head a rest! Just bring it home now is not the time to be fiddling with the tank and that’s how I limped in just before 20:00.
As has become the norm the Turismo was let down by its owner. I think Platinum would have taken a lot of luck and light traffic but certainly Silver was a strong possibility without too much of a stretch (although to qualify for Chrome I had to log 120 miles my total mileage for the day was 200 miles). The Turismo is still going strong 11 years after it rode to Italy as part of the Laverdaforhealth quartet. The same cannot be said for the owner however who is a stone heavier, far less agile and just as bad with the spanners! A good day out – nice roads, nice people, nice memories.
PS Dean achieved Platinum on his GTL 750 and congrats to Steve who achieved the same on his Vespa GTS300 (takes all sorts)
Blown away – Scottish Road Rally 2019
The fall wasn’t hard. I jumped up immediately and hit the ‘kill switch’ on the stricken Honda laying on its side with the top box popped open! There was an inevitability about the situation which had been building since just after Bonar Bridge when a motorist who’d picked up the tent I’d lost off the back of the bike caught me up and warned of 65 mph winds on the coast. I’d just laughed and rode on picking up my next checkpoint at Lairg before heading out to Altnahara and then on the Syre road past Loch Naver.
The sky looked pretty angry. There were ‘white horses’ on Loch Naver. Next stop was the Bettyhill Hotel – a guy playing pool told me to be careful. It certainly was blowing up a gale and I checked with a couple of motorcyclists who’d just ridden from Durness – they reported it was blowing but ‘okay’…
I parked up in the lee of a campervan at Tongue to take pictures – it was certainly blowing and the sky looked angry. The road rises away from the causeway and the wind had now picked up and was joined by driving rain which made holding the road a struggle. I managed to pass the lime kilns at Ard Neackie where the sea was huge with mini tornado’s rising off the top of the waves! I stopped to prevent myself being blown off the road then carried on when the wind dropped. One moment I’d been forced to ride in a rock strewn gutter on the left of the road. I kept off the road and ended up blown to the right. I had no choice but to stop so with both feet on the floor and front brake on braced myself. The gust that caught me was like someone just pushed hard against my shoulder and I was down!!!
I waited a while until a German couple in a hired camper arrived. They put the camper alongside the fallen Honda and we got it back on its wheels. They rode alongside to shelter me from the wind until we arrived at a lay-by. Fortunately Steve and Carol from Stockport had parked up in their camper so I took up their offer to shelter from the storm. I stayed in the van drinking tea for two hours until the wind had dropped to a mere 50 mph – time to turn tail and head back to Inverness. The rally was over – Scotland had me beat!
Although the wind had dropped my strategy was to get off the coast road as soon as possible to head in land. My first opportunity was down the road to ‘Ben Hope’. The sign warned off potential floods and the centre line was covered in grass but any port in a storm and the promise of shelter among some trees half a mile away saw me gingerly finding my way. At the time I didn’t realise it but I was in a mild state of shock. Certainly the tumble had taken my confidence but I pressed on making a note of potential camping sites as I trickled along. I stopped at the Dun Dornaigil Broch ruins to check with a woman if the road was passable – ‘Yes but it gets higher’ she replied so I pressed on.
Altnahara eventually appeared and with it calmer weather. A quick stop to pick up baked beans and jam at Bonar Bridge (that’s dinner and breakfast sorted) was all that lay in the way of a warm bed courtesy of Richard and Jenny at their Inverness guest house. Bliss.
The Scottish Rally had been a disaster and also an adventure.
First off I was riding a Honda! With no Laverda running (except the Turismo [which couldn’t have completed the minimium 250 miles in 10 hours]) it was a case of take the Honda or stay at home. Whatever you end up riding you just have to go because riding in Scotland is surely the biggest treat to be had in the UK.
How I came to be without a Laverda for the Scottish is shameful. There’s no excuse for bad forward planning. What the Honda demonstrated however was that there’s no need for 100+ bhp and rider modes. 50 bhp is all you need which of course may be different to what you want. Bland as an NC700x it takes some beating.
The weather humbled me. I’d experienced strong winds before when I’d had Catherine on pillion. We were lucky as it only really blew as we headed south towards Ullapool but I’d been given a warning and was a fool to ignore that experience. Once again if I’d checked the forecast I could easily have completed an alternative route in The Borders.
However despite the disappointment I’d had an adventure. I have a story to tell and sometimes failure brings its own rewards. Til’ next year!
Turismo rides again – National Road Rally 2019
I heard the siren and looked over my shoulder to see how far back the emergency vehicle was and then realised it was the Police and they were pulling me over…!
It was a long time since the start of the 2019 National Road Rally (NRR). The Turismo 100 had been pressed into service as the Atlas is still ‘resting’. Prep’ included pumping up the tyres, dash of oil, hi power bicycle front light and the faithful old road map roller. I put a selection of tools including tyre levers and tube into my shoulder bag and we were ready to roll.
All was looking good until it came to starting on the day. Kick, kick, kick – nothing! Much running about with plug out, plug in, suppressor cap on and off all of which showed a duff plug. Next revelation was I had no spare plug. By this time with sweat pouring off my forehead things were spiralling out of control – step forward Mrs A who has a rummage in the shed and emerges with a tired but working plug – huzzah!
I took it steady on the 25 mile ride to the start at Hungerford. I had no speedo so would be riding at a speed that suited the engine. I’d set a target average of 20 mph which would see me collect a Bronze Award (300 miles in 20 hours including 3 hours sleep). The sun was shining and everything seemed good – I even got a wave from a passing Police motorcyclist J
I turned out to be the only bike starting from Hungerford so when the flag dropped I was off up the A4 on my own. Within 15 minutes I’d taken a wrong turn and was losing time…however the bike was running fine and the sun was shining so relax.
Through Countess Services and onto Warminster where the roads just got better. When you ride a tiddler you have to take smaller roads and I happily sped along the deserted B390 through Larkhill rather than joining the traffic on the busy A36 to Stonehenge. What was apparent however was that 300 miles on the Turismo was going to be more challenging than in the past. I’d ridden the Turismo to Italy, Luxembourg and achieved a Special Gold in the NRR before but time had not been kind to me and the cramped riding position was uncomfortable. I also hadn’t quite settled into the mindset that you need to cover distance at 35 mph – you just have to be dogged and let the miles come to you rather than pushing the pace.
At Warminster I pulled up along Dave on his gorgeous silver Jota. The little Turismo seemed even smaller against its younger cousin. We took photos and chatted then it was time to shove off – by this time I was 15 minutes ahead of schedule and I knew from experience I needed to harvest time just in case anything should go wrong on the road. I trundled along the A350 towards Westbury and heard the growl of the Jota coming up alongside – not only does Dave’s look gorgeous it also sounds awesome. We parted company at Westbury as I peeled off onto the smaller B3098 towards Bratton and the Jota continued up the ‘350 like a brooding Mike Tyson – frightening stuff!
The B3098 is a charming, winding road that takes you close to a white horse created by removing turf off the chalk downs I putted past a motorcycle crash just outside Potterne and wondered what might have happened until I got a tap on the shoulder from an old friend a flat rear tyre! I wobbled to a halt and immediately started to think about how to sort this out. First call went to the breakdown recovery who told me they’d be a couple of hours – so that set a time frame, get it fixed in two hours or you were being trailered home and the rally was over. Next up I had the wheel out and tube out into the fresh air. It was a bit of struggle because the stand is bent so the rear wheel didn’t clear the ground so I had to lift the bike up and shake the wheel out. I then grabbed the spare tube I’d pack only to find it was for a bicycle – d’oh!
At about the same time Paul rode up on his Honda Blackbird he casually got his phone out checked out a shop in Devizes and told me to ‘hop on’ and we’d go and get a new tube…how does the saying go ‘You meet the nicest people on a Honda’! Richard Stevens Motorcycles in Devizes came up with tubes (I got two as sod’s law would mean I’d pinch the first putting it in), tyre soap and a carbon dioxide tyre inflator. Within the hour the Turismo was back on two wheels – Paul even held the bike aloft so I could wiggle the wheel back in.
Finally a biker called Brian had come over from his house to offer tea and water. You’re never alone on a motorcycle hey?
I’d lost half my 3 hours rest time as I left the Devizes checkpoint. Just outside Nailsworth I almost achieved an overtake when I came close to slipping past a youngster on his moped but alas we hit a hill and the opportunity faded. At Ross on Wye I made the discovery that my flask of coffee had leaked soaking my thermal base layer. It wasn’t a worry however as the temperature was holding up and the sun was shining.
Out the other side of Ledbury and climbing towards Great Malvern the temperature was tumbling as I rode through a bank of grey drizzle…In bright weather this would be a great road but now I couldn’t stop thinking about how cold I was getting and wondering how I’d get through the remaining 9 hours. I tried without success to get a bin liner at Worcester checkpoint and now two hours behind schedule I headed out in to what I expected to be the hardest part – navigating in the dark using a map.
I’d resigned myself to having to ride non-stop to achieve the Bronze so decided it was important during the night to put not getting lost above all other considerations – a 5 mile detour when you only have 35 mph can lose a lot of time. I think however that having to concentrate on the route helped take my mind off the temperature (although this had improved once I’d come down the Malvern Hills) and also the inevitable fatigue of riding for 10+ hours.
Slow and steady and stopping and asking directions was the way to go. I think the advent of satnav’s mean the tradition of asking directions is dying out folk seem keen to help, though you have to pick your stranger as night brings out the drunks! Picturesque Stratford upon Avon transforms itself into a war zone after midnight, the coppers I asked directions from where also handling a drunken lovers tiff (‘I love you babe…’) and probably thought it a bit surreal to see an old boy with a piss pot helmet in the centre of town!
The low point was Gaydon where fatigue was making me a bit ‘bitey’ when I couldn’t find locating the poorly signposted checkpoint. I gave myself a talking to and pressed on and soon was zipping along the A34 and close to home where I was going to take a (shorter than planned) break.
By the time I was back on the road to my penultimate checkpoint at Reading it was 4:15 and the new sun was beginning to rise. I was on familiar roads which meant I didn’t need to concentrate and this allowed me to realise how tired I’d become. Now it was a fight to stay awake as the bike continued on.
I took the opportunity to fuel up in Reading (bike was returning approx. 100 mpg but I didn’t want to have to worry about running out of fuel so close to the end) and got directions to the checkpoint from a bleary eyed taxi driver. It was then all down to the final 30 odd miles to Guildford and glory!
I wasn’t familiar with the roads to Guildford so had to focus. My notes were not 100% so I had to make a couple of judgements which thankfully turned out to be okay. I got to within 3 miles of the finish and stumbled on those last few miles. By now the Turismo sounded a bit sick and my right leg was cramping up, it was all getting a bit overwhelming when I heard Dave’s mighty Jota come roaring up from behind. I waved Dave by and followed the trail of his posse to the finish.
Dave parked up next to Keith on his ’81 Jota so we did a photo shoot and talked bollocks. The 2019 rally seemed to have more of a buzz this year with bikes of all shapes and sizes – the ubiquitous GS through sportsbikes, classics and even an electric bike at Worcester.
The heroes as ever are the checkpoint marshals who have the thankless task of signing you in and may have to wait sometime between visitors. It had been a great rally and now I just had to get home.
The weather had brightened by the time I reached a very sleepy Reading town centre I heard the siren and looked over my shoulder to see how far back the emergency vehicle was and then realised it was the Police and they were pulling me over…!
The young officers opened with ‘You ran a red light back there’ which I couldn’t remember then followed this up quickly with ‘and your bike doesn’t have an MOT’. It doesn’t need an MOT ‘ I replied which seemed to settle the situation down. ‘Is this a classic’ (hmmm ‘classic’ might be pushing it but yep it’s old I thought)? The Turismo sat there ticking over seemingly smirking at its dumbass owner. The officers checked and confirmed I didn’t need an MOT, checked my ID and we parted on good terms.
You have time to think on a Turismo and reflected on the last 24 hours. I realised that I’d crossed the line from being someone who took a path to the left of the mainstream and moved over to just another harmless old fool on a comedy bike. Am I a classic or just old….
Laverda Club de France 2019
Good bad luck…
So it had to happen – my poor planning resulted in the shame that is taking a non-Laverda to a Laverda rally. I left a rather grumpy Atlas in the shed and loaded up the bland Honda NC700x. Mrs A tried to console me by saying that at least we could have a weekend away without having to worry about the bike..
We sped down to Dover with all our kit packed in just the front storage (know as the frunk [dummpy petrol tank as the NC has the real tank under the seat like a Zane Laverda]) and voluminous top box. The only problem with the Honda is that the seat gets uncomfortable after 100 miles.
From Dover we crossed to Calais and then down the A16 to Yerville and our gite for the weekend. The Honda has a neat digital dash which can be converted to kph from mph at the touch of a button and similarly its clock is simple to push the hour forward. Alongside this the Honda has two mirrors so no need to swop sides as with the single mirror setup on the Atlas. Luxury.
All went well – infact of the 40 or so bikes at the rally less than 20 were Laverda so ‘The Van’ (as I affectionately refer to the NC) fitted right in. I took some solace from knowing that I was only on The Van because I had no viable Laverda – I suspect others just chose to ride their modern bikes and left a roadworthy Laverda in the garage.
It’s become a tradition that the ‘Nick and Dean Trophy’ is awarded to the bike voted for by the rally as best bike. This year the trophy went to Marc Malfois and his immaculate 750.
The Trophy was handed over to Marc but we were joined by Christian who’d sold the bike to Marc so in some sense was responsible for its immaculate appearance.
The rally was based near Rouen to take advantage of the ‘Tall Ships Amarda’ that were in the harbour. We spent Saturday and Sunday taking in the ships – it was odd to be on a bike that started and ran impeccibly and I began to wonder if in indeed I was seeing the future.
Having said our final goodbyes we headed back to Yerville for the Sunday night and ferry midday on the Monday. We were a bit tired but happy until the rear wheel appeared to be knocking. I checked the chain but on second inspection and the introduction of a squeel to accompany the knock knew that a wheel bearing had failed!
A passing biker directed us to a small bike shop in Yvtot and we hatched a plan to leave it there until the morning and see if it could be fixed the next day. We limped to the garage only to find it was closed on Monday’s… By now I wasn’t thinking straight and needed to sit down and do more contingency planning so everything was shoved into the frunk and we headed for Le Pub.
Mrs A was fed lager and began to calm down so I decided to return to The Van and pick up contact details…but where was the key? Frantic searching began until the realization that the keys were stashed in the locked frunk dawned on us. No worries our spare keys and passports had been packed…and were sitting in the locked topbox! Hard on the heels of this realization was the fact that the Honda had no breakdown cover and our generic breakdown cover had expired two days earlier…The saving grace was that the generic provider would provide one short recovery trip the following day.
Mrs A had chatted up the locals in Le Pub (well she fitted right in…) and one of the punters got his daughter to take us the 10 kms to our gite. Meanwhile frantic texts had given me various contact numbers of LCF members in the Rouen area. Finally our gite owners fed Mrs A more lager and searched the web to locate a garage that was open on Monday and arranged for us to be taken back to Yvtot in time for the breakdown truck. A plan was coming together…
The truck arrived just 30 minutes late by which time we’d come up with a second plan to have Francois from the LCF take the bike to the ferry by trailor if we couldn’t get it fixed.
We rolled into the one horse town of Rocquefort and the small workshop of Moto76. As usual there was the usual French huffing and puffing but I had a good feeling that we might just have struck gold. We’d been sent to a garage with a real mechanic and not a supermarket bike shop staffed by fitters.
Etienne smiled at our predicament and set to opening the topbox so we could get into the frunk. 5 minutes later he’d opened the box by removing the hinge pins. He fixed the wheel bearings using open engine bearings packed with water repellant grease.
It was an education for me to watch Etienne work – he moved around the bike confidentally without rushing and worked through the task. I could see we were in safe, competent hands and true to his word everything was fixed and ready to go in under two hours after arriving.
Francois and his trailor could step down and my daughter booked us on the Dieppe – Newhaven ferry home. Mrs A was topped up with lager in Veulettes-sure-mer and we rolled onto the 18:00 set for home.
It wasn’t the weekend I’d planned. It will take time to live down the shame of taking a Honda to a Laverda rally although of course what you learn is that motorcycling is really about friendship and so long as you turn up who cares! I’d experienced the wonder of a modern motorcycle. How nice it’d been to ride something that whizzed along with no fuss – it was so capable and just as able as more fancy bikes fitted with all kinds of rider aids (are these really necessary or just marketing). Modern bikes are though annoymous and also falliable…
Finally tho’ the main takeaway was not something new but a reminder that we’re all part of a community – strangers were there to help and wouldn’t take payment for their kindness because ‘we’re all bikers’ and despite thinking you’re in a fix somehow that karma guides you to find solutions. As Etienne commented we’d had some ‘good back luck’…
Welsh Rally 2019
I like a challenge but fuck me…
I was rushing about fettling the Atlas to pass its annual roadworthiness test (MOT). I’d been way too casual. The brake didn’t work nor did the back brake itself and it needed the rear shock and linkage replaced. I had the afternoon and evening before the re-test on the Friday morning…the day Mrs A and I were riding over to Wales in preparation for the rally on Saturday.
The bike hadn’t looked roadworthy with the paintwork on the forks rubbed back waiting for paint and the digital speedo held by cable ties to the handlebars and clutch cable. The original clocks were still in place as the MOT required the idiot lights (I couldn’t be fussed to connect those in to the new speedo). There was also a cable tie holding the rear fairing off the silencer, although this was too late as the panel showed signs of melting from past rides.
The garage was surprised when I rode in for the re-test and despite it passing the tester proclaimed ‘I like a challenge but fuck me!’ I was reassured we’d complete the forthcoming 800 miles without incident and headed off home to Mrs A so we could pack…
I settled back and enjoyed the sun and the novelty of a working speedo. We’d covered 30 miles before deciding to check our luggage at the Membury services on the M4. As we rolled to a halt the front tyre deflated. ‘Oh dear that’s a nuisance’ I said (or something quite similar) and phoned recovery before examining the tyre proper.
No trace of a cut in the tyre so Mrs A suggested maybe the valve was faulty. I mumbled and muttered at this being a waste of time as I pushed the bike over to the air-line. 5 minutes later I pushed the bike back with a restored front tyre. A chap stopped in his car and offered any help and after he’d told us about his love for Lambretta we decided that as the tyre was still good we’d push on. Thank goodness I thought to check the valve. Mrs a smiled as she slid onto the pillion…
We planned to meet Catherine on her Ducati along with her boyfriend on his Suzuki at our digs in Welshpool and after the unscheduled stop for air had made good time. The weather closed in as we started to go cross country through Ledbury towards Leominster and just found cover at a garage when Catherine called to say the Ducati was wounded…It had gone bang and made a crunching sound when she tried to start it. Recovery was on its way. Luckily(?) we were 30 minutes ahead of her so we turned the Atlas round and headed out into the rain…
Aside from having to swerve to avoid two dogs the ride back to Ledbury was straightforward, if a little damp.
The Ducati was already tucked up in a van ready for the trip home. The breakdown chap had done us favour waiting the 45 minutes it took us to arrive and I spent a happy 10 minutes looking at pictures of his Bandit project on his phone. Mrs A stepped aside so Catherine could ride pillion as Tom had too much luggage on the Suzuki and the three of us headed off.
I’m reasonably familiar with the road to Welshpool so we just rolled along, the only issue was the electrics momentarily failed – the Atlas backfired then burst back in to life so I shrugged and decided it had fixed itself…
We rolled out of the rally HQ at 7:30 having caught up with Steve on his Vespa, clocked the silver Jota and the Lomax three wheeler that we’d come across last year when its oil cooler split.
The whole scene had a comfortable familiarity about it along with an air of anticipation over what would unfold over the next 12 hours and 300 miles.
With Catherine riding pillion I didn’t have to navigate as she called all the junctions before we arrived at them. Catherine had written up the directions for each checkpoint and as with previous years the level of detail made them as good as a satnav. There’d been an initial conflict on our route through Welshpool to the start – Catherine held her ground and she turned out to be right! I decided to shut up and do as I was told for the rest of the day. Added to this Catherine did all the running about to record the clues. We were soon well ahead of schedule despite the cold weather that saw snow on the tops of the Llanbister Hills near Llanbadarn – Fynydd.
We’d chosen a route that took us south of Welshpool but despite the excellent directions provided by Catherine I was struggling to find my rhythm.
The road surface was cold the light traffic seemed to appear when it was difficult to overtake and having to stop every 20 miles seemed to work against finding that point when everything just comes together and it seems easy. At times like this experience told me to just grind it out, keep to schedule and let the ride unfold.
We pushed on for three hours to the first mandatory checkpoint at Cwmdu where we took 30 minutes to recharge our batteries – only one more stop and we’d done enough to earn a ‘Bronze’. The weather was brighter now but there was a cold breeze which would stay with us throughout the day.
We bagged a Bronze award at Nant-Ddu and then off to the whiskey distillery at Penderyn. The next stop was ‘Touratech’ at Ystradgynlais which turned out to be a fairly annoymous unit on an industrial park. We were tired and took another break…we were starting to lose momentum.
Up until Ystradgynlais progress seemed slow but now we were going to pick off 6 more checkpoints in a 60 mile stretch. The road to Llangadog provided the best views of the day. This remote road that warned that it would be closed in extreme weather. We headed up into the Black Mountain range and pulled over to take in the glorious panoramic views. The road is clearly a favourite with petrol heads. A Ferrari was put through its paces and not long after I heard a familiar growl powering up from Llandadog and the silver Jota roared past – magic 🙂
We took an hour break at our final manned checkpoint at Cenarth where we had a picnic by the famous waterfalls. It’s easy to lose focus after you’ve been on the road for six hours – a puncture or electrical fault would quickly see our 90 minute advantage evaporate. The weather was still bright but I knew that as the light faded the temperature would drop.
The Atlas was running fine on a constant throttle but it hesitated to pick up out of bends. Fuel consumption was down to the low 30 mpg and the broken gear return spring (it’s been broken since September…) made last minute changes tricky. The clutch was also ‘pulsing’ if held in at junctions which added to the gearchange malaise. But it was starting, felt solid and the new speedo was pretty accurate as checked against the numerous ‘watch your speed’ displays .
Tom was riding intelligently keeping a respectful distance behind his girlfriend’s father and picking his lines in the bends then using the Suzuki’s power down the straights to tuck back in. The perfect wingman really – always has your back and importantly not falling off the pace.
Alot of the remaining route was taken up on the A487 and this provided glimpses of the sea as we ticked off Llanaerchaeron and New Cross which raised spirits. The A487 continued to carry us to Machnynlleth and splendid views into the Dovey Estuary. I was pleased to get onto familiar territory riding to Machnynlleth although finding the clue in the centre of town proved more difficult than I’d thought – a sure sign that fatigue was setting in. Still we’d now done enough to claim a ‘Dragon’ award and had just Llanbrynmair and Welshpool to finish off the day (45 miles).
The light was also starting to fade and with it the temperature starting to fall. We took the main roads for our final stage back to Welshpool – it was 6 miles further but a minute quicker. It was also. We rolled in at 20:30, fifty minutes ahead of time.
Steve achieved the Platinum and Dragon awards via a North Wales route on the Vespa. We celebrated together in the canteen. Tom looked a bit tired but he’d got the top awards first time out – respect to him and to Catherine whose route planning had made the achievement so smooth. Next year she vowed to be back on the Ducati.
After a good night’s sleep it was time to head home. We agreed to use the return leg to do a spot of touring.
After consulting my ‘50 Best Biking Roads of Britain’ book I suggested we head over to Bala – unfortunately I got my bearings mixed up and we took a goat track past Lake Vymwy to Rhos-y-gwaliau We almost turned back after stopping by a remote bridge but the sight of a few motorcycles from both directions encouraged us to push on. We were rewarded by spectacular views up a small valley and a single track road with a sheer drop to our left.
From Bala we got on the A494/487 to Machynlleth. It was my favourite type of roads – a flowing, well surfaced road rated at 60 mph for most of its way. At last we had found some flow albeit slightly spoiled for the last few miles when he got stuck behind an HGV.
A quick consultation in Mach’ meant we decided to press on to Aberystwyth and give ourselves a good break before turning inland towards Bullith Wells. Within a couple of miles we were back behind the same HGV… The problem was that the Atlas topped out at just over 65 mph and lacked grunt to power past an HGV that was not facilitating an overtake. Our chance came and the Atlas squeezed past with oncoming traffic approaching. It was tight but not that tight, certainly not so tight as to prompt the HGV sounding his horns and putting on his high intensity lights while tailgating us. Nothing for it then but to slow down on the next hill to calm him down 😉 I was rewarded with more noise, lights and an HGV swerving around the back of the Atlas to intimidate. This was starting to resemble the truck movie Duel! We eased away through the flowing bends and prayed that we’d not come to a set of red traffic lights. Tom used the Suzuki’s performance to power past and was back on our tail. A ride to remember…
We ended up parking on the Prom’ at Aberystwyth where we spotted an impressive VW engined machine. It was very skillfully made in that it looked like a production bike not the normal ‘Boss Hog’ lash up. The builder came over and chatted pointing out the automatic clutch that he’d plumbed in to a BMW shaft drive. My eye was drawn to the fibreglass detailing and I’m currently in conversation about getting some replacement Mk 3 Atlas panels made.
The ride from Aberystwyth was even better – fast, flowing and light traffic. . We saw our first police (Hedlu) car ‘in conversation’ with a gaggle of sportsbike riders (one of whom wore a turban) but this was the only time we’d seen them – quite a surprise given the bright weather and hordes of bikes around. Our route took us over to Crickhowell and this provided an unscheduled stop when the Atlas refused to start after a fuel stop!
All power was down so I knew it had to be linked to the main power source so I headed straight for the battery. I found that the Earth terminal bolt was a shade too long so I wrapped wire round it to shorten the thread and within minutes we were up and away – clearly this was what had caused the brief power failure just outside Welshpool two days earlier. (I found later that this repair was potentially flammable as the poor contact it created led to a heat build up through resistance!)
From Crickhowell we dropped on to the M4 at Newport and headed east for Bristol. It had been a long trip back and once I’d said my ‘goodbyes’ it was time to do the final 75 miles from Bristol down the M4/A34 and back into the arms of Mrs A who’d spent the weekend gorging herself on chocolate and wine…
Seasons End – Belgian Rally, September 2018
The Belgian rally held at Actel, a short distance from the Dutch border is traditionally the final rally of the European season. Mrs A and I have got in to a routine whereby we travel over on the Friday and head back around 18:00 on the Saturday meaning we wake up back home on the Sunday morning. Perfect.
We seem to have changed over from the train back to the boat. The boat is cheap even if you book last minute, the sailing times seem more reliable, you get to sit and maybe have something to eat and I don’t know but there’s something a bit exciting about getting on a boat. The tunnel is good if booked well in advance and of course time efficient but eating sarnies sitting on a cold floor is, well a bit naff.
We duly arrived at Dover. The Atlas was running fine albeit a slightly reluctant starter and still lacking a gearbox return spring.
We were joined on the dockside by Claire Janssenswillen on her 300,000 mile BMW brick! A true British eccentric Claire was off to meet relatives in Brussels and kept us entertained during the crossing including tales about the ‘Nick Sanders, Round the World Challenge’ she’d completed back in 2002. There’s something about meeting fellow travellers on the dockside as we had a similarly entertaining voyage home in the company of a fashion photographer and a chap dashing home to be at the hospital bedside of his father-in-law who’d suffered a heart attack. It got me thinking that you never know who you’re sharing a boat with – maybe me and Mrs A are regarded as eccentrics too?
We bounced off the boat and headed to our F1 Hotel at Grande Synthe just a few miles short of Calais. We’d used this place before and as we didn’t land in France until 20:00 decided to make an early pit-stop at a place we knew. Thankfully it seemed the owners of this F1 took a bit more pride in the Hotel which was clean – tho’ the bed was bloody hard!
The next day dawned and it was pretty fresh outside as Mrs A passed our luggage out the ground floor window strapped on – hmmm not sure the Atlas is going to like this…Sure enough the engine spun over fine but failed to catch. We enlisted a passing Slovakian truck driver to help with a bump but all to no avail…The trucker left muttering something about ‘big problems’ and Mrs A caught her breath. I leant on the starter one more time and it caught – huzzah we were off! I knew that once warmed through we’d have no more starting problems for the rest of the trip.
Dominique had sent me the address of the venue for the rally ride out – a Classic American car dealership in Westerlo. I decided to follow the motorways as the back roads would add another two hours to the trip on account of the ludicrous 70 kph speed limit in northern Belgium! Taking the motorway meant we’d be able to drop in to Ghent for mid morning toast and coffee.
The autumn sun rose and the flatlands rolled by ’til we came to halt near a small market place in Ghent. We settled in to fresh espresso and rolls and watched the market gently wake up.
California Import http://www.california-import.com/go.to/modix/now/home-nl.nlbe.html at Westerlo was easy to find and soon enough we heard the rumble of Breganze engines rolling up the road.
It was a great mixture of classic American and Italian thoroughbreds and we whiled away a happy hour before heading off to the meet about 30 miles away in Achtel.
We pulled in to the rally to a great collection of bikes and friends. Ad and Wilma who organise the rally were on hand and we spent a happy few hours talking bollocks, drinking beer (Mrs A,,,) and taking photos.
There were lots to look at with the bespoke Atlas from the Netherlands, a ‘letterbox’ 650 Zane, triples with upgraded brakes and wheels to name a few.
Just as we’re getting ready to leave the party was joined by an SF with serious top end issues – still it gave license to those itching to put their 10,11 and 13mm spanners into action…
It was a splendid autumn afternoon and a real treat to catch up with so many friends before everyone disappears down a burrow for winter. We rolled out of Achtel at about 17:30 headed toward Antwerp and then on to Ostend and Calais – a journey of about 150 miles. The Atlas ran well and held a steady 60 mph to the point that we were an hour ahead of time. We rode around the flatlands outside Calais but none of the small towns off the A16 seemed to have a bar so I arrived at the dock with a surprisingly sober Mrs A!
One of our travel companions had just spent three months touring Spain and Portugal on his huge six cylinder BMW. He was heading home to top up the coffers as a fashion photographer…so three months in the sun and then a dog’s life snapping models – jealous moi! Our other traveller was on another BMW – the four cylinder S1000RX and was riding back early from his tour of the Pyrenees. He fancied something other than the ubiquitous GS and credit to both of them of choosing something a bit from the left side of the modern Beemer range.
It was only 22:30 when we arrived back in the UK. We knew the ride home was going to be a chore because on the outward leg there’d been warnings of road closures for overnight works. I’d tried to work out shorter alternatives but in the end bit the bullet and headed over to the A2 diversion which added half an hour to the miserable journey home. We pull in to Clacket Lane services and there’s a bewildered fashion photographer who’s been given the runaround by his satnav and decided to take a room in the travel lodge rather than navigate the remaining 25 miles to his west London pad!
Fresh coffee, toast and a bright autumn morning greet us in the morning. We unload the Atlas transfer the pictures and settle in for a lazy day…It was a long night but the reward is a traffic free Sunday.
Scottish Rally – Pineapple Chunks
Preparation for the Scottish Rally began late (as usual) with new chain, sprockets, oil topped up and starter motor replaced all on the Wednesday with me scheduled to head north on Thursday.
The starter motor was borrowed from Atlas #2 and solved the starting issue but I still had doubts that the Atlas was a reliable cold morning starter – still too late to really investigate and Thursday at 10:00 I rolled out onto the A34 heading north to the M40. My strategy for the long haul to Scotland was to travel the first 130 miles up to Stafford on motorways and then head off toward Buxton and drop in on an old friend. From there I had a route mapped out from the book ‘Bikers’ Britain’ by Simon Weir. My kids had got me the book as a Father’s Day present and it had surprised me by just how good the recommended routes are. I’ve used it a few times when planning rides as a good starting point to develop a route.
Just to remind me that the weekend was going to be spent in the UK I encountered my first traffic jam within 5 miles of home! Here I am filtering up the A34 with 300 odd miles still to go! I pass an overturned truck and reap the benefit of a relatively clear M40 to Birmingham.
Leaving the M6 heading over to Buxton the scenery and roads started to get interesting…at about the same time heavy rain comes in. Sodden by the time I walked up my friends driveway only to find he isn’t home…sometimes surprises go wrong. I stood in his porch and polished off my sarnies.
The light was poor and the rain relentless. I decided I needed to get back on to the motorway and just get the miles done. I abandoned the route sketched out by Simon Weir and relied on the satnav which took me up the M61 before merging me onto the M6 and another pitstop at Tebay Services.
It was still raining and the light poor as I came to the A7 junction proclaiming this to be the ‘historic’ and ‘scenic’ route to Scotland.
I was going to look for a campsite near Abington but decided to take the A7 and get off the road earlier while there might still be some light. The rain had now stopped but the temperature was dropping. I passed the campsite I used last year – didn’t fancy meeting that gangster again so pressed on. A short distance up the road came another site but this looked dodgy so pressed on in to Scotland and the small town of Langholm with a campsite next to the rugby club. The groundsman took my £6. I was the sole resident with a complete shower block to myself 🙂
Tent up, Atlas parked under the reception hut porch and my kit hung up to dry in the shower block I settled down to a Mrs A chilli, hobnobs and chocolate before turning in for the night. Regrouping continued in the morning when I found a heater in the shower block and placed my gloves above it and generally generated a bit of heat to try and cheer up the rest of my kit.
The groundsman was your stereotypical dour Scot’. I think he quite admired that I’d camped and we chatted about local poet William Mickle who is celebrated on a plaque on the Town Hall and died not far from me in Oxford.
I think his admiration turned to sympathy as the Atlas struggled to clear its throat as it battled damp electrics mixed with oil made heavy by the cold morning. Just when I thought I might be asking for a bump she fired – we both looked relieved – I left with a few misfires and a cheery wave.
I’d unwittingly picked up the route recommended by Simon Weir and was happy to cruise along as the early morning cold thawed and the sun came out. Through Selkirk and on to the Forth Bridge onto Dunfermline and past Knockhill. I guess most visitors to the Knockhill race circuit never carry on north past the entrance but if you do – wow! The scenery and roads both upped their game. I thought I was riding like a god until three BMW riders in hi-viz came past in formation demonstrating advanced riding skills. I hung onto their tails and didn’t lose too much ground until we crossed the A85 and headed on towards Braemer where I rolled off the throttle and decided just to relax and ride at my own (slower) pace. Slowing it down increased the enjoyment as I wasn’t clenching my buttocks through the bends but was still getting a clip on. The road to the Lecht Pass is a roller coaster of dips and crests with bends and stunning scenery thrown in for good measure. I was on a high as I pulled in for an espresso. I passed some time with a chap and his wife who were taking out their new Suzuki Vstrom 1000 for its maiden voyage from Dundee. You’re never alone on a motorcycle.
I headed off and felt the gearbox return spring break. No big deal it just means an extra tap on the lever to reload the gear cam on each change – apparently the same fault on a 120 can leave it stuck in one gear (another plus for the Atlas then). Things were calming down with the ride however and a few miles up the average speed camera riddled A9 saw me arrive at Richard’ and Jenny’s as scheduled at 17:30.
Keith Nairn and Rob Bradbury arrived not long after. We were joined by Andrew and Jean Chatterton for dinner and a grand evening followed during which I planned my rally route (good forward planning hey) before sneaking off to my tent in the garden (rather this than end up spooning with Keith…).
Alan Cudlipp arrived at 8:30 Saturday morning. The Atlas was packed, filled with oil courtesy of Richard and fired into life much to my delight as Richard needed help from a car battery to get his RGS breathing. I opted to shove off before the ‘crazy gang’ as I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep their pace. As I left clutch was dragging and I knew what was coming next…
The crazy gang rolled up to the start to find me just putting the finishing touches to yet another broken clutch cable! At least I’ve had sufficient practice lately to be able to turn it round in under 15 minutes by just threading a new inner down the existing outer.
I got petrol and headed out. I didn’t mind leaving shortly after the ‘crazy gang’ as we’d plotted different routes and I knew their pace would be too much for me. I like to be able to settle in to the rhythm of a long ride – get the feel of the bike and the roads. I wasn’t going to stop tho’ so passed on the photo opportunities provided by the Dornoch Firth and AA phone box #504 just outside Bonar Bridge.
At Lairg a guy came up saying I’d just missed four Laverdas (no kidding). He was intrigued by the Atlas and said how good it was to see a Laverda in such used condition – he said he didn’t look after his Africa Twin either! Bloody cheek!!! Still made me smile and I headed off for Bettyhil via Altnahara under a grey/purple sky.
It’s at this point that the magic of the Scottish rally really comes home. You’re on a single track road in a wilderness heathland with mountains off in the distance. You have to focus on the ride, the kerb side is littered with rocks and pot holes and yet you’re drawn to the unique environment. I’m waved past by a guy driving a Bentley convertible and pass the Crask Inn which in now both a pub and a chapel. Yep you’re in the land of ‘strange’. Two bikes pass me going in to Altnahara – a BMW boxer in road trim with panniers being ridden too fast (in my opinion). A nondescript UJM brings up the rear desperately hanging on to the Bavarian road ape.
At Altnahra I take the Syre road, a narrow single track that twists and turns alongside Loch Naver. It crosses my mind that it would be seriously challenging in bad weather but by now the clouds have given way to clear skies.
The roads improve out of Bettyhill towards Durness. They’re still single track but they snake along the coast so you have a bigger sense of space…even when you have to muscle past the camper vans (aka Tupperware).
The road to Durness also takes you across the causeway at Tongue. Surely one of the most atmospheric places in the UK.
The ride is going well. The Atlas is purring along (although the starting could be better) and finding the checkpoints is a doddle because I’ve been to them in the past and anyway they’re normally the only shop in a parade of a handful of houses so not difficult to miss!
What my route plan hasn’t got however is an ETA for each checkpoint so I don’t know if I’m on schedule. I press on for as long as I can before I need a break. This is a shame as the stunning Durness to Ullapool road demands you stop round each bend to take photo after photo but I can’t today.
The harbour at Ullapool looks perfect bathed in soft sunlight and I take 5 minutes to chat to a guy who’s been drawn to the Atlas and wants to tell me he once owned a Jota. He wishes me well as I head out towards the Ledgowan Lodge Hotel at Achnasheen.
As I enter Achnasheen a red deer looks on curiously as I turn towards the Hotel and I’m met by the sight of four Laverdas. Our paths have crossed. It’s a good time for a break so I chat with the crazy gang who all seem a bit high – Alan is blathering on that he’s been riding so hard the temperature gauge actually moved on his RGS!
It’s time for them to press on and I listen as their exhausts fade into the scenery and take my peppermint tea out to the porch. Life’s sweet.
The road to Lochcarron starts off as a normal two lane road before becoming single track and then opens back up. The weather is coming in and, not for the first time I arrive in a damp, misty Lochcarron. The garage checkpoint looks pretty old so I try without success to buy some 20/50 (got a nice tin of pineapple chunks instead).
A group of riders from Northern Ireland are taking shelter from the drizzle while they wait for the breakdown truck to transport a broken BMW R100 back to their digs on Skye. I must say they all seem pretty relaxed about the situation.
The rain has stopped by the time I cross the Skye Bridge – the temperature tho’ is starting to drop and a car pulls out on me as I enter Broadford. I’m relaxed, shrug my shoulders and sit behind it which turns out to be fortunate as there’s a speed trap waiting to catch us out. The Police seem bored and less than friendly as they turn their attention to a youth drinking out of a bottle on the street and frog march him to the back of their van. There’s something of the Wicker Man about this place…
I pick up some discounted apple turnovers and head back over the Skye Bridge towards the next checkpoint the Cluanie Inn.
I’d clocked the Eilean Donan castle beforehand so pull over to capture the Atlas, castle and setting sun. Another magical scene.
The light is fading as I pull in to the Cluanie Inn. The plan is to do some wild camping and eat in the Inn. The car park looks good for camping and the barmaid says to go for it. Trouble is as I start to thread the poles I’m getting bitten by a swarm of the dreaded midges! It’s too bad so I decide if I press on I can make Fort William before dark.
As it gets dark I try to make use of the headlights of passing cars but everyone drives like a rally driver – maybe they’ve never herd (sic) of deer? So pressing on in the gloom I’m starting to work up options – the idea of camping is getting less and less attractive so is relegated to the back of my mind. It’s damp and cold so I’m going to have to find a room. Last year Mrs A and I found the very reasonably price Copach Hotel out on the Mallig road. The Copach is empty and we agree £30 for a single room with no breakfast. I unload the Atlas, turn on the TV which turns out not to work. Fortunately there’s a couple of mags under the telly so with a choice of Country Life or Cosmopolitian I opt for Cosmo’ and learn all about the ‘5 most popular sex positions’ – I thought there was only one, possibly two! I raid my supplies bag and tuck in to an evening snack of apple turnovers, hobnobs and the last of the chocolate. Life’s sweet.
Sunday morning starts with a tin of pineapple chunks. I’d forgotten how much I enjoy pineapple chunks. I look out onto a grey, wet carpark with a forlorn looking Atlas. The hotel owner told me to just close the front door behind me so I strap down my luggage pull on the waterproofs and head out in to the rain. Unbelievably the Atlas starts and I can’t resist sending Richard a smug text. I return back to the now stopped Atlas and confidently press the starter button. The motor spins but no thunder – bugger! There’s no Mrs A but a handy hill provides the launch pad for a bump start and we’re off towards Oban.
At the end of a rally you reach the stage where failure would be catastrophic – at this stage I just mutter to myself that I need to ‘bring it home’ and so it was as I hunkered down and meandered along first to Oban and then out back to the finish at Crainlarich. I ordered up toast and coffee, filled in my rally return and settled back to greet the crazy gang.
Things were getting a bit tight at 11:30 when they rolled in along with Graham Smith on his rather tasty bespoke RGS. They’d been a bit delayed giving Richard a bump start and then waiting for the ferry to return them to the mainland from their exclusive island retreat. Six Laverdas meant more than 10% of the finishers would be from Breganze 🙂
Still basking in the glory and reeling at the revelation that one of our number had trailored their bike to Scotland, it was time to start the 450 mile journey home. By the time I got to Sterling the sun was shining. I fuelled up and rolled onto the M9.
However clouds were gathering and soon the mother of all rain storms swept in taking my ignition spark with it. I saw it coming so just coasted onto the hard shoulder. I figured the engine heat would dry things out so had a piss, waited a couple of minutes for the rain to calm down and yep we were back on the road heading south.
You can’t ‘sex up’ 400 motorway miles you just have to get on with it. One petrol stop at Lancaster later I rolled home at 21:00.
A trip to Scotland is a real treat. A trip to the Scottish Highlands the stuff of dreams. The Atlas had once again served me well. It had been great to meet up with Jenny, Alan, Jean and the crazy gang. I’d stumbled across some great folk out on the road who were pleased to see the Breganze flag being flown. I was a changed man resolved to return a more sensitive lover (armed with 3 ½ new positions) and a rediscovered passion for pineapple chunks!
Northern Ireland – orange meets orange…
The trip to Northern Ireland had been planned for time. I’d had a hankering to see Northern Ireland as it seems ‘the troubles’ had meant limited development and unspoilt countryside. It also promised the coast route from the Giant’s Causeway down to Belfast. As the trip got closer it also meant escape from the oppressive heatwave that had held England hostage for the past month.
Preparation for the ride up to our overnight stop in Holyhead was pretty limited and Mrs A and I were soon heading west up the M4 for our rendezvous with Catherine on her Ducati. The only problem was that I had toothache – a condition I hoped might improve once out of the smog of the Thames Valley.
It was the hottest day of the year as we headed out past Tintern Abbey toward the wonderful A49 heading up through Leominster and into deepest Shropshire. The pace increased as we worked our way past the light evening traffic. The fun stepped up a gear as we got onto the A5 and headed into Snowdonia – surely riding this road is one of the best ways to refresh your riding skills!
As we’ve come to expect the airbnb at Holyhead was just the ticket for an overnighter to catch the early morning ferry to Dublin (toothache gone). We headed out of Dublin via the toll road tunnel – at £3 per bike it seemed reasonable though we later found out that the toll rises to £10 at peak time (the same tariff as for a car). We planned to ride the east coast so inadvertently avoided a further toll just up the M1 motorway. Seems Ireland has adopted toll roads tho’ unlike France doesn’t offer suitable alternative routes – the minor roads are just that and not really suitable for ‘making progress’.
The coast route didn’t really offer anything and with hindsight once you’d dodged the toll I’d get back onto the M1 north asap! Riding the coast road however meant we stumbled over the small town of Skerries where just a few weeks earlier William Dunlop had been killed during practice for the local road races. If you’ve ever ridden on road circuits it’s obvious how someone could lose their life. What was mystifying was why a racer of the calibre of William Dunlop was competing at such a provincial event – the same question applied to his uncle Joey and a backwater race in Estonia. A different breed road racers.
We meandered through Newry and took the coastal Mourn Mountain route but still found nothing to ignite our souls. However the airbnb delivered once again as we were met by our hosts Terry and Roberta who were both bike nuts – Terry had prepared Brian Reid’s bikes for six years in the early eighties and was pleased to have someone to swap tales with about Reid, Law and Dunlop. He was also keen to show me his vintage tractor and unrestored, immaculate Triumph TR7 car (which I got to take for a terrifying spin). Mrs A also found a kindred spirit in Roberta who liked the odd glass of wine…:-)
The weather was certainly fresher in Northern Ireland and Saturday promised heavy rain. We’d planned the Titanic Museum in Belfast so no problem, tho’ we had (Mrs A and Catherine) to bump the Atlas in to life which was sulking having spent a night outside in the rain.
We spent a happy morning in Belfast before rain began to fall. We held off heading home for an hour and then decided it wasn’t going to improve and headed off. By the time we reached home the roads had flooded – Mrs A walking through the water to check the level before we rode the Ducati and Atlas to safety!
Not quite Charlie and Ewan but heroic nonetheless…The evening news showed footage of Belfast besieged by floods and of a Kawasaki Ninji up to its axles in water!
Sunday was the grand tour day – out to Derry then down to the Giant’s Causeway and along the coastal route before heading back.
A round trip of 250 miles that started with a bump for both bikes as despite both bikes being undercover (thanks to Terry who took his TR7 out of the garage to make space) they’d obviously discussed matters and the Duke had joined the silent protest!
The roads over to Derry were quiet and solid country roads but not exciting. It was odd for Mrs A and I to roll through towns that sprang out of the news reels of the ’70’s – what was surprising was how small these towns were and also how ordinary they seemed.
Our visit came just after the orange marching season – traditionally where unionists affirm their allegiance to remaining in the UK. Towns were decked out with Union flags, Ulster flags and ‘No Surrender flags. Gantries were erected with coats of arms, pictures of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip along with God fearing slogans. It all seemed a bit intimidating but we put it to one side…
The Giant’s Causeway was well worth the visit and the ride along the coastal route the biking highlight.
We rode the route as the sun faded. The traffic was light the road tight and the sun fell into a flat sea. Catherine’s confidence was rising and she was cutting through the traffic and gliding through bends. The end of a perfect day we thought until we filled with fuel and our English accents attracted the attention of loyalist youths who hurled insults as we rode off. It seems impossible to separate the past from the present…
Monday and it was time to roll home. Fuel is cheaper in Northern Ireland than Ireland – unusually petrol is also the same price on motorways and main roads unlike in the rest of the UK so we fuelled up and headed south.
We rolled in to Dublin for lunch and took in the warm sun and cool vibe that is Ireland’s capital city. Although you cross the border with no passport control you feel like you’re in two different countries. Northern Ireland feels more traditional and Belfast more urban. The architecture reminded me of Wales. Ireland on the other hand has kilometres, the Euro and roadside advertising reminiscent of the Continent in its cheesiness! Some of the villages reminded me of Belgium.
By two o’clock the temperature was hot and the Ducati was beginning to protest – to the point that it needed a bump start to make it on to the ferry. The Atlas played ball, tho’ left a small oil leak on the ferry deck as its calling card…
Back in Wales at six we had the small matter of 250 miles back to Bristol followed by another 75 miles back home down the M4. Snowdonia looked magnificent as we headed east and down the A5 for another roller coast ride 🙂 I wanted to be onto the A49 before nightfall which we achieved. The pace continued down the mainly empty A49 with Catherine sticking with the Atlas. A road closure meant a detour down tiny country roads but we were on it and the pace barely slackened before we arrived in Hereford. On to Bristol via the main A40/M4 and soon over the Severn Bridge with Bristol glittering in the light drizzle that accompanied our entry to England.
So a whistle stop tour of Northern Ireland. We barely scratched the surface but got some of its flavour (good and bad). For motorcycling the coast road is right up there and with more time it would be good to explore some of the signposted scenic roads that branch off inland. It’d also be good to be to slow down the pace, breathe and explore Belfast before the inevitable advance of supermarkets and franchised coffee bars changes its undeveloped charm.
National Rally – Get by with a little help from my friends…
Idle hands make the devil’s work…The Atlas was prep’d to go and I had a day to kill so contemplated replacing the rear sprocket which looked a bit ‘pointy’. It would take less than an hour so off came the rear wheel to reveal knackered cush drive bearings! Lucky I had an assembled cush I could use so all was well.
The National Rally is round 2 of the three event series that makes up the ‘Three Nations Award’. Since the challenges of completing ‘The National’ on the Turismo have passed this event has turned more into a tour of England. It’s relatively easy to cover 540 miles in 20 hours albeit on a 30 year old motorcycle and a self-imposed handicap of no satnav. I try and visit parts of England I don’t normally travel to so planned out a route starting in Stafford, heading north and then back via the east coast and across to Worcester.
I rode up to Stafford first thing in good time for the mid-day start. The Stafford checkpoint has the attraction of a collection of Triumph Tridents (T150/60) and I settled into to conversation with a chap who used to work for Triumph/BSA on the sales side and later as a dealer. Even when new an A65 vibrated so bad it turned his hands white!
I’d been confident about my route directions but within 30 minutes was stopping folk and asking directions. Losing time and with the oppressive heat that was a feature of the British summer, building my morale was dipping. Cheadle town centre was closed for a carnival and then to cap it all I navigated to the wrong branch of McDonalds in Warrington! By the time I arrived at the correct McDonalds I was hot, bothered and beaten.
A Honda CB77 arrived at the same time at Warrington. My first proper bike was a CB72 and I poured over the detail with the owner – who recognised my Atlas from a few years back when I stopped at Harrogate!
After leaving Warrington the first thing I needed was fuel. I managed to get £4.83 in before the pump was turned off – the attendant indicated I needed to remove my helmet before I could get more. There followed an explosion of expletives – I put in the bare minimum to get down the road only to find at Bury I’d left my camera behind! Nothing was going to plan and it was all down to my poor route planning.
Fortunately a rider was going back to Warrington so I gave him my details and asked him to get them to text me. I pushed on to Barnsley where I caught a glimpse of the Saddleworth Moor peat fire but more importantly for the first time got into a bit of flow on the road. It was time to dig deep and see if I could claw back time as I was already over 2 hours behind schedule.
At Barnsley I ran in to Mick and his Morini 1200. Mick was waiting to ride some stages with Keith on his Jota. Keith had taken a different route but there was a cross over and he was about 15 minutes back down the road.
Meeting Mick was a life-line back out of my dark mood. A friendly, encouraging face raised my spirits. By coincidence I received a text from Debs back in Warrington saying my camera was safe. Things were looking up. I pressed on towards >>>> expecting to get caught on the road by the Jota and Morini and sure enough as I was at the side of the road studying the map (!) they cruised by. The Atlas pulled alongside the Jota and then took the helm carving through the bends and then gasping for breathe as I caned it to stay ahead of the less agile but more powerful bikes. By the time we reached the +++++++ checkpoint I’d got my mojo back!
The light was fading which was going to cause problems with my unlit route map but luckily Keith was following the same route for the next 3 checkpoints so I just had to ride shotgun. We said goodbye to Mick who was heading home and pressed on to Langrick. On the open stretches the Atlas struggled to keep with the Jota which could pull away effortlessly.
We were making good progress and I was getting back onto schedule and infact was 30 minutes ahead when I felt the clutch cable snap. I carried on behind Keith going up and down the gears without the clutch until he pulled in to a fortunately well lit garage for fuel. I had a spare ’emergency cable’ so while Keith filled up removed the old inner and threaded a new one down the old outer. All the routing was in place so the job was relatively simple and with Keith helping to tension the cable while I tightened the adjustable nipple (ooo errr) we only lost about 15 minutes.
We went our separate ways at Stibbington.
It was still dark but my next stop was a straightforward run down the A1. I had a minor issue finding fuel and then the more complicated task of getting to Aylesbury for which I had a journey across small country roads planned. I took advice from the checkpoint marshals and elected on a longer route that used bigger roads. It kind of worked but I ended up lost in Aylesbury asking drunks for directions to the checkpoint. I eventually rolled up to the checkpoint only to find Keith in a chair laughing away. He’d finished all but his final checkpoint and literally had hours to kill!
From Aylesbury I was on home turf – no need for a map to find my way to Hungerford (via home for a quick bite to eat) and then on to Carterton. I had to keep focused however as I was on time but if there were any problems I wouldn’t have enough miles left to reach the finish by eight. Having a timed schedule and faith in your estimated average time helps here – you don’t have to belt along you just have to take it steady and make sure you hit your markers.
The marshal at the penultimate checkpoint of Carterton was closing down when I rolled in with 15 minutes to spare. He’d got a very nice GS1150 but I was careful not to allow too much time to leak away with idle chatter. I had a 40 mile ride to finish in Worcester which would be not problem to complete in two hours but you never know what can happen and 15 minutes frittered away at this late stage can prove critical.
The ride was straightforward and quite some fun testing the courage of a Range Rover through the bends on the A44 between Evesham and the M5. This little challenge was helpful in pushing me along, making good time, having fun and not realising how tired I was feeling.
The final checkpoint was reached with an hour to spare. All that remained was to complete my Rally card – confirm the number of checkpoints and miles…and this came to 515 and 22 checkpoints instead of the required 540/23 combo! Turned out the marshal at Gainsborough had written in the Lincoln virtual stop but forgotten his own. The adjudicator at the final stage took pity on me and gave me the benefit of the doubt. I left with a slightly sour tasting Special Gold Award.
The ride home was tricky as tiredness was kicking in. 20 miles from home – I can see how folk fall asleep on a motorcycle and was glad to pull up at home.
It had been an unnecessarily stressful ride on account of my poor route planning. The weather was too hot for my taste which didn’t help my mood… Aside from the broken clutch cable the Atlas didn’t miss a beat and proved once again what a practical motorcycle it is.
Once again however the main ‘takeaway’ is being reminded of power of people to pull you through tough times. All the checkpoint crews gave encouragement with Debs and the Warrington crew covering the lost camera and keeping in touch via texts. My buddy Steve left a goodwill message at the ppppp checkpoint and then Mick and Keith put a metaphorical arm round my shoulder at a critical time. You’re never alone on a motorcycle…
LCF Rally Civrac-en-Medoc
Breaking down is unwelcome but not something to get stressed about. The luxury of international recovery and credit cards means a solution is not far away. If rolling to a halt is preceded by ominous mechanical noises then first thoughts are about breakdown recovery but normally a breakdown sees the bike just coasting to a halt.
I looked in the mirror and no sign of Dean! We swung the bike round and back up the road and there was the SF under a tree with no spark. It was too damned hot to be out in the sun so we picked our spot.
Dean had already begun to go through a series of checks suspecting a fault with the ignition switch. The gremlin had first shown up a couple of days earlier when the SF wouldn’t start leaving the ferry from Royan to Pointe de Graves. Dean had the ignominy of being pushed off the boat by Mrs A only for the bike to miraculously fire up on arriving the quayside. We’d discounted it as ‘one of those things’ and carried on with the various ride outs that formed part of the Laverda Club de France (LCF) annual rally that this year was held at Civrac-rn-Medoc, near Bordeaux.
France is closed on a Sunday but we’d stopped next to an automatic baguette machine (maBaguette) for €1.05 so along with fruit and chocolate we soon had a little snack on the go as Dean worked through the wiring. The local bar was opened by the owner for a couple of his friends so we snook in and watched Dean work while Mrs A had beer. All was well with the world. The fault was traced to a loose battery connection and we were soon back on the road.
Just two days earlier I’d found myself lying on the deck of the Seven Sisters ferry with tools spread out adjusting a chain with a massive tight spot.
With literally weeks to prepare the Atlas I’d been merrily playing ‘mechanic’ fitting and checking this and that – fresh oil, new battery, sprag rollers, low mileage front disc and a big helping of silicon to stop the alternator ‘bung’ leaking. I’d even adjusted the damn chain but forgotten the obvious to see if it had any tight spots. I’d noticed an engine noise when we slowed and how it went when I pulled in the clutch so I figured maybe a bearing in the gearbox or clutch. Either way I’d decided it would most likely hold up for the 2000 kms trip down to Bordeaux and back.
The ride to Newhaven was glorious. The A272 and A283 is a scenic route that’s still challenging at legal speeds and gives great views across the South Downs. At the ferry we’d struck up conversation with an Aussie couple who’d been loaned a GS to ride down to Spain (we’d all like friends like that hey). It was a nice way to spend time ’til the guy turned in to a braggart listing all the bikes he had back home…I smiled as he went on to tell me all about the gearbox on a DR Suzuki which was what he’d mistaken the blue Atlas for…some folk just like to broadcast…
The Newhaven – Dieppe crossing was new for us but the price and sailing times both suited us. However getting onto French soil with barely four hours sleep at 5 am was a mistake. Bleary eyed we headed into a cold landscape shrouded in early morning mist. We were headed for Alencon just north of Le Mans and had plenty of time so took the scenic route over the Pont de Brotonne in the Parc Nationale Regional des Boucles de la Seine Normandie. The cold and mist spoiled the spectacle and we meandered down to Pont Audemer to grab coffee and check over the chain at our friends motorcycle shop.
We’d done a fairly good job adjusting the chain on the ferry so the check just confirmed it’s poor health but importantly the sprockets were ‘okay’ if a little ‘pointy’. It was something that ought to last so I replaced the gearbox cover and resolved not to look at it again until we got home (what you don’t see can’t hurt). We only had a thousand miles ahead of us…
We’d travelled the road from Pont Audemer to Alencon many times en route to Le Mans. We cruised as the heat of the day built and took a break at Gace where I had a power nap on a bench outside the impressive church – Mrs A explained to locals that I was ‘tres fatigue’.
We’d booked airbnb accommodation for the trip down and back and we struck gold with the cottage just outside Alencon which was modern and super clean – there was even a beaver in the nearby stream and an open barn to park the Atlas up for the night. We were asleep by ten.
We had a Friday morning rendezvous with Dean (GTL) who’d landed in Caern that morning and Keith (Series 2 Jota) who was travelling down from an overnight in Evereux. As we rolled in to Beaumont sur Sarthe there they were.
We’d planned a 400 kms route down to Royan avoiding motorways. The heat was building as the Atlas led off followed by the GTL with the Jota bringing up the rear. The D347 and D938 suited our cruising speed of 90 to 100 kph with long stretches of traffic free, tree lined open roads. Glancing back in my mirror gave a fantastic view of two Breganze legends commanding the roads. A stop to refuel ourselves and the bikes at Thouars and then on to Royan and the 20 minute ferry across to Pointe de Graves.
Ferries, no matter how mundane, always provide some excitement as you watch one shore fade and another come in to view. The air was hot even on the glistening sea. It was good to be out of the saddle and just have time to relax. We were joined on the ferry by fellow Laverdisti Frederic Drufin on his Corsa which completed the unusual spectacle of four Laverdas outnumbering a single Yamaha.
The ride to the rally site revealed flat marshland that led to rich red soil and acres of vineyards. The rally site – an extended house/hostel, was tucked away amongst fields of vines. The motorcycles were mainly parked up in an open barn…but disappointingly numbers were low with only about 15 Laverda and a similar number of other marques.
There were a couple of very tidy SF’s (one taking the ‘Nick and Dean Trophy’ for best bike) a Domingo prepared 1200 that looked brand new, a low mileage Ghost, a Mk 1 Atlas that had changed hands within the club and then the normal selection of 180/120 triples.
We spent a happy evening catching up with folk whilst watching Dean repair a throttle barrel that had cracked allowing the cable nipple to come out of its slot. The electrical gremlin leaving the ferry seemed to have gone…
There were a few excursions planned for the Saturday – an appearance at what appeared to be a classic car rally (like WRC), then on for lunch and then finishing off with a tour of a vineyard within walking distance of our rally site.
The classic car rally was organised by ‘Radio du Sport Automobile en Aquitaine’ and the Laverdas were ushered up onto the starting stage as a display.
The display of mainly crusty non standard bikes seemed to fit with the vibe of the event where folk were more interested in ‘go’ rather than ‘show’. The radio station compère flitted about grabbing interviews and was stopped in his tracks by Keith who when collared for an interview asked him if he could speak English…unfortunately this went out live over the PA! So it was on to the picnic where the sun briefly gave way to small rain shower but unfortunately the temperature didn’t dip.
The GTL and Atlas rode out to Paulliac where we sat by the marina and Mrs A topped up on beer.
I passed on the final activity which was a tour of a vineyard. Mrs A reported back on a splendid lecture on vinification of which she understood maybe 5%… at least it was cool in the cellars and there was sampling!
Saturday night was BBQ and the hijinks carried on well in to the night… We had to catch an early return ferry across to Royan and found ourselves tiptoeing over Denis who had gone to sleep in the corridor having failed to make it to his bed.
Keith decided to forego the ferry and set off with Dominque to ride via Bordeaux. The Atlas and SF headed out with a French guy on another SF. It was nice to enjoy the crispness of the morning air – it was set to be another hot day with the threat of thunderstorms and heavy rain.
The French SF turned out to be an interesting bike. He’d owned the bike for over 20 years and it was on its third engine when he bought it – so no matching engine numbers. In the next 20 years however the bike has only required a rebore and pistons which is more in line with a solid SF. The bike was in regular use back in the day but the heavy Parisian traffic and resultant environmental restrictions mean it now just comes out on high days and holidays. We rode as a trio ’til our paths diverged at Saintes where the SF peeled off onto the A10 and the long ride back to Paris.
The Atlas and SF pressed on to Niort and then began to retrace our outward route. The temperature was rising but so far no sign of thunder and rain. We kept a steady 100 kph pace ’til just past Saumur I looked in the mirror and no sign of Dean! We swung the bike round and back up the road and there was the SF under a tree with no sparks. It was too damned hot to be out in the sun so we picked our spot. Dean had already begun to go through a series of checks suspecting a fault with the ignition switch.
We’d come to a halt in a one-horse town but it did have the aforementioned mabaguette and a bar so all was well as we watched Dean toil away in the sun ’til he finally found an errant battery connection.
We finished our drinks and moved off but now we seemed to be riding in to the threatened rain and thunderstorms. The big open landscape meant you could see the dark clouds initially to the east but then to the north where we were headed.
We reduced our speed as we passed Le Mans but just outside Alencon the heavens opened sending a flash flood of brown water down the road. It was amazing how the road quickly turned in to a river – fire tenders were soon out and about pumping out flooded basements. We took refuge under the canopy of a supermarket and Dean went back through his electrics while I adjusted my chain…
The rain moved up the rode so we rode slowly in its wake trying not to catch it up…and when we did pulled over for coffee and a cheeky beer for Mrs A. Finally the rain cleared and we headed north with Dean branching off for Caen. By Bernay we’d caught the rain and this time took shelter in a garage for 30 minutes before carrying on through to our final airbnb just outside Dieppe.
This airbnb was a garden ‘studio’ which was very quirky in a ‘Miss Ming’ kind of way. The next morning I rode and collected bread and rhubarb jam (yes, rhubarb can you believe it) and we sat in the overgrown garden reflecting on the trip.
Despite my poor machine preparation the Atlas hadn’t missed a beat. I’m benefiting from years of road-hardening but this won’t last forever. It had been good to share the road with the SF and Jota and remember back to the 80’s when you weren’t riding an antique. The roads had been typically French – light traffic, great surface and long straights lined with trees. The rally had all the ingredients except there were so few Laverdas. Is this the beginning of the end I wonder? None of us are getting any younger so perhaps the format of such events has to change to reflect our declining strength and perhaps appetite for a long road trip with a bunk house and BBQ at the end. Yes we were all young once…
More pictures can be found here
Welsh National Rally – 2018
Nothing is straightforward.
I pressed the starter button and was greeted with a decidedly ‘tired’ starter or to be more accurate battery. The huge Harely-Davidson battery with less than 12 months on the clock was showing it’s age and struggling to turn the engine.
We were staying in a cute 2 up 2 down terrace in Berriew the residents of which were enjoying their 7 am slumbers…The Atlas reluctantly coughed in to life. I upped the revs to help the cold engine handle the steep rise out of the lane…epic fail! I squeezed the button again. The bespoke unhardened sprag rollers were feeling the strain and initially didn’t grip. Squeezed again and finally they broke through the cold, syrupy 20/50 and we were away. The little terrace settled back in to its slumbers until Catherine thumbed her Ducati 600 Monster complete with carbon cans…My sympathy for our neighbours was slightly tempered by the nocturnal tryst performed by the octogenarian couple we shared a wall with. As the wall thumped away I reflected that the ageing Laverdisti community could take some comfort from the knowledge that regular servicing does indeed ensure everything remains ‘factory fresh’. Mrs A slept on the couch…
If you think of a country in May that enjoys 25ºC heat, has mountain mist tumbling down into the sea, lush countryside, billiard table smooth, clear roads are you thinking of the French Pyrennes, the Algarve or perhaps the Adriatic coast…well maybe but you could also be thinking of Wales! For the second year running Wales rewarded rallyists and helped purge memories of driving rain and biting cold that one normally associates with this event. When the sun shines Wales is pretty hard to beat.
We signed in and headed out to our first checkpoint at Pontfadog. There were 12 unmanned, 3 manned and 4 ‘Dragon’ checkpoints to visit over a total distance of 300 miles. We passed a Ducati that had been rear ended at the first roundabout, his prospects of an awesome days riding in tatters.
Catherine planned the route and created a detailed set of directions (no satnav for us) using the strategy of good ‘A’ roads and keeping detours down ‘goat tracks’ to the bare minimum.
This strategy makes navigation easier, the route faster and as importantly less tiring. A lot of planning has to go in to this as google wants to keep you going forward all the time and doesn’t necessarily distinguish between an A road and goat track as the latter are often nominally rated at the same 60 mph! The other considerations when planning is to try and get the route to flow so checkpoints naturally follow each other and finally to set a timetable so you can see if you’re ‘on time’ (to do this we assumed a 30 mph average with an hour for lunch).
Catherine’s directions not only include the road numbers but also through the use of google streetview reference to local buildings and sites to help ensure you don’t miss a junction. All her hard work paid off as we didn’t miss any junctions (remember Catherine is using written instructions read through the clear window on her tankbag). On occasion we found ourselves jumping ahead of fellow rallyists who took the more direct route only to discover it was slower.
It was easy street for me as it became clear that it made more sense for me to follow Catherine’s lead and let Mrs A jump off at the checkpoints to either find the answer to the clue or get cards stamped. It felt good to track my daughter and admire the lines she took through the bends.
First manned checkpoint at Ruthin came up and we realised we hadn’t written the route right to the door of the checkpoint which looked like being a problem until we came across Steve on his Piaggo 125 scooter! He’d already been to the Ruthin so gave us directions and waved us on our way 🙂 While Mrs A took care of getting our card stamped I struck up conversation with the driver of a natty Citreon 2CV powered Lomax three wheeler. He and his partner were enjoying the sun like the rest of us until he noticed a leaking oil cooler (incidentally the same as on a Laverda triple)! He started doing a bit of problem solving…
…so I wandered over to a Triumph T150 sporting leading link forks and off-road sidecar – mad!
The weather was hot but as we headed toward our next manned stop at Colwyn Bay we rode in to mist rolling off the hills and by the time we got to the A55 you couldn’t see the sea. Once again we didn’t have specific instructions for the manned stop and Colwyn Bay is quite a big town. We stopped for petrol and asked around. A couple of guys in a builders lorry gave us instructions but found themselves being drawn in to our adventure and ended up telling us to follow them. Until now the errant sprag had been reasonably well behaved as the hot oil was nice and thin…however the Atlas wasn’t playing ball. I thumbed the starter praying it would start. The sprag clutch failed to engage, caught, complained then finally the engine came to life we were off – hurrah!
The checkpoint was located at the KTM/Honda dealership and after a quick chat we were told they had an unusual shaft drive XLR. The XLR carries the same speedo and rev counter as the Atlas (I think the Honda was assembled in Italy) so I took a few pictures of the speedo drive as I was sure the Honda speedo gearbox would be better executed than the rubbish on the Atlas (I was right)!
I also spied a rather nifty CL360 left seemingly unloved (probably should’ve been ‘cos the G5 engine was a disappointment after the legendry K4) in the shade. Fortunately I’d planned our departure by parking at the top of the parking bays – we elegantly rolled down the hill and bumped in to life like we just couldn’t be bothered to use the starter…
The Capel Curig to Brynrefail ride provided a real wow as we looked over across Llynnau Mymbyr to the dramatic Snowdon horseshoe framed by a blue sky – heaven.
At Nanttle the phone box clue had been removed but enterprising residents selling snacks told us it had been removed the previous week (google street view does indeed still show the phone box) – we just noted this down found a slope and Mrs A bumped us back in to life!
I’ve ridden to Harlech a few times and never tire of the road in along the coast. The castle at Harlech dominates as you approach and with the blue sky and bright sun everything was well with the world. We rode in to the final manned stop, a rather ‘municipal’ leisure centre. I was greeted by Gerald as we arrived – we’ve kept in touch since a National Rally where we bumped in to each other at Stevenage – me on the Turismo and him on his Pan European (little and large I guess). As we swapped tales the Lomax we’d last seen at Ruthin with a busted oil cooler motored in!
Seemed the AA fixed the problem by bypassing the oil cooler. The (now entirely air-cooled) Lomax was running fine but best of all were the wide grins on the faces of the driver and co-pilot! Not so fine however was the combination of a flat carpark and emotional sprag. This was going to be too much for Mrs A so we gathered a posse and the Atlas bumped in to life! Looking across the campsite I caught the eye of an anodyne adventure bike who seemed to be wondering who was actually enjoying an adventure…
I’m always struck by the outstanding beauty of the coast and then the contrast as you drop down in to the ‘kiss me quick’ vibe of Barmouth. The road out of Barmouth along the Afon Mawddach estuary is full of nice flowing bends which were initially compromised by an arse in a supermarket delivery van who made overtaking a chore. We got past and enjoyed the road then crossed the picturesque wooden toll bridge and arrived at Penmaenpool where we had a break.
We were well ahead of schedule and thoughts turned to just ‘bringing it home’ – so close to the end you don’t want to have an incident at the 11th hour. Gerald came over the bridge, checked we were okay before heading down the road. The Atlas was on a slope and with Mrs A suitably rested we were off again!
A short ride to collect our final ‘Dragon’ at Dolgellau saw us then set out on the 30 mile run to Llanwddyn down the A470 Bwlch Oerddrws pass with big open views across Snowdonia national park and a really nice rhythm. With no navigation responsibilities I sit behind Catherine’s Ducati and enjoy the gentle curves and bathe in the fading golden light that cast across Aran Fawddwy and its subsiduary Aran Benllyn mountains. Perfect.
We had a short detour on a single track road from the A470 to get to Llanwddyn. With gravel down the centre line and plenty of time in hand we took things real steady – stopping to take pictures and generally milk every last ounce from the day.
A final bump down a hill (Mrs A got time off for good behaviour) and we were down back in to Welshpool to pick up our awards. Catherine had earned her Gold!
The organisers, Clive MCC, are a friendly bunch and soon we were chatting to a chap who’d ridden the day on his BSA DB 32. We also checked out a nice Norton Commando. No other Laverdas and a subsequent check on the results showed the Atlas was the only Breganze entry.
Drunk on success I decided to push my luck and see if the Atlas had enough pride to start on the button. It was a struggle but like a punch drunk fighter it lifted itself off the canvass for one last round – a cheer went up from fellow rallyists and we left with a modicum of dignity…only to see the trusty Lomax make the finish. We spun the Atlas round to congratulate them – if they were grinning in Harlech they were overjoyed at the end. ‘Don’t turn off the bike’ the pilot suggested as we shook hands (he’d clocked the flat carpark…). ‘What a great adventure we’ve had’ he exclaimed delighted that they’d overcome what seemed sure to be a DNF. And that kind of defines the spirit of the rally: great people, great ride and a few more stories in the tankbag…
a Belle France – 24 Heures du MansApril 2018 Foreign travel more or less began with the annual pilgrimage to Le Mans. My first trip (on the Jota) began with a speeding rap before I’d left the UK, electrical failure just 20 miles in to France leading to a 30 year friendship and membership of the Laverda Club de France – Le Mans has a place in my heart. 18 years has passed since I last attended – the Jota is in pieces, replaced by the trusty Atlas…The Le Mans weekend was going to be a trip down memory lane. I ambled down the motorway to meet Dean. I’d fitted a different front wheel with sensors to get the digital speedo to work (it didn’t) and discovered it had a warped front disc! While pondering this Dean, on his smart GTL, came past and we settled in to a 65 mph convoy to the fuel stop just down from the ferry. The GTL is low mileage and in great condition – it was like glass under the street lights. I fuelled up but Dean had already done so about 12 miles back up the road. We were gassed up and ready to go… It made a welcome change to dock in Le Havre as opposed to the flat and functional landscape near Calais. Riding out in the bright morning, through the town, the pungent oil refinery with steep chalk escarpments to the left before rising up to the Pont de Tancarville. Once over the bridge it’s down into pretty Normandy countryside with picturesque cottages with wooden beams set in cob walls. Dean helped us breathe in the atmosphere with an unscheduled stop to tighten a mirror that had vibrated loose…guess that’s why the Atlas has a balancer shaft…Still Dean was sure this wasn’t a breakdown. We’d taken the Pont de Tancarville over the more recent Pont de Normandie because we wanted to follow our old route and drop in on our friend who runs a motorcycle shop in Pont Audemir. 30 years ago when my Jota expired with a flat battery Philippe came past in his van complete with Laverda logo and offered us use of his garage. Can you imagine breaking down in the middle of nowhere and finding the village has a Laverda dealer…Ever since tradition dictates we drop by for coffee. Dean carried out a plug change which I was assured was routine maintenance and not a breakdown.
Philippe has some interesting bikes – competition air-cooled Ducati’s that are used in classic racing + a tidy 1200 Mirage styled like an SFC. A SF(C) engine housed in a Moto Martin frame originally made for a Kawasaki 550. The concept ends up much like an Egli and looks very purposeful – sadly uncompetitive in modern classic events and now destined to be returned to the road. Coffee finished, plugs changed we pushed on to our next stop at Gace. The roads to Bernay and then Gace follow a Roman road and are mainly straight (with the exception of some nice ‘twisties near Montfort) so you keep an eye out for speed traps. Fortunately the tradition of warning you with a flash of lights still endures (turned out just to be a police car stopped at a roundabout). However even the Atlas struggled to stay within the 90 kph speed limit and we ended up at a steady 100 kph which meant we overtook most other traffic that was holding back for fear of ‘Le Flic’! The cafe opposite Le Tahiti cinema in Gace is a recognised meeting point on the road to Le Mans. Dean celebrated our arrival by getting the tools out to change the new plugs back for old – apparently they’d matters worse! Dean assured me there’d been no breakdown…. We lazed around in the sun for an hour before saddling up for the final 130 kilometres. The road by-passed Sees but the other villages such as Beaumont Sur Sane, Fey and Juillet where just as I remembered. As I rolled in to Alencon I remembered back to the time we overloaded the Jota with beer, how we’d found a toolbox in the road one time and then the incident with Dean and the wires to coil on his old SF2 – I looked in the mirror and no Dean! We hunted around for tin cans but initially used plastic cups to decant fuel from the Atlas to the GTL. The plastic cups started to melt so we switched to a discarded McDonalds paper cup and soon had the GTL running – those 12 extra miles used before the ferry in England would have come in handy… Dean assured me that running out of petrol did not constitute a breakdown… The road from Alencon to Le Mans passes through Juillie with the river and level crossing – the armco barrier reinforcement where a bike slid under the unshuttered barrier is still in place. I wonder if the ‘skinned’ rider still returns? Past Jullie and Beaumont sur Sarthe where I fell off my BSA Bantam getting a tow from Dean on his Morini – some lads in a van moved their beer, loaded up the D14/4 while I got on the back of a R80 and we headed back to Le Havre! Happy days. Soon we were in Le Mans getting lost on the ring road but eventually we pulled up at the Concentration campsite (so called I believe because it was the site of a concentration camp) and handed over €90 which given the showers and loo’s worked all weekend didn’t seem bad value (mind you no complimentary sandwich these days). The campsite was a sea of mainly standard bikes…pretty dull. Gone were the clutches of folk gathered around a Moto Martin special or a kitted Ducati. I thought Le Mans would have bought out these kinds of bikes but maybe they don’t exist anymore outside collectors garages. The knock on was that making conversation with strangers didn’t come so easy – difficult to ask anything about a standard Yamaha MT-07 really… The two Laverdas were a bit of a tonic and attracted a lot of attention. Dean’s very smart GTL was the draw but then this led folk to spot the Atlas which many thought initially was a Suzuki DR (folk often mistake the red Mk 3’s for Yamaha XT’s). The Atlas wasn’t imported to France so most people didn’t realise Laverda had even made it! Dean seemed to enjoy referring to it as ‘tres fatigue’!
Lurking a few tents away was something far more interesting in the form of a diesel made in Germany by Sommer. Ian, the owner, had ridden down from Brighton at a steady 55 mph returning a very respectable 137 mpg!!! The Sommer is very neatly constructed with not only a German Hartz diesel engine but belt drive too. It makes me wonder if the future is going to be electric… Quite wisely Ian kept the Sommer under a cover for most of the meeting – on a number of occasions he resisted showing the bike off for fear it would ‘blow the minds’ of folk already reeling from the discovery of Laverda adventure bike! Still our collection of bikes did mean we made contact with the locals bringing with it the benefit of shared sliced meat and even a bottle of St Emilion Grand Cru! The weekend is roughly divided in to two; the race and the campsite ‘antics’. The highlight of a 24 race is the start and finish – unfortunately we would be away before the finish so we were determined to enjoy the start. There are free stands opposite the pits and start line but these fill up fast leaving an open terrace. Temperatures of 30+ degrees made us stump up the extra €20 for a grandstand seat above pit lane which gave a commanding view. We’d put our copies of The Guardian away and cheered as the brolly dollies tottered onto the tarmac (one fainted in the heat). We cheered along with the French who were stirred up by the passionate commentator. We stood and sang along to La Marseillaise like the good Europeans all Brits’ are…The 60 second warning was given, the drums started, a fighter plane flew low over the track the claxton sounded and they were off! For the first few laps the riders put on a show like any other race but as soon as teams start to pit the illusion that you’re watching a short-circuit contest disappears. Watching the race you can see that the focus is on distance and that there is little wheel to wheel dicing – everyone leaves plenty of overtaking space. We wandered around the circuit stopping every so often to watch the bikes glide through the corners. The safety car was called out a few times and this showed up how mechanically quiet these bikes are at real world speeds – the exhaust is muted and there wasn’t even any chain noise as they rolled along. Michael Laverty and Michael Dunlop were among the runners but the machine that caught our eye was #45 the Metiss prototype running a radical front end. It’s always nice to have your eye on a runner – alas it failed at the 17th hour. For me the best part of an endurance race is watching the bikes at night. The bikes have illuminated number plates and you can see the flames from the exhaust on the overrun. Best of all is to go round in the early hours – hardcore fans are crashed out at the side of the track and the circuit takes on an eerie atmosphere with deserted stands and silent funfairs while the teams have to maintain their focus just as if it’s 3 pm. The balmy air made the early morning far more pleasant than in other years. I just sat in the main stand and let my thoughts drift… The organisers recognise that for some folk it is the campsite and not the race that they come for – you can buy a camping only ticket for a very reasonable €20 – although the best ‘action’ is always to be found in the free campsite opposite the main grandstand. The campsite antics were more subdued than in the past. Partly this was because the average age of those on the site must’ve been 40+ but also because of the bland nature of many of the bikes. There were however still those who came prepared. Car engines on plinths which had petrol poured into the carbs to produce a good flame or bikes with bucket sized silencers that howled and backfired as the ignition was switched on and off. Every time someone started up a crowd would gather and egg them on – at least one lad looked a bit depressed the next day when he saw what he’d done to his R1! Dope was much in evidence wherever you strolled but particularly on the free campsite. The revellers danced along to techno all wide eyed and in some cases naked (why is it that men always feel the need to get their knob out). We ended up turning in at 2am both nights. We couldn’t stay to the end as the ferry left Le Havre at 17:00 so after one last circuit we broke down the camp said our farewells and started to head north. The weather was still baking and we were both looking forward to rolling gently homeward. We fuelled up in Alencon and pressed on to just outside Pont Audemer and the little village of Lieury for one last slice of France…We were rewarded with a cute Mobylette that was ridden to the cafe for lunch. So the bikes were strapped down, the gangplank hoisted and we headed home drifting off to sleep, running through our travels in our dreams The trip to Le Mans challenged the idea that you should never go back for fear an event won’t live up to your memories. Surprisingly little had changed in 18 years. It was less frenetic but still retained a decent blend of hedonism and French theatre. Riding a ‘classic bike’ to a contemporary event worked well – especially when the country has a national speed limit of just 90 kph – but most importantly because it acted as a conduit into conversations and new friendships. The Laverda Atlas, truly a bike of the modern era. Nick 🙂 More photos to be found here: Le Mans 2018 The Frozen South – Laverda V6 Tribute, Paul Ricard March 2018
We looked down at the oil on the alternator case – ‘We’re going to ignore that aren’t we?’ said Mrs A. ‘Yes’ I replied, finished tying down the luggage and we pulled into the Calais traffic heading south. We’d continue heading south for the next 1,000 kilometres. It’d been the usual chaos before leaving. The day before I’d traced a short to the ignition switch… …installed oversize rollers in the starter sprag and taken it for a 20 mile test ride picking up some camping gas along the way. On the day of departure I’d changed the oil put on a new chain and installed a wheel with a good tyre off another Atlas. We were good to go though I suspected the alternator bung on the top of the case might ‘weep’ having been disturbed. A little oil looks a lot worse than it is so I resolved to check the level from time to time but not get too concerned unless my right boot got too ‘wet’. The destination was Montpellier with a stop somewhere in between – we’d not booked anything because we weren’t sure how far we’d get. The Atlas was starting (oversize sprag rollers remember) and running well as we headed down the A28/A16 past Rouen then Chartres at a steady 100 kph (60 mph). The cold snap that had swept the UK had crossed The Channel too and I wished I’d fitted the handlebar muffs. Mrs A and me both wore waterproof jackets to keep the wind off – fortunately it wasn’t raining. By the end of the day it seemed we had entered a polar expedition rather than the suntan and thong mini-break I’d promised Mrs A! Frozen, we retreated to an out of town hotel in Bourges having covered 550 kms. Thursday was set to be a ‘big’ day on the road. We had nearly 700 kms ahead of us and it was still damned cold! The sprag was holding up, three twists on the throttle to prime the carb’ and the Atlas sprang into life. We’d plotted a non peage route on the satnav but got embroiled in a touch of ‘satnav madness’ whereby we were taken down a miriade of small roads which according to the Garmin programme represented the fastest ‘non – toll’ route.
The temperature was just 2 degrees and with the wind felt even colder. We took a break at Montmaraualt – my hands so cold I had to let them warm up before I could go inside for coffee! The Atlas pressed on without missing a beat past Clermont-Ferrand and the central massif that took us up to 1100 metres and a sustained an altitude of 800+ metres. The landscape was barren. We crossed the impressive Millau Viaduct, looking east we could see snow on the tops of mountains. The temperature began to rise as we descended toward Lodeve. It felt odd to be following signs to ‘Barcalone’ – just think less than two days before we’d been in Oxfordshire! As we neared Meze the architecture and landscape took on a distinctly Mediterranean feel. We had drinks in the harbour then sat down to dinner and tales of daring do with our hosts Jean-Pierre and Joelle.
Jean-Pierre rides a distinctive and unique Laverda triple sidecar. He’d just had the outfit repainted and engine overhauled – it looked a treat sitting in the morning sun. We took the coast road (peage) to Le Castelle and the Paul Ricard circuit – a ride of maybe 250 kms. Lucky for the Atlas the outfit was being run in. We cruised at 100 kph but clearly the triple had plenty more in the tank! At a petrol stop Jean-Pierre advised us to be cautious about using the 95/E10 ‘bio-fuel’ as it wasn’t good for old bikes. If ordinary 95 octane fuel wasn’t on offer you had to go for 98 octane which on motorways was a mind-boggling £1.70 a litre! I noticed thereafter that at some fuel stops you could only buy ordinary 95 octane by credit card. Subtle discrimination? As luck would have it we arrived at the circuit at the same time as the posse from the Laverda Club de France (LCF) who’d booked our tickets. We tucked in behind the LCF van and rode straight to The Paddock with a minimum of the notorious French love of bureacracy! Unfortunately (for me) it soon became clear to Mrs A that everyone else was in a hotel or gite…we unpacked the tent and I tried to pretend it wasn’t damned cold! LCF joined forces with the Amicale 750 club and created a shared gazebo area. We learned that our cruising speed of 100 kph was 10 kph more than the national speed limit. The limit is due to drop to just 80 kph from the 1st July and the consensus was that the limit will be enforced. There’s a real campaign in France over speed (driven [sic] also I suspect by the need to reduce emmissions). The consequence of the 90 kph limit is convoys crawling along like you’re in an average speed camera zone. I just can’t imagine riding on long straight and empty French roads at 80 kph – especially not on a Jota! Despite the cold there was a real buzz about the place. We were there to celebrate the V6 but this was just part of a big weekend that saw appearences not only from the V6, Piero Laverda and the Laverda Corsa team but also Freddie Spencer, Wayne Gardener, Christian Sarron and Steve Baker. The whole vibe was laid back with fans able to talk to the stars and get right up to the historic bikes. Jim Redman’s Honda sounded awesome! I particularly enjoyed the two-strokes from the 70’s and 80’s, especially the ones with ambitions beyond their status running monocoque frames and mechanical anti-dive suspension. It seems to me that there was a time that even riders without a works contract still dreamt of glory 🙂 The Laverda Corse garage was really welcoming with Piero being generous with his time – a real ambassador for the marque. Giovanni was also available to everyone and Jean-Louis Oliver worked hard to make sure everyone had a good time. Laverda Corse had the V6, TTF1 Replica and a zane based Barcelona rep’…funny enough I’m not sure they were running an SFC? Still if you wanted to see an SFC though there was no shortage, similarly Spaceframe triples. There were clusters of bikes alongside tents and vans behind The Paddock – small groups of Laverda twins and triples which displayed various go faster modifications. The Laverda race bike look is fundamentally to paint the bike orange silver and then make it look as much like an SFC 750 as possible! The 2018 essentials are four pot Brembo’s, lightweight wheels and ignition that you can plug a laptop in to. We bumped in to Rob and Nicky Bradbury and the ILOC tent which housed their TTF1 Rep and SFC 750 – very nice. Unfortunately Rob couldn’t help but talk about their stay in a chateaux and the overnight in a hotel overlooking the Mediterrean at Bandol…Mrs A went quiet again…
Aside from Laverda there were plenty of TZ Yamaha and Rotax based twins along with a few bits of Brit’ iron and a Ducati or two. There were also trade stands with one displaying the French made Midual which at €180,000 made the £55,000 contemporary Brough Superior seem like good value! There was one particularly impressive triple – it was my bike of the meeting until I noticed it was running two rear brake caliphers? A total contradiction of the rest of the bike which was devoid of anything superfluous to winning. A really tidy RGS Corsa with bespoke top and bottom yokes and wire wheels almost took my heart until I decided the standard RGS front mudguard was too full with the 110 front tyre. So finally I went for a triple that was ridden to the circuit each day that had been modified by the owner to include a monoshock rear end with ohlins shock, Ducati forks with bespoke damping mechanism, bespoke wheels running low and wide profile tyres, ignitech ignition, high output alternator, larger than stock oil cooler and 1970’s period twin headlamp fairing. The owner had carried out all the work and was planning a 1300cc upgrade! It wasn’t a ‘looker’ but if you did poke around you started to appreciate all the work that had gone into the creation and meeting the owner and enjoying his pride and enthusiasm was the icing on the cake. Top bike! A highlight was going to be the parade lap in honour of the V6 and by 12:45 I was warming up the Atlas ready for the off. The parade was led off by the V6 and the Laverda Corse bikes with a reported 150 bikes in tow! It was great fun hearing all the noise as we assembled, filtered down pit lane and then out onto the track…As we entered the first corner it occurred to me that riding on the track is a bit more difficult than it appears on the TV. The track is very wide which was helpful in accommodating the multitude of lines being dreamt up by Laverdisti drunk on the experience. There was no pace car so speed was limited by the pace of the V6! The police spec’ SF entertained everyone with its sirens and the range of bikes and ability must have provided a comic spectacle for anyone watching the corners but what the hell I wound the Atlas on down the straights and messed up all the corners but was having a blast. By the time our two laps were up I was exhausted and full of respect for all those racing for real. Laverdamania hosted a post parade buffet and the air was thick with fishermans tales… The cold Sunday morning saw two Laverdisti emerge from their tent and shuffle over to Dominic in his plush Mercedes camper van. Dominic had the kettle on. Friday night had been colder than Saturday. We’d learned to sleep in all our clothes + woolly hats and buffs pulled up over our noses. We’d drifted off to the sound of the 4 hour endurance race – not as bad as you might think, a consistent lullaby of Jap’ fours with the occasional Bologne twin, think of it as the motorcycle equivalent of counting sheep. Mrs A broke the tent down (muttering) as I had one last wander around the pits and took a few last minute photos. By midday the Atlas was packed and we exchanged ‘au reviours’ and ‘bonne routes’ ignored the calls from security and wobbled through a clutch of racers returning to the pits followed the sortie signs and were soon heading north. I hate paying to use roads but our priority was to get some miles in so we used the peage all the way to Lyon. It was the right decision, smooth tarmac, no congestion or difficult navigation decisions and a cast iron average speed of 100 kph. Taking the route to Lyon meant we travelled at much lower altitude as you are on the plain between two mountain ranges. Sunday was also the warmest and brightest day and we both enjoyed being immersed in our own little worlds as the miles rolled by. At Lyon we left the peage (with a receipt for £25 worth of tolls) and started to head for Dijon. We didn’t expect to get to Dijon we just planned to ride until it felt like a good time to stop.
As tiredness and nighfall kicked in the temperature began to fall. We stopped at a run down hotel at Belleville but pressed on when they asked 70 euro for a room that smelt damp! By the time we got to Tournus we were beat and luckily found the bike friendly (there was a carved H-D sign on the stable doors) Le Relais de L’Abbaye hotel and an en-suite room with secure undercover parking for just 50 euro’s. We’d covered 500 kms that afternoon so after a shower Mrs A revived herself in the bar. We collapsed into bed and slept like the dead! Monday morning was grey and gloomy. We had 700 kms to Calais and just over 900 kms to home so needed to get a wriggle on! The Atlas sniffed the air and started like a charm. I’d plotted a route via Dijon, Chaumont then Reims. We’d inadvertently chosen a truckers route. The roads were clear and straight – we kept an eye out for ‘Le Flic’ and settled in to a 100 kph rhythm. Reims was the critical point where depending on time we could either head over to Lille or if time was tight go directly north up the peage to Calais. We rolled in to Reims ahead of schedule and found a bar on the outskirts headed toward Laon and Lille. The roads towards Lille remained clear and straight until we picked up the dual carriageway and the old road to the ferry terminal. The UK media had suggested the refugee situation was mainly resolved but as we approached the port there were lots of young black men hanging about by the side of the road. I can’t imagine what they’ve endured to get to Calais or similarly what they envisage their future will be. Luck saw me born in Britain and I’m reminded how luck plays such a major role in how our lives are lived out… We’re half an hour ahead of schedule and the boat is on time and we’re waved aboard before the cars. I lash down the Atlas and swop the mirror to the right hand side. We head off for chips and a comfy seat…90 minutes respite before the final push home. Predictably the UK welcomes us to traffic chaos as the M25 has been closed due to an accident. We’re diverted through south London and despite the cold I have a smile on my face as we drift past the lines of frustrated motorists. We rejoin an empty M25 and press on realising at Henley that my headlight is too high and next to useless – lucky I know these roads well and egged on by a ‘hot-rod’ camper van we’re soon riding the final mile up a deserted high street and home. France is changing and not necessarily in a good way, its expensive and if the new speed limits are indicative the population unerringly compliant. I wonder if it is adopting too many behaviours from its anglo-saxon cousins…On the other hand however the people remain welcoming, engaging and the country itself retains its magic. La belle France! The Atlas covered 2,500 trouble free kilometres – started on the button, used just a litre of oil and the non o ring chain lasted the course. In a world of 80 kph speed limits and petrol at £1.60 a litre it just might be the future of biking… Nick 🙂 More pictures can be found at: V6 Paul Ricard Find Your Own Way Home – Laverda Club de France AG – Chartres Jan’ 2018
The Atlas was running good. The clutch no longer slipped and the gear return spring was doing its thing. A last minute check of the tyre pressures revealed them to be very low and with that remedied the handling was okay despite low thread on the rear. I guess I was cruising at a steady 70 mph (no speedo y’see). The morning was grey and threatening rain but best of all it wasn’t that cold. I caught the outline of a motorcycle a mile ahead. It sat on the road like a bike from the 70/80s and sure enough as I got closer it was Keith on his BMW taking it steady to be on time for our rendezvous at the services a mile or so from the Eurotunnel. We were on our way to the Laverda Club de France Annual General Meeting in Chartres. Christian Houpline was standing down as President after 17 years and we wanted to say ‘thank you’ on behalf of all the British Laverdisti who’d attended his events over the years. We said our ‘hellos’ and topped up with fuel. When I went to leave the Atlas starter sprag initially just ‘whizzed’ and failed to turn the engine. Damn! It caught however and we were away – but from then on I had my fingers crossed every time it came to starting. The BMW R100RS is a touring bike with a full fairing, conservative styling and discreet engine note. You can see that it will tour all day long without drama. Keith has wired in his satnav + a heated jacket. The Krauser panniers handled all his gear – it just looked so neat and tidy and sat on the road in such an assured manner…I was a little tempted. The Beemer is different to a Laverda triple such as a 1200 TS or RGS which to my mind are more sports/tourers in attitude.
It was a while since I’d used the Eurotunnel but I remembered the form which was ‘soft touch’ French customs and an officious UK equivalent – who even demanded I display my boarding pass more prominently (thought that was the business of Eurotunnel…)! We were however on time for an earlier train (at no extra cost) so landing in France ahead of schedule. Riding in France is so pleasurable – the roads are in good condition and the traffic light. We headed down the functional A16 towards Boulogne with full tanks (both bikes had a similar 200+ range), happy motors and clear skies – even had to use my sun visor. Roadworks pushed us off onto minor roads but we were in no hurry and the alternative was more interesting than the highway. A quick coffee stop conveniently coincided with a rain shower. Clear skies again we polished off the remaining kms to our Airbnb stop in Mesnieres-en-Bray.
First time I’ve used Airbnb but it won’t be the last. £63 got us a detached 3 bedroom house with fully equipped kitchen and lounge – worth the extra over a room at a F1 (which incidentally seem to have let standards slip recently). The only thing missing was a garage but I took the precaution of removing the battery to keep it inside and therefore not expose it to the debilitating effect of a cold night outdoors. Saturday morning saw rain and cold air.
I thought I’d fixed the problem of the silencer melting the inside of the sidepanel but the rubber tap washers I’d used to space it out (quality fix there) were themselves melted! I thought about the problem over night and the solution was to whittle wooden spacers from bits of tree – so I set too whittling and soon had a solution in place! With a warm battery the Atlas fired up relatively easily despite the colder air and a night out in heavy rain.
Rain had set in for the day – we had a further 185 kms to get to Chartres and Keith held a steady 60/65 mph pace up front. It was nice following along not having to worry about the route – just take in the rather misty views and deal with some of the crosswinds which caused the Atlas to develop a skittish front end requiring quite a lot of input to keep it on the right side of the road! We arrived in good time and learnt that aside from another BMW we were the only attendees on two wheels – is it me? The venue was an empty technical college. There was a good meeting room, bar and canteen. We shared a room with shower – toilet facilities down the hall all for €30 each which included dinner and breakfast!
LCF members from as far away as Montpellier arrived (in cars) for the meeting. There was a real sense of old friends meeting up and getting ready for the new season. French meetings are no different than any other – a bit dull and not being able to understand the agenda didn’t seem to matter! We worked through the AOB then I took the stage to deliver a short speech and hand over a clock and Trophy on behalf of the UK Laverdisti. I’d planned to try and stumble through in French courtesy of a translation provided by Paul Marx however I bottled it and relied on Francois to translate – a wise move because I could be more expansive. It went well with Christian seemingly moved by the gesture, especially the messages of thanks on his cards.
While the party raged the rain lashed down outside. I’d decided to leave the battery on the bike as it wasn’t forecast to be especially cold but I was anxious when I turned the key the next morning….it runs! I left the bike running courtesy of the tickover screw and finished packing. The satnav had cried enough (sodden from the day before – thankfully it dried out and started working again once home) so the ride home was going to have to be following Keith and his trusty BMW… We made good progress along mainly empty roads – even Rouen was quiet and it seemed possible we’d catch an earlier train. The rain came in stronger and stronger. The rain gradually breached my waterproofs and I started to get cold – mixed communications led to us being separated when I entered a service area and Keith carried on…we never saw each other again… I fueled up, changed gloves, added a layer and headed back out into the rain. I had no satnav but figured the route back to Calais would be straightforward – of course I hadn’t reckoned on the roadworks and resultant diversion which caused a few problems until I realised that I needed to follow the Boulogne signs down the back roads and from there get back on to the Calais route. It worked out in the end but I lost time. That said the ride was enjoyable in the sense that the wet weather meant you had to focus on riding resulting in quite a ‘pure’ experience free from the mundane worries of day-to-day life. Being immersed in a motor-cycle ride has to be one of the best cures for stress! I arrived in a suitably ‘zen-like’ state at the Eurotunnel and caught an earlier train with a minute to spare.
While queuing for the train I’d heard a ‘clanking’ noise from the bike and saw that the chain was in urgent need of adjustment – the lighter non o ring chain had been washed dry by two days constant rain and needed 3 turns on the adjusters. The lighter chain is kinder on the chocolate gearbox output shaft and improves the gearchange feel but I do wonder if it’s truely up to the job of serious travel (I’d only covered 1,000 kms)? Anyways sorting the chain and swopping the mirror back to the left hand side killed time on the train and I was good to go for the final leg home. England greeted me with heavy rain, mist/fog and snow by the side of the motorway! It’s just 20 miles from France but the difference was incredible. I battled with the conditions – missed my turn to the M25 due to the poor visibility so added a further 20 miles to the journey home. By Henley I was sodden and cold. Henley is sandwiched between hills and the temperature really dropped with some snow slush now on the road. The Atlas ploughed on and soon I was home. I got into the house and just shook – you hold all the discomfort until it’s safe to let it out. My lips were blue and the crown jewels resembled a walnut…ahhhh a the recuperative powers of a hot bath 🙂 So the first adventure of 2018 is done. It was good to be back on the road, especially a French road, and to just enjoy rolling along covering some miles. Magic, despite the cold and damp conditions. Most of all however it felt good to honour an old friend and servant of the Laverda cause. At the end of the day it’s not about motorcycles it’s about the people that ride them and relationships. Nick 🙂 ‘You going anywhere today then?’ – Scottish National 2017 ‘You going anywhere today then?’ asked the girl in the garage at Stirling. ‘Just off to Crainlarich, then probably heading home to Oxford’ was my reply. ‘Oxford, England on a bike?’. She looked amazed at the thought. ‘Yes, that’s right. You got anything planned?’. ‘No just watch some telly’ was her reply… It was 10 o’clock, I’d put in 50 miles or so to get from my overnight stop in Blairgowrie, down through Perth and now the penultimate stop at Stirling. The rain had lashed down on the A9 from Perth but now it had to just steady rain. 40 miles left to Crainlarich and the end of the Scottish Rally – time to just bring it home.
I’d left London on Friday having done a mornings work at 1 o’clock. My plan was to get to Carlisle and camp for the night before heading off to start at the most southerly checkpoint in Dumfries. My normal routine was to use the Scottish Rally to tour the Highlands but time constraints meant it wasn’t possible to fit in those extra 200 miles. Still I was looking forward to seeing parts of Scotland that I’d neglected in previous years as I dashed north on the M74. The ride north was going to plan and I gave a cheery wave to sidecar pilot just before I ran into the M6 closure. The recommended diversion effectively put me off the motorway and then back on just before the road closure! All the surrounding roads were gridlocked – being on a motorcycle was definitely an advantage…and I must say I didn’t envy the sidecar pilot who presumably was stuck somewhere in the gridlock. So past the closure and back on the M6 it was time to get my head down. I’d lost a couple of hours and was now on a mission to make the campsite before it closed. The Atlas does motorway work but doesn’t feel comfortable beyond 75 mph (it will go faster but my sense of mechanical empathy says sustained speeds above this will end in tears). With 3 minutes to spare I rolled in to the campsite and was grateful to be offered a caravan rather than my tent for the night. I was cold and wet so despite the ‘van stinking of cigarette smoke and a blocked ‘shitter’ I was grateful to be in my bag out of the rain.
Saturday and a bright morning allowed me to repack my gear and get everything in place for the 30 miles to Dumfries…everything was in place but the Atlas decided it didn’t want to start. I persuaded the guy in the van next door and a passing walker that they’d enjoy giving me a bump start and it was away…only to cut out as I struggled to get my helmet on! Luckily it caught on the button and I was away to Dumfries.
As you ride toward Dumfries you see the mountains in the Lake District across the Solway Firth – my expectation of some great riding in the Borders seemed well founded. The start of the rally was at a petrol station just outside Dumfries. There were maybe a dozen bikes waiting for the 10:00 start and we swapped stories and routes. I was the only one using a written road book system – when I asked a chap on a modern bike which route he was taking to Kirkudbright he just pointed at his satnav and said ‘wherever this takes me’. Where’s the challenge in that? Where’s the engagement with your surroundings? That is my view but then I was in a minority of one so it must be me that’s odd… The ride over to Kirkcudbright was just what I needed. The road was virtually traffic free and it cut through lush scenery. Ticking off the first checkpoint always settles me down and the ride over to Ballantrae was pretty straightforward despite missing the turn onto the A77 and having to cut back from Stranraer. The A77 is a fast wide road that gives great views out to sea – speed camera vans were out but I wasn’t in a hurry. Pushing on past Ballantrae up to Girvan gave some of the best views so far with waves crashing on to shore as the road snaked down in to the town. A bikers paradise.
In retrospect I should have carried on up the A77 to Auchinleck. The road was efficient, traffic free and also gave great sea views. I’d determined however to cut inland and off the beaten trail. It started off okay but as the roads got smaller my preparation wasn’t up to scratch and I lost a lot of time down single track lanes, albeit in beautiful farm land. I smiled to myself at the wisdom of ‘Mr Satnav’ but then again who was having the biggest adventure? The point about ‘adventure’ was bought home by the next checkpoint at Abington Services which is on the M74. The choice was the rather sterile motorway or down to Crawfordjohn and along the valley floor to the motorway services – I was held up by a flock of sheep being herded by the farmer and his sheep dog! By now I had been riding virtually non-stop for 8 hours and tiredness was creeping in. It’s this endurance aspect that I weirdly enjoy the most you realise that your decision making capacity diminishes along with your energy and motivation. It’s easy to fall into a negative spiral if you don’t take a break, and maybe as importantly have short-term goals to meet. I’d completely shot my schedule but knew that so long as I made Blairgowrie for 22:00 I would be able to either end the day there or go to Perth for the end of the day. Getting over the Queensferry Bridge and to Leven and Abroath would make me feel like I had broken the back of the challenge. Of course the challenge is both for the rider and bike and the Atlas was beginning to play up. I’d started out with worn tyres – they had a decent amount of thread left but had lost their profile making the bike understeer. Similarly the chain was a bit secondhand but now it had been chewing up the rear sprocket for the past 50 miles. The noise out of the back wheel had been bad but it’d got better presumably because the hooked teeth had been worn down! The chain wasn’t overly loose so I just had to push on and try and nurse it round the remaining 150 miles and then of course the remaining 500 miles home! I wouldn’t worry about the home leg ’til after the rally. Another difficult section to Middleton was followed by the ride over Queensferry Bridge near Edinburgh and a glorious view down onto the Forth as you climb toward Delgety Bay. My decision to stay off the main roads was again flawed and I struggled along the coast road through Kirkcaldy before eventually finding Leven. I took the main road to Abroath via Dundee. The Tay Bridge and view of fishing boats lit up raised my spirits. The pillars of the original Tay Bridge picked out by the town’s light – an erry reminder of the 1879 disaster when it collapsed killing 79 rail passengers… Abroath provided a place to eat but time was tight to get to Blairgowrie by ten! The locals were happy to give directions and warn that the road is ‘a bit twisty’! A short way up the road it became clear I wouldn’t make the checkpoint for ten so I rolled the throttle back getting to town for 10:15. I found the checkpoint to save time in the morning and headed off to find a campsite, preferably at the top of a hill in case the Atlas wasn’t keen on starting in the morning. A local directed me up a single track road which he ‘thought’ had a campsite on it but nothing doing. It was now pitch black and being at the top of a hill I decided to set camp in a farmer’s field. I’d no batteries for my head torch so made do with a Kindle book reading light – as well as having no batteries it soon emerged I also had a tent pole missing! I laid out the sleeping mat and bag and just covered myself in the ground sheet. Slept like a baby 🙂
Up at 6:00, packed and good to go by half past it was time to test the Atlas starting. She runs! Damn I’ve left a pannier open! She dies! Thank goodness for the steep hill. The checkpoint opened 20 minutes early which was just as well because I got lost in Perth. Now it was 10 o’clock, I’d put in 50 miles or so to get from my overnight stop in Blairgowrie, down through Perth and now the penultimate stop at Stirling. The rain had lashed down on the A9 from Perth but now it had to just steady rain. 40 miles left to Crainlarich and the end of the Scottish Rally – time to just bring it home.
The rain followed me all the way down the final leg of the A84/5 – riders who’d already finished and were going home waved as we passed. I was tracked by three bikes who never quite managed to close the gap by the time I pulled into the Luis Lodge finish – complete with a silver RGS parked on the road and a posse of three Laverda triples in the car park. Coffee and toast all round as I swapped tales with the Laverdisti – turned out that 5 of the 45 finishers were on a Laverda.
By one o’clock it was time to head south and retrace my route to Stirling and the the M9. I was feeling fresh despite the rain. The Atlas was good but I was nursing the chain and limiting my speed to around 55 mph – just 400 miles to go. Like most of us I break long journeys down in to stages. The first target was to get to Carlisle which was shown as 107 miles down the road. I figured the Atlas had enough fuel to make the Tebay Service area near junction 39. The miles counted down but the wind also got up to the point that close to Tebay the Atlas was forced onto the hard shoulder three times! When I pulled in to Tebay a car driver commented that ‘it must be tough out there’ – damn right! It was nice to take some time at Tebay and chat to a BMW rider who was returning from a Norton rally in Kelso. We talked about his Commando, which he’d decided wouldn’t have liked the weather. Refreshed it was time to go but the Atlas wasn’t in the mood for starting – the petrol station staff were happy to provide a bump and we were off down the M6 and the next target of Birmingham 105 miles away. The speed had increased to 70 mph as I became more confident with the chain which was fine on the flat motorway. I was also quite comfortable being able to move my feet between the normal and pillion pegs and move my arse up and down the seat! By Birmingham I always think Oxford is just round the corner so there seemed no reason to stop which got me wondering how far I get on a full tank and without putting my feet down – the answer is 241 miles as I rolled back home.
I’d covered just over 1200 miles in 54 hours and discovered just how beautiful the Scottish Borders are. I’d made my life more difficult with poor preparation, both in terms of the route, bike and accommodation! The Atlas had soldiered on despite me and inside I knew it would get me home – man and machine in perfect harmony! Nick 🙂 ILOC Rally 2017 – NoIP… I’ve got in to a tradition of doing a day visit to the ILOC Rally held at Baskerville Hall, Hay-on-Wye. It works well – approximately 100 miles, on the doorstep of some of the best biking roads and scenery in the UK as well as the chance to talk nonsense to a load of Laverdisti. What’s not to like? Normally I ride over across the Cotswolds and down through Ross-on-Wye. This year I decided to mix it up a bit by travelling across to Cirencester, take in a coffee and cake stop with my daughter in Chipping Sodbury and then press on down the M4 and over the Severn Bridge. It worked a treat and I must say I like the way the Severn Bridge acts as a ‘grand entrance’ to Wales. I planned a ride to the Llyn Brianne reservoir near Llandovery and left the M4 at the earliest opportunity and threaded my way past ‘The Big Pit’ at Blaenavon where I followed an AJS down to Crickhowell. After lunch just outside Brecon the pace began to pick up on the A40 where I hooked up with a cross-plane R1 with pillion. When we pulled on to the A482 the fireworks began! The Yamaha is a fabulous bike with the ‘trick’ firing order making it sound more like a twin…however it’s too big and powerful for tight backroads and with a bit of effort the Atlas held station on his shoulder. I’d clearly annoyed the pilot who chose not to raise his irididum visor and recipricate my cheery ‘hello’ at the traffic lights… At Cwmann I left the R1 and headed down a well surfaced single track road to Tregaron – a nice isolated village. From this point the road went up into the hills and more remote scenery. I checked my route with a pair of cyclists and rode down the valley to the head of the reservoir and another break. I guess you could press on down these roads but the vibe invites you to sit back and take in the splendor of the scenery and enjoy stepping outside the hustle and bustle of modern life. Had a nice chat with a guy on his new 1290 KTM and then headed for Hay-on-Wye. The sat-nav took me up the A483 to Builth Wells and then down the A470 before picking up the A483 to Hay’. What a cracking route and the pace once again began to build as I cut through the light tourist traffic. The Atlas gets up to and holds 70 mph relatively easily and this felt fast enough as I ripped through the bends. By the time I reached the ILOC rally I was high on thrill of it all! Baskerville Hall is a great venue for a bike rally. All the bikes are parked up outside the crumbling stately home providing the perfect backdrop for an evening of beer and tall tales. I’d say the number of Laverda’s was down on previous years but there was a very nice RGS/SFC 1100 (my bike of the meet)
…and a Palmelli SF (a close second).
There was a gaggle of Corsa’s. SF twins seemed as well represented as 180’s – and one SF3 dressed as an SF2 was very neat.
The dinner gong sounded so it was time for me to head home. For the ride home I elected not to go via the shortest route via Ross-on-Wye but to grind it out on the M4 motorway. The temperature was dropping and I sat at 75 mph for the best part of 70 miles which proved a good test of the motor, albeit a bit dull. The clutch held out, in fact it got stronger as the engine got hotter which is encouraging with the Scottish Rally coming up next weekend. After 3 hours I rolled in to home having covered 400 miles during the day. An Atlas may not be fast but when was the last time you covered 400 miles across such a diverse set of roads..? Nick 🙂 PS It was a great day’s riding – too great infact as a week later a Notice ofIntended Prosecution (hence title) dropped through the letterbox for 61 mph in a 50 mph limit (temp’ limit on a motorway that I missed…though maybe a good reason to get the speedo fixed). Still can’t complain too bitterly as if I’d been spotted on the A482 I’d be writing this from jail! National Rally 2017 – bare knuckle riding
So 12:00 came and off I went immediately losing my way out of Abergavenny and settling for the less scenic but faster A40. I wasn’t concerned as I know from experience it’s important to make time early in the event so that if anything goes wrong later on you have time in hand. My calculations assumed an average speed of 30 mph, which is quite stiff when you take in to account the most I’d probably push the Atlas to is 75 mph and also that you need to take breaks. At Ross I was told of a closed road near Craven Arms and also advised to pick up the Ledbury road to my next stop, Leominster which I did despite it not being my original plan. I’d ridden over to Wales to start so that I could have the pleasure of the Welsh border roads in daylight – in the past they’ve always been covered in the dark and I knew I was missing out on great roads and views which checked out. In particular the ride between Kidderminster and Craven Arms via Cleek Hill provided jaw-dropping views. Last time I came this way on the Turismo in the early hours and was oblivous to what was hidden in the dark.
The ride to Leominster was a blast! I’d let a couple of modern bikes pass as I assumed they’d leave me for dead only to find they were slowing me up! They’d catch me on the straights but lose out through the bends and in traffic. On to Kidderminster via the A44 through Bromyard. The day was sweet, great weather and building time. Time slipped away working round the roadworks near Craven Arms and then again at Welshpool where some Aussie guy on a Euro tour insisted on broadcasting to me that he owned two Vincents and was going to ride to France blah, blah, blah. On the plus side a neat SF1 pulled in while I was there – damned Laverda’s were everywhere! Whitchurch, six hours down and time for a proper break. The Atlas was running well – minor clutch slip but otherwise running well. Passed time with a chap from Leicester on an early Hinkley Triumph. He was out just for the ‘Daytime Gold Award’ and would be in front of the TV by 20.00. I had another 13 hours riding to do and the toughest stages were next up. Congleton, Ashbourne, Burton on Trent and Stafford were going to be a challenge as I wasn’t familar with the route and by the time I was through it would be getting dark. This was the part of the route that I really ought to have studied in more detail…
The ‘Congleton’ checkpoint wasn’t really in Congleton but had held onto the name despite a last minute change of venue that placed it about 8 miles down the road. I’d planned the route to Rushton Spencer but bottled out and followed the road signs to Congleton thinking they’d be close…the only consolation was bumping in to Keith and Karl on their triples when I eventually arrived. Time was slipping away but I held station through Ashbourne and Burton with no issues.
At Burton I had a brief chat with a guy on a Rotax Matchless who showed me that the tank is the same as fitted to a Laverda 500. The rally really began to unravel however trying to pick up the Stafford checkpoint. I planned a scenic route to visit the Blithfield Reservoir. It was a waste really as the light was fading and the anticipated peace of the reservoir shattered by a car of ‘stoners’ whose pungent aroma had been enough to chase off the fisherman. I was not to stick around for fear I’d fail a drug/drinking test! It did seem like strong ‘blow’ and maybe my head was addled as I struggled to find the Stafford checkpoint.
Riding alone and with no satnav has become one of the best parts of The National. I’m a bit of a masochist and like the psychological challenge that sets in by the time you’ve been riding for 10 hours – your judgement dulls but you have to face problems logically or end up riding round in circles. I took the wrong route and rode the wrong way. I retraced my route and got back to what I believed to be a critical junction. Reading and re-reading didn’t really offer up clues so in the end with time now starting to get critical I just took a guess at the right exit on a roundabout. A few miles up the road with me about to lose my bottle the checkpoint appeared – phew! Stafford was a bit surreal as it was a private property where the host stashed his collection of classic Triumph Tridents! It’s difficult – they want to talk and show off their bikes and you’re spacey and losing time… The ride to Halesowen provided motorway relief – straight road to rack up miles and then just get off at the right junction. Trouble was I knew from previous experience the Checkpoint was tricky to find, added to which the Atlas had developed a misfire – my morale was dropping like a stone. My map let me down, as did the garage attendant but a woman filling her car gave good directions. With no time in hand to go over the Atlas to fix the misfire I pulled out of Halesowen hoping the Atlas would limp on and maybe sort itself out if I could get back to the motorway and give it a good blast! This proved the case – did I maybe pick up poor fuel back in Stafford?
Worcester was another tricky checkpoint in the dark with poor written instructions – I ask a passer by who turns out to be pissed so stop at a Chinese takeaway where another hammered youth is being stretchered into an Ambulance. Lucky the staff aren’t messed up and give clear directions. The next two hours are going to be crucial – open country roads I know ending at home for a shower and some hot food before entering the final stage. Time to get the hammer down…
My eyes are like saucers as I push the Atlas on through the night looking out for animals in the road. I’m holding 75 mph (estimate as the speedo doesn’t work) and using the headlights of cars pushing on my way. From past experience I know time can be made up on this leg and despite a minor detour at Carterton (poor instructions again) I arrive at home back on schedule. Bolting back food I know I have to keep pushing on as the Amesbury checkpoint closes at 5 am and I have 80 miles and three checkpoints to cover in two and a quarter miles. Mrs A and Catherine steady the Atlas as I swing a leg over the high seat and head off to West Hagbourne. Just another five hours to go – should be straightforward so long as I don’t get lost anymore… …It’s 3:35 in the morning and I’m lost in Basingstoke! I curse and swear in the Holiday Inn car park as I rummage though my panniers. I have to put my principles to one side and reach for the satnav…I know the checkpoint is near McDonald’s so I look for this but it doesn’t come up! Returning to the Checkpoint description provided by the ACU it’s described as ‘Basingstoke Leisure Park’ – I think I’ve seen signs for this so head back out onto the ring road and sure enough pick up directions. I’d have used the satnav but even that let me down and I had to fall back on my own resourcefulness. I pleased not to have used the satnav but I’m broken. I sign in and get directions to the motorway link down to Winchester. The marshal gives me a pat on the back, subtle encouragement, he can sense my low mood. I struggle to get my gloves on as they’ve become tighter with sweat and maybe my fingers have swollen a bit after 15 hours.
The calm of the empty motorway is ruined by a heavy rain shower! No time to stop and pull on waterproofs gotta keep pushing to the end. I know the Winchester checkpoint and get a warm welcome from the familar marshal team who recognise the Atlas 🙂 No time to stop and chat however as Amesbury closes in an hour. It’s stopped raining and I arrive with 10 minutes to spare. The marshal seems surprised to see me. He’s taking his awning down and looks as tired and grey as the day. I take a photo and then head for Devizes – it helps that I am on familar territory. I’m looking forward to saying ‘Hi’ to the husband/wife marshal team who I’ve seen for the last however many years. Going through Devizes I’m trailed by a bored police car who’s just following me for something to do – my estimated 30 mph cruise Devizes must be close enough (no speedo remember) and they turn off after a mile or so. So Devizes checked off just Warminster, Chipping Sodbury and Nailsworth left. I ride around and around looking for the frickin’ Warminster checkpoint before asking at a garage. Clearly not a lot happens in Warminster as the youth knows exactly where it is as he and his mates often go up to the ‘Little Chef’ diner – Little Chef is one of life’s highlights hey? I tear into the carpark to find the marshal who proudly displays the clock reading 6:01…you’re not going to throw me out for being a minute late are you?….’No course not’ he smiles then cautions me that I’m tight on time if I’m to make Chipping Sodbury by 7. By now I’m running on adrenaline – I’ve done 18 hours riding but if I don’t get to the penultimate checkpoint in time it will all be for nothing. Head down with the clutch holding on by it’s finger tips we’re bare knuckle fighting our way down the A36 – I ignore my written instructions and decide to press on to the A4 and pick up the A46. It’s longer but more familar – tho’ it does involve skirting Bath which might be a problem even at 6:30. Bare knuckle fighting is the best description of this ride – I’m slowed by a crash and police lane closure and use the moment to check out my route with an officer…who starts to fill my head with all kinds of detail that I can’t comprehend. I just push on making liberal interpretations at traffic lights and junctions – Chipping Sodbury arrives at 6:50 (36 miles in 45 minutes)! Just bring it on home I remind myself – Nailsworth is just 16 miles away by the main A46 road. I’ve been to Nailsworth by this route before so again ignore my road book and drift in to town. It takes time to find the actual checkpoint but I know I’m going to make it. A local points out the direction to the final checkpoint and with 20 minutes to spare I’m home.
The Weighbridge Inn has a nice light atmosphere – breakfast is available and I sit down with a chap who’s ridden in on a Hinkley Bonneville. We swap tales and chat to guys on a pair of Triumph Hurricanes – they had to fill up with fuel every 80 miles thanks to the Vetter bodywork. A guy that rode with them on a modern Beemer carried a jerry can of fuel in his pannier to ease the load. Then there’s an old chap with a Norton Commando that’s running a single carb’. Both rider and bike are in ‘used’ condition and I somehow think I’ve got a window in to my future. So a great adventure and credit to the Atlas for bringing it home. I didn’t help myself with my poor prep’ and also in adding an extra 100 miles to get to the start. By the time I added up all the miles we’ve covered more than 700 miles in 20 hours. That’s two out of the three rallies needed for the ‘Three Nations Award’ so Scotland here I come! Nick 🙂
We took a Lucozade bottle on board a few miles up the road (litter in Henley, whatever next!) and ploughed on down to the motorway. We’d planned to fuel up just before the train as the Ducati only has a 150 mile range and when I dismounted it turned out the lens was in place but because it was clear when unilluminated Catherine thought the lens was missing. Problem solved. My only anxiety for Catherine was getting on the train – it’s a tricky maneouvre especially if the metal floor is wet. It was dry and we all glided on along with a MV triple heading for Barcelona and a KTM going to Corsica – both their wives were flying down, thankfully not something that appeals to Mrs A. I used the train crossing to swop my mirror from right to left, eat a sarnie and check out the satnav maps. I was going to use my dual navigation approach of written instructions with the occassional use of the satnav if needed. I figured the 3 hour charge in the satnav would be sufficient. We were headed to Mouscron to stay with Belgian Laverdisti before heading to the rally Friday. It was simplest to follow the highway but I fancied seeing a bit more of northern France by taking the old road through St Omer. A mistake! We left the train around 15:00 and by this time traffic was starting to build. We rolled along but couldn’t get into a rhythm and I’d underestimated how challenging Catherine would find riding on the ‘wrong’ side of the road and soon we were getting split in the traffic. With the heat pulsing away a few missed turns and none of the expected town squares with little bars the fun was starting to go out of the day. I saw a sign for Ypres and new we’d be able to get a beer there so we picked up that route. I first went to Ypres over 20 years ago when we used to ride to an Italian rally at nearby Langemark (site of the first use of gas in WW1). The Menen Gate memoral with names of 54,000 fallen soldiers always humbles you – whatever your politics these people gave their lives so I could ride free…could I be so brave? Mrs A got her first beer of the trip and before things turned ugly we headed off to Mouscron – this time using the highway and satnav… It’s strange visiting the home of someone you only see at rallies. Sounds stupid but there’s something about connecting someone you only see at a motorcycle rally with everyday life. I never ask what folk do for a living I just see them in the context of their motorcycle. Christian and Pascale welcomed us in Tourcoing and after a drink showed us the way to Willy and Dominique’s house in Mouscron. Mouscron is back in Belgium but swopping back and forth across the border didn’t warrant comment – even the respective police forces have authority either side of the border…can you imagine being stopped for speeding in Folkestone by ‘Le Flic’! Willy and Dominques house is amazing – from the street it looks small but when you step inside it was like Dr Who and the Tardis! The other ‘surprise’ was in the garage which was rammed full of pictures and memories from 25 years motorcycling…a real ‘man cave’…that extends throughout the house. We talked into the night and slept like logs only to be woken at day break by the sound of torrential rain. I hadn’t packed waterproofs so I lay wondering how far I’d get before my ancient Rukka trousers breached…but by breakfast the sun was back and the day was starting to hot up. We left our hosts for our first stop of the day in Mons. We’ve good memories of the Grande Place in Mons which we often use when travelling south. Last time we were here there was a municiple strike on and the place was piled high with black rubbish bags. This time there was some pop concert planned for the Friday evening so once again the Grande Place was a bit of a disappointment – despite this Mrs A forced a beer down before heading south on the N40 to our destination, ValJoly holiday complex near Eppe Sauvage. I’d had enough of the heat and the small roads by the time we rolled in – what a fine collection of Laverda’s greeted us! It was good to see that for the 20th Rally the LCF members had eschewed other marque’s and dusted down Breganze’s (and some Zane) finest. Mrs A had another beer as we checked in to our ensuite room with a view out over the lake. At €87 per person for two nights, breakfast, dinner, Saturday picnic and live band it has to be the best value rally in Europe. Paul Marx was amongst old friends and damn me I never recognised him! Amazing was a razor and a new wife can do for you! I bumped into Robert van der Breggen who having sold me two Atlas’s was tempting me with his Zane 650 ratbike (with fully sorted motor) – I still regret being able to resist…:-( Dominique and his superb RGS running Executive panniers and SFC 1000 wheels was a highlight as was Jean Hourdequin’s US import RGA (which his wife has unfortunately rear-ended…). Tony Ceci back on board his 1200 racer and Dean’s GTL just looks and sounds like it will last forever. There was also a very impressive SFC 750 which turned out to be a replica. The star of the show (and winner of the ‘Best Bike’ award) however was an unrestored 200 Gemini which made me yearn for my Turismo… Saturday began with a swim in the lake and then it was off on our grand tour. LCF had mapped out a route that included the famous Chimay race circuit a stop at a roadside Frite stop and a cheese maker. We rolled along but missed the famous Chimay race circuit so came to a halt with other a gaggle of Laverdisti who’d pulled over in a roadside bar. The Gemini was parked up so it was a chance to check it over. The Gemini had a brilliant patena earned over 50 odd years. The Gemini is more than a supersize 100. Laverda seemed to have been thinking about mass production and a more ‘modern’ streamline looks. There is (to my eyes anyway) a similarity to the Francis Barnet Falcon – pressed steel rear enclosure but the Laverda beats it with a four stroke twin engine, silentbloc engine mountings and a front brake with dual actuation (twin leading maybe). The Gemini also has a left foot gearchange which seems unusual for a European bike of this era. Anyways deservably the best bike of the meeting. The heat of the day was now upon us and so we decided to head back to the Chimay circuit to take obligatory pictures by the start/finish. We hung over the rails as Tony Ceci nailed his 1200 down the straight. Magic! We then retraced our route which was the quickest way back to the Friterie for lunch 🙂 Hindesight shows our post lunch plan to find a bar in a little town square was doomed as the surrounding area contains no significant towns. We rode to Avesnes sur Helpe and did find a bar but it was just by a road and pretty scruffy. Still Mrs A drilled a few beers as Dean, Catherine and I talked nonsense for a couple of hours before heading back to ValJoly… Laverdisti began to return to ValJoly and the spanners started to twirl. The SFC 1000 was an easy fix with just a wire out of the Witt a Corsa required similar electrical intervention. The MZ single refused to play ball so would be limping home on reduced power (the disadvantage of a single), and an RGS sprung a petrol leak from its tap. All annoying niggles, nothing major. Surprisingly the Atlas was running fine so I decided to put some air in the tyres…minutes later I’m running about looking for a tyre tool to stop a stuck valve liberating all the air in my front tyre – there’s a lot to be said for leaving well alone (though the journey home benefitted from the extra PSI)! Saturday night is always the ‘big night’ of any rally. The LCF had its traditional lunch and after the ‘best bike’ award had been handed over they rolled in the 20th Anniversary ‘birthday’ cakes. The live band then kicked in and the night was a cocktail of catching up with friends, rocking to Led Zep and Stones covers and taking in the beauty of night sky and surrounding lake. Morning arrived and another scorching hot day was brewing up as we rolled onto the road at 9:00. We had to be back at the Eurotunnel terminal for 13:00 and I foolishly thought we had plenty of time. We took a scenic route back through Avesnes sur Helpe and onto Cambrai and Arras. We stopped in Arras for Mrs A to have her final French beer. It was nice to get out of the heat and rest…until I saw that the satnav predicted we’d fail to make the Eurotunnel on time! The satnav also showed that it didn’t have enough juice to last ’til Calais so the back road route via Bethune was scratched and we headed up the A1 and picked up the A25 past Lille. At times like these all the years of continental riding come in to play and you just have to bring it home down familiar routes. The A25 is just functional but on such a hot day it was good just to hold a steady 65 mph with the front of your jacket open. There was no drama at the Eurotunnel we rolled up and got the next train at no extra cost. The return train had far more bikes – a bunch of wannabee Hells Angels that just looked a bit sad with their collection of chops and ratbikes. I changed my wing mirror back to the right and chatted to a couple on a six cylinder BMW that’d come back from a tour of northern Italy. I had mixed feelings about the Beemer – I kind of envied its reliability and long legs (tho’ they’d taken the Motorail from Dusseldorf to Verona) but also it just seemed too much. Where was the challenge? Half way across (and under the Channel) the train came to an abrupt halt – so abrupt a BMW in the carriage behind toppled over! The train ahead had broken down and blocked the track…we ‘cooked’ in the airless train for the next 20 minutes (punishment I guess for being late)! Back in Britain we tanked up the Ducati and headed home. Catherine had completed her first continetal tour without incident, Mrs A had quenched her (not inconsiderable) thirst and the Atlas had once again shown what an excellent tourer a little 600cc can be… Nick 🙂 More pictures Hear My Train A Comin – Laverda Museum trip
Aside from the Laverda’s a very unusual ‘StarTwin‘ diesel arrived – what a behemoth, though it was to prove not the only diesel I’d encounter that day as there was a Track waiting at the Eurotunnel! So it was time to head home and having said our farewells I pulled away with Dean on his very nice GTL. I wondered how the pair would work as I suspected the 750 might want to cruise at maybe 70-75 mph. As it turned out 65 mph seemed sweet for both bikes and we got down to the business of knocking off the 200+ mainly motorway miles back to Calais.
We pulled over at Antwerp for fuel and a short break – an indicator lens needed attention on the GTL but otherwise no problems and the GTL’s thirst seemed to be reduced by the constant throttle cruising and we decided to see if we could push on to the Eurotunnel without another stop. We pulled in to the Eurotunnel in good time for the 20:50 only to see there was a delay of up to 90 minutes – hmmm seems punctuality may be an issue for Eurotunnel these days?
We stopped for lunch at Cenarth. Here we met ‘Big Andy’ and his FJ1200 which showed signs of a life on the road – he’d had to fix a fork seal and the mudguard bolts sheared so it passed the MOT and was ridden without a front mudguard! Like quite a few folk we met Andy was hard-core going in for long-distance endurance rides like a 1000 miles in 24 hours. Compared to this 350 miles 15 hours was a walk in the park! We reached our final Manned checkpoint at Tregaron in good time. We had to focus because it was too easy to just let time fade away. We cruised up and past Machynllneth which was the key to our final three checkpoints. With dark skies threatening we turned in to the finish at an incredible (for us) 19:45 – a full hour ahead of schedule – a schedule we had thought was overly ambitious! The ‘mighty Jota’ we’d seen first thing as we rode toward the start rocked up 15 minutes after we’d arrived – what a cracking bike. Two Laverda’s made it home 🙂 The Atlas once again proved itself as ideal for the Welsh event – its off-road pretensions make it easy to handle on tight roads and the 250 mile tank range mean you aren’t looking for fuel all the time (one chap from Northern Ireland had a BMW with a 41 litre Touratech tank [400 mile range]). The Atlas isn’t big on speed but then as the result shows you don’t need a rocket ship to make good progress. The Welsh had given us an easy pass this year but then it had taken us four attempts to get to the stage where weather permitting we ought to be able to bring a Platinum home. So all to play for still with The National in July and the Scottish in September… Nick 🙂
i Laverdisti Belgi 2016 – season ending