‘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
We’d stopped in Mons on our way down to the Atlas rally in Viesalm – right in the heart of the Ardenne region. Good memories 2004 motorcycle show gave me my only view of the Aprilia SFC1000 prototype. We’d attended an LCF event in the city and even ridden the little 100’s to the square. It’s a halfway point and the sun shone and we did some people watching over drinks. Mons is a world away from the depressing sights in Calais. Groups of migrants in the shadows looking for a chance to make England. Lines of police vehicles in the pound at our Ibis hotel. All picnic areas on main roads within 50 kms of Calais all closed ‘for repair’ make you uneasy whatever your politics. Pushing south from Mons we headed for Givet. To get to Givet you sneak back into France – clearly France didn’t want to hand over this strategic point on the River Meuse to the Belgians. It’s very picturesque which is more than can said for nearby Philippeville and it’s brothels on the N40 – one of which was near the local grocery store, convenient if you fancied a snack after your exertions!
Once you leave the N40 and head to Rochefort and La Roche-en-Ardenne you enter a motorcyclists playground. Splendid scenary with picturesque towns on rivers accessed by twisting, well surfaced tarmac. We rolled into Viesalm with big grins and rocked up to our home for the next couple of night – the Sunparks holiday camp! Our decision to attend the rally came too late to get a room at the Baton Rouge ‘bikers’ B&B run by Ben and Hetty. Baton Rouge has been open for 14 years now and sports individual and dorm’ accommodation. Their roots are with Laverda and the club room bar has many pictures and memorabilia that testify that – I wonder how many of the young UJM riders know that Laverda ever existed! Anyway I didn’t fancy bunking up in the dorm’ and an internet search threw up a detached three bedroom ‘cottage’ on the holiday park across the road for just €138 all in! I wasn’t surprised to see neighbours parking up their BMW’s and KTM’s…what an inexpensive way to explore the Ardenne.
The Atlas rally was a small, select affair – just five bikes and six participants – four of whom had German as their first language…us Brits were outnumbered. Despite the rarity of the Atlas it’s still a bit of a backwater Laverdawise so the rush to restore or keep everything standard hasn’t arrived (yet).
My Atlas was in pretty good shape – well except for the oil leak behind the ignition on the primary side and a slightly lower than standard rear ride height which had developed three weeks before and I hadn’t quite got round to fixing…oh and my non standard Yamaha 320mm front disc had gotten warped making the brake snatch and the bars ‘twitch’ if used in anger. Good enough. After the Friday night catch up Saturday was given over to a day’s outing that would have a visit to Belgium’s largest caves. Frank’s tours tend to be intense – I knew we’d be out all day! Frank led off the pre=planned tour that took us through the varied terrain of the Ardenne. Snaking forest roads that rose and fell following streams and cut through rocky outcrops and then single track lanes that took you up into open farmland with big skies – there was an autumn ‘nip’ in the air but it was clear and brightening. As there were just five bikes keeping in convoy was easy. I chose to tuck in behind Frank as he led = being a rider of modest capability I’ve found it easier to keep up from within the pack rather than gradually dropping off the back. Frank is a skilful rider picking good lines – I’d think on small roads he’d show many a triple a clean pair of heels! The other benefit of being behind Frank was he pointed to points of interest as we rode along – like being in the seats behind the coach driver 🙂
The Grottes de Hotton (caves) at Calestienne were splendid. A small train took us out of the town to the cave entrance. We walked a full kilometre back through the caves (17 kms of caves have been discovered) which culminated in a light show in the final chamber which was the size of a small theatre! Time for Mrs A to get a beer and then the return leg.
Roberto took over at #2 for the homeward leg which was to prove my good fortune. I’d asked Frank in advance as to whether we’d be going offroad and was assured not = I just can’t get to grips with the bike moving beneath me so hate offroading. Truth is also that the Atlas is too heavy to be effective offroad – it might look the part but that’s all. Anyways a short time into our homeward leg we take a right and here we are on rutted gravel track. I’m muttering through clenched teeth as we round a corner to find Frank flagging us down and Roberto’s bike on its side nearly in a ditch. The track had turned to mud and Roberto had slid off…Roberto had pulled muscles in his neck and Frank had been riding with a broken hand so it was left to the rest of us (including Mrs A) to haul the Atlas onto its wheels. Dirt was cleaned off Roberto and the bike which had only sustained a broken plastic handguard – it started up just fine and we headed to La Roche en Ardenne for Mrs A to top up beer and then head back to base. We’d started out at ten and returned at seven. A proper day’s riding which a Baton Rouge BBQ and a few beers rounded off nicely. We said our goodbyes and by 10 the next morning was heading home.
…’it’s either a wire to the coil or to the electronic ignition box’ I declare to Mrs A as we get set for the final 100 kms to the Eurotunnel. ‘I’ll fix it on the train'(a modern motorcyclist most likely would expect, at best to get to the train and phone the breakdown service so that they rode into their arms on reaching the UK. I was having a drink on the eve of this year’s National Rally and in conversion with a young guy admired the fact he owned a CCM and mentioned it’s BSA heritage – he hadn’t a clue what I was talking about and we moved to discuss his R6 which he ‘serviced’ himself. When I asked how he got on with valve adjustment he said he didn’t open up the engine at all…different generations) I’d narrowed it down to this on account of the misfire being on just one cylinder – if it wasn’t this then it would be a coil going down, something we’d have to suffer ’til home.
We finally got onto the train – we’d dodged out of queues containing non EU numberplates as immigration don’t appear to know how to process these) but got stuck behind cars who arrived at passport control only to realise they’d left their passports in the boot – or behind folk who couldn’t work out that the check in screen had to be ‘tapped’ not pressed. The icing on the cake is always being asked to remove your helmet to make sure its you (I’ve pondered sending in a Freedom of Information request to see how many motorcyclists turn out to be illegal immigrants). So with a twirl of spanners it’s seat and tank off and bingo there’s a wire loose from the electronic ignition box. Just as I’m putting it back in place the guard arrives and looks in horror at the dismantled motorcycle – apparently you’re not supposed to even lift a car bonnet…soothing words from Mrs A calm the situation (well it’s too late anyway as the bike had to be reassembled) and just as we arrive back in the UK the Atlas is back in one piece (35 minutes including finding the seat spacer that rolled behind a service grill).
The final 130 miles home were uneventful save for the dreadful traffic. The Atlas had done well but I still had to work out how to sort the lower than normal rear ride height…motorways are a good place to problem solve…
With the roads awash we had our worst ‘moment’ when I went into a corner too hot and hesitated to lean into the bend on such a glassy surface – I kept off the front brake and we wobbled round but it was tight…tighter than when we’d got into a gutter on the single track road from Lairg to Bettyhill…the Atlas took this situation in its stride and showed that perhaps its style is more than just a pretence at off road capability. The road from Bettyhill to Durness was the highlight for me. As you ride out of Bettyhill you ride mainly single track roads cutting inland until you decend to the narrow causeway across the Kyle of Tongue before hugging the edge of Loch Eriball and eventually arriving at the white sand and tourquoise sea at Durness. We were passed by a Cagiva Gran Canyon that seemed to float over the road, it’s kicked up rear and carbon silencer giving it a very ‘Dakar’ appearance – a really cool looking bike!
With warnings of ‘High Winds’ on the bridge to Skye (which turned out not to be true – how can it be blowing at ground level but not at the arc of a bridge over the sea) and light fading we pressed on. I smiled as I remembered the electronic notice board as we battled traffic on a bridge coming out of Edinburgh ‘Frustration can lead to accidents’ was the legend displayed – paradoxically something many of us owe our very existence to!
In the fading light the Cluanie Inn shone bright and we were treated to a 30 minute stop to try and dry our gloves and fill our stomachs….ahhhh. I hadn’t fitted Atlas #2 with the LED auxillary lights off Atlas #1 (which is ‘resting’) so the plan was to pick up a car going down to Fort William and use their lights to guide us (I didn’t fancy bumping into one of those bucks). It was a good plan but didn’t take into account that the locals all drove like they were in a WRC race! Jeez we couldn’t get close and so we muddled along to Fort William and a soothing hot bath. We’d achieved all the planned checkpoints (and one more) so were bang on target for a leisurely ride to Oban and then Crainlarich to bag a ‘Merit Award’. The Merit’ would mean that Atlas #2 had completed all three national rally’s in 2015 and therefore qualify for the additional ‘Three Nations Award’. I’d done this before in 2013 with an RGS, Turismo and Atlas but we’d failed in 2014 when Atlas #1 developed a bad vibration en route to the Scottish at Glasgow and we had a DNS. To make 2015 more challenging I’d also decided that each rally would be ridden without the benefit of a satnav. Easy in Wales and Scotland because often there is only one road you can take but a bit more tricky on the more numerous and congested English highways.
The target for Sunday therefore was to just bring it home and our ride into Oban was a relaxed bimble in the sun. As we crossed the Connel Bridge I felt a tinge of sadness because I knew that soon we’d be heading south back to Oxford…And so with an hour to spare we rode into the final checkpoint and signed off – mission accomplished and just the small matter of 400 miles back home.
It’d been a proper ‘grand tour’ with few mechanical issues. At Chorley I noticed the rear end seemed maybe an inch lower than when we started but when we got to Inverness Richard applied some chain oil to the linkages and we agreed it would free itself up! Oil consumption had been negliable but the motorway miles saw a litre disappear and led to a last minute top up just before ‘the off’ at Evanton. The only downside of this mechanical robustness was that my annual pilgrimage to see Keith and Jess the dog has been delayed ’til next year!
We’d started the grand tour after work on Tuesday and travelled the 300 miles from London via Bristol to Chorley, Preston. Wednesday saw us 300 miles further north in Glencarse, via Edinburgh. Thursday we’d drawn breath on with a gentle meander to Dundee and the Tay Bridge, then onto Abroath and Montrose. We were fresh for the 130 mile ride over the Cairngorms on the Friday where we stayed with Richard and Jenny on the eve of the rally that required 475 miles on the Saturday and Sunday.
This was my sixth National Rally – four on the little Laverda Turismo which bagged my best ever ‘Special Gold’ award (540 miles). Atlas #1 managed Gold last year despite a burst oil cooler so it was up to Atlas #2 to bring home a ‘Platinum’. There are three national rallies (Welsh, English and Scots) and if you can bag ’em all you get a ‘Three Nations Award’. Did this on three different Laverda’s in 2013 but 2014 saw Atlas #1 fall at the final hurdle with ‘something bad deep in the engine (K. Nairn)’ when we reached Glasgow. Will Atlas #2 be able to complete the National and have a shot at restoring the Atlas pride in September’s Scottish? The challenge isn’t that great on a 600cc motorcycle so to spice it up I’m doing all three ‘Nationals’ without a satnav – also for the National I decided to use it to see parts of England I don’t normally visit so headed up to Preston on the Friday evening for the start on Saturday. The plan was to ride around ‘up north’ and then head back down via the Welsh borders before cutting across into Oxfordshire and finally down to Warminster in Dorset – something like 800 miles including the commute to the start. Preparation was limited as the Atlas seemed to be running good – I decided to just load the panniers with tools and flapjacks and head north. The weather was damned hot so I delayed my trip up the M6 until 18.30 which paid dividends in the shape of light traffic. 180 miles in three and a half hours – on an Atlas you don’t have to stop for petrol so just kept rolling 🙂
Kicked my heels at the starting checkpoint with Lee on his new series BMW GS and another guy on a R65 which with 450,000 miles is apparently the highest mileage small block boxer in northern Europe. He’s owned it from new and had just refurb’d it. Nice piece of kit. Green light and off I wobbled trying to follow my road roller instructions. I’ve been playing around at touring without a satnav, I’ve a rose tinted view of how it used to be when you wrote town names on a piece of paper, slipped ’em into the top of the tankbag and headed off. It’s all a bit daft but there’s a certain charm along with the requirement to use a bit of judgement when what’s written down doesn’t match what’s on the road!
Played cat and mouse with my time schedule – lost time going through Blackburn and then pulled it back by Leeds only to see it drift away as I got lost in Sheffield finally rolling in to Tideswell bang on time for my 30 minute break having ridden non-stop for six hours. Enjoyed the break, supping my lime and soda whiling away the time chatting to a guy with a Norge who’s chopping it in for a 165 bhp KTM – hope I’m able to handle 165 bhp when I’m well into my sixties! The sun was turning as rode towards Buxton – the A54 to Congleton was awesome! The Atlas was almost perfect for the road with its wide bars and agile handling…just needed a bit more shove…but anyways by the time I rolled into Congleton I was ‘pumped’. Congleton was coincidentally manned by a couple of ILOC members who seemed pleased to see a fellow Laverdisti and we chatted about their Jota’s and the rather nice looking Guzzi V11 Sport.
When day turns to night the character of the rally changes. Night riding demands a certain focus and state of mind. Tiredness creeps in and it’s easy to lose concentration. It was dark by the time I got to Church Stretton having run across Dave on his superb ’77 Jota (when he fired it up I admit to being jealous) in Welshpool and had to carry out my only running repair which was to fiddle with the rear light bulb which had vibrated loose (whittled off a slither of wood and jammed it between the bulb and holder to stop it happening again). The lights are ‘okay’ on the Atlas but I appreciated the tow I got from a car heading to Leominster and made up time…until I missed the checkpoint and had to ride round for a while so slipped back to 15 minutes down which wasn’t best as the next sections – Stourport and then Halesowen, were going to be challenging in the dark with no satnav or illumination on my road roller (I just hold the directions in my head)…
The road to Stourport took me to Bromyard (close to Slater’s in Collingwood) so felt like the Laverda was on home soil. Had a ‘moment’ on the country roads chasing down a car to use their lights – took a corner way too fast and the emergency braking stood the Atlas up. We cut the apex narrowly missing the grass verge. Tired, losing focus and a lucky escape to reflect on as I wobbled into Stourport. Lost confidence in directions heading to Halesowen and had to talk myself in to stopping and getting a torch and studying the map. It would be so easy to ride blind for too long and go in the wrong direction. Riding alone and tired however you have to coach yourself – there’s this constant dialogue between your Adult and Child (for those familiar with TA)…As luck would have it a couple stopped and gave me directions and then when I got into Halesowen firstly an old guy stood by his Vespa (to ‘give his arse a rest’) and then a shambling drunk (c’mon it’s 2 am if you were out in Halesowen at this time you’d be drunk, well thinking about you’d most likely be drunk at any time in Halesowen) got me to the checkpoint. Worcester up next and a spot of motorway to claw back the 30 minutes deficeit only to lose it looking for the business park – I caught a tow off a Triumph with a satnav (is that cheating)…
Between 2.30 and 4.30 the schedule moved back in my favour. From Worcester I was on familiar roads back to Oxfordshire, in particular the A44 to Carterton was full on focus as the road (and deer) revealed itself. I’d rehearsed the ride to the finish the previous year including the stop off at home for a shower and curry (courtesy of Mrs A who was off visiting family). Riding the final stage from Devizes to Warminster the Atlas felt okay – bit of a misfire at low revs but the clutch slip encountered in the heat of the day had gone and we arrived an hour in hand. Platnium achieved 🙂
I was greeted at the finish by Lee and his GS (been there ages) and also Gerald on his C90 cub (Platinum) which maybe disproves the cliche ‘you can’t beat cubes’.
Two down just the Scottish to go…but we know what happened in Glasgow last year. Watch this space…. Nick 🙂
Stuck in traffic on the M5 heading south near Wolverhampton. It’s raining. Tim ‘The AA man’ is chatting away about his Dad’s Lotus Cortina, Mrs A has ridden off with Graham on his BMW and the clock is counting down…
The day started well enough when Mrs A and I loaded up the Atlas with parts to take over to a friend near Worcester en-route to the 2015 Welsh Rally. The Welsh has always been eventful – first year we took a Silver Award on the RGS (starter motor fell off), last year we got Gold and Dragon Awards on the Atlas but not before almost tipping off in the dark on roads covered in cow shit! Both times the weather gave us a beating but the forecast is fair to good, the route to a Platinum looks possible so what could possibly go wrong? The Atlas wasn’t going that well. I think I’ve damaged the left hand pot by running it with a loose ignition pickup that over advanced the timing. Despite the installation of a refurbished Sachse system it’s running flat but seemed strong enough. Anyways Worcester is ticked off and we’re swooping along the A44 towards Leominster and then up the A49 towards Shrewsbury. We overtake a lorry that’s backing up the traffic – but once past the Atlas goes onto one so now we’re backing up the lorry and the traffic! It’s raining hard so I’m not stopping because trying to sort this mess out in the middle of nowhere without cover would be hopeless. We finally roll to a halt just short of Shrewsbury and Mrs A pushes us into Bayson Hill services where she notices the high level Atlas pipe has burned a hole in her Dainese trousers (I left the pipe exposed ‘cos I think it makes the Atlas look more ‘edgy’…)! We go looking for coffee and inspiration in ‘Dobbies Garden Centre’ – the place is rammed full of pensioners enjoying a ‘2-4-1’ deal – this is maybe all of our futures but we’re not ready to embrace it just yet! The plan is to get relayed by the AA back to Didcot where I’ll swop parts across onto my second Atlas which as luck would have it got it’s registration number on the day before! Of course aside from the 300 mile round trip there’ll also be the small matter of putting a few parts back on that I’d borrowed from Atlas #1 to get it MOT’d!.
Two guys each offer assistance and a complete stranger called Graham rocks up on his BMW and offers to whisk Mrs A the 20 miles down the road so she can get out of the rain and recharge her batteries at our hotel. It’s all coming together as Tim from the AA arrives almost immediately and offers to trailor the Atlas all the way and ignore his 70 mile boundary – well done that man!
I leave at 7:45 make it 50 yards before grinding to a halt – forgot to turn on the petrol! By 8:30 I’m on the M40 and by 9:00 I’m well and truly soaked by rain. The Atlas hasn’t run cleanly but as I’m on a motorway I find a spot where it’s ‘okay’. I just hold this sweet spot and by Birmingham the sun is out and the Atlas seems to have cleared its throat. I press on to Shrewsbury – as I slow for the roundabout the speedo packs in – hey ho in my world that’s a luxury item (I’m quite enjoying the novelty of working indicators)!
We arrive to start the rally 4 hours late. The carpark is empty and the tressel tables are being packed away. Aside from the challenge of completing the rally I’d also set myself another challenge which was to navigate without a satnav. I’d written instructions on a route roller secured to the handlebars. It was quite a relief that my first instruction to ‘turn right’ coincided with the road signs.
We pressed on ticking off checkpoints and enjoying the gentle sunlight and glorious north Wales scenary. The Laverda attracted quite a lot of interest, mostly ‘I didn’t know Laverda made one of those’ or ‘I used to have a Jota’. The oddest question was a couple who asked me if I’d lost a dog they’d found – maybe they didn’t twigg the full Rukka gear or perhaps they did and thought I was a member of the ‘Village People’! Anyway everywhere we went everyone was smiling and into the vibe. By the time we were on the A496 towards Dyffryn Ardudwy (stunning – moutains to the left and the sea on our right) we had a Silver Award in the bag and now were pressing for the supplementary ‘Dragon’ Award. We pressed on hard as the light faded and rolled in to Caersws by 9:45 pm. I took advice in a shop and found we were an hour from Llandrindod Wells our final checkpoint. This would leave us an hour to cover 40 miles to the finish so I decided to call time and admit the ‘Dragon’ was a step too far.
So we claimed our Silver and a plate of luke warm chips at 10:30 pm. It’d been the right decision. Once the light went the temperature dropped and took the fight out of me. Riding unfamiliar, twisting roads while feeling the weight of being up since 3:30 am and riding 450+ miles can lead to bad things. There was much to celebrate. We’d overcome a few obstacles and been rewarded by a stunning days riding but most of all been overwhelmed by the warmth and support of so many people. Roll on the National, the Scottish and maybe that elusive ‘Three Nations’ Award.
Scottish National - wheels finally come off...
The final leg of the 'National Rally' trilogy arrived and I was ready. Spent a small fortune on new panniers and LED lights for those dark roads full of wildlife. Fresh oil and a shakedown trip to the ILOC Rally the previous weekend seemed to suggest success was a short (well 1500 mile) ride away. Tho' when we got back from the ILOC Rally despite the bike running well it did have a bit of a rattle - but the two days in and out of London for work didn't hint that the bike was infact mortally wounded. Planning for the rally had been quite extensive with the introduction of a checkpoint at Durness. The local Laverdisti claimed the road between Durness and Ullapool had to be ridden so I ditched the idea of a second 'Highlander Award' and sketched out a 440 mile Merit attempt. This would start on the north coast not far from John O'Groats and head down to Tarbert in Argyle for the night leaving just a 120 mile dash to the finish in Crianlarich. Catherine and I duly loaded up on the Wednesday for the trek north. We'd learnt from last year that the 400 mile motorway bash to Glasgow was best punctuated by 50 mile stops and so we boogied away at a steady 65 MPH 'til Glasgow came into view. By the time we got to the Hotel the engine was pulling as normal but there was a rattle and a bad feeling on the crank - rough. It can wait until the morning. Maybe the Laverda fairies will fix it while I sleep...
Next day and we're heading to Laverda Scozia for Keith Nairn's opinion. Much scratching of heads and poking an prodding behind the alternator, clutch and primary cases came up with nothing except worn starter motor bushes. We bumped it into life and there was the knock pointing to something in the heart of the motor :-(
So the Atlas retired injured - sure we could have ridden on but ran the risk of destroying the engine if its a big end breaking up and similarly if you break down in the Highlands you can be literally in the middle of nowhere with no phone signal - best avoided. We carried on in a hire car (unbelievable value at £20 per day) - the hotels were booked and the awesome Scottish scenary was still there to be enjoyed albeit on four wheels. We also got to meet Richard, Jenny, Ian, Keith and Piet at Inverness (Piet incidentally had to get Keith to rescue him due to a failed Witt).
Are there positives? Of course - we went down fighting for one and it shows that going for all three National Rallies in a year on a 25 year old motorcycle isn't a walk in the park. We achieved it last year and we'll be back in 2015. The Atlas is coming back via a courier van and Keith is resolved to sort my RGS crank so it can travel down too - as Keith commented 'an excellent tactical move' on my part! I'm now also forced to revisit the original Atlas engine which has a sound crank but needs a gearbox mainshaft installing and an inlet valve. By pooling the two engines I should get a good 'un + be back to having matching engine and frame numbers.
So time to get my head down, make a few calls, send emails and get back into the game. Nick :-) ILOC Rally, Baskerville Hall
Loaded up the Atlas for a two day mini-break. Mrs A was coming along for the ride with the first stop at Newport. An opportunity to test out the new panniers and the LED lights.
I don’t really enjoy motorway on the Atlas so plotted a route over the Cotswold’s but the satnav intervened and we found ourselves going down the M5 from Gloucester and over the Severn Bridge into Wales. Satnav’s are invaluable but just like plotting a route on a paper map it does pay to plumb in a route if you have a particular road in mind. The trip over to Wales was not without incident however as the dashboard decided to detach itself from the handlebar fairing. I’ve located the dashboard as a push fit into a couple of lugs I’d glued to the fairing and it just wriggled free. A happy 15 minutes spent walking the verges looking for dashboard trim which ultimately we found jumbled up in the tangle of cables and wires around the headstock! Anyhow it didn’t lose us much time and to detour across the Severn Bridge always makes for a spectacular entrance to Wales. Newport is a short journey once you’re over the water and we were soon tucked in at the Waterloo Hotel and Bistro.
Newport is not a pretty town but adequate as a cheap alternative to Cardiff and a gateway to south Wales. In the morning I checked the LED’s and it seemed they weren’t working – damn my crap wiring hadn’t held up. We walked across the road and played around on the Newport Transporter Bridge before heading out towards the coast.
The beaches in the Swansea area are supposedly very good and after a short bit of motorway we were cutting along the seafront ultimately ending up at The Mumbles for lunch and a quick swim! The Atlas is a great all rounder with the possible exception of a decent motorway cruising speed – 65 MPH feels kindest. It excels on small roads and with a range of over 250 miles from its 22 litre tank makes touring a pleasure.
Leaving The Mumbles we started to head towards Hay on Wye through the valleys near Brecon. Just outside Hay’ an RGS flew past with Alan Cudlipp at the controls – I upped the pace and then almost lost it going through a left hander that tightened up on me. I calmed down and we duly arrived in one piece at the ILOC Rally.
Baskerville Hall has been the rally HQ for the last four years or so. This year I thought attendance was up and the range of bikes impressive. There was a 3C from the first batch of 50 with the drum brake front end and 200mm headlamp. There was also an SFC1000 from the last 50 made (black, wire wheels) so the first through to last was represented with plenty of 180’s and 120 motors on display.
Twins were well represented with a genuine and replica SFC, also in evidence were original S, SF1 and GT models many with period or period style paintwork. The Atlas was the only on its type but there was a very nice Monty and a sprinkling of Zane derivatives. All in all ILOC seems in pretty good health.
At 19.00 we decided to head home and pointed the Atlas towards Gloucester after filling up with fuel. The Atlas zipped through the tight roads around Hay, although the rear did wiggle on some of the surfaces (a trait I’ve noticed since fitting the fresh tyres – something the Scorpion Trials haven’t done before), made worse by light rain. We got the other side of Gloucester and on came the lights – the LED’s were back (perhaps they’d never been away) and what an impact. The low set LED needs experimenting with as it made little difference on its own but on full beam with two full power LED’s it was almost like daylight – Mrs A just burst out laughing! The LED’s throw out a white light as opposed to the usual yellowish hue. It takes a bit of getting used to but funnily enough because the lights define the road ahead I can see why some people suggest you can ride quicker at night with decent lights.
We lost the dash one more time but apart from that a trouble free ride…though I was sure that by the time we rolled home the engine had a few more rattles – hmmmm.
Long Way Down - National Rally 2014 The National Rally is a 'scatter rally' across England. The ultimate prize is 'Platinum' where you ride 540 miles, visit 23 checkpoints, answer four tiebreaker questions in 20 hours between 12 mid-day and 8 the following morning. I've entered the Turismo the past four years and having achieved a 540 mile Special Gold decided to mix things up with the Atlas and go for Platinum. I figured if I could achieve 540 miles on the Turismo then it would be easy on the Atlas. To add a bit more spice I decided to start at the northern most checkpoint and work my way to the furthest south - 'long way down'. This challenge involved an initial 250 mile ride up to Thirsk the day before. Rain meant I camped south of York at Pocklington Friday night. It rained hard all night but by 9.30 the next day I was packed and followed the scenic route to Thirsk as recommended by the campsite owner - good advice and by the time I'd polished off breakfast at the Seaways Cafe and got to the bottom of Sutton Bank (too steep for caravans to descend) I was 'on it' reading the bends to perfection.
Signing on and standing around waiting for mid-day the Atlas attracted some attention - one guy had owned a 1200 and many more had 'a mate who rode a jota' back in the day. Bob was there on a 'barn find' CX500 and we had a happy 5 minutes on the pro's and con's of Comstar wheels and dodgy cam chain tensioners! Funny how the CX seems to have become more attractive over the years...it certainly didn't seem the fat pug I remembered from my youth! I was reminded of Billy Connolly's comment that one of the benefits of getting old is that all women appear attractive :-) I got away behind the pack and not sure what came over me but there I was 17 again and determined to show off how quick this shed could be hussled. Caught and passed the pack with a cool wave and no backward glance. Life was good...until looking down I noticed my left boot was covered in oil - bugger! I considered turning off the road to save my blushes but too late the pack came past - even the horrid Harley clone Kwaker (not ALL women are attractive), all of them quite rightly having a chuckle at this arse who'd been so desperate to prove he still has it! I waited for the inevitable engine noises but no it was running well. Bob on his CX tucked in behind the Atlas and rode shotgun to the first checkpoint. At the traffic lights he confirmed it wasn't smoking but that oil was 'dripping from the front of the engine'. When we rolled to a halt the problem was clear - the nearside oil cooler hose had melted on the exhaust. The Atlas sat there incontinent.
The breakdown man was with me within 20 minutes and suggested a mobile hydraulic hose repair service so inside 45 minutes the tank off and a solution was at hand. The Atlas wasn't giving up without a fight however as one of the unions refused to part. A Mark 3 Atlas has two oil coolers unlike the single unit on a Mark 1 or 2...so we removed the stubborn oil cooler altogether and plumbed it to run solo.
Lucky for me it was the nearside 'slave' cooler that had gone as this solution wouldn't have worked if it had been the offside feeder cooler. Unlucky for me the cost of this roadside repair was a staggering £300!!! Two hours behind schedule with the Atlas looking like it's lost a kidney I slipped into the traffic and headed towards the Humber Bridge. Checkpoints are manned or unmanned. Unmanned stops are normally petrol stations where you buy something then show the receipt to claim the checkpoint at the next manned location. Unfortunately my first three checkpoints were all unmanned and without the camaraderie of others demons about the condition of the bike, how far I'd got left and so forth started to enter my head. I got across the Humber Bridge to the unmanned Elsham checkpoint (garage) as I entered the turnoff roundabout my helmet seemed caught up in my jacket as I did my routine check over the shoulder. My mood didn't improve when the damned sprag clutch seemed to be giving out when I went to start the bike. On top of this I noticed some oil on the top of my boot again. Just three checkpoints down and I was toying with the idea of trying to just get another 100 miles and settle for a Daytime Rider award - I'd gone from dreams of the top prize to the consolation pencil... Over years of riding I've come to recognise the importance of routines - I always put my keys in the same pockets, always leave the bike out of gear and for the National Rally I always cut the route into cards and bring the next card to the top of pile as I finish one and start another. This year I'd kept the cards in a waterproof lanyard. As I returned to the bike I realised it wasn't hanging down my chest - I'd lost my bloody rally card, game over! I wanted to give up but decided to retrace my steps back toward the Humber Bridge - maybe I'd be lucky and find it by the roadside? Looking down as I rode I could see the oil on my boot so pulled over to check the new oil pipes were holding it was then I realised I hadn't lost the lanyard it wasn't hanging down my front it was down my back - that explained why I found it hard to turn my head going into the roundabout. I laughed at the thought of returning home ranting away to Mrs A about how unfair life had been only to turn round and for her to see the card on my back. What a total arse.
Next up the Gainsborough manned checkpoint and I was delighted to pull in and see my friend Steve on his Yamaha 125 complete with voluminous tankbag stuffed full of maps. No satnav nonsense for this hero who went on to claim Gold - respect. Anyways being able to talk things over with a mate brightened my mood - I just needed to get another hundred miles up for the Daytime Award so together we sketched out an alternative that would bag me another 30 miles, had a look over the bike to check it was oil tight (the oil on my boot was just residual stuff that hadn't been cleaned off at repair) and with the dodgy sprag the Atlas laboured into life... From this point on the rally got better. The next nine checkpoints were all manned and having 5 minutes banter with a marshal pushed me on. The marshals are the real hero's - up all night and maybe only seeing 100 bikes over 20 hours. I kept the bike to below 70 MPH and it seemed oil tight. I also left it running when I stopped to avoid having to face the slipping sprag. I was chipping away at the 2 hour deficit. By the time I got to Kettering I was only an hour and twenty minutes behind schedule. Platinum was still a possibility. Dunchurch up next. On my way up to Thirsk I'd stopped by the Dunchurch location to pinpoint it on the satnav - it didn't show on google and in the past I'd lost time trying to find it in the dark. When the light goes the challenge takes on a different personality. The temperature starts to fall and if you're riding alone you do feel, well, alone. The road to Dunchurch should've been easy but roadworks and poor signage meant l rode around before ending up back in Kettering and needing fuel. Eventually I picked up an alternative route and ticked off Dunchurch but had lost 30 minutes so Platinum was unlikely. I had an alternative Bronze and Silver route mapped out and these were still definitely on. I'd also planned in a stop at home near the Abingdon checkpoint so pressed on because I knew access to a computer (and a shower) would allow me to maybe sketch out a Gold alternative.
The Gold route couldn't have been better - just straight dual carriageway for 75 miles followed by a nice twisting road to the finish at Warminster. Dual carriageway is dull normally but at 2.30 am you just want to bring it home. Fresh warm clothing meant I felt good and settled back to my thoughts as night turned to day and the clock ticked down. I crested the hill and looked down on Tarrant Keyneston - breathtaking scenery, best I'd seen in nearly 500 miles and some kind of reward for my perseverance. Chatted to the marshals and with just 30 miles left waved them a cheery farewell...but the sprag had other ideas. Lucky it wasn't an unmanned stop! At 5.30 the road to Warminster was empty. What a road, rock and roll all the way to the finish. Not Platinum but Gold will do just fine.
Once again the National Rally proved a good test of man and machine. I was lucky that the oil cooler went so early on so I could whittle back the time. As an introvert I reflected (well I would, wouldn't I) on how lucky I was to have Bob on my shoulder from Thirsk and then to meet Steve at Gainsborough. I also gained strength from all the marshals goodwill and words of encouragement. It's good to be reminded that as a motorcyclist you're never alone. Nick :-) PS Got the roadside repair bill down to £173 LCF Rally - Bauduen Plans were made for the Laverda Club de France rally in Bauduen, south of France - a round trip of 3,000 kms for the trusty Atlas and Mrs A. The opportunity to extend to the Cote d'Azur and to lay claim a 'coast to coast' ride proved too compelling so it was Cannes or bust! Preparation was reasonably thorough - oil change, fresh chain, sprockets, rear wheel bearings, brake pads and gear selector return spring. A selection of bent screwdrivers and big hammers along with light luggage and fresh maps in the satnav completed the package. We were aiming for the 21.50 'chunnel' train and the Atlas felt steady as we rode off but the rear tyre was soft - no matter, no time to sort that out or the gearbox return spring which despite being new still required a 'tap on top t'lever' to make it return. We pushed on and into a rain storm of monsoon proportions. By the time we arrived at the chunnel my 8 year old Rukka gear was leaking and we knew the 150 kms the other side to our first stop in Cambrai would be misery. At least it wasn't raining as we headed down the peage at a steady 110 KPH. I mentally added the poor to non existent headlight to the soft rear tyre and headed into the blackness of the E15... Our first full day in France dawned grey and overcast. Still damp we carried on down the E15/7 to Reims. The north east of France doesn't set my pace running so I often opt for the peage early on just to get to the interesting bits south of Reims. As we crested the hill the champagne vineyards stretched out before us the sun came out and our pace increased along with my confidence through the sweeping bends and unfolding scenery. We meandered down towards Troyes and rode into a one horse village, Allibaudieres, where we came upon what we thought was a disused museum but turns out it's a disco. Our confusion was on account of the main building appearing to be a ship with a plane on a stalk next to it and a red British telephone box containing a dummy of Lady Diana. You know your life is going nowhere if this is your idea of a Saturday night out hey... Back to the Atlas the soft rear tyre was showing its hand making the Atlas understeer somewhat but it was running good so this had to wait until Bourg en Bresse the next morning. A rather sterile Ibis Hotel greeted us in Bourg en Bresse with a car park full of cheery Germans on GS BMWs. The road to Grenoble is tight but flowing with the benefit that there aren't the ring roads round villages which mean you get to see more of daily life in to view. The scenery gets increasingly spectaculer as the Alps come in to viewWith the Alps come motorcycles fuelled with testosterone, ego's but sadly no skill. We followed a guy on a Harley which was so low it was almost dragging the frame through mild corners - we nipped past and gave it no thought until distracted by the noise of it dragging the undercarrage through a roundabout behind us! Not sure what point was being made. We took in a beer and some sun and set off down the road before finding Grenoble which is a cool place and made cooler by signs pointing to Turin and Milan. I felt proud that here I was in such exotic surroundings on a bike I'd fettled into life in the shadow of a decommissioned power station on the wrong side of the tracks in suburban Oxfordshire. After Grenoble the D1091 'Route des Alpes' is a good fast road. We came past the Lac Du Chambon and in a 'Zen and the art of...' way memories of times past came flooding back. Last time I rode here was in '87 on my Jota with Mrs A on a day trip from Gap to the Italian border - back then parts of the road were dirt and the battering handed out had jammed the shutter on my SLR! What it would be like to be on my Jota now... The road gets higher towards Briancon and the road seduces you into tipping into bends and playing silly beggars with fellow travellers. Infact an admission is that I don't actually like these types of roads because they show up my wooden riding (it took another two days before I got into my rhythm just north of Dijon - daily commuting deadens the senses maybe) We did some hero stuff and suffered some scary moments especially when entering tunnels with the useless front light. Eventually I conceded that my 'ambition exceeded my talent' and settled into a steady chuff to the top! The altitude does take it out of the bike and appeared to make it run hot - but it never missed a beat. Briancon was a big disappointment as a stopping point so we carried on down the N94 stopping at Savines le lac and a hotel room with a view and a car park full of GS BMW's (of course) The next day we headed back up into the mountains due to the will of the satnav and ended up on the D908 to the Val d'Allos - a single track road that claimed one victim who looked like they'd grabbed the front brake in a tight section. The terrain got bleaker with snow still on the side of the road. We passed a couple of casual cyclists getting into waterproofs for warmth - the woman did not look happy. I shouted back to Mrs A how I bet the woman wished she was down by the lake with a beer and her book. Mrs A didn't reply but I could feel her eyes boring into the back of my lid... In contrast to my dislike of the peaks I really like the sweeping roads that normally flow along the mountain valleys and the road down to Castellane didn't disappoint. Smooth surface, sweeping bends with good visibility. I kidded myself that my riding was 'on the edge' fueled my fantasy by changing down into bends and short-shifting and punching my way out through the close ratio box. Mrs A looked at the views sang tunes from the 'Sound of Music' and thought about the next cafe and a cool beer...We were now just 80kms from Cannes and the Cote d'Azur - and so it was that the Atlas rolled into town. We trooped onto the beach in our bike gear - did the seaside shuffle and we were in the Mediterreanan. Coast to coast! Sand in our pants we started back inland for the rally at Bauduen. The roads were good heading up into the hills but black clouds meant the threat of rain was ever present. You know it's going to rain when the temperature drops, sure enough it got cold just 10 kms from our destination and along with the rain we came across a thick layer of hail stones (we're talking the size of marbles here) across the road! Sadly the weather for the rally was indifferent - beautiful Saturday morning turning to heavy rain and then late evening sun. The other problem was that we were billeted in heavy plastic tents (described as 'glamping') and only had lightweight sleeping bags - cold and damp not good! The selection of Laverda's was interesting but as with the ILOC AGM the 'foreign' bikes (a cheery German on a BMW even won the long distance award) outnumbered the Laverda's. Each to their own but I just don't get it. Of the 17 Laverda's 3 were British and 3 were Atlas's, a Mk 1 from Germany, Mk 2 from France and my Mk 3. 180 triples were most prevalent with no Zane products on show. I think we have to face it our marque is in decline :-( Getting the 1500 kms home in two days was going to be a test of endurance. We toyed with the peage to Lyon but went for the road cross country to Grenoble, picked up the peage to Bourg en Bresse and then retraced our steps on the good D roads. The psychology for me is to get balance between progress and fun. The peage provides a break from thinking - just sit there with the throttle at 110 kph (on an Atlas) and see the kms pass by...Leaving the peage at Bourg en Bresse we struck out for Dijon. We stopped for a beer and returning to the Atlas it wouldn't start - nothing, no life on the starter button. We'd had one other incident on the trip when the live wire to the battery broke just out of Grenoble - new connector and we were good to go. Here we had lights but no power to the starter. Fortunately Dijon was running its Moto Legende event so we flagged down a guy riding a sidecar who provided a push and we were away. We rode on until we found an unmanned petrol station where we could fill up without switching off the motor and dialed in Troyes. We didn't stop again 'til Troyes which was quite a slog and literally a pain in the arse! I focused my attention on a Chrysler muscle car cutting through the traffic and gradually reeled it in - lost it down the straights, made up ground through the bends (my confidence was growing) and a whole lot more ground when we hit small pockets of traffic. The driver was oblivious but in my mind we were racing! We pulled in to the cheap hotel - a group of old boys eating take away pizza talked about the Velo's they been racing round the track at Dijon as I prodded the Atlas which started immediately (and continued to do so for the rest of the trip - when I got back to the UK I traced it to a failing starter solenoid so an easy fix). A long day, great roads. I drifted off to sleep thinking about the Jota, Mrs A and that first trip abroad on a Laverda...yes it snapped a primary chain just outside Paris, came home on a transporter but I was hooked! Troyes to Calais the final leg and we picked up the other UK Laverda troop 50 kms from Calais on the peage. Keith and Karl on their triples had hit the peage all the way, stopping in Dijon and then pushing on. I think there is an element of tortoise and hare about the ride - the Atlas is 30 kph down on cruising speed but just needs one tank of fuel for every two of a 180. We rode into Calais line astern and followed Keith's lead to blag our way onto the earlier train. As we rode up the M26 toward London I followed the Jota at a steady 120 kph - sure the Atlas hung in there but I felt envious looking at that Mk 2 ticking along. The Atlas had done it - coast to coast - two up, with only minor problems and on half the petrol a Jota would require. The Atlas would also be my pick in the mountains but truth be told if its about passion then it's the Jota every time... where did I put all those bits and pieces, I think its time to get passionate again... Pictures at http://1drv.ms/1ifyTwZ Welsh Rally 2014 'We've still got 160 miles to go' - hmmm shouldn't have left a wet and cold Mrs A alone with the route while I went for a 'jimmy'! It's 6 pm and morale is low to rock bottom. The weather has taken its toll since we set off at 8.45 in search of a Gold Award and supplementary Dragon at this year's Welsh Rally. Last year the Welsh weather handed out a severe beating to the RGS whose ambitions weren't helped by poor route planning and machine preparation - we limped home for Silver. This year was going to be different. A few nights spent on google maps came up with a route but my fantasy of a surgically clean garage with the Atlas given the kind of attention normally reserved for Motogp bikes promptly flew out the window when the Honda VFR 'mule' cracked an oil pipe leaving the Atlas as sole means of daily transport. The Welsh Rally is one of a triumvirate of motorcycle orienteering events (Welsh, English, Scottish) - the number of checkpoints you visit determines the Award. The target of a Gold Award along with a Dragon Award required about 400 miles riding between 8:30 and midnight. Not difficult until you factor in the need to hit all 3 manned checkpoints by 18.00 - it's this feature which makes careful planning and keeping to schedule essential. A week to go and the rear wheel bearings were shot so I put in a wheel from another Atlas that had sat unused for the past however many years. The bearings seemed okay as did the tyre so this was a quick solution - infact this was the same solution I'd used when the rear sprocket and chain needed replacing the week before...the chain was proving to be well past its sell by date however and needed frequent adjustment. Hey ho, it'll be fine I thought and then the day before leaving for Wales the gearbox return spring starts playing up. It still selected the gears if you rested your foot on top of the gear lever after every change and also rolled the throttle on and off to get between 3rd and 4th. The new digital speedo still rested in its box but we'd be guided by the satnav so no problem. All in all minor stuff and I declared the Atlas ready! With Mrs A aboard we soon discovered the 'new' rear tyre was oversize and fouling the mudguard. It was only shaving the plastic mudguard on compression so we decided it would find its own equilibrium and pressed on. We also found that the satnav wasn't connected to the battery - fortunately just a blown fuse. I used the ride over to Oswestry a