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.
‘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!
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..?
PS It was a great day’s riding – too great infact as a week later a Notice of Intended 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
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…
15 hours ago I was in the sun at The Oasis Cafe, Abergavenny talking nonsense to a couple of Welsh bikers who seemed surprised at the idea of 500 odd miles in 20 hours on some obscure Laverda trail bike. As is often the case I wasn’t as well prepared as I’d have liked having put off my route planning ’til a couple of days beforehand. I had the route written out but knew that I should have worked more to ingrain some of the less familar sections into my mind. Anyways the 100 mile ride to the start had been pleasant enough – especially the section through Boxbush on the A40 where I’d got a clear run at the bends 🙂 I’d also taken the opportunity to test out my planned first route between Abergavenny and Ross-on-Wye. What could possibily go wrong…
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!
We headed off in plenty of time to make the Eurotunnel. This was Catherine’s first trip abroad on her Ducati and we were headed to the LCF Rally near Chimay. The Atlas felt solid and I kept an eye on Catherine as we rolled through the bends, everything was smooth. At the start of a trip I only settle into a rhythm once I’m sure everything is ‘running good’. When you’re two up with luggage you need to get used to the extra weight and how the bike handles and of course listen out for any unexpected noises…
The Atlas clutch was slipping – something I hadn’t bothered to investigate since putting in new springs. The plates looked okay but clearly they weren’t and perhaps the addition of oil meant for a car wasn’t helping matters. I’d been riding round this issue for some time now so it was just something I’d grown used to. Aside from this we were good and making steady progress. No need to rush. When we arrived in Henley Catherine rode alongside and said we’d lost the rear light lens – damn less than 20 miles in and we have a problem!
Been there before however so carried on keeping an eye out for a discarded Lucozade bottle which I could rig up over the light (orange is kind of like red isn’t it) once we made the train. My focus was to make the train, a little thing like a lost light lens wasn’t going to get in the way of that!
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…
Hear My Train A Comin – Laverda Museum trip
The morning drags as I sit through a ‘Dilbertesque‘ meeting on Corporate Strategy…at least I can use the time to send my travel documents to the printer ready for my ride to the Eurotunnel.
The ride in to the office at London had been a bit memorable because a sheet of cardboard had blown up off the road and completely covered my helmet – having no vision at 60 mph in the fast lane of the M4 isn’t recommended! It was a good tale but now my mind was focused on hitting the road at 12:00 if I was to make the 100 or so miles to Folkestone for 14:20.
The Atlas was in fine fettle although the rear suspension had developed a ‘creak’ which reminded me of the seized swinging arm bearings that I’d encountered on the Scottish rally a few years back. The only noticeable impact is that the suspension doesn’t completely extend when you get off the bike so it wasn’t something that was going to spoil the trip.
The ride out of London was fine – filled up at Hammersmith with the intention of riding a further 100 miles into Belgium before topping up to get to my destination for the night
near Eindhoven. As I rode out past Twickenham the weather was perfect and stress that I might be late fell away.
an hour but I wasn’t on a tight deadline and was soon humming along down the E40 towards Belgium. Ahead of me lay the monotony of nearly 200 miles of motorway but with evening sun beginning to set I just sat at a steady 65 mph enjoying being back in continental Europe.Filled up with fuel past Antwerp on the E34 – petrol is more expensive than the UK, though I found out it’s cheaper in Belgium than the Netherlands (€1:45 as opposed to €1:65 per litre). At around 22:00 I rolled in to Meirlo near Einhoven – a days riding of approximately 380 miles (have to say approximately because the speedo doesn’t work…) with no incidents to report.
The Atlas settled into its 65 mph rhythm and we rolled in to Sassinheim just in time for the planned LCN organised ride to the Museum. The atmosphere was buoyant despite knowing this was to be the last time Cor’s Museum would be open to the public and that he is fighting disease. The sun was hot and meeting friends at the start of the rally season always makes for a good time.
The ride to Lisse was one of the highlights for me. It’s some time since I rode in the company of so many Laverda’s – some of which were being run through the gears. The sound was terrific 🙂 Cor welcomed us all in to the Museum. Now we could get down to talking serious nonsense and swapping tales of daring do (my cardboard story went down well)!
It is some time since I was last at the Laverda Museum, I’d almost forgotten just how fantastic the collection is.
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 happened to park up next to the aforementioned Track diesel who happened to be booked on a train due to have left at 19:10. We therefore hatched a plan to use his pass to sneak onto his ‘earlier’ train. The plan was basically to put him up-front with his boarding card and let the staff ‘assume’ we were on the same train…and guess what it worked and we were merrily waved through 🙂
The chap owned an SF2 and had been at The Museum too. He’d only owned the bike for a month and seemed to have bought it mainly because it was ‘different’. It was the second
bike built for sale and he’d imported it from the Netherlands. He gave an honest appraisal of it saying fuel economy was a disappointing 45 mpg and that although it cruised at 80 mph this induced white knuckles through the resultant vibration. Respect to the guy – I’m guessing for the money he could’ve got any number of modern alternatives but he chose to go his own way. What would life be like if we all followed the crowd hey (no room for Laverda’s in that kind of world)?
When we reached Folkestone the Track rattled in to life and he gave a cheery wave as we pulled in for petrol and he headed for Stoke – a mere 250 miles up the road!
As Dean fueled up the GTL I swapped my mirror from the right to the left hand side, next stop Cobham services and then home.
The Atlas rolled into its garage at 23:30 having not missed a beat in the course of 900 miles in under 48 hours. It was a while since I’d last been in Europe and it was good to be reminded of just what a treat riding there is.
Clear roads, uncluttered towns, independent cafes and a more relaxed vibe than you certainly find in South East England. It was good to be back and good to know I was going back in three weeks for the LCF rally…
The route between Meidrim and Gandwr proved the trickiest with no alternative to really small roads, sometimes with grass growing on the crown! By this time though we had over an hour in hand so we meandered along most impressed by a Pan-European that overtook us down a goat track – not sure I could be so trusting of ABS!
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…
i Laverdisti Belgi 2016 – season ending
The Belgian Rally ‘i Laverdisti Belgi’ is my tradtional season closing event. Held just outside Hoogstraten at Achtel and hosted by Ad and Wilma (with assistance from Dominique the last few years).
Mrs A and I planned a 24 hour flying visit (leave Friday and catch the Saturday night train home) all possible as Belgium is only 300 miles from home.
Thursday night saw the glorious hot weather break with thunderstorms and rain of biblical proportions!!! Friday morning saw not only all the shingle off my drive half-way down the garden but an angry mosquito bite on Mrs A’s shapely leg meaning she had to stay put on the sofa with chocolate and romcoms.
The 45 minutes on the train provided the required respite and despite the continued, but less torrential, rain in France she stayed on two for the rest of the trip. I’d decided not to camp at Achtel on Friday but to take the coast road from Dunkirk and cross in to Zeeland, Holland before heading for the rally first thing Saturday. I stopped at Bray Dunes for coffee before crossing into Belgium – I saw none of the widely reported migrant problems in Calais but on the rather obscure French/Belgian border there were quite a few armed soldiers and police. Strange as the main A16 highway wasn’t similarly protected and I doubt there is the manpower to do this for all the small border crossing points – perhaps the proximity to the rather incongruous brothel in Bray Dunes could be an explanation?
I had hoped to find a ‘new’ way to Antwerp. The A16 is efficient but not the most inspiring. Maybe the coast road would provide an answer? Well the answer is ‘no’ – it wasn’t that hard to navigate but the flat-land scenery and nondescript seaside towns (tho’ the coastal guns at Middelkerk are worth a look) wasn’t inspiring. The grey weather maybe didn’t help and the light started to close in by Knokke-Heist. I was navigating with paper maps but turned on the satnav to find a place to camp for the night. First pick took me a caravan park that was closed so second time lucky took me to a small remote site out in the flatlands near Sluis.The Landschapscamping site just showed up in the grey gloom – the rain was getting harder. The owner said I could leave the Atlas in the barn and showed me my pitch.
Now maybe you’re thinking the same as me which is why pitch a tent when you can just as easily sleep in tbe barn? I made slow work of unloading the tent and sure enough the owner had the same idea, so out came my roll, book and a brew of peppermint tea 🙂 *NB on arrival at the Rally I was told Sluis is famous for ‘peep shows’ so maybe I could’ve had a ‘different’ evening if I’d kitted up and headed in to town…
The night in the barn was fine – although it was a bit like the Blair Witch Project waking up every now and then thinking I heard something. How ridiculous that an old man should be frightened of things that go bump in the night!
So by 8 am I’m rolling towards the bridge to take me over to Zeeland. It was a bit overcast but the sun was trying to break through. I was looking forward to getting some good sea views off the bridge that takes you across – I’d checked it out on Google street view and didn’t know what to expect as all the street scenes had been taken at night(?).
All was revealed when I arrived at the bridge only to find it is a 6 kms tunnel! Maybe it’s because 26% of the Netherlands is below sea level but despite being very close to the sea for the next hour I didn’t get to see it once with all these high grass ramparts! So I road through the polders back into Belgium and onto the rally.
This year the rally HQ was the bunkhouse. There was a good selection of Laverda’s from an immaculate SFC750, selection of SF’s and triples onto a few Zane 750’s and one particularly impressive Diamante with 668 bodywork (looked and sounded great, my nomination for best bike [which incidentally went to a UK series 2 Jota]).
I was about to say mine was the only Atlas but there was an Atlas ‘mini-me’ in the form of an OR50 – a dead ringer for a first series Atlas but with a 50cc two stroke Minarelli engine.
Another surprise was a three speed 50cc Gaucho which was first prize in the €5 a ticket raffle. I didn’t even know this model existed! Alongside the Gaucho where two other bikes Ad had recently acquired – a ’58 Sport Lisso and a trick SF 750 previously owned by an ex-factory racer and featuring an SFC spec’ engine and Fontana front brakes. This SF just reeked ‘charisma’ with its dull crankcases and matt silver ‘hammered’ exhausts – kind of like some old boxer, seen action and has the scars to show. Thankfully Ad doesn’t intend to restore it 🙂
The afternoon was spent talking bollocks, taking in the sun, taking in the vegetable displays in the town…
…and speculating on the cause of an engine noise in an ST4 (should’ve ridden a Laverda hey…). For me this rally always throws up authentic working bikes – some of them have obviously been restored but even these seem to be ridden as much as polished. It’s heartening to see.
By 18:00 it was time to begin the ride back to Calais so I headed out back toward Antwerp. The Atlas was running well and I turned on the satnav to see that it was sitting comfortably at a steady 70 mph (speedo doesn’t work y’see). As with the outward journey I’d decided to mix it up going back and headed for the old road to Brugge, the N49. I took a couple of wrong turns and consulted the map – I was determined not to get sucked onto the E34 motorway but in the end gave and rolled along this pleasant dual carriageway. After a few miles it occured to me that the E34 is actually the N49 renamed – my map, which still showed a ferry to Zeeland was so out of date it also didn’t show the ‘new’ E34…perhaps it’s time to get a new map? Anyways the E34 was pleasant enough but not so compelling to replace the efficiency of the E40/A16.
The other thing it demonstrated was the absence of 24/7 shops in Belgium/France. Petrol stations off the motorways go over the card activated automatic pumps so no way to get a bottle of water or salty potato based snack. Infact the more I looked at it the more weird it appeared, where do you get a pint of milk after 17:00 in both Belgium and France? So the answer is either a motorway or the Eurotunnel terminal when you’re an hour early and have time to kill.
No chance of an early train due to problems caused by a ‘technical’ problem and the potential of a 90 minute delay. Lucky the check in staff put me on the train before mine so I ended up leaving France on time. The only downside of this was that I ended up riding onto the train in a convoy of Harleys, one of which insisted on playing the bagpipe version of ‘Amazing Grace’ through the stereo…what is it with Harley folk – fat, loud bikes, old folk dressing up like bad ass’s not seeing the how a corporately accessorised ‘scoot’ would be anathema to any self respecting Easy Rider. I plugged my MP3 in and zoned out with my book for the crossing….
The ride back in Blighty was not too bad as even the M25 isn’t too busy around midnight. It surprised me to find that it had been another 300+ mile day, it had felt easy. A day visit to the rally doesn’t do it justice Ad, Wilma and the team are so welcoming and the vibe and pace just the right way to close off the season.
Riding home I noticed my hands feeling the chill so now it’s head down and headlong towards the shorter days and whatever the winter brings. Some bikes will be put in hibernation but sometimes being out there can bring unpredictable rewards…
A jumble of pictures (couldn’t get Onedrive to work) can be found at: Belgian 2016
Didn’t plan on being in the garage at 6 am fitting a new chain before riding up to Scotland for a few days…but had to work on Catherine’s Ducati over the weekend so needs must.
If I’d had time I would’ve investigated the rear shock as it’d felt a little soft ever since the National Rally…oh and the front brake rattled some due to the worn bobbins in the floating disc – still no time so fingers crossed it would all survive the forthcoming 1500 miles, two up with luggage.
After a minor meltdown when I couldn’t find the ignition key we set off around 10:30 am. Mrs A commented that the Atlas sounded like the ‘Cutty Sark’ as the suspension creaked and the brake rattled.
We had a 300 mile motorway ride ahead of us up to Lochmaben (just up the road from Lockerbie). I’d booked a room in the Crown Hotel (turned out to be a pub). The forecast was good and the weather was keeping its word but the traffic let us down before Oxford so we took the scenic route up through Banbury where we fueled up before joining the motorway. The Atlas was purring along, first stop was Stafford – the service area was heaving and it was good to just picnic on the verge and watch the holiday chaos (one guy backed his BMW 4×4 in to van) and chat to other riders who always opened with ‘haven’t seen one of those before’! We pressed on and on taking another stop at Tebay just north of Carlisle before sneaking across the border to Lochmaben. The Atlas went onto reserve – that’s 250 miles on a tank!
Lochmaben has nothing to recommend it (two pubs and a small lake [or is that Loch]) other than it’s far enough for a days riding and a staging post to strike out to the Highlands. The evening did take off however when a couple of old boys turned up with a guitar, mandolin and fiddle and ran through an eclectic catalogue of traditional folk, Johnny Cash, Dylan and Olivia Newton John!
Next morning we fueled up in Lockerbie after chatting to a petrol pump mechanic who came running over when he spotted the Atlas ‘haven’t seen one of those before’…
The road to the Highlands takes you near Glasgow so we popped in to Linwood to say ‘Hi’ to Keith Nairn and Jess the dog. I was thinking that paying respects to Keith is a bit like visiting the Manx Fairies to ensure good luck while in Scotland… Keith was out walking Jess when we arrived and almost turned and ran when he saw the Atlas parked outside his unit! Jess the dog gave me a withering look and settled in to her basket.
Just as humbling was our next stop for the night – the Corpach Hotel. There was no room at the inn anywhere in Fort William but a friendly welcome can always be found at the Corpach…Check out the Tripadviser reviews to get an idea…Still the Corpach was within walking distance of the start/end of the Caledonian Canal and in the shadow of Ben Nevis
and the owner was a sweet old guy who told me all about his Matchless 350 exploits during his army days.
Unlike when I was young touring by motorcycle seems to help you connect with people. Getting a room on the night often throws up eccentric events that just add to the charm and make it more of an adventure.
We had a full day planned for Wednesday. Lunch at the Tomich Hotel with Richard (aka Reggie) and Jenny before arriving at the lavish Glengarry Castle Hotel near Invergarry. Mrs A got to see Loch Ness (a first for Mrs A) and the A87 was thankfully running free.
Glengarry Castle is an old country pile and the Atlas looked right at home nestled up next to all the luxury cars and a Harley (we never saw the owner).
Thursday was to be our big day out! I’d planned my favourite circular route from the Scottish – up to Durness via Lairg and Tongue. Then down to Ullapool and back to Glengarry
where we’d booked dinner at 20:00. Back along Loch Ness and then off toward Dingwall and Evanton on the old road which meant we avoided a potentially congested Inverness. Turned out to be an excellent ‘forgotten’ road full of bends and good surface. At Evanton Mrs A saw her first oil rig moored in the Cromarty Firth. I’d seen rigs here before but not as many as this. Guess the oil price falling through the floor means they’re not needed out at sea.
Tongue is my absolute favourite place anywhere. I just love the tranquility of the causeway and the orange seaweed. It’s changing though, seemed busier which might be the time of
year or the North 500 route (the tourist board is using this ‘brand’ to promote the road across the top edge of Scotland – seems popular from what folk said). We pushed on to Durness where a couple of BMW riders on the North Coast 500 route came over to look at the Atlas ‘haven’t seen one of those before’ and then we turned south on the A838y. It
starts off as single track before opening up to standard two lanes. I’d never ridden this road in good conditions but today it was perfect 🙂 However I found it impossible to concentrate as the scenary is just jaw dropping and it goes on and on and on and on. It would take a biker more dedicated than me to just bury their head in the clocks and focus on apexes with all this going on. I wonder how many times you have to ride this road before the scenary becomes incidental?
The dolphins had held us up and dinner was looking increasingly unlikely so I upped the wick on the Atlas. The roads are in excellent condition and the bends fast, flowing and
predictable. The Atlas has agile handling (well if the rear shock isn’t knackered) but I did yearn for the power a triple delivers as we counted down the miles. I didn’t need the satnav to know where to go but it acted as a useful coach to allow me to push just enough to keep on schedule and sure enough after a day trip of 345 miles we pulled in to Glengarry Castle with 5 minutes to spare!
The weather was turning and it was time to head home. I checked the oil (just half a litre in 800 miles) and loaded up the panniers. The shock was done for. I noticed yesterday
how it bounced up when I lifted off the luggage. We were riding on the spring, though not all the damping had gone. In my optimism I’d not packed waterproofs figuring the my 10
year old Rukka’s would be able to fend off the odd shower. However I was now looking at the potential of a 400 mile ‘shower’ so needed a Plan B.
It began to rain just outside Glasgow and then really started to rain and continued to do so for most of the trip to Nottingham where we were bunking down with my youngest daughter. We got baulked in heavy traffic by a pillock on his new Yamaha and the drop in speed was enough to trip the Atlas onto just one cylinder. In fairness to the Atlas the previous owner had warned me about this and advised I changed the coils but I’d just sprayed ’em with ACF-50 which had seemed to do the trick! This though was rain of Noah proportions and nothing in a spray can was going to save us. I’d been in this situation many times and knew there’s no point stopping to try and sort it out you just have to ride through it – the bike will eventually catch, especially if you can give it a trailing throttle to grab hold of (like on the long downhill sections of motorway). We played cat and mouse for 20 miles before we had both cylinders back in action only for it to go onto reserve and put us back on one! We got coffee at the Gretna services and I went off to find the hand dryer to sort out our buffs. The bin liners had helped but my boots were full of water, my arms soaking and the nappy had been breached! We sat in a puddle of water and the cleaning lady mopped up around us (health and safety y’know) and left us some paper towel to finish the job. On the plus side Mrs A queued for coffee behind screen legend Warwick Davis so another first for Mrs A!
We fueled up and rejoined the fray on one cylinder – 5 miles down the road and we were back on two and back in England! Now we just had to grind out the miles and for a while
the rain stopped but by the time we came to leave the motorway for Macclesfield it was back. I’d ignored the satnav motorway only advice figuring my cunning route across country would be better – wrong! The roads in Staffordshire are awful and heavily populated with speed cameras – one village had four!!! No speedo and a poor headlight made for slow progress despite the engine running well. We pulled up outside Lil’s gaff at nine thirty – 400 miles in appauling conditions. Mrs A was so cold she was shaking even after a bath and sitting under a blanket. I was wet but had grown strangely fond of my bin liners…
The Atlas survived a night outside in the rain, started easily and ran on two all morning for the 130 miles before mooring the Cutty Sark. The Highlands is a magical, unique area. The scenery is stunning, roads empty and the people friendly.
I remember a TV adventurer saying how driving to an Aboriginal burial ground could never deliver the same experience as walking days to get there – ‘being there’ was the sum of whole journey not just the destination. Makes a lot of sense to me…
The Commando was very clean and had a very neat electric start hidden behind the barrels.
The Jota was superb with lots of details that didn’t jump out at you – infact I missed most of them ’til Tim pointed them out – isn’t that the sign of a great bike subtley better than standard. The engine purred with no noise from the primary side. Witt ignition, uprated alternator, lower battery mount, relay laden wiring loom, gel battery, Spondon swinging arm, YSS shocks and Mikuni’s. In comparision the Atlas looked a bit secondhand but it did have the benefit of a much lighter clutch (in some parts of the World feeling another man’s clutch is against the law) which was essential as my broken thumb is still on the mend.
In deference to my hand I’d downgraded my ambitions to just a Bronze Award – meaning 300 miles by 8 am Sunday. I’d planned a loop out across the Shires meaning big skies and sweeping country lanes. Tim had plotted a similar route but only planned to ride ’til 22:00. We agreed to team up for the time being with the slower Atlas taking the lead. Riding with the Jota turned out to be the highlight. We’re both used to riding solo and as I have no mirrors when Tim peeled off for petrol or to fix his satnav there was no expectation I’d pull over too. The Atlas is slow but can make progress through traffic and bends. Tim jogged along presumably enjoying the 8 valve music and trying to fathom some of my peculiar lines!
At Nailsworth I saw Keith and Karl on their Jota and Mirage thundering in the opposite direction – we followed in their wake to Worcester and had a few comments along the lines of ‘haven’t seen a Laverda in ages and now I’ve just seen four!’ Tim’s Jota drew many admiring remarks whereas the Atlas seemed to evoke a combination of curiosity (never seen one of those) and pity…Things started to hot up when we left Ross on Wye and headed up the A49 to Leominster. Cutting through the traffic and chasing through the bends it doesn’t getter better than this…well actually the next route along the A44 – Leominster to Worcester must rate as one of the very best. We got lucky with superb clear light, dry roads and very light traffic. It was like the road raced towards us as we dipped and dived round bends and over crests – I did wonder if the agile Atlas (despite the rider and slightly scatty handling) might have the edge on the Jota but everytime I glanced over my shoulder there it was…We came down off the high negotiating the light Worcester traffic and rolled in to the checkpoint with wide grins on our faces.
Worcester is the home of the WAC bike club with its own clubhouse. Quite a different vibe to what you’d get in the home counties – relaxed and uncompetitive. While we were there a guy rocked up on a chopped down BSA B31/3 – just out for a pint not on the rally.
Tim had his nicotine hit and we headed off for our final checkpoint together – a good 45 miles over to Carterton. The A44/A424 is prime Jota country with wide open, fast sweeping roads and I was surprised not to be treated to the offbeat growl of Tim’s Jota roaring past. The views across the Cotswold hills were stunning as we headed towards Burford and a rainbow. We encountered our only rain of the day so rather than get damp sheltered in a layby – Tim had more nicotine and I talked nonsense. Perfect. After this I headed east while Tim dropped south towards his final checkpoint at Warminster – you’ll be pleased to know the A4 Hungerford link played host to a 110 mph Jota ‘fly past’ that evening…
I meandered back towards West Hagbourne and got the day’s final stamp in the book – I had covered 225 miles and would polish off the final 75 before 8 am the next day. I had planned this so rode the 5 miles home watched the football, ate curry had a bath and grabbed 5 hours sleep! I felt like a fraud – Keith and Karl were out there getting soaked in Derbyshire, the old boy on the Velo was pushing on in god knows where and I’m snuggled down whining about an aching thumb…
4.30 and I’m up (and so are the neighbours courtesy of an 8 valve dawn chorus) headed toward Winchester. Best time of the day – light coming up, birds singing, no traffic. It was good but frankly not as good as when you’ve ridden through the night and are just focused on bringing it home. Winchester done, Amesbury done and now the final stage to Warminster. I take a break to marvel at Stonehenge lit up by the morning rays – what an atmospheric site.
The quiet roads and fresh morning air provide the perfect environment to reflect on 300 enjoyable miles – the Atlas gearbox had freed itself up and was running strongly the hand wasn’t so bad (could I have gone for Gold?) life was good…and then just to top it all off out of the sun came the Velo running sweet as a nut with the rider presumably all pink and wrinkled under his plastic jacket – Gortex, Bronze Awards – you’re having a laugh!
Rolling along the N40 towards Phillipeville in the soft evening sun Mrs A and I are tracking a Harley through the curves past silently spining wind turbines. Both bikes pretending not to care but the Harley rider is testing me. I’m studying his lines looking for weaknesses (too tight to the inside kerb if you’re interested). These days I mainly ride alone so it can be nice to share the road. The Harley rumbled along at 100 kph – giving both the rider and the Atlas an easy life. So different to trying to track an RGS in a convoy of Triumphs easing away at 120 kph on the Sunday return leg. At 120 kph the Atlas has limited acceleration and slowly ships oil out of the gear lever oil seal leaving a slippery mist on my left boot. The Atlas is a sound bike but it needs 10 bhp to be a great bike…I miss my RGS. We parted company when the Harley turned for Phillipville and we carried on to Givet and Mrs A’s second beer of the day. We’d ridden down to Mons on the highway to enjoy the Grand Place only to find ourselves sitting surrounded by piles of rubbish courtesy of industrial action. Givet (back in France) was spotless and the bar by the river Meuse the perfect setting.
We were aboard my third Atlas – a late Mk 2 which differs from the Mk 3 in having a cable clutch, exhausts that snake round the right of the engine (and then worryingly under the carb’) and a single oil cooler. The engine though felt strong and was quieter (mechanically) than the Mk 3’s despite having a higher mileage. So far the cable clutch had given the only minor problem when it had slackened off during the 130 mile ride to the Eurotunnel – the constant vibes must’ve just unwound the adjuster and by the time we arrived at Customs the clutch dragged so bad Mrs A had to dismount and push me to the reception window! We looked a right pair when Mrs A then had to use the high kerb to remount for us to continue on our way (once I’d adjusted the clutch).
It was strange having a cable clutch again – the last two Atlas’s both sported hydraulic units as do the RGS, RGA and my much missed Series 2 Jota. I hadn’t been able to sort out a spare cable before leaving and I must admit to feeling a bit exposed that this might be the cause of a breakdown. It wasn’t to be however as with 200 kms to Metz our only real mechanical issue came when the top of the ignition barrel parted company with the main body. Never seen this before but easily fixed with a couple of cable ties.
The big ticket upgrade for the rally was I fitted a mirror. I don’t normally ride with a mirror so enjoyed its novelty. We’d have a minor delay when Mrs A lost her phone and a chap on a Super Tenere helped out by giving it a call (the phone rang in the pocket that holds the knee armour…). We got to talking bikes as you do and he reassured me that all the high tech electronics were not a big deal ‘all you NEED is the bike in ‘Touring’ mode, bit of preload on the shock for two up work oh and the traction control on its lowest setting…’ I decided against giving him the heads up on how useful a rear view mirror can be.The LCF Rally in Jura was the first opportunity to be back on the road following my ‘off’ that resulted in a broken thumb. I’d been free for two weeks but had underestimated how long it will take for the thumb to mend. Friday morning my hand ached with occassional jabbing pain in my palm – I’m sure that cable clutch is heavier than its hydraulic cousin.
I was in trouble and it only got worse over the next three days. An ice pack at a bar later in the day helped the swelling and some respite was gained through clutchless gearchanging (downshifts are okay if the revs are kept to 2,500). The next 1500 kms were going to require some determination…we pressed on. The sun shone and we made steady progress ’til we arrived at a traffic jam caused by a minor accident. We pulled up alongside a Belgian making his way to Sardina on a Kawasaki 1400. Mrs A had noticed a flatbed in the queue carrying bee hives and could see a bee crawling over said Belgians crash helmet…damn bees were waking up and starting to swarm! It was some sight when the two guys jumped out of the flatbed in full ‘beekeeping’ kit – not sure what they planned but fortunately the Gendarmarie had cleared the road so we left them to it!
We arrived at the rally in Grande Rivere at around 20:00 – just enough time to pitch the tent, grab a beer (Mrs A) and catch up with friends. We got handed a bottle of special fortified Jura wine by Christophe who was still made up at getting the ‘Mike Waugh’ award at last years ILOC rally.
We also reconnected with René http://projektorange.blogspot.co.uk who we met at an LCS meeting.
The location meant we had about 50 bikes from France, Switzerland, England, Germany and Belgium. As is usual it was a 50/50 split between Laverda and ‘others’. Looking at the others I’d say lapsed Laverdisti seem to go for Ducati, Monsters and ST’s seeming the most popular alternatives. Ours was the only Atlas but there was a gaggle of 500’s, SFC 1000s, RGSs, Jota/3CLs, SFs and a solitary Zane Strike. Although there is a drift towards standard bikes as values increase. The ‘Project Orange’ SFC 1000 stood out for its stripped down cafe look. Also worth note was Dominque’s RGS Corsa/Executive. As Dominque knows despite the big valve head and floating discs it’s no Corsa and the Executive cases hung off homespun frames. The bike also ran wire SFC 1000 wheels. Whoever had done the work had created a cracking bike that looked ‘standard’ to the untutored eye. Sounded sweet too.
The weather changed Friday night – heavy rain which stayed for the rest of the weekend. We took a tip that maybe it wouldn’t be raining out of the mountains down at Geneva so we headed there on Saturday. It was only 60 kms but hard work with a broken hand and cheap waterproofs breached by the driving rain. I’ve been to Geneva and Lusanne a number of times always believing it really can’t be as sterile and unwelcoming as it is. I’m sure if you’ve got deep pockets it’s a paradise but I felt like an outsider – even other bikers eschewed a friendly wave…
The only upside of getting a soaking was that the owner of a shed round the back of the rally gite took pity and offered a dry space for the Atlas – she slept like a baby 🙂
Surprisingly the little town of Grande Rivere had a ‘curry house’ so the day wasn’t a complete wash out 🙂 Curried up we headed back to the rally .
Best bike didn’t go to the RGS/Corsa/Executive but to a very nice German SF2. Nothing fancy or overestored just a solid, honest bike. Speeches over it was time to party to a rather peculiar French speciality act – kind of like a punk poet in a Lou Reed style over backing tapes. Weird but seemed popular…there were a few sore heads in the morning, greeted by mist in the hills…
Time to head home. I put a bit of wood under the sidestand to set the Atlas level and checked the oil – not too bad just half a litre in 1000 kms. I left the Atlas in this upright position and looked on as Mrs A pulled the bike over onto herself as she strapped the panniers into position. A bit of plasterboard broke both their falls and with a bit of Laverdisti help (remember I’ve got a dodgy thumb to look after) they were both upright again. Packed we said our farewells and pointed the Atlas up the hill and headed out at 10:00 for what was to prove a long and eventful ride.
We planned to stop at Cambrai and complete the final leg on Monday morning. Mist and light rain saw me heading off in low spirit changing gear without the clutch. We pressed on to Dijon and picked up the wonderful D971. This is my kind of road – single carriageway, flowing bends and light traffic. My mood began the lift and I was getting off revving the Atlas out of towns up to a paltry cruising speed of 110 kph. I was also playing ‘TT rider’ at the entrance to towns with their digital speed counters – hit 50 kph and you got a smiley face! I was really getting into this and remember thinking what did it say about a community of houses that we blasted through that they were so insignificant they didn’t warrant a 50 kph zone…and then my mirrors were full of blue lights and serious looking Gendarmarie! 90 in a 50 equals €90 and if you don’t have the cash on you…well you’re escorted to the nearest ATM (how do I know you may wonder).
Could’ve been worse as we weren’t wearing reflective jackets and I doubt an intimate inspection of the roadworthiness of the Atlas (or its pilot for that matter) would’ve resulted in a clean bill of health. We paid up talked a little about Marseille which had apparently been racked by warring English and Russian football hooligans, discovered Cambrai is famous for its biscuits and parted with ‘drive safely’ ringing in our ears.
The weather had cheered up – well stopped raining and at €90 down I suggested we strike out for Calais and home. We only had 400 kms to ride (infact if I’d turned right we could’ve been in Luxembourg in time for tea) so best get on. We got caught on the road by the Belgium bound RGS just outside Reims – real tortoise and hare stuff as we’d departed the rally 30 minutes earlier and had been delayed by the Gendamarie – had it not been for this delay I think our superior fuel consumption/range would have made up for our lack of speed. Still Reims behind us we ticked off Cambrai, Arras, Bethune and picked up the old route in to Calais via St Omer (I was determined not to use the peage). These old main roads are a good alternative route and often quite deserted.
We arrived at the Eurotunnel at 23:00…and were offered the 6:30 train the following morning! We queried this and were directed to the Terminal to discuss alternatives. Down at the Terminal we discovered the French authorities had retaliated to the war in Marsellies with a 100% document check meaning trains were leaving 50% full. It was all getting a bit ugly and then the mob were offered an alternative 1:30 sailing with P&O down at the harbour. We grabbed the offer grabbing an hour’s power nap as we sailed across the Channel. Restored we shambled into the Dover (surely the worst ‘welcome to’ town ever) at 2:00 with just 200 kms home. The Atlas ground out the route home and didn’t miss a beat on the empty roads as the sun came up. We arrived home 4:30 – or 1000 kms in just under 20 hours.
The trip marked a late start to the 2016 season – a challenge for the man but not the machine.
A 24 hour dash to get to the 2015 Laverda Belgi rally and home in time for a family get together on the Sunday. The idea of crossing three national borders in 24 hours made me feel quite the executive and indeed an RGS would’ve been just the job for blasting up empty motorways but only the Atlas was available…
The last minute decision to go was partly prompted by a desire to let Ad Van Gils see his old Atlas. He’d sold me this bike a couple of years back saying it would be good to see it restored for the road. Not sure Ad thought I’d just clean it, change the oil and ignition and presto we’re good to go but there you are. The last minute decision and 24 hour duration of the trip meant we got a return fare on the Channel Tunnel for just £24 and a F1 Hotel in Ghent meant we were looking at under £150 for the weekend – bargain!
We made an earlier train and soon we headed on the E40 towards Ghent. I love leaving the train and immediately you’re in a familiar surroundings but subtley different – riding on the ‘wrong’ side of the road, kilometres (tho’ the Atlas only has a kph speedo – pity it doesn’t work) and a different language. It gets even better when you cross into Belgium and there’s a sprinkling of Flemish/Dutch. We only had 90 miles to get to Ghent, roads clear and weather dry. I continued with my ‘anti-satnav’ practice and only turned it on when we were within 10 kms of the F1…unfortunately too late and so we had a tour round the less picturesque quarter of Ghent and then the Atlas just cut out…and then started up again as I pulled in the clutch and bumped it as we started to coast to a halt. In time honoured tradition I made a note to ignore it and worry in the morning.
The Ghent F1 was grim – wrong part of town and shady looking guys hanging around the entrance to have a cigerette. I think maybe I will look for an alternative to F1 in 2016. Next morning was grey and we found ourselves parked next to a couple of UK Triumph’s who were off to Assen for a round of British Superbike. The Atlas went to start and promptly died – so I didn’t dream last night then. No lights meant it wasn’t just ignition related but we’d lost all power – sure enough sidepanel off, clean the positive connection and we’re good to go. Year’s ago having my bike stop in Europe would’ve freaked me out but now it’s no big deal.
We headed into Ghent for breakfast (we passed on the F1 coffee machine and stale bread) and found a pleasant bar near the centre – the joy of not having to find parking hey… Fresh coffee and rolls was a great way to wake up and watch Ghent come to life. First stop was Kalmthout (about 30 miles away) to a little museum containing loads of Sarolea motorcycles from the 1900’s. In a way it was like Cor Dees set up in Lisse tho’ on a smaller scale. A little clubhouse was rammed full of maybe 50 motorcycles. For someone raised on BSA/Triumph etc it’s always interesting to see what was going on elsewhere and the Sarolea was certainly made to a high standard – I mentioned the value of an SFC 750 that rolled up to the owner who suggested that these old Sarolea’s command similar prices! There were TT racers, roadsters and a nice FN sidecar outfit that had transported Belgian royalty. A fabulous start to the Belgian rally and a good place to meet up with Clem and Keith along with a couple of other UK Laverdisti.
The Belgian rally is held in a clubhouse out the back of a farmer’s yard in Achtel close to the market town of Hoogstraten – it’s less than 15 miles from the Dutch border. Hoogstraten has a lovely relaxed vibe and most often on this weekend hosts a display of vegetables often used to create large sculptures – a bit of a twist on ‘Harvest Festival’ and a recognition that it’s a fundamentally an agricultural community although its proximity to Anterwerp means it is becoming a commuter town.
All too soon with the sun starting to set it was time to point the Atlas back toward Calais and leave the revellers to prepare for a night of prize giving, rock and beer… We had something like 300 miles ahead of us to get back home in the UK. I love this scenerio a clear target, setting sun, just hunker down and do it. The Atlas is a bit slow but comfortable and we’d only need one fuel stop. Although I know the bike is happy at around 65 mph I don’t normally set off straight at this speed. I take my time to settle into the saddle and get my rhythm. Soon you’re at 65 mph or more. I’ve done this route many times and divide it into sections – Antwerp, Oostende, Dunkerque, Calais, Clackett Lane services, M4, Henley, home. Antwerp is only 25 miles from Hoogstraten but oddly this dragged until we passed through the Kennedy Tunnel. I pushed the fuel by making use of the 40 mile reserve to ensure that once we’d filled up we’d have enough petrol to get all the way home. All these little details add up to time saved which as you clock up the miles make a difference.Due to the time zone change we arrived in England before we’d left France. The infamous M25 was quiet but the 130 mile final leg dragged until we left the M4 and dropped down into Henley. The final 20 miles flew by, playing with the gear box and familiarity with the balance of the loaded bike enabled me to flick it through the seemingly endless round of ‘mini-roundabouts’. 23:00 hours and we’re home – the party would be in full swing back in Achtel but we’d had a full day and could now enjoy the comfort of our own bed…
Motorways are a good place to problem solve – time by yourself on a steady throttle.
The Atlas had developed a slight misfire towards the end of Saturday which I’d guessed would disappear for no other reason than I’d parked the bike up overnight. It’d got worse as we headed north towards Calais. I’d done a little thinking on the N40 to Mons and eliminated a bad battery connection as in the shade the headlight didn’t flicker in harmony with the misfire meaning the main power feed was okay. Over lunch in the Grande Place Mons, I’d tested my second theory – oil on the ignition pickup. I’d been careful not to drop oil on the immaculate paving when I removed the cover. It was certainly oily but it turned out not to be the problem…hmmm.
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…
Mrs A and I set off toward the Portsmouth/Caen ferry and 90 minutes of cruising at 75 mph left the back wheel ‘oiled up’ and the immaculate deck of the ‘SS Mont Saint Michael’ similarly sullied. I snuggled down in the cabin to speculate on the cause and come up with a plan as to how we’d be able to complete the remaining 700 miles…Rested and greeted with a beautiful sunny day we slithered off the boat. The diagnosis was either a leaking starter motor gasket or a leak from the generator ‘bung’ – whichever oil was draining down beneath the starter. Despite the oil leak a quick check of the dipstick showed not much had jumped ship (leaks normally look worse than they are) so ‘The plan’ was to keep the speed to no more than 60 mph and press on – the lower oil pressure might cut us some slack. And so it proved. The remainder of this report chronicles the ride and rally rather than recording a mechanical melee.We planned a lazy ride down to Mezieres en Brenne (south of Tours) after last year’s Calais to Nice marathon. I’d also decided to use a hybrid navigation system of maps topped up with the satnav to either get us out of trouble or to navigate the tricky final 5 miles of a journey. It proved an effective combination – no endless stream of data while surfing the open road but reassurance at pinch points and stress free landings :-)We pootled over to Mont Saint Michael but pressed on when we found access to the ‘Mont’ is only via a coach or a walk of about a mile – not a long walk but the temperature was starting to soar and neither of us fancied it in bike gear. The temperature got steadily higher so we passed on the planned tour of Rennes. The Atlas also started to run a bit ‘fluffy’ when riding slowly. I’ve had this on very hot days in London commuter traffic and have put it down to heat transfer from the alloy inlet manifolds that I’ve installed to replace the original rubber items. It’s no big deal and certainly better than the alternative which can be a split inlet rubber miles from home (these rubbers are 25 years old now). After 200 miles riding we dived into the air conditioned bliss of an Ibis in the centre of Angers. It’s a fact that non-motorcyclists find hard to understand – ‘too hot to ride’!The Atlas had performed well, albeit at a steady 60 MPH, and still had fuel from Portsmouth – something any other Laverda can only dream of. The ride also reminded me just how good riding in France is. Recently I’ve done more miles in the UK and had started to think that North Devon or Wales were okay…but I was deluded. The French roads are bliss – no need to use the peage as the alternatives are empty, well surfaced roads and offer the opportunity to discover picturesque villages with bars that serve up cool beer for Mrs A and excellent espresso for me. Does it, can it, get better?Angers was alive on a hot and humid night. We spotted a little 125 that had obviously read my manual on motorcycle maintenance, lashing the silencer to the swinging arm. The rigid exhaust and bouncing swinging arm could only lead to tears!. We also passed a bright Yellow Ducati Monster parked in the middle of the pedestrian area…and when we returned the next morning there it was completely untouched – try that in London! The Atlas was similarly unscathed when we returned in the morning (always a worry since Edinburgh when the Atlas was discovered on its side) and took in an early morning espresso and watched the city wake up. Early morning light (but warm) rain meant we had one more espresso before heading out of Angers towards Saumur and then on to Mezieres en Brenne. The Atlas was enjoying the humid air and started with just the lightest touch on the starter.We picked up the tourist route to Saumur and meandered along with the Loire on our right and fields on our left. No traffic and fine roads, hussling along would have been out of character with the mood of both the surroundings and our relaxed minds. I reflected that I am a lucky man as the temperature started to soar once again…By the time we got to Saumur we had time to top Mrs A up with beer before settling down to a picnic under the shade of an avenue of trees outside the Saumur Cavalry School and dozed on and off until mid afternoon. We had 100 miles ahead of us to get to the rally site and despite delaying our departure the temperature was oppresive. It was too hot to ride and in truth the heat was spoiling my karma as I pushed on always hoping our destination was just round the corner. We rode into Mezieres’ and a couple of triples filling with fuel (smug, me?) and a short distance on we’d arrived. Mrs A went straight to the bar where a cool beer was despatched tout d’suite! I just stripped to my pants and walked into the lake – aaaahhh :-)The LCF had booked self contained en-suite chalets with cooking facilities – a welcome upgrade from last year’s tents! For the next couple of nights this would be a very comfortable ‘home’ with a large communal hall and outside BBQ areas. There was also the aforementioned lake to swim in or walk out alongside to another secluded bar. It being June the resort was more or less fully occupied by Laverdisti.These days the bikes at rallies at incidental – it’s all about catching up with old friends. We’re all getting older and maybe with increased age and affluence to number of Laverda’s was low – of the 45 motorcycles just 20 were Laverda’s… I’ve said it before but I just can’t get my head round why you’d ride to a Laverda rally on something else unless you really had to…and don’t get me started on trailoring your Laverda…The 20 Laverda’s were a goodly selection – 4 SFC 1000’s but surprisingly maybe just a couple of SF’s (I remember Paul Marx calling the UK ‘triple land’ well maybe the trend is spreading?) a 500, my Atlas, a Zane or two (tales of ‘everything was great, then the engine locked solid and it all had to be sent to OCT…’ abounded) couple of RGS’s a 120 Jota but the bulk 180 triples.Willy and his RGS Executive sported an engine with a dollop of epoxy on the cases – apparently a dealer devised repair for a porous casting! Willy proudly proclaimed he’d owned it since new – 32 years and just one owner. Damn he’s right an RGS is now 30+ years old – when did that happen! A black and silver ‘Jota’ was particularly interesting to me engine #6585). I’m sure I’ve seen this bike before – looked unrestored so I assume this is how it arrived. It had a series 1 engine sporting hydraulic clutch but the series 2 ‘1200’ frame. It’s like it jumped off the 1200 Anniversary production line (and there was a very nice example of these on hand to do comparisions)? Another interesting bike was a 120 Jota which had changed hands within the club. Jean Michel also owns a series 2 Jota which he preferred saying the 120 lacked torque….hmmm maybe the 36 mm carbs and big bore exhaust on the 120 has pushed the power up the rev range – dunno so long since I rode my Jota :-(The ride out took us down interesting roads and through the beautiful local scenary and birdlife via St Benoit du Sault to a restuarant and picnic lunch next to the lake at Eguzon. While there a 3C based sidecar rocked up. It must’ve been a great bike in the day sporting car wheels and (chromed) leading link front end. Mind it used standard PO8 brakes which must’ve been marginal on such a heavy beast…it was for sale and if it had been right hand drive….Within the rally HQ Domingo was showing his RGS based racer. The bike retained a lot of standard fare but the level of workmanship was impressive – bespoke manual clutch (why is it so many folk dislike the hydraulic clutch) , Jota tank, SFC style fairing with ram air induction, SFC 1000 wheels, underslung rear brake and bespoke foot controls and cockpit.Top bike was judged to be Marc Malfois’s immaculate 1200 – he’d even tracked down genuine silencers. It just glinted in the sun.The Saturday night passed in a blur of BBQ, bullshit, beer and a three piece rockabilly combo, so Sunday dawned nice and bright and the time to point north and head back to Caen.I spent 15 minutes looking over the Atlas when we got back from the picnic. It was hot and I couldn’t be arsed to fiddle with the starter motor figuring that if I stuck to 60 MPH the oil was mainly staying onboard so best left alone. On the Sunday then we rolled out in to the cool morning air and used the satnav to get to Chatellerault and then just used maps to Tours and Le Mans. We avoided the peage and just rolled along at a steady 60 mph or thereabouts (my speedo doesn’t work…). Le Mans was being prepared for the 24 car race the following weekend so we sucked up the vibe of riding down the Mulsane straight. The road out of Le Mans to Sees holds lots of memories of trips to the moto 24 heures and it’s changed little in 20 years. After a cafe stop in Sees where we struck up conversion with a local drunk (kindred spirit for Mrs A…) we branched off toward Falaise and then to Caen. Arriving an hour early we were confronted by a Caen heaving with British pensioners scoffing seafood and chips alongside WW2 re-enactment weirdo’s (I mean would you drive around in a jeep dressed like a four star general outside of the parade?). It was all too much for me and we headed off to find sanctuary amongst the French down the coast. Okay we were just like the pensioners scoffing chips but we were amongst the French…we were still on vacation.Inevitably we queued along with the re-enactment weirdo’s, Sons of Anarchy wannabees and Charlie and Euan survivalists (one of whom had to ride onto the boat standing on his pegs…) and set off back to Blighty and thereafter putted the short distance from Portsmouth to home. And there it is a straightforward piece of motorcycle touring requiring little mechanical intervention. Isn’t it always like that?
Pictures at http://1drv.ms/1S4rMFc
‘I just came round the corner and the wind got under the front and took the bike away’ said the slightly shaken but otherwise okay BMW owner as he looked over his bike (little damage, those cylinder heads act as very effective crash bungs) with a couple of concerned bystanders!
The wind had been strong all the way down the Durness to Ullapool road – it was supposed to be the highlight of this year’s rally but turned into something of a challenge just to stay on board! Catherine and me had been reduced to 30 MPH in places and I found myself constantly heaving the Atlas back onto the right side of the road. We’d had a warning the day before when a gust of wind blew us sideways across the road just outside Fort Augustus near Loch Ness.
The ride over from Bettyhill to Durness hadn’t really been that bad but now we were out in an open heathland valley we were feeling the full force. At least it wasn’t raining…Next up we descended down to Ullapool and the gusting winds gradually lost their force amongst the tree’s and buildings. Next stop was Achnasheen which required 90 minutes across open heathland, albeit at a lower altitude so we pressed on but clouds gathered and within 30 minutes as we passed the Aultguish Inn rain came in.
Lodge Hotel acted as the Achnasheen checkpoint, it felt like going back in time as we sat in reception with a tray of tea – outside red deer bucks were beside the road. I struck up a very fortuitous conversataion with a fellow rallyist Dave who pointed out that we hadn’t spotted we’d ride past the Cluanie Inn on our way to Fort William and we might as well claim it – it was also going to be a good spot for dinner before the final push to Fort William. The promise of dinner at Cluanie therefore became a target and kept us pushing on, something we needed as Lochcarron delivered rain of monsoon proportions and then when it passed brilliant sunshine that bounced off the roads and drilled into my eyes.
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….
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 as an opportunity to get a chain from 'Andy the chain man' in Bewdley and then swing by to Slaters for a front sprocket and gearbox return spring. These would be fitted when we got home. The weather was bright. The Atlas ran well (aside from the gearbox). A beer stop in Shrewsbury an early evening curry and we were there ready to go. What could possibly go wrong? The weather forecast was awful - so awful that 50 entrants never bothered to show up for the start! However the day dawned nice and bright and we pulled away from the start full of confidence. Within 10 miles the sun turned to rain - we're talking serious rain...and mist...and gusting winds. We arrived at the first checkpoint sodden but recovered with coffee and a chat with a Norton Commando owner who was acting as a marshal. The range of bikes on the event was a tad disappointing - saw a Gold Flash, T150 and the Commando, Italian fare thin on the ground but lots of GS's - what else... The lack of diversity amongst the bikes was more than made up for by the camaraderie between rallyists - I was flattered that one chap even recognised me from my exploits on the 100 in last years National! Anyway we pressed on. I was confident we'd keep to time but little by little we fell behind our 30 MPH schedule mainly because of the remoteness of some checkpoints - by remote we're talking roads with grass growing down the centre line in some cases. Later on I learned some folk took a tumble - goodness knows how you would navigate safely on a large touring bike... The navigation issues were in one sense made worse by the satnav which didn't distinguish between good and bad back roads - to the satnav they are all the same so we were directed down the shortest route. By the last manned checkpoint we were 90 minutes behind schedule. Mrs A was cold and holding onto a cup of coffee for its warmth - I got out the spare fleece only to find the rain had penetrated the tote bag. We pressed on and thankfully the next checkpoint was down relatively good roads and we started to make, or at least not lose, time until Capel y ffin...This was a remote church with baying farm dogs snapping at our heels as we headed toward Rhayader with the light fading fast. We ended up in Hay-on-Wye which is in England (this is the Welsh Rally remember) - it was like a wrestler dumped in the audience and then having to fight their way back in! Still the good news was the A470 which offered a fast flowing road but as the rain came in and the light disappeared the inadequacy of the headlight became apparent. It's not normally an issue because these days you seldom ride in pitch black but of course Wales is the exception! The illumination wasn't helped by what light there was being directed up into the treetops - oh and because it's a continental light I'd masked it off to get it through the UK roadworthiness test... Rhayader sorted and brief respite under a fuel station canopy before heading to Abbeycwmhir the penultimate checkpoint... I couldn't see a damned thing as we groped our way down this narrow track and then first the back end stepped out big time whoooaah clenched buttocks! Worse though was when the bars snapped wildly as the front wheel locked up on wet grass - my nerve was shot. We must've done the remaining three miles on tickover in 1st - time leaking away and how the hell do we get out of here? We thumped up a track until we came upon a remote house - the only light for miles. I knocked the door and a rather apprehensive chap reassured us that the main road was just a couple of miles away - were we pleased to be back on a road with two lanes! Nothing was said - we had over 90 minutes to complete the remaining 35 miles. The only thing in our way was if we encountered another goat track. Tregynon was accessible so just 10 miles to the end...what could go wrong? We were within 5 miles when the satnav took us up a single track - I knew as I blindly followed its instruction it was a bad call - I could see the real road would've been slightly longer but it was a road. We were committed however and gingerly rode uphill whence we experienced the mother of all slides and only avoided falling off because my leg got trapped in the verge - feet off the pegs we bounced off the side of the track like a pinball then rounded a corner with a farmers gate blocking our way. Mrs A couldn't swing the gate back so we squeezed the Atlas through the smallest of gaps. We were lucky that gate was there however as at walking pace you could see (and smell) the thick layer of cow shit that was across the track - if we'd not been forced to slow we'd have gone down for sure. For safety's sake Mrs A walked the next 100 yards until we decided it was safe for her to clamber back on and with 9 minutes to spare we crossed the finish line. We celebrated with a plate of soggy chips and learned that 30 riders had still failed to return. Goodness we'd taken another beating. Sunday morning arrived and we loaded up and headed home - someone took pity on us and despite the grey clouds the rain held off, the gears engaged (kind of) the chain was like stretched elastic and the tyre occasionally kissed the mudguard. We were though in one piece and the proud possessors of a Gold Award with the supplementary Dragon. Little things... Nick :-) Some pictures at http://1drv.ms/1jd1fb0 HUMAN RAINBOW: SCOTTISH RALLY REPORT BANG!!!! WTF was that explosion on the left hand side of the bike - the engine feels the same so I wait for the inevitable wobble as the rear tyre deflates but it doesn't happen. I pull over onto the hard-shoulder to see what's happened... Wednesday and the Atlas rolls out into the hot morning sun. It looked pretty good, prep'd and ready to go. New cambox gasket, choke cable replaced with a push-pull lever fashioned out of coat hanger and the leaking oil cooler 'plugged' with the wonder putty 'Quik Steel'. The satnav wiring held in place with tastefully applied gaffer tape. There was still this occasional 'clack' from the top end of the motor. However the paintwork buffed up well and once loaded with our gear Catherine (eldest of three Mrs A juniors) and I headed north to Scotland - a journey of just over 400 miles. Our aim was to get to complete the 'Scottish Rally' and therefore complete the triumvirate of UK road rallies, each one on a different Laverda. The Welsh had seen the RGS (with Mrs A), the National (English) the Turismo so just the Scottish to go. The Atlas felt good, we cruised along at a leisurely 55 MPH until our arses could stand it no more and we turned off the M6 at Stafford. As we came to a halt I looked down and saw a fair amount of oil dripping on the floor. I couldn't ignore the situation and luckily had a litre of oil stashed for just such an event. The problem was pouring the oil into the motor as the high level exhausts prevent easy access but a few minutes with a knife transformed cardboard coffee cups into a funnel and pouring gutter. In went half a litre. Do I turn back or press on to Glasgow and Keith Nairn? A call goes into Keith and we leave a voicemail saying we're on our way. I suppose irrational optimism took over and we carried on despite not fixing the problem - more oil was decanted at our next stop at Lancaster services. While using the last of the oil Keith calls back to say he's happy for us to drop in to the workshop at 21.30 as he should have been discharged by then? Turns out he's phoning from hospital having just had two fingers sewn back on following an accident with an angle grinder - bloody hell! The next 180 miles go by with one more oil stop (have to use 10/40 semi synth as the 20/50 is all gone) and by the time we hit the workshop I'd upped the pace to just under 70 MPH - bike still feels solid but now there's far more oil and oil smoke as the oil cooler has joined in the fun and breached the 'Quik Steel'. At the workshop I pick up a voicemail from Keith giving directions to his house suggesting we sort it in the morning. Good idea and after Catherine bump starts the Atlas we ride the final 3 miles to his house. Everyone's knackered - 400 miles, 10 hours on the road, but we have 30 fingers between us so life could be worse! Thursday and the Atlas is on the bench. We're joined by Keith's black Labrador, 'Jess'. Keith has promised his 'better half' not to mess around with bikes so the plan is for him to supervise my work. After maybe 30 minutes I can see a look come over Keith's face that is best described as somewhere between pity and contempt. It's the same look Jess has been giving me since last night. Okay so the coat hanger choke looks a bit naff but worst of all is the way the Quik Steel putty literally falls off the oil cooler leaving an oily puddle on the engineers bench. Keith can't hold back and starts to spin spanners and undo bolts that I'm struggling two handed to get undone...Keith identifies the oil cooler as the same as fitted to an SFC 1000 and happily he has one hanging on an old frame in the racking. With some minor re-routing of the oil pipes it's on and fixed. The main oil leak is traced to a loose starter motor (I'm sure I tightened that up the other day...) and a with fresh oil and a few new gaskets we're good to go.
Maybe you're like me and like to dress up and play 'mechanics' in the shed. Thing is though it is just 'makebelieve' when you see someone at work who knows what they're doing. A real mechanic values preparation ('when I said clean off the oil...well there's clean and clean isn't there...') has an eye for detail (as I found when instructed to pick clean an oil cooler hose thread again and again...and again), paces themselves and generally moves around the machine with an assuredness I can't carry off... Just when I thought we were through Keith insisted I checked the tyre pressures - was that a sigh behind me as I added the requisite 10 psi... With a cheery wave we bounced off down the road headed toward Fort William. The Atlas felt good and we settled into a good rhythm. The sun was still bright but it had lost its heat and by the time we pulled in for coffee Catherine was shivering. Keen negotiation by Catherine saw us tucked up in the fab' Arisaig Hotel - we'd covered just 140 miles but it had been a long day. Friday, a day of rest and we take the ferry to Skye via Malliag up to Portcree and then return to the mainland via the Kyle of Lochalsh bridge and on to Loch Carron to be in position for the start of the rally Saturday morning. Catherine is still shivering and this time my negotiations get us into a hotel that is one up from a squat! Polyester sheets, view of the bins and a chicory coffee brew for breakfast anyone? The day of the Rally and the good weather has been replaced by grey, wet skies. Like all these rallies the aim is to visit various points. We're going for the Highlander Award requiring 12 checkpoints and 550 miles. The distances between checkpoints and the sense of remoteness was greater than the National and Welsh Rallies. I particularly liked the idea that you had a good 90 minutes riding between checkpoints - you got into a zone and welcomed the stop when it came. We've nearly 400 miles ahead of us and the route will take us east and northwards to Castletown (John O'Groats) before diving south along the A9 to Fort Augustus (Loch Ness) ending in the mountains 40 miles from Fort William. It's a fantastic days riding made better by brighter weather as we head east and north. I was expecting beautiful mountains and sweeping A roads - what did take me by surprise was the Ullapool, Lairg, Bettyhill section - 90 miles of mainly single track road! The surface was good and the traffic non-existent so you could press on but these are the main roads not some satnav inspired shortcut! We waved to a guy coming towards us on a BMW 1000RR on one of these roads - he looked terrified but then he had just ridden miles on a single track road that had a covering of loose grit - 175 bhp at the back wheel and clip-on's must've been fun :-) There was the usual camaraderie amongst the riders, giving weather advice and swopping tales of daring do. We saw a group including a Guzzi Stelvio throughout the rally and connected on a few checkpoints with a nice chap on a Suzuki who seemed to be covering nearly all of Scotland during the day. Truth is however that the country and route disperse riders so unless you're in a group you wouldn't know you were part of a rally. Doing this route in one day gave a brilliant impression of the different Scottish regions - the west is mountains, the middle heathland moors and then the far north and east coast farmland rolling down into the sea. My favourite road was Bettyhill to Castletown - small sweeping A road that didn't swallow up the Atlas and made great use of its taut handling and punch out of corners. The A9 down to Brora and Evanton wasn't too shabby either and the views out to sea as the sun set made for a great atmosphere. The A9 though is triple territory and I'm sure the Scottish Laverdisti posse has had many a happy hour playing here...The sun had well and truly set by the time we were headed along the shores of Loch Ness bound for our final destination at the Cluanie Inn. We couldn't resist a photo stop and I couldn't ignore the now irregular tick over of the Atlas...sounded like an air leak but where? I'd been advised not to ride at night because this is apparently when the wildlife comes out (red deer anyone) and this combined with the pathetic Atlas headlamp (not helped by the continental dip which was pointing into the tree tops) meant a gentle pace to Cluanie Inn. Tucked up for the night I drifted off conveniently ignoring the compromised engine performance (was it now on one cylinder I wondered) and resolved to be up for 7.00 to prep' everything for the final 150 miles and three checkpoints. A still shivering and tired Catherine joined me at 7.00 as the day was waking up. Despite a fully charged battery we had to call on the services of a walker to help bump the Atlas into life and pointed toward Fort William 45 miles away. It was immediately clear all was not well - was it one or two cylinders but either way it seemed possible to run at 45-50 mph so that was how it was going to be. Fort William came followed by Oban and then the final 45 miles to Crainlarich. The roads were traffic free, flowing and mainly devoid of junctions the Atlas just had to keep going. We counted it down on the satnav and finally reached the finish with 25 minutes to spare - hurrah! The next hour or so was spent having coffee, chatting to the Scots Laverdisti (Cameron bought the only other Laverda [Zane Formula] home) putting gaffer tape on a broken rear indicator and looking for the fault which I thought a set of plugs cured. We fired up - yep we're on two but as we rolled down the road it was the familiar gutless 45-50 mph. Not the best news when you're looking at the thick end of 400 miles to home...Bob Scott escorted us to Stirling and then peeled off at the M74. I gritted my teeth 'let's get it done' I thought tucked in tight with Catherine. We'd fueled up at Stirling and had agreed to a schedule of stopping every 50 miles. The Atlas has a 250 mile range but our arses don't. Better to keep those cheeks happy than allow terminal butt ache to set in - once you've got butt ache it don't go away in my experience. I also thought it was one way to keep Catherine chipper if she only had to focus in 50 mile bites. I did wonder however if we stopped too early and of course once stopped the damned bike wouldn't start. So tools out and much profanity as the spectre of a 350 mile journey on a recovery vehicle loomed large. A chap in his sixties offered us a bump but the bugger wouldn't start and I was running out of ideas. Dropped off the ignition cover to be presented with a stream of oil gloop. Hmmm maybe that's what is preventing it starting so I started to clean but no good. At this point I noticed that cranking the engine with my hand operating the push pull choke lever (coathanger) near the carb resulted in air hitting the back of my hand? Closer inspection revealed a split inlet rubber - so now we're getting somewhere but how am I going to fix this? A combination of Quik Steel putty and gaffer tape taken off the petrol tank created a kind of poultice patch but still it wouldn't start. I told Catherine to get onto the recovery firm and just as she brandished the card 'vrooommmm' the Atlas starts and we're back in the game! Performance wasn't completely restored by the ever hardening Quik Steel poultice but it was improved so we had 60 mph or so. I'll take that. So now we're focused on Preston as our next stopover BANG!!!! WTF was that explosion on the left hand side of the bike - the engine feels the same so I wait for the inevitable wobble as the rear tyre deflates but it doesn't happen. I pull over onto the hard-shoulder to see what's happened...One of the small bags on the side of the bike has blown apart - that'll be the camping gas canister on the silencer then. The end of the bag looked like one of those exploding cigars you see in cartoons. Fortunately the bag directed the explosion out the back of the bike - no damage other than ringing in my left ear and missing the bottom off the rear light lens (the light still worked as fortunately I'd replaced the original unit with an LED strip). Catherine burst into a combination tears and laughter (a human rainbow?). We were both a bit hysterical by this point! Another stop and bite to eat restored our spirits and we pushed on home. The next 50 miles was always going to be the most difficult as it was the 'bridge' between the north and Birmingham. Once we got to Birmingham the place names would become familiar and despite 100 miles meaning over 2 hours riding it feels a damn sight better than 300 miles on a strange stretch of road. As you ride south you are gradually reintroduced to what you left behind, heavy traffic, urbanisation. The roads snake past factories and advertising seducing you back into the grasp of the consumer society - what a contrast to the visitor centre in Lairg run by a lady taking time over your soup and an interest in you and your journey. Now we were back to Nectar points and Costa Express coffee machines but on the bright side ever closer to crisp sheets and a comfy Mrs A....just shy of midnight the Atlas express rolled home. A brilliant, brilliant adventure to a brilliant, brilliant country. A big thanks to everyone who helped on the way and made it so memorable. Getting home was a relief but also the end of a shared journey with Catherine and the Atlas - I kind of got some of that human rainbow vibe. Nick :-) PS Catherine was signed off by the doctor with acute tonsillitis on the Monday. I thought she looked cold... NNR 2013 - there you go Speedy Time was running out - with less than a week to go. The engine was on the kitchen table with the head and timing cover off. Despite this things were coming together...don't panic! Scott Potter responded to my blog and sent over a piston, rings, valves and gaskets. The engine had been taken down following a run out to the Bristol AutoItalia when oil started to blow out of the breather - Dean helped with the top end strip and worn rings was the diagnosis. Before I got the lifeline from Scott I was considering a piston out of a Honda scooter which shares the same 52.4mm bore - well it would go nicely with the Suzuki big end the Turismo runs... One step forward, two steps back - put the barrel on only to find I'd put it on backwards! Second time round with Mrs A and plastic spoons to hold in the rings and it was on. Took the head to a local garage to have the valves put in only to find a collett missing - frantic searching by Mrs A (err notice how anything important gets delegated her way..) and calls to me in London resulted in nothing. Back to the garage and there was the collett in the bottom of the carrier bag...The fork bushes arrived and had to go back thanks to the apprentice who I assume spent more time studying the girlie calender than his machine settings... Same outfit made a right pig's ear of the rear sprocket 420 chain conversion but it was usable. Wednesday night it fired up - I sent a gleeful email to Scott who promptly chided me for starting the engine without the exhaust in place...jeez talk about beating a dog when he's down! Dodged off work early Thursday I needed to focus...By Friday morning I'd rolled out into the morning sun for the first test ride. The shakedown went well but I noted the top speed was limited to just over 40 MPH and there was a reluctance to rev out partly due to a minor top end misfire but a bit surprising considering I had converted to higher gearing. Of course my other plan to slim down for the event hadn't gone to plan and even stripped to my underwear I still came in a whopping 7 kgs heavier than the bike! Anyways I have become quite fond of my moobs but that story belongs on a different forum... The other problem was a tendancy to slip out of second gear which was down to poor alignment on my part. Got round this by removing the gear position indicator which was compounding the problem and holding it just 'off' selection. The gear position indicator joined the ignition wire cover which was causing a short - all this fancy stuff isn't needed on an endurance machine and besides rain wasn't forecast so the electrics could stay exposed. By close of play Friday I had a reliable runner but I couldn't iron out the misfire so before turning in I dressed the points... the garage fairies would come in the night and make everything okay... Friday and a 7.30 am roadtest showed the limited top speed and misfire still intact. I checked out the tappets which had closed, nipped down the head and threw the fancy small electrode plug away and screwed the old 'fatboy' back in - it worked fine before. So with no time left before the off I just had to keep my fingers crossed all would be well. I was aiming for a Special Gold Award at the National Rally. This involves riding 540 miles in 20 hours and visiting 22 checkpoints. The key to success is route planning, remaining focused and reliability. I'd learnt from veteren rallist Keith Prentice that the stages in the east tended to be closer together and the roads much flatter than the west. Keith also saved the day by pointing out my original plan was one checkpoint short so a quick re-jig and it was set (can you imagine getting to the end only to be told you're one short - thanks Keith). The route took me to a new part of England so I was looking forward to 'The Fens' over at Wisbech. In planning the route I calculated where I should be at any one time - I used the calculation of an average of 30 MPH + 5 minutes for messing about at each checkpoint. I numbered each checkpoint and programmed in a specific route on the satnav. From experience I know that as you get tired it's easy to make mistakes so I also got into the routine of deleting routes as they were achieved - very easy to press #18 instead of #19 at 3 am! Left checkpoint #1 at Abingdon and as I pulled onto the main road it slipped out of second gear - damn...but only 539 miles to go. Two more miles down the road and I could hear one of the bolts holding the tank rattling loose. A thirteen mm spanner later and we're back in business and now only 536 miles left - almost there. Anyways checkpoints passed and the ETA proved remarkably accurate - I built up 15 minutes and then lost it in the traffic light hell of Watford. Out of Watford however and the roads started to open up as I headed north and east. The new fork bushes and freshly dressed headraces making for a smooth ride. The sun began setting as I left Ely bound for Wisbech. What a marvellous part of the country, small roads just perfect for the 100, Roman drainage ditches and that damp smell coming up off the Fens. I thought how much it reminded me of Holland and on que up came a sign to say I was in the area called 'South Holland'. Pushing on past Wisbech to Langrick (this place still has level crossing gates opened by the signalman climbing down out of the signal box) for a coffee and a joke with the hardy marshals. Due to the rockerbox finning many folk think the 100 is a two-stroke which led to the classic exchange of 'It's a four-stroke then? I bloody hope so I adjusted the tappets this morning!' Now the heat of the day was gone the temperature was dropping fast. I had a thermal top and warmer gloves but again from experience knew that it would get cold and this combined with tiredness would mean I wouldn't now be warm until I stopped riding at the finish - in just 7 hours time. Time to focus. 15 minutes ahead and now through the centre of Leicester. I enjoy riding through cities in the early hours and figured it would be quiet. Well it was quiet but there was quite a hostile atmosphere to Leicester, you just sense it and then there it was a car turning right across my direction of travel....shitttttt I'm gonna hit him and then at the last moment he stopped. Things are now in slow motion and I see a dropped kerb and then I'm riding past a rather startled pedestrian. Damn that was close...but not as close as the next time it happens less than two miles down the road...shiiiiiittttttt, it's now reeeeaaaalllyyy going into sloooooooow motion and thankfully there's another dropped kerb and I'm away. I reach the next roundabout and find that I pulled so hard on the front brake the nipple on the end of the brake cable has moved a good inch - the brake is almost back to the bars. I've lost my rhythm but have to push on into the darkness towards Dunchurch. I'm jumpy when cars approach and to top it all can't find the damned checkpoint. The only one I've messed up and now I'm 20 minutes behind schedule. The checkpoint points me in the direction of Stratford and I leave with the words 'off you go speedy' ringing in my ears. Made me smile but now it's head down to try and claw back those lost minutes. Stratford is just a petrol station - you prove you visited it at the next checkpoint by showing a receipt so I fuel up. The attendant is friendly telling me he's seen 500 motorcycles in the day. Stratford to Stroud is the defining stage. I was dreading it because it's 44.5 miles and will take a good 90 minutes but now I see it as an opportunity to just pin the Turismo and make up time. But I'm tired. The daylight starts to return. It's going to be another hot day but it isn't heralded by a brilliant sunrise. The sun struggles to wipe the sleepy dust out of its eyes and damn that hour before it's had it's first cup of coffee is cold. I'm tired I mess up the navigation I'm on the motorway - focus, reprogramme, come on give me a break. I'd recorded the postcode of the checkpoint and bash this in on the move and it saves the day. Crawling up the hills towards Stroud the final indignity as a Honda C90 cub sweeps past, the rider gives a cheery wave and I watch him and the toy snail he's mounted on the topbox disappear. Massimo must have turned in his grave...Francesco too! Stroud comes and now I know the remaining three checkpoints are all close together. I'm fighting against thinking it's done - I was thinking this 3 years ago and the spark plug stripped it's thread and just hung by the dead engine on the end of its HT lead. That time I had a Yamaha to tow me the last stages but now I'm solo. Throttle back, 35 MPH, let's just bring this home. Riding into Warminster services reminded me of entering Breganze at the end of the Laverdaforhealth run. I'd done it and with nothing really gone wrong. I parked up next to a couple of VTR1000 Honda's who'd also achieved Special Gold. The final checkpoint marshal turned out to the father of the marshal who last year saved the day by fixing my exhaust and therefore gifting me a standard Gold. That's it done. The 100 has nothing more to prove... Nick :-) PS: Didn't take many pictures so they are here along with some rather bad snaps I took at the Cassington Bike evening and some shots from Spa Bikers Classic taken by Rene Van Hoof: http://sdrv.ms/1dr68VT
LCF Rally – Oil’s well that ends well…
As we head out of Le Mans towards Arnage the lights fading and the sky has that brooding pre-thunderstorm hue...It'd been baking hot all day and thunderstorms are forecast. I realised the satnav would take us towards Nantes and then branch off into the countryside and smaller roads. On cue small roads brings with it lightning followed shortly by heavy rain. The lights on the RGS are pathetic and we wobble along occassionally stopping to check junctions on the satnav. We only turn the satnav on now and then because I hadn't hooked it up to the bike and after a day of sparadic use the battery is low. The satnav situation summed up my preparation. The RGS hadn't been used all week as I wanted it just to be ready to jump on and go Thursday night. I'd put a spare recifier on as I'd discovered it wasn't charging and also put a spare off the RGA in the tankbag 'just in case.' I'd also packed the multimeter and battery charger. The pannier frame had been transferred from the RGA and all the various keys and documents were assembled. Nothing was going to go wrong but the I kind of lost focus and before I knew it Thursday arrived and it was the usual hectic rush stuffing this and that into panniers and roll bags...Change the oil? No it's fine, up to the level. Pack some spare oil - no time to find the cap for the 2 litre bottle I use... This time Miss A (aka Catherine) my eldest daughter was coming along for the ride. When we got to the services 30 miles out from the Channel Tunnel we discovered the rear lights weren't working. With the light fading we decided to make a dash for the train and investigate further while we're speeding along under the sea. By the time we were taking off the seat I'd decided it must be either the power or earth wire rather than a bulb because neither the lights or brake lights worked. So it proved - must've happened when we put the pannier frames on. So no need to use Plan B which I'd dreamt up along the motorway which was to put a headtorch behind the rear light lens. A useful idea which one day I'm sure will come in handy. Overnight in Boulogne and then meandered down towards Clisson through the day. One of those rides which never got going - combination of hot temperatures, small roads and lack of purpose. Didn't really matter what time we arrived so no deadline and time just frittered away. So we rolled up to rally HQ in Gorges (3 km from Clisson) at close to midnight. The security gates to the college we were using were locked so I had to scale the fence and emerged out of the night to assembled rally goers already well lubricated. Saturday is always the big day on a weekend rally and amazingly for the French the 'ballade' snaked out onto the road at just gone 9.00 am. Bleary eyed we followed, missed a turn and so had to turn back to pick up the route map we'd left on the table... bloody security gates were locked again so back into 'cat burglar' mode and we were soon off in hot pursuit. The ride took us out to the coast and through open salt marshes and across a tidal causeway. At high tide the road is submerged but at low tide the French forage away with their buckets picking up shellfish. It was a barren area. The salt marshes were flat, open and largely uninhabited by people. Similarly the mud flats at low tide were full of emptyness something quite rare in the hectic money, money, money climate of South East England. While Laverdisti flocked onto the LCF picnic I was buckling up for a ride in Jean-Pierre's Laverda 1200 combo. He'd set out to build the combo and tracked down a Laverda with registration documents stating 'suitable for both solo and sidecar use'. One of the vagaries of French administration - some bikes are registered thus and others not and if the papers don't allow it then it can't be done! The sidecar sported R1 brakes on the front, cut down rear Laverda hub with a Smartcar rim literally bolted to the shortened spokes. A CSG sidecar was professionally mounted to the lowered Laverda frame. Despite Jean - Pierre's obvious ability as an engineer he had to leave this bit to others because it needed knowledge of just how to line everything up to make it stable. What an experience. You sit with your arse inches off the road and have to look up at drivers as you speed past. The engine is close to your ears so you have this literally 'in-your-face' soundtrack blaring away. The engine was a peach - no rattles or knocks in this motor which just powered away. Braking and cornering were in sports car territory and the leading link forks and car tyres seemed to give the rider an easy time. Magic. Party over we again meandered our way back to Clisson. For the first time I felt that I was starting to string some bends together. I'd put more air in the tyres the previous night and this was helping but it was more finding that connection between man and machine. The RGS makes sense on sweeping roads were you can swop between riding the engine torque and running through the gears using the revs. Join up the dots and you barely touch the brakes (or clutch as you move up through the box) and the momentum builds. Good times. Back at rally HQ we commiserate with Dominic who's RGS is on a flatbed heading back to Belgium. His hydraulic fuel lock back in Sept at the Belgian rally had caught up with him and it was now running on two with blue smoke and a lack of compression. Another well sorted RGS had fallen over and luckily just scuffed up the pickup cover and dented a silencer. Nothing too bad. Keith from England was also having electrical problems requiring a bump start. I offered my battery charger, multimeter and rectifier but he was more interested in the party...turned out he was putting 17 volts into that battery but fortunately made it home. Aside from the sidecar there was a good selection of Laverda's on show - as with any club you become familar with the bikes over time and take them for granted. Dominique Codina was there with his very tidy, unrestored '75 3C. Second owner for over 30 years the original headlamp glass is broken but otherwise it is pretty stock. Dominique had to repair a broken clutch cable but was delighted to leave with the 'Nick and Dean Trophy' for best bike at the Rally. There were a brace of RGA Jota's from England quite a few series 2 Jota's a couple of shiny 120 Jota's, shiny SFC 1000 and a Zane Formula which looked quite different with its fairing mounted mirrors replaced with bar ends. It just made the bike more 'torpedo' shaped where with the mirrors these 'ears' give a different line. There were also RGS's and two 1200's. The thing with French bikes is that they tend to be tidy but they still have many of the modifications rife in the 1970's - in the UK these 'racer rep' modifications would normally be underdone which I think is a shame. An SFC 750 arrived in the night (not ridden I'm sure) and was wheeled onto the dancefloor where the inevitable happened and we were soon assailed by the bark of a Breganze twin! Interestingly a rather knowledgeable Brit' investigated its heritage via a torch on the engine numbers and declared it 'questionable' as to whether the cases were genuine SFC. Maybe one for anoraks and conspiracy theorists but of course when these things change hands for €40,000 having everything line up is important... Sunday morning and time to clear heads and point north. 500 + miles home. I spent a bit of time adjusting the chain and glanced across at Philippe putting a bit of oil into his Series 2 Jota. Hmmm maybe I should check mine...Anyways we headed out of town and dialed in 'Fastest route' on the satnav and settled in to Peage heaven. These motorways are dull as hell but when you need to eat up miles they are the way to go. The RGS excels in this role sitting at an indicated 140 kph with ease. We ticked off Angers, Le Mans, Rouen. Grey and overcast but not cold - perfect weather for covering distance. Calais came up on the signs and we pressed on until 100 kms from the Tunnel the engine note subtley changed. Nothing drastic just a bit deeper - to someone unfamilar the change would have gone unnoticed but my senses were alive and then the inevitable metallic tapping kicked in 20 kms down the road. We have a problem. We pull in for the last fuel stop with 80 kms to the Tunnel. I know the oil will be low but with nothing on sale at the garage (you can get everything for a picnic but nothing for your vehicle these days) we have no choice but roll the dice and see if we can make the train. The engine is toast anyway so now I am focused on just getting back to the UK were roadside assistance will be less problematic. Tapping gets increasingly worse and by the time we arrive I can feel the engine eating itself under me. I feel like I'm betraying a friend. Parking up I confirm the oil situation (under the minimum level) and I do the 'walk of shame' which is to enquire amongst Harley owners whether any are carrying oil (non-synth Harley oil is 20/50) but no joy. We strike up conversation with a couple on a huge Electra Glide and spend the next 35 minutes under the sea checking out the stereo and plush seating. The pretty passenger coo's to me to 'be positive' I'm sure to find oil when we get off the train in the UK. Well it turns out to be right and once filled up she coo's that the oil is like 'buttercup syrup' on a sore throat and it'll be okay. Fortunately her partner is a bit more grounded and blasts out Gun's and Roses on the stereo so we can all practice air guitar on the garage forecourt. They burble off with Catherine and me disco dancing to 'Holiday' by Madonna and as the music fades it's time to see if we're going to get one last lap out of the RGS. Tapping aside we were doing okay until we hit a traffic jam. As I close the throttle I see the smoke billowing out of the silencers. On a light throttle the smoke begins to get worse - so bad now that folk in cars are shouting and pointing that 'you're on fire' - yeah, yeah just a mile to the service area and we press on. I make that call to the recovery firm - oil is dripping out the breather onto the floor 'No don't send a guy to see if he can fix it just send the flatbed'... It's midnight when I finally push the RGS into the garage... it's broken but at least the chain is properly adjusted.... Nick :-) Pictures can be found at: https://skydrive.live.com/redir?resid=F64EDF0F3E16C834!2537
Welsh National Rally
Pulled the RGS out of the back of the garage where it had been lurking, unloved, for two years and pressed it into service for the Welsh National Rally. These rallies are really two wheeled orientiering events where you have to plot a route between checkpoints. The more checkpoints the higher the Award. Highest is Platinum, lowest Bronze. We were after a 'Gold'. Riding up the twisting A483 from 'base camp' in Llandrindod Wells towards Newtown with Mrs A riding shotgun my confidence started to stutter as I began to realise how heavy the RGS is to hustle through tight bendy roads. The last six months have been spent on board a relatively lithe VFR 800 and I was now beginning to understand the challenge of 400 miles in a day might be more physical than mechanical! Preparation for the event had been cursory. I'd achieved two Gold Awards (500 miles in 20 hours) at the National Rally on the little Turismo so this would be a breeze on a mega triple. Signed on and we set off hanging onto the back of two riders who were pretty good through the bends on their modern Triumph and BMW. All was going fine and then it started to rain. English rain and Welsh rain are very different things - when it rains in Wales it is close to riding in a car wash! First stop complete and the bloody sat nav doesn't recognise our second planned stop at Llyn Clywedog so we push on in what we think is the right direction...only to find there are two 'Tywyn's' in Wales but they are at different ends - we choose the wrong one and next thing we roll up to our fourth planned stop having missed stops two and three. It is still raining - really raining...We regroup and head for the right Tywyn Mrs A is taking in the storm hit coastline oblivious to the hapless pilot missing appexes and threading a channel on the skinny 100/90 - 120/90 tyre combo...Things settle down and we find the next two checkpoints and enroute to Aberdaron it stops raining! We pull in for a coffee - we've been on the road for nearly five hours. Mrs A is cold. The warmth of the coffee and being in out of the wind make me pause and check our progress. It is then I find we've been aiming for 15 checkpoints when in fact we only need 12! So we are further on than we thought and with renewed energy we ride into Aberdaron...where we then find we have this location confused with Aberaeron. Luckily this is of no consequence but just sums up our collective state of mind. The arrogant swagger of a confident prize fighter on a mighty triple has been transformed into the unsteady shuffle of a no hoper bum - we're on the ropes but carry on and take in the next five checkpoints with little incident. Going towards Llansannan we realise we can't do this and make Llay for 18.00 - a deadline we have to meet if we are to get 'Gold'. The RGS therefore peels off onto the A543 and the hammer goes down. Anyone familiar with a Laverda triple knows it has a one and a half twist grip - take the second handful and the scenary starts to go into reverse. The roads are damp but its not raining... but I'm very aware that this is a heavy beast with marginal brakes. We're on it now cutting through the light traffic, downshifting for bends and howling out of the exits - we're chasing down the satnav time estimate and have already clawed back 3 minutes as we heel over for a left hand turn off and she dies... The starter motor solenoid just clicks - lights okay so it's charging what can it be? Looking down I can see the bolts holding the starter motor on have undone. I can see inside the engine. You immediately start problem solving - all I need is a nut to go on one of the bolts so I take out a bolt that holds the front axle (it's got two so I figure it won't miss one) and it's back home but it still won't start. Scratching my head a van goes by and two guys ask if we're alright. When I say we might need a bump Shaun and Lee are out and enjoying their role as part of 'international rescue'. Much prodding and poking (and piss taking) seems to be going nowhere when Shaun proudly proclaims 'there's your problem!' and points to a broken ignition wire. We quickly splice some spare wire in and a bump later (the starter ain't working now) we're away. Mrs A has worked out that one more checkpoint can land us a Silver Award so we off go up some remote road to Glyn Ceiriog and then back to Castle Caerienion and the finish. The proud RGS grumbles in and the organisers ask if we've achieved 'Platinum?' No we've had some issues I mumble. We're actually elated to get anything and tuck into a well earned curry before heading back to Llandrindod Wells (via a bump start from Mrs A at the petrol station) and a warm bed. The post mortem is mainly upbeat. Three weeks before the RGS was out of commission. Now we had an adventure, took a beating and had our faith in the comaraderie that exists out on the road confirmed. We could have broken down in a far more remote spot and never made the finish. If we hadn't broken down who knows what might have been round the next corner - our rate of progress was a little brisk at this point to be sure. The honour of Wales is safe - at least until next year... Nick :-) More pictures at: http://sdrv.ms/10J5xNP
‘There you go, that’s better than quitting isn’t it?
As I rode along I began to think about how to get the bike back home – I was on the Welsh border so would still have 150 miles when I quit. I was thinking about roadside recovery when I arrived at the checkpoint.
Work started to prepare the 100 a couple of weeks out – good by my standards. The 100 hadn’t really been used since last year’s assault which ended with a stripped plug and a 70 mile tow behind Keith’s XT600 to pick up a Gold Award. I thought then that a ‘Special Gold’ was achieveable – 540 miles and 22 checkpoints in 20 hours. The bad news was that Dean had ridden his ’55 Sport into the back of a car near Antwerp meaning it was going to be a solo attempt.
The plug thread had been fixed and new valves made. The outstanding work was to get the lights working and a roadworthiness certificate (MOT). I’d been refurbishing the original light switch but decided to go with a standard three position replacement from the local autopart store. After some head scratching I had lights but found the flywheel mag’ coil didn’t put out enough power to fuel the brake light with the lights at the same time. A 6 volt torch battery hidden in the tool box resolved the problem and a liberal interpretation of ‘slight play in the fork bushes’ by the tester saw the 100 declared roadworthy with two days to spare!
Aside from machine preparation you have to plan your route. This involved a few nights finding the checkpoints on google maps, printing off the routes for the manual route roller and entering co-ordinates into the satnav (to be powered by its own battery and a spare off the Atlas strapped to the seat). A few tools and sandwiches stuffed into the shoulder bag and I was good to go.
Left Abingdon at 14.00 and all was well although I realised almost immediately that the paper routes were of limited value because although they gave precise details google map routes don’t list towns just road numbers…more often than not on back roads these numbers aren’t mentioned on signs – d’oh! By the time I got to the third checkpoint I also noticed a slight backfire on a closed throttle a poor top speed of around 45 mph (should’ve been hitting 50 mph on some of the long downhill stretches) and was that a couple of misfires at speed? Hmmm no time to check things over have to keep pushing. I was on schedule however and decided to take a photo opportunity at Stonehenge only to realise I’d left my shoulder bag at the checkpoint – damn a 10 mile detour which will cost around 30 minutes! Time is the key and you become obsessed – especially when you only have a 90 minute contingency should things not run to plan.
Kept pushing and day became night and eight and a half hours in arrived bang on time at the Meriden checkpoint. Things only got worse from here on in…Power was now definately down – 45 mph was a struggle, more often 40 mph showed on the digital bicycle speedo and the satnav was not quite living up to expectations. The coordinates from google maps are finer than you can fit into a Garmin so I’d rounded up – trouble was this could put you a 100 metres or so out. Fine when you just have to ride further up a road but not so good if that means you end up in the wrong street. At the Leicester checkpoint I arrived in Western Park not via the road but through the actual park. A lady having a fag out the back of the clubhouse was quite surprised to see me emerge from the dark out of the flower beds! The satnav was also taking me the fastest route which isn’t necessarily the quickest when you are limited to 40 mph and this was compounded when I found myself sitting on the M69 which the Police closed due to an incident (someone had stolen and burned out a Police car on the hard shoulder!). I used the ‘downtime’ to start connecting the auxillary battery to the satnav – a task completed at the next checkpoint with the help of a marshall (she was a dab hand with spanners and cable ties which she put down to living with her husband’s ’67 Triumph).
Somehow I limped out of the Stoke checkpoint at 2.45 – an hour and a half down. The exhaust was now blowing and power down and I was struggling to hit 40 mph. It was cold, I was tired and as the light started to come back my thinking was muddled…I wanted someone to give me permission to quit but the marshall had just pointed me in the direction of Whitchurch so here I was pottering down the back roads.
Whitchurch conquered and a quick consultation gave me the route to Church Stretton and I was off. As I rode along I began to think about how to get the bike back home – I was on the Welsh border so would still have 150 miles when I quit. I was thinking about roadside recovery when I arrived at the checkpoint.
Simon – the checkpoint marshall didn’t crack a smile when I announced I was quitting. ‘Why’s that? What’s the problem?’ A quick lookover and he was on to making an exhaust gasket out of a drinks can with his leatherman multi-tool. It was clear I couldn’t make the 540 Special Gold but as I went through the options a 500 mile Gold award was still possible. ‘There you go, that’s better than quitting isn’t it? By the way what’s your number I’ll keep an eye on the results to see how you get on.’ I still just wanted to rest and have folk commiserate with me about how brave I’d been to have a go, but here I was shoved back onto the road and knowing I had to at least try because Simon would be checking up on me – bastard!
All the way to Leominster I was concerned about fuel – the 100 has no reserve function so if I ran dry game over. How I hoped for the dreaded dead induction moan and the resultant freewheel to the side of the road and release from the challenge. Fuelled up and cracking on to Ross-on-Wye which I hit with minutes to spare. I was advised to push on because it would be tight to make Stroud before it closed. By now I was just revving the 100 mercilessly to maintain momentum – I was struggling to make 40 mph. Stroud came and went – luckily the approximate satnav coordinates were working and I found myself holding the 100 in first gear as I ran up Butterrow Hill. First, second, first, second, third – no that’s too tall, back to second, down to first. First, second, first second and so on all the way to Chipping Sodbury.
I was greeted by ‘Good effort, bloody well done’ by a GS owner as I checked in. Chipping Sodbury was last year’s final checkpoint and it felt somehow like I was ‘home’. A checkpoint marshall said she thought it was only 17 miles to Frome and the finish – hmmmm a few miles down the road and I checked on the satnav and still had 28 miles to go and less than an hour. This was going to be tight. First, second, first second, top. I’m now crouching over the bars to try and get an extra mph or so. The exhaust is now starting to come loose again but there’ no time to stop. I’m crowding junctions and pushing on doing mental arithmetic dividing miles by minutes to see if it is still possible – should make it with 15 minutes to spare however on the 100 you continually lose time. There is no way to make up time by going faster. The skies turn ugly – so far I have been lucky I’ve come across wet roads but seem to have been just behind the horrendus rain storms that have lashed the country but now it’s hammering it down. I have to cover my face with my hand as the rain pierces my face like a hundred needles. I’m focused as I pass the ‘Welcome to Frome’ sign. The checkpoint is on the other side of the town – ROAD CLOSED. Farmer’s Market in the town centre!!! Time is slipping away now we’re at 10 minutes. I ride to the town centre thinking maybe I can just push the bike through the market but the guys on the road barriers don’t appear friendly so I swing the bike round and just ride hoping the satnav will re-calculate and bring me home. 9 minutes.
Now I’m heading out of town towards Shepton Mallet – the exhaust is now howling and unbelieveably despite my 35 mph top speed I’m being held up by a car dithering along until it turns into the ubigious garden centre. 8 minutes but at last a sign for Nunney’s Cafe comes up – round the roundabout into the car park. 7 minutes.
‘It’s okay, you’re here. We’ll sign you in. Turn off your bike. Do you want a tea?’
I fiddle with the exhaust to get it as good as I can. Chat to a few other finishers and the checkpoint marshalls. The rain comes and goes and I point the 100 towards home and the final 50 mile meander. After an hour I retire to a village green bench and refuel with a power nap before pushing on.
What a great event. It pushed me and the 100. Although I rode alone I felt part of something – all the smiles, ‘good-lucks’, ‘take cares’ rode with me. Simon’s help and encouragement were key and finally I agree ‘There you go, that’s better than quitting isn’t it?
LCF Rally, Portbail: It Started With a Bump! Mrs A and two daughters shoved the Atlas down a slope and the Atlas coughed in to life. The previous evening I'd used the car park exit ramp at work to achieve the same result and I'd decided to give the new sprag clutch an easy introduction to the day. Ever the optimist I'd concluded that all would be well once the bike was warm and that there'd be plenty of Laverdisti at the rally to put their shoulder to the wheel should the need arise... The rally was in the Cherbourg penninsula at a place called Portbail - only 90 miles into France. I'd originally planned to take the 100 Turismo with Dean on his 100 Sport. However Dean's recent trip to the Pinkster via the back end of an old woman's Peugoet meant he'd had to send in a sick note while he made sense of the bent forks and damaged headstock... The weather forecast was poor - rain and high winds were on the menu so arriving at Portsmouth in the sun was a bit of a surprise. Our 'fast-craft' had been cancelled due to high seas so we were on the slow boat to Caen. First time in ages I'd been on a boat since going over to the Channel tunnel and now I began to remember the downsides - having to arrive early, getting searched (?), being delayed on the quayside (thankfully in the sun). The upside was some healthy banter with a group of Yamaha R1 riders - geriatric Rossi's who were bragging about getting stopped in France for 168 and fined €350...questioning revealed this was KPH not MPH and my lack of respect ('I'd could almost do that on this old barge') moved us on to a discussion about the merits of cross-plane cranks (I feel a project coming on)... We arrived in Portbail at 1.00 am having left Caen at 23.30, just in time to say 'Hello' to a cast of 'tired and emotional' Frenchmen before waking fellow Brit Keith Prentice who'd ridden his Yamaha XT600 (Jota sent in a sick note...) via high winds the 300 miles from Calais. A bright morning and the Atlas stuttered into life and we were off with a good selection of Laverda's for the ride out. The French scene always throws up interesting and often unrestored bikes. There were 3 or maybe 4 SFC 1000's - surprisingly these outnumbered RGS's. I remember many years ago arriving at Le Mans with Dean who was riding an SFC 1000 and Franky from the LCF being disappointed that his 'exclusive' SFC 1000 was parked next to an identical bike! All those years ago Franky had claimed his was one of very few SFC 1000's in France and now here he was with his 'common as muck' pride and joy! The most interesting triple was a '73 3C. One owner, sandcast cases, pre-oil cooler but with front discs. The big headlamp glass had been broken along the way (anyone know where to get a replacement) but it looked great and unrestored (smoked a bit on the road mind). I think Laverda got it right first time out - the SFC's lack the originals raw lines. A restored SF 2 stood out amongst the twins (which was awarded the 'Best Bike' award), although there were other unrestored, honest, SF's including an SF1 and GTL. A Mk 1 Atlas gave us a brace of 'soft ramblers' and a couple of Zane 750S completed the 'look but don't touch' sideshow! Inevitably there were a few (but not many) non-Laverda's and these included an Aprilia Futura and modern Morini - sure we'd prefer an all Laverda turnout but I like the way friends are always welcome irrespective. A good pace was set out on the road from Portbail but this was soon to end when the Futura rolled to a halt with steam pouring out of the fairing vents. A few of us stopped by to lend a hand with the result that we were to spend the rest of the day seeing fleeting glances of the odd Laverda cluster criss-crossing the coast roads. We took in the scene at Le Nez de Joburg and the lighthouse at Goury. Finally we ended up in a bar overlooking Portbail and the road back to the rally - the joys of watching returning Laverda's as the sun falls in the sky. Sunday morning and memories of talking bollocks about bikes and a rather good rock combo were put to one side as the Atlas refused to start. No problem let's just get a posse of Frenchmen to give us a push - still won't start or even fire. Jump leads and a Peugeot gave some signs of life but it just wouldn't catch. Sidepanels and tank off to check for problems but nothing obvious and on Mrs A's suggestion we gave it another bump which resulted in one strong cylinder. Time was now short if we were to make the ferry so we kept it running, repacked maximum of 50 MPH and constant rain. Luckily the Atlas had a full tank so we just pressed on counting down the miles on the satnav. The satnav always gives a best case ETA and this slowly slipped until I was shouting at traffic to get out of the way as we battled to the port now not only on one cylinder but with a loose exhaust that was rattling in the head. We made it with minutes to spare and just left it in the hold and forgot about it for the next 4 hours. Would it start when we came to leave? Of course not! As luck would have it however there was a ramp down onto the quayside and Mrs A gave it a shove and we were back in the game albeit on one cylinder - good enough! And so it remained for the 80 odd miles home, still in the rain and limited to 50 MPH. We had to refuel and as luck had it managed to sneak the fuel on board without having to turn the bike off. We got in and as it was still light I decided to do a bit of fault finding. In honesty I couldn't really find anything but tightning up a looseish coil connector and the HT lead seemed to give me two cylinders back. Something that could just have easily have been done in France but when you have a boat to catch and constant rain perhaps it's difficult to think straight. The ride home on Sunday ranks as one of the worst. Every thing we tried didn't quite work. We got going but had to keep our fingers crossed all the way. Even when we were back in England we managed to take a wrong turn which added 20 miles to the ride home - it almost beat me. The last three LCF rallies have been memorable. 2010 a DNS because the RGA crank broke the night before. 2011 flown home on account of a kidney stone and 2012 an undignified retreat from Normandy. It would have been easy to call in the breakdown service and get relayed back home but we stuck at it just like we did 30 years ago sat at the side of the road with a blown head gasket on the BSA Lightning. Y'know when you're older you're supposed to be wiser and greater wealth means you can always play the Amex card - but maybe holding onto the spirit and stupidity of youth brings greater rewards? Nick :-) Didcot - Scotch Corner, Edinburgh, Pitlochary, Inverness, Torridon, Invergarry, Glasgow and home. 500 miles in ten hours, two up with luggage from Invergary to Didcot - not bad for a 1989 600cc Atlas! Must've covered 1500 miles (can't be sure because the speedo doesn't work..) since last Thursday evening when Mrs A and I set off for Scotland taking in the ride out on the Scottish ILOC rally near Inverness. The Atlas is the only roadworthy Laverda available but it seemed like some ask for touring work. The plan was to ride up to put in 230 miles after work on Thursday, carry on up the A1 to Edinburgh Friday, Pitlochry Saturday then take in the ILOC rally rideout from Aultguish Inn on Sunday before heading back south. Cruising at 65 mph was bearable and more than made up for by the 50 mpg and 200 mile fuel range - in the Highlands petrol stations are not that common. For those running a triple the idea that you stop when you are tired and not when you need petrol would come as a revelation. The poor touring speed was not an issue on the smaller and twisty roads - infact a good rider would give a triple a run for its money especially with the surprisingly grippy (radial) Pirelli Trail Demons. The 200+ mile Thursday night run up to Scotch Corner was uneventful aside from the constant rain, similarly riding up the east coast on the Friday to Edinburgh passed off without incident. It was cold but only rained interminatly. I was concerned that the Atlas might let me down with its starting first thing so packed a battery charger and hooked it up in the hotel room each night. I wouldn't say the first start of the day was impressive but having 'two green lights' on the Optimate meant I could crank it over a few times. Similarly working on the theory that there are only so many starts in the sprag I used slopes when available to bump the Atlas into life. I'd had to park on the street in Edinburgh which is never something I like to do and my biggest fears were realised when I came back to the Atlas on its side!..I picked the bike up, it was on its left side and it looked okay. However walking around showed the right hand pillion peg snapped clean off and a mark on the alternator cover. I can only guess that the bike was driven in to, picked up but then dropped on its left side either because the stand didn't stay down or someone just wanted to damage the bike...Lucky the pannier frames, sprung rider footpegs and wide bars prevented serious damage - infact the pillion peg only got it because it is proud of the pannier frames when down (note always leave bike with pillion pegs up). Anyways I scouted around and found a tool shop got some cable ties and two 10 mm spanners out of my tool roll to splint everything back in place. The damage to the bike wasn't really the issue it was the fact that the bike had been vandalised that really got under my skin - it's odd but I felt that I'd let the bike down by parking on the street. This all played on my mind as we left Edinburgh and I came to terms with the slightly out of true handlebars which now fouled the choke lever and messed with the starter button. As we got in to the countryside the storm clouds lifted, cars pulled over to let us overtake and we glided into Pitlochry. The B&B owner owned a Harley and let the Atlas bunk up with it in his shed. We were told that the nearby A939 had been rated as the top road in Europe so duly headed off into the hills. The road snaked along through breathtaking scenary , Braemer, Balmoral, Ballater and up over 'The Lecht' mountain pass where it started to snow before we dropped down into Aviemore for a coffee stop. Next day we were loaded up at 8.15 and heading up the A9 towards Inverness. We were fully loaded as we'd decided to find a room on the road after the ILOC rideout. The A9 is a working road - the main highway to the Highlands. Again the scenary was amazing and in one sense having a dull road allowed the rider to just soak it all in too. We spotted a stag, oyster catchers and birds of prey. We filled up in Inverness and arrived at the Aultguish Inn (http://www.aultguishbunkhouse.co.uk/) just as the ILOC ride out was lining up to hit the road. By now the scenery had gone into overdrive...but just a few miles up the road it was going to go off the scale and stay there for the rest of the day. No picture can do justice to this part of the world... The ride out followed the A832. 8 bikes - the Atlas, a Bergman scooter, SF2, 120 Jota and 4 RGS's (one of which was Piet's Executive). Aside from myself all the pilots were proper riders but the pace didn't get out of hand and the added bonus was regular stops for photo's. All too often these rideouts turn into a mad route march with folk riding beyond their capabilities but Richard got the balance just right and we pulled in for lunch in Torridon. Kevin was riding the scooter because his Monty was AWOL - as he said 'it wasn't the same' but respect to him for coming along! The way he pushed that scooter made me think I was indeed looking at the future... Andrew's SF2 was immaculate as was Simon's 120 Jota. The RGS posse was Laverda's best kept secret in action. Looking across the seemingly standard bunch showed subtle modifications of Brembo four pots up front, Firestorm master cylinders, Maxton suspension, Suzuki wheels and snuggled down behind the sidepanels two bikes ran Mikuni flat-slides. Interestingly only Keith's RGS ran 'Jota' silencers... Piet and Keith are well known in Laverdaland for their abilities with the spanners and I thought their weapon of choice said much about what qualifies as the best riders Laverda... I thought lunch had got the better of us and that we'd now start to trickle back to base but a final treat was in store - up and over to Applecross. Bealach na Ba is a single track road that boasts the greatest ascent of any road climb in the UK, rising from sea level at Applecross to 626 metres (2,054 ft), and is the third highest road in Scotland (thankyou wikipedia). I struggled on the Atlas and didn't envy the task Simon had on his hands with the 120 Jota! I had been here 20 years ago on my 180 Jota so knew how hard it is to manhandle one of those beasts! A final stop for a beer and more photographs saw me leave to start heading south in search of a bed for the night...how embarrassing then to get passed by my fellow Laverdisti 20 minutes along Bealach na Ba... I planned to hit Fort William before dusk and was getting drunk on the slightly wider A87 when the clouds and rain rolled in. I didn't want to spoil a memorable day by ending it sodden and cold so we pulled in to Glengarry Castle Hotel (http://www.glengarry.net/location.php) at Invergarry - a final treat before we had to head for home in the morning. It did make me smile as we parked the Atlas alongside the assembled Audi's, BMW's and solitary Porsche. The smile broadened as I set to removing the battery for it's overnight stay in our hotel room... So battery installed and some chit-chat with the Porsche driving resident (despite the Porsche he looked enviously at the Atlas, we both knew a car could never be the 'real thing') and away. Richard had said that Fort William was 'a dump' and he turned out to be right. 'A dump' is a bit harsh but it was stage one in our gradual descent out of utopia and back to the world of faceless shops and traffic jams - all helped by a liberal helping of holiday roadworks...We got through and out onto the A82, Glasgow bound. The A82 is not dissimilar to the A9 and we joined a few convoys of bikes. I smiled as they roared past only for me to pick them off in the traffic...weekend cowboys all on their adventure bikes, which were oddly clean...wonder what adventure they'd been on? One overweight BMW 1200 (that's the bike and the rider) got particularly upset as the Atlas sailed by (if you ride a BMW you always know best) and I knew we were back in the rat-race and all that brings. We dragged through Loch Lomond and took a wrong turn that took us through Glasgow then eventually onto the M8 and M74. You have to have focus when you have another 400 odd motorway miles to go and a cruising speed of just 65 mph! I'd agreed with Mrs A that we'd stop every 100 miles which meant fuel every other stop. By this time the satnav had frozen but this worked to my advantage as I had to indulge in mental arithmatic to decide how many miles after Carlise we'd stop and so on and so forth. The strategy worked well and with fair weather and the gentle pace neither of us got too tired or had particularly sore arses! 104 miles to Birmingham signalled we were getting closer to home and 42 miles to Oxford meant we'd done it! Almost exactly 10 hours after leaving Invergarry we rolled into the drive with the Atlas not missing a beat. Some final thoughts: If you've never been to Scottish highlands go - go now! If you don't go somewhere because of a weather forecast remember weather forecasts can be wrong! Buy an RGS but don't be disappointed if you end up with an Atlas. Nick :-) Pictures at https://skydrive.live.com/redir.aspx?cid=f64edf0f3e16c834&resid=F64EDF0F3E16C834!1926&parid=F64EDF0F3E16C834!1836 PS Two days after getting home the Atlas sprag clutch packed in...