Trips

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.

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All ready for Europe

Everything was going to plan until the train was delayed by over
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.
Day 1 route
I stayed up talking until midnight so was a bit groggy at 7 the next morning. The sun was shining the Atlas started but Rene’s RGS had other ideas…The RGS hadn’t been ridden for maybe a year so to make sure everything was in order in good time Rene had decided to give it the once over the day before (man after my own heart)! The battery was now duff so a bump start was required which is no big deal unless the choke lever snaps off when it hits the tank on full lock. Taking inspiration (?) from my Atlas choke cable which is a piece of wire that emerges out the side of the fuel tank he’d quickly fashioned a repair using a length of electrical wire fastened to the end of the cable and wrapped round the bars. Perfect and we were off πŸ™‚

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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 despiteΒ  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 πŸ™‚ 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)!

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It is some time since I was last at the Laverda Museum, I’d almost forgotten just how fantastic the collection is.

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I spent some time poking around the Atlas prototype and its derivatives. The 700 El Cid could’ve been quite some bike. The thing I hadn’t realised was that originally the Atlas had a frame mounted fairing (like the RGS) and it was only when moved to production it shifted to the less attractive handlebar bikini affair. The frame mounted fairing did however make it to the Atlas 50cc.
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Atlas update – nice!

Outside there was also a rather nice Atlas which had a host of modifications including more modern brake calipers, twin carbs and an under the engine, twin pipe exhaust – food for thought.
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V6 monoshock project

It wasn’t possible to miss the start of the show – the V6. Cor occasionally started it up to much applause and although beautiful its sibling with the monoshock which was shown as a project in progress will ultimately (IMHO) be the star when finished.
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WTF!

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.

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Roadside repairs

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?

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We happened to park up next to the aforementioned Track dieselΒ  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 πŸ™‚

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)?

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Track owner takes a nap!

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.

Route Day 2

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…

Nick πŸ™‚

More photo’s

 

2017 Welsh Rally
So the Welsh Rally was on – Atlas #3 was ready to go and loaded up and pointed towards the first stop at Bristol to pick up Catherine and her Ducati 600 Monster. The back brake was marginal but I was enjoying the fresh tyres, gearbox return spring and a clutch that didn’t slip at the sight of a slight gradient (but did at the sight of a proper hill…). The Hagon rear shock that I robbed off Atlas #1 hadn’t seen active service for a few years – the last time it was used in anger it was so hard (one up) that I ended up in hospital with kidney stones in Belfort, France (maybe this was just coincidence). Anyways two-up the Hagon was firmer than the White Power but gave a good ride.
We got to Bristol, had dinner and then headed off for a game of cat and mouse up the A49 to Llanymynech and the hotel just north of Welshpool. Both bikes ran well although the Atlas lost a sidepanel screw (replaced with a battery terminal bolt) but worse was to come…
Next morning we headed into Welshpool en-route to Castle Caerenion and the 7:30 start. We slowed at a junction and the chain started skipping on the Ducati? A quick check showed a loose chain which I diagnosed as a knackered front sprocket but which turned out to be a shattered chain adjuster swinging arm end plate (a fault Ducati fixed with an upgrade as I later found out).

Note missing swinging arm end-plate

The Ducati was out of the game 😦 Mrs A gamely handed Catherine the Atlas pillion and set off to find a coffee shop to await breakdown recovery…

‘Greg’ takes the Ducati and Mrs A home!

The morning was grey with light drizzle as we left the start and headed for our first checkpoint at Llaanbadarin Fynydd. I hate roads like this – shiny and unpredictable and it wasn’t until we got to Baskerville Hall just outside Hay on Wye that my confidence and humour started to return. Baskerville Hall is the venue for the annual ILOC bash – it felt like home despite being awash with members of the Yamaha V-Max club. They turned out to be a jolly bunch who seemed impressed with the Atlas (one even claiming to have one in his shed from years back….)

Baskerville Hall

The Welsh has always caused problems and this year we were aiming for the highest Award – Platinum. This would involve 22 checkpoints spread across 350 miles between 7:30 and 23:00. It should be simple but the best we’d ever done so far was Gold. Planning is what these events are all about so we re-thought our strategy and determined to use ‘major’ routes and only drop onto small roads when necessary. This meant slightly longer distances but we figured we’d be able to maintain higher speeds and navigation would be easier. The key also seemed to be getting to our final Manned checkpoint in good time. We revised the route to give ourselves an hour contingency on this score figuring after we had this in the bag we could take our time. Catherine prepared the road-book and her instructions proved as good as a satnav. We soon started to beat our average speed of 30 mph. The weather began to cheer up along with my mood.

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!

Cenarth – check out the FJ!

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 πŸ™‚

The Atlas once again proved itself as ideal for the Welsh event – its off-road pretensions make it easy to handle on tight roads and the 250 mile tank range mean you aren’t looking for fuel all the time (one chap from Northern Ireland had a BMW with a 41 litre Touratech tank [400 mile range]). The Atlas isn’t big on speed but then as the result shows you don’t need a rocket ship to make good progress.

The Welsh had given us an easy pass this year but then it had taken us four attempts to get to the stage where weather permitting we ought to be able to bring a Platinum home. So all to play for still with The National in July and the Scottish in September…

Nick πŸ™‚

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.

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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.

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Rain was forecast for the morning but should be clear once in France. The rain meant road closures but I got to the Eurotunnel just as the Atlas went onto one cylinder. The tunnel staff got us away more or less on time despite the chaos being caused by the heavy rain (they even made me smile in rebuking three poseurs in Aston Martins and a Porsche who tried to push onto an earlier train).
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I shared the carriage with a couple of chaps off to Ypres one of who announced the Atlas had a Yamaha engine. Why not just ask the owner rather than try and impress your mate with a bluff – guess if it looks a bit like an XT then it must have the same engine (funny enough Keith and Karl on their immaculate triples were asked if Laverda was a new brand and told their bikes looked pretty retro).

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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 πŸ™‚ *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…

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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!

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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(?).

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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]).

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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.

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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 πŸ™‚

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The afternoon was spent talking bollocks, taking in the sun, taking in the vegetable displays in the town…

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…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.

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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….

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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

Nick πŸ™‚

‘haven’t seen one of those before’… Scottish Highlands, August 2016
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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.

Monday

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!

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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!

Tuesday

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.

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45 minutes of talking bollocks and we were off (Keith raised his eyebrows when the Atlas fired up which I took to be a look of approval) – the sun was hot and we decided to sidestep the awfulness of Loch Lomand roads and detour off to Garelochead and up to Arrochar. The scenary was stunning as we meanadered along Loch Long before joining up onto the A82 and then stopping at the Ski Centre just south of Fort William. Sitting looking out across the vastness was humbling.
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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.
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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.

Wednesday

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.

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More talking bollocks and Richard got to chat to a local who admired his RGS – the chap didn’t seem to register that the blue bike next to it was also a Laverda and just mentioned his XT500 to me! We left Tomich and meanandered up and over to Achnasheen for afternoon tea in the Ledgowan Lodge Hotel. Having entered three Scottish rallies I’m reasonably familiar with some of the roads and checkpoints. The Ledgowan is one such checkpoint and so nice to visit when you’re not exhausted, cold and damp. Sitting out on the porch talking to a couple of fell runners and looking in to the hills we were in heaven and it just got better as we headed down the A87 to Invergarry.
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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

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.

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A short ride up the road served up the view from Struie Hill – just breathtaking but I knew that this was nothing compared to what was to come. We pressed on through Bonar Bridge and then into Lairg. I always like this route to the Highlands as you get a taste of the east coast and gradually the scenary begins to change as the northwest Highland mountains come in to view. I told Mrs A that things would get a bit weird from Lairg which is how it always seems to me as you ride 30 miles to Tongue on single track roads across peat moors. By the time you get to Durness that’s about 50 miles on single track roads – you have to keep focused as it’s easy to wander off track in to the rock filled gullies. You also have to keep alert to ensure smooth passage by respecting passing points. If you’re lucky people let you pass, if not it can be very frustrating trailing along behind a winniebago! One piece of etiquette that seems to be universally followed is that you give way to commercial traffic (you kind of have no choice ‘cos they don’t slow down)!

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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 πŸ™‚ 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?

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Luck though was on our side because as we approached Kylesku Bridge I noticed folk looking into the Loch and thought I saw the surface breaking. We pulled into the car park and sure enough a pod of dolphins was putting on a display, just magical…and another first for Mrs A πŸ™‚
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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!

Friday

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.

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Plan B turned out to be two bin liners that we got at the Ski Centre. I cut holes in one for my head and arms and put it under my t-shirt and just put the other in my trousers to act like a nappy for when the rain started to come through the seam.
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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…

Nick πŸ™‚

The Easy Way Round – National Rally July 2016
Route
It took me a week to finally get the clutch apart and fix the broken return springs on the Atlas! Friday night I took off down the road for a 1/2 mile test – all seemed to be working, though the change felt stiff shifting down. Decided the reassembled clutch just needed to bed in and declared it ‘fit for use’ πŸ™‚ The finishing touches and panniers were added Saturday morning and at midday I rolled up for the start at the Hungerford checkpoint.
The carpark was initially deserted but I was soon joined by a Honda 200 Benley and then a ’71 Norton Commando and a ’75 Guzzi S. Both bikes put the Atlas to shame but it must have been one of the more diverse stable of machines to line up at the start.

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The Commando was very clean and had a very neat electric start hidden behind the barrels.

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The Guzzi was clean but not restored – same owner for 29 years. The chap isΒ  also a long term SF2 owner but prefers the Guzzi because it doesn’t vibrate! Despite my loyalty to all things Laverda the Guzzi did look good…
Anyways 12:00 came and it was off to firstly Devizes and then on to Chipping Sodbury. The traffic in Devizes was a bit slow but the weather bright (if a little breezy) though with the promise of showers. Chipping Sodbury greeted me with an immaculate ’78 Jota with its owner Tim standing having a fag.
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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.

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There was already a nicely matured Velo aiming for the Special Gold. The rider was using maps and protected from the elements with a yellow plastic workmen’s jacket – proper job!
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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…
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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.

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I press on determined to arrive before the Harley Sportster ridden by a couple from Newton Abbott dressed as bears (takes all types) and roll up to the finish at 6:30.

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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!

Nick πŸ™‚
Turn right for Luxembourg -LCF Jura
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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.

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The comfort that comes from knowing you have breakdown cover and a credit card allow you to enjoy the challenge of seeing if you can fix it – a far cry from the 80’s when I was penniless, clueless with a toolkit lifted off my old BSA…happy days πŸ™‚ The kilometres rolled by and we headed into Metz on the old road. We’d planned to find a hotel but we had a tent for the rally and the municiple site is in the heart of town for just €12 – bargain (tho’ Mrs A didn’t look too impressed)!

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.

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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.Β  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.

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We also reconnected with RenΓ© http://projektorange.blogspot.co.uk who we met at an LCS meeting.

The location meant we had about 50Β  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.

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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…

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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 πŸ™‚

Surprisingly the little town of Grande Rivere had a ‘curry house’ so the day wasn’t a complete wash out πŸ™‚ Curried up we headed back to the rally .

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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).

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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.

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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.

Route
Nick πŸ™‚
Laverda Belgi – a day in the life…Β 
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Route

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 Β£24 and a F1 Hotel in Ghent meant we were looking at under Β£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.

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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.

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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.

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A lazy afternoon in a bar then a picnic by a river on the Dutch border was followed by a couple of hours catching up with Laverdisti, showing Ad round his old Atlas and checking out the bikes. A nice collection – of note was a beautiful 3C, a Formula 500, brace of SFC’s and an SF that looked like it had just been dragged out of a barn and a tidy MZ Scorpion (always liked the simplicity of this design).
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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,Β  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…
Atlas Rally – Motorcycles, Whores and Misfires
Route

Calais to Vielsalm

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.

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Hanging out with the Bro’s at the Grande Place, Mons

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!

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Givet and more beer for Mrs A

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.

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Lots of attractions at Sunparks!

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).

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More ‘go’ than ‘show’

The bikes are like Laverda’s used to be in the 80’s – more or less standard but with modifications to keep them on the road e.g. a variety of front disc’s, bodged together chainguards, mini-indicators, aftermarket silencers and luggage solutions. Having said that tho’ Roberto’s Mk 1 is in clean condition with many of the original ‘advisory’ stickers and Bruno’s Mk2 has been restored by the ‘Cycledoctor’ so looks fresh.
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Bruno’s Series 1 Atlas

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 πŸ™‚

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Cool caves – piss poor photo!

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.

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Man down – Man up!

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.

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La Roche en Ardenne

…’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.

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You’re not allowed to do this…

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).

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Sorted!

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…

LCF – Mezieres en Brenne
My aim was to complete an event without mechanical chaos. Preparation for the rally began a couple of weeks out with a fresh rear tyre which necessitated fitting a slimmer aftermarket exhaust to facilitate the 130/80 profile. New head bearings and alloy carb’ inlets and sidepanels to prevent Mrs A’s cordura trousers melting completed the picture.
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.Β  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.Β  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 JotaΒ  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

Nick πŸ™‚

Scottish Rally – Highland Flng!
Route

Route

‘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.

On the banks of Loch Ness

On the banks of 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.

Bugger

Bugger

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!

Cool!

Cool!

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!

Welcome sight of Cluanie Inn

Welcome sight of Cluanie Inn

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.

Crainlarich finish

Crainlarich finish

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.

...don't set off before you've checked the oil!

…don’t set off before you’ve checked the oil!

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!

Cairngorms

Cairngorms

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.

Inverness with Richard and Jenny

Inverness with Richard and Jenny

In this time we’d ridden motorways to single track, commuter traffic to roads where you barely saw another soul, the spectacular passes of Cairn and Lect, the brooding heathland in glacial valleys, the clear water and stunning beaches of the North Sea, numerous streams and Loch’s, crisp sun with a hint of autumn, driving rain and gusting winds to remind you to be careful. We’d enjoyed warm hospitality from Richard and Jenny, air guitar hero’s in the Edinburgh potato shop and the unintelligible directions from a lollypop man in Montrose. Fine pub grub and fresh strawberries from the east coast…guess you know where you’ll find me second weekend of 2016!
see you in 2016?

…see you in there 2016?

Nick πŸ™‚

National Rally 2015 – Hard day’s Night
Preston to Warminster

Preston to Warminster

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 πŸ™‚

Ready to go at Preston

12:00 – ready to go at Preston

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!

Congleton and the ILOC posse

19:30 – Congleton and the ILOC posse

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,Β  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.

'77 Jota meets it's Atlas cousin

21:30 – ’77 Jota meets it’s Atlas cousin

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)…

Stourport on Severn

00:30 – Stourport on Severn

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)…

Bicester

4:00 – Bicester

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 πŸ™‚

Gerald and his cub

7:00 – Gerald and his cub

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’.

Home with the silverware

Home with the silverware

Two down just the Scottish to go…but we know what happened in Glasgow last year. Watch this space….

Nick πŸ™‚

Welsh Rally 2015
Friday's route

Friday’s route

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…

Hmmm that's gonna to be a tight squeeze!

Hmmm that’s gonna to be a tight squeeze!

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!.

Mrs A leaves with another man!

Mrs A leaves with another man!

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!

Mix 'n' match!

Mix ‘n’ match!

By 8 pm the garage is alive to the sound of Atlas parts being ripped off and refitted – chainguard, tank, seat, numberplate and final drive chain peaned over. The big moment when I hit the start button is met by silence…Funny it was running when I left it? So tank off and some fiddling with ignition coils sees it burst in to life and I’m in bed for 11 with the plan to hit the road at 4 am the next morning.
Come free you bastard!

Come free you bastard!

...almost ready

…almost ready

4 am arrives I hit the start button and silence! My daughter, Catherine, looks on bleary eyed. She’d ridden shotgun the previous evening helping out and is here to see me away. Nothing for it but to rip stuff off and try and get it to run – I can still make the rally. Eventually after much head scratching I reach the conclusion that the weak Motoplat ignition has gone down so nothing for it but to swop the Sachse from Atlas #1. It should’ve been simple but the previous owner has rounded off an allen bolt securing the Motoplat ignition plate so the neighbours are treated to a chorus of reveille at 6 am on the trusty Dremmel! Igniton swopped I hit the start button and just the one cylinder chimes in….More head scratching reveals a loose connection and this time it’s all guns blazing.
One tired dude

One tired dude

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)!

Anyone know where the rally is...

Anyone know where the rally is…

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.

Just brilliant

Just brilliant

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.

Saturday's route

Saturday’s route

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.

Silver!

Silver!

Nick πŸ™‚

Scottish National - wheels finally come off...

Didcot to Glasgow

Didcot to Glasgow



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...

Sleep tight

Sleep tight



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 :-(

Bugger!

Bugger!



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 Β£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).

Piet's Executive

Piet’s Executive


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. 

Sure I packed a spare crank...

I’m sure I packed a spare crank…



So time to get my head down, make a few calls, send emails and get back 
into the game.

Nick :-)



ILOC Rally, Baskerville Hall

Didcot, Newport, The Mumbles, Hay on Wye

Didcot, Newport, The Mumbles, Hay on Wye

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.

Transporter Bridge, Newport

Transporter Bridge, Newport

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.

Original triple

Original triple

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!Β  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.

Nick πŸ™‚


Long Way Down - National Rally 2014

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. 

Breakfast at Seaways

Breakfast at Seaways



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.

Bugger!

Bugger!



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. 

errrr something's missing

errrr something’s missing



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 Β£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.

Steve with Atlas - Gainsborough

Steve with Atlas – Gainsborough



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. 

Abingdon at 1.30 am

Abingdon at 1.30 am


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.

Difficult to photograph glass plaque

Difficult to photograph glass plaque



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 Β£173




LCF Rally - Bauduen

Route
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.Β  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...

DSCN1729
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 feltΒ  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. 

DSCN1756

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... Β 

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)

DSCN1780

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! 

DSCN1825

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...

DSCN0001 (4)
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. 

Didcot to Glasgow map
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. 

DSCN0260
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.Β  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!

DSCN0270
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.

Keith Nairn - with bandages...

Keith Nairn – with bandages…


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.

DSCN0287
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. 
DSCN0318

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?

DSCN0337
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.

Rally first day
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? 

DSCN0358
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.

Rally second day
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!

DSCN0361
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. 

DSCN0366
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.

DSCN0371
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

WP_20130707 12

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.

Untitled

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. 

DSCN9695

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…

20130606_215133

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

IMG00070-20130512-1845

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! 

IMG00048-20130511-1543

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!

IMG00045-20130511-1515

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. 

IMG00050-20130511-1726

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.

Day of the Rally

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.

IMG00062-20130511-2043

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?’

It’s over.

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 agesΒ  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
Β 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...

2 thoughts on “Trips

  1. Pingback: W/E 13th December 2015 | Bent screwdrivers, big hammers and old Laverdas

  2. Pingback: W/E 29th August 2016 | Bent screwdrivers, big hammers and old Laverdas

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