Taking these old carburetted bikes over the 2700 meter Stelvio Pass
The Single Most Important Lesson Learnt
Always carry a spare chain link
The excitement overwhelming I was up from bed at 5.30 and within the hour received a text from Rod who had obviously done the same. The domestic bits complete I set off to Folkestone from South Wales and Rod from Suffolk. A journey I particularly dislike, motorway all the way for 220 miles, and the trip hasn't even started properly.
With the weather being as hot as it has I decided to leave the waterproof and thermal layers of my kit behind, although I do wonder if I'll later regret that decision!! Onto the M4 and I decided to connect my helmet Bluetooth set to the satnav so that I could listen to music, next thing I hear my brother talking asking why I was calling him...still don't know what I did!
My first challenge was to stop my windscreen trim from flying off, then my handlebar grip came off and then I run out of petrol. Through all this I arrived to be met by a very red and sweaty Rod, who decided to keep his thermal and waterproof layers. He had a few challenges also, his key became jammed in his fuel cap so he couldn't start his bike (at least he had petrol though).
So we've both had a burger, Rod of the Swiss variety, me a New Yorker washed down by a bottle of red. Breakfast planned for 6.30 before we make our landing on French soil.
Well, we said the adventure would be riding the old bikes and Rods bike has lived up to expectation, more of that later.
Up at 4.30 this morning to catch an early Chunnel, breakfast was an all you can eat affair which didn't disappoint.....pig 3 ways with a bunch of eggs and mushrooms washed down with a load of coffee and juice. Good start!
Chunnel was on time and the weather glorious, rolling out of Calais I was surprised ...no startled by how easily the front wheel leaves the ground on these things. We headed down past Lille and decided we could do with another breakfast so pulled into a luxury petrol station, the kind French sort behind the counter informed us it was a French holiday so sustenance was off the cards unless we fancied a KitKat - we did.
Soon after our stop I radio'd to Rod that my feet were killing me, he sounded surprised, when I thought about it I was surprised. Then I realised that I was wearing what I thought was a bargain buy from Lidl...£30 bike boots, to good to be true. The tough rubbery like material they were made from made my feet heat up to an inordinate temperature and I suffered with the inevitable swelling, ankles like Baba the elephant.
We continued on to Laon a beautiful castley place with cobbley road which mixed well with our knobbly tyres and crap suspension, so much so Rods rev counter took on a life of it's own reading 5000 Rpm with the engine switched off. A place just outside of Troyes was our destination and barring a stomach churning visit to a traditional French toilet the rest of the journey was great fun and without incident.
We arrived at our lovely B&B and checked in, apart from the smell it's pretty good. We decided to go for a wander and my brand new canvass shoes weren't happy with the size of Baba's feet so decided to wear a hole into the back of my heels. Our wander took us to the edge of a lake where I thought it would be nice to soak my blood sodden swollen hooves, I took my shoes off stumbled across the sharp Flint gravel into the highly polluted and acidic water, now my feet are truly buggered. Rod thought to comfort me by buying me a vase of beer. After limping back to the hotel for dinner, the menu only seemed to throw at us Duck with chocolate sauce for an unreasonable 75E, we thought we'd jump on the bikes and go else where, Rods bike wouldn't start, I pushed him and we got away, we found a place where Rod recommended something on the menu which turned out to be pigs intestines. We ate and left, Rods bike wouldn't start, so I pushed him again.
Tomorrow will see us going to a Yamaha dealer for new boots and stuff to make Rod bike work.
Tuesday morning began with me sat on my bike and Lee pushing for all he was worth in an effort to jump start it. It was like being chased by an asthmatic bear.
Once the white stallion (my bike) was started we made a bee-line for a nearby Yamaha garage where after many hand signals and shouting a new battery was found and we were off and running.
Lee used our garage stop to buy some new bike boots and dumped his Lidl smelly wellies in a bin next to a bus stop - nobody wanted to wait for the bus after that.
The rest of Tuesday was spent heading further south ( apparently much closer to the sun) to a place called Riders Rest near Treignac, a biker friendly B&B.
The roads were brilliant. Twisty ribbons of tarmac, smooth as a snooker table and very few others vehicles. Biker heaven.
Before we head east for Switzerland we have another un-scheduled stop to make. Yes, you guessed, we are heading to another garage. My bike has a problem with its carbs (not the pasta type) and Lee's brakes have moved from entertaining to suicidal
Following our evening at Riders Rest with a great meal and fantastic company, we awoke to the sizzling of bacon, always welcome, even more so I'm this part of the world.
We headed down to Brive a ride of about 40 miles, where the bikes had some minor alterations at Moto Expert. Then with a bit too much optimism we set the sat navs for Andermatt. The navs must have been on funny juice because it took us via some of the most remote, twisty and rural roads imaginable. The Super Tens were brilliant, taking us across all types of terrain, Tarmac, gravel and mud.
We discovered a 15th century ruin (looked in better nick than Rod). We then started riding along a mountain pass with a cliff edge drop to our right which gave us both severe wind. We then rode through les gorges de l'arzon , exhilarating and scary.
We decided to call it a day at 6.30 in Voray a mere 350 miles short of Andermatt. Tomorrow sees us visiting Yamaha for a few more minor adjustments and the resuming our route.
So we were up early in Voray, I wandered out onto my palatial balcony to spy Rod pushing the bikes out from the garage to the front of the hotel ( we all need staff!)
Breakfast was the usual mix of cake yogurt and cheese, basically a massive disappointment! Then we set off to Le Puy with a new rear shock absorber the quest, after waiting half an hour for the dealer to open we were told they'd shut for good many months ago. We were recommended Yamaha in St Etienne. After a great ride there and 2 hrs trying to find the place ( seriously Garmin is brilliant, but this place couldn't have been found by Tom Tom le Michelin).
I have to say in all seriousness the Yamaha customer experience was dreadful, appalling and woeful, anyway enough of that, we left and the rest of the day saw us take the super tens on some of the best roads on earth, we rode up through the Alpine foothills, past Annecy and ended up in Thonon les bains on Lake Lausanne.
We did however get pulled by the rozzers, after our first venture onto the peage, we paid our toll and were then instructed to pull over, driving license, V5, insurance and general bike condition were all checked. Rod shat himself, because his bike has more chance of passing a GCSE than an MOT, but his Irish charm came to the fore and the Gendarmes were like long lost friends by the time we left.
Tomorrow we plan to arrive at Andermatt in Switzerland,
We've made it to Andermatt in Switzerland! Admittedly there have been a few ups and downs along the way including an unexpected trip on a train early today but we're here.
Andermatt is just over a mile high in the Alps and is biking nirvana. Many of the best passes can be accessed from here. The scenery is gorgeous and the people are very friendly and they welcome bikers with open arms.
As I type this, Lee is upstairs having a nap. I don't think he has recovered from the stress of yesterday. Not only did the clowns at the Yamaha garage stress him out, McDonalds screwed up his burger - he wasn't happy.
Last night we stayed in a cool little town called Thonon Les Bains. As ever, we were quick to blend in with the local customs and cuisine so we went for a Chinese.
We are going to stay in this area for the next couple of days. Apparently the air ambulance is very good
Having arrived at Andermatt we set about getting some beer and food which ended up with us sitting in a 1970's nightclub with flashing floor and mirror balls, not another soul in sight, we felt a bit Village People so we finished off our Cinzano's and left, retiring to the safety of our chalet style hotel.
During the night whilst I was fast asleep the TV turned itself on and at full volume, scared the b'jesus out of me.
In the morning the Alpine passes beckoned, a quick oil check revealed I had none. Topped up with fuel and oil we set about the St Gotthard pass, there was a lot of snow and the roads were beautiful, but my engine seemed to struggle at altitude, we were riding a loop to take us back to Andermatt, so after a brunch break we headed up the Oberal pass, great riding and then.....Rods chain snapped, right on a hairpin, the road was narrow and we could see a lay-by ahead so the was no option other than to push. Over the intercom Rod sounded as though he was breathing through a whoopee cushion, so as the understated hero I am I got off my bike and finished the job of for him. Pushing a big motorbike up an Alp is not the most fun in the world. We stood and looked at the bike for quite some time and as it wasn't getting anymore fixed we sprung into action. We had a spare link and limited tools, but we repaired the chain and headed back to Andermatt.
We thought it prudent to go to a repair shop to have our bodge job verified and Rods bike was up on a ramp, this time diagnosed as very, very smelly... The new battery he had fitted 3 days previous had cooked itself. Our previous concerns regarding the rectifier had come true. So after a couple of hours and covered in oil again we returned to Andermatt.
We decided to give the disco a miss and took an early night with the Stelvio Pass in Italy being tomorrow's destination.
We left Andermatt early, fuelled the bikes and headed over the Oberal pass (the scene of the prior days "chain of events")
We were headed to the Stelvio pass in Italy, along our journey we rode some terrific roads until we decided to stop for a strudel. Following our brief stop I popped into the cafe to settle up and when I returned to the bike Rod was doing his best Mick McManus impression wrestling with his bike, it was the unfortunate Mick that got pinned for a 3 count though. Rod jumped to his feet in a "I meant to do that sort of way" looking round to see if anyone saw him. They did, quite a lot of people.
We carried on past St Moritz, Davios and taking in a bit of off road on the way and arrived at the Stelvio, the bikes really struggled with the 2700 meter altitude on the way up, but we flew down cooking the brakes in the process. There's a lot said about the Stelvio, but me for 1 really enjoyed it and think it's a must do road.
We ended up in Pfund in Austria a strange one horse town and the horse was away on holiday.
We awoke this morning to rain, torrential rain. I knew as soon as I met Lee in the breakfast hall that all was not well. Apparently Lee's room was under the main guttering for the hotel and he attempted (unsuccessfully) to sleep with the backing track of a waterfall. So, by 7:30 this morning I knew I was going to have a job on my hands - moods, tantrums, you name it.
We had a 250 mile day ahead. On any other trip, on our normal bikes, in dry weather we would have 250 miles done by lunchtime. On this occasion, we were on our poorly ageing bikes in weather that would make Noah frown.
After our typical continental breakfast (cakefest) we put on what little waterproof gear we had (Rod - loads, Lee - none) we bade farewell to Pfunde and Austria and we said Guten Morgan to Germany.
At one stage my feet were so wet I found a trout in my boot. Lee on the other hand had more than wet feet to deal with and apparently had a feeling similar to having soiled himself - I switched my intercom off before I heard the gory details.
All in all, we rode in torrential rain for about 6 hours. A heady mix of adrenaline and tears.
When we arrived at Touratech Lee bought just about every bit of waterproof clothing available - when we left, the sun was shining and the forecast for the rest of our trip is blue skies and 20C +.
We are now in the Black Forest in South West Germany. Fantastic roads to ride and more hot-dogs than you could shake a stick at.
What will tomorrow bring? Let me guess - reliability problems and cake!
Over several bottles of wine last night we hatched an incredible plan. We were to turn up at a German bike dealer who would see our bikes as classic collectors items and would not be able to resist offering us a ton of cash to trade them in for one of they're newer more modern and reliable pieces.
We arrived for breakfast with our game faces on, ate our cake and garlicky processed meat whilst googling our potential new business associates. We left with hopes of returning to the UK on some nearly new BMW's or the like. The ride to the dealership in Villinghem was very, very cold, when Rod took his helmet off he had grown a new stalactite!
We looked around the lot and had picked out some likely new steeds all shiny and reliable....negotiations started and we seemed to be on the front foot, then Mr German salesman asked Mr German technician to value our bikes, we were confident!!!!!!!
He probed them with a thing, lifted the back wheel and the the front, question us about the validity of the mileage, and took them for a ride, our confidence was waning a little. He the offered us £600 for the two. Bugger. We left with the bikes we arrived on plus a damning report on them, we pulled over when we could, broke out the tools and adjusted the chains, we then took them for a Jet wash agreed they'd missed out on 2 cracking bikes. We set the Navs for the Voges valleys I'm France and set off.
The Black Forest roads were brilliant and we swept along them (despite me having earlier spilled half a litre of oil over my back tyre...made my bum tweak). Rod had huge admiration for the way I flew through the forest, I could tell, he'll never admit it though, but hopefully he learned a lesson today.
Rather promptly we arrived in France where we treated ourselves to a custard slice each.
We stopped in Saint Die and found some digs, some wine and raw fish later we turned in.
PS.. We both bought new pants today
It was a lovely clear morning as we left St Dies des Voges. We had set the sat-nav for Metz and specifically for Moto-Expert (a cross between Kwik-Fit and Halfords for bike). The plan was to get new tyres fitted as our old ones were on their last legs and tyres are cheaper in France.
Not 10 minutes into the journey and the heavens opened. So for the second time in 3 days we were riding through rain which would make a duck think twice about going out.
There wasn't much chatter over the intercom for the next couple of hours except for the occasional rant at how unwaterproof our waterproof gear was.
We arrived in Metz at 11:45. 15 mins before they shut for a two hour lunch. Typical! On the bright side, they confirmed they had the tyres we needed and would be happy to fit them that afternoon.
Two hours later and somewhat plumper our French mechanics (kids in boiler suits) returned and set to work. My bike which had been initially problematic during this trip got many oohs and aaahs from the assembled bike enthusiasts and was soon re-shod and ready to roll.
Suddenly a small officious looking man appeared and was keen to speak to Lee about his bike which was currently bleeding all over his nice shiny ramp. Words like 'inoperable' and 'dangereux' were being liberally bandied around.
It turns out that Lee's back brakes were very broken and needed new parts (including a new 'peep'), made worse by the fact in their current state they were freely spraying brake fluid over his back tyre. We decided to ignore the advice and press on.
The rest of the ride to Dinan was surprisingly uneventful and with the threat of his back tyre being covered in slippery brake fluid Lee's pace was a little more reserved than usual.
Our evening meal consisted of a chinese which we had to cook ourselves! We ordered the 'house bbq platter' which involved them putting a camping stove and a plate of raw meat on the table. Luckily I had packed my chef's hat and it wasn't long before we were eating mostly cooked meat.
So following Rods night of Chinese cooking we surprisingly both arrived at breakfast unscathed and well. You can tell we are getting closer to home as breakfast wasn't only cake and yoghurt but scrambled egg too... Well I say scrambled egg but......
Today's plans were fairly loose, but over breakfast we discovered Dinant was home to the world enduro championships, that's right, the very day after we had taken our off road tyres off and replaced them with road tyres. Undeterred Pib and Pob headed off to the forests, surprisingly we and the bikes came through unscathed ( largely down to the tuition and encouragement I gave to my younger apprentice!!) the bikes were brilliant.
Wishing to leave on a high, Brugge was set as our destination, no sooner had we set off than it started to rain again ( my feet have started to resemble a sharks scrotum). We stopped at a Belgian/American diner where Rod had a cheeseburger and I had some rabbit balls, a larger girl on the next table had a full 2 Foot baguette filled with chips!
We arrived in Brugge where I made a tactical snooze retreat whilst my younger and more tigger like chum checked out the city. He'd done a good job of working out where stuff is so I felt confident when we went for a wander. Brugge is a lovely place, the sort of place you may take you wife if of the mind too, but be careful, every second shop sells an array of chocolate phallus's, if you do bring your wife you'll need to match up.
The restaurants are great and we had a fantastic meal followed by a drop of red. Tomorrow Holland beckons, tune in....
All was not well in Brugge this morning, our previous evening of all things fish in a Japanese restaurant seemed to have taken it's toll on Rod, he missed breakfast and went back to bed (I must admit he looked a little green around the gills) then on the stroke of 10.00 he appeared all kitted up, we saddled up and headed off.
Due to his illness he allowed me the important responsibility of navigating and what do you know we exited Brugge without the usual wild goose-chase shenanigans. The radio airwaves were strangely quiet as Rod fought his internal battle.
Our well crafted route took us up and through the Zeeland Region of Holland a strange landscape full of tunnels, bridges, sand and dykes (I'm not going there). We reached the amazing altitude of -3m! This area for today at least is very windy, and mix this with torrential rain, it was a testing ride.
We arrived at The Hook of Holland the departure place of our ferry 10 mins after check in closed so we have a mere 8 hours to kill in this not very interesting but very windy carpark, we've eaten, I've had a kip now there's only 6 to go
After much thumb twiddling in Hoek Van Holland we boarded the ferry bought the wives some presents (so we can go next time again) and enjoyed a rib eye each. Our cabins were a bit bigger than an average wardrobe so comfy enough. The north sea in gale force winds are quite dramatic though!!
Up at 5.00 for a full fry up and rolled off the boat at 6.30.
We went our separate ways at Colchester with a 70mph wave on the motorway, I'm now at Chievely services halfway through my 250 mile motorway dash back to Wales. I expect the family will have flags out to greet me!!!!
Until the next time.....
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