All geared up

After much hassle and pushing eBay to its limits, I have finally got the luggage that I need for the bike. It is 12 days til we set off for France, and still need to get tyres sorted, oil and filters changed, buy a padlock, get AA cover for when we are out of the UK, and a load of other little bits, but at least we have a proper set of luggage now. Just have to get Lena to be able to pack all her gear into one pannier – that will be fun

This time next week…..

…..we should have crossed the Chunnel, and be on the road to Reims. Most of my bike bits and pieces are now in place for our trip. I will put an itinerary up on here sometime before we go, so you can all gawp and marvel and be extremely jealous of our lovely bike trip.

Have to test our packing this weekend, to make sure we can fit 7 dresses, 5 pairs of high-heeled shoes, hair-dryer, GHD tongs, a mirror, 4 pairs of Jeans, 10 pairs of knickers and ten pairs of socks, enough toiletries to open a new branch of Boots, and 12 T-shirts on the bike – and that is just for Jelena. I think I might be allowed to take along one change of undies.


BBB-the Tour de France

Day 1. Halifax to Gatwick. 258.6 miles, 416 Kms

So those of you who know me well are probably aware that a lot of folk call me Big Bad Brad. However, for this bit of my life, the new BBB stands for Brad, his Bird, and the Bandit. That is because all three of us are on now well on our way to Monaco, and we will be spending a lot of time together over the next ten days. After months of planning and purchasing and patience (maybe not the last one for the bird), we set off this evening from a very rainy Halifax just after 6 pm.

I worked today, but Lena had taken Tuesday and Wednesday off, to prepare for the holiday. I got home just before 5, and we finalized our packing, loaded up the bikes and ate the last bits of fresh food in the fridge. It was really pissing down quite hard, just the perfect start to a summer vacation. Our bike gear is pretty good, but even so the prospect of a four hour ride in the pouring rain is not significantly attractive.

We have managed to fill every corner of each pannier that we have, so we have brought enough clothing and equipment for a small army. We decided not to plan on doing any washing on the way, so have ten days worth of clothes, socks, undies and deodorant (plenty of that one).

While planning our trip, having booked the time off from work, we realized that of we set of on the eve before our holiday started, we would gain most of a day on the continent. We found an offer online of a hotel room for 9 quid, near Gatwick, so we booked it there and then. I am now in that very hotel room, but without a wifi signal so I will type this up but post it next time we get near a signal.

We rode through about an hour or so of bad rain, then it cleared and we stopped for fuel (both for the bike and for our tummies). A burger and a cup of unleaded later, we set off into quite a clear evening, only for the rain to start up again within 20 miles. It rained on and off for the rest of the way, but not nearly as hard as the first stint. Yorkshire rain is much harder than the southern stuff.

The last hour was ridden in darkness. Motorway biking is boring, but we did it as we wanted to get here quick. We have about an hour and a bit ride in the morning to the Chunnel at Folkestone, and then a short train-ride later we will be in France. Le yippee!

Under the sea to the continent

Day 2. Gatwick via the Channel Tunnel to St Dizier. 515 Kms, 320 miles.

After a late night and a long ride yesterday, we only had about 6 hours sleep. We had to get up to get down to Folkestone for the train ride under the English Channel, and so the alarm was peeping way to early for humans. We got dressed, loaded up the Bandit, and went to tesco to get a couple of last minute things. Tesco also had a Costa Coffee, so we had a breakfast and coffee or peppermint tea as well.
We rode through sporadic drizzle for just over an hour, and got to the tunnel about 2 minutes before they called our train, following which we rode up various ramps, through sets of cones, down more ramps, and finally in to the train itself. This was my first crossing via the train, so it was rather unfamiliar to me. I have crossed to Calais and Rotterdam fairly often, and once even went on the ferry to Harwich, but have never been under the sea to the continent.

On the chunnel train
The loading was very well managed, and we ended up with another couple of bikers. The train ride was very smooth, and took about 35 minutes. Again, the dismount was very slick and ran smoothly, and there we were, lost in France. The satnav got a bit confused- maybe it is English at heart, and tried to take us back to Canterbury via the tunnel, but a bit of cursing and re-programming later, and we were on our way to our French journey.
When we planned this trip, we couldn’t decide between leisurely days and easy riding in the north and centre of France, or a battering down to the south coast. The cote d’azure won, so today was part of the price of that decision- over 300 miles of riding rather than taking the scenic route and bimbling through picturesque villages.
We stopped twice for fuel, a couple of times for wee’s, and had a nice salad at one of the services. We stuck to the motorway and paid a couple of tolls, and arrived around five thirty this evening in St Dizier at our hotel. Well, it is a restaurant with a couple of rooms above it, in a town that looks like it has seen better days. The buildings are lovely, but the people look like the kind who appear on daytime television screaming at their brother because he sleep with his girlfriends father. Never mind, we are warm, comfortable, enjoying a beer and very happy.
The restaurant looks interesting, so we are going to attempt a meal here, a bottle of French wine, and plan a glorious night of sleep.
Be good, mes ami.


Day 3. St Dizier to Moirans. 472 Kms, 293 miles

We had a very nice meal in the hotel last night. We went for the meal of the day, and had three lovely courses, plus a great bottle of Bordeaux red. We sat at a table next to Klaus and Mitzi, and engaged in pleasant, if somewhat Germanic, conversation. The wine went down well, and soon we were ready for bed.
I discovered that my phone had died during the day. Not good, seeing as I had only received a brand new one the day we left. Buggeration. Anyone who needs me should email me, or contact me via Jelena.
After a decent nights sleep, we had a breakfast of croissant and coffee (the diet is out of the window for this trip), and then got our shit together. My bike gear was still a bit damp, but not too terrible. Load up went as planned, but satnav could not remember my route, so all the hours that I had spent planning and uploading the routes we for nought. It had kept the waypoints though, and upon calculating the days ride informed me that we were in for about six and a half hours of riding.
So, off we rode. South of St Dizier, things began to look prettier. We avoided motorways and toll roads, and rode through very pretty villages and scenery. Lots of sunflowers.
We passed through a town called Langres, which is in the south of the champagne region that we had been traversing. It is a fortified medieval city, and was really stunning to behold. Intact and massive walls around the citadel, great views and interesting looking buildings all added to the charm. I would like to go back and spend some time there.
We stopped at Dijon for a visit to the Carrefour supermarket to buy some lunch. We stocked up on sausage, salad and a beer, and then headed out again, stopping an hour later to enjoy the fruits of our shopping at a roadside picnic spot. As the afternoon wore on, we started to get glimpses of the Alps. We rode up some beautiful valleys, and the twists and curves started to make the riding more interesting too.Another glamorous lunch
The French Alps are really lovely, and as we got nearer to them and climbed higher inland, we got some really good views. The clouds were quite heavy, and made for some impressive scenes. It hardly rained today, but it got cooler as we climbed higher toward the peaks.
We are staying tonight in the village of Moirans, just outside of Voiron in the central Alp region. The hotel is a metal container that was stolen from a ship and plonked on an industrial estate outside of town. Nice shower though, and the bed seems quite comfy. We went back to Voiron to getting our supper from the supermarket, got back quite late, and had a few tins of beer and our dinner. Tomorrow is exciting as we are not planning such a long ride, and we tackle the largest portion of the Route Napoleon. Google it.

C’est magnefique!!!

What a day. What an unbelievable day we have had. This is the kind of stuff that memories are made of.
Day 4. Mourins to La Foux d’Allos. 219 Kms, 136 miles.
We had a nice breakfast in the hotel, packed up in quite a leisurely fashion, and set off in cloudy but dry conditions. Ever since I have been biking in England and able to tour the continent, I have wanted to ride the Route Napoleon, and today was the day I had been waiting for.
When Napoleon escaped from his exile in Elba and returned in triumph to France, he made the journey from Cannes to Grenoble. This route is now identified with his name, and follows the alpine routes from the coast. The road is also acknowledged as one of the finest motorbiking roads in Europe, and here we were, ready to start the route.
It didn’t take long to get to Grenoble, which was much bigger than I expected. As we exited the city, we met the whole Tour-de-France coming in the opposite direction. there were miles of traffic, and lots of cycles, but we were headed in the opposite direction, and on the bike, so it was not much of a delay for us.
Everyone knows about the alps, and I have flown over them, seen them from afar, read about them, and seen them in every James Bond movie you can name. However, I was unprepared for the sheer beauty of them. Growing up, I spent a lot of time in the Drakensberg mountains in South Africa, and so I love the mountain views. The alps does this in glorious 3d technicolour. I kept running out of superlatives. After a couple of hours, my brain needed a rest, and my tummy needed refueling, so we stopped at a small cafe for some lunch.
The lunch was great, and featured salad from the garden of the owners, with various dried meats, pate, bread and potato tart things. I was most of the way through my gastronomic pleasantries when a French chap came in to the cafe, and asked if I was the owner of a motorcycle, and if so, please would I come outside with him. At least I think that was what he said, but he spoke no English, and French is 75th on the list of the 3 and 1/2 languages I speak.
Anyway, I accompanied him to the car park, and there was my poor bike, lying on it’s side. He had not noticed it- and it isn’t a small bike- and had reversed about 5 meters across the car park and knocked it over. The top box was on the floor near the bike, and a few bits of plastic and metal were scattered nearby. A small crew of locals helped me to lift the bike upright, and there was some damage to the right hand side of the bike – broken indicator, bent crash bung on the handlebar, scrapes on the pannier. The lock had snapped on the top box, so it doesn’t snap onto the bike, and I thought the front wheel looked a bit skew.

Bits of damage
So, we started the process. He filled out a form which all French have to fill in in case of accident, and I rang my insurers. His wife and daughter tried to help, but none of them spoke English, and no one else in the cafe did either. My insurers were very helpful, at least to start with, and took all my details, before passing me on the insuring company. They then said something along the lines of “our recovery will be back on Monday morning, please call us then”. As it was early afternoon on Saturday, I was not very impressed, so insisted that that get me their recovery company on the phone, and after much wait and listening to crap music, I was connected to the recovery people.
Apparently they don’t do this very often, so after taking my details again ( the third time on this one call that I had given every detail about me, my bike, my mothers parentage unto the third generation and so on, they said they would ring me back. And they did, about ten minutes later, to say “sorry, we thought your bike was in London, we only cover London recovery, you will have to ring your insurer”. Great.
The top box had been knocked off the bike, and contained my iPad, Lena’s laptop, and my iPhone, plus a whole bunch of other stuff. When it got knocked, the various bits inside got all shook up, and while my iPad and the laptop were fine, the iPhone, which was already unproductive as I had reset it and needed to hook it up to my laptop back home, got drenched in water from a bottle that cracked and leaked on it.
In the meanwhile, I rang my daughter, who has excellent French, and she translated between me and Hubert, the transgressor. We filled I the form together, did some great miming and sign language, and generally had a lot of fun. The couple who ran the cafe were lovely, tried to help, and the chef half of the couple spoke a bit of English. Anyway, the chap who damaged my bike gave me all his details, we shook hands and he left. I straightened my front forks, so the wheel looked alright, and took the bike for a ride on my own, to see how it handled. It seemed ok, and I tied the top box down tint with two bungie cords that I had with me, and the box seemed safe, so we decided we could continue.
I rang the insurer again to find out about help for those of us not in London, only to be told by the chap who answered ” it is after 1pm on Saturday, your insurer is closed til Monday, we can only take new claims, and can’t give you any information on you current claim. Have a nice day and thank you for calling Fukyu insurers”. So I was not going to get any help there then.
Anyway, we had a coffee, and set off. The bike handled fine, though the brake lever was snapped so at the first stop I put some tape on the remaining lever so it wouldn’t cut my glove. The top box, and Lena, seemed to be managing to stay in the back of the bike, so we kept going. The Route Napoleon just got better and better, and we ride along all the way to Gap through some stunning scenery, with roads that curved and cantered and made riding the bike an absolute pleasure.
At Gap we took a turn off the Route Nappy, and climbed a valley-side or two. The scenery was supplemented by some lakes with water that was so blue that it made your eyes hurt. We kept stopping to catch our breaths and exclaim at the beauty of the mountains and lakes and us.
The weather kept improving, and I took the linings out of my jacket and trousers, and was very warm and happy. We left the main roads with about 30kms left of our day, and started to climb up the Col du Allos. This is a climb up the Allos pass, which rises to a height of over 2000 meters. The road was narrow and cut out of the mountainside, and had sheer drops over the side of hundred of meters. It was impossible to see what was around the next bend, so. We had to ride very slowly. The pass was 25 Kms in length and it took ages to ride up to the very top of the alps, but it was just so worthwhile.

view near the top of the col d'AllosThe views were indescribable. The drop at some stages was over a kilometer string down to the valley floor below. After an almost an hour of riding up the vertical wall, we reached the summit and started a drop down a series of hairpin switchbacks. By now it was very cool, and we were ready for a stop. A couple of Kms from the top we reached our destination, and though it took a bit of time to find our hotel, we loved the little holiday village that it is set in. Obviously a skiing resort in winter, there were a bunch of chalets, apartments and hotels, plus a few restaurants and ski shops, and nothing else. Our hotel was basic but nice, and our room has small balcony with views over a ski lift. Not that anyone is skiing today, but it is very pleasant. I was too tired to go scouting for eateries, so we had a carafe of vin rouge, some french cooked stuff, and ice cream for our supper right here in the hotel.
In all, a memorable eventful day. I definitely want to come back and spend time in these alps-what a beautiful part of the world. My only regret is that I did not discover this area years ago.

Nice, very nice

Day 5. La Foux d’Allos to Nice. 148 Kms, 92 miles.
So we have reached our half way ish point. The south coast of France, on the cote d’azure. Our trip so far has been fantastic, full of adventure and scenery and lovely wine and happy romantic times. I have been the official tour driver, and have now officially ridden 1770 Kilometers. Lena has ben the official tour photographer, and has taken more pictures than I have driven Kms. Some of her pics are linked in an earlier post, the rest I will sort through, caption and put into posts after the trip.
We started the day near the top of Allos pass, in a skiing hotel with wonderful views. These mountains are beyond superlatives, just raw nature in her full splendour. After breakfast and the usual pre-flight checks and routines, We headed down the large Alp that we had climbed the even before. We refuelled, and set off again from the village of Allos itself which was about 9 Kms below the resort that we had stayed in.
A brief diversion now, to consider satnav technology. I think satnavs are like women. If you ignore them slightly, they can heap scorn and punishment upon you, and not let you forget. But if you are wicked to them or ignore them completely, they reward you bountifully. Anyway, this is my experience, because the satnav tried to take us off road in Allos, and I ignored it, but it kept trying to suggest little roads and routes that seemed to be very much off our our general direction, so eventually I took one of the roads suggested.
My bike is very much a road bike, comfortable for touring, and good at speed, with road tyres built to slide over Tarmac and eat up miles. It is also rather cumbersome at the moment, heavily laden and slightly unbalanced with all our luggage, and the extra lass on the back. It handles fine on the roads, but we found ourselves riding up the steep side of an alpine valley, on a gravel track, badly in need of repair, and rutted in all directions. Plus, steep falls on one side, and harsh rock on the other. After 4 k’s of this riding, with no end in site, I decided that I want to go back to the main road. I was being fueled by adrenalin, my heart was pounding, and I was sure that we were going to slip and slide, either merely dumping the bike over in it’s side, or over the edge and down into the valley below, taking both of us on a pretty, but possibly deadly, short route to the bottom.
We turned around, and Lena walked down the steepest section while I gingerly guided the bike down, riding at about 8 Kms per hour. Eventually the track flattened out, she remounted, and we made our way back to civilization. At the town, we had to stop for me to regain my composure, and for my hands to stop shaking.
Setting off, now having adjusted the satnav not to offer us any unpaved roads ( I didn’t know it even had this setting until this point), we hurtled down more beautiful alpine roads, enjoying the curves and turns and wonderful views. We road through some lovely villages, and even though some of them only had about three houses, they each had a massive and beautiful church or abbey or equivalent.
Around lunchtime we stopped at a walled town called Entreveaux.

Panorama from bridge across the river moat to EntreveauxLook up its history, it is a very historic place in the alps, having been made a free royal city in 1542 by a grateful king, when it’s residents overthrew a pretender to the throne who had previously taken the town and slaughtered half the citizenry. A beautiful little town, walled and surrounded by a deep river crossing, it was very well fortified and you could easily see it’s strategic value and protection. We walked across the bridge, which was about 20 meters above the river, and into the old town. It was very hot by now, and we were really starting to enjoy the southern French weather.
The town itself was very typical of what you imagine it would have looked like hundred of years ago, with twisty streets, high narrow houses on either sides, and a few open areas plus a wider village square. We had lunch in a restaurant in the square. Rather incongruously, there was piped music throughout the town, playing dixieland jazz. It was very strange- it wasn’t just playing in the square, there were hidden speakers in various sectors, and Louis Armstrong and contemporaries kept one company wherever you went. It was rather bizarre actually.

One of the official route markers, near Gap
Anyway, the place was really interesting, and we had a wander about after our food. Having taken a few more hundred pictures, we saddled up again and rode down the rest of the alpine ways, and eventually arrived in Nice, with its very very blue sea.
We are staying at a fab hotel, courtesy of my points gathered while living in a hotel in Oz last year. It is on the Promenade les Anglais, and our room overlooks the beach and town. We went to the roof top pool, but it was very full, so we went down to the sea and had a swim and a bit of tanning. Back for a shower, then had a lovely walk through Nice, which is a very pretty, but busy, city. Supper in an open square in the old market, then back to our hotel for the gift bottle of wine from the hotel, for being such special guests. Now we are about to go for breakfast on our way to the train to Monaco.

I am very relaxed