Spain and back – twice, Ross Noble… and a Eureka moment!

This has been a busy year since my last post. The summer is of course my favourite time for riding and as this post would suggest I have done a couple of trips down to Spain. But previous to that I have been getting lots of pratice in on European roads taking in several places on the bike including a day trip to Bruges to look at the swans and a champagne drinking spree in Epernay.

euro tunnel this

First time on the Channel Tunnel.

I was not particularly impressed with the lack of seating for motorcyclists on the Eurotunnel. It’s alright for car drivers sat there listening to their radio’s but having to stand or sit on the floor is just not really on, not when a couple of fold down seats would be easy to install! Come on it wouldn’t hurt guys!

epernay

The Champagne region was generally pleasant to ride through, with endless vineyards over the hills but the roads were not taxing, mind you who goes to Champagne to spend their time driving?!

The next big event was in June undertaking the Last mile ride with Ross Noble to raise money for maintaining the bikes that take medical resources in the Sahara dessert. We were a team of lady riders (mostly from Hampshire) called Top Crumpet –  after Zoe had a post removed by a very over sensitive forum member of her idea of hot crumpet on a bike (see below).. you can only imagine the images that had previously been posted on the forum of Gents with .. well.. no protective gear on at all. So with a good sense of humour we adopted the logo below

hot crumpet on bike top crumpet

The day was a charity ride with a twist. We had to do various challenges on the way and tweet in pictures as evidence or collect items to take back to MCN headquarters. We met up at 8.30 and went to a cafe ready to fuel up (on coffee) and wait for Ross to text the tasks. First task Get a pic of your team at the starting point

starting point   last mileEasily done! The day started getting trickier with task 2 Find someone called Ross with proof and have your picture taken with them. Pretty tricky and lots of talking to strangers. You can imagine our team of leather clad beauties jumping off their bikes and running like Amazonian’s towards anyone! for any of the challenges…

Then the texts came in thick and fast.. 3 at once!

Task 3 Find the most random item and bring it with you  Task 4  Find something orange and bring it with you Task 5 Have your picture taken with a mechanic

The game was on. We stopped in a carpark outside a builders merchants still on our hunt for a Ross. Then I spotted some astroturf.. how random and rather topical considering the world cup was on. By the time I had made it inside the girls had found a guy called Ross!! Unbelievable!! I asked if they happened to have any astroturf samples and a really helpful man took me over to a box and guess what was in there? Only ORANGE astroturf!!! Have you ever seen such a thing? 2 challenges in one. I mean who could possibly have something that was orange and more random?

ross name

As it happened the lovely heated grip that I had installed in January had come unglued from the throttle so I had been maniacally gripping for 40 miles so the mechanic task was a good time to stop and quickly reglue it on. Luckily I could borrow a lovely ratchet (useful as when I had installed the grips to get the bar ends off I ended up having to use a wardrobe pole as a lever as the end was on too tight for my allen key!) within 5 mins we were back on the road. I now had a super glue covered hand and tank (any tips for removing superglue whilst leaving paint are gratefully accepted!)

mechanicquick fix

Task 6 have your photo taken using a spanner was performed by Jenniann who adjusted something 😉

Task 7 Find someone who looks like Ross Noble  Jenniann came in to her own again on this one, Whilst having a light refreshment in a local establishment (the Red Lion in Chesham) she went to a local charity shop and borrowed this stunning wig. A few of the locals were only happy to oblige us our photo. Big thanks to Nick and to his very understanding wife! Luckily we had evidence to show her it was all above board 🙂 Yes that is a zimmer frame we are knee downing off!

looks like ross

Whilst happily covorting with the locals more tasks came through. Task 8 have your picture taken at a local landmark. Task 9 Take a picture of you and your team playing in a playground in full bike gear. With new tasks on we had to drink our lemonades fast and head to Dunstable (our tactic, yes we had a tactic, was to get to Dunstable and use Sally’s local knowledge to do as many of the tasks as we could then we could peg it to MCN Peterborough ready for 3pm).

As we were about to set off Task 11 Find a copy of the MCN and have a funny picture taken with it came through and so it only seemed fitting to take this one…

MCN

Obviously taking the whole day very seriously when Task 10 Find a medical centre and have your picture taken infront of it we thought of a serious location.

hospital

The last 4 came through together so we had plenty to do and also some left over from the earlier. Dunstable was super and we got 13, 14, 8 and 15 knocked out quickly. (Task 13 get a picture with your team and an animal, Task 14 get a stranger to wear your vest and helmet, Task 15 Take a photo of  a reflection of your team in something that’s not a mirror) where I was lucky enough to have an iguana scuttle across my lid. Thank goodness I had my lid on because to be fair it was quite icky and very quick!!

My favourite task was number 9 and we ladies did it in style with very odd looks from the children and parents as we have come steaming across the grass in our full kit!

playground challenge

Finally we made it to MCN and sat down to enjoy our well earned lunch 🙂 and were we got to proudly display our findings (the astroturf) and meet Ross himself.

ladies who lunch

Put it this way, there were not many ladies there, and there was most certainly not another pack of cackling ladies. We stood out like sore thumbs and our obvious gun hoe style was noted by Ross, especially in his speech. We didn’t win anything with the ‘Nice Boys’ beating us with a ceramic orange Aardvark (yeah that was pretty orange and random too!) but banter was shared.

meeting ross himsefl

The day was not totally lost as we (and our tactic) meant that were the only team to successfully complete all the challenges! Prize time: The brilliant Custardcino mug sat on the Orange astroturf 🙂prize

See all the images from the day on twitter using #lastmileride

The next major trip was the one I had been planning all winter, Austria! I loved the Alps last year but was still too inexperienced to really enjoy them. This year I trained, studied (Motorcycle craft: police guide) and practiced to be better at reading roads, more confident and more controlled – ultimately faster.

Lesson 20. Get help and learn to better a rider 

If you struggle I would suggest watching this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KVWLIfChUwg although the story is quite cheesy the message behind has changed my life and riding. I’ve gone from being able to ride a road to dancing with the meanders! I just really wanted to try it out on the mountains.

So week booked off work and ferry booked typically the weather just turned from glorious heat to raining all over Europe especially Austria and France for the whole week!! 😦 So an alternative was sought and the only dry place left was Spain. So you can guess where we went! This trip encompassed Andorra which I drove to in April so I was very aware of the roads (in fact Andorra only has one road so it’s not too hard to go wrong!) There is a lovely pass that has 10 or so hairpins followed by a quick sweeping run into Soldeu. This however is high and in the mornings or bad weather is well in the clouds. That is not a pleasant ride I can assure you, especially with cows and horses in the road huddled together. Quite mad! So we headed for sunnier places… Tarragona

Map of route.

http://goo.gl/maps/x5iFc

We headed out of Andorra and went up towards Viehla. This road was outstanding and technical. It had it all, fast sweeping curves, technical elements of steep graduated hairpins and some beautiful scenery, just the place to practice my new skills. Passed a massive waterfall on the left, the biggest I’ve seen in the Pyrenees, which I hope to see again. The road was not the sort of place to be stopping for frivolous pictures!  It was still a little cold up at such altitude so we came back via a reservoir on a fast, curvaceous road that followed the contours. This was my sort of road, nice tarmac, good curves, no elevation so visibility was great even from the opposite side of a contour, finally I got my pegs down!! It made me jump to be honest and still does!

The remaining ride to Tarragona was across Spanish countryside which is largely uninspiring and pretty flat but there was a nice little row of hills just before the coast that we crossed and explored on another day.

Super short ride map… lots of twisties!

http://goo.gl/maps/iCv32

This short run is a great way to spend a morning. The route is on a tight twisty with great views. There was very little traffic (2 cars) on this entire route so was even more fun. Highly recommend pottering about here if you’re in the area. There is also a really nice little cafe as you enter Prades, stop and buy a drink from the lady 🙂

Hitting up Tarragona we watched the epic match of Germany vs Brazil whilst eating a great meal and drinking mojitos. I had a vested interest in this world cup only because I had a dream that was so vivid in which Germany won and we were in a German bar at the time. Not only was this an outstanding match but my prophecy was one step closer!

Now anyone that knows me will know that I have a particular porchant for cocktails particularly of the rum kind! Seeing this advertised was just super!!

solero

This trip was soon cut short and I headed back 1000kms on my own with no map and not much phone charge in the rain. With what very little knowledge of France I had I navigated solo on the N roads back to the ferry only getting lost once around Le Mans. It was an empowering ride because I did it but was not pleasurable, especially once my waterproof trousers had ripped. I vowed I would never have a trip like that again.

Barcelona

Taking my chances I changed riding partner and had the glorious company of a colleague who is a chef (I know how lucky? food and bikes – lets hope there are some cocktails in there too!) we had talked about his trip to Barcelona before and so we did his route. http://goo.gl/maps/1XzJg

We set off at 5.30am, an ungodly hour but it meant we could be on the Dover ferry ready to do a day of intense riding down to Toulouse, our first stop off. The day was very long as we avoided all the toll roads and my lovely FZ6 only has 150 mile range before things get tricky (See Alps post!) This meant that every 2 hours we had to stop. It all got sketchy when we got separated in the dark and I ended up chasing a different bike down the road, only when I had caught up did I realise it wasn’t my friend and I thought somehow I had managed to be solo again after vowing not to be. An ambulance went passed in the opposite direction and my heart sank… I really wanted to find my friend, now. Anyway a toll booth approached so I prepared to sit it out. Then I received a text, thank goodness he was just up the road 🙂 Funnily enough I bumped into the BMW rider at the next services. Luckily he didn’t think I was a maniac.

Coffee and heated grips got me through the last 200 miles! They are still my favourite and most practical gift ever, in the summer as well as winter! We arrived at 1.30am after going round and over the canal several times trying to get to the hotel because of road works blocking everything.  Finally a beer, shower and bed!

We had an earlyish start the next day and after a good breakfast (hmm I’m still not sold on a continental breakfast.. I mean I like the coffee but really??!!) we set off to do the Toulouse – Barcelona run across the mountains 🙂 It was said to me “Anyone can ride fast in a straight line but I will have you on the corners” I was excited. Game on!!

Not as adventurous as the previous Pyrenees routes I was sceptical about the beauty of the roads and knew I wasn’t going to be challenged to any hairpins or particularly high elevations but I shouldn’t have been so pesimistic! The roads were nice and fast, not too much traffic either considering how easy it was to cross. There were of course waterfalls, tunnels and twisties which is all that really counts! It follows a reservoir similar to the one outside of Vielha but with less tight bends. We did stop for a few sexy bike shots at the reservoir which is also where she celebrated her 30,000 mile! Happy birthday old girl!

30000 mile

I was also lucky enough to be able to borrow a GoPro from work so thought this was no better time to run it in! After being rather paranoid I made some tethers out of go kart brake cable so I knew that the camera wouldn’t be left on the road. You can see a short video of the route here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cVddU7fEa6g.

Avoiding a very large grey cloud over the hills surrounding Barcelona we rocked up and base camp and as if it was meant to be, moto parking opposite with room for 2 bikes, Yes :). There looked like some interesting roads similar to the ones outside Tarragona, but we didn’t have time to explore them whilst becoming acquainted with Gaudi’s architectural stylings in the city and sipping daiquiris.

The journey home was uneventful and even the winds of Hurricane Bertha weren’t going to stop us – even though she tried by blowing us across 2 lanes of a motorway (luckily there was no other traffic!) In typical Simply Vik style Something had to happen and in the port of Calais I dropped my bike, well was blown over to be more precise but there were plenty of helpful hands about once we had stopped laughing. I was asked if I would have been able to pick up the bike on my own and I said no, I’m just lucky that I can flail about on the floor and a guy will come over to help.

Today I was shown this rather good link that I would advise all motorcyclist to read as it has pretty clear instructions on how to pick up a fallen bike so next time I will try this out myself! http://www.womenridersnow.com/pages/Bike_Lift_Technique.aspx

I’m still pretty impressed that my mate did 4 days on a sports bike and could still walk! I have no idea how he managed to be hunched over for so long with his knees round his ears. My hat is off to you 🙂

nice view

When I read back to last years posts I can’t believe how terrified I felt on difficult roads when now I just really enjoy them. I would feel really anxious when roads were suggested but with all the training that has disappeared. Time seems to stop when I’m riding nice roads, that Zen feeling when there is nothing else but you, the bike and a beautiful corner. Instead of coming to each manoeuvre I can flow now and it really feels like dancing with the landscape. I think it might be the only thing I can actually do gracefully, or at least I feel graceful when I do it! Wonder how I will feel this time next year…

A good summer, not the one I had planned but still good anyway. Austria will have to wait for next year…

Ride on 🙂

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Mission to Man

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WOOOOO! what a trip! I met some amazing people from all over the world; was lucky enough to see my mate Zoe in her absolute element in the pit lanes and around bikes (a change from her math teacher look!) and met the most down to earth riders including Maria. So much to say and I haven’t even taken you round the course yet…

If you have read the Alps post then you will know how exciting and tiring it was. The bike was still making noises and I arrived back in the UK at midnight and was resting in London by 1.30am. The ferry to the Isle was at 2pm, in Heysham, 4 1/2 hours away! I appreciate that’s a lot of maths but basically it meant I could get about 4 hours sleep before having to ride through rush hour and then solidly up the M6. I did wake up after 4 hours sleep and made the executive decision to get the bike checked over before the journey and enjoyed laying horizontally on a mattress after weeks of camping.

Was it the clutch? Adjuster? hmmm verdict was “Ride it, don’t rag it. It’s not well.”  But where will the highest density of bike mechanics be? Yeah! the IoM.  I must thank the good people at Steampacket who managed to amend my ticket for a nominal fee so I could get the later Ferry. WIth the news that I shall be going to the ball I got ready for the 2nd part of my holiday.

Lesson 18. Always have a few spare layers with you, riding cold is not safe.

After riding in the warmth of southern France it was freezing in the UK. As I went further north I added more layers with every stop, the merino wool came out, waterproof/windproof trousers and hoodie by Luton, even changed into my winter gloves at Manchester (ha! all the room this lot was taking up in my panniers in the alps was worth it!) After a very boring and long motorway drive up the M6 at night this is what I found at the end of it. Buzzing!

 

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I saw a post about the best way to secure a bike in transit. This is as easy as it gets! Side stand and a rope round the peg and over the seat..3 bikes roped together!

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The nicest thing I found out about the whole trip was the willingness of people to talk to me but I normally had to start the conversation. Same at the local tea spot, I know that girls are fed up of guys hitting on them but really I think that all this is effecting the way that people instigate simple conversation with people, especially if they ride out/are sat on their own. Does anyone else find this or am I extremely unapproachable?!

Anyway it wasn’t a problem on the Isle, everyone was there for motorbikes! After traveling for hundreds of miles the first couple I spoke to came from 20 miles from my house!! Angie and Derek I hope to see you out and about on a Sunday!

It was the first year of the classic TT and was merged into a motorbike festival with motorcross, classics, Manx GP qualifiers all at the same time. The range of sights and sounds and smells was intense! the singles would be grunty and sound fabulous out on the track, the two strokes tapping with loads of high end,  and the 4 cylinders like the strings, really subtle and smooth in comparison – I lecture in sound so it’s hard to escape it.

The campsite was good value! I would recommend Glen Dhoo but not if you’re after boutique camping! The dear Scottish owner will charge your phone for £1 and all the money goes to the helicopter fund – a worthy cause. The location is fabulous and is on Hillberry corner, a good spot as you can see all the way up the straight as well as the corner itself. There was a pub within 15 minutes walk and a chinese with a very friendly lady who loves to chat but hates bugs so shut the door! The temperature difference was quite a lot and I can only reiterate the need for a down duvet and thermal socks when camping, the combination of the two are blissful and make for a very happy camper!

The site attracted quite a few Europeans and there were some amazing bikes that had managed to ride to the Isle, including Sven’s Moto Guzzi, Tim’s pretty little Morini (that didn’t appreciate the motorways!) and a load of BSA’s.

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First day and what’s the first thing a self respecting biker chick would do after drinking a brew? Do a lap of the track! Now the track is of course the islands main road system but it is odd when you experience it as its not like on TV. You can see the racing line but its a roundabout! and the bin men are out.. there are national speed limit sections though that are unlimited as long as you are not dangerous and stick to your side of the road. The best stretch is the mountain (this was my favorite part to the course from gooseneck onwards!) especially as I was fired up after the alps and these roads didn’t have tight bends. First ride was so foggy that I couldn’t even see the end of the bends! As i went passed the 26 marker had a little word for Joey as you would! over the week we tended to avoid the built up areas and just head over the mountain!

There is something very liberating about being able to ride (legally) with no limit and to be honest has only left me a hankering for track lessons and a day on a CBR! After being told not to rag it I just couldn’t help myself and the dear FZ6 coped remarkably to the thrashing that she received regularly during our stay. Looked over by mechanics and diagnosed with nothing serious wrong, I rode on!

We spent the rest of the day down at the paddock with Zoe’s mate Charlie who had qualified to enter the Manx GP, he happened to be pitched up next to John McGuiness! I had a few amazing photos with him over the weekend and he even signed my sons t-shirt before his race with Agostini! Zoe is fab to go round the paddock with as she recognises everyone!  Connor Cummins stuck out like a sore thumb being so tall so he was our first mark for a photo op! We were ridiculous and occasionally verging on obscene… Zoe then worked as pit bitch as I watched from the grandstand.

Riding blisteringly fast… I have never actually considered how this phrase ever came about until I was speaking to a rider who had blisters from literally having to cling on! 38 miles is a long lap! I have so much respect for the riders, hearing them talking about counting curbs as they come in towards you before you make a turn and the way they learn the 200+ bends is amazing. I tip my helmet at you all! and hope that I can do it one day!!

Lesson 19. No one likes warm beer, fact! Spend £1 on a washing up bowl and make the perfect camping drinks fridge

The second evening we stayed up at Hillberry and bought supplies for the evening ahead. Now when practice starts they close down the whole track including crossing over etc so when you go out to watch you know you will be there for a few hours! This in mind we had it covered: ice, rum and coke; tarp for waterproof seating, blanket to make it more friendly, cameras, olives and Waitrose’s essential cheese thins (seen as though they are essential?!) and we had the boys who had just arrived with a backpack of beer! There was a grandstand that you could sit at or you could sit on a raised grass verge right on the corner belonging to the lovely couple below who were really passionate about the racing and all the good that it does for the Isle too. There was a great sign that said “You are welcome to watch the TT racing from here at your own risk, please leave a donation in the pot”

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They introduced us to Ruth, Tom Sheard’s grand daughter. He was the fastest Manxman around the track. You can find more information from the website and even buy the book if you are interested in the history of the TT from a personal perspective. Go and say Hi to these folks as they will really add to your TT experience!

http://tomsheard.4t.com/

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So we sat in the last of the days sun, drinking cuba libre’s and watching people hurtle around the mountain track, bliss. The look on Ed’s face after the 2nd single cylinder bike passed was priceless!

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But then disaster struck and 4 riders came off from all around the course at the same time. We saw the helicopter being deployed and goosepimples ran over our bodies. Luckily no one was seriously injured.

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We did get to talk to a few of the racers though including Wade Boyd and a young lad from Scarborough James Neesom who is in the shot above. I was surprised at how friendly the riders were and we sat there waiting for the road to be reopened and awaiting news of the incident. The sun went down, the road reopened after a 2 minute drive by of all the riders (I will post the vid in a separate post) and we hit the pub for a few more drinks. A good day at the races!

The following days included a trip to the Fairy Bridge, when you go to leave a donation to the fairies for safe passage around the track. There is a load of memorials on there too some of which are heartbreaking to read especially the ones from Mam. I left a dragonfly from the lights that had toured all around France and lit up our soiree so it seemed fitting. The bridge itself is on a main road and quite easy to miss if you come flying round the corner!

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And we did a silly day of photos with as many people as we could, especially if they didn’t know we were coming, the term is photobombing 😉

I was chuffed to bits that Zoe got work there and loved watching her totally buzzing off the atmosphere. And then to see her with Agostini was fabulous, she was just so cool, I’m far to excitable and just not cool! I am very lucky to have had such a brilliant tour with her all stemming back from a cuppa tea at Loomies in July! Yay for sorted lady riders!

So after a very exciting summer and now some good friends and riding partners met through WOAM (woman on a motorcycle) I feel like I have achieved my Alps goal.

Next Goal! Knee down confidently and a track day

When? damn winter is coming and school is back… next spring for my birthday? Yes! I think so.

Ride on 😀

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The Alps – More hairpins than a Tony and Guy stylist

Well what a trip! As planned it involved lakes and mountains, not planned a minor fall and a whole load of new skills and confidence.

As you know I haven’t been riding long and this trip seemed somewhat foolish after the ‘dry run’ to Wales. Only foolish as in my limitations and experience so far – mind you no amount of training could have prepared me for the continuos and relentless hairpins, bends and cyclists! I was very lucky to have a dear friend who is an experienced rider to accompany me and I’m so pleased that I did the mission!

Luggage was minimal – one pannier clothes, the other side important bike stuff and tools, tent, eider down duvet (very important although is a pain to try and squeeze into the canoe bag especially in the mornings and before a cuppa coffee!) and a half tank bag with map, handbag and shoes.

After the awfully cold and cramped night in the one man coffin tent in Wales I upgraded to a 2 man tent with generous porch that was plenty big enough to store all the tat from bikes and protective gear. It was well worth the extra 3kg of weight!

Lesson 11. Don’t skimp on bedding and accommodation. A bad nights sleep will lead to problems riding especially on extended tours! The duvet was amazing and didn’t take up much more room than 2 sleeping bags, it was however much more comfy and particularly useful in the Isle of Man towards the end of the trip!

I’ll start in the Alps as the journey through France was exactly that! apart from seeing seas of sunflower fields there is not much to report!

The first main camp was at Serre Poncon near Gap and located on the D94 (I shall come back to this later!) The lake itself was beautifully clear and actually quite warm, although not the warmest that we visited.

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The region itself was a great place to chill for a day and we visited the hot springs at Plan de Phazy where the best chips and sauces were made! I mean these tasted like the chips you got in the old days made with beef dripping and served with a thin white rectangular plate of 5 coloured sauces that looked like a bit of Warhol art. We sat enjoying a pression and watched the carers contain the 15 or so adults that were on a respite trip. Next a young woman has come over to the table and is looking at the chips, she is staring a little like a dog so I offer her one, she takes the chip puts it in her mouth and goes “Yuck” she then uses the sauces as finger paints. She is obviously a Warhol fan herself. We laughed and she toddled off back to her group. That was our signal to leave and hit up another lake.

The water at La Roche de Rame was the warmest of anywhere in the Alps and was a great place to chill, look at snow capped mountains and watch bikers ride past on the glorious D94. The willow set off my motion sensor and the poor guy sat next to it looked terrified muttering something whilst making “It wasn’t me, I didn’t touch it” gestures, whilst I knew it had disturbed his quiet Sunday sit down. The cafe is expensive but the place very biker friendly.

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I would recommend the Cafe de Gare in Chorges. The owner serenades the tables with his saxophone and they clearly have the best karaoke in the area (as we found out after eating at a few different places!) The Entrecote steak is accompanied by a cheesy potato thing, salad, chips and melon (very refreshing after the rest of it!) and at €17 was well worth the money.

After resting and sleeping off the journey down we set out for the tour.

See the map here http://goo.gl/maps/4mp5a

Embrun – St Tropez : ride through he mountains down to the coast and hang out on beach for a few days before heading up to Menton via Monaco, and cross the border to Italy.

The idea to use Serre Poncon as a base was that it was close to Barcelonette which is a gateway town into the highest roads that cross the Alps. Even to get round the lake was an adventure and I had my first taste of gradient and tight winding roads with no safety barriers and sheer drops. This trip was a slow ride the first time and I was so nervous all the way. I found point fixation a nightmare and was trying to catch up with my mate who had stormed ahead with his 30 years of riding under his belt. My measly 13 weeks was not enough and I doubted myself- this was the first 15km of the 330km journey. You can imagine how I felt!!

The nerves did disappear when I had to concentrate so hard on the road ahead but I wasn’t particularly enjoying it. When we got to near Barcelonette we hit traffic and this was the first opportunity to stop.

Lesson 12. Look where you are stopping – yes this seems obvious doesn’t it? Let me paint the picture… I have short legs, I mean really short for my 5ft 6 stature. I had already had a fair section of the FZR seat removed so I could touch the floor with more than my tip toes. With all the luggage on the suspension lowered about another inch so I could get my boots down. Now when I stopped I didn’t notice the camber of the road and yes you can imagine what happened next… as my right foot went down it carried on going another couple of inches! NO! weighed up with the luggage and panniers the bike and I toppled onto the barriers between the road and the stream in slow motion. How embarrassing! There was no way I could lift the bike with the gear on and my dear friend helped me get it up and we started again. Damage? a little scrap on tape wrapped around the indicator! The panniers took the fall and luckily that was my clothes side! For a fall in the Alps I thought if that is all I get this week then I’m lucky! Oddly enough my nerves got much better after that and I actually started to enjoy the trip

Lesson 13. Biking is 90% psychological and 10% skill.

So instead headed down the Col de Cayolle to St Tropez with the intention of coming back up the Col de Bonette from Menton. This was a fabulous road, although the first section was very bumpy and uneven in the surface. Cyclists would be every 100m as they started their ascent up the 1200m over 29kms from Barcelonette. Fair play to these guys! I needed a 600cc to get me up the mountain! The road climbed steeply with tight twists until it opened out to the peak.Image

After a steep winding descent there is a wonderful stretch through red rock gorges (Gorges de Daluis) that can be ridden fast and are welcomed after the seemingly never ending hairpins and cyclists! This was one of my favourite stretches of road through out the trip.

If you stop in Entraunes check out the salads – you must try the jambon, Roquefort and onion with walnuts. It was the best salad of the whole trip!

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This led out on to the N202, this is my sort of road, winding, wide and fast with not too many hairpin like surprises or changes of gradient which gave my back brakes a good rest. Missing the left hand turn into Castellane we ended up going quite a lot further but captured the scenic road from Barreme to Castellane.

By now I was flying and my second favourite road was the D563 to Mons. Wooded, bendy and with very little traffic on this made for an enjoyable ride with a wonderful view of the town. Totally buzzing we continued at pace to Frejus.

Ha, after 6 hours of beautiful roads with the odd car, lorry and cyclists we hit the French coastal road in peak holiday season. I hate filtering, I find it stressful and totally unenjoyable. I first tried this skill in London on my second solo trip out on the bike and decided to follow other riders to see how they maneuver through the traffic.  Although all was going well I happened to witness an accident where the biker got taken out by a car pulling out from a junction. This has put me off and put a massive dent in my confidence. Living in the countryside it’s something that I just don’t need to do. However this traffic was backed up. I am talking 28Km of slow/stationary Porsche /Merc/BMW 4×4’s. Welcome to hell.

My friend lives in London and filtering is almost a sport for him. You need to use a certain amount of brain power in psyching the oncoming cars out and trust me when you command them to move out of the way its wonderful how French drivers pull over and let you pass (something that is frustrating me greatly about English motorists who seem to actively move into the way) but I certainly did not posses this power. Frustrated, shouting in my hemet and on the verge of tears thinking ‘take me back to the mountains – those roads were fabulous’ carried on. Well it didn’t get better in St Tropez and my friend who was leading had no idea where he was going so we were riding round the centre blind with me trying to still weave through traffic following my spritely mate. It was shit. After nearly being knocked over by a Rolls Royce doing a u-turn in the road, I cried. That was enough. I really felt broken and tired and we had nowhere to camp. My mate didn’t understand why I was crying and I couldn’t understand how he was being so inconsiderate in the pace he was weaving. Turned out that was slow for him it just wasn’t slow enough for me, I needed the power of the psych.

Trying to find accommodation in peak season is a nightmare, people had booked up since April and there we were just rocking up. Luckily his Susuki DR Big 800 was unusual for Europe and as we pulled into a campsite the guy on the desk came out as he had the same bike but an earlier model. Even though the site was full they managed to find us a little plot to stick the tent up and put the bikes for the night. Thank goodness!

The sea here was amazing and genuinely was 29 degrees at night! what a way to freshen up after the journey and hello beach! I refused to ride in the traffic again and so we went for a spin and I was pillion (this is where I saw the master filterer in action) and was relieved to be clinging on the back for once!

Over the next few days quite a few English people stopped and had a chat. All of them were bikers who had left theirs at home. Had some great discussions about specially lowered bikes for shorter ladies and everyone who did it would never go back.

It’s amazing how many people seem to have kids and give up the bike and it becomes something to polish on a Sunday. I thought how bizarrely I have entered biking and none of them could believe how well I was doing (apart from Barcelonette) which did make me feel a little better as it’s pretty cool when strangers are proud of your achievements.

Lesson 14. Ride for yourself, not anyone else. Comparing and riding with different abilities is frustrating for both parties. I can whole heartedly recommend solo riding to avoid these problems and you will have an adventure on the way!

Disaster struck as we were leaving St Tropez to head up the coast. We had already planned to leave my bike and the gear somewhere and to head into Monaco on one bike to save me the stress of the traffic which we had been warned was bad in epic proportions! After fueling we got on the road when my battery died. It was already bad after Glastonbury and sitting for 2 days in ST hadn’t helped it at all. In fact it had triggered the temperature sender and wouldn’t even start with a jump. So it had to be pushed up the hill and bumped. Took 3 goes to get it running including unloading and reloading all the luggage to get it up each time. Change of plan and headed south to a Toulon to get a new battery from a supplier. The next 3 hours included falling out with my friend, solo riding to Orange up the motorway and a Thelma and Louise style maneuver that would get me into trouble should I write it!

Out of all of this came a glimmer of goodness as I decided to head back to Serre Poncon instead of riding home, I hadn’t finished yet! This is where the wonderful D94 came into play.

Orange to Embrun: Favourite road of the trip 

http://goo.gl/maps/BRghG

I must thank the brilliant small white van driver for the 90km race through tunnels, wide fast winding roads and even more impressively he gave me the power! He drove like a tetchy bike rider, always in the centre of the road and overtaking at any opportunity (If this were a film this would be a brilliant action sequence – if only I could afford a GoPro!!) After our spat he pulled into a garage before Gap and waved at me, I felt sad that it was over but there was no stopping me, I had the power!! (see lesson 11 for importance)

This basically meant that the 20Kms of queueing the cars were doing all the way from Chorges to Embrun I simply rode right through with them parting like the Red Sea, It was amazing, totally psyching them out. In fact the only vehicle I couldn’t move was a timber lorry after a bridge so I didn’t feel too bad!

I got back and was buzzing as I had ridden the type of roads I liked at my own pace (which was getting quicker and quicker), a very satisfied customer indeed and the issues of the day were forgotten. My friend also had a similar encounter through the much more bendy mountain roads with a German rider. He on the other hand knackered his starter coils through running the engine too hard. So we were down to one bike.

Lesson 15. Get your own bike!

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Pillion. Hmm not to sure about it, I blatently have control issues and don’t like clinging on round corners not when I could be riding them! We did another 200km trip to a swimming gorge at Lac de Sainte Criox and I was perched on the back of the FZR. I actually have no idea how the girls and women I see being carried around do it. It was uncomfortable, sickness inducing and nerve wracking. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Get your own bike! How can changing gear be so hard to get smooth? is all I could think!

When you have your own bike you know how it runs, what it likes ect… now the FZR has a peculiar fueling. When not ragging it can comfortably do 150 miles to the tank. The first bar goes after maybe 50m and same for the second. But the last 4 goes quickly. Now my friend decided that to save my poor aching arse that he would go up the motorway home and avoid the tight windy roads. Good plan but he was riding at well over a comfortable speed. I tried to get him to slow down but he couldn’t hear and finally as I watched 3 bars drop to 2 in 20kms I knew we wouldn’t even make it off the motorway. Well he did slow down, right down to 40mph as we drove around on a Sunday evening looking for fuel. With another 15kms to Gap it was a limp and to be honest I didn’t fancy the walk to the petrol station and I was the only one with a cash card to get it… hmmm… an imminent bad mood warning was about to be issued when we saw a station. Hurrah! even though it was expensive  fuel it definitely saved the day. with it’s mega 15l capacity it took 14.75l to fill up. Phew 😉

Lesson 16. Know your bike and impart that info on to anyone riding it before you set off!

Next day I rode to Gap to get parts and took the scenic route (only another 60km onto the journey ;). This time I rode the same road as on the first day in the mountains but this time was fueled with the skills from the race and the desire to do it myself from being pillion, I felt much more confident and really enjoyed it! as you can see from the pictures! Thanks to the Italian tourist who took the picture 🙂Image

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I bought a new battery in Gap and changed it by the side of the road with my little tool kit. Feeling very smug that I had actually managed to do something myself. Baby steps 🙂

Coil fixed on my mates bike and I was back on my own bike again ready to hit up the final Lake, Lac Annecy. This was our northern camping point with daily rides going from here. There were 2 nice rides, a short one round the lake which was circumnavigatable with a jaunt up to the gliders jump off point. It really did provide a beautiful view of the lake.

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(Taken with camera) I love the colour on this shot, it looks like it’s been effected when you compare it to the crispness of the Samsung S3 camera shot below. That picks out the gliders nicely though!Image

The town itself is a very nice, neatly divided into the historic, canal centered old town and the modern bit! there are a series of outdoor eateries and bars. However I preferred it down by the waterside, especially at sunset.

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The second ride was nearly 300kms and had a few variations but this is the route we ended up taking going across the D925 via Lac du Roseland and  Col de Petite St Bernard 

http://goo.gl/maps/c1azb

This was taken by a German guy who had got a moped and was basically planning out trip in reverse. He had planned 3 weeks for his pottering down!

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ImageThe route goes through the center of skiing locations and the massive boards and chair lifts can be seen in the town. A little odd when its still 28 degrees but a lift was open as we got up to Col de Petite St Bernard. The roads are easy to ride in the first stage and the downhill before Seez is the only hot braking point where the endless hairpins returned. The Col itself seems long and the border to Italy is always a few more bends away.

The picture above was taken just before the summit looking down the valley. When we arrived at the summit/border there was a festival going on and suddenly we went from the odd biker to 1000 Italians in the road gesticulating wildly and parking cars at the most random of angles whilst wheeling out cattle and watching a little band. It was quite surreal for how peaceful the rest of the journey has been.

I hadn’t appreciated the quality of all the roads in France until we crossed the border and literally half the road surface disappeared. The signs going down in La Thuile numbered the hairpins but the ride was disrupted by numerous cars. When in Italy what do you do? Of course! we ate pizza. Now to be fair it was the best coffee and artichoke pizza I had all trip, it  just seemed a shame that we were so far away!

To return we chose a route through the Mont Blanc tunnel. I had never been through a large tunnel on the bike like this and to be honest I was quite excited as the mountain had been looming over us for a a few hours! I was shocked at how expensive it was! €27 for a single! it’s only 12km of tunnel! and there was a queue for the car drivers of 90 mins just to get to the toll booth. Well you can imagine what happened… filtering through we got to the front in a conservative 10 minutes. It did annoy the car drivers who had sat there but still, this is why we have a bike isn’t it to ride not sit!!

My bike then started making a tapping sound when the clutch was out. Was it the clutch? chain? adjuster? too many things and by now we were some way from Annecy with the tools. Limping home the long route to avoid the mountain passes and more gear changes we took the N roads back around the bottom on the peaks, getting back just before dark, so much for making it up to Lac Leman the only lake I had planned to see but not managed to! Panicking about what the sound was and how to fix it in time to get on the ferry for England then straight up to the Isle of Man, I doubted if I would make it.

The good ole FZR did make it to the ferry and there I met another FZR rider but from the 2003 model. The poor guy was loaded up with a large coffee and can of Redbull so I stopped to see how his FZR had behaved in and where he had been. Unfortunately his mate had been knocked off in Switzerland when he looked the wrong way at the junction and pulled out onto a car. Luckily he was OK but the bike (Triumph Tiger) was a write off and his mate was flying home.

Lesson 17. Look the other way first when abroad, especially coming out of junctions

He had managed to get across in 5 hours straight and only needed refueling twice. We joked about how the petrol gauge is so inaccurate and that the last 3 bars don’t count for much! as I knew and Chris found out!

Will the FZR make it the next 400 miles to the Isle of Man and will it withstand the mountain course? You will have to wait for the next post …

Ride on 🙂

Near life experience

So Zoe and I went on our Brecon Alps training mission and what a super idea it was to have a full test run!

It was eventful in the beginning and after getting a puncture in the fast lane of a motorway in rush hour I feel more inducted to the way of the bike.

If you haven’t had a puncture I shall explain how it feels. Suddenly the bike gets very heavy in the steering and it becomes difficult to move. This is of course worse at high speeds and there is the potential for the tyre to go to the wire and even throw you off! Luckily I managed to accelerate past a van and heave the bike round (using my legs and weight shifting.. to be fair this is hard to explain it just kinda worked!) to get an angle to exit the lanes.  I didn’t break just rolled off the accelerator which is the right thing to do but of course doesn’t signal to the traffic behind what was happening. 

Poor Zoe was stuck behind me watching all this happening and (may I quote) shouting “Fucking Hell, Get off the road.” I couldn’t hear it but still the sentiment was there! With her nerves in tatters after watching youtube clips of such things happening and riders being thrown off the bike we got away very lightly indeed. 

The pic below was taken once we stopped and yes I really was that pleased to be alive and not thrown under the rush hour traffic.

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Lesson 7. Always carry a spare pump with you. £20 is a small price to pay for waiting for the recovery services. I had already bought a repair kit although didn’t fully know how to use it but had I of had a pump we would have saved ourselves a few hours on the side of the road. 

Thinking that the RAC would just relay me back and stop our holiday before it had even started we were pleased when Andy turned up! Ex-biker himself he could see we were ladies on a mission and took the call to repair the tyre and send us on our way. Thanks Andy 🙂 If you see this man, he is a legend and deserves a honk of your horn!

So we ride on! 

After a tentative few miles we were back on track. My nerves were wrecked but it’s important to carry on, I could hear Tyler Durden in my head saying  “God Damn! We just had a near-life experience, fellas.” I decided that I didn’t want to die on a bend in the Alps! or through a blow out somewhere on my own. I guess these insecurities are normal and I was much happier in the slow lane for a few miles. Will it put me off the trip altogether who knows?!

So we finally rocked up at the farm in Wales about MIdnight and were pitched up, drinking a cuppa at 1am.

I would highly recommend Park Farm campsite (http://www.ukcampsite.co.uk/sites/details.asp?revid=7133) The owner was lovely and the grounds in an excellent position with good facilities near by.

I had bought a small tent for ease of transporting and trying to be minimal however I hate tents. I mean I hate tents, generally they are cold, not waterproof and to be honest a pain in the arse, but this one man coffin tent is something else. Not only can my hips touch the roof when laying on my side but there isn’t enough room for the bike tat. Luckily I had pre-empted such an issue and bought a tarp which nicey wrapped up everything. I would recommend a 2 man nylon nightmare even for solo missions for comfort. One man is simply not enough!

We stopped at a fabulous cafe in Brecon (in a book store) where they did veggie breakfasts, wheat free bread and lovely cakes and coffee we planned a 90 mile route which you can find the link below. 

http://goo.gl/maps/tmqAS

We took off up the A40 which is a nice road, it’s just a shame about the oil tanker, and bike convey etc.. it wasn’t a fast ride put it that way!

The Black Mountain was our goal and Zoe had identified some lovely hairpins to start my training. After the previous day I was a little hesitant but eased up down a lush road the A4069. It starts with a tree covered road with stream to the side then as you make your way up the mountain there are less houses and more sheep!  There were a few steep cliff sides, the sort that you wouldn’t want to come across on a wet and wild night, but we were lucky and although the rain was steadily making it’s way across the country, it hadn’t reached us yet! We headed back to Brecon for supplies and to give our dear bottoms a break.

Comfort is an interesting point as I seem to have a 4 hour seat limit before I get the saddle ache. Easily cured with a lemonade, portion of chips and a deep massage! I also realised that I didn’t have enough bedding for a good nights sleep. I had tried to minimal as by lesson 2 but bedding is essential as it will no doubt improve the quality of my riding, especially on longer trips.

With the storm fast approaching we prepared for the wet weather but sticking covers over the panniers and donning our waterproof over clothes! I guess this is where textiles vs leathers should be debated but that must be for another post!

I had prepared as best I could for the rain, spare tarp waterproof canoe bags for clothes, waterproof boots and gloves, but this rain was special. So heavy that visibility on the motorway was very poor and we were riding into the storm. 2 hours later we arrived at the services to take stock of what we had just ridden through.

The rain test proved a few things. Lesson 8. Splash out on good boots. I debated buying my lovely SIDI gortex boots because of the price however after seeing poor Zoe squelching around in her boots I was pleased to be dry, especially if this was day 1 of a tour. Interestingly since this trip she bought new boots within 24 hours. 

Lesson 9. Just because it says on the label it’s waterproof don’t believe it! My gloves most certainly were not. Luckily I had a spare set with me so when the cold did hit I could change. Alternatively heated grips would have been useful on this occasion. 

Lesson 10. Pack all clothes/shoes and toilet rolls in a waterproof canoe bag. When I stopped and took the waterproof plastic off the pannier it was filled with water, the soft pannier itself had acted like a sponge and if I hadn’t of packed my clothes in this bag everything would have been wet, again not great on day 2 of a tour! I didn’t pack my spare shoes in it though and they did get wet. These bags are on offer for about £5 for a 15l sack in sportsdirect so pop down and get one!

All in all a good trip with many handy lessons learned along the way. I would advise anyone to try a dry run with equipment as it will definitely help you before going away.

Ride on 🙂

Packed ready for dry run

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Even though I say dry run, Zoe and I are off to Wales which isn’t known for its particularly dry weather.  Tomorrow mad rain is forcast but at least it will check if clothes and bedding stay dry. Only taken the bottom of the tank bag as it’s a little bulky and the more room I have the more stuff I’ll find to fill it! Loving it’s magnetic base 🙂

Ride on 🙂

Summer gloves and tent

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Woop! Summer gloves and tent came today 🙂 one step closer.  Also bought a rather nice summer jacket.  I had not appreciated how much you need ventilation on a bike in summer. Windproof is great at night and in winter for obvious reasons but right now airflow is most certainly needed!

Lesson 4: Don’t ride with jacket open or you’ll end up with insects in your bra.

Nuff said.
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