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Ride Report - Alpine Tour 2016

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supersim65
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Ride Report - Alpine Tour 2016

Post by supersim65 on Mon 12 Sep 2016, 12:31 am

Chapter 1 - The Off

I stood in the driveway, proudly surveying my work as it purred back at me, a little over 1200 rpm. The CB was repaired, serviced, modified, packed and warmed up ready for adventure ahead of us.

I had achieved a childhood dream by getting myself onto a motorbike for my first, inaugural ride in January, whilst completing my Compulsory Basic Training. I remember very distinctly the view as I ascended a small bump in Eltham, travelling north behind the instructor on a crisp, clear winter afternoon. I am certain that view must have been comprised of Lee, the A20 winding up into town, and then in the distance the skyscrapers of the city. Certain. But what I saw was Rio. Christ the Redeemer, arms wide on the the mountain as I passed, the whole of south America laid out in front of me, rising slowly as the crest of the road sunk away with my approach. I may have been high on the drugs of my first motorcycle ride. But either way, I had the bug.

Before long, February I think, I had found myself a junker Chinese copy of a '79 Honda XL125S (that was way past it's sell-by date) for just a few quid. I trekked nervously out to Romford to buy it and opened the throttle all the way down the A12, hands high on the handlebars of the off-road machine, seating position relaxed. I felt like the Sons of Anarchy, except at night. In the rain. I nearly hit 45mph, and managed to overcome the sheer panic of experiencing sidewinds in a north-east London flyover. The trusty hunk-of-junk got me all the way back to the safety south London before the main jet in the carb fell out into the bowl (took me a few days to work that one out) and the whole thing spluttered pathetically into quiet, ruined reflection. I had completed my first solo motorcycle adventure.

During a gentle spring evening, around the time I was due to take the Mod 2, I rode the Nonda (as it was now branded) down to a pub near Brixton where I used to run the cellar. I don't get time to stop there much any more (it's a long story involving a woman) and got chatting to a regular there, catching up, shooting the breeze. He was in a bad way, got caught one early morning in his car on the way to work a couple of weeks before, turned out he had had a little more units than he thought the night before. The police had his licence away. Once the ban was lifted, he was never going to be able to afford to insure his under-used motorcycle again. You could sense the genuine sense of loss in his voice.

"It's been under a tarpaulin for two years" he explained guiltily. "I reckon if I charge the battery it might even start. But I couldn't promise anything. Bomber wants to buy it off me because he knows how much it's worth in parts, but I want to see it ride again."

So we went round, my housemate, a van and I. We chucked the machine in the back (there was a fair bit of groaning and complaining), handed over a terribly small amount of cash (to a man with a sad, nostalgic look in his eyes), and I had my first CB. A 1998 CB500S. It took me a week to find a corroded connector on the end of the pulse generator that was stopping the ignition spark from firing. The starter struggled, it started to fade, then there was a spark. Just one at first, then a gap, then suddenly, with an enormous puff of black smoke and a few coughs it roared back into life like an injured phoenix. It balanced out a bit, then settled, idling like the cat with the cream.

To be honest it wasn't a total miracle recovery, there was quite a bit to do over the subsequent weeks. New fork stanchions and springs, a front brake calliper and cylinder overhaul, new grips, a substantial amount of repair to the fairing, replacement bars, new cogs and chain, installation of a USB charger, and a few other little mods and fixes, but it was ready. An economic, reliable, comfortable, quick long-distance tourer. One new Kriega bag, and a borrowed one, plus two Ortlieb dry bags (the cheap ones, not the over-priced Touratech rubbish) and she was loaded up sitting in the drive there. Screw you and your GS. Get away with your Transalp. Overkill, all of them. Here was a beast to circumnavigate the world if ever I had seen one. I threw my leg over, and we were on our way to Dover.

IMG-20160728-WA0000 by Simon Thompson, on Flickr

To be continued if the populace demands...

sullivj
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Re: Ride Report - Alpine Tour 2016

Post by sullivj on Mon 12 Sep 2016, 7:09 am

Doesn't look like there's much room for you Simon!

I'm looking forward to hearing about the rest of your adventure.
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eternally_troubled
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Re: Ride Report - Alpine Tour 2016

Post by eternally_troubled on Mon 12 Sep 2016, 8:03 am

We're always game for a story, especially if it has pictures, so please carry on!

Oh, and hello!

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supersim65
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Re: Ride Report - Alpine Tour 2016

Post by supersim65 on Tue 13 Sep 2016, 12:59 am

Chapter 2 - Belgium

The ride to Dover isn't worth writing about. I relished every moment like a dog that had finally made it to the park after sniffing the lead and making puppy dog eyes at his owner for days. But really, the only thing that made the A20 look exciting and glamorous was the boat a embarked onto at the port. The drab, tasteless chips, faux-wood flooring and office printed signs that say 'FREIGHT DRIVERS ONLY (coach drivers also allowed)' of a DFDS Seaways ferry sap the saturation out of any otherwise vivid, culturally rich life experience. I feel like the monolithic floating structure has been sentenced for it's sins in a past life to the purgatory of crossing the English channel, perpetually back and forth until civilisation crumbles around it and it is finally allowed to rust. I might be over-reacting.

I took the time to study the map on the boat. I had contemplated shelling out for a GPS, but I couldn't yet bring myself to justify the extra outlay for a motorcycle specific one. I figure the extra cash is probably because the manufacturing cost is higher than any other non-specific motorcycle device, because they don't make very many by comparison. Which is fair. But I like maps, and I had recently picked up a sweet military map case in Hastings. So I stubbornly set off with 8x folded maps of France, picked out the first part of my route, and memorised the towns I was to pass through as far as I could.

I've been pushing this next confession back so as not to try and put too many people off me, as I stand on this particular stage. But it's got to come out sooner or later, so here it is. I'm a cyclist. When I say the word bike I'm not usually talking about a CB. So shoot me. But I'm reasonably avid on the subject, have quite a few of them, and move in circles where it's quite normal to choose a pub based on the cycle parking. I've done it. I've said it. You all know. Let's move on before we lose momentum.

So I've come out of the ferry at Dunkirk a few times, intending to ride south, or east, to Lille or Brugge, but I've never nailed it. It's an awful place, and this time was not an improvement. I picked up the correct road, south east, and waited a while for some of the crucial towns to pop up on the signs so I could start my breadcrumb trail. As I moved through the French B-roads, with every passing kilometre, I stared to shed the tough outer skin of my work life and I couldn't feel it a first. I kind of felt like I was expecting complete relaxation to wash over me, and was disappointed when it didn't happen the very moment I started the engine and slowly engaged the clutch to come off the ramp from the ferry. But only a short while into the ride, I could feel a layer of that armoured stress built skin start to peel and I could almost feel emotion again. It was intoxicating, and I engaged immediately with it. I saw a pretty single-track tarmac road alongside a canal. And took it. To wherever it may take me. It felt like I had wings. 

After a short while. I stopped to review why I hadn't seen any of the towns I was expecting to see. Now on a bicycle, one might ride for half an hour, check the map, and make a minor adjustment to get back on track. I had gone 50km south west. Not too far west, but it was a long way, and I was supposed to be going east to Gent. After a few starts and stops and map checks and a late lunch, I jacked in Gent, jacked in the maps (for now), and I put navigation down as an area for improvement during the trip. I bust my phone out and crunched up a bit of data to navigate me out to Geraardsbergen. My planned stop for day 2. I made it in an hour and a half, Google Maps found me a camp site too and I had the tent up and was in bed by 10pm. I was unexpectedly knackered. 

I had inadvertently killed day 2 as a riding day by sacking of Gent. So I got up late in the communal tent field to the sound of tin crockery being clanged together by kids who had been traditionally marched like a chain gang to the sanitary station to do the washing up. I wasn't sure about the whole communal tent field thing. It only encourages weird people to talk to you about their favourite breed of dog or something. But as I milled around outside the tent, waiting for the coffee to brew to pull me out of my stupor. I accidentally became the weird person encouraged to talk to others as I spotted a beautifully painted panel underneath an enormous mound of crap behind the next door tent.


holiday - 2 by Simon Thompson, on Flickr

This is Martin. He's from the Netherlands and was just about home after a 6000km journey on his 1964 something-or-other. His father gave him the money to buy it but sadly died not too long ago. He had restored it, and ridden in tribute to Santiago de Compostela to take a photo of himself and the bike outside the cathedral. He had not been allowed to take the bike close enough, and had argued with police. Eventually a sympathising policeman on a motorcycle had ridden ahead of him through the crowds to make the photo possible. I've never seen a man with his chest so puffed out with pride. 

I then proceeded to meet a father and son combo on bicycles from Dundee who were filled with enthusiasm for their adventure and made me feel ashamed for giving in and getting an engine. And a couple of racers in a bicycle race I had come to see the start of.

The race in question is the Transcontinental Race. The TCR. In this race, the riders are presented with 4 or 5 checkpoints across Europe, each accompanied with a short compulsory route which is always as beautiful as it is gruelling. The route they take to those checkpoints is entirely up to them, but they must not have any aid that is not available to the general public. No team cars, no luggage stored anywhere on route, if two riders meet on the road, they cannot draft each other. The distance covered by the riders this year was about 3800km, it was nearly all mountainous, and the fastest rider did it in 8 days and 15 hours. Enough stats for you? No? In 8 days and 15 hours, he stopped riding for 12 hours total. These people are machines.

Some of them are also good friends of mine. So after a hike round a lake in the morning, I headed into town to catch up with a few people.


holiday - 4 by Simon Thompson, on Flickr

holiday - 3 by Simon Thompson, on Flickr

The above is my friend Emily, who was the fastest woman this year, and my friend Lionel, did not make it to the finish, but continues to impress me with his attitude to adventure and meeting people in the oddest of places. I have to be careful sometimes, he just sort of pops up near lakes and in airports. 

In the evening, the whole compliment of riders, some 200 individuals and 100 people riding as pairs (I might have to clarify those figures) met in the town square with their loved ones, coaches, team mates, whoever. It was a lot of people. Cycling is in the blood in Belgium. There's nothing to do but drink beer and ride bikes. It's my kind of place. The mayor and his wife were out in full traditional dress to speak to the riders and fans. Come 10pm, after teary goodbyes from loved ones, and nervous but determined looks on the faces of those who were setting off for a few weeks of raw physical pain they were off.


holiday - 5 by Simon Thompson, on Flickr

The riders were charged with a controlled parade lap of the town, while us spectators were each given firey torches with which to parade up the Muur in the meantime. The Muur de Geraardsbergen is a famous, shaded, cobbled road that leads out the centre of the town and up the hill. It's slippery, steep, technical and gruelling. So set the scene for the whole race pretty well really. A few riders fell over, some sprinted, just to show off, some set their pace nice and steady from the off, but all had to ride up the firey gauntlet. It was quite a spectacle.

As silence once again descended on the town. My mind returned back to a problem that had troubled me earlier in the afternoon. I had ridden down from the camp site, and I could feel something was wrong at the back of the CB. Every cobble and crack in the road was feeling wrong, and the cornering was precarious at best. I suspected suspension issues, and was preparing mentally to find a garage the next day.

As I strolled in back towards my parking spot deep in thought and worry, a GS and some other awful modern flat-twin BMW rolled into a parking space just ahead of me. Local knowledge I thought. So I stopped and experimented with English. Obviously they were Belgian and under 90 years old, so spoke Dutch, German, French, Flemish and English fluently. They recommended a garage and made finding it seem very complicated, and explained that the guy who owned it spoke no English, was over 90 and probably couldn't help. Thanks guys! But we all retired to a bar to consider it further.

I offered the first round of course, as the guest. In the non-descript, bustling bar it took a while to get served. Walter, my host was almost embarrassed. Even more so when the bald, ginger-bearded Belgian who owned the place marched over bellowing "How dare you speak English at my bar!" before guffawing about the place. He insisted on telling me a story about when he came to the UK, and had a beer in Dover. (I feel for him.) It was warm, flat and bland. So he complained to the barmaid, and then ordered another one. I think he was complimenting British beer through clenched teeth.

When I told him what I did for a living, he roared about the place making jokes about the barmaid in Dover for a while before presenting me with a 750ml bottle with a cork and cage, wrapped in paper. It was a Flemish red, he explained it was the best beer around here, he only had a few bottles left, and he insisted I have it. "How much?" I said. "No no, you must have it." I was suddenly quite enamoured with the man, and laughed heartily as he proceeded to make another joke about Dover.

I sat for another couple of hours chatting about how to pick up a GS when you drop it, and barmaids in Dover. It was a great night. But the next day I had to have the back end of the CB looked at and get myself out of Belgium towards the first checkpoint of the TCR where I was meeting some other friends. The race was already on. and I was at the back. So I headed off to get some sleep.


holiday - 6 by Simon Thompson, on Flickr

holiday - 7 by Simon Thompson, on Flickr

To be continued...
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supersim65
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Re: Ride Report - Alpine Tour 2016

Post by supersim65 on Tue 20 Sep 2016, 9:02 pm

Chapter 3 - France

I blearily emerged from my little tent, rolling bare chested and vulnerable out into the world, blinded by the sun which was taunting me with it’s energetic, incessant happiness. I knew I had to force myself reluctantly out of that cocoon, and face the grinding toil of the day. Luckily, I had coffee. Quite quickly, I was back to being myself again, and everything didn’t seem quite so…melodramatic, it was quite a nice day actually.

After a quick breakfast with some of my fellow wanderers, I loaded up the tent and the this and the that. Where did all this stuff even come from? I’m sure I was travelling light when I arrived. First job, assess the state of the suspension. I had 350km to cover today, and the same tomorrow to get to my next appointment. Not much for a seasoned traveller on a 1200, but that little fairing is a long way from being a windscreen, and I’m a was a bit of a n00b. So it seemed quite far.

Now the CB is a fairly quick bike when you only weigh 65kgs in your boots. I’ve already touched on the fact that I had maybe brought a little much. I actually have a kitchen sink, it’s a nice roll-up Ortlieb one. I got it cheap in a clearance sale, and have NEVER used it. Point being, my kit weighed a bit. Not nearly as much as a pillion, but a bit. The handling of the bike changes fairly dramatically with just that little bit of weight so high on the back. So when I jumped on that morning, I already found a quick bit of extra stability at the back where I was worried about the shocks being a bit soft.

So I pushed on to the first fuel stop, and found a convenient tire pressure gauge. 1.6 bar left in the rear tire. 1.2 in the front. Nuts! Once they were back up to 2 and 2.5 bar respectively, I was back out on the open road, leaning into the corners with gentle aplomb once more.

The minor roads across Champagne, the Ardenne and Bourgogne were laid out for me like a table cloth. Flat, smooth and with a beautiful spread all around me. I stopped in for the night by a lake in the Foret d’Orient, which was weirdly full of jet-skis. I think I was desperate for a jet-ski when I was about 10, but I’ve not understood the attraction to such an obnoxious, expensive, impractical vehicle since. Loads of them there was.

Anyway, the point is, here’s some photos of those two days of solid riding. The whole place is full of little towns and villages for buying croissants and awful coffee and ‘coifs’ whatever they are. It’s so ‘French’.


holiday - 5 (1) by Simon Thompson, on Flickr 


holiday - 2 (1) by Simon Thompson, on Flickr


holiday - 9 by Simon Thompson, on Flickr


holiday - 4 (1) by Simon Thompson, on Flickr

Rolling along the last 100-200km towards Claremont-Ferrand, I was starting the final approach to the first control point of the TCR. And being on the minor roads, whatever route the riders were taking, quite a few of them started to funnel onto the same road, more and more as I approached the city throughout the afternoon. The first rider I saw, I thought I must be mistaken. All this big world out here, what are the chances it’s a TCR rider? Just so you’re all aware, there is a certain style of luggage currently fashionable in the cycling world which involves strapping various purpose designed bags to the frame of your bicycle. Not to a rack. It’s so fashionable in fact, that it has been given a buzz-word, bike-packing. It’s stupid name, but it’s a distinct shape that you can spot from a distance. A bag between the bars (standard), one inside the triangle of the frame (like the 90’s), and one sticking out the back underneath the saddle (a bit more unusual). As I past the rider, assuming it was just another person off for a pretty standard touring ride with all their aero bags, it was obvious she was wearing the hat only available for riders with her rider number on it. I stopped a little way ahead, excited to find someone to speak to to be honest, and let her pass me again.

Here is a terrible picture of Louise, who I have met once, during the moment portrayed in the picture. I passed the time of day, confused her by coming out of nowhere to ride alongside for 45 seconds or so, nearly knocked her off trying to take a one-handed picture, then burnt off again. I tagged her on Instagram, and we’re I think she’d agree we’re basically old friends now.



Over the course of the next 100k or so, I fell into a habit of spotting riders, burning up a little way in front of them, then cheering from the side of the road as if it was the Tour de France. “Allez allez allez! Cccommmmeee ooon!! Woo!” That sort of thing. I amused myself no end, I don’t know if anyone else had as much fun. I think a few of the riders might have been talking about the mad guy on the motorbike when they saw each other at the first control though.

Anyway. I arrived at Claremont-Ferrand in the mid-afternoon. Not too late. The control point at this location is a place where the riders must pass through, have their little card stamped to prove it, then proceed onto a fixed route up a climb to peak the Col de Ceyssat a few km later, and a km or so higher up.

Now I’ve not been riding motorcycles long as you know. But it’s fair to say that it’s been a dream of mine ever since starting to be one of those riders with a camera-person standing on the back filming a bicycle race. Upon meeting Mr. Francis Cade, vlogger and all-round-nice-guy who was filming the TCR and reporting online throughout, we were quick to agree that this was probably the perfect time for us to give it a go.

Don’t tell Francis, but I was pretty nervous about the idea for two reasons. One, I’d never ridden with a pillion before. And two, he had a really expensive camera. Which looked a bit fragile. It was such an awesome thing to do though. We routed out a helmet from some local guys and stuck him on the back with the camera before burning off the plains, and straight up the first alp of the journey so far. Since Francis didn’t have the appropriate clothing for going fast, he actually went up most of the way in the TCR car with my friend Leo. 

As an aside, my mother is Italian. We’ve always lived in the UK, but I’ve spent a lot of my summers visiting family in the alps, and hadn’t been for a few years. The moment we ascended enough to feel the change in temperature in the air, I got hungry for it. The roads, the landscapes, the trees, the air, it all felt so familiar. There was a dual carriageway with two or three rolling switchbacks, and I’ve never got the bike so low in the corners (my luggage was back at the control). Prior to my arrival that afternoon, I hadn’t actually decided whether I was going to go to Italy , or Spain. This first alp made that decision for me.

Once we were halfway up, and the roads were small again. Francis donned the helmet, leapt onto the back and we bottled along filming the riders as they slowly ascended the col. Now, unfortunately, because of my warnings, Francis stuck his cheap, expendable lens on the camera, which has no built in image stabilisation. And all the footage was unusable. Amateurs! But you can check out this video, which gets good around 5 minutes with a few interviews with some friends of mine, followed by a VERY short interjection with me in it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mRX3K7lX5x0

After a return to the hotel, I spent the evening with my good friends Pat and Lou who had volunteered to man the control point. I chickened out and opted for my first expensive bed in the hotel that night, and had a very good nights sleep indeed.


Control Point 1 by Simon Thompson, on Flickr


To be continued…

sullivj
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Re: Ride Report - Alpine Tour 2016

Post by sullivj on Tue 20 Sep 2016, 10:14 pm

You nearly lost me when you mentioned push bikes (!) but I hung in there anyway, and enjoyed the read.

The humble CB seems to be cooing well with the trip so far.
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supersim65
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Re: Ride Report - Alpine Tour 2016

Post by supersim65 on Tue 20 Sep 2016, 11:07 pm

Two Wheels Good Sulli, Two Wheels Good.
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stormbringer
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Re: Ride Report - Alpine Tour 2016

Post by stormbringer on Thu 22 Sep 2016, 4:24 pm

Cool. Me likes this kind of writing.

Oh, and hello there. Welcome aboard Smile
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Beresford
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Re: Ride Report - Alpine Tour 2016

Post by Beresford on Thu 22 Sep 2016, 7:52 pm

supersim65 wrote:Two Wheels Good Sulli, Two Wheels Good.

Not when there's a bunch of 40 or so pedalling 3 abreast with a 1/2 mile queue of cars behind them on a winding local coastal road that is my route to Kirkistown circuit. Then they are "Why don't you all die you b******s"
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rick1
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Re: Ride Report - Alpine Tour 2016

Post by rick1 on Fri 09 Jun 2017, 7:45 pm

Just bought this bike from Simon, a really nice guy and pleased with it. 49k on the clock, just sold my CB 1000 with 7K showing needed a lighter machine due to illness. He mentioned riding the alps and now one can read how it went. Nice one Simon

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Re: Ride Report - Alpine Tour 2016

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