NOT TOO LATE, BUT A TOUCH LAST MINUTE!

It all started in the Italian Dolomites, 2003 . My wife, Margaret, and I were on a car touring holiday and shared a hotel with many motorcyclists, from various countries and they were mainly middle aged to elderly men and women. On one particular day, we were walking on the hills and watching a succession of bikers snaking their way up the various hairpin bends to the summit of the pass. “Now that is something I would really love to do”, I idly said. “Only a couple of problems” my wife said, “no licence and no bike!” adding the final coup de gras! Being bullheaded, I replied, “well that can be put right”.

Fast forward to June 2015, now aged 66 and my idle boast was still unfulfilled, so it was perhaps a case of now or never, when I telephoned Steve at Raceways Motorcycle Training in Fleetwood, and embarked upon my quest to obtain a full licence. As I approached the final section of the instruction and DVLA testing, I decided to buy myself a bike in preparation for the big day, and so I took delivery of an immaculate low mileage 2005 BMW R1200RT (known as Big Bertie). On 9th September I passed my Part 2 and having taxed and insured the bike I was ready to go. I can remember to this day my silent thoughts as I rode Bertie down the drive for the first time; “Ye Gods, this is big!”

One of my very first trips was to Ribblehead, where a complete stranger came from nowhere and introduced himself as Dave Little (SLAM). “Have you done the Advanced course?” He asked. Well, I had to laugh as the ink was hardly dry on my new licence! I told him that it was my intention to do so in due course.

During the winter of 2015 and 2016, I rode out on dry, frost free days and slowly gained experience in preparation for my planned “Big Trip”. In early June, I set off for a solo trip around Europe including Holland, Germany, Austria and Italy, even managing to have a few days holiday with my wife who had flown out to Italy to join me, having previously declared that she would never ride on the back of a motorbike. Somewhat like a pilgrimage, my route included riding those wonderful roads in the Dolomites.

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 On my return, I decided that I had enjoyed riding so much that I decided to splash out and I purchased a most appropriate personalised number plate, which just happened to have a much newer 1200RT attached to it, so along came “Bertie 2”. I embarked upon the SLAM Advanced Course, and was most fortunate to have Phil McEntee as my observer/mentor, and was delighted and honoured to pass the Advanced test at the beginning of November 2016. Without wanting to sound utterly sycophantic, I have to say that I found the course and the whole SLAM experience to be excellent in all respects.

By this time, Margaret (aged 21x3 and plus some), had decided that if I was enjoying my motorcycling so much, then perhaps she should give it a go, and I must say that she has taken to it like a duck to water and is a superb pillion rider, so together we began to plan another “Big Trip”. As I write this article, we have just returned from a solo five and a half week tour of the French and Spanish Pyrenees (See photo on Col de Tourmalet), followed by a tour of the Dordogne, the Atlantic coast and finally a tour of Brittany.

We are already thinking about 2018 and a trip to Portugal and Spain is looking the favourite. I can say that I have done many things in life, but my experiences on the bike rates amongst the very best, and I would encourage anyone who is wondering whether or not to learn to ride in their mature years or to undertake an IAM course, to stop wondering and just get on with it!

Not much point in sitting in a nursing home and wishing you had done it!

John Spencer

A Week in the West Country

Saturday morning was bright and dry, as three bikes gathered at Charnock Richard services. Steve Ball was first to arrive with his Tiger 800, then Lynn and I on our FJR1300, closely followed by Mark and Leela Burns on their Explorer XCa. Another two bikes and bikers were there, and turned out to be Devon Advanced Motorcyclist riders on their way home from the Lake District.

After bidding the two DAMmers farewell, we set off down the M6, onto the M56, then off at J10 A49. We went south-west, through Llangollen and Bala before stopping for a brew. Off we went again, and coming into one of the small Welsh towns, who should we see sitting outside a cafe in the sun, but the two Devon bikers!

After lunch, some lovely, almost empty A and B roads saw us eventually arrive at the Neuadd Arms Hotel in Llanwrryd Wells, where we have stayed before on one of Mark's trips. (It's the one with a huge sculpture of a Red Kite bird on a stand opposite the hotel.)

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A lovely meal in the hotel, a few 'scoops' and a natter about the day's ride, then off to bed.

Day 2 started with a good breakfast and fine weather, and we moved off about 10am. East towards England, but not before we spied a small teapot sign at the side of the road.....off down a narrow road to a large property which looked like a cotton mill owner’s house (if it had been in the north-west).  Off the bikes and in through the lovely hallway and rooms and out onto a terrace looking out over hills and valleys. Fabulous! Tea and scones at a very reasonable rate!

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 Back on the bikes, towards Hereford, Cheltenham, Cirencester, then south-west skirting Bristol, through Cheddar Gorge where we stopped (with loads of others) for an ice cream, then past Glastonbury and on to our hotel at Bridgwater - the same place that Mark and others stayed at on the Ride For Mike. (Ask Mark about doing 110mph+ with the Police in close formation.)

Good food with plenty of choice, and we were joined by Michelle and Tom (both serving police officers). Good beers (Hobgoblin and Marstons) and good rooms, with a massive bed (ours was, anyway). Early to bed, though Mark and Steve stayed for another scoop...

 Monday dawned bright and dry (again!) and after a good Full English, we waited for our guides to arrive. Michelle, a traffic officer, on her BMW F700, Simon (ex-police) on his orange Grinnall Rocket 3 trike, and Phil on his Pan European 1100. After the intro's (Michelle helped organise the Avon & Somerset section of the Ride For Mike two years ago) we set off. We had coffee in Wells, near the Cathedral, lunch of fish & chips in Lyme Regis, and ice creams in Exmouth at the harbour!

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Back for the evening meal, with our tour guides peeling off towards their own homes. A lovely 120 or 130 mile day, and with Michelle at the front, all at a leisurely pace...

 Tuesday, we had Michelle again to guide us firstly over into Wales, over the M48 Severn Bridge to coffee/tea at Tintern Abbey, where it started to drizzle. Onwards to the outskirts of Gloucester to collect Andy on his 1200 Bandit. Andy, Michelle and Phil are members of the Blue Knights - a bike club for serving and retired officers of the law - police, prison, customs, etc.. Michelle had asked on their website for help in the area, and Andy had answered, so we all met him for the first time!

Onwards to Bourton-on-the-Water for lunch - very picturesque - then on to Arlington Row in Bibury - very old and even more picturesque! Finally, Andy led us to Cotswold Airport, near Cirencester. There were 6 or 7 'planes, including a Jumbo 747, all for scrapping! The airport is very small, but has an aero club and clubhouse, where we had afternnon tea. The clubhouse has an immaculately restored  New Hudson bike (1930's?)

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After he led us out from the airport, Andy waived us goodbye, and Michelle led us back 'home'. On the way, I got a puncture in the rear tyre. We all stopped, but the tyre was beyond repair. The others left Lynn and I at a filling station (in the dry) awaiting recovery back to the hotel.

 Wednesday was a quiet day for us. I rang and ordered two tyres, and Mark followed me to a local tyre depot, and gave me a lift back. (I've never been a pillion before) Leela, Lynn and I went into Bridgwater whilst the tyres were delivered and fitted. Mark and Steve went to Minehead, Porlock, Lynton and Lynmouth, then back over Exmoor.

 Thursday saw Michelle and Phil take us south again to Dawlish (coffee), Torquay, Paignton and Brixham (lunch on the seafront), Princetown (afternoon tea) and over Dartmoor to Willington near Weston-Super-Mare for an evening American car show with live music included, at a pub. Then back for food, drink and bed - another 200 mile day!

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 Friday, we set off for home after breakfast. Up the M5 then over into Wales again. On to the A449 and A49, we 'lost' Steve in Ludlow around lunchtime. We were home by 6pm, after a few queues on the short distance we did on the M6 - normal tea-time traffic, I guess...

What a trip! Epic! We did nearly 1,100 miles in the week. Sunshine nearly all the way. Plenty to see and do in a smashing part of the country, with some great roads.

If you want a gentle amble through the countryside, then Mark's trips are not for you. I you want to 'make progress' (where appropriate) then sign up for the next one.

Keith Bridge

Reflections on the joys of touring …

Rather than the usual, day one we did this, day two we did that, ad nauseaum, I thought I’d share a few reflections on what will (and won’t) happen on any foreign tour of any great extent. Now don’t get me wrong, any tour that includes the Col d’Iseran, the Routes Des Cretes, the Nochalm Strasse, the Timmelsjoch, Grosslglockner and B500 has to be awesome, but……………….

  • You (and your bike!) will need a pre tour service and ‘no, that slightly (?) worn tyre won’t last the distance – get it replaced!
  • Motorways in the UK will be jam packed, so you will need to filter – period
  • The drought in Southern England will break on the day that your tour starts.
  • The Eurotunnel will be experiencing “unexpected delays – Merci pour votre patience”
  • You will get to know the meaning of the words, ‘Route Baree’, Gravillons, and Rollspitz

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  • Road calming works
  • All of this (and more) means that you will only average around 30mph a day
  • 3 Sat Navs will each give different route directions
  • Bloody Robbie Williams will be performing in town for the one night you are there meaning all the restaurants are full – time he retired
  • The Hotel owner will show you your rooms and then lock you out of the hotel when you go to get your tank / saddle / pannier bags (but the nice Italian lady across the road will help you to avoid sleeping on the street)
  • Southern Europe in the summer will be experiencing a ‘heat wave’ – it’s a called the ‘summer’ and it will be ‘scorchio’
  • Italian drivers will be, well, ‘Italian drivers’. They will use their vehicles as weapons. Oh and while on the subject, forget solid white lines, they mean nothing! (Sorry Pino but you know it’s true)
  • Credit / Debit cards won’t always work / be accepted, often when most needed – e.g. when fuel is getting low
  • Those quintessential little market towns that we all love will have ….. you guessed it ….. markets, and these will slow you down, divert and block your route
  • Your route will be blocked by an earthquake (honest)
  • Various creatures of European origin, mad dogs, deer, sheep, cows, goats, et al will be in the road. They can be at home and just ‘cos you’re on tour doesn’t mean that their foreign counterparts are any more road ‘savvy’

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  • You will choose the wrong queue / line at the Peage/ Petrol Pump because each one seems to operate in a different way, pay first, pay after joining the auto route / strada or fuelling, self-serve , service, cash, card, the permutations are endless. And yes there will always be an irate Italian, French, German, Swiss, Austrian (delete as appropriate) behind you in the queue (Mind you, you may get lucky and have two attractive young French girls in a Renault 5 help you to nip under the barrier at the same time as they go through. Oooh Papa!)
  • You will (at least if like me and you have a healthy sense of ‘school boy’ humour) chuckle inside your helmet at foreign road signs such as ‘Gutfarht’, or at a garage offering ‘Turmoil’ for sale, and the classic Italian roadside warning for , ‘precipitationi atmospherica’ – aka rain! Why use one syllable when you can use so many more!

Arrivederci!

Colin Stanfield

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