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Trip Notes by David Mc ---
Miles travelled by bike: 1170
Miles travelled by car/trailer: 1818
Before the trip
Following the success of the 2017 trip, it was a near unanimous decision to return to the region of Haute-Alpes/Provence for the 2018 trip. Nowhere else seems to offer the same number of excellent roads within easy reach. However, finding hotels that could handle our number (20 plus) was always going to be a challenge!
After a couple of false starts, where hotels said they had capacity then quickly changed their mind, we settled on Manosque as the destination. In November, the rooms were booked and the planning started. We had provision for up to 25 but only 21 of the rooms had been allocated. A number of regular Old Gits had declined this year due to other commitments/alternative plans so numbers were unlikely to be as big as in 2017.
In January, the Hotel Campanile in Manosque suddenly decided that they couldnt handle a group of our size and cancelled our booking! No negotiation! No alternative! There was only one thing to do at this point PANIC!!!!
Once I had had a few deep breaths and calmed myself down, I started looking for alternate destinations. After some searching I found the IBIS Styles in Draguignan with the capacity we required and at a reasonable price. A booking for 22 rooms was made and the deposit sent.
The final room was allocated and everything was set. Howard then contacted me to see if there was extra capacity but unfortunately we were full so Howard ended up booking on his own elsewhere in Draguignan
In Late May Alain S let me know hed broken his hip and was not able to ride. As such he would need to cancel his booking. Hed already been in contact with the hotel and theyd agreed a refund and had then sold his room on, meaning I was unable to transfer Howard into the main hotel.
Due to issues with my trailer I ended up hiring one and, on Friday afternoon, Alastair Mc, Pawel and Mark R arrived at my house and we loaded up the trailer with all 4 bikes.
Saturday 16th June
Home to Villefranche Sur Saone
The 4 of us were all up at 4am with the car and trailer already packed we were on the road to Folkestone by 04:20. We headed down the A12 south towards the Dartford crossing but became aware that the trailer was not happy above about 60mph. We could feel the trailer wag, especially on downhill runs so progress was going to be slow.
We arrived at Folkestone a little ahead of schedule and were offered the option of an earlier train. As youd expect, we took it! We did spot Andy in the queue to get on the train but there was only enough time for quick hellos.
As we left the Eurotunnel site in France we again spotted Andy, this time with Willy, in the petrol station so waved as we went by. (No willy waving comments please!!!)
The slow run down the French AutoRoute had us passed, then repassed (after stopping for fuel) by a number of Old Gits including Andy, Willy and Gary. It was an uneventful drive with the bikes staying exactly where put and the weather being bright and warm.
Eventually, we arrived at the IBIS hotel in Villefranche Sur Saone where we were met by a number of other Old Gits. The car and trailer were parked at the back of the hotel car park to keep it out of everyones way and we all enjoyed a few beers and a meal on the hotels terrace.
Sunday 17th June
Villefranche Sur Saone to Draguignan
Trying to be considerate by parking the trailer at the back of the car park had proven to be a wrong decision. Other guests had parked in a way that made getting the trailer out a bit of a challenge (frustrating as there were other parking options that would have been easier for all), but with the other three watching the corners, and a bit of shuffling, we got the trailer out.
As we were manoeuvring around the car park Glen pointed out that one of the trailer tyres looked a little flatter than the others so we stopped at the first services on the AutoRoute to check. Sure enough, it only had 2.5 bar against the recommended 6.5 bar. (Yes, 95 PSI!!!!) The compressor at the service station would only take the tyre up to 4.5 bar so we made do with that.
Once on the road the difference was immediately obvious. The trailer now started wagging at speeds over about 55mph! Definitely not what we wanted. We stopped at the next services and reduced the pressure to 3 bar, matching the pressure in the same tyre on the other side of the trailer. As this was the middle tyre of 3 per side, we didnt think it would cause a major issue, and true enough, the trailer was now capable of speeds up to 60mph.
The ride through Lyon was slow due to the traffic but the long downhill run to the Med coast was fine.
Eventually, we turned off the AutoRoute and were on the short run up to Draguignan. Roger was stood outside the hotel directing us to the underground car park entrance.
Unloading the bikes from the trailer was a near military operation and completed in less than 45 minutes. Getting the trailer into the car park was then a bit of a challenge as the car park was underground and had a very tight bend on the downhill approach to the electrically operated doors. With careful monitoring of the corners and a bit more shuffling we got the trailer into the car park and parked up for the week.
A quick shower and unloading of the luggage and we were all set for some beers and a meal in the sports bar about 3 minutes walk from the hotel.
Id just ordered my food when a message came through on my phone from Willy. HELP! Hed managed to come up the wrong stairs from the underground car park beneath the hotel, into the small shopping precinct beside the hotel. It was locked up for the night and the stairs door had self-locked behind him. This was a source of great amusement to all the Old Gits in the bar, although Willy had definitely exceeded his sense of humour threshold. A quick walk back to the car park and the Old Gits had managed their own version of Free Willy!
Monday 18th June
Mark R, Steve Me, James W, Glen and Roger C
Miles travelled 309
We were all up for an early start. The plan was to ride the complete length of the N85 Route Napoleon. Like me, many had only ever ridden parts of it (although enough parts to make a whole) but, other than Steve, none had actually done the whole thing in one hit.
Breakfast consumed, we were on the bikes and heading south in order to get to the start at Grasse. The sat nav tried to take us onto the AutoRoute but James and I knew better and stayed off the AutoRoute. 10 miles later we decided that perhaps we didnt know better, looked at the route options, turned around, headed back the 10 miles and got onto the AutoRoute!
After a bit of AutoRoute, followed by a bit of town work we were eventually onto the Route Napoleon, and it was game on. The Intercom chatter reduced to almost zero as bend after bend was enjoyed. I was really getting into the groove when, going for third gear, I suddenly found there was no gear lever! I was pulling over when James, over the intercom, said hed seen something fall onto the road from my bike just before the last bend, so about turn and back to look. It turns out that the fully adjustable HP gear lever, fitted to the K1300S MotorSport had adjusted itself off the bike. James managed to find the toe protector but the nut and bolt that held it all together was not seen again.
I was able to just about change gear with what was left of the gear level so the plan was that the others would continue on the Route Napoleon while I turned back to the BMW dealers in Frejus.
Eventually, I found the BMW dealers and was surprised (no, I wasnt surprised, this is BMW!!!!, I was disappointed) to discover that, according to the BMW parts catalogue, replacement of any of the adjustable parts on the HP foot pegs required replacement of the entire HP foot peg unit! I didnt ask the price!!! Luckily one of the mechanics supplied me with a nut and bolt that allowed me to put things back together and head off up the Route Napoleon in pursuit of the others (if about 2 and a half hours behind them).
The Route Napoleon is stunning. If youve never ridden it then it is a must do ride, although, the new blanket 80kmh French speed limit may take some of the joy out of the road. I was covering the miles quickly, and enjoying every minute. Even though the limit was then 90kmh I was still riding safely at speeds that would see me making a substantial contribution to the French gross national debt and a possible loss of ability to ride my bike in France, should I encounter a speed trap. Luckily, I didnt.
Eventually, after a couple of phone calls, and a little confusion, I managed to catch up with the rest of the group who had stopped for a very relaxed, extended lunch in Digne
After another couple of cold drinks, we all set off, heading south and back towards the hotel. It was good to be back with the group and the chatter on the intercom was the usual, entertaining, inane drivel. The roads however, were superb. We turned off the Route Napoleon onto the D955, north of Castellane, and followed it down towards Draguignan. This is, I think, my favourite road of all time, and it lived up to my rose tinted memories.
Finally we were back at the hotel. A quick shower and a hello to those Old Gits who had just arrived was followed by another meal on the local square. The sports bar was full for the England vs. Tunisia and a number of Old Gits went there to eat, but the rest of us sat on the other side of the square at the slightly pretentious restaurant, blissfully ignoring the football.
It did get a little exciting when the large Tunisian group outside the sports bar kicked off. Although the football was on, it appeared that there was a small group of Tunisian girls who were dead set on starting a fight between the various males of the group. Despite their best efforts, and they did try quite hard, the girls didnt manage to get anything more than a couple of punches flying.
Eventually, the crowds dissipated, the fun was over, and so, entertainment over, we all headed back to the hotel.
Tuesday 19th June
Alastair Mc, Steve Me, Pawel, Glen and Roger C
Miles travelled 255
Another early breakfast and off, heading for the Col de la Bonnette. James and Mark had been suffering overnight and were willing to pay some extortionate amounts of money to anyone who would give them a fix of Imodium. Steve Me and Roger both felt a little rough (suggesting the problem was the chicken curry theyd all had the previous day for lunch) but, unlike James and Mark, were keen to join the ride out.
Glen had informed us that hed only passed his test less than a year previously. This explained why hed been slightly off the pace on a couple of the faster runs, but, all credit to him, hed been riding really well and had us all believing he had considerably more experience. The group order was shuffled slightly with Steve leading and me dropping to second from the back.
The ride towards the Col was excellent. There is just mile after mile of good road with open, sweeping corners and reasonable to good surfaces. Although there was some traffic on some of the roads it never really held us up, especially when using the intercoms as the first rider passed the traffic would then tell the others if it was clear or if there was on-coming traffic. Im sure some of the people we overtook thought we were completely nuts with some of the overtaking manoeuvres but they didnt know we were getting still clear still clear still clear through our headset.
Once the climb up the Col started the road went from good to excellent. Allowance for cyclist had to be made (why do they insist in riding in packs of about 10 to 20?) but the climb made them slow allowing for lots of overtaking opportunities, even on short straights. Two legs vs. 175bhp is never going to be a fair fight!
A stop at the top of the Col allowed us to admire the view, watching some of the other traffic coming up and going down the twisting and winding road. Soon we were off again and heading towards Barcelonnette.
The ride home had us again enjoying the mile after mile of excellent roads. Arrival at the hotel, was followed by a quick shower then a trip into town to find somewhere else to eat. This time we ended up at a restaurant that served creole dishes and pizza! The Le Miami restaurant comes highly recommended by all the Old Gits who ate there so if youre in the area, check it out.
Wednesday 20th June
Alastair Mc, Pawel and Glen
Miles travelled 251
As always, the breakfast discussion was around where too today. The route that took us briefly into Italy was agreed as the best option so, coffee and croissants finished, we all kitted up and got the bikes out of the garage. There were 8 of us which was going to be too big for a single group. After a little discussion, it was agreed that James, Roger, Mark R and Steve would form one group, and the rest of us the other group.
The us group gave the them group a 5 minute head start before heading off towards Grasse. Initially, the road was great but before long, we hit urban roads, with lots of traffic. Just to make things even more difficult, the sat nav was taking us up dead end roads, along private drives and, on one occasion, even suggested we ride up a long flight of stairs!
After some time struggling to find the ride way, Glen shot to the front of the group and started leading. Great, I thought, Im glad Glen knows where hes going. After about 10 minutes following Glen I suddenly remembered, of our group of 4 Glen was the one who didnt have a sat nav, and didnt know the route we were riding! Hmm!
After a brief stop for a discussion we agreed to stop heading towards the Med, hit the AutoRoute and get off of the urban roads. We were soon covering distance at speed (giving a welcome airflow in the heat) and heading for St-Laurent-du-Var where we came off the AutoRoute and headed for the hills.
As we came off the AutoRoute Glen signalled that he needed fuel. His timing was perfect as my low fuel light had just come on. According to the sat nav, there was a petrol station 25 miles up the road on our route so we carried on.
We arrived at the roundabout where the sat nav said the petrol was but there was no petrol. Never mind I though, the next station on the route, according to the sat nav is, 17 miles away and I had 24 miles left on the range display.
The roads were, excellent over most of that 17 miles but arrival in the town, at the location where the sat nav said there was petrol revealed a building site and no petrol pumps. With 8 miles remaining on the range computer, and Glen in a very similar position, I checked the sat nav and the nearest petrol station in any direction was 20 miles away! Alastair decided to seek the assistance of a very attractive Gendarme who said there was a petrol station over the col, in the next town about 20km away. So, 8 miles of range and 12 miles to ride!
We took off gently, leaving the town and starting the climb up the col. Both Glen and I were being very careful but with the climb up, the range display was reducing quicker than either of us would have liked.
Bored with the slow pace, Alastair and Pavel buggered of and left us. Glen and I got separated by some traffic so I was on my own climbing slowly. Eventually, I got to the top, 7 miles after the town, with 2 miles range remaining and, by my calculation, at least 5 miles to go. So, I switched the engine off and coasted down, for over 4 miles! Arrival at the edge of a town, and a junction to negotiate required the restarting of the engine but, after another mile, I arrived at the petrol station (where Alastair and Pawel were filling up) with 1 mile left on the range display. Phew!
Full of fuel and with a WhatsApp message from the other group saying they were now in Italy, we headed of towards the border. The brief visit into Italy (less than 5 miles) didnt reveal the other group so we assumed theyd pushed on and headed back into France ourselves.
A climb up one of the Cols proved to be a real challenge. The entire road had been redressed recently so was covered in loose gravel. Add to this a very large (50 plus) group of motorcyclist coming down the hill, sometimes at pace and sometimes wide on their corners. Still, we all made it in one piece and had a nice lunch at the top.
The run back to the hotel was uneventful though great fun. We didnt meet up with the other group until we got back to the hotel. It turns out theyd gone off the route for lunch in Italy and wed unknowingly passed them. We did, however, get to the D955, N202 junction late afternoon. There was little traffic and it was a nice day so, head down, throttle open and off I went. Its been a while since Ive ridden this road at real speed but its lost none of its attraction. Thankfully there were no Gendarmes on the road as, had I been stopped, I would, at best, have been relieved of my motorbike and, at worst, have been picking up the soap in some French prison for some time to come. The run down the D955 was fun though.
That evening, Neil decided it would be good to have the whole group eat at a single location. Some of the Old Gits were leaving the next day so this would be the last opportunity. Despite the immense challenges of trying to get 21 Old Gits in the same place at the same team (herding cats has nothing on this), Neil did a sterling job of getting us all to the local Indian restaurant.
Thursday 21st June
Mark R, Roger C, Steve Me and James W
Miles travelled 148
A slightly later than usual breakfast and a vote for an easier day. While not quite in the league (distance wise) as the Route Napoleon, I said Id never ridden the whole length of the D955 in one go so that became the challenge of the day. That box on the things to do list can now be ticked. What a road! If youve never ridden the D955 then I cant recommend it enough. Even with the strange over-banding lines on the section from Les Mas de Mathurine to Comps-sur-Artuby meaning you cant make progress in the way the road would otherwise allow, its still worth the effort.
Lunch on the square in Saint-Andre-les-Alpes gave us a welcome break from the heat and allowed us to watch as they set up barriers etc. for a town event that was happening that evening. We had no idea what the event was to be but it looked like it would be interesting.
The return route took in the south bank of the Gorges-du-Verdon. While the road is OK the views are simply stunning. You really have to keep your wits about you as its all too easy to find your attention drawn to the amazing views just as the bus coming the other way is using your side of the road to get around the corner. You really dont want to run wide on these bends as, after hitting the low wall at the edge of the road itll be 10 seconds plus of straight down before you hit anything else!
From the Gorges back to Draguignan was good, but totally different to what we had been riding. The whole area was completely flat, to the point of making Suffolk appear undulating. It was hard to believe that we were still in the same region of France and only a few miles from the Gorges road with its huge drops and steep climbs.
On the return to Draguignan we noticed that there was also lots of setting up going on. Upon enquiry at the hotel we discovered that the evening of the 21st of June, all over France, towns open their doors to bands and entertainers (some good, some not so good to quote the hotel owner!) for free street parties. You can wander around the town listening to whichever bands you want to and simply soak in the atmosphere!
We voted for a fairly early meal, to make sure we could get in somewhere, and returned to The Miami. Again the food was excellent (their pizzas really are very good!) and the early meal decision was the right one as they (and all the other restaurants we could see) were full before our main course was delivered. Mark R found another Aussie to chat to (I assume comparing criminal records!) while the rest of us ate and listened to the band playing rock/pop songs. The band was OK (though not good) and we were all enjoying listening to the words of songs we recognised, that sounded like they were being sung by someone who spoke no English!
After the meal we took a walk around the town, listening to a number of different bands, playing lots of different styles of music. Some were quite good and some were less than good, but all appeared to be enjoying themselves, as were the large crowds. Right outside the hotel was a band with a young lady as their lead singer, and they really were quite good. Probably best described as Texas like, they did a number of songs we all recognised, along with a few French numbers we didnt, but were very worth listening to.
Friday 22nd June
Mark R, Roger C, James W, Mark W, Andy F and Steve Me
Miles travelled 207
The next morning in the town was amazing. By 08:00 there was virtually no evidence of the previous nights festivities.
Both Roger and James planned to return home in one day on Saturday so wanted a not too stressful day. Likewise, Mark and I knew the trailer trash run up through France was going to be a long day so didnt want to end up knackered. We decided to head west, using a cut down version of the route that we had pre-loaded into the sat navs.
It was going to be a big group, bigger than wed normally have but we decided to go with it and set off. As ever, the roads, once out of town, were great. Despite some er alternative navigation options (wrong turns!) from the person at the front (me!!!) the group stayed together. Lunch was at a small café where the highlight was James, trying to out smart the rest of us who parked in the car park on the other side of the road, parking on the pavement directly beside the café. No sooner had he taken his gear off than he was asked to move his bike (to the car park opposite!!!) as he was blocking the window to the estate agents next to the café. In all fairness to James, I dont think a single person looked in the estate agents window the whole time we were there.
The return journey was again excellent, despite the best efforts of the nutter in the car who decided hed ignore the rules of the road, and would push past everything (including me) on the road.
Upon returning to Draguignan, Mark R and I decided to look for something we could use as additional nose weight on the trailer. A run to the supermarket found us 3 x 25kg bags of water softener salt which would to the job nicely.
That evening, we ate at the crepe restaurant just up the road from the hotel and enjoyed a final beer with the Old Gits still at the hotel before retiring early ready for an early start.
Saturday 23rd June
Draguignan to Saint Quentin
We were up at 05:30 to get an early start loading the trailer. The underground parking had a low ceiling height meaning wed have to load the bikes out on the street (hence we didnt load the night before). It was also very tight in the car park which meant getting the trailer out, passed the cars parked in the car park, took almost 25 minutes, with lots of small forward and reverse shunts, using every last inch we could. We even had to exit through the entry door as the car and trailer couldnt make the tight turn if we used the exit door.
We were getting good at this! Loading the bikes took less than an hour. Everything was strapped down, including the 75kg of salt, before we grabbed a couple of croissants and a coffee supplied by the hotel ahead of official breakfast time.
The run up towards Lyon was slow. Its a long uphill drag and there was a lot of traffic. Only being able to do about 60mph meant that overtaking the many articulated lorries had to be planned well in advance and was often held up by the long stream of traffic using the off side lane and stopping us from pulling out. The trailer was slightly better behaved with the extra salt nose weight, but it didnt make a significant difference.
The run through the middle of Lyon was really slow (crawling for over an hour) and was only livened up when a large Mercedes SUV decided to jump the queue and then try and push in in front of us. Suffice as to say, as wed all been caught in the same queue, he didnt get in in front of us, or in front of the car behind us, or in front of the car behind them.
At a stop at the service station to refuel it was agreed wed check the tyre pressures. That provided us a fun 40 minutes when we discovered that the valve in the middle trailer wheel had started leaking and, the more air we added, the quicker it lost it. OK, time for the spare, but where was the jack and the wheel brace? A call to the trailer rental company identified, there was no jack (use the cars own along with the jockey wheel) and there was no wheel brace. The cars wheel brace was a different size but Alastair managed to get a wheel brace from the services shop while Mark, Pawel and I manoeuvred the rear wheel of the trailer onto a kerb allowing the jockey wheel to be extended lifting the middle wheel off the ground. The wheel was changed!
After a very long day, we arrived at the Hotel in Saint Quentin, to be met by Glen. We parked, got checked in then headed to the Buffalo Grill just down the road. Our last Buffalo Grill experience had not been very good but we had to queue to get into this one it was so popular so expectations were high. The meal was perfectly acceptable.
Sunday 24th June
Saint Quentin to home
Up reasonably early, we headed off towards the port in Calais to catch the ferry. Wed again chosen the ferry option to allow us an opportunity for a breakfast and a stretch of legs before the run back home however, arrival at the port had us, along with everyone else, stopped at the entrance as the port was closed! Apparently there had been a smell of gas from one of the buildings on the port and it was being investigated. We were only held up for about 20 minutes before we had our passports and tickets checked and were being directed onto the ferry.
With the car parked, it was the standard sprint up to the ferry restaurant for the obligatory cooked breakfast and coffee.
The crossing was uneventful, as was the subsequent run up the M20, M25 and M11 to Mark Rs house near Cambridge. The bikes were unloaded and we all enjoyed a cold drink and some hot dogs prepared by Marks wife before heading off in our separate directions. Alastair and Pawel towards Manchester and me towards Bury St. Edmunds
Another Old Gits trip was finished. This will probably be the last trip to France for some time due to the changes in speed limits and their enthusiasm for enforcement. While wed not seen many speed traps during our stay, Steve Me, who stayed on after the main Old Gits trip, reported a significant and noticeable increase in speed enforcement in the days following. The Old Gits are not nutters but we do ride to the conditions rather than to an arbitrary number. This means that there will always be a risk of falling foul of speed enforcement but artificially low limits and enthusiastic enforcement means that the risk is just too much.
Again, thanks to the new Old Gits for joining in and taking on the ethos of the Old Gits so quickly and easily. I hope you enjoyed your trip and I look forward to seeing you again. Thanks to the more experienced Old Gits for taking in the newcomers so openly and with a warm welcome.
Now to next year. There was a suggestion that we visit the Dolomites in the north of Italy. Ive not been there before so that option is definitely in the running. After two years of trailer trash Ill be riding there and back next year. The trailer option (4 people, 4 bikes, 1 car/trailer) is definitely cheaper than running individual bikes, and for those who dislike motorway riding, is a great alternative. While motorways are far from my favourite roads, I dont dislike them, especially as they will be foreign motorways as part of an Old Gits trip. Anyone want to borrow a trailer fully equipped to take 4 bikes?