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Old September 9th, 2013   #1
DickPeake
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Default New to Europe 2013

Introduction


Every couple of years I run a weekend trip into France for bikers who have never ridden outside the UK. It is a total of around 800 miles from home and back again over 2.5 days and gives the riders a good introduction to the French roads and people. I lead from the front. This year Mark, a previous New to Europe rider, came along as my Tail End Charlie. After his introduction to Europe trip 3 years ago, Mark has gone on to train for and pass his advanced motorcycling test, and has visited Europe numerous times, both on a couple of my 10 day tours and he has also escorted his father and another friend around France and Austria. He’s one of my success stories and it was good to have him along keeping an eye on the four ‘newbies’ from behind, quietly letting me know of any ‘issues’ that I can’t necessarily pick up through my mirrors. The newbies this year are Ian, Steve, Neil and Peter all of whom are reasonably experienced motorcyclists but are nervous about tackling ‘Johnny Foreigner’ and his language and road signs!

Parlez-vous français?
Not a chance! Good job I can turn a handy phrase or two then, even though I am far from fluent!
Reports and pictures to follow in instalments.
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Old September 9th, 2013   #2
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Default Re: New to Europe 2013

Keep 'em coming.
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Old September 9th, 2013   #3
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Default Re: New to Europe 2013

Dick,
I'm in. Oh, I need to cross a little pond first.
Darn.
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Old September 10th, 2013   #4
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Default Re: New to Europe 2013

Friday 6th September 2013.

So, I am due to leave my house at 12 noon, last Friday, 6th September. I had new Pilot Road 2’s fitted about a month ago and I had done a couple of hundred gentle miles to scrub them in, with no problems but I had not been on the Pan for a couple of weeks or more since then. At 10 am I do a tyre pressure check – front 39.5, rear 13.5 psi! I check the rear for punctures and it seems OK but I'm a little puzzled by the pressure difference. I pump the tyres back up to 42 psi and go back inside to finalise packing. At 11 am I do another tyre check –front 42, rear 30. Now it’s got my attention! Cup of soapy water and a paint brush. No punctures, tyre seated correctly, no rim leaks. Then a big bubble blows up where the valve sits into the rim. I immediately ring my local motorcycle shop, Flitwick Motorcycles (Yamaha, but the owners and staff are all committed bikers and the main mechanic worked in the Ducati works racing team for a few years. They are excellent guys) (see http://www.flitwickmotorcycles.co.uk/).

Incidentally, it is pronounced Flittick. They listen to my tale of woe and say that I am to come straight in, on my way to France and they will fix it. I ping txt’s to the other five. Ian was due to meet me at my house at 12 noon. Peter, Steve and Neil were to meet me at Toddington Motorway Services on the M1 at 12.20 pm (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toddington_services) and Mark is to be at Maidstone Motorway Services on the M25 around 3pm (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maidstone_services).

I tell them that I am sorting the problem and to sit tight, I will be there as soon as I can. I am also thinking that I am now probably not looking very professional, as I have only met the four guys once before when I called a meeting to make the introductions and set out my ground rules!

I arrive at Flitwick MC at 11.40am, and find Ian has made his way there anyway to wait with me for the fix. They quickly remove my back wheel, remove the tyre, replace and seal the valve, then refit the tyre and re-balance it, before putting the wheel back on the bike. No charge and their best wishes for a safe trip.

Ian and I arrive at Toddington Services just 30 minutes late, where the other three are just about ready to go. A quick shake of hands all round, a reminder about staggered formation riding when on straight roads and motorways, and I pull out into the M1 traffic with the four guys slotting in behind me.

The weather forecast had been truly dreadful with prolonged heavy rain and some flooding predicted. The M1, M25 and M20 journey down to Folkestone on a Friday afternoon is, 99% of the time, awful due to the sheer volume of traffic and the constant filtering (lane splitting) through stationary lines of traffic which requires intense concentration. And in heavy rain – aaaagh! But, guess what – very little rain came down and there were no traffic delays at all! Spooky. Even the Dartford Bridge was free flowing (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dartford_Crossing) (motorcycles are free to cross, all other traffic pays a toll).

However, if we had been just an hour or so later, we would have been caught in a 7 hour traffic jam caused by a fake bomb scare which closed the crossing completely. A man was arrested at the scene (see http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/arti...ious-item.html).

Fortunately, we are at Maidstone Services by 2.30 pm, 30 minutes ahead of schedule, so we have coffee, a bite to eat while we wait for Mark to turn up. He arrives right on 3.00 pm so I get him a coffee while he chats to the newbies.

I go back over the staggered riding formation because they still hadn’t got the hang of it on the 100 mile motorway journey down to Maidstone and had been wandering about within the lanes. I explain that proper, staggered formation riding produces a very visible block of bikes, keeps cars and trucks out of the middle of the group and provides us all with a good safety margin. A pen and a paper napkin with drawings on it finally seems to do the trick.

Peter has an older Kawasaki Zephyr ZR 750 in nice condition, but with only a 140 mile tank range, he is the limiting factor and I know it is going to cause me problems getting fuel stops in. I do have a backup plan and I don't give him any hint that his tank range will be the slightest problem as he seems quite nervous enough about the trip already.

We are staying overnight in Folkestone ready to catch the Chunnel (as the Channel Tunnel is known) in the morning. We know Peter can get the last 20 miles without fuelling up so we set off again, and Mark takes up his post as Tail End Charlie on His Honda Varadero. I know exactly where the hotel is and where the petrol station is so, we all fill to the brim then ride to the Carlton Hotel easily (see http://www.thecarltonhotelfolkestone.co.uk/).

Now, Folkestone is tired, run down and is a far cry from its former glory as an English seaside resort but the many hotels are still clean, warm and cheap for bed and breakfast. As a bonus, the Carlton has its own back yard where we can get the bikes tucked away safe for the night. We are there by 4.15 pm – the earliest I have ever managed to get a group there! I suggest we all meet downstairs at 5.30 pm ready to walk into the town for beer and food.

We walk about 10 minutes into the town where we spend a convivial evening in the Samuel Peto pub. This is a an old and interesting Baptist Chapel that would have been closed and demolished if the Wetherspoons chain had not taken it over, obtained a change of use permission, and rescued the place. It is actually a beautiful building inside and out, in my eyes, and I am a frequent visitor on my way out to France. They have even preserved the organ and its pipes, behind the bar. Weatherspoon are renowned for the quality and range of beers that they serve and the food is not at all bad either (see http://www.jdwetherspoon.co.uk/home/...he-samuel-peto).

Peter doesn’t stay very long – he has a pint and a meal and, around 7pm, he tells us he is tired and is going to walk back to the hotel and turn in for the night. I am slightly surprised by his very early departure but, as we don’t all know each other very well (yet), I hold my tongue. Peter's decision proved to be not a good one as I am to find out in the morning.

The rest of us have a great night with lots of laughter and jokes and the beer flows freely, as we get to know each other. I am always alert for personality clashes or people that may not ‘fit’ but these guys are actually nice people.

We leave the pub about 11 pm, rather erm … mellow and meander back to the hotel. We have to be ‘wheels turning’ at 8 am sharp tomorrow and this was made clear to the whole group earlier in the evening. And so to bed.

Here are my four intrepid explorers, feet still firmly on English ground. From left to right is Peter, Steve, Neil and Ian.
Attached Images
File Type: jpg Photo 07-09-2013 08 37 51.jpg (92.7 KB, 109 views)
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2014 Honda CTX1300 TCS/ABS

Last edited by DickPeake; September 10th, 2013 at 03:23 AM.
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Old September 10th, 2013   #5
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Default Re: New to Europe 2013

Saturday 7th September 2013

Everyone was up and at breakfast at 7.30 am, most bikes already packed up and ready to roll. I check on everyone’s general well-being and quality of sleep. Peter doesn’t actually look too good. He says he didn’t sleep at all. I drag the story out of him. He left the pub last night to walk back to the hotel to get an early night. Now, to get back to the hotel you turn right out of the pub. After 20 yards or so you turn right UPHILL with the sea to your left and after 10 minutes max you are back at the hotel. Peter went DOWNHILL and kept going until he ended up in the harbour area (from his description). Now lost, and without his phone, he wandered about for a while and reckons he covered over 3 miles. He occasionally asked for directions but, I’m sorry, if you are lost in Folkestone and you ask some spotty yoofs the way to the Carlton Hotel on the Leas, they are going to take this as sport and send you off in any direction except the correct one. Eventually he stumbled across a taxi rank and got himself back to the hotel. Now, why would this prevent him ? Well, the 3 mile walkabout made his legs ache badly and THAT kept him awake all night. This is not a good condition to start a long days motorcycling in and I am somewhat concerned. We put Peter at the back of the newbies bunch, immediately in front of Mark so that Mark can keep an eye on his riding progress.

We are booked on the 08.50 Chunnel and have to check in by 08.20 just 10 or so minutes away from the hotel. I lead them over there and we all clear check-in and passport control with no problems except that there is now a 30 minute delay before our train leaves. That’s a bit of a nuisance as we have about 260 miles to go in France, and their time zone is 1 hour ahead of us so we are losing good riding time. We ride round to our allotted loading lane and wait in line (Picture 1)

We get boarded – the guys have never taken a motorcycle on the Chunnel before so they follow my lead in positioning their bikes correctly. Basically you ride onto the train, and along several carriages until you reach the carriage allocated to you. Then you pull your bike across the carriage, diagonally to the left with the front wheel up against the kerb and the bike in first gear, on its side stand. There is no strapping down facility nor is one required – the journey is always smooth and takes about 35 minutes from ride-on to ride-off (Picture 2). You just walk about and chat with fellow bikers, take photos, sort your kit out, put your watch forward an hour if you want to (personally, on a weekend trip, I don’t bother, I just do the mental conversion) and before you know it, you are en France and riding off the train.

‘N'oubliez pas de conduire à droite’ is the first sign you see on entering France. Fortunately for my friends, it also says ‘Drive on the right’. This whole ‘driving on the right thing’ can be a bit of a problem for many UK drivers/riders whose brains don’t convert easily. I’m cool with it but the first French roundabout (rond-point) that a newbie encounters can fry his brain! All they actually have to do is follow me for a few miles. I will not pull out of a junction or enter a roundabout or overtake any vehicles unless and until I have established that there is enough time and space for the whole group to get through. Signs like ‘Vous n'avez pas la priorité’ though self-evident, take time to assimilate by the inexperienced.
As soon as we are off the Chunnel I head straight out to the quiet back roads to avoid all the UK tourist traffic and to get my group immediately into proper France. We have 100 miles to Cambrai for lunch and fuel with a coffee stop and sanity check halfway. I pull into a quiet parking area after 20 minutes or so to make sure the guys are all comfortable with the speed I’m setting and the route I’m taking then we are off again. Most of the roads are free of traffic, straight with crests and dips in them with the occasional series of swoopy bends to catch the unwary or wake up the sleepy. Nothing like a moment of terror to kick the adrenaline in!
I stop in Aix-Noulette where there is a nice little café-restaurant in the centre. I tell them that I don’t care who it is, but ONE of them is going to start up and administer the food and drink fund. I don’t know why but in England a group cash fund is known as the kitty. Neil got the job and we all hand over 20 euro a-piece. My other rule is that neither I nor Mark will get involved in ordering or paying for food and drink. This is a French experience and the guys need to find a way of communicating. They do surprisingly well and I am served a very good café au lait and a sweet biscuit as the result (Picture 3, 4 and 5).

We make Cambrai for lunch by 1.00 pm, passing many World War 1 Allied cemeteries on the way. On this trip we simply have not got time to stop and pay our respects but on the longer trips we do. There are British (Commonwealth) and American cemeteries everywhere, some very big, others with just a few fallen buried there. You guys will be pleased to know that they are ALL immaculately kept and are places for quiet reflection. What may not be known is that many of these cemeteries were laid out by the Germans during the years of occupation and fighting, and they buried the Allied dead, and their own, with respect, later formally handing over the cemeteries to the Allies and French for them to continue with the upkeep.
Attached Images
File Type: jpg Photo 07-09-2013 08 38 03.jpg (99.4 KB, 107 views)
File Type: jpg 2013-09-07 09.24.53.jpg (87.4 KB, 107 views)
File Type: jpg IMG_0529.jpg (126.4 KB, 105 views)
File Type: jpg 2013-09-07 12.57.22.jpg (132.8 KB, 108 views)
File Type: jpg OMC France 11.jpg (136.4 KB, 106 views)
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2014 Honda CTX1300 TCS/ABS

Last edited by DickPeake; September 11th, 2013 at 10:15 AM.
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Old September 10th, 2013   #6
echo
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Default Re: New to Europe 2013

Lets go on an echo trip!

Up at four am.

Stop for gas and bathroom whenever you feel like it.

Drink water at stops.

No eating during the day!

No stopping for signtseeing!

(take pictures while moving)

Ride until 2pm.

Get a motel. Get something to eat.

Repeat.
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Old September 10th, 2013   #7
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Default Re: New to Europe 2013

You've lost me Echo. I have no idea what you are saying nor can I see the relevance of your post to my ride report.
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Old September 10th, 2013   #8
echo
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Default Re: New to Europe 2013

I have always ridden by myself.

I was just struck by the contrast.
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Old September 10th, 2013   #9
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Default Re: New to Europe 2013

Dick, in America, we also call it the Kitty.
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Old September 10th, 2013   #10
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Default Re: New to Europe 2013

Great pics, enjoying the report.
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