The ‘short’ Long Way Round

Since I’m struggling for time to write new blog material, I thought I’d trawl our old website archives and post an article or two over the next few weeks. Some might be mine, others are written by customers based on their experiences.
This is the account of a short motorbike trip down to Spain quite a few years ago…
“A few months ago
I watched a DVD on the epic motorbike travels of film stars Ewan
McGregor
and Charley Boorman. Turns out these two are not only
more than handy on two wheels but also a couple of ‘right on’ blokes who
wouldn’t look out of place in any pool room of any pub and be damn fine company
into the bargain! They also found time on the trip to do some useful work for
UNICEF and have probably doubled the sales of BMW off-road motorbikes!
   

The route
I immediately started pining for far off places and sunnier climes
and contacted faithful old buddy and sports fiend (yes fiend, NOT
friend!)
Spiny to see if he was up for a week of
biking round France and Spain in May with the Pyrenean mountain region as a
focal point (not having free the three months necessary to cross Europe,
Asia and America!!!)
. Naturally he said yes (girlfriend permitting) so
vague plans were hatched included hacking in our two sports bikes (no more
track days…)
for a couple of big sit up and beg beasties in the form of a
Kawasaki Z750 for Spiny and a muscle bound Yamaha XJR1300 for me.
We figured we would camp unless the weather got the better of us
and took a North Face Roadrunner 22 tent which was to pass every test we gave it
with flying colours.
Last requirement was for a GPS that could be used on the bike and
then for general outdoor use on our return – a Magellan Meridian Colour with
enough memory to get every street in Western Europe in it proved just the
ticket…
Drying soggy kit

I finished work at the shop on Saturday evening and by 10pm
we were caning it down the motorway in the freezing cold to Folkestone for a
cheap Tunnel crossing. When we were spat out on the other side at 5:30am the
weather was looking a little moody and after a kip in a car park it started
raining. Our aim for the day was to get to the Loire Valley and after 6 or 7
rain lashed hours in the saddle we arrived in Anger (South of Le Mans)
to find that our waterproof pannier covers had exploded in the 80mph+ airflow
and all our kit was completely sodden! ‘Cos our sleeping bags were now double
their normal weight with water we suddenly felt a hotel calling and an hour
later we were ensconced in an Ibis with every free area of the minute room
littered with wet kit and the hotel hair dryer futilely shoved into soggy boots
and leathers…

The following day dawned bright and sunny (thank God!)
and we headed down to the mouth of the Loire to chill out in the coffee bars of
Nantes for an hour before hooning down on ramrod straight roads to La Rochelle
and then the mouth of the River Gironde which we crossed on a ferry before
finding a camp site on a sand dune facing the Atlantic. Cheese, pate de foie
gras and red wine, – see, even us scruffy bikers can do certain things in style
– then a roughish nights kip in still slightly damp sleeping bags…
Roadrunner 22
Woke to early morning sun beating down –
this was what we’d travelled out for! We established a pattern of avoiding
motorways where possible and using Route Nationales and Departmental roads
(N and D routes) so as to see as much of French life as possible and
ride loads of bends. Unfortunately on the West coast the French road builders
have been too flipping efficient and there are hardly any twisty bits! Still, we
kept our average speed high and after a stop at the world famous 100 metre high
Dune de Pyla we made Biarritz in the early evening and downed a beer on the
legendary surf beach. Decided we weren’t rich or beautiful enough to stay in
Biarritz so we headed West and through the border to Spain where we climbed into
the mountains and a fabulous deserted camp site.
Dawn brought more blue sky and saw us dicing dangerously with the
fast, heavy lorries on the pass to Pamplona where each year people still run in
the streets with fighting bulls. I reckon running with the bulls is the easy
part of the life there – survive an hour in the city centre traffic and bulls
won’t present much of a problem! We used the GPS to good effect to get us the
hell out of that crazy city and into the mountains proper where at last we
tasted what we’d come for – bends, bends and MORE bends…
On the Col de Tormalet
The roads on the Spanish side
of the Pyrenees were mainly better surfaced than their French counterparts and
nearly deserted of traffic. We whooped and yelled as we pitched the bikes into
them getting later and later on the brakes and exploring the limits of tyre grip
until a sharp rasping noise from under my Yam told me I’d run out of ground
clearance. Time to settle down and enjoy the seemingly endless roller coaster
ride where the bike is rarely upright more than a few seconds before peeling
over again and feeling that sublime combination of G-force, speed and grip that
is common to so many of the precision sports we love.
Heading higher into the magnificent Pyrenees, we encountered pass
after pass made famous by the Tour de France and other iconic cycle races.
Bicycles often outnumber the cars here as wanabee Lance Armstrong’s pit their
muscle against the mountain. We surmounted the Col de Tormalet at about 2100
metres the easy way – with an engine for power before heading back into France
to camp by a paragliding landing field in a quiet valley.
Mountain roads
Second full day in the Pyrenees saw
more twisting and turning action than could possibly come anyone’s way in
Britain and then we met our particular ‘Road of Bones’ (see Ewan and
Charley’s book or DVD)
in the form of a mountain pass that we rode despite
it being firmly ‘barree’d’ (closed to traffic). Back in Spain and
almost asphyxiated in a tunnel which must have been at least 6km in length we
found a road towards Barcelona that was the best yet for bend thrills and where
the scenery changed from Alpine to something resembling Arizona in just a short
distance. And if this wasn’t enough, the best was still to come…
Spectacular scenery
Deciding to cut back towards France via Andorra we stumbled across
what we merely called ‘Le Road’. I never have and probably never will
ride such perfect bends again in such relaxed style (well, you only have my
word for that!)
and with such little traffic. We were going to photograph
ourselves horsing round a mega-bend but thought better of it as undoubtably one
of us would have fallen off! In climbing terms this was our Crag X and to be
kept secret upon pain of death! (Bribery with MONEY may work though…)
Of interest is the accuracy of the GPS unit which actually shows in detail each
bend as its coming up – you’re not running blind into hairpins and I’m convinced
this had a beneficial effect on our riding. It’s like the ‘mobile phone in
the great outdoors’
debate – don’t rely on it totally but use it if it’s
there and while it works…
Chilly at 2408 metres
Don’t ever ride through Andorra la Vella – it’s gridlock city and
looks like that rough-house town in the first Star Wars film where they went to
buy spare space craft parts! The open countryside beyond is rugged and
picturesque as you run up to the ski resorts Soldeu and Pas de la Casa but as we
crested the the last pass at a chilly 2400 metres my oil light stuck firmly on –
a legacy of the punishment the poor engine had received over the last five days.
We coasted down towards the warmth of the
valleys and Ax le Therm where we pitched the tent and went for a beer and a
pizza in town to celebrate the excellence of the days riding and what we thought
was the end of the bends…
After filling the sump of the Yam with some outrageously priced
oil, we had the seemingly tedious duty of riding the entire length of France in
2 days but the road out of Ax was pure mountain pass and sweet as honey! We
arrived in fabulous Carcassone and despite me having worked 60 miles away on the
coast for two years this was my first visit! Try the vieux
(old) town by the castle if you’re passing through and a nice little
Bistro/Bar on the Rue Trivalle where we couldn’t have had better service. Can’t
remember the name but there was a boar logo on the sign outside and several
pieces of interesting artwork inside.
Cooking chilli in hotel
More awesome roads now to get us well
into the Massif Central and a sudden shock when I slid sideways about three feet
at well over 80mph on a damp road surface – time to slow down and rethink the
route as there’s a monster storm ahead… It’s getting late and looks like being
a 12+ hour in the saddle day if we’re going to get to our goal of Clermont
Ferrand for the night. We roll into Clermont in the dark, wet through again with
my bike running on fumes only and spy a cheap, nice but shite self service hotel
with rooms for fifteen quid! It’s way past time to get any food outside so I
play chef with the MSR Pocket Rocket stove and Wayfayrer’s finest chilli con carne packet food which made the hotel room smell…er…interesting! Sorry
fellow guests…!!
Si’s XJR1300SP
Saturday dawns with us far from the
English Channel and a big distance to ride on unexciting roads – we just get our
heads and bikes into gear and get on with it. Spurning the motorways again until
we’re within sniffing distance of Calais and then we just want to get there so
willingly pay the toll. Zap up to 100+ and we’re checking onto the Channel
Tunnel in no time with necks bulging like bulls from the bombardment of the
headwind. We compare notes with three other British lads on bikes and are
advised by the train guard that our bikes may fall over if we don’t support
them! How’s that for inspiring confidence?
Spiny’s Z750
Roll off at Dover with 5 hours night
riding facing us so I take the easier option and head for my parents house near
Kings Lynn where they are waiting for me at two o’clock in the morning with hot
food! Oh the joy of having kids roll up on your doorstep at all hours – this
kid’s still doing it aged 41!!! Cheers Mam and Dad…
Another awesome trip completed and an interesting way to test some
shop stocked camping gear and travel equipment. The GPS was invaluable and most
of the serious bikers we met on route seemed to have one so I didn’t feel too
much of a gear freak.
For people who like statistics we were away 7 days, rode 2,704
miles, filled up with petrol around 20 times and rode 30,000 bends (this last
figure is completely fictitious but it felt like it). The bikes performed
flawlessly except for mine being a little thirsty for oil and petrol – oh yeah
and a couple of bits of (hopefully) unimportant plastic fell off both
of them.
Finally, cheers to Spiny who despite snoring like a git for 7
nights was damn fine company as always…”
Si Taylor – June 2005
Dedicated to Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman for inspiring

us to see a few places – one day we’ll try going a lot further…