Monday, July 30, 2012


This is the season of long evenings and long drinks with neighbours and their chums. Having survived quite a few liver-bashing sessions recently, I was a tad apprehensive when Jean-Marc and Elizabeth rang up yesterday to invite me to a Sunday lunchtime barbie with friends and family. Cadged a lift there with Isabelle and Christian but, somewhat confusingly, we drove straight past Jean-Marc's house and eventually stopped at a clearing about a mile up the road.

I've driven past this clearing quite often recently (it's on our route to Limoges airport) and know it to be where Jean-Marc had plans to build a lake - presumably a little one for fishing. Never been much to look at, just fleeting glimpses of felled trees and dug out rocks. However, as the three of us parked up, I was amazed to see water where there had previously been earth. And a most impressive sight it was too.

Joined the gang of about twenty (24 including dogs) at a couple of shady tables in a distant corner of the lake and began a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon of noshing, nattering, boozing, boating, swimming (in knickers - I hadn't been briefed!) and generarally having a rather jolly time. Didn't really understand most of the nattering (I rarely do!) but was quite surprised to discover that Elizabeth's sister was married to Jean-Marc's brother. Two sisters married to two brothers!

At around 5ish, I was half-expecting everyone to start packing up and preparing to hit the homeward trail, but, in typically French fashion, more grub and booze suddenly appeared. Lunchtime was long gone and, as the evening shadows started lengthening and sweaters were donned, suppertime had begun. More sizzling sausages, more barbied meaty bits wrapped in foil, more rice and veg, more of everything, only this time with cakes and puds. Still beats me how these Frenchies manage to eat so much. And drink so much! By this time I'd given in and hit the beers and water. Christian too. But, there again, he was driving.

Eventually packed up at about 8ish and began loading Jean-Marc's lorry with chairs, tables, bottles, unfinished grub and the big, portable, gas-fired barbie. Hopped into Christian's 4x4, drove down to Jean-Marc's, helped unload the stuff, thanked them for a wonderful afternoon, hopped back into the 4x4 and arrived back home at about 9ish feeling very full and clutching damp knickers.

Rang up Georgie who said it had been raining back in Blighty. But, on a brighter note, a GB cyclist had won the silver medal in the women's olympic cycle race. Well done! And Georgie had apparently stood in the pouring rain while watching them whizz past the bottom of her Putney road en-route to the finishing line in The Mall. Made me feel a bit guilty about having sunburn.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Picking up the Honda

After communicating with the Honda seller by emails and a couple of phone calls, and after the money was transferred, all that remained to do was to get insured and then nip down to the Ardeche region to pick up the bike. Vendor reckoned the trip back would take about five or six hours, and I reckoned to get down there by train would take about the same. So, I should be able to get there and back in a day if I left early. Dogs wouldn't like being housebound for a day but they'd survive.

Arranged with the vendor to turn up last Thursday. Got insured on the Monday then popped into the travel ticket office in Aubusson. Oops! Discovered that the journey would take about eight hours and the departure time was around 1pm. So..., had to book the mutts into the kennels the following day (Tuesday) and pick them up on the Friday. Booked travel ticket for the Wednesday (40 euros - reduced rate for us old gits) and a hotel for Wednesday night at Montélimar (50 euros including breakfast - cheap and cheerful). Vendor kindly agreed to pick me up from the hotel on the Thursday morning (he lived about 20 miles away). After doing the paperwork I should hit the homeward trail around mid-day and arrive home at about 6pm. Seemed fairly straight-forward. Never is though.

Coach left Felletin at 1.10pm (was scheduled to leave at 1.15 - must remember to always get there early!) and arrived at Gueret station about an hour later. Train to Lyon was scheduled to arrive at 2.20. Eventually turned up 25 minutes late. Arrived at Lyon station at around 6.30ish. Lyon to Marseille train left at 7ish so I only had half an hour to kill instead of the scheduled hour. Bit weird being in the hustle and bustle of a city station at rush hour, especially when you're a hick from the backwoods who's dressed like a tramp and carrying a bunch of motorcycle gear in a giant-sized laundry-type bag from Ikea. Had a couple of espressos and my second home-made baguette (had knocked them up earlier that day - ham, cheese and tomato - saved a few bob). Train left bang on time and headed south down the Rhone valley. All very industrial with fleeting glimpses of the mighty river Rhone. Arrived at Montélimar at 8.51 as scheduled. Warm wind. Took off my socks (socks with sandals - a fashion no-no). Stood alone in the taxi rank waiting for a cab. Place was suddenly deserted - could have been my sweaty feet. Mercifully, a cab turned up after about half an hour's wait. Arrived at the hotel at about 9.40. Desk and door had shut at 9. Gained entry by tapping a code into some hi-tech buttony thingy. Entered my room at about 9.50. No hotel bar. No people. Nothing. All very odd. Hit the sack.

Next morning arrived hot and sunny. A good day for a bike ride. Had brekkie and the vendor arrived at 9.50am. Nice bloke, about 55ish, obviously quite well off, drove a new 3 litre VW Tuareg with all the gizmos. Did my best to engage in idle chit-chat about bikes, the economy and life in the Ardeche region as we headed for his home at Vallon-Pont-d'Arc following the Ardeche river with its happy holidaymakers paddling canoes. Arrived at his house (modern, electric gates, swimming pool, very impressive - interesting to see how the other half live!), did the paperwork and finally hit the road at about 11.30 aboard my new steed. Whoopee!

There were two routes back: the main road way (north to Clermont Ferrand and then left to Aubusson) or the cross-country route (north-west to Ussel along zig-zaggy back roads). Vendor suggested the cross-country route would be far more rewarding so I decided to go that way. Scribbled a quick list of route towns on a scrap of paper and attempted to picture a map in my head. Worked fine 'til I hit the minor roads. Had to keep stopping and checking the map. The trouble with back roads is that maps don't always mark them clearly. Helps if you have a stack of local maps so you can see exactly which road to take. But I had just one, which was fine for motorways and main roads and stuff, but useless for tiny country lanes. So I got lost. Not once, but quite a few times. Suddenly realised it was about 4pm and I was way behind schedule. And..., I was halfway up some mountain range on a road that was full off hairpin bends with Tour de France riders' names painted in gaudy colours on the gravelly tarmac. On the plus side, I was riding a motorcycle on one of the world's greatest biking roads. On the minus side, I was lost, fast running out of time, bereft of road sign info, and facing the prospect of spending the night in a countryside hotel - if I could find one before nightfall. Then, as is often the case, I luckily hit the right road, crested the top of Puy Mary (Google it -it's fab), descended and picked up the road to Bort-les-Orgues which eventually led to Ussel and home. Arrived there at 8.10pm.

Unfortunately, I only took a couple of snaps of the journey through the magnificent scenery of the 'Volcans d'Auvergne', and these were before I started getting lost and running out of time. Had I not got lost and had more time, I would have spent hours merrily snapping away. Shall have to go back there another day. Anyways, I've nicked a photo from the internet to show the kind of scenery I've been rabbiting on about. Admit it, it's impressive, huh?

Great trip. Great bike.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Honda CB1300S

As mentioned in a previous posting, I recently rode my UK registered BMW R100GS motorcycle over to Blighty in order to renew its MoT. Makes sense to get it French registered but I've been put off by reading various horror stories on the internet by people who've had bad experiences of the import process. Seems that even though European legislation may dictate one thing, French bureaucrats often dictate another, thus causing confusion, frustration and anger among a large proportion of Brits who've attempted to import and register a UK vehicle. Quite a few have just given up and taken the easy way out by selling their vehicle back in the UK and then buying a French registered bike or car. Others have persevered and swapped headlights for right-dippers and, where necessary (with bikes), detuned engines so they produce less than 107bhp, only to be 'failed' on some other bit of red tape or minor inconsistency in the paperwork. Then there's the problem of insurance - my bike's insured in England, but as it's permanently out here in France, that insurance is probably invalid, illegal even, so I've been keeping quiet about it. Anyway, it all sounds a bit of a nightmare. Hence my reluctance to get it French registered. So, with great regret, I put the bike up for sale on UK eBay. Agreed a deal with an buyer who flew out to Limoges airport last Saturday to pick up the bike and ride it back to Blighty.

The day before he arrived, I filled up with petrol ready for an early start, hitched the trailer onto the car (the Citroen - the Merc doesn't have a towbar), loaded the bike onto the trailer (single-handedly, big effort) and then made sure the paperwork was all tickety-boo. Hit the road Saturday morning at 6.30. Only I didn't. Battery was flat as a pancake. Panicked. Nobody was around to give me a push start. Then remembered I had a portable jump lead battery thingy, but it wasn't charged up so it probably wouldn't work. Luckily (er, extremely luckily), it worked and the engine started. Then banged my head on a sharp corner of the bonnet. Kicked the car. Set off.

Arrived at the airport at 9am, half an hour before the plane was due. Headed for the airport caff. Discovered the plane was delayed by half an hour. No probs, another coffee. Plane landed and then spent ten minutes (or more) in arrivals looking for a biker in motorcycle gear. Didn't see one. Returned to the caff in case he was there. Bloke wearing ordinary gear recognised me and introduced himself (his biking gear was in a big bag). Went out to the car and trailer (parked up by the roundabout outside the airport - didn't want to risk the bike getting smashed by the car park barrier arm coming down after the car had driven through), unloaded the bike, did the paperwork and that was it. Done. Then the chap whizzed off towards the ferry port and Blighty. However..., perhaps due to jet lag, over excitement, lack of concentration, whatever..., he whizzed off in the left-hand lane and circled the roundabout in a clockwise direction, having completely forgotten to drive on the right. Luckily (extremely luckily!), he didn't meet any traffic head-on. Could have been the shortest length of motorcycle ownership ever recorded. Emailed him the following morning to check he'd got back okay. Quite relieved to hear that he had and that he was very pleased with the bike. Phew!

Now began my search for a French registered bike. Actually, it didn't - I'd been thinking about what bike to get for ages. Trouble is, as is often the case, one starts off with a set budget (in my case about £5000 or €6000) and ends up looking at bikes that cost a whole load more. However, with sanity regained, my shortlist comprised the KTM 950 Adventure (the newer 990 isn't as good - it's fuel injected and 'jerky' according to reports), the BMW R1150GS (bit heavy), the Honda VFR800i (highly revered sports tourer - had one recently but found it a bit cramped), the Honda Africa Twin (again, had one recently, bit slow and a bit tall and its saddle was uncomfy, especially 'two up'), the Yamaha GTS1000 (found a low mileage one - 8000 kms - fairly locally) and the highly regarded KTM SMT (bit out of my price range though).

Then I thought, this is silly; better to buy a cheap Honda Transalp 600 for around €2000 and save some money. But then I argued (with myself) that, as this could be my last opportunity to buy a decent bike (after all, I'm knocking on a bit now), better to go for something you really want. Right, bugger the Transalp. So now it was a toss up between the KTM 950 (€6500, 17000kms) and the Africa Twin (€4600, 21000kms). But..., on the negative side, both are tall, uncomfy for a pillion (this consideration is becoming more important as I spare a thought for Georgie) and are 'trail' oriented - i.e. capable of off-roading. How often do I need a bike for off-roading? Answer: never, ...well, hardly ever.

So..., I then set a new brief: road tourer, comfy riding position and good for a pillion, loads of mid-range power, preferably low mileage with a top price of €6000. Spent all last week-end (well, most of it) consulting my memory banks (in decline, admittedly, but there's still a bit of info there), trawling through internet reports and flicking through various old bike mags. Came to the conclusion that only one bike fitted the bill: Honda's CB1300S. Then, as luck would have it, spotted one for sale on the French Leboncoin site (an excellent site for buying and selling all sorts of stuff - out here it's far more popular than eBay): a 2005 model, one owner, 4450kms (2765 miles), €6000 (£4839). Just the job. Have contacted the seller and hope to collect the bike next week.