Thursday, June 2, 2011

Nothing's ever simple

Long story. But where to begin...? Well, being a motorbike-mad geriatric who's increasingly aware of the limited time I have left for proper biking, I decided last February to sell my elderly BMW R100GS and buy the perfect motorcycle for my biking swansong. After much reading of magazine and internet reports, I eventually decided that the Honda VFR800i pre-Vtech model exactly fitted the bill. As luck would have it, I spotted a mint, low mileage, 2001 model on eBay which, although being UK registered, was originally imported from Europe and thus had a kilometre speedo and right-dipping headlight - perfect for France - so I bought it. Next, I visited my local insurance man and transferred the insurance from the BMW to the Honda. No problem, apart from a slight price hike and a three month time limit to get the bike French registered. Having read an in-depth 'how to register a UK bike in France' report on the internet, the three month time limit seemed perfectly adequate.

First stage in the registration process was to obtain a 'certificate of conformity' from Honda France. To do this I completed a lengthy questionnaire and provided various 'part' numbers of items such as engine, frame, indicator lenses, silencer, etc. - an exercise that demanded much grovelling around underneath the bike with a torch and strong specs. Sent off the form and duly waited for the arrival of the 'certificat de conformité' from Honda France. Internet reports indicated that the average waiting time would be around two months. No problem had I filled in the form as soon as I purchased the bike. This would have given me about a month to complete the easy-peasy final registering stage. But, typically, I was a bit slow off the mark in a) translating the questionnaire, and b) getting around to digging out all the required bike part numbers. So, time-wise, I knew I was up against it before my three month insurance period expired. No problem, thought I. If the certificate from Honda arrives after the insurance expires, I can simply stick the bike on the trailer and tow it to the local traffic inspector's yard for final (stage 2) approval. But what if Honda France refuse to issue a certificate of conformity because the bike wasn't sold new through one of their official UK dealers (it came into the UK through the 'back door' via Wheels International, a non-Honda dealer)? Then I'd have to get the bike back to the UK uninsured and sell it. Panic set in. What to do? How to solve the problem?

With just four days left before my three month insurance period expired and still no sign of the Honda certificate, I decided to ride the bike back to the UK, get it MoT'd (MoT had expired) and insured through a UK company, ride it back to France and continue to wait for the dreaded Honda certificate of conformity to arrive. Then, if they okayed the bike, I could go ahead and complete the registration process. And if they rejected it, I could legally ride it back to the UK, sell it, buy a French registered bike and avoid all this hassle. Ah, another thing..., forgot to mention that in France there's a power limit on imported pre-2002 motorcycles (why 2002? - dunno). That limit is 106bhp. Sod's law, the Honda produces 107bhp. Some county registration departments ignore this slight excess and allow the VFR800 to be registered while others play by the rules and say "sorry sunshine, can't allow it." Seems to be the luck of the draw who one gets at the registration desk. Another reason for my jitters.

So..., a week ago last Monday, I visited my insurance man, explained my plan and asked if my insurance was okay to ride to England. Told me it was fine but said that in four days' time the bike's registration number would automatically be listed with the French police as being an uninsured bike so if I was stopped on the return journey I'd have to prove that I had new UK insurance. To get this, he gave a no-claims bonus document written in French which appeared to confirm just two years (the time I've been bike insured in France) rather than the forty-odd that I've actually been riding. Maybe this is the French way. Didn't have time to question it and, anyway, the topic was far too complicated for discussion by a Frenchie who doesn't speak English and an Ecossais who doesn't parlez-vous Français. Left his office late afternoon, loaded up the dogs and delivered them to the kennels. Set off next day for Caen at around mid-day, caught the late night ferry and arrived at Portsmouth at dawn.

Quick p.s. to the last sentence... I'd only ridden the bike a couple of times prior to the Caen trip and both rides had been short and enjoyable. However, the ride to Caen was long (400 miles) and not so enjoyable. By the time I arrived at the ferryport, my wrists ached and I had cramp in both legs due to the forward-leaning riding position. Also, being smitten with a short, bullish neck, I'd found it difficult to look over my shoulder to execute the 'lifesaver' manouevre before overtaking. Loved the engine and performance but not so sure about the ergonomics. Rightly regarded as a sports tourer but, for me, the emphasis was on sports rather than touring. Or maybe I'm just getting old. What's with the 'maybe'?


First stop in England was my fave motorbike shop in Guildford where they MoT'd the bike. Actually, I fib. First stop was McDonald's in Petersfield where I grabbed a quick brekkie, having slept through breakfast on the boat. Next stop was one of many on the traffic-jam approach to Hindhead where I incorrectly thought the new tunnel underpass had been recently opened. Then Guildford. MoT certificate safely tucked away, I then headed for Georgie and Don's Putney flat where I planned to phone my old UK insurers and insure the bike.

Phoned up and immediately hit a problem. Because I haven't been insured in the UK for more than two years, my no-claims bonus has been wiped out. Yes, they could transfer my two years n.c.b. from France but only if it was written in English. Whaaat?!!! Rip-off or what! No way would Monsieur Petit provide an English translation of my insurance papers and no wonder insurance companies make so much money. Anyway, with little alternative I asked for a quote. £950. Pardon? £950..., but you can pay in monthly installments if you wish. Gee thanks. I'll give it some thought. Thought about it and devised a plan. Plan B. And C. And maybe D.

Rode the bike back to my Guildford shop, explained the situation and asked if they'd stick it in their showroom with a big 'for sale' sign. Then caught the train back to Putney. Now, how to get back to France? Option 1 - book a flight to Limoges, catch a bus to my local town of Felletin then buy a French registered bike (trouble is they're pricey and usually high mileages). Option 2 - buy a 'sensible' UK registered bike (maybe a Honda Transalp) that would be way cheaper to insure than the VFR, ride it back and then get it French registered. All highly unsatisfactory but desperate times call for desperate measures.

Made myself a coffee and delved into the Motor Cycle News small ads. Nothing much there. Then tried eBay. Found an interesting 950 KTM Adventure with low miles for just £4000. Phoned up and asked a few questions. Fitted the bill but was slightly put off by a BMW biker I'd briefly chatted to in Felletin saying the saddle wasn't too comfy on long trips. So I kept searching. Maybe something will suddenly turn up. I have an overworked guardian angel who regularly gets me out of messes. And sure enough, bingo! Up popped a 1989 BMW R100GS (same as my previous bike which I always regretted selling) with just six thousand miles being auctioned by a BMW dealer in Dorchester. Rang 'em up and asked what the bidding reserve was. £4500, but they were hoping for more (these bikes are on the 'up').

Next day, with bidding stuck on £4000 and just ten minutes to go, I sat poised at the laptop ready to sling in a bid at the last minute. With ten seconds to go, I put in my bid. Didn't register for some reason. Panic! Checked the bidding. Bidding closed. Reserve figure not reached. Rang the dealership immediately. Said I'd bid but nothing happened. Burst into tears and the very nice salesman said I could have it if I paid a deposit there and then. Did so, then asked if I could pick it up the following day (Saturday). No problem, see you tomorrow (BMW insurance provided for just £250 with five day free introductory offer and 90 days European travel, perfect for getting back to France and getting the bike French registered - BMW are far more helpful than Honda in that respect - and this model only produces a measly 60bhp, well within this daft 106bhp limit). Caught the train down there and rode the bike back to Putney in time to watch the Barcelona-ManU final. Next day, caught the night ferry to Caen, rode home, got changed, picked up the dogs, had supper round at Isabelle and Christian's and went to bed with non-achy wrists and non-crampy legs. Now all I have to do is get the bike French registered. Here we go again. Only this time I have six months - three with BMW insurance then another three when I sign up with Monsieur Petit. Should be time enough.