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Gay Hairdresser

Joined: 20 Jun 2002
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PostPosted: 06:01 - 20 Sep 2006    Post subject: Spanish Escapades Reply with quote

Motorcycle tours can take many forms, may it be sports, cruising, a wet weekend in Wales or cruising Route 66. The only constants will be the two wheels and where next to point them.

Having seen much of Central Europe last year it was out of the question unless encompassed in a longer tour, of which funds would be unavailable for. Nath's excellent report and solo adventure in Spain last year along with other recommendations convinced us it should be the principle destination. With Portugal alongside it'd be rude not to have a look in also. I'd been to both countries before on family holidays, but as anyone who has travelled is well aware, the 'real country' set away from the tourists is often far removed from that seen and experienced within resorts. Not to say resorts are all bad, there are some great little towns with good entertainment around so we would visit a few.

In my opinion a lot of tourers miss out by not visiting the major cities enroute. While the traffic and navigation can be a real nightmare they are often provide the highlights of a trip and contrast beautifully against the rural outback. With this in mind we were definitely going to hit Madrid and possibly Barcelona, time dependant. With a three week window a very loose and flexible route was decided upon, taking us on a wide loop of Spain via the West Cape in Portugal. A one way ferry to Northern Spain was booked well in advance with the plan of riding back through France.

Test Pilots

We had set out to do this one with more riders than normal alongside the usual core of Mike and myself, however because of various genuine reasons holding them back it eventually whittled down back to just us two. Gaz suffered the misfortune of a filtering accident a couple months before he went. Whilst his broken bones would be healed in time, the major and part unseen damage suffered by his Bandit in the relatively slow speed accident would eventually be telling. He made every effort but tied up in insurance bureaucratic hell eventually had to resign just days before we were due to go.

As usual around this sort of time I told myself I was going to learn some of the local language to help us out in the rural areas. I picked up a couple weekend Daily Mail editions for the free Linguaphone Spanish cd's, got a book from Smiths and generally felt quite confident I would have the tools to deal with any conversational situation. They then rested in a temporary place on my shelf for the next seven weeks while I finished my final year university project, the heat wave arrived and I rediscovered mountain bikes. Predictably the total output of a should-been six weeks of learning was the ability to count to ten, and cd's never got a look in until 36 hours before departure. At least small petrol stations should not pose a problem then.

Weapons of Choice

Now approaching something of a routine, the early summer months were spent prepping the VFR for it's third European outing. At over 50,000 miles the rear shock had been exhibiting serious signs of wear in the form of very little compression damping. It had been enough to pass the MOT however the increased load of three weeks worth of touring and camping gear was sure to progress from an annoyance into a liability. Luckily there was just such a low mileage shock needed lying spare in my garage, and kindly donated by my Dad was soon installed onto the bike. The difference in handling was shocking (bad pun), previously the rear end had a tendency to wander mid-corner but now it was holding a much tighter line with a lot less effort. With some more spare front brake disks donated off of a VFR750 the machine felt in better stead than the first time I'd ridden it three years ago.

A slight cause for concern was the bike’s recent tendency for hot running. During the recent spell of hot weather the VFR was heating up faster than I’d like at slow speeds. The small V4’s all run fairly hot due to the engine layout and how all the components are tightly squeezed in, however it was higher than normal. I’d spent some time hosing the radiator through as much as possible without removal – it had improved matters a little but the issue was still there. Could it cope with Spanish temperatures? I would be soon to find out.

Donning some cheap mid-nineties 3D glasses, squinting and looking across the opposite end of the spectrum, Mike's GPZ500 situation was not as rosy. Bought with the intention of comfortable touring on the cheap and being able to beat the VFR's mpg, ownership had not had the best start. Bought off ebay, Mike's feedback had it been honest would have read "Nice bike, Good Price, Great Seller - Shame it fell off the back of my trailer on the M4". Seeing it wobbling in his rear view mirror he had almost managed to pull off the motorway when it fell off the side onto the hard shoulder at slow-ish speed. Damage was top fairing cosmetics, a broken belly pan and reduced tank capacity. Disappointing, but as looks aren't high on the average 500 twin owner's priority list the situation was faceable. More worrying was the GPZ's apparent lack of power.

Whilst a respectable 120mph should've easily been in reach it was struggling to pull past a tonne, the bike was soon dispatched to Keith's for diagnosis. Being a parallel import restriction was high on the list of suspected causes, the visit to Keith's confirmed it was probably a German import castrated to a meagre 27bhp. Cams, CDI and carb plates being the likely causes the top end was soon stripped to find the cams were ok. Fortunately Craig had a spare UK CDI and dropped it off at Keith’s to try out, but it wasn't that either. Leaving just the crabs left, it turned out to be some 33bhp style blanking plates in place. Mike immediately began using it for his three-times weekly 100 mile commute, of which it did reliably, however soon became apparent was progressively burning more oil as time went on. On a camping trip to West Wales the GPZ revealed another weakness, a rusty fuel tank resulting in sediment in the carburettor float bowls was causing blockages and petrol leaks. When the trusty Kawasaki wasn't pissing petrol all over the floor it was running on one cylinder; it hadn't fared well in it's preliminary trip test. Strangely enough these problems disappeared during the 100 mile commute and the bike racked up several thousand miles reliably before the trip.

What did I forget?

The bike finally packed, the phone’s GPS mapping software thrown in the bin (3 hours before leaving not a good time to find XP SP2 compatibility problems) I left the house just gone 4am. The Portsmouth ferry wasn’t leaving until midday but with the combination of a suspect Kawasaki, 300 miles to do and a £150 ferry ticket we erred on the safe side. With a long list of things to pack the chances of forgetting something vital were high. In the end it was my sandwiches for the ferry that got the short straw.

Soon I was over their loss and with a smooth journey down we were aboard with minimum fuss. The VFR also got one over the GPZ by using less fuel on the motorway, ha! The difference was only a few pence but the psychological damage to one of the ageing twin’s only redeeming factors was telling; it sulked and leaked engine oil from it’s scottoiler.

AT Ferries tie-down techniques were not as impressive as their cheap fares however. With no tie-down points on the deck and just a rail to rope the machines to, both us and the other ZX6r waited for the crew members to sort it. All using our soft panniers as a cushion on the railings the bikes were fairly secure, however had I left the deck hand to his own devices I would have returned to a snapped off/shattered piece of lower fairing. The muppet was tightening a ratchet under full load of the bikes weight on a small section of fibreglass belly pan before I shouted at him.

Soon Britain was left trailing in our wake and attention was turned to the crisp outside views and boat facilities. Fully expecting to be bent over, biting the pillow on food and drinks prices I was pleasantly surprised to get a bill for 2.20 euros for two beers in the ship’s bars. Meals were a little less reasonable though sandwiches and baguettes were still fairly ok value. The ship’s swimming pool was something of a joke however, better described as a kids paddling pool. Evening entertainment consisted of cringe worthy karaoke and Spanish dancing.

The next day was spent attending a mock fire drill where no crew seemed to know what they were doing, lazing about outside reading in the rapidly increasing heat, and just about remembering in time to stop taking advantage of those 1€ beers for the arrival time of 5pm.

First Kilometres

Immediately struck by the heat as we filtered off the ferry, the leather jacket was hastily bungeed onto the panniers ‘temporarily’ while we cleared Bilbao traffic. In fact it was due to stay there until we reached San Sebastien and later much of the way South. The road East to San Sebastien was a revolving pic n’ mix of 1st, 2nd and 3rd gear corners, each blessed with a billiard table smooth black surface. Doing my best not to corner too hard whilst wearing a t-shirt it was all too easy getting sucked in, especially with some local lunatic in a 4x4 chasing us down, using every last bit of road. This was especially so with the VFR’s hot running issues rearing it’s head if we had to pass slowly through village traffic. Out on the open road the combination of relatively high engine running speeds to low actual speed and plus 30 degree ambient temperature was not helping matters either. A keen pace had to be kept.

As the light started to fade we began looking for somewhere to rest our heads. Initially we looked at a campsite enroute about 20 miles East of San Sebastien, then decided it was a bit far away for our liking and carried on further, hoping to get a room in one of the many ‘pensions’ in the city, all listed on a street map within the Lonely Planet (LP) Spain guidebook kindly loaned to us by Nath. As we entered the city in the rapidly disappearing light it soon became apparent Mike didn’t have a clue what or where he was going so after a quick guidebook consultation I took lead and eventually got us to the main pension area.

I should mention a pension is a Spanish one star hostel room – very basic, very cheap and often a great location. Unfortunately they aren’t the easiest things to find in the dark, after spending some time riding the bikes just about legally through the busy pedestrianised areas we pulled into a quiet square to take stock of the situation. As Mike wasn’t wearing leather jeans he was dispatched to have a quick look around while I read the book and maps. He came across two pensions, both full, so we left the city centre in search of a cheapish hotel on the outskirts.

All the hotels were either ridiculously sell-your-dog expensive or full, it was starting to look rather ominous and frustrations began to rise. In a rare spate of luck we came across the campsite mentioned in the LP, only to find a ‘full’ sign hanging off the gate. After parking up and starting to contemplate camping rough, Mike went over to the campsite office to ask if they were any other sites near. Turned out they weren’t actually full at all Rolling Eyes. Soon we were pitched up with pasta on the go, cooking powered by our posh new Coleman petrol stoves (as recommended by BCF).

There was a surprisingly strong American backpacker presence onsite, a pattern that would follow over much of Spain. Perhaps due to the relatively high proportion of Spanish speakers in the states, a fair amount appear to spend their summers here.

Next morning was spent doing some washing, and with Mike still in bed by midday I took the campsite bus service into the city centre. On the way in, armed with the phrasebook I attempted to strike up a conversation with the bloke who’d sat next to me. Amusingly he didn’t speak any Spanish, English or French, although we did manage to understand the best place to go for a beer and had a good laugh. As I got off the coach and saw his wife dressed in the black/navy/white striped top cliché I realised he was Italian, doh!

After having a good look around the fort, and being reminded this was the home of the Basque separatist group ETA by the occasional grafiteed slogan, advantage was taken of the cities’ legendary tapas bars. Known throughout Spain, but most common in the Northern Basque area, the bar is lined with plates full of snacks which tend to be seafood themed and served on French-style bread. You simply wrestle your way to the front, order a drink then eat whatever you like standing up. Then settle up when you are finished. The tapas I had were extremely tasty, though quite salty and probably not good if you don’t like seafood. While good as a snack they don’t really fill the gap, if you needed a decent meal it would be more economical going to a restaurant.

That evening we decided to sample the Basque nightlife, and after riding and visiting some of the more ‘local’ bars found ourselves in a lively bar full of backpacker-style tourists. With the bar serving huge cocktails in 0.75l Pepsi cups the crowd was well lubricated, after chatting with some Americans, French and (I think) some Latvian guy mad on Liverpool FC (I never thought collecting Premier League 95’ stickers would ever come in useful) I found Mike in another bar surrounded by South Walians from Newport. Memories become very hazy at this point, after some other place we left and post-chill out took the GPZ back to the campsite with me riding pillion. The bloke guarding the gate claimed he had no keys for it, bollocks he didn’t, unperturbed we wedged the GPZ through the pedestrian gate only to get it stuck on some sort of step/plant pot, eventually we lifted it over only to drop the bike onto some sort of plastic traffic calming obstruction – oops! The GPZ took it well though, with only a lightly bent rear brake and slightly scuffed crankcase to show for it. Campsite security took a dim view of me yelling ‘weeeee’ with my arms in the air as we descended the big hill, swiftly coming over to give us a noise bollocking Laughing. Woke up the next morning at an embarrassing 11.30am with surprisingly sore feet to see the Americans pitched next to us getting chucked off the site, one protesting “It wasn’t us!” Shifty. I reckon they must have done something though, we were hardly inconspicuous as the bikers. Later I realised my sore feet were from waking up in the early hours needing the toilet and running 100 metres bare foot over gravel to get there.

Target Madrid

Still hung-over the bikes were loaded double-quick, lids donned and twistiest route heading South selected from the map hit. A little worried as reserve was near I pondered whether Spain’s rural petrol station situation would be like France. I need not have bothered, as we found out during the next two weeks Spain has an abundance of petrol stations – all attendant service and much cheaper than the UK. Calculated as around 68p a litre we could afford to be a little more throttle heavy than usual. As the afternoon wore on and the heat increased notably in towns sun cream had to be applied regularly. The main heat of the day seemed to be from around 2.30 to 5pm, in future we’d try to hole up in a bar around now but with a 12.30pm departure we couldn’t afford it today.

As we started travelling down a road wedged into a gorge I pondered getting my jacket on, but it was just too hot. The road itself was sublime, full of perfect open 3rd and 2nd gear corners, I was fairly content following the local Audi saloon in front that seemed to know exactly what he was doing. Later on we hit some delicious first gear uphill hairpins, my favourite. I wasn’t going for it too much but still managed to scuff my leathers once – not wearing the jacket part of my two-piece had caused the sliders to drop too far down my leg, doh.

Arriving at our ‘pick a random place from the map’ destination Soria there was disappointment as instead of the thriving leisure/tourism-centred town we were expecting it turned out didn’t have one campsite in the vicinity! Having passed some on the way there we set out from town in a South Westerly direction hoping to luck upon one. Some 20k later it was once more looking rather ominous. After stopping for a drink I whipped out the phrasebook, summoned the courage and gave the garage owner my best “Donde esta la terreno de camping?” .

Some hand signals later, we took an immediate right turning down an unclassified road and rode 12k to find a huge campsite up in the hills. Friendly, forthcoming and appreciative of my shit Spanish - fair play to the guy, we would not have found the place without him. Turning up at around the same time were a group of German bikers riding customised Harleys, of which one had a massive 240 section rear tyre. I’m not sure which was more impressive – the tyre width or how the bike got there without rattling itself to bits. Later on we had an interesting experience getting our first proper Spanish meal. No-one in the restaurant could speak a word of English, and with my ten word Spanish vocabulary ordering from the menu was fairly random. I had been initially suspicious of the waitress trying to pick for us as she kept going for the most expensive dishes on the menu so I’d made a point of going for other things. I need not have been however, as when we eventually got the bill for the (great) meal it came to 10 euros each – this for a starter, main course, bottle of red wine and coffee! For some reason the pricing didn’t bear any relation to that listed on the menu. That night it got fairly cold, looking at the map the next day I realised we were within 10k of three plus 2200 metre mountains so should have been expected.

Leaving the next morning the aim was for Madrid. Lonely Planet described a campsite on the North side of the city near an airport and also close to a metro station, so that was the destination. We decided to use the excellent unclassified roads we’d be on the previous night to head South initially. As it rose and began undulating through the countryside the views opened up and I was able to get this panoramic shot made up of nine photos stitched together.

You can really see where the EU budget is going on these minor roads. For miles at a time the surface is inch perfect and would put most British a-roads to shame. A bit dusty and a little on the narrow side, as they are open and barely populated are great fun. On one piece after a wild series of sweeping off-camber bends the road opened out onto a dead straight, dead flat piece that stretched as far as the eye could see hindered by heat haze. With no junctions, zero traffic and only poppy fields either side the temptation was too much and the VFR was let off the leash completely. As it climbed past 125mph the sensation of speed was immense; with the road barely one and half car lengths wide it felt like playing a videogame. The airbox growl and exhaust noise made here by the V4 was incredible, and with Mike far back in the distance just about able to see my dust trail, a very personal soundtrack.

Later on as we began hitting the motorways on the approach to Madrid the GPZ suffered it’s first breakdown. We were just about to perform a u-turn after accidentally taking the pay for autopista when it dropped onto one cylinder. Looking down there was a large puddle of petrol underneath, very reminiscent of it’s Wales weekend breakdown. Looked like the same cause too as it turned out Mike hadn’t bothered cleaning his carbs. After a quick blow up the petrol overflow line the blockage was cleared although the extent of the damage to Mike’s precious MPG remained to be seen. At the next fuel stop the leakage totalled to a heady 2E, he had to go without sandwiches.

As we got closer to Madrid the standard of motorway driving steadily worsened to the point where I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Trying to keep an eye for signs to the airport on the cities three-tier system of motorway ring-roads I’d been following a black Alfa, in a quick spate he was involved in three notable incidents within a minute. Incident one had him in the slow lane refusing to yield space to a Mercedes on a slip-road even though I was leaving him space to change lanes. No-one backed down until the Mercedes had two wheels on the verge. Incident two had the enraged Mercedes tail-gating him with millimetres to spare, any moment I was expecting a Grand Theft Auto style ‘PITT’ manoeuvre sending the Alfa spinning into the central reservation but it didn’t happen, after some more aggro the German bruiser turned off. During this time a CBR1000RR had caught us up so moved over to let him past. Incident three involved him going straight for the undertake on the Alfa, of which midway through (completely unaware) the Alfa started moving back into the slow lane on a collision course. It was cringe-worthingly close and a very good thing the rider had plumped for his Blade over the 600RR.

Getting close to the airport I’d been hoping to see some sort of obvious sign for the campsite, but with nothing there we pulled up outside one of the terminals and pondered what to do next. Spurred on from the success of asking the garage owner where a campsite was I caught two local coppers walking to their car and asked them. After a quick discussion amongst themselves one said “On moto? Follow us!”. After hastily firing the bikes up we then got a ‘Long Way Round’ style escort all the way to the sites gates, taking a series of turnings over ten minutes we’d never have found it without assistance – what service! Later we took advantage of the cities excellent underground system to get a 30 minute ride straight into the city centre for a paltry one euro. It was actually pretty clean too, only closing from 2.30am until 6 – London could learn a lot.

Later on after a city stroll and some Gazpacho soup, resisting the temptation to send it back for re-heating, we retired back to the campsite. I had been a little annoyed so far as not many Spanish could understand my ‘beer’ (cerveva) pronunciation so while Mike hit the sack in record time I popped down to the local bar with my phrasebook and started getting my shit together. After consulting the barmaid it turned out Lonely Planet had messed up some of the phonetic translations in the book! Another couple hours learning all the beer lingo made for a good nights work, maybe.

After some more sight-seeing the next day we hit the centre later on to sample the capital’s legendary night life. The whole of the country is known for it, bar’s not livening up until past 11 and clubs often not even opening until 2am, usually closing some time around 6. You may have noticed that coincidentally this is when the metro closes and reopens, and thus a plan was formed.

As we departed the metro from one of the central stations and began walking towards the main hub of bars Mike came out with his comment of the week “Oooh lots of nice young girls around here, I like it”. Looking across, something wasn’t quite right. Why were some sitting on shop window ledges lining the street, surely it couldn’t be this blatant? As we got further down the street, the ‘nice young girls’ progressively older and watched some seedy little bloke walking in front of us comparison shop the ‘mature’ selection my suspicions were confirmed.

One thing that struck me about Madrid was the number of tourists in comparison to other capitals I’d been to, such as London, Paris and Rome. Most people walking the streets appeared to be locals, or Spanish at least. While the architecture here is nothing remarkable, as Rome’s Roman Forum or structures such as the Eiffel Tower, in the centre even buildings with mundane functions have been given the full ‘impressive structure’ treatment. The city and parks are kept spotlessly clean and there is a high police presence, in contrast to rural Spain and the national unemployment figure of 18% Madrid comes across a wealthy, happening city.

Emerging bleary-eyed from a club several hours later and queuing up to catch the first train leaving just pass 6am, the platform filled with revellers and a couple stray morning workers. Struggling to keep my eyes open on the trip back, it was daylight and gone 7 by the time I had managed to slip into my tent. We had to leave the campsite by midday so the plan was to get up around 11. Unfortunately I’d not considered the morning heat, already lying in my own sweat and dehydrated by 8.30am it was a record short lie-in for that kind of night. Mike managed until nearer 11, I’m not sure quite how, the lad seems to have an overly strong sleep function.

To Portugal

After some more interesting driving antics on the city’s motorways we were back heading South-West toward Portugal. The roads became often long and flat, before turning into tight series of sudden elevations and negative cambered corners, then back to straights. The heat started making it’s presence well known in this area, literally baking us as we rode along. My upper forearms started developing a real tan line from where my glove’s cuff reached. The roadside bars became the refuge of the day, allowing us to escape the burning heat from 2 to 4pm. In one such bar it was realised on our current route to Huelva we weren’t going to see any rural Portugal and altered the route accordingly. The beauty of carrying camping equipment and being flexible allowed us the freedom to do this.

On one piece of road (pictured below), there was a real death-valley ambience. Zero traffic, distant views and an impressive heat haze contributed to the sensation of exposure. If you broke down out here, you could be in trouble.

Later that day we would learn a lesson in keeping enough cash on your person when entering remote areas. I had enough to cover me until the next town, however Mike did not and after paying for his petrol I was skint too. With only small villages enroute and over 80 miles until the next town of any size, our plans of finding a campsite near the lakes pictured on the map tonight were in jeopardy. As it was, we lucked upon a grassy area by the lake where we could camp. The ‘lake’ actually turned out to be a huge river - clean, full of huge fish and beautifully warm to swim in.

Nothing like a warm freshwater swim to start the day. Such refreshment would become much sought after later on when we would hit the most extreme heat of the trip. Late afternoon it became so formidable we were stopping on the side of the road regularly to cool down. Even holding a steady 80-90mph through the viciously swooping corners, wearing t-shirts, the wind was still heating us up. If we didn’t have distance to cover we would have stopped in every roadside bar along the way, as it was Portugal had to be reached and we had to carry on. I had never felt heat like it on a bike, during the worst part of the day it was making me feel sick in the stomach - even after stopping for a large drink just 5km ago.

It wasn’t just us the heat had been affecting, it had taken it’s toll on our equipment too. The end of my stainless steel race can had changed from a mirror finish into a titanium-like multi-coloured rainbow, Mikes watch temporarily broke and later that day we would notice a piece of black trim on the bottom of my Arai had fallen off somewhere. It looked like the adhesive holding it in place had melted in the sun as we were riding along.

Earlier on Mike actually had a snake cross the road in front of him, making him to brake to avoid contact. Black and with three coils it was not a small one either. In a moment of excitement he described it as ‘long and thin’ Laughing. I wouldn’t apply to be Steve Irwin’s sidekick yet, mate.


Arriving in rural Portugal and diving into a roadside bar, it was then we realised we didn’t speak a word of Portuguese. Being out in the wilderness in a country you don’t know how to count to three in probably isn’t the best way of going about business.

Just after almost accidentally ordering a keg of coke, whilst sitting outside, we saw the biggest bee I’ve ever seen. At first glance it looked like a small bird. Completely black, fat and easily as long as my thumb you do not want it buzzing around your head. Forget the ambulance - if you got stung by that beast you would be leaving the bar in a black box. We were cringing as it came close and must have been amusing for the locals sitting inside.

We turned off the main road into a village later on looking for a signposted restaurant. The sky had gone overcast, the ever present Spanish sun departed. As we rolled up outside one, a group of 7 or 8 locals started trying to mime to us. All old men, grey hair, drab clothes, hanging around in the street. As I pointed to the restaurant the hand signs became negative. Motioning we were here to eat they began pointing at a bar across the road, adamant that we should go in there. Getting a bit strange now, we walked across the tiled floor into the ice cold, dead square room, half full but silent. Mike began sitting on a table under the television before I asked him if he wanted to be the entertainment – two foreign bikers hardly being inconspicuous. As we sat down again it became obvious the most food we were going to get from this place was a packet of peanuts so got up to leave. Walking outside we began making our way to the restaurant again, only to find two new blokes guarding the entrance. A mute began giving me directions to some other place that I really didn’t understand, they both became very agitated of any suggestion of the restaurant next to us. Following the mute’s directions we came to some six foot wide cobbled side street leading down to the valley below, looking across at Mike he suggested we get out of here and I was inclined to agree. There was something very wrong with that place and I didn’t want to find out what. It felt like something out of Silent Hill. A swift u-turn, some throttle and we were out of there.

Later on after a meal whilst looking for a campsite (that didn’t exist) I pulled up on the side of the road to ask a Portuguese copper for directions. Encouraged by the Spanish example I walked up to his window only to see him inside with a victim handing over a thick wedge of euro notes. Needless to say they were only interested in their cash racket. Eventually past midnight got a bargain hotel in a small town, 40 euros for a nice twin room and the owner laid breakfast on for us specially the next day as we had got up late, faultless service. Whilst doing some chain maintenance outside Mike noticed he had a massive tight spot in his chain. Upon closer inspection it had been fitted by a numpty with not a clue what he was doing. The joining link was missing it’s rubber O-ring on one side and to compound matters the split link had been fitted in the wrong direction. That rectified we got on the road and set our sights on the West Cape.

Now within easy reach Cape San Vincente was once I believe considered to be the most western point of Europe, and still is depending on your viewpoint on latitude. The wind steadily increased until as we got there it was blowing a gale, the little NC even running cool for a change. I had been here once before on a previous family holiday when I was 14. My overwhelming memory from it was the heat, although it was fairly cool today. It was a good sense of achievement getting there, and looking across the Atlantic I was struck by it’s colossal presence.

After a look around the huge fort that had previously guarded this coast we left for the resort town of Albufeira, a great little town with a lively square I’d stayed in on an enjoyable family holiday some eight years ago. I had bought my first ever beer in a bar here!

Getting there was not incident free and after several near misses in the same amount of minutes I started getting really pissed off with Portuguese driving standards. The worst example we had yet seen, a car came hurtling around a corner overtaking traffic blindly on our side of the road. Driven straight at us, I had just enough time to push down hard on the right clip-on with one hand and flick the driver a two fingered salute with the other. This was not an isolated incident in Portugal, the driver’s just don’t have any respect for bikes. They are also the worst tailgaters I have ever seen. They can be bad in Italy, but as they are pushing you to go faster you can at least understand the motivation. In this country they tailgate you purely for the sake of it, if they are actually wanting to go faster then it gets beyond dangerous. Of that incident, later I learned the driver had continued driving on the wrong side, forcing Mike off onto the hard shoulder at speed almost identically. It’s rare I get really pissed off on the road by other’s driving antics, but here the red fog was descending. Some merciless filtering later (If they don’t move out of the way, I guess they don’t like their mirrors), we were on the motorway and with the luxury of a central reservation cruised East.

After a little ride around in Albufeira I started recognising some streets from all those years ago. Turning off the dual carriageway we pointed and squirted our way through the narrow streets, following signs for a hotel. After sorting one out and getting a room with a view, I had a quick stroll around the local area to jog my memory. It didn’t take long, the apartments I had stayed in were only three minutes walk away and viewable from our balcony!

Southern Spain

Refreshed with a night out in the bars and clubs around the old town square we headed off East early the next day back into Spain. Due to the huge area of marshland in the way we had to stick to the motorways and as the day wore on the heat got intense. As the motorway bridged over, Sevilla particularly struck me as a white-hot hell hole. God knows how people can exist in that stagnant heat all summer.

Later on that day, whilst sitting at 90mph heading South wearing leather jeans, a t-shirt and still baking in the sun I watched as countless cars effortlessly cruised past with air-con set to high. I thought to myself “This isn’t fun” .

One gruelling afternoon completed we left the motorway and began looking for somewhere to stay. After pining for air conditioning all day a hotel was in order. Turning off at a roundabout we had a stroke of luck as the road started viciously ascending a steep hill in a series of hairpin bends. Veja La Frontera was a town on a very steep hill with the views to go with it. The photo below was the view from our room’s balcony, I could not imagine a better place to unwind than sitting out there.

While peaceful the local kids were ruining the ambience somewhat by blasting up the super steep streets on completely un-silenced 50’s. Over a pizza I said to Mike I was surprised they hadn’t clamped down, and that they should – the irony would let itself known later.

Opposite our hostel a multi-storey car park was being built. Amusingly it seemed someone had made an error on the exit ramp incline. As we were unpacking the bikes I watched as encouraged by three locals a bloke struggled to get over the ramp lip onto the street. The first time ended in a cloud of smoke with a massive front wheel burnout and the car disappearing backwards down the ramp. Second time around he took a massive run up and launched over the top before locking up the front wheels, just stopping short of broad-siding a parked car. Great design lads, sure the grand opening will be a roaring success.

Next morning upon picking up chain lube from the local shop we left. Getting to the main road the traffic was fairly busy so I performed a 0-60 style start with fistful of revs and clutch slippage, as you do. Then looked up to see a traffic cop standing at the side of the road 30 metres in front of me. After eye-balling me I continued past to see in my mirrors Mike getting pulled over. He motioned Mike to rev it a bit for a noise test, of which he did (yes that was to the redline officer Wink). Disappointed the copper let him go satisfied he had stopped the wrong bike. Suckers Laughing

While busy the road soon got interesting, carving through the hills with some great swooping corners and sea views. Then pulling over at not your average rest stop, this was our first view of Africa:-

British Spain

Descending the hills we had our first sight of Gibraltar, a massive rock just stuck off the side of the Spanish coast. Another place revisited, I somehow got the impression the rock was a lot closer than it appeared and like a twat had us riding around the wrong town for a while looking for a bridge across. Probably about the stupidest navigational thing I’ve done in recent history, we eventually got to the correct crossing point three junctions down the motorway. Still it was not a complete waste, I got to see a roundabout accident inside the port.

Still governed by the UK, Gibraltar is known as the thorn in Spain’s side. They have been trying to regain control diplomatically for years unsuccessfully, although as late Blair’s government have been more willing to negotiate. In the 1980’s a referendum was held for the residents on whether to change to join Spanish sovereignty, 1.03% voted for. This accounts for the huge border queues deliberately created by Spanish bureaucracy. The smart thing to do for car-bound tourists is to park up on the mainland and walk across as it can take hours, fortunately two wheels had no such problems.

Got bollocked by an arsey border guard for not showing my passport twice in five metres, - “I just showed it”, “You are in the United kingdom now, you need to show again”. Felt like saying something along the lines of “Yeah, and I’m from the motherland, bitch”, but the enticing prospect of a rectal examination from big Eddy stopped me blurting out that one.

Heading through town up to the Upper Rock the VFR was running hot as hell, the slow traffic forcing me into some interesting filtering to say the least. After paying the entry fee we powered up the steep hill, literally riding up the side of a rock. Just as we were getting to the top the acrid smell of burning clutch filled the air. Looking at my comedy water temperature I thought “Fuck, that’s done it” but it was actually the GPZ. Not sure how Mike managed it, the bike’s cooling fan wasn’t even on and we were going up doing at least 30mph between bottlenecks. Waiting for it to cool was not a problem with this sort of distraction…

Quickly parking up and slinging the tankbag over my shoulder I dived out of the heat into the beautifully cool St. Michaels caves, Mike choosing to stay outside in the blinding sun with his gear and the famous Gibraltan apes. When here last there was only a few near the peak, now the little buggers were everywhere.

Later I waited outside in the heat watching Mikes tankbag while he had a walk around (too lazy to carry it). On his return I motioned to go to the other side where the Siege tunnels were. As I was about to pull away with my lid on he said he now wanted to have a look in the caves as well, so fair enough I thought and said see you there and rode to the tunnels. Shame he didn’t hear me Rolling Eyes.

Having walked the length of tunnel open to public access I wandered back down to the car park wondering where Mike was. St. Michael’s caves weren’t that big. Gave it a couple of minutes before riding back to the other side of the rock, which was quite entertaining given they were one-way singletrack roads… in the wrong direction. Back at the caves with no sign of Mike and the place starting to close up I took a gulp, got out my phone and prepared to get fucked both ways for an international mobile call. I need not have worried though as his phone didn’t appear to be on, it would turn out later was out of credit. One last check of the only car park left and I had to make a decision to carry on back down to the town for some water and try ringing again in case of reception issues. The local B.P. petrol station was awesome, with petrol at 59.9p a litre I got a full tank, pot noodle, ice cream, and two drinks for less than the price of a fill-up in the UK. Leaving the station the same time as a Gibraltan biker on a CBR600FS we both arrived at the border control around the same time. Skipping the long queues of cars the Spanish officials let the scooters in front straight through before pulling us both for a document check. For some reason they seemed rather intimidated by my black visor and demanded I lifted it. After barely looked at the front cover of our passports, the Gibraltarean turned around and said “And this is why we hate the Spanish”. One more attempted phone call and I entered Spanish soil for the second time, sans Mike.


A couple motorway junctions later I turned off heading for Ronda, a town way up in the mountains famed for being built around a huge gorge and bull-fighting. Signs warning of lots of cyclists are a good sign and here was no exception. After a few miles cramped up in truck-ridden traffic, and exchanging waves with Gib biker on his way back, the road opened out into a beautiful amalgamation of constant second gear corners all on an unbelievable black surface. At some points I must have gone kilometres without ever leaving second, the throttle no longer used to accelerate only as a lean angle adjuster. In 50 kilometres the times the bike spent upright for more than a couple seconds could have been counted on one hand. It started becoming a real challenge keeping the water temperature down, again reading comedy figures without a decent straight I could not give it the air it wanted. Eventually mechanical sympathy prevailed and I pulled over for a break.

Still some way off Ronda after 8pm I turned off for the first campsite signposted. As I walked in I clocked the thermometer displaying an impressive 33 degrees still. The proprietor not speaking a word of anything but Spanish made booking in interesting, though I was starting to pick up some more words and phrases by now. The place itself was a hidden gem, the lower tent area completely uninhabited apart from a friendly French couple on an R1200S. Even the Beemer had been feeling the heat, burning oil at a fast rate. Impressively the VFR had still not burned a drop despite it’s high running temperatures.

Next day leaving the luggage with my tent I set off for a day trip into Ronda. Further down the road than I thought but with those corners you just don’t care. The openness and lack of any lane markings or cat eyes dividing the road meant I often had the whole width of the road to myself for miles at a time. The only hindrance being some gravely sections of road works which only served to refresh my loose surface machine control skills anyway.

Being within striking distance of the coast there were a fair few British tourists about. I heard a couple of ego-boosting comments as I arrived and departed, the UK registration drawing some attention. The first, “He must be a bit of an adventurer” , secondly a woman talking to her child “Yeah but you don’t realise, we flew here” . Made me wish I had actually ridden all the way there, using the long ferry feels kind of like cheating.

The gorge itself has a rather dark history, infamous for locals being thrown down it by a gang from Malaga. On the way up there I got a text from Mike, he was about 100 mile east of me further up the coast. Now committed to another night here we arranged to meet up in a mountain village the next day.

With some serious distance on the agenda I left early on the next morning heading for the coast via Ronda. Years ago back on that family holiday my Dad drove us up to Ronda in a hire car, main memories being the heat (no air-con) and hellish twisty bends with a high penalty for failure, quite literally. Ever since I started biking five years ago I’d wanted a crack at riding this road and now the moment was finally here. With some trepidation I left the petrol station in Ronda, it felt like more build-up than my first ever track day - only here I’d be wearing jeans and there would be no-one to pick up the pieces if it all went wrong. In hindsight I should have worn full leathers at least until I had reached the bottom….

Snaking down into the valley I eventually dispatched a local golf with a little difficulty, the descent such that the bike didn’t have much straight line advantage. Now clear of the traffic I had a long clear run down the valley, the bike gorging itself on the widened corners. On every sharp apex the road was near twice as wide leaving loads of room to play around with silly lean angles. Halfway into one of the sharper examples I began feeling that little rush of turbulent air on the knee you can sometimes get when you’re about to touch down and had to tuck in a little. After an almost never ending series of these I began regretting not getting the sliders out, but then again I found it weirdly refreshing not sticking my knee out on a twisty road. The heat was probably affecting my brain.

Some low-gear/high-rpm traffic hopping later and I was back on the coastal motorway. A couple hours later heading off the motorway into the hills, I saw the familiar sight of rusted kwak metal on the side of the road and dived into the café where Mike was almost falling asleep from the heat and beer.

Making good progress West on a cliff-hugging road Mike quickly found the limits of his rear Continental, having it step out on him good style in a corner. Wearing flip-flops at the time, any watching safety nazi’s would have been less than impressed, less so plastic surgeons. As some black clouds gathered overhead it looked like we’d see our first rain in Spain, but we’d get away with it for the moment. Around the next corner all hell broke loose.

Signposted as road works, it was an actual active road construction site with no lanes as such to drive through. With cranes still digging into the cliffs sending huge rocks tumbling down onto the road in front of us the lollipop man gave us the green smiley face and we were off, dodging massive earth movers. To make matters worse the site looked to have just had a huge downpour making the gravely compacted rock-salt surface absolutely lethal. With the VFR’s high first ratio I had to ride at between 10-15mph to keep the carburetion smooth around the corners. This lasted for over a kilometre until the road paste started thinning out and the end sign appeared. Hear I made the mistake of opening the throttle ever so slightly, the rear tyre immediately spinning up and sending the front tyre sliding left, right then left again before I finally reached the tarmac not a moment too soon. I was really lucky to get away with it, the front must have slid for a good five metres and I ended up right on the opposite side of the road, all seen by the lollipop man. After just seeing me come that close to binning, when Mike came along a little bit afterwards he motioned for him to do a wheelie on the same piece Neutral.

Riding away I could see and hear gravely shit pinging off everywhere so we stopped just around the corner to check the state of our bikes…

Not good. The suspect radiator I had painstakingly cleaned before we left was now caked in rapidly solidifying salt. It was the sort of situation craigs23 has emergency plans for locked in a safe. I got a real sick feeling in my stomach as the radiator had until now had just about been managing through hot villages if I kept the speed up, in this state it had no chance. As I said to Mike at the time it could be a major turning point in our fortunes. After carefully picking the worst off with a knife we continued.

The road quickly degenerated into the type normally expected in former Soviet Bloc states, it hadn’t seen maintenance for decades – thin, bumpy and full of pot-holes. Still putting some effort in a battered old land rover was still way faster than us here, effortlessly chasing us down. Entering town my water temperature sky-rocketed stuck at 15mph behind a bucket of Spanish rust, finding a place to stop just as the needle was going off the clock.

With light fading and rain clouds brewing we called it a day and booked into the hotel across the road, proudly advertising it’s “Golden Cock Award”. Damn cheap at 30 euros for a twin air-conditioned room, we had paid more than that for a campsite in Madrid. I laughed when I read on a shampoo sachet their prestigious golden cock award was awarded in 1987, the room’s décor looked of the same vintage.

Leaving the hotel in search for food the rain just started outside felt great, really refreshing. Posh-looking restaurants in town hotels are usually viewed with fear by budget travellers but without much alternative and encouraged by our room price we dived into one. Another result we indulged ourselves with masses of quality local food and wine for next to nothing. I went for the Andalucian Pork Knuckle and had the biggest single course I’ve ever seen delivered to our table. The size of the knuckle would have sent Dodsi running away screaming like a little girl but having not eaten much all day I gave it my best shot.

Under some pressure I eventually managed it, the waitresses all coming out to witness the rogue ‘engleze’ tourist’s attempt on conquering the knuckle and the chef even leaving his kitchen to give me a pat on the back when it was done. “Its gud yeah?”

Due North

Before leaving town the next day I spent some quality time at the local garage rinsing the radiator out as much as possible. The owners hadn’t missed a trick with the roadwork situation and had one of the biggest car wash operations I’ve ever seen in a garage.

A few miles down the road I started getting worried as the water temperature was barely going up, actually staying at 70 degrees for a bit. I had been quite brutal cleaning with the hose and quite a few of the radiators fin’s were already bent outward. Thinking “this can’t be right, the coolant has probably all pissed out of a hole and I’m seeing the air temperature”, I pulled over to check. No leaks or steam, it was in better state than when I had left home – result!

With time going fast we made the decision to miss out Barcelona in favour of more time in the mountains, and began heading North for a heavy mileage day. In the morning we passed through the Wild West area of Spain where many ‘spaghetti Westerns’ were shot.

The landscape was very reminiscent of the films, dead flat straights cutting through mountainous desert.

As the day wore on we were making excellent time, some hours able to average over 80mph on the straighter roads. In this part of the country it was faster to use direct A and B roads rather than the motorways.

Usually when planning a route on a Michelin map I would look for all the squiggly lines vaguely enroute, especially ones with green borders, and try to link as many possible into a route. Michelin are usually pretty accurate, the green borders almost guaranteeing the road is scenic and/or twisty.

There weren’t any, if at all, of these marked on the later half of today and we cruised on onwards toward Teruel expecting a sedate ride. Couldn’t have been further off the mark, leaving a small village the road started descending viciously into hidden valley’s then all the way back up again hugging the cliffs before dropping down again for more extreme cornering action. It was a stunning piece of road, some sections really reminded me of the latter half of the legendary N85 in the French Alps, but with less traffic. All on a route marked on the atlas as straight and boring!

When you are touring on a high mileage bike that’s getting on you generally try to be kind to it, short shifting when possible and not being too rampant with the gearbox especially there is near 2000 miles to ride yet. Cutting around a swooping banked bend at pace I saw a police car going the other way, and looked down at the speedo to see it at the wrong side of 90, oops. Getting a bit paranoid I thought the sensible thing to do would be to make it hard for them to catch me and upped it to the naughty side of 100, then I just got sucked in. VFR400’s were designed for roads like these and I would be damned if I wasn’t going to let it off the leash. If it blew up I can’t say I would be happy but it was doing what it was made for – full on braking, stupid angles of lean all the time screaming through a full throttle 15,000rpm on a 70 mile long race track.

As the sun went down the attention turned to a place to stay. Not having seen a campsite all day a hotel looked the likely option, only then we didn’t see any of them either. Arriving in Teruel, our destination for the day, was a bit weird. We could only find posh hotels, and they were either full or ridiculously expensive. We couldn’t find a half decent place to eat then either, loads of fancy looking bars lining the main street but none obviously serving food. The roads were also heavily polished, Mike spinning up the GPZ’s plastic continental a good foot outwards on one uphill section, and a real one-way maze. I motioned to Mike I was getting sick of the place and he agreed so after filling up with fuel and buying some water we left the city heading North once more looking for a roadside hotel and/or restaurant.

Twenty miles later it was looking very ominous, every village we had passed was completely dead, it had got quite cold (!) and riding a pitch black road full of road works was not fun after already having covered over 400 miles. After Mike stopped at the side of the road to put on more layers for the second time I got pissed off thinking everywhere would be closed at this time anyway (midnight) so I while he was messing about I went on ahead at pace trying to get to the next town before everything shut down. A good few miles later after a couple bar slaps on the uneven unlit road I rounded a corner to see a small looking town just off the road set down in a valley, completely dominated by a huge gothic style lit-up power station in the background, it was surreal. I turned off, went down the road a little and there it was, what we had been looking for hours for – a ‘Restaurant/Hostel’ sign above a busy looking bar. After collecting Mike from the main road we went in and got a feast from the owner. Big salad, loads of fried prawns then a steak and chips washed down by a couple beers, it really hit the spot. All for a measly 10 euros each with the room coming to about 30, great little place. I need not have worried about arriving late either, typically Spanish the diners were arriving past 1am and our room wasn’t ready until then Laughing. Unloading the bikes I noticed my water bottle wasn’t under my cargo net anymore, oops. Bit strange our door didn’t have an inside lock, slept with my keys and wallet under the pillow.
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PostPosted: 06:11 - 20 Sep 2006    Post subject: Reply with quote

To the Pyrenees

Before setting out the next morning I checked the bikes oil level but could not get a decent reading. The VFR’s dipstick is very fiddly to get a reading from at the best of times, and very sensitive to being on a flat surface, so I wasn’t too concerned and left it to be checked on the next garage forecourt as that would hopefully be level. Mike found the GPZ had burned a fair amount of oil for yesterdays efforts and used the last of the oil he brought with him topping it up.

A few minutes later at the station I had to face up to the fact that for the first time in it’s life the VFR was now burning oil. The level was barely registering on the dipstick, unfortunately the garage only sold fully synthetic motorcycle oil and I wanted to keep it as semi so I had to find another station enroute. Mike was of the opinion that his bike wasn’t fussy on types so came out with a litre of Repsol’s finest, of which the GPZ slurped down a healthy amount. Bit of a pain in the arse I was going to be fiddling around with that bloody dipstick checking the oil regularly from now on, but the kwaks rapidly increasing consumption was some consolation.

After passing through another armed police roadblock and trying many petrol stations I eventually came across a Shell station with one bottle of Castrol GPS semi left on the shelf, typically it was the wrong weight being 15/50 rather than 10/40. I wasn’t sure so a quick call to my dad later confirmed it should be ok. On the subject of road blocks there seemed to be a fair few anywhere in the vicinity of Basque country. All the way back to San Sebastien we had been directed through a military setup.. M16 assault rifles, stingers on the roads - the full works.

Today the aim was the French Pyrenees via Andorra. Before we left home I had done some research on mountain biking in the Pyrenees and had found a hire place up on a remote pass on the French side that looked great so we were trying to get within range of there. Upon reaching the mountains the road got nice and wide but was pretty frustrating as it was full of traffic. Every so often after finally reaching the front of a large queue of cars (normally stuck behind a motorhome) you could blitz past and have a few miles of space before getting hindered by the next queue. In addition the road was teeming with bikes going in both directions which made overtaking tricky.

Going through Andorra there were several stretches of bumpy pot-holed dual carriageway linking the villages up. Through the villages some twats on quad bikes had been tail-gating and overtaking us so once out on the carriageway I nailed it past one again. It wasn’t slow at all though, we were neck and neck up until about 90mph.

The place was full of petrol stations, it was strange to see a BP garage advertising a ‘10% off day’, everywhere dirt cheap. After dealing with a series of hairpins leading to the top it was bloody cold and we had to get additional layers on, in my wisdom I’d not brought one item of warm clothing with me. Trying and failing to buy a cheap fleece in the main town, scoffed a quick frite baguette in the main town before we descended down to France with the light rapidly fading. A great series of hairpins later I leathered up fully before we hit a huge queue of traffic that went on for miles. It was great being back in France as all the cars were going well out of there way to let us past. Once the traffic had cleared cars were still pulling aside to let us past on the winding road when they were doing 100mph themselves! Way too easy to find yourself doing triple figure speeds around here.

With refilling time coming soon I started noticing the few petrol stations we were passing on the main road were all shut, then it hit me we were in France on a Sunday evening, doh! For anyone not aware, France is notorious for a complete lack of rural petrol stations that are open on Sunday. Out here deep in the Pyrenees now turning onto the equivalent of a B-road I could be getting very short of petrol. Having given the bike the beans earlier on I wasn’t expecting record tank range either. Without much alternative we carried on, if the worst came to the worst I could always siphon fuel out of the GPZ’s oil tanker-sized petrol tank.

After climbing for ages and passing through several dead villages with no sign of a station I enjoyed a huge descent where I barely had to touch the throttle for miles. With the last remaining light all but gone and gravel regularly pinging off our belly pans care had to be taken negotiating the hairpins, one such my front wheel drifted wide a couple feet across the road at the apex, Mike’s following in sympathy. Partly due to the long descent the bike fell onto reserve fairly late and made it to a campsite only 15km in.

Moto sans engine

Still a good hours ride from the hire place I intended leaving early, waking up to find it still freezing at 7am I didn’t leave the relative warmth of my sleeping bag until more like 9. Not a fan of non-powered bikes Mike was having the day off so I left on my own still on reserve. The local town Massat’s petrol station was closed, going off the prices had been some time. Without much choice I turned down an even narrower road hoping to come across some fuel. 20 kilometres later I realised I was in danger of going past the point of no return and stopped in a small hamlet to work out what I was going to do.

Spotting a woman doing some gardening in front of her house I went over and asked where the nearest station was. With my Iimited grasp of French I got a fair idea of where it was, then she got her husband out who started giving me a corner-by-corner guide all the way there a good 20k away. By the time he had finished there was five or six out giving there opinion, it was hard not to laugh. Very nice people, wished me a good holiday as I left. After a long descent with the engine off and free-wheeling in neutral (still hitting 45mph on the straights) I breathed a huge sigh of relief as I made it to the station. I would never have found it without the help and had I not stopped then would have run out miles from anywhere.

Back on my way some time later I got to the town the hire place was only to find it was shut, and according to another tourist had been all week! As I peered in through the window wondering what sort of operation they were running here a road cyclist turned up equally pissed off. Enquiring in the tourist information office the guide recommended I go back to the town we were staying in as there was one there, bloody typical. My ears pricked up at the mention of a spectacular pass so I took the alternate route back to Massat.

A real hidden gem, so quiet cattle were laying in the middle of the road.

Arriving at Massat tourist information, picking up a leaflet for cycle hire and going on another wild goose chase looking for somewhere that didn’t exist I was getting ready to give up. Bizarrely I looked down at the speedo to see the mileage figure on all 8’s, pulled over to take a picture, then 50 metres down the road FINALLY found an open hire place!

The owners were pretty cool, bikers as well, and quite interested in what I was up to mentioning they had both spent 8 months travelling around South America. After all that hassle I couldn’t wait to get out and was soon getting lost in the local forest and lanes having to ask for directions lots. Mountain biking is a really good way to see the rural countryside, you miss a lot of things without realising when effortlessly cruising through on a motorcycle. The trail I was following kept going through peoples back gardens so I had to be really careful not to go the wrong way. On one section I came out in the middle of a small farm’s courtyard with multiple paths and lanes going in all directions so after riding through it I stopped at the exit to check the route. Unfortunately this got the attention of the resident dogs, the little yapper I wasn’t too worried about, the huge drooling alsatian I was. Still a good 20-30 metres away it started getting excited so I pedalled off, looked behind a couple seconds later to see the snarling beast right behind me, baring it’s teeth in a pounce stance and generally looking psychotic. Very lucky I was on a steep downhill, not hanging around the next time I looked behind it had backed off.

Once the adrenaline had worn off I worked out why my bicycles front wheel kept sliding out on the trail’s technical sections – the brake levers were the wrong way round, doh! That really should have been ringing alarm bells sooner when I went to pull a stoppie on the road and a wheel locked up, I had just thought it was a shit front tyre.

After returning the bicycle I stopped off in town for a beer to find three British trallies parked up in the centre. Not having the best of luck, one was on the phone to Carol Nash breakdown arranging for his XR600 to be recovered, it having just lunched it’s top end. The DR650 was not in the best of health either, they had only left the Bilbao ferry a day or so ago and it had drank two litres of oil already. Despite the setback they were still in good spirits and looking forward to thrashing the complimentary hire car to within an inch of it’s life.

Just before I had received a text off Mike saying he might be a little late returning. He had gone back up to Andorra for the day and the GPZ had comically pissed it’s coolant all the way down the mountain. After parking up to see a green puddle beneath his bike he followed the coolant trail a good few hundred metres before giving up. Strange how it happened, the bike had not been overheating. He put it down to a possible air pocket in the cooling system somewhere that had expanded too quick as the altitude had risen.

South Central France

Originally leaving the Pyrenees for Nice, over a meal in a motorway services somewhere near Montpellier we changed our plans to ride through the Massif Central instead. The reasoning we’d done the Alps before, it was going to be a long slog on a very draughty motorway to Nice and at the current rate of new rattles and oil bingeing it made sense to get the Geeper home on the most direct route possible. When pulling up there I had moaned about some weird creaking noise coming from the rear suspension, Mike laughed it off saying he had stopped counting the different rattles on his bike and had kept quiet so as not to worry me Laughing.

The famous Millau bridge was now just a couple hours North and our new target. As the miles passed by the autoroute heading up there really started climbing before all the ‘danger, corner’ signs started appearing and we were led up through a series of beautiful constant radius bends. It was so steep I had to change down to fourth gear to maintain 85mph, the Geeper even struggling down at 60mph. It was great fun, with the motorway width and relative quietness you could really take the piss. One bit even had a flip-flop style chicane where you had to really muscle the bike to make the right-left-right, on a motorway!

All too soon the motorway got sane again and the bridge appeared, the distant views and clear blue skies giving a real impression of height. Typically French the bridges’ rest park was done out quite well with an information office and steps up to a viewing platform. Climbing down I noticed two other Brits had also made the journey on old-school sports 750’s.

Pitching up in a nearby campsite I spent most of the next day again looking for cycle hire places that didn’t exist! My advice to anyone with similar intentions is to just drive down a road and look for signs displaying VTT hire, chances are any leaflets or anything given to you in a tourist information office is a complete red herring. Eventually finding somewhere in the gorges (but too late for that day), I had to persuade Mike with the merits of staying another day, it was worth it though.

Grabbing my now routine morning pain de chocolat, fresh from the bakers, I was soon off on a steep climb up a series of hairpins Tour de France style, well almost. While it went on for ages the route was eventually going back that way Twisted Evil. Certainly gave me some appreciation of how easy we had it going up engine-powered.

Another road stretch then onto some good natural technical trails, I stopped off in a rural bar for a beer. Then as I was about to hit some more tracks I met up with another lone French cyclist who showed me the way and then some. Instead of the route I’d been given he led me onto the better stuff, tight technical singletrack up to a transmission mast that had awesome views all around, even as far as the Millau bridge.

Screaming down a technical double track descent the French git left me for dead, not bad for an old frog Embarassed. Wasn’t for a lack of effort either, I was using all my forks’ travel and having two-wheeled slides around the corners whilst trying in vain to keep up.

As we were about to part company he mentioned he was going for a beer after in the village below so with a couple hours to go before my rental finished I thought ‘why not’ and followed him down the descent. Five minutes later still screaming down the hill in excess of 30mph I started to wonder if I would regret it, I had to come back this way, doh! One beer later and I was on the case, quickly drinking my last remaining water the climb nearly killed me, sweat running off the back of my hands in the 30 degree heat.

Once that ordeal was over I met up with Mike back at the campsite. Innocently going over to the takeaway restaurant to order a pizza each, I said “we might as well sit down, it still costs the same”. Unfortunately I would get much more than I bargained for. Shortly afterwards a cabaret singer arrived and started setting up, we had unwittingly sat in front of the stage. Once the restaurant had filled up she got started, asking if there were any English present. I exchanged ‘STFU’ glances with Mike before the next table behind grassed up some poor middle-aged bloke sitting with them. For the next hour she was giving him attention between every song, all the time we were trying to appear as French as possible. I’m not sure why but the bitch started then paying me attention and I started hatching a cover plan, faking Dutch seemed the best bet. Mike was getting away with it completely, git.

All the time getting more flak, and FORTY minutes after asking our coffees and bill still hadn’t arrived, I copped it. Looking for ‘volunteers’ for her stage show, she was asking without success for a final victim. I was thinking “No, No, don’t come near here, don’t look at me” just as the bitch pivoted 180 degrees, said “aaaah” then made a beeline straight at me and yanked me out of my seat. All I wanted was a nice quiet pizza after near killing myself doing 50km on a bicycle and here I was wearing a glitter wig and doing god-awful 70’s dancing on a stage for ten minutes. I didn’t even have the best wig, the blokes before me all bagged the decent ones so I couldn’t even hide my face. As we got on stage I saw it wasn’t just the restaurant audience, half the campsite were sitting on either side, loads of unrelated French people taking photos for their family albums. From the safety of his seat Mike was loving it.

Final Days

Heading back we started seeing evidence of the depressing French roll-out of speed cameras. Enjoying a nice winding road through the gorges I started tipping into a right-hander to catch a little flash in the corner of my eye. It was sunny so naturally assumed it had just been a glint off a road sign. Later on as it became increasingly overcast I saw another flash from the front that was definitely not sunlight. From his vantage point behind Mike had seen it – a waist high blue box on the road side partially disguised in road sign clutter.

After the good stuff ran out we hit Lyon on the motorway, skirted around it and headed North to get as much distance done as possible. By now I would like to think we had learnt our lessons about finding hotels in the dark so as dusk began setting in we turned off and grabbed a cheap hotel by the river in Chalons.

Being a fairly large town on a Saturday night we walked into the centre expecting to find something happening, but there was nothing Confused. A whole different culture than here in the UK or Spain the locals here seem to just sit inside every weekend. Looking for a restaurant the only central choices were a McDonalds (the busiest place in a dead town) or a swank hotel with swank prices. Going back to the dead-looking, seafood-themed place next door to our hotel, ironically was pretty busy.

With murky clouds filling the skies we left the hotel passing an unmarked scamera van on the way out before once again hitting the autoroute North to Dijon, passing 90,000km’s on the VFR in the process. Left the motorway at Dijon to take in one of my favourite routes up to Troyes but I made a mess getting onto it taking a very rural almost singletrack route for a few kilometres.

Just as we found the right road a group of British-registered Triumphs flashed past so we set off in hot pursuit as you do, at least until I hit reserve. I had considered about filling up in Dijon, but thought “Nah, I know this is France but there’s got to be another station on a main road within 80km”. Turned out there was one, but it was closed from 12-3. Eventually after crawling along at 55mph for miles we found somewhere open with over 250km on my tripmeter having been on reserve since before 200.

A few spats of rain here and there appeared before the heavens truly opened and we had to deck out in full waterproofs. One more camera flash before hitting the autoroute, I saw a speed trap whilst doing 30kph over, I must have scrubbed off just enough speed though as there was no pursuit. As it was we had to pull into the next services anyway as my panniers waterproof cover was about to fly off. By the entrance was a British Porsche 911 driver handing over a wad of euros to a Impreza-equipped Gendarmeries, ouch.

Later on the weather brightened up, the autoroutes full of British holiday makers returning home. A legendary, almost biblical filtering session was had when the traffic stopped. As I took the centre-line position almost all the traffic in front slung themselves out of the way, every blip of the throttle sent another four cars darting to the left and right – I felt like Moses parting the Red sea! Getting near the front the traffic turned out to be a toll queue that we as paying users should probably have been legitimately queuing for (as some other bikes were), oops. Still in for a penny in for a pound so we shot up to the front to be let in freely. Only in France would you get away with it. Later on karma would catch up to us in the way of a torrential downpour as we arrived at a hotel in Arras. Popping into town two-up on the GPZ, it was a little livelier than Chalons (although the same could be said of a cemetery), and a good Chinese was had along with some sake.

The next day we got to Calais by midday and spent the next few hours doing our best to get a reasonably priced crossing without much success. The ports were all packed out with holiday-makers returning home so we had to stump up £80 for a single crossing and then wait hours for it. Once over the water, four and a half hours later with the VFR still cruising faultlessly at 85mph, all 300 miles rolled by and I was home.

It was a long way to the tip of Southern Europe, but worth it especially for rural Spain. A lot of it may be barren desert, but it’s good barren desert and very mountainous. Even with the benefit of hindsight we didn’t make too many fuck ups this time, the return ferry an oversight but easily sorted a few days in advance next time. I might even check where Gibraltar is on a map too. The bike was great, handled well and stunningly reliable for it’s age.
2004 - 2005 - 2006 - 2008
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I did a trackday!!!

Joined: 12 Aug 2004
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PostPosted: 16:19 - 20 Sep 2006    Post subject: Reply with quote

Spot on write up. Truely publishable. Excellent photos to boot.

Wish I could have been there alongside you.

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World Chat Champion

Joined: 17 May 2005
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PostPosted: 20:22 - 20 Sep 2006    Post subject: Reply with quote

Excellent write up. Very Happy Thumbs Up
Cbr1100xx blackbird gone, mk4 golf gt tdi chav now
Colin1 wrote 'Im grateful for what i can get, which isnt all that much.'
Columbus travel insurance are crap!! Do not use!
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World Chat Champion

Joined: 28 Jul 2004
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PostPosted: 22:43 - 20 Sep 2006    Post subject: Reply with quote

That's reet good that is, proper job! What did you make of the roads around Ronda, a bit good eh? Did you ride the one heading directly south to the coast, that one's a proper biker's road it is.

Did you ride through those mountains to the Northeast of Teruel? I reckon out of all the places I've ever been to, that's the most beautiful of them all.

Can't believe your 400 is still going after all those touring miles! Both my bikes are making half the horsepower for similar capacity, yet yours seems to have given you nothing but totally reliable excellent service despite being such a highly tuned motor.
Hard livin', hard luck.
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Gay Hairdresser

Joined: 20 Jun 2002
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PostPosted: 22:54 - 20 Sep 2006    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks for the comments Smile

Nath wrote:
What did you make of the roads around Ronda, a bit good eh? Did you ride the one heading directly south to the coast, that one's a proper biker's road it is.

Yeah that's one I was on about having done in a car years ago, I think I enjoyed the one going to Ronda from the West more though, it was just so quiet.

Nath wrote:
Did you ride through those mountains to the Northeast of Teruel? I reckon out of all the places I've ever been to, that's the most beautiful of them all.

Possibly, how far North-East are you talking? We went through some fairly spectacular stuff North-East of there, though partially at night.
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Captain Safety

Joined: 17 Feb 2005
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PostPosted: 00:08 - 21 Sep 2006    Post subject: Reply with quote

excellent write up and pics
colin1 is officially faster than god
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World Chat Champion

Joined: 24 May 2006
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PostPosted: 23:14 - 21 Sep 2006    Post subject: Reply with quote

brilliant read much better than doing my homework Thumbs Up

i was in south spain this summer, and I went up the ronda valley (in the back of an air conditioned car) and all the way up I was thinking Im coming back here one day with a bike, the roads up that mountain are incredible, must have been a lot of fun to ride on.

thanks for the read Smile
Past: 55 Sym Jet, 91 ZZR250, 03 NSR125R. Present: 97 ER-5. - NSR Owners forum.
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World Chat Champion

Joined: 04 Jun 2005
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PostPosted: 18:19 - 23 Sep 2006    Post subject: Reply with quote

Awesome matey Thumbs Up

Some good info, im looking to blitz through bilboa---madrid---murcia in 2/3 days next year in the heat, should be unbearable, winner Confused
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