If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Mid-Range Touring

Regular commenter Endemoniada_88 took a few days off this summer to ride with some friends to the Superbike weekend at Misano in Italy. He has been good enough to do a write-up of the trip and allow me to post it here. It's a great read, and I am now champing at the bit to get a few more continental miles under my wheels. If you are one of GFGN's non-motorcycling readers, please don't turn the page just yet: Endo is a good writer and there is plenty in here to interest the non-biker. Those of us who do ride will be just envious of such a great trip. Here's a map of the whole thing just to whet your appetite:

I will be posting the report over the next few days. Today, it is the trip preparation and Day 1. Over to you, Sir ...

1: The Plan

There are five of us: the same five who went down to the Monza WSB last year. We're looking for a lot of riding, an event to hang it around, some interesting places to see on the way and have a reasonable, if not extravagant, budget to work with. This year turns out to be an ambitious one, at least in terms of selling it to partners and dependents – 11 days away, starting with a fast run through the Channel Tunnel down to San Marino for the Superbike weekend at Misano, then a longer route back to Bilbao to get the ferry home.

Steve and Mike B put most of the work in up front, planning the routes, booking the crossings, race tickets and the hotels along the way. We economise with shared rooms: splitting into twin and triple. Another person would be handy to keep it simple with twins only, but we don't get any takers at work: well, at least we already know we all get on with the existing arrangements, even if Mike D's legendary snoring can be difficult to entirely ignore. We don't economise with the racing, opting for the best grandstands on both Saturday and Sunday.

Steve and I are the most experienced riders, having been continuously on two wheels since we were youngsters. Steve's on the same BMW R1200ST he brought last year, and will be leading. I took my Versys to Monza, but this year's main bike is a Honda VFR800-VTEC which will be occupying the tailgunner position. Mike B's a fairly recent biking convert, but has put in some stellar mileage in the last few years. He's on his Suzuki Bandit 1250, having done Brno two years back on a Versys. Paul's in the typical born-again bracket, and is bringing the Moto Guzzi 1200 Sport from last year. Mike D falls somewhere in between the two, having had bikes for years but not ridden them all that much. Having taken a Suzuki Freewind to Monza and back the hard way, he's now acquired a Triumph Sprint ST 900 and is much happier with the idea.

2. Kit

The VFR's already well set up for touring: when I bought it last year, I fitted SW Motech racks and Trax panniers, RAM mounts for equipment, high screen, Scottoiler, crash bungs, heated grips, hugger and mudguard extender. Oh, and loud pipes, although they don't especially help with the touring side. It's due an MoT anyway, so I ask Alf's to give it a double-check for anything that hasn't got 3000-odd miles of life left in it. One new front tyre later, and a suitably-adjusted chain, and it's ready to go.

Drawing on last year's experience, I select my equipment on the basis that we always underestimate how long it will take to get places, there will be very little slack time involved and it may well get extremely cold and wet. I'm wearing leathers, I decide, just like last year. Never have liked textiles much, although I use them in winter, so the waterproof oversuit will be coming with me again. Summer gloves only: the heated grips will keep my hands warm enough and dry the gloves quickly if need be. I decide on the Gore-Tex waterproof boots, though, rather than the unlined summer ones – wet feet are an entirely different ball game. eBay yields a cheap thermal base layer set, just in case. Helmet is an ultra-quiet, ultra-comfy Schuberth C2 flip-front fitted with HyperOptics anti-fog visor and some astonishingly effective speakers. Other than that, it's just enough street clothes to get by.

Being of a mildly paranoid nature, I assemble a spares kit that exceeds the legal requirements: bulbs, fuses, cable ties, Velcro strapping, puncture repair kit, various forms of tape and a fistful of nuts and bolts with various washers threaded on them. A small Halfords socket/screwdriver and Allen key set augments the Honda toolkit, along with a small Scottoil refill bottle and some Muc-Off wipes. There's also a headlamp beam adjuster which didn't get used last year (and won't, as it turns out, this time either).

Equally paranoid with the paperwork, I sort out all the bike documents, passport, driving licence, order an International Driving Permit (just in case my old-style paper licence proves controversial), check my E111 health card is still valid and let my bike insurer and bank know I'll be abroad (again, just in case, but they're providing my travel insurance and breakdown cover). Then I photocopy everything, plus the route maps and itinerary, twice. The original documents go in a waterproof case in my tank bag. One set of copies goes into another waterproof case in one pannier. The final set stays at home.

Again, from experience, I trawl eBay for some energy supplement foodstuffs and wind up with some high-carb cycling gels and a self-mixing carb-loading drink, along with a selection of caffeinated mints that can be easily taken on the move. That'll see off any long-day fatigue or hunger pangs, at least until the next proper rest stop. A few odds and ends go in – sidestand puck, spare glasses, that sort of thing – and everything else is just tech: MP3 player to attach to the helmet speakers, onboard video camera, still camera, satnav. Plus a whole fistful of adapters and spare rechargeable batteries to keep them going. (In a way, I preferred it when everything ran on non-rechargeable AA batteries: you could just pack a boxful and throw the used ones away each day. Oh, well: that's progress).

I pack and repack everything at the weekend, make sure the panniers are balanced and that everything I need easily to hand is in the tankbag. The evening before leaving I load the bike fully and take it for a test spin, double-checking feel, balance and that nothing fouls the steering or instruments, then finally stopping off to fill the tank. It's all good. Ready to go.

3: Day 1, Home to Dijon

All the preparations are spoilt a little by oversleeping. I'm rubbish with early mornings and have been up about 10 minutes before the others phone to find out where I am. I make my apologies and hit the road at double-time, meeting up at a nearby petrol station. Good-natured ribbing ensues, but at least I don't need gas, unlike some. Anyway, there are more important differences of opinion to sort out, concerning my enduro-panniers and somewhat open Leo Vince pipes. I think they're the proverbial mutt's, but seem to be in a minority of one. Lucky I was going at the back anyway, then...

It's damp as we set off, but rapidly dries out and the sun is blazing well before we haul on to the M20 and down to the Eurotunnel. That does the usual efficient job of getting us under the channel with astonishing ease, and an hour later we're in Calais on the right side of the road.

Today is all about big miles. We're booked into a B&B Hotel in Dijon – the B&B chain offers about the best value and comfort we've found, and there are hundreds of them across France – which is about 400 miles away down the A26 péage. It's not even through a particularly scenic part of the world, so we just wind up to a 90ish cruising speed and get on with it. There are regular pauses to hand over the contents of our wallets at péages and petrol stations, of course: at 4 cents(ish) per km and 1.60 euro per litre respectively, it's not a cheap hobby.

There's a brief break in the monotony when we hit an absolute storm of flies about halfway there. Never seen so many in one place before, and it doesn't take long before our bikes, clothes and – most importantly – visors are plastered in the things. We have to make an unscheduled stop to pull in and clean up, by which time I have about two square inches of smeared visor left to peer through.

After that, it's plain sailing all the way, and we're there by about 19:30.

Still to come: Day 2, a biblical rainstorm and the Roadworks From Hell.


  1. Thanks for posting this.
    I learnt about 2 things

    B & B hotel chain

    International Driving permit

  2. @Nikos

    I can thoroughly recommend B&B Hotels. Roughly equivalent to the UK Travelodge chain, for comparison. Never had a bad experience with one yet.

    In theory, an IDP isn't necessary within the EU if you hold an EU-approved member state license. For the UK, that's any from the pink-and-green paper version onwards. However, some places (Italy, for one) can be a bit awkward about any license that doesn't include a photo, which is why I don't mind paying the £8 for an IDP to cover that. Outside the EU, IDPs are quite often compulsory documents. The AA keep an up-to-date list of all requirements for UK license holders.

  3. B&B new to me too, and the advantages of an IDP. Every day's a day at school.

  4. (sigh) nice trip to do, jealous I am (Deeper sigh)

  5. (nudge) then a bike you buy, and a trip you plan (bigger nudge)

    Yeah, know what you mean.


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