France 2007 Part 1. Days 1 to 4.

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    The Magnificent Seven Ride Again!

    Day One – Kidderminster to Dover

    This trip for me didn’t start on the way down to Dover on a damp Thursday afternoon in June 2007. No, in fact it’s roots date back to as long ago as August 1986 when I decided to pull out of a round Europe blast with four mates so I could start a new job. Well 21 years on the job is a distant memory, but the regret at not going has lingered on ever since. The lads still talk about the trip. So when the chance came via the forum to join Towrowe’s annual odyssey of 2500 miles over some of the best roads in France, Switzerland and Italy there was only one thing I could do: I was in!

    So this how I came to find myself sitting in Watford Gap services with my old friend Toggsy waiting for five other lads to roll up. I had never even met three of them and the others only a couple of times, I wasn’t exactly sure where I was going and no accommodation was booked enroute apart from the first night in Dover.

    Suddenly Toggsy’s phone rang, it was Towcrowe declaring “Prezzo is a dozy bastard” and they were running a bit late as his R1 had a couple of problems after it had been serviced. Main dealers, don’t you just love them. Anyway they eventually showed up, Towcrowe (2005 Fireblade), Digger (98 R1), Prezzo (06 R1), Neil (2003 Aprillia RSV1000R) and Daz (Aprillia RSV1000R Factory). So with Toggsy on his ZX9R my 600cc Thundercat had some serious metalwork to keep it company.

    Digger was looking worried and went over to Toggsy and told him there was a leak under his bike, shit. We dashed outside to see the extent of the damage; did the trip look to be off before it had even stared? When we got the to the ZX sure enough we found a leek under it, the national symbol of Wales rather than a pool of oil! Relief and laughter all round! Digger had brought this all the way from Liverpool to play this prank and it proved a real ice breaker. You are a Top man Digger.

    The ride down to Dover was typical drag down a damp British motorway, crammed with hacked off cagers but dispatched efficiently despite poor weather, we indulged in a little filtering to break up the boredom. As we approached Dover the road suddenly opened up and the lads wound the throttles back in a foretaste of what was to come, the sign for Dover flashed past at a speed I dare not put into print. This trip promised to big time fun. I could hardly wait for the roads in France tomorrow!

    Tucked up in Dover

    As we turned into the hotel Neil on one of the RSVs overbalanced on an awkward camber at standstill, but he held the bike well and escaped with barely a scratch. This proved to the biggest mishap of the trip, so at least this was out of the way nice early and not a mark on the bike.

    Once we settled into the guest house the group got together and started to mix well over a few beers, setting the pattern the next week and a half. The beer flowed as we sat out on the terrace overlooked by Dover castle only an ace pigeon on a ‘bomb run’ shitting on three of lads at once threatened the fun! We got chatting two charming Canadian couples and even persuaded the guest house landlord to take in a group of Swiss bikers who were hunting for accommodation. Quite an international affair already and we were still in Dover!

    Day Two – Dover, Calais to Gray

    Next morning we caught the ferry and enjoyed a smooth and uneventful crossing. The neat custom made slots for bikes on the car decks showed things had moved on since I last took a bike on a ferry to the IoM in 87, when greasy ropes slung over you seat was the norm. (Update: I went to the IoM in 2015…greasy ropes are STILL the norm there!)

    Once off the ferry we were soon slicing across France at a cracking pace and I took up my favoured slot at the back of the pack; not perhaps my smartest move I was a least 300cc and 40bhp down on the others. Speeds were high many times, at one point my throw-over panniers were threatening to make a bid for freedom! I dropped back a few times, but Towcrowe has a system of marshalling that sees him waiting at any island or junction were the line would deviate from the straight ahead. As a result we always hung together well as group.

    Ciggy Break on route to Gray

    The roads were open, with fast sweeping bend flowing seamlessly in to another, then another, then another. The surfaces were generally very good and despite worsening weather a cracking pace remained very much the norm. The French motorist is so bike friendly, especially when compared to the bitter, anti-biker, cager in the UK. As the line approached they would pull into the kerb and allowed us to sweep past at full speed. You must remember to dangle your right leg at them in acknowledgement by the way.

    As a group we were gelling well, all of us good keep up a good lick with Towcrowe smoothly maintaining the lead on his Blade. Fast, assured and it all felt so much better than riding in the UK and the best roads still lay ahead of us. The only negative was in some of the towns we passed through where the roads were marked in a paint that must surely be the most slippy stuff known to man! This demanded absolute concentration and when diesel was added to the equation the urban sections were done on tip toes, with Neil having a little dance on his RSV as he was unexpectedly forced to pull up a little hard behind Digger and his R1. Later I had a BIG moment going into an island and Neil behind on his RSV must have been wincing!

    The N43 past the town of Arras was our principle route, and then onto the N17 and N29 towards St.Quentine were we had a welcome break to eat at a McDonalds. Incidentally they are as bad as ours!

    Next up was  the N44, we by-passed Reims and stuck on this road flashing past  Chalons, St Dizier and Chaumont before the final section on the N67 towards a small town called Gray that would be our first overnight halt. The roads had been superb all day and the N67 was great fun, with a superb section of fast sweeping bends on the approach to Gray itself. I pulled into the hotel car park with 594km on my trip meter; my European duck had been smashed in style.

    The first beer barely touched the sides and we spent the evening in a local Chinese restaurant where we bumped an international Supermoto champion Alexandre Schnider, and bought him a beer. Digger wound him a treat by saying he was a major hero of his. Poor Alexandre’s face lit up only to be brought down with a bump when Digger revealed he had never heard of him. Cruel, but really funny!

    Day Three – One Day, Three Countries!

    Day three and we took in three countries as France, Switzerland and Italy rolled under our wheels. We started back on the D67 taking in Besancon and all seven of us were enjoying the chance to run the bikes at high speeds for mile after mile. This just is not possible for any length of time in the UK. Next up was the N57 and soon we were over the border into Switzerland as the terrain became more mountainous and the roads tighter, twistier and even more fun. Beautiful valleys lined with Alpine lodges like something you would see on a chocolate box now formed the backdrop to this sublime biking day, all around the views were stunning with snow capped mountains now almost being taken for granted. We took in the beautiful Swiss city of Lausane that sits along a huge and almost painfully beautiful lake. Traffic was heavy, but the grief was eased by the shear warmth of the welcome we received from the local. People on pavements waved, people in cars wound down windows to shout words of welcome. I have never witnessed anything like this before.

    The lake and mountains provided a stunning backdrop, a Porsche driver had become so distracted by it all he had crashed with a VW and as the Swiss Police ushered slowly past the scene Prezzo reckons that one shouted to him in German to put his visor down. Toggsy reckoned that actually told him he was too old for his R1! Tough been the ‘senior’ member of the party sometimes!

    Mountain Backdrop

    Once past the Lake the roads continued to be great fun and the views became even more stunning, to be honest I cannot really do it all justice in words and better was still to come. We were going through the range of mountains topped by Mount Blanc and our target was the St.Bernards pass. A series of hairpins up the side of the mountain lead to the base of the pass and as on so many occasions everywhere you looked the beauty was breathtaking. The lads attacked this road with some gusto, but to be honest I just rolled off the throttle and gently made my way up the valley drinking in what surrounded me. I had ridden a long way already and it seemed almost disrespectful to hammer past it all. I met up with the lads at the base of the actual pass where we all parked up to appreciate the setting with mountains and a lake behind us. This is exactly the kind of thing I had travelled to see. Sure England, Wales and Scotland are all beautiful countries, but to be truthful this place is just on a whole different level.

    The crew at the foot of the St.Bernards pass

    Fat git and Thundercat

    No bikes or old blokes in the way…stunning

    After the obligatory smoke and dozens of photographs we remounted the bikes and gingerly made our way up the pass. It had been shut until recently and as we picked our way up the narrow and staggeringly tight hairpins to the summit, snow was piled a foot deep at our side and streams of freezing crossed our path. 1st gear and little more than walking pace was the order of the day as we edged ever higher, gradually being enveloped in mist and the clouds. This was a surreal experience and I felt like I was riding to the top the world.
    Once at the top we parked up and by now shrouded almost completely by the clouds and surrounded by snow there seemed only one thing to do…a snow ball fight! On June 1st…awesome!

    Snowball fight!

    We picked our way slowly down the steep hairpins and switchbacks the backdrop continued to be stunning, again my supply of superlatives to do it all justice is running low.

    The St. Bernards Pass on the way down

    The roads flattened out a little now and we headed into Italy. On this section Toggsy thought it might be fun to start riding UK style on the right again. Prezzo had to remind him where we were. Chilling to think what could have happened if something had been coming the other way. Just goes to show that you have to remain focused. We swept over the border into Italy and the biking fairy tale just continued.

    Italy here we come!

    We were making for the town of Aosta that was the next overnight halt, Towcrowe and Digger found us a decent biker friendly hotel that was run by a lad big into bikes. In fact he had a classic Guzzi in the dining room and he drooled over Daz’s RSV Factory taking loads of pictures. Again, try to imagine this happening at a UK hotel.

    Aosta in Italy

    The trip isn’t just about biking but also having a good laugh so it was handy that a Tetley beers theme pub was only 200m from our hotel. Here we had a superb night, Toggsy demolished two pizzas, Digger discovered that the bar staff had heard of his Italian ancestors and their part in the invention of galvanized steel (really), and Prezzo, Towcrowe, Toggsy and I drank and talked into the wee small hours with the local bike fans.

    Day Four – South of France here we come!

    A late and gentle start and the sun was shining as Prezzo chucked me the keys to his R1 and told me to rag it! What a guy. The next 150 miles passed in a blur as my confidence grew with every mile. I will post a review when I get time, but what an awesome bike, I never even scratched at the surface of what the R1 is capable of. We passed through dozens of Italian villages that seem unchanged for decades and images of the 1950’s car races like the Mille Miglia filled my mind. This trip kept just getting better and better.

    Enjoying the R1 experience for a little while!

    We managed to miss the urban sprawl of Torino and headed back towards France and Cuneo over another tight and twisty pass with roads literally cut into the sides of mountains. At one point the rock was over your head and formed a three sided tunnel, quite spectacular. My only frustration came when Prezzo, Neil and I got bottled up behind a massive line of traffic on a really fantastic section. It was just too risky to get past. However to suffer just a few frustrating km out of over a 1,000? I can live with that!
    We got to the town of Antibes on the Cote D’Azure, our base for the next three days in good time and we booked into a campsite. We stayed in two six birth caravans, basic but the perfect base camp.

    On site in Antibes, Neil, Toggsy, Digger and Towcrowe

    We headed off site for a meal that night at a restaurant Towcrowe has used before and received yet another warm welcome. The evening was rounded off in the on site bar where the landlord remembered Towcrowe, Digger, Daz and Prezzo from previous years. We had one or two (dozen) beers and part one of the trip was rounded off in some style. The trip down was complete, 1332km of biking heaven, can it get any better than this??


    Great write up bud, some stunning roads. Look forward to the next part where you meet the nuns in the Jacuzzi (or was Digger kidding again?).


    this is towcrowes mrs ,your write up is very informative as tow told me he was at work for two weeks in london UK {he has gone out but left his lap top on}i am glad you had a really good time BUT towcrowe will not be allowed to go next year and is not allowed to speak to prezzo again but he can talk to digger as he is sound ex



    Originally posted by towcrowe

    this is towcrowes mrs ,your write up is very informative as tow told me he was at work for two weeks in london UK {he has gone out but left his lap top on}i am glad you had a really good time BUT towcrowe will not be allowed to go next year and is not allowed to speak to prezzo again but he can talk to digger as he is sound ex

    I made it all up he was in London the whole time![:D][:)][;)]


    It was a blow up crowie we took along so he would`nt be missed.


    It wasnt Towcrowe in the photos either it was me, Im a master of disguise have you noticed it was also me as radar standing next to my babe. As if id let him have a go of my babe


    WOW, fantastic :D :D :D


    What are the foriegn drivers like? Do they move out of the way or do you get the idiots ou sometimes get over here who try and stop you or hinder your progress?


    The drivers are very pro-bike,they even let on to you with the hand signal(2 fingers pionted downwards)it means 2 wheels better than 4.Its very rare you get a cager giving you hassle.The french are a very nice breed indeed.Its the swiss you gotta watch out for,a bit like over here but they stare at you more.[:D]


    By the way digger done the only Moaning when we where away coz i wouldnt lend him my Tweenies pyjamas


    Here in the Midlands we get a lot of drivers signalling that 2 wheels are better than 4 with their fingers.

    I think I know who was blowing your Towcrowe inflatable up over there…..


    Happy memories

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