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Sep
30

Wine Smuggling

This is the fourth year that the Le Mans 24 hour race has brought the Word Endurance Chanmpionship to a close.  Moved four years ago to the end of the season finale having traded places with the Bol D Or at Magny Cours, Le Mans is the second of the 24 hour races with further 8 hour rounds held at Oschersleben and Suzuka.  Endurance racing has always had a huge following in France, born out by the only two day long events in calendar.

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Next Year Le Man returns to its more usual spring time slot with the Bol D Or heading back to its spiritual home, Paul Ricard in the south of France in late September, we have already set our sights on a return to the hills behind the French riviera.

Our bikes for this year’s trip represent all that is becoming classic in the world of the Japanese motorcycles.  James TRX850, burns a bit of oil, but dont worry, they all do that sir, sporting Art cans, Hel hoses and blue spot calipers.  Yamaha’s interpretation of a twin housed in a trellis frame is developing its own cult following, with more potential for updates with Yamaha’s tendency to use common parts to many bikes across their range.

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Les’s GPz1100is a thug of a bike, the last generation of air cooled, eight valve motors from Kawasaki Heavy Industries.  Fettling his own bike is a bit of a busman’s holiday for Les, his day job runnig Short Stop Tyres in Southport leaves little time to tend to his own ride.  A couple of hours on the bench to tweak prior to this trip is the most attention the bike has seen since being parked up after last year’s journey across the channel.

IMG_4835Short, loud, Harris exhasust and deep brace swing arm, check!

Sean’s 1100N and my 750M are the last of the oil cooled GSXRs.  Mine having been bought a couple of years ago with a dodgy stainless exhaust not inteneded for the model and stainless brake hoses.

IMG_4844Sean’s into his third year of ownership and his bike is beginning to show his pedant tendencies for all things two wheeled, subtle tweaks not straying too far from standard, freshly zinc plated fasteners, stainless parts replacing ageing fittings and titanium chain adjusters.

IMG_4842Some new graphics made to disguise the garish side of the later GSXRs colour scheme, a cost effective way of calming down the early nineties attempts to update.

IMG_4832Yum, Ohlins and Akrapovic

All of these bikes are keepers, with a combined age of 94, total purchase price of £6,600 and over 100,000 miles between the odometer readings they show that bikes of yesterday still have a lot to offer at a fraction of the cost of a modern day showroom bike.

Le Mans lies just 100 miles south of Caen meaning we ride more miles in the UK than in France.  Avoiding the autoroute see’s us cover the early morning miles through Normandy to our first coffee stop at Alencon at the cafe with round windows, you’ll know it when you see it, there’s a cafe with round windows, you can’t miss it.  Two full blown cups of caffine laden coffee later we ahead wide eyed through town and onto the D338.  Another intended stop at Beaumont sur Sarte is abandoned when our cafe of choice is closed.  Some cheeky back roads to Vero’s house on the outskirts of Le mans as the heavens open.

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Arriving at the circuit late afternoon I anticipate a repeat of previous years and long queses to purchase tickets to gain entry to the secure camping and parking we use just off the Moulsanne straight.  The car park is all but empty and I walk straight up to the ticket booth and hand over my readies in exchange for some stickers and tickets.

Things have changed since my first visit in 1987, it’s quieter, the campsites and stands are  not as busy as in the late 80’s and early 90’s.  Getting alcohol into the circuit is becoming more of a chore.  The days of returning from the supermarket laden down with 1664 are gone.  We now either walk to the supermarket on Moulsanne or catch the tram into town to visit the Super U.

Recent years have seen our bags searched as we try to gain entry to the campsite, no searches this year at this point.  Now security are preventing any alcohol from being taken trackside.  At 5 Euros a glass of watered down lager it could be an expensive weekend.  We resort to taking the bag of wine from the box and placing in the camelback compartment of our rucksacks along with bottles of water replaced by wine to sneak our own supplies in.  Our cunning disguise is to have a half empty bottle of water in our hands, should security feel the additional bottles a simple gesture is enough to gain entry!

The racing hasn’t changed much tho, 24 hours of blood sweat and tears and that’s just the spectators.  Endurance racing demonstrates all that is team about placing a bike on the top of podium or even finishing the event.  It’s not about having the fastest bike or riders although that certainly helps.  The wider contribution of support required to put a bike on the track can win or lose a race.

Bike preparation and strategy is key.  Bikes built for the comfort and preferences of 3 riders, one size must fit all.  The needs of the individuals put aside to provide the best compromise to secure consistent lap times.  Its no good lapping seconds quicker than your closest opposition whatever your placing if your pit work and strategy losses the seconds gained on the circuit.

IMG_4723 IMG_4722 IMG_4712 IMG_4679 IMG_4674 IMG_4671Suzuki won, with Yamaha second, taking the title.

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The bikes run almost faultlessly, the TRX is now returning something like 70 to the gallon, difficult to believe if I hadn’t seen the amounts James was pumping into the tank, typically 3 or 4 Euros less than my GSXR, I was half expecting a valve to blow itself out and half his knackers off cos it was running too weak, but no such luck!  My front brake light switch packed up making it interesting for those following.  The GPz needs a quick bump start and the removal of one headlamp connector to aid the charging system.  Sean has a moment when he spots fluid on his left fairing panels, but it’s only oil from the damper rather than fluid from the clutch.

So there you have it, a long weekend abroad and not an adventure bike in sight.  I’ll be booking the ferry to the Bol next week, will you?