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Bol D Or

With the announcement that the Bol D Or is returning to its spiritual home, Paul Ricard there is no question, we are going.  The Bol has in the past been run at Le mans and in more recent times at Magny Cours but Ricard is regarded by many as the true home of the Bol.

A previous trip catching the ferry to Bilbao had led to an incredible days riding in the Pyrenees.  Another visit to the region seemed to be on the cards.  A flurry of text messages and emails and the ferry is booked as early as October 2014.

Some searching on the internet, looking at the maps both paper and on line soon has a rough route plotted across Spain into France and ending with an easy third day of riding to Ricard.

Two of us set off from Yorkshire with the other two from Southport, we meet at Oxford and exchange insults over the first meal, setting the tone, low, it doesn’t change over the next twelve days.

We are on the slow boat to Bilbao, leaving on the Sunday evening we arrive Tuesday morning, suitably rested and ready for a full day of riding.  The crossing is rough, the Bay of Biscay living up to its reputation as being a crossing that can suffer from adverse weather conditions.  As we cruise across the eastern Atlantic others labour down through France experiencing high winds and stormy conditions, the effects of which we will encounter later in the week.

A paradox in the space time continium awakens us an hour earlier than intended on our morning of arrival, its going to be a long, long day.  4.30 in the AM is way too early to be roused from a deep wine induced sleep with the cruise ship being gently buffeted by an Atlantic swell.

Dockside its dark and cloudy and that’s just the mood after our rude awakening.  There is moisture in the air but we agree to don our waterproofs only if absolutley essential.  We head out of the post on to smooth European funded roads.  Pamplona hoves in to view and is bypassed quickly, turning on to the N240 at the earliest opportunity.  Parralleling the auto route but offering a more interesting ride.

We are soon riverside with the Rio Aragon and the road starts to get twisty following the river line through a series of bends.  Re fuelling has us on our way and there is no let up in the nature of the road.  This is what we have been looking forward to for twelve months.  A greasy lunchtime pizza fuels us for the rest of the day.  Now on the N260 we remain on this one road for next 180 miles or so.IMG_7074Arriving early evening, we are soon unpacked, showered and looking forward to our eveing meal prepared by our host Maurice and his wife.  We are not disappointed, good simple Spanish food fills us and a glass ot two of red wine unwinds us and soon has us heading for an early night.  More of the same in the morning on narrower, tighter roads.IMG_7081IMG_7099IMG_7117IMG_7128IMG_7137Just a taste of some of the views along the N260.

Moving quickly through Andorra and that would be my recommendation to anyone, the quicker the better has us the north side of the mountains by lunchtime.  A quick look at the map reveals a fair few miles to cover and some tight D roads.  Up till now we had been covering the miles on wide(ish) N roads.  The wiggling line of the D613 from Ax Les Thermes looks interesting and it is.  by the time we reach Quillan a couple of hours later only having covered about 100 miles we are stoked at the quality of the road we have ridden.

If you were to google great biking roads I doubt the D613 would feature.  That’s a good thing.  We are treated to a stunning ride on pretty much empty roads, although a German motorhome does its best to push James of the road at one point.  The ride is superb, simples!

We have a choice as we fuel the bikes, stay with the D613 or take a quicker D118 option to Carcassone.  Les voices his opinion that these are the roads we came to ride so we stick with the 613.  The fun continues unabated but as it does our energy levels fall and a stop some time later has us plotting a quicker route to the overnight stop.  I stretch the legs of the ZX on the Peage and we are soon turning off the A75 to our B&B a mile away.  Beers on arrival, bikes garaged, showered and fed, another top day of riding.

I had planned Peage all the way to the circuit but the storms earlier in the week have opened up a sink hole under the A75 southbound.  We are directed on a D road diversion on the find part of the D25 has been washed away by the storms.  There is a longer, twistier even more stunning diversion to experience.  Turning onto the D130 at Saint Maurice Navacalles has us buffetd by cross winds across the plateau before dropping down an almost sheer sided gorge to Navacalles.  As the road winds its way down we encounter the wind from just about every direction, a car and a bike wide with only a low stone wall preventing a quicker descent.  The sat nav proves itself at this point, directing us along a route that doesn’t exist on the large scale map in my tank bag.IMG_7152IMG_7176IMG_7195We had hoped that we would be able to sneak any debris on the road, but…..

 IMG_7201That is what you call a diversion
IMG_7211IMG_7209A “light” spot of lunch, roadside cafes keep us from starving!

We reach Gange and head for Nimes and an afternoon blast with others heading for the circuit on the Peage.  We mingle with bikes of several nationalities as we fill up at the services.  A GSXR1000 passes at speed, on its back wheel as we bask in the sun having a quick breather and rehydrating.

Circuit Paul Ricard is due to open at 2, its now 5 o’clock and the Q of bikes, campers and cars has built up and everyone is getting pretty frustrated at the stupidity of having us all backed up from the still closed gates.  Sense prevails and we are allowed onto the circuit’s airstrip to set camp before the weekends supermarket run to Aubagne.  Keith and his wife Jane from Manchester join us, dragging their tent from its initial site to camp with us for the weekkend.

Friday and we can access the circuit, problems with the bar coders not reading our tickets had prevented us from watching night practice on Thursday.  A box of wine took a beating instead.

The classic bikes are out later in the day for the first of the two 2 hour endurance races for the older air cooled bikes. Great to see, Zs GSs and Laverdas circulating, their speed so much slower than the bikes that will compete in the 24 hour.

Friday night and as expected the circuit is filling up rapidly and the noise levels are reaching a crescendo with race bikes, open air concert and enthusiastic locals bouncing their bikes engines of the rev limiters for general entertainment.  How can we sleep through this, but we do, easily.  The miles of the week, the wines of the box, the beers of the circuit and walking round all day soon sees to that.

Saturday, race day, the second classic race in the morning, I think Phase One did ok.  Keeping track of what is going on at these events can prove difficult.  I receive a text from a friend back home tellng me the first lap of the 24 hour is incident packed, news to me it all seems pretty standard from where I am watching.  Cameras inform TV viewers that the Kenny Roberts liveried yamaha has binned it on the first lap, the bike sliding across the track between competitors, missing all before coming to a not so graceful stop in a tyre wall

We watch the racing into the evening and as darkness fall the Mistral is blowing a chill across the circuit and I retire early with a plan to catch the first rays of sun as they cross the circuit on Sunday.  Expecting Saturday to be the usual repeat of Friday I find the noise levels vastly reduced, no revving bikes or playing loud music, even a few of the generators have been turned off.  Sunday morning  the reason becomes clear.  As I rise to go over to the track many are packing, bikes and cars are being loaded and a steady stream of spectators is already heading out of the circuit.  The crowds of Saturday and the full bike park isn’t repeated Sunday.  A 24 hour event for many but incluing travel to and from.  Later explained when we find out we can’t stay on the circuit Sunday night, we must clear the campsite by 6pm.IMG_7252 IMG_7265 IMG_7274 IMG_7357Race speed, in the dark, that close, huge respect for the ridersIMG_7376Rider pushing in after binning it, luckily for him, just before the pitsIMG_7434Harris Exup from back in the day, its gathering some battle scars over the years, this could even be the bike that Paul Lewis binned at Le Mans one year when he lost count at night, he counted his way round the circuit, 123 right hand bend 4567 left, lost count and forgot which way the track went!IMG_7440This Moto  Martin has had a bit of a hard time, some TLC requiredIMG_7497These guys have been busy throughout the nightIMG_7519 IMG_7524 IMG_7554 IMG_7568 IMG_7605 IMG_7625 IMG_7641The race continues unabated, the works Honda disappears from the running with a mechanical leaving Kawasaki to win the race and Suzuki to win the world championship.

We pack the bikes in the heat of the late afternoon, delaying donning our leathers until the last possible moment.  A final display of the V5 proving it’s our own bike gets us out of the circuit.  the security has been good in contrast to previous years and we are out onto a gridlocked road.  Filtering down to Aubagne we lose Keith in the melee.  After an hour or so Keith rocks up having been pulled over by the feds, Jane is checked out by the medics and Keith breathalysed after a wobble on the bike as he filtered through the trafficIMG_7681 IMG_7682The view from the hotel in Gemenos, not too shabby.

Order restored we head for a hotel in Gemenos, the sat nav proving its worth again by delivering us to a hotel with secure parking and a restaurant attached.  Withinn 45 minutes we are showered, changed and sitting down for a meal and beers.

Breakfast done Monday morning we part company with Keith and Jane who are staying down south for some beach time in Bandol.  We head north on the autoroute to get some miles in and provide us with our stepping stone into the Massif Central.  Another stunning days riding unfolds, heading up onto the massif alongside the Ardeche river from Aubenas.  Mile after mile of climbing on well surfaced sweeping bends interspersed with glimpses of white water, I take a couple of dodgy lines as I try river inspection from a ZX7, not recommended!

The region occupies some fifteen percent of the country and is by and large bypassed by Jo Tourist.  The A75 bisects the area now making access easier but these old D roads criss crossing the region made up of about 450 extinct volcanoes are the only way to access the views across vast open expanses of stunning countryside, each bend affording a differing vista equalling or exceeding the previous.  Snatched glimpses through roadside trees distract from the task in hand, getting to another evening meal and beers in the B&B.

IMG_7689Another gem of a cafe keeps us going.IMG_7692Just one stunning view from the N102

IMG_7710We continue through cool air whilst still enjoying the warmth of the day, it’s feels so crisp and fresh, riding motorbikes has never been so good.  I wonder why I ride back home, my favourite roads in the UK have been surpassed tenfold by what we have ridden in the last ten days.  the N102 is just another road.  in the UK it would be chock full of bikes and speed cameras, unmarked cars, bikes and maybe even the odd helicopter overhead, none of those, just a remarkable biking road.

Bikes garaged again at the end of the day, some beer, some wine and another first class meal has us retiring early again with our last day in France ahead in the morning.

Rain, it had to happen.  We are still on small roads with little traffic so spray isn’t aworry but mud on the road from farm and logging vehicles is.  Stopping for a morning coffee has us sitting out under cloudy skies with more wet stuff looking to be on the cards.  As we climb a small Col it’s no longer threatening rain, its pouring down.  We suit up and climb into the clouds and mist.  A lunch stop is forgone as we just want to stay wrapped up and muddle on, making some miles.  An afternoon coffee and we risk leaving the rain suits on the bikes only to pull over fifteen minutes later as the rain sweeps across the countryside.  One of those rare occasions when you stop and suit up at just the right time, drying roads becoming small stream as the rain falls.  A final wet fuel stop before our last overnight in France, we push on arriving late afternoon.

Coffee and beer are offered on arrival, quick glances around soon has us ordering a round of hot drinks rather than the usual preferred cold stubby, its been a cool day of riding in inclement conditions, never horrendous but less than pleasant.  Malcolm and Edward prove to be excellent hosts and a great evening of conversation and food follows.

Wednesday and our last day in France, the sat nav takes us across lake strewn countryside, long straight roads interspersed with the odd bend.  The diversity of the different regions we have passed through on this trip has been one of the highlights.  Tours is navigated by a new by pass and soon it’s the Moulsanne straight and Le Mans before dropping in on Vero for a few hours before the trip to Caen.

Fed and watered Vero joins us for the ride to Alencon and the cafe with round windows.  I don’t know why this coffee should be any different to others we have sampled all trip but it is different.  My normally caffeine free body is oozing the stuff from every pore after only one cup and I ride along sundrenched roads almost shaking as the stuff takes hold, luckily we refrained from having a second.  On arrival in Caen I discover I am not the only one to be affected by the thick black liquid, Damo has eyes the size of saucers and is wired as I am.

A beer and a calzone later, we board the ferry, this being one night it’s a ferry not a cruise.  Thursday morning and we land to darkness and rain, proper wet stuff, not ideal for navigating the morning rush hour on the M27.  By Oxford it’s cleared and we stop for breakfast before heading further north, splitting up the M6 and M1 to finish our journeys.

This has been a stand out trip, Les and I have been doing this stuff together off and on for thirty years and this trip has been a highlight.  Having learned from trips abroad in our youth we have no realised it’s better to have a destination in mind rather than just riding until we are knackered and it’s too late to get any decent food anywhere after pitching a tent.

The sat nav has not been without its problems but these can be attributed to user error rather than the sat nav not knowing where it is.  They are brilliant and have completely removed the stress of navigation.  I had my concerns over the distraction of looking at the screen for the next intructions but my concerns are unfounded.  The Tom Tom delivers the information clearly and the sound option isn’t needed.  Knowing how far it is to your destination and how long it’s going to take allows the pace of the day to be decided, alternative routes are easily investigated and a decision made accordingly.

We have covered a shade over 2000 miles and in the combined mileage all we have done is fuel and lube the bikes, a 10mm spanner making a brief appearance to adjust the gear change on Les’s GPz.  Our bikes are far from new but have just carted our sorry asses on a great trip, oldskool rocks!