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Dec
10

Pyrenees

Our practical sports bikes, a pair of Harris Magnum 4s,  are tied down in the hold of the ship as we cruise across the Bay of Biscay, heading for Bilbao.

We have taken the slow boat from Portsmouth, leaving Sunday night, arriving early Tuesday morning leaving us with a full day of riding ahead.  One night is a ferry, two is a cruise.

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Northern Spain at this time of the morning doesn’t appear any more inviting than Portsmouth we left two days earlier but once we navigate the early morning rush hour traffic we find ourselves on the N240 heading across country towards Pamplona, climbing well surfaced, damp roads in the rolling hills behind the port.  By our first fuel stop the sun is higher in the sky, drying roads and warming tyres.

The Tom Tom’s take us round Pamplona and point us to the N240 eastbound, turning into the Pyrenees on the A137.  We ride through sleepy, deserted villages heading towards the mountains proper.  Hugging the Rio Esca through gorged in rock walls to one side, the river to the other, changing sides as we cross barrow bridges.

We make good time with little traffic to slow us as the road climbs in a series of hairpins up the Col de la Pierre St Martin.  Braking into hairpin bends looking over our shoulders at the rising tarmac, checking for traffic coming down, clear, we can use the whole road as we drop to first and second gear.

We stop for photographs and look down at the ribbon of tarmac we have just ridden.  We had already identified this road as being a classic in a previous trip in 2012.  Our jaded memories, for once have not let us down, this road would be swarming with bikes if it were in the UK, as it is we overtake three 4x4s and a Lexus and that’s pretty much it.

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Higher up the slopes we are still climbing, altering lines through bends avoiding what the numerous cows have left behind.  We don’t notice as we cross the border, we are too busy concentrating on the riding and snatched glimpses of the stunning views,  Boarded up ski buildings mark the top of the Col  A short stretch of flatish road turns us left and down into France.  The still empty road spirals down, breaking through the treeline.  We arrive in Aramits and stop for coffee and a sandwich before heading to our first accommodation for two nights at Lae de Haut.  John and Margaret are great hosts and located ideally in the foothills with stunning views of the high mountains.

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Our second day of riding is planned to take in some of the classic Tour de France Cols, we head for the Col de Tourmalet, deciding to ride for three hours out, then turn round, taking our time heading back for picture stops.  On the return journey I arrive at the top of the Col de Aubisque, switch off the ignition to find my starter motor still running, ignition and kill switch having no effect.  Pretty soon the battery is flat dead.  James diagnoses a faulty starter solenoid, having had a similar issue on two previous occasions.

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We disconnect the solenoid and try bump starting to no avail, figuring we get to a village lower down I coast the bike for a mile or so before trying another bump start at about 40mph.  I am rewarded by a running engine.  On arrival back at Lae de Haut I switch the lights on and the engine stops.  As it happens I have brought a spare solenoid with me , working on the principle its no use having spares at home. I get the battery on charge for a couple of hours and put it back on the bike, no lights, nuffink!  In a rare moment of clarity I recall GSXRs have a master circuit breaker, never known to trip in 24 years, I reach down and find the red button has popped, pushing it in gives me idiot lights and a press of the starter turns and fires the engine, Lights brighten as the revs increase so I am charging too.  I charge the battery some more, bolt everything back together and have no more trouble all trip.

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There is an old comic sketch, well know in France comprising of a driving instructor and a student.  During the course of the sketch the student professes not to drive on D roads.  By the traffic we saw as we worked our way home, the French have taken it to heart.

We start our journey northwards through France heading about 170 miles, mainly on D roads for Fumel and the village of Le Crecelle, the ride is good but not exceptional.  Staying at the Bikerskrib we arrive and are greeted by Karlia with beers and I check the bike over for any issues carried over from the previous day.

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Our next day of riding proves to a highlight, starting on tiny D roads we end up on the fantastic D675 for miles of stunning roads, bends and views, highly recommended.  Chris at Motobreaks offers tea, coffee or beer on arrival, further beers are a Euro a pop and we soak up the late afternoon sunshine before food and a glass or two of grape juice.

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Our last full day of riding is all D roads between Bussiere Poitevine and La Guierche.  We make good time, a combination of over enthusiastic use of the throttle, flowing roads and light traffic.

Staying tonight with friends, as always Vero is the perfect hostess.  Thierry cooks up a meat fest of steak, accompanied by a few glasses of red wine.  A trip down to the old town to drop Zoe off for a concert proves to be more eventful than anticipayed.  On arrival we find a spot overlooking the stage and mosh pit.  We are there no more than a couple of minutes before trouble flares up in the form of local youngsters clashing with security guards, who do not hesitate to use pepper spray, liberally.

We seek refuge in the foyer of a the local cinema and leave some time later as it appears to have quietened down, to be met by French police baton charging across the square and a crowd moving quickly to get out of the way.  We return to the cinema foyer, eventually making it across the road to the Cathedral and the calmness of the adjacent cobbled streets, finding a quiet bar for a last drink.

Sunday, Vero takes us to the mini alpine region south west of Alencon.  In all my trips to Le Mans I never knew this place xisted.  We arrive, melting in the heat of the day, contrasted later by our arrival at Caen in conditions some ten or more degrees cooler with rain threatening.

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The final 240 miles of our trip is undertaken in warm late September rain, autumnal almost, contrasting the previous six days of sunshine and warm temperatures.

English roads are choked with rush hour traffic and delays by numerous accidents along our route.  In some 1000 miles covered in Spain and France most have been on quiet back roads, stopping off in villages for coffee’s and food, rural France at its very best.  Fuel has not been a problem, the Tom Tom tells us where the fuel stations are but cannot be relied on to be accurate.  Many indicated have now closed but lots remain, unmanned, requiring a credit or bank card, so watch out for hidden charges applied when using your cards abroad.

We have averaged 200 mile a day, not too shabby on a Harris with legs tucked up under our backsides!