Mild in the Country

I am not tired. I went beyond tired about four hours ago, on the other side of the English Channel and 200 miles away. I am however home. My motorcycle is also home and is shiny-side up. Strictly, most of my motorcycle is home — the clutch went functionally AWOL somewhere mid-Normandy. That was interesting, and bloody ungrateful of it — I’d spent the weekend praising its 15,000 mile reliability to the skies — the one other Ducati on the trip having come home on a trailer.
So my hall now contains a strewn trail of oversuit, leathers, gloves, boots, rucksack and helmet, the trail leading directly to the wine cupboard. All bar the wine are steaming gently as the microclimate of a long, damp ride slowly clears itself. The cats have sensitive noses. They look appalled.

Context? Narrative? Perhaps even a beginning? Oh yes – this was a WVAM captains-sensible-go-mildly-ballistic trip to France. A long weekend based in L’Aigle, cruising the lanes of Normandy, indulging in regular and constructive observation of each other’s riding, appreciating local culture and sampling the local fine wines. The last bit worked for sure, albeit with the noble sacrifice of ultimate quality

for arbitrary quantity. Good. As for the rest, I am happy to confirm that motorcyclists are, of course, pretty much the same the world over — take a bunch of them, give them empty and winding roads to play with and watch them do just that. A good thing about the WVAM is the ability of many of its members to hustle unlikely machinery along at highly improbable (and improbably high) speeds.
Quite embarrassing being on a pure and scarcely low-profile sports bike and having to work noticeably hard to keep up with — to pick but one example of many — a Pan European. On that one, the pillion appeared to be doing her knitting: Knit one, purl one, drop two and cane it — and I’m sure I was picking up their intercom: “Darling, that tiresome oik on the noisy red thing is behind us again and I can’t hear the Puccini”, “Well, just turn the CD up a little, dearest, we’ll soon lose him…”

The culture bit worked too — a trip to Monet’s garden at Giverny made for a relaxed Saturday potter, and a tour around William the Conqueror’s stunningly restored castle at Falaise (not for those unkeen on modern architecture) made an impressive break on the way back from a tour of Suisse Normande. Which looks nothing like Switzerland, but does at least go up and down by more than five metres. And has cows.
Good things about France:

  • It’s not England — no one got booked at 104mph. In France, that is;
  • Drivers — observant and helpful;
  • Roads — lots of ’em — good, variable surfaces, bends. Lots of bends;
  • People in general are friendly, courteous and helpful. Even the plentiful supply of village idiots on scooters;
  • Food & wine. Mais naturellement…
  • Everyone likes bikes — “Les Motos Anglais sont arrivée — huzzah!”.

and much more…
Bad things about France:

  • Occasional piles of steaming ordure on turn-in points;
  • Lots of very large, very slow, very spiky farm machinery;
  • It rains here too;
  • Automated petrol stations that do not recognise UK smart cards.

and not much else…

As for that clutch: The lack of same makes getting on and off a ferry an exercise in anticipation, balance and sheer panic. And when the machine refuses to be ridden at less than 16kph (10mph in old money), getting off the ferry and through customs was an exercise in weaving and lurching through the cars, caravans, barriers and the bemused officials of HM Customs & Excise. The chap on passport control didn’t bat an eyelid when I managed to time the dead spot between two lurches outside his window, yelled ‘no clutch!’ and simultaneously tried to convey helplessness and haplessness through my Arai. He merely waved me straight on, which was just as well as, half a second later, I’d have had little choice in the matter. Once on the road, traffic lights and roundabouts were all about more anticipation, blocking and free interpretation of the colour red.
Starting technique: put bike in first gear and turn ignition on. Point in vaguely intended direction. paddle with feet to get it rolling. Hit starter button. Bike lunges forward, catches, shudders and revs. Discover that now doing 45 mph and heading straight for cash office of gas station. Panic, hit brakes, stall and repeat. A bit of a rude shock for the starter motor, but a fine spectator sport. Up shifts fine, down shifts can be helped out with judicious flick of kill switch. Neutral requires much random frantic prodding of gearshift. No change there, then.
The problem appears to be a leak in the clutch slave cylinder (“they all do that, sir”). This was merely the start of a bad tech karma day — I arrived home to discover the garage door jammed closed. Garage also contains tools necessary to a) repair Ducati and b) open garage door. So next morning, leap into utterly, boringly reliable autobahnstürmwagen to head off for more tools and clutch bits: turn key, at which point a muted “Vroom” would normally be expected. A loud “Click” less so. “Click”. Bugger.
Four days, eleven hundred miles, including two four hundred mile days. A trifle for the dedicated tourer, but not unserious mileage on a 748. I’d a few aches and pains on the way out, but was concentrating so hard on the way back that I wouldn’t have noticed the four riders of the apocalypse overtaking on Harleys (they didn’t — they were going the other way just outside Les Anderlays). The final score was only minor aches in wrists, knees, neck and bum — maybe I should try borrowing that trifle next time. And sitting on it.
A tremendous trip, great company and brilliant organisation. What more can I say? Except perhaps that I’ve booked a test ride on a BMW R1150GS for the weekend.

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