A821 Dukes Pass

Today I should most definitely have been working — too much to do, too little time, yada yada… But by 11 o’clock the temperature was about 23° and not a cloud in the sky. I also tripped over my Arai on the way to make a coffee, which was an omen not to be ignored, so the concept of ‘early lunch break’ had its definition rather stretched. Besides, I wanted to test out a new toy — a little Sony GPS that records everywhere you’ve been — the downloaded results then being used to tag the photos you’ve taken along the way, before mapping them in Google Maps or Google Earth. And where should I go to test this but a second (and third) pass at a road I discovered last weekend — the A821 from Kilmahog (I kid you not) to Aberfoyle, via the Duke’s pass. That’s the Duke of Montrose, not the Duke of Bologna, which would have been so much more appropriate. This road is something else — it starts with a couple of fast sweepers that throw in a decreasing radius 120° corner at the last moment, then into a switchback straight which has self and machine airborne at anything over about 70mph, even with the new suspension. A large number of sump gouges and suspicious stains along this stretch tell their own tale. The road is a mixture of old and broken surface (with the occasional pothole and patch of loose gravel) and brand new shiny tarmac — overall, not too bad by Belgian standards, and less than brilliant by anyone else’s.

A short twist-n-turn wooded section then turns into several miles of concentration-consuming twisties along the side of Loch Venachar, complete with broken surfaces, stone humpback bridges, soggy patches and corkscrew bends. Oh yeah, and erratic tourist coaches whose passengers’ bladders have been overstressed by the excitement of a trip on the Maid of the Loch, to the detriment of the driver’s concentration. A little in-breathing gets me past that particular moving chicane, after which the road flicks 90 degrees left and starts to rise. And rise. From this point on, there are about five miles when the bike is hardly upright, save momentarily in transit from downside to flipside: there are hairpins, ridges, complexes of a dozen bends where a marginally missed apex on the third will see you running off at the eighth and the classic biker trap — a briefly snatched view of the road further ahead suckers me into powering through the next bend, only to find that twixt where I am and what I could see, the road takes a meandering detour through a series of esses — a sphincter-twitching moment then I stand the bike up and nail the brakes for as long as I dare before turning in again, just as the front wheel kisses the soft verge. Not elegant and not cool, but it gets me back on track. That’ll teach me to make assumptions.

What my sightline does now include is a small cluster of other bikes, working their way past the inevitable camper vans and second-gear tourist Hyundais. First up is a GSX1400 with a very tense-looking rider — several tens of kilos too much bike for the road. A R1200GS pilot is cruising along in his shirt sleeves and, as we’re both running with panniers, I have to wait several bends before there’s sufficient clearance to bop past without pinging his Touratechs into the scenery. Now it gets interesting: the rider of the bright green thing I can see on the horizon is actually putting some effort into his riding and it’s some time before I realise that the gap is closing. He’s riding track lines on the road therefore can’t actually see where he’s going so I do manage to disprove the rumour that Kawasaki sports bikes self-destruct if overtaken by a tourer. By now we’re over the pass itself and dropping towards Aberfoyle — the last few hairpins are of Alpine grade as they drop into the village and their new surface lends confidence and a little cautious exuberance. The Wee But’n’Ben Bistro offers a mean baked spud and welcome caffeine shot, fuelling me up nicely for the return journey. In the process, there’s a slightly surreal conversation with a couple who’ve waddled in on a Harley and a much more resonant one with the local postmaster, who rides an SV and aspires Ducatiwards. Before turning the dial back up for the return trip, I detour briefly to Dounan’s, the school camp on the edge of town where I spent a happy month at the tender age of ten. It’s still much as I remember it but, in the sad absence of nubile and impressionable sixth-former girls, I pause only briefly before turning around. There’s another detour — a smallish B road that leads from Aberfoyle over the hills by Loch Ard to the hidden Eastern shore of Loch Lomond at Inversnaid, another of the homes of Rob Roy — his first being two houses up the glen from our place. The road surface is however so bad that I call a halt after a few miles — a full motocrosser would be a better bet along here. In fact, most of today’s run would have been perfect for a full-on Supermoto rather than anything over-large and over-powered for the road, which is pretty much anything else. There’s one other problem with this road: trying to stop hooting with laughter long enough to concentrate on where I’m vaguely supposed to be going.

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