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France and Italy on a Honda CBF1000 and Ducati 900 Sport

By Dionsutherns -

Touring & travel

 25 July 2011 20:18

How many fathers and sons have said, ‘how about going on a bike ride across India?’ and done something about it? Well that happened to me in September 2009 when my son who is always up for an adventure asked me.

The problem was that although like my son I was always up for an adventure I had not ridden a bike in over 20 years and didn’t own one, and in recent years not suffered the best of health, having had two heart attacks and a triple by-pass.

Not wanting minor issues to stop an excellent opportunity to ‘bond’ with my son and as I said I was always willing to do something new I agreed and started to plan a trip and logistics of acquiring bikes and getting out to India.

The first part would be easy, we would both get similar bikes so as to save on carrying spare part,s the second more difficult. We decided to go to France instead. After some discussion we agreed on getting two Honda CBR600s. Not an obvious choice for such a trip as they were sports bike but they were bikes with bullet proof engines, easily to get spares for on the continent and would be fun bikes to ride when not on the journey.

Also it was possible to pick up a good second hand CBR600 at reasonable prices. The planned trip was summer 2011 and it was only September 2009 so there was plenty of time for me to find a bike and get used to riding again and for Dion to change his BMW GS1100.

On one of my son’s visits we went to a local bike shop and I tested a Honda CBF1000. Immediately I knew this was the bike that I would enjoy and would suit my needs. It came in electric blue and was part equipped for our journey. We were ready to go, Dion had his 600F and I had my CBF it was only late summer 2010 and we had almost a year to wait.

But as is often said the anticipation is often as good as the actual event. And indeed it was for us as we spent many hours together or on the phone planning and getting ready for the ride. In one such session we saw an advertisement in a ‘bike mag’ for a brand new Ducati for less than £4000. Could this be true? I had a ridden a Ducati 900SS in 1980 and fell in love with it (I was much younger then) it was a brand new Duke but an older model. Did this matter? A Ducati is a Ducati and everybody that rides a bike should at least ride one Ducati, or even better own one.

I persuaded (not too difficult) Dion to exchange his Honda for the Duke and get it ‘run in’ before our trip If the Honda 600F was not practicable the Ducati certainly wasn’t, but it was a Duke. The trip The trip was planned we were packed with tent, clothes, cooking facilities and spares. We even had books to read. (We did forget the kitchen sink although it might have been at the bottom of the bag).

As Dion lives in Cornwall and I live in South Wales we agreed to meet on the Wednesday morning at a friend’s house in High Wycombe before setting off for Dover to catch a ferry over to Calais.

The Honda was easier to pack and more suited to carrying luggage than the Duke so before setting off we repacked the bikes and set off to catch a mid- afternoon ferry. We made good time and travelling mid-day meant that we did not have to contend unduly with the world’s biggest car park known as the M25.

The weather was dry if not sunny which is always a relief when starting on a journey like ours. It doesn’t matter getting wet on the way back but start a journey wet when you are rough camping tends to set the mood of the trip.

We disembarked, left Calais and rode for about 25 miles before stopping at a camp site. It rained heavily through the night and was still raining when we woke. The weather forecast had been for rain in the north of France so we wanted to head south as soon as possible and headed for the Mediterranean.

We hadn’t gone far when my bike water temperature gauge started to rise. We stopped, checked water coolant, oil and hoses but could find nothing wrong. The bike was riding well and apart from the gauge showing hot appeared to be OK.

We rode on, but due to some error somewhere along the way we found ourselves in the centre of Paris instead of skirting around it. It is true what they say about Paris and the road signs. Unless you know Paris it is a devil of job to get through.

My bike temperature gauge was showing hot but going well, The Duke being air cooled and more at home on the open road rather than stuck in cities was beginning to warm up. It was also showing how uncomfortable it is in city traffic.

We eventually got out of Paris and headed south on good open roads. French roads were remarkably well paved but trying whenever to keep off toll roads we found that every few miles we had to kill speed as we went through the countless small villages We arrived at a camp site in Chermont Ferrand about 6:00pm having ridden over 440 miles that day and spending a lot of time in Paris.

The next day was going to be a highlight day for me. We were within easy riding distance of the Milau Bridge which Jeremy Clarkson had made quite famous on his Top Gear programme. We took the A75 down to Milau to get there quickly and give us time to experience the bridge and its views Travelling on the road at speed my son noticed as he looked in his mirrors that there were things falling out of one of my luggage bags.

The Givi bags that I owned had been purchased second hand and somehow the plastic around the hinges had broken allowing the bag to stay attached to the bike but the contents to fall out. It was a Dual Carriageway and as we did not know how long this had been going on, there was no point going back (we couldn’t anyway) looking for the lost property.

We patched up the bag as best we could and carried onto Milau. My bike now was not only showing a high temperature but the rev counter and speedometer were going erratic making it impossible for me to know my speeds. The Duke on the other hand was running flawlessly apart from as you would expect screws coming loose on fairing fittings etc. Not only was the Ducati going well it looked and sounded great.

The Milau Bridge was a disappointment to me. Less spectacular than I imagined but at least we can say we have crossed. We travelled on towards the south of France and camped at a place called Lattes another 300 miles under our belts. The next day we took an easy ride and camped just outside St Tropez in a place called Port Grimaud.

The weather for the first time was hot and sunny as you would expect in the South of France. We decided to stay there for two nights so that we could dry things out and look at my bike electrics.

The temperature gauge was now showing hot all the time and the Rev counter and speedometer had died. Dion being the resourceful person he is had ensured we had tools and equipment for all foreseeable roadside needs and duly set about removing the fairing from my bike after completely checking the wiring harness and various contacts.

On removing the fairing and binnacle he noticed that a connector had come apart behind the clocks, not visible until he had reached this stage. Reconnecting sorted things out and my beloved bike was fully operational again The next day was spent in St Tropez whilst our camping gear dried out and having travelled approximately 1400 miles was a welcome rest.

The next day we set of for Northern Italy to one of the Lakes called Maggorie. We had considered heading down to Bologna to visit the Ducati factory but keeping off toll roads whenever we could, decided we had not enough time. We camped on the lakeside of Lake Maggorie and indulged in a meal in the restaurant there rather than feeding on another of Dion’s gastronomical delights.

We decided to make our way back to France by going over the Simplon Pass into Switzerland and then back to France and head towards Belgium via the east side of the country.

The mountain roads of Switzerland brought the best out of the Ducati and I had swapped bikes with Dion to sample its delights. The Ducati soon showed me that it had much more capability than I had nerve and much as I enjoyed riding it, for me at my age it is a bike for short pleasure stints rather than a long journey. Oh to be young again.

Travelling through Switzerland towards eastern France and then north towards the Jura Mountains was a pretty uneventful journey now apart from being stopped by the police for some mild traffic discretion. I am not sure whether it was because we were tourists or not but a short reminder of our responsibilities was enough to satisfy the officer who sent us on our way.

The next day we rode our own bikes and for me it was nice to get on my bike which Dion had christened the ‘Parker Knoll’ perhaps appropriately, but I was happy to be on it. We headed for Besançon the next day with nice mountain roads which Dion was able to exploit on the Ducati. I followed somewhat in his wake most of the time, but the fact that I was fully loaded gave me an excuse for not being able to keep up with him on the twisty roads which was about as far from the truth of saying I couldn’t keep up with him as I wanted to say.

Later that day we hit a storm the likes of which I have never seen before in my life. It came so quickly, the daylight darkened so quickly to such an extent that headlights were needed to see and not just to be seen and then someone turned a bath of water over us. Visibility went down to less than 10 yards and to stop was our only recourse. It was thundering and lightening but we sheltered under some roadside trees.

Not a sensible action but a choice between possibly being struck by lightening or certainly drowning, something that was still a possibility. Luckily a friendly young couple stopped their car and offered us shelter.

We don’t know who they were but should they read this our profound thanks are offered. When the rain eased we set off again looking now for a campsite to rest for the day.

Why is it Murphy’s Law that says if you want to find something you can’t? We travelled quite a few miles wet through before we found a campsite in a place called Port Lesney. It was a communal campsite with a permanent Gazebo erected for festive occasions common on the continent.

There was none planned at the time of our arrival and the camp warden suggested we shelter under it. We did more than that we stripped off hanged our wet clothes and even pitched our tent under it.

All with the laughing approval of the warden Dion managed to rustle together a fantastic mixed omelette and some hot drinks as he had all through the tour on a single gas burner.

I became skilled at washing pots and pans. We hadn’t reached our intended destination the day before so headed once again towards Besançon and beyond.

More good biking roads for Dion to enjoy with the Ducati. The bikes all through this time apart from the early electrical troubles on my bike performed well. There was a lot of hard fast riding and apart from putting petrol in at regular intervals performed brilliantly. The Ducati by now had done over 2300 miles through rain sunshine and twisty roads and proved faultless apart from a couple of loose fairing fixings.

The Honda had proven itself to be an ultimate touring bike fully loaded comfortable and although not as striking as the Duke was gaining respect from Dion for its capabilities. The last day in France was a long fast blast up the eastern side, into Belgium and then across to Calais.

We caught a Ferry which got us back into Blighty mid afternoon and it was our intention to find a campsite and then take a leisurely ride back to our respective homes.

How different England is to the continent for campers, especially on motorbikes. We travelled as far as reading looking for sites that would accommodate bikers to no avail. Many said they were full or that they only take bookings for two or more nights. It was starting to rain our plans thwarted we headed for a Travel Lodge near the M4 just outside Reading.

Wet and tired and after eating we had our first sleep on a bed in ten days. I would have expected to have slept longer but we woke early to find it raining. It looked set in for the day so we packed our bags and bikes again and set off toward home. I parted from Dion as he joined the M5 South West and continued onto Swansea in South Wales. It rained all the way and I was pleased to get home.

Was it an adventure? It wasn’t what we first thought of but it was an adventure. I had 10 days with my son riding bikes rough camping and enjoying his company There were two bikes completely different but both performed brilliantly. The Ducati was a big surprise not missing a heart beat. The Honda proved to be what it was designed for. Both bikes averaged between 45 to 50 miles per gallon and both had covered approximately 3000 miles in ten days.

Did I enjoy it? Every minute of it, making me think that this was in essence what biking is about. Did I learn anything? I am too old for rough camping the next time it will be hotels – well it might be.