Ixie va a la belle France

Mon intention original etait a ecrire tout ce reporte en Francais, mais je sais que quelqu'uns d'Ixion ne parlent pas Francais, et aussi j'ai oublie mon dictionaire...

So I suppose it'll have to be in English. Ah well.

Premiere journee

Jim Gillespie had offered places to sleep for those who wanted, giving us a 70 mile or so run to the ferry and not a few hundred. For a 10.45 sailing, arriving at Newhaven for 10.15 would entail a rather tiring early start for those of us living further away (ie all of us), so Thursday saw the Ixies assembled at Jim's.

I was the last arrival on Thursday following a slightly hectic day - I'd decided to do a half day and get the tyres changed, as they were both nearly dead (the rear after only about 3000 miles, flatted out by winter motorway miles). When I started to put the front wheel back on after getting the tyres fitted, I noticed the direction arrow was pointing the wrong way... half an hour lost getting it sorted, then a brief panic in the Volvo a bit later taking the dog to Dee's parents to be looked after as I suddenly got a lot of vibration from the front (everything seemed to cure itself later - maybe I just drove over a CG125).

So anyway, present and correct at Jim's were, er, Jim (ZZR600, cosmetically challenged [the ZZR, not Jim]), Clive (VFR750 with square tyres), marvin (the new FJ1200 looking very redesplendent) and Paul Yull (Daytona 900 in yellow with red Baglux tank cover and black Bagster bag). I was on the slightly cosmetically challenged Sprident, with newly fitted Baglux tank cover and bag, and the Nonfango 48l panniers and topbox (the latter now sporting a GB sticker), with Dee on the back.

Pizza was eaten, drink was drunk, and L!ve TV's wonderful educational programme about null-gravity effects, "Topless Darts in Space" was watched. The plan to set out at 8.00 the following morning was made...

Torrey Canyon / Amoco Cadiz (delete as appropriate)

The following morning, it was almost adhered to - we set off at about 8.10. Off for petrol, then we head off for Newhaven... until Jim discovers a problem. The ZZR is coating his right boot with oil. A stop and check doesn't reveal the problem, but the oil loss is slow enough for us to continue. Heavy traffic slows us down, and Clive makes an impromptu stop a few miles from Newhaven with the clock ticking away, as he's been riding behind Jim and has now got a visor full of oil... At last, proof that Kawasaki copied Triumph.

We arrive at the ferry at 10.02. A little close for comfort, perhaps, but at least we are here. Bikes are loaded and tied up, the bar is found, and we eat a bit and drink a bit (mainly non-alcoholic). [Which reminds me - does anyone recall a law being introduced in the UK which made it illegal for pillion passengers to be drunk? That's drunk as in excess alcohol, not drunk as in glass of water.] Entertainment was provided by Sid and Doris Bonkers on guitar, bass, and dubious vocals, including a ground-breaking rendition of 'Delilah' in 4/4 instead of the more conventional 3/4 time.

After four hours and a raid on the duty-free shop, nous arrivons. Untying the bikes, we mount up and ride off the ferry. I chant a constant mantra to myself, "drive on the right - drive on the right - drive on the right". It seemed to work as well, all the cars I saw were driving on the right. Ah, the power of the human mind.

A few hundred metres up the road, nous nous arretons pour faire un seal for the ZZR. The oil seemed to be coming from the filler cap, sealed by an O-ring which seemed in good order but might be suspect. A menu from the bar made a good supply of cardboard, and a Swiss army knife made a good supply of sharp edge. The seal was duly constructed and fitted, but Jim was still put in back-marker position until the repair was properly tested.

Jim had rung the hotel earlier, to tell them that our expected arrival time was about vingt-et-un heures, so at least we were sure of a meal when we arrived. As France is ahead of us in some ways, we'd already lost an hour, so a fairly brisk pace was needed.

Off we set down to Rouen, perhaps 55km which took an hour or so. The road we were using was straight, but with a fair amount of single lane (each way) interspersed with dual carriageway, and with villages at, it seemed, 1km intervals, each being 1km from end to end... Speed limits in villages are 50kph (sometimes less) or just over 30mph, outside they're 110kph (I think) on most roads, 130kph on autoroutes, but slightly more open to interpretation. The engine braking on the Sprident was somewhat overcome by the weight it was carrying, so my brake lights were flickering somewhat more than anyone elses.

From Rouen, we carried on down the slightly lesser roads towards Caen, but time began to press and we decided to take the autoroute to Caen. This took us a little way past Caen, but we still finished up back on the equivalent of A-roads. Anyone who has tried to find a route to pass north-south between Halifax and Manchester on which one can travel at more than 30mph for any significant time will understand what this is like.

We finally arrive at Servon (which is about 10km ESE of le Mont St Michel) at just after 2100, and unpack the bikes. Another inspection of Jim's bike shows more oil, and rubbing my finger under the circular cover in front of the clutch produces a few drops of oil - the gasket must have gone on this cover (which is slightly marked from Jim's car/road interface scenario some 6000 miles earlier).

We trailed in to eat at 2130, and demolished a fair amount of grub, plus large quantities of wine. We finally let them close the salle a manger at 0030 or so, and staggered off to bed.

Useful phrases no. 1 - "Encore du vin".

The bells, the bells...

Next morning, I am woken by a church bell ringing rather loudly at 0700. After a few minutes it subsides, and I doze off again until 0800 when it rings again. Taking the hint, I struggle out of the pit (Dee had already started getting up) and crawl into the shower in an attempt to restore some feeling of humanity.

After reviving, we go in to breakfast. Today's plan is to head up to Saint Lo, where a Kawasaki dealer resides, and get Jim's gasket sorted, after which we will play around in the north-west corner of Normandy. Paul is a little concerned about the chain on the Daytona, which has a rather nasty tight spot.

After our breakfast, we return to the room and Dee suggests I open the window (which is covered by a blind). I do, and see a church belltower about ten feet away. So that's why it was a bit loud...

Bikes warmed up and disclocks off, off we head. Jim is still confined to back-marker, Paul leads, and those of us in the middle occasionally change places at stops. Being behind Clive in any sort of bend is a nightmare, as he slows down so severely for them that it destroys any rhythm a following rider has.

Finally we arrive at Saint Lo, find the dealership quickly, and have a look round while Jim's bike is fixed. It's also a Triumph dealership, and although there's no T595 in there, there is a T509 - and, amazingly, a Sprint SS, which disappeared from UK showrooms so fast they created a vacuum. This one's 66000Ffr, or a little under 7500 quid. I am tempted...

There's also a selection of Joe Bar stuff in there. Being an iggerent Brit, I've never heard of this guy - he's a brilliant cartoonist, capturing the spirit of biking even better than Paul Sample [Who he? - Ed.] Shame that his books are only available in French, and German, and... well, not English. I must go get them...

We marvel at the mopeds (scooterettes may be a better description, derestricted 50cc buzzbombs with seriously trendy styling). We snigger at the TDM with a bigger drip-tray under it than any Britbike I've ever seen. Then Jim's bike is fixed, a new gasket in place, a top-up of oil, a test-ride by the mechanic, all for a tenner.

We leave Jim as back-marker until the repair has had a few miles to prove it has been successful, and head up in the general direction of Carteret. It is there that we stop for lunch. We then go off in search of some twisty bits...

When at last we find a section of bends, it's along an elevated plain, and then heads down a moderate hill. It's obvious that this is a local favourite road, as hordes of bikes are coming the other way. I am following Paul, Clive is next, then marvin and Jim. After about two bends, Clive is nowhere in sight, and we carry on down the hill. Near the bottom is a convenient stopping place to wait for the others. Paul stops, I pull up behind him, he dismounts and walks back to us, and there is a huge crash...

Paul's sacrifice to the gods of Ixion - the Doc Sarah award

For anyone who doesn't know this, it's a very good idea to put your bike into gear when leaving it parked on a downhill slope, as it rolls forward off the sidestand. I put mine into gear, got Dee off, the sidestand down, and off, just as Paul, with the help of the resident of the house outside which we have stopped, gets the bike back upright. A few minutes later, the others arrive...

We inspect the damage. The indicator has broken (both lens and head). There's a crack in the central fairing section and a scrape along the left-hand lower. The silencer has moved in about a centimetre, but it's difficult to tell what has given way for this to happen. The friendly resident of the house gets some superglue for us to try and fix the indicator with, and we set about repairs. In the end, I have some insulating tape and that does the job.

After a bit more wandering around, we head for home. Tonight's plan is to eat out and have some drinkies in the annexe which we are staying in (there's a four-bedroom building which we have now completely taken over separate to the main hotel. There's no bar in the hotel and none in the village). So we eat at a pizza place nearby (Pontorson?) and then attack the beer which we brought back from the supermarket, sitting on the steps outside our annexe.

Useful phrases no. 2 - "Merdmerdmerdmerdmerdmerd".

The 39 000 000 steps

On to Sunday, and thoughts of doing the touristy thing. The weather has got rather iffy, so we head off to le Mont St Michel which is nearby (visible from the hotel, in fact, especially at night when it's all lit up). Waterproofs donned, away we head.

I'm feeling a bit under the weather - don't know whether I've got a mild bug or have just OD'd on caffeine (forgetting that the stuff in the machine at work is decaff). The Abbey is up at the top, and when we look into the doors after climbing up there, it's more bloody stairs... fortunately (for me), the price is a bit offputting, so we vote not to bother.

The weather clears a bit and we head off to the west, off the edge of the map which I'm using for reference. Hmmm. There's a bit of bike swapping, and a few reasonable bits of road, but I'm feeling bad still, and it's affecting my concentration a bit - a couple of times I flinch as a car comes round a corner on his side of the road, thinking he's on my side and preparing to dive to the left... Still, we do meet up with one great character (read 'piss-artist'). He's in a bar that we select for a little refreshment, and as we arrive, he bounds outside, jumping up and down and clapping (he's in his late forties or early fifties, tall and bearded, so I don't think it's Gaye O'Liver in disguise). He speaks some fragmented English from a stay in England some ten years ago, and the first few sentences go something like "Ah, you ride the bikes, ttthhhrrrrrpppp, ttthhhrrrrppppp" (as he spits vaguely bikey noises and flails his arms around). "You ride in the sky, yes, ttthhhrrrrppppp, tttthhhrrrpppp?". We talk a bit with him - well, we generously allow marvin to speak to him.

Some bike swapping goes on between Paul, Clive and Jim. I would have but just didn't feel up to concentrating on an unfamiliar bike and concentrating on the unfamiliar roads.

Sadly, when we head back, we don't go through Tremblay (or at least I don't recall it). It's about 25km due south of le Mont St Michel. Those who read rec.moto may recognise the name of rttile... However, we encounter a couple of pushbike races. The French take their pushbikes very seriously, and so diversions take us all over the place. I'm still feeling rough, and the cold is starting to set in, and when Paul leads us around one bit of village and stops to ask directions, he says later that he can feel me looking daggers at him... Jim says he has the photo to prove it, with me making Damon Hill look like Benny Hill. Still, we get back eventually, and although my stomach doesn't unwind enough to let me eat much, I still keep my end up (oo-er missus) when the wine is there...

marvin has a plate of twelve oysters and stands on his chair to photograph them. The waitress comes in at that moment and flees, giggling. We ask to keep the shells (for our aquaria) and put them in a plastic bag. marvin's wonderful self-timer (well, the one on his camera) comes in useful, and he gets photos of everyone plus the proprietress plus the waitress. We are brought a glass of ice-cream and Calvados (we think) each. We have some Calvados on its own to wash the wine down, and Clive assures us he can down it in one. He tries, but the first time the glass isn't completely emptied. He tries again, and sits there with his cheeks puffed out and eyes spinning like a demented hamster, before spitting the lot back out into his glass...

The return

Finally the time has come to bid farewell to France. The people have been friendly, the bikers all wave, the drink's cheap and the food's good. It's been great.

We calculate the split on the bill and settle up. The bikes are loaded and we set off for Dieppe, deciding as it's raining and it wasn't a great ride on the way down to take the autoroute to Rouen. Dee wants to stop at Caen and visit the war memorial. Paul was going to head off early to try and get a new chain, but no dealers are open, so he resigns himself to going for Yorkshire...

So we head off to Caen and find the war memorial. It's a featureless block with a single line of writing across the face, which I haven't yet translated. Outside is a case holding inscribed stones from nations involved in WWII - the Greek one seemed to me to say it all, in four Greek words - "We prefer peace to war".

We eat in the cafe in the memorial, then carry on to Rouen. The ride there, and from there to Dieppe, is uneventful, and we arrive at about 1545 for a 1630 boarding time. The return journey is on a catamaran and is under two hours, much quicker than the conventional ferry. We board and the bikes are secured, and we make our way into the passenger area. This is where marvin, Paul and Dee suffer, because it's a non-smoking ship except for outside - Clive and Jim don't smoke, and I'm not a heavy smoker.

The catamaran is rather fast and lots of fun. We decide that we want one for a life of piracy - Paul says that it would cost a bit more than a lottery win, and I point out that no self-respecting pirate would pay for the boat - just find out where it's moored and see if the keys are in the ignition.

A couple of drinks and an excursion to duty-free later, we are heading into Newhaven. The friendly crewman who sorted the bikes out when we boarded told us that the cat threw out 290 tonnes of water per minute, or was it 490 tonnes per second, and peak speed was 42.5 knots, about 54 mph - that's faster than Clive on a motorway slip road.

Finally we are off and headed for home. Jim splits off first as we head round the M25, I head off up the M40, supposedly with Clive behind me, but when I'm past the roadworks and up to cruising speed, there's no sign of him. I'm in a hurry, so I push on. The bike goes onto reserve a little early, and a final fill is needed 15 miles from home. Back at 9.20 pm, and off in the Volvo for a 100 mile round trip to pick the dog up...

When we got home, I was curious about what load the bike's had to cope with for the last few hundred miles. In my gear, I'm 15 stone, Dee's 9.5 stone in her gear. The top box is 38lb, the two panniers are 26lb each, and the Baglux is 12lb. That's 445lb or about 200kg being carried - the Nonfangos managed 90lb between them, a little over the manufacturers recommended maximum, and stable at up to 100mph (on a private test track). The suspension did tend to wallow a bit in bends where the surface wasn't too good, but I'd still been keeping up with Paul (or not letting him get away too fast) on the Rouen-Dieppe section.

As for other things on the Triumph - reliability-wise, I had one tail light and one headlight bulb blow. Tail lights on this one don't last long, so that wasn't unexpected. However, the indicator flasher unit also packed up - I coped, and when I took the unit apart after arriving home, I found that a small piece of grit had lodged in the relay, preventing it moving. Incidentally, a car flasher unit of the appropriate type is identical.

Fuel consumption - overall, I averaged several pints per day. The Triumph did just under 13.5km/l, or just over 38mpg overall. Worst consumption was coming back up the M40, when it was down to 32mpg. If this last bit is ignored, overall consumption is a fair bit better at 43mpg.

Tool kit - I won't carry so much next time... oh, and I'll pack the metric sockets and not the A/F ones.

Riding on the right - not as bad as I thought, but junctions need a lot of care. Roundabouts, funnily, seemed to come quite easily.

And it finished up that several of us, along with some others, were to return next year.