“Euro Lambretta Avignon 2013
Day 1 (Tuesday)
Russ, Karl and I (Rich) meet up with Eden, Chris (Walsall Indecipherables) and Graham (Mr G from NYC) at Stratford on Avon on Tuesday morning. Mr G is riding his targa twin and heading for Newhaven and plans to ride with us for part of the way. The other five of us set off for Portsmouth to catch the 1445 hours ferry. It’s a lovely day with the sun shining and everything is going well…..until on the A34 south of Oxford where Eden and Chris are racing and Eden nips up his cast barrel on his Winter Model. A full strip down is called for as he has lost compression and damaged his piston and rings. Eden sees the funny side of this seizure and just regards it as another routine “problem”. Lesser scooterists would be jacking it in but he is made of sterner stuff and besides we are carrying mountains of spares that need using up. This is a 1700 mile road trip and we are all expecting trouble!!
I am having my own problems and am “nursing” a newly rebuilt engine (a novel concept to most of the lads!) in my Silver Special. My cast barrel has been over bored to 70mm and the engine starts cutting out at speed despite me running it in for 650 miles during the two weeks before this rally. I decide to leave the others working on Eden’s scoot and push off for Portsmouth alone, at a steady speed using the back roads. I head for Petersfield then Waterlooville and arrive at Portsmouth in good time. The rest of the boys pull into the ferry terminal around 1400 hours with 15 minutes to spare before last check in.
On board and it’s time for some pizza and a coffee. The pizza looks good but bases are rock hard so Russ’s trusty penknife is called into action. Eden then decides to rewire his main camcorder cable using the same knife as a wire is damaged. Good job that we have more tools with us than Halfords…….I suspect that we are going to need them!
We also get the maps out and start planning our route (no planning done prior to rally!) We have large scale and small scale maps of Europe and agree a route which is programed into Karl’s newly purchased, very expensive biker tom-tom.
On landing at Caen, Karl’s trusty scoot “Rusty” won’t start – for some reason Rusty doesn’t like ferries and we had the same problem in Ireland 2 years ago. We follow Chris off the ferry and soon realize that we are going the wrong way…Karl takes over and we follow him for a few miles towards the hotel that I have booked at Caen. We take several wrong turnings and then split into two groups with me and Russ following Chris (who is using his hand written notes attached to a shortbread biscuit tin lid taped to his headset) and Eden following Karl with the tom-tom only to run out of fuel due to the tom-tom sending them to the wrong destination.
When we find the F1 hotel, I am dismayed as it is in the middle of an industrial park on the outskirts of Caen. It looks like a warehouse and we struggle to get in as its keypad entry won’t accept the passcode. When we finally get in, one of the room doors won’t open and we knock on the Concierge’s door; he is less than impressed by us and tells us that it’s our problem and he needs his sleep as he has to be up at 0400 hours.When Chris angrily reminds him that we are the customers, he threatens to ban us from the hotel…..we drop off our gear and storm off to find a beer and put the world to rights….but there is no-where open despite us marching round the industrial park for 40 minutes. I kick myself for not checking the hotel reviews which apparently were shocking. It’s not a great start to the trip. is this a bad omen?
Day 2 (Wednesday)
Woke up and am surprised to see that the scoots are still outside. Worried last night about leaving them as the car park was full of vans and there were a lot of shady people hanging around the “hotel”. Slept pretty well and beds were surprisingly comfortable. We all had coffees and after Eden had retightened his cylinder head nuts set off south with Chris leading using his tin-tin! (Karl had threatened to bin his tom-tom after last night’s fiasco trying to find the hotel so we have all agreed to travel using “old school” navigating instead)
Riding on small roads in the morning through pretty villages we made slow progress. My scoot was playing up yet again and had cut out four times before midday. We stopped for lunch at a shopping centre in Chateau Dom having completed just 135 miles. Deciding that we needed to crack on, we jumped on the motorway at 1400 hours heading south for Clermont Ferrand, with just another 200 miles to ride.
I decided to run with my choke on to stop my scoot from heat seizing and made good progress apart from using extra fuel. The lads said that I would use minimal extra fuel and stupidly I believed them ..so managed to run out of fuel twice during the journey! Luckily I carry two litres of extra fuel in a can to “get me out of jail” and refilled on the hard shoulder without an issue.
The only other incident of note was a lorry driver who deliberately pushed Chris onto the hard shoulder for no apparent reason? Was it because he is a Vespa GTS lover? / perhaps he dislikes “Les Roast Beef”? Or was he simply bored and was aiming for Chris’s red jacket? Who knows…..but it was a close shave!
Anyway, we made good time and arrived at Clermont Ferrand having completed 350 miles – the most I had ever managed in one day and it felt good. Karl had been worrying about his bottom for weeks before and had fitted an extra lump of foam onto his seat for the trip. Russ had also fitted extra foam inside a trouser leg cut off so that it still looked nice and tidy – once a mod always a mod! Being “real men”, Eden, Chris and I just had standard seats…and smiled though the pain barrier…..
Clermont Ferrand is a heavy industrial town and isn’t too pretty on the outskirts, however we found a 2 star hotel under a flyover which looked better than last night’s F1 hotel and had a locking parking area. We checked in and got off into town for some beer and pizza and had a great night.
Day 3 (Thursday)
Setting off avoiding the motorways and it’s the best day so far for me. Karl has kindly adjusted the settings on my carburetor and for the first time this trip the scoot runs all day without cutting out. We set a route to see the Millau bridge – this is the highest suspension bridge in the world with stunning views across the countryside… so we have decided to ride under it instead and get some photos. Chris is leading the pack and is doing a great job avoiding maniac lorry drivers whilst plotting a course that runs adjacent to the motorway. We are on small and windy roads where the scenery is stunning and traffic minimal. It’s the third day of great weather with temperatures up to 33*c. Russ has problems with his exhaust mounting shearing on his Black Special which he initially fixes with cable ties and a twig splint then later we stop at a local garage and he gets it welded up for the princely sum of 9 euros.
The D999 is the best road I have ever ridden on with twisty mountain sections and gorgeous villages. I wish I lived round here and Eden decides that he will bring his GSXR over one day to really test the bends….although he admits that the camcorder footage and comments would be “X rated” and it might be a one way trip if he misjudged a bend!
We had planned to stop about 80 miles away from Avignon but decided to push on and make Avignon that night. Karl and his tom-tom are called into play for the last 40 miles as it is pitch black by now on the back roads with the only incident being a near miss – where I nearly side swipe Karl as he pulls out in front of me and I am too close and have to swerve at the last second to miss him. It’s a very near miss…but fortunately no harm done apart from some angry exchanges of words!
We get to the campsite around 2230 having covered 300 miles and spend the next 10 minutes trying to persuade the Security man on the gates to let us in. Fortunately one of the French Lambretta Club guys smooths things over with this Jobsworth and we’re in, although we won’t be able to get our goody bags till tomorrow. We find the LCGB area and then it’s putting the tents up by torch – hard for me as I have only just bought the tent and never put it up before….doh!
We then meet up with the rest of the Walsall and Brummie lads who have vanned it down to Lyon and ridden the rest of the way due to “work” commitments. Finally we get to the bar and enjoy a few beers and the entertainment……’nuff said!
Day 4 (Friday)
The sun is shining and we are awoken by the sound of scoots being revved up. We amble into Avignon en masse and find the main square where we order 17 beers. Unfortunately there is no Weatherspoons pub so we are paying 5 euros a beer…but it’s worth it as the weather is stunning and there are entertainers in the plaza and it’s a good “craic” with the lads. We find a smaller and cheaper bar later where we get some sandwiches to soak up the beer. Then it’s back to the site which is on an island next to the river with glorious views of the bridges and Avignon. That night the lads go “sticker crazy” and everything that moves or doesn’t, gets plastered with Pelsall Lambretta Club stickers…..I have gone to bed early as I am “knackered” (from daytime drinking) and miss the mayhem.
Day 5 (Saturday)
We wake up to cloudy weather and decide to fuel up in readiness for Sunday departure. All the fuel stations in France are shut on Sunday except on the motorways. We have already had problems with the automated fuel stations that are open 24/7 but not accepting UK debit / credit cards. 17 of us set off to Avignon to fill up using the map of petrol stations provided by the organisers. However most locations don’t exist and we find ourselves riding around inside the castle walls looking for fuel and generally pissing off the locals who are sitting outside nice cafes and enjoying the peace and quiet!! There are people covering their noses and ears and I feel guilty; others are having fun revving up their scoots and sharing the great smell of “groundsman” oil with the locals (names withheld to protect the guilty…eh Eden!)
Then unbelievably it starts to rain hard and continues for most of the afternoon. I can’t believe it! We are holed up in the camp so I decide to get some washing done in the laundry whilst having a beer. The day continues with yet more beers and the gala dinner. A great night and thanks to the organisers for the “do” and apologises for liberating a union flag that was part of the room decorations!
Day 6 (Sunday)
At breakfast we catch up with Chris Venter – a South African guy who is doing a 35000km ride from Cape Town to Dublin with 3 mates for charity. I am initially impressed until I find out that he is on an LML – where’s the challenge in that? Surely he should be on a Lambretta! But seriously he’s an interesting character though and tells some great stories. Their ride is due to finish in Dublin but he is meeting up with Richard Branson, Charley Boorman, Ewan McGregor and Jamie Oliver in London who will all be on scoots. Check out their website www.scooterddicts.co.za
We pack up and say our good byes to Chris and the Indecipherables who are heading north. Russ, Karl, Eden and me get together to plan a route south aiming for Fioux. As fuel stations are shut on Sundays, our cunning plan is to keep to smaller roads and jump on the motorways for a few junctions to fill up. We arrive at La Grande Motte early afternoon to get photos of the scoots at the beach. Then there’s just time for crepes and cold coffees at a cafe on the front before we leave.
Later that afternoon we are on a stretch of motorway and the heavens open. It’s a torrential downpour of biblical proportions. I slow to 30 mph but still can’t see and the motorway is flooded. The rain clears and Russ’s scoot dies. The stator has packed up so Russ gets a new one fitted in an hour whilst Eden waits for us 5 miles up the road. When we get going again, the roads are really slippery and Russ’s back end steps out on a roundabout on a diesel patch. We continue but it’s clear that he is struggling for grip using the “widow-maker” rear tyre that is fitted to his scoot. I worry about fate, as this scoot is the one that crashed out in Ireland in 2011 in wet weather when ridden by Little John and Russ has chosen to keep the same tyres fitted from that fateful day to break the voodoo curse on this scoot!
Although we had aimed for Fioux, we decide to cut short the ride and hole up in Carcassonne having completed just 185 miles. We find a nice hotel with underground parking in the old part of town near the castle. We walk through the castle gates and it’s stunning with shops and bars and restaurants; however they are all shut as its past 2230 hours on a Sunday night – merde!
Fortunately a hotel bar is still open. Unfortunately for us it’s the most expensive in town with beers at 7 euros a pop. Still, worth every penny!
Day 7 (Monday)
We set off at 1030 having taken a few photos of the castle. Wish we could stay longer, but we have a lot of miles to do today over tricky roads and the weather is overcast and rain is forecast. The rain appears but it’s just showers and soon the sun comes out and lifts our spirits. We get to Soulan which is a ski resort and really picturesque. The sun is shining and temperatures soar to 28*c. We now have much steeper roads to ride and can see snow on the tops of the mountains. The views are absolutely stunning! As we ride out of Soulan, the road surfaces get worse – the French seem to think that putting loose gravel on all the bends is an aid to safety – WTF? We take it easy for the first few miles and then Karl’s scoot dies. Having checked the normal things he pulls the carburetor off and notices that a piece of gravel is caught between the reed petals. We persevere for 10 minutes trying to get it out without damaging the reeds and eventually Russ succeeds. Bizarrely a grass snake slides onto Karl’s side panel (which he has removed and laid on the road) presumably to sun itself and then promptly dies. Is this another bad omen I think to myself?
Once Karl is up and running again we set off on some stunning roads and through a 3km tunnel into Spain. Once in Spain the roads improve and we have some great riding. My plug cap pops off and scoot dies so I catch the others up in Ainsa where we stay the night in a hostel which does great food and beers at a very reasonable price. We get a round of cheers from some German bikers who sitting outside the bar when we arrive.
Day 8 (Tuesday)
Early morning maintenance and I change my plug cap. Russ changes his rear tyre for one that actually has some grip on it! We chat to various bikers who are amazed that we are in the Pyranees and do our own maintenance. We then set off for Jaca where Russ decides to go paddling in a lake, then onto Estrella and a National Park. The roads in the park are super twisty and in poor shape and I find it tough going. As I come out of the dark, tree lined roads my back, bottom and wrists are killing in and I lie down on a nice grassy verge when we stop. It’s another really hot day pushing 30*c which is draining and I am drinking copious amounts of water.
We now aim for Eiber to see where the Spanish Lambrettas used to be made. In Eiber the town is rammed with people as there is a festival going on. We discover that the only two hotels in town don’t have parking so get a place 2km out of town instead. We get a taxi into town and enjoy tapas and cervesas in a little bar. I fall asleep in the taxi on the way back to the hotel!
Day 9 (Wednesday)
We only have 100 miles to do today to get to Santander for our 2115 hour ferry so it should be a breeze! However things go wrong from the start with Karl’s exhaust mounting shearing and having to cable tie his exhaust in place. Whilst we are “fixing” Rusty, a couple of guys turn up and want to introduce us to the President of the Eiber Lambretta club. We ride back into town in seering heat to a garage where everyone owns a Lambretta. We take photos / exchange details and visit their local bar which has photos of the clubs members on the wall. We politely decline drinks as time is ebbing away…..
When we get going again we select back roads as Karl’s scoot is sick and he is worried; but the tom-tom is taking us on a very slow and windy route and we are not sure that we are even going in the right direction… Russ’s exhaust then decides to throw away some more of its mountings up a hill which Eden spots as I run over them! Yet more exhaust repairs and more time lost…. it’s this road trips never ending story!
We decide to jump back onto the motorway to make up some time, but on a steep incline Karl’s scoot dies and we pull over worried about heat seizure. I’m not surprised as its getting hotter and like the mad dogs we are, we always seem to do most of our riding in the midday sun!. Karl makes a few adjustments and we let Rusty cool down before pushing onto Santander at a steadyish pace. We make the ferry with just an hour to spare before departure. It’s been a tough day but we all feel relieved to be on board and that we have “made it” and can now settle down to some entertainment and some beers. We are forced to enjoy a “Magician” who creates hand shadow characters and also a “Singer” who is easy on the eye, but not on the ear as tonight’s “entertainment”. I entertain myself instead with a few beers!
Later I strap myself down to my top bunk (much to the amusement of the others) as I have been told that crossing the Bay of Biscay will be really rough and I could easily fall out of bed..
Day 10 (Thursday)
We get up late and spend the day relaxing on board. Unfortunately the promised pod of whales didn’t materialize but we do get to see another helicopter buzzing past the ferry several times almost close enough to touch. Wow!
Predictably enough Rusty wouldn’t start on disembarkation. Karl needs to get him to see a psychiatrist as this problem is getting worse and is starting to affect other members of the team with my scoot also refusing to start in sympathy. We ended up bump starting my scoot, much to the amusement of the 50 or so bikers on our deck. Whilst checking my scoot, I also noticed that a rear mounting bolt for my exhaust bracket had gone AWOL so yet more cable ties were called into service…
On finally clearing passport control we set off for home – only 200 miles to go! My scoot promptly dies on the M5 so we re-jetted it again.
30 minutes later the carburetor blew off its rubber and we were joined by the Police on the hard shoulder..I think that they were just looking after us as they asked me questions about the cc of the bike’s engine etc…..
Finally we started to make good progress with just numerous fuel stops slowing us down but also giving us the opportunity to get more layers on as it was getting cold. Just about there now but with two miles to go before the turnoff to Stourbridge, Russ had a rear tyre blow out and was swerving around in the middle lane as I caught him up. He looked very anxious as we pulled over – will the curse of the Black Special never be lifted?
Fortunately the M5 is quiet at midnight and he quickly changed the tyre while I watched his back. We turned off at J4 to Stourbridge and said our goodbyes – four of us had come out together and four of us returned. The longest, most challenging but best ride of our lives – none of us could believe that we had done it. Absolutely Brilliant!
I set off for home in exuberant mood ….and promptly ran out of fuel again…..!
To Be Continued……………