|01-04-2014, 09:07 AM||#1|
Joined: Jan 2014
2,100 miles in the Pyrenees, 2013
Thought I would repost this here on ADV - my report of a 2,100 mile bucket list road trip I took last summer with 3 other good mates.
The 2014 edition promises even more, as there will be 7 of us tackling 3,500 miles from the Pyrenees to France, Switzerland, Austrian, and Italian Alps, back via Bologna!
A long post, but it would be remiss to not share my greatest riding adventure yet.
It was an innocuous conversation that kicked it off sometime last December on yet another cold and wet evening spent online instead of riding our pride and joys. Someone blurted out the kind of words petrolheads' ears go all Spock - "Pyrenees", "Alps", "no tolls", "Millau Viaduct". A virtual round of hands went up as to who wanted in on what was going to be a bucket list trip for a bunch of mid-life-crisis bikers who's previous idea of a 'road trip' was the weekend ride out to OnYerBike or somewhere equally salubrious.
And so a plan was hatched: an 8 day hoon with daily roads were identified, rest stops, attractions, and hotels proposed along the way. Road rules were simple: no motorways, no toll roads, and most of us were going to bring the most uncomfortable Italians to tarnish their 'garage queen' status. The ferry was suddenly paid for back in early January, and suddenly everyone went, "OMG, we're actually going!"
The 2,100 mile itinerary was approximately as follows:
Days 0/1: Home --> Plymouth --> Santander by ferry
Days 2 - 7: Route as per map
Day 7: Toulouse --> Paris by Autotrain, ride home from Paris.
Sadly the 8 soon became "The Magnificent 7" after one of us had his tour of Afghanistan extended (we salute you, Cardy). Months passed, and hardly a week was not spent discussing what to pack/do/prep - it is amazing how much thought needs to be made when your life needs to be packed into a 30L backpack. With just over a month to go, the "Magnificent 7" became the "Famous 5" - an MV F4 RR, Ducati 1098, Ducati 1098R, Aprilia Tuono R, and a GSXR Thou K6. Fast forward to departure weekend and despite weeks of mechanical prep, suddenly one of the Italian mistresses decided to throw a tantrum. Emergency help ensued on a late Saturday before departure on Sunday morning: coil packs replaced, and all seemed good again. Phew! Roll on Sunday morning, and we were like kids before Christmas waiting for Santa. Plymouth here we come, our berths onboard the Pont Aven to Santander were awaiting...
Day 0: Getting to Plymouth
It was an ominous start: the coil pack repaired Italian bitch (no longer the mistress) decided to throw another hissy fit en route to the ferry terminal. It was barely a few miles away from home when disaster struck. The hissy fit turned into an almighty inferno when the Ducati 1098 ignited whilst on the move - perhaps a riders worst nightmare other than an RTA. Luckily for her, she was unhurt and managed to escape after a van frantically waved her down with flames spewing from underneath.
You can only imagine how Rosemary felt watching 6 months of waiting/dreaming go up in flames on the very morning en route to the ferry. And so the Famous 5 became the Fantastic 4, although truth be told we have remained the Famous 5 in spirit. And so 4 of us pressed on to Plymouth where we prepped for the sail ahead.
Day 1: Plymouth to Santander
The Pont Aven is great, and the crossing was smooth as silk, the hoards of bikers gave assurance that even if we virginal tourers hadn't a clue, at least others did! We took the option of an outside berth cabin, one step down from the already sold-out Commodore cabins. It was ace, and we got a great rest for the ride ahead.
Day 2: Santander -> San Sebastian
When we reached Santander, it all seemed bit of a mad rush. The TomTom had the route to San Sebastian, and as soon as we rolled off the ferry ramp, the adrenaline ensued. A couple of quick turns out of Santander, and it was clear Spanish drivers enjoyed their roads. Jostling along a brief stretch of two lane motorway for a couple of miles to get ourselves acclimatised, and we peeled off south into the mountainous areas of the Montana Oriental, Ojo Guarena, and Parque Natural Montes Obarenes-San Zadorni. O. M. G. I normally would never wish this upon anyone, but let me just say 'thank you' to the EU Commission for helping fund development of the Spanish roads to the economic detriment of its people. Trust me Spaniards: you are blessed. If not in wallet, at least in terms of the most heavenly tarmac there must be in the Western Hemisphere. You have much to be grateful for.
The first time I wound up the Ducati 1098R through 3rd, deep into 4th, and then settling into 5th along a constant radius turn off the motorway, half bum cheek off, helmet overlooking front wheel witnessing aerial hari-kiri by mother nature on the visor, is something no biker can ever get tired of. I love hanging off through Hawthorne and Dingle Dell, but this has it licked. The roads were immediately sinuous and yelps of joyous expletives lollered over the Scala intercoms. We must have been 50 miles in before our first break when we jumped off the bikes beaming.
The rollercoaster continued, and we eventually rolled into San Sebastian staying at the 5* Hotel Londres right on the beach. Bikes were parked securely, and needless to say, night time Pintxos and cervezas flowed that night in San Seb. This trip reminded me of Gap year renewed, just 20 years later. Hola Espagne!
Heading into the mountains, it was a daily torrent of just awe, wonder, and amazement. Few words described the brilliant roads when attacked on the most unlikely of 'touring bikes'. The superbikes loved these environments: they were fast, and they had an insatiable appetite for every sinuous curve and bend - although they extracted Herculean efforts by everyone. The Tuono looked like the most suitable for the really tight corners and hairpins - wide sit up renthal-like bars allowed it to be tipped in with ease, although the Ducati/GSXR/MV had the legs and comfort on the fast and flowing bends at anything over 120 leptons. Tourers? Pah!
Day 3: San Sebastian --> Bielle, via Jaca
Day 3 saw us head inland from San Sebastian towards the north western Pyrenees, crossing over from Oloron-Sainte-Marie to Jaca via the N-134/N-330. From Jaca, we turned the corner along the N-260a via Torla/Biescas and back over towards Laruns and where we stayed for night 2 at Bielle.
This route was not without incident, however. I was leading the pack at a rate of knots, with us yabbering away on the Scalas, when I suddenly heard, "watch out for the dog! DOG!". The Scala then went silent. My heart was pounding as I pulled over and saw no headlights behind me. Last time I went 'dog!', I ended up in hospital for 8 days - and this time I feared the worst had happened to one of my mates. Quick U-turn, and as I arrived at the scene, thankfully everyone was walking around and no bikes were on their side. A large Pyrenean mountain dog had decided to play a game of chicken with the Tuono. The Ape had lost its front mudguard and some fairings as it T-boned the dog at speed and somehow, miraculously, my mate stayed upright on the big v-twin. The dog was walking although clearly in some pain. Surprisingly, the farmer who owned the dog just shrugged his shoulders and didn't seem to care about either the dog or the damage to the bike. The Aprilia was still running fine and only sustained aesthetic damage, and so we decided to continue on.
Day 4: the heart of the Pyrenees
Day 4 sent us across the heart of the Pyrenees and we detoured to see Gavarnie Falls, the tallest waterfall in France. Gavarnie itself is a popular ski resort and hiking town, and we headed for the top of the resort where the views reminded us of why trips like these were a necessary antidote to urban life. Temps in the mountains were a perfect 15-25 celsius, and the sun was beaming! Could it get any better than this?!
After heading for Aragnouet via the mountain passes, we were forced to backtrack down the mountain via Lourdes due to a closed pass due to the risk of avalanches. We rejoined the fast sweepers of the N-141 towards Vielha, and then pressed on via the C-28 and C-13 via Sort, before rejoining the N-260 / N=145 to lead us into the bike-crazy country/state of Andorra. The N-260 from Sort to La Seu d'Urgell, then N-145 into Andorra was a magical series of tight and twisty ribboned tarmac that you only ever see in bike adventure/touring brochures. This was the real deal! The late afternoon heat was as relentless as the neverending turns and switchbacks demanded serious muscling of the long-wheelbased Ducati at pace. The combination of a 20kg 30L backpack + rider + sustained edge-to-edge riding took its toll on the Michelin Pilot Power 3s that had just been fitted to the Ducati 4 days earlier. The tyres eventually overheated and started to go off towards the end, and turn in felt them just gradually sliding away at every entry. To be fair, the constant number of tight turns taken at speed, fully laden, over hours of riding, was going to be a push for any tyre.
By the time we rolled into Andorra, our core temps were probably about 2 degrees south of the sun, yet our hearts and minds totally buzzed on adrenaline afterburners. We were like red hot pokers being doused as we plunged into the hotel swimming pool. We couldn't stop laughing, the cervezas flowed, and to little surprise... the GSXR had melted it's K3 Racetec and the MV also needed new tyres.
Day 5 - the Monster
A quick shot of Diclofenac and Ibuprofen kept small aches at bay, although it seemed like we were pass 'hump day' and the body laughed at daily 300 miles of sinuous mountain passes. Well it would need to. Day 5 was at least 309 miles according to TomTom (excluding the 20% tax of detours and 'oh-look at this cool route...', etc).
The morning in Andorra was spent getting new tyres fitted to the GSXR and MV. As an asides, I can firmly attest by now that the Michelin Pilot Power 3s were superb on the 1098R and were wearing well despite 900 miles of hard use at speed and in high temps. The Tuono wore new Diablo Rosso IIs (plus dog hair), and they were also wearing well offering plenty of grip for exuberant riding.
We eventually rolled out of Andorra near lunchtime, heading northeast towards El Pas de la Casa, before taking the N320/N20 towards Puigcerda. From Puigcerda we would join the N260/N152 and ride this beautiful rollercoaster through La Molina to Ripoll. Some may recognise the N152 as it is the very road Top Gear infamously declared their favourite test track. Trust me - it is STUNNING.
From Ripoll, we cut west and joined the GI-401/B-402 to Guardiola de Bergueda via La Pobla de Lillet. The road here was not the smoothest tarmac, but it was like a slightly fractured shell-gripped road all the way. On the big superbikes, we attacked this road and it was just massive fun. Taking the C-16 up to the immense Cadi Tunnel allowed us to cool off as we cruised through the stunning tunnel, before rejoining the N-260 west, this time in the opposite direction we had taken it the day before heading into Andorra. We would continue along the N-260 for another 200 miles
Let it be said now, that the N-260 must rank as one of the greatest roads biking ever. No matter your dislike of ferries, it alone is worth making the journey to ride. From Puigcerda heading west to Sort, to La Pobla de Segur then to El Pont de Suert and Campo and Ainsa. The stretch towards Campo from El Pont de Suert was perhaps the finest biking roads of the entire week. Flowing ribboned tarmac, especially the section along the Rio Esera river from Castejon de Sos - you roll on and off the throttle, adrenaline pumping between blind corners along the armco and dropoff to the river, within the steep rock lined valleys. E P I C. I could ride that stretch all day every day.
The final stretch of Day 5 would see us head north via the A-138/D-172 to the ski resort of Saint-Lary-Soulan. For the first time in the week, as we headed for the peak over the border, rain fell and temps dropped to a chilly 9 degrees C. The final stretch to SLS was a challenge - we were riding amongst the clouds with nary any visibility, torrential rain made rivers down the tight and narrow approach roads to our destination. Where had the sun gone?! The blistering 30 degree weather of just earlier that day was a distant memory, and as we found the farmhouse B&B, we were glad to dismount our steeds and take shelter for the night. It had been our last day riding the Pyrenees, and copious amounts of Merlot, bread, and cheese concluded what had otherwise been a day few words could express.
Day 6 - British engineering at its finest
After 5 days of full on 300 mile-a-day mountainous riding, today was going to be a faster 200 mile cruise to Lord Foster's engineering masterpiece that had hosted countless magazine articles and Top Gear episodes.
The morning would not go without event, however, as one of the group came off on a tightening blind radius before an opposite turn across a tight bridge. It was a close call given the speeds, and thankfully damage was limited to a new sticker kit and a couple of ibuprofen for a few cracked ribs. Back to the roads, and fast dual carriageways and a couple of brief stints on the motorway gave the girls a chance to stretch their legs and give reprieve to a couple of aching knees and wrists amongst the group. We rolled into the chalet at the Millau on fire, and once again the swimming pool and cervezas cooled off the intensity. MaccyDs was in order after days of Spanish/French fayre, and drinks poolside gave the opportunity for some reflection on what had been a magnificent journey so far.
Day 7 - Sausages and wine: Figeac/Cahors/Toulouse --> north
Considered a small detour of twisty French, this was now part of our trip home. A chance to enjoy some riverside entertainment from Figeac to Cahors, before dropping down to Toulouse for the AutoTrain. The AutoTrain knew what they were doing with the bikes, and we boarded the overnight sleeper assured the bikes should have been OK.
Day 8 - All good things come to an end, Paris --> home
All good things come to an end as they say. It would have been rude to have not stopped via the Eiffel Tower for a quick couple shots, and of course a re-enactment of National Lampoon's European Vacation around the Arc de Triomphe until we had the assistance of the Gendarmes to park up for a quick shot.
7 Lessons learned:
1) If travelling in a group, get an intercom! Once set up, the Scalas we used were brilliant and a single charge lasted the entire riding day.
2) Kriega R30: without a doubt, the best backpack I have ever used, especially for biking. It carried everything for the whole week aboard the Ducati. Yes it was perhaps 20kg heavy, but the way it distributes weight meant my shoulders never once felt it at all. If you're not sure about bringing/leaving something, then leave it.
3) Add VAT to your planned mileage.. we unintentionally travelled an extra 15-20% every day on top of the routes planned by TomTom.
4) Michelin Pilot Power 3 tyres: probably the best road tyres I've used. They were absolutely superb in all conditions, offering loads of grip and plenty of feel for a road tyre. After 2k miles on the Ducati, they have dropped off the grip levels compared to when they were new, and they have worn superbly. Only another 1,500 miles in them though, although not bad considering I chew through Supercorsas every 1,000 miles.
5) Bring a large bottle of visor cleaner with a microfibre cloth. You will need it!
6) Goretex Pro Shell is just brilliant kit - both the leather version and also the textile version. Use it in all weathers without concern.
7) Finally, it would be remiss to not talk about how the 1098R faired on the trip. It was brilliant. Magnificent. And comfortable! Peeling through the many fast sweepers and bends, it was glorious. Thundering Termis, her 100ftlbs of torque fired her out of every bend with consummate ease - she was the perfect chariot. She didn't drink any oil, and she proved that a high strung homologation superbike is wasted sitting in a living room. They were born for these kinds of roadtrips. And dang, she still makes herself special in so many ways you never get tired of.
It's kinda cathartic writing this down, and there are loads more pics/videos I wish I could share but won't on PH. Big kudos to the guys on the trip for doing the mileage - it was a good effort covering 300 miles a day on superbikes in the mountains without a motorway in sight, but would I do it again? Hell yeah!! The Sequel is already being planned...
Thanks for reading and keep it shiny side up! :
|01-05-2014, 02:05 PM||#3|
Joined: Jan 2014
|01-05-2014, 04:14 PM||#4|
Joined: Jul 2007
Location: Port Kennedy, Western Australia
Thanks for sharing that trip. What a beauty.
'13 Triumph Sprint GT; '04 Triumph Tiger 955i
|01-05-2014, 07:02 PM||#5|
Joined: Jan 2013
Location: Spring Valley, NY
Thanks for sharing. I've been looking forward to riding the Pyrenees. Only been there on 4 wheels and a bicycle. You're fortunate to have like minded friends to share a trip like that. Special.
I'm curious, was the fire's cause ever determined?
I shared my trip with 200 other maniacs! Not as personal. More about survival!
fredgilb screwed with this post 01-05-2014 at 07:25 PM
|01-13-2014, 11:45 AM||#6|
Joined: Jan 2014
Regarding the fire, yes - it was most likely a coilpack that disintegrated and allowed fuel back into the exhaust before igniting in the cats. Apparently the day before a coil pack had failed, and they only replaced one of them. Lo and behold, it's normal to replace both at the same time!
|01-13-2014, 12:47 PM||#7|
Joined: Nov 2013
What a well written and informative post , i am hoping to do spain in a couple of months but going south from santander looking for a touring buddy once again great post .
|01-13-2014, 02:18 PM||#8|
Joined: Jul 2012
Location: North coast, Spain
Thank's for sharing lads. I've been around that area a few times with our friends from Barcelona on camping and hiking trips but never on my bike.
It has been on the cards or should I say my list for a while now, so I reckon I'll see you around maybe.
Let me know if you need any help with the o'l lingo should you get into a sticky situation I'd be happy to help in exchange for a pincho y cerveza!
Oh, and would you be kind enough to drop me off some tea bags on your way down!
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