125cc Tour Through Europe

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by Jonny_Tallboy, Sep 22, 2013.

  1. Jonny_Tallboy

    Jonny_Tallboy Adventurer

    Joined:
    Feb 26, 2013
    Oddometer:
    14
    Welcome all,

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    Some of you may already be familiar with our previous 125cc adventures - one of the better, more scenic rides is elsewhere on the forum. Here:

    http://advrider.com/forums/showthread.php?t=866531

    We've spent the last few years getting to know a couple of old 125cc motorcycles by touring around the British Isles, loving (and hating) all their foibles.

    This time around we thought we'd try to set a real challenge and take the bike abroad. Not too daunting a challenge to most motorcyclists.
    But on these machines the thought of having to rely on them totally for weeks, whilst having to cover 1000s of miles of ground at very modest speeds with no weather protection suddenly departs from an ordinary ride, and into the realms of something like an adventure!

    It's been said many times that it's not the destination that's important, but the journey.
    That said, we usually like a goal or destination, somewhere to reach or see to plan our tours around. But after much deliberation and indecision, we settled on the idea of simply stranding ourselves and the bikes as far as reasonably possible, and riding home.

    Living in the UK - the southern ports are ideal for hopping into France, but this felt like we'd ride into Europe for a while, before turning around and going back. It didn't really have a goal.
    So instead we bought two single ferry tickets to Santander in Northern Spain, the idea then being to call this the 'Start' and ride north over the Pyrenees Mountains into France, then ride the whole length of France, South to North, and ferry back across the English Channel and home.

    Simple enough. Then we started to think about what we'd done.
    Unlike most folks who'd sit there Pan European or 1200cc BMW on the motorway to the ferry port and start the holiday in a few hours, we were on 125s and could barely crack 45mph. As a result, one of the rules we set on our tours is that we don't use motorways or A roads, but instead pick our route along quiet back roads and country lanes.
    This had the unfortunate implication that it would take us 2 days just to get from the north of England to Plymouth in the south! What hope was there for getting back home through two other countries?

    Anyway, sod it. The tickets were booked now - so off we went. Maybe we'd get back in time for work. Who knows? We reckon 2 weeks should do it….

    First things first, we needed a trial pack and a test ride a couple of weeks before the departure to see how the bikes faired with all the gear we'd be taking. Usually a tank bag and some bungees work fine, but with extra gear needed for this trip we added a set of throw over panniers to the mix.

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    Then queue Northern England for some miserable, wet test riding...

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    It had better be warmer and drier than this in Spain!
    The bikes seemed to cope nicely with the gear, losing about 5mph off the max 50mph we usually got from them. Though pulling up hills for any length of time really became a struggle. Should be OK, it's not like Pyrenees are that hilly, right?

    Day 1 was to be a mammoth slog down south to a B&B, which would set us up with a short second day in England to catch the Ferry. As usual it was freezing cold and raining in England. After 13 hours on the back roads, aching all over and wet, we decided we needed to warm up and got the camping stove out at Dartmoor National Park.

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    Day 2 was even wetter, though we only had a short journey to make to the ferry. We arrived wet through once again, though with the prospect of drying off on the boat and starting the first real leg of the trip the mood was upbeat.

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    We were outsized in terms of CC by every bike in the queue! usually about 10 times. Though we did get a lot of folks coming over to yarn about the bikes. Mostly wishing us luck with a puzzled look in their eyes, but also, I like to think, secretly jealous of our fuel economy and predicted fuel budget for the trip.

    So long rain…
    Just the small matter of killing the 20+ hours sailing now:

    Hanging around on deck
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    Taking pics out the windows
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    And making new friends
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    Day 3. Finally we arrive in Spain. And finally we see some sunshine. Lovely and hot.
    After a quick stop in the suburbs of Santander to try to find some oil for the squeaky chain (we forgot to pack any chain lube in our tool kit) we finally start to proceed into the Spanish countryside.

    Chain oiled, time to leave the city…
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    Up into the gentle foothills before tomorrow's Pyrenees
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    The mountain passes were absolutely sublime to ride
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    We finished the first day still in Spain in the town of Vitoria. Right on the edge of the Rioja and Navarra wine producing regions, we had to go out and sample the tapas bars.

    The main square in Vitoria
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    The tapas bars
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    Day 4, and the day we see how these bikes cope with the Pyrenees.
    We set out on some fantastic Spanish tarmac…

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    …And some roads that were not so great

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    We were steadily gaining altitude, and fining some good twisty sections to ride on the way

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    The day continued over roads like these until we got to the Pyrenees themselves. Hot were we were, snow-capped still on the tops, and a hell of a long way up.
    The bikes really struggled to maintain any speed or momentum going up. But we were in no rush, and there wasn't a single car or lorry to be seen so it was just a case of putting the bikes into 1st or 2nd gear, slowly making our way up on half throttle and enjoying the view.
    We soon got used to the idea of this 'forced pace' and learnt to keep the throttle only part open and slowly creep up. There was no point revving any harder to change gear as these bikes couldn't pull up in 3rd gear.

    No need to rush, as the scenery was amazing
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    1,700m at the top. Amazed these little bikes made it
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    Day 5 onward. The next 2 weeks merge together. But by now, we've crossed the Pyrenees, left the Spanish border behind, and are well into France. The north coast of France, and our ferry home, still seem a long way off.

    Coming into one French village, just under the Pyrenees, we see this man herding his sheep down the road.

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    Whether he was bringing them off the mountain because he had seen the weather forecast, I don't know. But the next day was solid, driving rain all day. As we were still very far South we thought it best to continue and get some miles covered, as we were still unsure how long this trip was going to take.
    The exposed nature of these bikes meant that the weather took it's toll on both the bikes and the riders, and after a full day we were forced to seek shelter.
    Luckily we stumbled on a lovely French couple who could put us up for the night indoors, but also had room to store the bikes out of the weather.

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    Just as well, as the rain had got into Alec's headlight and kept blowing his bulbs
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    Though nothing a bit of gaffer tape couldn't fix
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    The following day was total contrast.
    We woke up with our gear dried and the sun back out.
    This was where we'd been staying

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    And on the way back to the shed to pack our bikes up for the day ahead, we saw this.
    A timely reminder that, although our bikes were small and didn't offer a lot of protection from the elements, it could have been a lot worse!

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    Some pretty nice panniers, though!


    With the sun back out, we could now do what we came to France to do: Ride bikes and find some local food!
    Just about every town or village we stopped at had a local market on every day.
    As we were still quite far south, this one had a very Iberian 'feel' to it.

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    We kept picking up produce like this as we travelled through various towns and villages, stashing it under bungees for when we stumbled upon a campsite. More of this later.

    Another thing every French village has is a thriving cafe.
    There was nothing better than to pull up outside on the bikes, sit down with an espresso and the map to plan the next section of the route whilst admiring the bikes...

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    Another day over, we now headed into a more architecturally-rich area of France.
    You couldn't move without tripping over castles like these, littering up the place.

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    By late afternoon, we seemed to get that sinking feeling again that the weather was about to take a turn for the worse - seemed to have fallen into a pattern of one day being hot and sunny, the next day cold and wet.

    Optimism can only go so far, I suppose. Not a happy camper.
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    But then, who likes putting up tents in the pouring rain?
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    You have to smile… That's the spirit
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    But the food and wine we got earlier really helped lift the spirits!
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    The following day we woke up to more blazing sunshine.
    The town certainly looks a lot nicer like this.

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    And we kept on tripping over all those castles...

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    Cruising lazily through the tiny village streets was amazing
    It was now so hot that we were on the hunt for trees to shade us rather that shelter us from rain.

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    The weather stayed good all day.
    We found a fantastic campsite in the middle of nowhere, in a tiny village with just a few houses, 1 tiny bar, but for some reason it's very own massive chateaux.

    The view from our tent
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    We had the place to ourselves
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    And, with the weather so good, decided it was washing day!
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    Some more of the fantastic market stalls that kept feeding us throughout the trip

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    We were closing in on the north coast of France by now.
    Before hopping up to the north coast to catch the ferry, there was just time to trip over one more castle

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    Other than a dull ride back home through England, that was our trip finished.

    The past 2 weeks had been phenomenal. We had no plans at all for the whole trip. Hadn't booked any accommodation or planned any routes. We'd packed everything we could think we might need and arrived in Spain with just one, rough aim: head north.
    Looking back, the way we travelled made this trip so amazing. The bikes we took forced us onto the tiny country roads, which allowed us to move slowly through the country and really experience it.
    Getting on a motorway and 'missing' 200 miles of scenery just wasn't an option for us, and I'm really glad.

    Ditching Sat Navs for good old maps forced us into cafes and bars 2-3 times each day so that we could get the maps out and plan the next phase of the route. We tended to do this at breakfast, lunch and then in the afternoon with an espresso. Just doing so allowed us, again, to experience the country we were in. We got talking to people, yarned about what we were up to (as best we could in a foreign language anyway).

    As a final note. It's always good to think about a trip in hindsight, to think about what you've learned from it. What worked well. What Didn't. How it's changed outlook on things in general.
    I think we did it right on this tour. in terms of gear we didn't take too much, or too little.
    It all packed neatly on the bikes, though one thing to do better next time is find a better way to transport all that french bread

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    So that's that.
    Time to start thinking where the bikes will take us next time.

    Cheers.
    #1
  2. Edmond Dantès

    Edmond Dantès The Kanto Pain

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    Marvelous stuff.
    Great photos, particularly the black and white one of the sheep in the road and on the pavement.

    Interesting article in MCN recently about about a fella, Nick Jones, who rode 5 years, 100,000 miles around the world on a Yammie YBR and an XL125. He said that his five-year trip cost less than the price of a 'big' motorcycle.
    #2
  3. greygeezer

    greygeezer Adventurer

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    Very cool!!
    #3
  4. Rutabaga

    Rutabaga Been here awhile

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    Well done. And nicely documented also.
    #4
  5. no

    no kidding

    Joined:
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    That's a very attractive trip. The food looks wonderful, as well as the routing.
    #5
  6. chammyman

    chammyman Been here awhile

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    Glasgow, Scotland
    great trip. I was looking at doing similar but the fuel cost down to the ferry is the same as the rest of the trip abroad!
    #6
  7. rootsy

    rootsy Been here awhile

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    Oct 9, 2012
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    Lovely images and descriptions of your adventures.

    I can almost taste and smell the delicacies you discovered!

    Thank you for sharing and inspiring.
    #7
  8. PharaohScoots

    PharaohScoots Twist-N-GO

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    Indiana, USA
    Nice RR. Now I have to slog to work, can I have some cheese with my whine!
    #8
  9. TheNorthernMonkey

    TheNorthernMonkey Clueless n00b

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    Very cool trip. Where is picture 3? The yorkshire dales?
    #9
  10. Gizzaride

    Gizzaride Banned

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    Aye, where are you two from?
    it looks like the Pennines to me, & could be either side (The Lancs side being the best!):evil
    Great write up mate, & you should seriously think about starting up a 125cc travel around Europe type company.......I'll be your 1st customer!!!:freaky
    #10
  11. IslandMonkey

    IslandMonkey inselaffe

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    Manchester, England
    That looks like a great trip and thanks for posting a very enjoyable ride report.
    #11
  12. santos466

    santos466 n00b

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    Lisbon, Portugal
    It was a great report to read! Thanks!
    #12
  13. DJacobsen5116

    DJacobsen5116 Been here awhile

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    PNW - Seattle, WA
    Great report and an even better trip. I dream of getting to Europe and just riding around for a month but think it will remain just a dream. Our economy has eaten big holes in my funds.
    #13
  14. andymach23

    andymach23 Adventurer

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    Brilliant trip. Well done. :clap:clap
    #14
  15. malmon

    malmon Unknown Noobody

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    Markets and castles ride, where can I get that round here...love the food on those big wok and the Iberian food display.
    Postcard pic would be the castle with the bridge's arch reflecting in the moat like a whole circle.

    Don't worry about the rain as long as you have the rain gear and not getting wet, it's like beating the system (nature), riding or not.

    Thank you for sharing :thumbup
    #15
  16. Jonny_Tallboy

    Jonny_Tallboy Adventurer

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    Hi, Pic three I forget the exact location, but it's the Pennines somewhere. Could be anywhere from Tan Hill up toward Alston. It's pretty barren up there, but that's the fun of these little bikes: finding all the little roads that no one else rides on.

    I've repeated some of favourite routes using tiny roads on my bigger bike, and to be honest it just isn't the same. The bike felt too heavy and cumbersome, and a little skittish on some of rough, bumpy surfaces, camber and frost-damaged pot holes.

    There's definitely a route for the 125s, and a route bigger bikes.

    As for setting up a 125cc travel company for Europe... You honestly don't need me. Get a cheap 125, a bunch of Michelin Regional maps and buy a ferry ticket. The trick is don't plan! then just avoid primary routes in your ad-hoc, daily route planning and see where it takes you.

    We had no plans. Just a list of places we may, or may not, wish to see. And basically just kept pointing the bikes roughly north. Every now and then (IE couple of days) we though "east a bit, today", or "west a bit after lunch?"

    Some of the nicest places we found were totally by accident, and some of the worst places were actually places we intended to see from reading guidebooks etc. So it goes to show, be flexible and you can't get it wrong.
    #16
  17. no

    no kidding

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    Perfect. That's a very satisfying way to travel.
    #17
  18. GeneC

    GeneC Been here awhile

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    White Plains, NY
    I've gone from a 1100 to a 650. Who knows a 125 MIT be next. The lighter the better :rofl
    #18
  19. ThePeoplesRider

    ThePeoplesRider n00b

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    This is inspiring! I'm stressing over my mid-bike (A2 license) test next week and which bike to get while you guys are living it up on 20 year old customs! My Dad keeps telling me I don't need a bigger bike (I suspect more out of parental worrying than practicality) and I'm starting to believe him now. Those two bikes look so much cooler than the BMW's in Long Way Round.
    #19