Sunday, October 20, 2019

Almost-fully-fledged motarde

My new bike. Photo courtesy Florence Joffre
I passed my motorbike license in August. Took the road test on a Thursday, got the result on Saturday morning and on Saturday afternoon I was trying motorbikes. Motivation moves arses.

In the end I bought a new Honda 500 CBF in stylish grey and pale bronze. I had wanted the version in fluo yellow but it was produced in 2017/2018 and all the second-hand bikes available were located in the north of France. A bit tricky to deal with, and the price used was not so different from the price new once you'd added the cost of getting it.

The photo is is of me on my birthday, on my new bike. As you can see, I look very chipper. It not only looks good, it's great fun to ride. The biggest difference is being able to keep up easily with my biker buddies while out on rides. I'm no longer flat out going up hills, I can just sail up with a little touch of accelerator.

A couple of weeks ago, I met up with my WIMA / WRWR buddies and we spent the weekend in Haute Loire. I rode a total of 707 km over the three days. We stayed at a "relais motard" which are biker-friendly hotels. Some are better than others. The Hotel Rives de l'Allier is definitely one of the better ones. Owned and run by a biker couple, it has everything the travelling biker needs - video-surveillance in the ample car-park, couple of garages for bad weather, a workshop, comfy beds and delicious food, and very good value for money.

We stopped for coffee in Lavoûte-Chilhac which turned into a picnic lunch on the handy picnic tables in superior surroundings.

Wet weather gear fashion parade
The weather was pretty kind even though we had some drizzle. The wet weather gear was useful for keeping out the Auvergne chill too. We had a lovely ride up, but it was great to arrive and get into the warm in time for the apero. We ate extremely well, with all the food freshly made with local produce.

Clyde - my bike is called Bonnie
I couldn't resist this little bit of Chinese silliness. He quacks, and flashes on and off if you press him.

Viaduc de Garabit
On the Saturday, we had a bike ride out into the region which included a stop at the impressive Viaduc de Garabit built by M Eiffel. Practice run I expect.

Lovely Auvergnat view
and another...

A horse, a horse...
We ate our return picnic in the shadow of Château de Montréal where we saw this suit of armour clutching a flower in one hand and pretending to type on a sky blue laptop with the other. Unusual...

When I'm not going off on a biker weekend, I'll be going for local rides with local biker buddies. You wouldn't believe how many biker groups there are around here. Most can be found on Facebook, and many get together regularly to ride together for the day or less. Recently I enjoyed a ride along the Gorges de la Vis, with a stop at the St Laurent le Minier waterfall which looked very atmospheric with its autumn colours and soft lighting.
St Laurent le Minier waterfall looking very autumnal and mysterious

If I'm not riding, I may well be joining in events with the FFMC34. Most recently we did the Relais Calmos for bikers going to and coming back from the Bol d'Or. We had a very merry time and met lots of bikers who were very grateful to take a break with coffee and snacks available.
Guess which is me

My bike license is provisional for two years. After then, I can do a day's training in order to obtain the full biker license. Currently I'm limited to a bike of no more than 47.5 HP. If I do the training in two years' time, I'll be able to ride any bike. The sky's the limit!

Sunday, June 02, 2019

Looking back on my first year as a Motarde

It's the end of my first year as a bike rider, or 'motarde' as they so beautifully put it in French. What a year of adventure, new friends, new experiences, and a wonderful feeling of freedom. I take my bike everywhere - everyday to work, and for weekend fun - a total distance of 16,000 km.
Me and my Honda 125 cc plus new helmet

After my training forays to Millau and Gordes (already written about before), and my big trip to Loupiac for the Horizons Unlimited Adventure Biker weekend, I started taking part in demonstrations organised by the FFMC34 which coincided with the now infamous Gilets Jaunes demos.

At Christmas, there was a more lighthearted parade in aid of charity when we all dressed up in Santa costumes.
Ready for the FFMC34 Santa parade in aid of charity
A sea of red Santas

Having enjoyed the camaraderie of the group and the friendly welcome I received even with my little 125 cc I decided to join the FFMC34 in January and have participated in the monthly meetings ever since. The demonstrations gave way to roadside Relais Calmos in the nicer weather to encourage bikers to stop and have a rest, cup of coffee, and chat about bikes, equipment and maintenance.

Demo in Sète to protest about the state of the roads in villages
We also attended the Cevenn'Oil gathering of old bikes where we provide fun and laughs for the kids with mini motos. I of course had to have a go...

Recently we spent a weekend on a motorbike-only campsite near Lunas in Haut Languedoc, with lots of winding roads and beautiful views to get there.
First tent camping I've done for 16 years! The tent was ready-mounted with a mattress inside..

5 of the 22 happy campers; we took up almost the whole campsite
In May we went to a giant picnic at Lake Salagou organised by le Gang des Motards where there were over 900 bikes and 1200 bikers.

On Ascension Day, a day off, we got together for a barbecue at HQ before the monthly meeting. The Hérault FFMC is very active and they're a great bunch of bikers both motards and motardes.

In February, I learned about the Women Riders World Relay which is taking place this year. A baton is being passed around the world by women bikers - different ones along the way - and riding to a strict schedule so in rain, wind, even snow, whatever the conditions! It's an amazing adventure and one I wanted to be part of, but with only a 125 cc, I couldn't join the official relay. So I volunteered to organise the France-wide off-shoot, the Ripple. We have a flag rather than a baton and it is going around France so that all the women who wanted to join in the relay but couldn't can participate in the Ripple.
WRWR logo
Through the WRWR, I met a group of amazing women bikers who were the riders for the official relay. I was there when the baton passed through Montpellier, and with my Ripple hat on, I was part of the group that stayed overnight nearby. They were such a friendly, fun bunch, we all stayed in touch and have been riding and getting together ever since.

Thanks to the WRWR, I learned about WIMA the Women's International Motorcycling Association and WIMA France. WIMA France helped me with the start of the Ripple during the Touratech Travel Event held in Orange.

Start of the WRWR France Ripple in Orange 18 May 2019

I was camping in Chateauneuf du Pape over the weekend of the event with my WRWR buddies and had a fantastic time with them and the WIMA motardes. The campsite laid on superior aperos each evening with local (Chateauneuf du Pape) wine producers which gave us a superior state of merriment...
Camping in Chateauneuf du Pape (mobile-homing at least)

Although it rained on my way there and on the way back, the rain kindly held off on the Saturday when it was all happening!

This year I also participated in my first ever Poker Rally which was organised by MCT2000 who are based in Clermont l'Hérault. Another merry group of bikers, they organise biker rides in the region and beyond. The poker rally involved solving clues to the names of local places which provided the itinerary for the circuit. I was hopeless, but got teamed up with another woman who was a bit more with it, but we needed the kind and generous help of others if we were to get off the starting blocks. At lunch time we all stopped for a merry picnic together, and someone sat on a ripe banana which of course set us all off (again).

For International Women's Rights Day, I joined about 500 other women including WRWR and MCT2000 buddies in Nimes for Toutes en Moto.

There was a lot of pink about...
Nice piccie taken by Yagura Photos

I'm currently taking lessons to sit the motorbike licence test. I've had such fun on the little Honda, but I'd like to be able to keep up better with my buddies who have bigger bikes, go further and have even more adventures. It's been an amazing year. The biggest thanks go to my former DB who bought me the bike and encouraged me to become a rider rather than remain a passenger. It's changed my life. So have all the people I've met, and especially the great friends I've made and had such fun with.

Easter Day FFMC34 operation 'nid de poule' to protest about the potholes ('nid de poule') in the roads

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Gilets Jaunes/Motards en Colère Demo 17 Nov 2018

Starting point at the Zenith (my photo). The noise was incredible!

On a very unprepossessing day for a demo when enthusiasms could be easily be dampened by rain, drizzle, and dark heavy clouds, over 1000 bikers grouped together at the Zenith (concert hall) car park just outside Montpellier. There were local bikers, bikers from Béziers, Nimes, Lodève and Aveyron, and the noise was deafening! There were of course the hotheads who revved the engines of their sport bikes to create as much noise as possible, but even just the number of large engines all running at the same time made a low level rumbling that was quite incredible.

The demo had been declared at the Préfecture so it was all legal and above board, and as a result, we were escorted by the gendarmes and police (who are themselves bikers and car owners) although of course, they could never show us any visible support...

On the A709 (my photo)
We crawled onto the A709 which was totally empty, the Gilets Jaunes having blocked all the entrances to the motorway. Half-way along our route, we met a number of cars crawling along in the other direction, with much tooting, honking and yelling support.

I woz there! Wet but having a merry time.

From the motorway, we came off at Montpellier Ouest, and made our way along Avenue de Toulouse and Gambetta towards the Place de la Comédie. The atmosphere was relaxed, everyone was smiling. The cortège was very impressive, and many young lads along the way were delighted to see it, nudging each other and pointing.

Avenue de Toulouse waiting for the police to clear the roads ahead (my photo)

Our destination was the Esplanade in the end rather than the Place de la Comédie which is like an ice-rink in the rain. We parked all the bikes on the Esplanade and walked up to the Préfecture. After some stirring words by the boss of the Motards en Colère de l'Hérault, a small contingent of 5 bikers was met by the Préfet's representative to have a nice cup of tea and chat (I expect...).

I had a rdv so had to bugger off at that point, but it was an amazing experience being among so many bikers on such a day of mobilisation.

What was it all about? Basically the people are being blamed and taxed for the mistakes of government policy over the last 20-30 years. We drive petrol/diesel cars because all the clean car patents were bought up and squashed by either the energy companies or car manufactures, and it's now our fault that we drive polluting cars.

The French government is incapable of self-analysis to discover areas for improvement, and takes no notice of the Cours des Comptes which regularly points out scandalous public spending wastage.

So everything comes back to inventing ever more taxes, a ruthless money-making scam campaign against road users, and punishing the retired because they are no longer 'productive' (except for looking after grand-kids, being active members of every single charitable association, caring for others, etc.), and the rise in petrol taxes was just the last straw.

The French are always being criticised for being 'des veaux', just accepting what is imposed on them, but there comes a point when they say 'enough is enough', and that point was reached and expressed during the demonstrations.

Here is a resumé by Midi Libre of the day's demos in the whole region here: RESUME.

Here is an analysis in French of the whole mess that France has become: HERE.

And a little video of our own motard demo with sound.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Hérault Tourisme Motorbike Circuit

The good folk at Hérault Tourism have been hard at work for enthusiasts of all means of transport. On their website you can now find circuits around Languedoc for:

This weekend promised beautiful weather - sunshine and warmth, maybe the last one this year. There are three circuits in the motorbike list:
Between vines and the Orb valley (155 km)
From southern Larzac to the Mediterranean (165 km)
Hérault gorge and garrigue (120 km)

You can expect good roads, fabulous twists and turns and stunning scenery. I decided on exploring the villages and vines that make up the Beziers back country and then up along the Orb valley. You can download the roadbook which tells you some of the sites you can visit, places to eat, places to buy petrol, and places to repair your bike, as well as clear instructions on what roads to take and where to turn.

We had to reach Villeneuvette near Clermont-l'Hérault where the circuit starts - worth a visit as it was originally built as a clothing factory with housing for workers. Then the route takes you south to Cabrières and Pouzolles through many charming little villages and past vineyards as far as the eye can see. We stopped for coffee and a picnic in Pouzolles in the shadow of the impressive château sitting on some handily grouped seating on the esplanade just made for getting together and chatting.
Pouzolles outsized château for such a small village
Refreshed, we set off again towards Roujan which was very pretty and then up into the Orb valley where the seriously gorgeous scenery makes for fantastic riding, starting with the "Plus Village de France" of Roquebrun.
Roquebrun in the sunshine
 The big guns as you can see!
Beautiful curve of the river at Roquebrun
Not far away is another "Plus Beau Village" - Vieussan.
Vieussan, vines, oliviers, garrigue, blue sky
After Vieussan, the route takes you through a variety of picturesque scenery with views of the mountains of Haut Languedoc. We stopped next to a river with an exciting crossing that I just had to ride over.
The river Orb with exciting crossing.

Me on my bike - the crossing looks quite tame...
Riding north into the Haut Languedoc park, the hillsides closed in and the road followed every nook and cranny contour of the gorges. Seen along the way, the barrage des Monts d'Orb:
Barrage des Monts d'Orb
 No lack of water here!
 61,75m high, 240m long, it can stock more than 30 Mm3 of water in 180 ha.
 It produces hydro-electricity and controls the flooding of the river lower down the valley.
Elsewhere might suffer from drought, not Hérault!

We took it easy on the twisty roads with their hairpin bends, climbs and descents, avoiding spiky chestnut shells on the road and groups of people collecting them. It got chillier as we went up, evidence that we were climbing towards the Larzac plateau.

The circuit ends at Roquedonde which is famous for the Buddist temple Lerab Ling. We didn't visit it, but took the scenic road back to Lodève with the intention of finding a bar for a cup of tea. There was nothing that looked open or friendly, so we carried on to Gignac where a book market was finishing up for the day, and the bar was open and filled with merry people on both sides of the road. It was good to sit and reflect on all we'd seen and ridden. So much to take in both visually and physically.

It's an amazing circuit with a great variety of scenery - everything except the beach in fact, it's Hérault in a nutshell and definitely one to do again. Perhaps not all in one day so that the sites can be visited on foot, and perhaps the other way round to see everything from the other side. It should take 4 hours to do but we started at 11.30am, took 45 minutes to get to Villeneuvette, stopped for lunch and coffee, for rests, for tea, and took half an hour or so to get back from Gignac which is itself half an hour or so from Roquedonde, and arrived home at 7.45pm.

I would definitely recommend it to anyone wanting to explore a fabulous and varied part of west Hérault.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Birthday weekend chez les Horizons Unlimited bikers

I'll certainly remember this birthday weekend!

Bike ride Home to Loupiac, and back via Severac le Chateau - 645 km round trip
Click on the photo to see it better
Horizons Unlimited is a website set up by a couple of adventure bikers. Over the years they have organised meetings for other adventure bikers. The French branch had its meeting this year in Loupiac near Rocamadour.

View from the campsite
Although I'm hardly an 'adventure biker', I love hearing about the adventures of incredible people who have travelled around the world. For me, getting to Loupiac is an adventure. I left home at 8.30am, stopped for coffee and lunch and got to Loupiac at about 3pm. The bike meeting was taking place at the Camping les Hirondelles which is where most of the other participants were staying too. We had a mobile home (with hot shower) so it was la luxe!

Proud little 125cc in front of the chalet
Many other hardy bikers were camping... by choice.
Definitely a biker take-over!

The BMW is the adventure bike of choice for many.
What impressed me most was that you could talk to anyone, including the presenters. Lots of people knew each other from previous meetings, but there were those who had come alone and for the first time. We all ate at long tables and of course the chat was essentially biker-oriented but it could veer right off. I met retired university professors, a Welsh fire safety inspector, an Aussie, a croupier, a restaurant chef, a graphic designer...  

I watched a presentation by Eric Lobo called Arctic Dream on his amazing journey both physically and spiritually across Russia and through Alaska with the aim of riding the polar ice road to Tuktoyatuk, a road which ceased to exist from this year.

He faced minus seventy-four degrees C, a polar tornado, and recalcitrant authorities, but with help from unexpected quarters, and the addition of skis to his Harley Davidson bike, he made it. Everyone who watched his film left it moved by the experience.

The Harley (with skis) that rode the Arctic sea ice
I watched other presentations by bikers who had travelled across Europe and Asia to Mongolia, and even Japan; one who had ridden to and around Iran; and another who had been down South America. It didn't matter where they had been, they all said that the encounters with people along the way was what marked them the most.

They came back with the most amazing, stunning photos, and films shot while riding or from drones. Some showed scenery that stretched as far as the eye could see across the steppes, others showed problems encountered along the way - bikes that had fallen down, or broken down, terrible traffic, an accident... One of the most important things about adventure biking is how to deal with issues and problems, especially when on a tight budget!

During the weekend, some bikers were taken through their paces on the campsite on a little course among the trees that included a large sand pit that they had to navigate with the help of a professional trainer. That was great fun to watch. I did not join in as I'm hardly experienced enough, and don't even have my biker's licence.
Gently does it over the (Saharan) sand...
I expected a lot of ribald joking about my little Honda 125, but everyone was very nice, and said they had started on something similar, and what fun they'd had. The most popular bike was of course the BMW GS1200 but there were all sorts although only one 125!

Funnily enough, on the way up, I was riding along the road about 150 km from Loupiac when a biker who had been taking a break took to the road in front of me. I wondered if he was going to the meeting, and I suppose he did too, because we ended up riding the rest of the way together. He very kindly held back because I respect the speed limit and go up hills with difficulty. We got to say hello once at the campsite where I introduced myself. I thought that typical of the esprit de biker of the meeting.

The journey back home was very similar to the one there, but I went via Severac le Chateau and stopped for coffee in Millau. Lunch was taken next to the dinkiest little single track bridge along the road.
Dinky bridge for a perfect picnic spot
I sat on the bridge and watched the fish and the ducks and enjoyed the peace and quiet away from the main road.
The view across the dinky bridge
 Seen along the way, a menhir 3.5m high.
My bike with its tank bag and Rok Straps, and the menhir de Bélinac
I got stopped along the way too, by the gendarmes who checked my papers and made me blow into a breathalyser near Arboras. The gendarmes were out in force - I saw three lots within a short space of time!

The temperature was very different in Hérault and I was very happy to arrive home and shed my leather jacket and trousers, and grab a cool beer from the fridge.

It was a fab weekend, with some great people, new friends, lots of ideas and even more dreams. Certainly a birthday weekend to remember!

Monday, August 27, 2018

Motorbiking to Gordes

Summer is drawing to a close; you can feel it in the air, and the fresher morning temperatures. What a relief it is to wake up cool.

However, fluctuating morning/afternoon temperatures poses slight biking difficulties, especially on a day-long ride. What jacket to wear?

Yesterday, the morning was a frisky 20°C but it was set to rise to 30°C in the afternoon. For my ride to Gordes, I decided on the summer jacket with a fleece underneath, and very happy was I to have the extra warmth.

I had a Biking Buddy for my ride this time, and picked him up at Carrouf where we filled up with petrol before setting off. First stop was to be coffee in Arles.

Itinerary to Gordes in the Luberon and back, total about 330 km
Click on photos for a better look.
We crossed the city and took the airport road to the coast and carried on to La Grande Motte, then up through the Camargue with its vin des sables vineyards dotted along the road, and empty fields. It was very windy and I got buffeted about but my sturdy little Honda kept a true path (at 80km/hr) and forged its way despite the best efforts of the Mistral.

It was a relief to stop for coffee in Arles. We rode into the centre, right into the mostly pedestrian part to a pleasant little square that had tables in the middle shaded by a huge old tree.

Trying to find this square I came a bit of a cropper as I manoeuvred my bike to turn around and it fell on the ground. As I waited for BB to come and help me pick it up (it had fallen on the side with the side-stand and I didn't want it toppling over onto the other side when I got it up because I do actually know how to lift it up, I've had some practice...), a guy came out from a nearby house (with a bike in front) to see if I needed help. By that time BB had arrived and we didn't require his physical assistance, but we did ask for the way to the little square and he obliged, telling us to ignore the one-way street signs. Which we did and so we came to the little square with no more problems.

After a nice break, we set off again for the Luberon, and decided to eat our picnic lunch in Menerbes, made famous for most of us by Peter Mayle, and one of the Plus Beaux Villages de France.

Picnic bench at communal watering hole, Menerbes, Luberon
It's a lovely little hillside town with magnificent views across to Mont Ventoux. Click on the photos for a better look. It's the sort of place you need to walk around and admire the creamy limestone buildings at leisure.

View from picnic site across the Luberon to Mont Ventoux
My picnic lunch was a classic jambon beurre sandwich which I made with a delicious cereal baguette, superior additive-free ham from a local artisan, organic cherry tomatoes with bags of taste, crisps (no one's perfect and picnics = crisps for me), and some watermelon for puds. I did enjoy it!

After lunch we set off for Lacoste, famous for the chateau belonging to the Marquis de Sade, to find a nice cup of coffee. We found a restaurant perched on the cliff by the side of the road with more fabulous views and decided it was just the spot.
View from Lacoste coffee stop towards Bonnieux
Fortified by the coffee, we set off again for our final destination - Gordes. The region is fabulous for its scenery, and the roads are excellent. It's a real pleasure riding around and taking in all there is to see.

The traffic going up to Gordes was, however, heavy. It's become THE place to visit so we followed coaches, cars and lots of bikes up the winding road. If you're on a bike, you don't pay the parking, but cars in the town were being asked the extortionate sum of 10 EUR!

Classic view of Gordes

Squashed-face me and classic view of Gordes
Inside the town, we had a little look around, along with everyone else.
Busy busy Gordes
There are very steep, perilously cobbled roads to tackle, probably best explored without those romantic summery heels.
Photo captured in a gap in the throng
It is all delightful to look at, from the beautifully constructed creamy limestone houses and shops, to the expansive views.
View from Gordes
By now it was 30°C so I removed my fleece when we returned to the bikes to set off on our return journey. We had no particular stopping points, but I had programmed Google Maps to tell me the route to Avignon via L'Isle de la Sorgue, then Sommières via Nimes using earphones. However, it's not a perfect system I have going here. To start with, the earphones keep getting dislodged from my ears inside the helmet so I can't hear a thing. Then the voice telling me where to go is at odds with the map, which is the most confusing element.

Anyway, we didn't get lost, but did have to stop to re-inject life into numb backsides. My bike seat is not the most comfy, and trying to sit on a fleece pully didn't work to improve things as it wasn't long enough. Riding these long distances takes a lot of practice to get things right!

Finally, as the day was ending, we stopped for a refreshing Perrier by the river in Sommières.
Me looking shattered with helmet hair by the river in Sommières
Having started out at 10am, I got home at just after 8pm. It was a long day, and a long ride, but a fabulous trip.