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.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Assumption Day in the Cevennes

What could be a better way of celebrating Assumption Day than by going for a bike ride? I intended going to Mont Aigoual for a bit of fresh cool air, I ended up doing this:
Fab bike ride along teeny weeny single-track roads with grass down the middle
It was an afternoon ride after some shopping and a session at the gym this morning. I bought myself a little treat of Madagascan prawns for lunch so I was well fortified for a good ride.

There were a lot of people on the roads, the main roads at least. I was following what I thought was the route I'd chosen on Google Maps back at home, but there was a hiccup and the Voice was sending me up to Mont Aigoul on the very road I knew well and wanted to avoid.

So I came off at Le Mazel and took the D323 in the direction of Mandagout. It's a tiny single track road with grass growing in clumps down the middle and some optimistic lines painted in the places not covered in grass which served no other purpose than to show you where the road was.
Valley of sweet onion fields
I was riding deep into the middle of nowhere except that every now and again I'd come across fields of sweet onions being cultivated along the river valley or orchards of Reinette apples or olive groves, and the ubiquitous sweet chestnut trees. At one point I saw a woman beneath a tree next to a field of harvested onions in crates who was doing yoga. The Cevennes is the sort of place where people do yoga. It fits in with the mystical atmosphere of the mountains, the desire to be close to nature and out of the rat race. You can't be in the rat race isolated in a hamlet of 3 houses half an hour drive at least to the nearest shop.

I drove through many well-kept tiny hamlets of old stone houses like this:
Isolated hamlet surrounded by a lot of countryside...
They were usually perched on hillsides in picturesque layouts of roofs and stone walls. The scenery changed dramatically when I reached the plateau.
Stark vegetation on the higher plateau
This was near the col des Vieilles which is a popular route with cyclists. I didn't see anyone on the road today though. They were all down in the valley in crowds on the rivers which were alive with colour from canoeists, bathers and families.

Mandagout (?)
The views of the forests and mountains were magnificent. The Cevennes region is one of my favourites for the wonderful emptiness of its landscapes and delightful villages sporadically situated.

Le "Chateau"
Click on the photos to get a better look.

I needed petrol so I headed for Le Vigan where Super U was open. I filled up and then went inside to use the facilities. Afterwards, I sat to look at the map and got talking to a retired chap who told me about his children and grandchildren (all doing things like medicine, dentistry, computers) and who was impressed that I was riding around the area by myself and tackling the tiny roads. I felt quite impressed with myself too after listening to him.

From Le Vigan, I crossed the river and went past the Well factory to a glorious little aqueduct.

Le Vigan aqueduct
I had to stop and take a photo of course as it was so beautiful. It was right near a campsite too which was chockablock with happy campers. The Google Map voice took me towards Saint Bresson on some more tiny roads. Then to Saint-Laurent-le-Minier where there is a rather lovely waterfall. It was heaving with people of course, and there were cars parked everywhere.

I rejoined the main road at Saint-Bauzille-de-Putois having crossed the sky-blue suspension bridge at Agonès and got home in time for a lovely refreshing glass of rosé. The whole trip took about four and a half hours.

I fully intend to go back and do it more carefully, perhaps from the other direction, when I'm not half-worried about petrol levels. I should have filled up before I left. Lesson learned. I've now done over 2000km on my bike!

Sunday, August 12, 2018

My First Ever Long Ride on my Honda CB125F

I've had a lovely day today on my motorbike - a Honda CB125F that I've had since May.

My lovely Honda CB125F
I was intending combining my coding skills with creating a new blog for my motorbike adventures, but I'm not quite there yet, so as I wanted to document this trip, I'll do it here.

I'm just back from my longest solo motorbike ride: home - Millau - home

Today's ride - not a circular route because you see different things from each direction
The furthest I'd been until today was to Mèze for an oyster lunch, a mere 40km away. Millau is 154km and, avoiding the motorway, a nearly 3 hour ride.

Before leaving home, I popped down the road to buy a crusty baguette and dried ham to make a sandwich for lunch, downloaded the itinerary into my phone and set off around 10am.

First stop for coffee was in a dinky village called Arboras which is a favourite area for mountain bikers. My son has been there to practice downhill riding with his group and had a lovely time.
A stop for coffee in Arboras
The coffee cost €1 and came in a locally made pretty pottery cup. I got chatting to a merry family group of dad, brother (visiting from Milan) and three boys. Apparently the men are both divorced and have cried off the bother of women. Mostly...
The café terrace (and my bike) 
 The local one is a biker, admired my bike, and told me that a good biker is an old biker...

Book-sharing shelves, and washing machine bar table
I left them enjoying a plate of local goats cheese, honey and bread, and continued my route. From the winding roads of Hérault, I climbed onto the Larzac plateau and the trip took me right down memory lane. I used to come this way a lot when I was married, before the A9 autoroute was built, and we had to take the National 9.

The road is now the D9 and a lot quieter. I always wanted to linger going through Le Caylar and L'Hospitalet-du-Larzac, and on the bike I could. I could dawdle along on the empty road, stop if I felt like it and admire the old stone houses, and take note of the appealing menus in front of the restaurants. It was too early for lunch though so I stopped instead to take a photo of an iron sculpture seen along the way at Les Infruts.
Seen along the way at Les Infruts
It felt much fresher up there on the plateau and I had a lovely time flying along in the cool breeze past the military training grounds, the Millau-Larzac aerodrome, and parallel to the autoroute. I thought of all the poor sods going north, their holidays over, and revelled in the fact that I live here year round.

I wanted to eat lunch with a view, so I picked the spot where I knew I'd get the best one possible - of the Viaduc de Millau.
Overlooking Millau with the viaduc in the background
There was shade, there were picnic tables, there was a panoramic view. I couldn't have enjoyed it more. I shared a table for a while with a family who were on their way home to Brest having had a lovely time in Aveyron and the Camargue. The picnic spot had a special kind of loo which used no water but you had to press a lever ten times with your foot to work a moving belt. Intriguing.

Millau was my target, so after I'd finished my very tasty sandwich, looked down on the soaring condors and counted a dozen para-gliders having fun in the rising thermals, I rode down the hill and stopped for a coffee at the river beach where there was a playground, pizza shack and bar. This time it cost €2.40... and came in a bog-standard white china cup. The location was pretty though and there were lots of people enjoying Sunday lunch with kids playing in the river in the cordoned off zone.

It was very warm down in the valley, so I was keen to be back on the bike and on my way home. The 125 is not very powerful so I took it at a leisurely pace climbing back onto the plateau. Luckily no one was following me and getting impatient so I didn't need to push my bike to the limit.

I took the same route home because you see different things from the other direction, and you can also stop and check places that you noted on the outward journey. A working windmill at Saint Pierre de la Fage, for example.
Restored windmill at Saint Pierre de la Fage
I came off the beaten track to admire the views from another high point of note - on Mont Saint Baudille at an altitude of 848m.
Mont Saint Baudille in the background with the television antenna
I thought I'd be the only one trekking over there on the single track bumpy road, but the car park was pretty busy, to my surprise. There's an observation point where you can admire the view that extends on a good day from Mont Ventoux in the east to the Spanish border and Mount Canigou in the west! It's used in the summer by the forestry service to keep a look-out for forest fires. Two members of staff were there to hand out leaflets on how to not start a forest fire as well as keeping their eyes skinned. They spot at least one fire per day in the dry season.
Looking east with the Pic Saint Loup in the background
The views were fantastic - I could see the Pic Saint Loup, the Lac de Salagou, and way in the distance Montpellier and the sea. The forest service man very kindly took a photo of me - he's a biker too so we bonded... He told us that despite the place being isolated, there is a lot of crime in the car park, with cars full of holiday treasures broken into, and one woman even had her tyres slashed so she couldn't go after the thieves! There are some very nasty people out there.

My bike was safe and sound when I got back to the car park I'm happy to say. I stopped briefly on the Col du Vent just to have a quick rest. There were no cyclists there on the return trip. Going up, I video-bombed a guy who was being filmed by his mates arriving at the top. I'm sure it was very hard work going up. I was happy not to be making that effort in such hot weather!

I got home at 5pm to a nice cup of tea and piece of cake. It was a lovely ride full of varied sights and smells and I felt like I'd been on a mini holiday. I love my bike.