Over the last week I've been down to the Alps and back - about 1500 miles - on my CCM 604. It was part shakedown trip for UK to Ghana next month and part business trip - something I had to do but it didn't matter how I got there.
Pre trip prep consisted of an oil change and changing a worn out rear tyre. During the tyre changing fiasco (breaking the bead on the Excel rim - arghh! - I ended up having to fabricate a bead breaker before I could get the old tyre off) I discovered a broken spoke. Easy to replace once the tyre was off but it was a 70 mile trip to spend £3.00 on a new spoke and nipple.
The new tyre was a part worn Michelin Desert. I'll gloss over the problems in fitting it - the Excel rim again, but as soon as the wheel was back in a new problem appeared. Despite being the same 140 section as the old MT21 the side knobbles are slightly wider on the Desert and just catch the back of the silencer when the suspension is fully compressed. It was either try to move the silencer slightly or let it lathe off a little bit of the knobbles that never get used. I tried both approaches ...
The only other prep was to wire up my electrically heated jacket. I'd never used it on the CCM before and a quick check of the wiring with a test meter suggested it would pull about 100 watts. How much power does the CCM genny put out? I've no idea. Dare I risk it with the jacket and the lights on at the same time? A quick run down to the local filling station with a voltmeter lashed into the circuit suggested it'd be fine. I'll find out soon enough whether I was right when it won't start - probably at the bottom of the ramp going on to the ferry or somewhere equally embarrassing.
It was a 4.00am start for an 8.00am ferry from Dover. These early starts give you a fair amount of time in France but are not something that my neighbours appreciate so I usually try to push the bike out onto the road so the noise doesn't rattle their windows. When I was doing this at 3.55am a police patrol car came down the road, stopped and gave me a long hard look. My wife was standing by the door in her dressing gown (no curlers though!) ready to wave me off. If she'd said "stop thief" rather than "bye" the trip would probably have ended there and then. I've lived in that house for nearly 15 yrs and it's the first time I've seen a police patrol.
Once on the motorway it was a fairly uneventful 140 miles to Dover. The first few miles are always a bit wobbly as you get used to the weight distribution but other than that it's just a case of settling down to a reasonable speed and watching the miles go by and the sun come up. The roads were wet though and any one who has used Deserts will know that they have zero wet grip so I had to keep the speed down until I got some sort of feel for them.
SeaFrance ferries had been the cheapest - £42.00 return, so they got the business. I'd have loved to use the tunnel but they wanted £102. Every time I go to France there is a similar price gap and I've only ever used the tunnel a few times out of curiosity. Is this everyone else's experience or am I just unlucky?
While on the subject of channel crossing I had intended to use SpeedFerries (support the underdog etc) but I hadn't booked and the tyre changing problem had set me back 24hrs so I was leaving a day late. When I did go to book on their website there was a notice saying service suspended as the boat had been impounded in Boulogne (they hadn't paid a port bill ). If I had left on time I would have paid for the ticket but arrived to find no boat. A few years ago they decided to stop taking bikes altogether, something I fell foul of at the time. If they continue, the prices are going to have to be rock bottom for me to risk them again.
Once in France I thought I could make the 300kms to Reims before a stop for fuel /food. The bike sits quite happily at around 70mph on the autoroute but aerodynamics from the high front mudguard tend to make it feel a bit "loose" once you get to around 80mph. 70 is fine though, it gives you enough of an edge over the trucks and the cars are not that much quicker. A bit slower might have been better bet though as the bike cut out just as I arrived in the free section of motorway through the city. Out of fuel! Good job I have my emergency 2L bottle on the rack - except it only had 1L in it. Better than nothing though, it got me going and the satnav got the job of finding a filling station. A few wrong turns later and running on fumes I arrived at one to find it was unmanned. There's a lot of these in France and usually they don't take UK credit cards. Fortunately the business part of the trip does have the Carte Bleu card so I "borrowed" €20. Two days later French tv is full of reports of card skimming scams at unmanned filling stations. So far the account is ok ...
How, I ask myself, can I run out of fuel when I have a 23L main tank, 2L in a plastic bottle and 2 x 5L cans on the panniers? I managed to do it again on the way back!
Refreshed and refuelled next target was an overnight stop in Dijon. Bored with the motorway I thought I'd take the ordinary N road between Troyes and Dijon - about 100miles, aiming to get there around 6.00pm. Those of you familiar with the area will know that it's slow, winding and scenic (but it's dark now so scratch scenic) It's also raining and despite a 60 /55w bulb the CCM headlamp leaves a bit to be desired. I'm tired, getting wet and regretting leaving the autoroute. I can see nothing and there are no other cars to follow. The last 50 miles took forever and I ended up resorting to using the satnav display to warn of sharp bends. Pity I can't link the display to the handlebars. When I arrived at the hotel I found one of the two sidestand springs had vanished. I must have caught it with my foot at some point.
Next day was totally different. Warm (for November), sunny and dry, it was a really pleasant ride and I arrived at my destination at about 3.00pm. 750 miles door to door.
Later on a quick check of the bike revealed - not much. It had used no oil and other than the spring nothing needed attention. The tyre and the silencer had reached a mutual understanding ... At this point though on just about every long trip mechanical paranoia sets in and I'm convinced that I've missed something terminal. A bottle of wine usually fixes it.
One of my neighbours reading his snow chain instructions!
My business consisted of checking over a flat we have which is rented out for the ski season. The income pays the bills and I had a few of those to pay as well as sorting out a few issues with various agents. Because I'd left 24hrs late (that tyre again) I'd arrived late on the 10th Nov. 11th Nov is a French national holiday (I'd forgotten) and everywhere was shut so I had to wait another 24 hrs to see the agents. That morning it was snowing. It snowed all day and I couldn't get out of the town until the next day when the snowploughs had cleared the access roads. Being at 6000ft it's quite a dramatic ride down to the valley - particularly when the glistening patch ahead of you on the road could be either melt water or solid ice and you can't tell until you ride over it. When I left it was -8C and the electric jacket really earnt its keep. Whenever I switch it on the extra electrical load on the alternator slows the tickover down and I could never be certain whether it would stall or not at junctions. Catch 22 was that I have to stop to uplug it as I can't reach the connector while I'm riding. I really must fix that.
Just about to leave after the snow ploughs have been
The overnight stop on the return leg was planned for the F1 hotel at Troyes which is just about half way. That would leave me about 250 miles back to Calais the next day for a 3.15pm ferry - should be easy. When I got to Troyes though it was only about 4.30pm. A bit early I thought, it's only about another hour and a bit to Reims and I've stayed at the Etap hotel there many times. As long as I get there before the hotel fills up at around 7.00pm I should get a room. A quick mental check - it's not tourist season so no hoards of Dutch / Brit families on the road taking the rooms, it's not half term so shouldn't be loads of French families in the move and economic meltdown might reduce the number of reps. I should be ok.
10 mins later the plan started to fall apart. The motorway was blocked both ways with an accident and all the traffic was shunted onto a parallel country road. It was all stationary. When I got to the back of the queue the satnav said my next turn was six miles ahead. Six miles later I found out why it was stationary. In the middle of a village the road was narrower than normal where older houses had prevented previous widening. It was just wide enough for two trucks to pass if they were careful but they couldn't because one resident had left his car parked on the road and two trucks were head to head on the free lane. They couldn't reverse because each side had six miles of traffic behind them! There were 10 or so Gendarmes standing around doing nothing other than giving Gallic type shrugs. I think they were waiting for the truckers to start fighting. They certainly were not interested when I went past on the pavement.
When I eventually got to Reims it was gone 7.00pm but there were only about half a dozen cars in the Etap car park - usually a good sign. Full of confidence I asked for a room to be told the hotel was full. Not only that but every other hotel in Reims was full. I wondered whether it was some anti biker predudice but that's unusual in France. No, there was a political conference in the city! Maybe I ought to watch French tv more and find out about these things. After sitting around for a while I came up with plan B. I'd go to the F1 hotel about a mile away and if they were full see if I could get them to phone other hotels in the chain out of the conference zone and see if they could book me a room there. Unfortunately I took a wrong turn en route and a one mile trip became about ten and about 20mins. When I arrived there was a sign on the door "Hotel Complet" so plan B was going to get a workout. The manager was just putting the phone down as I approached the desk and I asked are you full. He said "no, that call was a cancellation. We have one room". I couldn't pay fast enough! If I hadn't got lost I'd have arrived before the cancellation call.
Because I was now that much closer to Calais I had a bit of time spare the next morning. Some of you may have heard about the old racing circuit at Reims. It's only about 2 miles from the hotel so I thought I'd go down and have a look. It's just abandoned at the side of what is now a normal rural road, still covered in fading posters and looking like it 's been left over from a film set. A farmer was ploughing around the edge of the grandstand as I arrived. 8.30am in the middle of November rush hour was probably not the best time to go though. It really needs to be visited on a quiet misty summer morning with the sun just peeking though the mist, preferably in period vehicle and with a whiff of Castrol R in the air. Time to dust off my motos d' epoque, dig out my leather flying helmet / sepia goggles and plan a return visit - or maybe suggest it as a place to hold the next French HUBB meeting?
Reims Gueux circuit
Arriving back at Calais is always a bit of let down. On the way out French passport control at Dover was happy enough when I held up my passport to show I had one and that was it. UK passport control at Calais did everything short of strip search me. I'm surprised I didn't have to undergo an english language comprehension test. Next stop was the ferry book-in kiosk where I got a patronising lecture from the check in lady about turning up early, an annoyed edge to her voice because I had trouble hearing her with ear plugs in and a demand for more money unless I want to sit and wait for four hours for the original ferry. The last bit was ok I suppose as it did say about it in the booking conditions but the earlier ferry was only about 10% full so it's not as if it was going to be a problem to fit me on and the keystrokes on the computer were going to be the same whether it was at 11.00 am or 2.00pm. I benevolently concluded that I pick up on these things because I'm culturally clued into the nuances of UK society but sneering indifference in France goes over my head. Perhaps.
Back home I've given the CCM another check. Two problems need attention. Firstly the silencer mount is going to need redesigning. The edge of the tyre did suffer quite badly on the return trip although fortunately not enough to cause a safety issue. The return leg on the M25 gave me enough time to think of how to do it and that's next weekends project. Secondly, the satnav mounting is worn out! I'm using a pda based system mounted in an Otterbox and that's clipped into a Ram mount. The interface between the Otterbox and the Ram mount is plastic to plastic and 1500 miles of vibrational fretting has worn the clips to the point where they are no longer secure. Some elastic shock cord and zip ties has fixed it for the time being.
Everything else worked and nothing else broke. The bike survived being hammered up and down the autoroute for 1500 miles and left in a snowdrift for nearly 2 days. My DIY luggage system worked exactly as I hoped it would. The law of unintended consequences did strike however. Each pannier has a 5L jerrycan strapped to the back to give me extended range in Mauri / Mali next month. The panniers themselves unclip easily so I can use them as seats / prop the bike up / take them away from prying eyes into hotel rooms. Fine in Africa. In France carrying them into hotel rooms got me some very strange looks along the lines of " why is that man carrying cans of petrol into his room"?
For this sort of trip something like a 1200GS would be a better bike. The CCM is not really quick enough or sophisticated enough when all I want to do is get to the other end of France quickly. But I don't have a BMW and the choice really isn't between it and the CCM anyway, it's between the CCM and Ryan Air. However the thought of spending the whole day being passed from one ferry book-in lady to another, having my shoes dismantled and my toothpaste confiscated makes the bike an easy winner. I bought it originally to act as a 2 wheel Land Rover in the desert and I'll see next month how good it is in that role. So far I'm quite pleased with it.