Saturday, 17 December 2016

Two Stroke Touring

The BMW was sulking like mad - we were going on our hols without it and it was jolly cross about the whole business. I think what really rubbed salt into the wound was that we were going on TWO-STROKES.

We packed up the bikes, my RD250LC and my husband’s RD350YPVS, setting off from Dudley on a dark and not particularly stormy night, destination Normandy. Critics may be pointing out at this stage, that two-stroke motorcycles are perhaps not the world’s most suitable mounts for touring purposes. Well, plop to all critics, settle down on your toilet seat and read on.

The journey down through England was dark, cold and beastly. I don’t like travelling at night, and before we were many miles from home was wishing I’d put my anorak, Balaclava and three pairs of thermal undies on under my fast stiffening Belstaffs (this was in July). However, stiff upper lip and all that (stiff lower bottom certainly).

Stopped for fuel at Oxford, being cautious by nature and not wishing to end up stranded in t e middle of nowhere at three o'clock in the morning. One drawback of two-strokes is that they need filling up a lot. Hurtled southwards, getting colder by the minute in some jolly strange places, until we were forced to stop at the English Channel. This is a colossal pain in the unmentionables, and I must say it makes me wonder if human beings were ever really meant to be tourists in the first place.

Anyway the main point about the Channel is that you have to switch off your engine and pay out pots of money to get across the damn thing. If I had my way we’d have another Ice Age, and the whole caboodle would freeze solid and we could just zip across on our sledges.

We booked a crossing from Portsmouth to Cherbourg and back again with Townsend Thoresen through MCN, which knocked a fair bit off the price - we paid £52 for two bikes. The crossing takes about four hours which is very nice and relaxing if the sea’s calm and sun is shining. I expect it‘s pretty awful if the sea's rough.

Arrived at Cherbourg at about two in the afternoon and set up the old Force Ten (a tent not a gale, though god knows it might as well have been with all the vulgar expulsion of bodily gasses that went on).

Met a Dutch bloke going to Donington for the Grand Prix. The swine could speak excellent English - there are few things which infuriate me more than damned foreigners who can speak my language better than I can. However, I kept my upper lip jolly stiff.

Next day we made it to Percy (see map). We discovered one of the major delights of Normandy. Drizzle. Apparently in Western France drizzle is a natural phenomenon and can persist for weeks. We found that out, thanks. Mind you, I’d rather have continuous drizzle than pouring rain - at least you can wander about in it. It was at about this time that my Frank Thomas paddock boots sprung a leak and kept my feet agreeably damp for days, which cheered me up no end.

The rain stopped us from riding around the area as much as we would have liked, but we still managed to explore the place, sometimes even on foot. Normandy’s got some really nice countryside — lots of little lanes and hedges, millions of wild flowers and fab forests. The whole place looks very English - not very surprising when you consider England was under Norman rule from 1066, when Willy the Conk stamped on us and we got Norman churches and castles all over the place.

Next stop Villedieu of the Gruel Pans. No, really, that’s what it was called, only in French. Nice little town. Millions of brass and copper shops; a product of the days when it was a copper working area. It drizzled here, too.

When it finally stopped raining and became merely dull we moved on to St Hilaire de Harcouet, which was the furthest south we went. Nice campsite here — big fields separated by hedges and plenty of room - unlike some campsites in which you are pressed firmly against your neighbours ("Pressed firmly against your neighbours what?" I hear some wag remark). We took a ride around the country lanes, impressing the locals and filling the place with horrid blue smoke. Tried to fill up at a petrol station which had no petrol. Didn’t do too well.

August 1st. Mad Saturday. All the French pack their beastly offspring into their Renault 5s and zoom south for their holidays. The whole business scared me to death, so we stayed off the main roads. Mind you, we were heading north anyway, so although we saw plenty of tailbacks we didn’t actually get stuck in any. There‘s some nice riding country between St Hilaire and St Lo.

The campsite at St Lo was very well concealed but nevertheless we found it. I suspect that the warden had been on the old Vin Ordinaire, as he was particularly cheerful. Also it was a hot and sunny day! Gosh! (Gave me a chance to dry my boots out, anyway.) We took the opportunity to check the oil in the gearboxes, decided it was down a bit, so trotted off to buy some. Have you any idea how expensive French engine oil is? Six quid for two litres! I was cursing and spitting all the way back from the garage, especially as we’d brought five litres of the two stroke oil with us.

Went to Carentan, and visited Utah and Omaha beaches. Had some frites (very nice but very expensive). From there we moved to Cherbourg. There I fell off my bike and blush to the roots even to recall the incident. I fell off because we had parked on a slope at the campsite and I put my sidestand down and began to get off when the whole beastly thing rolled off its stand and onto me. My language was absolutely awful, although nothing was actually damaged.

Later, when I had composed myself, we visited the hypermarche at Cherbourg, which quite frankly was horrid. We had to hand over our crash helmets to some very surly security guards. God knows what they thought we were going to do with them - smuggle sweeties, perhaps. And we had to fork out ten francs — a quid - just for the deposit on the rotten shopping trolley. I was outraged! Mind you, I suppose it does make jolly sure you take the damn thing back.

From sunny Cherbourg-by-the-Sea it was zoom home across the Channel. A cautionary note — never, ever, buy any food on a ferry, the prices are unbelievable, like £2.50 for a couple of cans of pop and a few bikkies. We were stopped at customs where they found it hard to believe we weren’t carrying drink or cigarettes but we were on nice clean bikes and wearing neatly pressed Belstaffs so they didn’t strip search as try turning up looking like a Hells Angel and see what happens.

I must say I found travelling on the RD more tiring than on four stroke machines they’re a bit noisy and twitchy for long distances, and I did a hell of a lot of gear changing to get up those bills. Fortunately, the RD250 has a light gearchange, so I didn’t end up with a sprained left foot.

Didn’t get a sore botty either, which makes a change (and when your buttocks cover the kind of area mine do, a tender bot can be a major problem I usually carry a small supply of surgical spirit and Excelsior Jungle Ointment for this very reason, though I did not require them on this particular trip, much to the relief of my husband).

I won’t bother you with the journey back to the Midlands (ugh), as it was pretty uneventful, although we did pass a filthy bunch of degenerate so-called bikers on a selection of rusting and neglected machinery, with whom we exchanged hard stares.

So ends our epic tour. We covered 650 miles, which isn’t a vast distance, but it proves you can tour on two- strokes, as long as you accept the fact that you’ll have to fill up every 100 miles and that you’ll leave a trail of fragrant blue smoke everywhere. Carrying luggage is no problem — Krausers make panniers for small bikes or you could use throw over saddlebags.

Christine Scorey

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