Motoeuro 2008

Conquering the Alps and the highest road in Europe.
Almost 3,000 miles in 9 days. Bring. It. On.

We leave on 11th September 2008 to conquer the Alps, Grand St.Bernard, Petit St.Bernard, Val d’Isere, the French Coast and the biking paradise that is the N85 Napoleon Route. Welcome to Motoeuro what could go wrong? Oh, the Channel Tunnel is on fire…

Homework done, on a wing and a prayer, Dave and Steve ride off to conquer the Alps on a VFR750FV and a BMW 1150GS.

Motoeuro
Motoeuro

I ride down from Newcastle to meet Stevie in Bracknell, we’re about to leave for the Chunnel at 6pm for Calais. A text reads “Hope you’re not using the Channel Tunnel, it’s on fire”, oh joy.

Not helped by the Pope visiting Paris, its total chaos as ferry websites crash and phones ring permanently engaged. You can’t make this up….

We only have just over a week, so we’ve booked accom on-line in advance and we’ve planned our route to take in the best roads Europe has to offer, this could be our undoing if we can’t get to France by tomorrow. Dammit.

All is not lost – The lovely people at Brittany Ferrys can squeeze us on the slow, overnighter with our bikes but nowhere to sleep. By the time you could say “Wouldn’t be funny if the ferry was on fire too?” we join the queue at 11pm along with a bunch of other bikers. We mention our trip which is met with a sharp intake of breath from everyone, our blinding optimism is obvious to all, and they wish us well. The crew tie our bikes down, we grab some beers and endure a night on the floor.

It’s silly-o’clock when we ride into the French morning at Caen. We’ve got even more miles to do today thanks to this diversion but we’re in good form as we set off on the A13 towards Paris, then the A6. Sun is out and the motorways mean a swift pace, we do so well that the last 90 miles is spent on the N6 through small quaint villages like Bessy sur Cure and Lucy sur Cure, I sing Beatles songs for no reason, and we stop for lovely French coffee. After parking up in the Hotel’s grounds, we visit Dijon city centre, which is far better than I thought. Beer, Pasta, bed, 340 miles gone today and we’re getting close to Geneva.

It looks like rain today, waterproofs on we’re away after breakfast by 8am. We take the A39 then the A381 towards Champagnole then on to the N5. The rain is manic, angry rain that does not leave us alone. Riding the twisties out of Morez along the D1005 to Gex, Stevie loses the back end, and my front tyre gets the ‘washy-wobbles’, time to stop for grub in Gex. These are great roads but we can’t take advantage of them in these conditions. Pull in undercover at what looks like a café, turns out to be a kebab / burger place but the owner is happy to see us along with our soaking wet kit. Coffee, kebab, frites and salad ordered we try to get warm, we’re soaking and cold.

Leaving Gex, my bike is sounding like a VTR, oh, look the exhaust is loose. A quick, wet, roadside fix means we can carry on but this isn’t a permanent solution. The E25 leads us into Switzerland and the top of Lake Geneva, its stunning even in these wet conditions, long, long hillside tunnels give us a brief rest from the rain. We start to climb into the mist to our hotel for the night in La Chapelle d’Abondance. My bike is now sounding like a Ducati, we stop at an undercover Shell garage so I can get stuck in. My hands are freezing cold.

The rain eventually stops, but we now have thick mist and wet roads as we ride into the clouds, they are so twisty but we’re riding with caution as visibility can’t be more than 10 metres. Very tired, cold and in need of beer we reach the small village of Abondance, the sat-nav is now on to help us find the hotel but takes us off piste up a thin tarmac road which soon turns out to be a dirt track, the VFR is losing grip everywhere, we’re knackered, cold and hungry but Stevie rides on, “I’ll check to see if it’s up here” he points to a dirt-track which is more suited to farm vehicles than bikes. I stay behind and light up a smoke, 5 mins later my phone jumps into life, “Thank God, he’s found it” I say out load. “Dave, I need your help, I’ve come off my bike”….

VFR’s don’t normally go off-road…. I see Stevie in the distance up another bloody hillside track. Don’t ask us how we managed to lift 280kgs of BMW, do a 23 point turn to get the bugger back down that hill, thank God the brakes aren’t servo assisted.

Blood pressure getting lower we see the first people we’ve seen in hours, an older man with what looks to be his daughter (or he’s rich) “Parlez-vous Anglais S’il vous plait ?”, I ask, the old man replies, “Oh, yes and my daughter speaks French if that helps?” I could kiss him.

I show him the Hotel name and ask him for directions, “Oh, that’s a lovely hotel”, yes we know thanks. He adds “It’s got a Jacuzzi and a pool you know”. Yes, we know thanks. WHERE IS IT!! We had just missed the turn when we came off the main village drag, we thank them and ride like the devil himself down the tracks to enter reception dripping with water and with very muddy boots.

“Hello. Welcome. You should try our swimming pool” said the girl at Reception. I am about to explode with joy or collapse with relief. Big beers, Jacuzzi, heated pool, herbal sauna – Fan-bloody-tastic !!!! Stevie does his ‘bomb’ into the pool, which he finds hilarious, but the woman in the lounger doesn’t agree as she wipes water off her 6 month old baby, ahem. Later, after reception have dried all our kit, we dine a La Carte, supp ice cold beer and retire after one of the most exciting, adventurous, and terrifying days of motorcycling in my life. I wouldn’t swap this for anything. But what’s tomorrow got in store……

We wander down to an indulgent breakfast, we’ll need it today as the clouds haven’t lifted, you could almost touch these thick sponges, they seem so close. The Hotel owner asks us to stay another night as the weather is bad in the Alps today, we’re aiming for Col du Grand St Bernard and we can’t wait. It remains to see if she is a good saleswomen or a saint.

Through Chatel, we pick up the D22 and enter the twisties out of the hills, the roads are getting dry as we descend and within 30 minutes it’s perfect – Hurrah! The E27 takes us through Saint Maurice and on to Bourge Saint Pierre, Bourge Saint Bernard and on to the magnificent SS27 to Grand St Bernard. We stop for fuel loving these dry, perfectly tarmaced twisty roads, 4 lads call in on Ducati’s and one on a new KTM RC8, they’re off in a hurry on the same roads as us. Near the top of Grand St Bernard you’ve got a choice; go through the tunnel and miss the summit or ride the SS27 into Italy. Of course, we ride the SS27 into the clouds and mist.

A few corners later we see one of our Ducati friends with his bike in bits. Looks like he has high-sided it, his mates wave us past and eventually we get to the summit where it’s snowing. No, I am not kidding. Reminds me of the Stelvio Pass, cold and snowy but there’s a restaurant where I order “quatre café au lait – grand SVP” and soup. Can’t remember the French for bread but when the soup arrives, of course its consommé. Damn. An older couple next to us are taking photos of themselves with placemats of St.Bernard dogs (hence the name, geddit?), so I offer to take their picture in exchange for their left over bread. Oh, the shame. They feel so sorry for us and offer chips too. Our reaction is to decline with thanks……pity, really.

Back on the bikes, we ride over the summit from Switzerland into Italy (the tunnel in the rock face), where border control is one bloke waving us through. The clouds lift immediately and we’re welcomed to Italy with dry, warm roads. The SS27 doesn’t disappoint as we head further down this amazing road to Morgex off the E25. The SS26 is just as good through La Thuile. We climb once again to Petite St. Bernard where the clouds thicken once more, the mist is dense and its funny to think a short while ago we were leaning into those corners with full confidence. It’s eerie at the top, with small chapels abandoned and ski lifts almost ready for the main season. There’s no-one around but as we stop for photos we see through the clouds where we are headed for tonight – Seez. It’s a long way in the distance and the only things between us are corners. Lots of them. The D1090 is truly a biker’s paradise.

The ride down is frankly mental, the clouds and mist are well gone and these dry roads in the late afternoon sun are fantastic. Stevie and I are on our sides and loving every minute. We don’t stop until we’re In Seez. Turns out we are staying just outside in Aime on the N90, good job we checked. Longis Hotels are highly recommended, food is amazing. Our steaks are cooked on a charcoal fire in the restaurant by the Chef, we enjoy a beer, wine with our grub, then a swift Kronenburg before bed – we’ve seen so much today it’s hard to take it all in, what an absolute blast. Oh, and as you can probably work out, she was a good saleswomen.

Carlsberg don’t do motorcycling holidays. Val d’Isere and the immense Col de La Bonette. On top of the world, Motoeuro conquer the Alps and manage a day on the beach.

Leaving Seez, this is what this trip was all about; the Alps. We’ve planned to take in some of the most famous and unusual passes in France and Italy but a chance encounter with a German biker, takes us above and beyond what we ever imagined….

We’ve started a habit of early to bed, early to rise and it’s kind of working well. We have a limit of 2-3 beers per man each night so we’re not hungover, so no surprise we’re up, had brekky and away by 8.30am. Today is a big day – Val d’Isere and the ‘big Alps’. Leaving Seez the D902 is stunning, the high snow-covered mountains are breath-taking and the roads are dry, warm and have perfect surfaces, we’ve loving this. Entry to Val d’Isere is marked by a crappy road sign, but you know you’re here when you see the dam at Le Chevril – that’s a real damn, b’Jesus!

We continue along the D902 stopping to take pictures every minute, we are so lucky to be here, unbelievably, we’ve timed this to perfection. All the tourists have gone as the ski season is about to start in a month. The town is perfectly quiet, unspoilt. The only noise is from local carpenters readying for the winter ski-brats. We meet a German guy on his BMW sports bike, enjoy coffee together and chat about routes, he’s keen that we go to Col du La Bonette, it’s not on our route, but he insists we go. He’s come from there this morning as it was closed due to snow the day before – he describes this as ‘magnificent’, “must go”, but warns us Menton is a long way on these roads. I can see Stevie’s mind clicking and whirring as he takes this in.

We leave our German friend and ride the D902 to Saint Charles, from here we can see the mountains we are going to climb to the summit of Col d’Iseran. Epic. The higher we get the more spectacular the view and the more snow we find, near the top there’s no grass or rocks to be seen – it’s all snow, but oddly the roads are dry and clear and the sun is out. The D902 continues with stunning effect to the village of Bessans, we stop for photos and try to take this in. The ride to Mont Cenis is perfect where we pick up the D1006 – massively entertaining road that takes us to the surreal and quite bizarre Col du Mont Cenis (Lac du Mont Cenis – the lake at the pass).

The aqua green coloured water and pyramid shape church are something not of this earth. We take lunch in the only café that looks over the lake and mountains, chat to other UK bikers who are doing this route the opposite way. They too warn us Menton is a real challenge from here – but our ever-optimistic attitude wins each time. I buy two stickers to say we’ve been here at an altitude of 6,827 feet, we congratulate each other on a perfect route and ‘jog on’.

Leaving France again we’re in Italy on the SS25 towards Susa, the SS24 to Briançon back in France then the N94 in the direction of Col de Le Bonette. The other side of the D902 takes us to Gleizolles through Col de Vars, and is fast becoming our favourite road with spectacular scenery and the kind of corners that you dream of as a kid, I spend most of my time looking over my right shoulder – is this another 60-degree corner? No, it’s another 270 degree monster…

The Herculean D64 is the beast that leads to the highest road in Europe – Col de La Bonette. We ride with caution enjoying this dry very, very twisty road to the summit. We see the stone monolith and plaque at the top that means we’re here, words fail us as we gaze in silence at the view, looking down on the Alps. Only God could make this breathtaking place, only the French could tarmac it so well – this, ladies and gentlemen, is truly moving, our photos don’t do this any justice.

We shake hands in acknowledgment of our major achievement, chat to another biker and prepare to descend to Saint-Etienne-de-Tinée on the D2205. We’re 9,192 feet in the air, on top of the world. It is, the highest asphalted road in France and is the highest through road in the whole of Europe.

Read the final part on the next page….

Highest road in the Alps